Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
This afternoon, members of the local homeless women population will get a chance to go public with long-brewing grievances over the county's only standing shelter for homeless single women, the Community Women's Shelter on Payne Avenue. At 1 p.m., the County Council's Health and Human Services committee is scheduled to hold a session on the problems — problems which, according to the allegations of residents and homeless activists, have created a hellish situation for some of Cuyahoga County's most vulnerable and needy residents.
"For years, the shelter has been really awful," says the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless' Brian Davis. "We have closed a number of family and women's shelters locally, and now we're down to one for single women."
Davis explains that the Payne shelter — dubbed the "House of Payne" by residents — has a guaranteed access policy. If you show up, you are granted a bed. But the facility's nightly residents regularly balloon beyond the facility's 160 bed capacity — up to over 200, Davis says. There's no overflow plan, he claims, and by packing residents in for the night, the shelter also jams together a volatile mix, everything from women suffering from mental illness or drug addiction to women fresh from jail to aging grandmothers and women fleeing domestic violence situations. "It's a pretty toxic environment," Davis says.
The shelter — which is funded mainly by the county but run by a private contractor — does not address the written grievances of residents, Davis claims. His organization has tracked numerous complaints the residents have allegedly filed with the management
, from bad food and backed-up bathrooms to staff bullying and unfair treatment. Davis says these written complaints are rarely addressed. "I don’t think the senior management knows what goes on there every day."
Past efforts to get county leaders to acknowledge the issues at Payne haven't been smooth, the activist also says, with actual residents allegedly left out of hearings and meet-ups.
Today, residents are expected to give two-minute statements on the conditions and gripes. Davis says his group is pushing a long-term 12-point plan for steering the facility, and also four immediate fixes: the residents want one staff members transferred — "We call her the Nurse Ratched of the shelter"; all grievances moving forward must be answered in writing in five days; all medical notes, including notes for bed rest, must be respected; and all discharges must be put in writing.
"Residents are not at the point of saying dump the agency and start over," Davis explains. "They just want a review of every staff member there."
The 1 p.m. hearing will be held in the County Council meeting space at the County headquarters on E. 9th Street.