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The Cleveland Street Chronicle
Jim Schlecht Event

Testimony of Brian Davis – Executive Director of NEOCH

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Brian Davis:  Thank you so much for, uh, meeting today on this very important topic, um, and thank you also for taking the lead in providing homeless services in our community. Um, this came about in the 1990s when the city was regularly arresting homeless people, and so the county stepped forward and has taken the lead, and I have to say from my, uh board membership on the National Coalition for the Homeless that, uh, you know this may be controversial, um, among the women certainly, uh, we do a really good job in providing homeless services compared to cities like Atlanta, and uh, Denver and many other cities which have pretty much eliminated, uh, emergency services to homeless people. So. That being said, there’s a pretty good network of homeless services in the community, the women’s shelter seems to be the outlier here. Um, much different, as Ramona indicated, compared to the men’s shelter. Um, the men’s shelter is twice as large as the women’s shelter, there are twice as many people there every night. Um, you’re spending almost the same amount of money, I think 75% of the funds, uh, going to the women’s shelter compared to the men’s shelter, um, but it’s a much different environment. So we can do this right, we can, um, improve the conditions, so that women feel empowered and feel like they have a reason to, uh, go on and not just give up. And that’s what I think is happening a lot in the, in the women’s shelter where, uh, it’s so toxic of an environment that women are just giving up and saying, um, how did I get in this horrible situation. And, um, there are threats, we’ve heard threats; we had a lot of women who, um, didn’t want to come today because they were afraid that they’d have their bed taken and they would be on a mat on the floor. Lots of retaliation; um, grievances aren’t handled correctly, if at all; discharges for sneaking in food, and you’ve heard issues of problems with the food. Uh, inability to help disabled individuals as we’ve heard; safety issues; um, concerns about discharges, uh, for, uh, many different reasons, but never a discharge in writing. Uh, it’s, it’s a there are lots and lots of problems and we’re hoping that the County Council can sign on to some immediate reforms that we’re asking about, and then some long-term committee  that is set up, um, with the oversight of the County Council to try and address, um, the big issues at the shelter. Um, I think that, um, when I, last year, when I saw that a woman had attempted suicide in the lobby of the shelter and received very little help for that, was the breaking point for me, that was the point at which I said you know we need some drastic changes at the women’s shelter. Um, we can’t see women who are very fragile, very disabled sleeping on a mat, uh, in the lobby of the shelter going forward. These are our neighbors, these are our nieces, who are, um, choosing to stay in bus shelters, choosing to stay outside because they can’t find a decent place to, uh, to shelter. This is the only shelter for single women now that we have so many families entering the system, so we don’t have the luxury of transferring women to Westside Catholic or Family Promise or some of the other facilities in the community because they are dealing with a large number of families who are, who are showing up. Uh, so just comparing the two shelters, I think we can show that shelter can be done right, um, you can create an empowering environment, you can provide services onsite to move people along, you can group people in communities so that they feel like they are a part of a, part of a larger team of individual staff, other volunteers that are coming into the shelter that can help people move along. We don’t really have the level of support by the staff at the women’s shelter, and you don’t see the number of volunteers coming in to help. You don’t see people coming in who are helping with resume-building, or church groups that are coming in to move people out of housing or to provide furniture for somebody who’s moving into housing that you see at the men’s shelter. Um, and we don’t, there’s no, um,  system in place locally in Cuyahoga County to accept complaints, so how does a woman who is experiencing these things-- a pregnant who needs a bed rest, her doctor has ordered be rest, where does she go to tell um, you, or a county staff person that there is this problem over there, that she cannot get bed rest or she’s told that she has to get a second opinion on whether she needs bed rest or not. Um there’s no, there’s no process in our community for government to hear about some of these problems that exist over at the women’s shelter. Um, it is really demoralizing, it’s, it’s a shame. It can be improved. There are models, even in Cleveland, which are much better environment for the population. And I hope that you can, you know, we presented you a list of four things that we’re asking for that you could do today, and say, you know, these things need to happen-- where grievances are replied to, in five days, in writing. Where people aren’t discharged without that being in writing. Where stay in notes, where bed rest orders are respected and are not questioned, and  just like at the men’s shelter, when a person shows up and they need bed rest, they are given bed rest and not being harassed for that; and we think that, um, there’s staff over there that need to be, uh, shown the door or, or transferred to another facility, to show that we’re serious in this community about, um, respecting homeless women, and we need to, um, create an environment over there that’s not so toxic. So I urge some immediate action and then maybe a committee to try to work on some of the bigger problems that exist at the shelter.

Jones:  Alright. Before we open up to questions, could you again state your name and, and   who you actually work for.

Davis:  My name is Brian Davis. I’m the Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, and I’ve been working in homeless services, uh, since 1993.

  Brian giving his testimony 

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