How did Cleveland Get So Many Sleeping Downtown???
We actually have seen a huge decline since 2001. We started seeing a much smaller number of people sleeping outside downtown for the past decade after 2100 Lakeside shelter opened. The strategies of providing spaces and services worked. The strategy of police arrests of the White Administration from the 1990s did not work, but after all the lawsuits we had begun to turn things around. We had put in place the proper shelters, drop in services, showers, and meals to attract people indoors. What has changed over the decade and what could be done to reduce the number further?
- Downtown clean up crew is working. These programs that have a social worker on the street along with crews on the sidewalk keeping the downtown clean do work. They can reach out to mental health workers and health care workers to intervene for people who are outside.
- Food is readily available. We have a compassionate and broad range of groups that want to help homeless people downtown. Couple this with the fact that the trained outreach workers are very good at what they do, and it is very easy to survive on the streets. This is not to say that the existence is not tough, but getting food, clothing and a blanket are not that difficult. This makes it easier to choose to stay outside while building a trusting relationship with professionals. We have a fair system to coordinate the distribution of food and blankets, but expansion of these services especially in dealing with people who have some health issue is critical.
- Outreach Services work and should be expanded. With coordination and regular communication we can build relationships with people who are unwilling to come inside. There may be a worker who can help with a veteran who is on the street, but cannot help with the individual's mental health needs. It takes coordination and communication among all the social workers and case managers to find the best path off the streets for those livng outside. Currently, NEOCH offers this assistance.
- Shelter rules are too strict. For many, the shelters have too many rules for an adult, and they choose to live with the relative freedom of the outdoors. No matter how unsafe it is or how bad the weather, they will choose to be outside. The reality is that in the shelters the individual has to fight for a bed, shower, clothing, and food, while sleeping outside the individual is sought out by church groups and people who want to give stuff to those who are outside. By creating a less restrictive environment, we could convince many to come inside.
- Assign Police to be the liaison to the homeless community. In the past, we were fortunate to have two police officers assigned as the liaison to homeless outreach workers. They had the cell phone numbers of outreach workers, and if there were any issues with homeless people they would intervene and call a social worker. They were sensitive to the issues of mental illness and could build relationships with those resistant to shelter. There are far too many crimes not reported to police, because those people staying outside are constantly harrassed they are unwilling to communicate with law enforcement.
There are no spaces for pets in shelter. There are many homeless people who choose to stay outside because they are not willing to separate from their beloved pets. We need programs that can provide foster care to pets while a person regains their housing or shelters that have a degree of privacy to be able to keep pets.
The weather in Cleveland changes frequently: There are always more people outside in nicer weather because the shelters have so many rules. When 2100 Lakeside opened, we say very few people sleeping outside over the past decade we have seen some growth outside. We have also seen more people sleeping on the near West Side of Cleveland. We will always see an increase in the summer, but no where near what we have seen in the 1990s.
We have been fortunate to have federal stimulus dollars: Over the past three years there was funding available to pay for rent through the federal stimulus program. These dollars will be reduced by one third in 2012 and by three fourths in 2013. If the economy does not pick up locally, we may have to start limiting access to the shelters this winter. The County has had to limit drop in services for women because of the large number of families and women who sought shelter in 2011, and we are concerned that this could happen to the men in 2012. The result is that many may chose to sleep outside instead of in the shelters.
- There is no facility in the community for couples or Moms and Dads to stay together. The entry shelters only allow one sex in their facility. So Moms and Dads usually have to split up when they enter the shelters. In all of Cuyahoga County there are only a few shelters that allow Moms and Dads to stay together and those are usually full. Most of the beds for intact families force the couple to prove that they are married by showing a marriage license. There are no beds in the community for couples to stay together, and so often they choose to sleep outside.
Steps necessary in order to significantly reduce the number of people sleeping outside in Cleveland
- Start a full time night time drop-in for people who stay outside: The limiting of the meal site/drop in center at the Bishop Cosgrove Center at East 18th and Superior to only offer lunch has forced many men onto the streets during the afternoon and evening. We have had a program that operates on the weekend during the winter called Metanoia. These are valuable services in the community that was forced to limit access because of funding. These services are not places to sleep, but offer a warm place and hot coffee and soup. Outreach workers and other programs can work with people while they are inside. These programs have proven success and should be expanded.
- We need to coordinate the distribution of food and move people inside. We do not support the limiting of the distribution of food by government, but the groups should agree among themselves to not duplicate services and provide some coordination. We know that we cannot restrict churches from giving out food, but we certainly can make it more humane. We could offer a place that religious and civic groups could go inside to offer food. We could also coordinate when church groups bring food downtown so that there is not the duplication and excessive amounts of waste and trash.
- The City or County need to reassert authority over all the publicly funded services. We need to urge the City of Cleveland or Cuyahoga County to re-establish control over the shelters. The shelters need to return to their roots of serving those in need out of mission and not just based on funding. Start utilizing volunteers, community teams of support, work together on solutions with a minimum standard for getting into shelter. There need to be guidelines in law on access and discharge issues. The shelters need to maximize the use of the resources and space that they have available. We should not have the ability to pick and choose who we serve and exclude so many from the shelters.
- We cannot do anything about the weather. We need to recognize that it is going to turn extremely cold in the winter and there are extremely hot days in the summer. We need to plan for the increase in people requesting shelters on those days, and need a plan for extreme weather days that is available publicly.
- There must be guaranteed access to shelter with no one being turned away. Both entry shelters for women and men should accept anyone coming to the door even without an overflow shelter system. The main shelter needs to accept everyone who comes to the door. This has been policy in Cuyahoga County for 20 years, and has saved many people's lives. We need a place for people to go when the shelters are full. Just a place with beds and bathrooms while we work to close all of the shelters. With better coordination and a demand that the rest of the shelter fully utilize their space, the entry shelters could serve a more manageable number of guests.
- Cleveland needs a central resource center that can direct people to the proper path off the streets. The Veterans Administration is developing a central intake point on Euclid Ave. in the fall of 2012. We believe that this is a needed improvement in the system and should be developed for all homeless individuals. We do not see that a central entry point in a shelter is a good idea. We believe that a central resource center in a shelter is not convenient or attractive to those resistant to shelter. This could be a venue for lawyers, housing experts, identification specialists, entitlement experts, and others to come to offer assistance.
- We need to build trust with the men who sleep outside. NEOCH suggests approaching community leaders downtown, and ask them to pay for the fixing of the drinking fountain on Public Square and to provide a couple of restroom facilites for tourists and homeless people (placed out of the way) to alleviate some of the issues with a lack of facilities downtown. In exchange for these conveniences, ask that the guys refrain from publicly drinking alcohol and take on nightly clean-up duties to keep the space clean. This would be a first step to re-integrating them back into society, and this could happen immediately. We also need to convince the City to designate two officers downtown to work with homeles groups, attend meetings with the homeless community and build relationships with homeless people.
- Construct a Pay to Stay Housing facilities back in Cleveland: There are as many as 40% of the men’s shelter population that work or have some income. Unfortunately, in Cleveland we only have a small number of places available to people who have problems signing a lease, but can afford to pay rent. We propose starting a not for profit Pay to Stay that could respond to the emergency housing needs of homeless people. While there would be costs associated with starting a Pay to Stay, it would be much cheaper than a shelter and would be self sustaining after the renovation and startup costs. If they are run by charities, this would take away the profit motive for exploiting people that has been an issue in the past where facilites were deplorable and exploited the men who lived in these buildings.
- We need to address the Alcohol and Drug Problems and the lack of funding for these projects. Sometime, we are going to have to address the alcohol problems that exist in our community. We can give out tickets for public intoxication or open container, but that will not solve the problem. A couple of suggestions would be to push or sue the makers and distributors of alcohol, and force them to pay for residential treatment. This push would be similar to the tobacco lawsuit, in that they produce and market an addictive substance that, used as directed, causes some to over indulge. Take what we learned from the tobacco case, and use it to get public health dollars into the city for substance abuse. At this time, we are almost to the point that the only residential treatment that is available in the community is through the courts. Demand the state of Ohio funded Alcohol and Drug Board to provide residential treatment to all of the people in need. They have failed miserably to address the problems of homeless people with addiction problems with little focus on the residential needs of homeless people. We need to find safe spaces for people to begin their recovery. We need a "wet" facility in the community in which people who are actively using to start their journey back to sobriety. Right now there is no place in the community to refer someone who is using to go. We need to recognize that part of addiction recovery is relapse. Where do people go who are struggling with their sobriety?
- Fund a program to employ panhandlers. Local downtown leaders should support a pool of resources that local non-profits could compete for to move panhandlers into jobs. The group that is most successful will be awarded the funds on a long term basis. It could be providing uniforms and badges to street newspaper vendors or micro-enterprise projects, or paying for licenses to sell hot dogs or crafts, or any other innovative idea. There are plenty of good ideas out there, but not enough funding. We know that laws against panhandling does not work, but we should look at other ideas.
I know that these are sometimes counter intuitive suggestions, but I am sure that this would reduce the number of people downtown to unnoticeable numbers. This will have a significant impact on panhandling and the image of the City. These NEOCH proposals are not very expensive, and would have a huge impact on the problems downtown. The strategies that most cities have taken are expensive have failed.