Homeless Congress Meeting Notes for August

Homeless Congress

August 10, 2017---Cosgrove Center

Organized by NEOCH

The meeting began with the new Director of Operations at NEOCH, Chris Knestrick, re-introducing himself to some of the members that had not met him yet.  Afterward, We went over the purpose of the Homeless Congress, what the Congress has done, some of the goals that have been attained or will be addressed, and why it is so important, which is, it can be a “bridge to City and State Officials” and it “allows homeless people to have a unified voice.”  Everyone in attendance was asked to complete the membership form in the back of the packet.  After informing everyone what the agenda was going to be for the meeting, Chris asked for an approval of the agenda. Members were informed of the dates for upcoming events which are the Cuyahoga County Council meeting, the Cuyahoga County Health and Human Services Committee meeting, and the ADAMHS Board meeting.  

It was announced that Ruth Gillett will not be attending any more meetings unless there is a specific reason for her to do so because she feels the members were being rude to her.  No one was purposefully rude to her but, being the bearer of bad news, as far as they were concerned, she did not like their response and seemed to take it personally.  It was not any member or participants intention of disrespecting anyone at the meeting, but we would like to extend an apology to her if she felt that it was. 

She was attending the meeting to keep the Homeless Congress up to date on the status of the Rapid Re-Housing Program and the Shelter Policies that would be put into place soon.  She also got input from the members for both projects.  She informed everyone, at the July meeting, that the Shelter Policies would be voted on by the Office of Homeless Services on July 20, 2017.  It was announced that the Single Adult Housing Committee presented to the Office of Homeless Services and the policy that they recommended passed. There were only two votes against the policy, one was Loh (member) and the other a representative from NEOCH. A copy of the Shelter Policy was included in the packets that were passed out to members.

Next, the discussion was about the bidding process for a service provider for the Norma Herr women’s shelter.  Loh informed members that Frontline will not be able to get any long term contracts as the service provider even if they choose to bid (which they have acknowledged more than once that they will not be bidding).  RP problems and the bidding process was the next concern.  Some of the concerned members asked what would happen if no one bids.  One response was that the current provider’s (Frontline) contract would have to be extended.  Another response for the RP problems is that there needs to be a quarterly report on the grievances that are turned in.    

One member wanted to know “why there are no residents involved in this process?”

This was discussed for a while and another member stated that the bidding process should also be public information.  Specifically, a member wanted to know what would or should happen if there is no provider in place by August. (We now know that there was one bid to the RFP) At that point everyone was informed that there are at least two agencies interested in applying for the contract and the date to submit a proposal has been extended to August 18, 2017. 

Larry Bresler, Executive Director of Organize Ohio, then began his presentation by informing members that one of the members and dedicated participants, Norman Wolfe, passed away.  He provided information on the viewing and funeral arrangements.  He then informed the members that Norman, he, and Ramona Turnbull were involved in orchestration of the End Poverty Now march and participated in the New Poor People’s Campaign.  He then presented about the new project called “The Truth Commission” and wanted to ask for volunteers to do personal testimonies on six focus areas (4 personal testimonies for each).  The focus areas are: 1) Environmental degradation, 2) Criminalization of the poor, 3) The right to housing including utilities, 4) The right to living wage jobs, 5) Right to quality education, and 6) Right to healthcare.  

The information provided by the personal testimonies would them be presented to people chosen to be commissioners.  The commissioners would then meet and “come out with their initial findings.”  Finally, the Mayoral candidates would be asked to respond to the findings.  There will also be music and poetry readings “presented while the commissioners are deliberating.” NEOCH will follow up with the members to make sure anyone who is willing to do a personal testimony be accommodated.   

Next, Ms. Eleace Sawyer introduced herself as the new President and CEO of Care Alliance and she wanted to discuss the changes or added services that will be put in place soon.  These positive changes do affect the members of the Congress and homeless population.  Care Alliance provides services at the women’s shelter twice a week.  She asked for feedback about the services being provided and need to be provided.  One member informed her that Dave’s Pharmacy will be moving and there is no pharmacy close enough to walk to for current residents at the women’s shelter to get prescriptions filled.  Ms. Sawyer talked about the Federal Pharmacy Program which may be able to assist to address this problem.  She also stated that she will be addressing this concern.  She informed members that nutrition and podiatry services are also being put in place to address the needs of the homeless population. 

She talked about having someone who is homeless or formerly homeless on their Board.  In addition, she would also like a representative from her staff to attend the Homeless Congress meetings.  Care Alliance also applied for transportation and were able to secure two vehicles.  One member commented on the fact that in Alabama it is considered a crime to be homeless and there is no healthcare.  Members informed Ms. Sawyer about how glad they are that Care Alliance is looking into addressing the food problems and will be in touch with the Food Bank to see what type of relationship can be established to better address the lack of nutrition in the food being served to the residents at the shelters.  One resident suggested a town meeting. She discussed special meetings and talked about looking at data about all the 911 calls made from Norma Herr by the residents.

Next, Akshai Singh:  Organizer, Cleveland for Public Transit, took the floor to discuss issues like fare cost, reliability, safety, and racial profiling by the RTA Police.  He also discussed service cuts and fare hikes.  The next fare hike is coming up soon and it will be a fifty cent increase on the current fare.  The fare could go from $5.50 to $6.00 at that time.  The organization he is representing is working to lower fares.  He informed the members that the Cleveland public transportation is the least affordable and there is no assistance for people who rely on public transportation.  He said they need to find local solutions and state side solutions.  Group members meet with RTA on a quarterly basis.  They will be discussing what improvements are needed so that the Mayoral candidates and the City Council can use it to improve the transportation system, make it more affordable, and reliable.  The next meeting is on August 31 at 7:00 pm.  One member stated that there is limited seating at the bus stops in certain areas (only 2 people can sit).  Another added that there are no public bathrooms in the Rapid Stations.  Mr. Singh stated that the RTA has been cutting services for the last 4 years.  The last topic on this subject was about the cost of tickets for riding when you don’t have one in advance.  This discussion went on for a while before the meeting was brought to a close

 The next Homeless Congress meeting is September 14th at 1:00pm.

Homeless Congress Notes for July

July 13, 2017 Meeting--Cosgrove Center

Organized by NEOCH

 After taking a month off, the new director of NEOCH, Chris Knestrick, organized the new era for the Homeless Congress.  Roy Love, Board President introduced Chris to the Homeless Congress members.  He talked about the work he has done prior to taking the job at NEOCH.  He acknowledged that he is aware that the Homeless Congress has a voice and his commitment to help NEOCH and the Congress achieve their goals.  After he told everyone a few things about himself, he opened the meeting for questions including the fact that he was born in Cleveland, Ohio.  After a few questions and a short discussion, he turned the meeting over to Ruth Gillett.

 Ruth Gillett took the floor to present on the work of the Single Adult Housing Committee of the County Office of Homeless Services.  First, she acknowledged that there were three members of the OHS Advisory Board in attendance, myself included.  She then invited the members of Congress to attend the OHS meetings.  Her next order of business that she wanted to discuss was the fact that she feels that she was disrespected at the last meeting.  She informed everyone that she does not attend the meetings to be disrespected.  However, Ruth didn’t specify how she was disrespected.

 She began her presentation of the new proposed policy for the publicly funded shelters by stating that the beds are a “safety net” so people don’t have to be on the streets.  Ruth wanted to be clear that the shelters in Cleveland don’t turn anyone away and are supposed to be a temporary or short term.  The goal is to assist the resident to move out of the shelter and into housing.  At this point, I commented on the fact that the men’s shelter has an E community that does not have time limits and acknowledged that the women’s shelter doesn’t have anything like that in place.  I felt this was important enough to bring to everyone’s attention because it is the “only” single women’s shelter in the city of Cleveland.  Ruth stated that it was County policy that no one is forced to leave the shelter unless they break the law.

 Ruth continued that the focus is on housing first model for providing assistance.  She talked about the different paths to obtaining housing and the goal of the staff is to find out what “your path” is and how to get you into housing quickly.  She went over what needs to happen for an individual to maintain the housing?  She stated the purpose for this Single Adult Committee and went over their recommendations.   The single adults will meet with staff and put together a housing plan within 45 days of arriving at the shelter.  The staff is responsible for making sure everything that is needed to meet the housing plan is done.  Staff are supposed to also assist the client to access employment and benefits. 

Ruth talked about the importance of referring an individual to the Rapid Re-Housing program for assistance.  Rapid Rehousing program will provide the participants with a short tem rental subsidy (up to 2 months rent + security deposit).  She reminded members that it is also possible to have a roommate to split the cost of the rent and/or utilities.  This will allow a resident at a shelter to be able to move without having to stay longer to save money for rent and the security deposit. 

 One of the attendees argued that at the women’s shelter the staff does nothing to assist them.  Ruth informed this resident that this is “the projected program,” which means that they will be put in place in the near future.    She explained that the projected program is not just about the client, it’s about holding the staff accountable as well.  Another member asked if the people who don’t have an income are just overlooked or “left alone.”  Her response was, “No”. 

 Ruth then addressed the fact that members felt banning people from the shelter was a punishment for not complying with the three offers for housing rule that will be in place.  If a resident is offered housing three times and does not accept any of them, they will lose privileges at the shelter.  Ruth stated that the objective is not to put people back on the street and that many choose to stay at the shelter for one reason or another.  She added that the three housing options will be in areas the participant chooses with the assistance of housing locator.  Ruth explained that the main reason for the three housing offer refusal discipline is to provide “incentive” to leave the shelter and move into their own housing. 

One of the members said she also received no help from the staff and the housing lists they provided were outdated.  In addition, she complained about other problems obtaining housing. One example was if an applicant has a felony.  Mike Moguel, Operations Director at 2100 Lakeside Shelter, responded to her complaint by informing her that is the purpose of the housing locators and what the applicant is willing to do.  He said the housing locator can assist getting past any barriers. He added that there is an EDEN housing locator for hard to place participants.  After further discussion about housing locators and requirements for the program, Ruth let everyone know that having a disability or not having disability is not the focus of the Rapid Rehousing program.  The focus is on those with a low income.

 There were a series of questions about the difficulty people had in reaching staff at the shelters for help.  Chris Knestrick informed Ruth that he was concerned about people being punished for turning down housing for the hundreds of legitimate reasons to turn down housing.  His examples were: someone getting beat up or something bad happening in the area the proposed housing is located or being located near a previous abuser or far off a bus line.  His other concern was that the policy puts the burden on an already fragile population living in the shelter, but does not hold the staff accountable.   He then asked her if the staff is not following the rules or doing what they should be doing, what is the accountability process? 

 Ruth felt that he was being insulting by asking that question.  She explained that the resident is involved in locating potential housing, her presentation was recommendations that will be voted on at the next Advisory Board Meeting, and there are milestones that layout staff responsibilities.  She then asked if “firing them (the staff) or shooting them was the answer he is looking for?” She then stated she tries “to work with humans as humans to provide positive results for humans.  It’s all about tracking progress.”  He apologized if his question sounded insulting and then stated, “To him, it sounds like the only humans being held accountable are the ones coming into the shelter.”  She stated that is “what he is reading into it and the information being presented will be voted on this coming Thursday, July 20th at 9:00am at the ADAMAS Board.” 

 An attendee that had recently moved from Toledo and now staying at the women’s shelter said Toledo, Ohio is more effective in addressing homelessness.  She said the women’s shelter staff here show no compassion, love, or concern.  Another shelter resident stated that “she was in a bad situation before she came to the shelter and the shelter staff does not make it any better.”  Another resident staying at the shelter said her phone was stolen while it was still in the package and staff did not assist her, and another wanted to know “what is going to be done about elderly residents who have to sleep on the floor on mats?”  Ruth was not able to answer any of these questions so, I asked about the proposal that we were discussing.  I wanted to know what basic services a resident would receive once they turn down three offers of housing.  My question was “exactly what would the residents at the women’s shelter not be receiving?” 

 Ruth’s response was, “Once (this policy was) in place, the residents participating in the programs would be able to stay in at the shelter whereas the one that don’t would not.”  It is unclear what this means, but it seems that the only thing a resident would get would be a bed at night otherwise they would have to leave the shelter for most of the day.   Mike Moguel said that the way it would work at the Men’s shelter would be that if a resident in a dormitory turns down three offers that the resident will be moved from the dorm and put into the E Community.

 Seniors not being accommodated was revisited.  Ruth said that issue is being addressed with the goal being not to have any elderly in a shelter.  Fairhill Center is the only shelter that only serves elderly individuals.  The resident went on to complain that at this time, the elderly residents at the women’s shelter have to sleep in chairs, on bare floors and they are tripping over each other. 

 Chris then asked the members if they support the proposal that was presented by Ruth.  Most of the members of the Homeless Congress said they do not.  The main reason was staff accountability and it is not clear exactly how the proposal will be implemented especially at the Women’s Shelter.  One member, Loh explained that EDEN is designed to place residents that have severe disabilities and the other program is for people that don’t have disabilities.  She warned them that if they don’t have a “stable job” the Rapid Re-Housing program may not be a good solution.  She also commented about then lack of resources (bus tickets or transportation) available to assist residents to look for stable housing. 

 The women’s shelter update was the next topic of discussion.  Members were informed that the proposals to oversee the women’s shelter for 2018 are due July 28th and neither Frontline nor Lutheran Ministry will be submitting a proposal.  A resident of the shelter said the shelter needs more organization, oversight and structure.  She further stated that within seven days her purse was stolen, she got into a fight, and was put out for three days with no information on where to go.  She complained that at Norma Herr, she felt that she was just there to have somewhere to lay her head and good luck with the rest.  The resident complained that staff at the Women’s Shelter don’t give out any information to help residents link to resources. 

 A letter to the ADAMAS Board was discussed next to inform members that Ms. Valeria Harper of the ADAMAS Board was invited to attend a Homeless Congress meeting.  She was invited to discuss the importance of opening a separate shelter for homeless individuals with severe mental health challenges.  The last order of business was to acknowledge that NEOCH will no longer be taking complaints from residents at the Norma Herr women’s shelter or 2100 men’s shelter.  It was suggested that the complaints be referred to Cuyahoga County Council: Yvonne Conwell or Cleveland City Council: T.J. Dow.

The next meeting is August 10, 2017 at Cosgrove Center

By Ramona Turnbull

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Homeless Congress Voices Concern About County Shelter Policy

The Homeless Congress met today after a month off.  Ruth Gillett rejoined the group to present about the Single Adult policy.  The discussion focused a new policy that the County was working on to require participation in a housing plan for the residents.  We had previously discussed this policy on this blog here. This policy was in response to the large number of single adults seeking shelter in Cuyahoga County. Here is a quick overview of the policy that is going to be voted on at the July 20 Office of Homeless Services Advisory for information purposes.

Recommendation from the Single Adults Committee Meeting June 15, 2017

Exit Plan required of all shelter residents:

  • Within 1 week of arrival (at least a start)
  • Needs to include: income, safety, client choice
  • To be documented
  • 45 days

Review of Rights & Expectations

  • Within 24 hrs
  • To include Exit Plan, Follow-up expectations
  • To be documented

Exit Plan Follow-up by Shelter Staff

  • Frequency depending upon level of need
  • To be documented

 Resident Expectation:

  • Actively engage in Housing Plan

Staff Expectation:

  • Communicate with Outreach Partners
  • Continued effort with those who have yet to be successfully engaged
  • To Be documented

If shelter residents have not moved out of shelter after 3 appropriate housing offers the following would take place:

  • Cleveland Mediation Center (Editor's Note: which is now a program of the largest homeless service provider Frontline Services) will host a mediation between the resident and shelter staff
  • If the resident continued to reside at the shelter after the 3 housing offers and the mediation agreement, the resident’s shelter services would be curtailed to basic shelter accommodation.
  • Residents could appeal the shelter service limitation using the shelter grievance policy.

I helped to organize the Homeless Congress today and here is the takeaway from the meeting. The Homeless Congress does not support the current Single Adult Policy being proposed by the Cuyahoga County Committee for the following reasons:

The Policy doesSavetta who had previously stayed at the Women's Shelter not adequately take into account all the reasons people would turn down housing that is being offered, such as,  

  1. not being able to afford rent after the 3 months of rapid rehousing  money runs out, which means suffering the trauma of another eviction.
  2. A person not wanting to live in a neighborhood where they suffered a trauma, such as rape or abuse,
  3. People with  mental illness and/or addictions challenges that are not ready for housing.  

Such a policy could not be justly and fairly implemented into a shelter system that is already broken. Particularly, the Community Women's shelter on Payne Ave.  During the presentation in the Homeless Congress, multiply women spoke to this reality and the lack of services provided by the shelter to support the women to find housing and or jobs.  The congress does not believe that the women’s shelter could  in any way meet the proposed  45 day requirement for a housing plan as stated by the proposed policy. In order, for the policy to be implemented their needs to be a real commitment from the shelters to provide the services to place people into housing. If not, the proposal could be used to target particular individuals as a form of punishment.

The only punitive and accountability procedures in the policy are directed at men and women experiencing homelessness.  There is no accountability for the shelter agencies that do not follow through on the policy. Placing the only punitive actions onto an already marginalized population does not seem just and equitable. The policy must also hold the agencies accountable to building a housing plan and providing the services to achieve it.  

by Christopher Knestrick

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Post Script: The Office of Homeless Services Advisory passed the above recommendation concerning single adults using the shelters in July 2017.  There were only two votes against the policy (LOH and the representative from NEOCH).  We will update readers on the implementation of this policy as we move forward. 

County Attempts to Reduce Number of Single Adults Using Shelter

We have documented the attempt to reduce the number of people who reside in the County shelters with a committee that the County created.  They had proposed an awful recommendation in March that we editorialized would add to the number of people sleeping outside. After Paul Sherlock and Jim Schlecht passionately decried the potential rules would harm homeless people, the rules were tabled for further study. 

The County committee met and our friend, Loh, attended and gave us a summary of the results. These are potential rules for the shelters.  This has to be voted on by the "Homeless Discussion Group" known as the Office of Homeless Services Advisory.   There are problems, but this is a huge victory for the advocates.  Cleveland will not shrink from its commitment to provide shelter to everyone in need. 

Recommendation from the Single Adults Committee Meeting

June 15, 2017

Exit Plan required of all shelter residents:

  • Within 1 week of arrival (at least a start)
  • Needs to include: income, safety, client choice
  • To be documented
  • 45 days

Review of Rights & Expectations

  • Within 24 hrs
  • To include Exit Plan, Follow-up expectations
  • To be documented

Exit Plan Follow-up by Shelter Staff

  • Frequency depending upon level of need
  • To be documented

 Resident Expectation:

  • Actively engage in Housing Plan

Staff Expectation:

  • Communicate with Outreach Partners
  • Continued effort with those who have yet to be successfully engaged
  • To Be documented

If shelter residents have not moved out of shelter after 3 appropriate housing offers the following would take place:

  • Cleveland Mediation Center (Editor's Note: which is now a program of the largest homeless service provider Frontline Services) will host a mediation between the resident and shelter staff
  • If the resident continued to reside at the shelter after the 3 housing offers and the mediation agreement, the resident’s shelter services would be curtailed to basic shelter accommodation.
  • Residents could appeal the shelter service limitation using the shelter grievance policy.

This is a victory for advocacy that no one will be kicked out to the streets and we have to thank Jim Schlecht and Paul Sherlock for the advocacy.  The reality is that the Women's shelter is only a basic shelter accommodations so there is really nothing to take away from the 200 women staying on Payne Ave at night.  There are couple of things to consider with this committee:

  1. There are such a small number of people who fall under this policy is it really worth all these meetings?  Very few people in our community turn down housing, and it will not free up much space.  There are so many waiting for every bed left in our community that this small population is hardly the problem. 
  2. There is nothing in these rules that puts pressure on the agencies to be better at managing the multiple barriers to housing for their clients.  Women with a mental illness, huge debt issues, and previous evictions are hard to house.  Guys with a sexually based offense or an arson conviction are extremely hard to house, but the agencies are not stressed to work with individuals on their individual needs in the same way the residents are pressured to get out of the shelter. 
  3. Case managers force people to bend to a small number of programs available in our community instead of trying to find the best path off the streets for those in need.  They do not set up hours that are conducive to the residents or make things clear to those seeking help.  No one takes the time to explain the homeless landscape and the services available to those struggling with housing. 
  4. None of these rules address all the barriers that we have created in our society.  The lack of acceptance that people make mistakes and need to be given a second chance or the unreasonable expectations built into our economy are not one of the bullet points.  The inability to prepare people to live independently or be able to afford to pay rent are not looked at by these committees.  The racism and discrimination that are on the rise in our society are never factored into these plans.  The shredded safety net and frustration in dealing with the health care industry are not discussed in any of these documents. 
  5. If you were the director of a shelter, would you want another shelter's program mediate for you?  Would one small landlord want another giant landlord conglomerate to come in and mediate between the small landlord and their tenant?
  6. The entire grievance process is broken in the shelters and so this needs to be corrected.
  7. Also, the reality is that most people don't ever want to sleep in a shelter.  They have no privacy and are extremely overcrowded with bunk beds everywhere.  When they get to be like the Renaissance Hotel in Downtown Cleveland then we can talk about people overstaying their welcome. 

If the committee wants to address the rise in Single Adult homeless people there are so many other areas they could focus instead they are focused on the small number of people who have given up.  We cannot expect as a society to have neglected affordable housing for 25 years and not see a sharp increase in homelessness.  We heard about a used car lot on the East Side of Cleveland that keeps its cars open at night so that people do not break the windows and every morning they have to wake up homeless people and ask them to exit the cars.  The lack of shelter beds, the lack of trained staff who can help people, and the many barriers that society puts in people's way would be a good place to start the discussion of why there are so many single adults asking for help.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry