Friday, June 30, 2006

Upcoming Events at the Coalition

Homelessness Does Not End in the Summer

A few things that the Coalition is working on for the summer...
  • We are welcoming two new VISTAs who will dedicate a year of their life to solving homelessness in Cleveland and Ohio. One of the finest programs ever created by the Federal government, which has survived despite both Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II trying to detroy the programs by putting their own stamp on these efforts.
  • We are planning a series of events around how homeless people will have access to the election with the new rules demanding identification before participating in our democracy. We are also going to have a few demonstrations in the shelters to show people how to use the electronic voting.
  • We are setting our local, state, and national agenda for the fall and early 2007. We are hosting an exciting event in July in which we have invited two representatives from each shelter in Cuyahoga County. This is our first attempt at a representative Congress of homeless people in which each person represents a sub population of homeless people or families. We will have disabled homeless people, single women, mom and dad families, and men all invited. It should be interesting, and we will set our agenda based on the meeting.
  • The NEOCH Board is working on finances. The summer is always a slow time for support for homelessness. We would certainly appreciate your support this summer to allow us to keep working on solutions to homelessness.
A few things that we are planning for the fall...
  • We have a Housing Service Fair set for October 20, 2006. This would be similar to the Homeless Stand Down, but restricted to distribution of information about housing. The event will be at the Bishop Cosgrove Center, and will feature programs that could provide housing to homeless people. Look for more details to come.
  • The Quarterly Teach In will be September 20, and will focus on veterans issues. We have a large number of veterans who are homeless, but we do have a very nice safety net in place. We will highlight both the needs and services available in Greater Cleveland.
Details of all of these items will appear on our website in the next month. There is a very good discussion about Public Square and homelessness at blog. Norm Roulet talks about the battle for public space in both Cleveland and San Francisco. I have printed out the post, and have been thinking about it all week. I encourage everyone to check it out.


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

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Akron Assault on Free Speech Continued

Feagler Just Needs to Retire

I was surprised to be quoted in the Crusty Old Man's Column today in the PD (No link, if you want to read it go find it. I am not going to make it easy for you.) since I have never talked to this guy in my life. I would have liked to discuss the Bill of Rights with this guy. I know it is a waste of time to talk to him about panhandling because he would never listen, but free speech is his business. I do not understand how any journalist can defend pre-registration in order to speak. Just say No, Dick!! You have the freedom to say no to these panhandlers. You have the freedom to make fun of them in your column. Why can't they ask people for money? No one will think less of you to just say no to panhandlers. In your old age have you become so afraid of human contact that you are willing to amend the Bill of Rights to keep beggars quiet? Remember that these Itinerant Private Charitable Advisors fall under the same Amendment that allows you to publish.

If you are concerned that the panhandlers are asking too much money, walk away. If you believe that they are too aggressive then why haven't you filed a police report for their violation of the ordinance that passed last year? Why, because it is a waste of time ordinance that does nothing, but make beggars into criminals. What I would explain to the Crusty Old Man is that once we throw the panhandlers under the bus, it is not a stretch to think we should register political protestors who are far more annoying and disruptive, and then it is not a great step to register people who might give comfort to our enemies in their writings which are available on the internet especially Crusty Old Men who criticize the war.

The Crusty Old Man just needs to retire and stop embarrassing himself. He used the word "bum" throughout the commentary because that is what they used to call guys who asked for money on the street when he was a kid. I seem to remember this same kind of stupid logic was used by the racists that I met in college with their subtle distinction of hard working black people and the lazy shiftless individuals who had another offensive label. There are a lot of words that we used when the Crusty Old Man was a kid that we do not use anymore. Why the anger at a group of people with a problem who are annoying but harmless?

P.S. Rumor has it that the Crusty Old Man is going to receive a social justice award from Community Shares. There goes the neighborhood...


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

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Akron Assault on Panhandlers Continued

Strict Law Not Strict Enough for Akron Council

First, one correction about the Akron Panhandling Law from the previous post. The new panhandling registration law proposed in Akron will not prevent an individual who has a previous criminal conviction from getting a license just those who violated the aggressive panhandling law. You will have to be photographed and have to wear that license around your neck.

What a strange town...
So, a lot happened Monday, June 19, regarding the massive epidemic of panhandling in Akron on Monday. It seems that the source of all problems that continues to keep pedestrians from visiting Akron is squarely on the shoulders of beggars. According to the Downtown beat cop who testified there are 5 or 6 panhandling spreading fear, plague, disease, bad feelings, and diverting downtown diners from local eateries by their overbearing requests for money during the day. The City held a hearing on their proposed panhandling ordinance and the Deputy Mayor, David Lieberth and I appeared on WCPN 90.3 to debate the issue (link to mp3 of the show).

From the callers to the show those in the outer ring suburbs do not like panhandlers and even former homeless people do not like panhandlers. From WCPN listeners e-mails, my assertion that pan handling is a form of petitioning the government is asinine. For most of the panhandlers this is a job, and so Akron is trying to professionalize these Unaffiliated Private Benevolence Officers or Itinerant Private Charitable Advisors. Deputy Mayor Lieberth kept interrupting and avoided the free speech and scarlet letter issues.

I then went to the hearing on the issue at the Akron City Council, which was bizarre. I felt like I had gone backwards from the land of OZ in color to the black and white land of Mayberry USA. I did get to meet Lieberth who was on the phone earlier who introduced the legislation and defended it. I am not sure how politically astute it was having a guy who looks like one of the oil barons of the industrial revolution or that banker in the wheelchair from Its a Wonderful Life be the guy who explains this offensive piece of legislation. No offense to Mr. Lieberth who seems nice enough, but I kept thinking that he was going to say, "Nothin' but a miserable little $500 equity in a life insurance policy. [These panhandlers] are worth more dead than alive."

The Akron City Council members who were present actually wanted more severe legislation. They wondered if churches and schools could be included in the protected areas, because panhandlers prey (punny?) on spiritual people coming out of church with money. They also wondered why Akron had to give out licenses to people who have ignored tickets in the past. I bagged my prepared statement (which will be on our website soon) for fear they would try to make the legislation even more severe (strip searches, branding panhandlers, etc.) I was one of only two who testified in opposition to this ordinance. (Thank you to the member of Food Not Bombs Akron--Dana Williams who testified against the ordinance). The Council did not ask either one of us any questions, but on the positive side did not force us out of town on the nearest rail.

So, after a parade of business owners, police, the head of the Akron Art Museum, and the Evangelical Shelter testified in support of this disgraceful piece of legislation, I decided it was better to keep my comments brief and to the point. I pointed out that nearly every person that testified had mentioned problems with panhandlers that were covered by the existing law. Either the panhandler was aggressive, deceptive or on private property, which are all illegal under current Akron law. I pointed out that if existing law did not work what makes them think a new law will work that has not worked in any city in the United States and has not worked in any city for centuries. I said that it is hard to stand with a panhandler, but I hope that one of them has the courage to stand up against all the suits in the room and declare that this law is unconstitutional and vote against it. I get the feeling that Council will rubber stamp this proposal and will not act with courage, but we will see.

One of the funniest parts of the hearing was the story told by the female police captain, which she cited as justification for the new law. A woman was enjoying her lunch break and was approached by a panhandler or Unaffiliated Private Benevolence Officer in a local Downtown Akron park. When she went to her purse, the panhandler turned out to be a thief and grabbed her purse and ran. The police captain said that her boyfriend apprehended the guy because his prosthetic leg fell off when he was fleeing. I could not get this image out of my head of the one legged guy running away with the purse. The one-armed man in Bay Village inspired a television series and movie, and now it turns out the one legged thief in Akron inspired panhandling registration. I was surprised the Akron City Council did not grab onto this story and send the legal director back to see if was constitutional to remove the other leg of purse snatcher to slow them down even more.

It is not their fault, it seemed that most of the Akron City Council members are business men themselves. I will bet one is the barber and another owns the general store just like in Mayberry. I will bet that Andy, Barney and the guys stood around Howard's Barber Shop and came up with this registration plan. They are thinking of their own self interest and not the preservation of individual liberty or protection of free speech. But the Director of the Haven of Rest shelter in Akron and the Salvation Army are both especially shameful. To sell out their own clients is disgraceful. They wouldn't even have jobs if there were not all these holes in the safety net of healthcare and housing. If this great disparity did not exist in the pay for workers compared to CEOs they would be collecting tolls on I-80. The Director of Haven of Rest could not do outreach to the handful of panhandlers in Akron and provide help to keep them off drugs or get them treatment for their mental illness? He proclaimed, from his high horse, that the giving of alms to the poor is just enabling them. I hate when providers hide behind "enabling." It really means, "We are so rigid in our rules that we refuse to bend to individual needs, and we will blame the individual for their 'unreasonable' demands to be treated as a person not a number."

I am glad to be back in the world of color, and I have no doubt that Mayberry will pass this offensive law. I hope that since it does not seem that any council member will have courage the Itinerant Private Charitable Advisors will have courage to sue the City. I volunteer to help.


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

Paranoia, Insanity, and Cruelty Rule the Day

Make Laws Specific to Homeless People

I have three articles for you to read:

Paranoid in Orlando

Cruel in Indiana

Insane in Baton Rouge

For those of you here to read a blog and not news, allow me to sum up:

Paranoid in Orlando, FL-- is seeking to pass a law that makes it illegal to serve food to the homeless on city property more than twice a year. The reasoning is that if you feed the homeless in the city parks daily, they will begin to congregate there. While they wait for food, the homeless people will inevitably get bored. Orlando seems to think that when bored, homeless people will commit crimes. For you bleeding hearts who deny this, Orlando claims to have solid proof: there is crime in Orlando, and there are also homeless people in Orlando; therefore homeless commit crimes! Try arguing with that!

Cruel in Indiana-- Porter County Libraries in Indiana are not only limiting the number of items a homeless person can check out, they are making it a policy to not issue library cards to homeless children. Let me reiterate: homeless children are being denied the free service of receiving reading and learning materials from the county government. Who sat in on that committee meeting? Gargamel and Azrael? Cobra Commander? Voldemort? Did they follow up the meeting by stealing all the Christmas presents from Whoville? Is the road to the Porter County Libraries paved with human skulls?

Insane in Baton Rouge--It seems that Baton Rouge Louisiana has decided that the best way to deal with their homeless problem is to place their policemen on horses. From the article above: "Mounted police on horseback will soon be dealing with the growing problem of panhandling by the homeless near downtown Baton Rouge." I just want to say that this proposal is awesome. Baton Rouge is literally crazy. You know you are out of ideas when your response to the problem of homelessness is, "Have we tried dealing with them while astride a handsome equine?" God bless Baton Rouge and their creativity. I really honestly hope it works out for them, because if the solution to homelessness is horses, my job is going to be real goddamn easy.


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

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day in the Shelters

Homeless Dads

Today is Father's Day, and it is very hard to find the Hallmark card for the Dad in the shelter. Why? Because society does not often think about the lives behind the stereotypes. We do not consider the depression guys face while staying in the shelters during most holidays, but especially Father's Day. Many of the men at 2100 Lakeside are in fact Dads and some are Grandfathers. They get to watch the NBA Finals, but otherwise it is not much different than any other Sunday. No breakfast in bed, no mail delivery so no homemade cards from the kids, and no possibility of lying in the hammock watching the grass grow with a beer. Father's Day in the shelters.

Yes, Dad made some mistakes and wound up in the shelter. This could be because of health issues like alcohol, drugs or some brain issues or it could be pride or stupid decisions, but most of the guys are still a Dad. These men in the shelter really get the shaft when it comes to being a Dad. Society has made it difficult to be a Dad and to be poor. There is no doubt men have not set very good examples and for years tried to skate on responsibility, but our public policy assumes the worst for every guy. There is no forgiveness in the system, but instead years of heartache, debt, and resentment. I mean the whole child support system often makes it better to not work than to even try. It takes so long to try to get an adjustment in the payments that the Dad is so far in the hole they will never get out and they give up.

For many of the Dads that I have met, they want to have a relationship with their kids. They want to give advise and to teach the importance of the finger roll in a three point shot, but have a hard time. They want to give money to support their kids, but want some equality in the relationship. They want someone to listen to their side and not assume that they are looking for ways to be a deadbeat. It is very difficult to be a Dad without a lot of money.

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

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Akron Assault on Free Speech

Most Restrictive Law on Panhandling

The City of Akron has announced their intention to attempt to eliminate panhandling within the Akron city limits. We always think of Akron as a progressive leader with a fair and even handed Mayor until now. This law is the most offensive attempt to make it illegal to ask for help in Ohio. As chair of the National Coalition for the Homeless Civil Rights Committee, I am able to see many of the laws directed at homeless people in the U.S. The Akron anti-panhandling law is one of the most severe that I have ever seen. They restrict where speech is free and then they require a license to exercise constitutionally protected speech. The most ridiculous aspect of this law is that those with a criminal background will be denied a license.

A few quick thoughts about this offensive law:
1. Since it should be a high hurdle to restrict speech (fire in a crowded movie theatre), then what is the public purpose for restricting speech around financial institutions and certain downtown landmarks? If I wore a shirt around Akron that said "financial institution" would that force panhandlers to stay 20 feet away?

2. Did anyone see the irony in preventing people from asking for money 20 feet from the places where money is kept?

3. Most of the homeless providers in Akron are supporting this legislation including the Salvation Army and the Alcohol and Drug Board. How much of a sell out do you have to be to throw your own clients under the bus in order to remain at peace with your city government? I mean these guys have a job because there are desperate people in Akron who need money, and then they are supporting making these guys criminals. It is sickening. At least the Cleveland service providers said nothing last year when Cleveland City Council was passing the panhandling ordinance last year.

4. Are the police just hanging out and looking for work? How do they have time to do background checks on potential panhandlers and then checking those licenses on the streets?

5. This legislation is modeled after the one in Cincinnati. What city in the United States models itself after the notoriously racist city of Cincinnati?

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

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

This Changes Everything

State Representatives Must Answer to GOD!!!

I attended the local swearing in of State Representative Mike Foley. The Coalition shares some space with the Tenants Organization so it was natural for our two staffs to work collaboratively over the last few years. It was nice to see a friend move into a dream job. I am so glad that I attended first to see Bill Callahan, the grandfather of local blogs; then there were the elected friends of CTO present: Mayor Jackson, Phyllis Cleveland, Judge Corrigan and now Foley, which moves CTO up on the list of powerful non-profits in the City of Cleveland. The second reason was to hear the oath Mike and the other State Reps pledge before taking office.
"I (name of state representative) do solemnly swear to support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Ohio, and faithfully to discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives according to the best of my ability and understanding; and do this as I shall answer to God."
Mike did add "and to the people" at the end, but this was just his gesture to populism and not contained in the official oath. I have worked at the Coalition for 11 years, and I had no idea that these guys swear to be answerable exclusively to GOD!!!! This changes everything regarding our advocacy tactics. Things are going to be a lot different now that I know these guys are directly responsible to God and not the people. I have always approached my job from the social justice perspective and the negative effects of homelessness on the health and welfare of their citizens. It turns out that the State Representatives take their oath seriously and so our "protecting the less fortunate" was a very bad strategy. It seems so naive and pollyanish now that I realize the power of the oath.

The Coalition will now reform our tactics. We will now reference God in everything that we do. "Would Jesus want you to ignore predatory sharks ripping off seniors and poor people for 10 years?" I will start carrying around a copy of the Beatitudes to distribute. I will adopt a "Fire and Brimstone" approach to my advocacy. "Jesus has said that how you, Mr. Speaker, treat the least among us is how you treat him. I know that cutting access to dental care for poor people will damn you to eternal torment and torture in HELL!!" It is no wonder why faux preachers like Rod Parsley have so much success in the hallowed halls of the State House.

I feel like I found the Holy Grail, by stumbling on the oath of office. Also, that I wasted the last 10 years. Look for a whole new direction for the old Coalition for the Homeless and new Congregation for the Homeless.


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

Friday, June 02, 2006

25 Years of AIDS

How Many Greats Were Lost in the Last 25 Years?

I finished watching that excellent series from Frontline marking 25 years of AIDS. The recurring theme was that politics always trumped science and medicine throughout the world. Even the two areas highlighted as having reasonable success in the battle against AIDS had dynamic leaders who made that possible. In Cleveland, AIDS does cause homelessness often by bankrupting the individual. Eleven years ago when I began working with homeless people it was a waiting game, and I saw many desperate people who were at war with their own bodies. Today, it is a financial hardship without the level of suffering of the past. In reflecting on the Frontline special and the over 30 million who have died because of AIDS, I have to wonder how many amazing songs, works of art, novels, scientific discoveries did we deprive ourselves because politics got in the way of the fight?

How many Miles Davis's or Charlie Parker's were born and never got to perfect their talent because they died of AIDS related diseases prematurely through needle sharing?

How many young Janis Joplin's died because they were too free with their love and never got to rock the world with a "Piece of their Heart?"

How many Merce Cunningham's or John Cage's did not revolutionize classical music and the dance industry, because they had died too early after being infected with HIV?

How many South African Desmond Tutu's died before they could stand firm against injustice, because they had a bad blood transfusion in the last 25 years?

How many Youssou N'Dour died before putting their country's music on the world map because of complications from HIV infection?

How many revolutionary musicians like Dee Dee Ramone did not get to do travel their "Road to Ruin" because they had died as a result of drug use?

How many Rock Hudson's died before making Giant or A Farewell to Arms because they were infected as a child? How many Meryl Streeps or Dustin Hoffman's or Gene Hackman's or Halle Berry's were lost over the last 25 years because their private life destroyed their careers?

How many David Ho's did not go to medical school and could not discover the protease inhibitors because their Mom had passed AIDS to them while giving birth?

How many Emily Dickerson's or Edgar Allen Poe's or Henry Thoreau's died before they were able to publish a poem in the United States or in Africa?

How many George Low's, Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program in the 1960s, were lost because both parent died from AIDS and so they never had a chance to go to school or college?

How many people would be alive if Ronald Reagan or Thabo Mbeki had not been presidents of their respective countries? How many of the world's religions and religious leaders got in the way of saving people's lives?

It is certainly difficult to set world records or carry a team to the NBA Finals, while battling AIDS. How many Michael Jordan's, Wayne Gretzgy's, Joe Montana's, or Roberto Clemente's did not climb to the height of their sports? How many Brandi Chastains, Picabo Streets or Lisa Leslie's did we lose over the last 25 years?

It is staggering that we have faced this epidemic for 25 years, and we have allowed politics, religion, prejudice, and myths to get in the way of addressing AIDS. We the people have suffered because the science of condoms, needle exchange, and universal health care/universal access to medicine were ignored.

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