With its ample supply of apartments and bargain rental rates, Lakewood is a convenient option for social service agencies looking to house their clients. The majority of these groups run decent programs and draw little scrutiny. However, as was revealed in a federal lawsuit filed last year against the city by the owners of the Hidden Village apartment building – site of a Lutheran-run youth re-entry program – not everything is perfect. The suit, which was dropped in July, but is expected to be re-filed, alleged the city’s police and housing and building departments harassed program members and violated fair housing laws.
The Hidden Village apartment building continues to draw attention from the police. They have been called there numerous times over the last two years for a variety of reasons, including several incidents involving members of the youth re-entry program.
The anonymous e-mail
Some Lakewood residents, therefore, are understandably concerned when they learn their neighborhood will be host to one of these types of programs. On June 3, 2009 someone anonymously authored an e-mail to several elected city officials warning them of the impending settlement of a group mental health consumers at Oak Tree Manor located at 1327 Bonnieview Ave. The message was reminiscent of the unsigned flyers distributed when Hidden Village began their youth re-entry program and contained fantastically disturbing claims.
To be absolutely clear, this e-mail contains various accusations that are either totally exaggerated or flatly false. It is provided here merely to give you a glimpse into the kind of hysteria percolating in the neighborhood.
Subject: Fwd: 40 severely mentally ill & drug addicted people moving to Lakewood on Bonnieview!
Date: Wed, 3 Jun 2009 09:53:08 -0400
I am sending you this email because I have grave concern about the pending move of 40 severely mentally ill and drug addicted residents of Mental Health Services (MHS) in the next couple of weeks to Bonnieview ave on Lakewood’s west side. They will be moving from the Treemont Facility.
I am familiar with the MHS’s/Edens housing program. I am note sure if the others on this email are so here is a brief description: The program was developed to keep the dually diagnosed, Mentally ILL and Drug addicts, in stable housing. This mission allows the clients to *continue using drugs* as long as it is done in their own apartment and out of site. MHS then tries to engage these clients through group counseling and 1-on-1 counseling to stop using drugs. The residences are supervised during bussness hours by social workers at the site. The social workers will giving housing in the complex.
I am very worried of how this pending move will affect the lives of those on Bonnieview and don’t think that this should be allowed with a blank check.
All of MHS’s clients have a *Axis I diagnosis* (schizophrenia, bi polar,…) most have criminal backgrounds, all are severely addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol, many have prostituted for drugs. I know of many specific examples of drug pushing, outdoor sex, fights, criminal activities, burglaries, and violent crime that have spilled out of the King James site into the streets and neighborhood of Treatment where this program is currently housed.
MHS’s allows for the residence to continue using drugs as long as it is out of site and in their room! The goal is to keep them in stable housing.
I realize that MHS staff will be present at the apartment building
during business hours. What will happen after? What about all the elderly living in the building, What about the residences living on Bonnieview?
I think that this needs to be addressed by the city before they move in. I also think the community of Lakewood need to be aware of this and weigh in.
Lakewood Observer: Please look into this.
Inquiries to MHS and city met with silence
MHS and to a lesser extent Lakewood’s Department of Human Services ignored my persistent requests for information and clarification regarding claims within the e-mail.
I phoned MHS on June 3rd and was connected to the executive director’s secretary, Michelle DuPlantier. She claimed to have no knowledge regarding the situation. She said Susan Neth, executive director, was out of the office. I forwarded DuPlantier the e-mail and said I’d follow-up with her later to get a contact. I also e-mailed Lakewood’s Human Services Department and inquired what they knew about the situation.
The next day, June 4th, I phoned DuPlantier and left a voice message and sent a follow-up e-mail. On June 10th, I left her another voice mail message and e-mailed Susan Neth with a carbon copy to Chief Operating Office Eric Morse. I also sent Lakewood Human Services another e-mail. On June 16th, I left yet another voice mail message for DuPlantier and a separate voice mail message for Morse. I left a voice mail message with Lakewood Human Services and followed it up with an e-mail. I called Neth, and her voice mail message indicated she was still out of the office. It was later learned she was in Lithuania watching her child play basketball.
I never received a single reply from MHS. On June 24nd, the day Lakewood’s mayor hastily called a community meeting on the MHS issue, Michelle DuPlantier finally answered her phone. I asked why my messages went unreturned. “We didn’t want to put anyone in jeopardy,” she said. Duplantier said the Lakewood situation was being “handled from with-in” and suggested I attend the meeting to learn more.
Lakewood Human Services’ response was almost as weak. Instead of giving me a simple return call or e-mail, they punted my request to the Law Department who then denied there was any information available.
Welcome to the neighborhood
30 MHS clients moved out of their Tremont location and relocated to Bonnieview
Mayor Edward O. FitzGerald called an hour-long meeting at the Lakewood Armory to discuss the situation. 55 people attended, even with short notice. A handful of councilpeople, including Kevin Butler (Ward 1), were present, along with a couple ward police officers and Director of Human Services Dottie Buckon. Several MHS representatives were also there.
Mayor FitzGerald indicated he felt it was necessary to call the meeting in order to tamp down the rumors and explain what was going on. He claimed, somewhat dubiously, the city learned “really just a matter of days ago” MHS was moving people into Oak Tree Manor. “We don’t know everything,” he said.
Mayor FitzGerald said he was “candid” with MHS about his unhappiness over their lack of advanced notice regarding the move-in. He said their clients would be expected to obey the same laws as every other citizen. “Sometimes it has gone well, and sometimes it has gone poorly,” he said referring to the city’s history with these kind of situations.
Eric Morse, chief operating officer of MHS, said their 60-person facility had been located in Tremont since 2004, but was no longer suited to house the program. He said the building’s landlord hadn’t maintained it to the health and safety standards required by HUD, who was providing subsidized housing vouchers for MHS clients through another non-profit, EDEN.
Morse said half of the clients were being relocated elsewhere in the region, but the other 30 had “become close friends” and wanted to stay together. 25 clients would begin moving to Bonnieview on July 1st with a handful of others to follow at a later date.
In addition, Morse said MHS would be leasing office space in the Bonnieview apartment building and would have on-site life skill managers, four case managers, and an unspecified number of program managers. “Vanguard [the property management co.] has really welcomed us in,” he said.
Bonnieview ain’t Tremont
Morse said the MHS program was “very successful” in Tremont. “It brought stability to the corner we lived on,” he said, and claimed that the presence of MHS locations in other urban areas of Cleveland, like Glenville and Broadway, made a marked improvement on the neighborhoods. As evidence, he said, the Cleveland councilperson in Tremont was fighting to keep the program from leaving.
Later, a resident complained that Bonnieview was already a chore to live on because of the noise and trouble emanating from the bars on Detroit Ave. “I can’t imagine it would be worse than the Tremont bar scene,” Morse said.
Undisclosed mental health issues
Dan Shepard, director of operations for Vanguard – the company that manages Oak Tree Manor, said the building had 71 other tenants and had been cited for only one problem in the past. He said they don’t rent to sex offenders or anyone who has had a felony conviction in the last seven years, though exceptions are occasionally made.
He disagreed when someone suggested that the MHS tenants were a quick fix to Oak Tree Manor’s vacancy problem.
Shepard said he manages an additional 100-unit building in Lakewood and the owner of Oak Tree owns four other buildings. He added, “We don’t have any plans to move-in” anymore MHS clients.
A member of the public asked Morse what type of mental health issues MHS clients have. Morse declined to answer citing privacy issues.
‘Less than ideal’
“This is going to be the beginning of a process of communication,” Mayor FitzGerald said. “We have to do an awfully good job of communicating.” He added, “This neighborhood is less than ideal” for MHS because it’s not as urban as their other locations.
Councilperson Butler reminded the audience there were no laws or zoning codes to prevent MHS from relocating their clients to Lakewood.
The crowd was generally not pleased about the news of their new neighbors. One younger gentleman who intimated he worked at the Lakewood Hospital emergency room said, “This has got to stop.” He said he constantly sees MHS-type patients in the ER and they’re a drag on the system.
At a Listening2Lakewood town meeting a month later, Mayor FitzGerald said “it is very touchy legally” regarding what action the city can take. There seemed to be some uncertainty about whether or not MHS was going to have on-site office space and if that would violate the zoning code. Mayor FitzGerald said, in general, mental health consumers don’t help the city because they tend to use be consumers of services and not producers of tax revenue.
At the conclusion of the community meeting at the armory, various representatives from the agencies involved in the situation passed out their business cards and encouraged anyone to call with questions.
Eric Morse – Chief Operating Officer
Elaine Gimmel – Director, Housing Operations
Vanguard (Manager of the Bonnieview property)
Dan Shepard – Director of Operations
Cimperman ‘sad’ to see MHS leave Tremont
As happened in Lakewood, rumors surrounded the MHS program when it opened in Tremont. Cleveland Councilperson Joe Cimperman described the community meeting he held to discuss the matter as being the worst one of his political career. “It was horrible,” Cimperman said.
The building MHS moved into, Kingsway Manor located at 2363 W. 14th ST, had been a “long time problem” according to Cimperman. It was an assisted living facility and spent time in foreclosure under the previous owner.
He recalled that the room was packed with residents who were angry – stoked by rumors – and shouting out-of-turn. “I was actually physically accosted,” he said. One woman grabbed his tie and struck him repeatedly before being pulled away.
After the initial meeting, however, residents’ worst fears did not materialize. “We watched and waited,” Cimperman said. He held a follow-up meeting six months after MHS opened and aside from himself, the only other person present was the community organizer who had distributed flyers advertising the event.
“Seriously, we have not had one complaint,” Cimperman said. Generally, the only time he’s been aware of police activity at the MHS facility is when one of the clients calls the police to report a crime they’ve observed from their windows, which overlook nearby Lincoln Park. “They are open and transparent,” Cimperman said of MHS management.
Robert Lyons, the current owner of Kingsway Manner, was described by Cimperman as being a busy guy who can be hard to get a hold of. Cimperman hinted Lyons’ candid personality might have played a role in the rift with MHS.
Although the building is kept immaculate condition, said Cimperman, there was disagreement about certain things and “it began a battle of personalities.”
Cimperman said his effort to keep MHS in Tremont was elevated to the cabinet level of Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s administration. There was an attempt at mediation which collapsed at the last minute and nothing was resolved by the July 1st deadline.
“I’m afraid now is that we have a vacant building,” Cimperman said of the 60-unit structure. “How is he going to fill the building up?”
“I’m sad” to see them go, Cimperman said, and recalled that some MHS clients became active members of the community.
Police visited Tremont address 223 times in three-year period
According to a run sheet [see .pdf] provided by the Cleveland Police, they visited Kingsway Manor more than 200 times between 2006 and 2009. The data regarding the nature of the calls is sparse, but includes an array of drug activity, assaults, and mental health issues. There are a handful of apartment numbers that police visited more than once indicating that even a few troublemakers can cause more than their share of problems and make the other 57 law-abiding residents of the building look bad.
In early July, I happened upon the one of the maintenance people at Grace Hospital, which is located next to Kingsway Manor. I asked him what kind of neighbor MHS had been. “They come and go just like everyone else,” he said. He said he’s worked at the hospital for several years and never saw any problems.
How has MHS adapted to Lakewood?
Oak Tree Manor on Bonnieview will never be confused with a nunnery. Police had been called there before MHS moved in and they continue to be called there. Here is glance at some of the more recent incidents:
7/3/09 7:39 a.m.
Disturbance. Apt. 208. Comp can hear a little girl screaming “mommy stop hurting me” Checks okay. All advised.
Complaint. States she received a ticket from NH but she has never been there. Believes someone stole her identity. Receive a notification from Manchester, NH parking dept. which indicated she had an unpaid parking ticket there. Comp said she was never in NH. Comp is going to contact issue agency on Monday to resolve the matter.
Complaint. Apt. 415. Female state her neighbors are harassing her. Male lives in Apt. 411. Female is a mental health consumer that has problems with everyone on the fourth floor. Advised.
Criminal damaging. Someone threw a rock through a windshield
Damage – non-criminal. Someone just broke the window to the entry door in front. 2:14 a.m.
Disturbance. 3:55 p.m. States she was visiting a friend at the Oak Tree Manor and her ex-boyfriend came in and started choking her and punching her in the face. He ran out and she is now with friends nearby.
Disturbance. 1:26 a.m. Apt. 219 male and female arguing. They will separate for the night.
It’s difficult to know if MHS clients are causing trouble in other areas of the neighborhood. However, Councilperson Kevin Butler (Ward 1) confirmed that an MHS client was arrested in July for swiping a statue from St. James. He was spotted carrying it down Detroit.
Lakewood resident Bill Call has taken an interest in learning more about MHS, and is expected to meet with their lawyers today to discuss his questions. He will probably share what he learns on the Lakewood Observer message board.