INDEPENCENCE, Ohio — More than 100 homeless men are set to be moved from the Ramada Inn in Independence back to the main men's shelter at 2100 Lakeside Avenue in Cleveland Thursday morning, July 15—even though the Northeast Ohio Coalition reports as many as 52 of the men will refuse to leave the hotel over COVID-19 health concerns.
NEOCH issued a statement on the scheduled move:
NEOCH stands in solidarity with the men who are refusing to leave, especially after Independence’s racist and discriminatory actions to remove the men from the hotel. As of 9pm Wednesday, 52 of the 103 men currently seeking emergency housing at the Ramada Inn are refusing to depart because they feel unsafe and they are calling on the County to reverse course
The move was approved by Cuyahoga County and county Executive Armond Budish last month, after Budish said he got a call from Independence Mayor Gregory Kurtz stating that keeping the men at the hotel for more than 30 days was a violation of Ohio hotel occupancy law.
It was the county and Budish who agreed to a contract with the Ramada Inn to keep the homeless men at the hotel starting back in April. The contract was set to run through the end of August in an effort to keep the men out of a crowded congregate setting and better protect them from the spread of COVID-19 during the pandemic.
But Ramada Inn General Manager Elizabeth White and Ramada Inn owner Sharif Omara said the move is a breach of contract.
White believes the move will also give the men more exposure to the virus, especially with COVID-19 variants on the rise.
“Very sad that they are expecting all these men to go back to 2100 when there is just not space for them," White said. “We were not breaking any law and we stand by that, and again it’s been confirmed by the state Fire Marshal.”
White fears the move will cause an increase in COVID-19 spread in the local homeless community.
“I’m very concerned for them because a lot of them have not had the opportunity to be vaccinated. I’m afraid it’s going to put a rise in the infection rate among the homeless population in general,” White said.
Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries will be using shuttles to take the homeless men to the 2100 Lakeside shelter and responded to concerns the men could face greater COVID-19 risk.
The agency said the facility is in the process of major upgrades, including the building of additional walls in the form of 100 different 7x8 foot pods that could house one to four men each and help provide better social distancing.
"They will also increase privacy and add security with coded locks on all doors," the agency said. "Pods will be a combination of double beds, quads and singles. LMM is continuing the practice of COVID screenings for each resident, COVID testing on-site once a week and making vaccinations consistently accessible to residents."
Last month, Chloe Sudduth, Advocacy Director with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, called the move a denial of a basic right to shelter and said she hoped the homeless men would be allowed to stay at the Ramada Inn in accordance with the 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.”
In an open letter to 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."
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.”
Budish responded and 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."
Budish also announced a county effort to purchase the building next to the 2100 Lakeside shelter, which would add space for an additional 70 people who are experiencing homelessness.
Cuyahoga County issued the following statement of the proposed project which must be approved by Cuyahoga County Council.
"The 14,000 square-foot facility is located next door to the emergency men’s homeless shelter facility at 2100 Lakeside Avenue, which has the capacity to house up to 365 men, the largest in the state of Ohio. The additional capacity will bring the total beds to approximately 435. Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries manages the facility and services."
Meanwhile, Ramada Inn management and hotel General Manager Elizabeth White confirmed they would support any homeless man who did not want to make the July 15 move back to the 2100 Lakeside facility.
“I feel absolutely terrible, I think it's just inhumane the way they’re being treated, kind of like just throwing them all in there like animals or something, it’s horrible," White said. “Yes, and if they do decide, we will stand by them and support that.”
RELATED: Controversy erupts over homeless men staying at an Independence Hotel