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.
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.
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