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The Cleveland Street Chronicle
Jim Schlecht Event

Testimony of Eric Morse and LaTonya Murray – CEO of Frontline Services and Director of Emergency Housing Services for Frontline, Respectively

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Eric Morse: Councilman Jones is it ok if we are both here? 

Pernel: Yes

Eric: So I am Eric Morrison the chief operating officer, of Frontline service.

LaTonya Murray: and I am Latonya Murray, I’m the director of emergency housing services and the women’s shelters one of my areas of oversight.

Eric: So we had prepared a written statement which I am happy to read, though we are also as much of Ruth’s statements we are happy to answer questions but I think it will take a long time to go through all of the…  It will become a he said she said disagreement, I do also want to say we are extremely transparent, any of you are welcome to come to Norma Herr at any time and welcome to look at our grievance process and look at our grievances and ask any questions you have we were committed to running the best women’s shelter possible and it’s certainly challenged, there’s no doubt about that.  Small comment here I think there’s some historical context that needs to be just maybe remembered that there have really been 3 emergency shelters for women in Cuyahoga County,  at least that I remember.  One was run by a group out of First Church Cleveland, the Reverend Ken Chalker. My recollection is Brian Davis pretty unhappy with that situation and caused a lot of trouble for that organization.  And eventually they gave up the contract, then another reputable organization, Catholic Charities, operated the Women’s Shelter for several years, again, it played out the same way.  There were concerns about what was going on there eventually Catholic Charities said we don’t want to do it anymore.  Frontline has since taken over since then.  And I would say that the concerns that are brought up are basically the same concerns, every time.  And I think though there is a lot that we can do to improve our services all the time we work very hard to do that the fact of the matter is that living in a homeless shelter, being homeless, particularly being a homeless women is a very difficult situation to be in and a very uncomfortable situation to be in.  I just wanted to provide that to those thinking about this.  Remembering that…I have to put on my glasses, getting too old.

So first and foremost we would like to thank county council for holding this hearing.  To chairperson Pernell Jones, and especially to Councilman Yvonne Conwell and Dale Miller for your continuous support of the women at Norma Herr and the time that you have devoted to reviewing the issues identified by the residents.   We’d also like to thank the residents and advocates for helping to bring more attention to the problems of women experiencing homelessness in Cuyahoga County.  We do understand the trials and turmoil that they are experienced in everyday homeless life but our job is first and foremost to end homelessness for those we serve and to provide safe emergency while they work through that process. 

Approximately a year ago our executive leadership including myself and our executive director, Susan Neff and the executive management of Eden met with residents to hear directly from them what their concerns were.  We met with them over several different meetings, I think we met with approx. 57 women.  During that process there were basically issues related to 3 basic buckets of issues.  The physical facility, staff and operations and the food.   Frontline Service and Eden, the facility owner and manager have worked together over the past year to address these concerns that were raised.  Though the job is not done, a lot of progress has been made and I’d like to review some of that progress with you today.  But before I start I just want to say that as I go over our progress in no way am I minimizing or diminishing the concerns raised today by the women who do live in the shelter every day, their experience is real and I know that they are they’re suffering and we work every day to try to resolve that suffering so please don’t take this as a rebuttal to anything you heard today from any of the women who live at Norma Herr.  Upon hearing of the concerns being raised of the women living at the shelter.

The Cleveland Mediation Center immediately offered to come to the shelter to engage the residents in a listening circle project which continues to this day to be an opportunity for the residents to voice their concerns to a neutral party who then provides the feedback to shelter management.  Recognizing the wear and tear experience at the facility Eden had already raised funds to complete a much needed repair at the site. This work began last summer and is scheduled to be complete soon.  Additionally due to the concerns of overcrowding based on the average number of people staying at the shelter we were originally designed to hold around 120 woman although our capacity according to the Fire Marshall is over 300 people.  We did add more beds, thanks to the leadership of this committee, from 134 to 161 beds, those beds are in place now and our average census is around 161, so there is a bed for everyone who wants one.  There are certainly some women who do not want to sleep on a bed and we accommodate them providing them with mats if that is what they would prefer. 

As recognized by county council more was needed to meet the service needs of those served by the program, due to your support Frontline is hiring  additional case managers to provide those services to help women address their needs and to move out into housing.  Once we have those case managers hired we will be at a ratio of 40-1 which is still not great for intensive services but it is better than it is today.  Since we have operated the shelter we have had 3 case managers to serve over 160 women so we have prioritized through that process who need the most services that is who gets the case management ‘cause we can’t serve everyone with 3 case managers. 

We have also hired most of the additional shelter specialist positions with very strong candidates who are compassionate and excited about working with women of the shelter, these additional employees help us to assure the safety and wellbeing of the residents and provide needed coverage throughout the facility especially during the evening and overnight hours.  In addition to adding new members, Frontline has concentrated training efforts to the staff to improve staff client interactions at the shelter. Staff are continuing to receive specialized training to assist their work with the various populations utilizing the shelter including those experiencing mental health disorders, trauma, domestic violence and ongoing other training.  We do have Brian mentioned about the non-violent crisis intervention all of our staff are trained in that. 

We are CARF accredited behavioral health agency that is required of everyone working at our agency including myself, everyone is trained in de-escalation techniques.   Since December 2015, with the existing limited resources we have concentrated on reducing the census at the shelter by assisting the most disabled women with obtaining housing subsidies and moving out.  Since that time we have moved out 45 high need vulnerable women into independent housing, 19 who were able to reunite with family or friends, 5 who went into chemical dependency programs, and 5 who need higher levels of care and went into nursing homes or group homes.  As you know over 50% of those using the shelter on any given night are experiencing mental illness has been raised here multiple times.  We are a mental health agency, we are hiring 2 additional mental health specialists which we will pay for through Medicaid expansion essentially to provide more mental health care at the shelter. 

Crisis intervention re-linkage and helping people to move out.  Another chief complaint which really hasn’t been raised today but just to be on the record, but has been raised regarding the food the site has a warming kitchen not a fully functioning kitchen, we are not we don’t cook any of the food there.  The food that is served at Norma Herr is the same food that is served at 2100 Lakeside and North Pointe, it’s through a contract with LMM and their food service which I think is an excellent program.  It has certainly had its bumps along the way but has been very responsive in trying to improve the quality, they hire homeless people they train people who are experiencing homelessness, so we want to continue to support that and overall happy with the food quality.  We have directed a lot of support to this shelter, our management team while continuing to have monthly residents meetings at the shelter which LaTonya goes to herself, Ruth Gillett attends, sometimes I attend and our Executive Director attends, we can always keep an ear for what’s going on at the shelter, what the concerns are, it’s a very collaborative meeting the times that I have gone, the residents are expressing their concerns, they are getting responses back, changes are made and adjustments, so that we continue to run a shelter that  meets the needs of the people who are there.

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