I Can’t Believe that I Pay Taxes to Support the Norma Herr Shelter

Commentary by Dan the Intern

     In business, the client is always right.  The goal is to ensure the customer is satisfied. That is simply business 101. When multiple clients consistently file complaints against an employee, a company seeks to remedy the situation or let the employee go. When a company receives multiple complaints about a problem, the company fixes the issue. A company is always afraid of losing their customer base. After spending over 2 months working for NEOCH as an intern, I have met many homeless individuals with complaints about the Cleveland homeless women’s shelter that, at first, I could not even believe. However, time and time again, after listening to the experiences of residents at the Norma Herr’s Women’s Shelter, the same narrative was told each time, the conditions there are awful. So, I ask, why is that the Norma Herr’s Women’s Shelter continuously has horrendous circumstances that no person should ever deal with? The conditions of the shelter are well known, yet Frontline Services, the organization operating the shelter, has done nothing.

     The food is awful, the staff is awful, the rules are awful, and, simply put, the conditions at the shelter are awful. At times, rocks are found in the food, staff ignores fights, staff often takes resources donated for the clients, those working jobs late cannot eat and often lose their beds, and these are just a few of the constant complaints at Norma Herr. The staff consistently mistreat clients, they walk in on women who are undressed, even the police officer on duty is not helpful and is often threatening the women.

     The problems at the shelter are numerous and create an environment that is not conducive to ending homelessness, but rather perpetuating the problem. The current staff is like a cancer, any new staff members are immediately introduced to a culture of despair among the staff. The worker’s union protects these horrible employees, even though their actions at any other company in America would have them immediately fired. The security at the front sets up an atmosphere similar to a prison instead of a shelter. Also, the shelter has many different populations mixed together that should not be together, such as those just released from jail, elderly, mentally ill, moms trying to get their kids back, and those that are currently using drugs/alcohol.

     These problems/complaints and many more are well known to the staff, Frontline Services, the County and City governments, and the social justice organizations in the area, yet NOTHING IS DONE. Frontline Services has done nothing to remedy the terrible conditions of the shelter. Why does Frontline Services allow this to continue? I can only think of 3 possibility. First, is it because they believe by making the conditions awful it will push people to leave? If so, they have clearly failed, the conditions at the shelter are anything but conducive to ending homelessness. Second, maybe Frontline Services believes that since the shelter was awful before they took charge that there is nothing to do? However, change can be made. 2100 Lakeside had conditions far worse than Norma Herr, but the conditions have drastically improved over time and since Lutheran Ministry took over. So, obviously Frontline can make the conditions better. The last possibility I can think of, is that they just do not care about making conditions better.

     If there is going to be a change to women’s homelessness, there needs to be a change at Norma Herr. Frontline must alter their business practices to create a shelter that will help, not harm, their clients, the homeless. I suggest that Norma Herr immediately implement three changes that will reform the culture and environment at the shelter to one that will empower homeless women to transform their circumstances. 1) They need to implement communities, similar to 2100 Lakeside, to prevent sober people from being surrounded by those under the influence, to prevent the mentally ill from having difficulties with those that do not understand their conditions, and to have those with disabilities to get bed rest. 2) Something must be done about the continuation of awful staff violating the rights of the clients. 3) Some incentives must be given to clients that give them reasons to seek jobs, drug rehab programs, and other beneficial programs.

     The current conditions at Norma Herr are appalling. This is not a secret, it is not as if these issues have suddenly been revealed. The problems with the shelter are well known and need to be inverted. No one, let alone those at Norma Herr, deserves to live in such an atrocious scene. These women are good people and should be treated as so. With these immediate changes, Norma Herr could really turn a new leaf. But, will Frontline Services do anything anytime soon? I like to think so, but history shows that they will continue to cause great harm to the homeless women’s community of Cleveland.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle September 2015 Cleveland Ohio All Rights Reserved