Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Council Challenged to Sleep in Shelter

Homeless Congress Asks Council for Help

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless on behalf of the Homeless Congress is challenging the City of Cleveland Council members to either spend a night in a homeless shelter or introduce a shelter standards bill. The Homeless Congress is a representative body of homeless people which meets every month, and feel that improving the protections within the shelters is a priority. This group of homeless people spent four months to prepare a potential piece of legislation for City Council to pass, but no Council member has taken up the challenge to even introduce this bill. At the January meeting of the Homeless Congress, the members voted to request Council members attend the next meeting to set a date for the introduction of the bill or schedule a time to sleep in the shelters.

NEOCH has asked Council members to pass a law to set a minimum standard for the shelters in exchange for their public funding. The challenge was issued after NEOCH and Congress members repeatedly requested movement on the bill to council members about the proposal and received little response.

Currently, there are no existing standards in law, instead there is a list of recommendations by the state of Ohio and there is no penalty for compliance. Between 2006 and 2007, the Homeless Congress drafted a proposal of Shelter Standards in an effort to ensure all publicly funded shelters are required to provide a basic level of care. The big issue that has repeatedly come up from homeless people is that there is no public agency that will receive complaints about the conditions or treatment that homeless people receive within the shelters.

The next Homeless Congress meeting is February 7 at 1 p.m. at the Bishop Cosgrove Center. Anyone is welcome to attend and Council members are invited to the Homeless Congress meetings. The center is located at 1736 Superior Avenue in Cleveland. Please enter through the back into the cafeteria and go upstairs to the gymnasium.

For more information please contact Brian Davis at (216) 432-0540.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Cleveland: State of Homelessness 2007

Coalition Issues Report on the State of Homelessness in Cleveland

Last week as part of the press conference to introduce the Stand Down, NEOCH issued our State of Homelessness in Cleveland. It is available on our website as a pdf here under State of Homelessness 2007. It compiles all the statistics on foreclosures, evictions, shelter usage, money spent on homelessness to give a unsettling picture of the increase in homelessness in 2007. NEOCH staff gathered stats from the social service community as well as a few government agencies. Some of the most alarming statistics include:
  • The Cleveland Public Schools saw a 32% increase in the number of kids in the last six months of 2007 compared to the same time in 2006.
  • First Call for Help saw a 30% increase in calls regarding housing and a 39% increase in requests for food.
  • 75% of the shelter population in Cleveland is African American.
  • A person must make $10.93 per hour working 40 hours a week in order to afford the fair market rent in Greater Cleveland.
  • The men's shelter averaged 129 people over their legal capacity in 2007, which forced Cuyahoga County to offer overflow shelter 365 days a year.
  • 35% of the homeless population reported an income of over $501 per month while staying in the shelters.
We do not have the total number of homeless estimates in Cleveland until the Census releases their poverty estimate, but all indications are that it was a rough 2007 for people experiencing homelessness.

The report lists the positive trends in the community including a great deal of work done by the County to find new spaces for homeless men to live or sleep because of the anticipated loss of Aviation High School. We also applaud the County for remaining committed to guaranteed access to shelter. We have not had to hang up the sign "There is No Bed at the Inn" sign locally. Those who want a bed show up at the shelter and they will not be turned away (thus the need for overflow). There are also a couple of pages dedicated to "dangerous trends" in the community that we all need to watch. Finally, we give a laundry list of 35 things that could be done locally to reduce the homeless population. We are very proud of the report, and we hope that you will check it out.

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

Sunday, January 27, 2008

History is 20/20

Where were You When the Foreclosure Crisis was Starting?

I saw this morning one of the federal Administration officials was asked why they took so long to look for regulations to control the fraud within the housing market and specifically the sub-prime market? The Treasury Secretary said something like "Chris, you know that history is 20/20. I will leave what happened in the past to historians..." We raised this same issue when the state finally passed a foreclosure bill then gutted it with little or no penalty for consumer fraud in 2006. We said that the horses were all out of the barn by 2006 and that the hundreds of thousands were already harmed by the inflated appraisals, excessive fees, and fake documents while the state was busy studying the issue. I believe that this is the reason that citizens are hostile to government: they demand someone to step forward and take responsibility for massive mistakes. I know people are thinking, "We cannot trust these guys with our money if they never admit when they fail."

History is not just for the historians, Mr. Paulson, because the crisis is not over. Our federal officials failed us by allowing the robber barons to take over the housing industry. Our state officials did nothing for six years allowing 5,900 people to be foreclosed on in 2000 and see that rise steadily to 14,000 in 2006 just in Cuyahoga County before the week Ohio law was passed. Our local community tried to do something and was shut down by the court system. Why can't someone step up to the plate and say we fell down on the job, but we are committed to making this right? We realize we made a mistake and we will do everything we can to make things right. I guess that I am sucker and still trust the government. I believe that bureaucrats and elected officials can stop the bleeding, help those who have already lost their housing and put those who help to rape Slavic Village, Mt. Pleasant, East Cleveland, and Broadway of all the equity left in those neighborhoods into jail for a very long time. I have a soft spot for the underdog.

60 Minutes did a feature tonight on the "House of Cards" and the foreclosure crisis. If Steve Croft were submitting this for a grade, I would give him a 79% or a C+. He put too much emphasis on the individuals who did not stick to their fraudulent agreements, but Kroft did a good job of characterizing the scandal as just beginning to unfold.

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

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New Shelter Opens

The Grand Experiment Begins

North Point Transitional Shelter opened this week. This is a huge change in the shelter landscape and is a much different model. This facility is reserved for men who have some ability to earn income and therefore leave in 6 months. The shelter will not screen out those who are still battling alcohol or drug addictions. This is a noble experiment and treats the addiction as a health problem not a lifestyle choice to be "punished." The rough part will be the time limit for residents. Those with an addiction have markers on their path toward recovery and six months and one year are for some reason big milestones. Working on finding a job, putting your life back together, and dealing with a time limit may be an insurmountable obstacle. We shall see how this works.

There are big questions ahead for Greater Cleveland. Will we soon end the guaranteed access to shelter in our community? How soon will we need to open up another overflow? How long can the County/City afford this new transitional shelter? Will the men be willing to go into the facility? Will the women in the community demand a similar facility? Some of the guys that I have talked to are worried that they will go over and will not be able to find a job and will have to slink back to 2100 Lakeside and basically start over. The other tough part of making the move is that they are afraid that the temptation will be too much. The men have made some progress toward sobriety and are currently living in one of the sober communities at Lakeside. These communities do not allow addicted people to stay there. If a person falls off the wagon, they must go back to the entry community.

We shall see if all this works outs. They have hired some competent staff, and the County gave them plenty of resources to make this work. We need this kind of facility in the community. I hope that it works.

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


Regret the Error

I got a call from the Plain Dealer reporter about the posting on East Side Catholic back in December. Stan Donaldson did not like the fact that I did not call him to ask about the article he wrote, and was concerned that I wrote, "Stan D. never asked Ruth Gillett why she could not have kept the shelter open or forced a change in leadership." Donaldson is correct that this sentence is difficult to verify and is factually incorrect. I am sorry for the error.

What I intended to say was that the Plain Dealer did not print the heart of the story and what matters to all of us working on homeless issues. The heart of the story is what does Cleveland do to replace or bring these beds back into service? Family homelessness is out of control and we need every bed, unit, opportunity for families we have in the community. I do not fault reporter Stan Donaldson, because my experience is that getting a solid answer from the County about homelessness is nearly impossible.

One thing that I learned about East Side Catholic that was never printed was that the agency was $1.5 million in debt. I do not know who loaned these guys over $1 million. There was just no way that this organization could continue, but did we have to lose the beds? There are rumors of another organization stepping in to take over the beds, but those details have not been finalized. The families who have had to split up over the last month because every bed is full would have appreciated a deal worked out before East Side Catholic closed.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Arena Football: Cleveland Squatters??

Dismiss the Gladiators/Bring on the Squatters

In light of the foreclosure crisis and the poor state of the Cleveland economy, I am starting a campaign to rename the new professional Arena Football team the Cleveland Squatters. Rarely, do sports team names take on a social justice flavor. This would tell the world what is going on in Cleveland. For all those who skip the news section of the paper and head straight to the Sports section, they would remain uninformed, but would at least capture a sliver of the problems facing Cleveland over the last five years. Besides, what does a Gladiator have to do with Cleveland? The Gladiators is just a generic name that has no connection to this city. The Squatters is a bold name that could provide interesting and fun special event nights. How about... you sleep in your seat for a week and you earn yourself season tickets for that seat? The Boarded up house could be their logo. "Enter through the window night" at the arena--no doors would open everyone would have to enter through the window. The Columbus Destroyers would cower in fear having to face the Cleveland Squatters.

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

This is Not A Joke

back of the card

front of the card

So, What Do You Think?

This postcard actually came to us during the holidays from the Domestic Violence Center. Now, we are a bold organization and are not afraid to get in the face of the power establishment in the community, but I would never send this out. It is one thing to call attention to your issues, but to step on the Christian high holy season seems overly confrontational. People don't want to be brought down to reality during the holiday season. They want to focus on family, friends, presents, snow, Santa, etc--not family violence issues. Then that little "Peace on Earth" next to the picture is an additional jab at the holiday.

I have to applaud the DVC for their strong stand, and their forcing reality into Christmas. I wonder if they received any complaints. I wonder what others think? This is not a fake card from a cast member of Saturday Night Live. This is real, and pretty stark representation to get during the holidays. We put all the Christmas/Holiday cards up on the door of the office at NEOCH. We decided not to post this one.

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

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Foreclosures Stories

Homelessness and Foreclosures

Sorry for not posting recently. We have all been working on a big foundation meeting we had this last week. There were a series of stories in the Plain Dealer about squatters and the foreclosure crisis. Then there was an editorial lecturing us to play nice with the city. We have played nice with the City since Napoleon stepped aside in 2001. Finally, reporter O'Malley attended our meeting with the Police to discuss the growing problem, and wrote about that meeting.

The story behind the story was nothing news worthy for readers of this blog. We wrote about this problem back in November here. We presented a whole list of reasons for the drop in numbers of people sleeping outside. One of the reasons on the list was the large number of abandoned buildings and foreclosed houses that exist in Cuyahoga County. The foreclosure crisis has devastated this community to such an extent that it is now a huge issue in the media. We only briefly touched on the inability for law enforcement or neighborhood groups to monitor all of the foreclosed buildings. National media are finally paying attention and Cleveland is ground zero for the problem of foreclosures. It has drawn a great deal of print and television face time, unfortunately long after the flood gates were destroyed. We sure could have used some of this attention years ago when there were signs on every street corner screaming to "buy ugly homes" or "Get into a house for no money down!"

Many people that I talked to were impressed by Lt. Stacho comments as forward thinking and proper. It was a great quote, and someone needed to say it in the article. But just for clarity, we did not raise this story to tattle on our own clients. We put it in a press release to explain another issue in the community. We did not approach the media about this issue, because the reality is that people have been sleeping in abandoned buildings for decades. After all, there are 4,000 people on the streets every night and only 2,000 beds in the community. Some stay in cars, some are outside, but a sizable number are in abandoned buildings. The point of our release was there are so many options now that these properties are becoming even more attractive to those who lose their housing. I have talked to five other media outlets about this story.

Squatters are a huge issue that go far beyond law enforcement or the outreach workers. The development corporations, government, recycling centers, United Way, Foundations, and all poverty organizations need to figure out a response. We are dragging down entire streets, entire neighborhoods, and in the case of East Cleveland entire cities.

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