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.