Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Your Government Inaction

Family Shelter Closing

East Side Catholic Center announced on Monday that they would be closing on December 21, 2007. This 32 to 40 bed facility has stopped accepting families for their emergency shelter, and will work to relocate their residents over the next two weeks. In addition, East Side Catholic administered a program called “Miracle Village” in collaboration with Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, and has announced that this program will also shut down. Miracle Village provided treatment for women with a chemical dependency and could serve up to 135 women. The agency has had financial issues for three years, and County officials were not able to provide assistance to keep the programs operational while family homelessness is the fastest growing subpopulation within the homeless community.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development released a report “Assessing the Number of Homeless People in the United States” in February 2007 and found that nationally 48% of the homeless population were a part of a family. This translates to over 9,000 members of a family in Cuyahoga County were homeless in one year or 5,000 people were age 0 to 17 years old and found themselves without housing in the most recent figures available. Family homelessness is on the rise, and the service providers are not keeping up with the calls for help. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is calling on government officials specifically, the City/County Office of Homeless Services to figure out how to keep these services operational in one of the poorest cities in the United States. While shelters are not the answer to homelessness, they are an essential part of our safety net to keep families together while they struggle to get back into housing.

In a forum held by the Coalition in early March 2007 around Family Homelessness we learned of:

  • The funding problems faced by the family shelters because of federal policy, and we raised the issue of three of our family shelters that were in danger of closing in Cleveland.
  • The significant decrease in the number of shelter beds for those fleeing an abuser in the last five years.
  • The lack of oversight of the shelters, which makes it difficult for women to stay in the system and many fear using the shelters.
  • The current shelter policy especially for those who are newly homeless makes it difficult for a mother and father to stay together. We heard from women who had to separate from their husbands because the entry shelters do not allow men.
With the dramatic increases in foreclosures, the levels of poverty in Cleveland, and the growing waiting lists for affordable housing, we do not need to see a family shelter close in Cleveland. I am amazed that Ruth Gillett of the Office of Homeless Services with the backing of Cuyahoga County could not figure out a way to save these programs. We had three years to put a plan in place to keep in place the shelter and treatment, but community leaders did not step in to help. I have to wonder if the County has decided that these programs are not necessary or was all their attention focused on the closing of Aviation High School overflow shelter? The shelter was put on notice two years ago after a review by Cuyahoga County officials that prevented East Side Catholic from seeking federal dollars until they cleaned up their agency’s finances, management, and program operations. At the time, the County put East Side Catholic on notice, Gillett and others made a commitment to maintain the service in the community. It is ironic that the shelter chose December 21, National Homeless Memorial Day, as the day to close since that is the day to remember those who passed away over the last year because of homelessness. Will we see an increase in the list of names read at the 2008 Homeless Memorial Day because of the inaction to save East Side Catholic?

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

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