Is Democracy Broken in Cuyahoga County?

This is my testimony for May 3, 2017 County Council Meeting.  Here is a link to my comments (It is 42 minutes into the video).   You only get 3 minutes and there is a shot clock that counts down.  These written comments have more information that I did not have time to say under the clock. 

In my opinion, Democracy is not working in Cuyahoga County with this horrendous process for reforming the Women's Shelter.  We have not seen the County Council step up to their oversight authority to make changes in the shelter.  We have yet to see the County implement legislation that improves the lives of people County wide, and we have seen some of the mistakes that the County Commissioners made with over reliance on County staff.  What did we get for all the changes made to transform the County government beside a beautiful new building? 

The County council is not acting like a legislative body with oversight authority, but instead like a rubber stamp for the Executive.  There is still no oversight of the $30 million going to homeless services and no Ombudsman for all the County services.  There were hundreds of protesters against the Q Deal and yet we saw no change in the deal that would help those struggling to survive in this County.  We could use a massive expansion of detox beds, or a law for every landlord in the County that prevents them from not accepting a housing voucher, or more services to families struggling with their housing. 

In the past 20 years, homeless services and housing assistance has grown dramatically, but we have not provided additional oversight of county services that are failing taxpayers who fall on hard times.  We have shut down 400 beds of shelter during the County Council era without a vote of our elected officials.  They have never voted to support Permanent Supportive Housing over emergency services, and have never even talked about a plan for how to serve the dramatic increase in family homelessness.

Now, you are approving a shelter contract with all these well documented issues.   You have all the facts available to you, but you did not take them into account when making this decision.   Does anyone within the County use Google to search the web and hear what clients are saying about the services funded by the County?  There are thousands of words available on our website or you could ask for the facts from County staff. Look at:

  1. Length of stay between two providers who currently operate a shelter.
  2. Why did no one ask about the overcrowded conditions without a solution?
  3. How about the hundreds of unanswered complaints from one provider?
  4. Large number of EMS/Police Calls with 2 per day at women’s shelter while Metanoia (a partner in the West Side Catholic Shelter) had 5 the whole winter.
  5. The recidivism rate for those who return to the shelter or discharges to homelessness by each of the providers.
  6. Or did anyone ask about the suicide attempts at each of the shelters?

With all this information, you are still recommending an inferior provider to continue to manage the shelter.  You are not even saving the County money with the Frontline proposal which is requesting more money from the County compared to the West Side Catholic proposal.  You have plenty of anecdotal information on the NEOCH website and in the media.  We also found that two of the County Council members stayed at the shelter and saw the overcrowded conditions and the inability for many disabled people to not find help.  Councilwomen Conwell and Brown made some solid recommendations after their visit and none of those changes have been implemented.  NEOCH and the women sat with staff at Frontline and all we got was the ability to bring food inside the shelter.  The shelter has done very little to improve over the last decade and they are being rewarded with a three year contract with more funding.

You had hundreds of complaints submitted that do not get an answer and a petition drive in support of West Side Catholic.  You had the House on Payne website detailing all the problems.   You had the 9 brave women who risked eviction to testify and talk to Channel 5 over the last year and speak to you last May.  All of this is why I say that democracy is broken in Cuyahoga County. 

I have a few questions that I hope get answered today by the Council:

  1. 78% of the women who sleep in the Women's shelter are African American so was it fair to have a committee that gave Frontline the contract made up of 8 white people?
  2. Was it fair to have two individuals on that committee with a long history of involvement with Frontline and not West Side Catholic?
  3. Will there be any additional oversight or special conditions placed in the contract by the County to assure that they reform the shelter? 
  4. Will the County start taking complaints about the shelter to assure that an impartial entity is taking complaints?
  5. So, with all these problems, do you not believe the residents or do you not care about their concerns?

A house divided cannot stand and these two agencies have a fundamental different philosophy for serving homeless people.  Will the Lutheran Metro Ministry staff be able to work with the Frontline staff and what will that mean for the already sour relationship with the residents?  You are now adding this uncertainty to an already volatile situation. There is going to be a tragedy over there it is just a matter of time.  Who in the County will take responsibility for the trouble that is coming?

Brian Davis

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