Shelter To Provide More Programs

CLEVELAND (AP) - The city's Salvation Army shelter will provide more programs to move homeless men toward self-reliance, keeping a promise made when it opened 2½ years ago.

The overcrowded downtown shelter, which cost $1.4 million to build and costs taxpayers $1.7 million a year to operate, has created tension among the Salvation Army, social workers, public officials and the homeless, The Plain Dealer reported Wednesday.

The Salvation Army, which contracts with Cuyahoga County and the city to run the shelter, had promised that it would become a 24-hour facility offering medical care, mental health services, hot meals, lockers and access to washing machines.

But it's only open at night. The men have no access to washing machines, few have lockers, and there's limited access to social programs.

After the county withheld $320,000 in payments, the Salvation Army agreed to open the shelter during the day for men to use the toilets. The agency says it will have daytime social programs in place this month.

"There's an ongoing effort to link people with appropriate mental health interventions," said Ruth Gillett of the county's Office of Homeless Services. "And that's been more concrete in the last three months."

When the shelter first opened, it had 250 emergency beds and 50 beds for men in transitional programs. Today, it's basically a 365-bed emergency shelter, faced with more than 400 men a night lining up to get in.

The county and city each contribute $600,000 a year to the shelter. The remainder of the operating money comes from state and federal dollars.

The shelter's kitchen, installed when the place first opened, began operating just six weeks ago. Before that, the Salvation Army and volunteer church groups delivered pre-cooked meals to the shelter.

In the last month, agency officials say, the kitchen is cooking 800 meals a day.

"People now are beginning to understand how to work with each other," said Duane Drotar, director of the shelter.

On Monday night, there were 420 men in the shelter, according to county Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones who spent the night there, not telling anyone who he was.

"It was hardly the Waldorf," said Jones, standing outside the shelter in jeans and a T-shirt Tuesday morning. "There were not enough towels, pillows and sheets."

But Jones said he was impressed by Drotar who was hired this month to run the shelter.

"After meeting him, I've got some sense of optimism," he said. "But he needs to be given the resources and a little bit of time."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)