NEOCH staff testified against the no bid contract being provided to Coordinated Intake operated by Frontline Services today. We do not support these contracts especially when combined with the $700,000 given to EDEN for Rapid Rehousing this is over $1 million going to this endeavor without a competative bidder. We believe that there are others in the community who could do this critical service in Cleveland or there should be a discussion if the County themselves should be overseeing Intake to save us money. We believe that an RFP process could get some reform of the Intake to be fairer to homeless people and more transparent for the community. Here is the letter that we submitted to the County Controlling Board.
July 28, 2016
Cuyahoga County Board of Control
2079 East 9th Street, 4th Floor - Committee Room B
Cleveland, Ohio 44115
RE: Coordinated Intake Funding Request
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless was informed that the expansion of Coordinated Intake would receive funding without a competitive bid. We oppose this decision and hope that the Controlling Board will intervene to force a competitive bid. We believe that selecting which shelter a person must go to and who receives rapid rehousing rental dollars is so important that we must as a community assure that the correct provider is in place for this critical service. We also do not believe that we have ever had a discussion as a community to determine if this service would not be better undertaken by the County Department of Jobs and Family Services.
The staff at Coordinated Intake are very nice people and in fact one of the managers is a former employee of NEOCH. The lack of transparency by the current provider and the inability to provide oversight with the current contract are the main issues for NEOCH. These funds came to Cuyahoga County because a number of men’s shelters were closed. These shelters provided housing for single males for an average of six to eight months on average, and now those beds are removed from the system. We lost women and family beds over the last six years and we do not want to turn the men’s system into the disaster of the women’s system. There is only one way for government to make big decisions and that is through the contracting process.
This contract was last put out for bid in 2012 after an extremely corrupt process in 2009 for awarding this contract. We did not have much of a track record and we did not understand the full ramifications Coordinated Intake. We did not realize the impact on the shelters and the transformation of the emergency shelter system locally. We did not realize when this was started that the women and family shelters would disappear so rapidly. We did not realize that the Central Intake would demand that homeless people go through Intake or lose their status as a homeless person. Now, we see the full ramifications of the Intake and we need to step back to set guidelines and refine the goals for reducing homelessness.
The current Coordinated Intake is not responsive at all to the public, and a person’s fate for where they will sleep at night is in this Coordinated Intake’s hands. They have never had their rules approved by any other agencies or homeless people. They have never talked to homeless people about the goals, prioritizing of certain populations over others or the morality of diverting mothers with children from shelter. We still do not know how the grievance process works for intake, and we have never had an honest debate about the cost/benefit analysis of emergency shelter vs transitional shelters vs. permanent supportive housing.
We are especially concerned about the diversion of families away from shelter. We believe that this will lead to a tragedy in which a woman returns to her abuser and is killed. We have already met women sleeping in their cars with their children because they were afraid to reveal too much information to the staff at Coordinated Intake. Families are not always clear about their access to shelter locally and are not clear about the responsibilities of the Intake staff to report possible abuse to Children and Family Services. The merits and ethics of diversion have not been debated publicly and yet 24% of the families who seek shelter in Cuyahoga County are sent away.
I believe that if a private company wants to supplant the County Government with an essential service, they need to show good cause for why they can far exceed Cuyahoga County from overseeing this operation. Shouldn’t low income people struggling with housing see a case worker employed by the County in order to assess what other benefits they may be eligible for as well? Wouldn’t Cuyahoga County be more invested in the conditions of the shelters if they were sending people to the shelters every day? Couldn’t Cuyahoga County Department of Jobs and Family Services do this service better and for less money without all the overhead of buildings and administration or additional staff?
We have yet to hear a good reason for why this contract should not be put up for bid. It is a large expansion of the current contract with additional rental assistance available. Most of the shelter contracts in Cleveland combine pools of other resources, but that does not mean that they cannot withstand the scrutiny of a request for proposal process. We want to see a public bidding process to provide some level of transparency to this extremely powerful and secretive organization. We never get any release of information on the number of people sleeping on the floor every night or the number of people denied a medical bed or the number of families split up every night. How do we provide solutions to the problems associated with homelessness if we do not get reliable, up-to-date information about the number of people falling into homelessness?
United Way First Call for Help has an updated daily dashboard on the essential services they offer through their 2-1-1 telephone referral system. I can login right now to find how many people are seeking help with food, shelter or housing every day from 2-1-1. This is a case of a private non-profit offering a superior product to government and providing regular information to the community. Shouldn’t community leaders know how many families are seeking shelter this week or this month and how many we could not provide a bed? Do we know if First Call for Help might be interested in expanding their service to include Coordinated Intake? They certainly would be more transparent and would create an advisory board similar to the one they created when they took over the affordable housing website locally, HousingCleveland.org.
We have to wonder if the reason that we do not get information out of Coordinated Intake is that it paints a negative picture of the organization. Frontline Services runs the largest women’s shelter in Cleveland at the same time as Intake and they are the leading proponent to permanent supportive housing. What if the release of information would show that they are doing a horrible job at the Women’s shelter or that there has been a significant uptick in people failing out of permanent supportive housing and going back to shelter? We need an unbiased intermediary to provide referrals to shelter who can be open and honest in the release of information.
We urge you to intervene here and order that the Office of Homeless Service undertake an open and transparent process for selecting a Coordinated Intake provider. We need enough time to allow for those groups to respond and we need some strict outcomes that involve community input. We want the system to take into account the unique needs of homeless people and to provide information to the general public.
Thank you for your time and your service to the community.
The County Controlling Board tabled the $500,000 contract for Frontline Services until next Monday August 8 at 11 a.m. at their regularly scheduled meeting. We will be present to correct some of the things that were brought up by staff at the meeting today in order to ask that the County seek bids for this service.
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