Sunday, February 25, 2007

Homeless Dollars only Half the Story

HUD Announces $22 million to "End Homelessness," while Creating More Homeless People

The Bush Administration announced last week just under $22 million in funding for homeless programs in Cuyahoga County, championing an increase in funds nationally, but what is the rest of the story? Federal dollars have increased to homeless programs in order to renew, at the same cost, all the existing programs. For example, in Cuyahoga County of the $22 million given out on February 20, $18.5 million or 88% is to renew existing programs with no cost of living increases to these programs. That renewal burden has increased each year around the country, and has forced the Department of Housing and Urban Development to increase the dollars just to keep the existing services open and operational.

While HUD has had to keep homeless programs open with a larger dollar commitment, they have been conducting a full frontal assault on existing housing programs. Each year the HUD budget has proposed massive cuts to affordable housing, which only creates more homeless people showing up at the shelter doors. HUD has had no problems funding band aid solutions with shelters and expensive but limited housing programs, at the same time they have tried to eliminate their commitment to making housing affordable.

HUD’s Recent History of Reductions in Affordable Housing:

§ In the past two years, HUD has cut $3.3 Billion in funds to affordable housing.

§ They have devastated Public Housing programs including a 26% cut this last year. There has not been one new public housing unit developed for the past 10 years. Nationally, communities have actually lost 100,000 units of public housing in the last 10 years.

§ HUD has not developed one new non-elderly subsidized housing unit in Northeast Ohio for years.

§ The 2008 Budget requests cuts to the HUD Section 811 housing program for disabled people, and the HUD Section 202 housing program for the elderly.

§ The 2008 Budget request defers $20 Billion in public housing modernization until some unknown time in the future, and proposes another $415 million cut in public housing capital dollars.

I am asking all media when reporting the story of the small increase in funds going to homelessness mention the huge cuts to housing programs by HUD. While HUD champions their commitment to ending homelessness in 10 years, which happens to be two years after they leave office, they cut many of the mainstream programs that homeless people depend on to move into housing. One year of funding homeless programs in the United States is $1.4 billion dollars for the millions of homeless people in America, which compares to over $300 billion spent to fund the War in Iraq and a current $100 billion supplemental funding bill pending in Congress to support the war.

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

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Meanest Guy in the State

Cincinnati Hates Homeless People

We don't get a lot of news from that geographically misplaced city of Cincinnati (should be located below the Mason Dixon), but here is a story that ran last week about a homeless sexually based offender trying to stay warm. Cincinnati politicians get elected by promising to get rid of poor people and the debates are between two candidates who attempt to be more hateful than the other guy. Here is an example:

Offender Sues for the Right to Shelter

A 57-year-old sex offender told a judge Friday that he might freeze to death because a state law bars him from a Cincinnati homeless shelter located near a school.

Larry Winslow, who has been homeless for five years, sued in U.S. District Court to block enforcement of the law so he can seek refuge at the Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine.

The law he is challenging forbids convicted sex offenders from living in homes, apartments or shelters within 1,000 feet of schools or day-care centers.

"Mr. Winslow is struggling just to survive in the cold this winter," Winslow's attorney, David Singleton, wrote in the lawsuit. "He fears that he will die in the cold weather if he cannot get shelter."

The lawsuit says Winslow recently was diagnosed with walking pneumonia.

The suit is the latest challenge to Ohio's restrictions on sex offenders and where they may live.

Several suits have been filed in Cincinnati and around the state, but so far judges have deemed the law valid.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, who is named in Winslow's lawsuit, said the law is constitutional. "I feel bad for him," he said of Winslow. "I know it's cold outside, but we have to enforce the law.

"There is no constitutional right to warmth."

Last year, Deters' office notified the Drop Inn Center that the shelter no longer could allow sex offenders to live there because the building is located within 1,000 feet of a school.

Winslow's lawyers could not be reached Friday, but the lawsuit says he was convicted of sexual battery in 1994 and 1996 in cases involving adult female prostitutes.

The suit states that he spends most nights on the streets and occasionally seeks refuge at the downtown Greyhound bus station. Usually, though, he is told to leave or face arrest, the lawsuit says.

"There is no rational basis to prohibit sex offenders from sleeping, at night, at a homeless shelter that happens to be within 1,000 feet of a school," the lawsuit says. "No child protection interest is served."

The suit asks Judge Sandra Beckwith to declare the law unconstitutional and to issue an order that would allow Winslow to immediately seek shelter at the Drop Inn Center.

Joe Deters was hounded by scandal out of state office then elected by the good people of Cincinnati to be the lead advocate for interpreting laws that he had trouble following while in the State Executive Branch. He said, "There is no constitutional right to warmth," which in the civilized world would be the end of your political career, but in Cincinnati is a campaign slogan for re-election. In other words, "I feel bad for him, but we are not responsible when he dies on the streets." That is a rough city to be homeless, and certainly one of the meanest cities in the United States toward poor people.

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

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Creating Future Homeless

Walter Reed Hospital: A Nightmare for Returning Wounded

There is a fantastic story in the Wash. Post about the conditions at America's premiere Army Hospital. A Presidential backdrop for hundreds of photo opportunities while shaking wounded soldiers hands, comforting the sick, or passing out metals turns out to be a dump. There are horror stories about bureaucratic nightmare within Walter Reed Army Hospital that the soldiers have to go through to get services, Army officers are lost on a daily basis, and the requirement to cross the grounds in the cold on a daily basis for "formation" just seems cruel. It is a wonderful investigative piece that calls into question our commitment to the troops fighting in Iraq. These are the future homeless of America who are disenfranchised by the "system" and turn away from society. Right now, in Cleveland about one-third of the men's population of homeless people served in the military. We do not have many from the current war in Cleveland, but we do have vets from the first Iraq conflict and some older men from Vietnam.

Imagine enduring second and third tours of duty in the most dangerous country in the world, and then coming back to a dump of a hospital with mice, roaches and black mold. It is a slap in the face and if it were me I would see it as a visible sign that the country does not care. It certainly can mess with your head. Some of these individuals will certainly disappear and show up at local shelters. They are wounded by an insurgent fighting over a 1,000 year old dispute in a war fought for very unclear reasons, and after four years there is very little to show four our efforts, then the soldier returns to the states they must deal with deplorable conditions. If this is how they are treated right when the get back, how will a one-legged soldier be treated in ten or fifteen years? Veterans from the current war in Iraq are showing up at shelters in California and DC. I certainly hope that this negative coverage of this hospital will force the end to photo ops and red tape in order to assure quality care to those returning from the conflict in the Middle East.

Just for context, most homeless veterans in Cleveland spend some time at the Brecksville facility, which is a wonderful facility. It is clean and spacious. It has plenty of green space that gives the place a slower pace. It is a place to recover and regroup. It is no doubt one of the best places for homeless people in the region. I have heard a lot of negatives about the Wade Park hospital. The problems usually revolve around red tape and bad personnel not so much the facility. I certainly hope that the closing of the Brecksville facility will not move the Wade Park hospital to model itself after Walter Reed in Maryland.

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Another Comment on Counting Homeless People

New York City Debates Counting Homeless People

On this cold snowy day, I made it to work. I made the mistake of taking Mayfield Road hill on Monday night home. Big Mistake!! It took one hour and twenty minutes to get from CSU to Cleveland Hts at 8 p.m.. Then this morning I took Cedar Hill, which actually did not have one drop of snow. It was the best plowed street in the City. I was amazed. Anyway...I made it. Someone called the office and asked why the media was not talking about homeless people on this snowy day. The simple answer is that I do not control the media, but I can tell you what goes on during these cold days for homeless people.

First, we are one of the only cities left in the United States that will accept anyone who comes to the door. We have two shelters that do not turn anyone away. Then in extreme weather conditions the shelters are supposed to not close. Normally, shelters ask their clients to leave during the day (to look for non-existent jobs or find housing that they cannot afford). Reminds me of the ancient Greek myth where Prometheus has his liver eaten everyday, but as an immortal it grows back and he starts all over again the next day. But I digress.

Anyway, the shelters keep people inside on extreme weather days. Also, during any natural disaster homeless people blend better into the mainstream. Everyone is struggling on days like today. Everyday is a struggle for homeless people, so they actually fair better on these days. The City will open the Community Centers and homeless people will use those as respite from the cold if they choose not to use the shelters. I have heard of some cities who try to exclude homeless people from disaster relief centers, but that does not happen in Cleveland. It can get overwhelming for the shelters that take anyone who comes to their door, and so there is quite a bit of communication between the shelters to exchange homeless people with a goal of keeping everyone safe and warm.

On another note... We have written about the futility of counting homeless people. One of the papers in New York City did a feature on this issue, and I thought one of the comments submitted by Picture the Homeless was interesting.
"Dear PTH Friends, Members, and Allies,

Ever since the NYC Department of Homeless Services first started its count of street homeless people, Picture the Homeless members have voiced significant concerns about *why* the city does the count, and how it plays into the stigmatization of the homeless and the focus on individuals and their "issues" instead of the systemic problems that create homelessness. This week's edition of City Limits contains a terrific response to the HOPE 2007 count from PTH elder statesman Jean Rice, incorporating the perspectives of several Picture the Homeless folks.

The text can be read here: (This is one link with no break)

A homeless "count" relies upon people "looking homeless" so they can be visually identified. Many people who are homeless go to great lengths to NOT appear homeless (whatever that is). Also, there is a fluidity to street homelessness that cannot be captured in one night, because during that one night of the count many people who are street homeless might be working, locked up (for BEING street homeless), or temporarily staying with friends and family. As a corollary, while the
average daily shelter population in 2005 [in New York City] was 33,687, in that same year 97,039 unique individuals accessed shelter. If the Administration put the same energy into counting abandoned buildings or irresponsible landlords citywide, and then implementing comprehensive policy solutions, they might not need to use law enforcement to make the street homeless population go down."--Picture the Homeless, New York City.

I could not say it any better. For comparison, the count in Cleveland found 2,000 people which is actually less then the number of shelter beds. Most experts believe that double that number is closer to reality on most days. The City estimates that there are 10,000 abandoned/vacant structures in Cleveland.

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

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Toughest Job in the City

How Do Shelter Workers Keep Their Sanity??

We give the shelters a hard time, because we are a watchdog organization. We have to follow up on complaints from homeless people because no one else does, and nearly all have something to do with shelters. From problems with theft, curfews, and conflicts with staff are the complaints that come to us every week. Homeless people come to us for help and that makes many shelter providers uncomfortable. But over the last two weeks, providers have gone above and beyond. The stress of having over capacity for extended hours and for over two weeks is now getting critical. They all deserve a huge pat on the back, and a raise for performing in such tough conditions.

Now, with another five inches of snow predicted, we prolong the state of emergency. The shelter staff must figure out a way to keep the peace in very overcrowded conditions. They need to keep as many as 550 people from going stir crazy, and keeping all these people safe. There is a great deal of pressure to be responsible for so many with food, clean sheets, clean clothing, and a quiet place to sleep. They should all get awards for all they are doing behind the scenes. Unfortunately they never will, because they are only successful if nothing happens. Well, NEOCH staff and board congratulate everyone who is sticking it out working in the shelters during the winters in Cleveland. It takes a special person to be able to see all this human suffering every day and get up every morning to keep people safe.

Speaking of Hard Working Shelter Staff...
Lyle Draper of the Volunteers of America shelter is leaving next week for Re-Entry programming with VOA down in Mansfield. Lyle has been the director of the men's shelter over on Walton. He has kept the facility clean and has always been willing to help when homeless people needed assistance. Thanks Lyle for all your hard work, and good luck in your new job. We will miss you, and hope that the VOA finds someone as easy to work with to run the shelter.

After reading this post, I fear that one of the comments a homeless person told me might be true: I am getting soft? One of the members of the Homeless Congress insists that I, like Jesse Jackson, have lost my "heat." He tells me at almost every meeting that I am no longer willing to do whatever it takes. There is certainly worse people to be compared to then Jesse Jackson who I voted for in 1988 for President of the United States when he had some high "heat."

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

Saturday, February 10, 2007

County Trust Fund

The Case for More Affordable Housing

NEOCH and the Cleveland Tenants Organization held its first meeting on the road to implementation of a County Trust Fund. We need a place to deposit funds to be reserved for the construction or preservation of housing. We have all heard of (and may have even voted) for trust fund kids. While trust fund kids have a derogatory connotation, a County Trust fund would go along way to moving people into housing. We have a team of young leaders working from Cleveland Bridge Builders on a plan for the development of a fund. The plan is to figure out the best revenue source for a housing trust fund. These funds would be locked away and reserved exclusively to build or renovate housing. They also have a goal of developing a strategy for building consensus around a campaign to create this fund.

What could this fund do for Cuyahoga County? The hope is to generate $6-$10 million per year for the development of housing. This fund could be used to:
  • Repair elevators in senior buildings to keep these buildings from having to close.
  • Provide $200 a month to a low income family trying to stay in their housing.
  • Renovate housing for family with young children to remove the lead paint.
  • Provide the 20% local match for HUD homeless/housing funds for the construction of new supportive housing project.
  • Provide a piece of the funding for a place for men to pay a weekly rent while they get back on their feet in order to avoid having to go to shelter.
  • Set up a sweat equity program for single men with skills to renovate abandoned housing that are eventually turned over to those men who helped to bring the housing back.
  • Or the hundreds of other programs that would contribute to a reduction in homelessness.
This is a needed resource since both the Federal and State government have dropped the ball on the creation of affordable housing. But a new tax or an increase in taxes is always tough for the public to accept. If we can approve a sin tax for the arts then we should be able to figure out a way to pay for such life sustaining activity as housing.

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

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Whole Bunch of Updates

Lots Going on in the Homeless Community

1. HUD Budget for 2007 Much Better
The federal budget that provides funds for most housing and homeless programs through the Department of Housing and Urban Development was left up in the air at the end of last year. The guidelines that were being debated would have devastated housing programs in Ohio including the loss of up to 70,000 housing vouchers, a 25% cut to public housing and a loss of an
additional 100,000 units of affordable housing. With the assistance of Toledo Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, the House passed a fair HUD budget to prevent the loss of housing and thus an increase in homelessness in America. If you talk to your Senator, please ask them to pass the House version of the HUD budget for 2007 next week. For more information go to the COHHIO website or the National Low Income Housing Coalition website.

2. Bridging the Gap Fundraiser
Bridging the Gap is hosting a special event at Johnny Mangos (3120 Bridge Ave. in Ohio City) on Monday February 12. Just print out the flyer from our website at the calendar ( and present that to the staff at Johnny Mangos. 20% of your bill will go to support Bridging the Gap housing program. Every dollar helps to move a family toward stability.

3. Homeless Stand Down Coming Soon
The Homeless Stand Down will take place at the Cleveland Convention Center on February 16, 2007. We still need items for our goodie bags including travel-size toothpaste, soap, lotion, conditioner, shampoo or toothbrushes, bandaids, combs, or bus passes. Those can be dropped at NEOCH anytime before the Stand Down.

4. NEOCH Annual Meeting
The NEOCH Annual meeting is no longer blended into our annual fundraiser. Our Annual Meeting will be March 15, 2006 after the evening meal at 6 pm. at Franklin Circle Church 1688 Fulton Rd. in Ohio City. We will have our Annual Report of activities, and mark the beginning of a new Board of Trustees. Please join us as we present a few awards to those who have advanced homelessness and set our goals for 2007-8. Please RSVP to NEOCH at 216/432-0540.

5. Check out the NEOCH website
The NEOCH website has been updated in January and there are many interesting items. We hope that you will regularly use this valuable resource. We have a copy of the Heading Home--City/County strategic plan around homelessness under statistics and strategies. We have a copy of a briefing for the City of Cleveland on the problems that they will have to deal with over the next five years regarding homelessness locally. We also have a new resource for families with children on local school contacts under "Homeless Kids."

6. County Housing Trust Fund Planning Meeting
For years, advocates have sought a local pool of money to build and preserve affordable housing. Columbus recently found a revenue source so why can't Cleveland? On Thursday February 8, 2007 at 3:30 pm. the Cleveland Tenants Organization and NEOCH will host a discussion on a plan to put a local County Trust Fund in place. All are welcome to attend in the
conference room of the NEOCH/CTO building. Please RSVP if you plan to attend to NEOCH at 432-0540.

7. The State of Family Homelessness in Cleveland Forum
We have more details on the Forum on Family Homelessness at this point. The forum is set for March 7, 2007 at 3:30 p.m. at Trinity Cathedral (East 22nd and Euclid Ave.) parking in the rear to talk about the state of homelessness for families. The issues include the instability of family
shelter budgets, the problems of oversight and protection of women from the fear of their children being reported to 696-KIDS, the break up of families in order to get into shelter, and the lack of shelter space for those fleeing a domestic violence situation. Please plan to attend and again RSVP to Sarah at NEOCH at 432-0540.

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

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Third District Police Closing

Mayor Faces Hundreds of Angry Residents

I have to say that I was very skeptical about the closing of the Third District Police Station. Mostly, because we spent 12 years (which cooresponds to the number of years of the White Administration) in court suing the City over police conduct toward homeless people. We never got to see the inside of a court room settling all of these suits out of court, and there is no doubt that the police were responding to directives from the City of Cleveland. But we now have a Commander that we can talk to, and police that were trained to deal with fragile populations. We have two officers who act as liaisons to the homeless providers and have tried to relate to the homeless populations. So, I along with others were weary.

But, I listened to the Mayor for over three hours and I have to say I am convinced. This plan will be good for the whole City, and this is all based on factual information. I do not think that this will be good for homeless population, but for the whole City it is the only plan that would work. I stayed to ask a question about the transition plan, but the Mayor is leaving all those details to the Chief and to the Safety Director. The big fear is that they will just cast the current officers of the Third District to the wind and so all the relationships that were developed in certain neighbhorhoods will be lost. The Mayor was not budging on setting direction for placing officers in very specific neighborhoods that they are familiar. So, we will all have to wait and see.

The Mayor has amazing endurance to answer questions including, "Are you a dictatator or Why don't all your command staff including the Safety Director live in Cleveland?" He was very honest, and straight forward answering every question. He faced a very hostile audience who almost all were tied to the Third District building and the people inside that building. There was so much fear in the room that things would get worse. They were worried their businesses would suffer, property crimes would rise, and the fragile security that most people have will be lost with this plan. The most amazing aspect of the meeting were the relatively small number of African Americans who attended the meeting. Only one African American individual asked a question. I think that the Mayor did a good job of settling some of those concerns and promised to return in a year to look at the progress.

The police are way ticked off by the proposal. The FOP and Patrolman's Association are not happy at all. They want the issue to go to the voters. The Mayor did a good job in explaining that he was not going to debate this forever, and the buck stops with him. He said repeatedly that the "Proof is in the Pudding," and that if this does not work people would vote him out of office. The Third District officers do not want to be stuffed in a building on Chester Ave with no parking in a building that they believe are falling down. They implied that in the seventh most dangerous city in the United States that this will only exasserbate those issues. They worry that if a Code 1 call comes in and every car in the district that is available has to respond how will a zone car downtown get all the way across the river to Lorain Ave. in the new expanded Second District? The Mayor said that they are now going to be able to do reports from their cars so they will not be so tied to a certain building. They are also getting rid of the jails at the various districts and moving to central booking at the justice center. This would now become a County function.

The Councilmembers are not happy, and the Mayor made a very good point that he could just say the politically popular statement and then leave and do whatever he wanted. He knew that this is not popular for this neighborhood, but it is best for the City. He was clear that since he lives in the Third District it does have an impact on his life as well. The Mayor said that there were nine months for study and input, but now is the time to move forward. He said that the Chief read all the letters and took those into account and in fact responded to those concerns.

NEOCH is going to have weigh in on the transition plan to make sure that the current issues with homeless people are not lost. There is no doubt that we will be losing one of the Commanders and so it is unlikely that Third District Commander will be interacting with the shelters and homeless people in the future. The Downtown zone will now be part of the Second District, and they already have a Commander who is relatively new. This is a loss, but hopefully he will get an assignment to bring similar improvement to another section of the City. We will have to establish a relationship with a new Lieutenant who will be assigned to a new Downtown Safety Unit of 18 officers who will be assigned to the Central Business District.

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