Back at the Emergency Women's Shelter

Yesterday I came back to the land of "Three Hots and a Cot."

I used to be an AmeriCorps*VISTA with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH). For almost two years I was an official advocate for homeless individuals. I would go to shelters and organize resident council meetings where concerned shelter residents would tell us their grievances. We would hear everything from how the food sucks and the place is infested with bed bugs to complaints of assault and sexual harassment.

I was involved with resident councils at both the largest women's and men's shelters, but I was especially passionate about the one at the women's shelter. This particular shelter was even referred to as "Guantanamo Cleveland" at one time. (I was actually involved with the very first women's resident council. The shelter had banned NEOCH for some time and we were allowed back in when I became a VISTA.)

I got to know many of the women at this shelter and took their plight seriously. Yesterday I went back to co-run the resident council meeting for the first time in over a year.

This meeting was my baby. We fought some major battles in that rundown building and, while I wish I didn't have to go back there to ensure women's rights, it feels good to be continuing the good fight.

Brief timeline from before I got pregnant: Residents who came to the meetings were being targeted by staff and faced staff retaliation simply for telling us their troubles. We repeatedly met with the shelter director and he gave us a slew of empty promises. Eventually, we got him kicked out (though not fired from the organization that runs the shelter--he was merely transferred to do something else) and several of the problem staff members got the boot.

Anyways, I was gone for this drama. Around this time I had Milo and was staying home with him. The shelter got a new director and new staff. Yesterday I did notice some changes (residents now got to watch TV) but too much stayed the same. I even recognized many of the women--not a good sign. I wish they had moved on to better things. I wish they were able to.

"Three Hots and a Cot" was the saying for this shelter. One of the staff members (a notorious bitch) would keep reminding residents to shut up and stop complaining because all the shelter promises is "three hots and a cot." No more, no less. The women yesterday informed me they don't even get that--they get "three colds and a cot," referring to the cold food being served.

I always thought this was horrible. Residents don't get any help? No case management? No job training? How will three hots and a cot work to stop the cycle of homelessness?


  1. Sounds to me like nothing has improved despite two changes in directors since I left in 2005.

    Bed bugs were there then, nurse Patty complained to staff (I was present in the kitchen) about the lack of cleanliness and about proper temperature of the food. Much of what we were served was rotten or spoiled.

    I called the health department one day and talked to the director about kitchen inspections and he said they don't inspect shelters.

    I had diarrhea daily until I was approved for food stamps and no longer ate there. Tough decision one night when I got sick after eating as to what would be easier to clean up off the floor - shit or vomit cuz I had problems at both ends at the exact same time.

    Yep, will be writing about my "sheltered life" at CWS soon.

    BTW - which bitch; Cynthia or Joy Lynn?

  2. This is a terrible situation. I think that awareness of people being both homeless and pregnant needs to be raised. I have written an article on this subject after seeing someone in London in that situation made me think.
    Homeless and Pregnant In London. It sounds to me like a shelter should be talking about respect and dignity as well as basic meals and so on. Otherwise, it is likely to result in people deciding it is less hateful to be on the street again.