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.

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