The Northeast Ohio Coalition for Homeless sent the following letter to Mayor Jackson asking for help with regard to the trauma that the homeless population has gone through over the last year. Our concern is that a great deal has happened, and we have not gathered as a community to address some of these big issues.
Dear Mayor Jackson:
Over the last year, a number of high-profile incidents have deeply traumatized the homeless population of Cleveland. Although there was a great deal of attention in the media on these issues, we have had neither a proper recognition of the seriousness of these incidents, nor a discussion of how to prevent these issues in the future. We were witness to the murder of a shelter director after which there was no investigation, no community-wide discussion, and no after-incident report issued to avoid future violence within the shelters. Questions such as, “How could the discharge procedure or grievance procedure or safety plan be improved to assure that this never happens again?” have yet to be addressed.
Some of the more horrific incidents over the last year include:
- Nearly a dozen women were killed on Imperial Ave. A few had spent some time in the shelters, while most were homeless and never sought help for their addiction or their lack of housing from the social service providers. Why did these women with addiction issues avoid staying in the shelters in exchange for abuse by a sexually-based offender?
- The young child who was scalded in an East Side motel had only recently left the shelters. Was she discharged properly and was there anyone within the system representing the best interest of the child? Again, there was no discussion locally about this tragedy; what could we do to avoid this in the future?
- There were a number of other issues that we have seen including a suicide within the shelter, the loss of limbs because of MRSA or a serious staph infection, improper discharges into the night, and shelter staff defying their own grievance procedures. What can we learn from these incidents to keep residents of the shelter safe in the future?
Although these terrifying issues significantly impacted the shelters and the local residents using them, no government entity has convened any discussion to provide a roadmap for a safer future. It must be said here that most of the shelters are wonderful places and are healthy places for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. There are a few that are not up to the standards of the others. For example, the veteran’s facility on East 152nd St. is a great shelter that is respectful to the veterans population, but has no standard for intake or discharges. Cuyahoga County looked into the death of the toddler in the hotel, and the City looked into the Imperial Ave. murders, but no one has convened a discussion about these incidents and their impact on the shelter system in Cuyahoga County/City of Cleveland. As a homeless advocate, in our opinion, these incidents point to a systemic lack of oversight of the shelters.
We believe that it is time for the City of Cleveland to pass legislation to regulate the shelters. In the City Council elections, 13 elected council members said that they would support a shelter standards bill if it were proposed. We just need one office within the City to oversee these regulations. NEOCH is requesting that the city take the lead in discussing these issues and look at examining these regulations for the shelters. To compare, the residents of the City of Cleveland have a place to go if they need to complain about predatory mortgage brokers, landlords or nursing homes, but on the other hand a resident of the shelter has no where to go to complain. We spend over $30 million dollars per year on shelters and permanent supportive housing programs directed toward homeless people, but we do not have regulations to move these shelters up to a safe level in which we can all be proud. We believe that the shelter standards regulations are the appropriate response to these tragedies within the homeless community.
The shelter standards would address the follow issues:
- In response to the Imperial Ave. murders, the need for a “wet” shelter in the community to serve those who are actively using and need help with their addictions.
- In response to the MRSA or staph infections, an infectious disease protocol for shelters.
- In response to the death of the shelter director, the shelters should have a plan for keeping residents and staff safe that is approved by an outside agency.
- In response to the East side motel scalding, the shelters should have specific rules for housing children in an effort to keep them safe.
- To address all of these issues, the City should employ someone to resolve grievances and there should be a client advocate system constructed within the shelters.
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