NEOCH Still Concerned About a Specialized Shelter for those with a Mental Illness

                                                      July 5, 2017

 Valeria Harper     

Vice President of Operations

ADAMHS Board   

2012 West 25th St. 6th Floor

Cleveland, Ohio  44114

Dear Ms. Harper: 

 In January of this year, the Homeless Congress voted to prioritize advocating to open a separate shelter for homeless individuals, who have mental health challenges, in order that they can get the help they need.  At the meeting on May 4, 2017, we were able to briefly discuss funding options, limitations, and concerns about opening a separate shelter. Furthermore, we attempted to show the need for a separate shelter for those with a severe mental health challenges.  Rosie Palfy from the homeless congress, who was in attendance at that meeting, informed us that Mr. Denihan was very concerned about this issue after having a conversation with him.

 We wanted to see what the next steps are for the Homeless Congress to accomplish our goal of improving services to those with behavioral health issues and find themselves without housing.  We know that those with mental health issues are exploited, have their valuables and medication stolen, and are abused and/or either raped in and around the shelters.  When residents are suffering from a mental health crisis and are hospitalized, they are medicated and released back to one of the two main shelters. Often times, there is no professional staff to help them with their mental health issues, such as   supporting them in consistently taking their medications.

 The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless believes that the shelters are unmanageable with all these untreated individuals with mental health challenges, who do not have access to personalized care.  They deserve trained professional staff to help them with their mental health issues. NEOCH has received multiple complaints about the current state of the shelters, particularly, the Norma Herr women’s shelter.  Furthermore, we are concerned about the recent comments in a County Council meeting made by Eric Morse of Frontline Services, who is the current provider for Norma Herr.  He stated that he “opposes opening a separate shelter” for this vulnerable population because the women at the shelter “all” have either mental health issues or drug and alcohol issues. He continued saying, “if a separate shelter is needed for residents that have mental health or drug and alcohol issues, there is already a shelter in place for that and it’s the Norma Herr Women’s Shelter.”

 We do not want our important concerns to get lost in your current transition as the new CEO.  We would like to invite you to present to the Homeless Congress. Furthermore, we are willing to support you in this endeavor.  We can work with you on a proposal to your Board.  We can partner with you on a presentation to the County Council.  Thank you for your consideration and we hope that you will make this a priority during your tenure as CEO. I look forward to hearing from you.

 Sincerely,

 Christopher Knestrick

Director of Operations

Editor's Note: This issue is a priority for the Homeless Congress members and will be discussed at the Homeless Congress meeting on July 13th at 1 p.m at the Bishop Cosgrove Center.

Women's Shelter Update on Contract

We posted a series of updates on the Women's Shelter contract in February with the Scene article here then we had a discussion at the February Homeless Congress (which Councilman Dale Miller attended). We posted the notes from the March meeting when it was announced that the County was going to select Frontline to continue to run the shelter over the upstart West Side Catholic.  Basically, there has been tremendous debate about the conditions at the shelter and mistreatment by the staff (documented here).  The County held a hearing in May 2016 and nine brave women testified about the need for reform.  The County issued a Request for Proposal in October and extended the deadline until January 31, 2017.  Two providers stepped forward to respond to the proposal: West Side Catholic and Frontline Services and sought the $1.4 million contract to run the shelter on Payne Ave.  Full disclosure: NEOCH and Metanoia supported the West Side Catholic proposal and would have benefited if they were awarded the grant.   This took a lot to convince all three groups to take a risk on such a huge project.  The West Side Catholic Center is an amazing group serving the Ohio City/Clark Fulton neighborhoods and the Women's Shelter is a massive expansion.  The NEOCH Board which does not do direct services had to be convinced to go in on a shelter proposal. 

The County assigned a committee of eight people to make the decision and we found out today that they gave Frontline 84 points out of a possible 100 while West Side Catholic received 54 points out of 100.  One of my issues is that they did not measure important items such as overflow, security, number of calls by safety forces, suicide attempts, and keeping people safe; while they did give many points for philosophical issues such as "Understanding the scope of the Project?"  It is providing shelter and food to women! What is there to understand?  We are not landing a spacecraft on the moon.   Also, it was strange that SEVEN white people and 0 African Americans made a decision about the future of the women's shelter which serves 75 to 80% African Americans in Cleveland.  But that is your County Government in action. The committee was:

  • 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
  • With Ruth Gillett guiding the entire process but not voting.

The traditional way that legislation is passed is that it is introduced and then sent to a County committee and then read two more times before a vote is taken.  We had informed the residents of the shelter that the legislation would be introduced on April 25 then sent to the Health and Human Services and Aging Committee on May 3 for a hearing.  We told the women to target May 3 for comments and passed out a flyer at the Homeless Congress (with County staff present) as well as distributed this flyer in the shelter.  The women were planning to make posters and protest outside the County building as well.  Based on the last two Homeless Congress meetings, the residents really don't like this decision and were very angry at the County staff for making this decision. 

In a surprising "dark side of the force" move the County staff has decided that this is an emergency and will pass it at the April 25th meeting without sending it to committee.   "Whereas, it is necessary that this Resolution become immediately effective in order that critical services provided by Cuyahoga County can continue..." Ruth Gillett did not warn the women at the Homeless Congress meeting that this may not be discussed at the May 3 meeting since it will have already passed.  It is easier to get a response from the County at a committee when there are only a few things on the agenda.  There are two dozen contracts at the typical County Council meeting.  It is unlikely that they would have been able to change any minds, but the women wanted a chance to vent.  We can look at the hundreds who showed up to multiple meetings to oppose the Q renovation deal and could only sway three Council members to vote "no". 

The new contract will also mean a $6,202 per month raise for the current provider Frontline Services.  So, even after all these problems came to light, they will get additional tax payer dollars to run a substandard shelter.  They will be paid $124,454.58 per month for the next 31 months to run the shelter on Payne Ave. until December 2019.  Last year the shelter was paid $118,252.83 per month (which is exactly the amount that West Side Catholic was asking for to run the shelter). 

If a local taxpayer were to go over at 8 p.m. to the shelter on Payne Ave. and then ride over to the West Side Catholic shelter on Lorain Ave, there is no way they would concur that Frontline deserved an 84/100 while West Side Catholic was running a 54/100 women's shelter.  You could see that the Payne Ave. shelter was not operating an 84 scored shelter in about 10 minutes.  But the committee did not go visit the existing shelters and did not ask any current residents of the shelter about their opinions.  65 women did sign a petition asking the County to choose West Side Catholic (many others were afraid to sign). They were ignored as were all the complaints at the Homeless Congress.

Here were the scores:

 

Frontline

WSCC

Project Understanding/Scope of Work/Solution/Narrative

19.9

13

Methodology/Project Schedule/Evaluation

22.6

12.9

Project Management/Project Reporting/Interaction with County/Risk Management

20.7

13.7

Vendor Qualifications/Prior Experience/Personnel

21.0

14.4

 

 

 

Total

84.1

54.0

 There were actually two of the seven who were especially harsh toward the West Side Catholic proposal. It does point to a problem with the distribution of information between homeless people and community leaders and the holes in democracy.  How do you have all this negative media, a webpage dedicated to all the problems, large numbers of grievances, a hearing before the County Council about the problems, and yet the County continues the contract with the same provider running the shelter for the last dozen years?  How could Councilman Dale Miller who came to the February Homeless Congress  to hear the concerns and horror stories from the women and then allow this to continue?  How could Council President Dan Brady hear from pregnant and disabled women about all the hardships they face and allow the status quo to continue?  What do they have to do to get the contract taken away? 

It is unlikely to change until there is a scandal or large scale tragedy at the shelter.  It is unlikely that there will be a change if this contract comes up for bid again because of the retirements and resignations at West Side Catholic and NEOCH.  Lutheran Metro Ministry is joining as a partner with Frontline to try to improve the shelter.  We hope that this will work, but hold little hope.  We wish them well and hope that LMM and Frontline can turn this around.  NEOCH will not be commenting or doing resident council meetings or taking grievances.  Good luck to all the single women taxpayers who fall on hard times with their housing.  You are not going to like the conditions that you will find yourself if you cannot afford rent or are fleeing an abuser.  Complain to your elected County government, because they had a chance to make a change but decided things are operating at about 84 out of 100 points. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Post Script:  Rosie called the County to verify this information, and found out that the language allows the County to pass immediately, but that is not going to happen.  There will not be a vote tonight on this issue.  It will be referred to the Health and Human Service Committee next Wednesay May 3 at 1 p.m.  Women will be allowed to vent their concerns.  It is likely that the legislation will then go back to the Council on May 9 for final passage, and will not wait until the third reading on May 23. 

Update on Limiting Shelters in Cleveland

This came up in the previous Office of Homeless Services in March, but was tabled after Paul and Jim from Metanoia showed up to protest.   Here is the previous proposal for shelters: "Shelter will be limited for those who refuse to participate in a housing plan or refuse to accept stable housing when offered."

Here is the new suggestion:  "Shelter maybe limited for those who have available resources and refuse all options for stable housing.  Determination to restrict will be based on a case by case review at each shelter site."

Here are my questions for those who are proposing this requirement:

  1. Is there some oversight by an impartial third party without a bias of these decisions by the shelters?
  2. Can you appeal this decision to County Council if you were improperly denied the life sustaining bed in shelter?
  3. Why are we so involved in people’s personal business? As we said previously there are 1,000 reasons why a person would reject housing (it is located in a high crime neighborhood; I was raped in that neighborhood; it is where my abuser lives; it is too small for when I get my kids back; it is not on a busline; it is no where near my job, etc.)
  4. Who will take responsibility for these people when outreach find them living on the streets and will they provide more money to the street outreach teams?
  5. When the street populations increases after this policy is implemented will the County take responsibility for the increasing numbers of panhandlers and people sleeping outside?
  6. How can the County find money for new glass for the Q, but cannot find money for women who need help moving into housing and therefore turn down Frontline’s recommendation for housing? 
  7. Will the family shelter and men’s entry shelter share this information with other shelters when they deny someone shelter?  Thus creating a blacklist of bad homeless people who refuse housing?
  8. If it is determined that staff made a mistake in their determination to deny a shelter bed to a disabled individual, can the County require that staff person to sleep on the street for a period of time?
  9. Is this a solution looking for a problem?  How many people are actually rejecting houisng for a frivolous reason?
  10. Can someone explain to me how this policy will help us locally?  What is the cost/benefit analysis of this project?  Is it worth the hassle since staff will inevitably misinterpret it? Will it save the county any money or just cost more money with incarceration and emergency room visits? 

We have heard that Cleveland Mediation Center will handle grievances from this policy.  The problem is that the Cleveland Mediation Center was recently taken over by Frontline Services, a shelter provider.  So, Frontline staff will be deciding if another Frontline staff person made the correct decision in denying shelter or if another shelter provider made the correct decision.  Would a landlord allow another landlord to decide the validity of their eviction instead of an impartial judge at Housing Court? 

This is government turning away from its own constituents who need the most help.  This will be voted on at the Office of Homeless Services meeting on May 18 at Greenbridge apartments at East 75th and Euclid across from Aldi's (right on the Healthline).  We hope that Paul and Jim will be able to make it to talk about how this "improvement" does not address the fundamental flaws in the previous proposal.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

How Long Do We Keep Overflow for Families?

It is now eight months of family overflow in Cleveland.  Every night we send around 20 families to a church because we do not have enough shelter beds.  How long do we continue to send families to mats on the floor or cots before we resolve to create additional shelter spaces in our community?  Is one year solid of overflow the point when we resolve that we need more beds?   Is it two years? Every night around 20 to 30 kids have to board a bus and are sent to a church to sleep in the evening and then are deposited back downtown in the morning to wander around looking for a safe place to rest. 

The problem is that we keep losing shelter beds especially beds for families.  In August, Continue Life closed down, but before that Family Transitional reduced its size. Triumph House closed, and East Side Catholic shelter closed.  None of these were replaced in the community.   Along with the family shelters,  THI and the Upstairs program for single adult women closed and were not replaced.  These squeezed the existing programs.  We got through the downturn, because we had huge rental assistance dollars available to families to keep them out of shelter, but that has all dried up.  So, now we are stuck with no where to place families.  Continue Life specialized in serving pregnant or new moms with shelter, and now we have no where to turn for these young Moms.  

The other issue is that for the County to suggest more emergency beds they will have to admit that we are not solving homelessness as has been championed recently. County officials will have to figure out how to pay for these beds in a time of reductions from the federal government.  These two obstacles are going to be huge to overcome.  The propaganda value at the local and national level as one of the cities making huge progress in "solving homelessness" is valuable.  Community planners and social service who have dedicated their life to reducing the pain and stress of living without housing and helps people deal with the depressing job of seeing people when they are the lowest point in their life.  We all want to point to victories in our jobs to justify the late night grant reports and the mountains of paper work. 

Someone would have to go before City Council or County Council to tell them that "All is not right in Cleveland and a large number of families are struggling."  That opens up some uncomfortable questions someone is going to have to answer:

  1. Are we using existing tax payer dollars wisely?
  2. Have we evaluated the existing system to assure that we are doing what is best for the community? 
  3. Why are we paying for shelter for some people who seem to not be worthy?
  4. Why don't we have time limits or life time limits on shelter?

Or any of the other inappropriate or misinformed questions that come up when someone has their hand out for money. 

At the end of the day if we want to maintain our commitment to keeping families together, we must open more shelter beds.  If we want to keep Moms from freezing to death in a car this winter, we have to have more shelter beds.  If we want to make sure that when a child asks for a bed, we will have one available for them then we have to build more shelter spaces.  We all know that it is only a band aid that does not end homelessness, but it is impossible to provide assistance after a family has dissolved and each sent in a different direction.  It costs our community much more when the children enter foster care or the Mom gives up her children due to poverty.  Cleveland needs to suck it up and provide more shelter beds to families waiting for an affordable place to live. 

Brian Davis

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