Cuyahoga County Council will debate the women's homeless shelter operations contract soon, following a recommendation to renew the contract with Frontline Services, the current operator. The news was met with concern among the women who stay at the shelter.
During a recent meeting of the Homeless Congress, Ruth Gillett, the county's homeless services director, explained that a proposal review committee has recommended Frontline Services over the only other public bidder — West Side Catholic Center. Gillett said that Frontline scored higher on a quantifiable assessment, though she could not say exactly what that score was or what it meant. Frontline's scores will be revealed to the public if and when County Council awards the contract, according to Gillett. (Council is not bound to the review committee's recommendation.)
"Why in the heck did they get the contract again?" one woman asked during the meeting March 9.
"A score is a score," Gillett said, barred by the county charter from divulging any details or allaying the women’s fears. "The process doesn't permit that information be shared at this time with the community." She provided a three-page handout that explained what the organizations were scored on
, but no results were given.
Prior to the contract recommendation, Frontline reportedly agreed to replace its shift supervisors
, long the target of criticism among the women staying at the shelter, though Frontline emergency housing services director LaTonya Murray could not confirm that. Gillett reiterated that point, though, and intimated that the review committee was pleased with some potential changes that will take place under Frontline leadership at Norma Herr.
Still, women shared story after story of dubious management practices. It's difficult to confirm the anecdotes, but the sheer quantity — and the general chaos into which the meeting descended at various points — prompted a number of questions that Gillett did not answer.
Resident Felicia Davis told Scene last month
that “EMS basically lives at Norma Herr," a claim disputed in a later phone conversation with a county spokesperson. Since then, Cleveland's executive mayor's assistant, Martin Flask, confirmed that EMS had responded to Norma Herr 690 times in 2016 — almost twice each day. (The fire department responded to Norma Herr 237 times in 2016; police responded 409 times in 2016.)
Those numbers formed the backbone of arguments set forth by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, arguments that the shelter, under its current management, is not a safe place for women. The county has repeatedly claimed that Norma Herr is a "basic emergency shelter," and, as such, offers precisely that. NEOCH and many women who've shared their stories with Scene
contend that there are missed opportunities for things like employment advancement, education, nutrition, comfort.
As part of the potential contract, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, which operates the 2100 Lakeside Avenue men’s homeless shelter, would partner up with Frontline and share support for Norma Herr.
“We would hope that it would mean access to their resources,” Murray told Scene
, noting that the language of that agreement has yet to be ironed out. “They have a very good volunteer base and a lot of community partnerships that they bring to 2100. We would hope that that expands in some way to Norma Herr.”
Gillett shared with the Homeless Congress a sense of confidence that Frontline will follow through on the promise of change.
"I understand that you are unhappy," Gillett said, "and I'm sorry that you all are unhappy with the process, but it's a defensible process."