Cornerstone Connection Locks Women Out of Shelter

By Scott Barr

            Approximately 50 women huddled outside of the Cornerstone Connection shelter for close to four hours on Saturday, March 4, when shelter workers failed to show up to let them in. The group is usually transported from the Care Alliance at 2219 Payne to the shelter in the basement by eight o’clock to sleep for the night. This night however, it was past 11:00 P.M., and there was no sign of the site manager to open the doors.

            Just before midnight, an ambulance was called to the scene.

            Emergency medical personnel treated and transported a pregnant woman suffering from exposure to St. Vincent Hospital.

            The ambulance crew called First Church, the police, and other shelters to report the stranded clients and their condition. About a half an hour later, shelter staff finally pulled up and unlocked the doors and let the women in.

            “Saturday night when she got there to the church, we had been out there for five-and-a-half hours,” said shelter guest Madeline Walker. “And when she got there her attitude was already bad, and when a few of the ladies asked to go to the bathroom, she slammed a door in their faces.”

            If anyone knows what happened on that chilly Saturday night to delay the opening of the women’s emergency shelter, they are not volunteering about it.           

            The director of Cornerstone Connection, Barbara Williams, did not return phone-calls requesting information on the incident.

            The Office of Homeless Services for Cuyahoga County is one of the main sources of funding for Cornerstone Connection. The manager there, Ruth Gilette, knew of the incidents, but refused to comment unless her supervisor, Tom Hayes, would authorize a statement. Mr. Hayes didn’t return a phone call and shed any light on the situation.

            The city of Cleveland’s contribution to the operating costs for the shelter is managed by Bill Resseger, Community Development staff, who said he had heard of the lockout resulting in one of the clients being taken to St. Vincent, but said that he did not have any first hand knowledge of the situation, and did not care to comment further.

            There was enough concern in the air over the next couple of days that a closed door meeting of shelter clients was held so that they could vent their concerns and make suggestions on improvements in the way that the shelter is operated.

            Dan Shramo of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) tried to attend the meeting at the invitation of some of the clients. Site Manager Aretha Maddox told him that the meeting was closed to anyone except shelter clientele. He was forcibly removed from the meeting by security personnel.

            “We do not have a problem with NEOCH,” Maddox said, “In fact we would love to work with you’all more and be in on what your concerns are and what you’re doing to help the women so that we can all collaborate.”

            Shramo then asked Maddox to tell the women that NEOCH would set up a forum for them if they elected or appointed five representatives from among themselves to bring about improvements in their living conditions. NEOCH has identified five women who will represent the group’s interest. They are attempting to set up a meeting with the City and County to talk about the situation at Cornerstone Connection.

            There is growing support within the County to put aside money to replace Cornerstone Connection with a real emergency shelter with beds.

            After the meeting was over, Shramo interviewed several of the clients. They reported complaints ranging from a female client being walked-in-on while showering by male staff members, rude and/or discourteous behavior by shelter personnel, and an assault on a client in which after escaping into the shelter from a man outside who was beating her, the man busted out several windows with his fist.

            “All kinds of crazy, ludicrous things go on over there, they talk to us like we’re nobody,” said Walker later. “If I talk to you civilly, intelligently, and respect you, I feel I should get the same. I’m not going to sit around and just let you talk to me anyway you want because I’m homeless. I’m not stupid; I’m just homeless.”

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #41, March-April 2000