House of Payne Community Women's Shelter in Cleveland


The Community Women's Shelter on Payne Ave. has been troubled for years under multiple managers and agencies.  It was always overcrowded, and there were always many different populations in one space.  The program started out at First Church on Euclid Ave, moved to Payne Ave. then to the old garage on East 18th in the old Site A.  After mold was found, they moved the women into the gymnasium at Cosgrove Center and finally back to Payne Ave.   NEOCH has regularly heard issues from homeless women in the community and until February 2014 there were children staying at the shelter while they waited for other beds to open.  The shelter was named after a former resident, but with the conditions at the facility we are not sure that it honors her legacy to call the shelter using her name.  The women are very upset about the conditions and earlier in 2015, NEOCH staff collected some of those stories over one week.  The photos are of women at the Hand up Gala who stayed at the Women's Shelter or the mats on the floor of the shelter on Payne Ave.

The Problems

House of Payne Problems According to the Residents (For a History of the Role of NEOCH and Women's Shelter Go Here)

These are a summary of each complaint that were submitted to the shelter staff in April 2015 after NEOCH staff came to the Cosgrove for six days to take down grievances.  These complaints range from facility issues to food, staff disrespect and general chaos at the shelter.  Half of the grievances had the names blacked out, but NEOCH Staff were aware of every one of the individuals who complained. 

  1. Many facility challenges with the large number of women using the facility--far larger than when it originally opened.   There are always problems with the bathrooms and the dryers breaking down.  Staff would not provide cleaning or a plunger so the women could help themselves.  No rules on the laundry. 
  2. There are major issues with the grievance procedure not being fair and not ever involving an impartial third party.
  3. There are problems with improper discharges, not documenting anything, and not following County policies.
  4. There are issues that people do not get the written rules when they enter, and then the rules change frequently without notice.
  5. There are a large number of food problems including the under ordering of food causing it to run out and many not getting fed.  The food quality is poor.
  6.  The shelter does not honor medical notes for bed rest or they require a second note.
  7.  Staff are disrespectful and rude.  They treat people like they are a burden and never offer the residents help in moving out of the shelter. 
  8. The shelter is unsafe and staff do not intervene in disputes to de-escalate or reduce tensions.  They keep everyone in a couple of rooms escalating tensions.  There are no activities (including a tv) to occupy the time.  No arts or work actitivities to keep people occupied. 

Click here to view the full list of complaints from the residents

The problems associated with the food are a special problem that we have created a separate page just to address food issues.

Click here to go to Food Issues at the House of Payne

Councilman Zack Reed asked the shelter to respond.  We have provided a page on the response to the concerns of the women here. 

To View the Response by the Staff of Frontline Services Go Here

 A couple of residents read the response from the staff at Frontline and came away saying:  "Everything seems to be the fault of residents.  Why can't residents have access to cleaning supplies to keep their "home" clean?  If the Men's Shelter can have access to vending machines and a microwave, why can't the women?  Are women too stupid to use a vending machine or microwave? Why is the job of residents to complete maintenance requests?  If the staff throws away our grievances, how do we know that they will process our maintenance requests?" Many residents dispute that they were ever given a "New Client Orientation" Manual.  Also, very few women have been told who their case manager is or what exactly they can do to help.  There is a problem with distribution of totes for storage for women without lockers.  They are not secure and it can take weeks to get a plastic tote to store items.   

What Can Be Done?

On May 4th, 2016, the Cuyahoga County Council held a hearing about the Women's Shelter, in order to discuss problems and future solutions. Several past and current residents of the shelter testified about their experiences, as well as NEOCH's Executive Director Brian Davis. The County director of Homeless Services and representatives from Frontline also spoke. You can watch the full hearing on YouTube here. We also transcribed the hearing, and you can read it by clicking this link.

The Homeless Congress and the NEOCH Board agree that the shelter needs radical changes.  Here are their recommendation:

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.  We need some backup for the food since we cannot count on edible food or even enough for everyone. 

  1.  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.
  2. 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. 
  3. 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.
  4. 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 bed rest 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.   

References to Other Stories

Here are some articles that have appeared in the Street Chronicle or the Blog about the Community Women's Shelter:

  2. County Council Meets to Discuss Women's Shelter without Homeless Woman
  4. Homeless Congress Members Working to Improve Women's Shelter
  6. Women’s Shelter Resident Observes Daily Life
  7. Editorial: Women's Shelter's Need Reform
  8. Editorial: Women’s Shelter Need Immediate Reform
  9. New Home, Fresh Start for Women’s Shelter
  14. Women’s Shelter Had Serious Problems
  15. It is Difficult to Get Bed Rest at the Women’s Shelter
  16. Community Women's Shelter Re-Opens
  17. My Introduction to the Norma Herr and 2100 Lakeside Homeless Shelter
  18. I Can't Believe that I Pay to Support the Women's Shelter
  19. How I Ended Up at the Women's Shelter
  20. Shelter Sister Alumni Pledge to Reform the Women's Shelter
  21. Woman Organizing for a New Shelter
  22. More on the Mock Ground Breaking
  23. Mock Ribbon Cutting/ Groundbreaking Art Exhibit
  24. Homeless Congress Members Working to Improve Women's Shelter
  26. Cornerstone Connections Women’s Site Criticized
  27. Women's Overflow Sight Deplorable
  28. Commentary: Cruel Treatment Discourages Homeless Women 
  29. Survey Says! Women Voice Concern Over Shelters
  30. Women's Support Group Finds Talking Leads to Change
  31. Family Shelters Fall to Worst Conditions in a Decade
  32. Why We Need Shelter Standards

The conditions in the Community Women Shelter and other homeless shelters have caught the eye of the local media.  Here are some stories from News Net 5 about the conditions in the shelter.

  1. Cuyahoga County homeless shelter overcrowding has 30 to 60 women sleeping on floor
  2. Missing person's flyer targets Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell
  3. Women's shelter under public scrutiny, residents say facility is unclean and staff is disrespectful
  4. Overcrowding raises concerns at women's shelter in Cleveland

Women Speak Out About House of Payne (Video)