Interview with Ed Gemerchak of the North Point Transitional Shelter

by Sarah Valek

How do you like your new job as director of North Point Inn?

I am grateful and excited to have the opportunity to direct the North Point Transition Housing Program.  MHS is operating the program and I started working with MHS one day a week in September, then moved to two days a week in October.  I’ll start full-time the first week of November.

Let me just be sure we’re all on the same page about North Point.  North Point Transitional Housing is a new program being developed by MHS for men residing at 2100 Lakeside who are committed to finding work and a home. North Point will provide a wide array of resources to help men leave homelessness and move on with their lives as quickly as possible.

North Point Transitional Housing will be located at the former North Point Inn on Superior and E. 18th.  North Point will provide semi-private rooms and baths for 160 able-bodied men. Residents will be welcome 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for up to 6 months.  Each resident will save 40% of his income to be used towards his own housing.

North Point will provide intensive case management that will help participants overcome barriers to employment and housing. All residents will utilize employment services – each according to his needs. Others services will be provided on an individual basis by either MHS or one of its partner agencies. 

What do you foresee as being the best part of your job? What will be the worst part?

On the most basic level, I expect it will gratifying to see homeless men finding and keeping good jobs and permanent housing, and moving on with their lives. There will certainly be challenges – which of these will be the greatest remains to be seen.   

What are your initial plans/goals for North Point?  

We are busy hiring and training staff, the building is being renovated, and we are starting to do interviews and provide case management at 2100 Lakeside.  We are also working closely with service providers to help make sure the men we serve have the resources they will need to meet their goals. 

When does North Point officially open? What processes are needed before the shelter can open?  

North Point staff will begin providing case management and other services to homeless men in November at 2100 Lakeside.  Our first residents will move into North Point in mid-January.  Aviation High School will close on Jan. 31, so we will have a full-house at North Point by then.  

Describe your duties as director of North Point. How will this differ from your job at Interfaith Hospitality?  

As Director of the North Point Transitional Housing Program I will be responsible for making sure the program achieves its goals: providing short-term transitional housing for homeless men, helping them secure a job that pays a decent wage, assisting them in obtaining housing, and maintaining that housing for at least 6 months.  

The Interfaith Hospitality Network provides shelter and support to homeless families using a network of 60 congregations and 3,000 volunteers. So both the population served and the service model is different from North Point.  Additionally, at IHN I was the Executive Director, which meant that I ran the entire agency. 

Describe your background with Interfaith Hospitality. 

I was the founding director of the Interfaith Hospitality Network and served as Executive Director for almost 10 years.

What role will North Point serve in the homeless community?

North Point will work very closely with 2100 Lakeside to assist men in leaving homelessness as soon as possible. Our goal will be to shorten the length of homelessness from an average of 9 months to 4 ½ months.  By placing hundreds of men a year into permanent housing we also hope to lessen the burden on other shelters.  

How will the shelter be staffed? How many staff will be utilized?  

North Point will be staffed with case managers, housing monitors, security, and staff from Towards Employment and the VA. 

Who determines which men get into North Point? Is there any sort of “game plan” for the men once they enter North Point?

North Point case managers will conduct short interviews at 2100 Lakeside and the case management team will determine who comes to North Point.  The criteria are simple: men who are willing and able to work.

The game plan is to get men into a decent paying job, saving money, and moving into their own housing.  We will work closely with Towards Employment, Employment Connection, the VA and other service providers to make this happen.

The City has said the Stage 2 strip club/bar will remain on the grounds until further notice. Are there any future plans for the club to be relocated? How do you see the club/bar affecting North Point residents who are striving to live a sober lifestyle?

The City of Cleveland is actively working on relocating Stage 2 before North Point opens.  Of course, we hope they are successful.

How long have you worked with homelessness? What do you view as the largest cause of homelessness? Do you know of any possible solutions to homelessness in Cleveland?

I started working with homeless people in New York City in 1988. So I’ve been doing this work for nearly 20 years!  For about 10 of those years I worked with people with HIV and AIDS, many of whom were currently or formerly homeless.

The way I see it, the cause of homelessness is poverty and housing. Of course I’m biased, but I think the North Point program is part of the solution to homelessness in Cleveland.  We are going to address poverty and housing head-on by working very hard to get people into decent jobs, helping them save money, and then assisting them in obtaining and maintaining permanent housing. 

For all intents and purposes, the North Point shelter will offer the most privacy to residents of any shelter in Cleveland. Do you foresee this causing problems for the management of the shelter, and how would you address these problems?

I think the privacy well help with the management of the shelter.  I think the residents will feel safe and will be more able to focus on achieving their goals.

Are there any plans to open additional overflow shelters, since the demand to stay at North Point will likely increase traffic at other shelters?

I expect North Point will decrease traffic at other shelters, not increase traffic.  

Do you feel that substance abuse issues among homeless people are overplayed as a cause of homelessness? In other words, do you think that homeless people who have substance abuse issues are homeless because of the substance abuse; or that they may have substance abuse issues because they are homeless?

Substance abuse is certainly an issue for homeless men, but all addicts are not homeless. Many (most) addicts manage to keep jobs and stay housed. I also think the best place to work on one’s recovery is not on the street or in a shelter, but in one’s own home.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland, Ohio, Issue 84, May 2008