Cuyahoga County Needs a Missing Person Database

When Kyle Waler was found dead in the Tremont neighborhood yesterday, his family said that he had been missing for more than a week.  We are so sorry for the family who worked to battle addiction and then lost their son to the disease.   None of the outreach workers that we help to coordinate had contact with Mr. Waler before he died.  We are sorry that we could not intervene to help th2015 Homeless Stand Downe family with their son before he died on the streets of Cleveland.

It does raise some issues that we need to address in Cleveland.  Maybe this unfortunate death will lead to some changes that would improve Cleveland for those battling addiction. 

  • Missing persons
  • Detox on demand
  • Privacy used as a weapon against people.

It might come as a surprise for family members that you have to file a missing person report in the city of residence not in the city in which the person may be last seen.  So, a small jurisdiction like Woodmere would take the lead in investigating even though larger cities like Cleveland might have the expertise in finding the person.   There are also two different missing person databases that have to be searched locally and do not overlap.  One is run by the City of Cleveland Police Department and then one constructed by Cuyahoga County. They have different information and are set up in a different manner.  Neither has the ability for outside information being added from family or case workers. 

Right now, there is a wait for getting into detox in Cuyahoga County.  If you make the decision to seek help you may have to wait for three or four days on the streets attempting to abstain from drugs or alcohol before you will get help.  This can often be the difference between getting help and losing the will to find help for months or years.   In addition, the recovery system is fractured in not building relapse into the recovery process.  Often there is only punishment associated with relapse that disconnects the person from the help that they need.  We wrote about the dysfunctional Recovery system earlier this year.

Finally, families will be surprised to realize that the shelters have no ability to give information out about their residents.  This is to protect privacy, and we support expanded privacy like being able to be anonymous in the system.   We do not want shelters to be able to just provide information at the door about the residents, but we need to figure out a work around using the web to both protect privacy and help families reunite with their loved ones.  The problem is that we have not created alternatives to find people especially loved ones who may need help and additional support.  Why isn't there a missing person's database that is interactive?  Why isn't in this Facebook generation a central repository that allows people to post information about their lost loved ones?  Why isn't there a way for case manager to tell family members to stop looking for a relative because they do not want to be found?  Why can't we harness the power of the internet to reduce the number of people who are missing?  

Brian Davis

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A Much Needed Improvement for Missing Persons

Back in 2009, NEOCH wrote about the gruesome discovery of 11 women in the home of a serial killer.  These women were in effect homeless women who made the fateful decision to reject shelter and instead found a home with a predator.  Then in 2011, a report was issued by the City of Cleveland in response to the perception that the City dropped the ball on preventing the deaths of 11 women on Imperial Ave.  The missing persons report (click on the pdf in the middle of the page) provided a series of recommendations for improving missing persons searches.  Now, in the wake of the Amanda Berry, Michelle Knight, and Gina DeJesus being lost for 10 to 12 years, advocates are second guessing the effectiveness of that report.  Cuyahoga County announced this week a new website to track missing persons county wide and the appointment of three staff to work the issue. 

NEOCH was critical of the original report, and we wrote to the City asking for additional steps operated by a non-profit to coordinate all these activities  We even met with the police chief to offer our assistance in 2011, but the City went their own way.  There is a limited website currently available by the City of Cleveland, but it has very little information.  The big problem right now is that if the last known residence of an individual is in Woodland then that police force is the one that takes the lead on investigating their disappearance. They may not have the expertise or skills to understand the difference between a runaway, a homeless person and a missing person, but that is the way it works in Ohio.  If Cuyahoga County Sheriff is going to step forward to take the lead on these cases that would be a big improvement.  All the steps that have been taken are good, but there is much more that needs to be done.  Our recommendations:

1.  The new County website needs to have much more information when compared to the City of Cleveland missing persons online database. They need many more pictures and detailed information about the missing person.  Since most people do not use their name when they are trying to disappear, how is just a name and age useful to the public?  It should also have the ability for trusted users to login to find out additional information and submit additional information.  This would allow family members to submit non-public information and social workers to find information.  There was a nice model that the people at Microsoft set up after Hurricane Katrina.  There are some people who just don't want to have contact with their family and are not really missing.  Right now we have no ability to separate those people from the missing. Families who suspect with credible evidence that their family member relocated to Cleveland should be able to list their family members as missing in a venue seen by Clevelanders.

2.  Agencies that deal with new people on a regular basis should receive a weekly report of people declared missing from the county.  Right now we get a weekly update of the 800 person list of everyone missing.  They do not separate the new from the old.   We could then look out for people missing in our community, and encourage those individuals to get their names off the missing persons database.   The social service providers would not violate the privacy of their clients, but just try to get the "missing" individual to put their family members at ease if they were searching for them.   We have found many people who family has been looking for, and if they had known the individual was homeless they would have stepped forward to help.  Unfortunately, many don't find their loved ones until they appear on our homeless memorial list.

3. The County Sheriff needs to start doing work with the homeless groups, the rape crisis center, youth outreach teams, mental health agencies, and alcohol and drug treatment centers if they are going to be leading the effort to find missing people.   They need to start building trusting relationships with community groups in order to help re-unite families and find missing people.

4.  We would like many more details from the County and some input on the development of this new resource.   We want the women of Imperial Avenue support group to have some input and the families of missing adults to be involved.  We could have a top notch system for finding people, and we could actually make something meaningful if we just listen to the experts.

Brian Davis

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We Worry About Michelle Knight and the Other Kidnapping Victims

Michelle Knight was the first taken and so she endured the torture for the largest number of years.  If media reports are correct she was beaten and held alone in the basement for years chained like an animal for a dozen years rarely even allowed outside.  There were no rallies or even media reports and we did not see the hundreds of missing person flyers hung up for Ms. Knight.  She lived a troubled life before her kidnapping, and her mom moved to Florida after not hearing from her daughter for a couple of years.  The community was not aware that she was even missing, and so she is basically without a place to return upon her discharge from the hospital.  She will need to be available to investigators and prosecutors as the proceed with the interviews and trial of her torturer.  Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry returned to large crowds of loving and supportive families who never gave up hope.  We do not even know what Knight looks like except for a grainy photo from high school.  Knight's mother wants her to leave Cleveland, which we understand after the Imperial Avenue and now Seymour Avenue horror stories.  But the Homeless Coalition staff hope that the community will step up to help these women heal. 

Our proposal at the Homeless Coalition is to use public money and the donations that come in to provide "No Worries" for the women for at least the length of their captivity.  We should buy each of the three kidnapping victims a home through the Cleveland Housing Network or Habitat for Humanity in the neighborhood of their choice that could be renovated this summer.  We know the value of having safe and secure housing to the healing process.  We know that veterans who are struggling with PTSD issues make a quicker recovery with intensive counseling and a secure place to live.  If we can lift the burden of trying to pay the rent or having to pay property taxes off of these women, they will recover faster.  They should not have to worry about housing and be secure in that housing for the next ten to twelve years.  We should pay the property taxes or provide property tax abatement for the next decade.  The women should have their groceries delivered to them weekly so that they can work on their mental health issues and attempt to make up for all the lost time.   We should provide twelve years of landscaping and lawn care so that they look outside and can enjoy the outdoors which they were deprived for a decade.  We have a debt to repay especially to Michelle Knight who we did not even realize was missing.  We hope that the community can step forward and provide secure and safe housing to these women while they recover.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.