Local Agencies Reach Out

by Katarina Brkic

As bitter temperatures linger throughout Northeast Ohio, homeless people have found support through many local agencies and their outreach efforts, which are lending help to those in need.

            The PATH program, Projects and Assistance Transition from Homelessness, overseen through Mental Health Services, has focused on the needs of the homeless since the late 1980’s. David Bound, program director, has led PATH for the past ten years, and primarily deals specifically with mentally disabled homeless individuals.

            PATH’s main goal is to locate mentally disabled cases and bring them in to seek psychiatric help, or hospitalization if necessary. Outreach workers will search shelters and scan the streets for mentally challenged individuals, who are often battling many mental issues, including clinical schizophrenia. The incoherent state of these individuals disable them from making logical decisions, like seeking shelter when temperatures are unbearably cold. The mentally ill sometimes fail to think rationally, which eventually makes them a threat to themselves. The threat of loss of limbs due to frostbite or many other illnesses that come from being outside are all preventable with early intervention.

            Once an outreach worker locates a case, they begin what is called the “engagement process.” The worker will begin to form a relationship with the individual in an attempt to gain the individual’s trust so that help will be received rather then rejected. The individual is then advised on certain hygiene issues, and directed toward psychiatric help, hospitalization and meds if needed. The program will search for help with benefits or eligibility for Medicaid and they provide basic resources and housing. With a successful transition and stabilization, the client is then passed through to a Safe Haven and case management.

            According to Bound, the strongest point of the program is “the flexibility of the program”, the ability to pursue homeless cases with no time constraints. The ability to take the time needed for each unique case results in success. However, when asked about weaknesses Bound claims, “that sometimes there is just not enough time, and certain individuals will come back through the program.” Follow up services will continue after the person is housed, but sometimes they refuse continual treatment and a worker will then begin again from square one trying to help.

Volunteers of America

            Another agency offering outreach is Volunteers of America Northeast and North Central Ohio, which has served those in need for over a century. The mission statement at VOA “To aid and uplift humankind” is the backbone to numerous efforts and assistance conducted through members of VOA. With many facilities and programs throughout Northeast and North Central Ohio, the VOA Cleveland Walton Avenue Homeless Program Facility is the one that leads VOA’s effort to assist Cleveland’s homeless.

            In late January due to harsh winter conditions, the Walton Ave. 86-bed men’s facility was booked solid. As January was one of the coldest months this winter the facility was delighted to receive a shipment of 1,000 blankets from the Army Surplus in Philadelphia to help battle the cold temperatures. One young occupant expressed his gratitude for the shelter that has given him a place as a haven while he makes his adjustment from New York to Cleveland.

            The Walton Facility is a men’s shelter that helps those, like the young man from New York, get back on their feet and help individuals become self-sufficient. They tend to the homeless through three different shelter programs; street outreach, learning and health-related programs. The facility also has an emergency shelter program providing 20 beds to those in need, a transitional housing program, a holiday meal program, and other programs.

            The VOA mobile outreach and referral program actively seeks homeless people five days and nights a week. According to Lyle Draper, VOA’s shelter director, the program provides immediate assistance to homeless men. The program gives access to the facility and if those accommodations are refused then blankets, comfort, and a Street Card that lists all the free goods, or a hot cup of coffee and where they are distributed.

            According to Draper, operation at the VOA Walton Ave. shelter runs smoothly and with success but volunteers are always welcomed in order to serve the huge number of people. All types of donations are accepted and most are given back to those in need.

Veterans Affairs Outreach

            The homeless veterans are also provided with many support outlets through the numerous outreach efforts of the Veterans Administration. With a third of homeless males being veterans, the VA activities are extensive. In collaboration with other agencies the VA workers are able to provide needed help to veterans.

            According to VA member Pat Tomcho, VA staff members are placed in numerous locations. Currently there are 3 VA members at Mental Health Services to tend to the mental veterans, 4 VA staff permanently placed at the 2100 Lakeside Salvation Army Men’s Shelter, 4 people responsible for street outreach, and 2 outreach workers concentrate on women veterans. The ability to collaborate with other agencies has allowed the VA to better tend to the veterans, like providing beds especially set aside for veterans at chosen locations.

            According to Tomcho, VA’s outreach programs work with other agencies and work to build capability in order to respond to needs as they surface. As a result, the VA’s decision to outplace staff has succeeded in more efficiently responding to the needs of the veterans according to Tomcho.

            Without the efforts of the dedicated men and women and the coordination of the services, many more people would be lost on the streets alone and disenfranchised. However, the need of the homeless continues to increase and each agency pledges to work together to provide quick and efficient service to those on the streets.

Copyright to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio 2004 Issue 64