Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Federal Government Spins Homelessness

Can We Believe Anything These Guys Say?

The New York Times and the Plain Dealer both covered the latest spin from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Bush Administration. From the administration that brought us "Enhanced interrogation techniques" as a cover for torture; "renditions" as cover for kidnapping; the cover up of the death of Pat Tillman; the spying on Americans by our telephone companies as a "terrorism monitoring program"; this sentence by the head of this government, "the economy is growing, productivity is high, trade is up, people are working," made in the last month; or the second in command telling the public that Americans will be viewed as liberators in Iraq; these guys have a hard time with the truth. The spin associated with the War in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the federal response to Katrina is staggering. Today, we read that America is reducing the number of "chronically" homeless people. Most would call this spin, a few are calling it lies.

We already discussed the offensive term "chronically homeless" that the administration uses. We also talked about how bogus HUD research is, and the number makes headlines, but the qualifiers for the data is too complicated. Dennis Culhane and the other researchers have tied their ships to HUD, and have published seriously flawed data. I mean they do research to push HUD to focus on the people who have been homeless the longest. Then they compile the information from HUD and declare this policy a major success. What a surprise that with six months left, the Bush Administration is succeeding at reducing long term homeless. Just like they keep telling us how great Iraq is doing, how great Afghanistan is doing, and how much success they have had trampling the Bill of Rights, sorry, fighting terrorists, now they are telling us they are succeeding in ending homelessness.

This is all just spin:
  1. Counting homeless people on one day in February across America is impossible. It is like counting the number of gumballs in a candy machine that is constantly in motion.
  2. They are not able to count people staying in abandoned buildings or foreclosed homes because it is too dangerous. This is especially important for communities like Cleveland with 10,000 to 20,000 abandoned properties.
  3. They do not count those who are staying on couches. So, the Cleveland Public Schools reported a 40% increase in homeless children from 2006-2007 school years, but most of those kids are not counted because they are staying with family and friends.
  4. Reducing the number of long term homeless does not mean homelessness in general is down. It is like telling us that fewer people are on welfare therefore poverty has gone down.
They have narrowly defined homelessness, and put in place an impossible system for counting. So, those who are coming out of prison, or sleeping in flop houses or low income motels, or those in overcrowded conditions do not count, and then magically we have a reduction in homelessness. In addition, many of the shelters refuse to participate in the homeless counting system, and the domestic violence programs are barred from participating by federal law. NEOCH never uses the numbers derived from the counts, because they have no basis in reality. We use numbers from First Call for Help or the School District or the number of people seeking help or evictions or foreclosures to show that homelessness is growing locally.

I am part of the National Coalition for the Homeless Board, and I can say that only a few cities in the United States have seen reductions. Most communities are seeing unprecedented numbers. A simple walk from the Metro to the HUD building in Washington will show that long term homelessness is not on the decline. I would like to know if Dennis Culhane got off the Metro on his walk to the HUD building for the press conference, noticed how many people were sleeping in the parks and street corners in the District, and had second thoughts about releasing these bogus numbers. It is spin and nothing more than spin. Hopefully, the next administration will deal with homelessness in a more honest and straight forward manner.

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

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bill Moyers Journal Available

Cleveland Foreclosure Story Captured in 18 Minutes

On July 18, the Bill Moyer's Journal featured Cleveland including interviews with the Mayor, Councilman Brancatelli, Mike Piepsny, a group of homeless families, Jim Rokakis, and me. It is available to watch here and the transcript is available here. I liked how they focused on greed, and the lack of oversight by anyone within government. I liked how they started with the President's push for homeownership, and how that did not really pan out very well. I liked that they included the clip from State Legislator Jon Husted who argued in 2002 against any legislation to protect consumers against predatory and deceptive mortgage practices. Filed under famous last words from Rep. Husted, "I don't think that there is anyone in this body today that can tell me how we should regulate, manage or micromanage how people get loans in this state."

The best quote has to be foreclosure champion Jim Rokakis, "Back in the old days when there was no sheriff in town, people would rob the banks. Well, here we are in modern day era. And there's no sheriff in town. The banks were robbing the people." Check out the show it is a great look at the crisis with good discussion afterward about with The Nation commentator, William Greider.

On a related note with some good news...The County Housing Trust Fund implementation committee meets this week for the first time. Just in time to help us rebuild and preserve existing affordable housing. I believe that Phil Star is organizing this committee, and will recommend the scope, size and the revenue source for a County Trust Fund to the County Commissioners. We need to catch up with Franklin and Montgomery Counties in Ohio, and find some money for housing locally.

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

Foreclosure Mediation Hearings

Tuesday Hearing on Housing Crisis

Photo by Cheryl Jones of the Grapevine photo project. For information on prints contact NEOCH at 216/432-0540 or check out the Homeless Grapevine on the streets next week.

On Tuesday July 22, 2008, Councilman Jay Westbrook held a Cleveland City Council hearing featuring the County Court of Common Pleas and their new mediation program. Judge Eileen Gallagher attended along with the Court's mediation staff. With 14,000 foreclosures in 2007 and a similar number expected in 2008, this one staff person seems inadequate to meet the demand, but it is a good first step. The most stunning news was from one of the Court staff who said that he expects 2 or 3 more years of this crisis. Knowing that government employees always underestimate everything, this is a startling revelation. The City of Cleveland cannot take another three years of foreclosures at the current level. We will die and cease to function as a city with three more years of 14,000 foreclosures each year.

This is why the advocates' panel which came up second were so critical to this discussion. We heard from Frank Ford of Neighborhood Progress, Bill Callahan--community advocate, Mike Piepsny of the Cleveland Tenants Organization, and Andrea Price of the Legal Aid Society brought forth a strategy for a moratorium on foreclosures. The Plain Dealer supports this idea in an editorial later in the week. The House and Senate passed a foreclosure/Save Fannie and Freddie bill that will bring $26 million to the County. RealtyTrac published a report that shows Cleveland Statistical Metro Area had the sixth highest number of foreclosures in 2007. All these together make all the proposals tame in the face of three or more years of this tsunami of foreclosures. We need a moratorium; we need renter protections as outlined by CTO; we need a massive legal settlement by the cheating mortgage brokers; we need a massive infusion of dollars from the feds who looked the other way for eight years; we need the State landbank proposal; and we need a new homesteading act that turns over abandoned properties to the masses. The current owners of the land have run it into the ground where it is infecting all of our neighborhoods. It is time to strip them of their property rights and turn it over to anyone willing to rebuild and save our city.

I was on the JV team and testified after most councilmen had left and had to compete with the angry lady who demanded to testify even though she had nothing to say about foreclosures. One side note, it was refreshing to see 11 council members attend a summer hearing. I guess that the PD article really got these guys to show up, before they are downsized by the Charter Review process. Anyway, my contribution to the proceedings were that there are 2,000 homeless people sleeping in a temporary bed every night or 19,000 over the course of the year who are ready, willing and able to help. They want to have some of the properties turned over to them to preserve and protect. They want to be allowed to live in these properties as the owner is leaving, but before the property is stripped clean. There are many with good credit, but a low income job that want to be renters in these places. There are others with skills like drywalling, plumbing and electrical--some are amazing craftmen and craftswomen, who could put these houses back together to save these neighborhoods. We need to think big and come up with large scale change that can end this crisis and re-build Cleveland this year.

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

New Grapevine Hits the Streets this Week

A Taste of the Upcoming Grapevine

The Homeless Grapevine #85 is now at the printers, so it will be hitting the street in a matter of days! In it, we have an update on North Point at the 6 month mark, a tribute to Anthony Waters who was killed, an interview with a vegan who has been through the shelter system, a large section devoted to the photographs taken by graduates of NEOCH’s photography class, and much more. Just to give you a taste, here’s part of a feature on Grapevine vendor Raymond Jacobs by Bernadette Janes:
"Before Raymond Jacobs became a vendor for the Homeless Grapevine, his varied careers were packed into his one lifetime like pieces of an old southern parlor game. It all started in 1947 in New Orleans, Louisiana, with an Ethiopian mother and a white German-Jewish father. Growing up in the South half black and half white was not easy. Within the multiple hues of that population, Raymond was categorized as Creole.

After finishing high school, Raymond and six buddies, all of them seventeen years of age, celebrated their freedom by going on a fateful lark. Swilling down quarts of cheap wine, they ran, screaming, through startled neighborhood, and suddenly found themselves in front of a Marine Corps recruiting office. Deeply inebriated, they decided it might be fun to drop in and visit a while. With the Vietnam war going on at the time, the group of robust seventeen-year-olds looked like fresh meat to the Recruiting Officer on duty.

He welcomed them in and immediately began pouring Jack Daniels whiskey into them, regaling them with promises of fantastic benefits if they would enlist. By the time they started for home, they understood nothing of the import of papers the recruiting officer thrust into their hands for their parents to sign. All the parents signed the papers readily and sent them in. Days later, stone sober and realizing the depth of the hole they had fallen into, the boys tried to get the papers back, but with no success.

They were now United States Marines!"

To read the rest of this article and much more, please pick up a copy of the Homeless Grapevine issue #85 from any of our registered vendors!


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

Monday, July 21, 2008

A Few Quick Updates

What is Happening in the Cleveland Homeless Community?

NEOCH is Working Through A Strategic Plan

The Plain Dealer is doing a series on “What Ever Happened to…” Exactly, a year ago NEOCH went through its worst financial crisis ever. With the help of the City of Cleveland, Local Foundations (St. Luke’s, Gund, Cleveland, and Deaconess) and a number of individual donors, we made it through the year, and put in place a plan to stabilize a future for the Coalition. We have transferred the Bridging the Gap program to the Cleveland Tenants Organization and the Community Voice Mail Program to 211/First Call for Help. We have downsized the Homeless Grapevine, and the NEOCH Board has set up a Development Advisory Board. So, we have made it to the one year anniversary of the crisis. We are testing some of the assumptions about future funding with a strategic plan. We did a survey of our membership, and we hope to have the final report done by September. We will keep you informed on our progress.

ID Collaboration Out of Funding

One of the NEOCH VISTAs worked on constructing a collaboration of social service providers to assist with identification (birth certificates/state IDs) issues. The collaboration eventually received funding, and was under the guidance of St. Colman’s Church then West Side Catholic. Director Skotch from West Side Catholic was able to secure over $100,000 over the last year and a half, and they have helped thousands of lower income people with identification issues. Just in 2008 in the first six months there were 2,282 separate forms of id were purchased with the help of the program. At this time, the collaboration is out of money, and looking for on-going support in a rough economy. In a Post 9/11 world, being able to prove your identity is critical to getting a job, voting, finding housing, or even getting in a government building.

Mark Your Calendars for the Next Teach In

Speaking of voting and IDs, the next Teach in is set for September 16 at 5:30 p.m. at NEOCH and we will focus on the identification issues as well as our plans for the upcoming election. NEOCH is working to assure that every homeless person participates in the 2008 November election. We have big plans and hope that our members and friends can help with transportation and assistance in getting homeless people to the polls. Please call NEOCH at 216/432-0540 ext. 106 to RSVP for the fall Teach In.

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

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Congress and Homeless Dollars

Congress Working to Renew HUD McKinney Vento Homeless Funding

(Photo by Pleasure Simmons graduate of the Grapevine Photo Class--For prints of any of the photos from the class contact NEOCH.)

BACKGROUND: HUD McKinney-Vento (HMV) programs make funds available to service providers in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the nation to provide emergency shelter, transitional housing, permanent housing, and supportive services to persons experiencing homelessness. Congress has not formally reauthorized the HMV law since 1992, leaving policymaking about HUD homeless assistance programs largely to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with limited Congressional involvement. Congress is currently considering HMV reauthorization legislation. In the House, the Financial Services Committee is considering the Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act, H.R. 840. NCH strongly supports the introduced version of the HEARTH Act.

STATUS: The Financial Services Committee postponed a markup session for the HEARTH Act that had been set for Tuesday, July 15, 2008. While a new markup date has not been rescheduled, it is expected that the Committee will call up a substitute amendment to the introduced version of the HEARTH Act later this month or in September.

WHY ACT: The substitute amendment will reportedly contain provisions that weaken the original HEARTH Act (which NEOCH supports) in some significant areas from the standpoints of homeless consumer access and protection and community flexibility. Among them:

  • Ineligible People – The amendment’s definition of “homeless individual” for purposes of eligibility for HUD programs (and other federal and state programs that use the HUD definition) fails to include some living situations understood to be homeless, meaning that people in those situations will, with rare exception, remain ineligible for HUD-funded homeless assistance.
  • Weakens Community Decision-Making – The substitute amendment does not assign a role to homeless people or service providers as formal decision-makers in a geographic area’s collaborative application for funding, as did the original bill.
  • Restrictions on Eligible Activities – The substitute amendment puts into the force of law restrictions on a community’s use of funds that exist now only as administrative practice … and adds some new restrictions. This step will further reduce geographic areas’ flexibility to respond to homelessness the way it makes most sense.
  • Privacy Concerns – The substitute amendment authorizes a data collection and reporting system on clients of HUD-funded homeless assistance, but does not ensure client privacy and safety of their data.

ACTION NEEDED NOW: Please fax letters or make telephone calls NOW! Markup of the HEARTH Act was postponed for July 15, but could be brought up again by the Financial Services Committee at any time. Financial Services Committee members need to hear from you as soon as possible. The message to your Congress member is that we support the original HEARTH Bill as proposed by the now deceased Rep. Julia Carson, and we do not support the anticipated changes. We urge Congressional leaders to work with the National Coalition for the Homeless on a bill that would work for Cleveland.


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

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The OHS Mad Tea Party

If You Can't Solve Homelessness: Expand the Problem

"Alice: I've had nothing yet, so I can't take more.
The Hatter: You mean you can't take less; it's very easy to take more than nothing."

I attended the most bizarre Office of Homeless Services Advisory meeting (or Homeless Bookclub as they are affectionately known) a few weeks back. It has taken a little while to process, and I am not sure that I can explain it without sounding like I am describing Alice's Tea Party with the Hatter. First, you should be aware that there is a great deal of dispute at the national level about the definition of homelessness. There are many advocates who are happy with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the main funders of shelters and housing in America, and their limited definition of homelessness. The National Coalition, NPACH, and NEOCH all want a more comprehensive definition of homelessness that includes those sleeping on couches, coming out of prison, and those living in motels. Most HUD funded programs are not allowed to serve those not meeting the limited HUD definition of homelessness. HUD and a number of advocates do not support this expansion, because all the alleged progress made in solving homelessness will be destroyed overnight. It is estimated that if HUD were to change the definition of homelessness in America, the numbers would certainly double and may even triple. So, we have kept the numbers down by limiting the definition of who is homeless or just not counting people in America.

The other thing to understand is that things are really bad in Cleveland for homeless people. Besides being beat and killed on the streets, I will just give you the top 10 problems I can think of facing homeless people in Cleveland:
  1. There is an attack of bed bugs in the shelters--Shelters need to think about replacing all wood beds in the system with metal frames to contain the problem--Major Dollars needed!
  2. Family shelters are overcrowded and it is highly likely that families will need to break apart in order to find a bed within the shelters.
  3. The identification program is out of money. Without ID, a person cannot get a job, sign a lease or vote. The program purchased about $100,000 in birth certificates and state IDs over the last year and a half.
  4. Programs are struggling to stay in existence. There is very little new money because we are buying expensive permanent supportive housing projects, and nearly every program is trying to figure out how to keep their doors open in tough economic times (East Side Catholic closed and DV shelter spaces closed already.)
  5. The main shelter at 2100 Lakeside got a substantial cut, and is eliminating staff and trying to find help with their food program.
  6. Transportation costs are soaring making it difficult for homeless people to get a bus pass to get to a job or work.
  7. Access to health care is increasing scarce, and debt issues associated with hospital stays are on the rise.
  8. Jobs are increasingly difficult to find, and those jobs that are available are way outside the County (off the bus line).
  9. The foreclosure crisis is killing our city and making more and more people homeless. The worst part of this crisis is that it is reducing the stock of housing in our community. People are abandoning their houses and those houses are stripped clean and condemned. This tightens the housing market and moves everyone down the ladder eventually into shelter.
  10. We have lost more people in this county than any other county in America except Orleans parish in Louisiana. This destroys our tax base, and reduces local government services.
These are just the top ten list of problems of the hundreds of issues. So, things are bad, and we are far behind other cities in how we address the problem. There are an incredible number of problems, and yet the Homeless Bookclub continues to meet every other month to talk about homelessness. Now, they have proposed a new strategy to address the problem: Rapid Re-housing and Homeless Prevention. This all sounds great and certainly would eliminate some of the problems if fewer people were showing up at the shelter doors. No one is, however, proposing a new funding source to pay for these services or an expansion of the definition of homelessness. The staff at OHS and the County want to begin to talk about Homeless Prevention as the silver bullet to end homelessness in Cuyahoga County. We got to see an impressive video and listen to a moderated discussion about this new exciting strategy. It was too early to talk about details according to the moderator, but the brightest minds in the County working on homelessness will spend the next six months to 10 years pushing a prevention agenda when we have not even solved the immediate crisis facing thousands of families every day.

Where are we going to find the money for this new effort? Who has the staff to do this? We have not even found how to pay for the last fad: the supportive services associated with permanent supportive housing and now we are on to the next trend to come from DC. I view this as putting a giant hole in the other side of the Titanic in order to create some buoyancy I guess. We are one of the poorest cities in the United States with a disproportionate number of homeless people, a shrinking tax base, a County budget in freefall, and many programs teetering on the edge. In the face of such adversity, we decided to look at new areas of need. II guess the theory is that if you see a problem only getting worse over 20 years, find some other problem to address. Is the Homeless Bookclub the appropriate body to look at new problem when they have not figured out how to manage homelessness? A lot of very smart people were impressed with the video, and voted to support this new initiative. In fact, there was only one who did not jump on the bandwagon. I can only go back to where we started with another quote from Lewis Carroll, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will take you there."

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

Bill Moyers Takes a Look at Foreclosures in Ohio

PBS Programs Takes a Close Look at Renters/Foreclosures/Homelessness

Bill Moyer's Journal will focus on Cleveland Friday night on PBS TV. NEOCH has assisted with the research for the National Coalition for the Homeless report issued in February 2008. The report is available here. In June, Policy Matters Ohio published a report on the impact on renters who find that their property was foreclosed on and sold many times without their knowledge called Collateral Damage. The various reports and news stories about how bad it is in Cleveland caught the attention of Bill Moyers, and his staff came to Cleveland to look at the extent of the problem. The show will air this Friday 7/18/08 evening at 10 p.m. locally on WVIZ Channel 25 or check the PBS website for when the show plays in your area. They were able to interview homeless people, the Cleveland Tenants Organization, Councilman Brancatelli, Frank Jackson, and Jim Rokakis for the program. It should be good.

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

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Quick Takes

A Few Notes...

Cathy Alexander announced her resignation from the Domestic Violence Center. This is one of the most critical director jobs in the homeless community, and it is important to have the best and brightest director in this position. DVC is the one organization that can effectively remind the community that homelessness can strike anyone including families and middle class women who flee their houses because of violence. Ms. Alexander is going to work for Mental Health Services, because if current trends continue, everyone serving homeless people will eventually be working for Mental Health Services. MHS has taken over nearly all the permanent supportive housing, outdoor feeding, the entry women's shelter, North Point transitional, and much more. So far, I have not heard any concern from public officials that the "Milo Syndicate" of homelessness may be able to corner the market and drive up all prices for providing shelter and services. I am sure that I will be replaced with a kindler, gentler advocate when MHS finally takes over NEOCH.

Peace Activist Memorial

ACLU of Ohio Board member and long time peace activist, Al Stern passed away in the last week. Anyone who worked for peace is a friend to homeless people. The fact that Mr. Stern also worked for the ACLU, a partner of NEOCH on many civil rights lawsuits in the 1990s, makes it necessary for us to mark the passing of such an important activist. With American troops occupying a couple of other countries and the unprecedented assault on individual rights in the United States seen since 2001, this is a horrible time to lose such an important leader in our community. A celebration of Al's life is planned for Saturday, July 13, 2008 at 1 pm with reception to follow, at Fairmount Temple, 23737 Fairmount Blvd. in Beachwood. The friends of the ACLU will gather to share stories, sing songs, and have a great time in memory of a man who worked so hard, for so long, to make this world a better place.

Please RSVP to director(at) More details will be posted as soon as they are available on the ACLU website.

Police respond to the death of Anthony Waters
Edward Tomba, Deputy Chief of Special Operations of the Cleveland Police did respond to our inquiry about the investigation of the death of Anthony Waters. He said that there were a few witnesses, and that the Police were looking at a group of young people. They had confiscated a bicycle and were processing it. The Police were still investigating and were still dedicating resources to find the attackers. He assured us that he would keep us informed about progress.

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

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Funeral Services for Anthony Waters

**Corrected Information
Anthony Waters will be remembered at a service on Thursday July 3 at the Coreno Funeral Home in Cleveland between 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. The Coreno Funeral Home is at 13115 Lorain Ave. (near Triskett and right off the Lindale speed trap on I-71). They heard about the issue on the radio, and offered their services to the family. This is the reason for the delay of one day and the relocation from the Maple Hts facility. The Lakeside shelter is also working with family members on a brief remembrance for Mr. Waters at the shelter in the next week. No word yet from the City about progress made toward solving this case.

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