Cuyahoga County HHSA Committee approves homeless services contracts

The Cuyahoga County Council Health, Human Services and Aging Committee had a meeting on March 17 where it heard authorization requests for five contracts, and one presentation from the Cuyahoga County Office of Re-entry.

The first contract was for $870,271 with the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities (CCBDD), which runs from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2022. The contract, an agreement between Cuyahoga County Job and Family Services (JFS) and CCBDD pays for approximately 50 percent of the staff costs for up to five eligibility specialists, one supervisor and one customer service representative. These employees work on Medicaid redeterminations and are employed by Job and Family Services which pays for half of their salaries, the other half is paid with federal funds through Medicaid. Paul Porter, Program Officer Administrator for Cuyahoga County Health and Human Services, said this arrangement helps to lessen the fiscal load on Cuyahoga County. The contract was approved under second reading suspension, and was forwarded to the full county council for consideration.

CCBDD pays for approximately 50 percent of the staff costs for up to five eligibility specialists, one supervisor and one customer service representative.

The second contract was worth $1,200,000 for an organization called US Together, which provides translation services for various county agencies including health and human services, Ohio Means Jobs, the Board of Revision, Justice Services and the Personnel Review Commission. The contract, a result of a request for proposals that was issued last year, will run for two years from March 1, 2021 to February 28, 2023. US Together offers both video and audio interpretation services and can translate 200 languages, including sign language, according to US Together co-founder Nadia Kasvin. US Together has been a partner with the county for the past eight years. Councilman Dale Miller asked how billing is conducted since multiple county agencies us the service. Porter replied that the contract is housed under the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and that billing depends on the county department that has requested the services. Dan Humphrey, Interim Administrator for Contract Administration & Performance, added that the invoices provided from US Together to HHS identify both the language interpretation provided, as well as the agency that requested it. The contract was adopted under second reading suspension.

The remaining contracts all dealt with the Office of Homeless Services. The third contract of the meeting was for the Rapid Rehousing Program, operated under Emerald Development and Economic Network, Inc. (EDEN). The contract has been in place from January 1, 2018 and expired on December 31, 2020. In this hearing, the contract would be extended for one more year, to December 31, 2021 for an additional $2,166,725. Speaking to this item was Melissa Sirak, the new Director of the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services. The program provides short-term rental assistance for families who need emergency housing assistance, which includes rental subsidy, inspection and case management. The goal of the program, according to Sirak, is to provide short-term housing for families, while remaining in a position to be able to quickly find permanent housing. Elaine Gimmel, Executive Director for EDEN, added that unlike other homeless programs, enrollees do not have to have a disability to qualify. The program provides a deposit for housing, and also typically provides approximately four months of rental assistance for single adults and six months of rental assistance for families. Although, during the pandemic, enrollees have required rental assistance for longer periods of time in their search of permanent housing. Gimmel concluded by saying that those who are enrolled in the program are having a difficult time finding stable housing because many landlords are afraid to accept them as tenants due to the eviction moratorium in place. EDEN has attempted to add incentives such as paying double security deposits, paying application fees, and other methods to encourage landlords to accept program enrollees. The contract was passed under second reading suspension.

Forty-three percent of the individuals at the shelter are young adults.

The fourth contract was with Frontline Services for North Point, a homeless shelter for single adults. The contract was for one year from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021. Testifying on behalf of the contract was LaTonya Murray, who serves as the Director of Emergency Housing Services. She explained how 43 percent of the individuals at the shelter are young adults, so the organization works to connect them to wraparound resources for employment and other services. The contract was approved under second reading suspension.

The final contract also lasts for one-year, from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021. It’s worth $2,751,793, and is for the Young Women’s Christian’s Association’s (YWCA) operation of the Norma Herr women’s homeless shelter. The current capacity for the facility is 226 people, including 152 regular beds and 54 overflow beds, according to Sirak. However, because of social-distancing requirements, the county had to limit the number of people to 109 in the Norma Herr building, and house the remaining individuals (approximately 81) at a temporary women’s shelter facility on West 25th street. Councilman Miller asked if the second facility will be a permanent location. Merriman shared that the building on West 25th is slated for demolition as a part of the Irishtown Bend rehabilitation project, so it would not be a second location for the long term. Teresa Sanders, Chief Program officer of YWCA, explained that due to this new building arrangement, the shelter has seen few positive COVID tests. Miller also followed up by asking if the administration is measuring the success of YWCA as the new operator of the Norma Herr shelter. The YMCA, as a result of a dispute several years ago, took over management of the facility which required an investment of additional county resources. Merriman and Misak both said that the organization is learning and adapting as the new facility operator, and have been doing the best they can since the onset of the pandemic. The contract was approved under second reading suspension.

The meeting concluded with a presentation from Erika Anthony, Executive Director of the Transformation Alliance, who testified about initiatives underway in the Cuyahoga County Office of Re-entry. The Director of the Office of Re-Entry, Crystal Bryant, was not able to attend the meeting.

The meeting was then adjourned.