Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Chill Out!!

Non-Story Appears on NY Times Front Page

All the newspapers, cable television, and wire services are lit up with the New York Times story about shipping homeless people to other communities. The Mayor of NY has had to issue a statement today, and the media is burning up the phones for the National Coalition and homeless advocates in New York City. This must be a slow news day, because this is a non story.

Let's get some perspective here: There are 9,700 families (including children) in the shelters every night in New York City. This program served 550 families over a year or an insignificant number for the nearly 100,000 homeless families within the City. Traveler's Aid is a legitimate service in a community. From the family stuck in the City trying to get home to a grandmother or to a job or the Mom who cannot afford the rent and has a place available to her in the Midwest, these are good programs. These are not forced relocation's. These are not dumping the problem on some other city. These are helping people with a need in the community. If the City pays $36,000 for shelter per family and can spend $400 on gas back to Michigan, this is a huge savings. I have no idea why this is such a big deal in the media except that the story was written in a slanted manner by focusing on the exotic trips.

We do not have any Traveler's Aid in Cleveland. First, because we cannot afford to lose any more people. We certainly don't want government to pay for Cleveland to be a smaller city. Secondly, we just don't have the money to pay to relocate people. Finally, our shelter costs are not as expensive as New York City and our housing is way cheaper than most other cities in America. It is not as economically sound to send people away as it is in the bigger cities like New York. Sometimes I wish we had this type of program, but I understand how politically sensitive this issue is in the media.

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Government Could Solve Homelessness

If Government Stopped Creating Homeless People...

I spent last weekend in DC, and was thinking about how small the homeless population would be if government and government funded organizations would stop assisting people to become homeless. For example, all the laws that make it illegal to be poor only make it more likely that a person will become homeless. The heavily subsidized hospitals and medical industry send a lot of people into the shelters in our community. Health insurance companies depend on government to stay in business, but work to figure out ways not to cover people or send bills that can quickly bankrupt a person. The public mental health system and the alcohol treatment programs use the shelter system as a housing option for their clients. The alcohol system actually uses the shelters as a punishment for those who are unwilling or unable to stick with a program.

The disability programs keep people poor for the rest of their lives and do not provide even enough money to afford housing. In fact, the rules for remaining on the program do not even allow any additional income for an individual receiving a disability check. Any gift or income is actually taken immediately out of their check. They get a monthly living allowance that actually does not allow them to live anywhere in the United States, and any additional income is taken out of their check to make sure that they stay poor. If we could just take care of those on Social Security Disability and keep people out of the shelters, the homeless population would decrease dramatically.

The re-entry system is actually no re-entry at all. Incarceration leads to homelessness in many cases. The first thing cut in times of budget troubles are the social work staff. We punish more people with jail than any other industrialized country in the world, and then we do a horrible job reintegrating people into society. The government also needs to figure out what to do about sexually based offenders in our community. In the name of public safety, we have actually set up a system in which it is almost impossible to reintegrate for those having completed a sentence for a sexually based offense. Ironically, this is making our communities less safe since these men are sleeping, largely unsupervised, on the streets of every major city in America.

Our welfare system does not provide enough health care or child care that will allow a family to survive. There is still massive disparities in lending to minority populations by government regulated mortgage institutions. There is an ungodly wait for re-determination on their child support payments when they lose their job or become homeless.

If government were just willing to work to prevent homelessness, we could reduce the population by 80-90%. We appreciate the new prevention program, but until all branches of government and every government employee makes this a priority, we are never going to make any changes.

Brian Davis
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National Homeless Issues

Photo by Cheryl Jones of the NEOCH Photo Project

Prevention Dollars and Other Updates from Around the Country

I went to DC the last week in July for the National Coalition Board meeting, and the big news was that NCH hired a new Executive Director to carry the organization forward. There will be details on their website with a reception this fall. (The new ED is not the individual in the photo above.) I wanted to put down a few things that I heard from some of the other members of the NCH Board.

The District of Columbia
There is a lot of anger toward the Mayor for shutting down one of the shelters, but he was going to be at the ribbon cutting of the national street soccer tournament. One other piece of good news is that the City Council was planning to pass a local anti-homeless hate crimes bill. Cleveland already has one, but it is a positive step for a city to recognize that homeless people are targets living on the streets. Hopefully, this is a first step toward increased monitoring and a crack down on these young people who are doing this.

Atlanta, GA
Ever since the Olympics were in Atlanta, it has been rough for homeless people. The city has taken a hostile position on the presence of homeless people downtown, and struggled to close one of the biggest shelters in the region. They have fought in court and before funders and have gone back and forth to try to kill the Metro Atlanta Task Force shelter. The city has seen the public hospitals privatized, closed many affordable housing units, and now they are working to the shelter to try and shut it down.

San Antonio, TX
There is a new program called Haven of Hope that is trying to get started. It is located on 37 acres with many warehouses and buildings for housing. This will be a massive complex that could potentially house thousands of homeless individuals. The program will work with the individuals to find gainful employment as part of their programming on housing and other issues.

Miami, FL
The big news out of Florida is the fight over sexually based offenders, and especially the 75 person camp of offenders under one of the overpasses. There is a fight between local council members who want most of the city to be off limits to offenders and the state officials who are sending offenders to live below the overpass.

Denver, CO
One of the few cities that seem to using the Homeless Prevention dollars effectively. The County gave the funds over to the large social service provider to set up a collaborative process. Every group is trying to figure out if they can meet the reporting requirements set up by HUD for these funds. Denver social service groups are filling up the green affordable rental units that were built earlier this year and they are now working on a collaboration with the public library for a supportive housing complex. The health care facility got stimulus dollars to move to electronic medical records, and they are working to try to double the size.

There is some development work going on in Billings. Montana was only given a small amount of Homeless Prevention money, and it is very difficult to figure out how to spend such a small amount of money considering the huge need.

There was a substantial increase in family homelessness. There is legislation pending in Minnesota to restrict the use of HMIS numbers. They are using some of the neighborhood money to try to save homes that are foreclosed on especially for refugees and rental property. They are working on repairing the tax credit program to create new affordable housing. Very few corporations were paying taxes since they did not have profits and so therefore there was not much of a pool of available credits to build housing.

South Carolina
They are having a hard time spending the Homeless Prevention dollars. The applications require collaboration, but the groups cannot hire partner agencies to actually implement a collaboration. There was a bill introduced to protect homeless people with a anti-hate crimes bill. There are a few scattered programs to use federal dollars to build affordable housing.

I also attended the Homeless Coalition meeting for the other Coalitions in Ohio. There I learned that only Southeast Ohio seems satisfied with the way that the Homeless Prevention stimulus dollars were being spent. The Three C cities (Cleveland, Columbus, Cincy) all have had one person basically decide where all this new money was going to go. Very few of the activists were happy with how these decisions were made, and do not see many potentially homeless benefiting from these funds. Toledo activists have raised a stink about the process and gone to HUD and the media to raise objections. Dayton is more in a wait and see approach to the use of these funds. The groups traditionally funded to prevent evictions were not funded and the money was divided among groups that had not traditionally provided these types of services.

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Grading the Administration 26

Weekly Grades of the Administration on Poverty: A-

Sometimes a great many small things get the job done. This week there was not one huge undertaking, but many small items that got the Administration into the A territory. So, for the week of July 20 to July 26, I have to give the administration an A- for the following reasons:
  1. As we have seen the administration is making a full court press on changing the health care system. These included a trip to Shaker Hts to conduct a town hall. A speech by Peter Orszag on financing health care reform helped, and President Obama used the weekly address again to talk about health care reform and insurance companies.
  2. There was the release of a school funding challenge called "Race for the Top," which seems to be a competition among the nation's schools for federal dollars. It may turn out to be a policy in which the rich get richer, but any change in direction is worth the risk after the 30 year decline in the state of education in America.
  3. One help for privacy is that it was announced no federal website is allowed to put a "cookie" on a user's computer when visiting any executive branch website.
  4. There were more "Recovery in Action" stories on the White House website including a story about a new workforce development program in Pennsylvania.
  5. Vice President Biden wrote an opinion piece in the Sunday New York Times about the progress made in the rebuilding the economy. I suspect that this is to stem the slow decline in popularity for the Obama administration, but I think that it helps.
  6. The HUD budget passed the House with much of what the administration wanted including increases in HOPE VI, CDBG, HOME, homeless assistance, and public houisng funding. All these will be helpful to shore up budgets that were slashed over the last few years.
  7. The reform of Section 8 passed the House committee with the addition of 150,000 new vouchers. The only Democrat voting in the committee against this proposal was Rep. Driehaus from southern Ohio.
  8. HUD announced $100 million for Native American housing.
  9. HUD also announced a plan to supplement the Low Income Housing Tax program because there are so few taxes to credit businesses. The problem is that with the financial difficulties of major corporations, they are not paying taxes like they had in the past. Therefore they do not really need a tax credit, and so those credits were going unsold in many states. The federal government has stepped in to try to stabilize this program.
  10. The Administration announced that they continue to support the National Housing Trust and want to see funding added to the Trust Fund this year.
  11. A bill was introduced this week (HR 1675) to begin to build new housing for the disabled again.
  12. A group of activists have begun talking to HUD about the timely release of REAC scores. These are the grades for the subsidized housing in the United States. HUD sends contractors out to review every single publicly subsidized housing in the United States, and we have tried to get these scores released on a regular basis. At this time, Congressman Kucinich's office has to request the scores every month in a Freedom of Information request. We pay for the scores and we pay for the housing; why can't we have the scores automatically posted?
  13. The Administration is talking about fair housing. This forgotten issue is intended to push the goal of integrating neighborhoods and protecting the rights of the disabled, minority populations, and gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing. This law was dusted off from years of inactivity, and a $26 million dollar grant was announced by HUD. Also, the Department announced that they would begin discussions on how fair housing laws could be strengthened so that local jurisdictions would work to prevent discrimination instead of waiting for complaints to come in to address the problem.
  14. The Department of Health and Human Services is not concentrating all their time on health care reform. They did some upgrade on their website to include information on the flu pandemic, and the community health initiatives.
All of these items together move the administration to the A territory. They have not seen an A for two months. Overall, a good week.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Disorderly Conduct is the Problem

Gates Learned What Every Homeless Person Knows: Don't Ask a Police Officer for His Name or Badge

"She says now on these streets, Charles
You got to understand the rules
Promise me if an officer stops you'll always be polite
Never ever run away and promise momma you'll keep your hands in sight."
Bruce Springsteen "American Skin/41 Shots"
I believe that there was an element of racism in the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. this last week, but the heart of the issue is that police across America abuse the disorderly conduct statutes. As any homeless person can tell you, disorderly is the catch-all for arrest anytime that a police officer does not want to deal with you. They arrest at political rallies for disorderly conduct. They arrest anyone that questions their authority and charge them with disorderly conduct. They know that this means that the person has to post bond, go to court, and usually hire an attorney. For homeless people it means at least 24 hours in jail or 60 hours if it is Friday.

I read the police report on the Smoking Gun website, and even if we accept everything in there was the gospel truth from this Irish Catholic officer, there is nothing that I read that would provoke an arrest. Gates is under no obligation to leave his own house. He is allowed to ask if the officer was doing this because of Professor Gate's race. The owner of a house has the right to ask for the police officer to show identification (a badge) as a condition for showing their own identification. The officer admitted in the report that he realized that Gates was affiliated with Harvard, and that he was most likely the individual he purported to be. Did the officer feel in danger because of the "Mama" crack? Was Gates arrested because he spoke loudly that drew a crowd? Officer Crowley warned Gates twice to calm down and when Gates did not calm down he was arrested. Gates, who walks with a cane and has gray hair, was no threat to anyone. He was not threatening anyone else, and he was just questioning the officer. He was loud, but he was not provoking a riot nor was he in fact disorderly.

The message is loud and clear: an African American in America has no right to question any police officer (black or white). In my experience, a well dressed white guy can get away with questioning an officer about 25% of the time, but a person living in poverty has no chance to question police/fire/EMS or in fact any government official. There was a good discussion on All Things Considered today with two police officers about disorderly conduct. My advice to avoid jail: get the car number instead--it is much bigger than the badge number. If the police officer does get disorderly, file a report with the police. Typically, a citizen can file a police report at any station to avoid having to face any potential conflict with the antagonist or his or her supervisor. At least in Cleveland, these complaints are handled effectively and they do investigate these complaints. Finally, I advise avoiding any confrontation directly with a police officer, because disorderly conduct can mean anything.

My question is why do the judges allow officers to issue all these harassing arrests? Why can't we reform the abuse of disorderly conduct? How often are police the disorderly party in these confrontations? I hope that this incident in Cambridge sparks some discussion of reforming the disorderly conduct statutes.

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Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grading the Administration 24 and 25

Weekly Grades of the Administration on Poverty: B

For the week of July 6 to July 12, the administration spent a great deal of time on health care reform which gives them an automatic D as their lowest possible grade. For the first week in July right after the holiday the administration accomplished a great deal. There are a few things that they get points off for this week including the release of the flawed report assessing the number of homeless people. We complain about this every year, but that was a previous administration which never really paid attention to domestic issues. The HUD report is based on flawed data with so many caveats that it is basically useless. There was a great deal of discussion about the flu pandemic, but nothing about how low income or poor people would deal with an epidemic.

The good things that happened this week include:
  1. The President gave a jobs speech in his weekly radio address. This is the key to our future, and the administration needs to spend more time on creating jobs.
  2. The Administration released another "recovery in action" blog entry highlighting how the stimulus dollars are being used. Most were transportation or transit programs, but it is good to see these stories laid out.
  3. The Vice President's wife who works as a professor at a Community College, championed higher education and pushed for an expansion of funding for community colleges. She introduced a goal that the United States would have the largest per capita population by 2020 in the world. Right now the U.S. is tenth or eleventh in the industrial world in percentage of citizens obtaining a higher education degree.
  4. Hospitals agreed to give up $155 billion to make the health reform system work.
  5. HUD made available an additional 2,500 family unification housing vouchers for the United States. Yes, this is a drop in the bucket but they get some credit.
  6. The administration has worked to develop a Declassification Center in order to attempt to set a standard for releasing public documents. Again, transparency from government always gets additional points.
  7. Along with the hospital initiative, there was a roundtable by VP Joe Biden and HHS Kathleen Sibelius on the problems with the current health insurance system and the impact on small businesses.
  8. HHS released a small grant request for $40 million to help local communities expand child healthcare programs.
  9. The preservation relief act (HR 2887) was introduced. This bill would use tax credits to try to expand affordable housing options in the United States.
  10. Finally, there was an attempt to reduce the number of new housing vouchers in a bill to reform. The bill would have effectively gutted the effort to expand affordable housing, but lost on a mostly party line vote.
Overall a B for this week.

Weekly Grades of the Administration on Poverty: C

Such a good week last week, but the week of July 13 to July 19 there was a lot of talk, but very little action. There was more on health care so they get up to a D, but not a lot of other items tackled this week. Cabinet Secretary Gary Locke volunteered in a homeless shelter in Arizona. The President focused his weekly radio address on health care urging law makers not to wait anymore. Biden and Sibelius were also out stumping for health care reform on the Sunday talk shows and a forum on reform for senior citizens. There was a new Surgeon General introduced this week who was an inspiration to all women. Alabama's Regina Benjamin has run a rural health clinic for years, and had to rebuild the facility three times due to natural disasters and fire.

The President talked to the kickoff of the 100th anniversary of the NAACP and hit all the right notes. He talked about housing issues, and that there are too many people incarcerated in the U.S. Obama was clear that discrimination had not ended and included discrimination of all minorities including gays and lesbians. The President also went to the hardest hit state in the union, Michigan to talk about the push for more community college funding. He was bold in saying that some of the manufacturing jobs will not be coming back, and urged the citizens of Michigan to look elsewhere. Economic recovery advisory, Lawrence Summer delivered an important speech about the state of the U.S. economy. He said that the worst is behind us and we are on a good path toward recovery. I am not sure if I believe this, but if the administration keeps saying this it may boost confidence.

There were additional maps added to site to make it easier to navigate. From the map it looks like only two companies have benefited from the stimulus dollars in Northeast Ohio. Finally, a new direction was announced in the administration's urban agenda. The domestic policy group met to discuss the urban agenda, and announced that various cabinet secretaries would tour the country looking for innovation and any where that government is slowing innovation. They will start in Philadelphia, Denver and Kansas City. Overall a C for the week.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Meanest Cities List Released
Florida and California top lists

Photo by Cheryl Jones--2008 graduate of the NEOCH Photo Project

The National Coalition for the Homeless (full disclosure--I am Vice President of NCH) and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty published their latest report on how cities in the United States are treating homeless people. I co-chair the Civil Rights committee, and we hear from cities around the United States about new laws cities are trying to pass laws that hide homeless people. The report "Homes Not Handcuffs: The Criminalization of Homelessness in U.S. Cities" was published on Monday July 13. The big news in the report, which was featured on NPR's website and Huffington Post, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle among others, is always the top 10 meanest cities in the United States:

  1. Los Angeles , CA
  2. St. Petersburg . FL
  3. Orlando , FL
  4. Atlanta , GA
  5. Gainesville , FL
  6. Kalamazoo, MI
  7. San Francisco, CA
  8. Honolulu, HI
  9. Bradenton, FL
  10. Berkeley, CA
I always like to see the reaction from City officials. They never focus on the issue of criminalizing homeless people or disputing the number of arrests, but they try the misdirect. Basically, they say, "Don't look over there at our no feeding ordinances, but look how much money we spend on shelters." They never say, "Can you believe that we receive millions of dollars from the federal government, and yet we have the nerve to send the police out to arrest the same people that we are receiving funds to serve?" I especially liked the response from the City of San Francisco, California number 7 on the list as reported in the USA Today:
"It also criticizes Mayor Gavin Newsom's idea last year to install homeless meters to encourage people to give spare change to social services rather than directly to panhandlers. The proposal has stalled after being roundly mocked, so maybe we're only, like, eighth meanest."
Those are the headlines, but there is a ton of information inside the report including a two year look at cities throughout the United States. The report looks at the trend toward donation meters (coming to Cleveland in the next few months). They focus on the costs associated with criminalization, and effective alternatives. This features our work on trying to come to a compromise on the distribution of food downtown in 2007-2008. The main body of the report is the overview of nearly every big city in the United States, and various attempts to control the homeless population through law enforcement in lieu of social services. Here is a piece of the Cleveland report:
"In July of 2007, during the City Council’s summer session the City passed a 10 p.m.
curfew on Public Square, a popular location for homeless people to sleep. The Council
declared Public Square a park and thus was subject to the 10 p.m. curfew for everyone including homeless people. Activists protested, but homeless people just moved to other locations just off of the Square."
Akron's horrible panhandling law was not featured (probably because it passed over two years ago), but they certainly deserve some additional scrutiny for making panhandling a job with identification. The report also features all the cases in the United States that involved homeless people including the Cincy panhandling case, the NEOCH sweeps case, and the new legal efforts to restict access to food on the streets. The most shameful aspect of the report is the huge "Prohibited Conduct Chart," which indicate 7-12% increase in laws prohibiting panhandling, loitering or sitting in public spaces over the last two years. This is a disgrace in the United States to have all of these cities spending time, resources and jail space to make it illegal to be homeless.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Last Week

A Few Notes from Last Week

The Homeless Grapevine has been offline for three months. We finally went to press and will publish a new issue next week. 15 pages packed full of good stuff. I believe that it will be out on Wednesday at the West Side Market and Downtown. It has been a rough couple of months trying to scrape by with no money.

We finally got word why CynDe was not posting at her blog. Her partner, Gary, has been sick and she has been caring for him. Gary is a graduate of the photography program also. Please keep him in your thoughts. They have struggled in this economy like the rest of us.

There was an interesting Office of Homeless Services "Advisory Board" with the county staff presenting a Blueprint for how to use the homeless prevention money. This may seem strange since the applications for the use of those funds were due nearly two months ago, but we hope that all the partners come together in the best interest of the homeless people.

There was a public meeting with staff from Fannie Mae staff to answer questions about their new efforts to stem the tide of foreclosures in the United States. We talked about the new rules regarding foreclosures and especially with regard to renters. This law went into effect in May, and everyone is just learning what it means for homeowners and renters. We still could use a moratorium on foreclosures in the state of Ohio even with the new federal law.

Finally, on Thursday we had a good Homeless Congress meeting with representatives from six area shelters. The group decided to ask every candidate for City Council to support the regulations of the shelters in the next session of City Council. As soon as the letter is sent out and we start getting them back we will release the names of the candidates who support such legislation. The Congress also requested a moratorium on the co-pay fee that MetroHealth is charging until the flu pandemic passes.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Secretary of State Responds to Voting Letter

Sun Setting on Voting "Golden Week"

Photo by Sabrina Otis a graduate of the 2008 Photo competition.

The Secretary of State of Ohio published a draft of her recommendations for reforming Ohio voting laws. There were a series of lawsuits over voting procedure in 2006 and 2008 including an identification lawsuit by NEOCH. The Republican led legislature passed a massive change in the procedures in voting in early 2006 after a controversial presidential election in 2004. This new law has only amplified the problems and disputes with both conservative and liberal groups going to court in 2008.

Secretary of State Brunner had a series of public meetings, and invited participation from all corners of the state. Brunner herself is one of the most knowledgeable scholars on voting in the United States, so she was the perfect person to lead this effort. Everyone realizes that the current voting system in Ohio is flawed and needs reform. The Republican legislature in a lame duck session in late 2008 had proposed reform that would have limited participation in voting by lower income and minority populations. Fortunately, this effort died. An unfortunate thing happened on the way to reform: Brunner threw her hat into the ring for the Ohio U.S. Senate race.

I think most people wish that we could debate all these reforms (health care, voting, energy policy, and taxes) based on what is best for the country, instead of what is best for the politician's election. Most of these decisions are put forward based on the theory "will they hurt or improve my chances for re-election in the next office that I would like to conquer." So, we have these weak reform efforts that have a few short term gains, but they usually only push the problem down the road. Sometimes these reforms are structured so that the full impact (federal bankruptcy) do not occur until the candidates are safely re-elected such as the prescription drug benefit. Senatorial candidate Brunner who is expected to have a tough primary next year sent out her recommendation for voting reform.

There are a few improvements and certainly a large number of needed clarifications, but there are two serious flaws. Our concern, on behalf of homeless people, is that there is a new requirement for identification. Those voting will have to show two forms of identification, and one must be issued by a government. The law is clarified that ID is only to prove who the person is, and not to prove an address. The other negative change for homeless people is the elimination of golden week. The sun is setting on this great quark in the law that allowed homeless people to vote and register or change their address at the same location at the same time. Over 500 very low income people used this week to vote in the 2008 Presidential election in Cleveland. This overlap of the early voting and the deadline for registration helped us to assist over 1,200 homeless people to vote during the last election. There is a report on our website detailing the work of the Coalition on voting during 2008.

In late June, we received a reply to our concerns from the Office of the Secretary of State. Bryan Clark, Policy Coordinator, for Secretary Brunner responded to our letter asking for a second look at these policies. Clark points out that the state legislature supports identification for voting so there is no chance of getting rid of this. Clark claims that a shelter letter and the notification from the Board of Election would satisfy the ID requirement. This is not clear in the draft document on the website, but if this makes it through the legislative process we support this concept. Both these forms of identification would be free and thus would allow homeless people to vote without having to wait for the money to buy a birth certificate from their home state.

Clark on behalf of the Secretary said that the participants at the public meetings supported an end to "Golden Week." With the Republican legislature hating "golden week," and now the Democratic Secretary of State on record supporting a change that would eliminate golden week it looks like the overlap is dead in the water. The problem is that there is a state election in 2010 with Brunner running for Senate and many state offices including Secretary of State up for election. Just because of the campaign and contentious nature of voting reform, I predict that nothing will be done on voting. I cannot see a way that a compromise will be struck between the two sides. There is a canyon between the Rs and the Ds on this issue. Good government and efficient voting procedures will have to wait until 2011.

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Grading the Administration 23

Weekly Grades of the Administration on Poverty: C

It was a holiday week from June 29 to July 5, 2009 plus there were two foreign trips. One by Vice President Biden to Iraq and the President traveled to Russia at the end of the week so attention was focused on international affairs. There were a few things that happened that could have a positive impact on homelessness and poverty. They include:
  1. Again there was more talk about health care reform including a town hall on July 1, 2009. This, as always, gets the grade up to a D as a starting point.
  2. It was announced that the Department of Education is working to simplify the Financial Aid Application for college--a good step to help more people afford higher education.
  3. There was a "Making Home Affordable" tour including a HUD announcement to make the eligibility broader so that more people can take advantage of the program. More borrowers should be able to join the program in order to avoid foreclosure.
  4. This does not have much to do with poverty, but it is helpful. They posted the salaries of everyone working in the White House on the site. So, by the way, Valerie Jarrett and Rahm Emanuel both Special Assistants to the President make $172,200 while those poor souls who have to read the mail as correspondence assistants make only $36,000. I like having this information easily available.
  5. They also posted more stories about how the stimulus dollars are working including a story about Youthbuild in Louisville Kentucky.
  6. There was more discussion in the weekly address about continuing the effort to reform education.
  7. Finally, HUD announced the tax credits awarded to 26 states to address affordable housing needs in the local community. Ohio taxes advantage of the tax credit program, and Cuyahoga County gets a piece of the $1 billion released during the week.
So, for these reasons the administration gets a C for the week during these dog days of summer.
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New Study on Family Homelessness

Picture by Cynthia Miller graduate of the NEOCH Photo Project.

Mandel Releases Study on Family Homelessness

It was a rough week with prevention, CAHA, the Grapevine, and Congress activities right after the holiday. A bunch of things happened this week that you should be aware.

Case Western Reserve University Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences released a report on Family Homelessness in Cuyahoga County, which provides a nice companion to our State of Homeless Report for 2008. Much of the data is not information that we had the ability to collect including the number of families doubled up. Mandel uses the deeply flawed Homeless Management Information data which only counted 1,211 families using the shelters over 3 years. The study also references the complete count mandated by the federal government every year which is absolutely useless information with the appropriate caution. The problem with the HMIS data is that many of our largest shelters only recently began reporting. WCPN did a short story about this report that you can hear at this location.

This report can be used to look at the demographics of families using the shelters, but not for an accurate estimate of that population. The doubled up data is from 2006, so that was not at the height of the foreclosure crisis, but it is a good snapshot. Some good numbers to use for planning purposes include:
  • Average family size is three people.
  • More than three quarters (85%) of the families using the shelters were Black/African American. (Higher than our numbers for other populations).
  • The average length of stay was 51 days with a median of 21 days.
  • 75% of the families had only used the shelter once in the three years.
  • The two most often mentioned reasons for homelessness were unemployment and inability to pay the rent/mortgage.
  • Almost half of the families stayed less than one month, and 80% stayed less than 3 months.
  • 15% of the poor children in Cuyahoga County were doubled up.
  • 56% live in an apartment doubled up while the other 44% live in a house.
  • More than 75% lived doubled up in the City of Cleveland.
Some of the suspect data include the number of male headed households, which is based on the rules of the shelters locally not the need. There was really only one facility that reports numbers that even allows a male headed household to stay in the shelter. Since there are no shelters outside Cleveland it is difficult to measure the homeless problem in the suburbs especially East Cleveland. There were less than 15% of the population reporting being a victim of domestic violence, but that has to do with our local definition of a victim. Those who flee a home and try to avoid shelter for a year staying with family and friends would not be listed as a victim of domestic violence when they eventually showed up at the shelter.

The white paper looks at some other cities which for the most part are good models except in Columbus Ohio. I do not understand why Columbus is used as a good model since they do not have a plan for how to serve families, and the problem is growing in Ohio's capital. The reports references the bogus 40% drop in homelessness in Columbus, which was actually a clever trick to redefine homelessness and not actually house homeless families. They do a good job marketing themselves, but in my opinion they are far behind in providing help to homeless people. The white paper also references suspect researchers like Dennis Culhane who forced HUD to focus time and money on long term single adults to the detriment of families who found themselves homeless. I would put his work in the same genre as Malcolm Gladwell as science for the masses or science that sounds good, but does not work in practice. Every time I see Culhane cited as a reference it casts doubt on that section of the document. My last criticism is that the document almost exclusively references the National Alliance to End Homelessness, which is only one national perspective. There are many other groups in DC who have a much different impression of the problems associated with homelessness and the researchers never look at that information. For example, the constant arrests made in some cities only prolong homelessness for many people including the heads of households. The rules that shelters have adopted often break down families, but those problems and others are not mentioned.

Back to the good parts of the report which include the relationship with foreclosures. There was good information about what happens to people who leave shelter. The transitional shelters do not come out looking very good in this report. More than half leave only because they have completed the program with 23% leaving because they violated program rules. So, this means that very few were leaving to go into independent housing. This is the reason that HUD and local leaders are moving away from transitional shelters. I like that they make recommendations at the end of the document except that I do not agree with all of them. Their first recommendation is to open up the counting system. The problem is that the shelters have wide disparities in respecting people's privacy. We cannot track down where data is leaking if the system is opened, and who do we hold responsible if personal data is released? I agree with the other recommendations especially looking at the costs of homelessness (Don't use Culhane as an example!!!). The conclusions and some of the other suggestions are very helpful, and I hope that community leaders actually read them. Keeping Families Housed and ending homelessness is the most important conclusion in the document and are critical points that we all need to keep our eye on this big picture every day.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Open Letter to Ohio Leadership

Dear Governor Strickland, Senator Harris, Representative Buddish:

The new Ohio Department of Mental Health funding allocation formula will severely diminish the ability for the Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADAMHS) Board of Cuyahoga County to provide important care to those in need. The County stands to lose $13 million in funding through the new allocation plan, reducing funds received from $42 million to $29 million. Cuyahoga County serves the most people with mental illnesses and emotional disorders of any county in the state. This reduction in funding means:

  • Nearly 11,000 of the 36,000 people we help to serve will be without appropriate care.
  • Suicide prevention and other mental health crisis services will not be available to all of Cuyahoga County residents on a 24-hour basis.
  • 240 of 800 consumers could lose their supportive housing.
  • Bed days have a potential of soaring from 85 to 115, which represents an additional $5.7 million burden on the local system for inpatient care.
  • Over 1,500 of the nearly 4,500 jobs in the behavioral health field will be lost, creating a severe shortage of services.
This new allocation formula will have a detrimental effect on a large portion of the homeless population of Cuyahoga County. Approximately 30% of the homeless population in the county have some mental disorder. Mental Health Services, Bridgeways, and others provides important services to the homeless by providing them with safe havens where their special needs can be taken care of and where they can learn daily living skills. MHS also provide outreach and support services that are vital to the well being of the homeless living with mental disabilities.

This reduction in funding would be catastrophic to this vulnerable population. The homeless services network in Cuyahoga County will be greatly strained and it will for the local community to fill the hole left by state funding. Either the services will have to be cut and the mentally ill homeless population will have to fend for themselves, or other organizations will have to cut equally important services to help soften the blow. We hope you will reconsider instituting the new funding allocation formula and protect this population that can not afford to loose the services currently being provided.

We know that it is politically unpopular to talk about tax increases in this state, but leaders step forward and take risks. Targeted tax increases that correct some of the fundamental imbalances within our tax structure are needed. The average Ohioan is not overburdened by state income taxes, but they are concerned about property and local taxes. The current state budget will only push the problems of supporting the mentally ill, elderly and health care onto the local community. The decision that each of you make this week are to either fulfill your constitutionally mandated obligation to balance the budget in a just and equitable manner or punt the problems down the line. It is irresponsible and fundamentally dishonest to cut these essential programs and force Cuyahoga County and leaders within the City of Cleveland to find the funds to make up the difference.

Brian Davis
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Friday, July 03, 2009

Tent City Back in the News

Sacramento Herding Homeless People

NPR revisited the story of the tent city in Sacramento yesterday. Here is good quote from the story:
"When we moved out, we moved over to a private area two fields over. They wanted us off of there too. Just like shuttling cattle, that's all it is," said Grice, a carpenter by trade, who wears a T-shirt that reads, "Where am I supposed to live?" "We're supposed to be the eyesore, but actually we're citizens and we're human beings. We're supposed to have rights like everybody else; it don't matter what we have in our pockets."
We warned the governator back in March of the problems associated with dismantling a tent city, but no one listened. Now, they were kicked out of their temporary location, and are rallying for a new campground. The Bee covered the story here, and their focus was that no one has any idea what to do. It seems that the Mayor, some service providers, and the police favor a legal campground, but neighbors and the City Manager do not like the idea. There is no one strategy that is going to work for all 250-400 people, but having a "Safe ground" in one location where help can be offered is attractive. My vote is to use the state capital as the safe ground. Since there is not much legislation or leadership coming out of that massive building, they could at least provide some useful service to the people of California.

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40 Years After Stonewall

Being Gay and Homeless

We should not let the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising pass without a mention of the difficulty of being gay and homeless in America. It is especially rough losing a place to live and a place to maintain some level of privacy. In Cleveland, no matter if you are hetero or homosexual, there is no place for sex in the shelters. Most taxpayers would say, "Good, that is the way it should be," but as shelter stays get longer and longer this reality is difficult to defend. We have no shelters for couples and the entry shelters require a married family to often split up. Even the transitional shelters are same sex only facilities in most cases. Imagine going into a facility in which you are expected to stay for one or two years away from your significant other. Shelter residents do get weekend passes, but if both adults are homeless they have very few options.

Most of the shelters for men in Cleveland host heavily African American populations who are not always the most tolerant group. NPR cited surveys on Wednesday which show that African Americans are the most conservative on gay rights. While progress has been made, there is still a high level of intolerance in the shelters for homeless gay men. More surprisingly to me is the hostility toward lesbians in the shelters especially by staff. The fastest way out of a shelter for women is to show some affection for another woman. I don't know if it is because there are usually children in the shelters for women or lesbians are not as prevalent and so are not tolerated. In a few cities, there are shelters that serve gays and lesbians, but not Cleveland.

Transexuals are part of the shelter population--mostly men who appear as women and want to be treated as a women. In the past, we were able to provide hotel vouchers to avoid any potential hate crimes. Plus, the shelter operators were religious-based institutions that were not the most tolerant of gays or lesbians let alone transexuals or the transgendered. We no longer have the funds for the vouchers and the main shelters are more secular than before. But transexuals who appear outwardly as women are excluded from the shelters for women. I knew a guy who lived in the shelter as a woman for 3 months, but was eventually caught and banned from the facility. She never hurt anyone or caused any harm, but was kicked out because she had the option of two different ways to relieve herself, I guess. The state or federal government gives us very little guidance in the local community for how to serve the transgendered. At this point, there is a small community within the men's entry shelter of transexuals. They seem to look out for eachother, and I have not heard of many problems except that they are stuck without many options for movement to somewhere more stable.

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