Cuyahoga County has a problem. There are too many people sleeping in the two entry shelters. We are one of the last cities in the United States that does not turn people away if they ask for help. There are so many asking for help that we are constantly running overflow and the Women's shelter is dramatically overcrowded among the hundreds of issues on Payne Ave. (How many days in a row do you run overflow before it becomes the actual number of beds needed?) The County floated an idea for time limits as a response, but instead came up with these new rules to be included in the contracts of every publicly funded shelters. The County Office of Homeless Services Advisory will be asked to approve these new rules for shelters in Cuyahoga County.
Guiding Principles for Emergency Shelter
- Shelter is a temporary, safe space for people who are literally homeless*, fleeing domestic violence, or a victim of human trafficking.
- Shelter should be brief, rare, and non-recurrent.
- Shelter services focus on helping individuals and families access stable housing.
Shelter should be BRIEF :
- Shelter staff and clients will work together to develop a housing plan with a goal of rapidly exiting shelter.
- Shelter will be limited for those who refuse to participate in a housing plan or refuse to accept stable housing when offered.
- Shelter staff will prioritize staff time and resources to reduce length of stay
Shelter should be RARE:
- Shelter entry is the community safety net to be accessed after appropriate interventions such as prevention, diversion, and accessing other systems’ resources have been fully explored.
Shelter should be NON-RECURRENT:
- Returns to shelter will be minimized by stable housing, linkage to resources, and after care when appropriate.
These are some fancy words, but they shift the burden of housing people from the shelters to the jails, RTA buses, hospitals, libraries, and outreach workers. We hope you Cuyahoga County tax payers don't mind a homeless guy sleeping on their shoulders on the bus because that person struggling with an addiction could not get into shelter. How are all these policies directed only at the homeless individual? Where is the punishment for the staff who do not understand the resources available in our community and are making bad referrals? What about punishments for the continued employment of frustrated, burnt out and poorly trained staff? Where is the punishment for the County officials who shut down too many shelter beds (520 over the last dozen years)? How about a strategy that if your agency places people in housing and 25% return to seek shelter in six months, all of that staff loses their offices and desks? They would have to perform their duties in their car until they get their numbers down; or how about they lose salary; or even lose the contract for overseeing those services?
I am still looking for one strategy from the above information for how to deal with single adults. These are broad lofty goals with affirming language that no one could disagree with (brief, rare, non-recurrent), but what does it mean? The policies the County outlined have to be the most offensive policies put on paper in the last 20 years. I can give you 5,000 different good reasons that an individual would turn down housing and yet the County and the shelter staff are going to respond to those choices that a family makes by declaring them ineligible for shelter.
- The grandmother who lived over on Imperial Ave and does not want to be in the Mt. Pleasant area because she came face to face with a serial killer.
- The young mom who was raped on Lorain Ave. and she declines housing over in that neighborhood, because she does not want to meet her attacker at the store.
- The Dad who realizes that there is no grocery store in the area and they do not want to take two buses to get food.
- The family that wants to hold out for housing near their school that their kids' love and have been so beneficial to their education.
- Or the mentally ill guy who believe that there are aliens on Woodland and declines housing.
- All of these people are fragile, damaged or make a logical choice that helps their family and need help filling their housing needs. They do not need to be punished for their decisions.
My problem is that staff will misunderstand these goals and use them as weapons against residents instead of using them to encourage housing. We still have staff who misunderstood the preference for those who have been homeless for a long period of time. Staff at the Women's Shelter are saying that they can only help the residents with housing after they been homeless for that magic one year mark. I can’t even imagine how this new rule will be used to reduce the “problem” people at the shelter. They could just declare that the person turned down housing and must leave the shelter at 11 p.m. after a verbal outburst by that resident against the staff. A quick and easy discharge with no grievance, paperwork or chance for appeal and all in compliance with the new County rule.
In Cuyahoga County, we do not have any oversight of the shelters. There is no one to go in order to appeal a denial of service to an impartial third party. So, when a decision is made that the person is ineligible for shelter because they turned down housing where do they go to appeal this decision? The County policy does not put in place a mechanism for appeal of these decisions. They are expected to go before the director of the shelter and hope that that director goes against their own staff.
Any group or individual who votes for this policy is publicly stating that they don’t care if more people sleep on the streets of Cleveland. The result of this policy is that you will have more trying to stay safe in the emergency rooms or riding the RTA all night or sleeping on the streets or abandoned buildings. Taxpayers will see a decline in the number of people using the shelters, but we will all have to witness a rise in the numbers outside. The meeting is Thursday March 16 at 9 a.m. at the ADAMHS Board on the 6th Floor (2012 West 25th St.), and is open to the public. This will mean a much bigger population at Metanoia next year, and all the day time drop in centers will have more people seeking help.
We are the richest country in the history of man, and we cannot give a homeless guy with a mental illness a mat on the floor? Cuyahoga County has enough extra in tax dollars to dress up the arena with more glass, but we are complaining about too many adults seeking shelter? If Cuyahoga County, Frontline Services and Lutheran Metro Ministry are struggling so much with the numbers, ask the voters to contribute money to a shelter fund so they don’t have to walk over people on the sidewalks. Who is going to act as a leader in effectively addressing homelessness instead of just coming up with new strategies to harass poor people into being ashamed that they have to ask for help?
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PS: Thanks to Paul Sherlock and Jim Schlecht for showing up for the meeting. This proposal was tabled for the committee to redraft and resubmit to the County. Thanks to Loh and Ramona from the Homeless Congress and Linda from City Mission who spoke clearly that this policy needs more work before it is ready for prime time. We will keep the readers posted when this comes back at the May meeting.