Tyrah Johnson Tyrah Johnson
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It seemed impossible: House 100 young adults living in the street or in the emergency shelter system in 100 days.

The challenge came in September when A Place 4 Me, a local initiative uniting more than 60 organizations and service providers, won a national competition to fast-track efforts to end youth homelessness in Cuyahoga County by 2020.

Nineteen-year-old Raqinda Robinson had been homeless since she was kicked out of her house in January 2016 — six months before her high school graduation.

“I didn’t think nothing bad was going to happen,” says Robinson, who spent a majority of her time outdoors, seeking shelter at Tower City Center, on the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s HealthLine and at local parks. “You just have to live life day by day, because you don’t know when your last day is on this earth.”

As reported in last year’s Cleveland Magazine feature, “The Lost Ones,” tackling youth homelessness is complex. Youth 18 to 24, such as Robinson, are transient and vulnerable. 

Resistant to an overcrowded emergency shelter system, they’re hard to find and even more difficult to track. As homeless young adults were being identified and A Place 4 Me was learning just how large the issue was in Cuyahoga County, pressing questions remained just beyond the horizon: How did these youth become homeless and how do we prevent others from following in their footsteps? How should we house them? And how do we guarantee they will never become homeless again?

“Going to a shelter never feels dignified and asking for help is not something that comes naturally to people,” says Kate Lodge, vice president of strategic initiatives and executive director of A Place 4 Me. “It’s the way we deliver help that matters.”

With assistance from the national A Way Home America initiative and the Rapid Results Institute, local outreach workers began identifying those already in a shelter and on the street at the start of the 100-day challenge to create a physical list — something that had previously not existed — of every young adult in need of housing.

As they were identified, staff members helped them navigate the complex shelter system and the housing process. Emerald Development & Economic Network compiled a list of landlords willing to rent to them. 

By October, more than 90 new apartment units were identified, and federal grant money became available to implement a new rapid rehousing method that could pay for the security deposit and first four months of rent for any youth in the emergency shelter system.

By the end of the challenge, 105 of the 229 youth identified as homeless in Cuyahoga County were successfully housed, including Robinson. More than half of those were reunited with their families. As of Jan. 30, 290 young adults had been identified with 137 of them placed in housing.

“Housing is the basic starting point,” says Ruth Gillett, program director of the Office of Homeless Services. “But then you really need to figure out how to make sure they don’t end up homeless again.”

A Place 4 Me is working to connect youth to employment, strengthen family interventions and rally communal support around additional funding for the months ahead. 

Only time will tell if those who are housed will ever be without a stable place to live again — but if they are, there’s now a streamlined support system that didn’t exist before to catch them.

“We aren’t going to eliminate youth homelessness, but we are going to respond to it in such a way that they aren’t going to be on the list forever,” says Lodge. “We have big dreams.”

In the following pages, four youths share their experiences and look ahead now that they’ve found a place they can call their own.

Ty'Rah Johnson, 19

Johnson had to grow up quickly. At 15, she gave birth to her daughter, Choyce, and left home after a series of arguments with her mom. After staying sporadically with friends and other family members for 2 1/2 years, Johnson finally settled into the emergency shelter system in September. Now she lives in a two-bedroom apartment with her 3-year-old daughter, whose bedroom walls are decorated with tiny Minnie Mouse stickers. A Happy Birthday banner hangs loosely over the kitchen windows, remnants from Choyce’s third birthday. With the help of Choyce’s father, Dominick Joyner, Johnson co-parents most days and works part time at a local discount retail store.

When Choyce came, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wouldn’t trade her for anything in the world. She means so much to me.

She’s silly and she’s so smart. Every morning she’ll be like, “Good morning, mommy. How are you today?” 

I don’t know what it is. She’s just special.

We were sitting there trying to figure out a name [for her]. My mom was like, “What about Choyce? That’s your choice, and you made your choice.”

When you’re a mother, you will sacrifice anything in the world for your kids. You can’t explain your love for your kids. 

It’s about sacrifices. You have to love your kid not only emotionally and physically but financially. You’ve got to be here mentally too. You have to be there completely. Your whole mind, soul and body needs to be focused on your kid because if you mess up and make a mistake — if you eff up one thing — you have to think about who you’re effing it up for. If I mess up, if I’m homeless, where is my baby going to go?

It ain’t good being homeless with your kid and trying to figure out where you’re going to sleep and what you’re going to eat. I’ve been there.

It will mentally break you down, but don’t let it do that to you. Just keep saying, “It’s going to get better. It’s going to get better. It’s going to get better.” And it will.

I’m ready to stand on my own. I’m a grown woman and I’m trying to get my life together. I want my mother to see me doing good, getting a job. My daughter might not have that much stuff, but at the end of the day, we’re placed in this house. 

She gets everything she wants. As long as she’s OK, I’m fine.


Jacqueline Bradshaw, 21

Bradshaw left her dad’s house in DuPont, Washington, at 18 to seek independence. At first, she stayed in local youth shelters in Washington until she was accepted into the Job Corps two months later. The opportunity provided Bradshaw with immediate housing and vocational training. But after a brief stay in Utah and a failed relationship, she was back to the drawing board. Desperate for a fresh start, she sought out cities that had more affordable living options and came to Cleveland in early October. After a month-and-a-half in the Norma Herr Women’s Shelter on Payne Avenue, she was given a new apartment through rapid rehousing. Now, she’s working third shift and attending Cuyahoga Community College to pursue a degree in early childhood education.

I never really felt that emotional connection most people feel with their parents. I was tired of the dysfunction, the habits I know I probably have at this point because of what I grew up with. I knew I had to work through them, but with the environment I was in, it wasn’t going to help.

I knew I loved working with kids. But even when I was living at home, I was pretty discouraged by my parents to do something like that. So I just figured, Hey, let me jump into the job force and learn a trade, get some basic certification so that when I’m out in the job world I can actually find a job.

At that time, I went to a couple of youth shelters in Washington. I had already applied to Job Corps before I left. If you’re homeless, you get shot up the list so you’re able to go a lot faster.

There was a guy I met while I was at the shelter, and it turns out he was going to the same Job Corps center. He moved to Utah with his family, and I decided to go with him. It was just very dysfunctional, and I got to a point where I left. I basically just bought a one-way train ticket to Cleveland.

I was trying to see if I could get a place to stay, but nothing was coming together. When I moved here, I was already aware of the process. I had to do intake at a certain building, and from there, they tell you which shelter you’re going to go to. That same week, they were trying to get people around my age 18 to 24 to get into this 100-day challenge.

When I first moved into my apartment, it was like a huge burden just lifted off my shoulders. All this work — all of this — felt like it was worth it.

I want to get my bachelor’s in early childhood education, and then hopefully I can move forward and be an early childhood intervention specialist and get my master’s in special education.

I chose early childhood education specifically because I feel like that’s where it starts, right at the beginning. It’s something I’m really passionate about and something that makes me truly happy.

I came to an understanding at one point that I’m not going to be my circumstances. I’m not going to allow myself to be a victim when I know that there are resources out there that will help me get to where I need to be. 

I know deep down, I’m a fighter. I’m not going to just allow things to keep happening and not have anything good come out of it.

Quantez Welch, 21

Welch moved into his new apartment in mid-December after staying in a shelter for five months. He spent much of his youth in foster care followed by several stints in Virginia’s city and regional jails for brandishing firearms and making written threats against a former girlfriend. Although he struggles to secure employment due to his criminal record, Welch dreams of being a corrections officer to help other youth who have experienced the same challenges he hopes to overcome. 

I’m not close to any of my parents. I haven’t talked to my biological mother in over a year. I’ve seen my dad once in my entire life, and that was at the end of 2013. I wish he was more in my life. Things I’ve done I’m not proud of, and I wish I had him to guide me through certain things.

I was put into foster care when I was 3 years old. I wasn’t adopted until I was 7 years old. The people I was living with, they had money, but I didn’t like them. I was too young to be going through all that kind of abuse. 

When I was 14, I didn’t know how to show or tell anybody what was going on, because I was scared. So, I started acting out. I made them give up their parental rights. They went to court, signed the papers, and that was it. From then on, I was back in the system going from place to place. 

When I was 18, since I had the freedom to do any of the crap I wanted, I was buying guns. I pulled a gun out on two people. They rolled up on me, started talking crap. I kind of got carried away. That’s the year my grandma died, so I was dealing with a lot of pain and emotions. I went home, the police came knocking on my door and found the weapon, and they took me to jail for one or two months.

I had this girlfriend. She broke up with me before my [19th] birthday and I threatened to kill her. So, she went to the police. I had a warrant for my arrest, and they convicted me for that. I was in Norfolk City Jail and then they transferred me to Hampton Roads Regional Jail for six months.

In August 2016, I was in and out of the shelter at 2100 Lakeside Ave. They turn on the lights at a certain time — you have to get up and be out of the shelter at 6 a.m. They don’t care if it’s snowing or if there’s a tornado outside. You have to be gone. It’s like being in jail without the bars, without lockdown.

Having your own place you can call home — it’s like I’m having all my freedom back. It’s like being born again, but as a full-grown man. Everything that happened yesterday or the day before is over and done with. 

I’ve been looking for lots of jobs. It’s difficult because being a convicted felon, they’ll look at that. I don’t think that should really matter, but it is what it is. I’m still going to keep looking. I have to keep the apartment paid for. I’m not going to lose this.

Raqinda Robinson, 19

Six months before her high school graduation in 2016, Robinson was kicked out of her home. At first, she crashed at friends’ houses. But in an effort to keep her homelessness a secret, she sought shelter in local parks and at RTA stations downtown. After confiding in her school counselor, she received help from Project Act, a local initiative under A Place 4 Me, that provides clothing, tutoring and supportive services to students struggling with homelessness. She has since graduated high school, is working toward becoming a nursing assistant and is living in an apartment on the West Side.

I like to go to the park and just spend alone time by myself. I go to the pond right down the street a lot, because when I’m angry or sad the water just soothes my whole body and my mind. I can just be myself. That’s what I love about it. My mom took me there when I was little.

I’m not close with my family. The only person in my family I’m close with is my sister. We’ve been through a lot together. We’ve been through a lot with our family and a ton of losses. 

I’m used to seeing other homeless people, but I never thought I was going to become one. 

I got into a predicament with one of my family members, and I got kicked out. That’s how my homelessness started.

It was hard for me. All last year I was mostly outside and in shelters. It was cold outside. I used to hang around Cleveland State University, downtown, Tower City, on the HealthLine. Sometimes I went to the hospital, because my body was acting up on me.

When I was homeless, I would see some of my classmates at CSU. I still couldn’t tell them what was going on. That was difficult, because they wouldn’t understand. 

It’s hard to get out of it. You have to go to shelters. If you go to the right shelter, you can get help. That’s the main thing. I can’t just do it on my own. 

We were looking at apartments and seeing which one I liked. It was a major challenge for me because getting my own place had never happened before. I’m not used to staying by myself. This one apartment I liked was at Edgewater. It was really nice but it was over budget. I think it was $700 or something. Then we went to the apartment where I’m staying at now.

I’m trying to move out of this apartment because of the area and how it is. The environment I’m in now is not safe, and that’s why I have to move. I want to work on that now.

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