We have talked about the increase in metal detectors at the shelters back in May. Just last week, the shelters met to talk about suggestions for improving the safety within the shelter. I guess a number of the homeless population did not get the safety forum powerpoint, because a homeless guy stabbed another guy at St. Herman's Shelter in Cleveland. As I mentioned back in May, we need a broader discussion about shelter safety and not just a discussion focusing on bag checks, metal detectors and law enforcement.
A can of soup wrapped in a sock can be a weapon (Even Campbell's Pepper Pot soup?). Focusing only on keeping weapons out of the shelter is similar to invading another country to fight a war on terror. In a free society it is impossible to keep everyone safe all the time no matter how many bag checks, metal detectors and rules the shelter develops. We need to turn our attention to all of the tasks that keep residents and staff safe, and not just looking for weapons. There are so many other issues involved in the death of a shelter director, this latest stabbing at St. Hermans, and the gun incident at one of the local shelters. The biggest issue is mental illnesses within the shelters, and the inability for some to find help. There is an issue over the lack of proper training on de-escalation techniques for shelter staff. There is the problem over an inability to teach conflict resolution to both residents and staff. There is the basic injustice of living in a shelter and having no where to turn if there is a problem. There are a lot of anger issues among the homeless population. We see issues of people being treated as a number (Bed 23) and not a human being. There is the sadness over the break up of a family or the loss of housing. It goes on and on, and so far our only response is for the homeless population to "assume the position" like a criminal when they enter the shelter.
We never had a community wide discussion to address all the issues around safety. We never reassured volunteers that the shelter staff realized that there is a problem with a perception of unsafe conditions, and are working on a response. If people keep hearing about these incidents within the shelters are they going to give money? Are they going to volunteer? People are being harmed on a regular basis. People have already died. What is it going to take for the City and County to admit that there is a problem and begin to address it?
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