COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Residents and organizers celebrated the first anniversary of the Carol Stewart Village in Franklinton, a place designed to help at-risk youth find stable housing, healthcare, and prepare them for success.
“It kind of puts you on the right track once you have the stability of housing,” said Jay Kerr, a recently placed resident of the village.
Kerr says he was 19 when his foster parents kicked him out of the house.
“I was couch surfing for about seven months and then once you run out of friends, you just…have nowhere to go. I was sleeping in Weinland park for about six months,” Kerr said. “I have to say, it changed my life. It really did,”
Just a few weeks ago, Kerr found Carol Stewart Village, a former motel site that was once a frequent stop for Columbus police.
“It was a scourge of crime, you know,” said Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther at the village’s anniversary celebration. “Police runs, violence, drug trafficking, prostitution, and turned it into a safe haven for young people, some of the most vulnerable people in our community. We couldn’t be more proud of this incredible partnership.”
Those motel rooms have been transformed into efficiency apartments. Community leaders hope that if the property can find a new, better purpose, the young people whose aim it is to help can do the same.
“We have 62 truly affordable apartments on-site and on-site jobs, health care, therapy, and a range of different other services,” said Ann Bischoff, CEO of Star House, which operates Carol Stewart Village. “We now have 58 residents on-site and we’re so proud of them for all the progress that they’ve made. They’re getting cars, they’re enrolling in school, they’re getting jobs. Some of our young people have two jobs and some are in fact getting reunited with their children.”
For some of the young people that call Carol Stewart Village home, homelessness was out of their control, whether it was due to them turning 18 and aging out of foster care or being kicked out of their home for identifying as LGBTQ.
“The average young person becomes independent from their family at age 24, so we’re talking about young people who simply don’t have the option to launch into adulthood with the safety net of mommy and daddy,” Bischoff said. “These are young people who are disconnected from their family, they’ve been living on the street and have been let down by adults by and large. This village is intended to be that safety net, but also a launchpad to what’s next for them.”
“Family and friends, that network…so many people that are aging out of foster care have nothing,” Ginther said. “And so really focusing on helping them emancipate into adulthood, figure out everything from budgeting to finding a safe, affordable place to live and all the soft skills that are needed for employment, continuing education, getting certifications and training, that’s what this place is all about.”
Kerr says the community has also helped in giving him goals for his future.
“My goal is just school, job, then get a house and maybe eventually come back and help the community that helped me,” he said. “Community is what everybody says it is, but to me, it’s family. To me, everybody looks out for each other. You sometimes have the oddball but everybody looks out for each other, everybody helps each other, you have staff that cares about you and wants to see you thrive, and no matter what, if you’re having a bad day, they’re going to be there for you.”
The Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority said it is committed to making sure the village is around for years to come, announcing $7 million in funding for the village over the next 15 years.
“This is part of that comprehensive neighborhood safety approach,” Ginther said. “Great places like this, all the services that are being provided to make sure these people and young adults are able to take care of themselves, remain safe, make sure our entire community is safer as well.”