How Long Do We Keep Overflow for Families?

It is now eight months of family overflow in Cleveland.  Every night we send around 20 families to a church because we do not have enough shelter beds.  How long do we continue to send families to mats on the floor or cots before we resolve to create additional shelter spaces in our community?  Is one year solid of overflow the point when we resolve that we need more beds?   Is it two years? Every night around 20 to 30 kids have to board a bus and are sent to a church to sleep in the evening and then are deposited back downtown in the morning to wander around looking for a safe place to rest. 

The problem is that we keep losing shelter beds especially beds for families.  In August, Continue Life closed down, but before that Family Transitional reduced its size. Triumph House closed, and East Side Catholic shelter closed.  None of these were replaced in the community.   Along with the family shelters,  THI and the Upstairs program for single adult women closed and were not replaced.  These squeezed the existing programs.  We got through the downturn, because we had huge rental assistance dollars available to families to keep them out of shelter, but that has all dried up.  So, now we are stuck with no where to place families.  Continue Life specialized in serving pregnant or new moms with shelter, and now we have no where to turn for these young Moms.  

The other issue is that for the County to suggest more emergency beds they will have to admit that we are not solving homelessness as has been championed recently. County officials will have to figure out how to pay for these beds in a time of reductions from the federal government.  These two obstacles are going to be huge to overcome.  The propaganda value at the local and national level as one of the cities making huge progress in "solving homelessness" is valuable.  Community planners and social service who have dedicated their life to reducing the pain and stress of living without housing and helps people deal with the depressing job of seeing people when they are the lowest point in their life.  We all want to point to victories in our jobs to justify the late night grant reports and the mountains of paper work. 

Someone would have to go before City Council or County Council to tell them that "All is not right in Cleveland and a large number of families are struggling."  That opens up some uncomfortable questions someone is going to have to answer:

  1. Are we using existing tax payer dollars wisely?
  2. Have we evaluated the existing system to assure that we are doing what is best for the community? 
  3. Why are we paying for shelter for some people who seem to not be worthy?
  4. Why don't we have time limits or life time limits on shelter?

Or any of the other inappropriate or misinformed questions that come up when someone has their hand out for money. 

At the end of the day if we want to maintain our commitment to keeping families together, we must open more shelter beds.  If we want to keep Moms from freezing to death in a car this winter, we have to have more shelter beds.  If we want to make sure that when a child asks for a bed, we will have one available for them then we have to build more shelter spaces.  We all know that it is only a band aid that does not end homelessness, but it is impossible to provide assistance after a family has dissolved and each sent in a different direction.  It costs our community much more when the children enter foster care or the Mom gives up her children due to poverty.  Cleveland needs to suck it up and provide more shelter beds to families waiting for an affordable place to live. 

Brian Davis

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