Continuum of Care Report Still Needs Improvement


Commentary by Brian Davis

First, we must congratulate the County and the Review and Ranking committee for a few improvements in the process over last year.  We made a series of recommendations in 2004 (Grapevine 66), and two were acted upon.  Last year nearly all projects received an “A” on an academic scale.  This year half of the projects that received a “C” were actually put on probation.  This may seem like a trivial matter, but we have complained about two of the projects for three years and heard only silence from the County.  We certainly support the probation of these projects, but we still wish that homeless people were more involved in the remedy for these three shelters.  The people who stay at the shelter know when there is a problem and can tell if things have changed, so go interview them.

We also appreciate the attempt to have a community meeting with homeless people to discuss the Continuum of Care.  It did not quite work out as expected, but we certainly appreciate the effort.  It is interesting to see the comments that the Committee received, especially with regard to the Community Women’s Shelter.  Someone should go back and re-read those from this summer and apologize to NEOCH for questioning our advocacy.  Next time, if you want homeless input, someone with some power over funding just needs to stand up at a meal site and say, “I have authority over all of the shelter’s funding, and would be interested in hearing your comments, both good and bad, about any programs that serve homeless people.”  Don’t rely solely on people being willing to write problems down on paper next year, as some homeless people may fear recrimination, or be unable to write; but thanks for the effort anyway.

Now, for the problem from this year:

1) The reviewer of the projects should be consistent so that each shelter and service is held to one standard.  Relying on series of volunteers does not work.  It leaves too much to chance.  Some programs get a tough reviewer, others get a reviewer that has a relationship to the program being reviewed.  This process does work and needs to be scrapped.  Hire a professional reviewer to get a consistent standard that will put all the programs on equal footing.  To make things easier, all the other funders in the County should collaborate on a team to supervise the process including the City, County, foundations, United Way, Alcohol and Drug, and Mental Health Board.  Each of these entities has a stake and an expertise in oversight of funds, and should all review the program at one time in order to streamline the process.  Involvement by conflicted volunteers is useless and taints the results.

2) Again, no currently homeless people are involved in the process.  We have recommended this for years, but the committee must finally begin to pay a few homeless people to be reviewers.  Each person at the table has a job and part of their job is attending these meetings.  If the committee is serious about homeless participation they must pay a small stipend to cover the cost of a homeless person taking off work and transporting themselves to the meetings.  Also, formerly homeless people who work at a shelter or a social service agency cannot be considered to be representing the homeless community anymore.  Additionally, the meetings should take place at the shelters so that homeless people can watch the process.  For too many years the workings of the committee have operated in secret. 

3) Again, there is no time for the Office of Homeless Services Advisory to consider an informed vote on the process and the recommendations to HUD.  For years, the Advisory gets the results with two weeks left before the application is due.  There is no time consider the reviewer projects or read all the information submitted or to thoroughly consider the new projects.  Why keep up the fantasy that the Advisory Committee has any involvement in the process?  There should be a non-conflicted steering committee that supervises the process, but does not actually conduct the reviews, that meets throughout the process to approve it.

4)  HUD has very much taken away the funding of local priorities with this horrible “chronic” homeless initiative, but we still need to talk as community about local funding priorities.  There is no longer any money available from the Federal government for new projects, especially those that do not involve housing for long term homeless, but we should still have that conversation.  We certainly hope that Heading Home planning process will be the beginning of this dialogue.

5)  The committee needs to spend some time reviewing conflicts of interest.  No one from the Coalition was invited to the Review committee.  We did not have a program up for renewal funding, and we have a policy against serving on any board that we could be asked to review.  There were former board members, partners, and close associates that served on the review committee, and were even assigned to conduct the review of those programs so why was the leading advocacy organization not asked to participate?

6)  Please respond faster next time.  Most homeless people are only in the shelters for a few months so they need some urgency in reforming the services.  NEOCH warned the committee three years ago about Zelma George and East Side Catholic.  It should not take so long to recognize problems.  As a community, we only have a short time to build a relationship with a homeless individual, and that time is lost when a shelter is in chaos or consistently violating the rights of residents.   Those funding the shelters need to respond quickly to complaints, and set up a process to respond to grievances.  They also need to seek out comment on the services more than once per year.

7) The committee receives plenty of data, but does not seem to take into account the successes or shortcomings of the projects.  Why not reward the organizations that are having a higher degree of success with additional funds or local funds a local match?   With this recommendation, we also recognize the need to eliminate the cream skimming that tales place within the shelters.

8)  We still have never weaned any of these groups off the federal gravy train.  That train wreck will arrive at the station next year, when we do not even have enough funds to renew all of our projects.  NEOCH suggested years ago that we pick out one or two projects a year to find alternative funding.  The County never did accept our advice, and next year what are we going to do?  It is time to start an emergency plan for how to fund all these shelters and services with federal resources getting scarce.  Thank you so much for the improvements in the process, and we ask that the Committee act on our concerns this year.  We want to work with the County to assure that all shelters are the best places for everyone who enters and that everyone has the opportunity to move toward stability.

Copyright: NEOCH Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio- December 2005/Issue 73