Richard Merritt had his letter published in the Sun Press website on Monday. In case the link goes away here is the text of his letter.
We have covered this story a couple of times here and here. Richard is exactly correct that Cleveland Heights should have figured out a way to give these funds away to the 500 who faced eviction at the Cleveland Hts. Municipal Court in 2010. This points out the need for homeless and housing social services in the Eastern suburbs. There are many questions with regard to the federal stimulus dollars. Why do people facing eviction have to go downtown to get help especially if the money was intended for residents of Cleveland Heights? Why didn't at least one Council member from Cleveland Heights object to giving away their money? Why are there not any shelters in the suburbs? Why do the qualifications for HPRP keep changing without any public comment or approval by the federal government? Why isn't there anyone in the suburbs that can help those experiencing housing instability? Why aren't the rules for receiving this assistance posted anywhere on the web? Why weren't the residents of Cleveland Hts. notified of the existence of these funds like the residents of Lakewood were notified?
I was disheartened, but not at all surprised, to read the May 5 Sun Press story, “Homeless prevention funds given to county.” I was also not surprised to note that Assistant City Manager Niermann O’Neil seems to have a blunted understanding of how the program works, in addition to misdirecting candidates to 2-1-1 (try to find HPRP on the 2-1-1 website).
The program, known as Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing, is designed as a bridge program to help those who are either at risk of being homeless or literally homeless from being so. It was designed to help those people who were displaced by virtue of the economic meltdown to meet their housing costs until they could again re-enter the workforce and then be self-sustaining, and there are a number of eligibility requirements imposed by both HUD and the local Continuum of Care (CoC) that administers the program.
HUD strongly advises the local CoCs to develop marketing pieces to make potential candidates aware of the program, yet neither the City of Cleveland Heights nor the Office of Homeless Services have done so. Moreover, the intake process OHS has implemented is deeply flawed and lacks the ability to either prevent homelessness or to properly assess and deliver candidate needs in a timely fashion. In a twisted irony, the local CoC requires a stay in shelter for those who cannot stay in their present dwelling despite a stated goal of the program as diversion from shelter.
Also, as in my case, the amount of the award is not up to the standard rent reasonableness HUD mandates, making it impossible to acquire adequate housing as allowed by the program. This forces award recipients into the untenable position of appealing their awards or accepting an award that is likely to result in an unsustainable outcome.
Lastly, it is a sad commentary that a program so thoughtfully conceived of by HUD has been so completely perverted by the local CoC as to turn the intent of the program on its head and thereby fail miserably to reach the target population or deliver the aid in adequate measure to fairly ensure a successful outcome.
The local CoC has failed to accurately gauge the full impact caused by the economic dislocations visited upon many county residents who normally would have a job, but are now displaced due to untoward hiring discrimination against the long-term unemployed and a slow return to full employment. As such, its players have failed to develop a program that is consistent with HUD guidelines and resident need. The proof of this is the City of Cleveland Heights is one of the worst laggards in spending of all CoCs nationwide.
The process of navigating HPRP is opaque and its administration deeply flawed. This is a travesty for those desperately in need of aid.
Richard H. Merritt
So far, no one in the community has offered answers to these questions.
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