Shelters Need Some Kind of Oversight in Cleveland

By Brian Davis
After years of trying to convince Cleveland City Council to take up the issue of regulating the shelters, homeless people turned to the new County government.  The Homeless Congress is a group that meets monthly of homeless people from many different shelters and those sleeping outside to talk about the issues facing the displaced in Cuyahoga County.   Homeless Congress members secured a majority of both County Council members as well as Cleveland City Council members in 2009 and 2010 elections claiming that they would pass some kind of legislation.  This has not happened, and County staff have convinced the elected office holders that the oversight of the shelters would cost too much money and is unnecessary because the County has regulations in each contract.

Homeless people disagreed and reached out to a number of elected officials with meetings to discuss these issues.  One issue that came up was that the 10 pages of 86 regulations that homeless people had developed was way too much for anyone to review or put into practice.  The thinking by the members of the Homeless Congress was that they were putting on paper what would be the best shelters in the County.  They wanted to address every aspect of a person’s stay in shelter and make sure that no matter where you entered, you would have a positive experience.   This was way too much for the policy makers to handle, and they were unwilling to pick out a reasonable piece of legislation to put forward. 

The Congress over the summer took the lead and put together a list of the high priority items that they would like to see passed by either Cleveland City Council or Cuyahoga County Council.  They want these to be in law to protect those seeking shelter locally.  They passed these unanimously at the August 8 Homeless Congress meeting.  They are asking supporters to urge their City Council or County Council members to take these up as soon as possible.

Requirement to Offer Shelter to anyone requesting help

Provide at least one 24-hour emergency drop-in center that provides shelter, mental health services, medical services, and transportation to available off-site services and programs if the facility is full.  Shelters shall not discharge individuals unless there is a plan for housing at a place fit for human habitation or unless there is criminal activity with a police report generated. 

In order to operate a shelter in Cuyahoga County, a non-profit entity must include the following quality of life enhancements

All contracts between the County and shelter operators shall include provisions that require shelter operators to:

  • Treat all shelter clients equally, with respect and dignity, including in the application of posted shelter policies and a legitimate grievance process involving final arbitration by a impartial third party individual;
  • Commit to serving healthy food with one hot meal at the facility. Meals must include accommodations for those with special dietary needs or religious beliefs;
  • Provide shelter clients with pest-free, secure property storage inside each shelter. Shelter staff shall provide closable plastic containers to clients for storage purposes. If storage inside a shelter is unavailable, the shelter operator may provide free, pest-free storage off-site as long as the off-site storage is available to the shelter client up until the time of evening bed check;
  • Ensure that all clients receive appropriate and ADA-compliant transportation services, to attend medical appointments, permanent housing appointments, substance abuse treatment, job-search appointments and job interviews, mental health services, and shelter services;
  • Ensure that the shelter is aware and abiding by federal, state and local fair housing laws with regard to access and continued occupancy of a shelter bed;
  • Clients will receive a housing plan within three weeks of entering a shelter or the central intake prepared with the input of the clients to quickly and efficiently move a household back into stable housing that will give the client the best opportunity to remain in housing;
  • Each shelter over with over 80 beds should have daily health care clinic available to the residents.  All other shelters must have a plan for regular visits by heath care professionals that must be posted in the shelter.  Staff must develop and post a policy for allowing residents bed rest when ordered by a qualified doctor.  This bed rest policy must be posted in the shelter. 

Each Shelter Should Develop a Compliant and Investigation Process

The County shall develop a complaint process that protects residents of the local shelters and assures that an eviction does not result in a person forced to sleep on the streets.  Every shelter must provide readily available resident complaint forms, as well as provide a form upon request.   Shelters with over 80 beds must have staff designated as a clients rights officer to assist those completing a grievance.  Those shelters with under 80 beds should develop a plan for how to assist those who are illiterate or have some other barrier to completing a complaint form to submit a grievance.  Shelters must accept and investigate written complaints from residents, client advocates or those who utilize the service as well as members of the Shelter Monitoring Committee. Shelter staff must respond in writing to written complaints within two business days.  Shelter staff must make every effort to take corrective action within five business days. If the client is not satisfied with the action taken, the shelter operator shall refer the complaint to an impartial third party not connected to any homeless service provider (could be a volunteer attorney) and has no relationship with any of the parties involved in the complaint.  The County Shelter Monitoring Committee and Office of Homeless Services shall receive a copy of the complaint and shall supervise the process, and receive the outcome of the grievance or complaint.  If a resident files a grievance they must be allowed to see the grievance to completion before the punishment is enforced.   There needs to be a government entity that has control over funding that can act on potential problems. The telephone number and address for either the Office of Homeless Services or a shelter monitoring committee special telephone number must be posted in every single shelter covered. This Office of Homeless Services should present a report to Cleveland City Council, Cuyahoga County Council, the Cleveland Mayor, and the County Executive every year as shelter allocation decisions are being made on the number of complaints and the general resolution of those complaints. This information should be made available to the public on a website along with the results of the monitoring evaluation of every shelter.

Copyright Street Chronicle October 2013 Cleveland Ohio.