Cuyahoga County HHSA Committee hears three homeless services contracts

In advance of the unveiling of the Cuyahoga County Strategic Action Plan for Homelessness, which took place on March 15, the Cuyahoga County Health, Human Services, and Aging Committee met on Wednesday, February 22 to hear three contracts, all related to the Office of Homeless Services.

Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries

The first contract was an award for $2,231,638 to Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries for a contract that runs from January 1 to August 19, 2023, to operate the Men’s Emergency Shelter located at 2100 Lakeside Avenue. Speaking on behalf of the Ronayne Administration was Melissa Sirak, Administrator of the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services. She explained that the shelter is a facility, which offers shelter, meals, and access to laundry for up to 400 single, adult men on any given day. The shelter is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a year. The contract is shortened to nine months because the available HHS levy funds are not sufficient to cover shelter and overflow operations for a full 12 months.

The contract is shortened to nine months because the available HHS levy funds are not sufficient to cover shelter and overflow operations for a full 12 months.

Committee Chair Yvonne Conwell began the questions by asking if there was any change in this contract compared to the previous contract that LMM had for the shelter. Sirak replied that the service scope did not change, however, the funding amount duration was shorter (eight months, instead of a full year). She was then joined by Michael Sering, who serves as the Vice President of Housing and Shelter for LMM. He said that the costs of the increase were due to a staff wage increase from $14 to $16 an hour, as well as rising food costs. He said that they were experiencing high turnover and difficulty hiring, which necessitated a wage increase.

Councilman Dale Miller asked if the 400 beds were filled. Sering replied that there are currently approximately 320 individuals in the shelter. The legal occupancy is 365.  After 365, individuals will begin to fill the “overflow” shelters, which are spaced throughout the city. Sering did say, however, that LMM has not been at the maximum “in a little while.” Sering added that there are an additional 105 spaces in overflow shelters, which are utilized during cold weather months, and end on April 15.

Miller asked how people are currently unsheltered. Sirak mentioned that during the last Point In Time count, there were about 100 people who were unhoused. NEOCH would have a better estimate, as they serve about 250 people per year with humanitarian aid.

Miller asked how much the actual expenditure for this program is in 2022. A portion of the funding received last year, approximately $1 million, was federal dollars made available through the CARES act. However, those dollars will run out soon. Miller then noted that the county will have to pick that amount once the federal dollars run out.

Councilwoman Meredith Turner finalized the questions by asking how the 2100 Lakeside expansion is going and how it may affect the contract. Sirak noted that ground has been broken for the project and that OHS is in constant communication with the Department of Public Works. It will take approximately six months to complete the project. LMM also received additional funding to upgrade the veterans’ wing of the homeless shelter, which will be funded through the American Rescue Plan Act. The contract was passed under second reading suspension.

Young Women’s Christian Association of Greater Cleveland (YWCA)

The second contract was for $2,536,793 awarded to the Young Women’s Christian Association of Greater Cleveland (YWCA) for managing the Norma Herr Women’s Shelter. The contract runs from January 1, 2023, to December 31, 2023. Speaking on behalf of the county was Melissa Sirak, Director of the Office of Homeless Services. Appearing with her was Helen Forbes-Fields, Chief Executive Officer of YWCA.

Sirak began the presentation by reviewing the role of Norma Herr’s women’s shelter, which supports unhoused women 18 and above. YWCA encourages stable housing and self-sufficiency and supports women of all backgrounds including those who are pregnant, veterans, 55+, LGBTQ+, etc.

Conwell inquired about the process of payments of the contract. Forbes Fields noted that the contract is late, so YWCA has been operating the shelter on our own dime, while they are waiting for reimbursement. This is their #1 issue and complaint. Even now, YWCA is using its own funds to operate the shelter for the month of January and February.

YWCA encourages stable housing and self-sufficiency and supports women of all backgrounds including those who are pregnant, veterans, 55+, LGBTQ+, etc.

Councilman Miler inquired about the capacity. Forbes Field said that the capacity is 177 beds, plus 30-35 mats used during overflow. We average is about 200 per night. We refer to other shelters if we need overflow space, responded Cynthia Dailey, Senior Director of Compliance Outcomes for YWCA.

Miller then asked both YWCA and LMM how many individuals have been present for one year or longer. Forbes Fields replied that 60-90 days is the average stay, but some have been in the shelter for as long as 15 years or more. Sering replied on behalf of LMM to say that average stays are a little over 30 days per stay. He has about 20 people who have been there a year or longer.

Councilman Sweeney clarified that EDEN owns the building, even though YWCA is operating it. He noted that the facility seems small compared to the need. Forbes Fields noted that she would like to see the site expanded. She has been in contact with Director Sirak and David Merriman, the Director of the Department of Health and Human Services, about the need for a new facility. But in the past few weeks, she is as “encouraged as she has ever been” about the possibility of a new facility at some point in the future. Sweeney concluded his question by asking if this is a place where the county can own a building in order to make the expansion happen. He noted that the county did purchase an adjacent building for the 2100 expansion. Sirak noted that EDEN did purchase a property adjacent to the Norma Herr site to accommodate the expansion. Sirak noted that OHS is going to be releasing its vision at the City Club on March 15.

The final contract was a contract for $1,422,933.

Frontline Service

The final contract was a contract for $1,422,933 from January 1 to December 31 for Frontline Service, to operate the North Point Transitional Housing located at 1550 Superior Avenue. Testifying on behalf of the county was Melissa Sirak from OHS, who noted that the shelter serves single adults and youth from ages 18-24. The program provides hygiene products, clothing, laundry services, and three meals a day. Conwell noted that these dollars are county HHS levy dollars and she wanted to confirm that no one is being asked to pay anything to reside at the facility. Sirak confirmed that they are not.  Latonya Murray, who is the Director of Emergency Housing Services for Frontline, described the facility in more detail that it is not a shelter per se, but the facility is smaller and more dignified where each resident has one roommate in their room. The program offers services dedicated specifically to young adults to try and end the cycle of homelessness and get them to stable employment. Sirak also mentioned that the city is investing in the rehab of this facility. Conwell inquired about the timeline for the renovations, and Murray said that it will take a full year.

The contract was passed under second reading suspension and sent to the full council.