Saturday, December 5, 2009

Cold Weather Emergency Program - Part 2

Thanks to Bob Altman, Program Director for the Cold Weather Emergency Program at Help Hotline for this submission:

The idea for the Cold Weather Program began 20 years ago when Lt. Francis Gallagher from YPD presented a dilemma to several community leaders regarding what to do about homeless persons the police find on the streets, in abandoned buildings, or huddled in doorways during the winter months. Lt. Gallagher stated that the police had been picking up these people and placing them in jail so that the individuals would not freeze to death during the bad weather. He stated that the police could no longer do this, that it was against the individuals’ rights as they had not committed a crime. The meeting included Reverend David Sherrard of the Rescue Mission, Don Griesmann of Northeast Ohio Legal Services, Neil Altman, Youngstown City Health Commissioner, Cathy Grizinski of Help Hotline, Sam Kooperman of Jewish Federation, Jack Thomas of Catholic Charities and other community persons. An additional meeting was called to discuss more fully what steps needed to be taken to combat this dilemma facing the community. The goal from the beginning was that “No one freezes to death during the winter months”. This is still the project’s singular goal.

It was decided to utilize two important community assets; the Rescue Mission and Help Hotline. Its unclear as to who came up with the idea of utilizing these resources in the manner they have been utilized over the past 20 years but the plan was for homeless persons, families and community individuals to call Help Hotline during the hours of 9:00 p.m. through 7:30 a.m. during the winter months of December 1 through March 31 in order for homeless persons and/or families to receive shelter at the Mission. The reason for this is that it freed up shelter staff to deal with the homeless there while Help Hotline would handle all the calls and then call the shelter that a homeless person/family was coming in. Often police and other entities would just drop off people at the shelter. By having a single gateway to the system, it was hoped that this would make the system work more smoothly for all concerned.

The initial year saw very little activity but that was expected as the program barely got off the ground before winter hit. Each subsequent year saw more homeless utilizing the shelter as billboards were purchased, flyers sent out and word of mouth among the homeless told everyone they saw.

Funding for the program started with the city and local organizations such as the United Way, Jewish Federation and Catholic Charities. This has continued to this day and all funding is put into operating the program. Projected bed stays for the past 20 years is over 60,000 with many of the homeless persons coming back each year.

Early on additional agencies came on board with mental health, alcohol and drug, outreach services. These agencies have strengthened the project’s mission. Statistics help to guide the project as a minimum of four meetings take place with the February meeting being a guideline as to if anything needs to be done different, although Mission and Hotline staff work very closely throughout the project. The idea of a press conference to announce the plight of the homeless in Mahoning County was started several years ago and continues to show how the community has come together. Press conferences have been held at several locations including the shelter and generally have been well attended.

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