Monday, November 28, 2005

Yearly Holiday Weekend Tour of Hardcore Homelessness

Ever since the bad old days of Michael R. White, the Coalition has walked the streets of Cleveland to make sure that homeless people are not being harrassed by city personnel or police. We pick a concentrated area between Lakeside and Prospect from Public Square to East 22nd to walk around and talk to homeless people. We always had problems on Thanksgiving weekend with Mayor White. He repeatedly tried to "clean up" the Downtown starting at Thanksgiving so that shoppers would save Higbees/Dillards, May Company, Tower City and the Galleria. Despite his best efforts to arrest, harass, disperse, and generally make the lives of a homeless people living hell, two out of the four retail centers closed. (I predict one more will be gone within a year.)

This also gives us the opportunity to count the hard core homeless in our city. The reality is that Thanksgiving weekend is when the lowest number of homeless people sleep outside for the whole year. Many family or friends take homeless people in for this holiday weekend. It does give us the opportunity to compare one year to the next as well. We walk on the same day every year--the Saturday after Thanksgiving. It does have some value in showing the number of people who refuse shelter and stay on the streets. This year was a substantial increase over the last year, and continues a trend of increases since 2100 Lakeside Men's Shelter opened in 2000.

So, this year in the bitter cold of Saturday we walked the streets again. We gave out gloves, street cards and offered rides to anyone who wanted to relocate to a shelter. We met 27 people this Saturday who were bundled up and braving the elements on the streets of Cleveland. Most were in alcoves under plastic or on the heated sidewalks that run down Superior Ave. No one was willing to relocate to a shelter. One guy got angry when we offered to take him to 2100 Lakeside. Everyone appreciated the gloves, and the population was pretty diverse. There were 5 or 6 women in the group--an increase. There were a number of white people among the hard core, and they all seemed to be well prepared for the cold. (The African American population is disproportionately represented in Cleveland's homeless population--near 75%).

There was one guy on Euclid Ave. who we worried about who did not have any gloves. He was shivering and did not have a blanket. He seemed very out of place. The sidewalk of Euclid Ave. near the Playhouse is not a spot that a homeless person chooses to sleep. It is too busy and not especially warm. There are very few abandoned buildings in that stretch, and it is very visible. We tried everything to convince him to move to another spot. We were worried that he would get run over in the Winterfest foot traffic. So finally, we went and got a blanket from 2100 Lakeside and brought it back so that at least he would not die on the streets. This was the only guy that those of us on the walk will worry about at night. Good luck this winter, Mr. Playhouse Square.

There was no one on East 17th near Superior, which is very unusual. For 10 years we have met people on this street. The other oddity was that there was no one sleeping on the four Quadrants of Public Square. Just last week there were 10 people on the Square. On Monday 11/21/05 the event organizers for Winterfest called and wanted to know what to do about the homeless people on Public Square. I said that they had a right to exist on the appropriately named Square, but that during the Children's Games a bunch of groups got together and found storage space for homeless people so that they would not have to keep their stuff on the Square. This worked well in that they had a secure place and the homeless guys did not have to worry that their stuff would be stolen. They must have taken me up on my offer, because on Saturday morning there were no homeless people and no bags on the Square. We asked everyone if they had been harassed and no one reported any harassment. We did get other issues that came up about violence by non-public employees, but no police harassment issues.

A history of the Thanksgiving walk by the Coalition:
2005: 27 people sleeping outside Downtown
2004: 19 people sleeping outside Downtown
2003: 11 people sleeping outside Downtown
2002: 9 people sleeping outside Downtown
2001: 6 people sleeping outside Downtown
2000: 3-5 people sleeping outside Downtown* This is the first year that 2100 Lakeside is in operation.
1999: 42 people sleeping outside Downtown
1998: 60 people sleeping outside Downtown

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Friday, November 25, 2005

A Few Tips for Volunteering During the Holidays


We mean that it is great to volunteer, but the holidays are not the best time because there are so many people trying to get in their good deeds before the end of the year. While it may be a good plot for Frazier and the subject of thousands of television shows, this is the real world, and there are tons of people trying to volunteer during this week. There are people in need during the last few weeks of the year, the second week in February and the during the heat of the third week in August. So how about volunteering at other times throughout the year besides Thanksgiving and Christmas?

Every year, NEOCH gets about 50 calls during the holidays from people looking to volunteer to serve food, and we are not a shelter or meal site. If we get 50 calls imagine how many calls the shelters and meal sites get. It may make you and your family all warm to volunteer during the holidays like in the Hallmark movies, but remember that if the movies are on t.v. it is most likely too late to volunteer for that holiday season. So, we will pass on a few tips for those who are interested in volunteering to serve homeless and very low income people so that you are not put out for the holidays.

First, a little background before you start volunteering.
1. Food is not a huge issue in Cleveland. The Hunger Network and Catholic Charities do a good job of dividing up the county and making sure that food is available. The pantry system is well developed and very advanced. The hot meal program is readily available although not coordinated. It is amazing that homeless people sleeping out can get a better meal than homeless people sleeping in the shelters. Churches come downtown all the time to offer meals. There is no coordination and no way to see how many other churches have fed people that night.

2. While we can never have enough shelter beds they will always be utilized, food is only needed in a finate quantity. Many programs stop taking food and other donations in November and December because we do not have the storage space until the cupboards are lean in March. Don't be surprised if donations are not accepted by a number of programs that you call.

3. Also, during the winter holidays in November and December, homeless people feast with an incredible amount of food. Thanksgiving holiday weekend is an overwhelming outpouring of food to homeless people. It is unfortunate that we do not hibernate in the dangerous, lonely, and cold months of December, January and February like other species.

4. United Way's 2-1-1/First Call for Help does a good job of tracking the free meal programs during the holidays. Check with First Call for Help (436-2000) to find out where there are meals and who might need volunteers. If you are serving a meal make sure that you register with 211/First Call for Help so that they know.

Now that you have some background here are a few tips for going forward.
1. Volunteer throughout the year so that you build a relationship with a social service provider. Shelters and meal sites will appreciate you a lot more in August when staff are on vacation than in November when 4 volunteers are turned away for every one that shows up. We need help throughout the year.
2. Many low income and homeless people believe that they must volunteer in order to keep their dignity after they receive a free meal or service. Do not begrude those receiving a meal the opportunity to clean up or help. In the bizarre world we live in today those receiving food stamps, the last so called "entitlement," must put in 30 hours of volunteer work a month to get the small amount of assistance. So, do not be surprised if many who are enjoying the meal are also the volunteers.
3. Don't expect to be treated like a superstar if a program only sees you once a year. If you give up one day per year from your self-absorbed world do not expect the best treatment from the social service providers. That is why religious institutions offer services every week or more and not just once per year.
4. You most likely will have to do menial tasks when you start volunteering. All the programs need volunteers to do the repetative tasks or certainly clerical duties. Do not be discouraged with doing the grunt work at first. Eventually after the program coordinators get to know you and build a relationship they will trust you with more independent activities. So you could take on the task of volunteering to coordinate all the hot meals served in Downtown Cleveland.
5. Remember your feelings are of very little importance and the feelings of those being served are of primary importance. Do not cause trouble for the coordinators. They have to worry about without having to please the volunteers.
6. Volunteering is only what you make of it. If you talk to other volunteers and those that you are serving while doing the assigned tasks you will have a much better experience than those who just slop food and clean dishes and go home.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Go Visit

The big news for this week is the introduction of the new website for housing in Cuyahoga County called This collaborative took 2 years to pull together. If you want to read the press release you can read it on our website. Or you can go directly to Housing by clicking here.

This website has a rent calculator to get an idea what a potential tenant can afford to pay for housing. The website has a checklist that a tenant can print out a checklist when you go to look at a property, and you get some information about various neighborhoods in the area. It is a wonderful website for tenants and a great place for landlords to list properties that are available to rent. The site is free to use and was supported with funds from Cuyahoga County. Check it out. The property pages are managed by a group called from North Carolina. They call the landlords to make sure that the site is always updated, and have a call center if people have problems using the site.

Behind the scenes of the site, it is very difficult to put this collaboration together. Having government, religious, non-profit, advocates, lawyers all sit at the same table is difficult enough. We had a lot of disagreements along the way, which certainly cost us time, but the collaboration is stronger as a result. Thanks to all the hard work of the groups participating in the collaboration, and thanks to Leigh Ann Ahmad formerly of Bridging the Gap who helped coordinate the effort with Diane Gatto of 2-1-1/First Call for Help. We need to continue to market the website and work to assure that every homeless person and every person in need of housing looks to for help.


Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Where is the Outrage??

A couple of weeks ago the local Housing Authority announced more cuts due to a 10% reduction in funds from 2004 budget. What happened to the outpouring of good will from the hurricanes? We are approaching the two month mark since Hurricane Katrina, and then we survived Rita and Wilma, and now the federal government is now squeezing our own Public Housing Authority! This is a shortfall in the 2005 budget to say nothing for the expected cuts for 2006 and all the other programs that serve poor people that could take a hit.

We need a strong vibrant public housing authority that assists with moving people out of poverty. For the last five years, the agency has attempted to meet federal requirements, by not reducing any housing in the face of regular cuts. There is no allegations of fraud or waste, and yet they have struggled to stay afloat in the face of shrinking revenue and increased expenses.

How is this possible? Cleveland is not dissimilar to New Orleans. We have a large population that lives everyday in poverty. We cannot afford even one reduction in the number of affordable units of housing. We cannot absorb any reductions in Medicaid, Food Stamps, or reductions in our Job Training program. How hypocritical for federal officials to express concern over the poor and disenfranchised left behind in New Orleans and then turn around and force a 10% cut in funding for CMHA. Disgraceful.


Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.