Monday, March 31, 2008

Worst HUD Secretary in History Steps Down

Good Riddance!!!

The Wall Street Journal is reporting this morning that Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson is stepping down today. This is welcome news for America's homeless and those living in subsidized housing. He came in with such promise as a former Public Housing Director and then proceeded to dismantle public housing in the United States. Jackson just did not understand this job, and became the worst HUD secretary in the 40 some year history of the post. Here are some lowlights of his career:
  • His biggest failure is New Orleans rebuilding. He eliminated public housing in New Orleans and has yet to build back any subsidized property. The one bright spot is that when people say we need smaller government and there is no reason to have a strong government we can point to New Orleans as the outcome of this policy. Government can rebuild a community like we did after the San Francisco earthquake unless we have neutered the government to the point that it is no longer able to function.
  • He rewarded his friends and tried to punish those who disagreed. He bragged about withdrawing a contract from a contractor who had complained about Bush. He also held the Philadelphia Housing Authority hostage until they rewarded a piece of property to his friend.
  • He attempted to starve public housing agencies to death.
  • He left us with nearly $3 billion in underfunding in the Section 8 Project Based Housing program leaving hundreds of thousands of building owners scrambling to figure out how to pay their mortgages. This is a problem that the next administration will have to address.
  • He was asleep at the wheel with regard to the foreclosure crisis. HUD owned property from foreclosed housing are mounting in most communities, and the HUD Secretary was baffled by the problem.
  • Because of the foreclosure crisis and housing instability, tax credit projects in the United States are teetering. These projects make housing slightly more affordable to lower income people then the market. It is less attractive for investors to put money into these properties with the housing market in decline. Again, we heard the crickets chirping from the HUD building in DC when we asked about these problems in our local community.
  • He pushed this silly and offensive "chronic" homeless initiative on the rest of the country while at the same time reducing affordable housing to families. Jackson pushed for cutting the homeless funding pie among more groups without increasing the size of the pie. In a time of increased homelessness this only lengthened the stay in shelters by those populations not in style anymore like families and non-disabled adults.
  • He has refused to take a position on any pending bill in Congress as announced at the Cleveland City Club discussion from a couple of weeks ago.
There are so many problems with Mr. Jackson we could dedicate an entire blog to the woes of HUD. Poor people expect harsh treatment by Republican administrations. It is always worse when someone of such promise who comes out of the Public Housing sector stabs his former constituency in the back. Jackson had all the right background, but failed miserably and we declare our worst HUD Secretary ever.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Things You Need to Know

When You Fall...You Fall to the Bottom

Every few days, we get a call at the office from people who are new to homelessness, and they cannot believe that they have to go to a shelter. They are losing their home or their apartment, and are calling around a long list of numbers hoping for some help. There are some who had no idea that their landlord was being foreclosed on, and were told that they had to find some other place to live. The middle class has shrunk over the last 25 years, and there are many more people who are in danger of being homeless. Here are a few things that you need to know in order to prepare for the "Brave New World" without a safety net:
  • There is no emergency housing in our community. There is rental housing and there are shelters. There is nothing in between. There are no more flop houses or places to pay for a week or a day at a time. There are motels, but those are not appropriate to live since they have no kitchens.
  • There is no place to store your items. When you become homeless and you first go to shelter there are no places to keep your belongings. You must compact your entire life into one bag.
  • Theft is a huge problem within the shelters. Take care of your valuables.
  • No one from the County will tell you this to your face, but they have opened up files at Children and Family Services because a family became homeless. Stay strong, and go through all the hoops. Don't let the system take your children because you don't do the paperwork or show up for their hearings.
  • If you are not the primary caregiver to a child and you are no longer married, immediately go in and request a change in your status. It takes months to get the payments on child support lowered, so you need to start that paperwork immediately. The debt accumulated while waiting for a child support correction usually can never be reduced or eliminated. It can last forever.
  • It is highly unlikely that Mom and Dad can go to the same shelter. Unless the stars align perfectly this is not likely to happen. Stay strong and meet your spouse during the day. If you are not married or cannot prove you're married you will not get into a shelter together.
  • When you first become homeless you go to the two entry shelters around 3 p.m. There is no need to call, they are not supposed to turn people away. If you are a woman go to 2219 Payne Ave. If you are a man go to 2100 Lakeside Shelter on Lakeside Ave.
  • Call every morning to see if there are vacancies at the other shelters or you get stuck in the two entry shelters. There is usually no choice on the shelter that you start out in, and the rest of the shelters do not keep waiting lists. No one is going to advocate for you or open doors for you. You have to be a little pushy to get through the system. Ask questions, talk to people, and remember that you will make it through this if you stay strong.
  • Word on the streets is often more reliable than the information you may get from the providers. Other homeless people know a great deal of information, and you should talk to them. They often know more than the case workers and social workers who are barely keeping up from one emergency to the next.
  • Except for the entry shelter for women, nearly every other shelter will ask you to leave to go find housing or a job during the day.
  • Make sure that you get a voice mail box early so that you are connected to the rest of the world. This will help move through the system quicker.
  • Bus tickets are gold, and cigarettes are silver. They are also a form of currency in the homeless community.
  • The libraries are great places to go during the day, and usually the librarians are incredibly helpful. There are plenty of resources on the computer that can help. The best are the 211 website and the housing website Both have all the resources you need at your fingertips to get out of your situation.
  • It may be the time to take a break from the rat race and improve your skills during this time of homelessness. This may not be what the shelters suggest, but you should think about what would be best for you for the future. A period of homelessness is the best time to evaluate your life and your career and whether you have enough education.
  • There are 19,000 people in the same situation as you during a year. So, while it is frustrating, there is no easy way out. There are long waits for subsidized housing, good jobs are hard to come by, and finding a professional to talk to is even difficult.
  • Stay connected with your family and friends. Some of the things that you see during homelessness are amazing and can make you crazy. It is important to have people who you can talk to who are outside of the system.
Good luck. You can make it out of this situation. Too many people give up, and prolong their stay in the shelters. You can do it if you stay focused.

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

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Awards and Agency Update

NEOCH Annual Meeting

Pictured here is Tera Horne (right) presenting Bryan Mauk the NEOCH advocate of the year award (middle) and the Volunteer of the Year Ronald Falconi (standing) their awards.

The NEOCH Annual Meeting was Thursday, and we released our annual report. It will be available on our website soon. We looked back on the rough year of 2007. We talked about the transfer of two of our programs. The NEOCH Board elected a new Executive Committee. We have two new EC members, Tiffany Burse and Cynthia Ford. Our new Board President is Jennifer Simpson.

I gave a look at the 2008 plans and the upcoming Strategic Plan that the organization is currently undertaking. We talked about some of the major community advocacy efforts of the the Coalition. And the best part of the Annual Meeting is the awarding of a token of our recognition for community members who went above and beyond to help homeless people.

Bryan Mauk--NEOCH 2007 Advocate of the Year
Bryan worked both in high school and at John Carroll University to create a program where faculty and students venture off campus to Downtown Cleveland to interact with those resistant to shelters, called the Labre Project. He is a true leader who, with his continued nurturing of the Labre Project, he sets an example for others. Bryan recently helped open an overnight drop in center at St. Augustine in the Tremont neighborhood, which provides a warm place for homeless people who sleep outside to go for a hot cup of coffee and a friendly environment. NEOCH salutes Bryan Mauk for his service to the homeless community.

Ronald Falconi and Robert Heintel--2007 Volunteers of the Year
Ronald and Robert are both members of the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association. Together they oversee the legal clinic at West Side Catholic Shelter and Drop in. They are known for their thoughtful and respectful treatment of clients who seek their advice at the Catholic Center. Without their help, it would be difficult to maintain this intake site for the Homeless Legal Assistance Program. Both attorneys reflect the highest standards of the legal profession. They are dedicated to providing legal help who those cannot afford an attorney. NEOCH salutes Robert and Ronald for their service to the homeless community.

Wish you were there.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Worst Meeting Ever

No Time For Questions

It seems like the whole country is acting like George W. Bush where up is down and war is peace. I went to the Homeless Book Club meeting, otherwise known as the Office of Homeless Services Advisory, and the director presented an overview of the shelter situation since Aviation High School closed. By the way, this group does not advise anyone. "The surge is working," this last year and the 1999 quote: "Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is," said George W. Bush. Ruth Gillett told us all that we are better off now without Aviation. She was comparing overflow shelter with permanent supportive housing and transitional shelter beds created. Beds that do not turn over for six months or six years cannot be compared to beds that are a short term answer to those without housing.

"I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we're really talking about peace," said George Bush in June of 2002. Gillett said that three new people come into 2100 Lakeside shelter every night, but did not realize that this meant we are witnessing an impending train wreck. I mean if we replace beds that had half the people leave every month with beds in which people do not leave for six months, we have serious problems coming down the line. It was a huge mistake to talk about overflow when talking about opening North Point transitional shelter. They have nothing to do with each other and the County is so focused on North Point that 2100 Lakeside is suffering.

"No President has ever done more for human rights than I have," said George W. Bush. I felt like I was sitting in the meeting with one goal: say something enough times people will actually start to believe it. Gillett said things were all right because in the last 10 days the 60 beds of overflow were sufficient, dismissing the fact that the City Mission was only committed through the end of the month, which would limit us to 30 beds of overflow. She did not address the reality that on one night 25 people waited in a chair for a bed. Gillett did not address the reality that we have always had a slight drop in the shelter census on the first 10 days of the month. Now I understand why no one in the White House Press Room challenges the President. There were so many things wrong with this presentation, it was impossible to pick out where to start. There is never enough time to address all the problems in the homeless community at the Homeless book club meetings.

"Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," said George W. Bush after the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. The most amazing part of this meeting was Gillett's solution to this problem was to put a Gatekeeper at the Lakeside shelter to divert people from coming into the shelter. This policy, which I am calling the "There is a couch in this community with your name on it" will put people through a long screening process to figure out if there is a better or more appropriate place in Cleveland for the men who show up. It is a good thought, but we still need to address the train wreck coming because we do not have overflow anymore.

We just need a place for those banned from the rest of the shelters to go. We need a place for the sexually based offenders to get out of the cold. We need a place for those recently released from prison to go, because there are no couches in the community for them. We need somewhere that second or third shift workers can sleep. We need a place for those who cannot stand rules to get a cup of coffee. We need a place for the drunk to sober up. Some of these people are not the most desirable or employable, but they are still our brothers and they still need a place to live.

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

More Updates from the Coalition

Homeless Coalition Upcoming Events

  1. Ione Biggs Award Nominations Due Monday: You still have time to submit a nomination for the Ione Biggs Award using our website. Go to and complete the application and send it to NEOCH. The application is a two page summary of the accomplishments of your nominee and their work on social justice in 2007.
  2. NEOCH Annual Meeting March 20: All members are welcome to attend the NEOCH Annual Meeting on Thursday March 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the NEOCH offices at 3631 Perkins Ave. Third Floor Conference Room. We will look back at 2007, give out a few awards and look at 2008 including our upcoming planning process.
  3. Training at May Dugan Center on March 25: The new self help legal center opened and there are now computers available for people who need legal assistance, but cannot find a lawyer to help. In addition, has been up and running for 2.5 years now. If you want to know more information about either of these programs, there is an in-service training on Tuesday March 25, 2005 at 2 p.m. at the May Dugan Center . May Dugan is at 4115 Bridge Ave. in Ohio City . You need to park on the streets, because there is no parking available in the lot. This training is directed at social service providers, case workers and anyone interested in knowing more about these two resources. For more information call 216/432-0540 or 939-1850.
  4. Human Services Institute March 28, 2008. The Center for Community Solutions sponsors a gathering for human services workers in the community at the Cleveland Convention Center on March 28, 2008 all day. You can register at NEOCH staff will be conducting a workshop on ideas for finding jobs for the difficult to employ. We hope that you can join us with the keynote speakers of Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers Foundation and Richard Rodriguez, an author and journalist for this event.
  5. Volunteer Orientation March 29, 2008. Did you make a New Years resolution to volunteer to end homelessness? We have an easy way to fulfill that resolution. NEOCH is hosting a volunteer orientation on March 29 at 1 p.m. at our main office 3631 Perkins Ave. third floor conference room. We have legal needs, voice mail assistance, general office, event planning, fund raising, street newspaper help, and advocacy help. You can volunteer once a week or once a month. Whatever your skills or your availability we can find a place for you to help us end homelessness. Please RSVP to Larry Davis at 216/432-0540 ext. 103.
  6. Homeless Congress on Thursday April 3: The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Homeless Congress is Thursday April 3, 2008 at 1 p.m. at the Bishop Cosgrove Center ( 1736 Superior Ave. ). This is when representatives of the various shelters meet to discuss issues. The public is welcome to attend.
  7. Save the Date May 2, 2008--Partnering to End Homeless Fund Raiser: Please put in your calendar the date for the NEOCH Fund Raiser is May 2, 2008 at 6:30 p.m. This year the event will be at GESU family center near John Carroll in University Hts. Invitations and Save the Date Cards are on the way.

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

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Baby Living in a Abandoned Apartment

The Bible Story Looks Different in America

The Coalition coordinates all outreach workers in the community, and so we ask community groups to call NEOCH about homeless people instead of calling law enforcement. The idea is that law enforcement have enough work, and social workers should address problems surrounding homelessness. We get about one call every week at the office, but we do not usually deal with problems of homeless babies. There is a protocol for taking babies into County custody if they are living in a car or in an abandoned property. This happens on a regular basis in Cleveland and we never hear about these cases. The child is quickly taken into custody if the homeless mom makes herself known in the community or if her power or heat is turned off. The reality is that Children and Family Services act first and ask questions later.

This week we heard from a suburban official about a Mom-lets call her Mary- her boyfriend- let's call him Joseph- and a five month old baby who were living in an abandoned building. It seems that officials from a Cleveland suburb were preparing to tear down an abandoned apartment, and doing a walk through when they stumbled upon this couple and their baby. An outreach worker went out immediately to try to connect the family with a shelter. Unfortunately, the Mom was already arrested for child endangering and her baby was in the custody of Cuyahoga County. We have no idea what happened to Joseph. The woman from the suburban development office who called us was not the only one who had encountered this family, and they did what most do: call the County to take the baby into the foster care system.

After the initial shock of trying to get this family in a better place as soon as possible, I started thinking about how different the Bible would be if it were set in Cleveland, Ohio in 2008. The basis for Christianity was based on a story with all the indoor beds full, and so the founder of a religion was born outside among the animals. In Cleveland, the Biblical Mary would have lost her child to Cuyahoga County, and would have had a one year time limit to get her act together or the child born among the animals would be adopted by another family. It seems unlikely that the Biblical Mary would have been able to remain an important part of her child's development or be a part of his young adulthood while he was challenging authority figures or even to be a witness to his execution in modern day America because she had endangered this child with the birth in the barn.

Our own modern day Mary tried the shelters, but could not believe that she had to leave every morning with her baby and could not live with the father of her child. She was arrested and charged with child endangering. She now is fighting the clock, a criminal record, and a case with the County to get her child back. I am not saying that children who cannot speak up for themselves should not be protected. I just have to wonder how these policies have changed our society? How many families have been destroyed because Moms cannot find a place to live? How many children will never reach their full potential because of their 18 year struggle to find a place in our society? How many families make bad decisions because the shelters cannot bend their rules? How many world events have been altered because we are quick to split up families?
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ribbon Cutting a Success

(Left to Right) Joan Burda--Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program Director, Rob Anderle--Justice For All Committee member with the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, Marcia Egbert--Program Officer of the Gund Foundation and Meg Wilson--NEOCH Board President cut the ribbon on the new Self Help Legal Clinic.

Self Help Legal Center Opens

On a cold day in February 2008, the Homeless Legal Assistance Program officially opened their Self Help Center. I kept meaning to post this picture and a brief description. Sorry for the delay. Anyway, this facility will allow very low income and homeless people to go into the center and print out their own proceedings for the Court. They can print out a poverty affidavit, or a simple divorce filing, or a defense against an eviction if they cannot find help from an attorney. The Center will start out open on Monday afternoon or Wednesday mornings until we find more volunteers to staff the site. This has been a dream of Burda for years, and is finally taking shape. The St. Luke's Foundation and Gund Foundation have long supported this program. Every year, we serve between 500 and 700 people who cannot find anyone else to help them with their legal problems. We are one of the only programs going into the shelters to help people directly with their legal obstacles to housing.

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

Friday, March 07, 2008

Columbus Has a Great Plan

Columbus Mayor Appoints Cabinet Official to Work on Homelessness

Mayor Michael Coleman has appointed a cabinet level position to attempt to solve homelessness. This is a great idea, and we should think about this for Cleveland. The Mayor in Columbus at the urging of City Council appointed Erika Clark Jones to a cabinet level position to do advocacy and coordinate services.
"I consider this position to be a strong voice for the seemingly voiceless," she said. In addition to homelessness, the new office will focus on three main issues: the problems of the uninsured, affordable housing and work-force investment according to the Columbus Dispatch article.
As a former resident of Columbus, I hate to admit when Columbus does something better than Cleveland. In fact, we were told a few years ago that Columbus had solved homelessness, and HUD champions them as the center of progressive thinking on homelessness. No matter the propaganda and spin, this is a great idea.

We have had a joint City and County office for 15 years in Cleveland, but it has not done much. Yes, they bring in huge dollars for the County compared to the rest of the state, but bottom line is that homelessness is worse than it was 15 years ago. The City/County OHS does not do a very good job coordinating services, all of the services are still concentrated in the City of Cleveland, and no one coordinates lobbying activities. I am going to ask the Mayor of Cleveland to look to Columbus for a better way to address homelessness. Every urban community needs a cabinet level office to address homelessness, because it is most severe expression of every other problem in our society. Re-entry, illiteracy, housing, job re-training, entitlements, civil rights and the health care crisis are all serious problems for homeless people and are the cause of homelessness. The issues associated with homelessness cause prolonged stays in the shelters, are very expensive for the public, and cause instability in society. Tax payers are amazed that if they fall on hard times and cannot afford the rent or mortgage, they fall hard all the way to the shelters. They need a voice at the Mayor's cabinet to raise these issues, and restore the social safety net in our society.

In other Columbus Ohio news, the Columbus Coalition for the Homeless has hired full time staff and just published a street newspaper called Street Speech. While I am not a big fan of street newspapers that begin with the word Street (6 out of the 10 papers pictured on the front of the new paper are named "Street..."), but it is an impressive first issue. Street Speech is colorful, and has some interesting commentary inside. The paper has a review of the "Thrift Store," poetry, and a profile of the vendor of the month. Congratulations Columbus Coalition for a big step forward in providing a voice to homeless people.

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

Sunday, March 02, 2008

They Look Down on Us

Europeans Can't Believe the State of America

I watched today's 60 Minutes about the Remote Area Health care charity that provides assistance in the United States. It is a disgrace to see that we claim first world status, but we cannot provide basic health care to the population. For those who did not see it, please check out the link. Basically, these groups who would set up volunteer health care camps in the Amazon started setting them up in the United States because of the demand. The reporters visited one in Knoxville where the group was staging a Stand Down type program for the uninsured or under-insured, and thousands showed up asking for help. The charity had to turn away 400 people because they ran out of time and supplies. We are all so worried about the rationing of health care if we had socialized medicine. If the current system does not ration care then I don't know what that looks like. The whole health care system needs scrapped and we need to start over with a new health care system.

Because of this foreclosure story, I have been talking to journalists from Europe. Yesterday, I talked to Italian Public Television and a few weeks ago to a Scandinavian television journalist team. They were in Cleveland to follow up on the foreclosure story, and were shocked by the state of homelessness in America. They could not believe that families were homeless and living in cars and shelters. They did not understand how families had to split up in order to get shelter. The Italian TV people were amazed by the state of temporary labor. It seems that they could not understand how people could work full time and remain homeless. They did not understand the exploitation on the job or that chronic health conditions could lead to homelessness. They look down on us. For those who do not get to talk to people from other countries, like me, this is quite a come down. We are constantly told that this is the best country ever by the media and our movies and that no country can compete with the United States. Then we fall hard when we talk to European visitors. We have become the jungle country that Europeans visit to point, stare at, and take pictures before going home. How did this happen?

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

Incarceration Nation

United States: Out of Control Prison Population

The greatest threat to our democracy is the increasing incarceration rates in the United States. A report released by the Pew Center last week shows that 1 in 100 Americans are now behind bars. A few facts from the study:
  • 1.6 million adults are now in prison with another 700,000 in local jails.
  • The imprisoned population has tripled in the last 30 years.
  • One in 15 African American males are behind bars
  • The U.S. imprisons more people than any other country in the world (both by percentage and sheer number).
  • The United States imprisons more people than China (1.5 million), a much more populous (and autocratic) country.
  • States now spend $44 billion on corrections (a 127% increase since 1987).
Who cares? Everyone needs to care for the economics, justice, and long term impact on our society. The incarceration economy is bankrupting our society. We cannot afford to take over other countries, educate our public, keep them housed and incarcerate 1 in 100. A bankrupt democracy is a government in its last days. A bankrupt society is easily manipulated by a demagogue. There is no justice with such a sizable population lacking freedom. Some states remove access to democracy for life from those convicted of a felony. Why are there so many behind bars compared to other societies? Why is a free society incarcerating so many, even compared to totalitarian dictatorships? Why are we treating addiction as a criminal offense?

This does have to do with homelessness in Cleveland. Our shelters are swamped with people (both men and women) returning from prison. I was thinking about this after listening to Fresh Air on Tuesday on WCPN featuring a meth addict and his dad. David Sheff and his son Nic each wrote books about their experiences. I understand "tough love" and all that, but it does not seem to work. Addictive personalities must hit bottom and lose everything in order to get help. Why can't we find a better away to address this problem in our society? Are the sky rocketing incarceration rates related to the lack of universal health care? If health care was paid by the government would they be willing to pay for treatment upon demand over jail? Would treatment be readily available to the addicted? Would we be able to shut down the private prisons that make millions off our incarceration nation if we had a better health care system?

What is the tipping point? How long can we sustain this level of incarceration? How long until those imprisoned rise up? 1 in 100 of "we the people" have their freedom stripped and are jailed. They work for pennies a day, and are subject to violence and repeated violations while in prison. We strip people of their liberty and then we cannot even keep them safe while we jail them. How long can we have our African American population tolerate one in fifteen of those between the age of 20 and 34 behind bars? How long do we condemn this group to a life of menial jobs, unstable housing, and sporadic health care? How long do we put mentally ill people behind bars instead of offering counseling to young people who exhibit dangerous behavior? How long can we make these men and women pay for their crimes, before they decide that the government is the enemy? How smart is it to confine a group together to foment anger and dissension against the government for a good part of their life? There are consequences for constructing an incarcerated nation, and they effect all of us.

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