I have been talking about this slow crawl to the elimination of transitional shelters from the "continuum of care" in Cleveland and around the United States for years. The Plain Dealer posted a story today about the loss of funding to Y-Haven. NEOCH has been saying that the transitional programs will disappear for years and trying to get all the shelters to oppose these plans. I always thought Y-Haven would be the last one left to survive, but I was wrong--there are three left.
Back in 2010, NEOCH approached the shelters to say that there is a danger with HUD funding changes that will fundamentally disrupt homeless services locally and the groups should come together to oppose these plans. We wrote to all the major shelters (except Mental Health Services) with this pitch:
There are new rules for receipt of funding being driven by HUD, these rules are impacting other public and private funders and current service providers. Service providers and advocates need to work together to ensure that the coming changes won’t impact our constituents ability to access services. We feel that if we do not all come together that some needs of the homeless in our community may be overlooked. The expertise in case management, substance abuse treatment, and mental health treatment that we have perfected in Cleveland may be lost because of financial constraints, change of focus and the lack of a clear plan.
Our plan was that we should set aside competition and our previous disputes in order to get all the shelters to come together to oppose the County plans around funding Permanent Supportive Housing with emergency services money. The shelters felt that I was too controversial and a thorn in the side of the County and would not come together around a strategy to oppose the County. Many of those programs are now out of business or hanging on by their finger nails. We made the case that this will lead to one shelter closing every year to the point that in the end there will be no funding left for shelters. It was not that we opposed funding for Permanent Supportive Housing. We just felt that the community should not use money taken from the shelters to build this housing. After all, a permanent supportive housing unit does not turn over while a shelter bed turns over every 40 days and a transitional bed turns over every 6 or 7 months. In Cleveland, we closed:
- Family Transitional Shelter was a scattered site owned by a non-profit. (~30 spaces for families--60 beds total with kids)
- East Side Catholic Shelter both transitional and emergency shelter for women and families (24 units for families or 44 beds)
- Cleveland Housing Network Transitional for families (15 beds)
- Triumph House for families 25 rooms for families (50 beds)
- Domestic Violence Center (closed one shelter for families or single women) (40 beds)
- Shelter for Mentally Ill Men at 1701 Payne (40 beds plus overflow)
- Railton House transitional shelter for men closed last week (56 beds)
- VOA Youth Transitional Shelter on Walton lost funding and will soon reduce size (20 beds lost)
- Transitional Housing Inc changed to PSH was previously for single women (61 beds)
- Templum House closed and merged with the DVC program (community saw loss of three actual Domestic Violence shelters for women and families to one) (8 beds lost)
- Continue Life both transitional and emergency shelter for pregnant women (18 total beds) in two buildings.
- Abdenour House for people with AIDS (5 beds).
- Hitchcock Center stopped being a shelter and became a treatment program--must pay to stay (28 beds lost)
- University Settlement had two transitional shelter building and were the first program lost locally. (18 beds)
- Upstairs Program operated by Care Alliance for women with a mental illness (16 beds)
Total Beds lost 479 over last dozen years in Cleveland. We hope that Y-Haven will find the funding to continue and we will not lose those additional 113 beds. On the positive side we got Zacchaeus House as a replacement for Family Transitional with the ability to serve 14 families in scattered sites and not fixed units that are owned by the agency. The Salvation Army Women's shelter has room for more families (16 additional units). We also have Seasons of Hope which is a small house that can serve about 4 to 6 women in a no questions asked facility. So, we lost 479 beds and gained 35 beds for an overall net loss of 444 beds locally. We did not lose that money from the federal government. In fact, we have much more money going to housing for homeless people than we did in 2000. This money goes to Permanent Supportive Housing (620 new fixed units and about 300 new housing vouchers) and the Rapid Rehousing program which provides three months of rental assistance to families.
We have fundamentally changed how we serve homeless people in Cleveland from a temporary shelter bed system to a housing program. We lost other beds that were reserved for mentally ill people and addicted folks, but those were not really shelter beds. This was the expectation pushed by HUD and dutifully implemented by Ruth Gillett at the County Office of Homeless Services. After all, they are the Department of Housing and Urban Development and not the Federal Shelter Department. The problem with this strategy is that there are a lot of people who need the level of care that they get in shelter that they do not get by being placed into housing. The reality is that housing is much more expensive than shelter so you can only serve a fraction of the number you can serve in a congregate living facility. They claimed this was all based on research and economics, but these "consultants and experts" said the same thing when they brought the concept of transitional shelters to Cleveland in the 1980s.
The HUD/Ruth Gillett strategy would have worked if the economy had recovered with more jobs available locally or if disability payments would allow people to pay for an apartment or if we were building more housing locally and rental costs were falling. None of this happened and so we are at a point that there is only one place left for single women struggling with housing. We have a system overwhelmed with families looking for a bed to the point that we have an overflow system for families. We also saw a record number of homeless kids this last school year at the Cleveland Metro School District. I am afraid we are moving back to the days when there are 60 guys sleeping on Superior Avenue. If we loose the men's transitional programs, the shelters will become extremely overcrowded similar to what we saw in the 1990s in Cleveland. Or will we put time limits on shelters, open the basement of the welfare building or garage floors, or will we begin to turn people away on a daily basis? Someone needs to fund temporary spaces for people struggling because they got kicked out by their spouse or parents. Some agency needs to see the value of places for people to live as they recover from a major health issue. Where do all the sexually based offenders live when they are branded with a scarlet letter for life?
Y-Haven had its issues, but was extremely valuable to the hundreds of men who need time to recover. When a guy hits bottom and loses everything, he needs some time to get his life together and rejoin society. The County and HUD are telling him, "too bad; sleep on the street for a period of time." It is tough to recover, take a shower, find a job, type a resume, recharge your phone all while sleeping on Superior.
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