Monday, August 09, 2010

Latest Appeal To Mayor For Help

NEOCH Board Asks the City to Enforce Building and Housing Standards

Dear Mayor Frank Jackson:

For the past two months, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless has tried to improve conditions at the Community Women’s Shelter. Our goal is to get the same treatment for homeless women as would be extended to women living in an apartment. As you know, on May 3, 2010, residents of CWS were moved to their current and temporary facility at 1701 Payne Avenue due to renovations of the CWS building. The site contained no shower forcing women to go to nearby Cosgrove Center and North Point Men’s Transitional Shelter to shower. If this were an apartment building with 90 women and one shower, this would have been condemned the day that it opened.

NEOCH’s has worked for 10 years to improve the conditions within the shelters, and we feel that things are moving backward with this temporary location. We have spent countless hours over the last month to work on the problems at the Community Women’s Shelter. Our board member, Rosie Palfy has filed numerous complaints to city officials about the health and safety of the shelter. We filed complaints with the state, and with every department that will listen. NEOCH filed complaints with building and housing citing multiple building code violations in the first week of June. Please remember that homeless people typically spend less than 30 days in shelter, so for many this will be their only contact with City or County funded shelters.

Palfy called repeatedly and even drove downtown to check on the complaint in person, and no one answered or responded to her messages. After hearing no update on her complaint, she called Inspector Santora from the office of Building and Housing in late July. Mr. Santora had made a visual inspection of the facility and finally called Ms. Palfy on July 23, 2010, and remained adamant that the shelter is complying with all health and safety codes. Ms. Palfy cited many violations in the shelter such as the number of people per toilet and the lack of showers, the overcrowded conditions, the lack of the proper number of sinks, and the deteriorating conditions in the shelter. Inspector Santora remained unyielding in his defense of the shelter and insistence that the plumbing was adequate. However, it is our understanding that congregate living facilities must have at least one toilet and shower per 10 people. The shelter regularly has 80-100 people per night with four working toilets and only one shower. Mr. Santora was described as “rude” during their phone conversation by Ms. Palfy.

The inspector could not explain why the certificate of occupancy indicates that the shelter can only have 50 beds, but now has 80 beds and as many as 100 women sleeping in the shelter. The inspector indicated that he toured the showers in the building around the corner to see where the women shower. Despite the fact that there is nothing in the building and housing code that allows residential facilities to have showers available for a few hours a day down the street. The inspector did not check on the fact that women were using the urinals because there are not enough toilets, and that the water pressure is so low it is often the case that they do not flush. The inspector’s response was, “Where do you think they would be going if they were [sleeping] outside?”

Santora believed that the women were not in any imminent danger and so was unwilling to take corrective action. We have done as much as we can to prevent harm, but are not receiving any help from the City. We have already seen a majority of the women not showering. We have already had women going to the hospital because of infections. Inspector Santora seemed to be treating the Coalition as the enemy here, and he seemed to indicate that it was our intention to shut down the facility and make the women homeless again. This is not our intention or our goal. We just want the women to live in humane conditions, and for the City and County to take this problem seriously. We ask that the bureaucrats who spent a year planning this move to admit that they made a mistake in not planning for the proper number of showers and the large number of women who needed shelter, and fix their mistake. NEOCH is asking for your help to stand up for the women in the shelter. Your intervention can help improve the conditions in the shelter. We are always willing to help, but we cannot tolerate the conditions that the women are living under.

Sincerely yours,

Marcia Bufford

Bufford also sent this to Building and Housing Director Rybka as a follow up to the early June complaint and members of Cleveland City Council.
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