by Sarah Valek
A shelter can’t run properly without hearing from the people that actually live there. This is a well-known adage at 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter, where a meeting is held each month for residents to air their grievances, concerns or complaints about the facility. In what are known as Resident Council meetings, the residents get to do the talking. And the staff must respond.
Resident Council meetings consist of representatives from each of the six communities (and the overflow site) in 2100, one of the largest shelters for homeless men in the Midwest. The goal is to have every community represented so all issues can be heard. Brian Davis from the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless moderates in an open-forum style where anyone can speak up at anytime.
The meetings start out slowly until Davis asks about the quality of food. Then it’s on. Residents start out by decrying the overabundance of pasta and hotdogs and move on to other issues such as confidentiality, favoritism, staffing, transportation and a lack of resources.
After about an hour of grievances, the shelter director is called in to directly respond to all the issues. This allows residents to hear what action steps will be taken.
Resident Council meetings were started about three years ago by Davis as a way to address complaints with the shelter. Tommy Parker, an alumnus who now works at 2100, has attended the meetings since they began.
“I think the Resident Council is one of the best things they started here,” said Parker. He said certain complaints are handled immediately, but others need to be dismissed due to lack of funding, such as the excess of pasta and hotdogs.
“Sure it’d be great to have steak and potatoes sometimes….” said Parker.
Gordon “Ice” Mills is also a long-time Resident Council member. A representative of the E (Emergency) community, “Ice” said the meetings “help to a great degree, but in the same token, some issues brought to the front are not really priority issues.”
Discipline is a priority issue according to “Ice.” He said his complaints about the staff take weeks to get dealt with. But if a staff member were to complain about him, he’d get kicked out of 2100 right away. “Ice” mentioned that too many problems get lost in the run-around.
Parker noticed how the meetings have positively affected Resident Council members. He can see how the men start addressing issues in their own lives and how they start talking to more residents in their community. “They have a better understanding of how things go on [at the shelter],” said Parker.
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is starting to implement similar meetings at the Community Women’s Shelter. The men have have now met for four years and were instrumental in the creation of a Homeless Congress to meet the needs of the entire community.
As Parker said, “Until we get involved in something, we can’t change something.”
Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 79 December 2006-January 2007, Cleveland Ohio.