May 11, 2017---Cosgrove Center
Organized by NEOCH
The meeting began with an overview of the Homeless Congress and work to date.
The group had a long discussion on the Cuyahoga County Council meeting that was on May 3, 2017. At this meeting, the Council members voted on who will get the contract to provide services for the Norma Herr women’s shelter. The committee is recommending that Frontline get the contract, but they did not get the contract for 3 years that the County Office of Homeless Services had recommended. One of the members of the Homeless Congress, Loh, said she went to one of the other meetings and filed a grievance and still feels that the grievances are not handled properly. She also informed the members that there was another suicide attempt recently at the women’s shelter. The members were informed that the next important meeting is on May 23, 2017 when the contract will be voted on by the full County Council meeting. (After the meeting of Homeless Congress another County Health and Human Services meeting was held and the contract was reduced even further).
In January, the Congress voted to prioritize advocating to open a separate shelter for mentally challenged homeless individuals so they can get the help they need. This information was sent to the ADAMAS Board. The first week in May, Brian, Ramona, Loh, and Rosie (who are members of the Homeless Congress) met with William Denihan, Michael Doud, and Valeria Harper of the ADAMAS Board to discuss the need and options that might be available in the community. The only thing accomplished at this meeting was bringing the need for a separate shelter to the ADAMAS Board attention. We briefly discussed possible funding options. But, William Denihan will be retiring in August.
Rosie informed members that Mr. Denihan is very concerned about this issue, but funding is limited. At the meeting on May 3rd, Dale Miller asked about the mental health, drug, and alcohol issues at the shelter. Eric Morse responded that the women at the shelter “all” have either mental health issues or drug and alcohol issues. He also stated in addition to that “if a separate shelter is needed for residents that have mental issues or drug and alcohol issues, there is a shelter already in place for that and it’s the Norma Herr women’s shelter”.
The next topic was the Open Doors CLE Art Project (photos posted on the front of the NEOCH website) that the Cleveland Institute of Art students are working on. I gave the Homeless Congress an update on the upcoming art exhibit. The doors for the art project will be on display at Slavic Village on May 20-21st from 1-5pm and May 27th at Willard Park (by the free stamp) from 11am – 5pm. The doors will be on exhibit for other projects as well. There will also be a tribute to Michael Stoops, Founder of the National Coalition for the Homeless, who recently passed at the Willard Park opening.
Next was an update on the Single Adult Committee-SASH. The members were informed that nothing has been finalized and the committee is still working on the guidelines. Randall, who is a member of the committee, discussed some banning policies as far as the length of stay at the shelter. He explained that at this time they are considering allowing a resident to reject up to three “feasible” offers of housing, if none of these offers are accepted there would be a mediation, and finally they are working on consequences for refusing housing. One option that is being considered is take away some services and only allow the resident to sleep at the shelter at night. Also discussed was setting time limits on how long a resident could stay at the women’s shelter. One member commented that there is one women that has been at the women’s shelter for 10 years, doesn’t work, and refuses housing. It was also suggested that these women shouldn’t have privileges and have to sleep on a mat as opposed to having a room. Other women commented that there are no privileges available at the Women's shelter to take away. There was some controversy about this and how Cleveland shelters are proud to say no one is turned away, yet, the committee is considering not allowing a resident to return once they leave the shelter or discharged (put out) for not accepting housing.
Brian Davis argued that these women should be able to have a bed, in the only shelter for single women in Cleveland, if the city can put new windows in the Q. Davis said, "What kind of society are we living in that cannot offer a cot and some food to its citizens but can find money to improve the playgrounds for the rich with museums and sports stadiums." He further stated that it is a matter of cost vs. alternative. He feels that they should not be concerned about the personal issues that have led the person to stay in the shelter unless the individual is offering alternatives. If the reality is that all of our systems are broken (mental health, addiction, health care) and we are so unforgiving as a society including landlords and the re-entry community, then why are we putting so much pressure on people to leave. If there are so many problems in holes in the safety net, why to we begrudge people sleeping in a shelter. It is not a paradise and they are not staying in luxury. He said, “Human beings should be treated like human beings”.
Next “worker accountability” was discussed. Randall stated that the committee will make sure staff is working with the client to find appropriate housing. He said the committee is discussing how these decisions should be made or not made and the contributing factors.
After the raffle, the surveys for the women’s shelter was discussed and it was determined that the women still feel the renovations did not help. In fact, most felt that the renovations made matters worse. Updates regarding the contract to provide services for the women’s shelter were discussed next. The members were informed about the outcome of the Cuyahoga County Council meeting. They were told about:
- Dale Miller's excellent questions about the shelter and why there are so many problems.
- Did Frontline not meet the minimum requirements?
- Was there a way to shorten the contract?
- Brian and Loh had both talked about how unfair the whole process was.
- Councilwoman Conwell was upset over the NEOCH and Congress treatment of their staff Ruth Gillett. Brian and Roy from NEOCH tried to meet with her in the morning and she was a no show.
- Gillett had decided not to attend this meeting of the Homeless Congress.
LMM and the County had sent specifics of the new arrangement at the Women's Shelter which would include operating 24/7, having access to Wi-Fi, and other services. LMM was going to join Frontline to improve the shelter as soon as this contract was approved by the County. It was explained that staff from LMM will be eased in and current staff will be swapped in back and forth. LMM will oversee day to day operations and Frontline will be more focused on case management. There were a series of handouts from the County/LMM about the changes.
The next discussion was about agency accountability and complaints of suffering in regard to an uncaring provider, disrespectful staff, and lack of resources to help residents move forward and out of the shelter. One of the members informed everyone at the meeting that this has been going on for over 10 years. There was a short discussion about two County Council members spending the night at the shelter incognito and there was notes distributed from the County about the overnight stay and the changes needed. The notes didn’t address how terrible things were at that time, and some of the huge issues. Brian stated that he couldn’t believe that they didn’t demand immediate action because of the conditions that they saw on that one night. Following this discussion, one of the members said that the food that is being sent to the women’s shelter is not what is being served according to the pictures he has seen online. Ms. Gimmel of Eden, asked questions and urged the members to give the agency a chance to change.
The final order of business discussed was about this being the last Homeless Congress for Brian Davis of NEOCH. Brian and Roy (NEOCH Board President) assured members that most of the programs will remain the same at NEOCH even after Brian leaves. Roy also stated that NEOCH will continue to do all it can do and will work to make a smooth transition.
*There will not be a Homeless Congress meeting in June and members were informed of this.
The next meeting will be July 13, 2017.
by Ramona Turnbull
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