Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Back Story

East Side Catholic: Three Years of Trouble

I want to give some clarity to the story in today's Plain Dealer, because it did not paint the full picture of the death of East Side Catholic. First, I gave the story about the near death of this shelter to most of the media repeatedly since March 2007. Stan Donaldson, the author of the Plain Dealer story, was not happy with our criticism of the Public Square stories that he wrote. He did say he saw the posts in this blog. (I have to wonder if that is why I was not quoted in the PD story?)

We wrote a letter to every funder of East Side Catholic in early 2004 raising our concern that the shelter was having problems, and they needed to intervene to save the shelter. The most glaring omission from the PD story is the impact on the community of the closing of the shelter. This is a family shelter, and so they serve the fastest growing population of homeless people in our community. It is only 32 beds, but they are extremely valuable beds. With the reduction in the number of domestic violence beds in our community and now this shelter closing it is a body blow to Cleveland. The Cleveland Public Schools told me that there were 26 children in this shelter as of last week. Stan D. never asked Ruth Gillett why she could not have kept the shelter open or forced a change in leadership.

The vote by the Office of Homeless Services Advisory, of which I am a member, was not characterized correctly in the paper. The vote was to withhold their program from federal funding, but not to close the shelter. I supported the vote (one of the few unanimous votes in the history of the OHS Advisory). NEOCH also wrote to the shelter leadership to ask that they stop the battle with the County and get their house in order. No one voted that the shelter should close. We had a long discussion, and were told that the goal was to reform the shelter and keep them open. Ruth Gillett assured us that they would work for keeping the shelter open, because we could not afford to see a reduction in the family shelter beds. It should also be noted that the shelter was put "on notice" three years ago, and allegedly came back, but were back "on notice" by Ruth's office within three months. East Side Catholic was a train wreck for years, and Ruth, as the conductor of all public funds for homeless programs, could not figure out a way to prevent the closing of this facility.

NEOCH was never invited into the discussions with the shelter to try to save the beds. The Alcohol and Drug Board and the United Way funded the program and with all their big wigs could not save the shelter beds. The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority made a mistake in giving their treatment program, Miracle Village, to East Side Catholic and then not keeping a close eye on the agency. The City and the local foundation community could not put enough pressure on the East Side Catholic Board of Trustees to clean house and keep this valuable resource alive. But the County took the lead, and so must take the blame for this failure. Ruth Gillett repeatedly met with the shelter and selected the course of action to be taken against the shelter. This course led to the death of the shelter this month. Ruth must take responsibility for this failure and tell us in the community how we are going to fill this hole.

A word of warning to the community: this is not the end of the story. There are a series of shelters who will be in the same position over the next few years. It looks as though Family Transitional shelter was given a reprieve from closing by being taken over by West Side Catholic, but the writing is on the wall. The federal department that funds shelters, services and housing for homeless people has moved away from shelters and services. In many other cities nearly all of the transitional shelters have closed. I believe that there are two or three more shelters which will close in next two years. We have tried to convince the County to diversify the funding for the shelters for six years now, and our warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Almost all the shelters receive 80% of their funding from the federal government. In a time of growing national debt, war funding, and a health care funding crisis, shelters are unfortunately going to feel the squeeze.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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