Saturday, September 29, 2007

Food on Public Square

Collaboration Works Over Law Enforcement

We have convened a group over the last three months to talk about the feeding of homeless people outside. We are blessed in this community with an outpouring of spiritual fervor for getting nourishment to homeless people. There are so many church meals served to those without money, we could fill 4 legal size pieces of paper front and back of meals in Cuyahoga County. There is a problem that the City has been talking about for years and that is the distribution of meals on Public Square. The debate is which came first the homeless people who live there or the meals? Las Vegas, St. Petes, and Orlando have all decided the distribution of food was first and have outlawed it.

Some City Council members have also decided the best way to approach this problem is to make new laws (curfews and panhandling). We have decided the better way is to sit down and talk together to lay out a plan to work this out. So, on Thursday many of the church groups and Food Not Bombs along with the City, professional outreach teams, homeless people, and the Coalition met to continue this discussion. The outreach workers made the case that sometimes the congregations coming downtown with food is not helping and may times it actually harms people. Those with diabetes, obesity, and other health issues are becoming sicker with all this food. The waste of food is attracting rats, which are also difficult for homeless people. On Sundays, there are six meals served on Public Square each and every Sunday. The members of the Homeless Congress talked about their support for finding an indoor location. All were appreciative of the tremendous work of the religious congregations and activists to help, but all in the room wanted to work together to improve the condition of those without housing.

We are making a push to find an indoor location that any church could use to provide food and ministry to homeless people with a coordinated schedule. The problem is the amount of trash generated, the construction on the Square, the lack of bathrooms on the Square, and the health problems that come with living outside are all major concerns of the professional outreach. The religious groups have developed a friendship with these men and woman, and have brought nourishment of the stomach and heart. If the two work together, all of these people can change the face of homelessness in Cleveland, and they are now speaking honestly to each other. We shall see how the power of prayer and communicating face to face will be able to move people inside in the next couple of weeks.

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Interesting Post on Public Urination

$100 Fine for Improper Urination

Jeff from RealNEO has a wonderful description of the court hearing today for the Cleveland Brown's player. The media were all present to see the opening salvo in the trial for disgraceful behavior exhibited by a community role model. Jeff was there but found a much better story in the trial of Mr. Baskin who was "caught" urinating in public at 2:30 a.m. and appeared after the Cleveland Brown's Leigh Bodden's hearing.

I have to say that RealNEO is one of the best blogs in the region. I love the amazing photos combined with the rare collection of readable text. I wish I had the time and talent to add good pics to this blog. Too many of the blogs are just poorly written or photos with no context or both.

Anyway, Jeff dedicates a great deal of space to go through this waste of taxpayer money in this public urination trial. He describes the one hundred dollars fine, and the judge questioning the homeless individual about jobs and housing. Mr. Baskin told the judge that he was leaving the City. Here is how Jeff ends the post.

"Mr. Baskin’s story is much more important, and much more poignant, than Leigh’s - because Mr. Baskin’s story is the story of why Cleveland is continuing to fail. Mr. Baskin’s story is the story of why the Cleveland Police Department is purportedly “understaffed”. Mr. Baskin’s story is the reason the dockets in the Cleveland Courts are so cluttered. Mr. Baskin’s story is the story behind why the Jails are overcrowded. Mr. Baskin’s story is the story behind why our taxes are not producing effective services for the citizenry.

I would have liked to have interviewed Mr. Baskin but I didn’t have time. I had to take my dog out on the treelawn to pee."

A couple of things about this sad affair:

The City of Cleveland Police realized five years ago that there is a lack of public restrooms, and attempted to solve the problem. They found an acceptable location. They found the money and they got agreement from homeless people who would clean up the port-o-johns. They took the plan (which we supported and lobbied for) to the Campbell administration. The Parks Department rejected the idea because of the liability issues raised by some lawyers. Who would pay if the port-o-john tipped over and the user sued? The plan died, and we still don't have a place to go to the bathroom downtown.

This was never a problem in the past because there was always construction sites that had Port-o-Johns to use. Since we have not built anything downtown in years it is impossible to find a place to pee after 9 p.m. downtown.

There are so many people who do not want to go into the shelters in our city. From my experience there are more people sleeping outside or in abandoned buildings then there are living in the shelters (2,000 people in shelter every night). There are so many reasons why people do not go into shelter and they have to deal with where do they find a bathroom. From theft, and disrespect by staff to fear of crowds and pride are just a few of the reasons why people choose not to use the shelters. Imagine, they are willing to deal with the rain, wind, and snow instead of going into a local shelter.

There are a few day shift officers who have become the liaisons to the homeless community. Night shift is a different story. Why these officers would take someone in for using a tree when there are no bathrooms open is beyond me? Don't they have something else that the officer could be working on at 2:30 a.m? What a waste of tax payer money to have this officer go to court and try to extract blood from a turnip.

I am not as down on Cleveland as Jeff is with all this public urination stuff, because I have seen other cities. There is a war going on in most cities in America between homeless people and the municipal government. In Atlanta, they have a team of lawyers working on ways to make it illegal to be poor. In Las Vegas and a few cities in Florida, they have decided that feeding people only makes more people poor and so they outlawed the distribution of food on the streets. Cincinnati, Austin, and Los Angeles are all developing ways to make it difficult to exist if you do not have a home. I would not be surprised if all these cities were meeting on a regular basis to compare notes on the best strategy to make their homeless population disappear through law enforcement. Cleveland has issues, but they don't compare to some of the other cities in the United States.

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

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Upcoming Coalition Events

Events of the Homeless Coalition

1. Please join us on Thursday night September 25 at 5:30 p.m. to begin the planning on our Annual fund raiser for 2008. If you like planning special events or want to help NEOCH get the word out about the organization. We need your help. If you can offer time to help with the NEOCH fundraiser call Teri’ at 216/432-0540 ext. 101.

2. Lt. Governor and Director of the Ohio Department of Development, Lee Fisher, will speak to the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance on Monday October 1 at 1:30 p.m. at the lower level of the HUD/US Bank Building. Free and open to the public this forum will focus on state efforts to preserve and expand affordable housing in Ohio. Fisher will touch on the foreclosure crisis and the impact of the State Housing Trust fund, and will take time to answer questions. The forum in at 1350 Euclid Ave. in the Playhouse Square section of Cleveland.

3. The 2008 Stand Down health fair is set for February 1, 2008. In an effort to raise supplies and funds for the anticipated 1,000 homeless people who attend the Stand Down, NEOCH is partnering with InterAct Cleveland to kick off the Homeless Stand Down season on October 27, 2007 at 1 p.m. at Calvary Presbyterian Church at East 79th near Euclid Ave. We will begin collecting winter coats, hats, and gloves as well as other supplies for the Stand Down. For more information call InterAct 216/241-0230.

4. The NEOCH website was recently updated please check it out and give us your feedback There is a common design and theme, some great pictures, statistics, and solutions to homelessness. We have a few job openings listed on the website and a calendar of events. We also have links to our partners and to our two blogs. You can also donate directly on our website through Network for Good. Please give us some feedback on the site and let us know what you think.

5. A few other upcoming events to put on your calendar:

December 1, 2007 is the Annual Woodchoppers Ball in Kent.

December 10, 2007 is the Philanthropia luncheon at Landerhaven

December 21, 2007 is the annual Homeless Memorial Day

As always if you have any questions or concerns feel free to call NEOCH at 216/432-0540.

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Associated Estates Fire Sale

From the Files of "Things Must Really Be Bad..."

Cleveland is in the midst of record breaking foreclosures that are expected to only grow in the next year, the housing bubble is popping with real estate declining in value, and now today Associated Estates announced that they are divesting of every one of their affordable rental units in the United States. You may remember Associated Estates from such east side disasters as Longwood Estates in Cleveland that had become so bad the U.S. government demanded the property be torn down. Associated stepped aside after a long series of articles in the Plain Dealer, and the property was rebuilt as Arbor Park. Associated Estates was at one time one of HUD's biggest landlords in the United States.

I do not know what this says about the U.S. economy that this corporation is rejecting the federally backed money of subsidized housing. Is it an isolated incident with a long troubled company? Is it too much government oversight that corporations find it hard now that they are expected to keep their property up to housing quality standards? Is it that fair market values are falling in many communities so that corporations are not seeing a high enough return on their investment? It is a solid source of money with the government paying up to 100% of a household's rent in some of these buildings. How bad must the future be for housing if companies are abandoning the subsidized market? These private corporations providing housing subsidized by the government go back to the Nixon/Ford administrations. You remember the olden days...when the U.S. government actually felt it important to have a plan to house its citizens, and before large scale family shelters were part of the American landscape.

From the Cleveland Tenants Organization here are the local properties operated by Associated Estates:

Abington Arms 152 units
Alexia Manor 50 units
Euclid Beach Club 252 units
Euclid Beach Villa 559 units
Lakeshore Village 108 units
Lourexis 70 units
Owl's Nest 260 units
Riverpark 100 units
The Triangle 142 units

East Cleveland
Forrest Hills Terrace 420 units

Shaker Hts
Ohio Shaker Club 4 units
The Statesman 47 units

Mayfield Hts.
Gates Mills Villa 191 units

University Hts.
Cedar Center 47 units

Warrensville Hts.
Shaker Park Gardens 151 units

West Chester Townhomes 143 units

Euclid Hill Villa 505 units

1,693 units in Cleveland and 3,201 units in the area.

I hope that there are enough buyers in the system who can handle all these properties. It would be a disaster for these units to disappear, and it is hard to be a landlord.

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

Sunday, September 16, 2007


What is Happening at the Homeless Coalition?
We have been busy trying to put together a plan for the NEOCH Board on the future of the Coalition over this last week. The Board must decide this week on what the Coalition will look like in 2008. They will decide on which programs will be part of the Coalition family and which will we try to relocate to other programs. The Coalition will be smaller, but in the end we will do more around advocacy and public education. We will be stronger and will work toward a solution to homelessness in Cuyahoga County.

A few of us got to hear the depressing report on the state of foreclosure and Fair Housing in Cuyahoga County at the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance meeting. Jeff Dillman from Housing Research talked about the state of affordable housing report and the large number of disability related complaints that their group receives every year (around 36% of all complaints). Disability complaints have now surpassed racial complaints (34% of the total complaints). Mark Siefert of ESOP talked about the huge volume of foreclosures coming in the near future. He said that it is bad now, but it will get worse when the volume of Adjustable Rate Mortgages reset beginning in October and lasting through next year. Siefert was critical of state and local government for allowing this situation to get so out of control, and ESOP is trying to get workout agreements with banks and mortgage companies for the homeowners facing foreclosure. Next CAHA meeting: October 1, 2007 is Lt. Governor Lee Fisher at 1:30 p.m. at 1350 Euclid Ave.

NEOCH staff had meetings with potential sponsors of some of our programs and met with the NEOCH Board executive committee to talk about the future. I talked to the police about the impending enforcement of the curfew on Public Square, and the relocation of the tent city. Yes, after being humiliated by a few media outlets and tormented by drivers getting on the freeway, the tent city guys decided to move. They will be a lot better off where they relocated.

The Office of Homeless Services "Advisory" Board met this morning. This is one of the greatest missed opportunities in our community. All the right people are at the table (public housing, shelters, service providers, foundations, city, county, and researchers), but the group has never done much to solve homelessness. NEOCH helped create this group back in the early 1990s with the thought that it would take the lead in eliminating homelessness locally. It has done very little over the last fifteen years, and has never flexed its political muscle in the community to demand changes. It is a good discussion group for those who like talking about homelessness, but not so good for forwarding solutions to homelessness. We did find out that the strip club inside of North Point may not close when they open the transitional shelter in the motel. This potentially could be the only shelter in the United States with an attached strip club. Only in Cleveland...

Met with Captain Sadie about problems in the third district and Public Square. He is a nice guy who has a lot of sympathy for homeless people from his work at Jacobs Field. The Captain is getting a lot of heat from his superiors and the business community over the behavior of homeless people and panhandlers downtown. I firmly believe that law enforcement should never be involved in distribution of services to those who are resistant to shelter, and my meeting with the Captain only reinforces this belief. The police are also concerned with the number of religious groups downtown distributing food with Public Square torn up and with only two quadrants left. I also talked to one of the guys living outside who said that there were about dozen people still sleeping on the Square. All are aware of the impending deadline for enforcement of the curfew (October 1), and a number of them need help with mental health issues.

Met with the NEOCH staff again to talk about the plans for the next year, and sent the plan out to the full board. While we are working on the future of NEOCH, we still had to answer e-mails, telephone calls, and calls of inquiry. At least once a week someone will call or e-mail asking how to open a shelter. We strongly recommend not opening a shelter since two local shelters have already gone out of business in Cleveland and three are teetering on the edge. Unless a person has a great deal of wealth and can fund a shelter strictly from individual donations, they should not think about opening a shelter. Government and foundations do not have the money for shelters anymore.

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

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Forgot to Mention the Nice Commentary from Schultz

PD Columnists Confuses Panhandlers and Homeless

We took Feagler to task for his recycled commentary about panhandlers, but forgot to comment on Connie Schultz's piece in the August 24th PD. First of all, Schultz does a good job of weaving together a story with a current event, and this piece is a thoughtful and well crafted piece of commentary. Why is she confined to the living section? I have never understood this section. Are you not allowed to talk about death in this entire section? Anyway, it was a good commentary, but she still makes the common mistake that homeless and panhandlers are synonymous. She slams the Downtown Alliance strategy of "Don't give to panhandlers" campaign saying that it will magically make these individuals disappear.

I really don't have a problem with the campaign, because it is not government passing a law. As long as government does not say that it is illegal to give or that it is illegal to ask, I am fine. It is an education campaign along the lines of: "the Surgeon General warns that smoking can be harmful to your health." We all know this, but some of us still give. We want to cut out the middle man of the agencies helping these guys. Hell, if agencies were so good at what they do then there would not be panhandlers on the street. How many "agencies" actually do outreach to panhandlers or those resistant to shelter or those who cannot follow the rules or those who voice concern about bizarre religious doctrines that get in the way of help? Actually, there are about 7 in our city. By the way, I am one of those who does not give, but I understand and have respect for those who do give.

Connie Schultz does a good job throwing water on this campaign and calls it what it actually is: a campaign to ignore poverty. I just wish she would not mix homeless people with panhandlers. It was nice that she talked to the National Coalition for the Homeless. People always trust groups and "experts" from outside the area. If only there were a Coalition for Panhandlers, so they could effectively advocate for themselves. Since a small number of homeless people do beg for money, it is up to the Homeless groups to go to bat for the panhandlers. My experience is that people who are in competition with each other have a hard time doing anything together and thus the reason for no Coalition for Panhandlers.

Ms. Schultz sums it all up with the "there but the grace of God go I" story of the woman who gives because her dad made plenty of mistakes and ended up destitute. "Most of us don't really spend much time thinking about how to help the homeless. What we really want is permission not to think of them at all," said Schultz. I hope that those posters hanging around downtown do not give people permission to forget about homeless people.

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

Monday, September 03, 2007

Why Does the PD Print Hate?

Letters Paint Homeless With Hate-filled Brush

In the Sunday PD, there were three letters about homeless people and one about panhandlers. Two were very well-reasoned arguments against the curfew. Check them out. There was one from a woman from Brecksville who urges the pedestrians to give to agencies instead of giving money to "beggars." The final letter should never have been printed, because it is factually inaccurate and dripping with hatred. The individual paints all homeless people who decide against using the shelters with the same tired stereotypes. He urges Connie Shultz to "concentrate on the fact that this their choice: to avoid responsibility and mooch change to sustain their filthy, disgusting existence." Then he sums it up with a jailing of all those who sleep outside and forcing them into a work camp or concentration camp. Why is it acceptable for a reader to ask that those who choose not to use a shelter be labeled disgusting, filthy and thrown in a work camp? The editors would never publish a similar letter about members of the Jewish or Muslim faith or targeting African American or Latino members of our community with this type of language.

Yes, a few homeless people use the outdoors for their bathrooms. Yes, there are also a bunch of people who come downtown to party and use the outside as their bathroom. In fact, the front page story in the Plain Dealer highlighted a few neighborhoods where people used the street and yards to puke and relieve themselves, and they were not homeless. How about building a public restroom downtown, and I guarantee that you would take care of 80% of the problem with homeless people using the outdoors to relieve themselves. Get rid of all the bars downtown and you would take care of the non-homeless using the downtown streets as a restroom. I would argue that only a small number make it bad for the majority of people who just want to be left alone. I do not understand why the Plain Dealer allows such stereotyping and characterizing a broad and diverse group of people as disgusting.

There are couples who do not want to split up and so stay together outside or in abandoned buildings. There are no shelters for couples in our community. There are those who stay with their pets. There are those who do not want to accept charity. Then we find many who feel the shelters are unsafe. There are homeless people who do not like all the rules and want to be independent. These individuals obey all the rules and laws, but decide to live outside. There are many cleaning up the stadium at night, and are familiar with a hard day's work. In fact, many homeless work harder than anyone else in our community in some of the most backbreaking jobs known to man, like cleaning out waste management trucks or lifting car parts on to the assembly line to be painted.

I am just trying to imagine the kind of heat that the editorial page would get if this letter was directed at any other ethnic or racial group. Any letter based on unfounded stereotypes about a lazy, disgusting or filthy minority or religious group who should be jailed for their behavior would be viewed as hate mail and thrown in the garbage. This is the reason that there are so many hate crimes directed at homeless people. The Plain Dealer publishing these types of letters makes it seem as though homeless people are less than human, and available for attack. I would write a letter, but the daily has a new one letter per month rule.

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