INDEPENDENCE, Ohio — More than 100 homeless men temporarily living at the Ramada Inn in Independence are wondering where they will be moved to next after Independence Mayor Gregory Kurtz pointed to a state law indicating they can only stay at the property for no longer than 30 days.
The law states a hotel occupant can't stay longer than a month in a room that doesn't include a kitchen. Federal dollars are being used to house the men at the hotel to better protect them from COVID-19 during the pandemic.
In his weekly news letter to the city, Kurtz explained the move which will take place in the coming weeks, a request he made to Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish.
"The City of Independence did not evict the homeless men at the Ramada," Kurtz said. "The Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries organization made this decision independent of the City and only they can explain the reasons behind the action."
However, in an open letter the Mayor Kurtz, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for Homeless denounced the move by the mayor and stated, "the City of Independence chose segregation and exclusion to lead the way by removing the men experiencing homelessness from the Ramada Inn."
The letter also stated, "the response from Independence has been one of harassment and hyper-surveillance that fuels racist stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness."
Chloe Sudduth, Advocacy Director with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, said she hopes the homeless men will be allowed to stay at the Ramada Inn in accordance with a contract the hotel has with the county.
“It’s a failure of the county and Independence to place the ideals of property and profit over human dignity and life," Sudduth said. “Now is the time for leaders and communities to stand up and say 'yes' to in my backyard, and 'yes' to housing as a human right.”
“Both Armond Budish and the Mayor of Independence should go to the Ramada Inn and apologize to those men in person. And we think that they should immediately secure 200 rooms at the Hilton in Downtown Cleveland for the men at the Ramada to stay," Sudduth said.
Budish said his team will find another viable place for the homeless men to stay in the coming weeks and said he did not succumb to political pressure from Kurtz to start the process of moving the homeless.
Budish said the county simply did not want to be in violation of state law in its effort to keep the homeless safe during the pandemic.
“One of our top priorities has been serving people who are in need," Budish said. “We provided 40,000 room nights for homeless individuals just last year, and more this year. Cuyahoga County put $30 million into eviction protection during the pandemic to prevent homelessness."
"Certain media was happy to say, 'Yes you could have skirted the law,' but it would be a violation of the law, we didn’t want to violate the law. So when Mayor Kurtz called me, I had indicated that we would try and immediately move people out and find alternative locations for them," Budish said. "We weren't abandoning the homeless we were simply going to move them to other facilities, and we really didn’t need to get into a lawsuit with the City of Independence over it.”
Budish said Kurtz is okay with the county and Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries having an additional 30 to 60 days for the move.
“It has nothing to do with whether the suburb is white, black or green," Budish said. "This was a Mayor that we work with that pointed out that state law had certain requirements. He wanted to make sure we were following those requirements and we didn’t want to run afoul of the law."
However, Ramada General manager Elizabeth White and Ramada owner Sharif Omara said the Ohio Fire Marshall's office told them they could stay in compliance with the occupancy law by moving each homeless man to another room every month.
“There’s a way around the 30 days, there is no law that a guest can’t stay in a room for 30 days and be checked out and checked back into another room, White said.
Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries would not confirm it played a role in the decision to move the homeless men, but said in the following statement it's working to find them a new location:
"Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry is in negotiations to secure a place for our residents to stay when our temporary occupancy at the Ramada comes to a close in the near future. Reducing our shelter census by using the hotel hub strategy has allowed us to keep COVID-19 numbers low among our county’s homeless population. Our priority is to have a safe environment for every individual who is homeless, and meet them where they are in their time of crisis. Regardless of our location, we will continue to provide life-changing wrap-around services and preserve the dignity of our residents"
Meanwhile, Kurtz rejected the statements made by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.
"The more significant issue for me is that NEOCH attacked the entire community with the broad brush of national injustices and 'wrongs of history,'" Kurtz said. "It is outrageous."
"The City of Independence respects everyone who lives, visits, or works here," Kurtz said. "The City enforces all laws consistently and without exception.”
Independence Police Chief Michael Kilbane issued his own statement, and said his city did see a noticeable increase in crime, particularly violent crime, occurring in the Rockside Road area.
"Any assertions that we focused our efforts on the shelter or its residents are absolutely untrue," Kilbane said. "Any interaction my officers have had with shelter residents has been the result of calls from our citizens or businesses requesting a police response or a crime directly observed by an officer."