Every month at the NEOCH Leaders meetings, NEOCH features one or two agencies and has a speaker from each agency present to the leaders what services the agency provides, how the agency operates and how the agency coordinates with other agencies so the leaders leave the meeting with a great understanding of how they can connect their clients with the featured agencies or other partners who attend the meeting. At the March NEOCH monthly leader’s meeting, there were presentations from two agencies, one from United Way's First Call for Help/2-1-1 and one from Frontline Services Coordinated Intake.
One of the many reasons people call 2-1-1 is that they may need an emergency shelter bed. First Call for Help/2-1-1 is an information agency in Cuyahoga County for all the homeless services. 2-1-1 specialists listen to the caller’s needs and refer the caller to many community resources 24 hours a day, every day. No matter what the problem may be, from needing medical care, to food or shelter, 2-1-1 is aware of each agency and how they can serve each client that calls. It could be a quick question or it could be a natural disaster like a fire, but 2-1-1 specialists are there to connect callers to information, services and advice from GED classes to prescription assistance.
2-1-1 specialists refer people to Coordinated Intake and are familiar with the process for someone who suddenly becomes homeless. Frontline Services administers Coordinated Intake as a one-stop place to access the emergency shelters that are available in Cuyahoga County. The program is funded by Cuyahoga County and staff from EDEN Inc and Cleveland Mediation Center are stationed out of the Cosgrove Center on the Second Floor. When someone is referred to Coordinated Intake, efforts are made to find them housing with a family/friend or to provide them with bus transportation out of town to a relative, etc.
When that is not a possibility then Coordinated Intake works with the person and determines the barriers to the person regaining housing and figures out a housing plan (short and long term) for them. In the meantime, they are placed in Emergency shelter. Single men go to 2100 Lakeside and families and single women either go to Norma Herr Woman’s Shelter or the Domestic Violence Center, Zelma George, Family Promise, West Side Catholic Center or Laura’s Home. When these places are full there are overflow beds at Zelma George, West Side Catholic Center and Family Promise.
From there, those with low to moderate barriers to housing may be ready to leave on their own into housing or qualify for Rapid Rehousing (a program offering a security deposit and 4 months of rental assistance to families), and they are signed up for benefits. Those with higher barriers to housing also qualify for Rapid Rehousing and may get even more help if their situation hasn’t changed in several months. Some who end up with a disability or mental health diagnosis may receive a permanent Eden voucher for housing.
All of the people who call 2-1-1 and go through Coordinated Intake/Central Intake receive an assessment, then it is determined what kind of help they need, even the unstated needs which the specialists who work with them are able to determine. They then go into an emergency shelter with a housing plan and exit strategy in place.
After hours and weekends, between 8 pm Friday and 8am Monday and week nights after 8pm, single men and women are to go directly to the main men's shelter or women's shelter. Families are put in overflow beds until Monday morning when they can meet with the intake specialists to get their assessment and housing plans. Coordinated Intake has 7 days to initiate rapid rehousing for these families and many of them are housed within 30 days.
There are many other pieces of the puzzle and living in a temporary shelter may not meet the expectations of most people. Men who are part of a family have to be screened to find out if they are a sex offender, families may be split up while they are in temporary shelter. Shelters are not the most ideal places to stay. They have their own set of problems: the food may not be what you are used to, some of the shelters may be overcrowded, and the conditions may not be ideal. The shelters have rules and regulations that most people are not used to living by. You are living amongst strangers who may have disabilities or varied backgrounds. The staff at the shelters may not be as compassionate as they should be or are burnt out. Staff members may not even know what programs are available to you, which can be frustrating.
People homeless for the first time may be going through a trauma; they may be a victim of domestic violence. Children may be pulled out of their schools and away from their friends, to live in the midst of strangers. There are many things that may play a part in this being one of the worst times of a homeless person’s life. Programs like 2-1-1 and Coordinated Intake give some of these people hope as they are assessed and given a housing plan. They know where beds are available, which makes it easier on the family not able to find their own shelter. Beds do not sit empty like they did in the past, and people with multiple barriers to housing are not stuck in the entry shelters. Families may get encouragement from the fact that there is help available to them through Rapid Rehousing.
I learned a lot about the behind the scenes work and mechanics of helping a person or family get a shelter bed when they have no place to stay. I am so glad there are agencies like First Call for Help/2-1-1, Coordinated Intake and NEOCH who help individuals facing homelessness make their transition back to housing a little easier than it was before. Cuyahoga County previously did not have an intake system and has come a long way from what it used to be with Coordinated Intake and 2-1-1. This is a relatively new system for Cuyahoga County and it is progressively getting better.
NEOCH works hard to advocate for homeless individuals, working to make some of the conditions at the shelters better. NEOCH fights for more shelter beds and to alleviate overcrowding. NEOCH wants the shelters to be a safe place for men, women and families. NEOCH wants to insure that clients at the shelters are adequately fed, and that they receive the materials they need to get out of the shelter system and into housing as quickly as possible.
by Denise Toth
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