Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Homeless Congress Talk to Councilman Zone

Homeless Congress Talks About Shelters, Vacant Buildings and Overflow

We had a small crowd for the Homeless Congress meeting last week because of the ballgame going on at the same time. Approximately, two hundred or more homeless people work the game through clean up crews or the parking lot attendants at nearly every home Indians game. Despite the new name of the ballpark, indentured servants wait in the wings to clean up the beer and trash as the cheers fade away in the not-so-progressive field. We had about 15 homeless individuals, a couple of agencies, staff from Dennis Kucinich’s office, a representative from the County Office of Homeless Services advisory (the Homeless Book Club), and Councilman Matt Zone.

Councilman Zone was invited to the meeting (along with his 20 colleagues) to hear the concerns of homeless people over the conditions in the shelters and urge passage of the shelter standards bill in Cleveland. He heard an earful:

  • One woman said that she was told by the shelter staff to put her baby in the foster care system while she looks for housing. She did and now that she found housing, she was told that her babies were up adoption. Bad advice.
  • The men at Lakeside shelter are upset that when they visit family, go to the hospital or have to do a third shift job and they come back to find someone has taken their bed. This sounds reasonable to the world because we are not running a hotel here, but to the men the new person is unknown and coming into the community straight from the street. He could be drunk; he could be stealing items; he could be bring bedbugs. There is concern that the only way that 2100 Lakeside works with 400 guys is to divide the facility into six smaller shelters and force people to work and make milestones to move into the better communities. Sticking a guy who may have a prison mentality right into one of the higher communities even for a night, is a recipe for disaster. They want a reversal of this policy by creating sufficient overflow to address make this not necessary.
  • There were concerns about shelters throwing away a person’s identification.
  • There was concern about the training of staff who work at shelters and screening them for drugs and relapse issues among the staff.
  • One of the shelters has a massive bedbugs outbreak, and the men were concerned about the ability to sleep in a facility with bedbugs.
  • One other shelter primarily serves fragile populations of disabled and elderly men and does not have a defibrillator for heart attacks or the proper emergency equipment.
  • Finally, the women expressed concern about the hot water tank repeatedly breaking in the Community Women’s Shelter.

Councilman Zone listened to all the concerns and agreed to take the concerns back to Councilman Cimperman and the city administration to activate this committee and begin discussing the Shelter Standards in Cleveland.

Other issues that we discussed included a proposal by the Congress to look at the abandoned property in Cleveland, and look into how those buildings may be turned over to homeless people in a modern urban homesteading initiative. We are going to invite community development folks to the next meeting to talk about the issues.

The County staff could not attend so they sent current North Point director Ed Gamerchek as a representative of the poorly named Office of Homeless Services “Advisory” Board. I say, poorly named because they really do not advise anyone. He received the Homeless Congress concerns about time limits along with the similar concerns expressed by the Coalition. He came to assure the group that no time limits were being talked about, but there was a concern about the amount of time spent in the shelters by some individuals. It should be noted that this is an extremely small number (single digit percentage of the total) who spend more than one year in the men’s shelter. There was also concern that some people were rejecting available spaces in transitional shelters thus there are vacancies in the transitional facilities and overcrowded conditions in the emergency shelters. The men said that the problem was that the County needs to step up and demand the transitional shelters make it easier to get in, and there must be a safety net so that if you fail out of the transitional facilities you do not have to start over at the beginning of the emergency shelter without a locker or fixed bed. It takes a lot of time and patience to move through the system, but there are set backs in a person’s recovery and the guys do not want to have to go all the way back to the unsafe and disruptive entry system.

We thank Councilman Zone for coming and listening, and we hope that he and other Council members will continue to join us. Thanks to Ed for attending, and the other community members for their help. We should recognize Laurie Rokakis and Congressman Kucinich for bringing two gift baskets to the meeting in March that we raffled off during the meeting.


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

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