Sunday, June 12, 2011

Forum on Shelter Standards

Photos by Pleasure Simmons

Health and Human Services Hearing Focuses on Shelters

About 15 homeless people attended a hearing held by Cuyahoga County Council members on Thursday June 9 at the Justice Center. Six individuals stepped up to the microphone to talk about the conditions within the shelters, and many asked that County officials put in place regulations to assure that public taxpayer money are used effectively. All six of the people who testified did an amazing job. A few were currently homeless and had to step up to the microphone while the directors of some of the shelters were sitting in the audience. That takes a great deal of courage to speak out about the place in which they are currently sleeping. The first speaker was a woman from the Community Women's shelter who talked about how there is a need to improve the conditions at the shelter.

The first planned speaker was Don who had stayed at a number of shelters, and had concern that there was very little follow up services. Don mentioned how he received very little help from the shelter staff in finding or maintaining housing. He asked that the Council make housing assistance and follow up services a top priority for those sleeping in the shelters from the first day that a person enters. Rosie was next up and she talked about the problems that the women had last summer, when the County placed the 80 to 110 women into a shelter with only one shower and a small number of toilets. She talked in great detail about women traveling to Tower City to use the facilities because of a lack of toilets at the temporary shelter or the women using the urinals at the shelter because the bathroom was too small for the 100 women who slept there last summer.

Sheri was up next and she talked about her previous experience at the shelters, and the difficulty in finding food for her special dietary needs. She talked about regularly going hungry because she could not find food to meet her doctor mandated diet. Sheri talked about the lack of healthy foods that are unfortunately served by many shelters. Norman, a veteran who currently sleeps in one of the shelters talked about the difficulty in filing a grievance, and his inability to find a place where all the rules of the shelter were written down. Norman talked about the staff making arbitrary decisions about the rules because there is no one demanding fair and equal treatment of the residents.

Darrell, also currently living in the shelter, spoke from his perspective as a health care professional about the unhealthy conditions within the shelters. He talked about the mold at the men's shelter and the horrible conditions within the women's shelter. Darrell mentioned the need for a better trained staff to serve the population. He said that there needs to be more oversight of the health care needs of the residents of the shelters in Cleveland and urged the Council to adopt a set of rules.

All of the members of the Homeless Congress who testified did a great job of briefly explaining the problem and talking about the legislation they worked on to solve these problems. All were clear and concise in describing the problems within the shelters. The six members were respectful of the shelters and the staff at the facilities, but pointed out that there was a need for improvements. All were respectful of the County Council members who listened intently to the diversity of issues brought up by the residents. The County Council chambers are intimidating with a podium standing before a half circle of 16 foreboding chairs. Health and Human Services chair Dan Brady hosted the discussion. We need to thank Council members Michael Gallagher, Sunny Simon, Pernel Jones Jr., and Yvonne Conwell who all attended and listened intently to the group of individuals with homeless experiences.

I had the good fortune of testifying before the County Council on behalf of the homeless population. I will post the notes on my testimony and the questions that came up from the members of the Council next. Stay tuned.

Brian Davis
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