Family & Community Services, Inc. (F&CS) is the largest private non-profit social service agency in Northeast Ohio, with a staff of 500+ working at 32 sites in eleven (11) counties. More than 70,000 children and adults were assisted last year and the annual budget for 2010-2011 has grown to $10 million. Over 3,500 dynamic volunteers enable the agency to magnify the impact of its services. The agency began its service in September of 1941 under the title of the Catholic Charities Bureau of the Ravenna Deanery in order to aid families and children affected by World War II.
At the Coalition on Housing and Homelessness in Ohio’s (COHHIO) annual housing conference, FCS began a conversation between the agency’s executive director, Mark Frisone, and program staff of FCS about refocusing their efforts to aiding those most affected by wartime: veterans. In 2004, 25% of homeless people in the United States had previously served our nation.
Upon collecting local data concerning homeless veterans, it was concluded that about eight homeless veterans were being turned away from local shelters due to a lack of space every month. An advisory council was formed in September of 2004 to establish policy, hire staff, and develop a program to serve homeless veterans.
These advisory council meetings resulted in the establishment of Freedom House, an eight bed emergency shelter for homeless veterans of Portage County, on January 10th. By the end of the first day, two homeless veterans resided in the facility. All of this was made possible through the work of the newly-formed advisory council and through the support of United Way of Portage County, Kent American Legion Post #496, and Streetsboro Veterans of Foreign War Post #9716, and local veterans.
However, staff soon realized the new facility had several issues that needed to be addressed. The layout of the facility was not well-suited to serve eight male veterans. Bedrooms and common areas were too small and added to veterans’ stress levels. The need for larger facilities also became apparent soon after Freedom House opened. Freedom House was turning away many veterans who were seeking help and lodging due to the lack of space. FCS made plans to expand their facilities and better serve the veterans of Northeast Ohio.
Family & Community Services applied for and received funding from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs’ through the Capital & Grant Per Diem Program in order to build a Freedom House facility. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (Also referenced as the V.A.) would provide funds 65% of the construction and the remaining 35% would be funded locally by FCS. In total, Family and Community Services would be responsible for roughly $200,000 in funding. Fundraising for a new Freedom House facility began immediately afterwards. Staff developed an “Adopt-a-Room” program, with all seventeen rooms in the new facility available for “adoption”. Each room would be named after the adoptees, with prices ranging from $1,500-$15,000. All proceeds would be used to begin building the new facility. In addition to the Adopt-a-Room program, bricks could be purchased, named, and placed as a memorial in the front of the new facility with prices ranging from $100-$1000. The grant also allowed for in-kind matching dollars to help raise the necessary funds. Habitat for Humanity of Portage County helped with the construction of the facility, with every volunteer hour counting towards the $200,000 needed to finish the project.
In 2007, over 500 volunteers gave over 2,500 hours for the completion of the facility’s construction. The Ohio National Guard also dedicated their time to install the roof and volunteers painted the entire facility.
With the facility’s completion, Portage County took a huge step towards a future that believes that no veteran should ever be homeless. The newly renovated Freedom House building now has 14 beds and functions as a transitional housing facility because of the hard work and dedication of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the local community. The V.A. also supplied an experienced social worker to work with Freedom House staff and veterans in order to assure that the residents are receiving the best care available.
With more space to accommodate residents and a better layout to fit their needs, Freedom House opened its doors to veterans in need once again on May 27, 2008 and within a week, the facility was full with a growing waiting list. With the success of Freedom House in Portage County, The Summit County Community Involvement for Veterans Committee was organized to target homeless and at-risk veterans in December 2008. The name was later changed to the Valor Home Committee of Summit County.
2009 - Present
In February 2009, The Veteran's Administration published the Notice of Funds Availability (N.O.F.A) for the Homeless Providers’ Grant and Per Diem Program. The following year, The Veterans Administration awarded funding under the Grant And Per Diem Program for Valor Home of Summit County and for Valor Home of Lorain County. The groundbreaking for Valor Home of Summit County at 1121 Exeter Road in Akron, Ohio took place in June 2011 and construction began in January 2012 with Testa Companies as the general contractor. Habitat for Humanity of Summit County constructed all walls and roofing using volunteer labor. The Valor Home of Summit County was completed and began serving veterans in the area in July of 2013. The Valor Home of Lorain County was completed in December of 2014.