Friday, August 31, 2007

Mental Illness on the Streets

Curfew Not the Issue After Protest

While staging a peaceful protest at Public Square, a fight broke out when a man who appeared to be mentally ill got aggressive with another man who wound up stabbing the mentally ill man in self defense, as reported by the Plain Dealer here. Megan Wilson of the Catholic Worker was there with the dozens of other protesters and they thankfully intervened before the assault escalated into murder. In response to claims that this sort of violence is the reason there should be a curfew on Public Square, the Plain Dealer recorded Wilson as saying:

"That's not the kind of violence that's affected by a curfew ordinance," she said. "If they hadn't been allowed on Public Square, they would have just fought somewhere less public where someone would have been less likely to see them and intervene and we would have had one more murder on the books in Cleveland."
Councilman Joe Cimperman, who needs no introduction, retorted with the view that this kind of violence is the reason the curfew is necessary, stating to the Plain Dealer:

"There's a reason why every single public space in Cleveland has a curfew," Cimperman said. "That's a really illogical statement. I am grateful that they were there, but for them to say that this is going to happen somewhere else is upside down logic. "For that matter, why don't we keep all the public parks open all night long and maybe the homicide rate in the city of Cleveland will go down – that just doesn't make sense."
First and foremost, this is a terrible thing that happened and an issue that definitely needs to be addressed. Whether or not our Councilman can understand the logic, the curfew does not address the issue at hand. The logic behind that statement is that the curfew was in effect at the time of the violence and the violence still occurred unabated. However, it is important to remember that the violence would not have been affected by the lack of a curfew, either. This is simply an incident that happened to occur alongside a protest of the recently enacted curfew.

But, it does speak volumes for the tired argument that we need to take better care of our mentally ill. There's nothing I can say about why or how that hasn't been said better. I've been working this job for a year and a half and I have seen way too many people with clear debilitating mental illnesses out on the street. I have been told things like, "I was once a servant to the King of England," and, "My name is God and yes, to thee, I fly," by people on the street. These people are real human beings who have lived lives longer than I have that are reduced to the status of a medieval "village idiot" because of obvious mental disorders we know how to treat. They're sick and in need of help and we leave them to wander the sidewalks and to sleep on the ground in the snow and the rain. We provide them out of the way alleys instead of public restrooms. Maybe a couple times a month we let them wash up in a sink at the library.

I hope this incident has the positive effect of drawing attention to the terrible mess we've made for people with mental illness so real change can be made, but I fear it will only make the public terrified of anyone who looks like they might be "crazy." This incident gives the fear-mongers a new scapegoat to toss to the lions. Most of all, I just wish this happened in some other context. This story is too easily warped for individual agendas. I hope that while being treated for his injuries they can treat him for the mental illness as well, but I understand that with no insurance a health care worker's hands tend to be tied pretty tightly.

Joshua Kanary

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

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Slim Media Attention to Poverty Walk

Poverty Demonstration/March Well Attended

Stop Targeting Ohio's Poor's demonstration on Thursday had about 35 activists in attendence including NEOCH, Jobs with Justice, Empowerment Center, United Clevelanders for Peace and Against Poverty, Poor People's Economic Forum, Organize Ohio, and George Zeller from the Center for Community Solutions all attended the walk. It was global warming hot for the couple of dozen people who met outside of the Welfare Building. This was the third annual commemoration of the Martin Luther King Jr. poverty walk from the 1960s and to remember the 11th Anniversary of the federal welfare reform and 10 years since the state passed their version of the law. Unfortunately, only the Plain Dealer (no story yet) and the Homeless Grapevine showed up to cover the event. The group needs to practice their chants to generate more attention or bring in some theater groups.

Here is what we learned or questions that were raised at the walk:
  • What is happening to the $300 million surplus held in the welfare rainy day account down in Columbus?
  • Jobs with Justice raised the issue of the need for a County Living Wage.
  • A woman from the Public Housing asked that day care be expanded to assist more low income working families.
  • Tim from May Dugan said that we need to meet on a more regular basis to keep all the groups working on a common agenda.
  • One member raised the issue of how much the United States has spent on a war in Iraq, and all that could have been addressed the housing, health care, and education problems in our country.
  • This march is 40 years after the MLK march, and things are much worse for poor people at this time.
  • There was a reference to the insecurity in families as well as the insecurity in our own infrastructure including the loss of one of our American cities in New Orleans.
  • George Zeller made the point that real incomes had decreased across Cuyahoga county. This recession has effected everyone of us and every suburb. We keep losing jobs and real income is decreasing in every city but Chagrin Falls. George is always good for showing how bad the economy is in Northeast Ohio.
I had the opportunity to talk and pointed out the dramatic decrease in support for poor people over the last 10 years. We have more homeless, evictions, foreclosures, and people without health care. I raised the question of what is going on with the Department of Human Services? Why are they not helping to forward solutions to poverty and growing insecurity especially after Cleveland was named poorest city in the United States twice? They have eliminated so many people from the welfare roles, and we have to wonder what are all those employees doing now who previously gave out money? We need their help, ideas, leadership, and their funding. Finally, I talked about the meeting with the Governor's wife on Monday, and how I was struck by the recurring theme of never being able to pay all the bills. The formerly homeless families said just when they were reaching some level of stability with a job the human services department cuts off their childcare or Medicare, or cash assistance. This often plunges them back into the shelters or eviction court.

This was a well attended demonstration for the middle of the weekday on a hot day. We have to thank Valerie and Stewart Robinson for staging this demonstration every year. On Tuesday, the Census numbers come out again. While these figures are far from accurate in comparing very different cities, they do give a basis for comparing how we are doing in addressing poverty locally. I hear that if they are at all accurate, Cleveland will be poorer then they were last year.

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Two Big Events Coming Up

Martin Luther King March and Lt. Governor at CAHA

On Thursday August 23 at Noon on the Payne Ave. side of the Welfare Building at East 17th and Payne Ave. will feature a MLK Jr. March and Speak Out. In August of 1963, King led a march for Jobs and Freedom, and Stop Targeting Ohio's Poor will mark this anniversary by hosting a demonstration. August marks the anniversary of welfare reform in Ohio and the United States, and activists will call attention to the deplorable job being done to lift Cleveland out of the poorest designation. The march will ask for a strong safety net, jobs. and living wages. After the speak out the group will march over the Cosgrove Center on East 18th for some planning activities.

On October 1, 2007 Lt. Governor Lee Fisher will present the state of affordable housing in Ohio and goals for the Department of Development to the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance. The meeting is open to the public at 1:30 p.m. at 1350 Euclid Ave. U.S. Bank Building in the lower level. Fisher is also the Director of the Department of Development, and will answer questions from the audience as part of the discussion. More details to follow.

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

Monday, August 20, 2007

Governor's Wife Meets With Homeless Families

Ohio's First Lady Sits Down to Listen and Learn

Frances Strickland, Ohio's First Lady, was in Cleveland on Monday 8/20 to meet with a group of homeless women and children. Trinity Cathedral hosted 7 women and their children, and one recent graduate of the Cleveland Public Schools who struggled with homelessness. We met in the comfortable surroundings of the Charter Room with couches and comfortable chairs. So comfortable, in fact, two of the children fell asleep while their Mom's held them. This was an attempt by the Governor's wife to stay in touch with homeless people, and she wanted to hear from the students about their experiences in managing school during their period of housing instability. Ms. Strickland was soft spoken, but a good listener. She went back over the points that the women made to make sure that she understood. The families came from Miracle Village, West Side Catholic, New Life Community and Cleveland Public Schools Project Act, and most left with a positive impression of the First Lady.

The one recurring issue that came up from the women were the difficulty in finding stable housing without some financial help. A number of women talked about how they found help for themselves and their children from the Department of Human Services, but once they started earning money it all fell apart. The shelter usually only allow a family to stay for three months, and the women find a job, secure their benefits, and then eventually find housing. Once a woman starts earning income, their food stamps are reduced and their child care assistance is reduced. They just barely make it with a job and the County assistance, and then the county begins to withdraw that help and one unexpected expense can cause a return to the shelters. This is a big issue that the State can address. If as a society we are not going to demand living wages from all our employers, then we have to subsidize childcare, transportation, housing and food--sometimes for life.

Other issues that came up during the discussion:
  • The shelters turn developmentally disabled individuals out when they turn 18 even if they are still in high school under the care of a parent or guardian. One disabled young man was taken advantage of and raped because he was separated from his mom when he turned 18. The state needs to revise its rules for the shelters.
  • Suburban schools have an unfair advantage over Cleveland schools in the tests. Too many kids start behind their neighbors in the suburbs, and the Cleveland kids are always playing catch up.
  • Our community has no idea what is happening with homeless kids who leave their parents or guardians before they are 18 because we don't have a place for these kids to go.
  • No matter what the County says publicly, they often take custody of children just because the Mom becomes homeless.
  • The Housing Authority is not doing a good job with inspections of potential apartments for those using the voucher program.
  • Suburban school districts do not always follow the rules with regard to allowing a child to return to their school of origin when a family becomes homeless. Lakewood specifically came up in the discussion.
  • Why does ODJFS (Welfare Department) want us to provide ID every six months in order to get benefits? All that information is on file when you apply, why do we keep having to bring our ID and birth certificates with us? They do not change.
  • Child support orders do not always transfer very smoothly between Counties. This is a big problem for those fleeing because of domestic violence.
  • Poor people fall through the cracks in health care, and the hospitals try as hard as they can not to serve you especially with dental care. Follow up care is especially difficult.
  • There is too much paperwork to get a few food stamps.
  • Things start crushing down on the women at the shelters and there is not enough counseling help. Shelters need more workers who can help, and those shelters need a highly professional staff like West Side Catholic.
  • Shelters need more budgeting classes. Some of the shelters have nothing (no classes) and no one can help with anything, while others have everything.
  • There is a lot of racism in finding a job or housing in this community.
  • One woman mentioned having lost everything and started over in the shelters. Then she got her life back together and the County cut all her help because she started earning $8 an hour, which was not enough to pay the rent/food/childcare.
  • The income that one woman found did not pay her expenses, and so she has no idea how to pay for childcare services.
  • Most of the housing has this incredible waiting list of three to five years.
  • The oversight of most of the subsidized housing (vouchers, Public Housing, and HUD housing) is not very good and needs improved. Too much bureaucracy and not enough scrutiny.
  • There is way too much abandoned housing in our community. Many women mentioned the need to fix it up and get homeless people moved in to those units.
  • One of the women was going to school at CSU, but also had to have a full time job. Tuition is too expensive and grants are not available.
  • Cleveland Public Schools said that they were starting out the year with 700 homeless children registered.
  • One woman mentioned that she was homeless as a child, and was terrified that she would be homeless again. She constantly has that on her mind that she does not want to go through the trauma of homelessness again.
  • Shelter Plus Care is a very good program.
  • They need more programs to help women do things for themselves.
  • New Life Shelter complained about the time limits put on treatment and job training. This has harmed their program and the women in the program.
  • Apartment owners are not taking care of their property, and again inspections are not working.
  • A few said that they were very grateful for the programs and the services available. Some of the shelters are not providing the same level of service as others, and women have to go to the schools or churches or other places for help.
  • When a family starts making a little money is the time that they start taking away your day care or transportation. No one could make it on $7 an hour and the small amount of help that the County give you.
  • Why would one of the shelters force you to leave once you get a job? This seems like the opposite message that the shelters should be giving to homeless women. It is like they want people to be dependent if they are discouraging employment.
It was a good event, and I always learn a lot when homeless people are given the opportunity to talk about the system with someone they believe can help. Governor Strickland has re-convened the InterAgency Task Force on Homelessness of all the heads of agencies that interact with homeless people like Human Services, Mental Health, Drug Board, etc. They are supposed to try to reduce the bureaucracy between government agencies in an attempt to get assistance to those struggling with housing with the utmost speed. This InterAgency Council needs to convene similar listening projects around the state to get this kind of input.

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

Sunday, August 19, 2007

PD Needs New Columnists

Recycling Plastic: Good; Recycling Newspaper Columns: Bad

How many times does Dick Feagler have to tell us that homeless people were way better 40 years ago back when he was 60? Most of the PD columnists need to join Clifton on the beach at this point. I don't read Feagler often, but I always get that knot in my stomach like attending a family reunion when I do read him. You know the one where you try to eat in an uncomfortable and unnatural position while listening to that elderly uncle who talks about his bathroom antics or the reason our government should spy on his gay neighbors because of their "un-American" activities or both of those topics combined together in one story. All the relatives just sit quietly rolling their eyes wondering what act of God could stop the pain of having to listen to these stories. At least at the family reunion you don't have to pay money for the Feagler-type story and there are usually deviled eggs.

Feagler again used the derogatory word for panhandler and did a rehash about how great homeless people were when he was not as old as he is now. He exaggerated a few stories about his encounters with panhandlers, and recounted a distorted history of homelessness in Cleveland. Sound familiar? Yes, this was nearly the same story that he told when the panhandling law was debated in City Council last year. He really needs new material. In fact, the readers need some new columnists that we would actually want to read every Sunday. I would go to the Forum section first if George from Brewed Fresh Daily had a weekly column or Bill Callahan or Yellow Dog Sammy were published in the Sunday PD.

I will just give you a few bullet points on how wrong Feagler is:
  • Panhandlers are not all homeless (which I believe the Plain Dealer wrote about in their editorial in the same paper.)
  • There are no beds sitting empty in any of our homeless shelters.
  • The protest that Feagler speaks of is either the one in the early 1990s that opened up facilities year round instead of only in the winter or the one to close the deplorable Project Heat shelters at the end of the decade. Within two weeks of 2100 Lakeside opening after the Project Heat protests every bed was full and people were sleeping on mats in the cafeteria.
  • I have never heard a panhandler request an odd amount of money, but a quarter does not cut it anymore. Even cheap alcohol, rent, food, and bus tickets are expensive today, Dick.
  • When is he going to write about how disability checks today barely pay the rent?
  • Addiction is a health problem, and we need to deal with it like we do cancer. The "go cure yourself and come talk to us when you are sober" just does not cut it.
  • People are not trash and do not need to be recycled, but it seems that newspaper articles keep getting recycled. Does he get the same pay for a recycled column as Phillip Morris gets for his new ways to insult Clevelanders appearing every week in the PD?
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Update on Public Housing

CMHA Updates from CAHA

Every month advocates, government, researchers, and social service providers meet to discuss the state of affordable housing in Cleveland. The meetings are open to the public and take place the first Monday of the month (unless there is a federal holiday) at the HUD building/U.S. Bank Building at 1350 Euclid Ave. at 1:30 p.m.. The goal is to prevent any further losses in housing in our community. We hope by meeting we can find out about troubled property well in advance and then work to save those properties. We have guests from all over the community who have some expertise in housing, and can provide the group an update on local housing issues. The meetings provide us a wealth of information so that we are all on the same page with regard to the state of affordable housing. Advocates can use that information in the community to push for more housing or attempt to prevent the loss of affordable units. In March of 2008, CAHA will celebrate the tenth anniversary of meetings. We have had Mayors, State agencies and Suburban Community Development officers in the past 10 years. In October, we hope to have Lt. Governor Lee Fischer attend our meeting to talk about state efforts to expand affordable housing.

Anyway, CMHA regularly attends the meeting and provides information about their program on a quarterly basis. We don't always agree with the decisions made at CMHA--like why take in more applications when there are already 7,000 waiting for housing in a program that only has 9,500 total units in their inventory. Overall, they try to do a good job in the face of criticism and back breaking government bureaucracy. In the last six years, HUD in Washington has tried everything in their power to destroy Public Housing from messing with their budget to eliminating capital repair programs to eliminating the drug eradication programs and the PHAs have survived. It is really remarkable to see how CMHA has been able to make it despite being repeatedly strangled by the bureaucrats in Washington. Most of us realize that we need these Public Housing and voucher programs or homelessness would be so much worse. Most of the enlightened Mayors (Akron and Cleveland among others) realize this and push back against federal cuts. The year to year fight for survival for the PHAs just wears us all down. Every year, the Washington bureaucrats think of another creative way to destroy the PHAs like CMHA, and the advocates have to suit up for a new battle.

So, here are a few numbers from CMHA about what they are doing:
  • There are 9,500 units available in public housing and less then 2% are vacant. This vacancy rate is better then in the housing market in general.
  • 8,700 are occupied with 700 undergoing modification or rehabilitation.
  • There are 7,122 people on the waiting list for Public Housing.
  • 61% are waiting for a one bedroom and 22% are looking for a 2 bedroom.
  • 83% of the waiting list are extremely low income.
  • 43% of the waiting list are members of a family and 16% of the waiting list are disabled.
  • The average annual income of the tenants are $7,148 per year.
  • 89% of the Public Housing tenants are extremely low income (while 79% of the voucher tenants are extremely low income.)
  • 20% of the Public Housing tenants are employed while 20 years ago only 12% were employed.
  • 22% of the tenants have no income while 10 years ago only 10% had no incomes.
  • Only 4% of the tenants in Public Housing are receiving cash assistance from TANF, while 10 years ago 30% were receiving public assistance.
  • CMHA only received 85% of the funding that they needed from the Federal government, and have had to cut staff and excess property to keep their budget balanced.
  • They are currently working on an agency Annual Plan which is available for public comment until September 21, 2007.
  • Despite federal attempts to eliminate the funds to modernize some of their housing, Congress has thrown some spare change at this program. CMHA is working on finishing the renovations of Riverview, Lakeview and Valleyview (now called Tremont Pointe).
  • CMHA is struggling with federal cuts, and no one in the community is very happy with the State allocation of tax credits to build affordable housing.
They are not perfect, but they have made huge strides to make up for the insulated and corrupt days of the 1990s. They get a bad reputation in the community, but things are a lot better then we ever get to hear about in the media.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Hide Homeless People and Bring out the Porn

Curfew Closes Down Public Square After 10 p.m.

In a summer session without a public hearing, the City Council passed a curfew on Public Square to hide homeless people while introducing a Strip Club district to the Flats. I am sure that this curfew will target homeless people, but it has an impact on everyone. If you decide to go to the House of Blues and then you choose to walk over to the Warehouse District after the show don't stop on the Square unless you had previously secured a permit. This does not match the Mayor's State of the City Address to create a 24 hour city Downtown.

The Coalition has for five years had positive and respectful relationship with the Cleveland Police. (Again, we miss you Commander Gonzalez.) We helped to assure that only two were arrested from the Convention Center and Airport, because of the safety concerns of City officials. We probably lost some credibility with a few of our constituents, but the City made a good case. NEOCH found we had no legal leg to stand on, and so we helped to try to prevent arrests. We built a relationship over the last five years to avoid deaths and arrests at the same time. Then, without talking to us about this issue they pass a law that seems to target our constituents. This has broken that trusting relationship we have developed.

So, remember before going to a show Downtown or a game stop by the Convention Center to get a permit to sit down on the bench in the center of downtown formerly known as Public Square.

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

Sunday, August 05, 2007

You Want Service?

More Hurdles to Get Help

This is one of those commentaries that will get us in trouble. It is one of those times when our critics will say, "Don't complain about a free service." The problem is that I don't believe that we should race to provide the minimum service, but we should strive to provide overwhelming help in hopes that some of it actually takes hold. I think that we have an obligation to provide the best care to those who are facing their greatest challenge to stability. Homeless people have no place to store their stuff, very little contact with the world, and they usually have a hard time getting transportation.

The folks at St. Vincent DePaul began running a furniture bank in Cleveland a few years ago. They grabbed the name Cleveland Furniture Bank, but would not agree to transparency in their operations. A big concern of the homeless service providers was with the disposition of well maintained furniture and the link with the St. Vincent DePaul store. The question that came up was: would only the crappy furniture be given to the newly housed and all the good stuff be sold in the store? Because the furniture bank would not agree to clear and transparent guidelines, all the service providers were wary.

Now the program has been underway for a little over a year, and they are making changes. The latest change is that clients have to bring a caseworker with them in order to get furniture. This is an unnecessary burden on homeless people and the social service providers. We don't have time to go all the way out to Biddulph and spend a couple of hours babysitting an adult ready to move into housing. How do homeless people who figure out their own way off the streets access the furniture bank if they have to bring an already overwhelmed caseworker? St. Vincent DePaul claims that 40% of the people do not make their appointments, and so this is the reason for the change in policy. If they have figured out the statistics can't they overbook to make sure that they have enough clients. All of us overbook having realized that we cannot count on 100% participation with an appointment based system. We do not put barriers in the way for homeless people to have to navigate in order to get assistance.

This is an example of the problem with some groups never sitting down and talking to homeless people or having only token representation of a formerly homeless person from 1977 as a point of reference. No current or recently homeless person would think that this was a good idea. In fact, those experiencing homelessness and service providers don't always agree, but this is one area in which the service providers would probably agree that this is a bad idea. I hope that it does not take an entire year of very small numbers getting help before they realize this policy change is harmful to the community. I hope that they realize that the County case workers, shelter staff, and mental health agencies are drowning in requests for help in one of the poorest cities in America. They do not have time to send a case worker out to sit with a client while they are screened for eligibility with the Furniture Bank. The whole system would grind to a halt with mile long lines if all the agencies started requiring a case manager to babysit at every appointment. Just because this is easier for furniture bank staff does not mean that it is a good idea.

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

Friday, August 03, 2007

Message Received?

Will Minnesota Go Through with Groundbreaking?

I have not seen much about the irony of a bridge collapsing on the day Minnesota was going to spend public money on a new stadium for the Twins. Someone or something was sending a powerful message that the United States needs to focus money on infrastructure and not on more playgrounds for the rich anymore. I think that it was those gods of transportation that are depicted guarding the Lorain Carnegie Bridge telling us that we have neglected roads, dams, bridges and power plants at our own peril. There was a stadium groundbreaking set for a few hours after the bridge over the Mississippi collapsed. Will Minnesota go forward with spending all these dollars on a new baseball stadium after witnessing the results of neglecting their infrastructure?

The other piece of information that did not get much attention: will the city be able to host the 2008 Republican National Convention? The City of St. Paul is the host city next year, but will they be able to accommodate all the delegates with a major highway artery destroyed one year before the convention?

Can we expect more messages delivered in such dramatic and ironic fashion? Will we listen? If this is how those Lorain Carnegie transportation gods are going to show their displeasure with funding decisions, we have many difficult years ahead? Al Gore tells us that the earth is currently at war with us because of global warming at the same time our infrastructure is failing. The defense department has always prepared for a war in two theaters of operation at the same time. Is this what they were thinking about? How do we protect against flooding due to global warming when our damns and levy systems are at risk? I have to say that on the day of the Cleveland Convention Center groundbreaking I will be taking the day off and spending it in a cabin far away from the downtown.

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