This is an excellent question that will not fit in 140 characters so we will try to answer:
The Women's Shelter system is completely broken and we found this weekend that there were no beds available in the community. The folks at 2-1-1 were told to tell people to come back on Monday, which is in violation of the guaranteed access to shelter that have been a part of the shelter contracts since 2000. What can a concerned citizen do:
1. Call Dan Brady as the head of County Council to ask if he knew that the shelters were so full this weekend they were telling people to come back Monday. Ask what is the status of his investigation on the Women's Shelter that was supposed to be complete by September 2016? Office: 216/698-2014 or email him at dbrady (at) cuyahogacounty (dot) us to ask about all this.
2. Cuyahoga County takes the lead on these issues so asking any of the County Council members would be helpful. They distribute $33 million in funding, but there is no plan to end homelessness locally. Things are getting worse and we have not seen many good ideas come out of the County Council. It is fine to build permanent supportive housing, but that cannot be the only thing we do and it cannot be at the expense of everything else.
3. Call or e-mail your local councilman to ask them why families are so under-served in our community. From South Euclid to Rocky River to Bay Village and Westlake, they could all better address homelessness. Even if you are in the suburbs you could ask them why there is only one domestic violence shelter in Cuyahoga County and there are so many (even from the suburbs) who are fleeing violence? Ask your council person why we have so few domestic violence beds compared to nearly every county around us. Ask them if they are committed to families having guaranteed access to shelter in Cuyahoga County, because that concept is slipping away.
4. If you are religious person or you belong to a civic organization (like the Kiwannas), there are many things that you could do from the small to the huge. You could raise the issue and ask what your group could do to help? Could they do a hygiene or water drive and then drop those at NEOCH during business hours or could they house families when there is a crisis like this weekend? Our community lost a lot when Interfaith Hospitality Network closed, because the faith community is not as involved in the struggle as they were in the past. We need to recreate this network and get faith leaders involved in the struggle to reduce family homelessness with various projects.
5. Contact your favorite media personalilty to ask why they have not covered this story? Why are they not talking about all the women stuffed into 2219 Payne Ave.? Why they are not talking about the huge loss of shelter beds locally? Or why a women fleeing domestic violence cannot get a bed in our community?
6. Speaking of faith leaders, why not ask your priest, minister, pastor, rabbi or imam to talk about the subject of homelessness this week. We are at a critical point and we need all the help we can get. We need good ideas being put forward and we need some local discussions about homelessness.
7. Volunteer at one of the shelters or direct service providers to become more familiar with what is going on locally. This will help you to understand what is going on and can be better educated about possible solutions. We have a web page dedicated to direct service opportunities available in the community.
8. Vote. Also, if you get a chance to meet a candidate ask them what they are doing to address the homeless crisis locally. There will be town halls and candidate forums coming up and it is a good chance to put them on the spot.
9. The County Office of Homeless Services is in charge of the plan to fund the shelters and they enforce the guaranteed access to shelter. Ruth Gillett is the head of the office and can be reached at 216/420-6844 and you could ask her what she is going to do to shelter families? She is going to give you stuff about model programs...studies show...less expensive alternatives...etc. But the bottom line is this weekend, we did not have any space for families who were sleeping in the single women's shelter and for years the last women's shelter has been overcrowded. So, what they have been doing is not working and how are they going to solve this problem? How many months in a row does overflow with people sleeping on the floor do we have to have before it turns into additional beds? Let us know what she says if you get a chance to talk to her.
10. Federal elected officials are the key to success here. There is not enough money in Cleveland or Cuyahoga County to turn things around. We need the federal government to step up to solve this problem. We need a national housing policy. We need the lead organization, HUD, to get back in the game of ending homelessness. They need to take a few lessons from the Veterans Administration who actually made progress. We have a senatorial election and every single House member up for election. All need to be asked what they are doing about homelessness and the affordable housing crisis locally. Hold their feet to the fire and get them to step up to take the lead in ending homelessness for everyone in America.
If you do all of these or any of them let us know what happened. Tell us about your experiences and the answers you heard. Tell us if your group has become involved with Habitat or is making hygiene kits. We need your help and only concerned citizens can make a change. We are constantly bashing the politicians, media and the bureaucrats and they are tired of hearing from us. Only voters can make a difference in turning this around. Senior Citizens vote and call and complain, and look at all the great services available to those over 62. There is housing, senior centers, and nearly every level of government has an office and program for senior citizens. Their mobilization proves that voting and calling works.
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