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The Cleveland Street Chronicle
Jim Schlecht Event


The following regulations were proposed by the Homeless Congress and compiled to represent the ideal shelter regulations. These regulations set lofty goals to strive towards and are great theoretical guides for the kind of shelter rules that we should be striving for. However, in practice, compromises need to be made. In order to apply these as regulations, we have proposed a shorter law, made to include the most important of the "dream" shelter standards. Here is the proposal that we want passed into law. Here are the current shelter regulations for Cuyahoga County. 

Shelter Regulations

As Proposed by the Homeless Congress


Almost every shelter in Cuyahoga County is located in the City of Cleveland, but Cuyahoga County officials take the lead in funding and overseeing the shelters.  Nearly every shelter is funded using public money from federal, state or local resources.  Shelter stays can vary from a few days to up to two years. Currently, there are recommended guidelines from the State of Ohio, but there are no standards that a homeless person can point to when a conflict arises.  Local advocates receive at least one complaint a week, and have nowhere to refer these complaints.  This proposed law is intended to provide a minimum standard for the operation of shelters within the Cuyahoga County. For those organizations that receive any public funds would have to adopt these standards or would not be allowed to apply for funds.  The County Office of Homeless Services maintains oversight of all public funds going to homeless social service providers including Federal Continuum of Care, Federal Emergency Shelter dollars, FEMA Emergency Food and Shelter dollars, State of Ohio shelter dollars, and all local funding that support the shelters are distributed.  These proposals were developed by the Homeless Congress between 2006 and 2007 with the thought of what the perfect shelter would look like in Cleveland. The standards were updated in 2011 in response to the City of San Francisco passing a similar law.  The Homeless Congress talked to hundreds of homeless people and passed an updated shelter standards in May 2011 with some revision in October 2011 to add a recommended grievance procedure. .

Scope of the Law:  These standards would apply to all shelters operated within the Cuyahoga County  including both emergency shelters and transitional shelters that do not require rent or a program fee.  These standards would apply to all residential living facilities supported by the mental health board funding or alcohol and drug addiction services funding serving people without housing.  The only publicly residential funded programs not governed by these rules include those that receive a majority of their funding from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Department.  Transitional Housing programs as defined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allow individuals to stay for up to two years and many require a program fee or rent.  Because the length of stay within transitional housing and the implied housing contract, we believe that the housing aspect of a person’s stay at a Transitional Housing shelter must be covered by the state and city landlord/tenant law.  There should be a separation between the programming aspects of transitional shelters, which would be covered by this law, while the housing aspect of transitional shelter operation would fall under the landlord tenant law. The Congress is adamant that we need a law passed by Cuyahoga County and not just an amendment to the contracts.  We want a law that will survive future administrations, and cannot be easily ignored as the previous guidelines were ignored.

General Shelter Regulations as Overseen by Cuyahoga County

1. All shelters that accommodate nighttime residential stays must be operated by nonprofit organizations that release their 990 tax returns on a yearly basis. Organizational and program budget information must be released to the public on a yearly basis as well. The shelter residents and taxpayers should be able to go to a website and find out how much they are paying to sustain each shelter in the community.

2. Shelters must provide an atmosphere of dignity and respect for all residents and must provide services in a non-judgmental manner.

3. The Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services will oversee all of the shelter standards. All shelters receiving public funds will be subject to a periodic review in coordination with Office of Homeless Services, Cuyahoga County, Mental Health Board, Alcohol and Drug Addictions Board and United Way with compliance to the shelter standards as part of the review. Review and oversight of the shelter standards could be contracted to a private non-profit that is not providing services to homeless people.  Currently homeless individuals should be involved in the selection of the group or groups who oversee the shelter standards. Funding will be tied to compliance with these policies. Those facilities out of compliance will have funding reduced or eliminated based on the recommendations of the review committee and those funds should be transferred to another provider who can serve the same population. Teams comprised of members of the Shelter Monitoring Committee must visit the shelters at least 3 times a year.  There shall be at least 4 members including one member with recent (within six months) of homeless experience shall visit every shelter at least 3 times per year.  Two of the visits must be unannounced and one can be scheduled with the shelter staff.   Each team shall prepare a report to be delivered to the Shelter Monitoring Committee, the Homeless Congress and the Office of Homeless Services.  A yearly report must be prepared of all the activities of the Shelter Monitoring committee, and must be available on a publicly accessible website as well as the sent to the Cleveland City Council and the Cuyahoga County Council.  The Shelter Monitoring Committee may initiate an investigation into alleged violations of the standards.  At least once a year, the County shall have an individual paid to stay in all of the publicly funded shelter without the knowledge of the shelter staff and present a report to be given to the Shelter Monitoring Committee, the Homeless Congress, and the Office of Homeless Services.  These shelter monitoring night reports shall also be included in the yearly report submitted to the County and City administrations and legislative branch.   

4. Each shelter must write up plans for their ultimate goal—going out of business. They need plans to get everyone housed in some limited period of time so that there is no longer a need for shelters. An annual report should be developed by the Office of Homeless Services or Department of Community Development using the information provided by each shelter to assess how close they are to going out of business because they are no longer necessary. 

5. There must be 24 hour access to shelters—there should always be a place to go inside within Cuyahoga County.  When the entry shelters are full there should be a referral to another facility. The County shall provide at least one drop in center that is operational 24 hours a day for those who do not want to use the shelters.  This would be a place inside, but not necessarily with beds.

 6. It is mandated that harm reduction models be developed, specifically in the form of a “wet” shelter within the city of Cleveland within two years of passage of this law for both men and women. This will be a facility in which active users can stay so they do not freeze to death or die of heat exposure, but where they would not be required to abstain from doing drugs or alcohol off site. Shelters may keep their sober living environment as long as a “wet” shelter is created within the community, and there is an ability to transfer residents to other shelters if they relapse. Residents of publicly funded shelters may only be kicked out of the facility for illegal activity.  Shelter staff must file a police report for any of these incidents as criminal activity that result in discharge.

7. A daily log of incidents must be kept. This does not need to be made public, but should be accessible in case a grievance is filed.  Daily logs should be kept for up to two years. 

8. All shelters must observe state, local and federal Fair Housing regulations and standards.

9. Staff members need background checks and must be subjected to random drug tests. Drug finding does not necessarily result in termination, but could result in referral to a treatment program instead.

10. In order to foster an atmosphere of partnership among staff and residents, the shelter senior staff shall hold meetings with all the residents at least once per month and must provide 48 hours notice for scheduled meetings.

11. Shelter residents must be able to post maintenance concerns in a prominent common area within the shelter, and staff must respond within 48 hours.

12.  All shelters should assist individuals seeking shelter in obtaining identification or a birth certificate if the individual does not have access to those documents. This does not necessarily mean that the facility will be able to pay for identification, but they should have the information about where a person can obtain identification.

13. Every shelter must have a minimum number of facilities to accommodate the population.  This shall include at least one sink and one toilet for every 8 residents sleeping at the facility and one shower for every 10 residents sleeping at the shelter.  Shelters can fall below this standard for a maximum of seven business days and then will have to seek a special variance from the County legislative branch of government.

14. Law enforcement including bounty hunters and immigration enforcement agents should not have access to the shelter to search for specific individuals without a warrant. 

15. Shelters must provide transportation (a shuttle service) for people with health concerns and people getting health care. There also needs to be a way to access prescription drugs especially the payment of prescription drugs by the shelters. There should be funds for individuals to get bus tickets or transportation so that they can get a job and find housing.

16. Shelters should provide access to laundry facilities either on site or by collaborating with other shelters that may have larger capacity to assist with laundry.  This could also involve the development of a business which employs homeless people to oversee the laundry needs of the local shelters.

17. Each shelter must have a paid janitorial staff for any shelter that houses more than 50 residents. The County encourages the development of a business that employs homeless people who may be contracted to take care of the janitorial needs of the shelters.

18. Each shelter should have an emergency disaster plan posted including monthly drills offered to implement these plans. These plans shall include the evacuation of the shelter or relocation of the residents following a natural or man made disaster. The County should publish a written disaster plan for every shelter that shall include the procedure for continued operation of the facilities during a heavy snow storm or extreme weather conditions.  These plans should be publicly available on a County website.  These plans should be updated at least once per year.

19. Any death within the shelter must be investigated under the direction of the medical examiner for Cuyahoga County, and a report shall be released to the public within six months.

20. All jobs that are created within the shelters should have a preference for individuals with previous experience of homelessness. 

21. As part of the submission of various plans to the County including a safety plan, staff training plan, the shelter should work toward sustainable (green) facility by reducing the facilities carbon footprint in the community. The shelter as part of the yearly review process should be graded on its ability to recycle, reuse and conserve energy within their buildings.

22.Written rules must be presented to each resident upon entry or these rules must be displayed in the shelter in a prominent place. The rules need to specific the punishment for infractions of the rules. All of these plans and policies should be subject to approval by the County Office of Homeless Services and the Homeless Congress.  These policies should also include:

  1. A clear policy on intake and discharge procedures.
  2. There needs to be a written policy at each shelter regarding residents’ access to telephones.
  3. All shelters must have a written procedure on storing medication of residents and their access to this medication.
  4. All shelters must post a statement about the control of infectious diseases. Additionally, the shelter must post its policy regarding staff training and their control of infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis.
  5. All shelters must have a written policy for distributing the limited number of bus tickets or transportation vouchers. 
  6. Each shelter must have a plan for collecting mail so that residents get their mail in a timely manner.
  7. Each shelter must have a policy for handling staff grievances that is clearly posted. Staff needs to be held accountable for grievances. There must be some posted consequences for staff with legitimate grievances filed against them.
  8. Each shelter must have a policy for allowing residents to stay in bed when ordered by qualified doctors.  This bed rest policy must be posted prominently in the shelter.”

II. Shelter Intake and Discharge

23. Shelters cannot discriminate based on age. This is outlined in both state law and the revision of the federal McKinney Vento HEARTH regulations.  If a shelter allows children they cannot discriminate based on the age or sex of the child under 17 years of age.

24. All shelters must certify that they have secure locations for confidential client files. The shelter must compensate the individual if they allow private and personal identifying information to be viewed by those outside the shelter or those who do not need this information within the shelter. 

25. Shelters cannot require identification as a condition for entry or demand those entering the shelter to enter personal information into a management information system as a condition for entry. This prohibition includes requiring the individual to disclose their social security number upon entering the shelter.  Staff of the shelters must comply with both state and federal privacy laws.

26. The shelters must make some accommodations in the event that there is a wait to get into the shelter so that people do not stand outside during inclement weather including hot days over 85 degree Fahrenheit or extremely cold days of less than 5 degrees with the wind chill. 

27. Shelters shall not discharge individuals unless they are transferring to another facility or because of some illegal activity.  In all shelters, residents may be kicked out for illegal activity  such as using drugs or alcohol on the property or violence on the property.

28. The shelter staff must be able to provide communication with the individual seeking shelter in their primary language by working with other agencies in the community who may provide translation or interpreting skills including with written documents.  

III. Shelter Grievances and Complaints

29. Each shelter (with more than 50 people) must have at least one client advocate on site that will advocate for the interests of residents and who can handle resident concerns. It was suggested that an outside entity should employ the client advocates at each shelter to assure that they are independent. Another option would be a group of advocates would be hired to travel to the various shelters to act as homeless ombudsmen.

30. The County shall develop a complaint process that protects residents of the local shelters and assures that an eviction does not result in a person forced to sleep on the streets.  Every shelter must provide readily available resident complaint forms, as well as provide a form upon request.  (see next section for recommendations from the Homeless Congress on the specific procedures). Shelters must accept and investigate written complaints from residents, client advocates or those who utilize the service as well as members of the Shelter Monitoring Committee. Shelter staff must respond to written complaints within two business days.  Shelter staff must make every effort to take corrective action within five business days. If the client is not satisfied with the action taken, the shelter operator shall refer the complaint to a County Ombudsman, client advocate or a third party (could be a volunteer attorney) that has no relationship with any of the parties involved in the complaint.  The Shelter Monitoring Committee shall receive a copy of the complaint and shall supervise the process, and receive the outcome of the grievance or complaint.  The Shelter Monitoring Committee shall assure that the process is followed and can impose damages against the facility where necessary.

31. If a resident files a grievance they must be allowed to see the grievance to completion before the punishment is implemented.  The Office of Homeless Services shall receive reports from the Homeless ombudsmen as well as the Sheltering Monitoring Committee.  There needs to be a government entity that has control over funding that can act on potential problems. The telephone number and address for either the homeless ombudsman or shelter monitoring committee must be posted in every single shelter covered. This Office of Homeless Services should present a report to Cleveland City Council, Cuyahoga County Council, the Cleveland Mayor, and the County Executive every year as shelter allocation decisions are being made on the number of complaints and the resolution of those complaints.

IV. Third Party Grievance Procedures for the shelters

32. The review committee (see Section VIII below) that periodically reviews each shelter should be able to take grievances directly from homeless people.  The review committee should also be provided a compilation of the grievances filed since the last review. 

33. The grievances would be similar to the process that exists now in the shelters except that the final arbiter should be independent of the shelter and not a paid employee of any social service provider.  There needs to be one person who hears both sides of the issues and can make a final decision about any grievance.  This person should be independent and neutral, but should have the ability to make a fair, transparent and rational decision.

34. The client has the right to file a grievance about the severity of their punishment for the infraction of a rule, and that grievance may eventually be settled by the third party grievance process if necessary.

35. The final arbiter of any dispute should be by an attorney in the community.  We believe that there would only be one or two complaints per month, and we believe that an attorney has the skills and talents to make these decisions to the satisfaction of both parties. They have the background to settle these issues fairly and objectively.

36. For every grievance that does not involve an illegal act (assault, theft, etc) the grievance should be heard before the punishment is enforced.

37. For any discharge or infraction of the rules, a written explanation should be provided including a form to complete a grievance.  Even if the client is kicked out of the shelter for illegal behavior, they have the right to file a grievance.  This would occur while they are serving out the punishment, and if the client was found to be improperly discharged, they can ask for discipline of the staff involved in making the decision.

38. When a person files a grievance, the shelter must respond to it in writing within three business days. 

39. The results of the grievances should be posted on the same public website that contains the reviews.  There will not be any personal information included on the site, but residents need to be assured that grievances are worth completing.  Right now, most people feel that the grievance procedure is a waste of time.

40.  There should be an exit survey offered to everyone leaving the shelter to solicit their comments, complaints or criticisms.  The results of these surveys should be posted every six months on the same County public website with the grievances and the shelter reviews.

41. Grievances filed about a certain shelter staff person can result in suspension without pay but those should be tiered based on the situation and whether previous grievances have been filed against that staff person.  The third serious grievance should result in the termination of the staff. The shelter resident and staff supervisors should decide if the grievance against a staff person is “serious” to the point that the shelter must discipline the staff person.  If the shelter staff and resident disagree about the seriousness of the infraction and the resident believes that the complaint is serious, the complaint goes to the neutral attorney who makes the decision.  It is still up to the shelter to supervise and enforce the proper conduct by staff, but the attorney will have the ability to say that a staff member must be disciplined for an infraction of the proper code of conduct.  The attorney should not recommend the discipline, but can just decide that a punishment is needed to be carried out by the employer.

42. Violence by staff against a client should result in the immediate termination of the staff. 

43. In order to protect residents from retaliation and help those who cannot write, each shelter should ask the residents to vote for a resident advocate every week.  For larger shelters divided by communities, each community should have their own resident advocate voted by the members of that community. This shelter resident advocate can help complete a grievance or advise a client about their rights under the shelter’s policies and procedures.  This shelter resident advocate is a fellow resident, and should attend the Homeless Congress as the representative from the shelter.  The name of the resident advocate should be prominently posted within the shelters.  These resident or client advocates should be offered mediation or conflict resolution training if they are being offered at the shelter for staff.

V. Minimum Operating Procedures Provided to Individuals and Families in Shelter

44. All shelters must have policies on serving both balanced meals and medically appropriate meals for those with a chronic health condition. Also, shelters must make some accommodations for vegetarian meals or religiously appropriate food for individuals with special diets.

45. While on the premise, each resident must have access to a secure location to secure his or her belongings so that they are not stolen.

46. Upon entry to a shelter, residents should be offered a voice mailbox so that they can remain connected with the outside world.  The County should prioritize universal access to voice mail to assist residents with finding a job and housing.

47. Each shelter should make available a computer that is connected to the internet available to residents in order to apply for housing and jobs.  There must be one computer available to every 40 residents of the shelter. 

48. A nurse/health care professional must be on duty 24 hours for shelters with more than 100 people in the same building. All shelter staff must be trained in simple first aid including CPR. All shelters must have a Portable Defibrillator in the shelter, and staff should be trained in its use.

49. One of the biggest barriers to stability is the ability for residents to work through previous traumatic experiences.  A therapist needs to be available once a week for small shelters and once a day for large facilities. A therapy team could travel to a few different shelters throughout the week, and these could be volunteers from the community.

50.  A housing plan must be created for each resident by the second week of the person staying at any publicly funded shelter.

51. Shelters shall not allow visitation by non-residents, as this would be a violation of privacy.

52. Shelters must help residents establish a savings plan so they can save money and get into housing. Classes on banking and savings must be offered at the shelter.

53.  Every resident must be given a care package with hygiene items. The County Office of Homeless Services will oversee that each resident receives a complete kit.

54.  Every resident must be provided with clean linens.

55.  Different types of people have different needs. The goal of the shelters is to provide each person struggling with stable housing assistance to address their homelessness.  Large shelters (over 100 people) must divide up their population based on residents’ individual needs so that each person receives more individualized care.

56. For shelters that are open 24 hours, the residents should be allowed to access the beds anytime in order for residents who work second and third shift to be able to sleep. 

57.  Residents will be offered or could receive a referral for life skills training during their stay in the shelter. These classes should include training on how to get jobs, proper nutrition and healthy living, drug treatment, how to act in life or death situations, how to perform CPR and first aid, how to maintain a home, how to keep a bank account, and how to fill out applications.

58.  Every shelter must have a bus pass policy that needs to be approved by an outside group of homeless individuals. There was also a desire to see if all the shelters could pool their resources and get a discount on daily bus passes or develop a transportation system to get homeless people to where there are jobs. 

VI. Shelter Services to Special Populations

59. Every shelter serving women or families must provide feminine hygiene items.

60. The laws with regard Adult Protective Services—specifically regarding seniors or others who are a threat to themselves or who cannot care for themselves must be clearly displayed at the shelter. The shelter must track the number of calls made to the adult protective services abuse report hotline, and must report that to the County every year. 

61. There needs to be a policy regarding children and referrals being made to the County child abuse hotline. This policy should be clearly posted for residents to see in shelters that serve women with children. The shelter must track the number of calls made to the child abuse report hotline, and must report that to the County every year. 

62. Shelters serving school age children must make every effort to get children enrolled into school within 24 hours of entering the shelter. 

63. Shelters serving school age children must immediately identify school age children during intake process to the Cleveland Municipal School District's Project ACT Helpline. If a child has been attending a charter or private school, shelter staff must facilitates arrangements with that school of origin. Shelters need to notify Project ACT when family leaves shelter and goes to another location to update emergency information in case the school needs to locate a parent or guardian.

64. When a child reaches the age of 18 and is a full time high school student residing in a shelter with a parent or guardian, he or she must remain at the shelter and not be transferred to an adult-only facility under any circumstances. If a young adult is still attending high school, they should remain with their parent or guardian in the shelter. School enrollment and attendance may be verified through a District Homeless Liaison in Cuyahoga County. Every school district in the State of Ohio has a district liaison.

VII. Training and Security at the Shelters

65. All shelters that receive public money must send their staff to sensitivity training and must insure that residents and alumni are involved in how these classes are structured. The training must include mediation issues and how to handle tense situations in a nonviolent manner. Staff must be trained on the services available in the community to assure that referrals are appropriate.  A certification process should be available to the public to verify that all the staff have attended the proper training requirements.

66. Volunteers at an adult shelter are strongly encouraged, but not required, to receive formal training. If a shelter houses children, volunteers must have criminal background checks in order to volunteer. No one with a violent or sexual-based criminal history will be allowed to volunteer at a shelter housing children.

 67.  Residents should be offered job training while in the shelter including training on working in the shelters. This would have the benefit of allowing residents to find a job and could move into a job at the shelter if one opened.

 68. All staff and volunteers at the shelter shall wear identification that includes the individual’s name.

 69.  Each shelter needs a yearly review to create a safety plan for residents and that plan must be approved by a group of independent non-affiliated homeless individuals, such as the Homeless Congress. This safety plan cannot be approved solely by current residents of the shelter seeking the plan’s approval. This safety plan should address the use of armed and uniformed security officers.  The safety plan should be complaint driven, and if there are complaints regarding security those should be addressed and security should be altered or improved in response to complaints as part of the yearly review.  There was concern that armed security who wear the sheriff or police uniform discourage people from entering, but there is also a need for security at many of the shelters.

 70.  Provide staff training on an annual basis on compliance with the American Disabilities Act and the proper care for individuals with a physical or mental disability.

VIII. Enforcement of the Shelter Standards

71. A volunteer committee makes regular visit at the shelters.  No staff from any other shelter, no board members from any agency should be on the review team.  No one with any conflict should review the shelters.  No one that could possibly receive the funding if the shelter got a negative review should be on the committee.  We do not consider resident alumni of a specific shelter to have a conflict of interest.

72. The committee that reviews each shelter should have a minimum of three people and a maximum of 7 people.  They should be made up of formerly homeless people, employees of the local government, and volunteer attorneys.  We believe that at least one third of the committee should be made up of formerly homeless people.  Each review team should be diverse with both men and women and shall have one third of the representatives formerly homeless.

73. The majority of the reviews will be done without notice of the shelters. 

74. All results will be posted on a county website within 3 weeks of completion.

75. The results of the review should be forwarded to the larger committee of all the potential reviewers.  This larger committee will meet periodically to process the information and make any recommendations to the City and County regarding changes in the shelters based on the reviews.

76. If the same problem is identified for three consecutive reviews, then the larger committee meets to decide how to handle the problem.  This committee can make the recommendation on funding for the shelters.  The decisions made by this committee must be binding on the City and County when requests for public funds are sought.

77. The second time a problem is identified the shelter must respond in writing to that complaint, and that gets posted.

78. The review committee will need to have representatives of the City Building and Housing Department to enforce congregate living rules regarding the layout of the building. 

79. The shelter staff would have the opportunity to meet with the larger review group before they make their decision.

80. The shelters should be required to meet as a group on a quarterly basis to improve all the shelters, improve coordination, improve training, and have outside experts coming in to discuss specific issues.

81. The third time a serious concern is identified by the review team the shelter’s funding should be withheld until the problem is resolved.  Again, the shelter has a chance to appeal to the full review committee before funds are withheld.

 82. The guiding principle for the shelter review committee should be that the review should be tough enough to force a change, but not so tough that we lose shelter beds locally.

updated on the NEOCH website 2012

For a complete print out (.pdf) go here.