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.

 Sincerely,

 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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New Section of the NEOCH Website

Improving Cleveland Shelters Added to Website

Shelters are often the only resource available to individuals and families facing homelessness for a variety of reasons. The work NEOCH has done through the Homeless Congress and current members of the homeless community is discussed on our website here. The process of creating laws regarding homelessness and administration regulations belonging to each shelter contract are explained. The data collected from a survey distributed to the members of the women’s shelter in July 2014 is displayed. The graphs show the different housing statuses individuals identified with (i.e. Emergency, Gateway, etc.), common concerns in shelters, quality of shelter staff and service, length of shelter stay, and employment opportunities.

The most common complaints from the women’s shelter are posted on this page. These include problems with staff behavior, facility space, lack of food, lack of general rules, and safety issues. Furthermore, the May 2016 Cuyahoga County Council regarding the Women’s Shelter is discussed with an available video link. Links for an entire list of complaints, problems with the food supply, and the responses from the owners (Frontline Services) are provided. Recommendations for possible changes are given and links to more resources are listed at the bottom of the page.

The Fair Housing rights of individuals receiving shelter are listed, as well as examples of prohibited forms of discrimination. The “protected classes” under the Federal Fair Housing Act are stated. Laws regarding sexual orientation, disability, and service animals are explained. Contact information for the local fair housing organization and the local fair housing enforcement agencies are provided. Links to the transcript from the May 2016 Cuyahoga County Health Human Services and Aging Committee are available, as well as a link to a video of the entire hearing.  Finally, a history of overflow at both the men’s and women’s shelters in Cleveland is provided. This spans the years of 1990 and 2004. The facilities involved in assisting overflow and the finances involved are also discussed. Topics of debate regarding potential regulations of shelters are listed.

by Kelly the Intern

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National Updates on Homelessness

Barb Poppe Stepping down at InterAgency Council

Our friend, Barb Poppe, from Columbus Ohio former shelter director and current US InterAgency Council on Homelessness has announced that she will step down next month.  She is the wife of COHHIO Director, Bill Faith and was the coordinator of funding in Columbus Ohio for years.  The InterAgency Council publishes reports on homelessness and was the first agency to push a housing first strategy.  They also have a really nice newsletter.  Barb put her stamp on the agency by focusing on the rise in family homelessness and beginning to talk about the problem of youth homelessness.  The InterAgency Council is supposed to work with all the federal departments (Social Security, HHS, HUD, Labor and others) that may have cross agency concerns with homeless people.  For example, Social Security not giving out printouts is going to make it difficult for homeless people to get ID which makes it difficult to access entitlements and health care.  The USIAC is looking into the problem that privately funded shelters are having with coordinated intake in Cleveland. 

Surplus Military Property Available in Sandusky

Federal law requires that military surplus property be offered to homeless programs before being sold.  This is rather a dubious law since military bases are rarely in the heart of an urban city where there are large numbers of homeless people.  But it is the law, and NEOCH receives notices of federal surplus property.  This year it is the Rye Beach Pumping Station on Columbus Ave. in Sandusky Ohio 44870.   It is GSA Control Number 1-Z-OH-598-2-AB or HUD number 52401410002 if you want to claim it for a homeless program in Sandusky Ohio.  How you would turn a 6,424 square foot pumping building and 60K of water piping into anything useful for people without housing is difficult to imagine?  The property was listed in the federal register and is available through the General Services Administration in Chicago until March 10.  Good luck and please invite us to the grand opening of the pumping station/homeless shelter.  We would love some pictures of that. 

Justice Department Urges States to Forgive Felons And Allow them to Vote

Attorney General Eric Holder is reaching out to ask the States to restore voting rights to those felons who have paid their debt to society.  Kentucky and Virginia never allow a felon to vote.  Those released from incarceration and probation are stripped of their rights for the rest of their life.  Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wyoming force the individual to beg and plead with the state to restore their voting rights.   There is an estimated 5 million Americans who need to move to a state that forgive and allow people to move on.  I have never understood why we have a national election for President, and we allow each state to do their own thing when it comes to electing the Commander and Chief.  Why can some states disenfranchise felons?  Why can some states require burdensome proof that poor people cannot produce?  Why do some states (Florida, I am speaking of you) make students and old people wait for three hours to vote?  Why do some states allow same day registration and others allow voting by mail?  How is this a fair system?  Holder said about the felons:

"By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes," Holder said during a speech at a criminal justice reform event hosted by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights at Georgetown University Law Center on Tuesday.

Psychiatric Drugs and Medicaid

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is asking the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to not implement the changes to Medicare Part D.  NAMI alleges that this will make it difficult to get anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications.  The changes will take these drugs off the preferred list of drugs, and may limit their usage in 2015.  NAMI has put a petition together to oppose these changes.   Here is the link.

National Coalition for the Homeless on Bitter Cold

National Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director, Jerry Jones, was on the NPR Program Tell Me More about the extreme weather and its impact on homelessness.  Unfortunately, news reports have identified 10 homeless people died because of the extreme cold weather.   Jones did a good job explaining the hardships faced by the population; the folly of making it illegal to curl up in a doorway; and the strange concept of figuring out how cold it should be before opening an "overflow" or cold weather shelter.  Some cities say 40 degrees or 32 degrees or 20 degrees before they open an winter shelter, which makes it difficult for those without housing to adjust to the winter.  I have advocated that every city in the United States should provide shelter to everyone who shows up for help like we do in Cleveland.  If you are a tax payer in the richest country in the history of the world and you lose your housing, your government should offer you a warm place inside.  Think of the madness in many cities which close the shelters when they get to a certain number and the temperature outside is 34 degrees. Then the law enforcement arm of the city go out and arrest the person who could not find a bed and instead is sleeping on the doors of a religious organization.  This is America in 2014.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.