Lakeside Shelter Continues to Make Progress

by Jeremy Sidhu

      The shelter for men at 2100 Lakeside Avenue has had its share of ups and downs. The shelter has over 500 people per night and has a group of residents who meet to discuss policy and conditions. The resident council has met at the shelter for two years. Most resident council members will agree that the shelter has been short-staffed and under-funded since its inception in 2000. Overall, the current status of the shelter reflects its resourcefulness in meeting new problems.

     In a summer 2004 resident council meeting at 2100 Lakeside Shelter, representatives from various communities within the shelter voiced their concerns, identified problems, and proposed resolutions.

     One important issue discussed at the meeting was the quality, and quantity, of the meals provided by the shelter. The representatives would like to see more nourishing and well-balanced meals.

     Some representatives attending the meeting, however, warned that if the meals are too well-proportioned, the men of the shelter may become less motivated to leave. Vernon, a representative of Community W (the community that helps men in their transition from unemployment to employment and, sometimes, employment to re-establishing themselves as functioning members of society), noted that, “If you make things too comfortable for an individual, then you open yourself up for exploitation because it is human nature to find the easiest way out.”

      Don, a representative of Community E (the community that accommodates men in need of emergency shelter) and a volunteer member of the kitchen staff, estimated that on an average day the shelter must prepare over 1000 meals. Duane Drotar, Director of the shelter, cited that the current food budget for the shelter is 19 cents a meal, per man.

     Other areas of service in which the representatives feel there is room for improvement include: creating a GED program or providing an avenue for the men to access such programs, bringing in companies to provide job training, establishing an onsite medical staff, and providing a library with one or two computer terminals (and lessons to teach individuals how to use a computer).

     While the idea of bringing computer terminals to a homeless shelter may sound absurd to some, Tommy, an alumni staff member who helps to manage Community S (the community responsible for placing volunteers into a work therapy environment), pointed out that the more programs the shelter has to offer, the more likely a man will be able to find the services he needs. Tommy wants residents to have access to all the services in the community in order to take advantage of to break the cycle of homelessness.

     Thus far, two programs that have achieved considerable success at 2100 Lakeside Shelter are Recovery Resources and Community S. Recovery in turn, lessens the load for the shelter and is the first step towards a better life for the men.

     Unfortunately, there is a long waiting list to get into nearly every program in Cleveland including the popular Willson Tower transitional housing program, the only exception being a fast track program at the public housing authority for men over the age of 50.

     Community S has seen a dramatic increase in the amount of men volunteering to support the shelter that supports them. The community has gone from accommodating 20 men to 69, which reflects a rise in the number of men willing to volunteer and better their lives. The men provide services to the shelter that would otherwise require payment by the Salvation Army. Vernon also mentioned that Community S affords the men the opportunity to recommit themselves to daily responsibilities.

     In addition to work within the shelter, Community S also takes volunteers for churches and other organizations that wish to outsource the men. Tommy would like to see more Cleveland companies and agencies get involved with the shelter, specifically to provide job training or further develop the skills of some of the men, “A company could come in, train some of the guys- at minimum wage- and have some of the best workers that they could ever have.”

      The meeting also yielded areas of improvement for managing the shelter. The representatives made it clear that people who do not belong in the shelter should not be allowed to roam the building at will. There are some men who enter the building for the sole purpose of socializing with those who have taken shelter there.

      This poses a problem in that the shelter is already bursting at the seams with the mass of homeless individuals it must accommodate. In addition, men, who enter the shelter but are not in need of the services provided there, may be connected to the persisting problems of theft and drug-trafficking in and around the shelter. This, in turn, has prompted representatives to call for more rigid guidelines for monitoring the entrance to the shelter.

     Other initiatives proposed by the representatives included administering urine tests in certain communities to men who have had a lapse in presence at the shelter and conducting a more thorough evaluation of persons coming to the shelter. The later deals primarily with the assessment of mental health, particularly demanding more in-depth queries of medical history and past/present mental conditions. The representatives of the communities also reached a consensus that the men of the shelter need better access to psychological services.

    The men are attempting to work on a good procedure for addressing grievances at the shelter. Who should be involved and how is the process administered? Grievance forms have been created for the men of 2100 Lakeside Avenue to document cases of infringement upon their human rights, but procedures for submitting the forms continue to be revised in search of the most beneficial recipient of them. These issues will be discussed at future meetings.

     According to the documentation of the form, a grievance is warranted by an act in which a person “feels his rights have been violated or feels he has not received proper treatment in any respect of the agency’s program.”

       Another aspect explored at the meeting is that of structural problems at the shelter. These issues include fixing water leaks in Communities S and T, dividing the shelter into smaller, more personalized units, and expanding the facilities of the kitchen to include access to microwaves.

     Overall, things at the shelter are getting better. Most importantly, however, the programs are working. Many men came to the shelter in broken spirits years ago and are anxious to start contributing their talents to society again.

      Tommy is living proof that the communities at the shelter work, but he remembers a darker time in the brief history of the shelter when its only purpose was to accommodate those in need of emergency shelter. At that time, there were no programs in place to actually improve the lives of the men seeking refuge there. In addition, both Tommy and Don point out that the shelter lacked beds (at the time they only had floor mats) and a kitchen.

   In most respects, the shelter has come a long way. Likewise, Cleveland has come a long way. Don believes the shelter serves its purpose simply because, “It helps the image of downtown Cleveland- we don’t have as many people living on the streets.”

   Tommy talked about the hired security once commissioned by the Salvation Army to keep watch over the shelter. Oddly enough, he said he feels much safer without the security guards around. Now, the men take it upon themselves to protect one another. Tommy reflected upon the past of the shelter and remarked about the present, “The greatest security this building has is its clients, those that know each other… those that understand each other.”

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 66 September 2004 Cleveland, Ohio