New Residential Site Helps Combat Rates of Chronic Homelessness

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In her efficiency apartment at Buckeye Square, Constance Denson can’t help but repeat one fact about living here versus the streets.

“I feel safe. Try to leave all of that behind me!" she laughs. She cries, "No!" and laughs again when she attempts to recall those days .

For years, Denson moved in and out of homeless shelters, doing her best to keep clear of “trouble” and scraping by.

But last December, she and dozens of other “chronically homeless” people moved into the new Buckeye Square facility off of Buckeye Road and East 116th Street.

The official grand opening won’t occur though till later this month.

Each tenant is provided furniture, some basic amenities, and – most importantly – a fresh start.

“I want to go back and get my nursing degree," says Denson. "Being homeless, being here to there, here to there, made it hard. Now that I’m stable and have a support system, I could do it.”

To be deemed “chronically homeless”, a person has to have four extended bouts of homelessness within a three-year period, says Elaine Gimmel. She’s Chief Operating Officer for the Emerald Development and Economic Network (EDEN), one of the partners in the Housing First Initiative.

Gimmel says there’s more criteria: “Somebody has to have a disability to qualify for this building. It’s mainly mental health, it could be a physical disability such as HIV or AIDS, as well as alcohol and/or chemical dependency."

A county official says of the annual average of 5,200 homeless people in Cuyahoga County, 15 percent – or roughly 800 -- are considered chronically homeless.

Buckeye Square is the ninth permanent supportive housing facility the Housing First Initiative has built or remodeled since 2006. Another is slated to open on Detroit Avenue in the fall of 2015.

The ultimate goal is to have nearly 1,300 apartments built, and keep tenants off the streets for good.

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