Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gary Waterbeck Passes

Photo by Cindy Miller of Gary Waterbeck

Photo Grad and Union Carpenter

Gary Waterbeck passed away this morning. For long time readers of the Homeless Grapevine or this blog, you will remember Gary from the 2007 Grapevine photo project. Gary was a strong, quiet and reserved gentleman who had struggled with health issues. Gary came to NEOCH asking for help from people who were harassing him at his campsite. He did not want to live in the shelters in Cleveland for many different reasons, and felt that he could get off the streets on his own. He met a friend of ours, Cindy Miller, who was helping us work on improving the shelters in Cleveland . I talked to Cindy about how we remember Gary, and she wanted to make sure that he was remembered for more than just the stereotypical issues facing a homeless guy in Cleveland. There is no such thing as a typical homeless person, but Gary was not even a typical man.

ry was a union carpenter who wasn't working due to the cutbacks in construction work in Cleveland. Some of the large construction projects he worked on included schools, assisted living facilities and the Lerner Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. He did independent contracting work but lost that income due to someone stealing his van and all his tools. He had cut his insurance down to liability coverage. The day after he arrived at the men's shelter he got a job selling hot dogs at the corner of Ontario and Superior. He often worked through temp agencies on assembly lines and even power washing at Jacobs Field. He and a group of other men chose to sleep in a camp rather than at the shelter because by the time they finished work and got back to be transported to the overflow shelter at Aviation High School they missed meals or there was not enough food or they missed the shuttle bus. Often they did not feel safe at the overflow site at Aviation. Gary then traveled down to New Orleans in 2005 to help with the recovery efforts.

Cindy felt safer with Gary than she did in the shelters and they started hanging out together. Gary became disabled as the result of an injury he sustained while in New Orleans helping with the clean up after Hurricane Katrina. A group of men from the shelters and men who were no longer in the shelter went to aid in the cleanup. In 2006, they found a place together in East Cleveland and then a house in Toronto , Ohio . Both joined the photography project taught by Steve Cagan at NEOCH, and both successfully graduated the program. My favorite images captured by Gary are below.

In the past few months he was feeling well enough to be independent again and was active in the newly formed Toronto (Ohio) Coalition for Revitalization. He had helped in negotiating a donation of paint and supplies for a newly started project of the coalition.
Gary and Cindy fought the crushing federal bureaucracy, crazy state government rules, and small town politics over the last two years. They also had to struggle with the bizarre American health care system. Gary was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2009. His death was the result of pneumonia. He had received months of chemotherapy that drastically reduced the tumor in his throat. Gary waged a valiant battle to conquer this latest challenge in his life. Gary Waterbeck passed away early this morning, and our heart goes out to his family and to Cindy. Please keep him in your thoughts.

Brian with help from Cindy
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Photos by Gary Waterbeck 2007

Monday, December 28, 2009

Save the Date for 2010

Portraits of Homelessness at Levin College of Urban Affairs

Join advocates and friends of the Coalition on Friday January 8, 2009 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Thomas Campbell Exhibition Gallery at Cleveland State University Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs Atrium for the Portraits of Homelessness Gallery show. Featuring photos and stories by Lydia Bailey, Board member of NEOCH and staff at Lutheran Metro Ministry 2100 Lakeside Shelter. Lydia and shelter director, Mike Sering will talk as well as remarks by the men featured in the exhibit. For more information go to the CSU Urban Affairs website. 2100 Lakeside Shelter is the largest meal program and shelter in Ohio, and Lydia takes some of the stories that she has found and puts a face on the story of homelessness.

Please join us at CSU on January 8, 2009.

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2009 Homeless Memorial Day

Photo by Rosie Palfy


The 23rd Annual Homeless Memorial Day took place on December 21, 2009 at St. Malachi Hall. As authorized by recent state legislation, Ohio now recognizes the 21st of December as a day to remember the homeless. The 2009 vigil, the first with official state recognition, was a memorial to those who passed away this last year after having spent some time in their lives homeless.

The candlelight vigil joined other cities throughout the United States, including every major city in Ohio, in remembering the plight of the homeless on this winter’s solstice, the longest night of the year. Ohio State Representative Michael Skindell offered a reflection to the crowd of at least 175. The multi-denominational memorial service that followed was led by preachers Rabbi Joshua Caruso, Reverend Kelly Burd, and Minister Larry Davis. This year’s gathering, in light of the national health care debate, called attention to the health care needs of homeless people.

The following forty-seven names were read as a list of those who we wish to remember:


Andrew Bankey

James Bennett

John Bozich

Orlando Burns

Lawrence Byrd

Tonia Carmichael

Brian Chalmers

Joe Clark

Nancy Cobbs

Tishana Culver

Gary Daly aka Battlecat

Twyla Dean

Crystal Dozier

Telacia Fortson

Linda Gozelinchick

Alvah Grays

Leslie Green

Nate Hairston

Kenny Hayes

Doug Haynes

Aaron Holland

Amelda Hunter

Dina Jackson

Lisa Jockel

Timothy Johnson

Lisa Johnston

Ken Klingbiel

Leshanda Long

Willie Maddox

Michelle Mason

Jack Mulhall

Christopher Perkins

Lemmet Pinkard, Jr.

Manuel Rivera

Dustin Rose

Dean Smith

Farooh Smith

Kim Yvette Smith

Mary Spriggs

George Sterling

Diane Synkowitz

Leonard Thornton

Raymond Vivier

Janice Webb

Nathaniel Wheeler

Chuck Whitlock

If you’d like more information about the event or would like to add to the list call the Coalition at 216/432-0540.

Brian Davis

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Overflow in Cleveland

Community Women's Shelter in Cleveland Ohio

Sheltering People in Cleveland During the Winter

Will the winter of 2010 be the first year that Cleveland has to turn people away? One of the best things about Cleveland for homeless people is that we are one of the last cities in America that still has guaranteed access to shelter. If a family or an individual shows up looking for a bed, they will be given a space inside and will not be denied access. This means we will not have many babies born in mangers, but it is expensive and it often means that Mothers and Fathers have to split up. This twenty year old commitment that has survived three Mayors and many County Commissioners is something that all tax payers can point to as a wonderful use of public dollars. This has saved the lives of many individuals and clarified the role of government in serving those without housing. We do not have the number of people sleeping outside, riding the buses all night, or dying of hypothermia that other cities have because of this guaranteed access to shelter policy.

The way it works in Cleveland is that we have two shelters that act as the entry point for those without housing. We have formalize that this year by placing the central intake case workers at these two shelters. Men go to 2100 Lakeside after 3 p.m., and are given a bed for the night. Women and women with children go to 2219 Payne Ave. anytime during the day. They are given an extensive assessment to see if they have other alternatives or to figure out what their path off the street is going to be fastest for them. After receiving a bed and the assessment, it is hoped that they quickly move into a less crowded facility or a shelter that can dedicate staff to finding permanent stable housing.

If the two entry shelters are full, they pull out mats on the floor or people take beds that are empty from people out on leave or working all night. If all the beds and mats are full, the individuals are transported to other shelters that may have vacant beds. For the past two summers, we have not needed a men's overflow shelter during the summer months. But usually beginning in November, every men's shelter bed in the community is used and the County has to pay for additional spaces first in the basement of the VOA then at the City Mission and then at a local church. The transportation costs and the overnight costs and the logistics are difficult for the City, County and the shelter providers, but they have made it work for all these years.

We are worried that this might be the last year for a number of reasons.
  1. In summer 2009, the women's entry shelter had almost two times the capacity of the facility and the men's entry shelter was completely full by 5 p.m. every day. This is unusual.
  2. We just started offering "rapid rehousing" assistance to people who go through central intake at the entry shelters. This is the first time with the new stimulus programs that shelters are giving out rental assistance right from the shelter. We are afraid that this will attract more people, and the entry shelters will be overwhelmed.
  3. The economic downturn and the subsequent cuts to government programs are pushing more and more people to the point that they cannot sustain their housing.
  4. The women's shelter is having heating issues and in the near future they are planning a major renovation. We still do not have a plan for where all these families will stay during the renovation.
  5. Will it get to the point that it is just too expensive to provide shelter to all those in need and willing to live in a shelter? Some cities do a lottery every night for the limited shelter beds others just close the doors when they get full.
We will continue to advocate for universal access to shelter as the least we can do to help people who find themselves without housing.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Updates on Housing Choice Voucher Program

Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance

Every month housing advocates meet to discuss any threats to affordable housing. The December meeting featured representatives from the Housing Choice Voucher program who provided their periodic update on the success of this critical affordable housing program. Priscilla Pointer Hicks attended the meeting to give a report to the community on the voucher program. Currently, they have distributed 99.8% of all the vouchers available or over 14,000 vouchers on the streets. 35% of the vouchers are disabled, and they are hoping to be able to expand if the federal Section 8 reform bill passes.

One of the items that we hear all the time is that the Section 8/voucher holders are bad tenants and turn a neighborhood. There are bad section 8 tenants just as their are bad regular tenants, but what does not get enough attention are the bad landlords. But besides all that, there is a great deal of mythology associated with the Section 8 voucher program. What most people do not realize is how small an impact Section 8 tenants have on a community. Based on the report issued by CMHA here are the top communities based on the percentage of their total rental housing using a Section 8 voucher. These are based on 2000 Census figures of rental housing. A great deal has changed in the last 10 years. So, for example some markets have seen large numbers of houses become rental units because of foreclosures which increases the number of rental units and can alter the percentage of voucher holders.

Community (listed by %) Rental Units in 2000 Choice Vouchers 12/1/09 percent
1. Maple Hts. 1,697 541 31.9%
2. Garfield Hts. 2,460 482 19.6%
3. South Euclid 1,532 256 16.7%
4. Euclid 9,874 1,589 16.1%
5. Highland Hills 128 19 14.8%
6. Bedford Hts. 2,393 278 11.6%
7. Cleveland Hts. 7,960 837 10.5%
8. East Cleveland 7,229 687 9.5%
9. Warrensville Hts. 3,290 283 8.6%
10. Shaker Hts. 4,266 340 8.0%
10. Orange Village 50 4 8.0%

Other notable cities:
Lakewood 14,642 424 2.9%
Cleveland 98,135 7,555 7.7%
Parma 7,904 154 1.9%

It is interesting that the last mayoral election in Lakewood had a great deal of attention on Section 8 voucher holders. The victor in that race railed against voucher holders, and yet Lakewood has such a small number of the renters.

Next meeting is January 4, 2010 at 1:30 p.m. at 1350 Euclid Ave. in the basement of the US Bank building.

Brian Davis
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Homeless Stand Down 2010

Photo from a 2005 Homeless Stand Down by staff

Time to Sign Up To Volunteer at Stand Down

It is time to sign up to volunteer for the 2010 Homeless Stand Down. InterAct Cleveland is now signing people up for the Cleveland Homeless Stand Down at the Convention Center. The dates for the Stand Down are February 7, February 28 and the big social service fair is set for Friday March 5, 2010. In the past, we have needed over 800 volunteers to stage these three important events. We will be giving away clothing on the first two dates and providing a day of rest on all three days. All volunteers sign up for a training session. Volunteer trainings are scheduled in January and February.

The 2010 Stand Down is expected to the biggest ever with the downturn in the economy and the lack of jobs. We hope that you can sign up as a volunteer on the InterAct Cleveland website. We need to collect winter clothing items, hygiene items, coats, and boots. We need congregations to sign up to make bagged lunches or donate RTA bus passes. All this information can be viewed on the InterAct website.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Sleeping Outside in Cleveland

How Has The Economic Crisis Affected Homeless Living Outdoors?

Over the Thanksgiving weekend holiday, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless recorded the number of people sleeping outside; an annual project that NEOCH has conducted for the last 12 years. NEOCH attempts to count and talk to everyone (if they are not sleeping) in the area between West 6th St. & East 20th St., then between the Lake & Carnegie Ave. “We believe that this is a good baseline for the lowest number of people sleeping outside for the year in Cleveland since, during the holidays, families take their relatives inside and so fewer people are homeless. This count does not define the number of people sleeping outside, but it is a good indicator of the trends,” said Brian Davis, executive director of NEOCH. This year’s extensive search tallied a number very similar to that in the counts of 2007 and 2008.

Here are the thoughts of the Director of the Coalition, Brian Davis, on the reasons for this trend:

  • The sustained high rate of foreclosure has continued to make available a number of vacant properties in neighborhoods. Often these properties are abandoned, some still have furniture, and some even have heat. Many homeless people sleeping outdoors see this as an opportunity to find a good alternative to sleeping outside in the cold exposed to the elements and possible attack.
  • The blue-and-yellow Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s clean up crews are patrolling the downtown for the fifth year. Their presence has made it very uncomfortable for homeless people who want to be left alone but, for their own safety, do not want to be invisible. The Downtown ambassadors do make the downtown look nicer, but for some this rigid attention to the sweeping of the sidewalks makes it uncomfortable to live on the streets. There is a noticeable improvement in the how things look Downtown. Without the construction of the Euclid Corridor and with the admirable efforts to keep the streets clean, the City is sparkling and ready for a turnaround. It really looks nice and inviting if not a bit lonely early in the morning.
  • For the last two years, the Coalition has hosted monthly meetings to get all professional outreach teams on the same page. By keeping their maps of the city’s homeless updated, teams have been able to continue talking to the men and women who are resistant to shelter. The teams have worked out a schedule to talk to everyone outside in order to convince those resistant to shelter to come inside. Their coordinated efforts have helped stabilize the outdoor count over the past few years, even in the wake of economic downturn.

However, NEOCH staff do not believe that there has actually been an increase in the total number of homeless people. In fact, both major men’s and women’s shelters over this past summer were full or at overflow. Also, the number of homeless schoolchildren has risen steadily in Cleveland, a shocking epidemic that has just begun receiving nationwide attention.

If our goal in the community is to get homeless people off the streets, we have done a good job. We have unfortunately done that at the expense of the thousands of former home owners who have had to endure this foreclosure nightmare. If the goal is to get men and women into stable, decent, affordable places to live, then we still have a long way to go in Cleveland.

Brian Davis
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Friday, December 11, 2009

Homeless Memorial Day

Candlelight Vigil 2009

The 23rd Annual Homeless Memorial Day will take place on December 21, 2009 at St. Malachi Hall. As authorized by recent state legislation, Ohio now recognizes the 21st of December as a day to remember homeless people. The 2009 candlelight vigil, the first with official state support, is a memorial to remember those who have died over the last year in Cleveland.

Joining with other cities throughout the state and country, which will include a multi-denominational memorial service and a reflection by Ohio State Senator Shirley Smith. This year’s gathering, in light of the national health care debate and the murders on Imperial Avenue, will call attention to the health care needs of homeless people and the need for comprehensive alcohol and drug treatment.

To date, we will read the names of 41 individuals including the women killed on Imperial Ave, many of whom spent time in the shelters and homeless. If you’d like more information about the event, or you would like to schedule an interview with Brian Davis, please call NEOCH at 216/432-0540.

Brian Davis
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Saturday, December 05, 2009

State Foreclosure Call-In Day

From the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio

Good Afternoon Advocates!

Is a generation of foreclosures long enough?

2009 marks the 15th year of record foreclosure numbers – that’s an entire generation of wealth-stripping that we can to stop through sound legislation!

HB 3, the Foreclosure Prevention Act, has been sitting idle in the Senate for six months. During that time more than 45,000 homeowners have lost their homes. How many more homes do we have to lose before the Senate acts?

We need your help on Wednesday, December 9, when dozens of Ohio housing advocates will meet with their senators at the Statehouse.

Your calls will reinforce their visits. Ask your senator to push for public hearings on the bill before the end of the year. PLEASE MAKE TWO CALLS -- one to your senator, and one to Bill Harris, President of the Ohio Senate (614-466-8086)!

If you do not know your senator, click this link and enter the requested information under Find Your Senator.

After you make the calls on December 9, please let us know the response you received by calling NEOCH 216/432-0540 ext 100 or COHHIO at 614/280-1984 (Cathy Johnston).

Thanks for your support!

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National Housing Trust Fund

Reminder: National Call-in for NHTF $, Dec. 1 and 2
National Housing Trust Fund
Please Call Congress National Housing Trust to Get Money

Pass This Message on to Others. Let’s Get NHTF Money Before Congress Adjourns for Holidays.

Please call your representative and both of your senators on December 1 or 2. Please ask your networks to do the same.

Tell them you want at least $1 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund before Congress adjourns later in December. Urge them to support any bill moving through the House or Senate that contains money for the NHTF.

Let them know that providing money for the NHTF will create needed jobs. Every $1 billion investment in the NHTF, at $100,000 per unit of housing, will create 15,100 construction jobs and 3,800 jobs in ongoing operations. Also, the NHTF will support local economies as low income families can afford to spend more money on goods and services when they are not spending half or more of their income on housing.

Our goal is to create an early-December blizzard of phone calls from all over the country in a compressed period of time to demonstrate strong and urgent support for an initial infusion of money for the NHTF. Please pass this message on to your networks.

877-210-5351 is the toll free number for the congressional switchboard. Ask to be connected to the housing staffer for your representative's and senators' offices.

Questions? Contact NEOCH at 216/432-0540 or see the National Low Income Housing Coalition website at

The day of Action was Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. We missed posting it, because of other deadlines. You can still call your Congressman especially Senators Brown and Voinovich to urge them to support the creation and preservation of affordable housing.

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Guitar Festival in Kent

Annual Woodchopper's Ball 2009

9 of the finest acoustic guitarists anywhere performing. Proceeds benefit the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless on Saturday December 12, 2009 at 7 p.m. at the Kent Stage in beautiful downtown Kent.

Reserved seats are $20 for 9 artists or $2.20 per artist. You can purchase tickets at the Kent Stage Box office by calling 330-677-5005 or go to Brian Henke is the organizer for this ninth Woodchopper's Ball.

Scheduled Musicians:

· Helen Avakian

· Greg Gilbertson

· Tim Thompson

· Kyle Reeder

· Brian Henke

· Eric Wilson

· Stephanie Jackson

· Todd Hallawell

· Robin Kessinger

· Hosted by Charlie Brown

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Monday, November 23, 2009

The Death of Cleveland Transit Authority?

2010 Proposed Cuts Will Result in Death of RTA

When I read the Plain Dealer story on the proposed cuts to the Regional Transit Authority, I had the same reaction as Rob Pitingolo who posted on Brewed Fresh Daily. If these go forward, this will be the death of the Transit Authority. It is already difficult to get around using RTA and the bus pass cost is out of control. It is the single biggest complaint of homeless people that there is no way to get to work or doctor appointments while living in a shelter, because of the expense of riding RTA. We already endured huge increases in the fares and the elimination of the Circulators as well as a reductions last year. The announced 2010 cuts are extreme and in my opinion the agency will not recover from these cuts. I think that they have cut the transit program to the bone and any additional cuts will make it impossible for people to rely on the transit authority to get to work. We will view the RTA as a way to get to the airport or a special event, but not a reliable partner to get to work everyday. I can't take a bus to a rapid stop and then transfer to the rapid and then take the healthline to work. It will double the bus ride to work, and I am not willing to give an extra hour and a half a day for work. This is a horrible decision. If they want to save RTA, they need to keep or reduce the daily fare, keep the routes the same, and FIND A DIFFERENT REVENUE SOURCE!!! They need to demand additional state dollars or additional hotel/ motel tax or a new hospitality tax on restaurants to maintain existing service. Please don't kill the RTA.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

New Homeless Czar for Federal Government

Ohioan Named Director of InterAgency Council on Homelessness

The office of InterAgency Council on Homelessness within the federal government has not produced much except some press releases and newsletters about how great the US government has done in solving homelessness. This in the face of ever increases in homelessness in the United States. The world's last superpower that can put a man on the moon, build a movable staircase and a way to turn the desert Southwest into a giant suburb with the invention of air conditioning but we cannot find housing for everyone living in America. Very few in the public have heard of this office, and any drive in the downtown of any city in America would lead to the conclusion that this office has failed miserably. It is supposed to get all the cabinet members together to work across bureaucracies to reduce homelessness. All the usual department heads are represented (HUD, HHS, VA, and Education), but also at the table is the head of social security, the department of labor, homeland security, transpiration, and energy. All these powerful people or their representatives at the table and all we have to show for it is a good newsletter?

Barbara Poppe from Columbus and the Community Shelter Board was just appointed Executive Director. I have a long relationship with Columbus as most of my family live in the capital city. I have known Barbara for years as the wife of the State Housing and Homeless director, Bill Faith, and as a competent leader of the Community Shelter Board. She kept down controversies in Columbus, and had an iron hand on the homeless social services that operate in Central Ohio. Poppe was the person politicians and the media turned to when they had problems with homeless people, and in exchange she controlled all the resources. She put in a plan to reduce homelessness among men, but never got around to address the issue of people with a sexually based offense who cannot find housing. She did a good job of putting Columbus on the map with regard to fighting to reduce homelessness, and she traveled the country teaching others. Poppe was the first in Ohio to recognize the need for supportive housing for long term single homeless people, and had to admit last year that family homelessness saw a steep rise in Columbus. Poppe had the confidence of the leadership of Columbus, but rarely interacted with people experiencing homelessness.

I have some experience with national homeless policies and with Ms. Poppe. I am in the perfect position to give Ms. Poppe some advice in her new role as the Director of the InterAgency Council on Homelessness. I met with her predecessor on four different occasions and walked out on two meetings with Mr. Mangano. I know what the spin that the Interagency Council has delivered over the last few years and the fact that there was just publicity coming out of the Interagency Council.

Dear Barb:
Congratulations on your appointment to the Interagency Council. We are honored that the administration recognized someone from Ohio as having made progress on homelessness. Since I have known you for years, I feel that I can pass along a few suggestions for your new job. Take them or leave them. As a 15 year observer on national policy I do have some expertise on the inter-workings of government. I met with Phil Mangano a number of times until I got tired of his same old song and dance routine. By 2006, we began arguing for a change in leadership at the IAC, and local activists pledged that they would protest any gathering that featured Mr. Mangano in Cleveland. Our objections were that he was not critical of all the cuts that hurt homeless people in housing subsidies and never said anything about the horrible federal response to Katrina. We felt that as the Homeless Czar he needed to raise concerns over federal policies that harmed those without housing.

My suggestions for the new office are:
  1. Don't follow your predecessor's example. Don't fly around the country championing how great the federal government is doing when our problems are mounting in each of our communities. You do not have to the public relations arm of the administration.
  2. We need you in DC pushing for change. We need help from the administration and the cabinet to make it easier for homeless people to find stability. We need each of these departments on the council to put forward objectives to reduce homelessness. An example is reducing the time it takes to approve disability assistance or increase enforcement of the exploitation of low income workers especially by temporary labor companies.
  3. Please don't pit one population against another. Veterans vs. families or disabled vs. long term homeless or single adults vs. young people was the hallmark of the previous administration. It is going to take a much larger pie to solve these problems, and not just slicing the existing pie into smaller and smaller pieces for all these worthy sub-populations.
  4. Please don't tell us to go use the mainstream programs. That is like telling us to go find the gold at the end of the rainbow. We all know that the mainstream programs (public housing, cash assistance, disability, etc.) are not accessible or have years long wait for help. It is an insult to keep bringing this up when there is nothing there, and we have all tried to find help with mainstream programs.
  5. We need the other departments to start thinking of ways to serve homeless people. Why can't the Department of Health and Human Services take more of a role in solving homelessness? HUD is the leading funder of the shelters and services, but why can't some of the other departments help support the shelters? Why can't HHS set up a pool of funds to provide supportive services such as health care, voice mail, transportation, and mental health services at the shelters? Or why can't the Department of Labor provide employment training at the shelters?
  6. We need real outcomes that lead to real reductions in homelessness. You did a very good job in Columbus requiring the shelters to prove their worth. We need something similar at the national level for all federal funding.
  7. Don't forget about Civil Rights. Employment, housing, and health care are all important to ending homelessness, but civil rights issues are just as important. You never really addressed this in Columbus, but there were not huge threats in Columbus. In some cities this is the single biggest problem facing homeless people. If a person is regularly arrested because they cannot fit into the shelter, it will take them years to get off the streets. We all pay a huge bill for their incarceration, medical bills, and mental health services because we cannot help these troubled individuals off the streets. It is hypocritical for American cities to take money for shelters then turn around and make it illegal to be homeless or sleep outside or beg for money. This is an issue, Barb, that we need you to address.
  8. We need you to ease the regulatory burden on the shelters and services. Please help us cut through the red tape in order to do good. Push for unified reporting forms for both public and private sector funding. We need you to help with oppressive regulatory guidelines and impossibles obstacles put in place to help people.
  9. With the political will we can end homelessness. Not in five years or ten years or if something else happens, but we can end homelessness today if we wanted to. There is enough housing in this country. There are enough resources, but we are just not using those resources to put people into housing. We need you to convince Congress and the White House to fix health care, improve access to jobs and make housing a human right.
Brian Davis

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Ohio Serial Killer

Photo by Cheryl Harris of the NEOCH Photo Project

Are We Casting Aside Some Women in Our Cities?

As you most likely have read, Cleveland had a serial killer living in the Mt Pleasant neighborhood. I know the victims, and I see them almost everyday. At this point, only one woman has in fact been identified, but we know that they were all African American women. But I can close my eyes and see these women in our shelters in Cleveland. They sometimes have an addiction or a mental health problem or chronic health condition and they always have unstable housing. They "hook up" for short periods of time with men to have a place to stay. They self medicate and struggle to find ways to feed their addiction or find help for their health issues. They see five years of waiting for housing, and so they try to find someone who help. They have a tenuous job and no career. These women have strained relationships with family or no family in the area, and they are looking for a lifeline. The short cut is to stay with a man and put up with physical or mental abuse or exchange sex for a warm bed or tolerate countless other forms of mistreatment. This is a sometimes a matter of survival, but it is also dangerous for these women.

Did authorities do enough when these transient women go missing? I am not blaming the police, because they have most likely been burnt thousands of times looking for women who were not in fact missing. They have probably wasted thousands of police hours chasing people who do not want to be found because they are fleeing the bill collector or they are just having a hard time finding a place to live. But these grieving families over on Imperial Avenue are angry and confused. They know that if there were two white women missing from the same neighborhood in Westlake there would be a task force and the FBI, National Guard and John Walsh would be here kicking in doors in that neighborhood. We all know that the media would be camping at Police headquarters every night if 10 or 11 white women were missing from Mayfield Hts. The serial killer knew this also and was able to stay under the radar for the last few years by preying on transient African American women. Are their segments of our community that are just forgotten?

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Homeless Denied Identification

The Identification Crisis Collaborative
*West Side Catholic Center * St. Colman’s Outreach Ministry * Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries- 2100 Lakeside Shelter for Men * NEOCH * Community Women’s Shelter – Mental Health Services * Care Alliance * St. Malachi Center * Project SAVE * The Church
* Catholic Charities – Bishop Cosgrove Center and Emergency Services at St. Augustine

Fiscal Agent: West Side Catholic Center, 3135 Lorain Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44113,

November 3, 2009

With No Proof of Residency Homeless Are Not Eligible for Jobs or Housing

As of October 8, 2009, people who are homeless and not living in shelters, are no longer eligible for state photo ID’s or drivers licenses because they have no proof of residency. Because state photo IDs are required for services including employment, housing and health care, these people cannot meet their basic human needs. This new mandate by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles prevents people who are living in their cars, abandoned property, on the streets, or any place where they cannot prove residency, from any chance of improving their lives.

The members of the Identification Crisis Collaborative are agencies that assist homeless and low income people to obtain their birth certificates and state photo IDs. They include homeless shelters, drop-in centers, churches, mental health services, and other agencies working with this population.

The process of acquiring a state photo ID is already fraught with Catch-22s. A birth certificate is required to get an ID, but in many states, you must send a copy of a state photo ID to get a birth certificate. People born in Cleveland can get their birth certificates at Cleveland City Hall, but a state photo ID is required to enter.

Now, all applicants for state photo IDs and drivers licenses must bring proof of residency – lease agreements, utility bills, etc., with them to the BMV, or leave and return with the documents. These regulations apply to everyone, but are particularly difficult barriers for the elderly, disabled, homeless and low income citizens.

Jim Schlecht, Outreach Worker for Care Alliance, which provides health care and help for people who are homeless, stated, “This new rule is keeping people homeless and a continuing burden on the community. It doesn’t make sense.” He is currently trying to assist someone who stays around E. 9th and Superior. This person, who is homeless and has no residence, has been sober for almost a year and wants to get off the streets. He has the opportunity to get a HUD subsidized apartment, but he cannot prove he has a current residence so that he can get a state photo ID. Because HUD requires a state photo ID, he is being denied the apartment.

Brian Davis, Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, stated, “The fundamental expression of American democracy is voting, and Ohio requires identification for those who want to vote in person on election day. These new rules will make homeless people into second class citizens on election day, unable to vote in person.”

Gerald Skoch, Executive Director of the West Side Catholic Center which operates a drop-in center for people who are homeless, stated, “The residency requirement is yet another burden placed upon the indigent and homeless striving for self sufficiency. The unintended consequences of this type of regulation are significant and usually overlooked. In our efforts to achieve greater safety and security we trample on the hopes of the marginalized.”

Eileen Kelly, Outreach Minister from St. Colman Church, stated, “Even if the homeless can’t prove their existence to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, we know that the men and women who are most affected by these new unreasonable requirements do exist. We meet them every single day at our doors and struggle with them to break down the barriers to work, to decent housing, to basic human services. By building these new barriers to obtaining official ID, it seems to us that the Ohio BMV is now in the business of preventing some of our most vulnerable neighbors from providing for themselves, from working, from living in decent housing, from voting.”

Francis Afram-Guyaning, Executive Director of CARE Alliance
Brian Davis, Executive Director of Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless
Gail Doucette, Director of Catholic Charities Emergency Assistance
Carol Fredrich, Executive Director of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry – 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter
Eileen Kelly, Director of St. Colman Church Outreach Ministry
Susan Neth, Executive Director of Mental Health Services – Community Women’s Shelter
Gerald Skoch, Executive Director of West Side Catholic Center

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good Will Gone Wild

Local University Students Sleeps Outside

I have never been a big fan of these fund raisers, but apparently Habitat for Humanity supports the concept locally. CWRU students slept outside earlier this month, and had a great night. One of our old interns wrote a letter to the editor complaining about the mixed up message and inappropriate stereotypes. Mike is correct that it is difficult to match the goals of raising dollars with awareness campaigns. There is some debate at the national level about these pizza and box nights. It is not fun to be homeless and it is nearly impossible to realize the problems faced by homeless people in one night.

The issues associated with being homeless is that there collapse of all stability without an end in sight. There is no place that is safe that people can use as a headquarters. There no place to put your stuff as George Carlin loved to talk about. There is no privacy and the future is always cloudy when you lose your housing. It may be fun for one night or even a couple of weeks, but that sense of freedom wears off real fast. Eventually, we need a regular safe place to return to. We all need a dresser to hold important documents and clean clothing. We want to stay up late if we feel like it, and we want a private quiet place to just think.

I know in Columbus and Athens do a homeless experience project to try to get across to students the frustration of being homeless, but they are not usually fundraising opportunities for the agencies. Back in the 1980s, the students built a shanty on the quad at CWRU. This was my first experience with the problem of homelessness, and got me interested in working on these issues. It was not a fund raiser, but an attempt to get the students involved in the problem. This was similar to the anti-war and anti-apartheid movements of the 1970s and 1980s. The organizers brought in speakers both local and national and confronted the university administration over their lack of involvement in addressing poverty. The students were arrested, but it generated a great deal of media and student attention. The group that formed met throughout the rest of the year and did a few other events to try to push the university to become more involved in taking a leadership role in addressing the poverty all around the school.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

We Need Blankets!!!

The Shelters Are In Need of Your Help!!

The Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry Men's Homeless Shelter at 2100 Lakeside is in need of blankets for their residents. The economic downturn has caused them to lose a few of the sources they had supplying their blankets so they have asked for our help. They will take any new or good used blankets in any size. Please consider doing a blanket drive where you work or at your faith congregation for 2100 Lakeside Shelter. Blankets can be dropped off at the shelter on your way to work, at lunch, or on the way home. If you do a blanket drive and can collect more than 30 blankets one of the shelters would be happy to pick them up for you. For more information or to schedule a pick up call NEOCH at 432-0540 ext. 103

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Reply to Shelter Standards Request

Guidelines vs. Regulations

The Homeless Congress has secured the endorsement of 20 City Council candidates to pass some kind of regulations of the shelters. The list of council members is regularly updated on the NEOCH website with a link to the proposed legislation as written by the Congress.

One interesting note came by fax on October 5, 2009 from current City Councilman Anthony Brancatelli and candidate for Ward 2. While he checked the box in support of the proposal to regulate the shelters, he altered the the form to say that he would work to pass "or support" the regulations. Then at the end he added that he supports the concepts, and Brancatelli added "and understand that the state may provide such regulations." Some Council members have been deceived into thinking that the guidelines published by the State Department of Development are an adequate substitute to local regulations.

These guidelines have no enforcement mechanism, and there is no place within the State to go to complain about violations of these guidelines. All the shelter director has to do is sign once a year that they follow these guidelines and they get their money. No shelter has ever had their funding removed, because they are not following the guidelines. These rules have no provision for even enforcing violations of the suggested guidelines. So, even if a homeless person walked all the way down to Columbus and found the Department of Development they have no way of filing a complaint. There is not even an inspector general who can ever audit the shelters to see if they are in fact abiding by the state recommendations.

What homeless people are asking for is some local oversight of the shelters. They want someone to complain to when their stuff is inappropriately thrown away. They want someone impartial who will listen if they think that they were wronged. They want someone watching the millions of dollars that go to the shelters in our community. It is a simple request, but it seems like some bureacrats don't want to have to take sides and so are forwarding the myth that the shelters are already regulated. We are not accepting support for guidelines as a substitute for support for regulations.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

State Homeless Memorial Day

photo by the City of Cleveland Press Office of Mayor Jackson at the 2006 candlelight vigil at Franklin Circle Church.

December 21 is Now Recognized to Remember Homeless People

Back in December 2008, without any fanfare, the State of Ohio recognized December 21 as Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. Senate Bill 243 was passed on 12-17-2008 with a bunch of other designations and markers for various months, days, etc. Rep. Michael Skindell of Lakewood placed this in the legislation to remember those who passed away over the last year. There are current memorials in Dayton, Toledo, Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus, but it is nice to have the state recognize that people are dying while sleeping outside or living in shelters.

We hope to have a representative from the State delegation to our event this year as we recognize December 21 as Homeless Persons' Memorial Day. We will have more details about the memorial posted in the near future.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Retirement of a Local Organizing Legend

Photo by Toni Anderson of the NEOCH Photo Project from 2009. Tim Walters is on the right and Steve Cagan is on the left.

Tim Walters Retired from May Dugan Center

Community organizing is not as valued as it was in Cleveland in the 1970s and early 1980s. Curiously, homelessness exploded in Cleveland in the late 1980s when community organizing began to decline. But one of the legends of organizing retired last month from the May Dugan Center here in Cleveland. Tim regularly attended the Homeless Congress, and kept MetroHealth honest (obviously not with regard to capital contracting) for the last 20 years. One of the most important services offered by Tim was his expertise on utility issues locally. No one who represents the interests of consumers knows more about the utility regulations than Tim Walters. This is a huge hole for the community to fill. There is no funding for this type of activity, and there is no one else who has this knowledge. We all thought that Tim was going to work fighting the good fight until the end of this century. Tim had to sit in on hundreds of meetings and hear politicians blather on and on just to stay informed about potential roadblocks or table scraps that may be available for the neighborhood.

Community organizing is no longer valued in the Cleveland. We all have to prove with deliverables and logic models and measurable outcomes our value. No one seems to see the value of just getting poor people together in the same room to talk about their own community. No one will give money anymore to have agencies host meetings between the disenfranchised and the power structure. Foundations and government do not understand the insight of the people receiving the government assistance or social services. We pay lip service as a society to asking for feedback, but we do not pay hard cash for this service.

Tim is the modern day monk scraping together a living from various agencies, but everyday listening to his constituents and working to solve problems. His faded jeans were his community organizing robes. He tried to work out the problem of how do you order your birth certificate at City Hall if you have to have ID to get to the birth certificate office? He worked on the problems of out of state slum lords in the neighborhood, and the attempts to preserve access to health care on the near west side. He was involved in Civil Rights issues and voting, but he never grandstanded for publicity. Tim has done a ton of walking for peace, universal health care, universal housing, and against unfair labor practices over the years.

Tim is still going to be around and is going to spend more time with his grandchildren. We are going to miss being able to call over to get an answer to a question. We are not going to have his ear on the West Side to pick up issues and pass them along when he heard about a problem at a meeting or talking to people he sees at the Center. Tim was the glue that bound lower income people together on the near West Side and prevented corporate interests from destroying the neighborhood. Tim has had a great career as an agent of change and a defender of social justice. I was able to see Tim receive a resolution from Congressman Kucinich on Monday recognizing his long career in community organizing. It was read or will be read soon on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

Homeless Prevention Funding: Background

Changing the Homeless System in Cleveland

A Little Background
The Obama Administration as part of the American Recovery Law put $1.5 billion into preventing homelessness and quickly moving some homeless people into housing. In an effort to not create an entirely new bureaucracy, they put the funds into the Emergency Shelter grant program even though these funds could not fund shelters. It was to be dispersed by formula and distributed the same way the ESG funds are given out. How this was distributed locally was:
  • Cleveland receives $9.8 million
  • Cuyahoga County receives $1.55 million
  • the City of Lakewood receives $902,000 and
  • City of Cleveland Hts. getting $715,000
  • Later, it was announced that the state was just going to divide up their funds among the 10 largest communities in Ohio, so there was an additional $1.6 million from the State to Cuyahoga County.
Originally, the County had negotiated a deal in which all the funds would be pooled and one Request for proposal would be issued with all $12.8 million (not including the State dollars). In a March 11 memo to the community, the Office of Homeless Services originally advertised a May 11 deadline for applications, and then the applications would be approved by June 1, 2009. We were told that this short time line would allow the Cleveland City Council to approve the contracts at their last meeting before summer recess on June 4, 2009.

All the funds had to be given away in 30 months, and they were part of the effort to stimulate the economy. It was hoped that jobs would be created and people would quickly move back into housing or would not become homeless in the first place. There was no money for foreclosure/mortgage assistance (there was a separate pool for this help). There was no money for oversight or monitoring. The funds could go to rental assistance, outreach, preventing evictions, or moving people quickly back into housing and then paying for 18 months for rental help. They were really broad guidelines and a quick turn around time to help stimulate the economy. These were a once in a lifetime opportunity that would fund a new idea to prevent homelessness instead of just serving the emergency needs of individuals.

In February 2009, when it was announced that the Obama administration was going to include millions in the stimulus dollars to prevent homelessness in America, NEOCH along with the Cleveland Tenants Organization set about to organize a redesign of the rental assistance program as well as the shelters (see Plain Dealer article “How best to help the homeless with expected stimulus money” on February 25, 2009). We gathered together all the large providers in Cleveland in order to transform the system so that at the end of 30 months there will be fewer homeless people waiting for housing in our community. The keys to success that would have resulted in a change in the system were:

1. A new organization was to be formed to coordinate all of these resources. All the partners would have sat on an oversight committee with clear roles and will respond to the issues of housing instability in a coordinated manner. One group would do all the data entry, which were required for the receipt of the dollars.
2. Every social worker in the community would have had a tool to use to figure out the household’s risk of homelessness in order to begin to address possible homelessness before there is a crisis. We had designed a process for referrals among the 12 partner organizations so that there was more than one entry point into the system. A few of the partners (Lakeside, West Side Catholic, AIDS Task Force, and Domestic Violence Center) would offer expertise to provide specialized case management.
3. All shelter beds and all rental assistance would have been distributed out of one facility with an impartial third party professional making those decisions for the good of the community.
4. Everyone in need of housing assistance would have received a follow up call or voice mail to figure out if the assistance that they were given was effective--basically follow up case management.
5. There was a storage furniture bank funded so that homeless people could have furniture delivered as they are moving into their housing. There was some help for those who need identification financial assistance, and some help to fund the housing website in the long run.
6. Finally, there was outreach to the suburbs with placement of staff in the eastern and western suburbs to help prevent evictions. This was combined with help from Legal Aid and Homeless Legal Assistance to offer legal advice and defense against eviction for the 8% (1,600 evictions in 2008) that did not involve a person's inability to pay the rent.

We were able to get the following groups to sign on as partners that would not compete with this collaboration: NEOCH, CTO, EDEN Inc., Mental Health Services, Inc., West Side Catholic, Domestic Violence Center, AIDS Task Force Cleveland, Mediation Center, Legal Aid Society, Cleveland Metro. Bar Association, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Metro. Ministry/2100 Lakeside. All these groups signed a non-compete contract and a commitment that they would work together to implement the plan. The goal for the collaboration was that at the end of 30 months, we would have helped thousands prevent homelessness, but more importantly we would have fundamentally transformed the system. We would have reduced the need for all of the emergency shelter beds and created a rational system for preventing people from having to go to shelter. We all understood that at least half the population does not want to go to shelter, so how do we best serve them without forcing them into a shelter?

The collaboration then applied for the $12.8 million that was coming to Cleveland. This is a little background that the Plain Dealer and others did not have the space to talk about. We will follow up with how this all broke down this summer. This is a follow up to our post from last week.

Brian Davis
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Two Big Events This Week

Housing and Landlord Tenant Forums This Week

On September 22 at 3 p.m. at Franklin Circle Church (behind Lutheran Hospital at Franklin and Fulton Blvd. ) there will be a forum for homeless people and homeless service providers on the Fair Housing Laws as well as the Landlord Tenant Laws. Representatives from the Cleveland Tenants Organization and the Housing Research and Advocacy Coalition will each do a presentation and answer questions. Anyone is welcome to attend, but this is geared toward educating homeless people as they prepare to move back into housing. For questions call Brian at NEOCH at 216/432-0540.

On Friday September 25, a large group of agencies will present a Housing Fair for Homeless people at the Bishop Cosgrove Center Gymnasium. This forum will have owners of affordable housing available so homeless individuals are asked to bring identification and proof of income. The "From Homelessness to Housing" fair is from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at 1736 Superior Ave. The traditional fantastic Cosgrove lunch will be served, and many groups will be on hand to offer help. For more information call Randy Cunningham at 216/432-0616.

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Homeless Prevention Funding

A Missed Opportunity

Photo by Cheryl Jones of the NEOCH Photo Project

We have sat on this story for three months. Now that it was on the front of the Metro Section of the Plain Dealer, we can begin to talk about this once in a life time opportunity. The PD story and the editorial from today do not do justice to the complete story. They did not have enough space to talk about all the issues. NEOCH was trying to bring systemic change locally behind the scenes without pushing anyone into a corner. Since the contracts for the $12 million in Stimulus dollars will be signed on Thursday, we have nothing left to lose. We talked to politicians and other providers, but we could never get the County to respond to our concerns. We will have plenty more to say on this topic, but for now here is our statement on the distribution of homeless prevention funds.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless feels tremendous disappointment in the poor planning that took place to distribute the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing (HPRP) funds. There was no input from homeless people, and although offered, help from the social service providers on a plan was not accepted. “The Blueprint for Change” published by the Office of Homeless Services was written by one or two people in the County, and so now the small County Office owns the system for ending homelessness locally. They are the sole architect of the system, and will need to take responsibility for its success or failure.

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity that could have fundamentally transformed the plan to end homelessness. We had the obligation to use these funds in a transparent manner with a high degree of accountability to the community as was championed by President Barack Obama and Congress when these recovery act funds were released. We could have created a large number of new jobs and invested funds into a new system to prevent homelessness. We have violated the letter and spirit of the American Recovery Act by the backward process for distributing these funds.

We are sorry that the City of Cleveland did not take advantage of the opportunity to fundamentally change the system for providing housing assistance to homeless people. NEOCH is sorry to see that more than 70% of the funds went to the City of Cleveland, and yet City leaders have taken a back seat in overseeing how these funds were distributed. The City of Cleveland needs to step up and take back the leadership of solving the problem of homelessness locally. Cuyahoga County has seen 20 straight years of homelessness, and county officials have been in charge of the problem for the past 16 years. There are no shelters outside of the City of Cleveland, and men come from the suburbs and even the surrounding counties to the shelters in Cleveland.

NEOCH shares the concerns of homeless people that there is no oversight of these funds. We hear this constant refrain at every single meeting we host with homeless people that there is no where to go to get answers about homelessness and no where to go to complain about mistreatment within the social service system. We expect the County to step forward and make sure that the use of these funds are transparent and vigorously protected to insure the community is best served. We believe that strong oversight of these funds are critical to the success of these funds.

To date, County staff have made many mistakes in the distribution of these funds, and have alienated a number of the large social service providers in this community. It will take all of the social service providers working together to effectively implement this program. The County needs to listen to experts in the community, and implement a more collaborative approach to homeless services. The biggest fears of homeless providers and currently homeless people is that in trying to do good, we are going to swamp the shelters with new people looking for help. We fear that people will hear that the two entry shelters can help with housing assistance funds and will show up at the door seeking help. All of the local shelters are already full, and we cannot fit anymore people into the shelters.

Brian Davis
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