Frequently Asked Questions
If you would like to follow up on one of these answers or ask questions, then please visit our “submit a question” section. (Private Questions)
What can I do to assist NEOCH?
We have a section on our Web site that gives a good overview of volunteering (Volunteer Page). We also have a section on areas in the community that need your help. (Volunteering - Direct Service Opportunities). These worthwhile programs are always looking for people to help. We also have a page describing what type of items we collect here.
Where can I donate clothing that will go to homeless people?
The only way to get clothing donations directly to homeless people is to donate directly to the shelters or the two drop-in centers (Cosgrove and West Side Catholic). Both drop in Centers, one on the East Side (Cosgrove) and one on the West Side (West Side Catholic Center), have the proper amount of space and do a really good job distributing clothing to homeless and low income people. Many shelters do not have the space to accept donations, so check with them first. The largest shelter in Cleveland, 2100 Lakeside, gives out clothing, but only have a small room to store items for the 380 men sleeping at the shelter. NEOCH collects winter items including blankets, socks, hygiene kits. For more on our winter collections go here. You will have to drop off the clothing if you want to make sure it gets to homeless people. Those groups that pick up typically sell their items in order to pay for the cost of driving around, sorting and distributing the clothing. There is nothing wrong with picking up clothing and then selling them. It is a good service needed in our community, but some want their clothing to go directly to people in need here in Cleveland. If you like the ease of having someone come to your house and pick up the clothing, Purple Heart, Volunteers of America, Easter Seals are all willing to help. If you have the time to drop off items near downtown that service is available. Both types of programs are of equal value to the community.
Do the shelters collect money based on the number of people that enter each night?
The people they serve do not pay the emergency shelters. Each shelter has a set budget for the year no matter how many people enter the facility. The Veterans Administration pays for occupied shelter beds in the community, but that is a specialized service. The Emergency Shelter funds from Federal Emergency Management Agency are strictly based on the percentage of the total beds in the community.
How can I gain access to a shelter?
Beginning in 2011, Cuyahoga County moved to a Central Intake system for access to shelter. All individuals must start at the two entry shelters before being referred to any other shelter. We have put together a page called "What do I do if I become homeless?" For men you go to 2100 Lakeside Shelter at 2100 Lakeside Ave. For families and single women go to 2227 Payne Ave. which is called the Norma Herr Center. They will do a Central Intake screening and find the best place for you in the community. Central Intake can tell you if you are eligible for housing assistance or other programs that may be available to you. For non-shelter help go to First Call for Help/211 or call them at 216-436-2000 or by dialing 2-1-1. The two entry shelters will not turn you away. If you need a warm place to sleep the entry shelters will find a place for you in the community.
There are more than 22,000 people homeless every year or 4,000 to 4,300 people homeless every night in Cleveland. In 2011, estimates show 22,500 people were homeless in Cuyahoga County using the Department of Education definition of homelessness.
What is the Homeless Stand Down?
The Homeless Stand Down is an annual event providing hot meals, respite, and access to services that help to break the cycle of homelessness and encourage hope, vision, and health. A wide range of services are offered at the Stand Down, including hair cuts, medical, dental, and eye examinations, job-readiness training, alcohol and drug services, and legal assistance. The Stand Down is currently overseen by HandsOn NEO.
What are the biggest challenges facing homeless persons and advocates in Cleveland today?
Some of the major challenges facing homeless persons and advocates include hate crimes, bed bug infestations at shelters, overcrowded and a lack of family shelters, a lack of shelter for pregnant women as well as single women, lack of transportation to jobs and housing, and a general lack of funding for programs.
Other challenges to overcome include high costs of public transportation, lack of health care and jobs near where people live, housing for sexually based offenders, and a decreasing regional population.
Where can a person or family who recently became homeless turn for help?
When you first become homeless you have several options: During the week and from 8 to 8 p.m. go to Coordinated Intake at 1736 Superior Ave. on the second floor. After hours or on the weekend, women can go to the shelter at 2227 Payne Avenue, men can go to the shelter at 2100 Lakeside Avenue. Families call 2-1-1. It is highly unlikely that both parents in a family can go to the same shelter. There is usually no choice about which shelter a homeless person or family starts out in, and the remaining shelters do not keep waiting lists. Ask questions, talk to people, and remember that you will make it through this period in your life if you remain strong.
What is Shelter Plus Care or EDEN?
This is a question we get almost every week at the office. Shelter Plus Care is a federal program to assist disabled individuals who are homeless get back into housing. It is administered by EDEN Inc. locally, and is similar to the Housing Choice Voucher Program. You must be referred by a case worker who is assisting you with your disability. The three qualified disabilities are those with a mental illness, those overcoming alcohol and drug addiction, or those with HIV or AIDS. There is a waiting list for this project, but it is typically closed so that the list does not get too large. You can contact your disability case worker to inquire about Shelter Plus Care and they can complete the application. EDEN has recently updated their website, so you can get more information from them.
How can I get help with a divorce if I am homeless?
This is tough and often there is no resources available locally to help with divorce. NEOCH collaborates with the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association and Cleveland Legal Aid to provide Homeless Legal Assistance. Legal Aid can assist with a divorce if there is an issue with Domestic Violence in the marriage. The Bar Association hosts a monthly pro se divorce clinic with Legal Aid. This will teach you how to file your own divorce, but is only available to those without much money and those without children who have been separated for over one year. For everyone else it is likely that you will have to hire an attorney to finalize a divorce. The court requires a high degree of attention be paid to the needs of children in a divorce, and so requires legal counsel be involved.
Can I vote if I do not have a place to live?
Yes, going back 25 years in Ohio, we have had rules to allow homeless people to vote. In fact, if you sleep at a park bench you can register that as your residence. The problem is that you would not be able to receive mail at the park bench, and therefore the board would get your registration card back and you would most likely have to vote a provisional ballot. We have three places for homeless people to receive mail and the Board recognizes those as legitimate addresses for homeless people. Many receive mail at a family or friends house and can register at that location, but when a voter turns in a new registration it cancels previous registrations. NEOCH recommends homeless people voting early by mail or in person at the board of election's offices the 35 days before an election (MINUS the LAST THREE DAYS BEFORE ELECTION DAY!!!). Because of the ID provisions and other confusing laws passed by the state legislature in Ohio, we recommend voting early. We have an entire section of our website dedicated to voting. We also have Frequently Asked Questions specifically on voting.
I really want to help, where can I go to set up a shelter?
First, you must have enough money to run the shelter without any government support for the next 10 years. If you think that eventually government will fund your operation, you are mistaken. The current shelters are cutting back staff, hours of operation or closing. There is no money for additional shelters in this community from any branch of government. Consider using your building to rent rooms to homeless people. Strike up a relationship with some of the social service providers by volunteering and get to know the community and the needs of homeless people. We have examples of direct service opportunities in the community to that are needed by social service providers here. Another way to volunteer is to contact HandsOn NEO. You could also turn your property over to the Land Bank or one of the housing development non-profit agencies to use for homeless people. If you are going to rent to homeless people make sure you list your property on housingcleveland.org.
Does the Affordable Care Act Help Homeless People?
Yes, it should provide additional resources in the community that can be redirected to other high need health issues such as dental, mental health or alcohol and drug addiction services. A state will have to set up the Medicaid Exchanges, and will have to work to cover the low income with some health insurance. At this point, health care for the homeless programs such as Care Alliance in Cleveland pay for 88% of the thousands of patients they see every year. These homeless and low income individuals have absolutely no health insurance so any ability to provide health insurance to even a small percentage of this population will help at the emergency room, at the local health clinics and at Care Alliance. The local community then can figure out how to use these resources to serve the health care needs of low income and homeless people.
Where can I get an affordable place to live?
Check HousingCleveland.org for available housing in Cuyahoga County. There is a similar website in the Akron area. For those who need housing but do not have income or have a very low income there is a very long wait for housing (typically 4 to 7 years). The last time the housing voucher program was opened up for just one week, 65,000 people applied for a chance to get a voucher. Then 10,000 names were drawn and those people will wait for 5 ot 7 years. There are very long waiting lists for housing in the community. There is very little rental assistance available. The counties priority for housing rental assistance are families at this time.
Can I serve food to people who are unwilling to go to shelter in Northeast Ohio?
In the City of Cleveland and most cities in Northeast Ohio you have freedom to distribute food for free to homeless or hungry people on a public sidewalk which is typically defined as one constructed by the public next to a public road. You cannot sell items without a permit on most sidewalks. You do not have a right to distribute anything on private property which includes parking lots or the sidewalks within a shopping center. Private property owners or their agents (private security companies) have a right to regulate who can come on their property including shoppers, homeless people or those who are helping homeless people. The only exception that would run afoul of the law is if the private property owners is restricting access by a protected class. Unfortunately, homeless people are not a protected class.
The City of Cleveland claims that people who hand out food need a special events permit to do so, but this has not been challenged in court yet. They want groups to sign a covenant with NEOCH over the safe handling of food; conduct the activity when it is needed (when there is not another meal going on); and serve the food in an area that has access to a restroom, running water, and sufficient trash disposal. There is no law about this covenant, but a negotiated compromise to the huge problems the City had with 12 groups all distributing food on Public Square on the weekend in the early 2000s. My experience is that if you are only distributing a few meals anywhere other than Public Square, no one in Cleveland really cares about handing out food. Police don’t usually get involved and the City does not want a legal fight on this issue.