Women's Shelter Update

Thanks to Joe Pagonakis from WEWS Newsnet5 for highlighting the rough time the women are having at the shelter.  It is ironic that on the night of this report there were 215 women sleeping in the shelter, which is far higher than the 170 beds and the number of meals ordered.  There are far too many women in the building.  There are far too many sleeping on mats on the floor.  There are far too many women stuck with no where to go.  There was a tour of the shelter yesterday by some important people we heard.  The women who spoke yesterday to Joe at Newsnet5 said that there are some really good staff who help the women, but the majority are horrible.  The women said that they do not feel safe.  They hate the food.  They talked about how it took six months of being there before they got a case worker assigned to help with housing. 

All the women voiced their support of a new shelter staff and a new agency coming in to operate the shelter.  60 women signed a petition in support of West Side Catholic Center to oversee the shelter.  There were many women afraid to speak up or who tried to respond to the survey that was shown in the Channel 5 piece but were warned by staff not complete the survey or they would be punished.  The Homeless Coalition supports a new provider operating the shelter.  We have tried to push for a change, but the bottom line is that there is an entrenched staff who are not helping the women move forward.  We need to clean house as a community, and bring in new ideas and new strategies for serving women.

 

Support letter removed at the request of the author. 

by Brian Davis

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Women's Shelter Up For Bid

We have not talked much about this over the last two months, because we have actively been working on finding an alternative to Frontline Services running the Community women's shelter on Payne Ave.  We have regularly posted all the problems at the shelter here.  A handful of brave women stepped forward last year to testify about the conditions at the shelter in the first of its kind hearing at the County Council.  Last year, the Cuyahoga County Council fulfilled a promise by requiring the Office of Homeless Services to open up the contracting to other social service providers.  Then they extended the deadline when the first announcement only gave three weeks to complete the massive application.  So, the County accepted two proposals last week to run the women's shelter.  One from Frontline Services and the other from West Side Catholic.  This will silence the criticism we heard last year that no one else bid on the contract.  Here is what Councilwoman Conwell said back at the May hearing,

Just for the audience to know, no one else bid on the contract which means that no one else wants to do this work. So, as we move forward as a community, we must also keep that in mind we don’t want to ever get in a situation that, that we don’t have anyone that wants to provide that work. Not saying that we can’t work together to fix the issues that occur in any household.

NEOCH staff worked to convince West Side Catholic of the value of administering the Women's Shelter and then to respond to the request for proposal.  We also convinced Metanoia to partner on this project as well. They bring their non violence and conflict resolution efforts to the collaboration.  They also have strong ties in the community and can operate an overflow system effectively.   West Side Catholic is one of the finest programs in the homeless community.  Women go all across town to be able to spend time in the drop in center to be able to get involved in the many programs they offer.  West Side Catholic has operated a shelter for women and families since the early 1980s, and have a positive relationship with the homeless population in Cleveland.  NEOCH is supporting the West Side Catholic application and hope that they will change the atmosphere over at the last shelter in Cleveland reserved for single women.  Here is the letter of support from a few members of the Cleveland City Council in support of West Side Catholic.

 

 

by Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Four Victories and a Loss

Over the last month the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless has had a hign number of victories both in court and in public policy.  Last week we did have one setback in the loss of the lawsuit against the State of Ohio in their massive purge of voters from the registration database, but homeless people did see a series of successes this spring. 

First, we won the voter lawsuit against the Secretary of State regarding the thousands of voters who made minor errors on the provisional or absentee ballot outside envelope and had their ballots thrown away.  These voters may have used cursive instead of printing or had transposed one digit of a zip code and their ballot did not count.  They tried to participate in the democratic process and the State of Ohio told them that because they did not meticulously copy their information on the absentee ballot they failed. 

Most of the time the information was on the other side of the envelope printed by the County Board of Election, but it still did not count.  The state was not claiming that the voter could not be identified or was attempting to vote fraudulently.  They were just saying it is not that big of a problem that thousands of voters were disenfranchised.  The federal court disagreed, but the State almost immediately appealed.  We shall see. 

Victory number two was in early May with the hearing held by the Cuyahoga County Council Health and Human Services committee on the Community Women’s Shelter administered by Frontline Services.  It was a victory that the Council had even had this gathering and was able to hear directly from the women after years of allowing this shelter to get so out of control.  We have posted the video from the hearing and the transcript on our website here

The women who participate in the Homeless Congress had asked for twelve items to improve the shelter by September 2016 or they would recommend a new shelter provider step in to replace Frontline.  After months of no reply, we got the hearing.  At the hearing, we asked for four out of the twelve things that could be done immediately to improve the shelter.  Those included no discharges that are not in writing, no denying of bed rest orders, five days to respond to grievances in writing and termination or transfer of the staff member with the largest number of grievances at the shelter.   This final action was taken in June, and the women celebrated.   We will continue to press all the issues at the shelter and Council President Dan Brady has agreed to a committee which will report back to the Homeless Congress. 

We worked with the ACLU to assure that homeless people were not displaced or subjected to unreasonable searches during the Republican National Convention in July.   We won a series of compromises from the City of Cleveland this week in federal court.  One judge granted us much of what we asked for and the City immediately appealed.  We then agreed to mediation in lieu of a protracted appeal and worked out a compromise this week.  We will have a more detailed description of the compromise on our website.

Finally, last year West Side Catholic Center was facing extremely onerous restrictions on their mail service by their local carrier and his supervisor.   One of the many valuable services offered by the Catholic Center on the near West Side is a place for those who live outside or move regularly was the ability to receive mail.  This was extremely valuable for voting purposes and getting into housing or finding employment.  NEOCH staff felt this was one of the most critical essential services in the community, and were especially concerned if this service were to disappear.  After the agency was unable to get a satisfactory response from the Postal Service, we enlisted the help of Senator Sherrod Brown’s office.  After some confusing research and reading huge manuals, we got a meeting with senior officials from the local Postal Service.  They agreed that this was a valuable service that should continue and admitted that the carrier had been incorrect in his interpretation of the postal rules. 

We will continue to push for a reversal of the purge lawsuit, but homeless people in Cuyahoga County have had a pretty good spring with some progress.  We did hear that the purge case will get an expedited review by the appeals court

Brian Davis

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Women's Shelter Makes Some Moves for Improvement

Back in May 2016, the Homeless Congress and the women living in the "House of Payne" (the only shelter for single women in Cleveland) testified for change.  The Homeless Congress had passed a resolution (without any opposition) in September 2015 for a series of 12 items that they wanted to see changed at the Women's Shelter. We posted those potential solutions on our website here

At the hearing we offered four items recommended by a dozen women living in the shelter which could be accomplished on that day to dramatically improve the County funded shelter. 

1.        Fire/Transfer the current supervisor at the shelter who everyone agrees creates a hostile work environment.  Sometimes one staff can dramatically change a congregate living environment.  There is one staff currently working at the shelter who has been a regular subject of complaints, grievances and heartache and needs to be placed in a position that does not involve client interactions.  She tortures these women and embarrasses them regularly.  Everyone knows who she is because her name comes up at the Homeless Congress regularly.  Her leaving the shelter would go along way to healing some of the problems.  Transfer her to some place where she does not come in contact with Frontline clients in the next few days.

2.       All grievances submitted will get a written reply in five business days.   This seems like it should already happen, but it never does.  Residents would have more confidence in the oversight of the shelter if they got something meaningful back in writing when they complained. 

3.       All stay in notes from health professionals will be respected and not questioned.  There will be no further sending them to Care Alliance for a second opinion or excuses that there are not enough staff so they limit the number of people who are allowed to stay inside.  The men’s shelter does not limit the number of stay ins, so why does the women’s shelter violate the fair housing rights of these women?  The staff will make this happen and if there is not space will work to transfer the overflow including transportation to a more appropriate facility in the community.

4.       Every discharge will be in writing including those forced to be out until 9:30 p.m. (the “time out” policy in which they miss dinner).  This was already mandated by the County, but it is never enforced.  We want to see something in writing to every single person discharged from the shelter for any reason so that there is something to file a specific grievance.  There needs to be more documentation and more professionalism in the discharges at the women’s shelter. 

The shelter staff who testified at the County hearing in May said that they already did #2-#4.  This is contradicted by the residents of the shelter, and NEOCH cannot find evidence that these three items are in place.  NEOCH has submitted hundreds of grievances on behalf of the women and have rarely seen a written response.  Nearly every night, women are punished or discharged and they never get anything in writing, and medical notes are only accepted if the shelter has the space to serve the women or does not require they get a secondary notes. 

But this week, the shelter took action to accomplish #1, and let go the staff who is the subject of the most grievances. NEOCH and the women thank the staff at Frontline Services for working to improve the shelter with the removal of this one staff.  This staff was regularly humiliating the women including in front of church groups and was the subject of complaints from other staff.  We only asked that she be transferred somewhere else to do paperwork in a back office, but the shelter evidently terminated her employment.   We posted a picture of our friend, Loh (who some suspect might be an undercover superhero and this picture might give some clues to her alter ego) who has led the efforts to remove inappropriate staff from the shelter.  Loh has railed against staff who bully the residents and should not be around the public in any capacity.  Loh has regularly testified before County Council about the shelter and filed many many complaints especially against supervisory staff who do nothing.  Loh was recently assaulted at the shelter and got very little help from staff.   Loh has spoken to Shelter administrators, the ADAMHS Board, County staff and reported to the Homeless Congress.  Loh has gone above and beyond to improve the conditions at the women's shelter and this week, this resident of the shelter helped to improve the House of Payne.  The women were so happy to hear that this staff person had been escorted out of the shelter and they thank Loh for leading the efforts. 

This is real progress that we have not seen for a decade.  Many on the Council, especially Jack Schron, did not like one non-profit (NEOCH) criticizing the hiring practices or personnel decisions of another non-profit (Frontline Services). Here is Schron's comments at the hearing.

"Well, just as a business person, I would hope that you are not going to transfer your obligations for firing or hiring or transferring [staff].  That is ultimately managements responsibility, you have to make that call, you might not do a good job of it, but that is only a recommendation that it seems to me you can never give up that obligation."

The Council were certainly not going to tell a contract agency to fire or move one staff, and in the most litigious society to ever exist, how could they?  But in a larger sense how different would One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest have been if some medical professional had just said, "Hey, Nurse Ratched needs to be fired?"  How much better would we have all been if someone at Marymount Hospital or the Cincinnati VA hospital had said, "You know Donald Harvey gives me the creeps when he is around dying patients, we should let him go?"  Or how many problems could be reduced if we could easily weed out police who feel it is appropriate to chase at high speed two unarmed people from the shelter through downtown to East Cleveland and then shoot them dead or speed up within a foot of a possible shooter and just kill a citizen with a toy gun?  Sometimes one person in the wrong job can poison the entire environment of a workplace. 

We know that Loh's campaign to reform the shelter will be improved after this one staff person was let go this week. We have to also thank Council President Dan Brady who said positive things at the May Homeless Congress, and said that there is a County investigation committee to look at the Women's Shelter.  He committed to living by the Homeless Congress's deadline of improving the shelter by September 2016 and said, "There is a history, in general, that directors of departments are not encouraged to be forthcoming about information with legislative bodies."    Rest easy tonight, Loh, you have accomplished what NEOCH and many others have not been able to do for a decade--improve the women's shelter. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.