HHSA Committee approves contracts, hears about effect of pandemic on homeless

The Cuyahoga County Council Health, Human Services and Aging committee reconvened for the first time since July due to a planned Council break. The meeting focused on four contracts presented for consideration.

The first was an extension of a contract with Case Western Reserve University for the First Year Cleveland Initiative. The contract duration was from December 31, 2019 to March 31, 2021. The contract extension would require an additional $1,000,000. The First Year Cleveland Initiative is a program designed to improve the unacceptably high instances of infant mortality in Cuyahoga County, as well as to reduce racial disparities in infant health outcomes. Speaking on behalf of the Armond Budish administration was David Merriman, Director of the Cuyahoga County Department of Health and Human Services. Merriman explained that the funds will go towards supporting Case Western Reserve University’s contracting and management services. Merriman noted that infant mortality has dropped since the beginning of the First Year Cleveland contract in 2019, from a rate of 10.5 percent in 2019 to 8.2 percent in June 2020. Similarly, there has been a reduction in the pre-term birth rates as well. Conwell asked Merriman what was the driver of the reduction in infant mortality rates. According to Merriman and Bernadette Kerrigan, the Executive Director of First Year Cleveland, the drop can be attributed to the number of organizations working collaboratively to make sure mothers have support systems in place to improve birth outcomes, such as increased home visitation, healthy sleeping training, smoking cessation programs, as well as hospital staff receiving racism training. Even with the overall decrease in the infant mortality rate, the rate of decrease for African-American infants was lower than that of their white counterparts. Cuyahoga County Councilwoman Shontel Brown asked how the funding will be distributed. Kerrigan said that approximately 25 percent will go to staffing for First Year Cleveland, the remaining amount will go towards events and other community organizations. After a technical change to the resolution language, the contract was approved under second reading suspension, and forwarded to the full council for consideration.

Infant mortality has dropped since the beginning of the First Year Cleveland contract in 2019, from a rate of 10.5 percent in 2019 to 8.2 percent in June 2020.

The second contract to be heard was a one-year extension for the Propel Cuyahoga program, a joint-collaboration workforce development program between The Center for Families and Children (The Centers) and Maximus Human Services, Inc. The program provides employment opportunities that allow Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients to fulfill work requirements. The HHSA community heard the contract for the first-time last year. The extension would mean the contract’s duration would run from June 30 of this year to June 30, 2021, and The Centers would receive additional funds totaling $2,912,110.29 and Maximus would receive an additional $2,606,136.95. Merriman explained the pandemic did affect the program, where most program recipient received job training from home. Additionally, because of the pandemic, there was an increase in demand for workforce development services. Kevin Gowan, Administrator for the Cuyahoga County Division of Job and Family Services, said that even with the pandemic, both organizations exceeded their participant goals in the first year and had high customer satisfaction scores. Monty Starks, program administrator for Maximus, testified that enrollees still benefit in meaningful ways, through services such as resume and cover letter writing, even if the training is remote. In total, Maximus served 821 people in the first year of the contract. Conwell asked if participants had difficulty accessing services because of lack of internet. Starks said yes, a small number (approximately 35) reported some issues. However, they were able to work with other nonprofit organizations, such as PCs for People, to get those people the hardware and internet connection needed. Carol Beatty, Chief of Family and Work Programs at The Center for Families and Children, and Melissa Russoniello, Director of Workforce Programs, echoed Starks’ remarks that there had been an increase in the number of clients who need employment assistance as a result of the pandemic. In addition, representatives from Catholic Charities and Verge, a workforce development nonprofit, also provided remarks. Miller asked if the new model, whereby a person need only go to one organization (Maximus or The Centers), instead of going to several different organizations, was working. Gowan said that it appears as if the new model is working. Miller also asked how the Propel Cuyahoga program worked in partnership with other county workforce development programs through the economic development arm of the county. The resolution was passed to the full council under second reading suspension.

The final two contracts were presented on behalf of the Office of Homeless Services.

The final two contracts were presented on behalf of the Office of Homeless Services. Ruth Gillett, Manager of the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services, testified about a contract with FrontLine Services to manage the coordinated intake system for the county. The contract ended on August 31 and will now be extended to December 31, 2021, and will require an additional $800,000. Five hundred thousand dollars are funded federally through the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH Act). The remaining $500,000 is from the State of Ohio’s Crisis Response Program through the Ohio Development Services Agency. The coordinated entry system assists homeless individuals find places of shelter and safety. Gillett detailed how the coordinated entry system uses data to make connections and ensure that especially vulnerable individuals such as veterans; young people; families; chronically homeless individuals; domestic violence victims; and other victims of trauma are provided with the support that they need. Since the onset of the pandemic, the coordinated entry system has operated by phone only. Chairwoman Yvonne Conwell wanted to know what other items were put in place for the homeless population, due to the pandemic. Gillett said that shelters have been focused on “depopulating,” by working with hotels (this ties into the next item on the agenda). Additionally, the Office of Homeless Services worked with shelter staff to ensure they had access to an adequate amount of personal protective equipment. Finally, Gillett said that the federal government has altered some of its rapid rehousing requirements, such as rental housing inspections, which can now be done virtually instead of on-site. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the number of individuals and families who need shelter is increasing, according to Gillett. The contract was approved under second reading suspension, and was moved to the full council for a vote.

The COVID-19 positivity rate for homeless individuals in county shelters is about 4 percent, compared with the national average for homeless individuals, which is about 7 percent.

The final contract was an extension with Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, for the men’s homeless shelter at 2100 Lakeside Avenue to last through September 29, 2021. The extension will also add $3,627,924 to the contract funded through the CARES Act. Testifying on behalf of the extension was Melissa Sirak, Assistant Program Director for the Office of Homeless Services. She explained how, as a part of the effort to depopulate the homeless shelter, the county has worked with four local hotels to house homeless individuals. The hotels provide food, staff and security for these individuals. This arrangement will stay in place until at least the end of 2020. To date, the county has utilized 279 hotel rooms, accommodating 350 homeless individuals. Testifying on behalf of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries was Vice President of Housing and Shelter, Michael Sering. He explained the county has served more than 600 unduplicated clients under this arrangement, and has provided more than  100,000 meals. The result of these efforts has been a 50 percent drop in the population housed in the 2100 Lakeside shelter and the Norma Herr women’s shelter (operated by YWCA). Sering also shared the COVID-19 positivity rate for homeless individuals in county shelters is about 4 percent, compared with the national average for homeless individuals, which is about 7 percent. Conwell wanted to clarify who is able to go to a hotel and who stayed in the shelter. Sering said that initially the hotel rooms were offered to older adults or those who had health conditions, but now the option is available to all who request it, provided that they test negative for COVID-19. The contract was sent to the full county under second reading suspension.