Letter to ADAMHS Board for Mental Health Shelter

The Homeless Congress picked as the single most important issue facing our community is that mentally ill people do not have a place to get the care they deserve.  They are placed in one of the two big shelters and cause disturbances and are taken advantage of on an almost daily basis.  NEOCH is not a mental health agency and we do not have trained mental health counselors or psychologists on site.  We are observers and we interact nearly everyday with severely mentally ill people.  None of us can figure out how it benefits the mental health of a person with something wrong with the brain to be placed in a facility with 200 to 400 others.  Does this help the person stabilize?  It just seems like a punishment that will only make their condition worse.

Here is the letter we sent on behalf of the Homeless Congress:

Dear Mr. Denihan

We have a great deal of respect for all you have done in your career even when we were sitting on the opposite side of the table during the White Administration.  We know that the community will miss your ability to manage huge bureaucracies and turn around government agencies struggling.  We are hoping that you will take the lead in finding a better place for severely mentally ill people from having to sleep in the two big shelters in Cleveland.  This is a critical issue especially because we believe that it is extremely damaging to the mental health stability of those struggling to be placed inside a facility with 200-400 people.  The current system is not healthy for those without mental health issues and especially those who are taken advantage of because of their mental illness.  We know that mentally ill people at the two entry shelters are exploited; they have their valuables including medicine stolen on a regular basis, and are abused and even raped in and around the shelters.  We know friends who have repeatedly attempted suicide inside the shelters, and we ask for your help in finding a smaller more caring place.

These vulnerable individuals are afraid of the large crowds.  They are frequently disruptive smearing feces in the bathrooms and cause disturbances in the shelters.  There are regular conflicts that demonstrate the personal care these taxpayers need but cannot find.  They deserve a trained professional staff to help them with their mental health issues.  We would never as a community expect an addicted individual to detox in a shelter with 200 to 400 people.  Why do we expect a mentally ill person to try to stabilize in the chaos of the shelters?  The shelters are unmanageable with all these untreated individuals with a mental illnesses and without personalized care.  The experiment has failed, and we are not building enough Permanent Supportive Housing to keep up with the demand.

A few areas that we will address in a white paper we are preparing on severely mentally ill people in shelter will look at:

  • Current homeless shelter situation has shown that those with severe mental illness are not able to fully integrate into presently available shelters.
  • Those with severe mental illness are unable to receive the health care they need in the current system.
  • Hospitals (ER and in-patient) even St. Vincent’s Psych ER end up admitting these individuals and discharging them shortly after; this results in heightened health care costs, arguably greater instability for the homeless individual (being medicated, then returning to homelessness where consistently continuing medications is unlikely).  Just stabilizing these individuals with medicine and then sending them out to the streets is not helping these individuals or the community.
  • Creating a separate shelter specifically for the severely mentally ill will decrease these problems and increase stability in the lives of severely mentally ill individuals.
  • Separation of shelter programs in other cities have shown its effectiveness; hospitalization rates decrease as a result of specialized shelters.
  • Within these shelters, narrative therapy has shown to be effective; this gives individuals control over their own lives, rather than feeling forced to do anything.
  • “Housing First” plans tend to work well, where attempts for transitional housing are made as soon as soon as an individual is admitted and adequate health care is consistently provided, but we need many more slots for the severely mentally ill.
  • 20-25% of homeless are mentally ill according to many national studies.
  • Rates of criminal behavior, contacts with the criminal justice system, and victimization among homeless adults with severe mental illness are higher than among housed adults with severe mental illness.
  • There are better strategies in other cities that could effectively serve the population.  Cleveland is far behind in providing a quality specialized care for those with a severe mental illness in a smaller setting.  Most of the cities in the United States do a horrible job serving mentally ill people who lose their housing, but there are some bright spots that we could learn from. 

We know that Frontline Services opposes a separate shelter for mentally ill people, and we know that whatever Frontline wants they get.  We understand that they are the largest organization in our Continuum of Care and are granted anything that they want.  We are hoping that with your retirement, you can look at this situation with clear eyes and not through the lens of one misguided organization more interested in a dream world in which a mentally ill person is immediately housed rather than real world we currently reside.  In the Trump/Kasich era, we are going to have mentally ill people who lose their housing and need emergency housing.  These friends are often misunderstood or face discrimination because of their disability which often leaves them without housing.  We need a better system that will provide a soft landing for individuals and then a quick return to housing.  We need a professionally trained staff who have experience in working with behavioral health issues to make this work.  Imagine the fear of being forced into a facility with 400 men or 200 women and having no where else to go.  It is horrible what we are doing to this fragile population in Cleveland.


 Brian Davis

Executive Director

 The ADAMHS Board were willing to listen, but we have not seen action toward creating a caring facility for those with a severe mental illness trapped in our two entry shelters. 

Brian Davis

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