NEOCH No Longer Takes Complaints from Residents of the Big Shelters

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless has struggled with what to do with grievances in Cleveland.    Here is a copy of the flyer to print out and distribute.  We discussed the reason behind this decision back in March and posted it here.  We also discussed these decisions with the residents of the shelter at the March Homeless Congress Meeting here. It was a painful decision and we have had a women desperately calling us for a week to ask for help.  She was pleading and begging me to try it one more time.  We found it only harmed homeless people and was not helpful to improving the shelters.  Until there is a legitimate third party complaint process with some teeth, NEOCH has no hope of helping these residents to equitably resolve their grievances.  We suggest calling or e-mailing your County Councilmember or the City Council member for the two largest shelters.  They probably will not be able to help, but at least they answer their phone.  Every other place that we could thing of does not even answer their phone so it is not worth using cell phone minutes.

Brian Davis

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Discharge Plan in Cleveland Shelters

We have heard from homeless people that the local shelters are not following the local County discharge procedure especially giving out a written explanation for why people are discharged from the shelter.  We have begun distributing these flyers to residents of the shelter.  You can print one out and distribute it as well.  Here is the complete list of shelter standards for Cuyahoga County.  We have a page in which an individual can file a grievance on our website.

Brian Davis

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Coordinated Intake Hurts Privately Funded Shelters

Photo by David HagenThe Plain Dealer did a really nice overview of the problems homeless people are facing if they go to a private shelter before they go to the Central Intake site in Cleveland.  This is a huge issue that has brought Republican and Democratic lawmakers together to question this policy.  Democrats Fudge, Kaptur and Senator Brown as well as Republican Rob Portman have all written to the federal agency funding all these services to ask for a clear explanation. 

The policy started last year when folks at the City Mission and their female/family program known as Laura's Home were informed that if their residents spend even a night in the shelter before going to Coordinated Intake run by Frontline Services,  the County will declare the individual no longer homeless.  They will have to leave Laura's Home and become homeless again before they will be able to access any publicly funded shelter or service in Cuyahoga County.   We filed a complaint on behalf of three residents and had one additional resident contact us over the last eight months.  The Coordinated Intake and County refused to respond to the complaint.  We then went to the federal government at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to seek help for our clients and were denied any help.  HUD staff found that the County policy was consistent with the draft rules issued by HUD. 

All of this raises many questions.   Why would these women not be at least given the chance to access services if they were at Laura's Home before the Central Intake rules went into effect?  Why are taxpayers being denied public services because they did not follow rules that they did not know were required?  Why is the County annoying the privately funded shelters with this rule when the City Mission and Laura's Home have been critical component of the safety net? Why is the Federal government not providing stricter rules that would prevent discrimination of residents of religiously based shelters that do not rely on public tax payer dollars?

Recently, a federal interpretation of a rule regarding the use of public and private, faith-based shelters has left some homeless Clevelanders seeking assistance from emergency shelters worse off than before they entered shelter.  The federal interpretation of this rule states that homeless people must first contact the county’s central intake office before going to an emergency shelter in order to keep their status as a homeless individual. This status allows a person or family access to county resources for the homeless.  Because of this federal misinterpretation, an individual or family who, after becoming homeless, seeks emergency shelter from a non-county shelter such as City Mission, St. Hermans, or Laura’s Home Women’s Crisis Center, without first going to central intake forfeits their status as homeless and consequently loses access to all county resources for the homeless. Many times, those seeking assistance from emergency shelters are unaware of this rule and therefore unknowingly break the rule and lose access to these resources.

Progress on amending this misinterpretation has been made in the last few weeks. On April 23rd, the website of U.S. Senator Rob Portman published a press release describing the efforts of Senator Rob Portman, Senator Sherrod Brown, and Congress member Marcia Fudge to inform the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) of their concerns with the misinterpretation of this law that is causing homeless Ohioans difficulty.  The three lawmakers urge HUD to make certain that homeless people are not denied resources they need to become self-sufficient simply because they accidentally chose immediate shelter over future assistance by first going to an emergency, faith-based shelter.

In the press release, Portman states, “Faith-based organizations across Ohio like Cleveland’s City Mission play a crucial role in helping struggling families get back on their feet. I’m concerned by any regulations or interpretation of regulations that push Ohioans back onto the streets, instead of giving them the help they need from organizations like The City Mission.”

Additionally, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has also published an article on April 23rd discussing the misinterpretation as well as Fudge, Portman, and Brown’s recent efforts to urge the HUD to amend the problem.

The future of this issue is not yet clear.

by Brian Davis and Allison the BW intern

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Why We Need Shelter Standards...

There is an awful story in the Huffington Post regarding the shelters in Tallahassee.  Another shelter director in the city went undercover and discovered abuse by the staff of women staying at the facility called The Shelter in Tallahassee.  Since there is very little oversight of the shelters, this could happen in any city in America.   These experiences could happen in Cleveland because the shelters govern themselves.   There are health inspections, but otherwise government takes a hands off approach to the monitoring of shelters. 

The director of the City Urban Walk Mission, Renee Miller, went undercover at the shelter and wrote an explosive blog post. She detailed how she was propositioned and had to call the police in order to safely leave the facility.  It was interesting that the police showed up and said that no crime had occurred.  She had not updated the blog about the publicity since the story made national news, but it should be interesting to see the follow up stories.  Here is a permanent link to the Huffington Post story:

This is the reason that many families and children decide to spend time outside, in cars or in basements.  They don't always feel safe in the shelters or they hear things about the facilities and don't even request help.  NEOCH had our board president go under cover in 2005 and found some horrible conditions in the shelters, but we did not get this positive publicity or investigation.  We received condemnation from the City and County and many local foundations for even raising the issue publicly.  We received an angry response from the administration at the shelter and the NEOCH staff received more pain because of the conditions at the shelter then did the staff working at the shelter.  The messenger in Cleveland became the target, and there was no wider reform of the shelters as a result of our board member going undercover. 

We have seen some rough conditions over the last five years in Cleveland, and do not have any way to report abuse to an impartial third party.  In addition, there is no way that government can receive complaints since the Ombudsman went out of business.

  • We have received complaints that shelter staff become violent against homeless people and keep their job.
  • We have received complaints that security staff proposition and offer to take home shelter residents and still maintain their job. 
  • We have had the experience when a police officer is discharged or put on leave from his job for some questionable (often violent) behavior and publicly identified in the newspaper but continues to work security at the shelter.
  • We have received complaints that security staff threaten people with a stun gun if they do not be quiet.
  • We have received complaints that shelter staff are careless with private information or say that a woman must give over her personal information or she cannot get a bed.
  • We have received complaints that shelter staff threatened to call the Child Abuse Hotline if a woman were to bring her children to the shelter. 

We are not the designated agency in the community to receive complaints, but we regularly get this written complaints about problems.  We know that especially women feel vulnerable in the shelters and are unwilling to complain.  They don't want to risk falling all the way to having to live on the streets or sleeping in a bus shelter.  There is no real protections for women that if they speak up at night that they  will be kicked out onto the streets.  The threat of immediate discharge is constantly thrown around by shelter staff.  In fact, the most memorable part of the Rev. Kelly Burd sleeping at the shelter in 2005 was that she witnessed an obviously mentally ill and upset woman kicked onto the streets at midnight.  I can still remember her describing this feeling of helplessness as this woman is walking under the street lamp in the middle of the dark July night into the unknown.  The County does not receive incident reports even when a client dies in the shelter at night.  Everything stays within the organization and all problems are supposed to be resolved by the shelter staff.  This system in Cleveland and in most cities is easily corrupted, and even though 80% of the dollars coming to a shelter are tax dollars government cannot say definitively that public dollars are not paying shelter staff to proposition women living in the shelter.  We, as taxpayers, don't really know what goes on at night in the shelters. 

This is not to say that the vast majority of staff who work at shelters are not amazing people who get paid way too little money to take care of our forgotten population. Most shelter staff only work in the shelters because they deeply care for people struggling in our society and are mission driven.   It is just when even the nicest people are left without oversight and have the lives of these people in their hands bad things happen. 

Brian Davis

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