Homeless Congress Notes for July

July 13, 2017 Meeting--Cosgrove Center

Organized by NEOCH

 After taking a month off, the new director of NEOCH, Chris Knestrick, organized the new era for the Homeless Congress.  Roy Love, Board President introduced Chris to the Homeless Congress members.  He talked about the work he has done prior to taking the job at NEOCH.  He acknowledged that he is aware that the Homeless Congress has a voice and his commitment to help NEOCH and the Congress achieve their goals.  After he told everyone a few things about himself, he opened the meeting for questions including the fact that he was born in Cleveland, Ohio.  After a few questions and a short discussion, he turned the meeting over to Ruth Gillett.

 Ruth Gillett took the floor to present on the work of the Single Adult Housing Committee of the County Office of Homeless Services.  First, she acknowledged that there were three members of the OHS Advisory Board in attendance, myself included.  She then invited the members of Congress to attend the OHS meetings.  Her next order of business that she wanted to discuss was the fact that she feels that she was disrespected at the last meeting.  She informed everyone that she does not attend the meetings to be disrespected.  However, Ruth didn’t specify how she was disrespected.

 She began her presentation of the new proposed policy for the publicly funded shelters by stating that the beds are a “safety net” so people don’t have to be on the streets.  Ruth wanted to be clear that the shelters in Cleveland don’t turn anyone away and are supposed to be a temporary or short term.  The goal is to assist the resident to move out of the shelter and into housing.  At this point, I commented on the fact that the men’s shelter has an E community that does not have time limits and acknowledged that the women’s shelter doesn’t have anything like that in place.  I felt this was important enough to bring to everyone’s attention because it is the “only” single women’s shelter in the city of Cleveland.  Ruth stated that it was County policy that no one is forced to leave the shelter unless they break the law.

 Ruth continued that the focus is on housing first model for providing assistance.  She talked about the different paths to obtaining housing and the goal of the staff is to find out what “your path” is and how to get you into housing quickly.  She went over what needs to happen for an individual to maintain the housing?  She stated the purpose for this Single Adult Committee and went over their recommendations.   The single adults will meet with staff and put together a housing plan within 45 days of arriving at the shelter.  The staff is responsible for making sure everything that is needed to meet the housing plan is done.  Staff are supposed to also assist the client to access employment and benefits. 

Ruth talked about the importance of referring an individual to the Rapid Re-Housing program for assistance.  Rapid Rehousing program will provide the participants with a short tem rental subsidy (up to 2 months rent + security deposit).  She reminded members that it is also possible to have a roommate to split the cost of the rent and/or utilities.  This will allow a resident at a shelter to be able to move without having to stay longer to save money for rent and the security deposit. 

 One of the attendees argued that at the women’s shelter the staff does nothing to assist them.  Ruth informed this resident that this is “the projected program,” which means that they will be put in place in the near future.    She explained that the projected program is not just about the client, it’s about holding the staff accountable as well.  Another member asked if the people who don’t have an income are just overlooked or “left alone.”  Her response was, “No”. 

 Ruth then addressed the fact that members felt banning people from the shelter was a punishment for not complying with the three offers for housing rule that will be in place.  If a resident is offered housing three times and does not accept any of them, they will lose privileges at the shelter.  Ruth stated that the objective is not to put people back on the street and that many choose to stay at the shelter for one reason or another.  She added that the three housing options will be in areas the participant chooses with the assistance of housing locator.  Ruth explained that the main reason for the three housing offer refusal discipline is to provide “incentive” to leave the shelter and move into their own housing. 

One of the members said she also received no help from the staff and the housing lists they provided were outdated.  In addition, she complained about other problems obtaining housing. One example was if an applicant has a felony.  Mike Moguel, Operations Director at 2100 Lakeside Shelter, responded to her complaint by informing her that is the purpose of the housing locators and what the applicant is willing to do.  He said the housing locator can assist getting past any barriers. He added that there is an EDEN housing locator for hard to place participants.  After further discussion about housing locators and requirements for the program, Ruth let everyone know that having a disability or not having disability is not the focus of the Rapid Rehousing program.  The focus is on those with a low income.

 There were a series of questions about the difficulty people had in reaching staff at the shelters for help.  Chris Knestrick informed Ruth that he was concerned about people being punished for turning down housing for the hundreds of legitimate reasons to turn down housing.  His examples were: someone getting beat up or something bad happening in the area the proposed housing is located or being located near a previous abuser or far off a bus line.  His other concern was that the policy puts the burden on an already fragile population living in the shelter, but does not hold the staff accountable.   He then asked her if the staff is not following the rules or doing what they should be doing, what is the accountability process? 

 Ruth felt that he was being insulting by asking that question.  She explained that the resident is involved in locating potential housing, her presentation was recommendations that will be voted on at the next Advisory Board Meeting, and there are milestones that layout staff responsibilities.  She then asked if “firing them (the staff) or shooting them was the answer he is looking for?” She then stated she tries “to work with humans as humans to provide positive results for humans.  It’s all about tracking progress.”  He apologized if his question sounded insulting and then stated, “To him, it sounds like the only humans being held accountable are the ones coming into the shelter.”  She stated that is “what he is reading into it and the information being presented will be voted on this coming Thursday, July 20th at 9:00am at the ADAMAS Board.” 

 An attendee that had recently moved from Toledo and now staying at the women’s shelter said Toledo, Ohio is more effective in addressing homelessness.  She said the women’s shelter staff here show no compassion, love, or concern.  Another shelter resident stated that “she was in a bad situation before she came to the shelter and the shelter staff does not make it any better.”  Another resident staying at the shelter said her phone was stolen while it was still in the package and staff did not assist her, and another wanted to know “what is going to be done about elderly residents who have to sleep on the floor on mats?”  Ruth was not able to answer any of these questions so, I asked about the proposal that we were discussing.  I wanted to know what basic services a resident would receive once they turn down three offers of housing.  My question was “exactly what would the residents at the women’s shelter not be receiving?” 

 Ruth’s response was, “Once (this policy was) in place, the residents participating in the programs would be able to stay in at the shelter whereas the one that don’t would not.”  It is unclear what this means, but it seems that the only thing a resident would get would be a bed at night otherwise they would have to leave the shelter for most of the day.   Mike Moguel said that the way it would work at the Men’s shelter would be that if a resident in a dormitory turns down three offers that the resident will be moved from the dorm and put into the E Community.

 Seniors not being accommodated was revisited.  Ruth said that issue is being addressed with the goal being not to have any elderly in a shelter.  Fairhill Center is the only shelter that only serves elderly individuals.  The resident went on to complain that at this time, the elderly residents at the women’s shelter have to sleep in chairs, on bare floors and they are tripping over each other. 

 Chris then asked the members if they support the proposal that was presented by Ruth.  Most of the members of the Homeless Congress said they do not.  The main reason was staff accountability and it is not clear exactly how the proposal will be implemented especially at the Women’s Shelter.  One member, Loh explained that EDEN is designed to place residents that have severe disabilities and the other program is for people that don’t have disabilities.  She warned them that if they don’t have a “stable job” the Rapid Re-Housing program may not be a good solution.  She also commented about then lack of resources (bus tickets or transportation) available to assist residents to look for stable housing. 

 The women’s shelter update was the next topic of discussion.  Members were informed that the proposals to oversee the women’s shelter for 2018 are due July 28th and neither Frontline nor Lutheran Ministry will be submitting a proposal.  A resident of the shelter said the shelter needs more organization, oversight and structure.  She further stated that within seven days her purse was stolen, she got into a fight, and was put out for three days with no information on where to go.  She complained that at Norma Herr, she felt that she was just there to have somewhere to lay her head and good luck with the rest.  The resident complained that staff at the Women’s Shelter don’t give out any information to help residents link to resources. 

 A letter to the ADAMAS Board was discussed next to inform members that Ms. Valeria Harper of the ADAMAS Board was invited to attend a Homeless Congress meeting.  She was invited to discuss the importance of opening a separate shelter for homeless individuals with severe mental health challenges.  The last order of business was to acknowledge that NEOCH will no longer be taking complaints from residents at the Norma Herr women’s shelter or 2100 men’s shelter.  It was suggested that the complaints be referred to Cuyahoga County Council: Yvonne Conwell or Cleveland City Council: T.J. Dow.

The next meeting is August 10, 2017 at Cosgrove Center

By Ramona Turnbull

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