Sunday, June 29, 2008

On a Desolute Stretch of Street...

Please Help Us Find the Killers of Anthony Waters

Maybe it was a misguided notion, but I understand the logic. Anthony Waters walked down the industrial part of East 55th to and from the shelter in order to avoid trouble. I talked to a few people in the neighborhood who felt it was better to walk near the houses, because no one wants trouble near their front door. They would have told the young people on the bikes to move it along. Waters was in greater danger in this particular part of East 55th than he would be walking in the more populous parts of Kinsman or Bessemer Rd.

It seemed like such a peaceful place with the exit ramp of 490 to the north and the tow/impound lot, the railroad bridge and a bunch of trees at Bessemer. On Wednesday night, Waters was attacked by a bunch of kids and beat to death. Only one month ago, the National Coalition for the Homeless determined that Ohio was one of the fourth most dangerous places to live for homeless people. We see how this can have deadly consequences.

If you were driving by and you did not stop to help, please come forward now and talk to the police about what you saw. It has to be tearing at you to realize that you witnessed the brutal beating to death of a human being. Any information that you might have can help the police track down these killers. Call the Third District at 216/623-5300 to report any information about this heinous attack.

We will pass along information from the shelter as it comes in about a memorial service or information from the City as it comes available. Mr. Waters had done a lot of work trying to kick the addiction devil hanging over his head, but it usually takes a couple of setbacks before a guy can break the hold alcohol has on some people. He had bounced around the shelter a couple of times as well as sleeping outside when he could not control his addiction. I hope that someone will come forward so that we can provide some peace to the family of Mr. Waters. What kind of cowards jump a defenseless man already down on his luck for a couple of bucks and then beats the guy to death?

After the dust settles and their was time to grieve, we can set about passing Representative Mike Foley's hate crimes bill to add homeless people to the state hate crimes definition. We hope that this will provide some pause to young people who target homeless people, but for now it is time to mourn and remember Anthony Waters.

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

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Learn to Tell Your Story

Street Voices Update

If you are homeless or formerly homeless and are interested in becoming a speaker as a part of NEOCH’s Street Voices Speaker’s Bureau, now is your chance to join up!

Street Voices Speaker Training
Friday, June 27
10:30 AM – 1:30 PM
NEOCH Offices

3631 Perkins Ave

Street Voices is a program of NEOCH that enlists people from the homeless community to speak about their experiences at schools, churches, and other organizations. This is your chance to touch people’s lives and let your voice be heard! In order to become a speaker, you must attend the training. Also, if you have not done so already, please check out our new updated website:

Use the website for information or for requesting speakers at your next event!


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

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Helen Jones Passes Away

Recovery Resources Director Dies Today

Helen Jones (center) pictured here in 2004 on the Mental Health Services website with the launch of a collaboration to provide alcohol and drug services to the women at the Community Women's Shelter.

I was not at the meeting this morning, but I have heard from two sources that Helen Jones passed away after having a heart attack after a United Way meeting. Recovery Resources was a partner in the struggle to end homelessness in Cleveland, and the agency has a history of employing some of the most caring and kind staff in the community. Helen Jones was always a strong advocate for her program and the struggle to find resources to serve poor people. She had a wonderful understanding of behavioral health issues in our community. She was one of those rare people in the community who if they had access to more resources, she could have solved many problems for our community. Instead she was forced to struggle to push papers and fill out forms in order to keep her agency moving forward. Under her leadership Recovery Resources grew and became the premier provider for alcohol services in Greater Cleveland.

It is my understanding that there was a United Way Director's quarterly meeting, and after the meeting Ms. Jones was taken to the hospital. Recovery Resources was slated to receive a 28% cut or around $57,500 in the next few years. There was some talk of the issue at the meeting. Evidently, she had a heart attack and was not able to be revived.

We will miss Helen Jones, and we will send our condolences to one of our partner agencies. This is a loss to the homeless community, and to Cleveland in general.

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

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Foreclosure Report Issued by Policy Matters

Renters Innocent Victim in Foreclosure Crisis

(Photo by Grapevine Photography Project Artist, Cheryl Jones--prints of any of the photo class graduates are available through NEOCH.)

Policy Matters Ohio released a report on the impact of the foreclosures on renters in Cuyahoga County in June 2008. Zach Schiller, staff for Policy Matters Ohio, presented the report to the members of the Affordable Housing Alliance at the July 2008 meeting. Schiller reported that the cost of a move out for a family is $2,500 including the loss of security deposit with a foreclosure, and the loss of property during a sudden move out after foreclosure. The Collateral Damage report mentions both state (HB 440) and similar federal legislation that if enacted could protect tenants. There was a long discussion at CAHA about why the courts were not working in a more concerted effort to protect tenants from foreclosure. It is also a tough action for a lawyer to take since each tenant must make their own decisions about the best course of action while their owner is going through foreclosure. A lot of questions arise when a tenant finds out their landlord is in the struggling. Should they pay the rent? Do they risk having an eviction on their record? Should they begin the process of moving or wait until the bitter end when the new owner might pay them to relocate?

The study shows that 33% or more of those going through foreclosure also involve some tenants who become the innocent victim. They are usually caught off guard with very little time to relocate. They are typically the last to know that their landlord is in trouble. A landlord does not want them to stop paying the rent, so he or she is not going to inform the tenants. Also, it causes confusion in the ownership in that a landlord may be accepting rent after the sheriff sale and they are no longer the owner. The instability and uncertainty can lead to fraud and there is usually a noticeable decline in the upkeep of the building during the foreclosure. A tenant never knows what is going to happen, and can get caught with all their stuff locked and boarded up in a building that was sold at auction. We have seen where the owner will trash the building when a foreclosure is eminent to "punish" the mortgage company making the building unfit for human habitation and displacing the innocent tenant(s). The utilities can be shut off and the tenant can be forgotten and abandoned while the future of a property is debated in a courtroom in Downtown Cleveland.

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

75 Years of Minimum Wage

How About A Maximum Wage?

Not much attention toward this historic milestone in most major media. The New York Times was one of the only places to mark 75 years of the minimum wage. In June 1933, Franklin Roosevelt established a minimum wage in exchange for allowing companies to drive up prices in the height of the depression. Amazing that from such tainted beginnings this historic legislation has survived for so long. It was never indexed to anything, and thus has not kept pace with its original goals: those who work hard should be able to earn a decent standard of living. I believe that the guys at the temporary labor companies (making a minimum wage) work harder than 80% of the workers in Cleveland, but at the end of the day they do not earn enough to afford rent. This is a major flaw that needs corrected with regard to the minimum wage.

One of the other revolutionary concepts from the 1930s was that people should not be able to earn unlimited salaries and be taxed at the same rate as workers. How about a maximum wage in America? CEOs should not earn 400-500 times that of their workers. Mr. Ford is no more important than the guy who designs a gas-free auto or the guy who designed the most popular brand in Ford history: the F-150 pickup. Or, if you want to earn at obscene levels, the government will tax you at an 80-90% rate in order to build hospitals, roads, bridges, and provide for the national defense. Somehow, over the last 75 years we have lost the concept of community. Business leaders are out for themselves and hording as much wealth as possible. They have successfully eliminated the estate tax, and can take their wages to the grave with them. Our infrastructure is crumbling and our debts are mounting, and Leona Helmsley left her dog $2 million (originally $12 million.) Celebrate the 75th anniversary of the minimum wage with the push for a maximum wage.

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Upcoming Anti-Violence March

Calling Attention to the Violence Against Homeless People

I have recently come in contact with a group over at the Original Harvest Missionary Baptist Church that is putting together a City-wide Youth & Unity March Against Violence. The march occurs at the church (7101 Kinsman Road) this Saturday, June 21. Registration begins at 11 AM and the march itself begins at noon.

With the dramatic rise in hate crimes committed against homeless people, especially with the growing number of kids that are video recording themselves committing these horrible violent acts and placing them on the internet, taking a stand against violence is very important to homeless advocates. Here in Cleveland, we have seen the effects of this violence within the homeless community. Back in April, a man was attacked by kids wielding a board with nails sticking out of it. Attacks tend to increase over the summer, so we’ve got to address this problem now.

NEOCH will be at the march and we recommend you show up as well. For more information on the march contact the Coalition at 216/432-0540.

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

United Way Winners and Losers

A New Direction for United Way?

This last week saw a great deal of media attention to the winners and losers in the struggle for United Way dollars. Frankly, I don't understand it. I mean I read in detail the list of winners and losers, and I cannot find any logic. I read every article in the Plain Dealer, and the spin does not seem to translate well for what priorities were actually funded. There were kids groups that lost out (Heights Youth Centers) and there were some that were winners (Voices of Ohio's Children). I have to wonder since there was no clear pattern if this was some comment on health and effectiveness of these organizations? A few quick takes:
  • There were four new groups funded who are also funded by Community Shares. We shall see how this is going to work. Until now only the merged group of the Domestic Violence Agency was funded by both Shares and United Way.
  • It was a strange comment in the PD from United Way officials discouraging designations to specific groups because they have all these experts on staff to direct donations. People don't like reading , "Hey, you are too stupid to know who to donate to. We are the experts; let us do it." That is why I like Shares so much. They do not think that donors are stupid.
  • The Neighborhood groups were split with four winners and four losers. Again, no clear pattern.
  • Homeless groups were by far winners with 13 homeless direct service providers and four losers.
  • I thought Dan Joyce's comments in the Plain Dealer were especially poignant and honest.
  • The United Way is claiming these decisions were made by 200 volunteers. Are there really 200 experts on non-profits in our community or are these individuals who were touched by one or two groups? I guess this is some kind of representative democracy?
  • It does not seem that self-sufficiency was the over-riding strategy or United Labor Agency which retrains workers and Recovery Resources which helps people with treatment issues would not have come up with fewer resources. They are both teaching people to get back on their feet.
  • It does not seem advocacy/solving community problems was a big focus since the Center for Community Solutions and the Long Term Care Ombudsman were among the groups that saw a reduction.
  • I have no sympathy for Red Cross of Cleveland, and I am glad they got fewer resources. They have stepped away from assisting in ending homelessness, and do not seem to care much about poverty anymore.
  • I was not happy to see the Girl Scouts get less money (85% decrease) while the Boy Scouts and their homophobic policies got more money (39% increase). But I am biased in that I have two girls in the Girl Scouts.
  • I had no problem with the Ombudsman being dropped by United Way, because they long ago stepped away from assisting homeless people. I was sad that the Empowerment Center got dropped, and I am worried what this will mean for the first Welfare Rights group in the United States.
  • It was good to see the Free Clinic was finally recognized by both Shares and United Way for the value they provide to the community. Then there were also a bunch of groups added to United Way's roster that I have never heard from before.
Anyway, I am sure that there are many emergency Board meetings taking place this week. I have to wonder if there were too many cooks in the United Way kitchen that resulted in no clear direction. Some of our close friends like West Side Catholic, Cleveland Tenants Organization and Lutheran Metro Ministry received more money, and that is a plus. So far, I have only seen the Red Cross respond formally and with anger. They are asking for help from the community to make up the difference. Get cut by United Way--respond with anger-- and turn that into a fund raising opportunity does not make sense to me. NEOCH was not asked to participate, and we do not have much direct service left so that is not surprising. Anything that shakes up the non-profit world is most likely a positive. Some of these groups may suddenly awaken to the new reality that they must think outside their small world and start addressing the needs of consumers. More of our partner agencies were winners than were losers in the United Way reshuffling, which is a good thing. Bottom line: I think that the United Way transition is probably a beneficial to the community, and will re-order the priorities in our community. We shall see.

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

National Coalition for the Homeless Updates

What is Happening Around the Country?

I attended the National Coalition for the Homeless Executive Committee meeting last week. It looks like both convention sites are doing all they can to protect homeless people. We just hope that the National Secret Service does not come into Denver and St. Paul and mess everything up. It was announced that the Dorothy Day Center will remain open during the Republican Convention in August. The Day Center is basically across the street from the Convention Center in St. Paul. That means that homeless people will be closer to the convention than the protesters in the Orwellian named "free speech zone." Denver has a pre-convention planned breakfast for those attending the convention to explain what is happening in America to homeless families. I wish that I could attend. Each city will have a homeless voter registration drive, and we will post more details in the near future.

Other things happening around the United States:
  • Minnesota is looking at developing rules to restrict the invasive computer tracking system for homeless programs.
  • New shelter in Dallas was created for 200 people and 550 showed up the day it opened. They have set up mats on the floor for the rest.
  • Houston is doing a survey of panhandlers, and paying a pretty penny.
  • Colorado trying to develop and expand state funding for affordable housing.
  • City is focusing resources on a program called "Project 50" to provide housing to 50 people on Skid Row. This is similar to removing a bucket of water from the Cuyahoga River in an effort to change the flow of the river. The state proposition to overturn rent control lost fortunately. LA Coalition is publishing a manual for mainstream programs to restrict discharges to homelessness.
  • Things are bad in the South for affordable housing/homelessness. The local trust funds in South Carolina and block grant money are reserved for loans not the development of affordable housing. Additional health care dollars were vetoed by the governor in South Carolina, because they raised taxes on cigarettes.
We worked on internal controls for the agency, and worked on some budget issues for the National Coalition. Things are better for the organization since they weathered the storm of the early 2000s. They are setting plans for the future and a new administration in DC.

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

Friday, June 13, 2008

More Questions Than Answers

Family Homelessness on the Rise in Cleveland

On Tuesday, the County and the Sisters of Charity Foundation hosted a half day conference on family homelessness. It raised more questions than it answered, and gave very little information about how bad families have it in Cleveland. We have a report on our website about Family Homelessness that gives a good overview of the problems faced by Mom, Dad and their kids. The best part of the day was the presentation by Marge Wherley of the Hennepin County Housing and Homeless Initiatives. She knew exactly how to solve this problem and the people in Minnesota had bucked the national trends to put in place a good program to end family homelessness. I sit on the National Coalition for the Homeless board with two representatives from Hennepin County Minnesota. I visited Minneapolis and can tell you that they know what is going on up there.

You may have heard the story on WCPN this week about these national experts coming in and talking about family homelessness. I was disappointed in the program, and seemed like a bunch of people who recently found religion about homelessness. Federal policies for the last eight years and pushed by some of these groups was to focus resources on long term homeless people has taken away funding for families. I mean the folks from Columbus do not even have a plan for ending homelessness among families, but they suddenly found this was a need when the State published a request for proposals to address the growing problem of families in the shelters. So, Columbus is studying the problem to see what will work right now. All four of the other biggest cities received this funding--Cleveland with its largest family homeless population in the state lost out. We were beat out by Fayette County Ohio.

The questions that came to mind for me include: No one talked about how to address women who have sizable income, but are caught up in a domestic violence break up and are out of their house and restricted from accessing their funds. How is that Columbus can serve families with their permanent supportive housing? HUD rules do not allow this, and Cleveland only serves those with a disability with their permanent supportive housing stock? Why do social service providers keep saying that if we can just get families to use "mainstream resources" we would significantly reduce homelessness? This is like saying if we could just get families to touch the horn of the mythical unicorn, we could eliminate hunger. We would love to have access to mainstream resources, but we do not have five years to wait for housing, disability or the other programs in our shredded safety net.

The most frustrating part of the day was how there have been so many programs in Cleveland that were similar to those mentioned in other communities that the county has let wither or die locally. The one program in Minnesota is similar to Bridging the Gap that the County could only find $40,000 a year to support. It could have done so much more if it was provided more funding. The County has never supported Homeless Legal Assistance program which helps 99% of the clients facing eviction in St. Paul. We could do the same thing with public money to prevent all evictions.

Mandel did a study on family homelessness, which was fine but only gave the dry numbers on the problems not the impact on our community. There were no stories about renters becoming homeless and having all their stuff locked up in legal limbo. Or the Mom and Dad who have to go to two separate shelters because there is no space for men at the women's shelters. We needed to see the face of family homelessness. Besides, the numbers that Mandel had to use were fatally flawed because they did not include the biggest shelters in the community. So, the numbers were released were a dramatic undercount in the real problem.

The national expert, Nan Roman, is a long time advocate to end homelessness with a well endowed agency and a powerfully connected board of trustees. Unfortunately, homelessness has increased in nearly every community in the United States during the last 20 years. While they were pushing the federal department that funds most of the homeless programs to focus on single adults who have been homeless for long periods of time, welfare was pulled out from people and family homelessness started increasing dramatically. Then the system collapsed in many cities with the foreclosure crisis. So, the National Alliance switched gears and started talking about the assault on the Section 8 program and the problems faced by families. It was interesting to see that St. Paul had rejected the National Alliance led focus on single adults 16 years ago and they are beginning to see the rewards. I asked if the National Alliance if they were supporting an expansion of the definition of homelessness to include those who are sleeping on sofas in overcrowded houses (which is the situation for most families), and Nan said "no" they were not. It is impossible for most HUD funded programs to provide help to families unless they give up the sofa and go to the shelters. Unfortunately, Cleveland has lost hundreds of shelter beds for families so that is not an option for many. We only have a limited pool of money in our community, and slicing off one-third of the pie to serve the long term single adults has had an impact on our families. Unless Congress substantially increases the pie we can't do both with serving families and serving single adults.

I like Nan a lot, but I hope that the next administration drops all this silly focus on one population. Every homeless person deserves and needs help no matter if they are a single adult or a family. We shall see if the county learns anything from this presentation and puts some value to prevention programs, legal assistance, voice mail, and on-going follow up services after the family is placed into housing.

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

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Another Attack on the Lowest Income

A Website Dedicated to Bad Tenants

There was a story this week on WEWS “newschannel5” about a national registry of bad tenants. An aside: why is Channel 5 called “news channel” when they don’t even have the most local news of the four local channels in Cleveland? Anyway, this was surprisingly a good local news story about this new front in the war between rich and poor, which will certainly keep people homeless for a longer period of time. This is a horrible trend, and I hope that activists sue the pants off the creators of this site in order to shut it down. In the alternative, there must be some industrious young tenants with some time to create a website of bad landlords.

It sounds like a good idea on its face--a place where landlords can prevent a “Pacific Heights” type tenant from reeking havoc around the community. Some tenants may even be thankful that this site may weed out a few bad neighbors. We understand landlords trying to protect themselves against financial ruin, but this is the wrong approach. There is no ability to appeal a listing on this website. There is no verification that the information is accurate. For landlords there are background checks that can be done that provide more objective information. There is a fee to view the list of bad tenants, but anyone can enter the name, social security or date of birth for bad tenants. Didn’t those credit score websites get in trouble for listing credit scores without having the ability for the owner of those scores to correct inaccurate data? Is it legal to have a person’s social security number listed and so readily available on a website? All it takes is a small fee, and you could have access to hundreds of social security numbers to select a new identity. These tenants never gave permission for the landlord to post their personal information on a public website. There must be some industrious young lawyers out there who would want to challenge the legality of this website or some lawmaker who wants to standup for the little guy.

What happened to forgiveness? How long do these stay up? Is it fair to list a problem tenant from 10 years ago? Since no one screens these can others list untrustworthy people? I mean if I were a landlord I would never rent to former Senator Phil Gramm or Vice President Cheney. I would never allow Tom Delay or former Ohio Attorney General Mark Dann to bring his partying lifestyle to my apartment building. There are many public officials who routinely lie, and may not be the most upstanding tenants. I can think of hundreds of people that I would be worried every month that they may not be good for the rent. Anybody got the social security number and date of birth for former HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson?

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