If you give my organization a substantial pot of public money you should have a large stake in how that money is spent. When did our social service agencies become so arrogant that they are above regulation when they are almost all publicly subsidized? The City Mission can make a case that since they do not accept public money from government; they do not have to respond to government regulations. Except that supports the City Mission is from citizens who claim that money on their personal income taxes which in effect lowers the amount of money going to the government. Therefore, a portion of the money that goes to the City Mission comes out of the public coffers and thus should force them to abide by government oversight. So why is their, such a vacuum in government oversight of the shelters in Cleveland? Why can a shelter kick a person out for speaking and deny them a grievance hearing? Why do the shelters get away with treating theirs clients like dirt? Why does one shelter get recommended for federal funding when they tell their clients that if they say anything negative to the review team they will be evicted? Then the shelter follows that threat up with actually evicting a family that dared to speak up. Why do we continue to support programs that have little if any impact on the community?
In 1992, we came together to form the joint City of Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services to coordinate services locally. The office had the lofty goal of ending homelessness while to the contrary homelessness has increased every year of the existence of the Office. We have seen increases in federal and state dollars provided to Cuyahoga County to wage our war against homelessness, but have yet to make a dent. We have actually had 17 straight years of increases in people requesting shelter. If this were an actual war we would have surrendered years ago. And why oh why are the City of County not responsible to tell the homeless community how they are spending money intended to help with moving people to stability.
Throughout the last decade, we have seen scandals in both the Alcohol and Drug system as well as the Mental Health Community pointing to the need for greater oversight within those systems. Reform needs to also come to Homeless Services before a scandal shakes the confidence of the community partners and funders. The County Office of Homeless Services never reports to the homeless people directly. They never inform the constituent that brings all these millions of dollars to the community of the reason behind the decisions. OHS does a poor to dismal job of providing oversight of the shelters that exist in Cleveland. They make very few demands on these organizations, and there is very little stress on the system to the right thing. Very few providers give it a second thought to kick someone out in the middle of the night to sleep on the streets. It is easier to avoid the hassle of figuring out which party is right or wrong and just throwing out both parties creating the disturbance. Shelters know that there will be no consequence for their actions. If a homeless person does complain that they were unjustly barred from a facility the worst thing that will happen is that it will appear in the Grapevine. They never feel it in the pocket book. It seems that our society never wants to criticize the good Samaritan.
We do not want to make the life of a low paid social worker any more difficult than it already is on a daily basis. We do not want to put added stress on the life of a case worker who should be able to be trained to provide client based advocacy to more people into stable living situations. We should expert Executive Directors to demand respect of their clients from all employed by an agency. We need to require good fiscal oversight of people’s hard earned public money when it is used by not-for-profit organizations. And we should demand that someone within government is there to assure that all these things take place. When there is a problem they should be there listen to the concern of homeless people and respond. This does not happen in our community. It makes the life of homeless person even more frustrating, and can lead individuals to the decision to give up trying. We often hear, “What is the use ? There is no one who has the time or ability to help me.”
Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55