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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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Print Out or Pick Up Street Card

2009 Street Card Now Available at Shelters

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) has updated its Street Card for the seventeenth year in a row. The Street Card is a valuable resource for homeless people. It contains extensive, up-to-date information on resources such as shelters, meal sites, job training agencies, health clinics, chemical dependency services and other assistance programs. The bus routes are listed to get to some of these services, and the Street Card lists all the services a person experiencing homelessness can access right from the streets.

“Many newly homeless individuals have no idea where to go for help,” said Everett Brown, an AmeriCorps*VISTA serving with NEOCH. “The Street Card is an important resource directory that we regularly update. It acts as a map of accessible city and county services that every homeless person can use everyday.”

This past two weeks, NEOCH distributed 2,000 Street Cards to individuals, shelters and other agencies. “The Coalition wants to thank the Cleveland Clinic for printing the Street Card this year,” said Brown. He added, “We could never do this without our healthcare partners.” Even though most panhandlers are not homeless, Street Cards can be given away to panhandlers as an alternative to handing over money. NEOCH encourages people to make as many copies possible and distribute to those in need. The newest edition of the Street Card can be downloaded for free at under Resources/Street Card. NEOCH can mail a few copies by calling 216/432.0540.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Homeless Families on the Rise

New York Times Story on Homeless Students

The New York Times had a great feature on the increase in homeless children within school as we start the new academic year. This is a huge problem in Cleveland, and we try to help by offering a contact sheet for children in their school district here. This provides information on who is responsible for helping a child that is in danger of being homeless or already without housing. Often the teachers are the first to recognize that there is a problem with the family and their housing situation. They will notice a child will be suddenly come to school tired, depressed, grades will drop, and often the teacher is the one will confide in. The one good thing to come from "No Child Left Behind" Law is that every district has to have a liaison to help students who find themselves homeless and report those stats to the State of Ohio. We are fortunate in Cleveland to have a model program for homeless children at the Cleveland Public Schools with Project ACT.

The Coalition published a report in 2007 on the State of Family Homelessness. We detailed the problem back before the current downturn. The bottom line note from our report was that 2007 was the worst time in our history for homeless women. We listed a number of overarching issues including the lack of domestic violence beds, the inability for couples and even married homeless couples to remain together, and the poor conditions of the family shelters with four facilities closing in the last six years. Things have only gotten worse in Cleveland over the last two years. We saw an amazing increase from the 2006 to 2007 school year and similar numbers last year. Check out the report and the state of homeless reports on our website.

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Monday, September 07, 2009

Labor Day 2009

Time to Check in With Policy Matters

During the Labor Day holiday, it is always good to check in with Policy Matters Ohio to see the state of workers. Unfortunately, they only have 2008 data available on the state of employment and wages, but there is a good story about the disparity in the 2005 tax reform to the Commercial Activity Tax. This was pushed by business, but does not seem to be bringing in the same kind of revenue that the previous tangible personal property/franchise tax plan brought in. The new tax is 7.4% down from what was expected. Ohio is now down $200 million from what was expected only six months ago.
“The General Assembly should take action to bolster business taxes and the CAT in particular,” said Zach Schiller, report author and Policy Matters research director. “One obvious place to start is by reinstating the self-adjusting trigger on the CAT that existed originally.”
With the weak state of the American economy, this is a probably the worst time to experiment with new tax schemes. If we are already behind in tax predictions only two months after the start of the biennium, how is the budget going to look during the November 2010 state elections? Who will be bold enough to say that we need more revenue in this state during an election year? I doubt if anyone will suggest higher taxes, but maybe we have learned something from the California IOU experience of this summer.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Hilda, We Need You

Low Wage Workers Exploited: Worse for Homeless People

The New York Times detailed a study released this Wednesday, which showed a majority of low wage workers faced recent exploitation. A good article that is even more prevalent problem within the homeless community. We have tried to assist low income workers to complain to the US Department of Labor when they are ripped off by an employer. A Department of Labor complaint was not worth the paper it was written on over the last five years. No one followed up. If they did follow up, they would demand more paperwork that was held by the employer or they would delay until after the two year deadline passed. There was never any investigation done or any heat ever put on the employer.

There is so much exploitation of homeless people in employment matters especially among the temporary labor companies. They illegally nickel and dime the workers with fees that often drop their wages below the minimum wage. They try to discourage workman's comp. claims even paying their own doctors to convince people that they do not need to file a claim. We need you Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis to step up and start enforcing the existing laws. These men and women do the worst back breaking work in our communities, and then at the end of the day one-third of their pay is stolen by their Escalade driving supervisors. They get sent out to clean out dumpsters, paint in 120 degree heat, or lift huge pieces of equipment on or off the factory line, and they deserve all of their pay and more. These men and women are the heart of our economy, and have earned a hard days pay, but when they leave the agency they don't even have enough money for a motel room. They never can save enough money to afford rent even after trying to work as many hours as they can get.

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Great Post on the Art of Spin

Why Doesn't the Mainstream Media Do More of This?

Brewed Fresh Daily had a great post today comparing the rates of various transit authorities around the country. This is excellent response to the spin by the Regional Transit Authority. I always wonder why there is not more of this by the media. How long would things like death panels, or mushroom clouds out of Iraq, or charges of socialism persist if these phrases were immediately shot down with facts? Plus, I love graphs. How long could these public relations people be able to keep their jobs if they were shut down for saying that the current RTA rates are comparable to other communities.

According to the Post, for Single ride users, Cleveland is in the Top 3
1. Bay Area (where everything is expensive) is $3.20
2. Washington DC is $2.30
3. Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Sacramento, New York and St. Louis are all next at $2.25
4. There are 12 transit authorities at $2
5. By the way, Columbus and Cincinnati are both at $1.50

RTA also in the Top 5 for Monthly Passes
1. Miami and Sacramento at $100
2. New York City at $89
3. Chicago at $86
4. Cleveland at $85
5. Nashville and Philadelphia at $78

By the way, Columbus is at $45 or $62 for an "Express Pass" and Cincinnati has this elaborate zone strategy and range from $55 for Zone 1 or $170 for something called an "All Pass".

This is helpful information that should have been a part of the Plain Dealer story. Transportation is one of the biggest problems faced by homeless people, but it gets very little attention. We are thankful for the Change Bus that the Downtown Cleveland Alliance put in place last year. And the free Downtown green trolley is great, but those have limited range and usefulness. Every meeting I attend transportation problems come up as one of the top five problems in our community for homeless people, and this is only going to get worse with the fare increase yesterday. How can we get the Columbus COTA system to extend their routes north on 71?

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