Friday, November 30, 2007

More Events to Get Ready For

Homeless Memorial Day and Phil-an-thro-pia

Homeless Memorial Day is set for December 21, 2007 at Franklin Circle Church at 5:15 p.m. This is a candlelight vigil for those who passed away over the last year and had experienced homelessness. Franklin Circle will host a special meal after the event, and InterAct Cleveland will bring inter-religious figures to the event for a diverse prayer service. Peter Lawson Jones, Cuyahoga County Commissioner, will say a few words, and NEOCH will read the names of people who have passed away over the last year. Everyone is welcome to attend.

Every year Executive Caterers hosts a luncheon, and the profits go to various non-profit organizations. This year the luncheon is on Monday December 10, 2007. Tickets require a minimum donation of $50 per person by sending a donation into Landerhaven, but making the check out to NEOCH. Your donation is tax deductible and you get to enjoy a delicious lunch with other activists or your co-workers. Call NEOCH and we can send you a reservation card or give you more information at 216/432-0540.

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

Upcoming Events of the Coalition

Woodchopper's Ball This Weekend

The 2007 Woodchoppers' Ball

The 2007 Woodchoppers' Ball

The Woodchoppers Ball is an annual concert to benefit The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. Every year nine of the best acoustic guitarists in North America are invited to perform at this musical extravaganza. Saturday December 1 at the Kent Stage at 175 East Main Street at 7:00 p.m. is the date for the 2007 Woodchopper’s Ball. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

There are 3 sets of 3 guitarists on stage at a time, each taking a turn playing a song till everyone has played a total of 4 songs each. Charley Brown is the Master of Ceremony and Bay Village guitarist Brian Henke performs and helps to organize this annual event. Other notable guitarists who perform include California’s Pete Huttlinger, winner of the 2000 National Fingerstyle Guitar Championship, Patrick Woods who finished second in the Guitar Player Magazine’s Guitar Hero contest, David Mayfield, and Emmy Award winning master flat picker Robin Kessingerr of West Virginia. The other four players include 1997 National Fingerstyle Champion Todd Hallawell, Greg Gilbertson, Nathan Montgomery, and another Fingerstyle guitar championship competitor Tim Thompson.

Brian Henke spends the entire year planning for the Annual Woodchopper’s Ball. Henke said, “The fun on the stage is infectious, and is easily shared by the audience.” This fundraiser has special significance this year after the difficult year for the Coalition. We hope that you can all make it down to Kent for the great music and to help the Coalition.

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

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Downtown Shows Marked Decline in Homeless

Every year since homeless people started being harassed in Downtown Cleveland, NEOCH staff and volunteers have gone downtown over the Thanksgiving weekend to see how many people are sleeping outside. For the last 10 years, we have tried to count and talk to everyone (if they are not sleeping) in the area between West 6th St. and East 20th St. then between the Lake and Carnegie Ave. We believe that this is a good baseline for the lowest number of people sleeping outside for the year in Cleveland. During the holidays, families take their relatives inside so they don't have to sleep outside or in the shelters. This count does not define the number of people sleeping outside, but it is a good indicator of the trends. The decline in 2000 was the first year that 2100 Lakeside Shelter opened.

Where Have All the Homeless (People) Gone???

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, volunteers from the Coalition for the Homeless were only able to find 17 homeless people sleeping downtown. This was a huge decline from the 40 in 2006, so we went back the next day to make sure. We verified the numbers. I cannot explain the reason for the decline, but can give you some observations on what changed in the last year. There is no single issue like in 2000 with the opening of the shelter causing this decline, but here are my thoughts on some of the reasons:

  • The clean up crews are now firmly established. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance funded clean up crews with their yellow and blue outfits have taken control of the downtown. They make it very uncomfortable for homeless people who want to be left alone, but for their own safety do not want to be invisible. It is hard to exist on the heated sidewalks with those huge blowers and cleaners running in the morning.
  • The City of Cleveland has recently disrupted the food program downtown. The groups have moved around and been made to feel unwelcome by City officials. Some have stopped feeding. Others have moved outside the Downtown area. This has caused homeless people to relocate closer to where there are churches or meal program operating.
  • With the anticipated closure of Aviation High School, the County has made a huge effort to open up housing for homeless people. From Stella Maris, Emerald Commons, Oriana House and additional housing vouchers, over the last three months there has been an unprecedented opportunity for people with disabilities to move out of the shelters.
  • The foreclosure crisis has made available an incredible number of vacant properties in neighborhoods. Often these properties are abandoned, some still have furniture, and many have heat. Many homeless people see the foreclosure crisis as an opportunity to find low cost housing (FREE!) with some privacy.
  • The outreach teams are now coordinating their work. The Coalition has begun hosting monthly meetings to get all the professional outreach teams on the same page. This has resulted in the teams mapping out the city (on Google maps), and they each talk to the men and women sleeping out on a regular schedule and try to convince those resistant to shelter to come inside. They all carry the same message, and they regularly talk to each other.
  • The tent city was displaced. Last year, there was a growing group sleeping in tents near the Brown's stadium. This group was forced to relocate out of the Downtown area.
  • The curfew on Public Square was passed by Cleveland City Council over the last year. During the 2006 walk, there were between 15 to 17 sleeping around the Square. This year there were three.
I am not sure that this means that there are fewer homeless people, because the numbers at 2100 Lakeside have not decreased at all. In fact, they have had near record nights six times in this last month and two near record nights in October. I also do not think that people moved just outside of the downtown clean up area. I feared that maybe this was the case, but I drove all around the Flats and in the St. Clair/Superior neighborhood and did not find any large groups. There were some places that homeless people have lived for years on sidewalks and out of the way areas that are no longer sites for homeless people in 2007. This is good news.

Overall, I was impressed with how much better the buildings and streets look downtown. I was sad that there were so few if any people walking around and now there were not even any homeless people, but the Downtown looked good. If our goal in the community is to get homeless people off the streets, we have done a great job. We have unfortunately done that at the expense of the thousands of former home owners who had to endure the foreclosure nightmare. If the goal is to get these men and women into stable, decent, affordable places to live, then we have a long way to go.

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

Monday, November 26, 2007

Other Problems With Questionable Fundraising

Gang of Women Scam Artists on the East Side

It is that time of year...We have heard reports of a group of three or four women who ask for money at Shopping Centers on the East Side of Cleveland. They usually have a clip board (because everyone looks official if they are holding a clip board), and they claim that they are raising money for NEOCH, a Women's Shelter, or a Domestic Violence Shelter. They also have a fake identification badge that they created with the NEOCH name on it. Then, as the final attempt to look legitimate, they give the individuals who "donate" the front side of our Street Card. We have tried to have these people arrested many times, and only a few cities actually find it even worth their time to run them off. Most cities tell us that it is a minor misdemeanor because the victim only lost $1, $5 or at most $10, so why bother engaging them. Even though this criminal enterprise is taking away hundreds of dollars of good will it is stealing a little from many different people. So, these women give a document meant for homeless people, claiming that they are raising money for charities, and then use that money for the purchase of illegal substances.

They are doing all of this on private property, which makes it very difficult to regulate. They used the Grapevine at first as their front, but that was expensive since they had to buy each copy for a quarter. The Street Card is free and so they can run those off at Kinkos or the Library for a few cents a copy, and they have an scam with very low overhead. Only the Salvation Army and the Grapevine are legitimately outside raising dollars for homeless causes or homeless people. The shelters do not raise money on the streets, and neither does the Domestic Violence Center. Please call the police if you see this gang deceiving people with their Street Card scam. Since our name is used, NEOCH would be happy to testify at any trial against these women as the victim of this crime. They move around and have been seen in Euclid, Richmond Hts, East Cleveland, South Euclid, Woodland, Cleveland, Southgate, and Cleveland Hts. In the height of hubris, we also had a report that they were asking for money on the steps of Cleveland City Hall. They no longer fear punishment for this scam and are willing to conduct their illegal activity at the center of government in Cleveland. None of their money goes to any charity, and they will not stop until they are put in jail for a very long time.

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Speaking of Donations...

Questionable Solicitors at the West Side Market

Speaking of where to donate your charitable dollars...I am all for second chances, but should a guy convicted multiple times for theft be the representative to ask for money for St. Jude's Hospital? The Grapevine vendors are complaining about a guy standing behind the West Side Market asking for donations for St. Jude's Hospital. He did this last year, and this year was given a license by the City of Cleveland Parks Department. His name is Steve, and he has a long history of questionable activities with charities including NEOCH, the Salvation Army, St. Augustine with multiple arrests and convictions for theft, grand theft, receiving stolen property, passing bad checks, unauthorized use of a credit card, and more between 1990 and 2000.

I am a big supporter of the Second Chance Act, and reintegrating those coming out of incarceration back into society, but there are some jobs that may not be appropriate. I mean, it takes a great deal of trust to put cash into a person's hand and expect it to get to the charity. Just as I would not hire Jim Bakker or Winona Ryder as cashiers, Steve may not be the best person to ask for cash for St. Jude's Hospital. St. Jude's feels bad that they sent all the material to Steve, and we now know that the City does not do a background check on the people requesting a permit for soliciting charitable dollars. Steve told St. Jude's that he was raising dollars by conducting a craft fair, but instead is asking for money while standing behind the West Side Market. Last year, he gave the charity $800 and also stood behind the Market asking for money during the holidays. Now, I am sure that the Salvation Army can raise more than $800 a day behind the West Side Market, but certainly they could do it in two days. Otherwise, it would not be worth paying those guys $7 per hour to ring the bell all day in the cold. Steve pulled a permit for an entire week.

Shoppers beware of who you give your money to. This includes panhandlers, bell ringers, charity solicitors, and Grapevine vendors. The badged vendors of the Grapevine are a good bet. Make sure that you get a paper or call us at NEOCH. If they are rude or inappropriate in any way, let us know and we can yank their badge. The red kettle of the Salvation Army is a good bet. Those guys have a code of conduct, a permit, and their is local oversight. You might want to avoid Steve, the convicted felon, "raising" money for St. Jude's Hospital. Your choice-you decide.

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No, We Do Not Support the Anti-Panhandling Campaign

Plain Dealer Gets It Wrong

The article in Wednesday's Plain Dealer about the panhandling campaign and the $100 donated to the "Homeless Fund" stated that NEOCH supported the Downtown Alliance's campaign. This is incorrect. The Homeless Grapevine and the vendors of the paper support the campaign, because the they do not like panhandlers. The Coalition has never taken a position on the campaign, but we certainly would not support a battle against our own constituents. Sure, panhandlers are a tiny proportion of the homeless population, but we still have to respect our constituents.

We are not actively opposing the campaign. I believe that people Downtown are smart enough to realize what they are doing when they give to a panhandler. It is almost like pulling the lever on a slot machine--rarely do you win, but we always hold out hope. We know that most of the donation is wasted, but there is always that hope that your act of kindness will turn things around for the person. A great many feel that no matter what happens to their donation, it is a small token of kindness that they do not get from donating to a charity. So, while the Coalition is not big fans of panhandling, because of the degrading nature of begging for money, we would not campaign against something that has a longer history than democracy on this planet.

I went over this repeatedly with the Plain Dealer reporter, but he just did not seem to get it. I tried to explain that the vendors are allowed to express a contrary opinion to that of the Coalition. I told him that I was most disappointed that religious groups would sign onto the campaign because of the conflict over their messages: "Go out and give to the poor, but just not downtown when someone asks." I feel bad that the three major churches downtown are listed as co-sponsors. I do not understand why the reporter would list us as a supporter, but I hope the Plain Dealer prints a correction. Far be it for us to tell you what to do with your charitable dollars, but the signs downtown seem mean-spirited.

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

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Failures of Government 3

Your Government In Action--OHS II

It is so easy to pick on the Office of Homeless Services when you realize that government created the office in 1992-3 when there were 9,500 homeless people in Cleveland in order to have one group who could focus on the problem and reduce the number of people who find themselves homeless. Fourteen years later, there are 20,000 homeless people and no end in sight. It is no wonder that government gets a bad name with a track record like OHS. This group's primary purpose is to bring in government funds to the county, but they have a book club that meets every other month to talk about the problems over coffee. This group is improperly called the OHS Advisory Board since they advise no one, but it is always nice to talk about homelessness for two hours every eight weeks.

Anyway, they canceled the book club this week instead asking the homeless experts to crowd into a small room to listen to some "experts" from around the country talk about how to better serve families who become homeless as part of the Enterprise national conference. In our weekly effort to demonstrate how your government fails you, I give you the OHS family homeless forum. This invitation only meeting was an attempt to get some handle on this growing population that is overwhelming the shelters. NEOCH raised concerns about the growing problem of homeless families in a forum we held in March 2007. We had actual homeless families give a snapshot of the horrible (soon to be on our website under solutions/public policy) conditions women and children face when they become homeless in Cleveland. It is one of the fastest growing sub population in our community, and it is a near certainty that a Mom and Dad will have to break up in order to get into a shelter. For the OHS forum, we were all pushed into a little room at the Renaissance Hotel (my least favorite place in Cleveland) to hear how other communities are doing so much better than Cleveland. In the ultimate humiliation, we had to listen to the woman from the National Alliance to End Homelessness tell us that Columbus, Ohio is solving family homelessness, and Cleveland is way behind our neighbors to the south.

There was so much wrong with this three hour workshop that I could write a book, but I will just give you the top 10 failings of this conference workshop. I have to tell you that I am not a big fan of conferences. In this day of the internet, just put your powerpoint on the internet and let me go look at the information. In addition, what the hell do people from New York, Washington or Portland know about Cleveland or what will work locally? My feeling is that unless you can tell us how to decrease homelessness by half with a detailed funding plan and without causing others to take their place in the shelter line than you might as well be coming to talk about the proper color scheme for painting the living rooms of shelters. Your tax dollars and government resources in staff time went into this conference designed to give us ideas for how to reduce family homelessness. What went wrong with this forum:

1. The national groups have no credibility with regard to family homelessness. Enterprise-- national, National Alliance to End Homelessness, and the Center for Urban Community Services along with the research they base their work on are all part of the problem. They have pushed a funding mechanism serving long term single adult homeless people stealing resources from women with children who find themselves homeless.

2. All of these groups continue to use the offensive term "chronically" homeless, which makes it seem as though homelessness is some kind of medical condition.

3. The statistics used are bogus. How do you measure decreases in the shelter population when only a few cities in the United States have guaranteed access to shelter? All the other cities see decreases in shelter populations by closing shelters or limiting access.

4. They kept referring to "Housing First" successes, but all of us in the business know that housing first programs are directed at single adults. HUD is giving preferences to programs in funding housing first programs that serve single adults, and so why did the presenters keep mentioning a program that does not serve families?

5. These programs that the presenters talked about may be cool, but there is no money to fund them in one of the poorest cities in America. They do not understand how bad off we are locally, and they never tell us where we are supposed to get the money for these programs. We don't need anymore ideas; we need bundles of cash.

6. They always talk about these incredibly expensive programs to serve only 67 people. We have thousands of families who need help in Cleveland (probably 50,000 households). We need more Yugos or even Scooters, but they keep showing us Cadillac programs. How many times would you go back to the car dealership, if every time you asked to see an old Ford Festiva they would bring out a new Hummer?

7. It is fiction to think that the County Child Welfare, Hospitals, or Jails will give up their money to homeless or housing programs even if we can demonstrate that we will take a few homeless people out of their systems. There are so many thousands who use these public systems, none of them would even realize that a couple of families got into housing. As I have said many times, we need to build 5,000 units of affordable housing a year before any of these systems, including the shelters, would see any decrease in their clients.

8. Why do these national groups keep talking about getting homeless people to rely on "mainstream resources" instead of homeless programs? Everyone who knows anything realizes that the mainstream resources are too difficult to access or have incredible waiting lists. We know disability assistance, public housing, and subsidized housing all have three year waits, and cash assistance, child care help, and food stamps all have huge limitations that make them difficult to access. Many view the Ohio Lottery as a more likely social service program than most of the "mainstream" government resources.

9. The Portland/Seattle program that was highlighted is only 2 years old and only served 67 people. How does this help us? It was so new and served so few people it does not meet our needs. No one ever asks how do we balance the needs of keeping the thousands of homeless people alive with the intensive and expensive needs of some of the population?

10. The report that was just completed on preventing homelessness and preserving affordable housing in our community, Heading Home, was never even mentioned. This was a report in which OHS and other government entities helped write and contained a series of seven or eight recommended solutions for our community that was not even referenced or available at the forum. What a missed opportunity.

Those are three hours I will never get back. It just goes to prove that our current society measures success based on the ability to place your thoughts on a power point slide over actual accomplishments.

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

Monday, November 12, 2007

Reflections on Veterans Day

Why Don't We Provide More to our Veterans??

It would seem at a time of war, we would take care of our veterans, but in looking at the current state of care to Veterans we are failing as a nation. This is an all volunteer force who go to a region in which 90% of the population holds Americans in the lowest regard. They view us as a big bully, and yet our brave men and women with the Stars and Stripes on their sleeve live in one of the most dangerous places on earth. They act as the police force in one of the most hostile environments ever created. We, in America, can only imagine how stressful it is to drive out of the "green zone" in most of Iraq. This is Fort Apache squared or Rwanda with sophisticated killing technology where any turn on any street can set off a car bomb. These guys have to be alert and ready every second that they are out of the "green zone."

Then they get back and find that the GI benefits are worth a fraction of what their father's and grandfather's GI benefits were worth. They struggle with the bureaucracy of the VA health care system. They have a high percentage of their fellow veterans becoming homeless. If they are injured they are often charged for the damage to their equipment or their signing bonus is reduced because they could not complete their term. Instead of getting tender loving care at home they get a bill from the military. They stand next to the mercenary army of private contractors who are risking their lives for hundreds of thousands of dollars more then the U.S. soldier is taking home in order to bring freedom to these two countries.

The government proclaims one holiday that most of the employers who are actually hiring workers today don't even provide as a vacation day. None of their fellow citizens are suffering or understand what we are demanding from our military. We still worry about the driving skills of Ms. Lohan or Britney Spear's custody battle while many of our veterans are worried about how they will pay the bills when they lost a leg and the federal government determined that they were only 60% disabled. This rating means that they will only get 60% of their disability check. How do they go back to their job as a a roofer or laborer if they struggle with walking? They went into the Army or Marines with both legs, but came back with one and the federal government has the nerve to determine their percentage of disability. These guys deserve the best health care and guaranteed access to housing and a job for life. Those seriously injured serving in the military deserve a middle class lifestyle for life. This is the price of going to war. Doesn't it make it harder to commit troops to a war if there are substantial domestic costs for years into the future with wounded troops? Or will the elected men and women who send our young citizens off to war be long retired when the bills come due for these foreign excursions into hostile countries?

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

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Battle of the Statistics

Veterans Make Up One Fourth of the Population

The National Alliance to End Homelessness released a study earlier this week measuring the extent of the problem among veterans and they found the problem was growing. The headlines were that military veterans make up one quarter of the homeless population, and we are beginning to see people entering the shelters who recently served in Afghanistan or Iraq. In the same week, the Department of HUD released a questionable study that showed a decrease in long term homelessness. The right wing latched onto the second study proclaiming not just the limited success of the study, but declaring victory in reducing the number of homeless people in the United States. It defies logic that when we walk down any street in any city in America we see the same number or more homeless people but we are told that Washington DC policy has worked in decreasing homelessness.

NEOCH absolutely agrees with the peer reviewed study released by the National Alliance. These are the same statistics we see locally. We do not see the large number of recent veterans that they are seeing on the coasts that is mentioned in the report. The Coalition has responded by making sure that every one of our programs is responsive to the veterans programs. We have a developed a veterans initiative to assure that every veteran has access to legal assistance, housing, voice mail, advocacy, and the Stand Down. The other alarming trend that we are seeing is a larger number of women veterans who are becoming homeless and seeking shelter.

Government in Action--HUD

In order to justify the spending of your taxes, every city now has to count the number of homeless people. While this is a nearly impossible task, it also is costly. The City of Los Angeles recently spent $800,000 to count 88,000 homeless people in their city. That is a little over $9 per person counted or 67 people who could have been given one years worth of rent in order to not be homeless at the fair market level in the expensive city of LA. We waste all this time and energy counting homeless people and we come up with bogus numbers that somehow get spun into a decrease in long term homelessness.

HUD uses these counts to proclaim victory in their fight to reduce long term homelessness, and I am sure that the next step is to use these numbers to justify a decrease in funding. Since the public does not understand the difference between long term or "chronic" homeless and just regular homeless people, the headlines proclaimed general victory in reducing the number of people facing homelessness in America. This is an incorrect use of the stats, besides being wrong. A few cities (my guess is two) have made progress on long term homelessness, but certainly not Cleveland. No way that Washington, San Francisco, Columbus, or Atlanta have seen any noticeable decrease in the homeless population after ignoring the problem for 15 years. Long term homelessness as defined by HUD are those who have been homeless for a year or 4 episodes over two years, and make up between 10-20% of the total population. If family homelessness (40% of the total population) increases by 2% and we allow HUD their 2% decrease in long term homeless there are still more homeless people for a community to deal with.

The problem is that all of this spin is false. I have seen how cities manipulate these counts. They either reduce the number of beds or services so that they do not have to count as many people or they just cannot figure out a way to count people who refuse to enter shelter. This magically results in a decrease in the homeless count in a city and HUD proclaims a success. Don't Believe the Hype.
"Throughout American history many of our social gains and much of our progress toward democracy were made possible by the active intervention of the federal government. " Harold Washington
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

We Need Inspiration

Forum on Homelessness...Not Much News

Last week, the City Club young leaders put together a forum on homelessness with Councilman Joe Cimperman, City of Cleveland Administration Natoya Walker, and Mike Sering from Lutheran Metro Ministry. If you read this blog with any frequency, you could have skipped the forum. There was nothing new announced. The Aviation Shelter will be open through January 2008, and North Point Transitional shelter will open before Aviation closes. I guess that I was looking for inspiration; for someone to step forward and say we are going to solve this problem. Natoya tried with some poetry at the end of her presentation, but it was too late. No one said the words, "I will take on this problem, and will solve it. We will no longer manage this problem. We are going to put time, money and community resources into solving homelessness."

Mike was there to give the real picture of what is happening in Cleveland as part of the 2100 Lakeside Shelter staff. Joe was there because his ward has the largest number of homeless people and the largest number of shelter beds. Natoya brought the position of the City, but she also brings the baggage of the last 20 years of bad public policy. Joe talked about panhandling and the curfew. Both Natoya and Joe mentioned the Mayor saying that he would serve the least of us, and all of the panelists talked about the incredibly expensive supportive housing projects being developed in our community.

Often, you can get a good sense about what is going on in the community from the questions that came up at the forum. There were questions about NIMBYism, the impact of welfare reform, the disdain for poor people by Ohio City Near West Development Corp., are there opportunities now that so many houses are foreclosed on?, there was a follow up question regarding the PD nursing home story, and a question about panhandling. The final two questions were about transportation issues for homeless people and the sad state homeless families find themselves. I wanted to ask a question about supportive housing. I wanted to ask, "With the history of the federal government withdrawing funds from Public Housing, Mental Health facilities, and transitional shelters, have we thought how we are going to fund all these supportive housing projects long-term after the federal government withdraws their funding?

Not much new from the answers, and we even received some confusion. Peggy Cella asked about family homelessness and the answer was about supportive housing which actually does not involve children. Only single adults are eligible for the 220 units of supportive housing that have been developed, and federal rules bar families from participating. As we have said many times, families are suffering more then any other population with the current funding environment from Washington DC. Joe talked about how he preferred the St. Clair Superior Coalition over what was happening on the near west side of Cleveland. This was news to me, because I have not heard any elected official take on the gentrification issues going on in Ohio City before.

We need to cultivate some leaders who will take on these overwhelming issues plaguing our city, and will work for solutions. We don't hear anyone lifting us up with a vision of a time in the near future without homelessness. We are now living with a younger generation that only knows going downtown and seeing homeless people sleeping on the sidewalks. We don't hear big ideas about solutions because we have come to view homelessness as part of the landscape. No one hearkens back to a time without the large number of visibly homeless people. I want a religious figure or elected leader or media personality to take on the problems of poverty with a goal of ending homelessness. Am I asking for too much?

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

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.