Working to Provide Rest and Restoration
to the Homeless and Vulnerable in Portage County
By Anne Marie Noble
On a single night in January 2017, an estimated 184,661 people in families of 57,971 family households across the US were identified as homeless. Almost 17,000 people in families were living on the street, in a car, or in another place not meant for human habitation. Over the course of 2016, roughly half a million people in families stayed at a homeless shelter or transitional housing program – 292,166 of them were children, and 144,991 were under the age of six.
How does a family become homeless?
Families experiencing homelessness are similar to other families that are also poor, but who have a home to live in. Both may struggle with incomes that are far less than they need to pay for housing. In fact, it is often some jolt to this precarious situation that makes them homeless – a lost job, reduction in work hours, or conflict with family members they are staying with. Homeless families are usually headed by a single woman with limited education, are typically young, and have young children.
Children are impacted tremendously when they are homeless – their education, health and sense of safety, and overall development diminish. On the positive side, researchers find that children are highly resilient and differences between children who have experienced homelessness and low-income children who have not, typically diminish in the years following a homeless episode. When compared to low-income and homeless families, children experiencing homelessness have been shown to:
• Have higher levels of emotional and behavioral problems
• Have increased risk of serious health problems
• Are more likely to experience separations from their families; and
• Experience more school mobility, repeat a grade, are expelled or drop out of school, and have lower academic performance
Homelessness is Here in Portage County
Right now, there are more than 100 homeless people, just in Kent and Ravenna. Some are living under bridges in Ravenna and Kent – in 2016, there were nearly 85 people living behind Wal-Mart; a group lived off the Portage Bike Path in Kent; and another group were living behind the Re-Store in Kent. At least 208 people are on benefits as “homeless” in Portage County and 33% of the homeless at the Haven of Rest in Summit County are actually Portage County residents.
Working For a Solution
The Haven of Portage County is working to provide rest and restoration to those homeless and vulnerable in Portage County. The Haven of Portage is an organizational team of faith and community partners uniting in this common cause. Their mission is to work toward holistic healing: physical (a bed, meal, housing); spiritual (restoration in Jesus Christ); emotional (safety, counseling, rest); and intellectual healing (life skills, mentoring, and training). The physical project at The Haven of Portage right now is renovating the building for a rescue mission and warming center – the only one in Portage County that addresses each stage of homelessness.
One of the biggest goals the Haven of Portage County has is to provide Low Barrier Housing– housing where a minimum number of expectations are placed on people who wish to live there. The aim is to have as few barriers as possible, allowing more people access to services and providing extended housing for those needing more than the usual 30 days.They are partnering with Coleman Professional Services, Hope Village, Ohio Means Jobs, and others so as not to reinvent the wheel and duplicate help and services already in place in the county. Instead, they want to meet the needs where they know that gaps exist – a place to stay for those without a home, help for trafficked women, and solutions for graduated housing.
Right now, The Haven of Portage County doesn’t have its doors open; their goal is to be operational this fall/winter season as at least a warming center. They purchased a building and ten acres on State Route 59 between Kent and Ravenna and are working with faith-based and other community partners to make the plans a reality. Clean up and repair to the property is underway as they raise funds for full renovation.
The organization hired an executive director, Anne Marie Noble, earlier this year, and was granted 501(c)3 status in the summer. They have architectural plans submitted for the full building renovation and continue to spread the word about the organization and the mission. One of their biggest events to date, the Arabian Nights Gala, will take place November 3rd. “We want to not only raise money for the organization, we also want to share our vision for filling the gaps with key community leaders at this event.” says Noble. “The homeless and trafficked are in each of our towns, cities, and communities. By working together, we can help them and every community make a real difference in Portage County.”