Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another Day: Another Report

Photo by Pleasure Simmons (NEOCH Photo Graduate 2008)

State of Downtown Cleveland Homeless

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless has published a report on the State of Downtown Homeless in Cleveland. It is on our website under Solutions/Public Policy section of the site. In 2007, during our budget woes at the Coalition, the City of Cleveland engaged a contract with NEOCH. This was a historic change from the bad days of the 1990s when we were forced to sue the City of Cleveland on a regular basis. NEOCH had never in our 20 year history had a contract with the City of Cleveland. Anyway, we completed our one year contract working on assisting the City with issues of homelessness downtown. The big success was moving the food providers to a new location without a lawsuit or a big demonstration. We started to see a large reduction in the number of people sleeping in the downtown. Unfortunately, with the problems facing our economy, the number has started to increase again. We could claim that there was a direct relationship between the numbers starting to rise immediately after our contract ended with the City, but that would not be true. We have continued to do much of the work, because the coordination is valuable.

We have a better network of coordination of outreach workers, we have a coordinated food distribution, and we have far fewer people in the overflow shelter system. NEOCH staff and board hope that the City will renew the contract this spring, and we can continue to work on other issues to reduce homelessness in Cleveland. It is a good report that gives a good overview of homelessness downtown.


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

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Grading the Administration 1

Weekly Poverty Grades for Obama Administration: B-

Every week we are going to try to assign a letter grade to the new administration on how they are doing with regard to reducing poverty with a concentration on housing/homelessness. It is hard not to compare this administration to the last, and their record on poverty. We will try to avoid that, because in all honesty every week would be an A on that scale. It is difficult to focus on these activities every week, when it has taken decades for us to get the country in this bad shape. I mean, we have now come to accept that a certain percentage of our population will become homeless and will not have basic health care, an opportunity for a job, or a roof with some privacy. There is so much riding on this administration probably because of all the promises made, and that we can no longer grade on a curve.

Week #1 is a B-. This week is difficult to judge because the administration really only had 4 days to accomplish anything, but it is a good baseline. Here are a few short takes on why:
  • The new HUD Secretary was approved by the Senate this week, and he knows about housing issues and is not afraid to say the word "renter", "affordable", or "homelessness." He comes from an affordable housing background, and pledged to work on family homelessness. He is planning to take an active interest in stabilizing the housing market. All these are important, and a positive step.
  • There is a great deal on the White House website about poverty. [It actually says the word "poverty" with only one click away from the home page. Can you believe that?] Yes, these are just words, but that is the second step in community organizing. Write down the problems, agree on a course of action, solicit support, implement, repeat. So, in four days, we are on step 2. Not bad.
  • The stimulus package will include an extension of unemployment. This is a critical program to stabilize the current workforce while changes are made. Again, at this point just talk.
  • Pledges on the website of support for National Housing Trust. Good step, but again at this point is just talk.
  • Executive Order to open information of the Executive Branch to the freedom of information act. Most would not see the relationship between FOIA and poverty, but it is actually critical. It is impossible to figure out a solution, when we spend all of our time arguing about the facts. We need the information released quickly and without distortion, so that we can then develop solutions. This order moves the administration into the "B" territory on the struggle against poverty, because it is so critical for democracy to have an open and transparent government.
  • The new ethics rules are also important for the same reason as above.
  • Retired General Eric Shinseki was approved by the Senate as the new Director of Veterans Affairs, and spoke often of his goal to make sure that homelessness is not part of the re-integration of veterans from combatant to civilian.
  • There is mention on the White House site about urban policy. While short on details, there is a reference to more affordable housing. There is nothing about homelessness, but at least the administration recognizes the need for a focus on urban issues. The other new part of the website is a section on rural issues. Even shorter on details and again no details on rural homelessness, but it is a step.
Areas that need work in order to move that grade up to an A:
  • Nothing on Katrina or general preparedness of the gulf coast. (There is a statement under additional issues: "President Obama will keep the broken promises made by President Bush to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast."--but no real action statements.)
  • No actual jobs were created this week--I think that "Job Creation" should be listed as an agenda on the White House website.
  • Temporary workers are still not on the agenda.
  • No one actually received health insurance.
  • The education system is still not working for many children left behind.
  • College is more out of reach than in any time since the 1930s.
  • The economic stimulus package has not passed.
  • There was nothing proposed or introduced to protect fragile populations from civil rights violations.
  • Give us more details on these agenda items of poverty, urban and rural issues.
  • Nothing new happened with regard to homelessness in America.
  • Poor people are still facing incredible--some might say indefinate--debt issues.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

State of Cleveland Homelessness 2008

Statistics About Homelessness Published

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless published its second annual State of Homelessness for Cuyahoga County, Ohio 2008. In this report, we survey local homeless service providers and the public entities and collects the numbers from last year. We try to use 2008 figures or at least the most recent Statistics available. Thanks to the County Office of Homeless Services, the Salvation Army, 2100 Lakeside Shelter, CTO, CHN, and Mediation Center. We have to thank CEOCG, First Call for Help, and the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. There are so many who submitted information including EDEN, Enterprise Foundation, and Cleveland Department of Building and Housing. It is a lot larger than the 2007 edition. The report details trends, positive steps, and the final section are recommended solutions. It is available on our website under Resources and statistics.

Here are a few highlights (or lowlights) from the report:
  • Estimated number of homeless people in 2007: 20,087.
  • Cuyahoga County residents living in poverty in 2007: 200,873 people or 15.5% of the population—a 1% increase.
  • Cleveland Housing Court evictions 2007: 11,416 (no data for 2008 yet)
  • Over a half million searches were conducted on the affordable housing website a12% increase.
  • Foreclosures filed in Cuyahoga County in 2007: 14,041
  • 21% increase in overall calls to 211, and a 22% in calls regarding foreclosure
  • 26% increase in calls to 211 regarding shelter between 2008 and 2007.
  • 3,788 people received help with identification in a one year period before funds ran out last year.
  • The need for affordable housing: 40,000 households.
  • 69% of the sheltered homeless population are African American.
  • The largest men’s shelter averaged 419 people sleeping inside every night.
  • 23% of the residents of Lakeside came from the suburbs or outside of Cuyahoga County.
  • To afford a one bedroom apartment at the market level, a person must make $1,806 per month or $11.28 per hour.
  • Homeless school age children in Cleveland remained steady in 2008 after a 40% increase in 2007.
  • 57% of the women who leave shelter have no income upon exit.
  • The largest family shelter saw a 50% increase in families in need of help because of the foreclosure crisis.
  • The average rent burden for callers to CTO is now 73% of a families income goes toward paying the rent.
  • 23% of the homeless population are veterans.
  • At least 10,000 housing units sit vacant just in the City of Cleveland.
  • 20% of the homeless population reported that they had never visited a dentist.

Please check it out, and give us some feedback.

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

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A New Day of Hope?

How the Social Justice Groups Spent the Day

The last 12 years have been rough on homeless people. We have had flat funding for most programs for years. We have had one group pitted against others. We have tried to solve homelessness for some groups, while we watched other populations grow in numbers. We have seen family homelessness grow, and more and more kids find themselves the innocent victim in this struggle. Housing has declined in its affordability and in the supply. More people do not have health insurance, and the standard of living has declined. So, homeless people are looking for a brighter day with this new administration.

To celebrate the new president of the United States of America all of the social justice groups in our building got together to listen to this historic change of leadership. After all, for social justice groups this was the first president in along time to talk about progressive ideas. This is the first president who even said the word "homeless" in decades. No matter what party you follow, this is a great moment in American history. We gathered in our conference room to watch the inauguration on the big screen. Staff from Community Shares, Policy Matters, NEOCH, Cleveland Tenants, Housing Research, and even a few others on their lunch break came down to watch the peaceful exchange of power from a man hostile to civil rights to one who defended civil rights in court and the classroom. We had about 40 some people attend the celebration. We had some homeless people, one elected official, some executive directors, and the people who do the real work in forwarding social justice in Cleveland all watching a change in the nation. The internet failed us, and so we had to watch it on a small television.

It was special to be together with all those social justice activists, some of whom have marched against wars for 30 years. We were able to gather together and try to see the picture on a small 19 inch television as activists did in the 1960s to watch the Voting Rights Act being signed. We broke bread and donuts with those who protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords and those who give voice to statistics and graphs to provide guidance and direction to lawmakers or the media. We got to hear the beautiful voice of Aretha Franklin blending the concepts of liberty and freedom into My Country Tis of Thee all together in the windowless room of a converted warehouse. It was a good day for the United States, for progressive ideas, and for urban centers throughout the country.

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

The Final Symbolic Image of the Last 8 Years

Separated At Birth?

Vice President Cheney at the Obama Inauguration today (Associated Press Photo)
Mr. Potter from It's A Wonderful Life (Photo from N Y Times)

Outgoing Vice President showed up at today's ceremony in a wheelchair, which I believe was the perfect symbol for the administration. No word if Cheney was wheeling around saying, "No securities, no stocks, no bonds...You're worth more dead than alive" to guests at the inauguration.

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

Monday, January 19, 2009

Melville Charitable Trust

Every Night I Hear Melville is Looking for Solutions?

So, does anyone else wonder how many more years the Melville Charitable Trust will be looking for a solution to Homelessness? Every night I hear on NPR that it is funding "All Things Considered" and working on finding solutions to homelessness? So, how is it going for them on this quest for the Holy Grail? Have they found a solution yet? Homelessness has increased every year for the past 20 in Cleveland, so the solutions have not made it to the Midwest. I went to their website and here is what I found:

What We've Learned

After working with more than a hundred grantee partners for over a dozen years we are now convinced of the following:

  1. Homelessness is a solvable problem.
  2. Decent, safe, accessible and affordable housing is indispensable to solving the problem of homelessness.
  3. Providing housing with support services to those who have enduring disabilities is the smart, humane, cost-effective solution to long-term homelessness.
  4. Our society has more than adequate economic capacity to invest in the housing and provide the services that can eliminate homelessness anywhere in America.
  5. Government agencies and officials, as well as our elected representatives on the local, state, national levels must be in the forefront of efforts to end homelessness, investing significant resources in housing and service programs that lead to individual and family independence.
  6. All that is needed to eliminate homelessness in America is the political will to do so.
I think that they could have stopped at #2, but what do I know? So, they have funded the National Alliance, and are big supporters of the Bush 10 year plan strategy. Some of those 10 year plans will expire next year, and I doubt that any city in America will declare victory. So, where are we? In most of America, homelessness is worse than it was 10 years ago. We have built a whole bunch of permanent supportive housing, but have no plans to fund those services long term. We have decimated public and the voucher program in America, and very few are successfully lobbying on their behalf. We have more poor people. We have more populations who find themselves homeless for longer periods of time. We have more families, more individuals from suburban and rural communities, more seniors and more young people becoming homeless. These populations are increasing, and we have seen a steady population of single men. We have fewer jobs that pay a decent wage, more people without health care, more civil rights violations against homeless people, and less housing for poor people.

I cannot think of many areas in the life of homeless people that are better. There are fewer benefits available to homeless people. There are fewer lawyers. It is harder for a homeless person to vote in America. So, the state of homelessness is worse, and yet Melville keeps pumping money into NPR and looking for solutions? What is NPR doing to reduce homelessness by the way? I have to wonder that all the money spent on staff, advertising, shelters, permanent supportive housing projects, National Alliance, and NPR would have helped more people by just providing a family a housing voucher for one year. They could have paid for an entire year of housing for 1,000 people in Cuyahoga County over the 10 years if they had just given away $6.5 million dollars to us. That would have doubled our Shelter Plus Care program and increased our Voucher program by over 7% with $6.5 million.

I hope that all national groups will re-evaluate the decisions (funders, government, and service providers) that have been made over the last 10 years. I hope that activists will look for solutions that do not take a decade or more to come to fruition. We need to have a massive investment in housing. We cannot lose anymore housing. We have to have put people to work and provide those on disability with more money to survive. Or at least we could provide a housing voucher along with their disability check. It is time for a change, and maybe a new statement on All Things Considered for Melville.

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

Friday, January 16, 2009

Akron Paper Reports Bogus Homeless Numbers

Counting Jelly Beans While They are in Motion

The Akron Beacon Journal reported today that homelessness had dropped in Summit County. The article itself has contradictory information with COHHIO having different numbers. This all does not make any sense when compared to the US Census numbers. In 2006, a little over 12% of the total population in Summit County were living in poverty. In 2007, the Census shows over 14% of the population living in poverty with about 10,000 more poor people than in 2006. So, if poverty increased, how could homelessness decrease? How does the most extreme expression of poverty decrease when poverty increased? The figures from the National Alliance to End Homelessness are incorrect. The numbers cited in the ABJ article are based on a flawed system for counting homeless people, and should not be part of the discussion.

We have talked about this before, but once again this research is based on the annual count required by HUD every year. This is where a bunch of volunteers go out and try to count people where they are sleeping on one morning. This is similar to counting jellybeans while they are in motion. People move around all day. Homeless people go to work at 4 a.m., and others are returning from third shift around the same time. It is hard to tell one homeless person who is sleeping from the guy walking down the street with a large bag. Every city has a different method for attempting this impossible task including giving out rewards for the simple fact of being counted. There is variation from year to year on how the count is done, the area covered, and the diligence of the volunteers. It is rediculous to use these numbers for anything. It is a waste of time, and NEOCH never participates. There will be this big report put together. A bunch of researchers will put their name on these meaningless words and will get paid to produce future door stops.

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

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Quick Takes

A Few Random Thoughts

Rough times....imagine waking up in the morning and the guy in the tent next to yours is dead. Then you find out that the guy was waiting for sentencing for an insurance scam in Indiana. Could you stay in that area after finding a guy who died? We have noticed an increase in the number of people sleeping outside since September, but we did not know that there were people hiding out from the law in these camps. I hope that this does not paint the impression that homeless people are a bunch of people hiding out for the law.

Web Stats from 2008... The NEOCH website had 40,210 unique users in 2008. Our best month was Feb. 2008 with 4,700 unique users. The largest day of the week is Monday, and there are more people who visit in the beginning of the month. People visit 3.27 pages per visit, and this blog is the top website linking to the main NEOCH website. We are going to continue to add content and new stuff to the website, so keep checking back.

Shelter cuts...The three big shelters in Cleveland are facing a 5.5% cut in 2009, because of the County financial issues. This means that 2100 Lakeside shelter will have a harder time feeding everyone and staying open 24/7. The Community Women's Shelter will have to drop the cleaning and kitchen staff as well as cutting back on bus tickets in order to stay within their reduced budget. The Disabled Men's Shelter is going to have to close down for a one shift during the day weekdays in order to survive. It is expected that the new North Point Transitional shelter will face cuts in October 2009. The other shelters receive most of their money from the federal government. They will not face a cut in 2009, but they have not had a cost of living increase for 9 to 10 years. How they continue to make it on the same amount of money as they had in 2000 is amazing to me.

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

Friday, January 09, 2009

What Can You Do to Help???

Stand Down is Coming Soon!!!

Speaking of the Homeless Stand Down, there are still opportunities to participate in this year's service fair for homeless people. We still need volunteers. We still need hygiene kits, and bagged lunches. We still need boots and coats. These are perfect volunteer activities for groups to think about working on over the next month. All of the information is available on our Stand Down website If you want to volunteer call Toni at InterAct Cleveland 216/241-0230 or complete the application on-line. We will most likely serve 2,400 people over the three days, and we need all the help we can get. This year the Stand Down is January 31 (boots and coats) in Tremont. We are doing the Health Fair event at the Convention Center on February 6, 2009, and then respite from cold at Trinity Cathedral on President's Day all under the banner of the Stand Down.

With the rough economy, we need your help to to make this 18th Stand Down in Cleveland a success.

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

Foreclosures Up in 2008

File Under "How is This Possible?"

We are collecting our State of Homelessness 2008 report right now, and we were shocked to discover that foreclosures in Cuyahoga County are up between 2007 and 2008. All the attention directed at the crisis; all the arrests of criminal predatory lenders; and the moratoriums by various lending institutions have done little to help. How could we have an increase in foreclosures with all this government intervention? Then the icing on the cake is the huge increase in foreclosures in December. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays Cleveland! Here are a boat load of foreclosures for you to suck on. To all the representatives from the financial sector, we would like to thank you for this Christmas gift. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County can use more foreclosures. What is your return gift policy?
Here are the 2007 estimated number of homeless in the big cities in Ohio. The Census poverty figures are always one year behind.
The first number is the Census population figure for 2007.
The second number is the percentage living in poverty from the Census American Community Survey released in the fall every year.
The third number would be the actual number living in poverty.
The final number is the estimated number of homeless people in that County. This is based on percentage in poverty. The higher number living in poverty the larger percentage who face homelessness. These percentages are based on research conducted by HUD.

The entire report will be released on January 22, 2009 as part of the press conference for the Homeless Stand Down.

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

Friday, January 02, 2009

Good Article in the Washington Post

Sexually Based Offender Law Encourages Homelessness

When I started working 14 years ago, everyone who showed up at the door had the possibility of finding housing. Many were not very good candidates for housing because of debt or criminal background, but there was nothing that was an insurmountable barriers to housing homeless individuals. Now, with the ill-conceived sexually based offender laws, there are many people sleeping in our shelters or on the streets that we have no chance of housing. There was a nice article in the Washington Post about this new issue that effects every community in the country.

There are now a group of men and a few woman who have no possibility of getting into housing. Being labeled a "Sexual Predator" for life and all the hassles associated with that make these individuals un-houseable. We can work all day, but the reality is that they cannot work or live near a child care facility, which turns out to be most of the City and County. Then there are the majority of the landlords who do not want the community notification, and so they bar these individuals from renting a place. Almost all the subsidized properties in the community exclude sexually based offenders. So, these men serve their time, and then they are stuck when they get out. In most of the big cities in Ohio, they cannot even sleep in the shelters. We have one facility in Cleveland that still allows homeless people with a sexually based offense to sleep inside. But in Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton there are no shelters for the sexually based offenders, and so the men sleep on the streets.

How stupid a system have we designed here? Men who violently attack women or children are released to sleep on the street. How safe is that for the community? It is one thing to punish people, but to force them to live on the streets seems like torture to me. The reality is that a large majority of the people who abuse children have a relationship with the children (family, friends or acquiantences) they abuse. It is rare that a total stranger kidnaps and abuses a child. These cases make the news and terrify parents, but it is not the norm. At this point, the law probably has the opposite affect in that it encourages the death of the child in order to reduce the number of witnesses. The lifetime punishment is so horrible that the offender might as well go all the way in order to avoid life as an outcast. For many death or life in prison is better than life living on the streets. Legislators throughout the United States need to rethink this community notification and bans on where sexually based offenders can live. If we want to go for a life time punishment then we need to set up some special housing for these individuals that they can be monitored. Forcing the shelters/outreach workers to be the lifetime babysitters for those designated as sexually predators is bad public policy.

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