Homeless Coalition And Homeless Congress Want Dramatic Changes At The Women’s Shelter

The residents of the local shelters met at their regular Homeless Congress meeting in September and unanimously approved a resolution asking that the County include the following 12 items in any future contract with Frontline Services to administer the Community Women’s Shelter at 2227 Payne Ave.  The Homeless Coalition endorsed the position of the Homeless Congress in November 2015.  The women have filed formal written complaints and held meetings with the CEO of Frontline Services, but have not seen many changes.  The women who stay at the shelter still have out of control staff, little help in moving into housing and a broken grievance process.  The staff consistently under order food for the dinners with 165 meals ordered while 180 to 210 women sleep at the shelter.  The bedrest problem still exists every night with many disabled and elderly individuals sleeping on the floor.   There are far too many people sleeping in this County funded building and the staff do not foster an environment to move people into healthier and more appropriate housing. 

The County Council held a hearing without inviting any women who sleep at the shelter and we have seen women fighting at the overcrowded shelter and staff refusing to intervene.  The women met the ADAMHS Board CEO and have not seen many changes with many severely mentally ill women sleeping at the shelter.  The Community Women’s shelter is extremely overcrowded with WEWS News covering the story of overcrowded conditions.   These are taxpayer dollars that are funding this shelter with very little oversight and many pregnant women sleeping at the shelter including on the floor.  The taxpayers who fall on hard times are not served when they show up at the Community Women’s Shelter. We have already seen women so distraught at the shelter that they attempted suicide in the middle of the night.  If Council does not step in here there is going to be a horrible tragedy that explode in the media. 

Here are our approved list of demands that we ask you include in any further contract with Frontline Services:

All Frontline Staff who currently work at the shelter would be laid off over the next three months (one third at a time), and would have to reapply for their jobs or accept a transfer to another position within Frontline that never would involve contact with the Community Women’s Shelter at Norma Herr.  An elected group of current or recent residents of the shelter would interview the potential employees and would have a meaningful input regarding potential staff. 

An independent resident council would be started to comment on staffing, maintenance, facility issues, food, grievances, and the daily operation of the agency.  These notes would be collected by a third party (not an existing subcontractor of Frontline) and presented to senior staff at Frontline.  The staff would respond in writing and those notes would be available to other residents by being displayed.  Frontline could hire an independent third party group for the exclusive purpose of overseeing a resident council.

There are a number of residents who are creating a hostile living environment and are not being sanctioned or punished for all the problems they create. The resident council would be allowed to recommend for transfer or discharge residents who are regularly violating the rules or fighting and not being disciplined by the staff.  Frontline staff/client rights officer would have the final say on the population living in the shelter, but at least would have to respond in writing to the concerns. 

The shelter must re-write their grievance procedure with the input and approval of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.  Grievances must be done in a more timely manner and must have a written response.  At the end of the process there must be an independent third party (non-Frontline staff) who can make the final decision.  This could be a volunteer attorney who has no relationship with the shelter, staff or the agency.  This cannot be a subcontractor of the agency such as Cleveland Mediation Center, to make final decisions on grievances submitted to the agency. The main topics of the grievances need to be displayed on a weekly basis with some non-identifying information released about the results.  This is to assure that people trust the grievance process and will be willing to complete a grievance. There also must be some consequence for the staff if they are regularly the subject of complaints or are found to be violating the rights of residents.

The shelter has to do a better job of accepting help from the outside to improve the conditions.  They need to have one staff dedicated to accepting church groups who want to donate items or volunteer or serve a dinner.  Residents should be encouraged to assist and volunteer to help at the shelter in order to improve the conditions. 

The Shelter Rules and Regulations will be rewritten with the input of an independent resident committee by January 2016.  The shelter needs to offer more incentives to those who live at the shelter to participate in programming and quickly move on to housing.  They need to divide up the shelter into smaller communities with staff who specialize in assisting special populations and offer specialized care with programs for people in need of help such as addiction, mental health, students, job seekers, or those seeking housing.  This does not mean dividing up the shelter by different populations in different bedrooms, but building the concept of community among like-minded individuals within the shelter.  They need to offer more medical assistance to those who are on bedrest or movement to more appropriate facilities. 

Resident input should be sought as part of employee performance evaluations and those comments should be taken into account when deciding on promotion or salary increases.  If the employee does not get at least ten resident comments either positive or negative, the senior staff need to gather additional input.

The director of Frontline needs to meet with the residents at least quarterly to hear concerns and ways to improve the shelter.  No staff working at the shelter are allowed to attend this meeting.

Since the shelter has had repeated violations of fair housing rules by not offering bed rest ordered by doctors and not respecting the rights of the disabled or the LGBT HUD rules, the shelter must display the fair housing rules that they are following. 

The Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center or Rape Crisis Center will have a female staff person on site everyday who can respond independently to sexual harassment and related issues by the women.

Frontline will accept that there is a need for a separate shelter for severely mentally ill women and will begin to work on finding and funding a separate facility.

If changes are not implemented by September 2016, the Homeless Congress and NEOCH will revisit the idea of changing the service provider who oversees the Community Women’s Shelter.   

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle December 2015 all rights reserved