Homeless Congress Notes for May

May 11, 2017---Cosgrove Center

Organized by NEOCH

The meeting began with an overview of the Homeless Congress and work to date.  

The group had a long discussion on the Cuyahoga County Council meeting that was on May 3, 2017.  At this meeting, the Council members voted on who will get the contract to provide services for the Norma Herr women’s shelter.  The committee is recommending that Frontline get the contract, but they did not get the contract for 3 years that the County Office of Homeless Services had recommended.  One of the members of the Homeless Congress, Loh, said she went to one of the other meetings and filed a grievance and still feels that the grievances are not handled properly.  She also informed the members that there was another suicide attempt recently at the women’s shelter.  The members were informed that the next important meeting is on May 23, 2017 when the contract will be voted on by the full County Council meeting. (After the meeting of Homeless Congress another County Health and Human Services meeting was held and the contract was reduced even further). 

In January, the Congress voted to prioritize advocating to open a separate shelter for mentally challenged homeless individuals so they can get the help they need.  This information was sent to the ADAMAS Board.  The first week in May, Brian, Ramona, Loh, and Rosie (who are members of the Homeless Congress) met with William Denihan, Michael Doud, and Valeria Harper of the ADAMAS Board to discuss the need and options that might be available in the community.  The only thing accomplished at this meeting was bringing the need for a separate shelter to the ADAMAS Board attention.  We briefly discussed possible funding options. But, William Denihan will be retiring in August.

Rosie informed members that Mr. Denihan is very concerned about this issue, but funding is limited.  At the meeting on May 3rd, Dale Miller asked about the mental health, drug, and alcohol issues at the shelter.  Eric Morse responded that the women at the shelter “all” have either mental health issues or drug and alcohol issues.  He also stated in addition to that “if a separate shelter is needed for residents that have mental issues or drug and alcohol issues, there is a shelter already in place for that and it’s the Norma Herr women’s shelter”. 

The next topic was the Open Doors CLE Art Project (photos posted on the front of the NEOCH website) that the Cleveland Institute of Art students are working on. I gave the Homeless Congress an update on the upcoming art exhibit.  The doors for the art project will be on display at Slavic Village on May 20-21st from 1-5pm and May 27th at Willard Park (by the free stamp) from 11am – 5pm.  The doors will be on exhibit for other projects as well.  There will also be a tribute to Michael Stoops, Founder of the National Coalition for the Homeless, who recently passed at the Willard Park opening. 

Next was an update on the Single Adult Committee-SASH.  The members were informed that nothing has been finalized and the committee is still working on the guidelines.  Randall, who is a member of the committee, discussed some banning policies as far as the length of stay at the shelter.  He explained that at this time they are considering allowing a resident to reject up to three “feasible” offers of housing, if none of these offers are accepted there would be a mediation, and finally they are working on consequences for refusing housing.  One option that is being considered is take away some services and only allow the resident to sleep at the shelter at night.  Also discussed was setting time limits on how long a resident could stay at the women’s shelter.  One member commented that there is one women that has been at the women’s shelter for 10 years, doesn’t work, and refuses housing.  It was also suggested that these women shouldn’t have privileges and have to sleep on a mat as opposed to having a room. Other women commented that there are no privileges available at the Women's shelter to take away.  There was some controversy about this and how Cleveland shelters are proud to say no one is turned away, yet, the committee is considering not allowing a resident to return once they leave the shelter or discharged (put out) for not accepting housing. 

Brian Davis argued that these women should be able to have a bed, in the only shelter for single women in Cleveland, if the city can put new windows in the Q.  Davis said, "What kind of society are we living in that cannot offer a cot and some food to its citizens but can find money to improve the playgrounds for the rich with museums and sports stadiums."  He further stated that it is a matter of cost vs. alternative.  He feels that they should not be concerned about the personal issues that have led the person to stay in the shelter unless the individual is offering alternatives.  If the reality is that all of our systems are broken (mental health, addiction, health care) and we are so unforgiving as a society including landlords and the re-entry community, then why are we putting so much pressure on people to leave.  If there are so many problems in holes in the safety net, why to we begrudge people sleeping in a shelter.  It is not a paradise and they are not staying in luxury.   He said, “Human beings should be treated like human beings”. 

Next “worker accountability” was discussed.  Randall stated that the committee will make sure staff is working with the client to find appropriate housing.  He said the committee is discussing how these decisions should be made or not made and the contributing factors. 

After the raffle, the surveys for the women’s shelter was discussed and it was determined that the women still feel the renovations did not help.  In fact, most felt that the renovations made matters worse.  Updates regarding the contract to provide services for the women’s shelter were discussed next.  The members were informed about the outcome of the Cuyahoga County Council meeting.  They were told about:

  • Dale Miller's excellent questions about the shelter and why there are so many problems.
  • Did Frontline not meet the minimum requirements?
  • Was there a way to shorten the contract?
  • Brian and Loh had both talked about how unfair the whole process was.
  • Councilwoman Conwell was upset over the NEOCH and Congress treatment of their staff Ruth Gillett.  Brian and Roy from NEOCH tried to meet with her in the morning and she was a no show.
  • Gillett had decided not to attend this meeting of the Homeless Congress.

LMM and the County had sent specifics of the new arrangement at the Women's Shelter which would include operating 24/7, having access to Wi-Fi, and other services.  LMM was going to join Frontline to improve the shelter as soon as this contract was approved by the County.   It was explained that staff from LMM will be eased in and current staff will be swapped in back and forth. LMM will oversee day to day operations and Frontline will be more focused on case management. There were a series of handouts from the County/LMM about the changes.

The next discussion was about agency accountability and complaints of suffering in regard to an uncaring provider, disrespectful staff, and lack of resources to help residents move forward and out of the shelter.  One of the members informed everyone at the meeting that this has been going on for over 10 years.  There was a short discussion about two County Council members spending the night at the shelter incognito and there was notes distributed from the County about the overnight stay and the changes needed.  The notes didn’t address how terrible things were at that time, and some of the huge issues.  Brian stated that he couldn’t believe that they didn’t demand immediate action because of the conditions that they saw on that one night.  Following this discussion, one of the members said that the food that is being sent to the women’s shelter is not what is being served according to the pictures he has seen online.  Ms. Gimmel of Eden, asked questions and urged the members to give the agency a chance to change.

The final order of business discussed was about this being the last Homeless Congress for Brian Davis of NEOCH.  Brian and Roy (NEOCH Board President) assured members that most of the programs will remain the same at NEOCH even after Brian leaves.  Roy also stated that NEOCH will continue to do all it can do and will work to make a smooth transition.

*There will not be a Homeless Congress meeting in June and members were informed of this. 

The next meeting will be July 13, 2017.

by Ramona Turnbull

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Women's Shelter Update on Contract

We posted a series of updates on the Women's Shelter contract in February with the Scene article here then we had a discussion at the February Homeless Congress (which Councilman Dale Miller attended). We posted the notes from the March meeting when it was announced that the County was going to select Frontline to continue to run the shelter over the upstart West Side Catholic.  Basically, there has been tremendous debate about the conditions at the shelter and mistreatment by the staff (documented here).  The County held a hearing in May 2016 and nine brave women testified about the need for reform.  The County issued a Request for Proposal in October and extended the deadline until January 31, 2017.  Two providers stepped forward to respond to the proposal: West Side Catholic and Frontline Services and sought the $1.4 million contract to run the shelter on Payne Ave.  Full disclosure: NEOCH and Metanoia supported the West Side Catholic proposal and would have benefited if they were awarded the grant.   This took a lot to convince all three groups to take a risk on such a huge project.  The West Side Catholic Center is an amazing group serving the Ohio City/Clark Fulton neighborhoods and the Women's Shelter is a massive expansion.  The NEOCH Board which does not do direct services had to be convinced to go in on a shelter proposal. 

The County assigned a committee of eight people to make the decision and we found out today that they gave Frontline 84 points out of a possible 100 while West Side Catholic received 54 points out of 100.  One of my issues is that they did not measure important items such as overflow, security, number of calls by safety forces, suicide attempts, and keeping people safe; while they did give many points for philosophical issues such as "Understanding the scope of the Project?"  It is providing shelter and food to women! What is there to understand?  We are not landing a spacecraft on the moon.   Also, it was strange that SEVEN white people and 0 African Americans made a decision about the future of the women's shelter which serves 75 to 80% African Americans in Cleveland.  But that is your County Government in action. The committee was:

  • Chris Alexander, Cuyahoga County DJFS
  • Paul Porter of the Cuyahoga County DJFS
  • Karen Anderson Department of Children and Family Services
  • Michiel Wackers from the City of Cleveland
  • Dan Hinman from the United Way  
  • Michael Doud from the ADAMHS Board (Alcohol and Drug Addiction Mental Health Board
  • Leslie Perkul a representative for the O’Neill Foundation
  • With Ruth Gillett guiding the entire process but not voting.

The traditional way that legislation is passed is that it is introduced and then sent to a County committee and then read two more times before a vote is taken.  We had informed the residents of the shelter that the legislation would be introduced on April 25 then sent to the Health and Human Services and Aging Committee on May 3 for a hearing.  We told the women to target May 3 for comments and passed out a flyer at the Homeless Congress (with County staff present) as well as distributed this flyer in the shelter.  The women were planning to make posters and protest outside the County building as well.  Based on the last two Homeless Congress meetings, the residents really don't like this decision and were very angry at the County staff for making this decision. 

In a surprising "dark side of the force" move the County staff has decided that this is an emergency and will pass it at the April 25th meeting without sending it to committee.   "Whereas, it is necessary that this Resolution become immediately effective in order that critical services provided by Cuyahoga County can continue..." Ruth Gillett did not warn the women at the Homeless Congress meeting that this may not be discussed at the May 3 meeting since it will have already passed.  It is easier to get a response from the County at a committee when there are only a few things on the agenda.  There are two dozen contracts at the typical County Council meeting.  It is unlikely that they would have been able to change any minds, but the women wanted a chance to vent.  We can look at the hundreds who showed up to multiple meetings to oppose the Q renovation deal and could only sway three Council members to vote "no". 

The new contract will also mean a $6,202 per month raise for the current provider Frontline Services.  So, even after all these problems came to light, they will get additional tax payer dollars to run a substandard shelter.  They will be paid $124,454.58 per month for the next 31 months to run the shelter on Payne Ave. until December 2019.  Last year the shelter was paid $118,252.83 per month (which is exactly the amount that West Side Catholic was asking for to run the shelter). 

If a local taxpayer were to go over at 8 p.m. to the shelter on Payne Ave. and then ride over to the West Side Catholic shelter on Lorain Ave, there is no way they would concur that Frontline deserved an 84/100 while West Side Catholic was running a 54/100 women's shelter.  You could see that the Payne Ave. shelter was not operating an 84 scored shelter in about 10 minutes.  But the committee did not go visit the existing shelters and did not ask any current residents of the shelter about their opinions.  65 women did sign a petition asking the County to choose West Side Catholic (many others were afraid to sign). They were ignored as were all the complaints at the Homeless Congress.

Here were the scores:

 

Frontline

WSCC

Project Understanding/Scope of Work/Solution/Narrative

19.9

13

Methodology/Project Schedule/Evaluation

22.6

12.9

Project Management/Project Reporting/Interaction with County/Risk Management

20.7

13.7

Vendor Qualifications/Prior Experience/Personnel

21.0

14.4

 

 

 

Total

84.1

54.0

 There were actually two of the seven who were especially harsh toward the West Side Catholic proposal. It does point to a problem with the distribution of information between homeless people and community leaders and the holes in democracy.  How do you have all this negative media, a webpage dedicated to all the problems, large numbers of grievances, a hearing before the County Council about the problems, and yet the County continues the contract with the same provider running the shelter for the last dozen years?  How could Councilman Dale Miller who came to the February Homeless Congress  to hear the concerns and horror stories from the women and then allow this to continue?  How could Council President Dan Brady hear from pregnant and disabled women about all the hardships they face and allow the status quo to continue?  What do they have to do to get the contract taken away? 

It is unlikely to change until there is a scandal or large scale tragedy at the shelter.  It is unlikely that there will be a change if this contract comes up for bid again because of the retirements and resignations at West Side Catholic and NEOCH.  Lutheran Metro Ministry is joining as a partner with Frontline to try to improve the shelter.  We hope that this will work, but hold little hope.  We wish them well and hope that LMM and Frontline can turn this around.  NEOCH will not be commenting or doing resident council meetings or taking grievances.  Good luck to all the single women taxpayers who fall on hard times with their housing.  You are not going to like the conditions that you will find yourself if you cannot afford rent or are fleeing an abuser.  Complain to your elected County government, because they had a chance to make a change but decided things are operating at about 84 out of 100 points. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Post Script:  Rosie called the County to verify this information, and found out that the language allows the County to pass immediately, but that is not going to happen.  There will not be a vote tonight on this issue.  It will be referred to the Health and Human Service Committee next Wednesay May 3 at 1 p.m.  Women will be allowed to vent their concerns.  It is likely that the legislation will then go back to the Council on May 9 for final passage, and will not wait until the third reading on May 23. 

Guidance from HUD for LGBTQ Individuals Using Shelters

Guidance from the Great Funding gods in Washington on how shelters need to serve Transgender individuals using HUD funded facilities.  These are extremely helpful, but when is Cuyahoga County going to display these rules so that everyone including residents of the shelter understand these rules?  We have been pushing to get these rules displayed and Cuyahoga County officials have been unwilling to require posting the LGBTQ rules in the shelters. 

A Message from Harriet Tregoning,

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Community Planning and Development

I am pleased to inform you that we have reached an important milestone in HUD efforts to ensure equal access for all persons in our programs. On September 21, 2016, HUD will publish a final rule in the Federal Register entitled Equal Access in Accordance with an Individual’s Gender Identity in Community Planning and Development Programs.

This rule will ensure that all individuals have equal access to many of the Department’s core shelter programs in accordance with their gender identity. This rule becomes effective October 21, 2016.

I encourage all CPD grantees to promptly review their policies to ensure consistency with the new rule.

Following what had previously been encouraged practice by HUD, providers using funds awarded through the Department’s Office of Community Planning and Development (CPD), including those operating single sex projects, are now required to provide all individuals, including transgender individuals and other individuals who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth, with access to programs, benefits, services, and accommodations in accordance with their gender identity without being subjected to intrusive questioning or being asked to provide documentation.

HUD’s new rule will require a recipient, subrecipient, or provider to establish, amend, or maintain program admissions, occupancy, and operating policies and procedures (including policies and procedures to protect individuals' privacy and security), so that equal access is provided to individuals based on their gender identity.

Other provisions and changes to the rule include:

  • Eliminates the prohibition on inquiries related to sexual orientation or gender identity so service providers can ensure compliance with this rule.  The removal of the prohibition on inquiries related to sexual orientation or gender identity does not alter the requirement to make housing assisted by HUD and housing insured by the Federal Housing Administration available without regard to actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. 
  • Amends HUD’s definition of “gender identity” to more clearly reflect the difference between actual and perceived gender identity.
  • Makes a technical amendment to the definition of “sexual orientation,” which was adopted from the Office of Personal Management’s (OPM) definition of the term in 2012 to conform to OPM’s current definition.
  • NOTE: the definition of “family” remains the same. See FAQ 1529 for specific guidance for projects with CoC and ESG funding.

As a new program regulation, failure to comply with the requirements of this rule will be considered a violation of program requirements and will subject the non-compliant grantee to all sanctions and penalties available for program requirement violations. HUD has provided a suite of Technical Assistance materials to support final rule implementation, which can be found at https://www.hudexchange.info/homelessness-assistance/resources-for-lgbt-homelessness/.  

HUD has also provided a document that grantees can publicly post to inform clients and staff of the equal access requirements, which can be found at https://www.hudexchange.info/resource/5147/notice-on-equal-access-rights/.

HUD is planning to conduct trainings and provide additional TA materials to assist HUD grantees in understanding the new rule and implementing the policies and procedures appropriately. As these resources become available, you will be able to access them on the LGBT Homelessness Resource Page.

Find more information on HUD’s broader work for LGBTQ inclusion in HUD’s programs at http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/LGBT_resources. Please direct any questions regarding this rule and any requests for technical assistance to your local CPD representative.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

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.

 

Women's Shelter Needs Immediate Reform

NEOCH has put together a group of pages on the website dedicated to changing the Community Women's Shelter (which has been named after a previous client who passed away).  The shelter is in such a state of disarray that we choose not to disrespect the legacy of this older woman by having her name tied to a shelter which mistreats its residents. We have set up a web page called "House of Payne" to document all the problems identified by the women and recommended solutions.  This is a list of the problems that have come up over the past year.  We provide a separate page on the state of the food at the shelter.  Finally, to be fair we have offered the shelter staff a page to respond to the concerns

This must be getting to the staff who work in this oppressive environment, because they went through the pictures on the site and found the women pictured and asked her to call NEOCH to have her picture removed.  Read the page and see all the problems that need to be addressed, and then realize the absurdity that they spent time attempting to protect the privacy of one person from the 200 in the shelter.  Imagine all the people that they have improperly discharged and threatened with retribution for speaking up, and yet staff took the time to prompt this woman to demand we remove her picture.  She had given her permission at the Hand Up Gala (a public event) for a posed shot, but now wanted to revoke her permission at the urging of staff.  The staff was kind enough to go through the entire website and find the other picture of her from 2014.  Thanks for the help with our website and lack of help in finding housing for this woman who has been in the shelter since at least October 2014.   We removed the offending picture entirely from the site.  Now, Mr. Staff person, you can get back to changing the rules without warning and searching the women so that they do not commit the high crime of bringing food into the cafeteria because they did not get enough food at night.

We have included a photo with this blog post that we hope no one will find offensive and we know that the flower will not revoke the permission granted over the summer even at the urging of the shelter staff.  Check out the House of Payne website and let us know what you think in the discussion section or by leaving a comment in the moderated comments section. We hope that a County Councilman or County Executive will see the page and do something about the shelter. All the complaining that we and the women have done has not changed the culture over at the shelter.  It is still an unhealthy environment with regular violations of the rights of the residents.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Homeless Congress Asks For Changes in the Shelter

From: Homeless Congress

                                        September 14, 2015

Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell

Cuyahoga County Council

2079 East 9th St.

Cleveland, Ohio 44114

Dear Councilwoman Conwell:

The residents of the local shelters met on September 10, 2015 at our regular Homeless Congress meeting and unanimously approved a resolution asking that the County include the following 12 items in any future contract with Frontline Services to administer the Community Women’s Shelter at 2227 Payne Ave.   As you heard when you attended the Congress meeting earlier this year, there are serious problems at the Women’s Shelter.  We have filed formal written complaints and held meetings with the CEO of Frontline Services, but have not seen many changes.  We still have out of control staff, little help in moving into housing and a broken grievance process.  The staff were not disciplined for misdirecting clients about public meetings regarding the conditions at the shelter in the last two weeks.  The bedrest problem still exists every night with many disabled and elderly individuals sleeping on the floor.   There are far too many people sleeping in this County funded building and the staff do not foster an environment to move people into healthier and more appropriate housing. 

We still are interested in the County Council hosting a hearing with actual residents of the shelter and not just staff of the shelter to hear about these issues.  We have waited for three weeks since the residents met with the CEO, two months since ADAMHS CEO heard these concerns, four months since they met with you, and twelve years since Frontline took over the shelter to see a change.  All of us are concerned about the conditions at the shelter deteriorating further with extremely volatile residents living in these extremely crowded conditions.   These are taxpayer dollars that are funding this shelter with very little oversight.  The taxpayers who fall on hard times are not served when they show up at the Community Women’s Shelter. We have already seen women so distraught at the shelter that they attempted suicide in the middle of the night.  If Council does not step in here there is going to be a horrible tragedy that explode in the media. 

Here are our approved list of demands that we ask you include in any further contract with Frontline Services:

  1. All Frontline Staff who currently work at the shelter would be laid off over the next three months (one third at a time), and would have to reapply for their jobs or accept a transfer to another position within Frontline that never would involve contact with the Community Women’s Shelter at Norma Herr.  An elected group of current or recent residents of the shelter would interview the potential employees and would have a meaningful input regarding potential staff. 
  2. An independent resident council would be started to comment on staffing, maintenance, facility issues, food, grievances, and the daily operation of the agency.  These notes would be collected by a third party (not an existing subcontractor of Frontline) and presented to senior staff at Frontline.  The staff would respond in writing and those notes would be available to other residents by being displayed.  Frontline could hire an independent third party group for the exclusive purpose of overseeing a resident council.
  3. There are a number of residents who are creating a hostile living environment and are not being sanctioned or punished for all the problems they create. The resident council would be allowed to recommend for transfer or discharge residents who are regularly violating the rules or fighting and not being disciplined by the staff.  Frontline staff/client rights officer would have the final say on the population living in the shelter, but at least would have to respond in writing to the concerns. 
  4. The shelter must re-write their grievance procedure with the input and approval of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.  Grievances must be done in a more timely manner and must have a written response.  At the end of the process there must be an independent third party (non-Frontline staff) who can make the final decision.  This could be a volunteer attorney who has no relationship with the shelter, staff or the agency.  This cannot be a subcontractor of the agency such as Cleveland Mediation Center, to make final decisions on grievances submitted to the agency. The main topics of the grievances need to be displayed on a weekly basis with some non-identifying information released about the results.  This is to assure that people trust the grievance process and will be willing to complete a grievance. There also must be some consequence for the staff if they are regularly the subject of complaints or are found to be violating the rights of residents.
  5. The shelter has to do a better job of accepting help from the outside to improve the conditions.  They need to have one staff dedicated to accepting church groups who want to donate items or volunteer or serve a dinner.  Residents should be encouraged to assist and volunteer to help at the shelter in order to improve the conditions. 
  6. The Shelter Rules and Regulations will be rewritten with the input of an independent resident committee by January 2016.  The shelter needs to offer more incentives to those who live at the shelter to participate in programming and quickly move on to housing.  They need to divide up the shelter into smaller communities with staff who specialize in assisting special populations and offer specialized care with programs for people in need of help such as addiction, mental health, students, job seekers, or those seeking housing.  This does not mean dividing up the shelter by different populations in different bedrooms, but building the concept of community among like-minded individuals within the shelter.  They need to offer more medical assistance to those who are on bedrest or movement to more appropriate facilities. 
  7. Resident input should be sought as part of employee performance evaluations and those comments should be taken into account when deciding on promotion or salary increases.  If the employee does not get at least 10 resident comments either positive or negative, the senior staff need to gather additional input.
  8. The director of Frontline needs to meet with the residents at least quarterly to hear concerns and ways to improve the shelter.  No staff working at the shelter are allowed to attend this meeting.
  9. Since the shelter has had repeated violations of fair housing rules by not offering bed rest ordered by doctors and not respecting the rights of the disabled or the LGBT HUD rules, the shelter must display the fair housing rules that they are following. 
  10. The Domestic Violence and Child Advocacy Center will have a female staff person on site everyday who can respond independently to sexual harassment and related issues by the women.
  11. Frontline will accept that there is a need for a separate shelter for severely mentally ill women and will begin to work on finding and funding a separate facility.
  12. If changes are not implemented by September 2016, the Homeless Congress will revisit the idea of changing the service provider who oversees the Community Women’s Shelter.    

Sent on behalf of the Homeless Congress.  Please feel free to contact Brian Davis of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless if you want to reach any member of the Congress.  

NEOCH

Copies to:        Susan Neth, Ruth Gillett, Matt Carroll, and Valeria Harper

All County Council Members

Fair Housing in the Shelters?

County Office of Homeless Advisory is going to Decide this Week if Fair Housing Rules should be Displayed at the Shelters in Cleveland

It only came to our attention that residents of the shelter had rights under the historic civil rights era Fair Housing Law in 2012 with the HUD release of the HUD LGBT rule.  This marked the first time that HUD was clear that shelters had to respect the rights of transgender homeless people who were in need of a place to live.  We have been assured by County staff that the shelters are fully in compliance with the rule, but I am not sure.  NEOCH has asked to have the rules that the shelter are following with regard to LGBT individuals and displayed so that both homeless individuals and staff can follow?  If a homeless individual has LGBT rights under the Fair Housing rules, do they have other fair housing rights?

My questions are:

  1. Will a veteran or domestic violence victim with a doctor ordered comfort animal for their PTSD be accommodated in our shelters? 
  2. Will a lesbian couple with a child be served in our family shelters despite the religious objections of a couple of our social service providers? 
  3. Will a gay couple be able to live together in our shelters with private rooms?
  4. Is there a gender disparity within our shelters since there are more services available at the Big Men's Shelter when compared to Community Women's Shelter for the disabled individuals?
  5. Are we violating the Violence Against Women Act protections if there are repeated complaints of male sexual harassment at the women’s shelter that are not investigated and acted upon? 
  6. Are we providing a reasonable accommodation to those with a documented physical disability if the only bed available is on the top of a bunk and so they have to sleep on the floor?  These would be clear if we all agreed to the rules and they were displayed. 

There are so many circumstances that are encountered by our local shelters and we don't seem to have a protocol for how we deal with these issues.  We have a Coordinated Intake/Central Intake point that makes the referral to shelter, but we do not seem to have a County wide policy.  We have heard that it is too complicated to display because there are many interpretations.  It would make it easier for all of us if the County just oversaw a consistent fair housing rule that we would all follow.

Without the rules outlined it is up to each homeless person to have to go to court or go to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or the Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to assert their rights.  Can or will the City’s Office of Fair Housing accept a claim on behalf of a homeless person?  This seems like a chaotic approach to establishing policy locally.  We need rules for everyone to follow.

We have heard from some that only the LGBT fair housing rule is in place for shelters all the other fair housing rules are not applicable.  Could we get some clarity on this with HUD then post those rules?  Even if this is the case, I am sure that LGBT individuals who become homeless would appreciate knowing that they have rights? 

CMHA has done a really nice job in implementing all the fair housing rules including the LGBT rules over the last three years, why can’t the shelters get together to come up with rules that we can all live with?  As it is right now, each shelter has to decide at what point they are willing to go to avoid lawsuit.  It would be nice to get the County to weigh in with some interpretations based on the real inventory of shelter beds locally. 

The Fair Housing Law has opened up housing to minority populations and families like no other law.  We believe that the fair housing laws can have a similar impact on the shelters.  It could be used to assure that homeless families do not have to split up or disabled individuals are able to recieve doctor ordered bedrest.  We believe that this will help people move more quickly to more appropriate locations.  It is not going to look good in the broader community if publicly funded shelters are determined to be violating the rights of families or disabled individuals.  We are urging the County to avoid the headache and put the rules in place for all to follow.

Ignorance of the law is no defense in court, and if LGBT Homeless have fair housing rights why don't disabled and women have similar rights?   We should not force each individual to assert their rights in the shelter and have each shelter have to defend against these “unclear” rules.

Brian Davis

NEOCH

Quiz: Standard vs. Policy in Government

It is difficult to interact with government.  Homeless people are frustrated that there is no where to go within government to complain about conditions or to get an impartial verdict on discharge.  [Editor's Note: The County says that Cleveland Mediation Center acts as an impartial third party.  Most homeless people feel that CMC is too closely related to Frontline Services as the administrator of the "diversion" program at Coordinated Intake.] For example, where do women go if they get sick from the food served in the shelter?  Where do they go if they are transported to the hospital and the staff throw all their items away before they return from the hospital?  Where do you go to get someone not connected to the shelter to determine if your discharge from the shelter was fair and followed the rules?

Two weeks back a woman on a breathing machine and a walker was kicked out of the shelter for fighting with another resident.  Where can she go to complain that the staff just sat back and did not do anything about the escalating verbal altercation until the situation led to a physical pushing match?  Then they stepped in to kick both women out.  Most women find the current grievance process broken and the procedure never involves an impartial third party that is not a subcontractor of the Women's Shelter. 

The only way that homeless people have found that they have influence over how the shelters operate is the contracts given to the shelters by Cuyahoga County.  The County says that any shelter receiving public money must abide by "shelter standards" in order to receive public funds.  The director signs the contract verifying that they will in fact follow the "shelter standards" and then from what I have seen  forgets about it until the next year.  Over the last year, the shelters have been good about posting these rules on the bulletin boards, and the County included a change in the discharge procedure.  This was a big change and does not allowing staff to discharge people for non-criminal behavior.  It also allows for punishments not to be imposed that have an impact on a person's health and safety until they complete the grievance process.  These are huge improvements in the shelter.   The County has set up this elaborate system to approve new standards within the shelters.   At the July OHS meeting the County Homeless Advisory approved the following:

Public Policy recommendation (minus two members present at the meeting) to the OHS Advisory Board for confirmation

a) Scope of matters to be considered codifying as a Shelter Standard

  • The scope of a shelter “standard” will address reasonable requirements that concern basic shelter operations to assure safety, health, sercurity, and respect within the shelter facility. The objective of setting community standards is to establish a minimum benchmark for shelter operations. Standards are different from “policies”. Policies describe how a standard is implemented by the provider agency. 

In reviewing suggestions for shelter standards, the first step will be to decide if the proposal meets the criteria of a “standard” as opposed to a "priority."  We have come up with a quiz here for you.  From the current list of shelter standards pick if this is a standard or a policy.  The answers will be at the end of the quz.

Is this a standard or a policy?

1. Standard or a policy: 

A. All shelter staff shall receive training in at least the following: a. Emergency evacuation procedures; and b. Agency operating procedures.  OR

B. The shelter shall be clean and in good repair.

2. Standard or a Policy?

a. Shelters providing food service shall make adequate provisions for the sanitary storage and preparation of foods.

b.  The shelter shall have a written policy regarding the control of infectious diseases, such as HIV, tuberculosis, etc. (I.22)

3. Standard or a Policy?

a. The shelter shall post and read, or otherwise make known, the rules, regulations, and procedures of the shelter. (I22)

b. The shelter shall only require clients to perform duties directly related to daily living activities within the shelter.

4. Standard or a Policy?

a. Shelters must have written policies related to serving healthy, balanced meals, and shelters must have access to consult with a dietician regarding serving clients with special dietary needs. (IV.32)

b. The shelter shall provide sufficient showers/baths, washbasins and toilets that are in proper operating condition for personal hygiene.  These should be adequate for the number of people served.  Clean towels, soap and toilet tissue shall be available to each client.  (I. 13)

5. Standard or Policy?

a. The shelter shall assure that at least one staff person on duty is trained in emergency first aid procedures. (I36)

b. The shelter shall post and read, or otherwise make known, the rights and responsibilities of shelter clients that shall include a grievance procedure for addressing potential violations of their rights. (I22)

6. Standard or Policy?

a. The shelter shall have reasonable access to transportation services.

b. The shelter shall provide adequate natural or artificial illumination to    permit normal activities and to support the health and safety of occupants.  Sufficient electrical sources shall be provided to permit the use of essential electrical appliances while assuring safety from fire.

7. Standard or Policy?

a. The shelter shall maintain an attendance list which includes, at least, the name and sex of each person residing in the shelter.

b. Each shelter must have a written visitation policy as part of its safety plan (Visitation” refers to non-shelter residents seeking to enter the facility.)

Answers:

We have no idea what the answers are for this quiz.  We have no idea the difference between a policy and standard are.  We have no idea what this new rule means or if they will go back and take out all the policies from the current shelter standards.  It is a strange game of symantics we have to go through to get social justice within the shelters. 

/current-county-standards

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Contentious Homeless Congress Meeting

Commentary by Megan the Intern

    On May 14th the monthly meeting of Homeless Congress was held at 1pm at Cosgrove, and a large number of people attended because of the speaker from Cuyahoga County.  34 were shelter residents and 16 represented other community organizations came to hear from County Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell. Some of the organizations represented included Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Mediation Center, Laura’s Home, Cosgrove Center, Norma Herr Women’s Shelter, 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter and NEOCH.  County Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell was one of the founding members of the new form of government and had previous experience working in the social service community.  Conwell’s presence caused the large turnout and the tension to run high.

    The meeting began with introductions, followed by a summary of the agenda by the executive director of NEOCH Brian Davis.  First on the agenda Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell addressed the audience, describing her role as a council member and as vice president of the Department of Health and Human Services committee.  Following the address, Brian Davis presented the Congresswoman with some of the major concerns of Congress members, and invited her feedback. 

     Residents of the shelters and permanent supportive housing units attend the Homeless Congress meetings every month to work on issues that impact all their lives.  For this meeting the topic of discussion focused on the lack of enforcement of the recently approved and published list of County regulations for shelters.  Not only are the regulations not enforced, but there are no means to enforcing them.  There is no one to go to within the County to tell that there is a problem and no one goes out to the shelters to see if the regulations are being followed.  This is such a great concern of Congress members because it jeopardizes the civil rights, health and safety of homeless people.  With no forum outside of the shelters or other social service providers that can address the concerns and grievances of its residents, the rights, health and safety of residents are at the mercy of shelter employees.

       The topic of enforcing shelter regulations stirred up quite a debate between those employed by Norma Herr shelter and the members of Congress.  One of the regulations discussed as an example was bed rest.  The proposed regulation states “The shelters must accept ‘bed rest’ orders from legitimate health professionals including Care Alliance.”  Residents of the shelter reported that the shelter was not accepting bed rest orders from Care Alliance, (considering them illegitimate) the health care provider recommended by shelters. Shelter residents also reported that when bed rest orders are accepted, they are only allowed 1-2 hours of rest before being told to leave the shelter. Others said that they were flat out denied bed rest and told if they were too sick to leave they should go to a nursing home. Norma Herr staff disputed this, stating that they do honor bed rest orders even from Care Alliance. 

    Staff of the Cleveland Mediation Center claimed that they serve as an impartial third party forum to enforce shelter regulations and investigate grievances.  This statement caused an uproar among Congress members. CMC staff said that they can address any of these concerns and have had many meetings about these conditions for the past month.  Many in the audience pointed out that the Women’s shelter has been a problem for years and things have not changed.  Even the men at the meeting were tired of waiting for a change in the women’s shelter.  One member pointed out that CMC is on the payroll of the Norma Herr shelter, and cannot be considered a third party.  CMC also argued that the 42 grievances collected by NEOCH in one week against the women’s shelter were impossible to investigate due to the fact that half of them were anonymous. 

        NEOCH disputed CMC’s claim by pointing out that grievances with names were not addressed or investigated.  CMC and Norma Herr disputed this by stating that disputes are a process that takes time.  CMC stated that the organization is making an attempt to improve standards by implementing listening circles designed for shelter residents to address their concerns.  When current residents of Norma Herr were asked if they have noticed any improvements they reported that they had not.

    In an effort to wrap up the meeting, Councilwoman Conwell gave some closing remarks.  She stated that she had compassion for both sides in the debate.  Councilwoman Conwell stated that as a former employee of the women’s shelter, she knows that some shelter residents are truthful and others are not.  Therefore, she believes grievances should be dealt with on a case by case basis by a neutral party.  The problem with this logic is that truth cannot be determined without an objective third party. Congresswoman Conwell also added that she would try to arrange a meeting with the county council committee to discuss improved shelter standards and regulations.  While such a meeting might improve the letter of the standards and regulations, with no means of enforcement, it will not likely improve the spirit of such regulations.

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Proposals to Improve the Conditions in the Shelters

Passed on August 8, 2013 at a Homeless Congress meeting, a new shelter standards proposal was drafted and agreed upon. This proposal outlines the most essential shelter standards suggested by the Homeless Congress at earlier meetings. At that meeting, the Congress had drawn up a list of ideal, or “dream” shelter standards to be considered. This list was entirely comprehensive and went into great detail about the changes that needed to be made in the shelters. However, in order to be practical, the Congress cut down the length and forewent some of the originally proposed standards to appease City Council. As a result, a compromise was struck and a new proposal resulted. The original dream standards are nonetheless great reference points to base future goals off of for they are great guidelines upon which to advocate for further change in the shelters.

 

We have modified our website to reflect these new changes.  There is actually no law currently regulating the shelters, and the Congress would like to see a change.  They want to see access to shelter and a standard for discharge in law.  They want to see mandatory arbitration before there is a discharge.  The Homeless Congress are also working to improve the regulations that are a part of every contract for public money. 

Click here for the current Cuyahoga County shelter regulations.  We have also added a page on regulations that the Homeless Congress would like added to the current County regulations

By Lora Zuo and Brian Davis

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Updates on Laura's Home and Homeless Congress

We had new County Council Anthony Hairston as our guest at the Homeless Congress meeting this week.  As with most meetings of the Homeless Congress, there is a lot of anger within the homeless community over discharges and the treatment that they receive by the shelter system.  Hairston was good about patiently listening to his constituents and pledging to follow up on many of these issues. 

We did learn that there has been movement in the Laura's Home situation after the article appeared in the Plain Dealer.   Ruth Gillett of the Office of Homeless Services attended the meeting and indicated that there was a meeting last week between the County and the agency for which an agreement was drafted.  We are not sure if the agency, City Mission, is going to accept the agreement and we will post the results next week.  The agreement as described by the County was that they would allow homeless individuals to go to Laura's Home first, but they must report to Coordinated Intake within a week.  All current residents would be allow to go over to Coordinated Intake to complete the application for help and maintain their homeless status.  This is exactly what the Homeless Congress had requested way back in October before they were shut down by County Council member Yvonne Conwell (we posted the letter in our member HUB section).  Conwell blamed HUD policy for turning down their request.  I guess if a member of the big time Congress gets involved then HUD rules go out the door, but if their constituent working for the Homeless Congess they don't care.

Also at the meeting, we discussed problems at the Community Women's shelter including food issues, staff disrespect and threats of improper discharges.  Hairston listened patiently to all the problems and at the end vowed that he would work with the Congress, the shelter, and the Office of Homeless Services to resolve some of these issues. The lack of an effective grievance procedure in the community was a big topic of the meeting.  The Cleveland Mediation Center was contracted to do this service, but most in the homeless community do not consider CMC as an independent third party since they are a partner in the Coordinated Intake.   If you were forced into arbitration over a defective part in your GM car, would you accept that that a staff member of the Delphi corporation, a partner of GM in the construction of your car, would hear your concern?   This is what it is like for a homeless person except that CMC has no ability to overturn a decision by a shelter, and almost always the punishment has already happened. 

The members of Congress and NEOCH are working to improve the shelter regulations in our community.  Here are the current regulations.   One surprising issue that we have stumbled on was reporting of deaths within the shelters.  The County agency that funds all the shelters has refused to collect information on anyone who dies in the shelter.  Homeless people and advocates cannot believe that there is not a place that people can go to find information on how many homeless people died in the shelters in Cleveland.  Jails, nursing homes, hospitals, mental health facilities all have a protocol for notifying a funder or governmental agency about deaths.  Shelters do not have to complete a piece of paper that says that there was a death and the reason for the death.  Every death is reported to the Medical Examiner, but there is no paperwork prepared,  collected and provided to government by the staff at the place of death.  This seems strange that shelter staff do not have to report to the health department or the Office of Homeless Services about a death.  We discussed this issue with the Councilman Hairston.

Finally, we discussed the possibility of the County passing a law to protect homeless people using the shelters.  We want to put into law that the shelters will not turn people away, will construct a third party grievance procedure to arbitrate disputes.   Here are the big list that we had first proposed.  We have since paired it down to 15 recommendations that we would like to see passed into law.  We had worked with Councilman Julian Rogers who then took a job with CSU.  We are hoping that Councilman Hairston takes up the legislation and works with the Homeless Congress to improve the conditions in the shelters. 

Brian Davis

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Why We Need Shelter Standards...

There is an awful story in the Huffington Post regarding the shelters in Tallahassee.  Another shelter director in the city went undercover and discovered abuse by the staff of women staying at the facility called The Shelter in Tallahassee.  Since there is very little oversight of the shelters, this could happen in any city in America.   These experiences could happen in Cleveland because the shelters govern themselves.   There are health inspections, but otherwise government takes a hands off approach to the monitoring of shelters. 

The director of the City Urban Walk Mission, Renee Miller, went undercover at the shelter and wrote an explosive blog post. She detailed how she was propositioned and had to call the police in order to safely leave the facility.  It was interesting that the police showed up and said that no crime had occurred.  She had not updated the blog about the publicity since the story made national news, but it should be interesting to see the follow up stories.  Here is a permanent link to the Huffington Post story:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/07/homeless-shelter-abuse_n_2822733.html

This is the reason that many families and children decide to spend time outside, in cars or in basements.  They don't always feel safe in the shelters or they hear things about the facilities and don't even request help.  NEOCH had our board president go under cover in 2005 and found some horrible conditions in the shelters, but we did not get this positive publicity or investigation.  We received condemnation from the City and County and many local foundations for even raising the issue publicly.  We received an angry response from the administration at the shelter and the NEOCH staff received more pain because of the conditions at the shelter then did the staff working at the shelter.  The messenger in Cleveland became the target, and there was no wider reform of the shelters as a result of our board member going undercover. 

We have seen some rough conditions over the last five years in Cleveland, and do not have any way to report abuse to an impartial third party.  In addition, there is no way that government can receive complaints since the Ombudsman went out of business.

  • We have received complaints that shelter staff become violent against homeless people and keep their job.
  • We have received complaints that security staff proposition and offer to take home shelter residents and still maintain their job. 
  • We have had the experience when a police officer is discharged or put on leave from his job for some questionable (often violent) behavior and publicly identified in the newspaper but continues to work security at the shelter.
  • We have received complaints that security staff threaten people with a stun gun if they do not be quiet.
  • We have received complaints that shelter staff are careless with private information or say that a woman must give over her personal information or she cannot get a bed.
  • We have received complaints that shelter staff threatened to call the Child Abuse Hotline if a woman were to bring her children to the shelter. 

We are not the designated agency in the community to receive complaints, but we regularly get this written complaints about problems.  We know that especially women feel vulnerable in the shelters and are unwilling to complain.  They don't want to risk falling all the way to having to live on the streets or sleeping in a bus shelter.  There is no real protections for women that if they speak up at night that they  will be kicked out onto the streets.  The threat of immediate discharge is constantly thrown around by shelter staff.  In fact, the most memorable part of the Rev. Kelly Burd sleeping at the shelter in 2005 was that she witnessed an obviously mentally ill and upset woman kicked onto the streets at midnight.  I can still remember her describing this feeling of helplessness as this woman is walking under the street lamp in the middle of the dark July night into the unknown.  The County does not receive incident reports even when a client dies in the shelter at night.  Everything stays within the organization and all problems are supposed to be resolved by the shelter staff.  This system in Cleveland and in most cities is easily corrupted, and even though 80% of the dollars coming to a shelter are tax dollars government cannot say definitively that public dollars are not paying shelter staff to proposition women living in the shelter.  We, as taxpayers, don't really know what goes on at night in the shelters. 

This is not to say that the vast majority of staff who work at shelters are not amazing people who get paid way too little money to take care of our forgotten population. Most shelter staff only work in the shelters because they deeply care for people struggling in our society and are mission driven.   It is just when even the nicest people are left without oversight and have the lives of these people in their hands bad things happen. 

Brian Davis

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Downtown Sees Sharp Decline in Shelter Resistant

We did our count of the downtown homeless back in November, and posted the results on our website for this last year.  It was a significant decline in the number of people sleeping outside.  We have not seen these low numbers since 2100 Lakeside opened in 2000.   Now, before we break out the champagne there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  The shelter resistant have spread out to other sections of the city.   There has actually been an increase in the number of people requesting shelter in Cleveland over the last year, and a large number of people are staying inside at the Metanoia project at St. Malachi on the weekends when we do the count.  It does prove that if you offer a space that has high tolerance for difficult to serve people they will come inside. 

We outline a number of reasons on the page describing the population why we have seen a decline in the number of people who live outside.  All of these items work together to result in a decline in the population.  Not one magic bullet has caused a decline in the population.  All of these trends work together to change the number sleeping outside.  This is great news that there are in fact fewer people who risk their lives living outside, but we still have a ways to go to get everyone inside.  Two big things that would result in a significant decline in the population: changing the law regarding sexually based offenders and establishing minimum standards for the operation of a shelter in law. 

The sexually based offender law unfairly stigmatizes people who have huge areas of the city where these individuals cannot live.  While no politician wants to touch a law that is viewed as being tough on criminals, it is a stupid law.  Most abuse of young people happens by relatives or friends and not a stranger.  So all these laws that prevent offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school or even working close to a day care center have the result of keeping people homeless for long periods of time and costing taxpayers millions.  They have very little to do with preventing crimes against young people, but they have a heavy price for society.  

The shelters need to be better regulated to encourage people to come inside.  I have talked to hundreds of people who resist going to shelter because they have been kicked out or because they have serious concerns about the operation of these publicly funded facilities.  It is the only congregate living facility that does not have a law to protect the residents.   So many people would come inside if there were greater protections against discharge and were more transparent. 

Brian Davis

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Homeless Congress--Shelter Standards Update

YesterdaySilk, a regular at the Congress, at the Transformational Art Center, we had a lively Homeless Congress meeting with County Councilman Dale Miller.  The purpose of this meeting was to talk about the State of the Shelters, and do we need a law to govern the shelters.  Bottom line was that nearly everyone at the meeting felt that it was important to continue the effort to pass a law that would regulate the shelters.  County Councilman Dale Miller welcomed the crowd and told them of some of the funds that the county had spent recently on homeless services.  Besides funding nearly every shelter, they had extended funds to the Metanoia Project and the Homeless Stand Down.  Miller mentioned that he had provided funds for a new Third Party grievance procedure which the Coalition had opposed.  [Our position is that the group handling grievances for homeless people should not have a daily relationship with the shelters that the residents are complaining about.  It is like a judge in a trial also owning a business and then this judge weighing in on employee lawsuits for his suppliers and business partners.]

Dale Miller attended the meeting to hear from residents of the shelters.  The County Office of Homeless Services position is that legislation is not necessary because the Office had updated the contracts with the shelters over some concerns of homeless people and put into the contracts new administrative rules that they have to follow.  It seemed as though the Council had accepted these rules as an alternative to passing a law.  Homeless people who use the shelters did not agree.  They said:

  • Staff at the shelter are not trained properly to deal with homeless people
  • The staff do not have the knowledge of the resources available to homeless people in the community.
  • There was a lot of concern about the lack of programming at the Community Women's Shelter compared to the services available at West Side Catholic and 2100 Lakeside.  There was a great deal of anger that women just sit around all day waiting for help.
  • Questions were raised about the expense of constantly sending EMS to the two big shelters.  Isn't there a better alternative to have more nurses in the shelter?
  • The staff are not taking the time to help people move out of the shelters quicker.
  • Why isn't there more punishment for people who break the rules such as pulling the fire alarm in the middle of the night at the women's shelter.
  • More GED programs in all the facilities needed.
  • Is there any evidence that shows the difference between shelters that offer programs vs. those that have decided to only be an overnight shelter?
  • We need more overnight drop in centers like Metanoia and safe access to showers.
  • There were many complaints about the grievance procedures. 
  1. Unfair that only another staff decides on the grievance (not impartial)
  2. There is a problem with retaliation when a homeless person files a grievance.
  3. Most of the time the punishment is enforced before the grievance is ever heard.
  4. There is no punishment for staff who were wrong in the grievances. 
  • Physically disabled have problems at nearly every shelter. 
  • Why don't the shelters hire from within (formerly homeless people)?
  • There is still a problem with people getting food who have a special diet. (Hopefully this will be solved with the introduction of the Central Kitchen.)
  • Is there any oversight of both Permanent Supportive Housing to see if people are going back to shelter? And the same question was asked about North Point Transitional Shelter.
  • There was concern about the focus on jobs exclusively at North Point and not on other programming. 

Nearly all the concerns are addressed in our shelters standards, which we have posted on our website.  The Congress members were assigned County Council members to ask that a law be introduced.  The prisons, nursing homes, mental health and developmentally disabled facilities all have laws that protect residents.  Shelters do not have minimum standards.  We need these NOW!!!

Brian Davis

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New Jersey Governor Goes Undercover

New Jersey State Legislator Becomes Homeless for the Night


Former Governor and current State Senator Richard Codey dressed up as a homeless guy and visited the shelters in Newark.We had a County Commissioner stay in the shelter in the mid 2000s.  Unlike Peter Lawson Jones's visit to the shelter, Governor Codey found serious problems with the shelter system in Newark.  He found that a mentally ill person is turned away from nearly every shelter in the community.  This would not be an issue in Cleveland since we have guaranteed access to shelter, but there are other problems that the Commissioner should have found.  The only thing that Jones reported was that there were not any condiments. 

Most shelters in the United States screen out those who are different.  They restrict those who are drunk, transsexuals, mentally ill, those with a criminal background, or those who have male children over 12.  Shelters often times force people to change to fit into their system.  In most cities, they screen out as many people as they help.  The Governor found out about these problems and is going to work to change the shelter system in Newark.  We need some politician in Cleveland to dress up and stay a couple of days in the shelters in Cleveland.  They could see the staff who don't really want to work with homeless people and should be freed from this burden through termination.  They could see the problems with food and a lack of special diets for those with diabetes and those with food allergies.  They could see how the shelters attempt to convince people to go back where they came from.  This politician could see the problems with theft and the overcrowded conditions.  The could see how the rules change frequently and how there is no independent oversight of the local shelters.  What are you and Frank doing next Sunday, FitzGerald? 

All taxpayers think that if the worst happens to them there is a place to go for help.  They incorrectly believe that there is emergency housing is available or emergency rent money can be found or that the safety net is not full of holes.  They believe that they could find a space in a shelter for their husband and three children.  It is a miracle if an intact family can find shelter without having to spend time broken up. We applaud a politician taking the time to find out how the services they support are doing in their community.