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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (WJW) – A group of men experiencing homelessness and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for Homeless (NEOCH) held a press conference Thursday about the group’s living situation.

The Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry has been using the Ramada Inn in Independence as an emergency shelter due to COVID-19.

According to NEOCH, that contract was supposed to run through August.

However, they say the contract was canceled early after a conversation between Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and Independence Mayor Gregory Kurtz.

52 men are currently refusing to leave because of concerns about COVID-19 and the rise of the Delta variant, according to NEOCH.

“We’re trying to get our lives together. We’re trying to get jobs. And we do deserve dignity because we’re human beings,” said Ronald Freeman.

“They think a lot of us aren’t worth the effort, but you’re wrong.”

The men are concerned about congregate living at the shelter.

The owner of the Ramada Inn supports the group, according to a press release.

“We have supported LMM and these men for months and we cannot let them leave this way,” said Sharif Omara.

“They have the right, as humans to have a safe and comfortable place to stay. It is dangerous and inhumane to throw everyone into 2100 Lakeside Ave.”

A lawyer representing the hotel spoke at the press conference reiterating their support.

2100 Lakeside Ave. is the location of the Lutheran Ministry men’s shelter.

“I’ve got nowhere else to go. I’m not going back to 2100, especially with this pandemic and the lack of cleanliness there,” guest Anthony MacDowell told NEOCH.

“We’re just trying to find somewhere to stay so we can get somewhere to stay permanently,” said Freeman.

The mayor of Independence issued a statement:

Earlier this month, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries (LMM) informed the City of Independence that they would be transferring the 155 homeless men staying at the Ramada hotel since April 15 to a downtown shelter on July 15, 2021.  LMM, not the City, determined this date. 

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.

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.

Independence Mayor Gregory P. Kurtz

FOX 8 received the following statement from the county:

We reaffirm our dedication to providing support for people experiencing homelessness. 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.

As we have for more than 20 years, we will continue to work with our partners to develop creative ways to assist people in finding temporary shelter and ultimately permanent housing.

LMM released a statement Friday.

Over the past 16 months, we led a community response to socially distance people experiencing homelessness during COVID-19, at the direction of the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services (OHS). The hotel hub strategy was developed because shelters are not designed for social distancing. We have managed this operation with effectiveness and efficiency at 10 hotels, keeping the spread of COVID among the homeless in Cleveland to less than 5%. Our most recent location was the Ramada Inn in Independence, OH.

LMM felt pressure to vacate the Ramada very early on in the occupancy. The Independence mayor even went so far as to call LMM a “questionable organization” in his weekly, public letters to the City’s occupants. LMM staff and its residents at the hotel encountered hyper surveillance including police following residents as they walked down the street, telling them to go back to the hotel, among other comments, and the enactment of a City ordinance (to name just a few tactics) geared toward removing the residents and LMM. All of the above, among other reasons, resulted in a hostile environment for staff and residents, many of whom already carry significant trauma. Sadly, some of the individuals who are homeless had left the Ramada early on because of these concerns.

We are disappointed in the Independence officials who made our stay so difficult and for their unwillingness to even consider supporting an effort to stop the spread of COVID in our homeless community. More than half of the residents and LMM staff at the Ramada are people of color. At a time when race relations in our nation are strained at best, it is astounding that the city failed to see this as an opportunity to build bridges in a community where diversity is uncommon.

The men we serve are with us for various reasons – some are in a fragile state, some are waiting for permanent housing, others have jobs and are saving to move out. Each one is someone’s brother, son, or father. In the last year, LMM has served 143 veterans; more than a dozen were staying at the Ramada. Along Brecksville Rd, there are banners honoring veterans affixed to streetlights, celebrating people who defended our country’s ideals of liberty, justice and equality. What our organization experienced interacting with city leaders does not reflect these values.

Despite the very unwelcome reception from city officials, we have been inspired by residents of Independence and neighboring businesses who stepped forward to express support and solidarity, dropping off donations, inquiring about volunteering and expressing appreciation to LMM. We thank the residents of Independence who showed decency and compassion.

Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM)