NEOCH Still Concerned About a Specialized Shelter for those with a Mental Illness

                                                      July 5, 2017

 Valeria Harper     

Vice President of Operations

ADAMHS Board   

2012 West 25th St. 6th Floor

Cleveland, Ohio  44114

Dear Ms. Harper: 

 In January of this year, the Homeless Congress voted to prioritize advocating to open a separate shelter for homeless individuals, who have mental health challenges, in order that they can get the help they need.  At the meeting on May 4, 2017, we were able to briefly discuss funding options, limitations, and concerns about opening a separate shelter. Furthermore, we attempted to show the need for a separate shelter for those with a severe mental health challenges.  Rosie Palfy from the homeless congress, who was in attendance at that meeting, informed us that Mr. Denihan was very concerned about this issue after having a conversation with him.

 We wanted to see what the next steps are for the Homeless Congress to accomplish our goal of improving services to those with behavioral health issues and find themselves without housing.  We know that those with mental health issues are exploited, have their valuables and medication stolen, and are abused and/or either raped in and around the shelters.  When residents are suffering from a mental health crisis and are hospitalized, they are medicated and released back to one of the two main shelters. Often times, there is no professional staff to help them with their mental health issues, such as   supporting them in consistently taking their medications.

 The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless believes that the shelters are unmanageable with all these untreated individuals with mental health challenges, who do not have access to personalized care.  They deserve trained professional staff to help them with their mental health issues. NEOCH has received multiple complaints about the current state of the shelters, particularly, the Norma Herr women’s shelter.  Furthermore, we are concerned about the recent comments in a County Council meeting made by Eric Morse of Frontline Services, who is the current provider for Norma Herr.  He stated that he “opposes opening a separate shelter” for this vulnerable population because the women at the shelter “all” have either mental health issues or drug and alcohol issues. He continued saying, “if a separate shelter is needed for residents that have mental health or drug and alcohol issues, there is already a shelter in place for that and it’s the Norma Herr Women’s Shelter.”

 We do not want our important concerns to get lost in your current transition as the new CEO.  We would like to invite you to present to the Homeless Congress. Furthermore, we are willing to support you in this endeavor.  We can work with you on a proposal to your Board.  We can partner with you on a presentation to the County Council.  Thank you for your consideration and we hope that you will make this a priority during your tenure as CEO. I look forward to hearing from you.

 Sincerely,

 Christopher Knestrick

Director of Operations

Editor's Note: This issue is a priority for the Homeless Congress members and will be discussed at the Homeless Congress meeting on July 13th at 1 p.m at the Bishop Cosgrove Center.

60 Minutes Piece on Services to the Mentally Ill

There was an eye-opening piece on 60 Minutes on Sunday regarding the treatment of the mentally ill in America.   This is what Congress should be debating today instead of a four year old health care passed law. They focused on the Cook County jail labeling it the largest insane asylum in America.  I think that the Los Angeles jail could make a legitimate claim on that title, but I am not sure it is a fight that either city would want to engage in.  The reality is that mentally ill people run into problems with the law often because they have a hard time finding help.  The Justice Center downtown has a significant number of mentally ill people.   This was a good hard look at the failing mental health system, and the relationship with the mass shootings in Aurora, Navy Yard, Tucson, Newtown, and Virginia Tech.   We have seen this play out locally in East Cleveland and on Imperial Ave. A small-small-small number of mentally ill people have problems that lead to violence.  The problem is that we cast so many away to deal with their problems on their own that it is hard to pick out the few that are going to become violent. 

Everyday, we come across people who are not a threat to themselves or others but need a great deal of help.  We have women who sleep outside and have regular fights with neighbors and rants everyday about people who are out to get her.  She has been in and out of the hospital for years.   She is evaluated and it is determined that she is angry but not a threat to anyone and then released.  She has slept rough for so many years that her body is falling apart.   We have no effective way to deal with her in our society.  Community groups do not have the money or patience to build a relationship with her, and she does not trust any of the agencies that pink slip her into a hospital for evaluation (against her will).  She cannot live independently.  We have tried.  She either begins hoarding items or collecting inappropriate pets and quickly faces eviction from a landlord.  Where can this woman live in our community? [Yes, permanent supportive housing is great, but you have to be homeless for a long period of time, and there are not enough to meet the demand.]

This women who lives outside needs healthcare and health professional attached to housing.   She needs a safe place that will understand how to deal with her hallucinations.   We need to fulfill the promises of elected officials when we shut down the asylums in the 1970s.  We need a massive infusion of funds into the mental health system.  We need help to provide medicine and oversight to people struggling with a mental illness.   We need a place in our society for people who hear voices and those paranoid that is not an expensive jail.  We need a place for people who are frequent flyers at the emergency room and do not realize that they cannot bring a gun to the airport or cause a standoff with the police.   We need a place for people who repeatedly make attempts on their life and are stabilized then released to live on the streets.   I would have been willing to give back my tax cut I received from the state of Ohio for the past five years, if they would provide help for the mentally ill that did not involve homeless shelters, jails or hospital emergency rooms.  

Brian Davis

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NEOCH Endorses Health and Human Services Levy

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Board of Trustees debated the merits of the replacement human services levy on the November ballot and decided to support Issue 1.  For those who do not know, the County has placed a replacement levy on the ballot for November 5 to support Health and Human Services locally.  This is the first time there will be a vote in an odd year when there are typically only local municipal issues on the ballot.  This became necessary because of huge cuts in the last two budgets from the State of Ohio to local governments and the hostility toward expanding Medicaid to serve our population.  

This levy will replace the levy that was set to expire at the end of 2014, and will increase the property taxes for residents.  This is repugnant that homeowners in Ohio must continually increase their own local taxes to pay for schools and human services because state leaders have abandoned their responsibilities.   The State of Ohio does not help with funding the shelters taking a back seat to the local and federal governments.  They continue to reduce support for alcohol and drug services.  They do not adequately support public transportation.  They have never brought justice to the funding of public schools and now are supporting a failing charter school system.   The state does very little to assist with the affordable housing crisis and did nearly nothing when faced with a quadrupling of foreclosures in the State.   They have not stepped forward to provide health care to every citizen in Ohio and only care about lowering taxes.  They seem feckless in the face of job stagnation, growing family homelessness, and a mental health crisis.  In an environment in which they close their eyes at the state level to everything but lowering taxes, it destabilizes the local community.  We are forced to continue to find revenue sources for these services that should be covered by the State of Ohio.

We urge a yes vote on Issue 1 and urge State legislators to take responsibility for some of these issues such as poverty, universal health care (including behavioral health), school funding, and expanding affordable housing.   With nearly one third of the poor people in Ohio living in Cuyahoga County, we cannot solve these big issues alone.  We need Medina, Geauga, Hamilton and Butler county resources to stabilize the housing situation, expand job opportunities with large scale infrastructure projects, universal access to pre-k school, and real preventative behavioral health care.  Without a state government willing to role up their sleeves and solve problems, we are stuck trying to cobble together levies and tax schemes to keep what we have going.  We do not want to shut down the shelters next year (already with federal cut backs, we will not be able to fund two projects).  We do not want to reduce access to detox or street outreach for the mentally ill. We do not want more addicts ending up in jail or more women seeking shelter in the house of a serial killer.   NEOCH urges a yes vote on Issue 1 the expanded Health and Human Services Levy to keep our current safety net. 

Brian Davis

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Mental Health Shredded Safety Net

Tom and Dorothy Lane are convinced their mentally ill son committed “suicide by cop” two years ago because he was worried about his health-care insurance expiring the next day when he turned 26.

What a powerful opening paragraph from the Columbus Dispatch this past Monday.  What an amazing endorsement for expanding Medicaid in Ohio.  We would be able to serve more people in Ohio who may fear that their insurance and medicine will run out with expanded Medicaid.  The Dispatch did a lengthy look at the Mental Health system in Ohio and the reality that half of those who need treatment can not find help for their mental health issues.   They looked at the large number of people who are not on Medicaid but have private insurance have a hard time finding care for their mental illness. 

The Dispatch estimated that taxpayers pick up $1.3 million from the Franklin County jail because of untreated mental health care. This does not include the billions of unreimbursed care at the emergency rooms throughout Ohio that taxpayers pick up.   The Dispatch mentioned the significant cuts to the Mental Health system since 2007.  One of the surprising advocates has been Governor John Kasich. The Dispatch mentioned that Kasich's brother is mentally ill.   He approved a budget that cut mental health agencies in 2011, and most agencies were happy that they did not receive a bigger cut.   The Governor's rhetoric has been very good, but the actions have not followed suit.  The Governor was quoted in the article as saying, "We haven't done that. The resources haven't been there.  We need to live up to the promises the state of Ohio made," referencing the promises made in the 1980s when many of the psychiatric hospitals closed. It is sad that we can only get good public policy when a relative of a powerful elected official has a disability, is gay or has experienced trauma in their own life.  What happened to empathy for those less fortunate or those who face huge challenges in our society?  Do we have to know a relative to have any ability to imagine how laws or budget cuts will impact their life? 

The article is well worth the read, and has a great deal of information supplied by advocates at the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.  One of the sad things not mentioned in this article is that we know what works and we know how to serve the population.  We are not going to prevent all tragedies, but with resources we can take care of many of the issues associated with mental illness.  We could do a much better job spotting people who need help and then pushing for evaluation and regular contact with behavioral health professionals.  We could provide housing and some degree of stability to the population. We can provide counseling and medicine to those who feel that is the right path.  We can provide long term nursing care to those who cannot function with the chaos of our world.  But we do not have money to take care of our disabled citizens properly.  One step toward fulfilling the promises made in Ohio toward providing community services to our mentally ill that the Governor referenced is to fight for expanded Medicaid in this state.  

Brian Davis

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Medicaid Expansion in Ohio

Congratulations to Ohio Governor John Kasich for accepting  the millions in federal dollars that come with the expansion of Medicaid in 2014.  The homeless of Ohio appreciate that they will have an easier time receiving life sustaining health care.  The savings that our local hospitals save with federal reimbursements can go to expand mental health care and dental assistance.  Right now almost 90% of the homeless population are not eligible for health care insurance.   In the near future, all the programs in Cleveland that serve the lowest income will be able to move some of their clients onto Medicaid.  This will allow them to use local funds to expand safety net services such as Alcohol and Drug treatment, eyecare, dental care, or mental health services depending on priorities. 

This expansion in Ohio will lead to a healthier state and a work force that is ready to work.  It will improve the environment for job creation to be prepared to compete with other states.  It will not put as at a disadvantage compared to states that already cover the majority of their population such as Massachusetts and the dozens of states which will also expand coverage in the next few years.  This coupled with the focus on preventative healthcare in the law will reduce the chances that lower income people will be bankrupted by healthcare expenses that spirals out of control and often leads families to the shelters.  The local Alcohol and Mental Health Board estimates that 80,000 residents of Cuyahoga County will find insurance because of this expansion and 600,000 Ohioans. 

We will continue to monitor and keep people updated on the impact of these decisions on the local level. 

Brian Davis

Opinions reflect the individuals who sign the entry.

Bridgeways is Closing

The cuts at the state and federal level have taken a heavy toll on our community locally with the announcement today of the closing of Bridgeways mental health facility. Without an ability to raise additional revenue at the state or federal level, there is extreme pressure on the local County and City to do more with less. Today it was announced that one our critical human service agencies is going out of business by April 30, 2012.
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