Saturday, December 29, 2007

We Have A Great Deal of Work

Fannie Mae Foundation Measures Perceptions of Homelessness in America

In November, Fannie Mae released a report entitled "Homelessness in America: Americans' Perceptions, Attitudes, and Knowledge" conducted by the Gallup Corporation. There were a lot of interesting findings, but it points to the need for more education about homelessness in America. We still have to overcome a number of myths about homeless people. The study was conducted in 8 American cities, and found that the majority of Americans believe that we could do more to address homelessness in the United States.

The good news from the perception studies were that 58% of the population believes that homelessness has increased while only 7% believe it has decreased. The bad news is that homelessness received only a handful of votes as one of the most important issues facing the United States. This means that the chance of a presidential candidate mentioning homelessness is slim. The National Coalition is challenging each candidate to spend at least one night on the street in 2008 to raise awareness of the problem, but based on the survey this is unlikely to rise to the top of a question in one of the debates. November is Hunger and Homeless Awareness week, and Fannie Mae is active in raising dollars with a walk in DC thus the reason for the report.

The survey properly identified the federal government as most responsible for addressing homelessness with 35% of those answering the question identifying the federal government. The State government was second with 25% and City or Local government and Community Groups were tied for third with 20% of the people thinking that these entities should take a lead role in solving homelessness. Only 51% believe that communities are safer when people do not have to live on the streets. The vast majority (85%) of the American public believe drugs or alcohol abuse is the major reason that causes homelessness and 26% of the population believe that that drugs/alcohol is the primary cause of homelessness. The most surprising and dangerous perception in the study was that only 4% of the American public believes that the lack of affordable housing is the primary cause of homelessness. This is one percent more than believe that laziness as the primary cause for homelessness. There are millions of people who spend most of their days high or drunk or both and have no problem staying in housing. This leads me to believe that we need to do more education starting at a younger age on the causes of homelessness.

You should check out the study yourself, but here are some other quick notes on the study:
  • 44% report that they have taken in a friend or relative who was facing homelessness. THIS IS A HUGE NUMBER!!
  • Medical expenses is now the leading worry for Americans that might lead them to become homeless themselves. 43% for medical expenses with 38% job loss.
  • 28% of the general public reported that they have worried that they may not have a place to live.
  • 9% reported that they did not have enough money to afford food over the last 12 months with 5% reporting that they did not have enough money over the last 12 months to provide housing for their family.
  • 91% of the public believes that we can never totally eliminate homelessness.
  • 80% report a willingness to volunteer at an organization that helps homeless people.
  • A slight majority (54%) would be willing to pay additional taxes to fund programs that help homeless people.

It was also interesting to see the differences in the perceptions in various cities. NEOCH will use this perception study as a place to start for our public education campaign.

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

Friday, December 28, 2007

Holidays Are Rough

2007 Vigil and Today Show Toy Drive

The 21st Homeless Memorial Day was a sombre occasion with special guest County Commissioner Peter Jones. Mayor Frank Jackson also stopped in to honor those who had passed. I was asked at least 8 times that I should invite the Mayor to talk. For the record, I asked him twice and he was not interested in talking. He is not the ribbon cutting Mayor that we have all come to expect. Representative Foley attended the memorial and announced the introduction of the homeless hate crimes bill in Ohio. The legislation was introduced and already received a bill number HR 419. To date only Rep. Mike Skindell, Rep. Jennifer Brady and Mike Foley have signed on as co-sponsors from the Cleveland area. We will work on this in the new year. We read the names of 39 people who passed away and then six additional people were added by members of the audience. We will add those names to our list on our website.

The volunteers from Franklin Circle Church were great, and provided an excellent meal for our friends and our members. We had representatives of 2100 Lakeside, Care Alliance, Catholic Worker, County Office of Homeless Services, the Veterans Administration, and the Coalition in attendance to honor those who had passed. This year we asked a number of other organizations to co-sponsor the event, because we wanted to also honor a person who had probably saved more lives than anyone else in our community: homeless nurse Patricia Tomcho. Peter L. Jones presented a County resolution recognizing all her 25 years of service to the community. The Coalition and the other partners presented her a Lifetime achievement award to thank her for all her years of service. Tomcho is retiring next year, and without her our reading of the names of those who passed would be a lot longer every year.

The vigil is always a beautiful service, but certainly depressing to realize that our society is letting all these people slip quietly into the night. To raise our spirits, NEOCH gets to be part of the NBC Today Show annual toy drive. Toy manufacturers from around the country send out toys to various cities to be distributed to homeless children. NEOCH is the central distributor of these toys in Cleveland. We usually take the whole lot over to the family shelters in the boxes and then the staff distributes them. This year, I decided to have the family box and wrap the presents and then take them over on Christmas eve to distribute. So we spent Christmas eve wrapping new presents for a few hundred and then taking them over to the shelters for distribution. It is a nice way to balance out the first day of winter when we remember those who died by giving some comfort to the future County Commissioners and doctors who happen to find themselves living in a homeless shelter this year.

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

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Federal Funding Announced Friday

HUD Announces Christmas Gift to Cities

On Friday December 21, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced the release of the majority of federal funding for state and county efforts to address homelessness. The State of Ohio received a total of $70 million to fund all the shelters, homeless vouchers, homeless housing programs, case workers, prevention effort, and outreach program in Ohio. This may seem like a lot until you consider two things. First, it is only $51.39 per person for every person living below the poverty level and thus in danger of becoming homeless in the state of Ohio. Also, over $60 million of these funds are just to renew existing programs. So, 86% of the money is used just to keep the doors open on existing programs. Most of the new programs are housing vouchers for disabled people and currently homeless--called Shelter Plus Care. In the entire State of Ohio there were only 9 new projects funded this year.

Cleveland fared best in the State of Ohio. No mistakes on any applications. We have to thank Ruth at the Office of Homeless Services for putting this mammoth application together. There are very few in our community who could check all those boxes and put all of that information together in a timely fashion to get the money that we deserve. After a rough year for the Office, they must feel good that they were able to bring a total of $23.4 million to the City and County. Basically, the way this works is that HUD tells the cities how much we are entitled to received ($13.7 million for Cleveland) based on some complicated formula no one understands. Then, the City/County can renew their disabled housing vouchers (Shelter Plus Care), and that does not impact your share of the pie. So, Cleveland has always tried to get as many Shelter Plus Care vouchers as possible thus we must renew more vouchers then any other city in Ohio. We received an additional $1.3 million for the emergency shelters and outreach in our community. Cuyahoga County received $9.6 million above our share of the federal share of homeless dollars, because we had to renew our S+C disabled housing voucher program. This works out to $724 for every person homeless in 2006 in Cuyahoga County, which means we spend $100 per person more than any other city in Ohio. Cleveland was only able to fund two new projects and some more new S+C vouchers for a total of 14% of the allocation. Basically, if those in charge of the application put the application together correctly, the City and County receive all that we are entitled to receive from the Feds.

Columbus does poorly in this formula. While Franklin County is only a little over 200,000 smaller in population than Cuyahoga County, they only received $8.1 million this year from the Feds (35% of Cuyahoga County). They only received $365,000 in Emergency Shelter dollars. They only have $3.7 million in S+C housing for disabled vouchers renewed this last year. Columbus/Franklin County only spend $46.28 per person living in poverty or $249.97 per homeless person using Federal government funds. Franklin County only has 5% of their total allocation going to new projects. Since I keep hearing at the national level how great Columbus is doing in addressing homelessness, I guess that they don't need much money to put up a good fight. I know that it is a huge annoyance that they get so much less than Cuyahoga County. The way that Columbus is expanding soon they will have annexed all the land south of Cuyahoga County, and will demand an equal share of the pie.

Cincinnati/Hamilton County with only 822,500 people does better than Columbus. They received $11.1 million in funds from HUD and $3.8 in renewals of the S+C housing vouchers. They spend more than double the federal dollars spent on people living in poverty at $95.10 per person and $621.79 for every homeless person. Cincinnati had enough capacity to spend 13% of their grant on new projects. We will have all the statistics in the next Homeless Grapevine to be published in January. The big question: why does HUD make these announcements on the day that cities are remembering those who died over the last year while homeless? Spin control? They don't care? I have no idea, but it seems callous to me.

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

Saturday, December 22, 2007

PBS Program Look at Homelessness

Finally Someone Asks the Administration about Their Cuts

David Brancaccio of the great news program NOW finally asked the Bush Administration about their dramatic cuts to housing at the same time they are "solving" homelessness. I have waited for five years for the answer to this question. At least Mr. Brancaccio asked the question, but there was no answer; just spin. Brancaccio asks Philip Mangano, leading homeless car salesman for President Bush, about all the cuts proposed by the Administration in the face of claiming to "solve homelessness."
BRANCACCIO: Does it frustrate you when you see this administration, in its budgets, cutting back money for programs like that?

MANGANO: No one has an intent, whether in Congress or in this administration, to increase homelessness, but we're still wrestling with how to best apply housing resources to get a better effect. It's only as we've concentrated resources on people experiencing chronic homelessness, to create change where change was thought to be impossible. The promise of that, is that as the numbers of people on the streets go down, that will re-moralize us to invest more in the other populations.
The Coalition agrees that Housing First initiatives are great, and that it proves that mentally ill and drug addicted people can live in housing. These homeless individuals do not have to cure themselves before society offers them housing. The unspoken truths are that we are going to have a big price tag to sustain these operations, and it is a raindrop in an river of need. It is hypocritical to destroy public housing while putting millions into permanent supportive housing. The administration seems to be saying public housing is an experiment that America has tried since 1946 and we still not sure that it works so we choose to put one one thousandth of that money into the Housing First movement which we are sure will work because it is so successful over the last decade. Where does the rest of the money go that is cut from HUD and Dept of Agriculture? Iraq, defense, homeland security and drug companies are the places we have decided to put our federal tax dollars.

It was a good segment, which you can watch online. I wish more media would start challenging the spin in Washington DC.

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

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Candlelight Vigil for Homeless People

Homeless Memorial Day Friday

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless will host the 21th Annual Homeless Memorial on December 21, 2007 at Franklin Circle Church to remember those who died over the last year while homeless. The memorial services will take place before the meal at the historic Franklin Circle Church at 1688 Fulton Ave near Lutheran Hospital at 5:15 p.m. A short inter-denominational service will be conducted before the names of those individuals who passed away over the last year are read. Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones will say a few words to honor those who passed away, and then candles will be lit to remember those who died.

This year as well, State Representative Michael Foley will be present to introduce a bill to protect homeless people from Hate Crimes. In Cincinnati and Cleveland this year, there were attacks on homeless people who lived outside, and this legislation would provide additional penalties for those found guilty of targeting homeless people with violence.

The memorial day is part of National Homeless Memorial Day with similar ceremonies on the first day of winter in over 75 cities in the United States. All the Coalitions in the state of Ohio also mark the first day of winter with vigils on Thursday December 20 or Friday December 21.

The names of those who passed away over the last five years are posted on the Coalition website at NEOCH staff are currently gathering names of those who died. The memorial is co-sponsored this year by the City/County Office of Homeless Services, the Louis Stokes Veterans Affairs Department, Care Alliance, InterAct Cleveland, and Franklin Circle Christian Church. This year the co-sponsors will give a lifetime achievement to a nurse in the community who has worked to improve the health care system for homeless people.

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Another Friend of Homeless People Passes

Congresswoman Julia Carson Dies

I only was able to hear Rep Carson speak twice, but she was an inspiring woman. Here is the statement that Barb Anderson put together upon hearing of the death of Rep. Carson on Sunday.

"As a member of the Board of Directors of the National Coalition for the Homeless, I have worked for many years as have my peers, to end homelessness in this country. It is an exhausting and frustrating effort. Many programs have been developed over the years with good intent, but they lack the human element and often reduce those we serve to just numbers in a system, or they "cherry pick" the easiest to serve in order to boost their success rate.

NCH and the advocates in Indiana fight daily to serve the most difficult and hardest to reach and heroes are often hard to find. Representative Julia Carson was such a hero. She was a champion, one who utilized the resources around her to promote change and policy that would result in ending homelessness. She worked tirelessly every day to reduce the impact of poverty on our communities. Her work with veterans across this country was phenomenal.

As the sponsor for the Bring America Home Act and the Hearth Act, Representative Carson pursued Congressional support with a vengeance and often managed town hall type meetings to educate her peers. She and her staff worked diligently to provide leadership on the Hill, and not because it was the popular thing to do either but because it was the right thing to do. Representative Carson did things that way, because they were right, they were necessary, and often they weren't popular.

So many who serve us Congressionally stick to the middle of the road or cater to extreme positions without thinking or planning for the ramifications of their votes. Carson stood for: A living wage, affordable housing for all Americans, health care for all Americans, and Civil Rights for all Americans. Julia Carson embraced those ideals and fought hard for them. She worked through the many committees she served on, in the district, and in partnership with the Congressional Black Caucus. She did so with grace and humor.

To hear her speak was enlightening and fun. She would take the most serious subject and make us see our folly with her humor. It is with great respect, love, and admiration that I write this. To those whose voices Julia tried to hold up, understand NCH and homeless advocates throughout the country will continue to champion your causes and will support and embrace those legislators who do so as well. To those who set policy at a national level, we challenge you to try to meet the bar Julia set while she served this wonderful country. We remember her grace and humanity as a Congresswoman, a wife, a mother, and most of all a strong and passionate Christian soldier."

Barb Anderson of Jeffersonville, Indiana and NCH Board Member
I couldn't have said it better.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Cincinnati Activist Passes Away

Jimmy Heath, Photojournalist, Dies

After a long fight with a chronic health condition, Jimmy Heath has passed away. Jimmy was the editor of the Streetvibes in Cinncinnati and had a very nice website with all his photographs. I had regular contact with Jimmy as I helped to found the street newspaper in Cincinnati. He was a great guy with a passion for the rights of homeless people. He was a deep thinker about the interaction of street newspapers, especially photographers, with those experiencing homelessness who are featured in papers. He was previously a Congressional Hunger Fellow at the National Coalition for the Homeless. Jimmy loved bringing dignity to homeless people and loved the street newspaper movement.

He passed away quietly at Hospice Care on Thursday in Cincinnati. He edited the street newspaper in Cincinnati for seven years and was a member of the North American Street Newspaper Association. The Cincinnati Enquirer recently wrote a profile of him and his experiences finding his way off the Cincinnati streets. We will miss his voice in Ohio. There will be a public memorial in January.

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

The Back Story

East Side Catholic: Three Years of Trouble

I want to give some clarity to the story in today's Plain Dealer, because it did not paint the full picture of the death of East Side Catholic. First, I gave the story about the near death of this shelter to most of the media repeatedly since March 2007. Stan Donaldson, the author of the Plain Dealer story, was not happy with our criticism of the Public Square stories that he wrote. He did say he saw the posts in this blog. (I have to wonder if that is why I was not quoted in the PD story?)

We wrote a letter to every funder of East Side Catholic in early 2004 raising our concern that the shelter was having problems, and they needed to intervene to save the shelter. The most glaring omission from the PD story is the impact on the community of the closing of the shelter. This is a family shelter, and so they serve the fastest growing population of homeless people in our community. It is only 32 beds, but they are extremely valuable beds. With the reduction in the number of domestic violence beds in our community and now this shelter closing it is a body blow to Cleveland. The Cleveland Public Schools told me that there were 26 children in this shelter as of last week. Stan D. never asked Ruth Gillett why she could not have kept the shelter open or forced a change in leadership.

The vote by the Office of Homeless Services Advisory, of which I am a member, was not characterized correctly in the paper. The vote was to withhold their program from federal funding, but not to close the shelter. I supported the vote (one of the few unanimous votes in the history of the OHS Advisory). NEOCH also wrote to the shelter leadership to ask that they stop the battle with the County and get their house in order. No one voted that the shelter should close. We had a long discussion, and were told that the goal was to reform the shelter and keep them open. Ruth Gillett assured us that they would work for keeping the shelter open, because we could not afford to see a reduction in the family shelter beds. It should also be noted that the shelter was put "on notice" three years ago, and allegedly came back, but were back "on notice" by Ruth's office within three months. East Side Catholic was a train wreck for years, and Ruth, as the conductor of all public funds for homeless programs, could not figure out a way to prevent the closing of this facility.

NEOCH was never invited into the discussions with the shelter to try to save the beds. The Alcohol and Drug Board and the United Way funded the program and with all their big wigs could not save the shelter beds. The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority made a mistake in giving their treatment program, Miracle Village, to East Side Catholic and then not keeping a close eye on the agency. The City and the local foundation community could not put enough pressure on the East Side Catholic Board of Trustees to clean house and keep this valuable resource alive. But the County took the lead, and so must take the blame for this failure. Ruth Gillett repeatedly met with the shelter and selected the course of action to be taken against the shelter. This course led to the death of the shelter this month. Ruth must take responsibility for this failure and tell us in the community how we are going to fill this hole.

A word of warning to the community: this is not the end of the story. There are a series of shelters who will be in the same position over the next few years. It looks as though Family Transitional shelter was given a reprieve from closing by being taken over by West Side Catholic, but the writing is on the wall. The federal department that funds shelters, services and housing for homeless people has moved away from shelters and services. In many other cities nearly all of the transitional shelters have closed. I believe that there are two or three more shelters which will close in next two years. We have tried to convince the County to diversify the funding for the shelters for six years now, and our warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Almost all the shelters receive 80% of their funding from the federal government. In a time of growing national debt, war funding, and a health care funding crisis, shelters are unfortunately going to feel the squeeze.

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

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Your Government Inaction

Family Shelter Closing

East Side Catholic Center announced on Monday that they would be closing on December 21, 2007. This 32 to 40 bed facility has stopped accepting families for their emergency shelter, and will work to relocate their residents over the next two weeks. In addition, East Side Catholic administered a program called “Miracle Village” in collaboration with Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, and has announced that this program will also shut down. Miracle Village provided treatment for women with a chemical dependency and could serve up to 135 women. The agency has had financial issues for three years, and County officials were not able to provide assistance to keep the programs operational while family homelessness is the fastest growing subpopulation within the homeless community.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development released a report “Assessing the Number of Homeless People in the United States” in February 2007 and found that nationally 48% of the homeless population were a part of a family. This translates to over 9,000 members of a family in Cuyahoga County were homeless in one year or 5,000 people were age 0 to 17 years old and found themselves without housing in the most recent figures available. Family homelessness is on the rise, and the service providers are not keeping up with the calls for help. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is calling on government officials specifically, the City/County Office of Homeless Services to figure out how to keep these services operational in one of the poorest cities in the United States. While shelters are not the answer to homelessness, they are an essential part of our safety net to keep families together while they struggle to get back into housing.

In a forum held by the Coalition in early March 2007 around Family Homelessness we learned of:

  • The funding problems faced by the family shelters because of federal policy, and we raised the issue of three of our family shelters that were in danger of closing in Cleveland.
  • The significant decrease in the number of shelter beds for those fleeing an abuser in the last five years.
  • The lack of oversight of the shelters, which makes it difficult for women to stay in the system and many fear using the shelters.
  • The current shelter policy especially for those who are newly homeless makes it difficult for a mother and father to stay together. We heard from women who had to separate from their husbands because the entry shelters do not allow men.
With the dramatic increases in foreclosures, the levels of poverty in Cleveland, and the growing waiting lists for affordable housing, we do not need to see a family shelter close in Cleveland. I am amazed that Ruth Gillett of the Office of Homeless Services with the backing of Cuyahoga County could not figure out a way to save these programs. We had three years to put a plan in place to keep in place the shelter and treatment, but community leaders did not step in to help. I have to wonder if the County has decided that these programs are not necessary or was all their attention focused on the closing of Aviation High School overflow shelter? The shelter was put on notice two years ago after a review by Cuyahoga County officials that prevented East Side Catholic from seeking federal dollars until they cleaned up their agency’s finances, management, and program operations. At the time, the County put East Side Catholic on notice, Gillett and others made a commitment to maintain the service in the community. It is ironic that the shelter chose December 21, National Homeless Memorial Day, as the day to close since that is the day to remember those who passed away over the last year because of homelessness. Will we see an increase in the list of names read at the 2008 Homeless Memorial Day because of the inaction to save East Side Catholic?

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

Monday, December 10, 2007

Katrina Homeless Story on NPR

New Orleans Homeless Told to Relocate

There was an interesting story on NPR's All Things Considered tonight (can be found here). One thing that was not mentioned was that the deadline for movement out of the park is National Homeless Memorial Day. The day that we all remember those who passed away over the last year is the last day that over 150 people will be kicked out of one of the Downtown parks in New Orleans. Four days before the most famous birth-as-a-result-of-a-forced-migration story in history is celebrated the officials from New Orleans are kicking out a large number of homeless people. How stupid are these guys? In Cleveland, landlords hold off evictions around Christmas, and I doubt that bankers are delivering move out orders after a foreclosure during the holidays. Why? Because of the extremely negative publicity associated with crushing someone during a time of peace, joy, love, and all that holiday stuff. In addition, the majority of perfectly usable Public Housing in New Orleans is slated for destruction in the next few weeks. By comparison to the destruction heaped on the people of New Orleans by state, local and federal officials, the hurricane was just a hiccup.

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

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Great Post and Good Meeting

Rats on Public Square Follow Up Meeting

First, there was a great discussion about the Rats on Public Square at RealNEO for all--check it out. I have seen a number of comments about how bad that story was in the Plain Dealer, and I didn't even catch the rats borough vs. burrow copy editing mistake when I read it. From my experience there were rats nests on the Square, and they were a health hazard. I cannot say whether they had anything to do with homeless people, the lunch crowd or the construction on the Square or all of the above as I am not a rat expert. I do know that the excessive quanities of food and the rats have made life difficult for homeless people, but the reaction from people downtown has also not been helpful. We have seen a great many laws created and directed at homeless people including the curfew, the panhandling law, and now the movement of the food. We have also seen a great deal of hostility toward homeless people with the negative stories and the horrible comments about homeless people in the newspaper and on a few blogs. Things must really be bad if we are blaming homeless people for all the problems of the City.

Also, we did have another meeting between the City and the Food Distributors. We have not had a meeting since October when there was a tense stand off between the two groups, so we were afraid this could go real bad. It actually turned out to be a pretty good meeting. The City got two more groups to agree to the alternate location. This means that every night but Sunday and Wednesday night are taken. The City made an exception for one group, but refused to relent on the Port-o-John issue. We need a bathroom Downtown. This would be a huge step forward if we could get some place where humans could relieve themselves in a dignified manner. We found a place and a group to pay for the Port-o-Johns while we work on a permanent location. The city is absolutely opposed to Port-o-Johns, but agreed to work on finding some permanent alternatives. The City has set a short time frame to find a permanent place for the food providers to feed inside, and has agreed to allow the groups to discuss the options in a subcommittee. Overall, it was a good meeting and we do seem to be making some progress.

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

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Updates on Previous Stories

The Ups and Down of Previous Blog Stories

Great Music and Good People
I attended the Woodchopper's Ball last night at the Kent Stage. I have been to two or three, but I think that this one was one of the best. It was worth the trip down to Kent despite the weather for this great event. Sure it was $20, but the concert featured 9 artists plus talented guitarist and host Charley Brown for four and half hours of music. That is $2 bucks an artist or $4.44 per hour. Where can you find great music for between $2 to $4.44 in Northeast Ohio? The three panels were expertly paired, and they all complemented each other nicely. We raised a fair amount of money for NEOCH. Brian Henke, of Bay Village, puts a ton of work into this concert every year, and the guys from Kent Stage were great and unbelievably hospitable to the cause. Catch it next year--it was well worth the journey.

How Did Cuyahoga County Get Beat by Fayette County??
We reported a couple of weeks ago about the rough process for developing a grant to prevent homelessness locally. In case you don't want to go back in time, the State of Ohio released funds to put in place five demonstration projects in order to prevent homelessness. Cleveland has by far the largest homeless population in the State and we have one of the best programs in the state to identify people who are potentially homeless with the Cleveland Tenants Organization's eviction diversion program so we were a natural for the program.

Unfortunately, the Cuyahoga County application had a mistake, and so we did not even get to compete. Toledo, Dayton, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Fayette County are the five places that will be funded to develop programming to prevent homelessness. This is a setback for homeless people in Cuyahoga County. The Office of Homeless Services, which coordinated this process, has promised that they will find other funding to implement the program locally. What program will be cut in order to fund this prevention project, stay tuned?

Plain Dealer published the Correction today
I never did see an official correction in the paper, but the Plain Dealer published my "Letter to the Editor" today correcting their story about NEOCH's support of the anti-panhandling campaign.

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

Friday, November 30, 2007

More Events to Get Ready For

Homeless Memorial Day and Phil-an-thro-pia

Homeless Memorial Day is set for December 21, 2007 at Franklin Circle Church at 5:15 p.m. This is a candlelight vigil for those who passed away over the last year and had experienced homelessness. Franklin Circle will host a special meal after the event, and InterAct Cleveland will bring inter-religious figures to the event for a diverse prayer service. Peter Lawson Jones, Cuyahoga County Commissioner, will say a few words, and NEOCH will read the names of people who have passed away over the last year. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Every year Executive Caterers hosts a luncheon, and the profits go to various non-profit organizations. This year the luncheon is on Monday December 10, 2007. Tickets require a minimum donation of $50 per person by sending a donation into Landerhaven, but making the check out to NEOCH. Your donation is tax deductible and you get to enjoy a delicious lunch with other activists or your co-workers. Call NEOCH and we can send you a reservation card or give you more information at 216/432-0540.

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

Upcoming Events of the Coalition

Woodchopper's Ball This Weekend

The 2007 Woodchoppers' Ball

The 2007 Woodchoppers' Ball

The Woodchoppers Ball is an annual concert to benefit The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. Every year nine of the best acoustic guitarists in North America are invited to perform at this musical extravaganza. Saturday December 1 at the Kent Stage at 175 East Main Street at 7:00 p.m. is the date for the 2007 Woodchopper’s Ball. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

There are 3 sets of 3 guitarists on stage at a time, each taking a turn playing a song till everyone has played a total of 4 songs each. Charley Brown is the Master of Ceremony and Bay Village guitarist Brian Henke performs and helps to organize this annual event. Other notable guitarists who perform include California’s Pete Huttlinger, winner of the 2000 National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship, Patrick Woods who finished second in the Guitar Player Magazine’s Guitar Hero contest, David Mayfield, and Emmy Award winning master flat picker Robin Kessingerr of West Virginia. The other four players include 1997 National Fingerstyle Champion Todd Hallawell, Greg Gilbertson, Nathan Montgomery, and another Fingerstyle guitar championship competitor Tim Thompson.

Brian Henke spends the entire year planning for the Annual Woodchopper’s Ball. Henke said, “The fun on the stage is infectious, and is easily shared by the audience.” This fundraiser has special significance this year after the difficult year for the Coalition. We hope that you can all make it down to Kent for the great music and to help the Coalition.

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Downtown Shows Marked Decline in Homeless

Every year since homeless people started being harassed in Downtown Cleveland, NEOCH staff and volunteers have gone downtown over the Thanksgiving weekend to see how many people are sleeping outside. For the last 10 years, we have tried to count and talk to everyone (if they are not sleeping) in the area between West 6th St. and East 20th St. then between the Lake and Carnegie Ave. We believe that this is a good baseline for the lowest number of people sleeping outside for the year in Cleveland. During the holidays, families take their relatives inside so they don't have to sleep outside or in the shelters. This count does not define the number of people sleeping outside, but it is a good indicator of the trends. The decline in 2000 was the first year that 2100 Lakeside Shelter opened.

Where Have All the Homeless (People) Gone???

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, volunteers from the Coalition for the Homeless were only able to find 17 homeless people sleeping downtown. This was a huge decline from the 40 in 2006, so we went back the next day to make sure. We verified the numbers. I cannot explain the reason for the decline, but can give you some observations on what changed in the last year. There is no single issue like in 2000 with the opening of the shelter causing this decline, but here are my thoughts on some of the reasons:

  • The clean up crews are now firmly established. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance funded clean up crews with their yellow and blue outfits have taken control of the downtown. They make it very uncomfortable for homeless people who want to be left alone, but for their own safety do not want to be invisible. It is hard to exist on the heated sidewalks with those huge blowers and cleaners running in the morning.
  • The City of Cleveland has recently disrupted the food program downtown. The groups have moved around and been made to feel unwelcome by City officials. Some have stopped feeding. Others have moved outside the Downtown area. This has caused homeless people to relocate closer to where there are churches or meal program operating.
  • With the anticipated closure of Aviation High School, the County has made a huge effort to open up housing for homeless people. From Stella Maris, Emerald Commons, Oriana House and additional housing vouchers, over the last three months there has been an unprecedented opportunity for people with disabilities to move out of the shelters.
  • The foreclosure crisis has made available an incredible number of vacant properties in neighborhoods. Often these properties are abandoned, some still have furniture, and many have heat. Many homeless people see the foreclosure crisis as an opportunity to find low cost housing (FREE!) with some privacy.
  • The outreach teams are now coordinating their work. The Coalition has begun hosting monthly meetings to get all the professional outreach teams on the same page. This has resulted in the teams mapping out the city (on Google maps), and they each talk to the men and women sleeping out on a regular schedule and try to convince those resistant to shelter to come inside. They all carry the same message, and they regularly talk to each other.
  • The tent city was displaced. Last year, there was a growing group sleeping in tents near the Brown's stadium. This group was forced to relocate out of the Downtown area.
  • The curfew on Public Square was passed by Cleveland City Council over the last year. During the 2006 walk, there were between 15 to 17 sleeping around the Square. This year there were three.
I am not sure that this means that there are fewer homeless people, because the numbers at 2100 Lakeside have not decreased at all. In fact, they have had near record nights six times in this last month and two near record nights in October. I also do not think that people moved just outside of the downtown clean up area. I feared that maybe this was the case, but I drove all around the Flats and in the St. Clair/Superior neighborhood and did not find any large groups. There were some places that homeless people have lived for years on sidewalks and out of the way areas that are no longer sites for homeless people in 2007. This is good news.

Overall, I was impressed with how much better the buildings and streets look downtown. I was sad that there were so few if any people walking around and now there were not even any homeless people, but the Downtown looked good. If our goal in the community is to get homeless people off the streets, we have done a great job. We have unfortunately done that at the expense of the thousands of former home owners who had to endure the foreclosure nightmare. If the goal is to get these men and women into stable, decent, affordable places to live, then we have a long way to go.

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Other Problems With Questionable Fundraising

Gang of Women Scam Artists on the East Side

It is that time of year...We have heard reports of a group of three or four women who ask for money at Shopping Centers on the East Side of Cleveland. They usually have a clip board (because everyone looks official if they are holding a clip board), and they claim that they are raising money for NEOCH, a Women's Shelter, or a Domestic Violence Shelter. They also have a fake identification badge that they created with the NEOCH name on it. Then, as the final attempt to look legitimate, they give the individuals who "donate" the front side of our Street Card. We have tried to have these people arrested many times, and only a few cities actually find it even worth their time to run them off. Most cities tell us that it is a minor misdemeanor because the victim only lost $1, $5 or at most $10, so why bother engaging them. Even though this criminal enterprise is taking away hundreds of dollars of good will it is stealing a little from many different people. So, these women give a document meant for homeless people, claiming that they are raising money for charities, and then use that money for the purchase of illegal substances.

They are doing all of this on private property, which makes it very difficult to regulate. They used the Grapevine at first as their front, but that was expensive since they had to buy each copy for a quarter. The Street Card is free and so they can run those off at Kinkos or the Library for a few cents a copy, and they have an scam with very low overhead. Only the Salvation Army and the Grapevine are legitimately outside raising dollars for homeless causes or homeless people. The shelters do not raise money on the streets, and neither does the Domestic Violence Center. Please call the police if you see this gang deceiving people with their Street Card scam. Since our name is used, NEOCH would be happy to testify at any trial against these women as the victim of this crime. They move around and have been seen in Euclid, Richmond Hts, East Cleveland, South Euclid, Woodland, Cleveland, Southgate, and Cleveland Hts. In the height of hubris, we also had a report that they were asking for money on the steps of Cleveland City Hall. They no longer fear punishment for this scam and are willing to conduct their illegal activity at the center of government in Cleveland. None of their money goes to any charity, and they will not stop until they are put in jail for a very long time.

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Speaking of Donations...

Questionable Solicitors at the West Side Market

Speaking of where to donate your charitable dollars...I am all for second chances, but should a guy convicted multiple times for theft be the representative to ask for money for St. Jude's Hospital? The Grapevine vendors are complaining about a guy standing behind the West Side Market asking for donations for St. Jude's Hospital. He did this last year, and this year was given a license by the City of Cleveland Parks Department. His name is Steve, and he has a long history of questionable activities with charities including NEOCH, the Salvation Army, St. Augustine with multiple arrests and convictions for theft, grand theft, receiving stolen property, passing bad checks, unauthorized use of a credit card, and more between 1990 and 2000.

I am a big supporter of the Second Chance Act, and reintegrating those coming out of incarceration back into society, but there are some jobs that may not be appropriate. I mean, it takes a great deal of trust to put cash into a person's hand and expect it to get to the charity. Just as I would not hire Jim Bakker or Winona Ryder as cashiers, Steve may not be the best person to ask for cash for St. Jude's Hospital. St. Jude's feels bad that they sent all the material to Steve, and we now know that the City does not do a background check on the people requesting a permit for soliciting charitable dollars. Steve told St. Jude's that he was raising dollars by conducting a craft fair, but instead is asking for money while standing behind the West Side Market. Last year, he gave the charity $800 and also stood behind the Market asking for money during the holidays. Now, I am sure that the Salvation Army can raise more than $800 a day behind the West Side Market, but certainly they could do it in two days. Otherwise, it would not be worth paying those guys $7 per hour to ring the bell all day in the cold. Steve pulled a permit for an entire week.

Shoppers beware of who you give your money to. This includes panhandlers, bell ringers, charity solicitors, and Grapevine vendors. The badged vendors of the Grapevine are a good bet. Make sure that you get a paper or call us at NEOCH. If they are rude or inappropriate in any way, let us know and we can yank their badge. The red kettle of the Salvation Army is a good bet. Those guys have a code of conduct, a permit, and their is local oversight. You might want to avoid Steve, the convicted felon, "raising" money for St. Jude's Hospital. Your choice-you decide.

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No, We Do Not Support the Anti-Panhandling Campaign

Plain Dealer Gets It Wrong

The article in Wednesday's Plain Dealer about the panhandling campaign and the $100 donated to the "Homeless Fund" stated that NEOCH supported the Downtown Alliance's campaign. This is incorrect. The Homeless Grapevine and the vendors of the paper support the campaign, because the they do not like panhandlers. The Coalition has never taken a position on the campaign, but we certainly would not support a battle against our own constituents. Sure, panhandlers are a tiny proportion of the homeless population, but we still have to respect our constituents.

We are not actively opposing the campaign. I believe that people Downtown are smart enough to realize what they are doing when they give to a panhandler. It is almost like pulling the lever on a slot machine--rarely do you win, but we always hold out hope. We know that most of the donation is wasted, but there is always that hope that your act of kindness will turn things around for the person. A great many feel that no matter what happens to their donation, it is a small token of kindness that they do not get from donating to a charity. So, while the Coalition is not big fans of panhandling, because of the degrading nature of begging for money, we would not campaign against something that has a longer history than democracy on this planet.

I went over this repeatedly with the Plain Dealer reporter, but he just did not seem to get it. I tried to explain that the vendors are allowed to express a contrary opinion to that of the Coalition. I told him that I was most disappointed that religious groups would sign onto the campaign because of the conflict over their messages: "Go out and give to the poor, but just not downtown when someone asks." I feel bad that the three major churches downtown are listed as co-sponsors. I do not understand why the reporter would list us as a supporter, but I hope the Plain Dealer prints a correction. Far be it for us to tell you what to do with your charitable dollars, but the signs downtown seem mean-spirited.

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Failures of Government 3

Your Government In Action--OHS II

It is so easy to pick on the Office of Homeless Services when you realize that government created the office in 1992-3 when there were 9,500 homeless people in Cleveland in order to have one group who could focus on the problem and reduce the number of people who find themselves homeless. Fourteen years later, there are 20,000 homeless people and no end in sight. It is no wonder that government gets a bad name with a track record like OHS. This group's primary purpose is to bring in government funds to the county, but they have a book club that meets every other month to talk about the problems over coffee. This group is improperly called the OHS Advisory Board since they advise no one, but it is always nice to talk about homelessness for two hours every eight weeks.

Anyway, they canceled the book club this week instead asking the homeless experts to crowd into a small room to listen to some "experts" from around the country talk about how to better serve families who become homeless as part of the Enterprise national conference. In our weekly effort to demonstrate how your government fails you, I give you the OHS family homeless forum. This invitation only meeting was an attempt to get some handle on this growing population that is overwhelming the shelters. NEOCH raised concerns about the growing problem of homeless families in a forum we held in March 2007. We had actual homeless families give a snapshot of the horrible (soon to be on our website under solutions/public policy) conditions women and children face when they become homeless in Cleveland. It is one of the fastest growing sub population in our community, and it is a near certainty that a Mom and Dad will have to break up in order to get into a shelter. For the OHS forum, we were all pushed into a little room at the Renaissance Hotel (my least favorite place in Cleveland) to hear how other communities are doing so much better than Cleveland. In the ultimate humiliation, we had to listen to the woman from the National Alliance to End Homelessness tell us that Columbus, Ohio is solving family homelessness, and Cleveland is way behind our neighbors to the south.

There was so much wrong with this three hour workshop that I could write a book, but I will just give you the top 10 failings of this conference workshop. I have to tell you that I am not a big fan of conferences. In this day of the internet, just put your powerpoint on the internet and let me go look at the information. In addition, what the hell do people from New York, Washington or Portland know about Cleveland or what will work locally? My feeling is that unless you can tell us how to decrease homelessness by half with a detailed funding plan and without causing others to take their place in the shelter line than you might as well be coming to talk about the proper color scheme for painting the living rooms of shelters. Your tax dollars and government resources in staff time went into this conference designed to give us ideas for how to reduce family homelessness. What went wrong with this forum:

1. The national groups have no credibility with regard to family homelessness. Enterprise-- national, National Alliance to End Homelessness, and the Center for Urban Community Services along with the research they base their work on are all part of the problem. They have pushed a funding mechanism serving long term single adult homeless people stealing resources from women with children who find themselves homeless.

2. All of these groups continue to use the offensive term "chronically" homeless, which makes it seem as though homelessness is some kind of medical condition.

3. The statistics used are bogus. How do you measure decreases in the shelter population when only a few cities in the United States have guaranteed access to shelter? All the other cities see decreases in shelter populations by closing shelters or limiting access.

4. They kept referring to "Housing First" successes, but all of us in the business know that housing first programs are directed at single adults. HUD is giving preferences to programs in funding housing first programs that serve single adults, and so why did the presenters keep mentioning a program that does not serve families?

5. These programs that the presenters talked about may be cool, but there is no money to fund them in one of the poorest cities in America. They do not understand how bad off we are locally, and they never tell us where we are supposed to get the money for these programs. We don't need anymore ideas; we need bundles of cash.

6. They always talk about these incredibly expensive programs to serve only 67 people. We have thousands of families who need help in Cleveland (probably 50,000 households). We need more Yugos or even Scooters, but they keep showing us Cadillac programs. How many times would you go back to the car dealership, if every time you asked to see an old Ford Festiva they would bring out a new Hummer?

7. It is fiction to think that the County Child Welfare, Hospitals, or Jails will give up their money to homeless or housing programs even if we can demonstrate that we will take a few homeless people out of their systems. There are so many thousands who use these public systems, none of them would even realize that a couple of families got into housing. As I have said many times, we need to build 5,000 units of affordable housing a year before any of these systems, including the shelters, would see any decrease in their clients.

8. Why do these national groups keep talking about getting homeless people to rely on "mainstream resources" instead of homeless programs? Everyone who knows anything realizes that the mainstream resources are too difficult to access or have incredible waiting lists. We know disability assistance, public housing, and subsidized housing all have three year waits, and cash assistance, child care help, and food stamps all have huge limitations that make them difficult to access. Many view the Ohio Lottery as a more likely social service program than most of the "mainstream" government resources.

9. The Portland/Seattle program that was highlighted is only 2 years old and only served 67 people. How does this help us? It was so new and served so few people it does not meet our needs. No one ever asks how do we balance the needs of keeping the thousands of homeless people alive with the intensive and expensive needs of some of the population?

10. The report that was just completed on preventing homelessness and preserving affordable housing in our community, Heading Home, was never even mentioned. This was a report in which OHS and other government entities helped write and contained a series of seven or eight recommended solutions for our community that was not even referenced or available at the forum. What a missed opportunity.

Those are three hours I will never get back. It just goes to prove that our current society measures success based on the ability to place your thoughts on a power point slide over actual accomplishments.

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reflections on Veterans Day

Why Don't We Provide More to our Veterans??

It would seem at a time of war, we would take care of our veterans, but in looking at the current state of care to Veterans we are failing as a nation. This is an all volunteer force who go to a region in which 90% of the population holds Americans in the lowest regard. They view us as a big bully, and yet our brave men and women with the Stars and Stripes on their sleeve live in one of the most dangerous places on earth. They act as the police force in one of the most hostile environments ever created. We, in America, can only imagine how stressful it is to drive out of the "green zone" in most of Iraq. This is Fort Apache squared or Rwanda with sophisticated killing technology where any turn on any street can set off a car bomb. These guys have to be alert and ready every second that they are out of the "green zone."

Then they get back and find that the GI benefits are worth a fraction of what their father's and grandfather's GI benefits were worth. They struggle with the bureaucracy of the VA health care system. They have a high percentage of their fellow veterans becoming homeless. If they are injured they are often charged for the damage to their equipment or their signing bonus is reduced because they could not complete their term. Instead of getting tender loving care at home they get a bill from the military. They stand next to the mercenary army of private contractors who are risking their lives for hundreds of thousands of dollars more then the U.S. soldier is taking home in order to bring freedom to these two countries.

The government proclaims one holiday that most of the employers who are actually hiring workers today don't even provide as a vacation day. None of their fellow citizens are suffering or understand what we are demanding from our military. We still worry about the driving skills of Ms. Lohan or Britney Spear's custody battle while many of our veterans are worried about how they will pay the bills when they lost a leg and the federal government determined that they were only 60% disabled. This rating means that they will only get 60% of their disability check. How do they go back to their job as a a roofer or laborer if they struggle with walking? They went into the Army or Marines with both legs, but came back with one and the federal government has the nerve to determine their percentage of disability. These guys deserve the best health care and guaranteed access to housing and a job for life. Those seriously injured serving in the military deserve a middle class lifestyle for life. This is the price of going to war. Doesn't it make it harder to commit troops to a war if there are substantial domestic costs for years into the future with wounded troops? Or will the elected men and women who send our young citizens off to war be long retired when the bills come due for these foreign excursions into hostile countries?

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Battle of the Statistics

Veterans Make Up One Fourth of the Population

The National Alliance to End Homelessness released a study earlier this week measuring the extent of the problem among veterans and they found the problem was growing. The headlines were that military veterans make up one quarter of the homeless population, and we are beginning to see people entering the shelters who recently served in Afghanistan or Iraq. In the same week, the Department of HUD released a questionable study that showed a decrease in long term homelessness. The right wing latched onto the second study proclaiming not just the limited success of the study, but declaring victory in reducing the number of homeless people in the United States. It defies logic that when we walk down any street in any city in America we see the same number or more homeless people but we are told that Washington DC policy has worked in decreasing homelessness.

NEOCH absolutely agrees with the peer reviewed study released by the National Alliance. These are the same statistics we see locally. We do not see the large number of recent veterans that they are seeing on the coasts that is mentioned in the report. The Coalition has responded by making sure that every one of our programs is responsive to the veterans programs. We have a developed a veterans initiative to assure that every veteran has access to legal assistance, housing, voice mail, advocacy, and the Stand Down. The other alarming trend that we are seeing is a larger number of women veterans who are becoming homeless and seeking shelter.

Government in Action--HUD

In order to justify the spending of your taxes, every city now has to count the number of homeless people. While this is a nearly impossible task, it also is costly. The City of Los Angeles recently spent $800,000 to count 88,000 homeless people in their city. That is a little over $9 per person counted or 67 people who could have been given one years worth of rent in order to not be homeless at the fair market level in the expensive city of LA. We waste all this time and energy counting homeless people and we come up with bogus numbers that somehow get spun into a decrease in long term homelessness.

HUD uses these counts to proclaim victory in their fight to reduce long term homelessness, and I am sure that the next step is to use these numbers to justify a decrease in funding. Since the public does not understand the difference between long term or "chronic" homeless and just regular homeless people, the headlines proclaimed general victory in reducing the number of people facing homelessness in America. This is an incorrect use of the stats, besides being wrong. A few cities (my guess is two) have made progress on long term homelessness, but certainly not Cleveland. No way that Washington, San Francisco, Columbus, or Atlanta have seen any noticeable decrease in the homeless population after ignoring the problem for 15 years. Long term homelessness as defined by HUD are those who have been homeless for a year or 4 episodes over two years, and make up between 10-20% of the total population. If family homelessness (40% of the total population) increases by 2% and we allow HUD their 2% decrease in long term homeless there are still more homeless people for a community to deal with.

The problem is that all of this spin is false. I have seen how cities manipulate these counts. They either reduce the number of beds or services so that they do not have to count as many people or they just cannot figure out a way to count people who refuse to enter shelter. This magically results in a decrease in the homeless count in a city and HUD proclaims a success. Don't Believe the Hype.
"Throughout American history many of our social gains and much of our progress toward democracy were made possible by the active intervention of the federal government. " Harold Washington
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

We Need Inspiration

Forum on Homelessness...Not Much News

Last week, the City Club young leaders put together a forum on homelessness with Councilman Joe Cimperman, City of Cleveland Administration Natoya Walker, and Mike Sering from Lutheran Metro Ministry. If you read this blog with any frequency, you could have skipped the forum. There was nothing new announced. The Aviation Shelter will be open through January 2008, and North Point Transitional shelter will open before Aviation closes. I guess that I was looking for inspiration; for someone to step forward and say we are going to solve this problem. Natoya tried with some poetry at the end of her presentation, but it was too late. No one said the words, "I will take on this problem, and will solve it. We will no longer manage this problem. We are going to put time, money and community resources into solving homelessness."

Mike was there to give the real picture of what is happening in Cleveland as part of the 2100 Lakeside Shelter staff. Joe was there because his ward has the largest number of homeless people and the largest number of shelter beds. Natoya brought the position of the City, but she also brings the baggage of the last 20 years of bad public policy. Joe talked about panhandling and the curfew. Both Natoya and Joe mentioned the Mayor saying that he would serve the least of us, and all of the panelists talked about the incredibly expensive supportive housing projects being developed in our community.

Often, you can get a good sense about what is going on in the community from the questions that came up at the forum. There were questions about NIMBYism, the impact of welfare reform, the disdain for poor people by Ohio City Near West Development Corp., are there opportunities now that so many houses are foreclosed on?, there was a follow up question regarding the PD nursing home story, and a question about panhandling. The final two questions were about transportation issues for homeless people and the sad state homeless families find themselves. I wanted to ask a question about supportive housing. I wanted to ask, "With the history of the federal government withdrawing funds from Public Housing, Mental Health facilities, and transitional shelters, have we thought how we are going to fund all these supportive housing projects long-term after the federal government withdraws their funding?

Not much new from the answers, and we even received some confusion. Peggy Cella asked about family homelessness and the answer was about supportive housing which actually does not involve children. Only single adults are eligible for the 220 units of supportive housing that have been developed, and federal rules bar families from participating. As we have said many times, families are suffering more then any other population with the current funding environment from Washington DC. Joe talked about how he preferred the St. Clair Superior Coalition over what was happening on the near west side of Cleveland. This was news to me, because I have not heard any elected official take on the gentrification issues going on in Ohio City before.

We need to cultivate some leaders who will take on these overwhelming issues plaguing our city, and will work for solutions. We don't hear anyone lifting us up with a vision of a time in the near future without homelessness. We are now living with a younger generation that only knows going downtown and seeing homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks. We don't hear big ideas about solutions because we have come to view homelessness as part of the landscape. No one hearkens back to a time without the large number of visibly homeless people. I want a religious figure or elected leader or media personality to take on the problems of poverty with a goal of ending homelessness. Am I asking for too much?

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

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Failures of Government

Your Government in Action--OHS

"That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." --Abraham Lincoln

I am a big fan of government, and government employees are the most honorable profession in America. I think government is usually the best answer to problems. I have faith in our fire and police protection, in our road crews, and our teachers over a private contractor doing this work. Government overseen by concerned citizens does housing, job creation, and developing a social service safety network best. I have regular contact with government officials, employees, and politicians, and so I see the best and worst of people paid by tax dollars. I want to mention on a weekly basis in this blog when government fails us. These are your tax dollars, and you should be aware when your public employees drop the ball.

This is not to suggest that privatization is the solution. In fact, I wish all the shelters were under the direct control of government with all the shelter staff employed by some public entity. Services would be much improved and the employees would have all the rights and benefits associated with government service. They would be paid better and the standards for employment would be a lot higher. But in saying all that, there are people currently employed on your dime who do not serve the best interest of the public or make bad decisions with your tax dollars. I want to pass along those bad decisions or bad acts of government every week in a new feature we are calling: "Your Government in Action."

Installment #1: Office of Homeless Services
The new Ohio InterAgency Council on Homelessness with all the state departments (education, jobs and family services, development, etc.) and a few advocates not employed by government all together trying to get a handle on homelessness. After interviews with homeless people, it was discovered that families are suffering in this state, and do not do well in the shelters. We have written extensively on this and under solutions on our website there is an entire family homelessness report. Anyway, they put together a demonstration grant that will serve 120 families in danger of becoming homeless in 5 communities in Ohio. This is just a two-year project to see what will work, and then move forward with a broader program for Ohio. The program requires case management intervention before the family with children is forced into a shelter.

Cuyahoga County has 19,000 to 20,000 evictions a year which is by far the largest in Ohio. Many social service providers came forward interested in this program or interested in a new revenue source. The local County Office of Homeless Services instead of asking each provider to submit an outline for a plan for how to use these dollars, Ruth Gillett, Director of OHS, sat all these groups in the same room to work out a collaborative application with every other group supporting the results. It is hard to criticize one non-profit when sitting in the same room, and certainly it is not a venue for the development of innovative ideas. The one group that has contact with thousands of people facing eviction, the Cleveland Tenants Organization would be the natural key partner in this new project. As often is the case in this community, friendships trump best practices. So, in the end one provider with close ties to the Office won the right to go forward and compete for the 5 grants given in this state. CTO will have to refer families to this project if the state provides funds for Cuyahoga a demonstration grant, but will get no money. The case management organizational partner does not have a history in working with homeless Moms and is not part of the current homeless continuum of care. Both are good groups, but I am not sure we got the best ideas with the best possible outcomes. We hope that the state looks favorably on the Cuyahoga County grant, but the process for putting on paper our best and most innovative ideas was inept.

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Aviation to Remain Open

Feds Give Overflow Permission to Stay Open Unit January

As you may know, the Federal Aviation Administration has informed the City of Cleveland that the overflow shelter currently at Aviation High School must close. The FAA claims that it is a safety concern to have 200 unknown people sleeping right next to Burke Lakefront Airport because of some bizarre homeland security rules. Even though the City and County have been aware of this deadline for over 20 months, they could not come up with an alternate site in all that time. The County spent about 8 months trying to free up space in the current system to avoid having to fund an overflow shelter at all. While this was a worthy effort, County officials should have looked for alternate locations at the same time.

North Point Inn motel was purchased in the summer 2007, but the 160 bed facility will not be ready by the Halloween 2007 deadline set by the FAA. The motel needs a sprinkler system before the Fire Marshall will allow the building to re-open as a shelter. The City begged for more time and the FAA has given the community until January 2008 to get North Point ready. It seems that the FAA feels that the terrorists hiding among the homeless population take the holidays off, and so the news choppers at Burke are safe for now. For that reason, they gave the shelter an extra three months to remain open. We will call that the holiday homeless security exception to the homeland security rules.

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

Speaking of the Health Care Crisis...

Hagan Asks UH and Clinic to Help Serve More Poor People

In today's paper, the Plain Dealer did a story about indigent care and the response by our local health care empires. We have talked about these problems for years in the pages of the Grapevine. The shelters see these issues every day with people improperly discharged from the hospitals. We also just posted a discussion about the nursing home problem today on this blog. Our health care system for poor people is broken and needs to be scrapped and rebuilt from the ground up. NEOCH and others are trying to get some facts from the shelters on the number of people in need of some nursing care every day right now living in shelter.

I can tell you that there are now more than one ambulance trip per night from LMM 2100 Lakeside shelter to the hospitals. The "emergency" rooms have become the primary care doctors for most homeless people. The wait in the "emergency" room is now typically6-8 hours, but on busy nights can be double that wait. There are just so many people at the "emergency" room waiting for non-emergency care or prescriptions that the system is at a breaking point. Many homeless people shop emergency rooms based on previous debt. For example, they do not want to be hassled about a $10,000 bill at Lutheran so they will walk down to MetroHealth. Why the hospital would present a $10,000 bill to a person who has not earned that amount of money in the last five years combined is a mystery to me? We now have a public health system in which a person starts off at the business office discussing their ability to pay before they ever see a health care professional.

A big first step for these quasi-not-for-profit hospitals would be to pour huge resources into the neighborhood health centers and the Free Clinic. Having more doctors available in Hough NEON Health Center, or Care Alliance or McCafferty Health Center or any of the other facilities would make some difference in reducing the problems at the Emergency room. Commissioner Hagan, a great champion of MetroHealth, needs to continue to push UH and the Clinic, but he cannot forget the neighborhood based health care system that has a proven track record and could alleviate some of the problems at the "emergency" rooms.

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

Plain Dealer Creates Homeless?

Shocking News: Nursing Homes Fill Beds With Homeless People!!

On Sunday, the Plain Dealer did a three page story about the out of control nursing home industry. There is no doubt that the nursing homes are under-regulated. There is no doubt that state government is at their mercy, and will do anything that the nursing home industry wants. The nursing home lobby is one of the most powerful in the state, and will figure out a legislative "fix" to the problems raised by the PD. The nursing home owners will probably be richer after this story, and the "fix" by their representatives in Columbus. The problem is that homeless people will suffer as a result of this story. It seemed as though the St. Vincent doctor and homeless people were exploiting the system and the article made it seem that nursing homes were unsafe because they allowed homeless and mentally ill to over stay their welcome.

Most homeless people do not want to be in a nursing home, because they feel like it is almost like a pre-release corrections facility. Also, most homeless do not need round the clock care. The shelters have the opposite issue with almost no care because there are just too many people. We have one facility, Joseph's Home, that can house 9-10 men and can offer care by nurses, but it is not a nursing home. That is all we have in a county of 1.3 million people for people who become homeless. There are 10 beds that offer care between a nursing home and just a bed in a shelter. I am not saying nursing homes are the answer, but until there is something else why rock the boat? All this will mean is that nursing homes will kick people out after 30 days and there will be larger numbers in shelters.

I knew a guy who had no legs and was in a wheel chair. He stayed on Euclid Ave. for years and would panhandle every so often. He could not take care of himself and spent some time with the guys at Camelot. There was no way he could live in an apartment. Finally, he got into a nursing home over in Euclid, Ohio. It was not the best for him, and he was always threatening to leave, but what other choice did we have? He would have died if he had stayed on the streets for one more winter. He had huge health complications that were only exacerbated by the rain, snow, and heat of the streets of Cleveland. I don't have all the answers on this, but I know that the massive number of homeless people in nursing homes are going to suffer this winter because of the Plain Dealer story.

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

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sorry for the Delay...

NEOCH Has Been Busy

Sorry, that we have not posted for two weeks...we have been working on the plan for the future of NEOCH. It is nearly done, but still needs some finishing touches. We are working on transferring two of our programs to another non-profit agency in Cleveland. We have made good progress in assuring the continued existence of Bridging the Gap housing program and Cleveland Community Voice Mail program. We will post the plan on our website as soon as it is done.

NEOCH has been working on a ton of other issues as well. On Wednesday, I spent the entire day down in Columbus trying to finally settle the homeless voting ID lawsuit. We hope that everything is settled by the end of the year in the NEOCH vs. Brunner (formerly Blackwell) lawsuit.

We believe that we have made a break through in this food problem on Public Square. We believe that we have reached a compromise with the City on a good alternate location. We just need to work out the agreement before Monday and we hope to get agreement with all the groups. Unfortunately, our e-mail system at NEOCH has been down for two days. It is extremely difficult to get work done in this day and age without an e-mail system. If you have sent us an e-mail recently, it most likely came back. We should have it repaired by Monday. Sorry for any inconveniences.

Finally, we are working on some other community planning activities in Cleveland including the implementation plan for Heading Home--a housing/homeless prevention strategic plan. In addition to all the other things we do including Teach Ins, Stand Down, Resident Councils, and Homeless Congress meetings, it is a busy time.

One last thing...RealNEO has another great post about the campaign to educate the public about panhandling. It may be a sign of the apocalypse, but we are the last city in Ohio to roll out this plan. The same company, Block by Block, is doing "clean up" of the Downtowns in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Toledo along with a bunch of other cities in the Midwest. Cleveland is late to game of educating the public that some people are dishonest when asking for money. Remember that dishonest behavior is not confined to panhandlers. It is my experience that politicians, telemarketers, salesmen, professional fund raisers, corporate spokespeople, and lawyers who represent big business interests, have been know to shade the truth when asking for your hard earned money. But you probably wouldn't know that because no one is "educating" you about that with a poster and a washboard.

For those of us downtown everyday, this advertising campaign is part of the landscape, and just blends into the Cityscape. I am just thankful that the City is not passing another law directed at homeless people and instead spending time on this "education" campaign.

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