Low Income residents fight welfare office relocation
by Tim Walters
(Plain Press, March 2006) Late in January, members of United Clevelanders against Poverty (UCAP) were surprised and dismayed to learn that Cuyahoga County was planning to move the Ohio City Neighborhood Family Service Center from its current location at W. 25th and Lorain Avenue. This center provides a variety of services to the community, including Ohio Works First, food stamps, child support and a career center. The new site would at Fulton Parkway and Memphis Avenue.
UCAP immediately scheduled a community meeting at the May Dugan Center that over 80 residents of the Near West Side attended. Elsie Caraballo, director of the Ohio City Neighborhood Family Center, came and informed all that the move was being proposed as the W. 25th and Lorain location was considered poorly organized and in need of renovation. Only two replies were received after the County put out requests for proposals for a renovated site. These were for the current Ohio City Location and Fulton Parkway. The reason Fulton Parkway was being considered is that the rent there would be almost one million dollars a year less than the cost of the Ohio City location.
Residents at the meeting acknowledged the cost difference but pointed out that this relocation would remove needed services from both the Ohio City and Clark Metro Neighborhoods. Furthermore, many in these neighborhoods depend on public transportation and traveling to the new location would be difficult in terms of time and money. This would be especially hard on the elderly, the disabled and those with children, and would be further complicated with the planned closing of the Fulton Road bridge for two or more years.
There was also a great deal of concern expressed over the lack of information about the move that was provided to the community and how this move might affect their ability to receive services. Almost all at the meeting had no knowledge of the planned relocation until UCAP got involved.
Caraballo was not able to provide answers to many of the questions, although she did keep track of them and promised to take them to her superiors. She felt that it would be at least 30 to 45 days before a final decision was made. All UCAP members at the meeting said they remained concerned and felt strongly about fighting back. Plans were made to ask the county commissioners to attend a subsequent meeting and respond.
Within days of this first meeting, however, UCAP learned that a decision about relocating would be made at the commissioners’ board meeting on Feb. 16th, leaving no time for the planned next meeting for the community. As a result, UCAP members attended the board meeting and presented their concerns to the commissioners bringing with them more than 350 signatures on petitions opposing the move.
Randy McDowell began UCAP’s presentation by pointing out that the problems in the current building had existed for some time and that the implied urgency left the community at a disadvantage by giving them so little time to respond. Annette Toney stated that the Ohio City and Clark Metro neighborhoods had a high concentration of residents who used the center and would suffer disproportionately should services leave the area. She emphasized the need to know, to be involved and the importance of the services provided to her and others. Diana King pointed out that residents were very disappointed at their lack of involvement and felt that communication to this point had been extremely poor. She stressed the importance of having those who used the services involved in any and all decision-making relative to changes proposed. Wanda McCord summed up the group’s demands, which included finding a way to keep services in the area, holding four to six community meetings to inform residents of the plans, and the formation of a work group that would monitor ongoing efforts.
Gail Long, retiring director of Merrick House, also spoke out against the loss of services. She reminded the commissioners that the County also owned property at Clark Avenue and West 25th that could easily be used for a satellite site enabling them to maintain ready access to services for both the Ohio City and Clark Metro neighborhoods.
After their formal testimony, UCAP members engaged the commissioners in additional dialogue. The commissioners acknowledged the concerns of the community but felt there was no way they could stay at the Lorain and W. 25th site. They would save almost 10 million dollars over the life of the 10-year lease by relocating to Fulton Parkway and believed that these saved dollars could be used for the benefit of those who used the center. They did approve a lease on the Fulton Parkway and Memphis location, moving relocation plans forward.
The Commissioners did recognize the importance of maintaining services on the Near West Side and the significant problems the move would cause those using public transportation. All agreed that the facility at Clark Ave and W. 25th was a possibility for a satellite location but additional discussion was needed. Both the commissioners and county administrators committed to working with UCAP and Merrick House to determine how they might maintain services in the area. They also pledged to involve those who used the center in both that effort and the relocation itself. UCAP and Merrick House committed to working with the county to inform the community of the changes planned, to maintain a concentrated effort to keep services readily accessible to residents of the Near West Side and to keep those affected involved in the decision- making process.
EDITOR’S NOTE: UCAP plans to hold a series of community meetings in the very near future. Time, date and place were not available at press time but Tim Walters at the May Dugan Center can be contacted at 631-5800 for this information.
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