Shelter Intake in District of Columbia

The Washington Post had a front page article on the number of "diversions" from shelter in the nation's capital.  The story focused on one family given a bus ticket back to North Carolina.  Only 21.9% of those who request shelter in DC are offered a bed which the Post compared to New York City at around 50% and Boston offering shelter to 44% of the homeless families.  It is really hard to get accurate data from Cleveland's Coordinated Intake, but it is around 72% to 83% of the families are offered shelter.  This means that we have the highest percentage of sheltered families among big cities in America.  Cleveland needs to be proud of this policy of working hard not to turn people away.   We should champion this and show how much compassion there is locally.

The previous Mayor of DC was only admitting 9% of the families who requested shelter.  Here is how the Washington Post quoted a critic of the policy in DC.

Amber Harding, a staff attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, said social workers appear to lack clear guidelines on how to assess need and when to encourage other housing options, such as staying with relatives. She said clinic lawyers frequently persuade senior city officials to reverse decisions made at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, the central intake point for homeless families.


“To me, it is a sign of a broken system that someone can go to the family resource center and be denied and I can tell their same story to the senior leadership . . . and they get admitted,” Harding said. “You shouldn’t need a lawyer to get into emergency shelter.”

The federal government gives $2 billion to tthe majority of families who request help.  Denying shelter to a family should never be the response.  It is costly, but providing assistance can help.  It can re-establish that government can solve problems.  It can pick up hidden issues such as depression, behaviorial health issues, addiction, or domestic violence that women are reluctant to disclose upon first encounter with an intake worker.  If a family makes the trek down to see a stranger who works on behalf of the City or County and asks for help, they should be given some assistance.

One of the problems is the various definitions of homelessness. Does sleeping on a strange couch count as homeless?  Does the family staying in a motel count as homeless?  Does the family who is spending every other night in their car and the other nights with their sister count as homeless?  DC spends $80,000 on hotel nights to accommodate the overflow.  Cleveland spends far more on transportation and monitoring of overflow.  There is nothing similar to the Washington Legal Clinic in Cleveland to complain about these decisions made by Coordinated Intake.  There is also no oversight of these arbitrary decisions made at Intake. 

These are life and death decisions that could result in the break up of a family, and should not be made after a half hour to one hour interview with a stranger.  In the richest country on earth, we should default to offering the bed to everyone coming in the door and sorting their housing situation out when they are safe.  They keep saying that intake is like the triage done at a hospital.  Hospitals do not discharge people to the streets until the individual sees a trained professional and until they are stabilized.  Coordinated intake has no oversight.  Government does not provide a check on the system, and there is no way to protect against mistakes until there is a tragedy. 

Brian Davis

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It is August and the Shelter is Overflowing!!!

Women's Shelter Residents Staged Mock Groundbreaking to push for the creation of a new shelterMost people do not think of homelessness during the summer and we get only a small number of donations during the summer, but right now the family and women's shelters are over capacity.  They are so full this weekend that they are putting women with children in the shelter for single women which is already overcrowded.  A few of the women called this morning to ask what is the deal, "Why are they putting children in the women's shelter again?" 

I did some investigation and found that every shelter is full and they encouraging people to stay with family or friends until Monday morning.  Workers are forced to tell Domestic Violence victims to go to a police station if they fear for their safety.  I guess having your kids sleep in a jail cell at the police station is safer than sleeping in a car or on the streets, but it seems cruel to tell a woman fleeing with her kids to go to a jail to be safe.  She has to uproot her family and flee the comforts of her home and she ends up in jail on her first night of her new life on the run.  This would not inspire confidence that the County encourages fleeing the violence in the home by telling women to sleep in the lobby of a police station. 

The Women's shelter has around 200 women sleeping every where with only 160 beds.  So they are already full to capacity and now they have women with children sleeping in one of the rooms.  This means children are interacting with the 200 single women at the shelter and one bathroom is blocked for only families. They also have one staff assigned to babysit families taking them away from the other 200 women who need help.  For the past five years, we have seen the rise in families during the summer months, but the County has done very little to address this crisis.  We have eliminated 444 beds in the local shelter system most of those in the family system.  This is a crisis brought on by the decisions made by the County staff who allowed over 300 family and women's beds to disappear.  The women's shelter is way over capacity and we have not added any beds for the summer. Because of this poor planning, we have no where to refer a family today.  We have heard that it is cheaper to offer rental assistance to families, but that does not help on weekends like this one when there are no beds available.  A young child cannot sleep on a promise for rental assistance.  We have two shelters that take families in to sleep on the floors until a bed opens up, and those spaces on the floor are full.

I have yet to understand why this is not front page news?  Why is Frontline Services so secretive about this information?   This is exactly what we were talking about with the Coordinated Intake transparency problem this week.  Why does the Coalition for the Homeless find this out from residents of the shelter and not from the agency?  I am sure that there are churches or other groups who would help if there was some media?  The people of Cleveland are generous and would act if they heard children are suffering in the lobby of the police stations or are stuffed into the shelter for single women with those just released from jail, those with an active addiction, and the mentally ill.  The women organized earlier in the year a series of events to practice opening a new shelter in an effort to nudge the County into acting to create a new shelter.  No one listened, and now we are telling women and families that they are on their own until Monday morning. We hope that no one is hurt this weekend because we do not have a shelter bed available in Cuyahoga County. 

Brian Davis

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Updating the No Bid Contract for Intake

Well, we lost the battle, but the County agreed that they would open the process to a competitive bidding process for 2017.  Staff of the Office of Homeless Services, Ruth Gillett was non committal at the County Controlling Board meeting last week about the future contracting for Coordinated Intake.  The Controlling board met again this week on Monday August 8 with two elected officials showing up for the meeting Councilman Dale Miller and County Executive Armond Buddish attended this meeting.  Ms. Gillett did not attend, but it was reported that she spent last week answering questions that NEOCH staff raised in the meeting last week to staff from Council and the Executive's office.

I clarified a few misstatements from last week in my three minutes allowed during public comment.  I said that we cannot get information on homelessness from the agency and Ms. Gillett referenced a Policy committee that was abolished earlier this year.  How do we get information on the number of people sleeping on the floor or in need of bed rest from a defunct committee? I asked how we could get solid or potentially embarrassing information from the OHS Advisory about Frontline Services when their Chief Operating Officer is also chair of the Advisory? Ms. Gillett had indicated that we had never asked for these statistics, which was not true.  We had repeatedly asked how many people were denied bed rest in the Women's Shelter. We had asked in writing for a nightly report if anyone was denied a bed

Our objection to this no-bid contract is not just an objection to the diversion policy but also to the agency.  We do not think that it is fair that one of the local shelters gets to also be in charge of the placement of homeless people in every bed in Cuyahoga County.  This conflict could cause issues, and has led to this dreadful decision to eliminate beds for single women locally.  Finally, we believe that either Cuyahoga County should administer coordinated intake for shelter or the United Way First Call for Help should be given the opportunity.  Both would do a better job with transparency and community input to this service. 

Our friend, Loh, made comment as well bringing up a very good point that I had not thought of.  Frontline was provided this contact to conduct on an intake to everyone entering shelte and in February 2015 moved to Cosgrove Center.  Then they cut their services suddenly with little community notice in September to close on the weekend.  This caused hardship at the Women's Shelter where confused families were going to seek help.  Loh made the point that they are not fulfilling this contract because they are not offering 7 day a week service as it was originally funded.  Shouldn't the county have re-bid the contract if the agency cut their services by 28%? It is not the same service as it was originally awarded.  There are plenty of families who seek shelter on the weekend and 2-1-1 has to provide assistance for no additional funding. 

Shari Weir of the Office of Homeless Services spoke in support of allowing Frontline Services to proceed without opening up to a request for other bidders.  She claimed, as Ms. Gillett had claimed last week, that this was a model program. [Free advice to other bureacrats: Don't claim a program is a model when there are people in front of you complaining about that program.  The complainers do not take comfort in the fact that they were harmed by a program recognized by some "expert" as a model. It just makes taxpayers question if all government is corrupt.]  Ms. Weir claimed that there is not adequate funding or time to seek bids.  There was a general recognition that a delay would harm the program.  No one asked why there was not a process put forward for a competative bid when this application was submitted in March 2016?   Ms. Weir said there would be a request for competative bids for next year.  She also claimed people are helped over the weekend on the phone, but did not indicate if this was also recognized as "model" delivery of services to not have the service available on the weekend.

The Council and the County Executive were satisfied that the concerns raised had been addressed.  No one asked me if I was satisfied that my concerns had been satisfied.  The vote was unanimous to approve the no-bid contract with the understanding that there would be a bid next year.  We will keep our members updated. 

Brian Davis

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No Bid Contracts in Cuyahoga County Homeless Services

NEOCH staff testified against the no bid contract being provided to Coordinated Intake operated by Frontline Services today.  We do not support these contracts especially when combined with the $700,000 given to EDEN for Rapid Rehousing this is over $1 million going to this endeavor without a competative bidder.  We believe that there are others in the community who could do this critical service in Cleveland or there should be a discussion if the County themselves should be overseeing Intake to save us money.  We believe that an RFP process could get some reform of the Intake to be fairer to homeless people and more transparent for the community.  Here is the letter that we submitted to the County Controlling Board.

July 28, 2016

Cuyahoga County Board of Control             
2079 East 9th Street, 4th Floor - Committee Room B
Cleveland, Ohio 44115

RE: Coordinated Intake Funding Request

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless was informed that the expansion of Coordinated Intake would receive funding without a competitive bid.  We oppose this decision and hope that the Controlling Board will intervene to force a competitive bid.  We believe that selecting which shelter a person must go to and who receives rapid rehousing rental dollars is so important that we must as a community assure that the correct provider is in place for this critical service.  We also do not believe that we have ever had a discussion as a community to determine if this service would not be better undertaken by the County Department of Jobs and Family Services. 

The staff at Coordinated Intake are very nice people and in fact one of the managers is a former employee of NEOCH.  The lack of transparency by the current provider and the inability to provide oversight with the current contract are the main issues for NEOCH.  These funds came to Cuyahoga County because a number of men’s shelters were closed.  These shelters provided housing for single males for an average of six to eight months on average, and now those beds are removed from the system.  We lost women and family beds over the last six years and we do not want to turn the men’s system into the disaster of the women’s system. There is only one way for government to make big decisions and that is through the contracting process. 

This contract was last put out for bid in 2012 after an extremely corrupt process in 2009 for awarding this contract.  We did not have much of a track record and we did not understand the full ramifications Coordinated Intake.  We did not realize the impact on the shelters and the transformation of the emergency shelter system locally.  We did not realize when this was started that the women and family shelters would disappear so rapidly.  We did not realize that the Central Intake would demand that homeless people go through Intake or lose their status as a homeless person.  Now, we see the full ramifications of the Intake and we need to step back to set guidelines and refine the goals for reducing homelessness.  

The current Coordinated Intake is not responsive at all to the public, and a person’s fate for where they will sleep at night is in this Coordinated Intake’s hands.  They have never had their rules approved by any other agencies or homeless people.  They have never talked to homeless people about the goals, prioritizing of certain populations over others or the morality of diverting mothers with children from shelter.  We still do not know how the grievance process works for intake, and we have never had an honest debate about the cost/benefit analysis of emergency shelter vs transitional shelters vs. permanent supportive housing.

We are especially concerned about the diversion of families away from shelter.  We believe that this will lead to a tragedy in which a woman returns to her abuser and is killed.  We have already met women sleeping in their cars with their children because they were afraid to reveal too much information to the staff at Coordinated Intake.  Families are not always clear about their access to shelter locally and are not clear about the responsibilities of the Intake staff to report possible abuse to Children and Family Services.  The merits and ethics of diversion have not been debated publicly and yet 24% of the families who seek shelter in Cuyahoga County are sent away. 

I believe that if a private company wants to supplant the County Government with an essential service, they need to show good cause for why they can far exceed Cuyahoga County from overseeing this operation.  Shouldn’t low income people struggling with housing see a case worker employed by the County in order to assess what other benefits they may be eligible for as well? Wouldn’t Cuyahoga County be more invested in the conditions of the shelters if they were sending people to the shelters every day?  Couldn’t Cuyahoga County Department of Jobs and Family Services do this service better and for less money without all the overhead of buildings and administration or additional staff? 

We have yet to hear a good reason for why this contract should not be put up for bid.  It is a large expansion of the current contract with additional rental assistance available.  Most of the shelter contracts in Cleveland combine pools of other resources, but that does not mean that they cannot withstand the scrutiny of a request for proposal process.  We want to see a public bidding process to provide some level of transparency to this extremely powerful and secretive organization.  We never get any release of information on the number of people sleeping on the floor every night or the number of people denied a medical bed or the number of families split up every night.  How do we provide solutions to the problems associated with homelessness if we do not get reliable, up-to-date information about the number of people falling into homelessness? 

United Way First Call for Help has an updated daily dashboard on the essential services they offer through their 2-1-1 telephone referral system.  I can login right now to find how many people are seeking help with food, shelter or housing every day from 2-1-1.  This is a case of a private non-profit offering a superior product to government and providing regular information to the community.   Shouldn’t community leaders know how many families are seeking shelter this week or this month and how many we could not provide a bed?  Do we know if First Call for Help might be interested in expanding their service to include Coordinated Intake?  They certainly would be more transparent and would create an advisory board similar to the one they created when they took over the affordable housing website locally, HousingCleveland.org. 

We have to wonder if the reason that we do not get information out of Coordinated Intake is that it paints a negative picture of the organization.  Frontline Services runs the largest women’s shelter in Cleveland at the same time as Intake and they are the leading proponent to permanent supportive housing.  What if the release of information would show that they are doing a horrible job at the Women’s shelter or that there has been a significant uptick in people failing out of permanent supportive housing and going back to shelter?  We need an unbiased intermediary to provide referrals to shelter who can be open and honest in the release of information.

We urge you to intervene here and order that the Office of Homeless Service undertake an open and transparent process for selecting a Coordinated Intake provider.  We need enough time to allow for those groups to respond and we need some strict outcomes that involve community input.  We want the system to take into account the unique needs of homeless people and to provide information to the general public.

Thank you for your time and your service to the community.

Sincerely,

Brian Davis

The County Controlling Board tabled the $500,000 contract for Frontline Services until next Monday August 8 at 11 a.m. at their regularly scheduled meeting.  We will be present to correct some of the things that were brought up by staff at the meeting today in order to ask that the County seek bids for this service. 

Brian Davis

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Transformational Art Back at Cosgrove Center

The Cosgrove Center is quickly becoming the center of the homeless universe in Cleveland.  They have a 20 year old drop in/meal program that is used by 200 people a day on average.  Then Coordinated Intake moved onto the second floor of the Center and you have to go to those offices in order to get shelter in Cleveland.  Now, the third floor has the Frontline Veteran's services and a new art center run by staff at the Cosgrove Center (pictured above).  Residents of the shelter can do art therapy and just work out the creative side of their brains.  They are working on a computer lab for the future, and have a weekly clothing distribution program.  You can get mail at Cosgrove and there is a monthly attorney available.  A homeless person can get ID assistance and can meet with a health care professional or someone from the Veteran's Administration.  If you are homeless in Cleveland, you can go to 1736 Superior Ave. in Cleveland.

Brian Davis

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Outreach Leaders in Cleveland Stay Informed

Every month at the NEOCH Leaders meetings, NEOCH features one or two agencies and has a speaker from each agency present to the leaders what services the agency provides, how the agency operates and how the agency coordinates with other agencies so the leaders leave the meeting with a great understanding of how they can connect their clients with the featured agencies or other partners who attend the meeting.  At the March NEOCH monthly leader’s meeting, there were presentations from two agencies, one from United Way's First Call for Help/2-1-1 and one from Frontline Services Coordinated Intake.  

One of the many reasons people call 2-1-1 is that they may need an emergency shelter bed.  First Call for Help/2-1-1 is an information agency in Cuyahoga County for all the homeless services.  2-1-1 specialists listen to the caller’s needs and refer the caller to many community resources 24 hours a day, every day.  No matter what the problem may be, from needing medical care, to food or shelter, 2-1-1 is aware of each agency and how they can serve each client that calls. It could be a quick question or it could be a natural disaster like a fire, but 2-1-1 specialists are there to connect callers to information, services and advice from GED classes to prescription assistance. 

2-1-1 specialists refer people to Coordinated Intake and are familiar with the process for someone who suddenly becomes homeless. Frontline Services administers Coordinated Intake as a one-stop place to access the emergency shelters that are available in Cuyahoga County. The program is funded by Cuyahoga County and staff from EDEN Inc and Cleveland Mediation Center are stationed out of the Cosgrove Center on the Second Floor.  When someone is referred to Coordinated Intake, efforts are made to find them housing with a family/friend or to provide them with bus transportation out of town to a relative, etc.

When that is not a possibility then Coordinated Intake works with the person and determines the barriers to the person regaining housing and figures out a housing plan (short and long term) for them.  In the meantime, they are placed in Emergency shelter.  Single men go to 2100 Lakeside and families and single women either go to Norma Herr Woman’s Shelter or the Domestic Violence Center, Zelma George, Family Promise, West Side Catholic Center or Laura’s Home.  When these places are full there are overflow beds at Zelma George, West Side Catholic Center and Family Promise.

From there, those with low to moderate barriers to housing may be ready to leave on their own into housing or qualify for Rapid Rehousing (a program offering a security deposit and 4 months of rental assistance to families), and they are signed up for benefits.  Those with higher barriers to housing also qualify for Rapid Rehousing and may get even more help if their situation hasn’t changed in several months.  Some who end up with a disability or mental health diagnosis may receive a permanent Eden voucher for housing. 

All of the people who call 2-1-1 and go through Coordinated Intake/Central Intake receive an assessment, then it is determined what kind of help they need, even the unstated needs which the specialists who work with them are able to determine.  They then go into an emergency shelter with a housing plan and exit strategy in place. 

After hours and weekends, between 8 pm Friday and 8am Monday and week nights after 8pm, single men and women are to go directly to the main men's shelter or women's shelter.  Families are put in overflow beds until Monday morning when they can meet with the intake specialists to get their assessment and housing plans.  Coordinated Intake has 7 days to initiate rapid rehousing for these families and many of them are housed within 30 days. 

There are many other pieces of the puzzle and living in a temporary shelter may not meet the expectations of most people.   Men who are part of a family have to be screened to find out if they are a sex offender, families may be split up while they are in temporary shelter.  Shelters are not the most ideal places to stay.  They have their own set of problems: the food may not be what you are used to, some of the shelters may be overcrowded, and the conditions may not be ideal.  The shelters have rules and regulations that most people are not used to living by.  You are living amongst strangers who may have disabilities or varied backgrounds. The staff at the shelters may not be as compassionate as they should be or are burnt out.  Staff members may not even know what programs are available to you, which can be frustrating.

People homeless for the first time may be going through a trauma; they may be a victim of domestic violence.  Children may be pulled out of their schools and away from their friends, to live in the midst of strangers.  There are many things that may play a part in this being one of the worst times of a homeless person’s life.   Programs like 2-1-1 and Coordinated Intake give some of these people hope as they are assessed and given a housing plan.  They know where beds are available, which makes it easier on the family not able to find their own shelter.  Beds do not sit empty like they did in the past, and people with multiple barriers to housing are not stuck in the entry shelters.  Families may get encouragement from the fact that there is help available to them through Rapid Rehousing. 

I learned a lot about the behind the scenes work and mechanics of helping a person or family get a shelter bed when they have no place to stay.  I am so glad there are agencies like First Call for Help/2-1-1, Coordinated Intake and NEOCH who help individuals facing homelessness make their transition back to housing a little easier than it was before.  Cuyahoga County previously did not have an intake system and has come a long way from what it used to be with Coordinated Intake and 2-1-1.  This is a relatively new system for Cuyahoga County and it is progressively getting better.

NEOCH works hard to advocate for homeless individuals, working to make some of the conditions at the shelters better.  NEOCH fights for more shelter beds and to alleviate overcrowding.  NEOCH wants the shelters to be a safe place for men, women and families.  NEOCH wants to insure that clients at the shelters are adequately fed, and that they receive the materials they need to get out of the shelter system and into housing as quickly as possible.

by Denise Toth

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Some Scary Halloween Stories

A few Halloween stories to scare you.   These are true stories that happen every day in Cleveland to homeless people. 

A Nightmare on Payne Ave...

One, two, Freddy's coming for you. / Three, four, better lock your door. / Five, six, grab your crucifix. / Seven, eight, gonna stay up late. / Nine, ten, never sleep again...because you stayed a couple of weeks at the Women's Shelter.  A woman is raped by an intruder in her apartment in the suburbs of Cleveland and no longer feels safe in the apartment.  She struggles with nightmares and loses her job while constantly reliving the pain and horror.  She can't keep the apartment and does not get help for her PTSD.  This woman is your mom or your sister or your daughter or a total stranger, but she is real.  She suffers in quiet and ends up at the Women's Shelter in downtown Cleveland, because there is no where else for her to go or she may be too proud to ask her family to take her in.  She may not want her family to see her pacing every night because she cannot sleep or she may feel ashamed.   She had heard rumors of how scary the shelter on Payne Ave is, but the rumors do not do it justice. 

She gets a mat on the floor because she is new and there are no beds available.  She quickly realizes that there are 60 women ahead of her to get a bed.  They run out of food and the bathrooms have no privacy.  She weeps all night because of the rubble that is her current life unable to sleep because of the nightmares and the lights on in the dining room all night.  There are women bickering and fighting some because of their own demons and others because they were just released from jail or the conflicts that naturally happens betweent these two groups.  It is one of the circles of hell that she has to overcome while dealing with her own memories of the rape. 

The staff are nasty, burnt out and no better than guards in a prison without locks.  They work for an organization that started out treating mentally ill folks, but none of them seem to recognize the signs of depression, PTSD, or manic behaviour that is all around them.  They do not ease the pain or provide a loving hand when these women are most in need.  They cannot offer suggestions for where to go for help or how to quickly move back into housing.  They see 200 women per night suffering and punch out and go home to a warm shower to wash away the grief that permeates their job.

This is nightmare on Payne Ave that we all bare responsibility for allowing to exist.  We have a created a holding station for women we want to forget or we don't care about.  We support a place that further damages women when they most need our comfort.  We have no idea how this will change them or scar them for rest of their lives.  Will they be harmed by the extreme conditions or the coldness to human suffering that exists on Payne Ave?  Will their relationships with family be permanently damaged?  Will they ever be able to get a normal night of sleep?

A Tell Tale Family Saga...

"TRUE! --nervous --very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?"

What am I going to do?  It is rainy cold Saturday, and my kids have a slight fever.  I am supposed to be the bread winner for the family, and I am letting my family down...I am scared that someone will find out that my family is living in an abandoned house without heat.--Help--We are at the end our rope with food since it is the end of the month.  The teacher in my kid's school suspects that they are homeless...she is asking lots of questions.  What if she finds out?  Will she tell on us?  Will the kids give too much information?--Fear--Afraid that someone will call the child abuse hotline...Regret...How did this all go so wrong?

I call Central Intake and they are closed...How do I get in shelter?  I don't want to go to shelter...they are possibly going to break up the family?...Dread...At our time of most need are we going to be separated?  Providence House for the kids? Mom to the women's shelter and I would be in the shelter with 400 other men...Rough...Violence?...Anger...How would we ever repair the family if we get broken up?

There is no one working to place families on Saturday in Cleveland, so we have to wait to talk to a supervisors who is on salary and can be drafted into listening to our problems...Exploitation...They have to take time away from their family to try to help my family.  Do we trust them?  Should I tell them that we are staying in a place that is awful for our kids?  How honest should we be?...Will she hear the fear in my voice?  Will she allow us to get into a shelter together?  What do I do...?

It did not go well...I decided not to risk being found out so I did not tell her where we were living currently...I did not realize that it would reduce the emergency in her eyes...Stupid...Insanity...Who made these rules?  Did I just harm my own family? Can my family make it until Monday  when a bed may open up in this unsafe location?  I wish I could do the call all over again--My heart is heavy here and I don't see much help for my family in this city...

 Hansel and Gretel May Have been Disabled

Hard by a great forest dwelt a poor wood-cutter with his wife and his two children. The boy was called Hansel and the girl Gretel. He had little to bite and to break, and once, when great dearth fell on the land, he could no longer procure even daily bread.

Who would be so gullible to go into a house made of candy?  Who would trust an elderly woman who looked like a witch?  In the end they figured out a plan to defeat the witch, but what if Hansel or Gretel or both were disabled and that was the cause of the wood cutters issues?  They could not afford the cost of care, tutors, health care, and housing associated with the disabilities of the children. 

Gretel and her son Hansel who was severely disabled showed up seeking shelter.  Since he was by law an adult he could not stay with his Mom in the family shelters.  They were taking up the space for two families and so the shelter needed to move them along.  Gretel had to figure out what she was going to do with her disabled son.  If she threw him to the wolves at the men's shelter, she knew that he would not make it out of the fine looking building with the candy exterior.  Or would she risk living in a car or an abandoned building?  Gretel may be able to afford staying in a motel for a week, but after that she would have to make some tough decisions.  There was no one in our community throwing down bread crumbs for a severely disabled 21 year old and her Mom to return to housing.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

NEOCH Board Opposes "Diversion" for All Families in County

NEOCH Opposes “Diversion” for all Families in Cuyahoga County

In 2012, Coordinated Intake went live with all the publicly funded shelters signing an agreement with the County that they would accept referrals only from Coordinated Intake.  This intake center is now the central point of access for all shelter in Cuyahoga County.  If you want a bed in Cleveland or Cuyahoga County, you have to go to 1736 Superior and complete the application for shelter.  You must complete this step if you want to get housing assistance, transitional shelter, or get on some of the affordable housing waiting lists.  As part of Coordinated Intake, they hired Cleveland Mediation Center to oversee a program called “diversion.”  This keeps people out of the shelter who have other places to live.  There are people who are evicted, but still have time to find other accommodations but mistakenly think that they are homeless.  There are individuals who are having a short term disagreement with family or friends that can be reconciled with a trained mediator.  NEOCH has watched this develop over three years and have repeatedly received complaints from families who were told that the shelters were full and thought that they were denied access.    It is now three years later and the NEOCH staff believe that diversion is not working.  More than one –quarter of the families who show up asking for help are “diverted” to non-shelter locations.  Many do not realize that they have a right to shelter in Cuyahoga County or that the County will open an overflow shelter if every shelter bed is taken.

The NEOCH Board urges Cuyahoga County Council to re-evaluate “diversion” for families and those who show up requesting help should be offered a place to stay.  We support most of the goals of the Coordinated Intake to make it easier to find shelter and we are glad to see the move to a separate facility away from the shelters.  We have watched while families are provided confusing information and mistakenly leave the Coordinated Intake site thinking that they were denied shelter.  We have come across women with children sleeping in their cars after being “diverted” from shelter.  The intake does not give written information indicating that a person has a right to shelter. They do not provide a list of rights or a process for filing a complaint if they feel they were improperly diverted.  We also are not sure that a woman would disclose she is facing violence in the home to a stranger especially in an interview in front of her significant other and her children.  NEOCH opposes diversion of any family with children who make the decision to seek help in Cuyahoga County.

Background on Diversion: 

  • Families have already a special sensitivity that their children could be taken into custody of the foster care system if the County finds they are without housing.  If they make the decision to ask for help they do not need to be second guessed by the county funded intake staff.  Families do not want to disagree with the staff, because they may fear that their children will be placed into the foster care system or a child abuse worker will show up to interview them.
  • Women may not want to disclose to a total stranger that she is living in a violent home and so she cannot return to that place she slept last night.  This is only further complicated since the interviews with families are not done with each individual.  The mom may not want to disclose in front of her children that she is being abused. It may be the case that the abuser is present at the Coordinated intake interview and so will not allow the mother to disclose abuse.  It is dangerous to return these women to their home.
  • Many times the place that the woman fled is overcrowded or roach or rat infested.  Will she disclose to these strangers that she has been living in these conditions with her children over the past few months?
  • The diversion staff is constantly pressing the family that all the shelter beds are full and so it would be better to go back where you slept the day before until a bed opens.  This is not the fault of the family that all the shelter beds are full.  They do not care that hundreds of families are suffering.  We should not offer to help families later because all the beds are full.  These families are reaching out to their government for help and should not be turned away. 
  • Diversion is championed as a “strength based system driven by clients,” but NEOCH receives two or three calls a week from families confused by the program.  They misunderstood what was told to them thinking that they were turned away from shelter because they were all full.  There is nothing provided to the client in writing saying that they have a guaranteed right to shelter in Cuyahoga County.  We are tricking taxpayers into leaving the building thinking that they were denied shelter.
  • We have yet to receive a complaint about being diverted from shelter by a single individual so therefore we are only asking the County to stop diverting families.  The fragility of families as they see their finances collapse should not have the added complication of saying the wrong thing to a staff member at Coordinated Intake that results in the family sleeping in their car. 
  • We believe that families who make the decision to ask for shelter help should be provided that assistance. They should not be diverted into possibly dangerous or unsafe choices.  The heads of households know what is best for their children and not some stranger who interviews them for a half hour. 
  • There is no effective independent grievance process in place if you feel your family was tricked out of going to shelter.  There is no one within local government who will take a complaint about diversion or coordinated intake.  In fact, you are never given any information about what your rights are when you show up asking for shelter in Cuyahoga County.

It is for these reasons that the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Board of Trustees is asking Cuyahoga County to suspend all diversion activities for families with children seeking shelter. 

As voted on by the NEOCH Board on September 17, 2015

For a print out of the alert click here (pdf).

Here are all our Advocacy Alerts

Here is a Prime Example of Why Frontline is Not a Good Partner

This is the e-mail we received yesterday from Frontline Services:

Dear Colleagues-

Since our move to 1736 Superior, the Coordinated Intake program has operated 7 days a week from 8:00a to 8:00p.  Coordinated Intake, which is a collaboration of FrontLine Service and the Cleveland Mediation Center, has been working extremely hard with those we serve to effectively explore options to shelter and provide timely shelter placement.

This email is being sent to you because we are changing the days of on site operations.  Because of a recent funding gap, effective immediately, (NEOCH added underline for emphasis) our new hours of operation will be Monday through Friday, from 8:00a to 8:00p. We will no longer operate on site Saturdays and Sundays.

Saturdays and Sundays will follow our after-hour protocol. Single men and women seeking shelter will go to 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter or Norma Herr Women’s Center, respectively. Singles arriving at shelter during the weekend will be sent to Coordinated Intake on Monday for a complete intake and assessment.

Families seeking shelter will need to contact 2-1-1 who will link them with an on-call staff person. The on-call person will triage by phone and attempt to divert. If needed, they will meet at FrontLine Service to complete the intake and proceed to emergency shelter placement.

It is our hope that the need to discontinue on site weekend hours will not greatly impact service delivery. Please feel free to contact me.

-LaTonya-

Director, Emergency Housing Services

FrontLine Service, formerly MHS

No warning, no letting the outreach teams or churches who may be dropping off people over the weekend.  They did not let us know so we could update the Homeless Street Card.  They did not hold a discussion with all the partner agencies to talk about the pros and cons and alternatives.  We just had a County Homeless meeting last week and they could have warned us that this might be coming.  Funding does not change so dramatically that the largest homeless service provider in the community cannot take a few weeks to ease into this decision.  They are really bad partners to the rest of the small groups in the community who are providing referrals or trying to work on the issue of ending homelessness.  This will be fine in five years when Frontline Service takes over every charity in Cuyahoga County and we are all Frontline employees, but at this time the agency does not provide very good services to homeless people.

They do a really bad job overseeing the Women's Shelter and they are not really solid partner when they need multiple organizations working on the same page.  We have a bunch of questions about what we are supposed to do without Coordinated Intake on the weekend and no venue for getting answers.  Are they going to pay First Call for Help to take all these extra calls and spend all this extra time with homeless families?  How will we assure that we circle back to the men and women who became homeless on the weekend to make sure that they complete the Central Intake application?  Who will declare that we need to open an overflow site if many families show up this weekend needing help? Wish there was a partner who cared about the opinions of the rest of the Continuum or the County demanded that the shelters and services play nice with eachother.

Brian Davis

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Homelessness in the National News

With the recent strings of police misconduct, it was sad to see police officers taunting a homeless person in Florida.

In some areas, city governments are taking steps, if minor, to limit the unjust actions taken by police against a large part of the population. Los Angeles is trying to increase police awareness about mental illness and de-escalation techniques. However, it is not going far enough, they need to account for how mental illnesses affect people when considered legal charges.  The LA Times takes a look at one mentally ill homeless woman caught in the legal system after being charged with assaulting a police officer.

Two St. Louis individuals are doing their own interesting take on the Food Truck craze. They are looking to create trucks with showers for homeless people to use.

Findings in San Jose show that many stereotypes of why people are continually homeless are very off-base. At one homeless healthcare program, 71% of the patients had brain impairment.  The sample size is small and will need further research to determine a definitive link.

To prevent homelessness, people need affordable housing. One Seattle study shows that a $100 increase in median rent corresponded to 15% increase in homeless population.  The study published in the Journal of Urban Studies showed that population growth and low vacancy rates also contributes to an increase in homelessness.

Stereotypes are countless when it comes to the homeless. This story provides an insight into what it is really like to be homeless and going to school. Many do not know the resources available to them and are afraid or ashamed to ask.  This is a first person account of being homeless in college.

Los Angeles recently announced a program to help homeless people clear minor citations and fines. This is a much needed step toward ending the criminalization of homelessness.  Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in June launching a one-time, statewide amnesty starting Oct. 1 to dismiss up to 80% of infraction-related debt and restore suspended driver's licenses.

In London, anti-homeless spikes have begun to pop up. One activist group could not stand the idea of this and built beds over these spikes.   There is a nice photo associated with this video story.

A study done in the United Kingdom has had results that show the longer someone is homeless the more costly that person becomes to society. The quicker homelessness is dealt with, or even prevented, the more money saved.

As Los Angeles houses more homeless people than any other city, the homeless crisis still increases. This article argues the issue is that no matter what LA does to combat homelessness the problem still remains that there is not nearly enough affordable housing.  This is an op-ed from a Los Angeles City Council member.

Faith-based groups speak out in San Antonio against ordinances that seek to criminalize generosity. Activists are saying that if you wish to feed a homeless person on the streets, you should be able to do so unabated. Local religious leaders were being ticketed for serving food to homeless people.

Non-profit organizations in New York City are providing homeless children a chance to attend a camp like every other kid.  During the summer, they provide children a chance to go to sleepaway camp sessions and to get away from the shelters.

One Atlanta initiative at the largest shelter in the South has homeless people planting urban, organic gardens to feed shelters. These gardens let the homeless individuals eat fresh food and obtain job skills. This is at the Metro Atlanta Task Force Shelter which has been under constant attack for the past 10 years by the City of Atlanta.

Evansville, Illinois is implementing a similar policy to Cleveland’s Coordinated Intake for homeless people. One of the biggest problems for the homeless if finding and understanding all the resources available. These policies give homeless people a central place that has the information to navigate all the services.

by Dan the Intern

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Coordinated Intake Moving on February 24

From Frontline Services in Cleveland:

From NEOCH: For those who live outside or are resistant to go to shelter this is a big step forward.  This also should help with all the staff in one place so that when there are a lot of men the staff who traditionally serve women can step in to offer assistance.  We will be promoting this move over the next month and staff will be educating the public about this move at many upcoming meetings.  

Here is a copy of the flyer that you can print out and display

Brian Davis

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Housing 101 Announced for March

Part of the mission of the Coalition is to better educate the public about housing and homelessness.  To fulfill this part of our mission, we try to organize periodic sessions explaining the complicated system of affordable housing in our community.  Our first session for 2015 is March 20 at the NEOCH Conference RoomWe have a page of our website explaining the workshop with a copy of the flyer to advertise the event. 

This year, we will have the following guests invited to present:

  • We will have an overview of the HousingCleveland.org website with a focus on the fragile populations functions.
  • We will have a look at the Cleveland Housing Court/mediation services and special services available for those facing an eviction.
  • We will be provided an overview of the services offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs locally and the other programs serving veterans.
  • There will be a presentation on fair housing and how to assert your fair housing rights locally. 
  • Finally, a look at Permanent Supportive housing and Coordinated Intake at the workshop.  Staff from Frontline Services will talk about access, supply and program expectations within the homeless programs.

The workshop is $15 for those who will need Continuing Education credit for social workers and $10 for those who who do not need the CEUs. The workshop is March 20, 2015 from 10 to 1 p.m. at NEOCH. There is a flyer to complete and send back or you can check out our webpage

Brian Davis

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What is the Problem with "Diversion"?

First of all the name is scary.  If you lost your housing and a place for all your possessions, would you want to be "diverted" when you showed up asking for help?   If you finally made the decision to ask some stranger for help, the first thing that this social service provider will do in Cleveland is see if you can be "diverted."  The County really should have come up with a more marketable name than diversion for the first step on a person's journey into homelessness.  Social service types are not typically the most market savvy group in the community.  After all, "homeless" is not something anyone wants to be labeled, and calling the group that takes children from unfit parents "children and family services" seems Orwellian. 

In August, we heard from staff of diversion in a couple of different meetings, and I still have a ton of questions about the ethics and safety of the program for families in our community.  The way it works in Cleveland is when you first become homeless or are in danger of being homeless you go over to either the men's shelter or the women/family shelter on Payne Ave. between 7 to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 to 5 p.m. on the weekend.  This is a problem since there is a stigma associated with shelter and a reputation in the community about these shelters.   Then the head of the household completes an intake application. They head over to another room and meet with a staff member of Cleveland Mediation Center to discuss "diversion."  This is a program to avoid shelter and find a more "appropriate" to stay. 

This can mean the agency buying a bus ticket to live with family in another city.  This a huge improvement because we have never done travel assistance in our city in the past.  It can also mean negotiating with family locally to move into their extra bedroom or it can mean going back to a friend that the individual was staying with in March of this year.  It could mean educating the family about the eviction process and that the family has a couple of weeks to work on alternative places to live.  Or it could mean paying one month of rent to keep the family in housing.  There is a possibility that the family could avoid shelter altogether with rapid rehousing back into a place to live with a commitment to three months worth of rent. 

Avoiding shelter is the goal of everyone, but the implementation of some of these goals has been a problem.  The goal is to "divert" 20 to 25% of the people seeking shelter.  The CMC champion a  "strength based system" driven by the clients to help them to figure out what resources they have available to them.  They champion not judging the individual and working on "building a persons' capacity to act."  In the first six months of 2014 they diverted 136 of the 711 of the single men who showed up at Lakeside shelter or 19%.  CMC only diverted 17% of the women they saw and 26% of the families.  Only families have access to rental assistance at this time, making it easier to provide diversion. 

I have never heard a complaint from the men about diversion, but I have seen a number of issues with families misunderstanding diversion.  I also know that many of the existing social service providers grumble about diversion.  They say, if a person makes the effort to decide to go to shelter for help, they should be respected and provided some kind of help.  Many of the women and families misunderstand the message being delivered by the diversion staff.  They think that the person is saying that the shelter is too full and they need to find some other place to stay.  Many walk away because they think the staff is saying, "there is no room at the inn."  I worry that a victim of domestic violence will not be willing to admit to a total stranger that she is being beaten and will be diverted back to her death.  I worry that a Mom will not disclose in front of her kids the violence going on within the house, and will be harmed after requesting shelter.  I also see a problem with not interviewing a couple separately when talking about diversion.  There is no way a woman will risk outing her partner in small room over at the Payne Ave shelter.  

Other issues that I have seen is that no one knows their rights or the grievance procedure when they go through this process.  There is nothing displayed that you have a right to shelter and can reject the diversion.  Where do you go to complain?  Are you a client of CMC or Frontline Services when you complete the intake?   What are your privacy rights with regard to diversion and coordinated intake?  None of this is spelled out or given to the client when they come in the door.  The program has been fully implemented for the last two years, and we still don't have protections in place for the clients.  There is not a piece of paper they get spelling out the process, the rights of the clients and the place that they can go if they have an issue.   I just don't think that we should risk diversions for families until we have better protections and clear guidelines in place.  And please come up with a better name for the program.

Brian Davis

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Senator Becomes Involved in Coordinated Intake

Senator Rob Portman recently received notice from Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Community Planning and Development concerning Cuyahoga County’s centralized or coordinated assessment system. Senator Rob Portman had previously urged HUD to clarify the system requirements and how families who bypass the intake are served by publicly funded programs. He was joined in his questioning of HUD by Senator Sherrod Brown and Rep. Marcia Fudge.  Separately, Rep. Marcy Kaptur had made an inquiry of HUD regarding the Coordinated Intake system locally and how it was excluding residents of privately funded shelters.   HUD responded to Portman by, first and foremost, reconsidering regulations describing the responsibilities and the definition of homeless for Cuyahoga County. They concluded that their regulatory intent is not to disqualify individuals and families who meet the criteria of homelessness and who are residing in non-HUD funded shelters.

Furthermore, the letter to Portman explained that HUD had gotten involved with this matter starting in early 2014 when Brian Davis of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless mediated on behalf of residents of Laura’s Home. The families staying at Laura’s Home were seeking to bypass the coordinated intake system and directly place its residents in permanent supportive housing. However, HUD determined that Laura’s Home was following regulatory requirements and dismissed the NEOCH appeal. Cuyahoga County Continuum of Care staff then assured HUD that staying at Laura’s Home meet the definition of homeless, but were denying them access to other publicly funded services such as rental assistance and permanent supportive housing.

In the end, HUD concluded that The City Mission might have not only misunderstood Cuyahoga County  coordinated intake policies and procedures as they originally thought.  They now believe that HUD staff received incorrect information from Cuyahoga County and that local staff may not have followed the correct procedures that were described to HUD by County staff. Addressing the problem directly, HUD decided that they will intervene by providing technical assistance to Cuyahoga County staff in order to address the need of homeless persons regardless of how they enter the system. 

Since that time Cuyahoga County staff and City Mission staff have been working out a written agreement to get every resident of Laura's Home to be screened by Coordinated Intake.  The residents will not go through diversion and will maintain their eligibility to tax payer supported programs. 

Click here is a copy of the Letter to Senator Portman from HUD.

By Lora Zuo

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Coordinated Intake Hurts Privately Funded Shelters

Photo by David HagenThe Plain Dealer did a really nice overview of the problems homeless people are facing if they go to a private shelter before they go to the Central Intake site in Cleveland.  This is a huge issue that has brought Republican and Democratic lawmakers together to question this policy.  Democrats Fudge, Kaptur and Senator Brown as well as Republican Rob Portman have all written to the federal agency funding all these services to ask for a clear explanation. 

The policy started last year when folks at the City Mission and their female/family program known as Laura's Home were informed that if their residents spend even a night in the shelter before going to Coordinated Intake run by Frontline Services,  the County will declare the individual no longer homeless.  They will have to leave Laura's Home and become homeless again before they will be able to access any publicly funded shelter or service in Cuyahoga County.   We filed a complaint on behalf of three residents and had one additional resident contact us over the last eight months.  The Coordinated Intake and County refused to respond to the complaint.  We then went to the federal government at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to seek help for our clients and were denied any help.  HUD staff found that the County policy was consistent with the draft rules issued by HUD. 

All of this raises many questions.   Why would these women not be at least given the chance to access services if they were at Laura's Home before the Central Intake rules went into effect?  Why are taxpayers being denied public services because they did not follow rules that they did not know were required?  Why is the County annoying the privately funded shelters with this rule when the City Mission and Laura's Home have been critical component of the safety net? Why is the Federal government not providing stricter rules that would prevent discrimination of residents of religiously based shelters that do not rely on public tax payer dollars?

Recently, a federal interpretation of a rule regarding the use of public and private, faith-based shelters has left some homeless Clevelanders seeking assistance from emergency shelters worse off than before they entered shelter.  The federal interpretation of this rule states that homeless people must first contact the county’s central intake office before going to an emergency shelter in order to keep their status as a homeless individual. This status allows a person or family access to county resources for the homeless.  Because of this federal misinterpretation, an individual or family who, after becoming homeless, seeks emergency shelter from a non-county shelter such as City Mission, St. Hermans, or Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center, without first going to central intake forfeits their status as homeless and consequently loses access to all county resources for the homeless. Many times, those seeking assistance from emergency shelters are unaware of this rule and therefore unknowingly break the rule and lose access to these resources.

Progress on amending this misinterpretation has been made in the last few weeks. On April 23rd, the website of U.S. Senator Rob Portman published a press release describing the efforts of Senator Rob Portman, Senator Sherrod Brown, and Congress member Marcia Fudge to inform the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) of their concerns with the misinterpretation of this law that is causing homeless Ohioans difficulty.  The three lawmakers urge HUD to make certain that homeless people are not denied resources they need to become self-sufficient simply because they accidentally chose immediate shelter over future assistance by first going to an emergency, faith-based shelter.

In the press release, Portman states, “Faith-based organizations across Ohio like Cleveland’s City Mission play a crucial role in helping struggling families get back on their feet. I’m concerned by any regulations or interpretation of regulations that push Ohioans back onto the streets, instead of giving them the help they need from organizations like The City Mission.”

Additionally, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has also published an article on April 23rd discussing the misinterpretation as well as Fudge, Portman, and Brown’s recent efforts to urge the HUD to amend the problem.

The future of this issue is not yet clear.

by Brian Davis and Allison the BW intern

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HUD Rejects Our Complaint About Coordinated Intake

In April 2013, the County decided that anyone who does not go to the Coordinated Intake first would not be considered homeless and therefore not have access to the rest of the services in the community.  For men, you have to go to 2100 Lakeside shelter first before going to any other facility in the community for assistance with your homelessness.  Women and women with children must start their journey at the Norma Herr Center at 2227 Payne Ave.  If they go to one of the privately funded shelters in the community before going to Coordinated Intake, they lose their ability to access rental assistance, transitional housing or any other publicly funded homeless service.   So, if a woman goes to Laura's Home because she needs a place for her kids for the night and stays there for a month then she tries to get in something more stable the family would be told that they are not homeless and therefore do not have access to a transitional shelter or rental assistance.

We complained and the Homeless Congress complained to the County about this rule as being unfair because these women did not know the rules when they came to the shelter.  There should be a grandfathering of all the women who were in the shelter before the policy went into place at a minimum.   We also felt the policy is a direct attack on religiously based shelters that do not rely on taxpayers for support.  Why should a shelter that receives no public money force their clients to go to the County Coordinated intake first?  Why should these private religiously based shelters be forced to take women from the County intake system who may not be a good match for their facility?  If a Christian based shelter is paying the full price of the shelter, food and clothing, should they be forced to serve an unmarried couple or a woman who may need health or mental health assistance that the staff are not trained to offer?  There is no public money going to Laura's Home and they want the ability to serve the clients that would fit with the religious teachings that are part of the daily activity of the shelter.   It does not seem fair that if the women is living in a privately funded shelter, she should lose access to publicly funded services.  She paid her taxes and just because she did not know the rules of being homeless in Cleveland her family will have to spend extra time homeless. 

The County Council backed the County staff decision to exclude residents of Laura's Home, City Mission, St. Herman's and Maggie's Place from receiving publicly funded services and blamed the HUD policy for this decision. We wrote about this in our member section of the website (must login). Here is the response from the County (again in the member section of the website).  NEOCH then went to HUD to complain about this policy.  All we got back was this:

Outcome/Conclusion:   The Cuyahoga County CoC [Continuum of Care=federal funding grant recipient] coordinated assessment and central intake process is compliant to the requirements at 24 CFR 578.7 of the CoC Program interim rule.   Regarding the 3 women, the continuum’s action is substantiated by their central intake process.  

Please let me know if you have any additional questions or if I can be of assistance in the future.

Sincerely,

Tonya Proctor   

This is not going to go over well with conservative Congress members who often have strong support from religious organizations.   HUD is allowing this split between private shelters and publicly funded shelters at a time in which the federal government is cutting shelter funding.  They are allowing the County to treat those who go to privately funded shelters as second class citizens who are not entitled to the same tax supported services as the rest of the tax payers.  The City Mission has been a part of the homeless system in Cleveland for over 100 years.  I do not understand why County officials want to alienate the Mission?  They have been a part of our response locally whenever the shelters are full by providing overflow space.  They have offered shelters and transitional space for years, and now their clients are being scolded for going to the mission before Coordinated intake.  Even staying one night at Laura's Home before going to Coordinated Intake, they lose their status as a homeless person.  This is a horrible policy and County officials need to rethink this mistreatment of residents who are just trying to find a warm place to lay their head after being kicked out of their housing. 

Brian Davis

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