Cleveland nonprofit takes multi-faceted approach to end homelessness

Susanna H. Krey is working hard to change the way communities confront the problem of homelessness.

“Historically, the paradigm of how to serve homeless individuals is to serve them while they are homeless,” says Krey, president of Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland. “The new model says you house them and then serve them. Everybody is ready to be housed, even the gentleman you take from under the bridge. You give that person a home and it has such a stabilizing effect. It provides an opportunity for people to begin rebuilding their lives.”

It’s a simple concept, but one that comes with many challenges in order to be properly executed.

“When you unpack poverty, it’s a complicated issue,” Krey says. “We want to be an engaged philanthropist. We try to work very closely with organizations that are addressing a particular aspect of poverty and focus on convening and building deep partnerships to accomplish the goals we set out to achieve. We’re in it for the long term.”

Through the leadership of Enterprise Community Partners Inc. and the Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services, as well as many other partners, the Housing First Initiative has led to a 78 percent reduction in the rate of chronic homelessness in Cuyahoga County since 2006.

More than 600 housing units have been created in the county to date, providing a place for previously homeless individuals to get off the streets and on the path to a better life.

The support that follows residential placement is a critical part of the overall program.

“Let’s help people get the education that they need,” Krey says. “Let’s help get them to better health. Let’s stabilize their housing situation. Let’s help these individuals develop income strategies so that they can pursue a path that enhances the quality of their lives.”

Thus far, the effort seems to be working. The recidivism rate, which reflects how many people fall back into homelessness after being helped by Housing First, is less than 2 percent.

A long history of support
The origin of Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland dates back to 1851 when the first Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine arrived in Cleveland from France to serve as the city’s first public health nurses. The Sisters founded St. Vincent Charity Medical Center in Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood, where it still stands today.

The foundation was endowed in 1996 and two other foundations, one in Canton and another in South Carolina, were also established.

Krey was brought in as president of the Cleveland entity in 2003 and went to work to address the problem of poverty. She broke it down into four areas of focus: ending homelessness, reducing health disparities, improving educational opportunities and addressing social justice through the support of the ministries of women religious, a term used by the Catholic church.

“We want to really think more about what are the policy shifts and changes that might impact those who are vulnerable,” she says. “Do we need to take more of an advocacy role in order to impact policy such that those folks who live on the margins might not go further out on the margins, but move closer to the mainstream?”

Accomplishing all this requires cooperation and a strong plan, as well as a structure that can keep everything moving forward.

“There has to be a backbone organization that champions this work and really helps to keep the partnership together, that nurtures the partners and collaborators and continues the follow-up from meeting to meeting,” Krey says. “It’s what continues to advance the agenda of what you’re trying to accomplish and tries to solve problems that come up when you take on these kinds of projects.”

More work to be done
Another problem area Krey and her team are working on is youth homelessness. Cleveland was one of three cities in the country selected to do a 100-day challenge, where the goal was to house 100 homeless youth in 100 days.

The foundation is also working on next steps to ensure children who come from tough situations have a future to look forward to, which is the thought behind an initiative called the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood.

“We are trying to build a pipeline from birth all the way to college and a career,” Krey says. “Children will be ready for kindergarten, they will have the opportunity to go to good schools and get a high school diploma and then go on to either a vocational opportunity or college.”

When work began on this project in 2009, Krey says there was only one quality child care center in Cleveland’s Central Neighborhood. Today there are three universal pre-K opportunities in that neighborhood and six Step Up To Quality programs, which are administered by the Ohio Department of Education and Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

As she looks ahead, Krey says she will continue to try to build partnerships with the local business community to help in the effort to end poverty and homelessness.

“We’re thinking about a particular initiative we hope to introduce later this year in which we can reach out to individuals in the public sector, nonprofit sector as well as in the private business sector to develop some innovative ideas around addressing issues in poverty,” Krey says. “That’s a goal. We would love to have the business community join the conversation.”

How to reach: Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, (216) 241-9300 or