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