On the heels of our country’s celebration of Independence Day, the men from the Shelter at 2100 Lakeside are still in pursuit of their independence and their right to shelter.

Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry (LMM) is a 52-year-old, social service and advocacy organization that creates innovative solutions to community challenges with housing and shelter, health and wellness, and workforce development.

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.

This statement should end here in our divided country, right? But it cannot. LMM’s provision of social services is accompanied by our civic mission to convene honest and hopeful conversation with unlikely allies in the spirit of our country’s better values and often leading to new responses to our region’s toughest challenges. We invite everyone interested-no matter their ideology- to learn more about people who are homeless. We also invite those who already stand with the homeless in their journey to join us in productive conversations and actions as we continue our commitment to ending homelessness in Greater Cleveland.