Report faults leaders of homelessness board

Critics of document say it’s incomplete

11/18/2012
BY KATE GIAMMARISE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Rachael Gardner chats with Walter Anderson, Jr., 70, right, as he and Donald Spearman, 63, take part in a lunch for the homeless at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral community center.
Rachael Gardner chats with Walter Anderson, Jr., 70, right, as he and Donald Spearman, 63, take part in a lunch for the homeless at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral community center.

A consultant’s report about the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board has found that community homeless service providers have little trust in the agency’s leadership.

The same report also concluded there is little or no redundancy in services and most available shelter beds in Toledo are often full.

Critics say the report is incomplete, makes unsubstantiated claims, and did not address the issues it was supposed to address.

The report, completed in June, was written by consultant Kathy Teigland; she was hired by the board more than a year ago to align two types of federal funding for homelessness services locally.

The consultant’s report was part of that project; Ms. Teigland was paid $29,000 by the board with funds from the Toledo Community Foundation.

Deb Conklin, executive director of the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board.
Deb Conklin, executive director of the Toledo-Lucas County Homelessness Board.

Deb Conklin, the board’s executive director, said the report was not supposed to be an evaluation of the board and its staff but of how to align different federal funding streams for maximum impact to aid homeless clients. She said the report did not do that.

“We weren’t getting the practical steps that we needed [in the report],” Ms. Conklin said.

Emails between board staff members and Ms. Teigland show the board believed the final report had “unaddressed concerns and ambiguities” concerning shelter bed space, lack of statistical data to support recommendations, and other problems that weakened the document.

“I realize the facts and findings in the report are not perhaps as flattering as I might have hoped for you and the TLCHB. However, I must stay true to the findings of the local CoC [Continuum of Care] and an ethical standard,” Ms. Teigland replied in an email defending her work to Ms. Conklin.

Ms. Teigland said she stands behind the report. She said she is still owed $1,588 for her work on the report because she never received the final payment.

Some board members said they believed some of the concerns raised in the report had been resolved.

“A lot of this stuff, in my opinion, has been handled,” said Scott Sylak, a board member and executive director of the county’s Mental Health & Recovery Services Board. For instance, Mr. Sylak said, the board has made efforts to reach out to more providers in recent months and hear their concerns through the Housing Collaborative Network.

The Homelessness Board’s job is critical — it is charged with overseeing and coordinating a response to homelessness in Lucas County. It is the governing body for the local Continuum of Care, about 25 local agencies that receive about $4 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development annually to prevent and fight homelessness.

Ms. Teigland’s report echoes some conclusions others have drawn after examining the agency.

Another report, compiled more than two years ago by the Columbus-based Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, raised similar concerns, stating, “Other community organizations tend not to view TLCHB positively and are hesitant to work with the agency” and noted “the good and promising work that has been accomplished is overlooked and overshadowed by controversy and division.”

The 2010 report was put together after extensive conflict among board members, including one member filing a state ethics complaint against another. Recommendations in the 2010 report included creating a smaller board, hiring a full-time executive director, and developing conflict resolution practices. Two years later, the board is smaller — down to 15 members from 25 — but it does not have a full-time executive director.

The board is an independent, nonprofit agency established in 2005 by the city of Toledo, Lucas County, and the United Way to streamline local services for the homeless. Over the years it has often made headlines for infighting and conflict.

The board encountered criticism this past summer when several Toledo shelters faced funding cuts from the city. Some accused board leaders of trying to force them to change how they operate and of influencing a city decision to cut their funds — an accusation the board and the city emphatically denied.

The bulk of its funds — about $313,000 — comes from the Ohio Department of Development; some also come from the city of Toledo, United Way, and Family Outreach Community United Services (FOCUS), an agency working to end homelessness. Board members include representatives from the city, county, Lucas Metropolitan Housing Authority, the county’s mental health board, and agencies such as Catholic Charities that provide services to the homeless.

At any given moment, Lucas County has about 1,000 people who are homeless, according to statistics from the annual “point-in-time” count. About 20 percent of those individuals experience mental illness, about 25 percent have substance-abuse issues, and about 7 percent are veterans, according to the statistics, compiled by the board. About two-thirds of those individuals do not have children; about one-third are families with children. United Way’s 211 aid hot line receives more than 500 calls every month for shelter services and about 180 calls monthly for rent assistance.

Lourdes Santiago, director of the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, said she read a draft of the recent report and found it to be “missing data and missing cohesiveness.” Among the report’s shortcomings, in her view, was that it didn’t seek input from her as to the city’s position and the Department of Neighborhoods’ direction on homeless funding issues, made unsubstantiated claims about bed scarcity, and didn’t address what she sees as an important issue — homeless youths who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

“I cannot draw any conclusions from the report I saw,” she said. “It was not well documented. It was full of holes.”

Several board members said they think that despite any past problems, the agency is moving forward to improve relationships with providers and to hire a full-time leader.

“I’m going to have to trust our executive director to know what’s best,” said board member Mr. Sylak. “That work is difficult to do in a part-time position.”

Said Joe Tafelski, a board member and executive director of Advocates for Basic Legal Equality Inc., “Overall, I feel like there’s a good-faith effort to move forward.”

Contact Kate Giammarise at: kgiammarise@theblade.com or 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.