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).

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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

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

At Least We Don't Live in Columbus Ohio

We have real problems with diversion as part of Central Intake mostly based on concerns of women at the shelter.   We do not believe that it is ever a good idea to return a woman to the place she was last night if there is a possibility that the women will experience domestic violence.   The County is following a trend in the United States to interview people and ask them where they slept last night, and then try to negotiate a place to stay with family, friends or landlord that is not in the shelters.  This is called Diversion and it is the latest trend out of Washington DC.  Over 20% of the people do not get a shelter bed and are relocated back to the community.   I am skeptical that a victim of domestic violence would tell a total stranger that she is being abused if she is embarrassed or ashamed that she has stayed with the abuser for an extended period of time.  We don't have clear rules for serving the population at the Central Intake site and there is not an established grievance procedure if the person is diverted improperly.  New York City advocates have pushed back and delayed implementation of the diversion program, but in Columbus, Ohio it is a nightmare. 

Columbus has a phone based system that the person seeking shelter calls in to get a bed. I talked to a guy, "Alex," who I trust to give me the real situation and his experience in trying to get shelter in Columbus.   He showed up at Friends of the Homeless and was told that he has to call to get a "reservation" instead.  So, they let him use the phone to call to get a bed.  He waited in their lobby on hold on the phone for an hour and half to get a bed before they kicked him to the street because he was on the phone too long.  He found another phone and called in finally reaching a human.  This person asked his name, social security number, date of birth and some other highly personal information to tell a total stranger on the phone.  They then asked him "Where did you spend last night?"   Alex said, "I am uncomfortable telling you where I slept last night."  The rude Central Intake staff told Alex, "Well, when you are comfortable talking about it call us back,"  and hung up the phone leaving Alex without a place to stay.   This whole process in Columbus just seems evil to me.  If Alex had been given a shelter bed there is also a time limit on the reservation, so if he does not get to the shelter in a timely manner the bed is given to someone else.  It is much easier to be dirty and devious on the phone than it is in person. 

That is why I say once again, "At least we don't live in Columbus Ohio.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect only the opinion of those who sign the entry.

OCHA Updates

OCHA is the Ohio Coalition of Homeless Advocates and we meet periodically in Columbus to discuss issues that might be important to the other cities.  Typically, we have Dayton, Appalachia, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Toledo represented.  Here are a few updates from the meeting this week.

Cincinnati

The Anna Louise Inn Shelter has been fighting to expand and was delivered a set back on Friday in their dispute with Western and Southern Financial Services. Anna Louise Inn is a battered women's shelter and home for recovering prostitutes, and has a desperate need to expand after a century of service.  After being in the same location for over 100 years, the place needs renovation and expansion.  The Union Bethel parent non-profit had raised the $12.4 million for the renovation and the City of Cincinnati had approved the expansion.  Western and Southern sued to stop the expansion, and proposed buying the facility.  For some reason the judge remanded the City to start the rezoning process over on the renovation.  Staff at Union Bethel have committed to continue the struggle.  They are convinced that this will take place, but it will just take longer. 

The Cincinnati Coalition published a report on the State of Family Homelessness in Cincinnati.  All the stats and recommendation can be found here.

Columbus

The City is struggling with diversion issues and central intake for single adults.  They have moved to only allowing people into the single adult shelters exclusively by phone.  The Faith Mission had been the central intake site, but found it too difficult to oversee.  Now, if you want shelter in Columbus, you have to call a number similar to 211 and they will direct you to a shelter.  This is a new system, but it is presenting some challenges for those who do not have access to a phone.  Diversion has been in place for a couple of years, and has raised some concerns by the advocates. 

Cleveland

We have to congratulate Care Alliance in Cuyahoga County for receiving a national award to improve their clinics. This $5.5 million in federal health care support will improve the Public Housing clinics that the agency administers.  They are going to begin a $3 million capital campaign to complete the renovations.   Care Alliance is the Health Care for the Homeless in Cleveland.  They have a beautiful facility over on St. Clair with amazing dental facilities.  We rely on their help with homeless outreach, because they can send medical personel out to help people.  Care Alliance has done an amazing rebound since the days when they were shedding their programs and closing down outreach in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  The current director, Francis and Linda before him have really moved the organization to a solid foundation.  This is great for Cleveland, and we hope that it will help them to be ready for the huge changes taking place in 2014 with the national health care reform. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinions of those who sign the entry.

February Links

Photo by Cheryl Jones
A Couple of Interesting Stories


The Huffington Post published an article today about the impact of dramatic cuts on families.  We have seen a sharp rise in family homelessness in both Columbus and Cleveland over the last four years.  The most frightening part of this story was from a young child in Detroit:

“He said, ‘Oh, I’m not eating dinner because it’s my brother’s turn tonight. Tomorrow is my night.’”

The report from the Annie E. Casey foundation found 67% of the children live in concentrated poverty in Detroit.  Michigan has made dramatic changes in cash assistance and dropped 11,000 from the roles.  Over 400,000 are unemployed in Michigan, but only 60,000 receive benefits.

CNN featured an inspirational story about Lamont Peterson and his journey from homelessness to Light Heavyweight world champion. It is nice to see media stories in which homelessness does not seem like a permanent condition.    

The AP is reporting that the City of New York cannot proceed with their diversion plan as we reported previously.   The decision concentrates on the way that the policy was introduced.  The judge did not rule on the merits of the policy at this point.  The City is characterizing the policy as one that anyone can walk in for services whether they need it or not.  The Mayor of New York needs to stay in a shelter for a week, and he would realize that it is not a place where people would volunteer to reside.  This is the final step for most people who have lost everything else. It is an insult for the City to say to a desperate individual that they must impose on their Aunt Rose's hospitality or sleep on the streets. 

Brian