Infant Mortality and Homelessness in Cleveland

We heard the excellent overview of the problem of infant mortality in Ohio and Cleveland on the Sound of Ideas on WCPN.  I am concerned that this is a hot topic because the Governor and State Legislature are embarrassed that Ohio is so far behind other parts of the Country.  We posted the Kaiser Family Foundation data in our information blog.  It is not like this is a new problem and in my opinion has not been effectively dealt with in this community for 25 years.   We heard about the City's effort for the first year of life (which does nothing for infant mortality by the way).  We heard the doctors and others talk about how important health care was to this effort.  We expanded Medicaid so why hasn't the infant mortality rate gone down?   We heard the County is now paying attention, but where were they when Continue Life shut down in 2014?

Mike McIntyre read my question toward the end of the show, but did not get a response. 

It seems like a lot of talk and very little action.  If we really wanted to help before birth, we would not have closed our shelter for pregnant women.  Now, we have pregnant women sleeping outside or on the floor of the women’s shelter because we have no space inside.  Where do we take these women when outreach workers find them on the street to protect their unborn child?

This is the reality today.  We find pregnant women wandering the streets looking for help or unwilling to leave her significant other.  We don't have any shelters for couples so this sometimes is the barrier to shelter.  If they will not separate then the couple is on their own.  Every bed is full every night and we keep stuffing more and more women into the Community Women's Shelter.  Before there was space in the family shelters so couples might have a chance to go in together.  Now, we have so many Moms with kids there is never space for couples.  We never turn people away, but we do not open new beds when the women's shelter is full.  We keep cutting beds in favor of thee months worth of rental assistance.  Who is going to hire a pregnant woman if she gets housing so she can maintain the rent?   The homeless system is deeply flawed right now, and it is not helping pregnant women or their unborn child. 

Today, if they showed up asking for help they would be told to return to the place they were staying two nights ago without an independent investigation to see if that space is appropriate for a pregnant woman.  If they could not return to that housing they are given a mat to sleep on the floor of the Women's Shelter during the re-construction of the building.  The pregnant mom will have to get up at 6 a.m and leave the building by 8 am to walk down to Cosgrove to get breakfast.  She will be outside or at a drop in center until 3 p.m. until the City or County declares a cold weather emergency so she can stay inside all day.  Without this declaration she is on the streets waiting for the doors to open.  Then she has a limited time to find housing or she cannot take her baby out of the hospital after the child is born.   While she struggles with this pregnancy alone (since her partner is at a different shelter), she also has to find a landlord willing to rent to her or she loses the baby to the County. 

Let me attach names to the situation so it makes a little more sense to the average reader.  Mary and her husband Joseph are knocking on doors all day looking for a bed together because Mary is eight months pregnant and there is no room at the inn.  She is told to go back to her home city which may be hundreds of miles away.  The City will even offer transportation assistance if they can prove that they have a stable place to live in this distant city lets call it Nazareth.  Mary and Joseph have their baby in secret and do not want to separate so they stay in an abandoned house with the vermin and exposed to the elements.  Some would say it is much like living in a stable or barn.   The County is not a big fan of this strategy and the couple is trying to stay under the radar so that their new born child (lets call the child, Jesus, just for identification purposes) will not be taken into custody. They are scared and do not know who they can trust and are trying to find stable housing, but the system is not helpful.   This scenario happens in our city in 2015. It seems like an ancient story from our past, but it happens.

The homeless system in Cleveland is not friendly to Moms and is certainly hostile to couples including married couples without children.  Until we start addressing the housing issues low income families are facing, we are just talking about infant mortality. 

Brian Davis

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