Volunteers of America Services Praised by Shelter Residents

Interview 1 of Willie

VOA is beautiful. It’s almost like heaven. You have to be in by 7:00pm. If you’re going to be late, they want you to call. They have two types of programs there: TLP (Transitional Living Program) and ES (Emergency shelter). The TLP program is for one year. They offer drug and alcohol treatment programs. 3 meals a day, clothes, they even help you find a job. All they really ask is that you don’t come in drunk or high. It’s like a big family except you don’t have all the arguing.

The Emergency Shelter (ES) program is from one night to 30 days. If you need help they’ll give you an extension. The staff there is wonderful. They really try to help you. There’s nothing about their programs I would change. It’s great the way it is.

Note: Willie is one of the Homeless Grapevine’s newer vendors.

Interview 2 of Melvin

I really can’t tell you a whole lot about area shelters, I’ve only stayed in two. I stayed at the City Mission and at VOA. VOA is nice. It’s clean and if you ask me, it’s the best place to stay. If you can get in there. The rules are simple: no drugs or alcohol. If they think you are using, they ask you to leave. They wake you up at 6:00a.m. Breakfast is at 7:30, it’s (breakfast) pretty fair. Dinner is at 6:00p.m. You have to be in by 7:00p.m., unless you work and don’t get off work in time. You need verification for that. They let you smoke in the lobby but nowhere else. They even have a color TV. When you leave in the morning, you can’t come back in until 4:00 and you can’t leave once you’ve checked in. The people in the TLP (Transitional Living Program) have a little more freedom, they can check in or out when they want. I really don’t mind their rules. They have to have rules and regulations. Their rules really aren’t bad.

The only thing I would change about VOA is the favoritism. Some people are favored. They don’t have to follow the same rules as the rest of us. They can come and go and pretty much do whatever they want.

Editor’s Note: Melvin is a middle-aged male interviewed at The West Side Catholic Center.

  • “Emergency” is defined as a sudden and unexpected situation.
  • You must sign in at the security desk upon daily admission into the facility
  • Upon admission, you will be assigned a bed and linens. The linens are property of VOA. All personal belongings must be stored under your assigned bed only. Upon daily departure from the facility, you must remove all belongings from the facility. Any personal belongings that are left will be thrown away immediately.
  • Any medication must be registered and secured with the Residential Monitor upon admission.
  • Appropriate grooming and showers are required daily. VOA will furnish each client with the necessary toiletries to achieve the above.
  • The VOA facility is a non-smoking facility. All cigarettes and/ or cigars must be extinguished upon entering the facility.
  • Gambling of any type is prohibited in the VOA facility.
  • Individual radios and/ or televisions must be used with earplugs.
  • A client admitted into the Emergency Shelter can remain in the program for thirty (30) consecutive days. A client may not return to the E.S. for at least sixty (60) days after discharge from the facility (E.S. or TLP) without authorization from the Director of Homeless Services. An extension of the thirty (30) days is possible. The decision will be based on the client’s efforts to overcome obstacles during the first thirty days.
  • Lights and televisions are turned off at 11:00pm and lights are turned on at 6:00am. Clients needing to be awake prior to 6:00am need to inform the Residential Monitor.
  • Consumption and/ or possession of alcohol and/ or illegal drugs is prohibited. A client may be asked to use a breathalyzer to check for alcohol consumption. Refusal to complete test will result in a discharge from the facility.
  • Violent and/ or threatening behavior and/ or language is prohibited upon VOA property.
  • A release of information, which can be obtained from shelter staff, must be completed prior to letters being written on client’s behalf. Please contact staff one day in advance.
  • Hours of the Emergency shelters are 4:00pm – 8:00am. Clients must enter the facility no later than 7:00pm. If employed, a client may not enter the facility later than 1:00am. Verification of employment is needed if a client enters later than 7:00pm. Hours may be extended in severe weather, as determined by staff.
  • All clients of the Emergency Shelter receive dinner and breakfast. Dinner is served from 5:30pm – 6:15pm and breakfast is served from 7:00am – 7:30am.
  • Clients may leave shelter area only when dining or entering and exiting the facility.
  • I understand that I may be asked to perform tasks related to the overall care of the facility, if I agree to help, I understand this is considered volunteer work and I will not be compensated. I understand I have the right to refuse volunteer work.
  • VOA staff reserves the right to search packages and/ or personal belongings when deemed necessary.
  • Clients have the opportunity to receive referrals from VOA staff to an array of additional services that can assist in breaking the cycle of homelessness. These referrals may be to other VOA programs or outside agencies. All referrals and requests are contingent on client actions and motivation to progress into independent living.
  • Client Grievance Procedure and Bill of Rights is on file in the security area. Copies will be distributed at any client’s request.
  • Pay telephones located in the security area may be used with a five (5) minute limit. Staff will not be responsible for receiving incoming calls. Loitering in the security area will not be permitted.
  • Every new client to the Emergency shelter must attend an Orientation meeting during their first week. Times will be posted noting the meetings.
  • If parking a vehicle on VOA property, you must have proof of a valid driver’s license and proof of current automobile insurance. VOA reserves the right to request that your vehicle be parked off of VOA property.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio Issue 26 April 1998



At the City Mission

Interview 1 of Melvin

At the City Mission (Cleveland) the rules vary from shift to shift. They have too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. One person tells you one thing, the next guy tells you another. There are a lot of general rules like no smoking on the premises. If you have to smoke, you have to go across the street. Drugs and alcohol aren’t tolerated. In the morning you can’t leave unless you get permission-period. No exceptions. You have to be up by 6:00 A.M. and out the door by 7:00. You have to make your bed military style. At night, you have to be back by 6:00P.M. You have to attend inspirational meetings between 6:00 and 7:00 o’clock and believe it or not, they allow the speakers to smoke in the building! These are just speakers who say they went through the system and made it. Between 7:00 and 8:00, you have to attend religious services. Attending these meetings is mandatory.They call lights out at !0:00 P.M. If you don’t get there by that time you’re out for 7 days. If somebody does something wrong and blames you, they don’t even give you the opportunity to explain or defend yourself. You’re out! Awhile back, some guy got up in the middle of the night and smoked a cigarette in the middle of the night. He smoked a cigarette in the bathroom. They smelled the cigarette smoke, woke everybody up and threw all of us out. They didn’t even ask who did it! They just made everyone go. You enter and leave through the metal detector!

They have baskets downstairs, you have to leave all your belongings in them. You can’t take anything upstairs with you, except the clothes on your back. They loan you a towel, if anything happens to it, you’re out. If they find cigarettes, a lighter, or matches on you, they take them away and claim they throw them out. You can’t draw the curtains across in the shower! They come by and look at you naked and make sure you aren’t hiding any contraband. It’s humiliating! You’re treated like a prisoner! They consider cigarettes to be contraband! In the morning, you have to collect your belongings before breakfast or you can’t get them that day, even if it’s your coat.

If you try to get in their program you have to go through a police check. If you have a conviction, they won’t allow you to go to their GED classes or money management classes. Once you get accepted into the program, you’re not allowed to make or get any phone calls, and you can’t leave the grounds for thirty days. If you make it through the thirty days, you can stay for an additional ninety days. They find you a job, and you have to give them at least 20% of what you make. They even demand to see your bank account and want to know where and how you’ve spent any of your money.

If I could change their program, I would clear their staff out, and allow people to make suggestions, and eliminate all of the rules that are dehumanizing. I would allow residents to have privacy in the shower. That’s what really got to be changed. When they treat you like you’re not intelligent enough to do things or think for yourself, they take away the human part of you.

Editors note: Melvin is a middle aged man. He was interviewed at the West Side Catholic Center.

Interview 2 of Bryan

I only stayed at the City Mission for a couple of days when it was real cold. I’d never go back there again no matter how cold it gets. The atmosphere there is more like a prison than anything else. The staff is extremely cold and unfriendly. If you’ve seen a movie with a prison scene, you know what that place is like. They have a metal detector, you have to walk through it when you come in. They won’t hesitate to give you a breathalyzer test if someone tells you they saw you outside drinking. I had to take one and they said I failed. I don’t even drink! It was just an excuse to get me out of there because I won’t hesitate to speak out if I see them doing something wrong.

The staff their doesn’t let you say anything to them. I told them I was going to have Carl Monday (Carl Monday is a local TV news reporter) check them out. They really need to be shut down. They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with kicking people out for false reasons. If they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, they wouldn’t have to throw me out for speaking out. They play favorites, too. You can’t have one set of rules for one person, and not the other. They don’t allow smoking in there except for their friends. Every thing you do requires their permission. I got tired of asking, “ Excuse me, can I take a piss?” They demand you attend religious services, too. I really don’t mind that so much as I mind being treated as a criminal. I don’t drink, or do drugs, yet they always suspect you’re on something. You have to have a background check, to get in, and even when that comes in, clean, you have to enter and leave through the metal detectors. I think they’re afraid I’ll steal something.

They talk to you like you’re stupid or something. They act like only stupid people in need of their Godly guidance are out on the streets. They don’t realize you can be well read, and intelligent, and end up out there, because factories are closing. I used to work for Chevy, years ago, and got a permanent lay-off. I waited years to get called back, but none of us ever did. I then worked at a plastics manufacturing company, in Brookpark, they got new equipment, that took less people to operate. I got laid off. I know they won’t call any of us back. Technically, they replaced us. I hate being talked to like I’m a retarded 5 year old. The staff there shows anybody no respect. They think they’re doing you a favor. Like I said, I’ll never go back there again. It’s too controlling, an environment. I’d rather take my chances outside. If I freeze to death, I’ll at least die with my dignity intact.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio Issue 26 April 1998



St. Herman’s Given Negative Marks by Residents

Interview 1 of Willie

The rules to stay at St. Herman’s are: No sex, carry a sheet of paper with you verifying what you’ve done and where you’ve been, when you sign out in the morning, you have to tell them where you’re going to go to work and you have to get the paper signed by your boss. You have to write down what you did that day and get it signed for verification, if you forget the sheet of paper, or forget to get it signed, you can’t come back that night. (Every thing you do there requires a signature.) The night before, you have to sign a book to get breakfast the next day. At breakfast, you have to sign for lunch or dinner. When you first come in, you have to sign papers releasing them from any liability if you get sick from the food, hurt on the premises, or if your belongings are stolen.

They wake you up at 5:30 in the morning. They take your pillow and blanket away from you right then and there. You have to leave right after breakfast unless you’re going to work around their property that day. They even limit you to 1 teaspoon of sugar for your oatmeal. They claim sugar is too expensive to give you any more than that.

I really hated staying there. I really felt isolated and intimidated. If I could change their program, I would ease up the sign-in, sign-out, sign-this, sign-that rules and make their staff be more pleasant. They really don’t have to be so strict or so rude.

Interview 2 Mike

I’ve stayed at St. Herman’s quite a bit. I know a lot of guys complain about it (St. Herman’s) but it’s really not that bad. These guys fail to realize that St. Herman’s is a monastery, not a shelter. They don’t owe anyone anything. They don’t get funding from the government, they run on donations. The guys that don’t like the rules there shouldn’t stay there.

The rules that I can think of are: You have to be in by four. You have to attend lectures and religious services every night. You have to sign out and tell them where you’re going and get back by the time they give you. They don’t let you stay out all day if you have a 10:00 doctor’s appointment. They expect you to get a paper signed by the doctor showing what time you were there ‘ til. That way they screen out the guys who drink or do drugs. Those guys never get back on time or have the paper signed so they can’t come back in. I guess they (monks at St. Herman’s) want to spend their resources on the people who are really trying to get off the streets. They don’t want to be a flop house for druggies and alcoholics. If they suspect you’re high, they kick you out.

A lot of the guys resent the fact that they wake you up at 5:30 and collect the pillows and blankets when they wake you. It’s really not that bad, you got to realize in exchange you get three squares, clean clothes and a roof over your head. I really don’t mind staying there and helping out during the day. They do everything by hand. They don’t have mops, so you have to get on your hands and knees with a rag to scrub the floors. Some of the guys refuse to get on their hands and knees to clean. They think they’re too good for that. I asked one guy how many times he got on his knees to find the rock he dropped and he really got mad at me. You just have to live a clean life to stay there. If you do you won’t have any problems.

The only thing I would change about St. Herman’s is I would post the rules on a big sign. They have the rules on a regular sheet of paper and they tell you what the rules are, but, I think it would be better if they had a large sign.

Editor’s Note: Mike is a young man interviewed at the West side Catholic Center. St. Herman’s was given three weeks to respond to the comments mentioned above. They chose not to respond.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio Issue 26 April 1998



Small Cities Provide Few Alternatives for Shelter

By Brian Davis

     Single homeless men traditionally do not get the sympathy or amount of services that women receive, especially women with children. This is especially true in Youngstown where the only option for single men is a religious based shelter with a strict code of conduct. The city has lagged behind other cities in creating emergency services that are not tied to a religion. For individuals with a mental illness, a chronic health problem, or even an acute personality disorder, there are few options available for those without a home in Youngstown.

     In touring the city with Youngstown police, they pointed out many encampments in abandoned factories and underneath the many bridges on which many homeless people sleep. These precarious spots are high enough to be out of sight of both men and animals, and they remain warm throughout the winter.

     The heart of the Rust Belt, Youngstown, has seen manufacturing jobs dwindle and the economy suffer. The population has dwindled as well, to 95,706, according to the 1990 U.S. Census. The homeless population has remained constant for the last few years, but for single men, there is only one emergency shelter available. The Rescue Mission is a faith based shelter modeled after Missions throughout the county (City Mission in Cuyahoga County) with a philosophy of religious indoctrination, and self motivation, to lead the individual out of homelessness.

     The Rescue Mission is supported entirely by private donations. In 1993, they realized direct public support of $735,000, in 1994 $1,887,000 and 1995 $1,385,000. They have broad based community support with many cash and material donations, and many appeals in the local daily newspapers. The Mission can serve between 75 and 100 men, women, and children, depending on the number of families. They collaborate with other non-profits in Youngstown, they have a seat on the local Coalition for the Homeless, and assist with the Cold Weather Shelter Program.

     There is no one in Youngstown, who speaks for the interests of the client or customer in funding decisions or client’s rights, according to Sister Patricia McNichols, Director of the Potters Wheel women’s program. Because the Rescue Mission does not receive any public money, there is no oversight of their operation. They have to file a tax statement with the State and the City must certify that their building is not a fire or safety hazard, but there is no agency that oversees their program to measure its impact and protect clients from abuse.

     Brenda Martin, Director of the Youngstown Point and coordinator of the Youngstown Coalition for the Homeless, claimed her organization acted as an advocate for homeless people. She admitted that because the Coalition of the Homeless in Youngstown is made up of many of the Homeless social service agencies, it would create a rift in the provider community to publicly assert oversight over a member organization. Neither the Coalition or the Youngstown Point has in the past involved itself in the internal management of a local social service organization. Martin said, “I will bring it to the table and see what the Board wants to do. Maybe we can design a program for accountability for all the programs.”

     Some of the customers that we talked to reported problems ranging from lack of respect for the people that pass through the program to violations of doctor / patient confidentiality. The telephone is monitored, which has caused problems between health practitioners and residents at the Rescue Mission. One former volunteer, Alex, who wished not to be identified, said that the staff illegally found out that a man was HIV positive and then he was denied entrance. Alex said that the staff, “would not acknowledge doctor’s orders for light duty work and bed rest.” Another person was advised to stop taking his anti-depressant drugs and “read the bible instead.”

     They have a staff person dial the phone and have to be present during a call to curtail drug activity. He said that a pay phone was available for personal or calls to medical practitioners. He denied that they would ever violate a medical/ patient confidentiality or interfere with the doctor/ patient relationship.

     Ramona, a resident of Rescue Mission, said, ” They make you go to church whether you want to or not. Everyday, you have to be in chapel or you get reprimanded and you have to move out.” For the single male and female population in Youngstown moving out means moving to the streets because there are no alternatives.

     Beach said that they relax their rules from December to the end of March to work with the Cold Weather program. “One thing that we do is food, clothing, and shelter is there for everyone.” He said that the Cold Weather program is an opportunity for homeless people to come in, get a meal, and shelter and not go into the Rescue Mission’s work or resident program. This is a community initiative to prevent people from freezing to death on the streets.

     Diana Eglestein, Program Manager of Emergency Assistance at Catholic Charities of Youngstown, defended the Mission saying that those that do not like the religious aspect of the program will move on. She said, “I would have to endure (the religion if I were homeless), while I take it upon myself to improve the situation. When you have limited means these rights are not as freely available. I feel that the local government should address this issue.” Eglestein summed up what many other providers said the Mission is better than nothing.

     Neil Altman of the Help Hotline of Youngstown coordinates the Cold Weather Program which is a telephone number that homeless people call to get a referral to Rescue Mission said, “Our goal has been that no one freezes to death because we are full. Help Hotline brainstorms for those on the ‘Do not Admit’ list of the Rescue Mission.” The ‘Do not Admit’ list numbered 40 in December according to Altman. The Rescue Mission keeps a list of people permanently banned from the facility which the Helpline then attempts to engage and find family or sometimes a short term motel voucher to keep these people from sleeping on the streets.

     “The ones (on the ‘Do not admit’ list) who cannot come into the mission…are the most extreme. These are the fire bugs or the extremely violent to other clients or extremely violent to the staff,” Beach said. The rules posted at the Rescue Mission, however, reflect a larger number of infractions that are a cause for a person to be expelled from the program than violence and arson (see graphic).

     Don Griesman, Director of Northern Ohio Legal Services and member of the Coalition, said there is no American Civil Liberties Union and only a few lawyers who have ever represented homeless people. Northeast Ohio Legal Services is the only organization that represents poor people in legal matters, and does not have the staff to act as client advocates in non legal matters. Griesman was unaware that there were homeless people on the Mission’s “Do not admit” list who were not even allowed to enter the shelter during the cold weather program. He said, “There is no talk of changing the (cold weather program at the Rescue Mission) Clearly there should be some changes.”

     In talking to residents and those who had stayed in the program there were concerns about:

  • ·the lack of transportation to other social service organizations
  • ·the parking for women with a car being far away from the building
  • ·the staff not being helpful or respectful
  • ·placing more importance on domations than the people staying at the Mission

     *and the fact that basic needs are not being met to establish stability.

     Alex the volunteer said he saw individuals excluded for having an epileptic fit. He said that a person was put out for “creating dissent among the brethen” after he asked for a meeting with the Executive Director of the Mission. One individual was restricted for symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Alex said that many faced restriction because of the results of Breathalyzer which are not very accurate.

     Beach disputed the claim that anyone has ever been put out of the shelter because of a health reason. He said, “I have been here ten years and I don’t believe we have seen a health condition that they (a homeless client) shared with us in confidence that has ever put anybody out.”

     “We have an open door policy for complaints,” Beach said. He said that they do not have an advisory or grievance procedure. “We learn more from them (the customers) then we do from our staff. If we don’t talk with the people themselves and listen to them, we are not going to make a difference. We are not going to help them,” Beach said.

     Beach admitted that the Rescue Mission has a very `difficult time working with the mentally ill and those with a chronic illness. He said that Youngstown needs a care center to deal with those with a chronic illness. Rescue Mission is not designed to assist those with a debilitating illness.

     In response to the concerns of women who have to park far away from the Mission, Beach said, “We really don’t have parking. We give parking permits to a lot of residents (in a secure lot) The parking area that we gave them they won’t park there because they have to walk…A lot of times they (homeless residents) challenge us.”

     Beach admitted,  Ýoungstown is very bad for transportation. We were able to extend the time that they (homeless residents) can stay here (to deal with the poor transportation system). We don’t have a lot of employment where the people are. Where the good jobs are you can’t get to after hours.”

     Sister McNichols, agreed that transportation was a major problem in Youngstown. She said that the community was attempting to address this issue through grants from the federal government, McNichols said. “We have received a lot of cooperation with the Rescue Mission. I don’t have any problem with the Mission.”

     Beach said the heart of his program is to “build some basic dependability and build some enthusiasm.” He said that the Rescue Mission attempts to put demands on the individual, and avoid throwing people out of the program. Beach said, “We try to change it around and say ‘guess what we are not throwing you out. We want to work with you.” He did add, “I don’t think the homeless are always totally honest with everyone until you really get to know them. Then they start opening up.”

     There are a page of infractions and the punishment associated with that infraction that every customer receives. Most of the punishments are a certain number of days outside of the facility. Beach said that those were established so that the residents would know that disruptive behavior would not be tolerated, but they do not necessarily mean a person is placed on restriction. They try to strike a balance to maintain a safe shelter, and work with as many people as possible.

     He said unequivocally that failing the drug and alcohol tests do not necessarily mean removal from the program. “We use it as a way of kinda helping them. We need to try to find out what we can do to help them in that area. The posted rules state that failing a drug test is a six- month restriction from the Rescue Mission. A Youngstown social worker, Pat, said she had many problems with the Rescue Mission, and was very unhappy that single homeless people had no other option.

     Pat has had a problem with the Mission’s policy of shaving an individual’s head if lice are found. She said that it is a reflection on the lack of a concern over homelessness by local officials in Youngstown. Pat said that it was an outrage that the only emergency shelter in Youngstown is a strict faith based program. She said, “Prisoners have more rights than people in the Rescue Mission.”

     One local social worker who operates a shelter in Cleveland said that every individual has different needs and it is very difficult to fit every homeless person into one program. He said that he sends some of his clients to other shelters when a space opens if he feels that they will do better in a different program. “It is extremely difficult for a chronically homeless person whose first experience with shelter has a low tolerance level,” said this shelter worker who wished not to be identified. He said this is especially true of Missions that operate shelters. They usually have a low tolerance for homeless people with many difficulties or obstacles to success.

     Dave, a former resident, when asked for comment about the the Rescue Mission said, “I think it is a joke. Once you fall through the cracks you can’t get started again. I think it’s the staff itself. They don’t exactly give you assistance to start over.” Dave also said that there was selective enforcement of the rules. He desperately needed help finding a livable wage job and was discouraged to find that no one would help him.

     There were a number of homeless people who loved the Rescue Mission because they offered exactly what they wanted: a meal and a bed. One woman who did not give her name said, “It is great. If I get put out (of my house) they will always take me in”.

     Overall, there were many complaints of the shelter and the reliance by Youngstown on a faith based shelter as the entry point to the rest of the services. Beach sees the Youngstown system as a workable solution, because his shelter as a privately-funded facility can put heavy demands on people that a government or public shelter would not be able to do. He said, “They (homeless people) are used to the government shelters (where) all they do is put food in their stomach. We try to get them to stick around so we can work with them. I think that is the key.”

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio Issue 26 April 1998


Rescue Mission of Mahoning Valley—

Uniform code of policy and rules—

Violation infraction procedures

All restrictions are total (no services rendered)

Drug Dealing Permanent Restriction

Weapons in Possession Permanent Restriction

Violence (Staff/ Guests/ Volunteers) Permanent Restriction

Destruction of Property Permanent Restriction

Any Sexual Advances/ Contact Permanent Restriction

Theft/ of any kind Permanent Restriction

Multiple/ Chronic rule Violations Permanent Restriction

Fire Alarm Activation (False Alarm-YFD) Permanent Restriction


ll. Harassment of any sort (on/ off premises) 6 Months Restriction

Telephone harassment (on/ off premises) 6 Months Restriction

Drug Test Failure 6 Months Restriction

TWEP/ Residents-any alcohol use 6Months Restriction

16. Accosting donors 6 Months Restriction

Fraternization (unauthorized contact guests) 6 Months Restriction

Unauthorized tampering with any 6 Months Restriction

Donations/ Mission property 6 Months Restriction

Disrespect to staff 90 days restriction

Pornography 90 days restriction

Alcohol consumption over .099 breathalyzer test

1st offense 3 days restriction

2nd offense 30 days restriction

3rd offense 60 days restriction

Gambling of any kind 30 days restriction

Lying on steps to dorm/ tables/ benches/ floor

1st offense 1 day restriction

2nd offense 3 day restriction

3rd offense 30 day restriction

Deceptiveness toward staff and aides 30 day restriction

Disrespect to guests 30 day restriction

28. Sexual self gratification 3 day restriction

Profanity on premises 3 day restriction

Switching beds after one is assigned 3 day restriction

Not making bed in the morning 1 day restriction

Abuse of locker privileges Individual loss of privileges

Any abuse of laundry privileges Individual loss of privileges

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio Issue 26 April 1998

Overflow Shelters Troubled




Cleveland, Ohio

Interview 1 of Joshua

     To find out what the shelters are like, people really need to go to one and stay there for the night. It’s far more scary than any horror movie you’ve ever seen. The staff and director at Site A are rude as hell. They really don’t care about anyone, it’s just a job to them. They refuse to let anyone in if they think you might have been drinking or using (drugs). They retain the right to force you to leave at any given time for any given reason. You can’t say anything to the staff or make any suggestions. If you do, you’re out the door. The sad thing is that I’ve found the staff gets their bad attitude from the director. She doesn’t care what they say or do. You say anything to her, she’ll kick you out herself. I’ve been searched for no reason at all. I wasn’t drinking that day or doing anything to make them think I was high or a danger to anyone, yet they grabbed my bags, dumped everything out and went through all the pockets. They patted me down and took everything out of my pockets. It’s bullshit! The cops aren’t supposed to search you without a warrant yet you have shelter workers who do.

     The only good thing I can say about Site A is that when it’s unbearably cold outside, it’s warm in there. If you can get past the bullshit with the staff you have a hard time dealing with the living arrangements. You’re jammed up against the next guy. There’s no room in there. They only have one toilet and you have to wait too long to get in to use it. If you have Diarrhea, you’re in a whole lot of trouble. I really try to take the good with the bad but that place is too much to take.

     If I could change things, I would let the staff know they would be fired for being disrespectful to the homeless people. I’d space out the mats and put in more toilets. I’d wash the blankets two or three times a week. They really smell funky. I’d actually spend some money on cleaning supplies. I’d train the staff in public relations, you know, sensitivity training. Maybe then they wouldn’t be so damned high and mighty.

Homeless React to Conditions at Overflow Shelter
Interview 2 of Gary

     I’ve spent a few nights at Site A (Site A is a shelter located in downtown Cleveland) it’s really disgusting. The mats are way too close. They’re only about one and one-half inches apart. You never know who you’re sleeping next to or what might just crawl over. It’s way too cramped. You can’t get in to Site A without an I.D. If you lose your driver’s license, too bad, you sleep on the street. After you register with them, they give you a site card. You have to show this every time you go there. You have to be in by 8:30pm and you can’t go outside to get fresh air or to smoke. There are usually too many people there for them to enforce the rules. You have to get up at 5:30 in the morning, and be out the door by 6:00. They don’t give you breakfast, just a place to sleep.

     It’s really hard to sleep there. You have to deal with people who talk all night and all sorts of disgusting odors. The blanket they lend you usually stinks. You never know who used it last or what (disease) they have. It’s almost impossible to go to the bathroom at night, the mats are so close it’s hard to get up without stepping on someone else. They only have one toilet to approximately 90 people. I really had more trouble staying there than out on the street. There are too many different personalities to put up with, too much bickering.

     The staff there is really nasty. Most of them used to live on the streets and got a job at the shelter. Now they see themselves as authority figures. They insult you and you can’t say anything back to them or they throw you out. They always throw the fact that they got off the streets in your face. They don’t realize that if it weren’t for the rest of us homeless people, they wouldn’t have jobs. They forgot where they’ve been. It’s kind of funny that not too long ago they were in the same situation, and knew how hard it was to put up with other people’s abuse. Now they got a job and do the same things they hated other people for.

     If I could change Site A, I would get a bigger facility. It’s really bad to have people so cramped. I’d put in bunk beds to space everyone out even more. I’d make sure there were more toilets and showers. I’d make taking a shower mandatory. I’d put in a library and open the place up earlier in the day. It’s a bitch staying outside in the freezing weather until 8:30 at night.

Editor’s Note: Gary is a young man in his mid-thirties who was interviewed at the West Side Catholic Center.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio Issue 26 April 1998

Director Responds to Customer Comments

I appreciate the opportunity to respond to the comments collected through the interview process. I am very proud of the VOA (Volunteers of America) Emergency Shelter program and the services we offer. The following are responses to the comments faxed to me.

VOA is a sober environment with proper referrals made on a case-by-case basis for those under the influence.

The shelter opens at 4:00pm and unemployed clients have until 7:00pm to enter the facility.

The Transitional Living Program (TLP) is a separate program located in the same facility. VOA has strict Conflict of Interest procedures that staff members are aware of at the time of hire. If favoritism exists, it is against VOA policy and will not be tolerated.

The Emergency Shelter (ES) Program is a different program from TLP.

We do not, as of yet, offer state certified substance abuse treatment, nor do we claim to. Extensions and exceptions are always made for the client that is verifiably attempting to overcome the obstacles that got him into our facility. Emergency Shelter (ES) clients are offered two meals per day: breakfast and dinner.

This is the environment we hope to provide. (Staff is extremely helpful). This (cleanliness) is the environment we hope to provide. Wake up is at 6:00am. Requests can be made for earlier wake up (employment, etc.).

(Clients must be in by 7:00pm) Also, a 1:00a.m. curfew exists for those employed (w/ verification).

The lobby is the entrance of the facility and is the only designated smoking area.

We give assistance of clothing as well as blankets, sleeping bags, towels, toiletries, shoes, underwear, socks, furniture, etc. We attempt to fill all basic needs of shelter, clothing and food.

Part of the referral process (education) if requested and/ or noted.

We hope that people feel a part of the helping environment.

Additionally, we employ an intake Technician for the shelter program that keeps progress notes on all shelter clients as well as providing referrals. All clients must attend an orientation within the first seven days of their admission to answer common questions and provide additional information about the facility(the orientation is held twice during the week to provide convenience to the client). We provide clean linens, towels, and toiletry kits to all new admissions. Clients are provided with a television in their living area and we readily provide magazines, newspapers and books.

Our TLP is vital in providing the continuum of care that is the goal of our facility. Clients involved in the TLP are provided with case management, Employment Counseling, and a broad array of referrals for additional needs. The goal of that 12-month program is permanent housing. During our last fiscal year (7/1/96 –6/30/97), 86% of our clients were coming from an emergency shelter.

Lastly, we have a Street Outreach Counselor who specifically works with the homeless on the street in order to provide information regarding not only our programs, but programs in general that benefit the homeless community. His work is vital and your publication has highlighted that position in the past.

Again, thanks for the opportunity to respond to the comments listed on your fax. Our Emergency Shelter program and Transitional Living Program are two very distinct programs with different funding sources and different staff members. We are proud of our facility and encourage you to visit at any time to view our program for yourself, no prior notice is necessary.


Richard Kirk

Director of Homeless Services

Volunteers of America

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio Issue 26 April 1998

Apartments Renovated: Tenants Evicted

By Farr Carey

MAHT VISTA Coordinator

          After over a year of struggle to win money for repairs for her building.  Thelma Hairston and her two children face the threat of eviction from their two-bedroom apartment at Milliken Apartments.

            In early September, Hairston received a notice from the court awarding “possession” and $142 to the Milliken Apartment Management Company despite her success in winning $1.1 million dollars in repairs for the building.

            The eviction action was started by the National Housing (NHP), the nation’s largest owner of HUD subsidized housing, with 85,000 units.  NHP has since “sold” the building to Milliken Affordable Housing, Ins., A NHP spin off created to take advantage of federal Title VI grants for sales.  Boston’s HUD office refused to process the sale at first, because the purchaser was a “sham non profit” but their decision was overruled by HUD’s Washington Office.

            “This is probably the most outrageous case of tenant harassment I’ve seen in 25 years.  The nation’s largest subsidized landlord is evicting a low-income mother who just won them a million dollars for repairs.  They should give Thelma a medal not an eviction notice!” said Michael Kane, director of Mass. Alliance HUD Tenants (MAHT).

            Hairston joined the Milliken Apartments Tenants Association in the Spring of 1996, when the MAHT got involved.  Milliken Apartments was for sale under the Title VI Preservation Program, and tenants were in a position to make some changes in the building.  Many were concerned about the physical condition of the building: water seeps into the apartments every time it rains, soaking tile and carpeting.  Tenants chose Hairston as the president of the tenant association to hold the owner accountable for repairs.

            Over the next year, Hairston worked closely with the tenant steering committee and MAHT to develop some solution.  U.S. Representative Barney Frank became actively involved, writing letters to HUD and funding agencies.  AT first MHP and their sham purchasers refused to meet with residents.  Meanwhile, the Mass Alliance of HUD tenants obtained a grant for the tenant association, which was used to hire architects to assess needed repairs.  Last summer, tenants got HUD and Congressman Barney Frank to bring the purchaser to the table.

            The tenants eventually secured $1.1 million additional dollars for repairs in the building.  This is the only known case in the country where HUD actually increased the Title VI grant amount over the amount originally approved.

            Hairston has played a vocal role in the leadership of tenant group by raising security issues, criticizing the management practices, and expressing concern about the condition of the building.  But the real trouble began in June 1997.  The Tenants’ Association demanded that in June 1997.  The Tenants’ Association demanded that HUD cut over $1 million in Title VI grant funds scheduled for windfall profits for the “seller” and to invest the funds on needed repairs instead.  In an article published in the Herald News.  Hairston was singled out and openly criticized by then Milliken site manager Ellen Fisher.

            Soon afterward, Hairston received a “Thirty Day Notice to Quit.”  Management alleged that she had failed to pay the correct amount of rent for a period of three months and that she ha misreported her income.  But Hairston’s rent is paid directly to the management office by the state. 

            The record shows that management error led to a $142 underpayment by the state.  Instead of settling the matter with Hairston, management hauled her into court.

            In August, Hairston appeared in court twice without legal counsel as she couldn’t afford a lawyer.  She agreed o ay the disputed $142 to settle the matter.  Management refused to accept the money and said they just wanted her off the premises.  Despite the evidence presented, and Hairston’s willingness to comply, the judge ruled in favor of the management, and Hairston was issued a court order in min September.

            Very few tenants in the building were aware of the severity of the situation until a tenant association meeting in September.  Management showed up uninvited and tried to announce that they were responsible for the recent funding successes.  When Hairston asked them to explain the meaning of the court order, they told her she had to be out of the apartment by the next day.

            The tenants present at the meeting were outraged.  Mary E. Conforti, a former president of the Milliken Tenants association and 24-year resident of the building was shocked at the actions taken against Hairston.  “She worked so hard for the building to get the money for repairs and no one can understand why they are evicting her.”

            “There are many people who have broken house rules and creating problems who should have been evicted but are still here.  Management is not pushing them out”. added Ed Depin also a former tenant association president and 17 year resident.

            Tenants initiated a petition opposing Hairston’s eviction and demanded an apology to Hairston and the Tenants Association.  Tenants and MAHT staff circulated the petition and secured over 100 signatures. “If the people didn’t think she was a good tenant and doing a good job, they wouldn’t have signed the petition.” Mr. Depin added.

            MAHT staff assisted Hairston in obtaining a lawyer through legal services. The lawyer was able to put a hold on the eviction until a new court date could be scheduled in March.

            In the meantime, MAHT has asked HUD to get involved to punish National Housing Partnership’s “sham” buyer for this obvious case of tenant harassment.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 26  Spring April 1998