By Demetrius Barnes
Editor’s Note: Terrell Valentine is the case manager at the Bishop William Cosgrove Center administered by Catholic Charities. She has become a friendly face for the hungry and homeless in Cleveland. Valentine administers the pantry services, clothing program, and distribution of identification assistance at the Cosgrove Center. She can provide a shoulder to cry on and assistance pointing people in the right direction or provide a referral to another program that can help. Ms. Barnes interviewed Valentine over the summer of 2012.
Demetrius Barnes: When was William Bishop Cosgrove Center established and can you talk about what Cosgrove does, to those who are not aware?
Terrell Valentine: I believe in 1996 the William Bishop Cosgrove Center came about, they were feeding people in the St. John Cathedral in the basement. And they collaborated because the Bishop Cosgrove was using the Erieview Catholic School, an all girl’s school, some years ago. Catholic Charities bought the building because it had everything: it had the shower; it had the cafeteria; it had everything it would be incorporated to become a day drop-in center. Now, the things that we offer here are basic needs that are showers, meals (breakfast and lunch). We a have a clothing closet that’s open twice a month. We also offer Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on Tuesdays. We also collaborate with some outside initiatives including Care Alliance with Jim Schlecht having office hours here. A lot of people are familiar with Jim Schlecht, and he is here on Tuesday’s and Thursdays and he assists people with housing needs as well as birth certificates and Photo I. D’s. We also work with Toni Johnson who is a V.A. Representative here. She sees individuals here on the Third Wednesday of the month. And then we have the transformational art center where we work with Pam Meyers and Mike who work with individuals doing arts and crafts and that is Monday thru Thursday. I also provide individuals with I. D’s and Birth Certificates on Mondays and Wednesday, and we can assist individuals when funding is available with rent and utilities.
Cosgrove Center also does a Christmas Distribution which initially started in the 44114-44115 area. We limit the distribution of Christmas Toys to target one or two zip codes. You have like first come first serve, because everybody is struggling. We have gifts for children 0-12 years old we try to have gifts for children, we try to give them a couple of gifts per child. We also have Prevent Blindness Ohio here and they provide eye exams and glasses for those without insurance.
DB: What type of help do you offer to those in need and what type of people ask for help?
TV: I get people from everywhere although we focus our service on the 44114 and 44115 area zip-codes. I get calls from people from everywhere not just individuals who are in the shelters. We get calls from all over of people looking for ID’s and birth certificates. It is overwhelming the number of people who need help. I get people coming to Cosgrove who just need to talk or who just need to vent. I have people who kind of just follow up with me. Because even though I catch a lot of people in a bad place they sometimes come back in a good place. I get people who call me from all over [the region and] they are housed, they have moved on and go about their life.
DB: How long have you worked with Cosgrove and what is your background?
TV: I’ve been at Cosgrove for 10 years and I’ve been working for Catholic Charities for 12 years because I worked for St Martin De Porres prior to Cosgrove. Before working for Catholic Charities, I was at Goodwill. I worked with Cosgrove for 10 years, yeah and I came from Martin De Porres family center where I worked with women residential just released from prison. A friend of mine from Martin De Porres got a promotion and became program director here and asked me to come here and try working in this area. Prior to me doing this my mom actually worked here for 6 years as program director and asked me to come here as well.
DB: Do you have any cases where a person or family was wealthy then fell into hardship and ended up needing help, or are there most people here living in poverty?
T.V: We did have a person who was living at the Spot [a shelter for fragile populations] but he frequented the Cosgrove for meals. For whatever reason, he didn’t seem to fit and after he got to telling his story he had been a producer and a writer in California and he moved back in Cleveland. His family didn’t know where he was and the Plain Dealer did a story allowing him to reunite with his family. They reunited him and [tried] to take him back home. A lot of individuals that I meet live in poverty, but not everyone was living in poverty. I met one individual woman had a Phd in Psychology and she lost her job and she was living at the shelter. So you get people from all walks of life. It’s all kinds of circumstances and what I found today it’s just a lot of things that happen. You can lose your job; you can lose you home; you can succumb to drug addiction; your spouse can die and there are a lot of reasons why you might come to Cosgrove.
DB: Without using names, do you have especially touching or heart warming stories of people who have succeeded?
T.V: One in particular was an individual who had been homeless for 13 years. But had worked all his life but still was homeless. He did not have his Birth Certificate because he was born in Alabama and they had no record of his birth because he was born in a home and after a long time of trying to [secure] that document, he finally received it. Then he started to receive his Social Security for all those years. He still volunteers with us and he gives back to us.
DB: About how large are your caseloads during the course of a week when you are doing case management?
TV: What I do, I see [people on] a walk-in basis. I don’t necessary do appointments. Individuals just come in when it’s needed and I can see anywhere from 5-10 people on a day to day basis. What I’m doing over all is application assistance rental assistance and utilities Assistance and I do keep records of all that stuff. I do work with Jim Schlecht. I do work with some people that may have a case manager with Mental Health Services or Murtis Taylor [behavior health agency] but for some reason they haven’t been meeting with their case manager. We work individuals with the harder cases with some individual cases that are not having their needs met. I work with individuals on a one on one basis and [try to find them] services until they get their needs meet.
DB: What type of organization will you refer one to when trying to get help finding housing?
T.V: Jim Schlecht and I are both working with HousingCleveland.org because a lot of individuals that come to me do not have income and they cannot find a place for whatever reason. A lot of people aren’t familiar with looking for a house on the computer You tell me how much rent you are willing to spend and I get on the computer [to help narrow down your choices]. They can come in to Cosgrove if they need help filling out an application. The individual can bring their documents and it’s been most effective in helping people to get into housing. There is housing available especially for seniors.
DB: I know that you help people with I. D. why is this a big issue in the community?
T.V: After 9-11 that created a lot of difficulty for individuals. You just have to have your I.D and it have to be updated and it cannot be expired even though that picture have your face on it, it cannot be expired. You have to have that, in order to go into work. For housing you definitely need your I.D and your Birth Certificate. You know you need those items just to function and even with walking around in downtown Cleveland with no I.D that’s not a good thing because if the police happen to pull you over and you don’t have an I.D they can actually hold you for 24-48 hours until they find out that you are actually who you say you are.
DB: What is the mostly used service that is offered through William Bishop Cosgrove and what is it?
T.V: I think a lot of people come here primarily for meals the pantry are a big part. I’m working with Identification Crisis Collaborative at West Side Catholic that’s who actually give us the funding to do this. Even prior to me working with [West Side Catholic] some years back I use to do I.D’s and birth certificate through Catholic Charities, and it has always been a major issue. It has always been something that we’ve done and we’ve done on a larger scale. People need their documents to function in life especially when you’re trying to move forward. When you are trying to get out of a bad place or trying to get a job or trying to get housing, you need those things that’s the things.
DB: What makes Cosgrove such a special place for the hungry and homeless?
T.V: I think because everyone is treated like family here. Once you’re in here, we get to know people, we relate to the people not like this is a homeless person but just like this is a regular person. You are just a regular person [when at the Cosgrove], and I think treating people with that dignity and respect is key [to our success]. And I’m a firm believer, just for myself, you just treat people right, period. We will put you to work here you can go in the kitchen; you can help me on the floor; you can go in the clothing room; we put you to work to make you feel some self worth again.
DB: Is there anything else you would like to highlight?
T.V: I just think that Cosgrove is that place [you can go if you] are in a bad place. [It is a place] that you can come and if you can’t get all of your needs met, we may be able to help. We hope that you will leave here feeling worthy inspired and motivated.
Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle Cleveland, Ohio October2012 NEOCH