Frances Strickland, Ohio's First Lady, was in Cleveland on Monday 8/20 to meet with a group of homeless women and children. Trinity Cathedral hosted 7 women and their children, and one recent graduate of the Cleveland Public Schools who struggled with homelessness. We met in the comfortable surroundings of the Charter Room with couches and comfortable chairs. So comfortable, in fact, two of the children fell asleep while their Mom's held them. This was an attempt by the Governor's wife to stay in touch with homeless people, and she wanted to hear from the students about their experiences in managing school during their period of housing instability. Ms. Strickland was soft spoken, but a good listener. She went back over the points that the women made to make sure that she understood. The families came from Miracle Village, West Side Catholic, New Life Community and Cleveland Public Schools Project Act, and most left with a positive impression of the First Lady.
The one recurring issue that came up from the women were the difficulty in finding stable housing without some financial help. A number of women talked about how they found help for themselves and their children from the Department of Human Services, but once they started earning money it all fell apart. The shelter usually only allow a family to stay for three months, and the women find a job, secure their benefits, and then eventually find housing. Once a woman starts earning income, their food stamps are reduced and their child care assistance is reduced. They just barely make it with a job and the County assistance, and then the county begins to withdraw that help and one unexpected expense can cause a return to the shelters. This is a big issue that the State can address. If as a society we are not going to demand living wages from all our employers, then we have to subsidize childcare, transportation, housing and food--sometimes for life.
Other issues that came up during the discussion:
- The shelters turn developmentally disabled individuals out when they turn 18 even if they are still in high school under the care of a parent or guardian. One disabled young man was taken advantage of and raped because he was separated from his mom when he turned 18. The state needs to revise its rules for the shelters.
- Suburban schools have an unfair advantage over Cleveland schools in the tests. Too many kids start behind their neighbors in the suburbs, and the Cleveland kids are always playing catch up.
- Our community has no idea what is happening with homeless kids who leave their parents or guardians before they are 18 because we don't have a place for these kids to go.
- No matter what the County says publicly, they often take custody of children just because the Mom becomes homeless.
- The Housing Authority is not doing a good job with inspections of potential apartments for those using the voucher program.
- Suburban school districts do not always follow the rules with regard to allowing a child to return to their school of origin when a family becomes homeless. Lakewood specifically came up in the discussion.
- Why does ODJFS (Welfare Department) want us to provide ID every six months in order to get benefits? All that information is on file when you apply, why do we keep having to bring our ID and birth certificates with us? They do not change.
- Child support orders do not always transfer very smoothly between Counties. This is a big problem for those fleeing because of domestic violence.
- Poor people fall through the cracks in health care, and the hospitals try as hard as they can not to serve you especially with dental care. Follow up care is especially difficult.
- There is too much paperwork to get a few food stamps.
- Things start crushing down on the women at the shelters and there is not enough counseling help. Shelters need more workers who can help, and those shelters need a highly professional staff like West Side Catholic.
- Shelters need more budgeting classes. Some of the shelters have nothing (no classes) and no one can help with anything, while others have everything.
- There is a lot of racism in finding a job or housing in this community.
- One woman mentioned having lost everything and started over in the shelters. Then she got her life back together and the County cut all her help because she started earning $8 an hour, which was not enough to pay the rent/food/childcare.
- The income that one woman found did not pay her expenses, and so she has no idea how to pay for childcare services.
- Most of the housing has this incredible waiting list of three to five years.
- The oversight of most of the subsidized housing (vouchers, Public Housing, and HUD housing) is not very good and needs improved. Too much bureaucracy and not enough scrutiny.
- There is way too much abandoned housing in our community. Many women mentioned the need to fix it up and get homeless people moved in to those units.
- One of the women was going to school at CSU, but also had to have a full time job. Tuition is too expensive and grants are not available.
- Cleveland Public Schools said that they were starting out the year with 700 homeless children registered.
- One woman mentioned that she was homeless as a child, and was terrified that she would be homeless again. She constantly has that on her mind that she does not want to go through the trauma of homelessness again.
- Shelter Plus Care is a very good program.
- They need more programs to help women do things for themselves.
- New Life Shelter complained about the time limits put on treatment and job training. This has harmed their program and the women in the program.
- Apartment owners are not taking care of their property, and again inspections are not working.
- A few said that they were very grateful for the programs and the services available. Some of the shelters are not providing the same level of service as others, and women have to go to the schools or churches or other places for help.
- When a family starts making a little money is the time that they start taking away your day care or transportation. No one could make it on $7 an hour and the small amount of help that the County give you.
- Why would one of the shelters force you to leave once you get a job? This seems like the opposite message that the shelters should be giving to homeless women. It is like they want people to be dependent if they are discouraging employment.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.