Homeless Service Contract Dominates HHSA Meeting Discussion
By William Tarter, Jr. 
Policy Planning Associate & Community Advocacy

May 9, 2017

The Health, Human Services and Aging (HHSA) Committee of Cuyahoga County Council heard a presentation about the importance of access to lower-priced food for low-income citizens, and contract renewals from Child and Family Services and the Office of Homeless Services, in a packed meeting on May 3, 2017.

The committee first heard from David Davis, president and founder of the Food Stretcher Plus program, who requested a statement of support from the county as he sets up an automatic coupon program for low-income citizens. Mr. Davis noted how 90 percent of coupons are distributed in newspapers, which do not always reach low-income citizens. The Food Stretcher Plus program works with retailers such as Dave’s Supermarkets and manufacturers, to identify certain products that would be eligible for discounts. Low- to middle-income residents are enrolled in the Food Stretcher Plus program, which automatically identifies products at the Point of Sale (POS) that would be discounted for the shopper. Councilwoman Shontel Brown asked if buyers would be able to combine the automatic coupons program with “paper” coupons, to which Mr. Davis said that manufacturers would probably be careful to avoid products being discounted through the Food Stretcher Plus program and the coupons found in newspapers. Councilman Scott Tuma questioned if the program discounts could be abused. Mr. Davis said that there is an electronic monitoring system that would catch any instances of abuse. Councilman Dale Miller inquired if the program was up and running, and if this was a new program or replication of a program elsewhere in the county. Mr. Davis said that this idea is new, has not launched, and is based in the Cleveland area. No decision was made, but members appreciated the presentation.

Testimony from the Cuyahoga County Department of Senior and Adult Services (DSAS) asked for the approval of grant allocations through the Community Social Services Program from January, 2017, until December, 2018, totaling $3.4 million for 28 senior centers across the county. Paul Porter, from DSAS, testified that each of the 28 applications for funding received some type of award for various services to seniors. The $3.4 million is about 47 percent of the total dollars requested from the senior centers, so while not everyone got what they requested, everyone received something. It was noted by the committee that every county district was represented in the grant awards, except for District 1, which did not apply for funding. Mr. Porter said that, compared with just two years ago, agencies saw a 95 percent increase in the number of clients served. The contracts were approved under second reading suspension. For a list of organizations receiving funding, and their respective amounts, please click here.

Next up was a brief presentation from Bob Math, representing Child and Family Services, who requested that County Council approve a $42.8 million master contract for foster care organizations across the county. These entities provide support to children who enter the foster care system. Overall, 41 organizations received funding as a member of the Cuyahoga County foster care system. For a list of organizations receiving funding, and their respective amounts, please click here.

As has been covered in previous blog posts, the Office of Homeless Services (OHS) has been receiving criticism for not adequately addressing complaints from people staying in the shelter. Several speakers shared their stories of treatment at Norma Herr. As a result of feedback in previous months, in consultation with County Council, OHS decided to issue another RFP for its men’s shelter (known as 2100 Lakeside) and for its women’s shelter (Norma Herr), in the amount of $8.4 million. There was one response to the men’s shelter and two responses to the Norma Herr RFP. A panel was assembled to review and judge the proposals and make a recommendation. The panel decided that FrontLine should remain the provider at Norma Herr, even as they work tightly with Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries to improve and streamline operations. Advocates were not pleased with this decision. Additionally, they noted that studies showed that 78 percent of residents at the shelters are African American[1], however, according to the advocates; there were no persons of color on the RFP review panel. Councilmembers Miller, Brown, and Nan Baker asked two FrontLine senior officials questions about the complaints and sought clarity on what was being done to address them. Committee Chair Yvonne Conwell raised concerns about the manner and direct nature of criticism levied from advocates at both County Council and the HHSA committee on this issue. She said that she understood the complaints, but that the process to change the conditions was long and monitoring would be ongoing.

Initially, OHS recommended that the contract for the shelter be for three years (2017-2019). The committee decided to vote to approve the decision and send the resolution to the full council; however, based on the citizen feedback, the agreement would be for one year, with two one-year options for renewal. The resolution was passed by the committee and forwarded to the full Council.