Commentary by Ramona Turnbull
On May 4, 2016, there was a long awaited hearing to address concerns at the community women’s shelter here in Cleveland by the Cuyahoga County Health and Human Services Committee. This is the only single women’s shelter in the city for homeless single women, and Cuyahoga County provides nearly all the funding for the shelter. There were five County Council members were in attendance. This hearing gave the past and current residents of the shelter the opportunity to voice their concerns about the shelter itself and treatment by staff. There were seven women that chose to testify at the hearing. Six were still residing at the shelter, but refused to be silent about the way they were being treated by staff. Their concerns varied from the overcrowded conditions to the unprofessional treatment by staff. For example, some complaints were problems with the intake and discharge procedures, staff’s lack of professionalism, the lack of supportive services offered, and rules and regulations constantly changing. The overall complaint was the toxic environment these problems present for the residents.
After the Cuyahoga County Council members heard the women’s complaints, Brian Davis, Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless was invited to speak. His concern and dedication to give the homeless population a voice was responsible for the women having the hearing. He talked about the differences between the women’s shelter and the men’s shelter (2100). “The men’s shelter is twice as large as the women’s shelter, there are twice as many people there every night, and they are “spending nearly the same amount of money,” yet there are no supportive services available at the women’s shelter.
The Director of Cuyahoga County Homeless Services, Ruth Gillett was brought to the podium for her testimony and to answer questions. She admitted that “things are not great there.“ She further stated that “every shelter has its issues.” She said that the focus of Homeless Services “first and foremost is to verify the funds are being spent according to the contract”.
The Chief Operating Officer, Eric Morse, of Frontline Services and Latonya Murray, the Director of Emergency Housing were next at the podium. Morse of Frontline Services, stated that he is not “minimizing or diminishing the concerns raised” and “their experience is real and I know that they are suffering and we work every day to try to resolve that suffering.” He went on to say Eden, the owner of the building, has raised funds to complete much needed repairs. He acknowledged that Mr. Davis does send the complaints he receives directly to him and he “personally oversees the investigation of those complaints.” He then informed the Council members about the changes that will be done to the shelter as well as training for the staff. The Council members then had a Q&A for both the COO and Director of Emergency Housing. Chairman of the Committee, Parnell Jones Jr concluded that “we have to hold everyone accountable, and from my position we want to make sure that we deliver services those that are homeless and the only way to do that is if everyone is working together.”
The Executive Director of Eden, Irene Collins, stated they are “committed to providing a safe sanitary secure facility for the homeless women in our community.”
There were two more women waiting to testify and they were called next. One main complaint from one of the women was when she asks if she has mail, staff will say no, “but yet sometimes when I go, I get mail two weeks late.” The last resident to come to the podium informed the Council members that one of the staff has worked for “all 3 providers.” She went on to say that this particular staff member was nicknamed “warden by the previous service provider.” She stated that the COO, Executive Director, and Director “give good reports, but the reality in the shelter is not really the same unfortunately.” She further informed them that although she does appreciate their effort to get funding for renovations, the money is not being put to good use. She also feel that the “grievance process only has its name.” She then brought attention to the four issues that were presented to President of the Cuyahoga County Council, Dan Brady prior to the hearing. They are 1) Fire/Transfer the current shift supervisor at the shelter who everyone agrees creates a hostile work environment. 2) All grievances submitted will get a written reply in 5 business days. 3) All notes from health professionals will be respected. 4) Every discharge will be in writing. She reminded the members that these were just four of the twelve recommendations provided back in September 2015 from the Homeless Congress.
President Brady did take these into consideration. He was gracious in inviting the women to give a de-briefing about the hearing after its conclusion. These four demands being met will be a show of good faith and greatly improve the conditions at the shelter. A deadline of September 2016 is in place a least one of these changes to take place. Council President Brady agreed to try and meet the deadline later at a Homeless Congress meeting.
Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle April 2016 Issue 23.2 Cleveland Ohio