At least 50 of the more than 100 unhoused men currently staying at the Ramada Inn in Independence as part of Cuyahoga County's pandemic decongregation strategy will refuse to leave their rooms Thursday, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless announced Wednesday night.
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, having capitulated to Independence Mayor Gregory Kurtz, demanded that the nonprofit Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry abort its contract with the Ramada and ship the men staying there back to 2100 Lakeside, the largest men's homeless shelter in the state.
LMM's original contract with the Ramada was scheduled to last until Aug. 31, but some of the men will depart tomorrow, in accordance with Budish's order.
Budish's decision came after a sustained publicity campaign by Mayor Kurtz and other city leaders, who depicted the unhoused men staying at the Ramada as criminals and threatened legal action to force the county's hand. Kurtz leaned on Budish and ultimately convinced him to go along with a bogus interpretation of state law. Kurtz has promulgated the belief that any hotel housing a person for more than 30 days is in violation of its transient stay license. But the State Fire Marshal, the licensing authority, has sided with the Ramada, and maintained that it's perfectly legal, and in fact common, for hotels to house guests for longer than 30 days. Checking guests out of one room and into another after that threshold is considered a legitimate workaround.
Plus, it's a pandemic, and Kurtz' threat of stringent legal enforcement was not only incorrect but also immoral. NEOCH has characterized Kurtz' vigorous efforts to remove the men from the Ramada as racist and discriminatory.
NEOCH now says that it will stand with the men who refuse to leave, who are doing so largely on safety grounds. Many of the men don't feel comfortable returning to 2100 Lakeside given the rise of the Covid Delta variant. And at least some of them have not been fully vaccinated.
The hotel's owner, Sharif Omara, is keen to see the contract through and said he supports the men who are refusing to leave as well.
“We have supported LMM and these men for months and we cannot let them leave this way," Omara said in a statement. "They have the right, as humans, to have a safe and comfortable place to stay. It is dangerous and inhumane to throw everyone into 2100 Lakeside Ave. We believe this will definitely increase COVID-19 amongst the homeless population."
NEOCH will hold a press conference at the Ramada at 9 a.m. and has sent Armond Budish a letter with the following demands:
- Honor the original contract date of August 31 to keep the Ramada Inn as a designated de-congregate emergency shelter location,
- Continue supporting Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry so that they can continue serving as the lead service provider for food, security, and on-site social service needs,
- Ensure that there are no interruptions on housing applications and housing plans for guests,
- Ensure that the County communicates directly to the guests of the Ramada Inn, and;
- Address the issue of the loss of beds from young adults at North Point shelter to make space for the men that are moving into that location.
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