Homeless Hurt by Overcrowded Shelters & Cuts

Local News Updates:

The Politics of Convenience

            Cleveland Women’s Shelter: The County, over City Council member Joe Cimperman’s objection, is moving the women currently staying at the Cosgrove Center’s gymnasium to two buildings on Payne Ave. The Payne Avenue site is reported to be able to house 100 people, while on many nights the Catholic Charities site at the Cosgrove houses 125 women. The day 2100 Lakeside men’s shelter opened there were 25 more than the night the former shelter closed.

            The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless voiced opposition to the plan on two counts—the new facility is too small and the operator of the shelter will be a deterrent for some women to seek assistance. NEOCH, in discussions with the women, has voiced concern about the shelter provider being a mental health institution, and there are some women who will bypass the shelter because they are afraid of the stigma (See Grapevine #62). The Coalition staff spoke out against the shelter moving into such a small facility, and having to crowd into such a limited space. Both arguments were rejected by the County, who voted to go forward with a plan that they hoped would receive little opposition.

            The two buildings that the County has selected were already renovated with homeless dollars and so must be used for homeless programming for the next 15 years. The Coalition fought to preserve these buildings for homeless programs, but not to stuff hundreds of women into a small space. The Coalition also pushed for a mentally ill shelter for women, but not the entire entry-level shelter for women being run by a mental health agency. The facility needs renovations, including the installation of a sprinkler system into the two buildings.

Men Sleeping on the Back Docks

            The men’s shelter is suffering from large numbers of men showing up to sleep at the shelter. This is not a change, and the Grapevine has reported this overcrowded condition for the past two years. What has changed is that the Salvation Army has a strict 400-person limit. Men are sleeping outside the facility. They are sleeping everywhere. The local advisory board has decided that they will impose a 400-person limit or will walk away from the shelter.

            There were many plans floated by the City and County, but none came to fruition. Without a holiday miracle, this will be the first winter in over a decade that there is not shelter available to those that sought help. This along with the loss of the men’s drop in center on the East Side of Cleveland when the women moved into Cosgrove makes this the roughest winters in memory for homeless people.

Health Care Forum is First Step

            The Federation for Community Planning and the Center for Health Affairs hosted a series on healthcare issues for homeless people. The first forum demonstrated the potential for better services to homeless people with Dr. Mathias Vega from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Jennifer Williams from Pittsburgh, PA. Linda Somers of the local Health Care for the homeless, Care Alliance, also talked about the current environment for homeless people in Cleveland. The second forum was a goal setting session. Providers including the Free Clinic, Metro Health Hospital, and the AIDS Task Force talked about opportunities for collaboration and areas that could provide complete follow up care to low income or homeless individuals.

            This is the beginning of a community planning process to provide better medical services. The attempt is to get agencies to focus on key medical areas, and assure that there is proper follow up and convenient non-emergency room access to health care. Care Alliance is going to lead this process and has begun the discussions with community leaders.

Local police progress lost

            The City of Cleveland assigned one officer to the Downtown area to interact with homeless people and the local businesses after the attacks on Public Square. Officer Doug Nichols was beginning to win the confidence of people who choose not to go into shelter. He had identified a lack of restroom facilities downtown as a serious problem for homeless people. He had worked with local businesses to identify a place for a port-o-john as a temporary solution to the problem. The City had rejected the idea, but activists were working on other strategies to push the proposal.

            He was working with local businesses to assure that there was peace between the two populations who utilize downtown. Because of the budget cuts at the City, Officer Nichols was reassigned and the program was disbanded. The experiment lasted three months.

Human Rights Observers

            Every year the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless sends volunteers into the cold to walk the downtown and visit with people who refuse to go into shelter over the Thanksgiving weekend. This started during the White Administration, because the sweeps usually started during the Thanksgiving weekend to make shoppers feel safe. NEOCH staff and volunteers have gone to the streets of Cleveland to count and talk to the individuals and couples living outside.

            The theory is that Thanksgiving weekend is the lowest number of homeless people sleeping out for the year. Many families will take their relatives in during the holidays or individuals will go to the shelter, which usually has space available. So Thanksgiving weekend, the hardest of the hard core are on the streets. In 1999, NEOCH volunteers talked to 60 individuals. In 2000, there were 24. In 2001 there were only 6 people, and last year there were 10 people on the streets over the Thanksgiving holiday.

            In 2003, we saw another increase with 16 people sleeping outside between East 18th and West 6th St. downtown. The volunteers braved the constant rain and then blowing snow the next day and talked to as many as were awake. There were no reports of police or pedestrian harassment of homeless people, and most people just wanted to be left alone. The volunteers left hygiene kits and a copy of the local resource guide.

Copyright to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio December 2003 Issue 63.