Homeless Congress Notes from March

March 9, 2017---Cosgrove Center

Organized by NEOCH

This meeting of the Homeless Congress was dedicated to only one issue and that was the pending decision of who will be the social service provider to oversee the Norma Herr Women’s Shelter.  Ruth Gillett, Director of County Office of Homeless Services, (pictured here from a report on WEWS Channel 5) was in attendance to answer questions about the recommendation for Frontline to continue to administer the shelter.   There was a committee that is making a recommendation to the County Council for Frontline Services to continue to administer the Women's Shelter on Payne Ave.

Ruth Gillett, who organized the committee that made the recommendation, spoke about the process.  She could not give much information about the differences in the two proposals or the reasons for the results to the residents of the shelter who came to the meeting.   She was not able to give the scores provided by the committee of the two providers who submitted grant proposals.  She passed out two sheets of paper, one blue and the other yellow, which had information about the criteria considered in the decision process and the point system that determined the score for each agency that sought the contract.  Nothing specific just an overview of the process was distributed.

She gave a history of the issues at the Women's Shelter from her perspective and the process for issuing a request for proposals at the end of 2016.  Gillett said that only two agencies applied to oversee the women's shelter and only one to provide services for the men’s shelter.  The agencies that the County committee recommended were Frontline Services for the Women and Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry for the Men's Shelter.  West Side Catholic Center with NEOCH and Metanoia supporting their proposal was the other provider seeking the contract for the women's shelter and they were not selected.  Gillett could not give many details about why the West Side Catholic proposal was not selected except that it did not get as many points as the Frontline Proposal as subjectively submitted by the committee.

She further informed the members that the shelters were meant to be for people who need emergency housing, provide shelter on demand, and in this area (Cleveland) no one gets turned away.  In other words, the shelter is a safety net for someone needing emergency shelter or housing.  Over 20 years, “elected officials, citizens, and public funds collectively funded the men and women’s shelters” and now “provide for 800 beds between [the] three shelters [including overflow, 2100 shelter, Norma Herr, and North Point]."  She also stated that “there is a progression of improvement and staff level [at the Women's Shelter]."  She went on to inform members that over “400 agencies were informed about the RP electronically”.  She said there was also “10 social service providers” that were informed by mail.  They were informed about the “criteria for each section of the proposal," how the applicants would be scored, and the scope of work.  They had to follow a process and a “review committee” was set up to ensure that the proposals met these requirements.

Gillett said because of the “public interest surrounding the contract for the women’s shelter” there were seven people selected to be on the review committee and no one from her office voted on this committee. 

  • Chris Alexander, Cuyahoga County DJFS
  • Paul Porter of the Cuyahoga County DJFS
  • Karen Anderson Department of Children and Family Services
  • Michiel Wackers from the City of Cleveland
  • Dan Hinman from the United Way  
  • Michael Doud from the ADAMHS Board (Alcohol and Drug Addiction Mental Health Board
  • Leslie Perkul a representative for the O’Neill Foundation

The agency selected to receive the contract had to “provide a high level of services for people experiencing homelessness, project understanding and how it is to be measured, time frames, product management, qualifications, prior experience, and level of staff capacity," according to Gillett. She asked the rhetorical question whether the County would give the contract to a provider that was going to create problems for the County.  Gillett brushed off concerns about the current provider not keeping women safe or allowing violence within the shelter.  Gillett encouraged the Congress to invite Frontline Services to discuss the changes they intend to implement at the Women's Shelter going forward.

She went on to say that “one proposal scored higher than the other one."  Gillett said the above committee had rated the Frontline proposal "substantially higher" but could not provide details.   She stated that “no one is allowed to share the score.”  So, that information is not available, and will never be available.  Many of the women and advocates were not happy to hear that Gillett could not give more information about why Frontline had received the grant.  To many of the residents and the advocates who saw everyday staff issues, a lack of oversight, a lack of training, food issues, and a huge overflow problem, they wanted more details.  Most expressed disbelief that the committee took into account the current operations of the shelter and problems plainly visible every day were taken into account when deciding on the contract.

Nathan Manthley (former student at Cleveland Institute of Art) worked with the women who were residing at the shelter on a art project in the past.   Manthley was concerned about the current safety of the residents and asked if this was taken into account when the contract was awarded. There was also a concern that no homeless people were involved in the decision making.   Gillett did not answer.  One member felt that there was no communication between the people providing the services and the people receiving the services.  She informed Ruth that, in her opinion, there should be at least one person on the committee that has experienced homelessness involved in the voting process.  Ruth replied that this is not part of the process and contracting services in the communities in the past and now is their job.  She stated that there is “no bias” and that the committee “represented the public.”  This statement was met with a very negative response.  Another member stated that Frontline has proven for the last three years that they cannot properly provide compassionate and successful services.

She was asked if there was an argument or opposition to this decision, and she could not answer.  She was asked if Frontline was able to meet even the minimum requirement to even bid on the project.  Gillett did not answer.   She was asked if the committee ever toured the shelter or talked to the residents.  They had not.  Gillett was asked if the number of suicide attempts at the various shelters was factored into the decision. It was not according to Gillett. 

Included in the packets that were passed out to the members and participants was a “list of issues” that have been collected from residents of the women’s shelter in the past, and the “history of NEOCH’s work on trying to reform the women’s shelter."  These are posted on the NEOCH website here.  The last topic addressed was what the Homeless Congress will “do next with Frontline in charge of the women’s shelter for the next three years”.   NEOCH staff talked about its failed attempt to reform the shelter for over a decade.  Brian Davis said that NEOCH went "all-in" on this attempt to provide an alternative grant application by supporting the West Side Catholic proposal.  There is no where else to go for the NEOCH advocacy around the shelters. The homeless coalition has decided to step away from doing anything at the two entry shelters in Cleveland.  NEOCH believes that it only does harm to the agency and to the clients of these shelters. 

By Brian Davis and Ramona Turnbull

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