Dollars Vs. Solutions: A Response from the City of Cleveland

by Linda M. Hudecek--City of Cleveland

I appreciate the opportunity to comment on your recent analysis of the local Continuum of Care process. While elements of your analysis could be helpful to those seeking to understand the basic structure of this process, many of the opinions, implications, and conclusions expressed are not supported by facts.

Some specific examples include:

Homeless Services, the article states that "very few of the goals have been realized." Included among these goals are such key program components as providing decent temporary shelters, providing environments (such as transitional housing) that combine housing and services to facilitate self-sufficiency and increasing affordable housing opportunities. To dismissively state that these goals have not been "realized" ignores the tremendous progress that this community has made over the past ten years in working to address the housing and service needs of the homeless. To cite some specifics:

3 In 1990, the community’s shelter capacity was 485 persons, with most of the facilities offering only mats on the floor. Shelter capacity is now about 950 with the last remaining location still utilizing mats being scheduled for replacement in the immediate future.

3 Transitional housing for families was almost non-existent in 1990, with only 12 available units. There are now 172 family transitional units offering up to two years of housing and a full complement of services designed to lead to self-sufficiency. Another 400 transitional units serve single men or women, an increase from 83 units in 1990.

3 Efforts to address permanent affordable housing needs have also produced significant results both through the Continuum of Care process and through the City’s work with neighborhood development organizations. Again, being specific:

% The Shelter Plus Care Program, begun in 1995, now supports over 1150 formerly homeless households in permanent housing with support services available when needed.

% The Horizons for the Homeless program has helped move 450 homeless families from transitional into permanent housing units through cooperation with CMHA.

% The non-profit Cleveland Housing Network now owns over 1700 houses that it rents to very low income families, with some of the units specifically linked to services for formerly homeless families through the SAFAH program.

2. The article states that: "One of the major concerns of homeless people was the overflow shelters, but this never made the priority list since it was not a HUD SHP funded program."

While emergency shelter is not eligible under HUD regulations for the Supportive Housing Program (SHP), developing high quality shelter has always been among the highest priorities of the Office of Homeless Services. That it has often taken longer than hoped has been because of the extremely difficult task of achieving some level of community consensus on acceptable locations. However, the existence of a new 350 bed shelter for homeless men and a new 50 bed shelter for persons with disabilities is tangible evidence that major concerns of the homeless are not ignored.

3. The article states that: "Only within the last year were the programs even reviewed to assure compliance with standards locally."

From the inception of the Continuum of Care process, funded agencies have received annual evaluation reviews and site monitoring visits from the Office of Homeless Services staff. During this past year, this process was greatly enhanced by the addition of team visits from the Office of Homeless Service Advisory Board’s Review and Ranking Committee. Contrary to a later statement in your article, these assessments did much more than assure that the organizations "had adequate fire extinguishers." They covered a wide range of issues and included client interviews conducted outside the presence of agency staff.

4. The article points out that "Many programs spend $20,000 to $30,000 for each person that they move into housing."

It is a favorite tactic of conservative politicians seeking to discredit social programs to take isolated statistics out of context and turn them into media "sound bites."

There are among the homeless population, certain persons with problems that are not easily or inexpensively resolved. The least "cost-effective" programs, based on the chart accompanying your article, are small facilities that work with persons with serious mental illnesses. For these clients, the road to some form of permanent housing may be long and difficult. Working with this population will never produce impressive statistics on your comparative chart. However, that is not justification for ignoring these critical needs.

5. The section of your article on the composition of the oversight committee portrays it as populated primarily by social service providers concerned almost exclusively with protecting their personal fiefdoms by allying with the other providers to assure that no objective analysis of performance can occur.

While many participants in the oversight process do work for service delivery agencies (and many do not), our experience has been that the overwhelming majority of persons working with the homeless in this community are extremely dedicated individuals that are fully committed to the interests of the homeless. There are presumably easier ways to get rich than working 12 to 14 hours a day in a homeless shelter.

Most of the agencies do receive relatively high scores through the review process. However, the fact that the grades for agencies range from A to D- would seem to belie the notion that the primary motivation of the reviewers is mutual self-protection.

6. The article ends with a number of broad statements that are neither documented nor supported by any persuasive arguments.

Along with the totally unsubstantiated assertion that homelessness in Cuyahoga County has tripled in the past ten years, the article concludes that with respect to homelessness, "there is no plan in place and there is no effort to better serve the needs of the community."

Elsewhere in the same issue of the Homeless Grapevine, a story on the HUD funding system states that "communities that do not do a good job of planning receive no funds . . . Dayton and Akron were completely shut out of their portion of federal homeless funding." On this basis, at least, the outstanding record of our local Office of Homeless Services in securing more than its share of competitive HUD funds would seem to indicate that HUD believes that a quality planning effort is taking place. In fact, in its evaluation of our most recent Continuum of Care application, the planning process carried out by the Office of the Homeless Services scored 14.38 out of a possible 15 points.

Homelessness has increased in Cleveland over the past ten years. However, the U.S. Conference

of Mayors’ annual Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness indicates that homelessness has

been increasing at similar or greater rates in every American city. Clearly, there are nationwide

social and economic factors at work that transcend the quality of local planning efforts. In spite

of the dedicated work of many individuals and agencies in moving thousands of people out of

homelessness, new persons and families continue to enter the shelter system.

By any objective measure, significant progress has been continually made in both the local Continuum of Care service system and its planning process over the past years. It is equally clear that many of the factors that lead people into homelessness and keep them there for too long have yet to be fully addressed. Future success will require the efforts, not only of the many dedicated people already involved, but also the commitment of many parties that to date have not been sufficiently involved in creating solutions.

As an advocacy organization, NEOCH must play an important role in this process, both in helping to assure that concerns and issues of the homeless are heard and in constructively prodding entities from the governmental, institutional and business sectors to do more. We look forward to continuing to work with NEOCH to help assure that all Cleveland residents have a place to call home.

Editor’s Note: Linda M. Hudecek is the Director of Community Development for the City of Cleveland. She was asked by editors of the Homeless Grapevine to respond to the articles in the previous Grapevine (Issue #45). The next issue of the Grapevine will look at specific examples of Dollars in competition with Solutions in Cleveland.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #46 -  2001