In the last 12 years of my work at NEOCH, no mayor has taken time to do a walk through of the shelters. We had one county commissioner who claimed to have slept at the shelter and another who went to the shelter to criticize the residents, but no Mayors. Even though every shelter but one is in the City of Cleveland and most homeless people migrate to Cleveland in order to get services, the Mayors of Cleveland has largely focused on photo ops. This was done without a press release and without a lot of fanfare for the Mayor's tour of the shelters on Thursday March 9. Channel 3 found out as did the Plain Dealer by checking the Mayor's schedule for the day. There was a nice story by Tom Beres about the tour on Channel 3. Proving once again that Channel 3 might be the only real news television station left.
The tour started at 10 a.m. at 2100 Lakeside Shelter with a meeting of the men who are the elected leaders of the shelter. The Mayor talked about his vision and his agenda around housing and homelessness. He listened to the men and heard some of their concerns in a 45 minute meeting. The Mayor had Jason Woods, governmental affairs, Martin Flask, Public Safety Director, and Michael House, Press Secretary along to answer questions and listen to the concerns. The issues that the Mayor discussed at his meeting were:
- The men at the shelter can make a difference in their own lives and the life of the City.
- The Mayor of the City of Cleveland is not the enemy, and will help whenever possible.
- We need to focus on: money and attack the misconceptions of the general public about homelessness in order to fix up some of the abandoned property.
- He wanted to assure that we do not re-concentrate poverty as had been done in the past with any fix up program.
- We need to assure that neighbors are involved in the development of any programs or any affordable housing.
- We need to work on partnerships between the City and County.
- We need to work on the $23 or $24 million that come to Cleveland every year and assure that we have better outcomes with that money.
- We need a plan for how we better serve the population and business leaders can be effective in assisting with implementation of a plan.
- We need to transform the shelter into a place that creates jobs. Jackson talked about making the shelters into economic engines that can help people find employment or can foster the development of microenterprise projects. Have the shelters go after contracts for goods and services in the community in order provide employment opportunities.
- He asked the shelter residents for input on how to transition out of homelessness. What steps need to be taken?
- Again, talked about better utilization of funds.
- Talked about the Summer Clean up program and the process for awarding that contract. (196 of the men had signed a letter asking the City to award the contract to the Community Hiring Hall.)
- In response to a question about people with a prison background getting into housing, he said that many are very judgmental in the community. The only way to change this negative stereotype is for the shelter residents to start doing high profile volunteer tasks in the community. Jackson suggested working with various departments (Aging and Safety). Jackson said that the City will help in this effort, but the men will have to work on this.
- The Mayor stressed the need for the homeless population to define themselves and not let panhandlers or the people who do wrong within the community to be the people that are most visible and are assumed to represent the homeless community.
- One man at the shelter asked about a negative incident with the police that the Safety Director agreed to follow up on it.
- One person asked about government regulations and the policy of felons getting into housing. Jackson said that he would work with the Coalition on changing any policy that had any local flexibility. Will work on the problems.
After the meeting and tour of the men's shelter, which is the largest shelter in the state of Ohio we went over the Community Women's Shelter (100 women and a few children sleep there every night). It took a long time to get through the shelters, because the men and women wanted to talk to the Mayor. In addition, LMM and Mental Health Services had taken over the shelter in the last year and half and wanted to talk to the Mayor about some issues.
The Mental Health Services staff at the Women's Shelter did a good overview of the program and had a few of the residents lead the tour. Good idea for a Mayor/Councilperson who is big into empowerment to have the residents lead the tour. Then it was lunch with the Catholic Charities staff at the Bishop Cosgrove Center and a few individuals who use the facility. Very good chicken, rice, and vegetables with grape juice and a dessert on the side. We learned about the funding constraints of the Drop in Center, and the large number of people provided a meal and warm place every day. At this point, we were running behind and so we were not going to get to see the Volunteers of America Shelter. The Mayor loves talking to citizens. He doesn't just shake hands, but spends a little time listening to people ask about jobs, housing, re-entry or big plans for the city. Yes, even homeless people have big plans for the City. They are usually ignored because they bring little money to the table.
Finished up over at West Side Catholic. We got to see the renovated facility and the Ignatius high school students volunteering. The older Clevelanders who help to prepare the meal were in the kitchen, and we visited the fantastic clothing room in the back of West Side Catholic. We finished up in the Cadillac of shelters with the West Side Catholic family shelter. The cleanest of the shelters and newly renovated facility that feels like a real home not an institution. We finished up on time, and then did a short interview with Channel 3. The Mayor assured me that this is not the end of the story that we need to further develop some of the ideas that came up. He told me that staff would follow up with me and gave me names of people to contact. The men at 2100 Lakeside set a meeting for Monday to de-brief and make plans for activities they could work on in the community.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.