Saturday, June 30, 2007

Away from Cleveland

US Social Forum in Atlanta

First Day: This is the worst time to be away from Cleveland with all that NEOCH is going through. I made plans to come to the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta months ago, before all these problems came to the surface. NEOCH has always struggled during the summer, because people don't think as much about homelessness, but this is the worst it has ever been. This is the first gathering within the United States of activists as part of the World Forum, and so I decided to go ahead. It is an especially difficult time for the United States with assaults on the Bill of Rights during the middle of an unpopular war and giant gaps in the social safety net. It is important for progressives to get together on a strategy to move forward. I have not had time to go to the computer after a long day of activities, but have been writing things down as I went along.

We got here a day early to see Atlanta. The City is very hot with unrelenting and oppressive heat. We did not see many native residents of Atlanta out on the streets except for homeless people. Atlanta is about the same size as Cleveland, but it seems like a bigger city with a subway system and more cars on the streets. We visited the King National Historic Site here, which is inspiring. The King Center has the tomb of Coretta Scott and Martin Luther King Jr. sitting on smaller version of the DC Reflecting pool with a brick building featuring rooms dedicated to Rosa Parks, Gandhi, King's Family, and the movement. We saw the old and new Ebeneezer Baptist Church as well as the restored neighborhood that King would have seen as a child. All of these except the new Ebeneezer Baptist Church are run by the National Park Service.

We visited the Forum site to register for the Social Forum at the Civic Center. No MARTA (subway) passes available, but we did check in, and got the packet of available workshops. The conference is spread out throughout Atlanta, which makes it hard to get from one workshop to the next battling the heat. Also, there are hundreds of possible workshops in the areas of environmentalism, imperialism, immigration/indigenous people, freedom/democracy, rights of minority populations and women. The conference is overwhelming considering that many of the possible workshops were not accepted. There are thousands expected and it seems that each person has a talent to relate to others. There are artists, cultural events, movies, and public expressions. I met up with Steve Cagan who was hanging his photo exhibit from his images of Columbia. The US Social Forum proves that everyone is an expert in some area. More to follow...


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

Monday, June 25, 2007

Homeless Coalition Needs Help

Future Uncertain for NEOCH

Dear Friend/Member/Advocate:

The Board of Trustees of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) is asking for help from our friends and partners in our collective mission to end homelessness. We need the support of community leaders and our members now as never before.

For 18 years, NEOCH has struggled for social justice and worked to ensure the safety of those who experience homelessness. We have taken on the Herculean task of preserving housing, expanding access to health care and social services, creating living wage jobs, and preventing the criminalization of homelessness. NEOCH's programs have provided legal assistance, voicemail, and housing services, and have given the homeless a voice in the media and in the halls of government.

Because of the Coalition's work, only one individual has died on the streets of Cleveland in the past four years, and hundreds of affordable housing units have been preserved. NEOCH is the only organization that keeps the public and media informed about the issues and the problems associated with life without a home. We have witnessed 20 straight years of increases in homelessness. Last night alone, 4,000 people in greater Cleveland grappled with the effects of homelessness. The need for advocates for the homeless is greater than ever. Behind all the numbers, everyday the staff of the Coalition hears the words from homeless people, "Without you being open, I would not be here or I would not have been able to find housing."

Unfortunately, even as the ranks of the homeless have increased, it has become increasingly difficult to attract financial support for NEOCH's mission. We have seen significant reductions in support from government, and have had a series of setbacks from foundation support this year. Despite efforts by the Board and staff to develop new and diversified funding sources, financial support for NEOCH fell more than 35% between 2004 and 2006. We currently face an additional 23% decline in revenues for 2007.

NEOCH Board members are committed to finding a way to preserve the organization and to continue to provide essential services to homeless people. Without an increase in funding, however, NEOCH cannot continue to serve its vital function in the community. We need a commitment both to resolve this immediate problem and to provide consistent long-term support for our mission. The next few weeks are critical to the future of the Coalition and a time for the community to determine if they value our advocacy and programs. As we meet with elected officials, and corporate and foundation leaders, we ask members, partners, friends, and all who share our concern for those impacted by homelessness for their thoughtful consideration and assistance. There are so many ways to help, and to that end we are having an Open House on July 19 at 7 p.m. to discuss some of those options. As we enter the 2008 Presidential election season, and people begin to hold house parties, solicit their friends, tap alumni associations, we ask that you think about putting a similar effort into assisting the local Homeless Coalition to allow us the opportunity to continue to serve homeless people.

The NEOCH Board of Trustees
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Updates from Homeless Coalition

Ways to Get Involved...
1. Teach In set for this week
2. Please renew your membership if you have not done so
3. Volunteer Open House July 19
1. The AmeriCorps*VISTA members of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless will host a Homeless Teach In on Wednesday June 27, 2007 at 6 p.m. to focus on the homelessness and mental health issues. The Teach In is a 3 hour tour of homelessness in Cleveland with speakers from the homeless community and profiles of programs that serve homeless people with a mental illness. Please RSVP to Emily at 216/432-0540 to join us for this event. We will provide a light meal, and materials to provide a glimpse of homelessness in Cleveland.
2. Our membership renewal went out this week, so if you have forgotten to renew your membership for 2007 please do it this week. Celebrate freedom in America on this upcoming July 4th weekend by renewing your membership in the Homeless Coalition. You can do that online at our website at or by returning the envelope that we sent to you.
3. NEOCH is hosting an open house on July 19 to provide information to potential volunteers. We will talk about all of the exciting opportunities for helping the Coalition. There are special events, planning parties, major donor efforts and increasing membership in the Coalition. We need your time and talent. If you are a good writer or have good people skills we need your help. Join us on Thursday July 19 at 7 p.m. and learn how your talents can be put to good use.
If you have any questions give us a call at 216/432-0540

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

Monday, June 18, 2007

Wild Boys of the Road

DC Trip Yields Big Movie Find

I was in DC last week for the National Coalition for the Homeless meeting and got to marvel at the extreme level of security, while so many in the city have no housing security. How can so many funds and resources be directed at protecting buildings while our "leaders" step over fellow citizens who are left vulnerable and unsafe? It will never cease to amaze me how government officials capable of ending homelessness drive by or walk over humans on their way to cast a vote that could end all this suffering.

NCH worked on policy issues and various bills that are winding their way around Washington that would change homelessness. We have a summary of the bills we are following in the June newsletter of NEOCH.

One great piece of history that I found when I was in DC was a movie called Wild Boys of the Road from 1933. I had to go to the Library of Congress to see the movie, but it was worth the hassle of trying to find the movie room. After walking down long halls that all look the same for 40 minutes, I found the correct room. It was a depression era film with great relevance for today especially in Cleveland. The folks at NCH actually found the movie and passed the information on to me. [*Spoiler Alert*] I am going to give away the ending of the movie because it is long out of print, and I doubt many will go to DC to schedule a movie screening from the Library of Congress.

Eddie, Tommy, and Grace were the Wild Boys who were around 16 years old and discovered that there families could not afford to keep them. They hopped a train to Chicago to look for work. There were these groups of well dressed men who would wait at the train station and round up the train stowaways for jail or a return to their city of origin. They hopped on the next train to Columbus, Ohio and got stopped 10 miles outside of town. This time Eddie led a rebellion against the nicely dressed thugs waiting to arrest the train stowaways. Tommy got his leg cut off while jumping from a train, and they ran into some really bad railroad employees who raped one of the female stowaways.

The group made it up to Cleveland next and lived in a tent city near the train station. The group lived in those giant sewer pipes waiting to be carried out on the trains. The tent city grew and soon hundreds were sleeping on the outskirts of Cleveland. They would go downtown in large gangs and cover every street corner with panhandlers. They would ask every business owner, every pedestrian for money as they moved down the street 50 strong. Much as today, this was too much for the Mayor who ordered a break up of the tents by sending police into order the boys to leave the City. The headlines screamed, "Sewer Pipe City Must Go" and "Police Seek to Control Vagrants." The police were very kind and spoke in the finest Queens English while asking the men to move on. One police officer was sad that he had his own children and that he saw in the faces of his children every time he looked at the kids sleeping in the sewer pipes . The police were sad that they had to evict these kids, but then they turned the hoses on these squatters.

The group made it to New York City and got mixed up with the wrong people. They got arrested and went before a judge. At first, the judge was going to throw the book at them because they would not give up their parents names or the city that they came from. Eddie and Tommy give a great speech about homelessness:
"Edward 'Eddie' Smith: [to judge] I knew all that stuff about you helping us was baloney. I'll tell you why we can't go home--because our folks are poor. They can't get jobs and there isn't enough to eat. What good will it do you to send us home to starve? You say you've got to send us to jail to keep us off the streets. Well, that's a lie. You're sending us to jail because you don't want to see us. You want to forget us. But you can't do it because I'm not the only one. There's thousands just like me, and there's more hitting the road every day.
Tommy Gordon: You read in the papers about giving people help. The banks get it. The soldiers get it. The breweries get it. And they're always yelling about giving it to the farmers. What about us? We're kids!

Edward 'Eddie' Smith: Go ahead! Put me in a cell. Lock me up! I'm sick of being hungry and cold. Sick of freight trains. Jail can't be any worse than the street. So give it to me!"
The judge relents and says "I am going to help you." I am going to assign someone to your case to help you with housing, jobs, and then rejoin your family. He said things will turn around and everything is going to be better. This was the best part of the movie, because it shows what we need today. Our system is so fractured today no one ever says, "I will help you with everything." They say go here to get this, then go here to get that and then get on this waiting list. Many people are looking for the kind of help in our community as this benevolent judge offered solid help with all the kids issues. This movie was cheesy with outdated language and a high entertainment value, but it had a good message that has resonance today. Where are the judges, social workers or case workers who solve people's problems? Two thumbs way up for Wild Boys of the Road, which shows us that government can work and can solve problems.

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

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Food Fights on Public Square

Where do we Feed Homeless People?

We had a meeting on Tuesday with the City of Cleveland to discuss the feeding of homeless people on Public Square. One interesting comment was that the two groups engaged in this activity include progressives like Food Not Bombs and Evangelicals don't agree on much except that they do not want government to tell them what to do. The problem is that there are so many people who want to deliver food to homeless people and most use Public Square as the staging area. The issue is that there is no coordination, not enough trash receptacles, and not enough bathrooms. Now, we have witnessed church groups fighting with each other over the space.

We need coordination of the feeding so that we have one or two churches per night. We need a place in doors to serve homeless people. This is why those residents of the tents were staying near the Square. They needed to be near the place where food is served. The City is concerned and has reopened discussions about food service downtown. This planning started under the previous administration, but went no where. We will see how this effort proceeds, but it started out well with the Mayor's Chief of Staff attending the meeting.

We really need a building in which homeless people can gather that has running water and bathrooms. We need a place that churches and others can come and serve food with a set schedule so that every night is covered. We need a place on the East Side that serves dinner for all those who choose not to use the shelters. Ralph Delaney would go Downtown to deliver food and water to homeless people in the 1990s before he was beaten to death. His dream was to see the creation of a 24 hour drop in center for homeless people. I would love to see a place for homeless people inside so that they can eat and rest with a measure of dignity.

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

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tent Township Ends at Noon Friday

Police Deliver Deadline to Those Sleeping in the Tents

After stories in the Plain Dealer today and the Free Times yesterday, the Police finally delivered the message to those living near the Brown's stadium that they had to move. The Third District Police went to the walking bridge today and told everyone sleeping at the site that they had until noon on Friday to leave or face arrest. Again, I never understood why the City was not honest and just said that they need the space for an event. They gave notice. They own the property. They do not want to encourage people sleeping outside, and there is space in the overflow shelter. This dodge and weave about safety was not believable since these guys spent much of the winter outside.

We have learned for the future that we will have to have police or city officials go down and carry the message first before we intervene from now on. The guys who sleep in the tents viewed us as the bad guys these past few weeks. They were getting conflicting messages from some mystery person who said that they could stay. Then the deadline came and went on Monday and still no reply from the City. Finally, today four days after the deadline the police showed up to force a relocation of these guys. So, this made us look like we were making up stories. That is until today, when the police intervened. We miss Commander Gonzalez from the Third Police District. He was very skilled at keeping all of us on the same page in previous relocations. He was very good about setting deadlines and sticking to his word. He made sure that the social services were in place and that they helped relocate people. There were even two people who got into housing with the relocation at the airport. I am sure that he is doing good things at CMHA, but we needed someone from the City to get that huge bureaucracy of the various city departments all on the same page.

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

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Last Days of the Tent City

Drifters Must Move on Again...

They were told to leave from the Convention Center, and now it is very difficult to stay on Public Square for a many reasons. So, this weekend the men and women gathered under the Shoreway are asked to leave another spot. First, I have to put a few things on the table. I have to say that this is not a Tent City. The Israelis know how to do a tent city, 15 tents is not a city. This is not a settlement, and I am not sure that this is even a Tent Township. It is, however, the largest number of tents that I have ever seen together in Cleveland. It does not compare to the nearly 100 tents in Seattle, Portland or Denver tent cities.

I know that a bunch of volunteers helped these couples with locating the tents. If you decide to construct a tent city in the future:

  1. Have plenty of lawyers on hand before starting.
  2. Do it on public land that does not have a purpose or private land that has been left to deteriorate. This current property is neither.
  3. If you don't want community attention don't gather more than 3 or 4 tents in the same area.

We did a series on tent cities in the Grapevine way back in the early part of 2000, and talked to people who sleep outside. At that time, we asked people about sleeping in a tent city, and many felt that they wanted to be left alone. They did not want to be near a bunch of people for their own safety (the same reason they were not in shelter.) There is a feeling of empowerment to construct a set of rules for clean up, and basically to construct a governing structure when a bunch of tents are in the same area. In other cities they have a strict code of conduct, and they have a law enforcement component built in to the tent city. For advocates, at the end of the day, these people still deserve a place inside to live. They will not go into shelter so the government (We the People) has/have an obligation to provide other alternatives. Right now in Cleveland, we have a choice between shelter and the streets. We have a wait of 3 to 5 years for non-disabled and non-senior housing. Advocates should not actively construct tent cities, but if one develops the City needs to have a better response then "Go to shelter!" In other words, if these tents annoy the City then provide these couples and these men with a house to live in.

The City did give about three weeks notice to this group to move, but has yet to propose a real solution. The issue is that so many people come downtown to feed people, and these guys need to be close to Public Square in order to have access to the food. We have a meeting with the City to talk about food distribution on Tuesday. I am sure that the tents will come up. We will see and report back.

Breaking News...
The Skittles analogy from the previous post got me a spot on one of the upcoming Ideas program on Wednesday night at 7:30 pm. replayed on Sunday at 11 a.m. on WVIZ/PBS talking about the Emerald Commons project and supportive housing.

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

Sunday, June 03, 2007

I Am Sorry for the Death of Jason West

How to Protect the Mentally Ill?

I live in Cleveland Heights, and have been deeply saddened by the loss of Officer Jason West. I have read as much as I can, and listened to the Regina Brett Sound of Ideas on Friday show about the whole affair. It was amazing to hear from the mother of Timothy Halton Jr. call into the show to say that she was not given enough help for her child. I also understand that Mental Health Services revealed that Mr. Halton was recently homeless. I read Phillip Morris' column in the Plain Dealer, and his snap assessment of the whole affair. It was good that he talked to the mother, but I am not sure one law could have prevented this sad encounter on Altamont Ave. I have seen some of the crazy comments, the tremendous sadness, and the anger.

The one thing that I have not seen is an apology. No where on any of the local Mental Health Agencies websites did anyone say, "We are sorry that we messed up." The President of the Mental Health Board wrote a letter to the editor in todays paper, and yet there was no apology. This was a colossal failure of the system, and someone should apologize. The reason that people do not trust government or government institutions is because no one ever takes responsibility. No one ever admits that they messed up or that they let someone slip through the cracks. We are all so afraid of lawsuits that no one ever takes responsibility for anything.

NEOCH is the advocacy organization working to end homelessness. Mr. Halton Jr. was homeless, and we did not do our jobs before that fateful May 25th evening. I want to tell the family of Officer West that I am sorry for not doing enough to protect him from a serious mentally ill man. I am sorry to the other police officers in Cleveland Heights for making their job more complicated. I will dedicate myself to do more to make sure that people do not fall through the cracks. I will do all that I can to protect my constituents who are homeless from extreme responses to this tragedy while balancing public safety. I will work as hard as I can to make sure that there are no more deaths due to mental illness.

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