Lakeside Shelter Conditions Debated

by Brian Davis

There continues to be growing frustration with the largest shelter in Ohio at 2100 Lakeside Ave. In March a group of homeless men met with Councilwoman Fannie Lewis to talk about conditions at the shelter. There were charges of retaliation and more controversy involving staff mistreatment, and a lack of concern by the Salvation Army administration.

Raymond Robinson took a group of men who stay at 2100 Lakeside to get their issues addressed. Among the many issues raised include the standing outside in the cold and rain for two hours and not being allowed to go inside to go to the bathroom. There were concerns about the unsafe conditions within the shelter, and the lack of training and understanding by the staff. The lack of the security and the large amount of theft as well as the lack of concern by the administrative staff were all listed by the men as areas of concern. The men were asking for helping in changing "these inhumane" and "degrading" conditions.

Robinson was told by Councilwoman Lewis to go and get a petition signed by as many men as possible. Despite being directed by a City Council person who is one of the main funders of the shelter, to do so Robinson was told that he was not allowed to collect signatures inside the shelter. He went to the local meal site early in the morning and found 80 men who signed the document. Robinson went to the Community Development City Council hearing, and was allowed time to talk to him about the problems at the shelter. Both Chair person Merle Gordon and Community Development Director Linda Hudecek both sat down with Robinson to discuss the situation. Both City officials expressed concern and asked the Coalition for the Homeless and the Office of Homeless Services for advice.

When Robinson got back to the shelter after talking to the City Council, he was denied a bed and told that he had to sleep on a mattress on the floor because he was belligerent. Robinson was belligerent because he was told that he could not get his petition signed at the shelter as he was instructed. After two months of being in a bed, he was told that despite being fifth in line he would have to sleep on the floor. He refused, citing his State of Ohio verified disability he could not sleep on the floor. He refused and was sent to another shelter.

The next night the same scenario took place in which Robinson was extended a mattress on the floor. At first, Robinson could not get anyone explain why he was denied a bed. The staff claimed that they did not have to give a reason. Again, he refused because of a physical handicap. There was a confrontation and eventually shelter staff relented.

The following day in a discussion about the complaints with City and County officials, John Ansbro, director of 2100 shelter, had an angry outburst centered on the perceived interference by representatives of the Coalition for the Homeless with regard to 2100 Lakeside. NEOCH staff expressed concern over retaliation and the treatment of homeless people at 2100 Lakeside in a written letter asking for a response from Salvation Army officials. To date, the Salvation Army has not responded to the issues raised by Robinson or the retaliation that he faced.

Two weeks later, the Coalition and the 2100 Resident Advisory Committee held a meeting to discuss the services. The issues raised included the problems with the physical conditions of the shelter and the lack of use of the kitchen. The threats and intimidation by the staff were a concern as was the overcrowded conditions. Other problems that came up included the turning people away from the shelter and the need for accountability. The "bad attitude" of shelter staff and some standards posted at the shelter. There were many issues that surfaced including the lack of staff training, the lack of a grievance procedure, and the huge lines before the shelter opens.

Salvation Army officials presented their view of the shelter and talked about the need to engage other social service providers. They talked about being hampered because of the overcrowded conditions, but the progress that they have made over the last six months. Ansbro said that he intends to establish and publish guidelines and rules for the behavior at the shelter. He also said that they were moving to limiting the number entering to 360 people with the eventual goal of 350 people. They did say that they want to address the situation with the line out front and may give out beds in the morning so people would not have to wait in line. In response to a question about the services at the shelter, Ansbro said, "$1.65 million is not nearly enough to shelter all these people."

The facility has averaged 410 people per night this year and 424 per night in 2001. There is no current plan for where the 40 to 60 and as many as 100 men over the 360 spaces available will sleep.

The Office of Homeless Services and the City of Cleveland have met with the Salvation Army officials to address some of these issues. There is growing pressure to convene a community discussion about the deteriorating situation at 2100 Lakeside.

In one positive development from the perspective of client rights at 2100 Lakeside shelter, the administrators of the facility implemented rules that restrict police, parole officers and bounty hunters from entering the shelter without a written warrant. The resident advisory committee and Coalition for the Homeless staff talked about the violations of trust and safety concerns raised by an armed officer in the building at night. Despite some alleged retaliation by the police the Salvation Army has stood firm on their policy.

Copyright NEOCH published in May 2002 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 54