Saturday, February 28, 2009

We Mourn the Loss of An Advocate

NEOCH Will Miss David Westcott

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Board and Staff are deeply saddened to learn of the death of our beloved treasurer David Westcott on Friday February 27, 2009. Funeral services will be announced in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Sunday. David served on the NEOCH Board for eleven years. He came to the organization in the early 1990s as a true advocate for homeless people. He pushed the agency to rise above every barrier to focus our attention on an end to homelessness. David was always frustrated with the pace of change in this community, and wanted to see religious, government and social service organizations come together to reduce the number of people sleeping in shelters. He was a real asset to NEOCH by improving our systems and operations and guiding us through rough years after September 11 and the beginning of this latest recession in 2007. As treasurer, he set up a wonderful system of checks and balances, and can boast a solid history of clean audits.

Westcott was a former production manager in Milwaukee as well as a Periodical Product Manager for Concordia Publishing of St. Louis. He was a former Army officer in World War II and Korea. Westcott served as Executive Director of the Lutheran Council of Cleveland and as a social worker at WESM. He volunteered with Brookside Family Neighborhood Center, International Partners in Mission (IPM), and the ACLU. He was proudest of his work as a Board member of IPM building a solid organization that reaches out a hand in peace and in the model of the teachings of Christ to lift up disenfranchised populations in El Salvador, Beruit, and India. He was the 2002 Homeless Advocate of the Year as selected by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. David came into the agency every Thursday to sign checks or take a deposit to the bank or just to see if we were all working. Thursdays will not be the same at NEOCH for a long time.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Good Story in the PD Today

Homeless Report Featured in the PD/WKYC

The Plain Dealer did an article about the money for federal stimulus bill and the possible uses for the prevention dollars today. WKYC also did a story on their website about our report on Tuesday. Both stories used our report on the State of Homelessness in Cleveland in their news coverage. Regarding the stimulus prevention dollars, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I hope that the City can put this money to good use. If you ever have the occasion to read the comments in the PD, don't do it. The people who submit comments are some of the most dense people in our city. I have never understood the anger and hatred toward homeless people. I can see that people want lazy and those who have made bad mistakes to pay, but why doom those people to the shelters, hospitals, and jails? Taxpayers pay for all these services, and so we are just sucking money out of our own wallets by pushing people into homelessness. There is no bigger drain on taxpayer money than homelessness. Put people in housing with a little bit of subsidy and the County saves thousands of dollars. With the foreclosure crisis, the bank bailouts, and the wall street issues, people are out for blood. They want to put some people in the stockades for causing all this grief in our financial markets. But homeless people seem to be the victims and not the cause of these problems in America.

Just one update for today...
The state agency distributing the foreclosure assistance money informed us today that we they will not fund our pilot project to move homeless people into foreclosed buildings. They said that they received $75 million in requests for dollars and they only had $4 million to distribute. We will keep trying, but this is a tough proposal to fund.

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

Monday, February 23, 2009

Congrats and Upcoming show

New Blog and Oprah Show This Week

One of our good friends and graduate of the photo project, CynDe, has a new Blog available. This is one of those rare success stories that we all need in this time of terrible economic news. CynDe has photography and a good look at her life now that she put behind her those rough nights in the shelters in Cleveland on her blog. I encourage you to bookmark From Homelessness to Homeowner and check back frequently. CynDe is starting this blog as the beginning point of a book about her experiences as a casualty in the war against the impoverished.

WCPN is going to feature one hour on the foreclosure plan introduced by the Obama Administration last week on Tuesday February 24 at 10 a.m. I don't know who the guests are, but it should be interesting. Tune in and call in.

Also, I am pretty sure that the Oprah program, which is on sometime in the afternoon on some local channel near you, will feature a piece on tent cities as a result of the foreclosure crisis. I believe that it will be Wednesday February 25 on a television near you. I know that Sacremento and New Orleans, Portland, Seattle all have large collections of tents that have sprung up over the last few years. Imagine in the richest country in the world, we have people living every night in a tent. There are 300 to 400 families, veterans, and young people sleeping under a makeshift home in numbers we have not seen since the 1930s. These people are asking for help from their government and wondering why all these homes are sitting vacant in the hands of banks.

If by the mere force of numbers a majority should deprive a minority of any clearly written constitutional right, it might, in a moral point of view, justify revolution

--Abraham Lincoln

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board

Grading the Administration 5

Weekly Poverty Grades for the Obama Administration: B-

Another slight improvement over last week with regard to the struggle to reduce poverty. The Obama administration released their long awaited plan to end the foreclosure crisis. I would have preferred a national mandatory moratorium (and that may still be coming), but if Mark Siefert at ESOP says that it is a good start then I am on Board. I really liked Jim Rokakis' statement on WCPN that it is too late for Cleveland, but this is a step forward. I think that it is long overdue to allow bankruptcy judges to alter the mortgage terms in bankruptcy. This will help many people. In addition, HUD released the 2008 shelter dollars, which I did not expect for a month or so. This is about the same time that Bush released the 2007 funds last year. Despite the federal budget under a continuing resolution and the new HUD director only approved two weeks ago, they released the housing and shelter dollars from last year. This is helpful to the organizations like CTO who had their grant expire January 31, 2009. They now have to work out a contract with the federal government and should be able to start receiving reimbursements for their Bridging the Gap program in June or July.

There is still a ton of work to do, but hopefully we can finally stem the tide of foreclosures. In the 1990s we only had around 3,000 foreclosures in Cuyahoga County. We now have over 14,000 every year. This is insane and has left a deep scar on the community. The question for us can we recover from this wound largely inflicted by a lack of government oversight and greedy and criminal mortgage brokers or was this a terminal wound?

The Obama administration could have issued more sticks and fewer carrots and I would have given them an "A." As Mark said to the Plain Dealer it more than we thought that we could get. In reflecting on the Stimulus bill from the previous week, I have to hope that with such huge sums of money that my grandkids will be paying for, these funds will be used in the same way as the Marshall Plan, or the creation of the highway system, and the federal dollars in the 1960s to win the space race. I am glad to hear the administration is focusing on the creation of new jobs this week while comparing this to the last major allocation of federal dollars for war in Iraq that had little benefits for American or Iraqii citizens.

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

Friday, February 20, 2009

NEOCH Annual Meeting

Low Key Event

On Wednesday March 11 at 5:30 p.m., NEOCH will host the agency Annual Meeting. This is a low key event this year when we issue our Annual Report and we will give details on the strategic plan that we have been working on for the last year. The final strategic plan will be posted this week on our website, and we will discuss the goals for the organization at the meeting. All of our members are invited to the meeting. We also give out a couple of awards at the Annual meeting, and we do a brief review of the last year. (Brief because it was a year that we all want to forget.) We will elect a new group of executive committee members, and we will welcome a few new board members. If you get the chance drop by for the NEOCH aAnnual meeting.

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

NEOCH Poetry Contest Announced

Give Us Your Poetry!

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless will host its Annual Fund Raising Event on May 1, 2009 at Massimo da Milano. This is a wonderful time for activist to meet and hear from a key strategic partner, and talk to staff and Board of the Coalition. The special events planning group is busy and doing a great job with organizing this sixth annual event. We hope that you will save the date and be able to attend this affordable fund raiser with the theme "Hope Blossoms."

In addition, we are seeking poetry from individuals who were homeless over the last year. We are hosting a poetry contest for adults and a separate contest for young people. All the details are on our website, but the winners do get to attend the event to recite their poetry. We have always had a good selection of poetry submitted. The material is usually raw, vivid and sometimes focused on poverty. Homeless people do think about the world, love, hope, politics, and only part of the time their housing situation. We expect another good event with some of the best homeless poetry in the city. If you are homeless or have been homeless in the last year, please consider sending in a piece of poetry.

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

Continuum of Care Dollars Released

Behind the Headlines

Homeless people do read the paper. They visit the library and read the national news online as well as perusing the local Plain Dealer regularly. This is the time of year when the federal government releases its annual "Continuum of Care" funding, and I get a lot of questions from homeless people about all this money given to Cleveland for homelessness. Perhaps you saw the headline over the last day, "Obama Administration releases [some many millions or billions] to deal with homelessness." This dates back to the Clinton administration when they combined all the homeless money given to states and localities into one release of dollars to maximize news coverage. Clinton did it right by releasing the money right around a big, tug-on-the-heart-strings-holiday of either Christmas or Thanksgiving. It was difficult for the Bush administration to manage the release of the HUD grant around a good holiday, because the federal budget was not regularly passed by the October 1 deadline. Bush was often relegated to second tier-tug-at-your-heart holidays like MLK Day or President's Day for his homeless press release. Obama released the funds yesterday with a $1.6 billion headline provided to local and state jurisdictions.

We certainly appreciate the help with Cleveland/Cuyahoga County getting all that they asked for in $22 million, but what does that mean? In almost the entire United States, the money just renews existing programs. So, the headline should be "Obama renews shelter/housing grants so no one will be forced to close." It is not a huge new pool of money even though the headline makes it sound like that. In Cleveland, we had room for a few new housing vouchers and one new project, but otherwise all the money went to renew the budgets of the existing shelters/housing vouchers. The shelters do not get a cost of living increase or money to serve new populations (like foreclosure victims). They get the same amount of money that they asked for when they were originally funded. While utility prices, food prices, health benefits, and salaries have all gone up over the years, the shelters must figure out how to make up the shortfall because the federal government does not pay for any cost of living increases.

So, a big thank you has to go out to Ruth Gillett from the County Office of Homeless Services locally who fills out all the paperwork and checks all the boxes to make sure that we get our fair share. It is a huge job that takes months, and was complicated this year because everything had to be submitted electronically. As you may be aware, the federal government takes many years to figure out how to move away from paper, so it was a rough ride this year. She has to gather all this information from every facility and gather information about their clients and put it in one application that printed out is about 3 foot tall stack of paper. She has always secured the money set aside for Cleveland/Cuyahoga County with only a few minor problems. Other cities (Akron, Ohio, Columbus, Canton and Dayton) have all had major problems in the last five years costing their homeless populations millions of dollars.

One unfortunate note for those who embrace the rivalry with our downstate competitors in best city in Ohio starting with the letter "C". Both Columbus and Cincinnati as well as Dayton and the Ohio small cities collaboration received one of the 23 demonstration grants released yesterday by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. It is amazing that out of 23 grants nationwide Ohio scored 4 of them. HUD funded groups to set up pilot programs to rapidly re-house people in order to avoid homelessness. I tried to find what the other cities applied for, but I could only find the Columbus plan. They are setting up some intensive case management using the Salvation Army combined with rental assistance money. The question is why didn't the Cleveland project make it? Why couldn't we compete with Dayton or Cincy for the one million dollar "rapid-rehousing" demonstration programs?

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

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Grading the Administration 4

Weekly Poverty Grades for the Obama Administration: C+

A slight improvement over last week with regard to the struggle to reduce poverty. For the first month of the Obama administration has reached a solid C average on fighting poverty. The stimulus bill passed and will be signed in the next two days. We already detailed all the items within the bill that would help homeless people here. Plus, there was that help of one homeless woman in Ft. Myers Florida who asked a question at his Tuesday press conference. Now that the Economic Stimulus bill is done, the administration can now turn its attention to the housing crisis, the health care system reform, and the free fall in the job market. We did not get everything we wanted with the economic stimulus, but all that money has to do something to help. There is still a long list of areas that need immediate action (here is the list). That list got a little longer in that they now have to fill two cabinet positions, and get the Secretary of Labor approved by the Senate. I read the White House blog and all the press releases, as well as the HUD website for the last week to see what else the government was doing. Nothing much happened except the stimulus over the last week, but there is a big week expected this week.

Posts are by the staff and Board of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless

Friday, February 13, 2009

Economic Stimulus and Homelessness

Some Benefit for Homeless People

Summary of the Housing Provisions in Recovery Conference Agreement from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
Congress Agrees to Stimulus Compromise; Votes on Friday
Some details of the House and Senate conference agreement on the economic stimulus bill were released this afternoon.
Appropriations for HUD programs in the conference agreement are as follows:

  • $4 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund (House and Senate had both passed $5 billion in their versions).
  • $2.25 billion for 12-month renewals of the project-based Section 8 rental assistance program, with $250 million of this going toward energy retrofitting and green housing (had been $2.5 billion in the House bill, $2.25 billion in the Senate package).
  • $2 billion for the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to redevelop foreclosed and abandoned homes ($4.19 billion in the House, $0 in the Senate).
  • $1.5 billion for homeless prevention through the Emergency Shelter Grant program (the same as in the House and Senate-passed versions). [This is about the size of current Continuum of Care--so this could mean a doubling of existing funds or $12-$18 million for Cuyahoga County.]
  • $2.25 billion to fund HOME, with $2 billion of this to fill gaps in approved Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects and jump start these stalled projects ($1.5 billion was in the House bill just for HOME, without the LIHTC provision; $2.25 billion was in the Senate bill, with $2 billion for LIHTC gap fix).
  • $1 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program (House had $1 billion; Senate had no CDBG funds).
  • $100 million for lead paint reduction (same in both the House and Senate bills).
  • $10 million in Native American Block Grants (had been $500 million in the House; $510 million in the Senate).
Low Income Housing Tax Credits:
Details of the tax provisions have not been released but it is our understanding that, in addition to the $2 billion for LIHTC gap financing mentioned above, the conference agreement will include the House's proposal to allow housing credit allocating agencies to receive up to 40% of their 2009 credits as cash and use this to fill financing gaps from approved but stalled projects. It is NLIHC's understanding that the Senate bill's acceleration provision is not in the conference agreement.
Homeownership Tax Credit
It is NLIHC's understanding that the Senate's $35 billion homeownership tax credit has been significantly scaled back in the conference report. It appears that the conference agreement would amend the current $7,500 first-time homebuyer tax credit to repeal the current tax credit's requirement that it be repaid to the federal government. The benefits of the current tax credit, available to people who have not owned a home during the last three years, phase out for higher income households.
Other Programs
The Emergency Food and Shelter Program within the Federal Emergency Management Agency will receive $100 million in the conference agreement.
The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program receives nothing (the House had funded it, the Senate did not).
The Social Services Block Grant program will receive nothing (the Senate had funded it, the House did not).
The Census Bureau will receive $1 billion.
What is Not in The Conference Agreement:
The final compromise does not include revenue for the National Housing Trust Fund, nor does it allocate funding for 400,000 new Housing Choice Vouchers. The funding for housing programs fell tremendously short of what advocates had sought.

Thanks to staff at the National Low Income Housing Coalition for keeping those in the field updated about this difficult to follow bill. If you are not a member of the NLIHC and you care about federal housing and homeless policy, we recommend taking a few minutes to sign up as a member of this critical national housing advocacy leader.

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

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Missed Opportunities

The Questions Never Asked the Bankers Yesterday...

I listened all day to the hearing with the bankers yesterday in the House. One question that was never asked by any Representative, "Your 2007 salaries and bonuses were between $4.87 million and $102.84 million, are you really 203 to 4,250 times more important to your company as the entry level teller or secretary in your firm? Please explain to the American people why you deserve so much compensation when you were responsible for this current mess in America. The entry level teller has never caused such chaos on Wall Street or Main Street?" This is part of the fundamental injustice in America. All American workers need a raise, and every top executive needs a huge pay decrease. If they will not do it themselves the federal government should go back to taking 90% of the salaries for executives who make obscene amounts of money. How many people could we employ or keep out of foreclosure or provide health care with the salaries and bonuses of the top executives of American corporations?

Here are some obscene numbers for you. These are salary and bonus figures from for 2007 (before the financial collapse).
Stumpf--Wells Fargo $12.84 million
Rohr--PNC Bank $18.39 million
Lewis--Bank of America $20.13 million
Mozilo--Countrywide $102.84 million
Blankenfein--Goldman Sachs $73.72 million
Mack--Morgan Stanley $17.65 million
Thain--Merrill Lynch $15.75 million
Dimon--JP Morgan $20.68 million
Kellinge--Washington Mutual $4.87 million

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

A New Plan to End Homelessness in America

How Can I Get to An Obama Rally?

President Obama introduced a new plan to end homelessness in America on Tuesday: Get to a rally with the President in attendance and figure out how to ask the President a question about your own homelessness. If Obama could host three meetings a day, and take 20 questions from each audience with Sundays off, he could solve homelessness for 6,260 people in one year. That is some progress that may inspire Governors and Mayors to follow suit. There may be a few riots on the way to this progress with everyone trying to get to the microphone to ask a question, but those are details that can be worked out later. It would be rough at the New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and District of Columbia rally, but we could have additional security employed for these rallies. Ms. Hughes in Florida waited until she could ask the President for help. She mentioned the long wait for public housing, and that she was sleeping in a car. I talked to a Florida advocate on Tuesday who said there were hundreds of families waiting to get into shelter in her city. They stay on the streets or in cars with their children just to get a shelter bed. It has come to the point that the safety net is so broken that our only hope is asking the President of the United States for help.

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

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Updates on the Housing/Homeless Programs in the Stimulus Bill

We were incorrect about the shelter dollars not in the Senate Bill. I got the last info from the Associated Press. Here is the list from the National Low Income Housing Coalition comparing the House and Senate Bills:
  • National Housing Trust Fund: House, $0/Senate, $0
  • Housing Choice Vouchers: House, $0/Senate, $0
  • Emergency Shelter Grant Program: House, $1.5 billion/Senate, $1.5 billion
  • Public and Indian Housing Capital: House, $5.5 billion/Senate, $5.5 billion
  • Project-Based Section 8 renewal funding: House, $0/Senate, $2.1 billion
  • Project-Based Section 8 green retrofit: House, $2.5 billion/Senate, $118 million
  • Neighborhood Stabilization Program: House, $4.19 billion including renter protection language/Senate, $0
  • Low Income Housing Tax Credit gap financing: House, $0/Senate, $2 billion
  • Low Income Housing Tax Credit fixes: House, 9% credit exchange/Senate, acceleration of value of 9% credits
  • HOME program: House, $1.5 billion/Senate, $225 million
  • Rural Housing Insurance: House, $500 million/Senate, $200 million
  • Lead Hazard Reduction: House, $100 million/Senate, $100 million
There is still time to get some of these programs some funding in the compromise legislation that is being negotiated right now. As always, if you see your federal representative walking down the street ask him/her to include housing in the stimulus bill.

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

Sunday, February 08, 2009

What You Talking About Willis?

Don't Call Me Homeless!!!

I am not a big fan of the word homeless, but it is the word we all understand. Dick Feagler never understood the word, but the rest of society has the image of people sleeping in shelters or on the streets when we use the word. Anyway, homeless people hate the word "homeless." We never use the term in surveys, because it is viewed with such disdain by those experiencing housing instability. Last week, we saw had bad the term "homeless" is viewed by our society. Call me anything you want, but don't call me "homeless." The Detroit News found a guy in an elevator shaft two weeks ago, and identified him as homeless. There was some controversy about putting the photo of his legs sticking out of the ice on the front page, and the point of the story was the indifference by all the other people in the building who did nothing. What was amazing is the reaction in the Associated Press story by the family when the man's identity was discovered.

"Relatives said Redding was a one-time steelworker who worked as a handyman and moved around to the homes of relatives and friends. Older brother Homer Redding said family members don't know what Johnnie Redding was doing in an abandoned building, but they rejected authorities' speculation that he was homeless.

'That's what I don't understand. They are saying he was homeless. I couldn't understand it,' older brother Homer Redding, 59, of River Rouge, told the Detroit Free Press. 'He had too many places he could live.'

Johnnie Redding might have had places that he could have crashed, but he did not have a lease and was struggling with affording rent. It is not shameful, and the less we talk about it the longer the problem will persist. We need to start discussing homelessness in a more open and honest way so that we can start talking about solutions. People need to start admitting that they have had problems with homelessness so that they can take responsibility for the issues that led to their losing their housing.

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

Grading the Administration 3

Weekly Poverty Grades for the Obama Administration: C-

Grades are slipping for the administration's struggle against poverty. We had the worst month for jobs in 34 years, and so once again the focus was on the economic stimulus. The economy is hurting everyone including those currently living in poverty so the work on a stimulus package should count toward addressing poverty. If nothing is done or we rely strictly on a tax cut strategy, poverty will get worse. The creation of the faith based and neighborhood partnership advisory is a good step because it features Rev. Jim Wallace and Rev. Otis Moss. The addition of Tammy Duckworth to the Department of Veterans Affairs is a positive addition to the administration. The third week of the administration sees another slip in the grades. I have to give the Obama administration a C- for their efforts to reduce poverty in week 3.

The new staff for the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnership, Joshua DuBois, said,
"Whether it's connecting groups that are training people to do new jobs, or figuring out the role of faith-based organizations in combating global climate change, this office creates those partnerships in a way that's responsible, constitutional, and -- bottom line -- helps those in need."
Mr. DuBois seems like a good advocate for America's cities. He was the guy who pushed the City of New York to remember Amadou Diallo by leading a 41 hour vigil in 1999 after Diallo was assainated. With the support of the amazing Jim Wallace of Sojourners and Cleveland's own Rev. Otis Moss, this office should be able to make great strides if they do not spend all their time arguing about the constitutional questions.

Ron Sims of Seattle was named Deputy Secretary of HUD to oversee all day to day operations. I have no idea if this is good, but at least these positions are being filled. The new Children's Health Insurance Program rules were signed into law expanding health care coverage. This is a positive for low income families and those children who do not have health insurance. But overall, we still have not seen much action on reducing poverty. I am getting worried that we may not see much progress because of this economic downturn. We lost the shelter money that the president proposed in the stimulus bill. We lost the money for affordable housing that the House passed, and we lost the money for our Commnity Action Agencies. The Senate added money for Public Housing, but homelessness took a hit in the legislation.

The list of activities that are still outstanding is getting longer every day:
These are the items that they need to work on to improve that grade which has slipped in one week.
  • No work on Katrina recovery.
  • No jobs created.
  • No health insurance
  • No school system was improved
  • No additional assistance was provided so that young people could go to college.
  • No further details or action on a rural or urban agenda.
  • The HUD Continuum of Care funds for last year were not released.
  • No further action on homelessness
  • No civil rights agenda was proposed.
  • Nothing on the extreme debt facing poor people.
  • No halt to all the foreclosures while we stabilize housing.
  • Still no action on all the toxic assets being held by banks.
  • There is very little change with the HUD, HHS, and Department of Labor websites.
  • Some Bush Administration hold overs are still in office, and need to be let go.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Shelters and Housing Were Dropped

Only Public Housing Benefits in the Senate Economic Stimulus Bill

The assistance to homeless shelters were discussed as part of the economic stimulus bill, but it was dropped. There was no money for housing or the National Housing Trust Fund. The Senate dropped the $1 Billion that would have benefited the Community Action Agencies (CEOGC locally) from the House passed bill. The Senate did add $5 billion for improvements to Public Housing. We hope that there is a bill to address the foreclosure crisis in America, and these other housing pieces can be added to that bill. Since housing and the corruption and instability in the housing market was the impetus for this crisis, it would seem that there should be much more in the stimulus bill to assist people into getting back into housing. I am glad that Public Housing may get stimulus dollars, but all the other housing programs were also starved in the last eight years and need help. With a huge influx of money, we can put people back to work quickly in building, renovating and replacing affordable housing across America. Next time you see your federal elected official walking down the street let him or her know that we need to address the housing situation yesterday.

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

2009 Homeless Stand Down

Another Successful Service Fair in 2009

Pictured above are Sean, Everett, and Cathy as they staffed the NEOCH table at the Stand Down. Everything went smoothly, and hundreds of people were served. There was wonderful food by the Foodbank and served by the Bishop Cosgrove staff and volunteers. InterAct does a great job training and preparing the hundreds of volunteers. There were plenty of bus passes and hygiene kits provided. There were 55 different service providers present including health care and social service providers. If you were homeless and showed up at the Convention Center yesterday, you could get a bone density screening, eye evaluation, diabetes screening, mental health or spirtual help. There were hearing and breathing and foot specialists on hand to provide evalutions for free. There were lawyers and agencies that serve children, and flu shots available. The City of Cleveland Department of Public Health pulls together this diverse group of providers to bring all this help under the same roof. After 18 years, I still do not understand why it does not get more press for such a huge event. No television or radio stations came this year to the Convention Center. The Plain Dealer and a few other print media attended, but no TV news. Radio One provided the entertainment, and Interfaith Hospitality Network and Pilgrim provided van transportation. It was a true community effort.

In all the doom and gloom of the economy, here are some good stories from the Stand Down. I got to see Ralph again who was recently featured in the LMM newsletter after moving into an apartment. He had been homeless for years, but had built some strong relationships on the near West Side. He is trying to find a place closer to his beloved Near West Side/Ohio City. Some people are very particular about where they live. They want to be near the stores that they are familiar with, and near the friends that they have made over the years. Another friend of NEOCH who went down to Columbus to testify in the voting case finally got into housing. He was able to get his identification and then was able to find housing this year. That is a big step, because he has been sleeping under a bridge for a couple of years. We provided 10 people with Community Voice Mail and gave 12 people the opportunity to sell the Homeless Grapevine newspaper. I got to see a few of the people who had graduated from the photo project and they were still taking pictures. There were well over 100 volunteers including our old friend, Lana, who was the previous director of Community Shares, helping to move bagged lunches out.

It was a good day to see the hundreds of haircuts, messages, and health care screenings provided to those struggling with their housing. February can be depressing in Cleveland with the snow turning brown or grey and the pot holes growing every day. Just spend a couple of hours walking around at the Stand Down to see suburbanites reaching out to men looking for work or women seeking help from the Veteran's Administration, and you get a new energy to make it until the first flowers poke through the snow in March.

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

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Things are Tough All Over

Bad Economic Times=Cuts for the Shelters

FOR THOSE ALREADY DEPRESSED BY THE CURRENT ECONOMIC DOWNTURN, DO NOT READ THIS! SKIP THIS--GO SOMEWHERE ELSE! When the numbers of homeless people are at an all time high, the services most in need are being cut. The three big shelters in Cleveland each received a 5% cut from the County. Community Voice Mail increased their fees for the agencies by 800% this year, this means that many agencies must drop or significantly curtail the service. Cleveland Furniture Bank (formerly St. Vincent DePaul) is no longer giving out clothing vouchers to poor people. A few shelters are cutting their hours or dropping prepared food, or limiting items that they give out. NEOCH had to cut our staff from 7.75 staff in 2007 to 2.75 in 2009. We had to layoff our Community Organizer at the beginning of the year, and give away two of our programs. A few of the staff from the shelters or outreach workers are cutting back on staff hours in order to make the budget. The money for rental assistance to prevent evictions for families was eliminated, and it does not look like the County will be able to replace those funds in 2009. Foundations are cutting back and suggesting that the agencies consolidate or merge to save money. The shelters and services are suffering, but all these cuts hurt real people suffering the most because of poverty.

In the end, it will be harder to get some help with rent. It will be harder to pay for birth certificates and bus tickets will be scarce. Access to clothing is going to become an issue, and it will be harder to track down a relative who has become homeless. Moms will have a more difficult time keeping their families together because shelter stays will increase thus making the wait time for a quality shelter bed significantly longer. Waiting lists will grow across the community, and this will test the patience of those requesting help along with those offering the assistance. There will be more people sleeping in abandoned buildings or cars, and more people showing up looking for a hot meal in Cuyahoga County. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is going to be a rough 2009 for homeless people. I will try to collect some positive stories at the 2009 Stand Down on Friday at the convention center to cheer up our loyal readers. Stay tuned and don't get too depressed.

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

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What Happens When You Google Yourself?..

Melville Charitable Trust Responds to our Post

My respect for the Melville Charitable Trust increased, because they took the time to respond to a post of mine from last month. Aimee Hendrigan, staff of Melville, took her time to answer the sarcastic rantings of some yahoo from the Midwest. I like that. I understand the intent of national foundations, and I respect all that they do. My concern was that it is a new day, and we need a new strategy. Ms. Hendrigan of Melville said,
"The Trust has spent over fifteen years funding supportive housing solutions in Connecticut (the Melville family’s home state). This focused investment in the state has contributed to significant results (thousands of units of housing) and a strong group of leaders who advocate for real solutions to homelessness, including funding for ongoing services (a very big challenge as you acknowledge). We would be the first to say that this type of change does not happen quickly. It can be frustrating, but for us it is worth the consistent investment."
My issue is that none of us are not doing a good job of planning for the future, and we have never done sustainability planning for these programs. We started the shelters with no plan for sustaining them. We then moved to the 1980s trend of starting transitional shelters without a plan for how to sustain these facilities. We moved on to permanent supportive housing as the current trend, but have no idea how to fund these long term. We are doing everything in such a scatter-shot approach, and each new trend is a threat to the previous concepts. The homeless community of agencies has no problem stealing money from one project to fund the latest and greatest new revolutionary concept. In the end, the problems only gets worse. If the homeless systems were measured on progress toward ending homelessness, we would all be out of a job. Very few are actually working on solving homelessness for everyone.

All of these programs serve select populations, and they all have a role in the community. Some individuals do well in shelters, some need the missions, others need a two year transition, about 10-15% of the population need supportive housing, but we are not addressing the issues that will move people from triage into stability. We no longer can offer anything to those who actually do not need a shelter. Most national groups are not addressing the criminalization of homeless people. So, what landlord is going to accept these individuals who have long criminal backgrounds because they were arrested for begging for money, sitting on the sidewalk or sleeping under a bridge? We are not addressing the years and years of wait to get a re-determination of a homeless person's child support. So, how does a guy graduate from a transitional shelter into independent housing if they owe $30,000 to $40,000 in debt? We do not address the life time sentence of poverty for those with a disability? How does a mentally ill woman ever find stable housing if she has to give her entire monthly check for rent? The exploitation by temporary labor companies who rape poor people everyday is never discussed on the national level. The shredded health care safety net and the elimination of a social service safety net are huge holes in our community. Until some of these systemic problems are solved, it does not matter how nice the shelters or housing, we cannot move forward on solving homelessness. We will forever be managing homelessness instead of solving homelessness with this approach.

My facetious suggestion to give money to individuals expresses the level of frustration among many homeless people. Ms. Hendrigan said:
"When you suggest that we might have better used our funding to pay for an entire year of housing for 1,000 people, that’s where we seriously disagree. Philanthropy cannot and should not be the direct funding solution to the nation’s housing crisis. It is not sustainable; frankly, we would run out of money – and pretty quickly."
My point was just that all of these services and all of these programs in the end are just another drain on tax base of our community. They are beautiful and they are wonderful facilities, but are they the most economical way to solve homelessness? We are spending all this money on these facilities now, and there are plenty of people sitting out in the meal programs in Cleveland (I would guess the majority in fact) who just need between $10 and $1,000 and they would never need to come to the shelters. They just need a security deposit, or first months rent, or identification, or a voice mail box, or a money to buy a storage unit, or a kennel for their dog, or relief from a crippling health care bill. That money no longer exists in the community, and so their only choice is the shelter and the path outlined by HUD: transitional shelter, supportive housing or subsidized housing, etc. Does any city ever investigate if they have built all these facilities, but forgotten the individual needs of people?

Finally, I don' t hear that many stories on NPR about all of these issues. Ms. Hendrigan thank you so much for your comments, but you should have a sit down with NPR officials about at least weekly features on homelessness to get a return on your investment.

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

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Grading the Administration 2

Weekly Poverty Grades for the Obama Administration: C

Okay, not much happened this week with regard to poverty, but the United States lost 100,000 jobs in one week. It is understandable that the entire focus of the executive and legislative branches be directed at addressing the economic downturn. The economy is hurting everyone including those currently living in poverty so the work on a stimulus package should count toward addressing poverty. If nothing is done or we rely only on one strategy poverty will get worse. More and more people will be forced out of their homes, more will need public assistance, and more people will show up requesting help with food. So, this second week, I have to give the Obama administration a C for their efforts to reduce poverty. Here is the score from last week.

I have to say that appointing the Vice President to assist the middle class is not that helpful in reducing poverty, and that has to count against the administration. These are a few highlights this week:
  • Most of the work was directed at the economic recovery package, which deserves all the attention with things slipping every day.
  • There is talk of additional dollars for shelters, school construction, and extended unemployment, which would be helpful.
  • There was use of the bully pulpit to criticize the wall street bonuses that were made with taxpayer money. We can only hope we will return to the idea that business executives should not make obscene amounts of compensation. Can we go back to a 90% tax bracket for those who receive such extreme benefit packages?
  • Lily Ledbetter equal pay law was signed. This assures that 51% of the population are allowed to sue if they find out they are being discriminated against in the workplace. Hopefully, this provides some balance in the workplace between worker and the giant corporations in this country, and will allow women to receive equal pay. This law keeps people out of poverty.
These are the items that they need to work on to improve that grade which has slipped in one week.
  • No work on Katrina recovery.
  • No jobs created.
  • No health insurance
  • No school system was improved
  • No additional assistance was provided so that young people could go to college.
  • No further details or action on a rural or urban agenda.
  • No further action on homelessness
  • No civil rights agenda was proposed.
  • Nothing on the extreme debt facing poor people.
  • Two things that I missed last week is that we still do not have action on a foreclosure moratorium. We need to call a halt to all foreclosures while we stabilize housing.
  • Still no action on all the toxic assets being held by banks.
  • There is very little change with the HUD, HHS, and Department of Labor websites. It was interesting that the White House website changed around noon on Tuesday January 20. The other cabinet officers have not put their goals or agendas on their agency websites yet.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.