Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mental Health System Broken in America

Supreme Court to Decide on Arizona's Ability to Exact Vengeance

The system in need of the most reform is certainly the treatment of mentally ill people in the United States. The Washington Post had a very good editorial about the problems facing mentally ill people. We do not provide parity with other health issues, so that if diagnosed with a mental illness there is a limit to the treatment that one can receive paid by a health care insurer. A broken leg is covered usually with a small deductible until the point at which it is healed, but a brain injury is covered with a deductible for a few months. Then those who cannot work because of a mental illness are forced to spend years trying to prove to the state that they are in fact not healthy enough to work. At the end of this long journey is poverty for life.

No where in the United States does disability assistance raise your standard of living above even the pathetically low federal poverty level. If you receive gifts--your allowance is lowered. If you keep too much money in your bank account--your allowance is lowered. If your parents die and leave you money--your allowance is lowered. In some communities, if you stay in shelters--your allowance is lowered. It is one thing to lower a wealthy individual's government assistance, but we are punishing poor people for having a small amount of money. This is criminal and obscene for a society of our wealth.

In most states, those who are poor receive no help for their mental illness unless they are a threat to themselves or others. This was the situation facing the family in Flagstaff. Their son, Eric Michael Clark, had not demonstrated any threat to himself or others, but he was seeing a city full of aliens. I happen to agree with the young Clark that the very conservative retirement communities in Arizona are in fact full of aliens from a planet without compassion, but I am not sure if violence is the answer. He then killed a police officer after his family begged the authorities to have him committed. The State of Arizona, who did not want to provide assistance to Mr. Clark, because he had never demonstrated that he was a threat to others now wants to kill him after he did show he was a threat to others.

This level of intolerance toward those with a legitimate health problems is disturbing and actually a frightening mirror on society. Are we so afraid that mental illness will afflict us that we condemn those among us to a life of poverty, force a struggle with a mammoth bureaucracy, constant running away from the stigmatization, and then we kill those with the most severe mental illness? My, how the pendulum has swung from the time we were fighting over equal rights to a time when we are fighting over killing the mentally ill, walling off our southern border, and should we torture people as a country?


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

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Don't Be a Domestic Violence Victim in Cuyahoga County

Dramatic Reduction in Shelter Beds for Domestic Violence Victims in Cleveland Area

Just five years ago there were two organizations serving the needs of homeless women fleeing an abuser with the Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Templum House in operation. Neither was overly healthy, but how many independent non-profits were during the beginning of this six year nightmare recession in Cuyahoga County? They merged and now we have gone from four separate shelters to one. We have changed the definition of domestic violence so that we serve only those immediately fleeing an abuser. While studies show between 70-80% of the women in the emergency shelters have some abuse in their past, Cuyahoga County has tightened the definition to reduce, on paper, the numbers. This is not to condemn the one agency left serving Domestic Violence victims. The Domestic Violence Center staff do amazing work on a shoestring budget. They put in long hours and do everything in their power to keep the women of Cuyahoga County safe. They have tried to redesign their program to serve the population, but there are plenty of women who have no where to turn for help.

We made a mistake letting the two organizations merge into one. Supporters will argue that we have two other shelters (West Side Catholic and East Side Catholic) who have stepped up to serve this population. They both try to fill this void, but it is not the same. The DV shelters have all of their staff trained to provide support. They all understand the pressure that the women face to return to their abuser. They all understand the difficulty in standing firm against abuse when "The Dad is so good with the children." We have a network of DV shelters in the state for a reason. The women who show up on their doors have very specific needs and a very specific process for healing. The Coalition was never asked to comment on this merger, but we must take some of the blame that we did not speak up and realize how negative this could be for the women.

Just for comparison lets look at the Counties that touch Cuyahoga County. What follows is the Counties listed in order of number of shelter beds for Domestic Violence victims per resident (based on 2005 Census figures).

Geauga County 16 beds 95,218 people or 1 bed for every 5,951 people.
Summit County 90 beds 546,604 people or 1 bed for every 6,073 people.
Erie County 10 beds 78,665 people or 1 bed for every 7,867 people.
Lake County 27 beds 232,466 people or 1 bed for every 8,610 people.
Medina County 18 beds 167,010 people or 1 bed for every 9,278 people
Lorain County 22 beds 296,307 people or 1 bed for every 13,469 people.
Portage County 5 beds with 155,631 people or 1 bed for every 31,126 people.
Cuyahoga County 34 beds with 1,335,317 people or 1 bed for every 39,274 people.

(Who knew Portage County had so many people--I checked it twice.)

Where are all the corporations? The beer companies? The Women's Rights organizations? How did we let it get so bad that we only have 34 beds for women fleeing a domestic violence situation in Cuyahoga County? The state Attorney General's 2004 report has startling figures on the incidents of violence against a spouse/roommate/date in Ohio. The state reports shows that just in 2004, 1 in 100 women were abused and yet we have only 34 dedicated beds in Cuyahoga County. We have an Office of Homeless Services, but they did not sound the alarm that there were problems with sustaining these programs or raise awareness about problems within the system. There is a domestic violence funding organization that divides up the scarce resources, and yet we never heard from this group.

The Coalition is never a big fan of shelter because it is really just a band aid for a larger problems in society. But Domestic Violence is different. Women need a safe place that an abuser cannot easily find to get their bank accounts secure, their children relocated, and work with law enforcement to assure their safety. We all took our eye off the ball, and the power players in the community (City, United Way, County, Foundations, and Religious leaders) should hold a summit on violence to get us back on track.

My two cents on Domestic Violence is that each City within the County should have their own strategy to address violence within their community. Each of the cities would set their own goals for moving to zero incidents of violence. In the spirit of regionalism a few cities could join to set up DV emergency shelters to meet the need and share resources to fund these facilities. The Domestic Violence Center in Cleveland could oversee training and coordinate advocacy for all these facilities. For too long we have relied on a shrinking number of community leaders to worry about this problem and we have made little progress. National studies show that 1 in 4 women will experience violence in their lifetime, and with leadership we could make Cuyahoga County a lot safer for women.

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

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Los Angeles Cannot harass Skid Row Residents

Ninth Appeals Court Rules Against LA Effort to Criminalize Homelessness

The City of Los Angeles, one of the 20 meanest cities toward homeless people in the United States, was found to be violating the rights of its homeless community with a law that prevented sitting, sleeping or lying on the sidewalk. The court found the law an "unavoidable consequence of being human and homeless without shelter" violates the constitutional prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Police, as they do in many U.S. cities were permitted to go out and threaten arrest to anyone using the sidewalk for shelter. If the individual did not move, the police would arrest the individual. The court even acknowledged in a 2-1 decision that the LA ordinance "made it a crime to be homeless."

The notoriously bad LA police will no longer be able to engage in this activity. The City only in the last month issued a "Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness," but did not acknowledge their criminalization efforts. LA has reputedly the largest homeless population in the United States (80,000-90,000 people a year), which we certainly believe has something to do with the efforts to make it a crime to be homeless.

As a reminder, Cleveland is one of the few cities in the United States that has a signed agreement with the homeless population that police will not arrest or threaten arrest for purely innocent behavior of sitting, sleeping, standing, eating on the sidewalks in Cleveland. We have had this in place since 2000, and have found better ways to serve the population. Cuyahoga County has around 25,000 homeless in a year.

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

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Safety Ambassadors Coming To Cleveland

Louisville Company To "Clean Up" Downtown

Downtown business owners are taxing themselves in order to deal with panhandlers and dirty streets. This must mean that the offensive panhandling law passed last year is not working out because how often do business people vote to tax themselves? So, Downtown business created an improvement district from the warehouse district to East 18th St. to Carnegie to the Lake in order to impose on tax on themselves. For this year they will raise $3 million, and have hired a group called Block by Block to oversee this project.

The group already does safety programming in Columbus, Dayton, Louisville, Toledo, Cincinnati, and many other cities in the Midwest. They will begin in Cleveland in May to clean the streets and employ "Street Ambassadors" to keep the streets safe. These happy uniformed (golf shirt and khaki pants) people without diplomatic immunity travel the streets spreading good thoughts and good directions. They give out directions to the lost, act as a neighborhood watch, and discourage pedestrians from giving to panhandlers.

I have seen these guys in action down in Columbus decked out in Red, White and Blue shirts. They put themselves in between the panhandler and the potential customer. These Street Ambassadors will call the police or security guard for an aggressive panhandler or a panhandler in the prohibited zone. The others asking for money are harassed by the ambassadors. It is so successful in Columbus that the City Council passed a stricter panhandling and littering law in 2005. In Cincinnati, the program has worked so well that they now force the panhandlers to register with the City before asking for money. How do they measure success? I say they should be measured on a reduction of 21% office vacancy rate downtown and more than 8 people on the sidewalk on a Tuesday night.

We are going to spend $2.25 million on cleaning the streets and harassing panhandlers. Evidently, parking and panhandling are still the two biggest complaints of the business owners. When will they listen? Panhandlers have existed in cities for over two centuries, and respond to only two things capitalism and better jobs. Give a panhandler a decent job that they do not have to stand outside in the rain or sun, but do not have to punch a clock, they will stop panhandling. If they face competition, they will move somewhere else. Harassment and laws do not work. For more information on panhandling go to our website under Statistics and Strategies.

Two interesting notes: one of the cities in the Northwest tried a similar program, but uniformed their crew with dark Brown shirts. This was quickly changed when some snobby academic recognized that Brown Shirts walking around harassing poor people might present a problem with a historical backlash. The other issue is that for some reason in Ohio Patriot Act, "safety ambassodors" must be licensed by the Department of Homeland Security. This prevents anyone with a felony background taking one of these jobs. Many of the people with the best relationship with panhandlers who know the city best are not eligible for these jobs. In Ohio, true patriotism means never giving anyone a second chance.

by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Shelter Storm Music Tour Updates

Shelter Storm Revue Continue to Roll

Tuesday night was yet another success for the SSRT (Shelter Storm Revue Tour). I opened the show with some homespun ballads promptly at 8:30 PM. Progeny was kind enough to set up early and allow the use of their equipment (thank you). The VOA Shelter proved to be an intimate and acoustically vibrant environment. The crowd welcomed me warmly before I passed the stage onto newcomers to the Revue Tour, Mark Liderbach and Brian Misch. The wonderfully talented Liderbach and Misch stunned the crowd with their electric blues rhythms. Their stay was short, but their presence was felt. Following their act was a poetess who needed no microphone in this sound wave friendly room, Shelter Storm regular Meagen Hueslenbeck. She lit a fire in the hearts of the audience as she interspersed her preachings with personal poems that ruminated on the ecclesiastic thoughts of a pizza delivery girl. Gary Nelson was next, and he narrated from his guitar like a journalist reports from his articles. His musings wandered from the greed of a ruthless boss named Diamond Joe to the longing of a wanderer weary of never finding a familiar face in his travels. The final performers were the fan favorites, Progeny. They lept to the stage like prophets on a mission. They swayed and sang and brought smiles to the faces of everyone who sat before them. As the echoes of the final note joined the shadows of the night, the residents thanked us many times over, shaking hands and smiling brightly.

I am still looking for performers for the Y-Haven show on May 12th at 10 AM. If there are any musicians, poets, or other performance artists looking to join in on this show, please give me a call at our NEOCH offices at 216-432-0540 ext. 404.

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

Monday, April 03, 2006

Coalition Updates

Homeless Coalition Updates

March 2006 was again a new record for web traffic to our website with an average of 249 people per day and 7,738 visits to the site. If we can add a few people a day, maybe we can dispel the myth that all homeless people are panhandlers.

The Bad News..Legal Assistance saw a record number of people in 2005.
Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance saw a record 621 people in 2005. The program hosts clinics in shelters and drop in centers. In 2005, we did expand the program so that we have a weekly clinic on both the East and West side of town. The clinics are staffed by volunteer attorneys from the area. To see a copy of the schedule go to We will honor a few of those attorneys at the 2005 Annual meeting on May 5, 2006 at Massimo da Millano.

Speaking of the Annual Meeting....
You can reserve a space at the annual meeting right from our website. Here is the link to the overview of the event: May 5, 2006 a very nice dinner and camaraderie with other social justice advocates in the community. Tickets are very reasonable. Please join us at our Fifth Annual Dinner and Annual meeting.

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