By: Katie Sobiech
“These are all the applications I have for this program,” Joseph Scalise, Housing Coordinator at the Ohio Multi-County Development Corporation said, opening a file cabinet overflowing with folders.
“The flow doesn’t stop. I get referrals from most of the local school districts, as far north as Hudson. We have it everywhere,” he said.
Each folder represents a young adult in Summit County without a home. Most of which currently are bouncing from one friend’s house to the next.
“This is a really easy avenue to drug use, or in the case of women, putting themselves in a position where they are exploited or taken advantage of. That’s a big issue for us,” Scalise said.
Out of concern for this population of adolescents, ages 18-22, Horizon House opened, offering independent living to those in need.
Each home is strategically located in Akron, providing easy access to bus services, the Community Health Center, library, University of Akron, stores, and Job and Family services.
“Our homes need to be near a bus stop because a lot of our folks are riding the bus. Many of them don’t have cars initially and they need to get where our services are,” Scalise said.
The Young Women’s Home
One out of the three Horizon Homes is designed for girls. Paying a visit to the young women in this home will have you counting your blessings on the way out.
Tragedy after tragedy has hit these girls head on… The death of two of their fathers, fire burning one of their homes to the ground, abuse, neglect, and being passed on from foster homes to shelters and back again. Much darkness has been woven into their pasts.
Four girls currently stay at the home, each with their own story to tell.
“My father died when I was 12 and my mother wasn’t able to take care of me and my siblings, so we went to live house to house, but no one was capable of taking care of four kids at one time,” “Amanda” said.
She was homeless until she heard about the Horizon House.
“Natalie” was homeless as well, and hasn’t even graduated High School yet. It all started after her mom’s house caught on fire.
“After the fire my mom went to live at her friend’s house and I stayed with my friend until she got evicted,” Natalie said.
This led the 18 year old to take a greyhound from Pennsylvania to Ohio for a fresh start.
“I moved into a battered women’s shelter cause things happened to me when I was younger. When my time was up there I went to the Haven of Rest,” she said.
It was at the Haven of Rest where she says she matured. She still remembers the party they threw for her when she left, which brings a smile to her face.
“Sara’s” story doesn’t get any better.
At age three, Sara was taken out of her birth mom’s home and put into foster care, where she stayed for most of her life.
“I was finally adopted at 12 but things didn’t work out well so I was put back into the foster care system. Once I graduated I needed to move out, but had nowhere to go and didn’t want to be on the streets,” she said.
Her case manager helped her find the Horizon House.
“Amy’s” life has been woven together with much of the same uncertainty as the other girls in the home. The instability of moving from house to house intertwined with the death of her father led her on the path to homelessness.
But things are looking brighter these days.
Three of the girls attend Akron University. Amanda declared Social Work as her major, while Amy is working towards a double major of Early Childhood Development and Speech Pathology. Sara also hopes to work with children in Early Childhood Education.
“I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was 10 years old. No matter how many jobs have been taken away from teachers, that’s still my goal,” Sara said.
After completing High School, Natalie plans to pursue Cosmetology.
While the economy has hit most of us hard, many of us have yet to experience the obstacles these girls face.
“The biggest obstacles these girls face are obtaining a drivers license, getting a car, getting a degree, and medical insurance is huge,” Karen Cole, their Case Manager, shared.
“I’ve been trying to get health insurance. I’ve gone down to welfare three different times and got denied every time. I didn’t even have that much income, but since it was over the max I couldn’t receive health insurance,” Amanda said.
Beach went to Open M for their free clinic. The girls also have access to a family practice doctor through the Horizon House program, but this doesn’t include access to a specialist or an emergency room if needed.
“I have a house full of young ladies that go to school or work at least 20 hours a week. Maybe they start working at Chipotle 20 hours a week for eight dollars an hour and guess what, they don’t get Medicaid anymore because they’re ‘making too much money’,” Scalise explained in frustration.
“It’s a catch twenty-two. It’s like is society telling me to sit around and do nothing and collect entitlements, or should I go out there and try to make something happen for myself? When you do that, you lose some benefits you could really use.” He continued, “Now the price for working is that they can’t see a doctor. That’s something we need to think about as a society – how we’re attacking some of these problems.”
Other things, such as getting a ride, is a challenge as well.
“I have to work around my friend’s schedules and I ride the bus,” Amanda said.
But, through it all, there are positives to the struggle.
“They’re becoming more dependent and they’re all doing really well,” Hunt said.
The Boy’s Home’s
“Matt” has been living in the Horizon House for two months and has already purchased his first car.
“I love it,” he said.
Looking back at life as he knows it, he is thankful for the program.
“I started off in foster care since I was little, then I got adopted but things didn’t go well because my adoptive father was abusive,” Matt explained.
The next time his adoptive father hit him, he ran away. Not long after, he was placed in foster care again.
“At eighteen I got emancipated and was on my own. I began hanging around wrong influences, smoked weed and got into other stuff I shouldn’t have gotten into,” he continued.
Now Matt is going to school and working two jobs.
“This program has really helped me become successful,” Matt shared.
“We need self starters. Matt decided ‘I’m going to do everything in my power to get where I want to go.’ That’s why he’s having success now,” Scalise said.
“I’ve been through and seen the paths of my parents and other people from my childhood not going anywhere from the paths they were taking. I already know what that road is like and I was starting to go down that road and I’m glad I got put in here and got a second chance,” Matt said.
“Jordan” is also staying at the Horizon House.
“Living with my dad, things weren’t going well. We almost got into a couple fist fights so I ended up leaving for my safety and his. This place helped me get on my feet,” Jordan said.
Jordan is now going to school.
Facing their Issues
Therapy is also a part of the healing process.
“Our agency community health center is really getting into video therapy so those young people who have a hard time getting places can do counseling appointments,” Scalise said.
Video therapy allows you to have a live chat with another individual from the computer, much like Skype. This is a lifesaver for those who cannot drive.
“At the end of the day it’s you and what you want to become in life. Once you get to that certain age that you’re out by yourself you’ll think back like ‘why didn’t I take advantage of the opportunities I had?’ So I’m trying to take full advantage of my opportunities,” Matt said.
Three out of the six individuals mentioned above were adopted, but the adoption “didn’t work out”, so they were sent back to Children’s Services Board.
“Just getting adopted out isn’t always the end of the line. I feel bad for them. Reject me once, reject me twice – imagine what my self-esteem is,” Scalise said, “I’m always trying to tell them ‘you are valued and worth something. Your circumstances in life aren’t always reinforcing that, but give yourself a chance and you’ll surprise yourself with what you can do’.”
A Wonderful Life
“This has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done in my whole life,” Scalise said, “One of my favorite movies is ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’. I want to be George Bailey in my community, and hopefully, in some small way, touch some lives for the better and help them get forward. If they can do that, I’ve had a successful ride.”
“It takes a bit of money, some involvement from the community and some people that care and you can really start to get some things done that are going to help these young men and women,” Scalise continued.
For more information about Horizon House please visit http://www.commhealthcenter.org.