Fix the Systems or Offer Shelter

Isn't it the least we as a society can do to offer a bed and hot meal to our citizens? If you went to a hotel and the water was off, the tv was broken, the food in the restaurant had insects,  the bed had bedbugs, there was a fight outside your room, the cleaning crew woke you at 6 a.m. by just entering your room and were extremely rude to you, would you pay for the room?  No, in fact you would expect compensation to go to another hotel to stay.  This is the system we have for homeless people and instead of offering them a place to rest their head, we are talking about kicking them out if they refuse housing. 

If we can offer people a place to lay their head, then we can get them services. We can find housing if we know that the person has a place to lay their head at the end of the evening.  There is a plan to figure out a way to limit shelter partially driven by County Councilwoman Conwell push toward limiting the time people spend in the shelters (see the notes from her stay overnight).  We need to get over as a society that some people are not pulling their own weight by sleeping in a shelter for free.  It is not a picnic living in the shelter.  There is no privacy, and there is always theft and the threat to your safety.  But there are tens of thousands of reasons that people are living in the shelter.  We cannot crawl in their heads and figure out what is stopping them from going into housing.  We also know that putting punishments on people will only add to the street population.  Help them overcome those obstacles to housing or hold the staff accountable for not helping their clients move toward stability.

The new HUD Secretary comes from that same background and wants to try to pressure people to move out of public housing and out of shelters.  It will not work.  Here is a piece in the Plain Dealer about Secretary Ben Carson's visit to Ohio.

"We have some people who are mentally ill. We have some elderly and disabled people. We can't expect in many cases those people to do a great deal to take care of themselves," he said. But, he added, "There is another group of people who are able-bodied individuals, and I think we do those people a great disservice when we simply maintain them."

Antoine Williams, 45, who lives in a supportive housing complex for the chronically homeless, shook his head after Carson finished greeting officials in the lobby of his building and headed out in a four-car motorcade.

"If he got something to do with Trump, that means he's not really for us," Williams said. "It's not surprising. That's what the rich do, they make it hard for the poor."

Don't people deserve the right to a bed in the richest country that ever existed? Why are we always able to find money for the playgrounds of the rich, but we never have money for poor people?  We find money to add glass to the Q and we have an arts tax to support the orchestra or other places that require an admission.  When the number of homeless families seeking help increases in Cleveland, we do not have an appropriate response.  The County says, "We just don't have the money to offer help, so instead we will limit access to shelter."  These families paid taxes for years, why can't we offer a humanitarian life sustaining place to live?  Are we a compassionate society who care if people sleep outside?  If we put all this pressure on people they will just leave us and sleep on the street.  They will slowly die in isolation sleeping in abandoned buildings and in cars.  It takes a long time to rebuild trust with people once they are alienated from the system.

Eric Morse COO of Frontline Services told the Office of Homeless Services advisory in March that the Mental Health System for homeless people was absolutely broken, but yet the OHS Advisory, which he leads, is still working on efforts to limit access to shelter.  How about fixing the Mental Health system before fixing the shelter system?  How about fixing the addiction system so that detox is available then get around to fixing the shelter system?  How about fixing the health care system so that no one is discharged from the hospital if they do not have a place to live?  How about fixing the housing system in our community so that there is no discrimination to renting apartments and those who deserve a hardship exemption are offered it before there is an eviction?  How about fixing the disability program so that a person can afford to rent an apartment with their monthly disability check?  My point is that all of our human services need work, and so why can't we offer people a bed and some food without all the strings and hassles while we fix the rest of the system? 

It is the least we can do if we care about these people.  It is the least our faith community can do if they want to follow their religious texts.  It is the least our government can do to keep its citizens alive. 

Brian Davis

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