Saturday, December 31, 2005

Overlooked stories of 2005

Homelessness Still Not on the Front Pages...

There were hundreds of stories from 2005 having to do with homelessness that did not make the news. Here are the top 10. One that was never mentioned in the media was the U.S. Conference of Mayors report on hunger and homelessness. The report stated that there were a decreased level of resources and not an adequate quantity of food in our community. Here is the text about shelter for Cleveland:

"Shelter demand remains high, but has not increased significantly over the past
year. Increased efforts at moving longer term shelter residents into housing
continue to be offset by new people coming into the system. There continues to
be a need to use an overflow facility to accommodate all single men seeking
shelter. Full service shelters for families are always full. The Community
Women's Shelter houses families on a temporary basis until other space becomes
available. It has recently been taking longer to place families in full service
shelters because of the slow turnover of rooms in family shelters. One shelter
can accommodate two parent families. If that shelter is full, couples may have
to go to separate shelters. The state shelter standards have been changed to
prevent publicly funded shelters from continuing policies that separate teenage
boys from their mothers."
NEOCH pushed to make sure that the State enforced this law in 2004, but some shelters still violate this law. The City of Cleveland reported a 1% increase in requests for shelter and a 2% increase in requests for families seeking shelter. They also report a decrease in shelter beds in 2005.

Other stories ignored:

  • There were over 300 families or some 700 individuals who made it up to Cleveland from the Hurricanes in the Gulf. They did not come in one plane load, but they slowly trickled up here. Our community did a great job in responding. If our home grown homeless could get even half the level of care, we would have solved this problem years ago.
  • The problems NEOCH had with not being allowed into the Women's Shelter and the intervention of Congressman Kucinich after the County bungled the response.
  • The expanding problems at East Side Catholic Shelter/Miracle Village that could lead to the demise of those programs and the loss of over 100 beds.
  • The fact that actual homeless people are not involved in the decisions for how to spend $11 million in federal homeless dollars.
  • The re-introduction of the Bring America Home Act, which would be a major step forward to addressing homelessness at a national level.
  • The one year of continued improvements at 2100 Lakeside Shelter since the Lutheran Metro Ministry took over.
  • The escalating war that has broken out in the Ohio City neighborhood for the heart and soul of this diverse and historic neighborhood. The first salvo was the stripping of the words "affordable housing" from the Development Corporation's mission and the election of a hostile board. A splinter group has started that is friendly to poor people and the current battle is over the replacement of the Riverview apartments.
  • The utter uselessness of the State government in fighting homelessness. They have created a silly InterAgency Task Force that is useless. They studied predatory lending and did nothing. Dems cannot keep hiding under the "We are in the minority" tent. At least they could be proposing legislation to address poverty and homelessness even if it gets shot down. Talk, talk talk about poverty, jobs, and health care until the media starts listening!!!
  • 2005 saw the largest number of homeless people die when compared to the previous 18 years in Cleveland. No group locally picked up the story of the national report on the health effects of homelessness released by the National Healthcare for the Homeless.

We will look at things to look out for in 2006, and give an overview of each of the programs under the NEOCH umbrella in 2005 in this space over the next few weeks.

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

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Brings Reflection

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah

Another rough year for homeless people. We read the names of 52 people at the homeless memorial day on December 21 at St. Patrick Meal Site. This is a record for homeless people dying in the 19 years of reading names at the annual candlelight vigil. We will post the names on our website next week. This was also the first year in many that we had a homeless person die of exposure on the streets. We have an amazing network of shelters and some wonderful outreach workers, but we do need to re-examine our efforts in light of people dying on the streets. Rest in peace our beloved friend, Butch Allen Dorsey, who died behind an abandoned house on Superior Ave. May your eternal rest be warm and surrounded by a community that embraces you more than your 32 years here.

I often wonder about the whole story of the birth of Jesus and our network of "mangers" in Cleveland. There are babies born every week while their Moms are in shelter or born in vehicles or in abandoned housing. Our network of churches are no longer the backbone of the shelters, and we no longer make a big deal about a family with a newborn in the shelters. No one brings any gold or frankincense to these young "evacuees." The wise men of our community are absolutely ignorant of the problem of homeless children and babies. I am not even sure that any of our major religions would recognize an apostolic figure or prophet waiting in a soup line or in our network of shelters. It seems that homeless people have become an invisible part of our landscape to religious leaders, elected officials, and the media. We can only hope the aftermath of Katrina will wash over the country and bring a new attitude in 2006.

Thanks to Bill Callahan for the link and the kind words in his blog

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

Friday, December 23, 2005

We Mourn for Ione Biggs

Nice Service Marks Life of Social Justice Champion

I attended a very dignified memorial for a long time friend of NEOCH on December 21. It was ironic that the memorial for Ione Biggs would fall on the same day as Homeless Memorial Day in Cleveland. My first few months at NEOCH, I called a protest to call attention to the drive toward cutting benefits to mothers under the guise of welfare reform. It was August and only two people showed up. One was Ione Biggs who saw the impact that this gathering storm would cause for our community. I was this young punk kid trying to build an organization back after a period of inactivity. We soon got some momentum in battles with City Hall, wasteful providers, and the media that had ignored the growing problem of homelessness. The following year we had a huge demonstration in Jesse Owens park that had over 100 homeless people, but I will always remember the quiet dignified protester Ione Biggs. She regularly found a ride to came out to support homeless people, to oppose sweeps and wars, to condemn government, and to denounce the Plain Dealer. Greater Cleveland was the first city with a Welfare Rights Organization, one of the strongest homeless coalitions in the Country, and we have a racially diverse community by standing on the rock solid shoulders of Ms. Biggs and others.

The service was a time for activists from the region to gather and remember a leader of many of our movements who brought us together under the umbrella of social justice for all. (In a time of illegal wiretaps, spying on protestors, and an increasingly totalitarian government, I worry when all those advocates are in the same building.) I was especially appreciative of the powerful words of Rev. Robert Campbell in remembering an elder of the Church of the Covenant and humanitarian in Ms. Biggs. I was conforted by the service, but certainly share a sense of loss for one of the great women of our time. The last time I talked to Ms. Biggs was following a speech I gave to the City Club Young Leaders group in 2004. I gave her a ride home and she told me of her concern over the health care system in America. She had gone to the hospital the week before and waited for 9 hours in the emergency room to see a doctor. When she finally got to see the Doc., she complained, and she told me that he said, "I know it is horrible, but some of the people wait for 24 hours to get through the emergency room." Her body was tiring of the fight, but her mind never did.

We should all keep Ms. Louise Lawler in our thoughts who fell after she spoke at the service. Ms. Lawler is the leader of Women Speak Out for Peace and Justice, and was taken to the hospital.


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

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Feds Reward Agencies for Dropping People

Things become Clearer if you Know the Details...

So, I always wondered why the shelters just drop contact with people after they leave the facility. I know now that the Federal Government rewards programs that drop people when they get into housing.

It is always good for advocacy organizations to participate in federal funding to see what the shelters and services have to endure. NEOCH has this small grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist people with housing and voice mail. We have participated now for a full year now, and there are some bizarre concepts in dealing with the federal government. It is not as bad as the administrative burden of having to deal with the State of Ohio, but still it is an education.

The biggest thing that we learned is that we are only allowed to report clients as successful until we close them from our books. BTG follows the individuals for one year after they are placed into housing. This stops us from being able to list these clients as successful. So in the last year we housed 220 people, with an additional 79 leaving the program for other reasons. So we do not get credit for the 220 only the 79 that left. We track these people for a year so in 2006 we will get more credit, but it does not make sense to drop people when they achieve housing. This policy sets up a system in which the shelters drop people as soon as they reach housing to get the credit from HUD and the local reviewers.

I understand the logic to reduce case loads and not keep people "dependent" on the system for long periods of time. But the reality is that those who are dropped are often lonely, depressed and are more likely to return to the shelters. It is a disservice to assist a person for 3, 6, 9 months or even a year and then just drop them when they reach housing. This only starts the whole cycle all over again. This policy needs to be re-evaluated.

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

Wednesday, December 14, 2005 Statistics

Housing Cleveland Growing Every Month!!!

Please visit to find affordable and quality housing in Cuyahoga County. Landlords are also welcome to list their property on this wonderful resource. Here are current statistics from the website.

Available Listings: 1,616 (these represent 1,857 available units)
Total Listings in the System: 2,122 (these represent 5,244 total units)
Total Landlords: 1,169


Total Searches Yesterday 12/12
708 Average Searches a Day

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Homeless Updates from the State of Ohio

State Politics

We had another Ohio Coalition's meeting. No Dayton participants, and not much going on this month. There was discussion about the four cities co-coordinating a Homeless Memorial Day on December 21, 2005. Each Coalition will have a candlelight vigil to remember those who died over the last year. There was some on going controversy in Columbus again about the power of the Community Shelter Board. The other two cities (Cleveland and Cincinnati) have new Mayors and they are preparing for positive changes.

While in Columbus, I testified before the Ohio Senate Rules Committee concerning the proposed changes in election law. NEOCH opposes these changes because many homeless people have issues with keeping identification. The new rule will force everyone to show ID, if they want to vote. The definition of ID includes a utility bill or government check, but for homeless people even these other options are also not available. We will post my testimony on the NEOCH website later this week.

The hearing started one hour and 15 minutes late, and then there was very little control over the length of the individual's testifying. Every other hearing that I have ever attended there was a 2 or 3 minute limit on testimony even at City Council. The only people testifying were those opposed to the legislation, but they let people talk for 7 or 12 minutes and read their entire testimony. No wonder very little gets done in Columbus if they just let people drone on and on. The League of Women Voters, Voting Coalitions from around the state, Ohio Newspaper Association, Common Cause, Ohio Citizen Action, NAACP, and COHHIO all testified against this bill. So who is supporting this bill? How do you pass a bill when only members of the legislature from one party support the bill?

The other offensive experience was the Ohio Newspaper Association testified only in opposition to the one piece that would allow a reduction in public notices for an election from 3 to 1 and increased use of websites. There are plenty of other items in this bill like the reduction in availability of the list of voters that newspapers should be angry about. But the newspaper guy only mentioned his opposition to those useless small print public notices, because they are a cash cow for printed newspapers. "Jettison the first amendment as long as we get our money from government," was the bottom line for the Newsapaper Association testimony.

The other thing that I realized sitting in that hearing room was that the Republican supporters of this legislation refused to talk about why they are forwarding this bill. Repeatedly, it came up from Teresa Fedor, State Senator of Toledo, that there is no evidence that there was any fraud in actual voting in the last election. The professor from CWRU testified as well that there was only one incident in all 88 counties of potential election fraud. There were plenty of examples of registration problems, but those were caught before election day and before "Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, or Mickey Mouse" did in fact vote.

Finally, the last thing I came to realize while sitting listening for three hours was that my 12 year old daughter could photoshop a very good electric bill with any address that I would want on it. If the goal is to assure that people are not voting two or three times because all they have to provide is a signature, then how hard would it be to photoshop electric bills with your fraudulant address? Right now we depend on the local registration process to screen out bogus social security numbers or license ID numbers, the voting process is just a verification that the registation is legitimate. If an individual can make it through the registration process with a bogus social security or driver's license number, they will certainly make it into the polls to vote with a bogus piece of ID. Nearly every nineteen year old college student can tell you how easy it is to buy a fake ID, but those are typically used to vote.

Anyway, bottom line this is a bad bill that has no reason to exist. There were so many problems with the 2004 election how about trying to fix all those issues? We don't need a bill that will bring more lawsuits and more problems?


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

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The foolishness of counting homeless people.

I admit that I was wrong. When I started 10 years ago, I thought that it was a good idea to count homeless people in order to better plan for how to best serve the population. I admit that this was foolish and it is a useless undertaking that we spend a huge amount of money on in our country.

We just got the results from a one day count in January or February of 2005, from a number of cities in the United States. Cuyahoga County (pop. 1.35 million) counted 2,208 homeless on one day and found that 52% of that population were homeless for one year or repeatedly homeless over the last four years (long term). Compare that to Tarrant County Texas (pop. 1.5 million) where jobs are plentiful found 4,269 and 25% long term or Clark County NV (Las Vegas--pop. 1.65 million) 12,198 and only 16% long term or Philadelphia (pop. 1.47 million) with 6,653 homeless and only 7% long term. Washington D.C. with only 553,000 total population with 5,518 homeless and 32% long term. How can there be this level of disparity when Cleveland has yet to recover from the last recession? The other important number that is not mentioned is the number of shelter beds. Cuyahoga County has 2,000 beds, which means on that day in January we only had 208 people sleeping outside or in buildings. This is so far off to be useless for planning purposes.

Going behind the number in Cuyahoga County, we find that 4 out of the 5 largest facilities in Cuyahoga County did not participate so those shelters were just guesses. How do you guess how long people have been homeless? By looks or dartboard? The counters do not go into abandoned buildings which houses a large population in Cleveland. They also miss a number of the camps that are outside of the Downtown area. It is easier to count in cities that do not have as much vacant and abandoned property. I remember doing a housing take over in 2001, and every abandoned house that I went to had at least one person sleeping in it. Eventually, on the fourteenth house, I asked the guy if we could just borrow his house for the night and we agreed to clean it up.

The numbers are flawed and researchers will try to compare using these bad numbers, and government will find a way to cut resources because of lower numbers. Mark my word, Cleveland is going to get fewer dollars because we don't do a very good job of counting.

The other issue is that no one really uses the data for good. We have a serious problem in this community if 52% of our population is homeless for long periods of time. This has not changed any of our policies locally. No one is trying to change this situation or proposing a strategy for ending this problem of long term homelessness. By the way, Cleveland had the second highest percentage of long term homeless in the country out of the 56 cities or counties that reported.

Finally, there is a philosophical issue with taking the trouble to count people alienated with society. How about spending that time and all those resources used to count on providing housing, jobs or healthcare for the individuals?

Here is the top ten cities (based on flawed numbers) of the percentage of homeless based on total population.

City -----------------Homeless Pop. -------------Total Pop. -----------------%
1. Detroit, MI --------14,827 ---------------------900,198 ------------------1.6%
2. Orange Co. CA -----34,898 --------------------2.98 million --------------1.2%
3. Washington D.C. --5,518 ---------------------553,000------------------- 1.0%
4. Boston, MA --------5,819 ---------------------569,000 --------------------1.0%
5. Long Beach, CA--- 4,475 --------------------476,000 ---------------------0.9%
5. Los Angeles Co., CA 91,000 ------------------9.93 million--------------- 0.9%
5. Hillsborough Co., FL 9,921 ------------------1.10 million ---------------0.9%
(Tampa, FL)
8. Pasadena Co., CA 1,217 ----------------------144,000 --------------------0.8%
8. Multnomah Co.,OR 5,104 --------------------672,000 --------------------0.8%
(Portland, OR)
8. San Francisco, Co., CA 6,248 ----------------744,000 ---------------------0.8%

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