These are the issues that the women sleeping at the shelter want changed. The Homeless Congress and staff of NEOCH have been meeting to discuss these issues. Solutions recommended by the Women Living at the Community Women’s Shelter in 2015 and updated in October 2016.
- Staff Re-Hired With Client Input: 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. We need some backup for the food since we cannot count on edible food or even enough for everyone.
- Create an Independent Resident Council: 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.
- Movement of Disruptive Residents: 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.
- Grievance Procedure Reform: 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.
- Display of Grievances: 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.
- Outside Agency/Religious Organizational Support: 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.
- Redo the Rules and Regulations with a Resident Committee: 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 bed rest or movement to more appropriate facilities.
- New Procedure for Employee Evaluation Going Forward. 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 10 resident comments either positive or negative, the senior staff need to gather additional input.
- Quarterly CEO Meetings with Residents: 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.
- Display of Fair Housing Rights: 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.
- Independent Organization Sets Up Process to Review Harassment Claims: The Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center will have a female staff person on site everyday who can respond independently to sexual harassment and related issues by the women.
- Public Acknowledgment of the Need for a Shelter for Mentally Ill 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. [Did you know that there is not a specialized center for people with a severe mental illness to go without being confined by the courts in one of the state hospitals?]
- Training for Security Guards: The women are concerned with the threats and lack of compassion by the armed security officers. The women want the police officers who work at the shelter to have to be certified in the crisis intervention with mentally ill people, and sensitivity training or implicit bias training before they can work at the shelter.
- Seminars for the Residents on LGBTQ Issues: Many residents have had no previous experience in living with trans individuals and have no experience with sensitivity around LGBTQ issues. The residents feel like this was thrust on them without warning or discussion. There is an understanding that this is the law, but there needs to be some cultural sensitivity training and some open discussion about the law with the residents and the local fair housing groups.
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