We had new County Council Anthony Hairston as our guest at the Homeless Congress meeting this week. As with most meetings of the Homeless Congress, there is a lot of anger within the homeless community over discharges and the treatment that they receive by the shelter system. Hairston was good about patiently listening to his constituents and pledging to follow up on many of these issues.
We did learn that there has been movement in the Laura's Home situation after the article appeared in the Plain Dealer. Ruth Gillett of the Office of Homeless Services attended the meeting and indicated that there was a meeting last week between the County and the agency for which an agreement was drafted. We are not sure if the agency, City Mission, is going to accept the agreement and we will post the results next week. The agreement as described by the County was that they would allow homeless individuals to go to Laura's Home first, but they must report to Coordinated Intake within a week. All current residents would be allow to go over to Coordinated Intake to complete the application for help and maintain their homeless status. This is exactly what the Homeless Congress had requested way back in October before they were shut down by County Council member Yvonne Conwell (we posted the letter in our member HUB section). Conwell blamed HUD policy for turning down their request. I guess if a member of the big time Congress gets involved then HUD rules go out the door, but if their constituent working for the Homeless Congess they don't care.
Also at the meeting, we discussed problems at the Community Women's shelter including food issues, staff disrespect and threats of improper discharges. Hairston listened patiently to all the problems and at the end vowed that he would work with the Congress, the shelter, and the Office of Homeless Services to resolve some of these issues. The lack of an effective grievance procedure in the community was a big topic of the meeting. The Cleveland Mediation Center was contracted to do this service, but most in the homeless community do not consider CMC as an independent third party since they are a partner in the Coordinated Intake. If you were forced into arbitration over a defective part in your GM car, would you accept that that a staff member of the Delphi corporation, a partner of GM in the construction of your car, would hear your concern? This is what it is like for a homeless person except that CMC has no ability to overturn a decision by a shelter, and almost always the punishment has already happened.
The members of Congress and NEOCH are working to improve the shelter regulations in our community. Here are the current regulations. One surprising issue that we have stumbled on was reporting of deaths within the shelters. The County agency that funds all the shelters has refused to collect information on anyone who dies in the shelter. Homeless people and advocates cannot believe that there is not a place that people can go to find information on how many homeless people died in the shelters in Cleveland. Jails, nursing homes, hospitals, mental health facilities all have a protocol for notifying a funder or governmental agency about deaths. Shelters do not have to complete a piece of paper that says that there was a death and the reason for the death. Every death is reported to the Medical Examiner, but there is no paperwork prepared, collected and provided to government by the staff at the place of death. This seems strange that shelter staff do not have to report to the health department or the Office of Homeless Services about a death. We discussed this issue with the Councilman Hairston.
Finally, we discussed the possibility of the County passing a law to protect homeless people using the shelters. We want to put into law that the shelters will not turn people away, will construct a third party grievance procedure to arbitrate disputes. Here are the big list that we had first proposed. We have since paired it down to 15 recommendations that we would like to see passed into law. We had worked with Councilman Julian Rogers who then took a job with CSU. We are hoping that Councilman Hairston takes up the legislation and works with the Homeless Congress to improve the conditions in the shelters.
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