Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Poorest City in the United States Again

We Are #1 in Poverty Again

I still do not understand how we went from #1 poorest city in 2003 to #12 in 2004 then back to #1 for 2005. I have to believe that the data is somehow flawed. Katrina destroyed an entire city and yet Cleveland is the poorest City in the United States? The further that we get away from the actual Census it seems the more suspect the data. I do not question the fact that Cleveland is one of the poorest cities in America just the huge swing out of the Top 10 then back to #1.

Just a simple look at the facts show that we are certainly one of the poorest cities:

  • Highest concentration of foreclosures in the country.
  • 20 straight years of increases in homelessness.
  • An economic recession since 2000.
  • Plenty of housing vacancies, but thousands who cannot afford the relatively inexpensive rents compared to other American cities.
  • Most of the available jobs in the downtown area are minimum wage if you are lucky.
  • Thousands of jobs lost to other states and other countries from Cleveland. Major employers (BP, the Steel Industry, TRW lost with many more coporations downsized.)
  • Thousands without access to healthcare while we have one of the "best" hospital systems in the world.
  • There are 25,000 people homeless every year or 4,000 people homeless every night in Cleveland.
  • We have had a vacuum in local leadership to address poverty for 25 years in Cleveland with traditional business or religious leadership on the sidelines.
  • For the past 10 years, we have lost fixed affordable housing structures or they were converted to vouchers.
  • Families are the fastest growing homeless population in the city.
  • At least 40% of the male homeless population have jobs, but cannot make enough income to pay the rent.
So, what do we do? One thing that we cannot do is to hold Jane Campbell style town hall forums where the usual suspects sit around tables and talk about poverty. There was not one homeless service provider invited to those forums in 2004, and very few actual poor people participated. Homelessness was not even discussed.

My suggestions would be:
1. Immediately release the plan to address the affordable housing crisis. (This has been in the works for around 2 years.) Gather community leaders to implement plan.
2. Create a County trust fund to build (on a large scale) affordable housing.
3. Develop a Public Works Program to create $10 per hour full time jobs to individuals to improve the city with art, clean up, renovation of housing, and improvement of the infrastructure. This could be paid for by a County income tax for those making above $150,000.
4. Universal Health Care within Cuyahoga County. Paid for by the cost savings from health insurance paperwork. So employers would pay into a universal health care fund instead of paying for health insurance. This would be a huge cost saving for most employers.
5. Pass a school levy and set up a financial accountability committee to respond to parents and the community to oversee every dollar. Every school needs to be more accountable to the community with transparent and frequent interaction with the neighborhood.
6. Every public employee within County or City government needs to be responsible for improving the area and reducing poverty. They are on the public payroll and together could make a huge impact on reducing discrimination, disseminating information on resources, and solving problems people have with bureaucracy.

These few steps would make Cuyahoga County a destination point for families, retirees, and those struggling to find housing. Housing, jobs, health care and public education are the most important issues that we face. Too often we have spent the last few years fighting about other issues that really don't make much of a difference. We need unity, leadership and some vision out of this hole that we began digging with the bankruptcy of the City in the 1970s and have yet to stop.

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

Friday, August 25, 2006

Voting Issues and Disconnect Notices

Voting Town Hall Last Night Raises Issue

The Greater Cleveland Voting Coalition hosted a town hall last night at the AFL-CIO/Laborers Building with two representatives of Cuyahoga County and some activists. Candace Hoke of the Cleveland State Election Integrity Project also presented. The new nanny of the Board of Elections, Tom Hayes was also in attendance. I got to ask the first question and the answer certainly did not inspire confidence in the upcoming election.

I asked if an individual shows up at the correct precinct and is already registered, but his identification does not have that address will the individual be able to vote with a regular ballot? The Board of Election official, Francis Lally, said that the individual would have to vote a provisional ballot. Greater Cleveland Voter Coalition volunteer and Case professor, Norman Robbins, said that the law was explicit that the individual would be entitled to a regular ballot. The guy from the People for the American Way said that the Secretary of State has already said that the person should get a regular ballot. I have read the law and I am sure that the intent of the law was for the ID to establish the person is the actual registered voter they say they are not to verify the address. So, I believe that the new law directs the poll worker to let the person vote a regular ballot, but I fear that there will be 88 different decisions in the State of Ohio.

Later, another member of the audience asked to clarify this identification question and there was a continued dispute. Ms. Hoke said that the SoState has only given guidance not a directive. She predicted that this would most likely be settled in the courts. Some Counties have sided with Blackwell's guidance. Why would Cuyahoga County fall on the side of making it harder for citizens to vote?

The two key outcomes of the town hall for me were: Vote absentee to avoid all the problems that will happen at the polls this year. Cuyahoga County announced that they were, finally, going to pay for the mailing of the ballots into the election. Second, the precinct voting system sucks and should be scrapped. If you want to vote for a County wide ballot anywhere in the County you should have that option. Many do not care who the local dog catcher or councilperson is, and just want to vote for state, national and county elections.

Other thing I learned from the meeting:
  • You should be able to check that you are correctly registered to vote in mid September at the Board of Elections website.
  • There is supposed to be two technology people at each polling place to help on the Electronic voting machines.
  • There is supposed to be a greeter at the door of the polling place to make sure that people are at the correct polling place.
  • Provisional ballots are worthless, and you should try as hard as you can not to use a provisional ballot.
  • League of Women voters is very unhappy with the new disenfranchisement law (HB3).
  • Every voter will get a mailing explaining the process in early September including an application for absentee ballot.
It is going to be a rough election especially for homeless people--vote absentee.

Amazing Statistic of the Week

Tim Walters of May Dugan Center has been doing some great work on utility monitoring. Cleveland Public Power no longer has the cheap electricity of years ago (see Callahan), and now they are disconnecting people at a rapid clip. Since January 2006, 14,000 families have been disconnected by CPP or around 100 people a day. Yes, 85% are reconnected, but that is amazing how many people are living on the edge with their housing.

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

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Homeless Video Games

Oversimplification of Homelessness

Terry Lavender, a student of interactive arts and technology at Simon Fraser University, has created a video game as part of his master's thesis called Homeless: It's No Game. I have only been working with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless for a few months now, and often when I publish blogs to this here forum I worry that I am speaking outside my element. I make sure everything I say is solid, but being so new, I often worry I overlooked something small that will make me look quite the fool when the spotlight is turned upon it.

Today is different. Today, thanks to Terry Lavender, the ball is in Josh's court. That ball is homelessness and that court is video games. You see, my fair audience, when I was growing up, my best friends were a pair of Italian plumbers and a green-clad elf with a thing for triangles. Songs whose only melody is "blip bleep blip" make me cry. I have never been more confident in any blog I've ever written than the one I'm about to write for you now for I know the secret of manna.

First, it is important to note what Terry says about the game: "The game is a gross oversimplification of homelessness and the people who are forced into that situation. I have tried not to be condescending or judgmental and if the game comes across that way, I apologize" (from his website). His thesis is to find out if it is possible to entertain someone and encourage social change at the same time. He says, "A lot of organizations are jumping on the so-called serious computer games bandwagon to get their message out. Often their games are poorly made and are just not fun to play.

Given that, I don't want to detract from the importance of what Lavender points out and what he is trying to do. However, I can say straight up full of confidence that this game sucks. It just plain is not fun. It was a chore just to finish it. There seem to be a few bugs in it: I won after amassing only 18 esteem points when you're not supposed to win until you reach 50. The graphics are atrocious. I know it's petty, but the fact that the main character just spun slowly in circles the whole time really bothered me. Also, even though I know Lavender already said the game is a gross oversimplification of homelessness, it bears repeating because it is a really gross oversimplification of homelessness.

Despite all that, what Terry Lavender has said and attempted to do is important and needs to be expanded upon. A work of graphic art can communicate a vital social message, as can a song, movie, play, work of animation, poem, or story. When all of that is put together in a video game, so, too, can the video game communicate a message. Some other than Terry Lavender have tried. The Lord Jesus knows I sat through the hour long rambling about the dangers of nuclear weapons at the end of Metal Gear Solid because he sat next to me the whole time rolling his eyes. Thus far, social messages in video games have failed in their communication because they're either too direct or too forced.

Lavender's game is an example of too forced. It's the video game equivalent of the God-awful short films I was forced to watch in grade school that attempted to make learning fun. It's not really fun because it's not really a game. All you try to do in the game is rack up points. The points are acquired by going to different places. When you go to a place, it is randomly determined whether the outcome is good or bad. If it's bad, you lose points, and if it's good, you get points. It's totally random. There's no real sense of control over anything, and although that may be part of the message Lavender is trying to communicate, having no control isn't fun and appeals to no one. The message is lost because no one will play the game.

But, I believe Lavender's thesis is possible even though his experiment failed. I believe it is possible to entertain someone and encourage social change at the same time, especially in the realm of video games. It hasn't happened yet because no one's done it successfully and therefore it isn't guaranteed to be profitable. There's so many different angles one could take on this idea. A SimCity-esque game could be created in which the player is in charge of conducting the new city's 10-year plan to end homelessness, getting people to begin thinking not only about how to solve homelessness but also about the credibility of a city's 10-year plan to end homelessness. A game could be created in which one plays a cop trying to reduce the sudden rash of hate crimes against homeless people.

These are just a few suggestions and I am by no means the final word on this. I just wanted to get the conversation going and get the minds thinking.

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

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Voting and Homeless People

Disenfranchised from Democracy

There was a good letter to the editor in yesterday's Columbus Dogpatch from Bill Faith regarding the potential problems faced by homeless people in the upcoming election. Bill Faith is the director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio and they just started a new project on voting for Ohio. Remember that Bill is coming to Cleveland to speak about state issues on September 11 (see previous post). The new ID law is going to be a disaster for poor people and especially homeless people. It is already a problem to get a migratory population to the right polling place to take part in democracy. Now, we have the complication of mandatory identification or a whole series of other forms of identification tied to housing before a person is entitled to cast a ballot.

The big issue is that each County seems to have their own interpretation of the ID law. Some say that if the ID does match the registration then the person must vote with a provisional ballot. Some say that the ID is just to verify that the person is who they say that they are. Poll workers have different ideas and Boards of Elections are also not consistent. I do not know how Cuyahoga County is going to come down on the issue, but based on the May primary I think that we are in trouble locally.

My Mom who just received an award for working every single election for more than 30 years has decided to sit this election out. She decided that based on the primary where it took hours to close down the new electronic machines and the lack of direction by the State over the new rules, she could not be a part of this pending train wreck. She lives in a suburb of Columbus where today's editorial cartoon suggested that they bring in Jimmy Carter to Ohio to supervise the elections.

The Coalition is going to try to get clarity over the law with the local board of elections over the next month. We will also have observers at some of the polling places that we anticipate problems. If you would like to volunteer, please call Brian at 216/432-0540. Our democracy and this election are both too important to leave an entire population out of the process.

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

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Upcoming Events from the Coalition

Homeless Coalition Plans for the Next Quarter

1. For those members of NEOCH we are sending out the Annual Report and the Quarterly newsletter over the next three weeks so look for that in your mailbox. To become a member go to our website here.

Street Voices Training
2. NEOCH is having a training for possible speakers on Street Voices on September 13, 2006 at 9 a.m. This would be for people who have experienced homelessness and are interested in talking to local religious groups, youth groups or schools about their experiences. The training is from 9 to Noon with lunch provided. Please RSVP to Sara at 216/432-0540.

The State of Affordable Housing in Ohio
3. The September Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance meeting is the annual forum on Housing Issues for this group that meets monthly. We will have Coalition on Homelessness and
Housing in Ohio Executive Director in to speak about the state of affordable housing in Ohio. He will talk about predatory lending and state funding of affordable housing. The event is September 11, 2006 at 1:30 p.m. at 1350 Euclid Ave. in the lower level of the US Bank Building. All are welcome to attend.

Veterans Teach In Set
4. The September Teach In is set for September 20 at 6 p.m. and will focus on the issues of veterans. This Teach In will be a little different in that we will meet at the Volunteers of America Veterans Resource Center at 775 East 152nd St. We will have veterans who will talk about their experiences and groups who provide shelter, housing, and job training to veterans
present to talk about their programs. Please call NEOCH at 432-0540 to RSVP or reserve your space on line at www.neoch.org under programs/Teach In.

Homeless Voting
5. There are two upcoming events for those concerned about the upcoming elections. Thursday August 24, 2006 Town Hall Meeting sponsored by the Greater Cleveland Voting Coalition entitled "Will My Vote Be Counted in November?" at the Laborer's Local 310 Hall at 3250 Euclid Ave. at 5:30 p.m. Ohio Votes staff, Board of Elections staff, Ohio League of Women Voters, CSU Center for Election Integrity and Cleveland Voting Coalition will be on hand to present on the topic of "Restoring Public Confidence in the Election Process." There will also be exhibits on absentee ballots, poll worker recruitment, electronic voting, and joining the voting Coalition.

b. The second event is actually a series of demonstrations of the new electronic voting machines for providers and homeless people. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless along with the Bishop Cosgrove Center and West Side Catholic are hosting a series of demonstrations of the new Electronic Voting Machines. Staff of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections will be on hand to demonstrate the new voting machines and answer questions about the new identification requirements. Please plan to send homeless individuals or homeless provider staff over to these locations to practice with the new electronic voting machines.
Wed. August 30, 2006 from 11-1:30 p.m.
@ Bishop Cosgrove Center (1736 Superior Ave.)

Thurs. August 31, 2006 from 11-1:30 p.m.
@ Bishop Cosgrove Center

Friday Sept. 15, 2006 from 10-2 p.m. (Lunch break from 12-1 p.m.)
@ West Side Catholic (3135 Lorain Ave.)

Friday Sept. 22, 2006 from 10-2 p.m. (Lunch break from 12-1 p.m.)
@ West Side Catholic Drop In Center

Future Dates to Mark Down the Date
6. Mark your calendars for two upcoming dates. Friday October 20, 2006 will be the special Stand Down focusing on Housing. The event is at the Bishop Cosgrove Center and is being called "From Homelessness to Housing." There will be a special Training class on housing resources available in the community. The other event is the Annual Homeless Memorial Day on December 21, 2006 to remember those who have passed away. This year the event is at
Franklin Circle Church in the evening.

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

Thursday, August 03, 2006

No More Homeless at Airport

Homeless Evicted from Airport after September 1, 2006

Responding to the yellow journalists at Channel 19 fake news channel, the City is relocating the individuals who sleep at the airport. In a meeting on August 2 with homeless service providers, the city said that homeless people need to leave the airport. The individuals were making a mess and were a security threat and so they must leave. From the perspective of homeless who stay at the airport, this was a clean, safe and secure place to sleep. There was no threat of being beat up or having your stuff stolen at the airport. The federal government is concerned that terrorists could pretend to be homeless and scope out the airport in detail or slip into secure places.

We certainly understand that the airport is not an appropriate place to live, and we hope that this turns into a opportunity and not a black eye for the community. There are many women who stay at the airport because it is a safe place that no one will mess with them. We heard from the police that they want to make sure that there are no arrests. This is a much different police force from the 1990s who supported Mayor White's attempts to make homelessness illegal. The police seem to be more compassionate and learned a lot from these negative encounters in the 1990s. They want a relocation similar to the one at the Convention Center. They are committed to allowing the social service providers take the lead and not law enforcement. Staff at the Coalition certainly hope that all the providers can work together to find alternatives to the people who have found safe haven at the airport. Homeless providers (NEOCH included) have not always been very good partners in solving problems, and we will be measured on how we solve this problem without arrests.

Already we heard Mental Health Services offering housing to some of those who are regularly at the airport. We heard 2100 Lakeside keeping beds available at all hours to make sure that people can be relocated into a bed and will try to break some of the negative impressions of the shelter. The Women's shelter is re-evaluating policies and previous punishments to try to welcome some of the women at the airport back. The Veterans Administration is going to talk to those at the airport to see if any have served in the military. We shall see if this airport move is as smooth as the Convention Center. No matter what happens most of the people at the airport will not go to shelter or housing so they will end up somewhere, and someone else will be complaining about homeless people destroying the peace. Sometime in the near future we will have to deal with the overall problem and not just move people from one side of town to the other.

One other ray of hope is the possibility of a 24 hour drop in center opening. Back in the 1980s Ralph Delaney was taking bread and water to homeless people downtown with a goal of opening a storefront that could be a warm place for those forgotten by society could stay inside, get a cup of coffee, and start the process of rebuilding stability. West Side Catholic Board of Trustees approved the use of their facility on the near West Side of Cleveland to operate 24 hours a day. We need to find $250,000 to $300,000 in order to operate the facility. The heavy lifting is always finding the money. We all have ideas, but finding the money is always a problem.

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