Cleveland Residents Ask City Council For Cold Weather Plan, EMS Contract

Cleveland City Council’s first meeting of 2020 was packed with protesters
Residents crowded into city council chambers calling for a cold action plan and a contract for union EMS workers. [Taylor Haggerty / ideastream]
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Cleveland City Council faced two sit-ins at its regular meeting Monday as both homeless advocates and first responders called for change.

One protest comes on the heels of the city issuing a Christmas Eve cease use notice to Denison United Church of Christ, which has been operating as an overflow shelter for St. Malachi.

There’s a need for shelters like the one at Denison UCC, said Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Director Chris Knestrick, particularly in cold-weather months. The city needs a better plan for assisting the homeless population during cold weather, Knestrick said.

“We know that there’s around 100 and some people sleeping on the streets every night in the streets of Cleveland,” Knestrick said. “We need to provide spaces beyond just the county shelter for those people to get warm.”

The city cited fire code violations and zoning restrictions in the notice; Denison UCC has submitted an appeal and is working to correct the fire safety concerns.

Councilmen Matt Zone, Basheer Jones and Kerry McCormack agreed to meet with homeless advocates to discuss ways the city can protect homeless residents.

“The crisis is real all across America,” Zone said. “We’re doing a good job here. Can we do better? Absolutely. Do we need to do better? Absolutely.”

The council meeting was repeatedly interrupted with chants for homelessness reform from the audience, stories of people who had died from exposure to the cold and calls to keep Denison UCC open.

Members of C.A.R.E. ILA, the union representing dispatchers, EMTs and paramedics in Cleveland, also turned out in force at the first city council meeting of 2020, calling for mental health support.

For three years, the union and the city tried to negotiate a new contract that would include that support, said union president Paul Melhuish, before pursuing legal arbitration. The contract was approved, Melhuish said, but the city has not yet recognized the contract.

“We asked for PTSD language, language to make things better for our employees, to make them fit to come back to work,” Melhuish said. Union members are also calling for higher wages.

Some city council members recognized first responders, including Councilman Basheer Jones.

“Can you imagine, you have these people who put their life on the line everyday within EMT who do not feel they are getting the necessary support to be successful?” Jones asked.

The council did not take any action to address the C.A.R.E. ILA contract.

But the council did approve a measure allowing Cleveland residents to vote on cutting the council's size and salaries. That measure, along with three charter amendments — one of which would keep council members from giving themselves a bigger raise than the increase negotiated for city employees — will appear on the March primary ballot.

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