Homeless Congress Asks for a New Women's Shelter Provider

Homeless Congress


Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell

Cuyahoga County Council

2079 East 9th St.

Cleveland, Ohio 44114

Dear Councilwoman Conwell:

The residents of the local shelters met on September 8, 2016 at our regular Homeless Congress meeting and unanimously approved a resolution asking that the County find another social service provider to administer the Community Women’s Shelter at 2227 Payne Ave.  One year ago the Homeless Congress voted to give a September 2016 deadline for some improvement and provided a 13 point list of the areas we felt were critical deficiencies.  As you know from the hearing held in May, there are a large number of complaints from the women.  These include:

  1. Staff disrespect, a lack of empathy that has not improved in 12 months.
  2. Mistreatment by staff and a total disregard of the opinions of residents. “We are treated as inmates and not partners in the struggle to overcome homelessness.”
  3. Lack of structure in the shelter and the rules change frequently without notice.
  4. Grave safety issues that even with security makes the women feel that violence can break out at any time.  The security seem to protect staff before they provide security for the residents.
  5. A lack of competent impartial oversight that the residents can go to in order to get help when the shelter violates the County standards.  The women do not feel that government is overseeing the operations of the Shelter and the Frontline supervisors do not seem to know what is going on day to day at the shelter.
  6. A lack of programming to help the women move out of the shelter or improve their situation.  There is nothing to do in the shelter but sit, get angry and fight.
  7. A fair grievance process was never set up a fair grievance process that involves an impartial person to resolve complaints.
  8. The shelter rarely responds in writing to complaints and the process takes way too long.  They also enforce the punishments before the grievance is resolved in violation of the County standards. 
  9. Lots of trauma and stress living in the shelter, and staff do not do anything to alleviate the horrible conditions. There are regular threats by staff to expel residents for small infractions of the rules.
  10. No independent resident council and we have not been able to meet with the COO or CEO of Frontline for 10 months.

We have a website with all the details and a transcript of the County Health and Human Services hearing at  www.neoch.org/houseofpayne/.  We ask that the County initiate a process for replacing the shelter provider locally.  The women who currently stay at the shelter along with NEOCH would appreciate the opportunity to have input on the Request for Proposal.  We are going to begin to interview potential replacement providers to hear alternatives to Frontline Services running the shelter. Despite a few changes that have taken place in the shelter, the worst staff member being relocated, and the claims of staff at the May hearing to be in compliance with the local shelter standards, the current residents of the shelter felt that our community needs fresh ideas and new energy on Payne Avenue.

The women argued at the meeting that staff were still disrespectful to the women and could not offer much help in moving into stable housing. They felt that there was not enough impartial oversight of the shelter and hope that a Request for Proposal process can at least build in improvements to the shelter for 2017 and beyond no matter who is running the facility.  There has not been any active negotiations between the agency and the residents in the last year over improving the conditions, or much of an attempt to meet the 13 demands that were included in our list of concerns from 2015.  The vote was unanimous without one person present at the meeting voicing any opposing views to asking the County to seek other social service providers to oversee this facility. 

Since this is the only emergency facility left in our community for women who do not have custody of their children and so is critical in the struggle to end homelessness.  The current facility is overcrowded, filled with women of different backgrounds and different barriers to stability.  Current staff are paralyzed in how to serve the large numbers of fragile women.  The Homeless Congress believes we need a dramatic change to bring in a group of social service providers who can provide activities and services that move women into housing faster. 

We would welcome you or any of the County Councilmembers to any of our upcoming meetings.  We meet on the second Thursday of the month at the Cosgrove Center at 1 p.m. (October 13, November 10, and December 8) to hear directly from the women.  Please call NEOCH to let us know that you will be able to attend (216/432-0540).

As voted upon at the September Homeless Congress

Homeless Congress Asks For Changes in the Shelter

From: Homeless Congress

                                        September 14, 2015

Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell

Cuyahoga County Council

2079 East 9th St.

Cleveland, Ohio 44114

Dear Councilwoman Conwell:

The residents of the local shelters met on September 10, 2015 at our regular Homeless Congress meeting and unanimously approved a resolution asking that the County include the following 12 items in any future contract with Frontline Services to administer the Community Women’s Shelter at 2227 Payne Ave.   As you heard when you attended the Congress meeting earlier this year, there are serious problems at the Women’s Shelter.  We have filed formal written complaints and held meetings with the CEO of Frontline Services, but have not seen many changes.  We still have out of control staff, little help in moving into housing and a broken grievance process.  The staff were not disciplined for misdirecting clients about public meetings regarding the conditions at the shelter in the last two weeks.  The bedrest problem still exists every night with many disabled and elderly individuals sleeping on the floor.   There are far too many people sleeping in this County funded building and the staff do not foster an environment to move people into healthier and more appropriate housing. 

We still are interested in the County Council hosting a hearing with actual residents of the shelter and not just staff of the shelter to hear about these issues.  We have waited for three weeks since the residents met with the CEO, two months since ADAMHS CEO heard these concerns, four months since they met with you, and twelve years since Frontline took over the shelter to see a change.  All of us are concerned about the conditions at the shelter deteriorating further with extremely volatile residents living in these extremely crowded conditions.   These are taxpayer dollars that are funding this shelter with very little oversight.  The taxpayers who fall on hard times are not served when they show up at the Community Women’s Shelter. We have already seen women so distraught at the shelter that they attempted suicide in the middle of the night.  If Council does not step in here there is going to be a horrible tragedy that explode in the media. 

Here are our approved list of demands that we ask you include in any further contract with Frontline Services:

  1. All Frontline Staff who currently work at the shelter would be laid off over the next three months (one third at a time), and would have to reapply for their jobs or accept a transfer to another position within Frontline that never would involve contact with the Community Women’s Shelter at Norma Herr.  An elected group of current or recent residents of the shelter would interview the potential employees and would have a meaningful input regarding potential staff. 
  2. An independent resident council would be started to comment on staffing, maintenance, facility issues, food, grievances, and the daily operation of the agency.  These notes would be collected by a third party (not an existing subcontractor of Frontline) and presented to senior staff at Frontline.  The staff would respond in writing and those notes would be available to other residents by being displayed.  Frontline could hire an independent third party group for the exclusive purpose of overseeing a resident council.
  3. There are a number of residents who are creating a hostile living environment and are not being sanctioned or punished for all the problems they create. The resident council would be allowed to recommend for transfer or discharge residents who are regularly violating the rules or fighting and not being disciplined by the staff.  Frontline staff/client rights officer would have the final say on the population living in the shelter, but at least would have to respond in writing to the concerns. 
  4. The shelter must re-write their grievance procedure with the input and approval of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.  Grievances must be done in a more timely manner and must have a written response.  At the end of the process there must be an independent third party (non-Frontline staff) who can make the final decision.  This could be a volunteer attorney who has no relationship with the shelter, staff or the agency.  This cannot be a subcontractor of the agency such as Cleveland Mediation Center, to make final decisions on grievances submitted to the agency. The main topics of the grievances need to be displayed on a weekly basis with some non-identifying information released about the results.  This is to assure that people trust the grievance process and will be willing to complete a grievance. There also must be some consequence for the staff if they are regularly the subject of complaints or are found to be violating the rights of residents.
  5. The shelter has to do a better job of accepting help from the outside to improve the conditions.  They need to have one staff dedicated to accepting church groups who want to donate items or volunteer or serve a dinner.  Residents should be encouraged to assist and volunteer to help at the shelter in order to improve the conditions. 
  6. The Shelter Rules and Regulations will be rewritten with the input of an independent resident committee by January 2016.  The shelter needs to offer more incentives to those who live at the shelter to participate in programming and quickly move on to housing.  They need to divide up the shelter into smaller communities with staff who specialize in assisting special populations and offer specialized care with programs for people in need of help such as addiction, mental health, students, job seekers, or those seeking housing.  This does not mean dividing up the shelter by different populations in different bedrooms, but building the concept of community among like-minded individuals within the shelter.  They need to offer more medical assistance to those who are on bedrest or movement to more appropriate facilities. 
  7. Resident input should be sought as part of employee performance evaluations and those comments should be taken into account when deciding on promotion or salary increases.  If the employee does not get at least 10 resident comments either positive or negative, the senior staff need to gather additional input.
  8. The director of Frontline needs to meet with the residents at least quarterly to hear concerns and ways to improve the shelter.  No staff working at the shelter are allowed to attend this meeting.
  9. Since the shelter has had repeated violations of fair housing rules by not offering bed rest ordered by doctors and not respecting the rights of the disabled or the LGBT HUD rules, the shelter must display the fair housing rules that they are following. 
  10. The Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center will have a female staff person on site everyday who can respond independently to sexual harassment and related issues by the women.
  11. Frontline will accept that there is a need for a separate shelter for severely mentally ill women and will begin to work on finding and funding a separate facility.
  12. If changes are not implemented by September 2016, the Homeless Congress will revisit the idea of changing the service provider who oversees the Community Women’s Shelter.    

Sent on behalf of the Homeless Congress.  Please feel free to contact Brian Davis of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless if you want to reach any member of the Congress.  

NEOCH

Copies to:        Susan Neth, Ruth Gillett, Matt Carroll, and Valeria Harper

All County Council Members

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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