Fair Housing in the Shelters?

County Office of Homeless Advisory is going to Decide this Week if Fair Housing Rules should be Displayed at the Shelters in Cleveland

It only came to our attention that residents of the shelter had rights under the historic civil rights era Fair Housing Law in 2012 with the HUD release of the HUD LGBT rule.  This marked the first time that HUD was clear that shelters had to respect the rights of transgender homeless people who were in need of a place to live.  We have been assured by County staff that the shelters are fully in compliance with the rule, but I am not sure.  NEOCH has asked to have the rules that the shelter are following with regard to LGBT individuals and displayed so that both homeless individuals and staff can follow?  If a homeless individual has LGBT rights under the Fair Housing rules, do they have other fair housing rights?

My questions are:

  1. Will a veteran or domestic violence victim with a doctor ordered comfort animal for their PTSD be accommodated in our shelters? 
  2. Will a lesbian couple with a child be served in our family shelters despite the religious objections of a couple of our social service providers? 
  3. Will a gay couple be able to live together in our shelters with private rooms?
  4. Is there a gender disparity within our shelters since there are more services available at the Big Men's Shelter when compared to Community Women's Shelter for the disabled individuals?
  5. Are we violating the Violence Against Women Act protections if there are repeated complaints of male sexual harassment at the women’s shelter that are not investigated and acted upon? 
  6. Are we providing a reasonable accommodation to those with a documented physical disability if the only bed available is on the top of a bunk and so they have to sleep on the floor?  These would be clear if we all agreed to the rules and they were displayed. 

There are so many circumstances that are encountered by our local shelters and we don't seem to have a protocol for how we deal with these issues.  We have a Coordinated Intake/Central Intake point that makes the referral to shelter, but we do not seem to have a County wide policy.  We have heard that it is too complicated to display because there are many interpretations.  It would make it easier for all of us if the County just oversaw a consistent fair housing rule that we would all follow.

Without the rules outlined it is up to each homeless person to have to go to court or go to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission or the Department of Housing and Urban Development in order to assert their rights.  Can or will the City’s Office of Fair Housing accept a claim on behalf of a homeless person?  This seems like a chaotic approach to establishing policy locally.  We need rules for everyone to follow.

We have heard from some that only the LGBT fair housing rule is in place for shelters all the other fair housing rules are not applicable.  Could we get some clarity on this with HUD then post those rules?  Even if this is the case, I am sure that LGBT individuals who become homeless would appreciate knowing that they have rights? 

CMHA has done a really nice job in implementing all the fair housing rules including the LGBT rules over the last three years, why can’t the shelters get together to come up with rules that we can all live with?  As it is right now, each shelter has to decide at what point they are willing to go to avoid lawsuit.  It would be nice to get the County to weigh in with some interpretations based on the real inventory of shelter beds locally. 

The Fair Housing Law has opened up housing to minority populations and families like no other law.  We believe that the fair housing laws can have a similar impact on the shelters.  It could be used to assure that homeless families do not have to split up or disabled individuals are able to recieve doctor ordered bedrest.  We believe that this will help people move more quickly to more appropriate locations.  It is not going to look good in the broader community if publicly funded shelters are determined to be violating the rights of families or disabled individuals.  We are urging the County to avoid the headache and put the rules in place for all to follow.

Ignorance of the law is no defense in court, and if LGBT Homeless have fair housing rights why don't disabled and women have similar rights?   We should not force each individual to assert their rights in the shelter and have each shelter have to defend against these “unclear” rules.

Brian Davis