CLEVELAND — Loh is homeless in Cleveland, and is hoping the new Cuyahoga County Action Plan for Homelessness will improve conditions for more than 5,000 homeless adults and families countywide.
The action plan was unveiled by Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayneon March 15, which calls for a 25% reduction in homelessness by 2028. The plan includes $20 million in county funds as it works to improve shelter conditions, capacity and homeless services.
However, Loh is hoping the plan will also take a proactive approach in better helping individuals and families who are on the brink of homelessness. Loh told News 5 federal, state and county assistance programs have income guidelines that require a family or individual to make so little that it forces them into homelessness before they can get the help they need.
“The plan is not based on how the reality is, how the society is, how the system actually functions," Loh said. “All the good programs available say, 'Sorry we cannot help you; you are not qualified,' this eligibility really kills everybody. Each program has different numbers so it’s very hard for people to get help in order to prevent them from actually going into homelessness.”
Cuyahoga County data indicates homelessness is disproportionately impacting Northeast Ohio African Americans and the disabled. Seventy percent of the county homeless population is Black, while African Americans make up 30% of the county population.
Chris Knestrick, the executive director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, told News 5 he's optimistic about the new county action plan, but hopes it will adequately address racial disparity when it comes to homelessness.
“When we look at the disproportionate number of Black people particularly entering into our homeless system it begs into question our whole reality of what is happening in Cleveland," Knestrick said. "It really draws attention to historic, systemic and structural racism that has had havoc in the Black community.”
Melissa Sirak, director of the Office of Homeless Services for Cuyahoga County, told News 5 the action plan will address five key areas, including racial disparity.
“All of our five pillars will be looked at with a racially equitable lens," Sirak said. “We'll work to improve client engagement and access to improving the experience when they enter our crisis housing or shelters, we'll expand housing stabilization and connect clients to income, while also building capacity."
Sirak said the plan will need assistance from the City of Cleveland, HUD, local homeless agencies, as well as participation from the philanthropic community.
“The next step is to break that down into concrete action pillars on how are we going to achieve each one of those focus areas, and what are those benchmarks for success," Sirak said. “We'll be looking at our current facilities and how do we change the experience one has when they come through our doors so that it’s more dignified, it’s more humane.”
Loh agrees improving conditions at county and city homeless facilities should be a top plan priority.
“Our shelter systems are horrible," Loh said. “They still cannot allocate the funding to demolish a building to rebuild so we can have at least a humane physical environment.”
Loh also said the plan is solid on it's own but doesn't check all of the necessary boxes.
“This strategic plan is good as a plan itself, but it still doesn’t address all the realities, all the issues the unhoused population has to face.”
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