Cuyahoga County Council Health, Human Services & Aging Committee Meetings

On April 20, 2016, the Cuyahoga County Council Health, Human Services & Aging Committee heard from David Merriman, administrator for the Department of Child and Family Services, requesting approval of a contract for Youth Opportunities Unlimited (Y.O.U). Y.O.U. was selected in response to a County RFP for the implementation of a summer youth employment program.

At the time of the testimony to Council, Y.O.U. already had received 11,500 applications for 3,000 summer employment positions. They testified that they expected the number of applications to rise to 13,500 by the application deadline of May 2nd.

The County contract is for $5,500,000 and is funded by Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The County portion will support 2,500 of the 3,000 summer employment positions, with the remaining positions funded by other sources.

The ages of the participants in the summer youth employment program will range from 14-24. Fifteen hundred youth aged 14-17 will work 25 hours/week for six weeks making $8.10 an hour. One thousand youth aged 18-24 will work 30 hours/week for six weeks making $10 an hour.

Those participating in the program will work in positions with about 30 percent being employed by the private sector and 70 percent in a nonprofit or public sector job. The goal in the future is to increase the percentage of those working in a private sector job up to 50 percent.

Previously, the County mostly funded positions for children 14-17, with only 50 children from age 18-24. Now, there is a concerted effort to get more people into the workforce who are just out of high school and are not enrolled in college.

According to the Opportunity Index, there are more than 22,000 youth aged 16-24 who are not in school and not working.

May 4, 2016

On May 4, 2016, the Cuyahoga County Health, Human Services & Aging Committee heard passionate testimony from current and former residents of the Norma Herr Homeless Shelter, as well as from Brian Davis, director of the Northeast Ohio Homeless Coalition, who collectively outlined complaints at the shelter, which is being operated by FrontLine. Although not members of the HHSA committee, County Council President Dan Brady and Councilwoman Sunny Simon were both present to listen and participate in the meeting.  The committee is usually comprised of five councilmembers.” Testimony to the council was presented by a number of women who complained about inconsiderate staff, lack of support in job guidance, and lack of organizational communication surrounding mental health and rule enforcement. The women also shared painful stories about bullying, drug use, and dealing with unsanitary conditions. The testimony also cited issues of overcrowding and how cumulative effects of the conditions and treatment have created an environment of high tension and hostility between the residents themselves, and the staff.

Mr. Davis testified that the group has invited city and county officials to tour the facilities, but so far, very few have taken him up on the offer. Tensions were high between him and council members, as they said that any future dialogue between them and his organization had to be one of “mutual respect.” Mr. Davis testified that back in September, the Homeless Congress voted to give FrontLine one year before they would demand a change in provider at the Norma Herr Shelter. But, according to County Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell, such a change would be virtually impossible, as no other provider bid on the contract for supporting the women’s shelter.

Two representatives from FrontLine read a prepared statement saying that they are aware of the concerns and are committed to being transparent about the need to expand staff and services at the shelter. They said that they are hiring more mental health support staff for the women at the shelter. Additionally, they said that they are aware that the quality of the food is not satisfactory to everyone, due in part to the fact that the shelter does not have a fully functioning kitchen, but only a warming area to heat food provided by another organization.

Ruth Gillett, manager of Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services, spoke briefly asking for time to circle back with the advocates and have something to present to council. She spoke about the monitoring system currently in place at the county and said that she is aware of many of the issues that have been raised.

Homeless advocates presented the council with a list of demands for improvements at the facility. However, Director Gillett said that it was the first time that she had seen the list. That led Committee Chairman Pernel Jones to say that he didn’t want the committee to be a “he said/she said.” He went on to say that, while any member of the public is invited to speak to the council at any time, it may be more helpful to try and circle up with Administration officials first before issues are presented publically before council.

May 18, 2016

At the May 18, 2016, meeting of the Cuyahoga County Committee on Health, Human Services & Aging, Mr. Tom Pristow, the new director of the Department of Health and Human Services, asked for and received permission to realign spending to enable HHS to support a number of strategic priorities for the agency.

In demonstrating a renewed interest by the county in funding initiatives aimed at helping children, Director Pristow asked for and received permission to spend $40,000 on a new initiative, for 1,050 children who currently have open cases with Children and Family Services, to attend the Great Lakes Science Center for one day. The reason given is that taking them to the Science Center would give them a solid foundation and get them thinking about STEM before they head back to school.

Council was curious about the spending. Councilman Greenspan asked the director if the county has reached out to the Great Lakes Science Center to ask if they would be willing to donate any tickets. Director Pristow said that he did not know and would get that information.  Director Pristow wants to see if the experience helps with their stability, as they head into school. The GLSC visit would take place on August 3rd. Councilwoman Conwell asked what would happen if some children decide not to show up? Would the county be reimbursed? Director Pristow said that he did not have an answer.

Director Pristow also asked for $30,000 for air travel for county workers to do safety and welfare check visits to foster children who are currently living out of the State of Ohio, who are under the custody of the county. Additionally, the county pays for foster parents to attend two national foster parent conferences.

Director Pristow asked for $8,800 to coordinate events to help promote Adoption Awareness Month during September.

Lastly, Director Pristow asked for an additional $24,999 to recruit foster parents. Cuyahoga County has experienced a 40 percent decrease in the number of foster parents. Why? The County rates foster children on a scale from 1-to-5, from 1 being the least amount of behavior issues to 5 being the highest rating in behavioral needs. The county is seeing an increased inability to place level 4 or 5 kids, as local providers are increasingly (for a number of reasons) not accepting those children. Therefore, the county is having a hard time placing them into local homes, and they are being placed in out-of-state homes where providers are more willing to accept the liability. However, that move costs the county more in the long run. So the county is beginning an aggressive recruiting and training effort for more local foster parents who can take on youth that are “more difficult”. There is a larger concern about the number of foster parents decreasing, when it should be increasing. When the county wraps the parent with support services, it results in cost savings. The county would like to recruit 50 more foster parents who can handle level 4 or 5 children.

The committee then heard a presentation from Providence House, highlighting the important work that the organization does in the community. Providence House provides emergency shelter for children newborn through age 10 who are at risk of mistreatment, as well as support services for parents and wrap around case management. They are 90 percent private funding and 10 percent state funded, and have been recognized by GuideStar as a national model of care and certified with their highest level of recognition: “Platinum Nonprofit.” County Council members said that they hope that the county can establish and build a relationship with the organization, moving forward.