"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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- The main shelter at 2100 Lakeside got a substantial cut, and is eliminating staff and trying to find help with their food program.
- Transportation costs are soaring making it difficult for homeless people to get a bus pass to get to a job or work.
- Access to health care is increasing scarce, and debt issues associated with hospital stays are on the rise.
- Jobs are increasingly difficult to find, and those jobs that are available are way outside the County (off the bus line).
- 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.
- 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.
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.