Homeless Forced Out Of Emergency COVID Shelter At Independence Ramada Inn

Ronald Freeman
Ronald Freeman, who is unhoused and immunocompromised, called his room at the Ramada Inn a "safe haven" from COVID-19. [Jenny Hamel / Ideastream Public Media]

A group of more than 50 men experiencing homelessness are refusing to leave the Ramada Inn in Independence that has been an emergency shelter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for Homeless (NEOCH), held a press conference with the men Thursday, urging the Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) to allow the men, who have been housed at the hotel since April, to stay through August as originally planned.

The original contract with LMM, which is paid by Cuyahoga County to house the men, and the Ramada Inn was set to expire Aug. 31. According to NEOCH, however, Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish canceled the deal early at the urging of Independence Mayor Greg Kurtz.

NEOCH Executive Director Chris Knestrick called on Budish and other local leaders to “step up” their commitment to fight homelessness and racism as a public health crisis. People of color disproportionately struggle with housing and the congregate living situation in shelters is not safe for those most at risk for contracting COVID-19, he said.

“The county capitulated to segregation and racism at a time when they declare racism as a public health crisis,” Knestrick said. “Non-profit organizations need to heed this call. The ask is clear to Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries. Do not leave today. Do not abandon these people in the midst of a pandemic.”

A group of homeless men who have been living at an emergecny shelter since April held signs in front of the Ramada Inn in Independence, saying the downtown shelter is not safe as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. [Jenny Hamel / Ideastream Public Media]

Ronald Freeman, one of the men who does not want to move to the LMM men’s shelter at 2100 Lakeside Ave., said his room in the Ramada Inn has been a “safe haven” during the pandemic. Unhoused and immunocompromised, Freeman said he feels unsafe leaving when the delta variant poses a threat, especially in a crowded shelter.

“I feel like they look at us like we dirty dish water and throw us away. They don’t care about how this situation affects us when they take us out of here,” said Freeman. “I'm still fighting cancer. My immune system is compromised and I don’t need to be in a crowded place.”

Kurtz said LMM made the decision to move the men to the shelter July 15, not the city.

“Today, the Northern Ohio Coalition for the Homeless announced that 50+ current residents at the Ramada have decided to stay at the hotel, citing safety concerns at the downtown shelter,” Kurtz said in a statement. “The owner of the Ramada, LMM, and the Cuyahoga County Board of Health, are solely responsible for determining what the appropriate action is to address this situation.”

Deborah Michelson, the attorney representing the hotel’s owner said the Ramada Inn would be proud to continue housing the men in cooperation with LMM. 

Conditions at a shelter are not fit for a pandemic, she said.

“Four men in an eight-by-eight pod. This is not safe. This is not humane. This is unacceptable,” Michelson said. “We don’t understand the rush to move ya’ll out of here and into crowded facilities. Maybe someone one day will explain that to me.”

In a statement, Budish’s office reaffirmed its dedication to providing support for local residents experiencing homelessness with the announcement of plans to purchase a 14,000 square foot facility on Lakeside Avenue to shelter 70 people, pending Cuyahoga County Council approval.

“We have confidence in our partners at Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry to continue managing services at this stage in the pandemic. We have committed to expanding and improving our services, as evidenced by our pending $550,000 purchase of 2020 Lakeside Ave., the building immediately next to the current men’s shelter,” the statement said.

Ideastream Public Media's Glenn Forbes contributed to this report.

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