Sunday, March 29, 2009

Grading the Administration 10

Weekly Grades for the Obama Administration on the Struggles to Reduce Poverty: C+

The weekly report card for the Obama Administration and their struggle to reduce poverty has them at a C+ for this week. Some of the items that the President worked on this week included one press conference and one town hall forum. Both were heavy on discussions about health care (not including the marijuana question) and education. These are critical issues to tackle in order to reduce poverty. But as always this is just talk until it has passed the Congress. There was another nominee announced for HUD to lead the Federal Housing Administration. The Obama Administration championed the extra $250 that everyone on disability will be receiving in the next month. Some might think that this is a positive, but I view it more as an insult and results in a lowering of their grade. I mean, these individuals have to figure out how to live on a small amount of money, and now the government is sending them a few coins to go out and spend. How about an increase in the disability check every month so that these Americans are not doomed to poverty for the rest of their lives?

The other items that the administration worked on this last week including more defense of the progressive budget for 2010, and Obama talked about veterans issues at a number of the press briefings. There was the answer to the question about homelessness at the press conference, which needed work but at least he answered the question. The big issue for this week, which gave the administration the most points was the Community Service bill that passed the Senate. This is a tripling of the number of mostly young Americans who will be working on reducing poverty. This is a huge step.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sacramento Tent City Update

The Terminator Goes to the Fair

This week Governor Schwarzenegger announced that they would move the tent city that sprung up on private property to the State fairgrounds for three months while other solutions are developed. The New York Times has a story about the rising number of Bushville camps springing up across America. We know something about overflow in Cleveland, so I thought I would send some advice to my favorite Commando Governor who single handedly destroyed Man's colony on Mars then went back in time to nearly destroy mankind on Earth.

Dear Mr. Governator:

We in Cleveland know something about operation of an overflow shelter, and so we wanted to pass along some pointers to you as you venture into sanctioning the fair grounds as the new home to the Sacramento Tent City. We opened an old high school as a temporary overflow that did not close for 3 years. Every night for three years we paid for the transportation and operation of a "temporary" overflow shelter. The NPR story mentioned about the move of the tent city stated that many of the residents do not want to move because they would be locked into the fairgrounds at night. I think I heard something about that in a movie coming out May 21. It was Judgment day and Skynet moves people into a locked facility. Anyway, operating an overflow shelter is a difficult issue, and we have some advice for you:

1. Once the door is open to overflow and tent cities it is difficult to close it. Once there is a city sanctioned place for tents it is hard to shut it down. Our overflow lasted three years.

2. You will never be able to close it in three months unless there is immediate plans to build or renovate a large number of apartments for these individuals.

3. There are three to five times as many people in need as there are spaces. Depending on the level of poverty in the city there are many more people barely holding on waiting for something better to come along. They are sleeping on floors or couches or garages while they try to find housing. If you open up something better they will find their way to those doors. While the problem will start at 300 tents, it will grow to around 1,000 people if a better option is made available to the residents of the tent city.

4. Overflow is attractive to those who just want to be left alone. These places usually do not feature social services, and some people just give up here. They mire in depression and start to hate people and society. This is not what happens to everyone, but some use an overflow space or a tent city as a place with no pressure and no responsibility to vegetate.

5. Many who use tent cities/overflow because they do not want to accept charity. They are hard workers but have made mistakes. They would do well earning their housing through sweat equity. They probably have some skills and want to work. Many probably go to work now, but return to the tent or mat in a warehouse everyday.

6. Most do not want to go to shelter if they are sleeping in a tent city or overflow shelter. They do not like the rules and the institutional aspects of shelter. No matter how nice they are, many will not go to shelter. If you force people into shelter, they will just go underground.

7. Overflow and tent cities may seem cheap to operate, but they are actually very expensive for society. The health care costs and the long term impact on the individuals especially to children is a lot to address. There is an element of PTSD that people will have to work through after finding housing.

8. The only way to solve these issues by the time it gets to overflow/tent cities is individual assessment and help. Send those human service workers out to help. Since we ended welfare, what are they doing anyway? Make them get do some real work and leave the comfort of their offices to go talk to actual homeless people. It will do them good. Figure out what each of the residents need and then go back and get it. There is no solution that will solve all of their problems.

Good luck, and remember that they all have some talents if just given the opportunity. Don't make them into criminals or stereotype them. They are just trying to survive, give them a hand up.

Brian Davis

President Answers Homeless Question

Thank You Ebony Magazine for Asking the Question

We were able to hear a diversity of questions at the Tuesday night Presidential Press Conference including a question from a reporter from Ebony magazine. No major newspapers and no NPR, but we heard a question about veterans from Stars and Stripes and this question from Ebony:
"Thank you, Mr. President. A recent report found that, as a result of the economic downturn, 1 in 50 children are now homeless in America. With shelters at full capacity, tent cities are sprouting up across the country.

In passing your stimulus package, you said that help was on the way. But what would you say to these families, especially children, who are sleeping under bridges and in tents across the country?"

What a great question!! The answer needed some work. Don't get me wrong it was a long time ago that the President of the United States has been asked about homelessness, so maybe the Chief Executive was just rusty. It started out well with President Obama talking about the injustice of homelessness especially among children. But the leap to jobs was a bit of a stretch. We are 100% on board with linking jobs to homelessness, because without a sufficient income there is no way that someone can afford a place to live. The issue is that America needs a raise especially those who are disabled. No where in the United States does a disability check pay the fair market housing. We appreciate the efforts within the Veteran's Administration to expand assistance and the emphasis on families, but creating jobs is one step away from addressing homelessness.

We need jobs that have a living wage so that people can afford to buy a car and stay in housing. We need the disability assistance to either come with a housing voucher or be at least doubled so that people can pay for housing. For this reason, we need a White House Conference on Homelessness in America to educate the Executive Branch including the President about the problems. One of the bloggers at Huffington Post picked up on the new attention to homelessness in America.

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

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Real Chance at Reform

Prevention Could Transform the Homeless System Locally

The Obama Administration is putting $12 million dollars into the local economy to prevent homelessness. This is a huge change for all of the cities which have for 20 years dealt with homelessness as an emergency. We were basically dealing with the problem after the disaster had already struck the family. This is the same amount of money that we get every year just to renew the budgets of all the shelters, so we cannot waste the resource. Now, we have the opportunity to figure out a new path to keep people in their housing before they become homeless. So what do we need to make this happen?

1. We need transparency in the process. We must model our local programs after the federal recovery process with an RFP with broad input. We should have a clear expression for what we need. We need to clearly outline the process for securing these dollars. There must be an open process for picking the recipient without personalities or conflicts of interest.

2. We need to create something new that will transform the system. We could just put more money into all the existing programs, but where would we be after two years? We would continue to increase homelessness every year as we have done for the past 20 years, and we would still have the same number of shelters as we have today. We blow this opportunity and everyone responsible for serving homeless people should be fired.

3. We cannot construct the system around shelter. To prevent homelessness, we must respond to people's individual needs. We should not force people to have to conform to the rules of the shelter in order to get help. We should not force them to split up their family in order to get a shelter space. We have built a system that shoves people into a program that they had no say in creating, and if they reject the charity offered they are cast aside. We need to build a system around housing and not services.

The above picture is from the Homeless Memorial Day in December at St. Augustine church in Tremont.

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

Monday, March 23, 2009

Grading the Administration 9

Weekly Grades for the Obama Administration on the Struggles to Reduce Poverty: D

I waited until after the 60 Minutes piece last night before assigning a grade in hopes that he would talk about housing, poverty or homelessness, but no such luck. Not much was announced about poverty issues this last week, and still only one of the agenda items has even been proposed from the poverty agenda. The middle class task force met which does not help those currently living in poverty. Most of the week was spent attempting to put out a fire started by AIG, and the executive pay problems. Obama also spent the week defending his proposed 2010 budget, which is unusual and keeps the administration out of the failure territory. The budget is extremely progressive so it does merit some points toward addressing poverty. The health care piece within the budget would benefit poor people, but will it withstand Congressional apprehension?

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

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Interesting Articles

Airport Homeless and Tent Cities

The Associated Press did a feature on homeless people living in the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport. They have trained officers to identify homeless people and coax them to shelter. In the last year they have transported 400 homeless people to shelter, and the United Way outreach visit monthly. I suspect that the 400 involve many duplicates, but it is still a large amount of law enforcement time taken for social services. The article mentions that the City is working to eliminate long term or the offensively labeled "chronically" homeless over 10 years, but does not mention that the City has almost totally destroyed the shelters within the city limits. We are so fortunate in Cleveland to have a strong network of outreach workers to respond to these issues.

At Cleveland Hopkins International Airport, the city and homeless advocates sent outreach teams into the airport almost every night for two months in 2006 after police found dozens of homeless sleeping in sensitive parts of the airport, such as in doorways to secured areas, said Brian Davis, head of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

The effort cleared all but the most stubborn handful of men and women, and most of them have stayed away. It took city funds and five outreach teams available for near nightly sweeps to make it happen though, almost unheard of resources even in the best of times.

The article goes on to describe this effort as too expensive in Atlanta, because the groups are "stretched thin" with their other efforts. City officials always complain about these homeless issues, but they are rarely willing to put funds into solving problems. Law enforcement should never be drafted into becoming social workers.

Tent City in Sacramento

We talked about Oprah doing a feature on the Sacramento Tent City, and this story then drew national attention on MSNBC, the NBC Nightly News, and the New York Times. The Terminator Governor visited the site, and the news went international with stories in the Times of London, Al Jazeera, and the Sydney Morning Herald. Former NBA star and new Mayor, Kevin Johnson, created a task force and wants the tent city closed by the end of March. Johnson was quoted as saying, "I don't like having a third world country inside the city." The City announced that they will begin to move the tents from this private property.

Another example of why Cleveland has set up a better emergency infrastructure compared to other cities. The article states that they will layout a plan in Sacramento on Tuesday to move 150 people to another location even though the estimates are that there are more than 300 people in the camp. Again, we have the outreach in the city who would be regularly talking to the men and women staying outside, and would be better prepared to meet the situation facing Sacramento. City officials are talking about endorsing a plan to establish a tent city in the model of Seattle, Ontario or Portland. Very few of the articles talk about how this got to be so bad? Why didn't anyone respond when 12 tents were gathered together? Has the safety net become so totally tattered that no one notices a group of homeless people living in a tent? How could these refugees of Capitalism be more obvious? They constructed brightly colored temporary structures in the capital of the largest state in the union. I guess the citizens of Sacramento were distracted over the last few years with the games going on within the state capital of California that they did not notice third world conditions invading Sacramento.

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

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mangano Must Go!!!

National Coalition Asks for New Interagency Council Director

The National Coalition for the Homeless sent a letter to President Obama. Full disclosure: I have a board position with the National Coalition Coalition for the Homeless, and helped start this process.

National Coalition for the Homeless
2201 P Street, NW
Washington DC 20037-1033

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
Washington DC 20500

The National Coalition for the Homeless wishes to congratulate you on your inauguration as the President of the United States, and to commend you for pledging to reduce poverty during your term in office. We look forward to working with you as you implement action steps to fulfill pledges made during your campaign to address domestic poverty, including its most extreme manifestation – homelessness.

We understand that a number of entities within the Executive Office of the President have been assigned with responsibility for policy development regarding poverty, among them the Office of Mobility and Opportunity, Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and Office on Urban Affairs. We note the rapidity in which appointments to these new offices are being made.

Thus we are disappointed that a statutorily-established executive branch entity that must also be a central player in your Administration’s poverty activities – the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) – is lacking an appointment of your choosing to its Executive Director position. We urge you to make a prompt appointment of a new ICH Executive Director – an appointee who will advance your vision for an America where all people prosper and thrive, including those among us with the greatest needs.

Moreover, we call upon you to use the appointment of a new ICH Director as your moment to signal a change in direction in the current national approach to ending homelessness and as your opportunity to articulate an aggressive mandate to eliminate homelessness from our nation during your term of office.

Regrettably, the prior Administration took a narrow approach to homelessness policy – focusing the bulk of its energy toward single adults with disabilities who experience homelessness for long periods of time (the “chronically homeless”), to the abject neglect of those people who are also homeless for lesser periods of time and/or due to factors other than disability and family status. It also foisted the preponderance of responsibility for homelessness planning on city and county governments, while failing to establish a role for the national government itself. Moreover, exorbitant sums of money were spent on population counts and information management system acquisition, while investments in affordable housing, supportive services, and emergency responses fell far short of need.The current ICH Executive Director is tied to these policy choices. It is urgent that you accept his resignation and appoint someone with fresh ideas and a new mandate, including addressing the foreclosure crisis and its impact on homelessness, particularly among renters.

President Obama, the time for definitive and decisive action to end homelessness for the 3.5 million Americans who experience it annually (and growing due to the economic recession and foreclosure crisis) is now. People experiencing homelessness or at risk of a housing loss are waiting impatiently for bold leadership on this topic from your Administration. The national government can no longer deprive any one homeless “subpopulation” from resources and services in order to fund whatever is the “current hot trend” in social policy. It can no longer let the national human needs budget stagnate while asking counties, cities, and towns to stand the gaps. Our elected and appointed officials at the sub-national level can no longer flail on their own without the national government as a reliable and dependable partner.

We urge you to appoint an ICH Executive Director with the professional skills and personal attributes necessary for mobilizing all component agencies of the Council, as well as state, local, and private partners, toward the development and implementation of a national strategic plan to end homelessness. The plan must end homelessness for all and single out no subgroups over others for preferential consideration. The national strategic must embrace housing for all, universal livable incomes as a minimum standard, freedom from crippling health care debts, educational opportunities for all, and federal protection or repeal of laws and actions that make it illegal to be poor. The plan must articulate concrete action steps and timetable for reaching these aims. We also encourage you to convene a White House summit on homelessness in your first term to raise awareness of the issue and to draw on the collective wisdom of government officials, advocates, services providers, and homeless families and individuals in devising strategies to prevent and end homelessness.

We believe that by your election the American people have spoken. They have said that it is time tackle once and for all time seemingly intractable national problems. Certainly homelessness is among those challenges that have plagued American society for far too long. We urge you to quickly name to the ICH Executive Director position an individual with the leadership ability to implement our shared vision of an America free of homelessness.

We look forward to being consulted in the appointment of the next Executive Director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, and in helping that appointee advance your forthcoming national strategic plan to end homelessness.

Michael Stoops
Executive Director

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless supports the message in this letter, and we hope that the administration picks a new InterAgency Council on Homelessness Director.

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

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Fingerhut Speech at Community Solutions

Apportioning Misery and Education Reform

Ohio's Chancellor and former staff member for the Center for Community Solutions, Eric Fingerhut, was one of the keynote speakers at the 67th Annual Human Services Institute on Friday March 13. I got to attend as a Board member of CTO to see them win their award. I am glad that I stuck around to hear Mr. Fingerhut, because he provided some interesting insights.

He talked all about the unified higher education system in Ohio, which I was not aware had already happened. I did not realize that all the GED programs, many job training programs and the Community Colleges are now linked together with the state universities. This was a huge change that occured over the last three years. But the best part of the speech was about his time in the state legislature.

Fingerhut was first elected in 1990, and took office in 1991. That was the time that many advocates traveled down to Columbus to protest the elimination of General Assistance (welfare for single adults). Fingerhut ran on a platform of a champion of human services, having worked at Legal Aid and worked with many of the groups helping people in Cleveland. He felt that the early 1990s was just a cyclical downturn, and that things would turn around for the state. The state legislature was cutting the budget, but would eventually get back in the business of helping people when Ohioans returned to work. Fingerhut took a few years off, and went back to Columbus in 1999. He said that by 1999 and 2000 the feeling in Columbus was depressing and there was a general realization that things were not going to go back to the way they were in the 1980s ever again. Fingerhut felt that he was managing the misery all human service groups would have to face. He was an advocate for social services and he was now deciding if his friends were going to receive a 10% or a 5% cut. There was a general realization that we were never going back to restore these programs. Fingerhut had to accept that his job was now "apportioning misery" among his closest friends.

So, he is back in Columbus as the head of higher education in Columbus. The only way to get more tax revenue for the state is to boost employment. The only way to boost employment is to provide higher education to the population. Fingerhut has a good sales pitch; championing the opportunities available in Ohio. He talked about how the State of Ohio is willing to help low income residents get a free associates degree.

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

Grading the Administration 8

Weekly Grades for the Obama Administration on Poverty: C
50 Day Average: C

Every week since January we have posted grades for the Administration on their attempts to fight poverty. This week we are giving them a solid C, which also is the grade that the administration has earned for their first 50 days. By assigning a numeric number to their grades for the first eight weeks, the Obama Administration has reached a 77% or a solid C in fighting poverty.

What has happened over the last week? There was a front page Washington Post article on the priorities of the new Donovan HUD administration on the construction of affordable rental housing. This is a huge change from the almost rabid obsession with pushing people into home ownership during the last eight years. The administration gets docked for convening the Middle Class task force before looking at poverty. The health care reform task force met again on Thursday in Michigan, and that is certainly a good thing. There was an education forum on Monday to lay out the plans for improving America's education system. The current education system certainly contributes to homelessness. The HUD Secretary was in New Orleans to accept the City's plan to rebuild. There did not seem to be any new money announced, and the levy system is still a failure. I looked at the poverty agenda on, and it seems to me that only one broad goal has even had any attention given to it so far. Finally, there was a status update delivered on the state of ethics reform within the government. I like these periodic status updates, and hope that they continue. It is easy to put out a press release, but have to report back to the country on how things are going is important.

So, a few good things happened and there was some distractions from addressing poverty. Two months into the new administration, they are pulling down a solid "C" on the academic scale in addressing poverty. Since the last president campaigned on his being a solid C student at Yale (I suspect a gentleman's C because of his Dad), I would imagine that this administration is shooting for a higher grade. We will continue to look for signs that they are serious about reducing poverty and homelessness.

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

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Homeless Congress Meeting

Councilmembers Attend Congress Meeting

Every month, NEOCH organizes a meeting called the Homeless Congress at the Bishop Cosgrove Center in Cleveland. This meeting features two homeless residents from each of the shelters in Cleveland and six from the big men's shelter at Lakeside, and three women who represent the Community Women's Shelter. They have worked on a response to the foreclosure crisis, they raised concern in November 2008 about the conditions at the Community Women's Shelter. The Congress has recently commented on the Central Intake, and they have helped with a number of research projects about the state of homelessness in Cleveland. This last week, both Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman and Matt Zone attended the meeting to talk to representatives of the various shelters.

There were 10 different shelters represented at the meeting, and we had a full agenda planned with a discussion about this $12 million that was coming to Cleveland to prevent homelessness. We never got around to most of the agenda, because we spent about an hour of the meeting on the state of the shelters in Cleveland. We were able to get a few updates on previous issues that we have focused on, but the individuals wanted to talk about the sorry state of the shelters in Cleveland. Before people jump to negative stereotypes about the "ungrateful homeless who have the nerve to comment on a charity that they pay nothing for," we have to say that the shelters are way better than they were in the 1990s when the bulk of the shelters were just a matt on the floor of a garage. We have to also say that homeless people pay a higher percentage of their income on taxes than the typical home owner in our community. They often do not qualify for Earned Income Tax credit because of debt, and certainly not all the tax credits for owning a home or heading up a household. So, they pay a great deal in sales tax and pay employment taxes without much opportunity for taxes returned to them from an income tax return every year. Bottom line is that they pay into the system at a high level, and do not get much back (no free health care, no guaranteed safe place to live, or even a solid minimum wage job). So, at least they could expect the overcrowded shelters would provide a safe, decent, warm environment to find stable housing.

There were a lot of charges that came up at the meeting especially around conditions at the Community Women's Shelter in Cleveland. To be fair, the shelter has a new director who started only two and a half weeks ago, and is trying to clean up the facility while at the same time staying in operation. Afterall, a new director cannot fire everyone to get the staff back under control. The shelter is a vital service and must remain open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. It is difficult to steer a shelter that has gone far off course. The women heard about this meeting in February and met to develop a presentation for the Councilmembers. They wrote down dates and times and issues that happened at the facility. Some of the incidents that came up included the serving of expired food, one woman was jailed by the police/security on site. They arrested her for raising her voice to a staff person putting her hands on the resident. Staff disrespect was a common theme for many of the shelter residents. There was a call for better training across the board especially mediation training. The other issue that came up repeatedly was where do homeless people go to complain about these issues? What government entity would respond to these concerns. Other concerns expressed by residents include:
  • Staff do not know CPR or other basic health issues.
  • We need better oversight of the resources donated to the shelters
  • Questions about who makes sure that the shelter dollars are going to those in need?
  • We need a place to send those actively using drugs or alcohol (not the streets as happens now.)
  • We need more nurses in the shelter.
  • There were allegations of some illegal activity at the shelters including sexual harrassment and theft by staff as well as charges that some staff would come to work drunk.
  • All the shelters need to be more like West Side Catholic shelter.
  • There are not a lot of service offered to teach people how to live independently.
  • The current standards are only verified once a year, and no one make sure that the Ohio Basic Shelter Standards are monitored on a daily basis.
  • Most do not get basic items like hygiene kits or clean linens or even to talk to a housing professional.
The Councilmen and Bill Resseger from the City of Cleveland could not make a commitment that the proposed Shelter Standard's Bill that the Congress developed would be passed into law. (It has to go through the administration and committees and a hearing, etc.). Bill Resseger did assure the Congress that he would work with NEOCH and the social service provider in charge of the Community Women's Shelter to get that shelter back under control. Councilman Zone wanted to assure everyone that all three of the people representing the City at this meeting care about this issue and want to help homeless people cut through the bureacracy to improve the system. Joe Cimperman mentioned that he would advocate for a meeting with the shelter executive directors to see what could be accomplished without having to change the law. Cimperman also asked about his 1998-1999 law change which required the agencies to have one homeless person on the board of every non-profit receiving City of Cleveland money. I responded that it was a worthy effort, but has not solved the problems for a number of reasons, which I will talk about in a future post. Both Councilman were concerned that the City would over-regulate the shelters or would cost too much money to implement some of the ideas contained in the document. Finally, there was a concern that some of the regulations may put a few of the shelters out of business, and the city would be stuck with even fewer shelter beds.

There were a few members of the Congress who urged passage of the proposed Shelter Standards Bill. I have to mention Richard, who recently got into housing and represents the Bishop Cosgrove Center at the meeting, passionately argued that the only way that the shelters will be cleaned up is if the City passes a law to protect homeless people. It is an election year in 2009 for City Council members. There was a great deal of anger and passion at this meeting by people who sleep in the shelters. We will help homeless people make this an issue with the City Council election. Afterall, 80% of the budgets for the shelters comes from public sources. There is extensive scrutiny of most other public funds, but the shelters seem to be outside public oversight except the once per year review. If a taxpayer is sleeping in a landlord's building they can go to court to seek relief from invasions of privacy or harassment, but a taxpayer living in a shelter is at the mercy of the staff and have no where to complain.

We have a special meeting in two weeks to talk about the prevention dollars, and we will take up the shelter standards bill at our April 9 meeting. We have to thank both Councilman Cimperman and Councilman Zone for attending the meeting and listening to the concerns of this constituency.

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

NEOCH Awards

Advocate and Volunteer of the Year

Pictured here is the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless 2008 Advocate of the Year--Margaret Wilson. NEOCH had our annual meeting on March 11, 2009. At the meeting, we reviewed the last year and introduced our 2008 Strategic Plan. We will have more details on the plan in the next few weeks. We will also post our annual report and publish it in the next three weeks.

The best part of the Annual meeting is the giving out of the awards. We have Meg Wilson as the Advocate of the Year and Traci Ext as the 2008 volunteer of the year. Here is a brief description of the award winners.

NEOCH Advocate of the Year

Margaret Wilson is the current Outreach Coordinator at GESU Roman Catholic Church, and plans all parish wide activities including the December Service Day. She is a former president of the Homeless Coalition, and has been a board member since 2002. Wilson has always been an active board member, and is regularly involved in policy and advocacy strategies. She is a former teacher who has taught at the junior high, high school and college levels. She has Bachelors in political science from Catholic University of America as well as a Master degree in Education. She also has a Masters in English from Cleveland State. Wilson has worked to establish the Interfaith Hospitality Network at GESU Catholic Church. The GESU commission is active in the community and has worked with a number of organizations, including FAMICOS, New Life Community, and Sociedad de los Amigos de Ninos in Honduras.

NEOCH Volunteer of the Year

Traci Ext is an attorney currently working for the federal government, and she gives up most every Monday afternoon volunteering for the Homeless Coalition. Ext assists with our press relations and our advocacy agenda in Cleveland. She has volunteered with the Homeless Stand Down, and has worked on many of NEOCH’s research reports. She has previous experience at the Legal Aid Society, and is a law school graduate from Harvard. Ext did her undergraduate work at Rice University, and has a strong interest in social justice. She relaxes by playing basketball and was recently married.

We are sorry that you missed the annual meeting. Congratulations to both our award winners.

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

Upcoming Events

NEOCH is Working On Housing Issues

Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance Speaker in April

The April 6, 2008 Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance Meeting will feature Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio . Faith will talk about state and national budget issues, COHHIO’s advocacy agenda, funding opportunities, and other issues that may impact housing in Northeast Ohio . CAHA is a monthly meeting on the first Monday of the month (unless there is a federal holiday) at the lower level of the HUD building/US Bank Building at East 14th and Euclid Ave. ( 1350 Euclid Ave —across from United Way ). Everyone is welcome to attend.

National Low Income Housing Coalition Conference in April

One of our national partners, NLIHC, has a housing conference every year. This is the first time in 15 years in which advocates for affordable housing actually have an opportunity to see funds invested in housing. Because of the housing collapse, rental housing is cool again. This is a great conference to learn about the NLIHC agenda, and prepare for federal investment in housing. We urge those who care about housing to try to make it to DC April 19 to April 22 for this conference. Please click on this link to sign up to attend their conference here or it is available on the front of their website See you there.

NEOCH Annual Fund Raising Event

If you are a member of the Coalition, you should have received our postcard reminding you to save the date for our May 1, 2009 fund raiser. It will be at Massimo da Milano, and we are keeping the tickets affordable for 2009. We will have our best silent auction ever, and we will give out the Ione Biggs Award this year. We will have details on our website later this week. As always, any questions, call the Coalition at 216/432-0540.

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

CTO Wins Anisfield Wolf Award!!!

Tenants Organization Voted Outstanding Human Service Non-Profit

Pictured is Mike Piepsny accepting the $20,000 award from the Center for Community Solutions and the Cleveland Foundation. Here is the CTO press release.

The Cleveland Tenants Organization (CTO) was named the recipient of the 2009 Anisfield-Wolf Memorial Award at today's 67th annual Human Services Institute presented by The Center for Community Solutions. The Center administers the annual award, funded by The Cleveland Foundation with a fiver person panel selecting the winner from the applications..

In presenting the award to Michael J. Piepsny, Executive Director of CTO, Cleveland Foundation Senior Vice President Robert Eckhardt noted that the organization was selected in honor of its innovative and proactive efforts to prevent renters living in properties facing foreclosure from being removed from their homes with little notice.

The program, which CTO initiated in 2008, developed as a result of a wonderful public/private collaborative effort. For the past two years, CTO has received hundreds of calls from renters living in property facing foreclosure. United Way's First Call for Help line contacted CTO due to an increase in similar calls, and, after researching the limited rights available to tenants living in the properties, it was agreed that all calls should be diverted to the Cleveland Tenants Organization. In response to the growing crisis, CTO, working with our partners at the County offices of Development and Homelessness, The Sisters of Charity Foundation of Cleveland, Policy Matters Ohio, Cleveland Mediation Center, Neighborhood Housing Services, and United Way First Call for Help, developed the new program to directly notify renters living in properties that appear on the Court of Common Pleas foreclosure docket.

CTO has been able to provide notification of the foreclosure to over 3,000 renters, who, without the advanced warning, face immediate eviction from their homes. A foreclosure induced Sherriff’s sale terminates any existing lease at the property.

CTO's work has been instrumental in demonstrating the need for State action to protect these clients. State Representative Mike Foley, former CTO Executive Director and current Chairman of the Housing and Urban Revitalization Committee, has recently introduced House Bill 9 along with State Representative Celeste to offer some protection for these renters. The bill requires the landlord to notify renters of a foreclosure within one month of the filing, allowing the renting family time to find alternative safe, decent, affordable housing, as well as the time necessary to save for new rent, security deposit, and moving expenses. The bill also protects renters by turning an existing lease at the time of property transfer into a month-to-month lease. The simple change will allow families an additional month to relocate without the threat of eviction on their record.

We congratulate CTO on their great work. I especially enjoyed Eckhardt's introduction in which he pointedly remarked that CTO started this project without funding. Hint, hint, wink, wink all the rest of you non-profits out there in the audience--start doing stuff without constantly coming to us for money. It was also nice that the recipient was able to say a few words to the crowd. I don't remember the winner speaking to the crowd in the past.


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

Monday, March 09, 2009

Grading the Administration 7

Weekly Poverty Grades for the Obama Administration: D

This was one of the worst weeks yet in this financial crisis. I also got a chance to watch the terrifying February 17 Frontline on the making of the economic crisis, which may have tainted my view of last week. The announcement of job losses in February was stunning, and captured the attention of the country. The decline in the stock market was hard to watch. I have to wonder how much impact CNBC has on fanning the flames of this crisis. I mean they did not see the economy crumbling in 2007, but now everything they report is labeled a sign of further decline. They seem to have gone from one extreme of idolizing the CEO to the other extreme of screaming fire in a crowded theater every day. But it must be impossible for the administration to focus on poverty with the economy in free fall.

There were a couple of things done this week that kept the administration out of the land of the "F." The christening of the drive to reform of health care is important. This is a huge problem that contributes to poverty. We must get a handle on health care costs if we are going to reduce poverty. We must get close to universal access to free and affordable health care or homelessness will continue to increase. Again, this was only an opening discussion so the administration only gets a few points for beginning the dialogue. The real points are on implementing health care reform.

The only other positive that I saw last week was Michelle Obama serving lunch at Miriam's Kitchen in DC. I know that it is only a symbol, but I think that it is an important symbol. Volunteering is critical to addressing poverty. Every American should spend some time on the food line to see that poverty touches all of us. Serving food to older white men, young women with babies in their arms, and middle aged black men who worked all night, but cannot afford housing is important. Having the First Lady volunteering may prompt others to do the same.

Another review of the items that they need to work on to improve that grade:
  • No work on Katrina recovery.
  • No jobs created--we have lost 600,000 jobs in fact.
  • No health insurance improvement.
  • 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 one has been hired to end homelessness in America.
  • No civil rights agenda was proposed.
  • Nothing on the extreme debt facing poor people was discussed.
  • 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. 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.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Saying Goodbye to David Westcott

Family Honors "Great Man"

David Westcott was memorialized on Tuesday. Much of the NEOCH Board and many past and present staff attended. The family did a great job of remembering David, and as his son-in-law, John Rowland, said David was a role model and a great man. Joe Cistone, the Executive Director of International Partners in Mission, spoke on behalf of all the non-profit organizations that David did work for in the community. Joe talked about David's unique relationship with various social justice organizations as Board member, volunteer, confidant, money manager, and bread maker. One group that did not get much attention, and I neglected in my original post and that was the Greater Cleveland Anti-Death Penalty group, which David was a founder and treasurer. I went to a prayer vigil at Old Stone Church before the first execution in Ohio in 23 years in 1999, and was surprised to see David as one of the leaders of the group. David was a humble man, but had a broad menu of social justice causes that he cared about.

Both of his grandchildren had prominent roles in service with Matthew doing a wonderful version of Amazing Grace on the guitar and Ian holding back tears to talk about the volleyball games against his grandfather well into David's 80s. The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepard did a wonderful job hosting the service, and Rev. Lee Penvose talked in the sermon about David's role in the faith community. The church was full with family, friends, young people, and those working in the non-profit sector. I wish that there was some way to learn all these important details of a person's life before a memorial. It would be great to hear about a person serving in both World War II and the Korean conflict during happier times. I would have enjoyed hearing about how David interacted with IPM board and staff five years ago, but we just never get that opportunity.

What struck me the most was that David was a white guy from the South with average jobs of a printer and such, but in the last quarter century of his life dedicated his time to changing the lives of those suffering the negative side of capitalism. He was not the guy out front yelling and screaming about social change. David was the guy signing the checks, ordering the paper, and keeping the staff plugging away. He made sure that many organizations functioned properly, and let the directors do the advocacy and public speaking required to get their message out. David was a behind-the-scenes guy who made the non-profit trains run on time.

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

Saturday, March 07, 2009

NEOCH Mentioned at the State of the City

Making Progress: Mayor Talks About Homelessness

We have come a long way in Cleveland from the time in the 1990s when the only mention of homeless people by the Mayor was how he was going to criminalize being poor to the time when the Mayor said that he was working with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless in a positive way. Here is the text from the Mayor's State of the City speech from this last week.

Quality of Life - Homelessness
"Over the past three years, I have worked with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, our Community Development Department, County staff and others to address this. My focus is not solely on providing emergency shelter but on finding ways to offer permanent supportive housing; access to wraparound social services; and, job opportunities.

In Cleveland, we have built 351 units of permanent supportive housing. But it is not enough. Addressing issues like service, safety, health care and homelessness must be matched with significant investment in our neighborhoods."
It is true, we did a ton of work in 2008 to improve conditions for homeless people. We have a report on our website on the state of downtown Cleveland. An interesting note on the report, one of the smaller recommendations that seemed harmless when the report was published raised a great of attention and opposition from one segment of the population. Keep in mind that these are just recommendations (not demands), and we would need a great deal of help accomplishing these goals from our partners. But one of the recommendations was taken more as an attempt to overturn the apple cart, and was rejected.

There are a bunch of opportunities this year for Cleveland with the $13 million in prevention dollars, the increase in funding for Public Housing, and the Land Bank program. We hope that the Mayor will continue to focus on homelessness, and take a lead role in addressing this issue.

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

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Grading the Administration 6

Weekly Poverty Grades for the Obama Administration: A

It is Sunday and so time to grade the Administration and their fight against poverty. Maybe I am still numb because of the loss of David Westcott or just feeling generous, but I am giving the administration an A this week. This is the first time that the Administration has reached the A territory.

The budget is the most important statement of priorities made by an Administration. It sets down in writing the direction for the country and the areas in which the administration is willing to put funding. It is the road map for government and sets the tone for future discussions. There is the bully pulpit, but the budget is about action.

This 2010 budget has a lot to be praised with regard to housing and poverty issues.
  • An increase in the HUD budget including an increase in the housing voucher program.
  • An increase in the Department of Veterans Affairs going specifically to health care.
  • Obama actually allocates money to the Federal Housing Trust Fund for the first time.
  • Modernizes the rules for disability benefits (which we hope will shorten the waiting period).
  • Increases the number of Social Security workers to process claims.
  • Improves the student loan system in order to allow more people to attend college.
  • The budget dramatically increases the number of National Service members who will be deployed in communities to address homelessness and poverty.
These are all good trends. The other thing that is encouraging was the President's video message from Saturday in which he said that he was ready to fight for these priorities. We have seen much rhetoric in the past, but few Presidents in the last 30 years willing to fight to reduce poverty. I also liked that the Director of Management and Budget has a blog, and attempts to correct spin that could derail Administration priorities. Peter Orszag tries to dispel some of the concern of larger non-profit organizations worried about a decrease in donations, because of the change in charitable donations outlined in the budget.

Now they have to go out and make this all happen. I do not understand the middle class task force that the Vice President is leading. But overall it was a good week for fighting poverty. We are now in solid B territory as a cumulative grade for the administration. Next week we will review the areas that the Administration needs to concentrate to stay in the A range.

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

Details on the Westcott Memorial

NEOCH Will Miss David Westcott

Details of the Westcott memorial were in the Plain Dealer today:

David N. Westcott

DAVID N. WESTCOTT, age 82, cherished husband of Gloria E.; beloved father of Susan G., and Beth C. Rowland (John); loving grandfather of Matthew and Ian; brother of Rev. Edward (deceased) and Eunice McKie (deceased), Ruth Eggert and Lois Junjkuntz. Passed away on Friday, Feb. 27, 2009. Memorial contributions may be forwarded to International Partner in Mission, 3091 Mayfield Rd., Suite 320, Cleveland Hts., 44118 or Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), 3631 Perkins Ave., Suite 3A-3, Cleveland, 44114. Memorial service Tuesday, March 3 at 11 a.m. at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, 8235 Memphis Ave., Brooklyn, OH.

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