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The Cleveland Street Chronicle
Jim Schlecht Event

 A History of NEOCH's Work on the Community Women's Shelter on Payne Ave.

  1. Yes, we have been concerned with the conditions at the Women’s Shelter since the 1990s when the shelter was in the basement of First Church at East 30th and Euclid.  We regularly complained about the staff who worked at this shelter.
  2. There was some improvement when Catholic Charities took over and the main issue was the facility and the poor conditions at the garage across from Cosgrove and then in the gymnasium at Cosgrove. We had a functioning resident council and were working through issues.
  3. Then Mental Health Services (later called Frontline Services) took over the shelter and the NEOCH Board issued a statement that we did not believe that it would be a good idea for a mental health agency to run the main shelter for women in Cleveland.
  4. NEOCH has regularly complained about the continued decline in shelter beds--440 over the last 12 years.  This has resulted in the Payne Ave shelter as the only shelter for single women with no overflow site for women without children in the city.  The population at the shelter has regularly increased.
  5. We have taken more complaints from the Shelter on Payne Ave than any other facility, and have complained about the lack of written response to the complaints.  NEOCH has received a written response to a handful of the hundreds of complaints we have filed.  We sat at the Cosgrove Center for a week and took 47 complaints about the women’s shelter and got one sentence answer to each complaint which basically said, “we do not believe the resident.”
  6. We worked for three years to improve the standards that are put in the contracts with the shelters to respond to the complaints we heard.   We were able to make a few changes, but the fundamental problem continued to exist.  There is no one who will enforce these rules or regularly check to make sure that the shelter is following their own rules. There is no sheriff for the shelters and so it is the wild west.  The County does not want to take complaints and do not want to spend the money to do proper oversight.  Shelter is the only congregate living situation in Ohio that does not have statutory regulations to govern the shelters.  We could not even get the shelters to agree to fill out paper work if someone dies in the shelter and report it to someone.  No one cares at the County for the well being of tax payers who lose their housing.
  7. NEOCH identified the shelter as Guantanamo Cleveland in 2005 in order to call attention to the deplorable conditions and were going to hold a demonstration outside the shelter.  We sent a female board member into the shelter to sleep there for a night and she verified that it was worse than we thought.  Instead of fixing the problem, the MHS Board called a meeting with the NEOCH Board to have the executive director of NEOCH fired.  They brought funders, City Council members and other “community leaders” to the table to complain about Brian’s hostility, tactics and publicity surrounding the shelter.  We never did get to talk about the mistreatment and torture going on in the shelter.  This seriously damaged NEOCH’s funding, but had no impact on changing the conditions at the shelter.
  8. There were a series of extremely qualified program directors brought in to change the shelter, and NEOCH staff met with all of them.  They were very good people with impressive resumes running other shelters and programs but they could not get control of the staff at the shelter.  All of these program directors failed to make much of a change in the shelter.
  9. The City and County agreed to place the women temporarily in a much smaller facility with only one shower in direct violation of the Health Code rules in Cleveland.  The women suffered for five months while the Payne Ave facility was renovated. NEOCH went to the media, city officials, and anyone we could to say how harmful this was to the women.  No one listened, and again condemned NEOCH for speaking harshly against another non-profit.
  10. Met with City Administrative staff as well as City Council members.  They listened but said since the County contributes the bulk of the funds, it is a County problem and not a city issue.
  11. After failing to get reform of the shelter standards and continuing to hear concerns from the women, the Homeless Congress voted to give the County/Frontline Services one year to make changes at the shelter to better serve the residents.  The biggest issue was to terminate all the staff who have failed the women and start over with input from the residents.  Frontline rejected many of the suggestions and said that they would do the rest in the future.
  12. NEOCH helped the Homeless Congress go before the County Council to explain all the concerns. Nine women testified and NEOCH Staff detailed all the issues at the shelter.  Council woman Yvonne Conwell, a previous social worker at the shelter, visited the facility one afternoon and declared it acceptable and not so bad. 
  13. ADAMHS Board staff also were invited to dinner at the shelter and they made a visit and found that the food was good that evening. 
  14. NEOCH flagged a few egregious incidents at the shelter in 2015 and 2016 including a suicide attempt that staff refused to call 9-1-1, extremely sick women not offered bed rest, the growing number of severely disabled individuals sleeping on the floor, and numerous incidents of retaliation with the County.  We never heard anything back.
  15. NEOCH spoke to a number of media outlets most prominently WEWS about the overcrowded conditions and all the problems at the shelter.  This is violation of one of the Charity Commandments that exists in Cleveland: Thou shalt never speak poorly about another non-profit to the media.  NEOCH again received backlash from other groups refusing to attend meetings and criticizing the Coalition to our funders. 
  16. NEOCH set up a few webpages called the House of Payne to document all the problems and post our recommended solutions that we developed with residents. 
  17. NEOCH convened meetings with management at Frontline Services and the women to try to work through some of the issues in August 2016 after being told that the agency was going to be in charge of the shelter for at least another year.  This turned out to be an alternative fact when the County released a request for proposal to run the shelter beginning in January 2017.  We were also told that if anyone else wanted to run the shelter, Frontline would step aside.  This turned out to also be false.
  18. NEOCH solicited every provider in the City to try to get someone else to respond to the County request for proposal so that there would be competition to Frontline running the shelter.  Most said that they could not do it, Lutheran Metro Ministry refused to answer claiming it would violate an agreement with their good friends at Frontline Services.  We got the County to agree to extend the deadline so that others would be willing to respond.
  19. We were able to convince West Side Catholic Center and Metanoia to work together with NEOCH to submit a bid to run the Women’s Shelter. We figured that WSCC has administered a quality shelter for over 30 years, Metanoia is experienced in operating an overnight drop in so could help with the overflow problem and NEOCH could assist with training and grievances.  Our bid was rejected by the County.

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