Back in May 2016, the Homeless Congress and the women living in the "House of Payne" (the only shelter for single women in Cleveland) testified for change. The Homeless Congress had passed a resolution (without any opposition) in September 2015 for a series of 12 items that they wanted to see changed at the Women's Shelter. We posted those potential solutions on our website here.
At the hearing we offered four items recommended by a dozen women living in the shelter which could be accomplished on that day to dramatically improve the County funded shelter.
1. Fire/Transfer the current supervisor at the shelter who everyone agrees creates a hostile work environment. Sometimes one staff can dramatically change a congregate living environment. There is one staff currently working at the shelter who has been a regular subject of complaints, grievances and heartache and needs to be placed in a position that does not involve client interactions. She tortures these women and embarrasses them regularly. Everyone knows who she is because her name comes up at the Homeless Congress regularly. Her leaving the shelter would go along way to healing some of the problems. Transfer her to some place where she does not come in contact with Frontline clients in the next few days.
2. All grievances submitted will get a written reply in five business days. This seems like it should already happen, but it never does. Residents would have more confidence in the oversight of the shelter if they got something meaningful back in writing when they complained.
3. All stay in notes from health professionals will be respected and not questioned. There will be no further sending them to Care Alliance for a second opinion or excuses that there are not enough staff so they limit the number of people who are allowed to stay inside. The men’s shelter does not limit the number of stay ins, so why does the women’s shelter violate the fair housing rights of these women? The staff will make this happen and if there is not space will work to transfer the overflow including transportation to a more appropriate facility in the community.
4. Every discharge will be in writing including those forced to be out until 9:30 p.m. (the “time out” policy in which they miss dinner). This was already mandated by the County, but it is never enforced. We want to see something in writing to every single person discharged from the shelter for any reason so that there is something to file a specific grievance. There needs to be more documentation and more professionalism in the discharges at the women’s shelter.
The shelter staff who testified at the County hearing in May said that they already did #2-#4. This is contradicted by the residents of the shelter, and NEOCH cannot find evidence that these three items are in place. NEOCH has submitted hundreds of grievances on behalf of the women and have rarely seen a written response. Nearly every night, women are punished or discharged and they never get anything in writing, and medical notes are only accepted if the shelter has the space to serve the women or does not require they get a secondary notes.
But this week, the shelter took action to accomplish #1, and let go the staff who is the subject of the most grievances. NEOCH and the women thank the staff at Frontline Services for working to improve the shelter with the removal of this one staff. This staff was regularly humiliating the women including in front of church groups and was the subject of complaints from other staff. We only asked that she be transferred somewhere else to do paperwork in a back office, but the shelter evidently terminated her employment. We posted a picture of our friend, Loh (who some suspect might be an undercover superhero and this picture might give some clues to her alter ego) who has led the efforts to remove inappropriate staff from the shelter. Loh has railed against staff who bully the residents and should not be around the public in any capacity. Loh has regularly testified before County Council about the shelter and filed many many complaints especially against supervisory staff who do nothing. Loh was recently assaulted at the shelter and got very little help from staff. Loh has spoken to Shelter administrators, the ADAMHS Board, County staff and reported to the Homeless Congress. Loh has gone above and beyond to improve the conditions at the women's shelter and this week, this resident of the shelter helped to improve the House of Payne. The women were so happy to hear that this staff person had been escorted out of the shelter and they thank Loh for leading the efforts.
This is real progress that we have not seen for a decade. Many on the Council, especially Jack Schron, did not like one non-profit (NEOCH) criticizing the hiring practices or personnel decisions of another non-profit (Frontline Services). Here is Schron's comments at the hearing.
"Well, just as a business person, I would hope that you are not going to transfer your obligations for firing or hiring or transferring [staff]. That is ultimately managements responsibility, you have to make that call, you might not do a good job of it, but that is only a recommendation that it seems to me you can never give up that obligation."
The Council were certainly not going to tell a contract agency to fire or move one staff, and in the most litigious society to ever exist, how could they? But in a larger sense how different would One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest have been if some medical professional had just said, "Hey, Nurse Ratched needs to be fired?" How much better would we have all been if someone at Marymount Hospital or the Cincinnati VA hospital had said, "You know Donald Harvey gives me the creeps when he is around dying patients, we should let him go?" Or how many problems could be reduced if we could easily weed out police who feel it is appropriate to chase at high speed two unarmed people from the shelter through downtown to East Cleveland and then shoot them dead or speed up within a foot of a possible shooter and just kill a citizen with a toy gun? Sometimes one person in the wrong job can poison the entire environment of a workplace.
We know that Loh's campaign to reform the shelter will be improved after this one staff person was let go this week. We have to also thank Council President Dan Brady who said positive things at the May Homeless Congress, and said that there is a County investigation committee to look at the Women's Shelter. He committed to living by the Homeless Congress's deadline of improving the shelter by September 2016 and said, "There is a history, in general, that directors of departments are not encouraged to be forthcoming about information with legislative bodies." Rest easy tonight, Loh, you have accomplished what NEOCH and many others have not been able to do for a decade--improve the women's shelter.
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