Saturday, February 23, 2008

Packing People in the Shelter

Lakeside Shelter is Overflowing

The FAA and Department of Homeland Security closed Aviation High School as the Overflow Shelter for homeless men in Cleveland on February 1, 2008. With the snow and the cold this week, how have homeless people faired since this decision was implemented? 2100 Lakeside shelter is bursting at the seams, and on Thursday February 21, 2008, 25 guys waited throughout the night for a bed to open. The plan put in place by the City and County as we prepared for the closing of Aviation High Overflow Shelter did not work. The sooner that they admit that their plans failed, the sooner homeless men will be able to sleep peacefully in a bed. It is bad enough carrying all your stuff around, sleeping in a shelter, and being homeless without having to sit up all night waiting for a bed in the land of plenty in the richest country on the planet.

A little history is in order here. 2100 Lakeside legally houses 385 people a night. As we have learned "if you build it they will come." The shelter was full the day it opened, and every time they put more beds into the facility the population increased. In 2003, while the shelter was under the direction of the Salvation Army, there were some nights that 600 people showed up seeking a bed. St. Ignatius and some of the other shelters offered hallway space to accommodate the overflow on a temporary basis. In 2004, Aviation High School opened as the overflow site housing between 135-220 people per night. The Crawford Aviation Museum talked about buying the building in 2005, but it remained a shelter.

In late 2005, the City was contacted from the federal authorities began putting pressure on the City to close the shelter out of terrorism concerns. The shelter bordered Burke Lakefront Airport, and there was concern for the safety of the airport with 150 unscreened people sleeping a few yards from the airport grounds. The City resisted federal concerns, and pushed back a series of deadlines for relocation. Why would a terrorist become homeless and sneak onto Burke Lakefront to steal the WKYC helicopter or the KeyBank Learjet? The final deadline imposed by the Federal government was January 31, 2008. After that date the City could not use the abandoned high school. The City and County had over one year to put in place a replacement plan for Aviation.

The County Office of Homeless Services took the lead, and did a lot of innovative things to replace the overflow. They forced the rest of the men's shelters to take people into their programs first from the Lakeside Shelter. They opened a series of permanent supportive housing, and provided additional housing vouchers. They opened North Point Transitional shelter in an old motel, which can house 160 people. North Point is a great idea that we should be proud of in our community, but it is not overflow. We opened beds at Oriana House, and tried to quickly move people out of Lakeside. All worthwhile efforts, but they do not address the problem of overflow. As I have always said, "if you build it they will come." If you improve the system (North Point) more people who were living on the margins of homelessness will show up.

So, the day after Aviation closed on Saturday Feb. 2, despite 160 people having moved over to North Point, Lakeside shelter was overflowing. The staff at the shelter had asked the City for 100 beds of overflow. The County granted them 30 spaces at the Volunteers of America, and told them to deal with it. Luckily, the City Mission stepped in and offered an additional 30 spaces. Even with 60 overflow spaces the shelter has had 10 days of people waiting for a bed to open in the hallway and cafeteria. As stated above there were 85 people over the legal limit on Thursday. Sixty were provided a cot or mat at Volunteers of America and the City Mission, as the two overflow sites. Twenty five people had to wait for people to get up in the middle of the night to go to work in order to get a bed. The plan is not working. City and County officials should have listened to the professionals working at the shelter or even the Homeless Congress and have provided 100 overflow beds. A County Commissioner or the Mayor needs to step in here and open a warehouse that we can put 100 cots at night as the overflow. We have plenty of vacant buildings. Put them to use! Sunday night is going to be rough for homeless men in Cleveland seeking shelter.

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

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