Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas Card to the President

Everything Changed and Yet Nothing Has Changed

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bush:

I was going to write this snarky fake card to you, because I was very angry that you were taking time off for the holidays, while we are responsible for destroying a country in the Middle East and not rebuilding a city in the Mississippi Delta. I was going to write a backhanded piece praising you both for being able to stay above it all, while everything seems to be crumbling around you. So, I started thinking about how we keep being told that everything changed on September 11, 2001, and that is the singular reason for the decisions made over the last five years. But it all does not square with reality. My world changed and the world around me changed, but my government did not change. You would be in exactly the same place as you are now with or without the 2001 terrorist attacks. Everything changed in my life, but nothing seemed to change in your life.

I firmly believe that we would still have invaded Iraq, because in the end they really had nothing to do with the attack on the United States. We could not change the weather, and so the hurricane would have still wiped out New Orleans and Brownie would still have been in the office responsible for preventing the death and chaos. The devastation of New Orleans changed me, but I don't think that it changed you. The destruction wrought on this country by Cheney and Rumsfield will reverberate down to my children's children, but the two neo-conservatives advocated extreme positions before 9/11/01. Cheney and Rummy will be producing homeless veterans long after they are gone, thus guaranteeing another generation will deal with injured war vets sleeping on Superior Ave. and nursing wounds they received in a distant land.

The problem is that I believe that you would have tried to invade our privacy much like Richard Nixon did with or without the World Trade Center attacks. Because, hell, many in your administration are long ago "fighters of freedom" from the Nixon/Ford era. Everything in my world changed, but you received a whipping boy to justify all the changes you have brought to this country. I have an extra hour to get on an airplane, you got a Congress that did not question you on anything. I never get to hear from the Islamic Center of Cleveland anymore, and you got the power to detain U.S. citizens without charge forever. I have to contend with the reality that not one subsidized housing building has been re-constructed in one of the oldest cities in North America because federal funding priorities are on one of the oldest cities on the planet.

I believe that the compassionate conservatism stuff was a way to get elected, and you would have not followed up on it with or without those suicide bombers from the Middle East. Mr. and Mrs. Bush you would have treated the media with disdain and scorn with or without the alleged "war on terror." You would have rejected real engagement with Americans opposed to your policies with or without Michael Moore. You would have swift boated honorable men who willingly served their country just to get elected and you still would have told America that if the Democrats win then our enemies win even if Osama Bin Laden had not become public enemy number one. I am now more suspicious of government and especially the Justice Department because they have the power to spy on me, hold me without charge, and even torture me without consequence, and you still go about the routine of government by pardoning one turkey a year, making a video in which your dog talks, and playing t-ball on the White House grounds.

I was never asked to sacrifice. I turned around for a minute to grieve and when I looked up the Bill of Rights was much different. It looked a lot like that redacted opinion piece in the New York Times the other day with black lines covering parts. The first year after the attacks, in fact, I got $600 back from you in a check. I don't know if I thanked you for that by the way, but I had no idea the strings that were attached to that refund. I don't know if others feel this way because the television shows are the same, the news has the same detached stories centering around celebrity, scandal and blood. My world has changed so much in the last five years it is hard to keep up with everything that has reduced my security, freedom and liberty. I know that before an Arab population attacked our country, we had big problems with the sons and daughters of slaves. Today, we have big problems with every minority group that is not lily white, and the sons and daughters of slaves are now incarcerated at unbelievable levels.

This is all unsustainable. I would not patronize you with the words of your predecessors like a "House divided..." or "The death-knell of the republic had rung..." or "We shall pay any price, bear any burden..." but it just seems like you have cast off all those noble ideas of 230 years and used them as Animal Farm style slogans. I know that you are a decisive personality and you see reflection and re-evaluation as a sign of weakness. But I also know that you love this country and have deep seated and long family loyalty to the United States. Please, I ask you in the new year to change direction to keep this country together. Family and friends of Veswald Hall, firefighter Dana Hannon and Elena Ledesma who all died in the World Trade Center had their world forever changed, and they need you to show us a new direction. You have nothing to lose, but my children have everything to lose if we don't heal some of these deep wounds opened.

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

Out of Reach Report Out-HUD Funds Not

New Report Shows Need for $11.21 per hour job to Afford Housing in Cleveland

The National Low Income Housing Coalition "Out of Reach" Report came out earlier this month. It shows us with detailed numbers why homelessness is on the rise in America. With a severe shortage of housing that is subsidized by the federal government, it is very difficult for many to keep their housing when rents keep increasing. The new report shows that an individual must make $11.21 per hour in order to afford a one bedroom apartment in Cleveland. The increase in the minimum wage will allow lower income people to take 20 hours off their work week and still be able to afford housing in Ohio. A renter looking for an apartment with two bedrooms must work 79 hours making minimum wage in 2007 in Cleveland in order to afford the fair market rent. In 2006, that same individual had to work 105 hours in order to afford rent in Cleveland. Thanks to the voters of Ohio those making minimum wage will only have to work two full times jobs instead of 2.5 jobs.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development says that an individual should only spend 30% of their income on rent in order for it to be affordable. The Fair Market Rent in Cleveland for a one-bedroom is $583 or a two bedroom apartment $702. To afford the Fair Market Rent an individual must make $23,320 a year for a one bedroom or $28,080 for a two bedroom. It is slightly less in the State of Ohio with $20,606 a year for a one bedroom and an individual must make $25,596 per year to afford rent in Ohio. This translates to $9.91 per hour for a one bedroom in Ohio or $11.21 per hour for a one bedroom in Cleveland.

The worst part of this study is the Mission Impossible we have assigned to those with a disability in Ohio. We actually have a rather low Fair Market Rent compared to some parts of the country, but it is a high hurdle to find an affordable place to live with only a disability check. These individuals must find an apartment with a rent of $181 per month in the State or pay nearly all their monthly SSI check in an apartment at the traditional market rate. This is a fragile population that needs our help instead we give them $603 a month and send them out on a journey to survive on just enough money to pay the rent. I would like to see Tom Cruise try his hand at this Impossible Mission and keep his sanity.

HUD Does Not Release Funding for Homeless Programs

Right around Christmas for the past eight or ten years, HUD has released funds for all the shelters, transitional facilities, and supportive housing programs to get the positive press of December homeless stories. They give out money to ride the wave of late November/December inevitable holiday stories (see Plain Dealer Holiday Spirit) when the media suddenly remembers that there are homeless people among us. The Feds give away $1 Billion to 1.5 Billion dollars in December every year with most of that money renewing the budgets of the existing shelters in the United States.

Congress did not pass the HUD budget, and this made it impossible to get that positive publicity of releasing their Continuum of Care funds near Christmas. I have no idea how they are going to approve the shelter/homeless programs' budgets if the government runs out of money in February. Will they wait until the new Congress passes a 2007 budget? Will they approve a small partial year budget? Will they renew only some of the programs? We all wonder what will happen with the HUD budget. Maybe the media will realize that there are homeless people all year if the budget issue is resolved in February and HUD announces the release of funds at that time, but will the shelters be able to hold on during this delay?

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Free Times Article on Homelessness

"Far From Home" Points Fingers at Everyone Else

There is a good story in today's Free Times about homelessness. I wrote a letter to the editor commenting on the article that I hope will be published. I won't duplicate my thoughts from the letter here in this blog in hopes that my letter will be published. I did like the article written by Charu Gupta even though I come off looking like a bully. I think that it raises some great issues that need addressed--(not if I am a bully or not). I hope that this lights a fire under the County to actually begin to make progress. Two cities in the United States (Denver and St. Paul) have actually made progress in reducing homelessness despite the horrible federal environment. The federal government has made bad decisions and prioritized certain populations over others in a misguided and misinformed strategy to "end" homelessness somewhere over the rainbow.

I still believe that it would be best for all that Ruth Gillett move on into some other area of County government. I believe that we need fresh ideas and a new perspective. We need bold strategies involving some pain among local social services to transform themselves to meet current needs. We can no longer keep protecting the status quo and diligently following federal policies without objection. We need a new direction, which will actually lead to a reduction in the number of homeless people. Most of all, we need government to start listening to homeless people who are in fact the experts. We need homeless people at the table and we need to treat them as equals not a sideshow. I will have more to say on the issues raised in the Free Times article over the next couple of weeks.

By the way, the new Grapevine is out and on the streets. It is bright red and would look great under the tree. Buy it from your favorite Grapevine vendor at the West Side Market.

Brian "Not a Bully" Davis
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Exceptional Washington Post Story

Redefining Dad Missed A Few Problems

The Washington Post has featured a series on being a Black Man over the last couple of months with today a very good story about Redefining Dad. There were a lot of items that were left out of the story that all Dads face today. For Dads that do not have custody of their kids it is very rough to remain a part of their child's life. The child support system is unfair to the non-custodial parent--usually the Dad.
  • They get no credit for gifts or other items provided to their family. Everything must go through the state system, which is hard for a parent.
  • They pay and pay and pay, but the custodial parent controls all visits and all contact. The courts make it very difficult for Dads to participate with their children especially if they are struggling with housing or a job.
  • The system puts the Dad into debt and if the mother accepts public money there is no chance that the Dad can have that debt reduced by the court. In fact, the Dad can be in debt for decades after their child has reached adulthood.
  • It takes a very long time to get a support order revised if the Dad loses their job or is their salary is cut back. During all this time that they are trying to get their support order adjusted they must pay the full amount. This can quickly lead to debt that they will never be able to pay back.
  • If the custodial parent is struggling, the Dad must move a mountain in order to get the custodial agreement re-visited. The health and welfare of the child or the ability of the child to prosper does not seem to be the concern of the court or the child support system administrators.
It is so discouraging for a Dad who for the most part want to do the right thing. I see plenty of Dads who want to help and be part of the life of their kids, but it is killing them. They often give up because of the debt issues and the futility of working and never being able to find stability. Politicians will not touch this issue with a 10 foot poll for fear of being tagged as supporting "dead beat Dads." Many men do not realize how quickly their debt can spiral out of control over their outstanding child support obligations. Someone needs to address these issues if Dad is going to be "redefined."

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

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Homeless Vigil on Thursday

The First Mayor to Attend Homeless Memorial Day

This Thursday December 21, 2006 at 5 p.m at Franklin Circle Church will be the first time in the last 20 years that a Mayor of Cleveland has attended the Homeless Memorial Day. The Coalition has organized the Candlelight Vigil for 20 years even before NEOCH existed as a Coalition. Never before has the Mayor attended the vigil to remember those who passed away over the previous year and were homeless. The previous Mayors were either at war with the Coalition, not interested or too busy. Jane Campbell attended when she was a state representative and Frank Jackson attended in his first year as Council President.

This year will be the first year that the Mayor of Cleveland attends. We will have an inter-religious ceremony, a few comments from Mayor Frank Jackson and then read the names of all those individuals we found who were homeless and passed away. We invite those in attendance to mention any other people they know who died over the last year. Everyone is welcome to attend the event. Franklin Circle Church is at 1688 Fulton Rd. near Lutheran Hospital.

In addition, we are told by State Representative Michael Skindell that the State is on the verge of proclaiming December 21 as Ohio Homeless Memorial Day. Skindell was the speaker last year and was so moved by the ceremony that he wanted the State of Ohio to recognize the day.

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Public Square: A Storm on the Horizon?

A Survey of the Number Sleeping Outside

Every year during the Thanksgiving weekend, NEOCH staff walk downtown to count the number of people who choose to sleep outside. This has two purposes: the first is to make sure that there is no harassment of homeless people in keeping with the Key vs. City of Cleveland legal agreement. In 2000, NEOCH signed an agreement with the City to stop police officers, under the direction of the Mayor, from confronting homeless people and telling them that they could not sleep on the public spaces. We signed an agreement after filing a lawsuit, which prevented police from arresting or threatening arrest of homeless people for purely innocent behavior of sitting, sleeping, standing or eating on the sidewalk. So every year we walk downtown and make sure that the agreement is in place and their is no violation. Cleveland is one of the only cities with such an agreement with homeless people, and so NEOCH staff go out to test this agreement every year. The other purpose is to count the number of people who reject the shelters during the year and look at the extent of the problem. The holiday weekend is a good baseline, because it is the smallest number that will be out for the entire year. Many family members take their relatives in for Thanksgiving while others stay in the shelters to participate in the large number of meals served during the holidays.

This year, we learned a few things on a very pleasant holiday weekend. By the way, the weather has very little impact on the number of people sleeping outside anymore. The people who reject the shelters have an extensive plan for survival with blankets, plastic and even tents. This year we saw 40 people sleeping downtown up from 27 last year--more than a 60% increase. We did not see as many people on Public Square, but saw many around the Square in various places. We saw more people in out-of-the-way locations. We walked on every street from East 20th to West 3rd from the Lake back to Carnegie Ave. to Jacobs Field. Unlike last year, we did not see anyone who was not prepared for the cold. Last year, we found a guy with no gloves, no blanket and a very thin coat lying on the sidewalk in a high traffic area. We have almost reached the number of people sleeping outside that we saw before the men's shelter opened at 2100 Lakeside.

Why are people rejecting the shelters for outside? Some do not like the rules in shelter or find it too demeaning to ask for help. Some have gotten fed up with the wait or the lack of progress in the shelters and give up. That number seems to go up every year. Only a few gave up in the first few years, but now as many as 40 people are giving up on shelters for the streets. Some don't like to be near people, others don't like the problems with theft and some just don't like the smell of being around a hundred other people. In those cold nights of Cleveland with the wind blowing off the lake, there are more than 40 people who find the streets of Cleveland more attractive than the shelters. Think about that as you shovel the snow or clear off your car this holiday season.

I think that we are going to have issues with Public Square in the near future. We did get a complaint from a homeless guy about police urging people to leave the Square. We are following up on these concerns. The Downtown businesses who have now taxed themselves to keep the sidewalks clean are not going to tolerate people sleeping on those clean sidewalks. They are all paying a pretty penny for those clean up crews, and then to have people sleeping on the sidewalk messes up their entire business plan. It seems like the two interests iof homeless people and corporate are headed for conflict. I hope that this can be resolved peacefully with the City asking the corporate community to calm down and help with real solutions instead of law enforcement activities.

A history of the Thanksgiving walk by the Coalition:
2006: 40 people sleeping outside Downtown
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.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Doing the Most Good?

Is the Salvation Army Dissing All the Rest of Us?

First, there is another good discussion at Ohio2006 about the Voting ID lawsuit. Please check it out including the comments from one of the PD reporters.

Second, what is with the Salvation Army's new motto: "Doing the Most Good?" Is this some kind of slam against all the rest of the non-profit organizations? If they are doing the "most" good, then what is the Coalition for the Homeless or the Red Cross or Y-Haven doing? Is the good we do not worthy compared to their "most good?" Are they challenging all the rest of us? Does this have something to do with their faith that I just do not understand? What does it mean? It seems like those "#1 Dad" shirts that were featured in that Seinfeld episode. There is not a lot of room for others when you declare yourself "the most" of anything. If they are doing the "most good" then we can just go out of business, and step aside so we do not prevent them from doing so much good in our community.

I am not a big fan of the "Army," because they always seem like they cannot be told how to do anything based on their long history. This marketing strategy only reinforces in my mind their superiority complex. I have never found the length of time a non-profit has been in business to be a good thing. I am ashamed that there is a need for NEOCH in the richest country on the planet. The fact that we have not solved homelessness in the last 19 years is a constant source of embarrassment for me. The Salvation Army has existed for over 100 years and they have not eliminated poverty or reduced the human cost of natural disasters in all that time? They have these rigid structures and require funds from the local community go to the national office. They cannot be told that they need to change with a changing time. They did not understand the concept of an entry shelter that did not turn people away when they ran 2100 Lakeside. They were so convinced that punishment was a legitimate strategy for dealing with drugs and alcohol addicted individuals. The Salvation Army has a real hard time playing nice with others especially grassroots, non-traditional organizations.

Now they are doing the "most good." Please someone explain what this means, and why would it make me want to dontate to their famous red kettle.

Finally, the Woodchoppers Ball is this weekend at the Kent Stage. Sunday at 7 pm you can see some of the best guitarists on the planet doing the most good to benefit NEOCH. Please check it out and attend. This year Brian Henke will also produce a CD as part of the Woodchoppers Ball. Look for it during the first of the year.

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Cleveland Crazy Over Panhandling

Panhandling Ordinance Sails Through Council

There is nothing that the Coalition deals with that is more politically charged than panhandling. People are on-fire opposed to panhandlers. There is a deep, dark, hate for panhandlers among some pedestrians. This is such a small number of the people NEOCH represents, but this group inspires the most anger. I wish that I did not have to argue about people who can ask for money, but no one else ever steps forward on behalf of panhandlers. They do not have a trade association and they do not work well with each other. To say nothing for the small number of panhandlers who create such a nuisance that they make it bad for everyone. The Grapevine blog has done a good job keeping up on the panhandling debate.

Here is an e-mail that I got to our website from Tom after the article appeared in the Plain Dealer:
"It makes certain spots in the city off-limits to free speech," said Brian Davis, head of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. "What is the concern because a person asks for money near a phone?"
How about the right to leave me the F$#@ alone?

Here is my reply to Tom:
"Thank you for the suggestion, but that law does not exist in our society. If it did I would not receive telephone calls from so many politicians in October. There would be no Federal Communications Commission messing with what I am "allowed" to watch on the public airwaves, and advertising would not appear on every single flat surface in our universe. So, you have to put up with hearing from poor people asking for help until you can get that privacy law passed."

I did hear from people who were surprised how large the fine was for panhandling--$250. That seems very extreme to me and a few callers to our office. It seems like you are forcing people already down to dig a deeper hole that they will not get out of anytime soon. Eventually, this law will fail as it has in nearly every other city in the United States. The backers will be back at the table with more extreme measures after this law fails or is struck down by the courts.

As we always say, the only way to make any impact on panhandling is competition and finding alternative jobs for those begging for money. We need to put some of the brightest minds to the task of finding micro-enterprise or some other innovative ideas to move people into real jobs that do not involve asking for "charitable" help. We have a number of ideas on the NEOCH website as alternatives, but right now the City is busy making laws instead of solving problems.

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

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Blackwell: Worst Secretary of State Ever

Ken Blackwell Should Be Impeached

It was ironic that Subodh Chandra was up for contempt issues when Ken Blackwell held the ultimate contempt for nearly every court in Ohio. First, he never gave the local boards proper guidance on the voting ID law. He then did not inform the local Boards of Elections properly of the agreement with NEOCH/SEIU. On the Monday before the election there was a settlement over the role of the observers that he was supposed to inform every county board of elections (issued by a Cuyahoga County judge). Blackwell instead only informed the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections and that was in the last minute of business on Monday November 6. Then there was still confusion over the counting of provisional ballots (because thousands of Ohioans were improperly forced to vote with a provisional ballot) and the legal team had to work out another compromise over the counting of votes. So after all these fights, some boards still did not get the information and were not using the agreement to govern the rules to complete their count.

Having learned from 2000 and 2004 that there is no going back once the official count is announced, Chandra was probably overly zealous in informing each board of elections director in the state of the agreement he spent so many hours crafting. Who could blame him? If Blackwell had done his job in the first place there would not have been so many provisional ballots cast that needed counted. I hope that one of the courts find Blackwell in contempt. The state legislature should impeach him for not directing the local boards on HB3 and then showing disregard for court monitored agreements, and finally acting with such extreme dereliction of duty in overseeing this election. I remind you that Blackwell shook off all suggestions to appoint someone else to oversee this election despite his obvious conflict of interest as a candidate for governor. He also railed against the 2004 voter initiative that would have taken some of the conflict of interest out of the Secretary of State's office.

This is not a partisan issue either, because both Sherrod Brown (D) and Bob Taft (R) were very good Secretaries of State. They both did a very good job in trying to get every citizen to vote and reduce the barriers to voting. Bob Taft was one of the first Secretaries of State in the United States to implement rules for homeless people registering to vote. The Taft rules were models adopted by many other states and pushed by advocates. Blackwell has to be one of the worst Secretaries of State in the United States. He has disenfranchised more Ohioans than anyone since Ohio Secretary of State Harvey Smith presided over the 1919 Elections before women were granted the right to vote.

PS. Why was the Plain Dealer so harsh on Chandra? Did it have anything to do with how soft they were on Michael Vu and local election's officials?

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

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Our Homeless Voting Rights Activists

Homeless Voters Wait Out Ohio Attorney General

There is no doubt that the 2006 Ohio Voter ID law was a way to keep poor people away from the polling place. We challenged this law and won a huge victory. The Secretary of State repeatedly refused to follow the law. Blackwell did not inform the Boards of Elections on the proper method for implementing the law, and this forced thousands of voters to cast a provisional ballot instead of a regular ballot. In Franklin County this has real consequences. As many as four races are still up in the air, and it will hinge on the results of the provisional ballots. Lawyers spent all last week working out how those ballots will be counted. There was a good summary by Subodh Chandra that another blog posted here.

I never got the chance to describe the three individuals who went down to Columbus from the Cleveland shelters to secure the right to vote. Pam is a graduate of Spelman College and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama during the last days of segregation. Her cousin was one of the children killed in the bombings. She told us the night we met with the lawyer that she was surprised that Ohio was doing what Bull Connors was trying to do in the South. We viewed the Southern attempts to block voters as racist, but Ohio's rules were passed under the guise of "preventing fraud." She is a very strong woman who volunteers and had a very stable life in the suburbs. She is trying to do everything to help her husband who is confined to a nursing home, which has brought her to the brink of financial ruin. Her driver's license expired and she had no address to put on a new license. What would you do? Pam fought for the right to participate in democracy?

Cornell was a veteran of the U.S. military. He just wants to be left alone at this point. He has medical issues, but has found a way to survive within the shelters. He had identification, but it was from a previous address, and that was not the address that the Board of Elections had on file. This would have confused the poll workers and there is no guarantee with Cornell would be able to vote.

Micky was also a veteran and had struggled with homelessness for an extended period of time. He volunteers at 2100 Lakeside to make sure the area remains safe. He loves walking the neighborhood to make sure that it stays clean and safe. His issue was that the only form of ID he owned was his Public Housing identification. It was unclear to everyone whether "other government document" included a public housing identification since they are a quasi-government entity.

So, all three waited all day in a jury room for a trial that did not ever start. They all were happy to have participated and were glad that they made a difference.

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

An Inspiring Memorial for buddy gray

Cincinnati Activists Honor 10 Year Anniversary of Killing of buddy gray

I was honored to attend the memorial for buddy gray down in the Over the Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati on Wednesday November 15. Duane Drotar from 2100 Lakeside Shelter and I went down to remember this giant in the United States social justice movement. Here is the text of the description prepared for the memorial:
buddy gray (he preferred his name in lower case letters) was a war resister, carpenter, preservationist, poet, community journalist, baseball coach, and friend to many. And he was known best as a relentless and uncompromising advocate for low income housing and other services for the poor. He came from a small-town, working-class family to live in Over-the-Rhine because he believed in the cause of liberation. He had decided, when he was still a young man, that he could not tolerate the poverty and discrimination he saw in the world around him. So he entered what his brother Jack called "a journey of fearless, selfless service."
Michael Stoops from National Coalition spoke and Barb Anderson from Indiana came to the remember her friend, buddy. Georgine Getty from the Greater Cincinnati Coalition and buddy's close friend Bonnie Neumeier talked about gray's legacy. It was a wonderful service with civil rights activists from the 1960s and 1970s standing witness with college and high school students from Moeller High School and Xavier and Miami University. We got to hear from Donald Whitehead who was the previous director of National Coalition for the Homeless and the Cincy Coalition talk about buddy saying "I'm glad you are here," when he was at a low point in his life.

I was asked to say a few words. I talked about how I missed buddy and Ralph Delaney who was also killed. I talked about all that they could have done over the last decade to help in the struggle. Then I finished with Daniel Thompson's poem about Ralph and by extension buddy called "There are Saints in the City."

There were so many stories and so many programs touched by buddy. His legacy was not extinguished when he was killed by a disturbed man. The Drop Inn Center had expanded and continues to fight against gentrification. Buddy's Place opened and is a beautiful meeting place for activist. It was easy to see potential conflict between the nearly 100 condominiums being developed while homeless people struggle to find affordable housing in the Over The Rhine neighborhood. It was a wonderful event that will keep the fire burning in those that carry the light for social justice.

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

Friday, November 10, 2006

More Horror Stories from Election Day

My 2006 General Election Poll Observer Experience

During my 17 hours at the polls there was a lot going on. I arrived at Dunbar Elementary at 5:30 am however all of us (including another observer, the nine poll workers, three precinct judges and one equipment technician) stood outside until 6:20 (in the raining cold) waiting for the janitor to let us in the building. The day was off to a rocky start. At least 10 people showed up between 6:30-7:01 a.m. to vote and only 5 people waited to vote, 4 people said they would return (and they did) and one lady said there was no way she could make it back.

The poll workers and judges were appreciative of me being there to insure they were following the updated rules for voting. We had two major issues at the beginning: 1) Can a person vote if their Ohio license did not match the address in the voter roll book. Once I showed the poll workers the rule that they were allowed to vote, we didn't have that issue anymore. 2) Can a person vote provisional ballot at any precinct. We debated about this fact, but once I showed the poll workers in their manual that they could ONLY vote provisional in their precinct or at the Board of Elections, we didn't have that issue anymore.

One precinct judge turned a voter off because of her nasty tone when telling the voter that she couldn't vote, because she didn't have identification. The voter was of Latino background didn't speak English very well. I informed the voter that she could vote a provisional ballot, because her name was in the voter roll book. I also brought over a poll worker who spoke Spanish, however the woman was offended by the nasty poll worker and refused to vote.

Lastly, our polling place was under a federal court order to remain open until 9:00 p.m.. However, our last voter came to the polling place at 7:25 pm and the only action after 7:30 was a poll worker who almost went into a diabetic coma. The poll worker had not taken her second insulin shot because she hadn't eaten for hours. She thought that she would be home by 8:30 p.m.! Overall, I must commend the polling location I was placed because the poll workers and precinct judges were sympathetic and kind to the voters. They were for the most part helpful and they didn't mind my presence during the day.

A couple of suggestions I have would offer: require a back up so that more than one person has a key to open the polling place in the morning and there should be Spanish prompts on the voting machines. At the polling place I observed on the near West Side of Cleveland over half of the voters spoke Spanish and at least 1/3 of those voters needed someone to translate the ballot.

-Teri'­ Horne
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Worst Experience in Poll Monitoring

Police Called to the Precinct Featuring Homeless Voters

On the day that Pam Denton appeared on the Editorial pages of the Plain Dealer, it is ironic that poll workers were poised to give her the wrong ballot. I was a poll watcher today at Precinct Cleveland 13D and 13E, and it was the worst experience I have had in a long time. The stressed workers were great, but one worker sent from the Board of Elections, Karen, was an absolute obstruction to voting. She was so mean, angry and put off by the observer process that she banned us from talking to anyone. I could not sit still when Pam Denton, the subject of Joe Frolik article today showed up, and asked me for help. She was given the wrong provisional ballot--from the wrong precinct. This would have invalidated her ballot, and thus disenfranchising her after all the work we did to get her to vote.

Karen, the Poll Worker trainer, who was sent by the Board of Elections when the two precinct judges did not show up in the morning. If she was the model trainer it is no wonder that things went so bad today. She was mean to her own workers, angry and was unclear of the law. Anyway, she called the Board and asked that I be removed from my role as observer. Then she called the police to have me removed. No one from the Board of Elections ever called to tell Karen to chill out and work with the observers. I was placed in the Sterling Rec. Center to make sure that homeless people voted and were not disenfranchised. Karen wanted me to only talk to voters as they left--which means that they would have cast their ballot incorrectly. She did not want me to talk to poll workers even if they were doing activities that would have disenfranchised voters.

I am proud to say that despite Karen the poll worker trainer and her obstructionist behavior all of the voters that showed up at the polls did cast a ballot. Will those provisional ballots be counted is a big question. Since I was not allowed to be near the table, I could not tell if they were filled out properly. I felt bad for the workers who were bullied and pushed around by Karen. I do not understand the mentality of someone who would want to make mistakes instead of quietly trying to resolve these issues before the mistake were cast in stone or in diebold we trust in this case. I was trying to make sure that every voter cast a valid vote. Karen seemed to want to show that she was in charge and she would not accept any input. I did not get arrested or thrown out, but thanks only to the wonderful lawyers from the Election Protection who helped monitor the polling places.

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

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Victory Celebration on Monday Night

Join Us on the Steps of the Board of Elections

On Monday night the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, the team of lawyers who fought the ID rules, and representatives of the Service Employees International Union will celebrate the expanded right to vote in Ohio with a vigil outside of the Board of Elections. On Monday night at 6 p.m. join us and a few of the homeless individuals who fought for the right to vote. The Plain Dealer had a good summary of the rules regarding identification yesterday.

The bottom line is that everyone with a social security number can vote. Go to the correct polling place and cast a ballot. Do not leave until you have cast a regular or provisional ballot. If you have any questions call Ohio Votes at 1-888-886-8364 or the Board of Elections at 216/443-3298.

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

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Everyone that Wants To Vote Will Count

NEOCH and SEIU vs. Blackwell and the State of Ohio Results

Three brave homeless and low income people came to Columbus one week before the November election to fight for the rights of all voters in Ohio. They woke up a 5 a.m. to drive to Columbus and wait for 11 hours while lawyers negotiated. Pam Denton, Micky Trammell and Cornell Bishop all made the trip and sat in a jury room for hours waiting for a hearing to start while the State of Ohio negotiated with our team of lawyers. We got what we came for in that everyone will have the chance to cast a ballot and those that have a social security number will have those votes counted. We will not have a repeat of the 2004 election when many of the provisional ballots were thrown out on technical grounds.

We consider this a huge victory for homeless people and those who have any issues with their identification. The State saved face over this horrible piece of legislation that they passed by keeping the ID provision in place for the regular ballots. Anyone who shows up with either no identification or a problem with their ID will cast a provisional ballot. The big difference is that you will not have to show up within 10 days to prove anything or sign some affidavit that poll workers do not understand. If you have a social security number, you will give the last four digits of that number and sign the book as you normally did and you will get a provisional ballot that will not be challenged later.

The rules for what "other government document" as an acceptable form of ID were clarified. And the absentee ballots that were cast with problems will count. This allows the absentee ballots that were cast during this last confused week to count and those with the wrong driver's license number to count.

Our main named adversary who has not supervised this election very well, Ken Blackwell, was actually willing to compromise throughout this process. The problem was former Clevelander, Jim Petro, who we waited for hours to make up his mind. The Columbus paper identified Petro as leading the negotiations. It was also mentioned in a few newspaper accounts that Jeff Jacobson, the Republican Senate leader, had taken an active interest in defending the law. While not present at the negotiations, Legislative leaders were known to be pushing Petro to defend their confusing law.

There were so many lawyers who helped with this lawsuit and should be thanked. I don't know all of them, but Subodh Chandra, Cleveland's previous Law Director, led the negotiations along with Caroline Gentry from Dayton's Porter Wright Morris and Arthur office. Mark Griffin from Cleveland helped prepare the homeless people who were going to testify. Gino Scarselli, who years ago served as a NEOCH Board member, helped prepare and drive homeless people down to Columbus. He had a long history with representing homeless people and represented the Coalition's interests well. John Gilligan from Columbus prepared the expert witnesses for the case. And the many other attorneys had boxes and boxes of testimony and declarations ready to go for a trial. They all did a ton of work on short notice, and we certainly thank them all.

Since none of us actually got to testify, I will post the stories that our three voters were going to tell the court in the next week. I have to get back to making sure people get to the polling places and our constituents are not disenfranchised. One note about why Cleveland is still better than Columbus. While we were sitting for hours, our car was in a parking garage which tragically CLOSED at 6:30 p.m.!!! My car was stuck in the garage, and we were trapped in Columbus. Luckily my parents opened up their house to the three voting rights activists who came down to testify or we would have all been wandering the rolled up streets of Columbus. Who closes a parking garage at 6:30 p.m?? We must work harder in Cleveland, because most of us are still working at 6:30 p.m. Anyway, thanks to Rosamond and Charles Davis for their hospitality to four very tired recently enfranchised voters.


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

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Give Us Your Tired and Poor...

Would We Accept the Statue of Liberty Today?

On October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York City by President Grover Cleveland with these words on the pedestal, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" There is no possibility that we would ever accept such a brazen symbol of Democracy 120 years after the dedication of the original Ms. Liberty. We would dismantle that Lady and send her back to France on ship carrying a banner "Mission Accomplished."

Here are some of the reasons that our current leaders could never accept a 2006 Statue of Liberty. First, we would be leery of any gift from France. Second, we do not want any more of those "illegals" and so we don't want 151 foot tall billboard advertising immigration. We are now afraid of "your huddled masses," so keep them on your own shores. Third, you can't even walk up the 120 year old Statue anymore. It is a symbol of America and therefore a potential security threat. Close off the symbols and thus you make us all safer--and don't make any new symbols for America and we are all safer. Fourth, we certainly don't want any more homeless people. We are all in our fourth or fifth year in our 10 year plan to "end" homelessness and so we don't need any more from other countries. Finally, the whole statue is too feminine and liberal elite for those in power. Lady Liberty expresses idealistic virtues that are way too advanced for a society looking for easier to understand statues like the simple cowboy in Ft. Worth or the Giant Bull on Wall Street.


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

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Lawsuit to Protect the Right to Vote

NEOCH Files Suit to Assure the Elderly, Students, and Homeless People Participate in Democracy

The Homeless Coalition and the Service Employee International Union in Columbus filed suit on Monday against the current Secretary of State over the requirement for Ohio voters to show identification at the polling place. Many homeless people have problems keeping identification. Because of theft and the constant requirement to move around it is very likely that you will have to get new identification during your stay in the homeless community. Basically, homeless people must carry all of their belongings with them all the time. In talking to local homeless service providers, we find that between 20 to 30 percent of homeless population does not have identification or 800 to 1,200 homeless people on November 7 will not have identification in Cuyahoga County.

This is not a huge number compared to the half million voters, but then when we add in students, elderly, and poor people who may not have the proper ID it starts becoming big numbers. Then when you add the thousands of poll workers who will not understand the law and will disenfranchise voters who have an ID that does not match the address in the poll workers book, we start seeing large numbers who will not be able to vote. Then we find that the 88 counties are interpreting the law in much different ways, we see that Ohio will not have a uniform group of voters. So, if you happen to be poor in Youngstown there are stricter rules than in Cuyahoga County and you may not be able to vote just because you happen to live in one part of the state.

This is why NEOCH signed onto the lawsuit and are spending staff time these last two week to stop this horrible law from disenfranchising thousands of citizens. I have learned that there are many people who love going to the polls on election day. They have a history with the workers and they want to interact with others. They do not trust the mail and they feel they are part of democracy by going somewhere to vote. This will be difficult for many if our lawsuit does not prevail. We thank Subodh Chandra and the attorneys at Porter Wright in Dayton for all their work and the excellent complaint that they filed.

NEOCH testified against this horrible piece of legislation passed in early 2006. The state legislators did not listen to the experts who work on these issues everyday. They "fixed" a troubled system making it more complicated and addressing none of the problems. They did not hear how difficult it is to receive a birth certificate if you were not born in Ohio. The birth certificate is the basis of all ID. They did not listen when experts told them that illegal voters were not the problem. The problems were with training, staffing for election day and the standards for electronic voting. In fact, on the day I went down there was not one elections officer or activist testified in favor of HB 3.

We hope that this lawsuit prevails and we can have a fair and free election on November 7.

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

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A look back at Previous Hate Crimes

A Look Back at the Stun Gun Attack

Remember the Vigil this Saturday at 7 p.m. on Public Square. In 2002, Clevelanders were witness to a brutal hate crime against homeless people. Three males from Youngstown attacked homeless people in the center of Cleveland, near where the vigil will take place, while filming their own attacks. They had tried to attack homeless people in Youngstown, but unsuccessfully.

The homeless in Youngstown were not out in the open but in cars and under bridges. The three guys felt it was unsafe sneaking into the woods to attack homeless people in Youngstown.
They drove to the center of Cleveland and used a stun gun to attack 5 or 6 people on Public Square. Their car broke down, and a former homeless person helped them out. The Youngstown teens bragged about their exploits and the good Samaritan saw the video equipment and the stun guns. The teens also broke down in front of the police headquarters, which made it easy the Samaritan to report the incident to the police.

The one using the camera was over 18, Jared, and the other two were juveniles. The two young teens blamed Jarad as the ringleader. The media could not go into the juvenile court and so focused on the one adult. Every media outlet was in court and the prosecutor refused to offer a deal to the adult. All three were only charged with misdemeanors assault. Jarad got 3-4 months in jail which got him fired and his college career was in jeopardy. He tried for shock probation after a month, but with the media glare the judge turned him down.

The two young people said that they were influenced by the adult. The juvenile court prosecutor did not keep NEOCH in the loop at all. We could not do any advocacy because of the cloak of secrecy. The teens got off with six months of community service to be served only on the weekend. No disruption in school or their jobs. In looking at the video tape it was obvious that the camera person, Jared, was not the ringleader.

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

Monday, October 23, 2006

Vigil to Stop Violence Against Homeless People

Homeless Coalition Responds to "Hate Video"

When a select group of people is targeted with violence and brutality, it's usually considered a hate crime except if the victims are homeless.

Today in America homeless people are under attack. They are beaten with baseball bats, pummeled with bottles, shocked with stun guns (which happened in our city a few years ago) and getting videotaped drinking window cleaner and urine on a Hate Video/DVD called Bumfights. Just a few weeks ago in Painesville two teenagers were caught throwing sticks and rocks at homeless people living under a bridge. One of the victims suffered a broken nose.

Youth are preying on this vulnerable population living on the streets of America. These brutal attacks go underreported and few pay attention to this growing problem. This needs to change. A few weeks ago, 60 Minutes educated viewers on this new trend, and now it's time for Cleveland to do the same.

The AmeriCorps*VISTAs at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) are holding a vigil on Saturday, October 28 at 7 p.m. in front of the Old Stone Church on Public Square to take a stand against the assault of homeless individuals.

Over the last six years there have been over 500 murders of homeless people in the United States; targeted just for sleeping outside, says Brian Davis, executive director of NEOCH. This is a far larger number than any hate crimes directed against a minority group or individual affiliated with a religious organization.

The AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) program places individuals with community-based organizations to help find long-term solutions to poverty and homelessness. The VISTAs at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless focus on homeless issues such as civil rights, housing, advocacy, and getting individuals linked with voicemail.

For more information please contact either Charlene Higginbotham, Josh Kanary, Sara Cantrick or Sarah Valek at (216) 432-0540.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and

Friday, October 13, 2006

Washington DC: Homelessness Capital

How do Federal Officials Walk Past So Many Homeless People?

Washington DC certainly does not have the most homeless people in the Country that spot is reserved for Los Angeles followed by New York City. They also do not have the largest per capita or most visible long term homeless like San Francisco, but DC has an amazing number of homeless people sleeping outside. I am visiting Washington for the National Coalition for the Homeless Board meeting, and it never ceases to amaze me how many people sleep outside in the nation's capital.

Maybe because our legislators only work part time and rarely stay in the City anymore, so they do not see the real face of the district. The Congress is usually only doing business Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday with the other days back in the district raising money. There are men and women sleeping on park benches. There are people in doorways early in the morning, and homeless people everywhere. How do they not get the attention of people that could actually do something? There are people sleeping near the White House (as close as you can get in the pre-9/11 world). There are men and women near the Capital, and yet nothing gets done.

When they drive to work or more likely are driven to work are they on their cell phones and blackberries so they block out the human toll of their decisions? How do they not see the impact of gutting of the HUD budget with the sad faces sleeping on the steam grates? How do they not see that the spending on "security" and war has meant less spending on stability of citizens of the United States? The National Coalition oversees an urban plunge where college students become homeless for a week. This should be a requirement for all freshman congressional representatives and their staffs.

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

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Painsville Attack on Homeless People

Juveniles Caught Beating Homeless People Should Receive Stiff Penalty

It's been less than a week since CBS' "60 Minutes" aired a segment about brutal attacks on homeless men in Florida, of which one attack resulted in the death of a homeless man admittedly "inspired" by the "Bumfights" videos.

Tonight, Cleveland's FOX network affiliate reported an attack on a homeless person living under a bridge in Painesville. One of the homeless men interviewed reported that not only was he beaten and hit but that he saw his attackers had a gun. After he was beaten, the 'thugs' went over to the other side of the river and attacked a group of homeless people there.

Two individuals are being held under $10,000 bond apiece and are under suspicion for two other similar attacks in the area. Considering that the Florida teens who killed the homeless man with a baseball bat were sentenced to prison for thirty-plus years for their night of 'fun' makes me wonder if the creeps responsible for beating and terrorizing the homeless in Painesville intended to use the gun they reportedly had.

Could the reason for having that gun possibly be to commit murder and rid they area of the "detested homeless" people? Or did they have the gun in case they would have had to defend themselves from the very people they came to terrorize. Although Painesville Municipal Court Judge Michael A. Cicconetti is known worldwide for his inventive methods of sentencing, I don't think that His Honor will pass sentence lightly. But if he chooses to 'set an example' to show these creeps how it feels to be homeless I would like to offer him the following suggestion.

In addition to the prison sentence, require these guys to wear ankle monitors and be under constant police surveillance. Set them free for one week in the winter wearing light jackets (and no gloves please!) to survive, as homeless people do. Let them fend for themselves without money! Let them try to find food, shelter and clothing. Let them try to get help from social service agencies.

Chances are that the help they will find during this leg of their sentence will come from those they set out to victimize-HOMELESS PEOPLE!

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

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ohio Needs A Homeless Hate Crimes Bill

NEOCH Will Push for a Homeless Hate Crimes Bill in Ohio

Ohio has been listed more than once as one of the most dangerous states in the Union for homeless people. On "60 Minutes" tonight Ed Bradley interviewed one of the kids from Florida who was in jail for beating a homeless person to death. He said that he and the other three kids killed the guy for sport and for "fun." In Ohio, there were people set on fire in Dayton, rocks thrown at homeless people in Columbus and Youngstown, and a serial murderer of homeless people in Toledo. Bradley interviewed the director and producer of "bumfights." This lowlife scum actually attempted to justify his making money off of exploiting those with some behavioral health problems.

NEOCH is working with the new Homeless Congress to meet with a few state representatives after the election to talk about adding homeless people to the existing hate crimes law. This way kids who use a stun gun to attack homeless people will never be charged with mearly misdemeanors and if sentenced will have an extended jail time after conviction. This might put some fear in the minds of young people who decide to "hunt" for homeless people and beat them for "sport." We certainly hope that the homeless individuals featured in bumfights sue into bankruptcy the arrogant kid who came up with this evil idea. We hope that federal officials improve the laws so that the exploitation of people with a mental illness or alcohol and drug problem becomes a crime.

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

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Hate Crimes Directed at Homeless People

Tune into "60 Minutes" this Weekend

In 2003, three teenagers from Youngstown came to Cleveland to use a stun gun on people sleeping outside on Public Square. Their car broke down, and they were helped by a good Samaritan who had previous experience with homelessness. The Good Samaritan caught onto what they were doing and called the police, which was easy since their car broke down in front of the Justice Center. Homeless people were victimized by these young people and then again by the judicial system that charged these evil kids with misdemeanors and let them off with 6 months of weekend only community service.

In Florida in early 2006, three kids beat a homeless individual to death in front of a public building. They used a baseball bat on a number of homeless people which resulted in the death of one of those individuals. Both the Cleveland and Florida attacks were captured on videotape. The news program "60 Minutes" will feature a story by Ed Bradley about these and other attacks on homeless people this weekend. Sunday after football (sometime after 7 p.m.) "60 Minutes" will look at the National Coalition for the Homeless and their work to protect homeless people. Please tune in to the local CBS affiliate at 7 p.m. on Channel 19.

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

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Colorado Voice Mail Criticized

Anyone Can Get on the Radio Today

Although best known for being a carrier of the West Nile Virus, one would be surprised to know Peter Boyles also hosts an AM radio talk show called "The Peter Boyles Show." On this show, he has been complaining about Colorado Community Voice Mail, a program like our own Cleveland Community Voice Mail with which I am affiliated. His complaints are based entirely within the realm of fantasy, much like the works of L. Ron Hubbard (ball's in your court, scientology!).

Boyles, after dealing with whatever mild to severe symptoms associated with his mosquito-spread disease, assumed "Community Voice Mail" meant "free cell phones." From the article referenced above:

BOYLES: "Yeah, and so, how does a homeless person access a voice mail box -- some 4,000 -- unless they are given a phone?"

I included the "Yeah, and so," just to show how inarticulate he is. What he presents here is a logical argument for how he came to the realization that homeless people have cell phones. How else could they have access to a voice mail box? In much the same way one could show no symptoms and still carry the West Nile Virus, a homeless person can have no government funded cellphone and still have a voice mail box. That's how CVM works. It's for people without phones. Again, it's for people WITHOUT PHONES. From the article:

BOYLES: "Well, there's plenty of people, once again -- workaday people, hard workers, family people -- they don't have cellphones. Now how come a homeless guy -- 4,000 of them -- these phones -- were given out, Bob?"

I hate to tell you, Mr. Boyles, but your question in that last quote would give most English teachers a headache not unlike one associated with WNV (West Nile Virus). I hate to just harp on your grammar. Wait, no I don't. I love to harp on your grammar. Why? You're a bully trying to push around people actually trying to make a difference in this world. The idiocy in your inability to drawl out a logical sentence while making an ineffectual argument for a stance mired in your own accidental lies is worthy of a verbal attack not unlike the mockery brought down from the trickster gods of ancient religions.

In closing, I would like to say that next week I will have been serving for the social good for a year, and in that year, every person I have seen is smarter than Mr. Boyles. I know this because not one of them showed up to CCVM demanding a cellphone. Even if one may have thought it might be possible that they could get a cellphone, none were stupid enough to believe in an assumption strong enough to make a fool of themselves over AM radio waves.

Go back to the playground, Mr. Boyles. These are the big leagues. We know our song well before we start singing.


For more information visit the Cleveland Community Voice Mail website.

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

Sunday, September 24, 2006

CMHA Annual Plan

More Senior Housing For Some Reason

I have been so busy the last few weeks that I have not had time to keep my eye on the Housing Authority. Every year at this time, they send around their Annual Plan for comment to be approved by their board in October. The Annual Plan is mandated by the federal government that every housing authority must complete in order to lay out all policy initiatives and capital projects for the next year. Usually only the Homeless Coalition, the Tenants Organization, and Legal Aid Society make any comment at all. This year, I did not get a chance to be a part of the process until the last day of public comment--Friday.

CMHA actually has a very good public process for gathering comments. They listen to us and make changes based on our input. Sure there a few things that we disagree on, but they still seem to be respectful of their partners and constituents. We believe that this planning process is healthy and we think CMHA does treat us with respect. I really believe that the agency is better because they run things by us before making mistakes.

So, they have put out their plan. Here are the highlights of the changes:
  • They clarified the preference for those facing a natural disaster, which was always very confusing.
  • They got rid of their confusing policy for those with a voucher that gave a preference to those working.
  • They have passed along the federal rules making athletic scholarships part of a student's income.
  • They are designating a building in Garden Valley for seniors (50 years old and older) only.
  • They are adopting the federal rules from the Violence Against Women Act.
  • They are clarifying the rules regarding recertification.
Some on-going issues that they will not change that we disagree with every year in their Annual Plan include:
  • We do not agree that some properties that are privately owned and have a set number of vouchers attached to some of their units, a landlord can go outside the existing 6,000 person voucher waiting list for tenants. After a landlord interviews 5 candidates and they find these 5 from the waiting list not acceptable they can go find their own tenants.
  • We believe that they need to put more language into protect women who have experienced domestic violence as part of the Violence Against Women Act.
  • We are always opposed to the designation of some buildings for only those 50 years and older. Sure, those 50 years and older are easier tenants to serve, but the overwhelming need in Cleveland is by tenants under 50 years of age. CMHA has designated over 20% of their total housing units for seniors, but the market is effectively serving this population. I do not understand why the City of Cleveland allows this continued loss of housing for the vast number of single people under 50 years of age looking for housing.
  • Finally, we always oppose the designation of minimum rents for the agency. To the public this is good to force people to pay some small amount for housing. "No one should get anything for free in our society," and all that welfare reform crap that we keep hearing. The problem is that residents who have no money are entitled to file for a hardship exemption. How do they do that if they are not told or it is difficult to get this information? It is similar to passing a tax on only those smokers who enter the two stadiums to pay for the buildings, but everyone pays the tax upon entry. Then if you do not smoke, you must go fill out a form to be exempt from the tax. What is the reason for charging people if they have a right to be exempt? While reviewing their case every year, just give them the rent that they deserve based on their income.
Some other ideas that we suggest to improve CMHA include:
  • Close the public housing waiting list. It makes no sense to keep taking applications for housing when it will take five years for the person filling out an application today who is under 50 to get offered a unit. We suggest taking applications only from those who are over 50 years of age or older.
  • Figure out a way to accept public comments via the internet, and have those read into the record and included at the end of the Annual Plan on the website.
  • Also, since only a few people comment, the CMHA Board should answer the comments and explain why they reject our suggestions.
  • The agency should figure out a way to support the affordable housing website in the future as a tool for both landlords in the program and tenants.
  • CMHA needs to gather supporters to demand from HUD a real budget to improve the housing for those with lower incomes in the poorest city in America.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Homeless Organizing in Columbus

NEOCH 12 Years Ago

I had the honor to help the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless work through issues at their annual retreat. It was amazing how familiar the problems and issues faced by the Columbus Coalition are so very similar to the obstacles NEOCH faced about a dozen years ago. The Columbus Coalition has a few part time staff and they cannot find their footing in the community. They have board members who must focus on their own agency's survival or their own personal issues of stability and they cannot focus on getting the Coalition on its feet. They have a dominant coordinating body in the city, which makes it hard to raise money or step out from this larger organization's shadow.

NEOCH had all these issues a dozen years ago, after our first five years of funding ran out. We had a period of five years with staff and some programming that the Columbus Coalition never had, but we were facing huge decisions as they are down I-71. We found out that the community would not pay for advocacy. We found out that the service providers, who started our organization, could not afford to pay for our service in the long term. We found that the County entity (that we helped to start in order to coordinate services) confused funders as to what our role was in the community. We also had a divided board as to our basic role within the community and the importance of some of our programs. We figured it out and made some tough decisions to survive.

I hope that the Columbus Coalition will pull together to make some tough decisions. They can move to a full time staff person by putting in place solid programs desired by the community. They seem to have all the ingredients, but they need a strong chef to put it all together.

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Broken Alcohol/Drug System

They Have it All Wrong

I am sitting in a meeting--minding my own business--not bothering anyone--when I am smacked right up side my head by another failed system in our community. I am listening to the presentations of why people sleep at the airport, and the problems with homeless people when a woman from the Alcohol and Drug Addictions Services Board of Cuyahoga County pipes up that she can assure us that she can get an "assessment" of those people sleeping at the airport within three days. She could not tell us how long it would take to get treatment, but at least we would have a confirmed diagnosis of alcohol or drug addiction within 72 hours. Thank you for nothing. What the hell good is that to the community? The smell of alcohol and the unresponsiveness was my first indication that there was a problem beyond the casual after work cocktail, but of course I can't pass out those certifications.

Imagine the riots in the streets if you showed up at MetroHealth with a gun shot wound and they rushed out within three hours to "assess" you with a diagnosis of an lacerated artery that will need surgery. Then the kind nurse informed you that the doctors were not available and there is no time frame when that surgery could actually happen, but at least you can rest easy with your certified diagnosis. Yes, Rest in Peace easy. How could this ever be considered progress? What is the use in telling someone they have a problem if you are not prepared to solve it. "Frank, you have colon cancer, now go out and enjoy the rest of the day because we have no idea when we can do anything else." And for someone with an addiction telling them that they have an addiction, but that you have no idea when or how you will treat them without money is just what they need to hear to keep them from drinking or injecting.

I would quit my job before I would ever brag that a three day assessment is progress. More people in the homeless community have a drug or alcohol problem than a mental health problem and yet the Alcohol Services get a tiny amount of money compared to Mental Health. It is a joke, and they should just close their doors. At this point, I really think that they do more harm then good in our community. Most of the beds were purchased by the courts so basically you have to go to jail to get residential treatment. You really have to way to cure yourself to get help and then they will let you go to volunteer driven AA classes or you have to be near death and they will give you a couple of days of detox. How does this help us?

I don't want people to think that we do not appreciate the work of the alcohol and drug case workers, but the best in the business get burnt out quickly. It is strange because alcohol and drugs hit the wealthy, the middle class and the poor, but we do a pathetic job of treating this health condition. You really have to destroy your life, the life of others around you, burn all your bridges and most of the time commit a crime before someone sends you some help. Then we punish you with a shelter and force you to live by some rules until you have are sufficiently repentant that you no longer have the addiction. At least, we now can assure that you will get assessed within three days.

Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Are People Moving Away from High Poverty?

Child Poverty in 2005

Back in the welfare reform debate of the late 1990s, the officials told us that people do not move for benefits. The experts said that it has never been the case that people move from one area especially one state to another in order to get better entitlements. But now living in Cleveland and experiencing decreases in jobs for six straight years, I have to believe that some of our population loss has to do with lower income people looking for better places to live. In looking at the poverty statistics for Ohio, I have to wonder if some are not making calculations about the State of Ohio and the safety of raising their family in this environment.
  • How many kids will get a good education with such an unfair system for funding schools?
  • How many of my kids will have the opportunity to go to college in Ohio with such high tuition rates? Maybe moving to another state to establish residency would be beneficial?
  • If I loose my job will I be able to find another before ruining my family?
  • Will I be able to find a job with health care? If I do lose my health care will the state be able to afford to provide any health care beyond the emergency room?
  • Will I need to go into bankruptcy or will I be taken advantage of by a mortgage broker?
  • Will three years of cash assistance be enough when nearly every other state gives five years? If I exhaust my three years, what is the use of staying in Ohio?
  • Why not move to another state that has a higher minimum wage?
  • What is the use of relatively inexpensive housing if you have no job?
  • Would rental assistance be more available in another state?
At this point in the recession, these questions have to come up. There must be a great deal of anger over the lack of help by our government. There was assistance for those fleeing Katrina, but what about the home grown poor? There is money for playgrounds like stadiums, but not for people. I would be angry if I went to the election booth and saw a levy on the ballot for the arts, while I struggle to find a job. How do they justify paying for art while my child's school is in bad shape and I can't find a job? How do they justify raising taxes for art, while I can't pay my rent? Anger, frustration, a feeling of hopelessness, and then resignation and moving to a state that cares, would be how I would react.

Here are the statistics from the U.S. Census on poverty by County. By the way, Ohio 's official poverty rate was 13.0% of the population is living below poverty with 18.2% of our children living in poverty in Ohio. These are in order of the Counties around Cleveland and the other big cities in Ohio from poorest to better off.

County % Living Below Poverty % Children Living Below Poverty
1. Lucas County (Toledo) 17.4% 25.3%
2.Cuyahoga (Cleveland) 16.9% 25.1%
3. Columbiana 16.3% 26.4%
4. Ashtabula 16.1% 23.3%
5. Montgomery (Dayton) 14.7% 23.4%
6. Franklin (Columbus) 14.5% 19.8%
7. Erie County 14.0% 21.8%
8. Hamilton (Cincinnati) 13.8% 19%
9.Mahoning (Youngstown) 13.4% 20%
10. Stark (Canton) 12.0% 18.1%
11. Lorain County 11.7% 17.6%
12. Portage County 11.4% 15.5%
13. Summit (Akron) 11.2% 14.4%
14. Trumbull County 10.7% 15.4%
15. Lake County 8.3% 12.9%

Those Counties Doing Best in Ohio
1. Delaware County (near Columbus) 4.6% 5.5%
2. Warren County 5.1% 4.8%
3. Medina County 5.3% 6.6%
4. Geauga County 5.6% ---
5. Tuscarawas County 7.3% 8.1%

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

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Ohio Department of Apartheid

Why the High Number of African Americans in Prison??

Friday September 8, the Urban Institute announced preliminary results from their Justice Policy Center study called "Returning Home: Experiences of Former Prisoners Residing in Cleveland" at the Cleveland Food Bank. This got no coverage in the Plain Dealer today, but was picked up by WKSU and WCPN. NEOCH attended the forum for the release of information. What we found to be the most amazing statistic that was not mentioned in the other media was the high number of African Americans returning from incarceration. This is the most damning statistic on the current state of Ohio with 53% of those leaving prison in Ohio are identified as "Black" while only 11.5% of the population of Ohio are "African American Only" according to the US Census. In Greater Cleveland 74% of those returning from prison are African American while only 28.9% of Cuyahoga County identify themselves as African American.

How can this not be identified as an Apartheid system? Are we enslaving a generation of African Americans through the judiciary instead of the public auction used from 1699 to 1865 in America? I do not understand why this fact is ignored? Why is this huge disparity not the focus of this report or at least mentioned boldly? It is just used as a dry fact in a lengthy report about the current state of our misnamed "Corrections and Rehabilitation" system. It is accepted as a reality that the percentage of those in the prison population contain four times as many African Americans as the population of Ohio. How is their not rioting over the incarceration disparity in Ohio? I do not understand how the large number of African American "Corrections" officers do not see this new form of slavery and speak out? How can the prison work industry not be viewed as the modern cotton field? I am floored by this disparity. How can we demonstrate to caring people that if all 5,300 returning from prison to Cuyahoga County every year were gathered together in one place only 18% or 985 people would have white faces.

Other statistics that are troubling from this report:
**47% of those returning from prison have a violent offense in their background. (Not the one tenth of one percent mentioned by Geoff in the Callahan police shooting discussion.)
**Only 27% of those in prison received any type of counseling which includes mental health counseling.
**Only 31% have lived with a spouse or partner or alone after their release. 4 out of 5 rely on family for housing after release.
**Prior to prison, 84% reported drug use or intoxication with half reporting daily drug or alcohol use. After release, 23% still report drug use or intoxication in last 30 days.
**Only 30% report legal employment upon release with another 23% reporting "under the table employment."
**Only 39% report participation in post-release programming.

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

Friday, September 08, 2006

County Helping Homeless to Vote

Shelters Now Active in Registration of Homeless People

NEOCH is often criticized for only giving the bad news. We also constantly harp on the lack of accountability within the system. I mean if a corporation had 10 straight years of losses it is unthinkable that the existing leadership would be able to keep their jobs. But in the social service community 10 years of increases in homelessness can be blamed on something else or just plain ignored. We have to go before our constituency every few weeks, so it is easy to see why we are impatient with the slow progress made in addressing poverty. But today we give you some good news undertaken by your government.

We must credit the great job that the County Office of Homeless Services has done in making sure that homeless people are registered to vote. It is funny that now that the state has put huge barriers in the way of homeless people voting is the time that the County steps up their efforts. We certainly appreciate their efforts and have asked for every provider be required to register people upon entry for years. We finally wrote a letter to the Commissioners late last year asking for some intervention in getting every homeless person to vote, and that seems to have happened.

The OHS staff are strongly encouraging every publicly funded facility to assure that they are registering people. They are collaborating with Ohio Votes to make sure that every staff person knows the rules and can encourage their clients to go vote. Each provider needed to put in a plan for how to register and get all their clients to vote. They are regularly updating the providers about new issues regarding voting. So, the Coalition thanks Cuyahoga County for helping to empower homeless people.

NEOCH is supporting this effort with two training sessions in collaboration with Ohio Votes coming up:
**Friday September 15, 2006 at 1:30 pm.
**Tuesday September 19, 2006 at 11:00 a.m.

Both will be at NEOCH and will last one hour. Please call if you would like to attend at 216/432-0540.

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

Monday, September 04, 2006

Peace Show Next Door to the War Show

A Celebration of Ione Biggs at the Peace Show

Labor Day brings the annual tradition of the Peace Show interrupted frequently by the War Show at Burke Lake Front Airport. This year was a remembrance of Ione Biggs who passed away in December of 2005. Also, 5 Catholic Worker protesters were arrested for praying under the wing of a War Plane at the Air Show. This is not homeless news except that our good friend, Jim Schlecht who does outreach to homeless people, was also arrested and will sit in jail until Tuesday. They stood singing under a war plane to let people know that the entire "Air Show" glorified war and killing people. Imagine, arrested for putting a sobering tone on "entertainment," while we occupy another country and our sons and daughters in Iraq hope and pray every night that the road below them does not blow up.

So, I was asked to say a few words about Ms. Biggs. I know that if Ione were still alive she would be protesting the arrest at the War Show or down talking to those waiting in jail by using her connections in the corrections system. Anyway, I wish Daniel were here because he would know what to say a lot better than most of the rest of us. When Ione got the award from her church, Daniel revised one of his poems to fit the occasion. Poets are the life blood of social justice movements.
"The homeless community lost one of our strongest champions with the passing of Ione Biggs. She was not loud or "in your face" about her passions, but was powerful in a quiet dignified manner. She gave great advice, and knew what would work and what would not. She had that rare quality that has nearly disappeared in our society she actually listened to people including those she did not agree with. We at the Coalition keep her in our thoughts every day, and we try to react to injustice as Ione would react. What would Ione Do? She would be at the Peace Show supporting her friends and fellow activists. She would be at the vigil for peace on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attack. She would respectfully question the use of excessive force by the police in Cleveland Heights.

She would be organizing petitions, writing letters, and speaking out against this horrible war and the dreadful policies of the current administration which devastate the poor. She would have an answer for the state of fear gripping America, because I certainly do not. Ione would know how to fight the destruction of the current first amendment, and the expanding domestic spying by our own government. She certainly had a unique talent of cornering elected officials to get them to do the right thing, and she would have found a way to force the State of Ohio to get back in the business or reducing poverty. How could anyone turn down the All American Grandmother? She would be volunteering for the Coalition or other peace organizations. Ione had the unique talent of staying in contact with all the peace and justice organizations in the city, but we all felt that she was working exclusively on our issue.

Ione Biggs would find a way to break the racial or gender barriers that continue to exist in our community. She would be leading the charge to implement a real rehabilitation component to our criminal justice system. In a more enlightened time, Ione Biggs would have followed Howard Metzenbaum as Senator Biggs from Ohio. She was one of the strongest women in Cleveland, and we miss her.

I have no better way to express my sorrow than with Daniel's Words:

Those in power always want
Those in poverty to live on poetry
The best things in life are free
They're fond of saying. Of course
If you help yourself to what's
Second best, they lock you up
And if you tell them all you wanted
Was just a little bit more on your plate
They'll hit you with, Man shall not live
By bread alone. They certainly don't
They've got the bread and the gravy
The meat and potatoes, the Army
The Air Force, the Marines and the Navy
And what have we got? Our loneliness
And our need to break bread
For that sound breaks the silence between us
And out of that broken silence tumbles everything
A cornucopia of words to feed the heart
Night words that rise and fall with each breath
Each shadow, words as light as light
Whose wings brush against us
And we are never the same
Words that are famous
With only four letters
Like food, love, home, sing..."
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.