Joseph’s Home provides medical respite care and a support system for homeless men

by Chuck Hoven

Joseph’s Home, a unique facility in downtown Cleveland, offers homeless men a place to receive ongoing care for acute medical conditions. Joseph’s Home, a ministry of the Sisters of Charity’s Health System, says it is “the only homeless service provider in Northeast Ohio exclusively focused on medical respite care.” A brochure provided by Joseph’s Home describes medical respite care recipients at the facility: “All of our residents are homeless and have acute medical issues that require ongoing care. Typical residents are in need of or recovering from surgery, going through cancer treatment or stabilizing chronic conditions such as diabetes or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Homeless shelters and hospitals make referrals to Joseph’s Home through the Cuyahoga County Central Intake staffed by Frontline Services. Referrals include men with chronic conditions such as diabetes or COPD, men with cancer, or individuals needing dialysis or treatment of open wounds. Others are in need of a place to rehabilitate after a surgery. Some individuals have more than one condition. Staff and volunteers at Joseph’s Home are able to work with residents on both physical and behavioral health issues and also offer support as residents transition out into the community after receiving care. Such support includes securing a birth certificate or state ID, a disability bus pass, help with signing up for Medicaid, food stamps, getting a Social Security card and signing up for benefits. Donations to Joseph Home also help provide clothing and household supplies to some residents moving out on their own.

Joseph’s Home, at 2412 Community College Avenue in downtown Cleveland, is housed in a building that was once a convent at the former St. Joseph’s Parish. The building has eleven private bedrooms for residents. Artwork, by residents, board members and volunteers, hangs throughout the three floors of the building. There are elevators to reach different levels as well as a lift by the front door in an area with steps not reached by the elevators. There is a kitchen area, a dining room, a television room, a computer room, a clinic, staff offices and a room for clothes and household items to help equip residents as they transition to a new home following completion of medical respite care.

Joseph’s Home Executive Director Christine Horne says the idea for creating a medical respite care facility for homeless men came from Sister Ruth Ann Patrick, a member of the Congregation of Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine. Sister Ruth Ann Patrick served as a social worker at St. Vincent Charity Hospital and was concerned about discharging homeless individuals back to the streets or shelters while they still needed time to recover or to stabilize after being in the hospital.

Horne says Sister Ruth Ann Patrick brought the problem back to her community of Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine for discernment. A planning group, referred to by Horne as “The Dream Team” was formed consisting of nine members of the congregation: Sr. Theresa Bontempo, Sr. Marian Durkin, Sr. Evelyn Flowers, Sr. Joan Gallagher, Sr. Coletta McNamee, Sr. Ruth Ann Patrick, Sr. Marietta Rohr, Sr. Elizabeth Schur, and Sr. Catherine Walsh. The Dream Team put together a plan and Joseph’s Home opened in the year 2000. Sr. Joan Gallagher, a member of the Dream Team, served as Joseph’s Home’s first executive director, said Horne.

Horne says Joseph’s Home provides a supportive encouraging environment while helping residents to become medically stable. Residents each receive their own room with a key lock in the eleven-bed facility.

Horne says Joseph’s Home practices trauma informed care. She believes the welcoming atmosphere, security of having their own room and the provision of regular meals helps residents to relax. She notes trauma experienced by individuals who end up homeless. She says often a shelter environment can feel claustrophobic. Those that have experienced trauma may need to come down to the television room in the middle of the night to watch T.V. or go outside to look at the stars.

With training in best practices for trauma related care, the staff, instead of making sure people are in their rooms, may instead sit and talk with a person and share a snack. “At any given time, you don’t know what a guy is going through,” said Horne. She said guidelines provided by the National Health Care for the Homeless Council and training sessions have helped her staff to implement trauma informed care.

Horne says the average stay at Joseph’s Home in 2017 was 3.33 months. In 2017, they served fifty-three residents.

While the average stays may be just a few months, Horne says Joseph’s Home engages its alumni and involves alumni in sharing their positive experiences with residents. Several alumni serve as staff members now and others “want to give back.” She says seeing alumni that are doing well encourages residents and gives them hope. Joseph’s Home welcomes alumni to continue to be involved and stay in touch. Horne related a story of one alumni who visits on a monthly basis to do his laundry. She said the staff encourage him to come to have lunch, dinner or visit for movie night.

Joseph’s Home Development Manager Madeline Wallace says many residents and alumni don’t have contact with their family and don’t have a social support system. “We become that family and social support system,” she said.

Rich Gallagher, Chair of the Board of Directors of Joseph’s Home, says, “We give guys a second chance in life. A lot of guys know that.” He believes that the alumni’s appreciation of the help they received, is the reason for so many coming back to help out and share their experiences.

During their time at Joseph’s Home, residents receive a wide variety of services and support not only from the 12-member staff of Joseph’s Home, but also from alumni of Joseph’s Home, volunteers and community organizations.

Some activities at Joseph’s Home include Music Therapy provided by Cleveland State University students. Art Therapy and a Wellness Group offered by students from Ursuline College Counseling and Art Therapy Program. A movie night, started when an alumnus brought in a DVD player. Staff also got involved and Development Director Madeline Wallace says the Knights of Columbus donated a popcorn machine for movie night. She says the smell of the popcorn helps to bring residents down to the television room to socialize on movie night.

Seniors at MC2 STEM High School recently wrote a grant as part of a senior project to work with Joseph’s Home. The students purchased supplies with the grant and joined with residents in making bars of soap.

Gallagher said one of the members of the Board of Directors, Debbie Rovito, wanted to get involved and started a poetry writing group that writes poetry while baking.

Gallagher and Wallace mentioned a recent Pizza and Puppies night funded by the Imagine Foundation. A pet store, Pick of the Litter, brought puppies and Angelo’s Pizza donated pizza.

Horne notes that the facility is staffed 24 hours a day. The duties of the 12 staff members outline some of the scope involved in running Joseph’s Home. Horne described some of the activities staff members are engaged in doing.

To address medical needs Joseph’s Home has a part-time nurse that does wellness checks Monday thru Friday. The nurse provides an assessment of how the men are doing medically and provides some basic care such as dressing open wounds.

The Medical Director provides a connection for residents to a primary care physician.

The Behavioral Health Director, a clinical psychologist, helps assess where residents are at in regard to mental health and behavioral health treatment and screening. Horne says often residents have a second layer of mental health or substance abuse issues that can impact their medical stability. A Peer Recovery Supporter offers shared life experience to those residents dealing with mental health or substance abuse issues.

Operations Coordinator Alfonso Gibson cooks three meals a day, does the food shopping and maintenance of the facility. He also supervises a team of four Resident Support Associates. Horne notes that three of the Resident Support Associates are former residents of Joseph’s Home. She says that, as former residents, they can share their experiences and successes offering hope to current residents.

Health Care Navigator John Mytrysak helps transport residents to their medical appointments, helps residents manage their prescriptions, and tracks medication compliance by residents. Mytrysak says having the St. Vincent Charity Hospital clinic nearby helps make transportation to doctor’s appointments easier as residents without a primary care physician of their own are able to obtain a regular physician at the clinic. Mytrysak says having a primary physician also helps residents to get the proper paper work completed so they can receive Social Security. Physical therapy is also available nearby at St. Vincent Charity Hospital. Mytrysak says a special relationship negotiated by Joseph’s Home with the Center for Families and Children at 4400 Euclid Avenue allows for most of the prescriptions of residents to be located at their pharmacy. He can then order and pick up medications and clinical supplies at one central place.

Mytrysak, an alumnus of Joseph’s Home, said he worked as a pharmacist for 30 years before an illness effected his performance at work. He says he went on vacation and was asked not to come back. Having lost his health benefits, he didn’t go to the doctor and his condition worsened. He sold his home and was living in his car. Eventually he lost the car as well and ended up getting referred to Joseph’s Home. At Joseph’s Home, Mytrysak says he was able to get medical care and get the surgery that he needed to restore his health. With the help of the staff he entered a job training program at El Bario and after working several other jobs, he began working at Joseph’s Home as a Resident Support Associate. Because of his background as a pharmacist, Mytrysak was especially good at helping residents with their medications and soon was asked to be the Health Care Navigator. Now, Mytrysak, says he lives in senior housing near Joseph’s Home and can walk to work. Mytrysak says he enjoys his job and likes helping people.

Respite Care Manager Raven Kauffman is the overall keeper of the plans for each resident as they work to develop a plan for where they will live when they leave Joseph’s Home. Horne says it can be difficult to find housing for residents. Often homeless men have experienced trauma, have behavioral health issues that need addressing, have past evictions or a legal history that sometimes involves convictions.

When residents are medically stable and ready to move on, Horne says it can be very difficult to find affordable housing. She said the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority has a three-year waiting list. Noting the crisis in affordable housing in Greater Cleveland, Horne says that the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless plans to have a funeral ceremony with a tombstone for affordable housing.

Executive Director Horne and Development Manager Madeline Wallace shared some statistics on what happens to residents when they leave Joseph’s Home. Horne said some are able to find housing, some go to higher level of care such as hospice, a nursing home or a drug and alcohol treatment program, while others, unable to find a place to go, move to another homeless shelter. In 2017, 45% of the residents leaving Joseph’s Home went to stable housing, 19% went to a higher level of care and 27% went to another homeless shelter, six percent were unreported and 3% moved out of the county or state.

Executive Director Horne says the annual budget for running Joseph’s Home is currently $700,000. She says about a third of the budget comes from the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services and through funding from the Health and Human Services Levy. About a third of the budget comes from foundations, United Way and the Veterans Administration which funds three beds that are reserved for homeless veterans. Another third of the budget comes from individual donors.

Horne regularly visits with organizations and church groups to talk about ways they can get involved in helping Joseph’s Home. Development Director Wallace shared a list of individuals, businesses and foundations that have made donations or volunteer contributions.

Securing long term funding remains a challenge for Joseph’s Home. Board of Director’s Chair Rich Gallagher says, in other communities around the country, hospitals provide direct funding for medical respite programs. Gallagher says a goal of Joseph’s Home is to partner with hospitals. He says the medical respite program reduces emergency room costs and readmissions of homeless patients. He hopes area hospitals can be convinced to provide regular funding for medical respite as hospitals in other communities have done.

Executive Director Horne says one of the gaps in local services is the lack of a medical respite care program dedicated to homeless women. That is something to be addressed through strategic planning, and assessment of the ability of Joseph’s Home to raise the needed funding. Horne said such a proposal would then need the approval of the Sisters of Charity Health Board.

While currently Joseph’s Home raises the funds to pay for all the medical services provided for residents, Development Manager Wallace says she is in the early stages of exploring how to bill for some services through Medicaid.

Donations to Joseph’s Home are welcome. A list of current needs supplied by Wallace includes: pillows, face towels – white and color, bath towels, travel size lotion, travel size shampoo and flip flops (shower shoes).

Editor’s Note: Joseph’s Home is located at 2412 Community College Avenue. For more information on how to get involved or make a donation visit their website at or call 216-685-1551

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