Poverty and hunger are two very real issues that still plague the city of Cleveland and its surrounding suburbs. There is one organization that is meeting those issues head on.
The Center for Community Solutions (CCS) is a nonprofit organization based in Cleveland and Columbus that educates and advises Ohio’s welfare department in strengthening the human health and safety of a diverse population.
With a staff of 20, CCS translates and conducts surveys from across the globe to steer other organizations in real-world affairs. The effect of one consultation from CCS lays the pipeline in government infrastructure for multiple organizations. Presenting information to other community programs is Emily Campbell’s calling.
“There are dozens of agencies in the community that we work with,” says Campbell who is associate director/senior fellow of Williamson Fellow Family Applied Research. “But because we are working on public policies and systems change, those challenges have the impact to affect everyone in our community. Although we don’t have that many direct clients, we believe that our work has a ripple effect that can be very large.”
She oversees surveys, focus groups, and interviews with people within the community to try and get a sense of what may be happening on the ground. Without a change in plans, many Ohioans will lack resources and struggle to make ends meet.
“We are a think tank doing heavy cerebral work, but my colleagues have different backgrounds in government and health and social services. They come to Community Solutions after working for a homeless shelter. Other times, they come directly from the government and work for policymakers.
To put a cap on high poverty rates, the Center for Community Solutions partners with government and nonprofit agencies such as United Way, Greater Cleveland Food Bank and Cuyahoga County Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
According to the 2020 Needs Assessment table prepared by the Center for Community Solutions, 45% of Cuyahoga County families reported having to choose between purchasing groceries or paying for another essential.
Kimberly Lovano, director of Advocacy in Public Education at Greater Cleveland Food Bank, says she witnessed employed members of her family work tirelessly and still fell short of supplying food for their household.
“People say all the time, ‘I worked, I saved, I thought I’d done everything right, and still I’ve gotten in this situation,’” says Lovano.
In 2019, Lovano linked up with Campbell and Rachel Cahill from the Center for Community Solutions. The two organizations merged with Cuyahoga Job and Family Services and the Legal Aid Society to form the Benefit Access Partnership. The partnership identifies some of the issues that clients face when applying for benefits.
“We have gotten very innovative over the years; we think bigger than food which is not what all of the food banks do,” says Lovano.
Until 1950, the Center for Community Solutions and United Way of Greater Cleveland operated as one in search of effective methods to suppress poverty. As the population grew, United Way branched off into an organization known as A First Call for Help. As the two entities continue in partnership, Community Solutions provides the data that guides the outlay of United Way.
According to evidence collected from the 2018 U.S. Census Data and shared on the Northeast Ohio Coalition for Homelessness database, 23,000 people are homeless, and 7,000 of those individuals have checked into a temporary homeless shelter.
“I am lucky to have a social-support system that ensures I never have to worry about where I sleep at night. This is just why I do this,” says Andrew Kutusin, interim vice president of the United Way Community Investment Department.