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