Coordinated Intake Hurts Privately Funded Shelters

Photo by David HagenThe Plain Dealer did a really nice overview of the problems homeless people are facing if they go to a private shelter before they go to the Central Intake site in Cleveland.  This is a huge issue that has brought Republican and Democratic lawmakers together to question this policy.  Democrats Fudge, Kaptur and Senator Brown as well as Republican Rob Portman have all written to the federal agency funding all these services to ask for a clear explanation. 

The policy started last year when folks at the City Mission and their female/family program known as Laura's Home were informed that if their residents spend even a night in the shelter before going to Coordinated Intake run by Frontline Services,  the County will declare the individual no longer homeless.  They will have to leave Laura's Home and become homeless again before they will be able to access any publicly funded shelter or service in Cuyahoga County.   We filed a complaint on behalf of three residents and had one additional resident contact us over the last eight months.  The Coordinated Intake and County refused to respond to the complaint.  We then went to the federal government at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to seek help for our clients and were denied any help.  HUD staff found that the County policy was consistent with the draft rules issued by HUD. 

All of this raises many questions.   Why would these women not be at least given the chance to access services if they were at Laura's Home before the Central Intake rules went into effect?  Why are taxpayers being denied public services because they did not follow rules that they did not know were required?  Why is the County annoying the privately funded shelters with this rule when the City Mission and Laura's Home have been critical component of the safety net? Why is the Federal government not providing stricter rules that would prevent discrimination of residents of religiously based shelters that do not rely on public tax payer dollars?

Recently, a federal interpretation of a rule regarding the use of public and private, faith-based shelters has left some homeless Clevelanders seeking assistance from emergency shelters worse off than before they entered shelter.  The federal interpretation of this rule states that homeless people must first contact the county’s central intake office before going to an emergency shelter in order to keep their status as a homeless individual. This status allows a person or family access to county resources for the homeless.  Because of this federal misinterpretation, an individual or family who, after becoming homeless, seeks emergency shelter from a non-county shelter such as City Mission, St. Hermans, or Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center, without first going to central intake forfeits their status as homeless and consequently loses access to all county resources for the homeless. Many times, those seeking assistance from emergency shelters are unaware of this rule and therefore unknowingly break the rule and lose access to these resources.

Progress on amending this misinterpretation has been made in the last few weeks. On April 23rd, the website of U.S. Senator Rob Portman published a press release describing the efforts of Senator Rob Portman, Senator Sherrod Brown, and Congress member Marcia Fudge to inform the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) of their concerns with the misinterpretation of this law that is causing homeless Ohioans difficulty.  The three lawmakers urge HUD to make certain that homeless people are not denied resources they need to become self-sufficient simply because they accidentally chose immediate shelter over future assistance by first going to an emergency, faith-based shelter.

In the press release, Portman states, “Faith-based organizations across Ohio like Cleveland’s City Mission play a crucial role in helping struggling families get back on their feet. I’m concerned by any regulations or interpretation of regulations that push Ohioans back onto the streets, instead of giving them the help they need from organizations like The City Mission.”

Additionally, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has also published an article on April 23rd discussing the misinterpretation as well as Fudge, Portman, and Brown’s recent efforts to urge the HUD to amend the problem.

The future of this issue is not yet clear.

by Brian Davis and Allison the BW intern

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