Saturday, January 27, 2007

Homeless Exploited and Helped

Two Interesting Homeless News Items

Cleveland Heights arrested two homeless people for passing bad checks according to the Plain Dealer. It seems that a group of criminals recruited homeless people to go to Wal-Mart to pass bad checks. People are always praying on this fragile population, and trolling the front of the shelters to basically enslave people for bad purposes. From the exploitative temporary labor agents who put people to work in the most difficult jobs and pay less than minimum wage, or the drug boys who employ homeless people as runners, or the men who patrol the women's shelters looking for women to become prostitutes. I saw the owner of Minute Men temp. services over at the bank the other day driving a Cadillac Escalade SUV with those spinning wheel rims, and was disgusted that he was making a nice living off the backs of mostly African American homeless people. Who says that slavery ended in America? Did you ever wonder why all the Minute Men staff enter in the Carnegie entrance and homeless people are fenced off and forced to enter the Cedar Road side? Reminds me of the slave entrance to the Master's house in the 1820's Deep South.

The other interesting story comes from Lorain County and the bloggers at Word of Mouth. Henery Hawk and his friends went out in the cold to a group of homeless people to provide a little help. Lorain County is a rough place for homeless people with the human services absolutely overwhelmed, very little advocacy activities, and a total disregard for the problem by elected officials. They really need help out there. NEOCH would love to try to put in place a strong network of advocates in Lorain County, but the providers are so overwhelmed that they can barely keep their head above the water. So, we salute Henery, Buck, Larry, and Brian (not me) for their efforts on such a cold day.

By the way, inspired by Word of Mouth, Wendell Robinson has decided to try to do something for others everyday and write about it. Here is his new blog. Sounds like a great idea for the rest of us to follow.

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

Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Day in the Life

The Highs and Lows of One Day at NEOCH

Started out the morning with a very sad case of a woman calling, because she cannot find her husband who has become homeless. They had a fire at their house, and her husband stopped taking his medication. Without his medicine he started down a path of paranoia and his severe mental illness came out. He lashed out at his wife. The husband told his family that his wife was abusing him. He left the house and she has not seen him. She was so worried and was crying looking for help.

The issue is that the shelters will not reveal if a person is at the shelter no matter who is calling or showing up. Unless the individual has a court order or has a release of information--patient/client relationship, the shelters will not give information away about any of their residents. We sent her a Street Card, and told her to hang up flyers or notes at the various shelters. We do not have a good system in Cuyahoga County for family reunification. NEOCH is trying to put together a people finder component of our website that would allow case workers and homeless people to see if there are people looking for them. This will take awhile to develop, but it is heartbreaking hearing these stories every day.

A better part of yesterday, was the Homeless Congress. We had over 32 homeless people from 9 different shelters in the community together to talk about issues. This is difficult to get a very angry population who are for the most part ignored by society to be on the same page. The membership constantly changes, and we have to do some trust building at every meeting. But they have some great suggestions and are beginning to work together. They are starting to realize that together they can make changes while separate they will forever live in shelters.

Then I got back to the office and found out that one of our former vendors was probated and on the loose. She had also gone off her medicine and had started self medicating with illegal drugs. The last time I saw her she was so different. She was a nice older woman who would remind you of Carol Burnett's character in the Mama's Family skits or that quiet older aunt who blends into the wallpaper if you saw her at a coffeeshop. After only a month or two away from her medicine, she looked nothing like her former self even her walk was different. She was angry and not taking care of her appearances or her hygiene. It was an amazing transformation, and now we have to decide on our responsibilities if she did show up at our office to her and to others.

Any non-profit has to spend a large amount of time on the mundane and the bureaucracy especially with government organizations. I have been going round and round with the State of Ohio over $400 that they claim they owe us to close out a grant. We do not agree, but spend so much staff time over such a small amount of money. Then we have the to deal with the best in 1984 style language ever thought up by agreeing to check the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control Specially Designated Nationals List or as it is commonly known the terrorism watch list for those helping to finance terrorists in order to receive any state funding. This is a 261 page document in alphabetical order that is not searchable of known terrorists and their aliases. How does any organization search this list to compare it to their own donors or their clients is beyond me? We have to sign a form that says we do not knowingly give or receive money from any of these people. Freddy Garcia is on the list, Teresa Gomez is on the list, and Oscar Hernandez also finds himself on the list. Then we also have to check the State Department list that was last updated in 2004.

If this is the best way we have of protecting against terrorists then we are all in deep trouble. With aliases, I am willing to bet that half of the players in Major League Baseball share a name with the people on the Treasury Department's Terrorism list. How is any agency supposed to search a 261 page pdf document of terrorists? Those that want to do harm to us must be laughing themselves to sleep every night that they have inflicted such fear in this country that non-profits are asked to comb through an alphabetical list of thousands of names of bad people to make sure the money we receive is "pure."

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

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Homeless Count Nearly Impossible

Go Behind the Numbers

Last week, the National Alliance to End Homelessness issued a report on the number of homeless people in the United States that received a great deal of media attention. First of all, the number is a dramatic under count. The media was not very accurate with the reporting of these numbers. Please check out the original report that does a good job of clarifying the statistics. The 744,000 number of homeless people in the United States is a one day figure. It is a HUD mandate for every community to count the number of homeless people in January. The National Alliance report was praised on the Department of Housing and Urban Development website. We all need to be very skeptical of any report praised by HUD--an agency which believes that it is a good idea to demand every community in the United States focus resources on single, disabled homeless people who have long periods of homelessness even if there is no one in that town that fits that description.

All the people living in abandoned properties are not counted. Cities like Cleveland (with almost 10,000 abandoned units) and Detroit, and Pittsburgh have a huge barrier to an accurate count. The last count from Cleveland barely got to the number of shelter beds in the County. As an aside virtually every shelter bed in the County is full every night of the year. The private shelters like City Mission and St. Herman's and the hundreds of others in the country do not report either. Figuring out the best times to count is also nearly impossible. How would you like if the Census showed up at 5 a.m and burst in your bedroom to count the number of residents in your house? Speaking of the Census, they have a hard time counting people who live in housing with wide spread reports of undercounts in most cities. And yet HUD thinks that they can do better at counting people than an agency constituted only to count people? HUD has the other obstacle of trying to count a migratory population that does not have a fixed place to live.

As you can tell, NEOCH does not participate in the counting of homeless people. I can see nothing useful in the exercise. I firmly believe that it is a means to cut all of our funding. I believe that HUD will eventually say that there so few homeless people counted that we do not deserve all the funding that we are getting or one city is doing a bad job of counting and that city will be punished with fewer dollars. I also have an issue that in the richest country in the history of the world we send a team out to go to where homeless people live and just count them. Even by giving out some token gift seems somehow inappropriate. Finally, in the end, no matter how rigid the standards there will always be an undercount.

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

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Family Shelter Sanctioned by County

East Side Catholic Shelter Cannot Apply for Federal Dollars

In the first unanimous vote of the Office of Homeless Advisory in a very, very long time, East Side Catholic was sanctioned for continued administrative problems. NEOCH has tried to get into the shelter to talk to the residents, but we have not been successful. We have also written about the problems in the shelter for four years in the Grapevine. The County Review Team recommended this sanction after two and half years of working with the group. The proposal that passed the OHS advisory was:

1. The current East Side Catholic budget (2005 Federal Dollars) would receive extra scrutiny by the County.
2. If HUD grants money from their 2006 application, the shelter will not be allowed to accept the funds unless they go under the umbrella of another organization. So, an outside entity would have to manage their budget and administration or the County would not release the 2006 federal funding.
3. East Side Catholic would not be allowed to apply for funds in 2007 through the Federal Continuum of Care funding.

This all takes place when East Side Catholic was just awarded Ohio Emergency Shelter dollars. Those funds seem impossible for a group to not receive once they are granted funding. I have seen programs that no longer even serve homeless people still receive an Emergency Shelter grant from the State of Ohio. We certainly hope the new Governor will look at this policy.

We absolutely support this move by the County and feel that it is long overdue. The letter that the County sent should have been more severe with demand language not "recommend-type" language. Ruth Gillett who runs OHS is just too nice, except when it comes to NEOCH. The County is clear in trying to preserve the shelter and not lose the shelter beds. They also made sure that the funding is not lost from the Federal government. The outstanding issue is how this will impact East Side Catholic's other programs especially CMHA's Miracle Village and their recovery programs. How will these other programs survive with the agency under County sanction?

NEOCH is going to host a family homeless conference in March to talk about these issues with religious organizations to discuss these and other issues facing women with children in our community.

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

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

New Era for Building and Housing?

Ed Rybka Attends Affordable Housing Meeting

To mark the one year anniversary of his appointment to the post as Director of the City of Cleveland Department of Building and Housing, Ed Rybka attended the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance meeting. CAHA is a place that public agencies (HUD, City, CMHA and County) meet with advocates, landlords, and social service providers to report on potential threats to affordable housing in our community. This meeting is the first Monday of every month (unless there is a holiday) at the local HUD office. This week, Ed Rybka joined us to report on his term at Building and Housing. As most are aware, there was a scathing report issued about the department. Rybka was very honest and straight forward about the problems and the fact that there are no additional resources to fix the problems within the Department.

He said that there is a great deal of institutional bureaucracy that needs changed. The biggest was the old way the Department responded to problems: complaints. Everyone in Cleveland knew that by calling your Council member or the Mayor's action line you got results. This allowed major eyesores that were not a problem to neighbors to go without oversight for years. This has changed in the last year. Now, all the departments focus on a certain neighborhood together and then move on together. Every neighborhood gets a visit every 30 days. The department has prioritized the worst abandoned properties (220) and is working on that list. They still respond to health and safety reports on an emergency basis, but not a complaint over a falling downspout to the Mayor's office.

Rybka said that they now have a database of 2,000 abandoned properties, but he suspects that there could be as many as 10,000. He also has set up a partnership with the County Senior and Adult Services to get help for seniors who cannot manage their house. His inspectors rarely come across homeless squatters--go out at night and that will change. He wants to start demolishing more buildings that are hazards. Right now they do 175 to 220 a year. He still has a lot of work, but he is trying to work through some of the issues in the report on department inefficiencies.

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

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Condo Hell

Moratorium on Condos Until All Housed

While searching for articles on homelessness via Google News, I stumbled upon this beauty from the Washington Post:

"Million Dollar Condos to Be Built Above Church Serving Homeless."

I congratulate the fact that building luxury condos is an attempt to create a mixed neighborhood. Instead of being secluded in the suburbs, they are built amidst poverty with no intent to keep their residents' eyes hidden from the realities of an urban area. It sounds like a good attempt at creating a melting pot neighborhood.

But this isn't Sesame Street. I highly doubt that owners of $400k 1 bedroom condos have chosen their location so they can mingle with the homeless folks sleeping at their curb. In fact, I doubt any homeless people would be allowed within 100 ft of their million-dollar developments. The problem is this: there is a place for luxury condos and we need to realize that. But that place isn't everywhere. What developers have failed to realize is that WE DON'T NEED SO MANY LUXURY CONDOS, whether it be in DC or here in Cleveland. We're poor. We have loads of people without homes. What we need is safe, decent, affordable housing. We need more public and subsidized housing. We need more mixed-income housing units. We need more housing priced below $100k that is decent (no-frills). We need safe homes for families--who make up the fastest growing population of people that are homeless.

The Homeless Congress, a politically active group of homeless people representing different shelters, has it all figured out-- we could create jobs and housing by having people renovate old, abandoned buildings into affordable homes.

Condos will not make a neighborhood. Look at both Tremont and Ohio City. Sure they've been yuppie-fied, which some people see as a good thing. But it's a strange mix of the wealthy "urban hipsters" and the original poor residents who are continuously being pushed out. Enough pushing. We need to solve the problem.

In the Washington Post article, a managing broker for a real estate firm had this to say, "You don't need the soup kitchen to make it a tough sell. It's a tough sell because it's a condo, and if there's anything we need less of now, it's condos. It's like overkill."

How about building homes that our city's residents can actually have access to?

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

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Emperor or President??

No Mail To Honor Gerald Ford--Really?

I firmly believe that George Washington would roll over in his grave if he saw the spectacle of the Gerald Ford State Funeral. Those founding Presidents were so concerned that they did not want the appearance of anything regal or any sign of royalty associated with their presidency. Washington stepped down after two terms to show that in a functioning democracy there could be a smooth transition of government. He founded the Executive Branch of government on the principle of being first among equals with humility and without all the ceremony of England. He resigned his miliary credentials so as not to appear to be a dictator, and scolded his modest staff over the appearance of any sigsn of an imperial leadership. We have gone very far away from those humble beginnings.

I can understand a state funeral for a President killed in office, but Ford was not even elected. He was appointed to the position in the grand tradition of assuming the throne of a Monarchy. He pardoned a criminal before Nixon was even charged. I do not understand why Ford or any President deserves all this ceremony. Why shut down the government when the first among equals dies? The President is so distant from the rest of us that they have become royalty without the crown. We would all benefit greatly if humility was brought back to government. Can a humble person who would reject a state funeral ever be elected President of the United States again?

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