Monday, November 23, 2009

The Death of Cleveland Transit Authority?

2010 Proposed Cuts Will Result in Death of RTA

When I read the Plain Dealer story on the proposed cuts to the Regional Transit Authority, I had the same reaction as Rob Pitingolo who posted on Brewed Fresh Daily. If these go forward, this will be the death of the Transit Authority. It is already difficult to get around using RTA and the bus pass cost is out of control. It is the single biggest complaint of homeless people that there is no way to get to work or doctor appointments while living in a shelter, because of the expense of riding RTA. We already endured huge increases in the fares and the elimination of the Circulators as well as a reductions last year. The announced 2010 cuts are extreme and in my opinion the agency will not recover from these cuts. I think that they have cut the transit program to the bone and any additional cuts will make it impossible for people to rely on the transit authority to get to work. We will view the RTA as a way to get to the airport or a special event, but not a reliable partner to get to work everyday. I can't take a bus to a rapid stop and then transfer to the rapid and then take the healthline to work. It will double the bus ride to work, and I am not willing to give an extra hour and a half a day for work. This is a horrible decision. If they want to save RTA, they need to keep or reduce the daily fare, keep the routes the same, and FIND A DIFFERENT REVENUE SOURCE!!! They need to demand additional state dollars or additional hotel/ motel tax or a new hospitality tax on restaurants to maintain existing service. Please don't kill the RTA.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

New Homeless Czar for Federal Government

Ohioan Named Director of InterAgency Council on Homelessness

The office of InterAgency Council on Homelessness within the federal government has not produced much except some press releases and newsletters about how great the US government has done in solving homelessness. This in the face of ever increases in homelessness in the United States. The world's last superpower that can put a man on the moon, build a movable staircase and a way to turn the desert Southwest into a giant suburb with the invention of air conditioning but we cannot find housing for everyone living in America. Very few in the public have heard of this office, and any drive in the downtown of any city in America would lead to the conclusion that this office has failed miserably. It is supposed to get all the cabinet members together to work across bureaucracies to reduce homelessness. All the usual department heads are represented (HUD, HHS, VA, and Education), but also at the table is the head of social security, the department of labor, homeland security, transpiration, and energy. All these powerful people or their representatives at the table and all we have to show for it is a good newsletter?

Barbara Poppe from Columbus and the Community Shelter Board was just appointed Executive Director. I have a long relationship with Columbus as most of my family live in the capital city. I have known Barbara for years as the wife of the State Housing and Homeless director, Bill Faith, and as a competent leader of the Community Shelter Board. She kept down controversies in Columbus, and had an iron hand on the homeless social services that operate in Central Ohio. Poppe was the person politicians and the media turned to when they had problems with homeless people, and in exchange she controlled all the resources. She put in a plan to reduce homelessness among men, but never got around to address the issue of people with a sexually based offense who cannot find housing. She did a good job of putting Columbus on the map with regard to fighting to reduce homelessness, and she traveled the country teaching others. Poppe was the first in Ohio to recognize the need for supportive housing for long term single homeless people, and had to admit last year that family homelessness saw a steep rise in Columbus. Poppe had the confidence of the leadership of Columbus, but rarely interacted with people experiencing homelessness.

I have some experience with national homeless policies and with Ms. Poppe. I am in the perfect position to give Ms. Poppe some advice in her new role as the Director of the InterAgency Council on Homelessness. I met with her predecessor on four different occasions and walked out on two meetings with Mr. Mangano. I know what the spin that the Interagency Council has delivered over the last few years and the fact that there was just publicity coming out of the Interagency Council.

Dear Barb:
Congratulations on your appointment to the Interagency Council. We are honored that the administration recognized someone from Ohio as having made progress on homelessness. Since I have known you for years, I feel that I can pass along a few suggestions for your new job. Take them or leave them. As a 15 year observer on national policy I do have some expertise on the inter-workings of government. I met with Phil Mangano a number of times until I got tired of his same old song and dance routine. By 2006, we began arguing for a change in leadership at the IAC, and local activists pledged that they would protest any gathering that featured Mr. Mangano in Cleveland. Our objections were that he was not critical of all the cuts that hurt homeless people in housing subsidies and never said anything about the horrible federal response to Katrina. We felt that as the Homeless Czar he needed to raise concerns over federal policies that harmed those without housing.

My suggestions for the new office are:
  1. Don't follow your predecessor's example. Don't fly around the country championing how great the federal government is doing when our problems are mounting in each of our communities. You do not have to the public relations arm of the administration.
  2. We need you in DC pushing for change. We need help from the administration and the cabinet to make it easier for homeless people to find stability. We need each of these departments on the council to put forward objectives to reduce homelessness. An example is reducing the time it takes to approve disability assistance or increase enforcement of the exploitation of low income workers especially by temporary labor companies.
  3. Please don't pit one population against another. Veterans vs. families or disabled vs. long term homeless or single adults vs. young people was the hallmark of the previous administration. It is going to take a much larger pie to solve these problems, and not just slicing the existing pie into smaller and smaller pieces for all these worthy sub-populations.
  4. Please don't tell us to go use the mainstream programs. That is like telling us to go find the gold at the end of the rainbow. We all know that the mainstream programs (public housing, cash assistance, disability, etc.) are not accessible or have years long wait for help. It is an insult to keep bringing this up when there is nothing there, and we have all tried to find help with mainstream programs.
  5. We need the other departments to start thinking of ways to serve homeless people. Why can't the Department of Health and Human Services take more of a role in solving homelessness? HUD is the leading funder of the shelters and services, but why can't some of the other departments help support the shelters? Why can't HHS set up a pool of funds to provide supportive services such as health care, voice mail, transportation, and mental health services at the shelters? Or why can't the Department of Labor provide employment training at the shelters?
  6. We need real outcomes that lead to real reductions in homelessness. You did a very good job in Columbus requiring the shelters to prove their worth. We need something similar at the national level for all federal funding.
  7. Don't forget about Civil Rights. Employment, housing, and health care are all important to ending homelessness, but civil rights issues are just as important. You never really addressed this in Columbus, but there were not huge threats in Columbus. In some cities this is the single biggest problem facing homeless people. If a person is regularly arrested because they cannot fit into the shelter, it will take them years to get off the streets. We all pay a huge bill for their incarceration, medical bills, and mental health services because we cannot help these troubled individuals off the streets. It is hypocritical for American cities to take money for shelters then turn around and make it illegal to be homeless or sleep outside or beg for money. This is an issue, Barb, that we need you to address.
  8. We need you to ease the regulatory burden on the shelters and services. Please help us cut through the red tape in order to do good. Push for unified reporting forms for both public and private sector funding. We need you to help with oppressive regulatory guidelines and impossibles obstacles put in place to help people.
  9. With the political will we can end homelessness. Not in five years or ten years or if something else happens, but we can end homelessness today if we wanted to. There is enough housing in this country. There are enough resources, but we are just not using those resources to put people into housing. We need you to convince Congress and the White House to fix health care, improve access to jobs and make housing a human right.
Brian Davis

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Ohio Serial Killer

Photo by Cheryl Harris of the NEOCH Photo Project

Are We Casting Aside Some Women in Our Cities?

As you most likely have read, Cleveland had a serial killer living in the Mt Pleasant neighborhood. I know the victims, and I see them almost everyday. At this point, only one woman has in fact been identified, but we know that they were all African American women. But I can close my eyes and see these women in our shelters in Cleveland. They sometimes have an addiction or a mental health problem or chronic health condition and they always have unstable housing. They "hook up" for short periods of time with men to have a place to stay. They self medicate and struggle to find ways to feed their addiction or find help for their health issues. They see five years of waiting for housing, and so they try to find someone who help. They have a tenuous job and no career. These women have strained relationships with family or no family in the area, and they are looking for a lifeline. The short cut is to stay with a man and put up with physical or mental abuse or exchange sex for a warm bed or tolerate countless other forms of mistreatment. This is a sometimes a matter of survival, but it is also dangerous for these women.

Did authorities do enough when these transient women go missing? I am not blaming the police, because they have most likely been burnt thousands of times looking for women who were not in fact missing. They have probably wasted thousands of police hours chasing people who do not want to be found because they are fleeing the bill collector or they are just having a hard time finding a place to live. But these grieving families over on Imperial Avenue are angry and confused. They know that if there were two white women missing from the same neighborhood in Westlake there would be a task force and the FBI, National Guard and John Walsh would be here kicking in doors in that neighborhood. We all know that the media would be camping at Police headquarters every night if 10 or 11 white women were missing from Mayfield Hts. The serial killer knew this also and was able to stay under the radar for the last few years by preying on transient African American women. Are their segments of our community that are just forgotten?

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Homeless Denied Identification

The Identification Crisis Collaborative
*West Side Catholic Center * St. Colman’s Outreach Ministry * Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries- 2100 Lakeside Shelter for Men * NEOCH * Community Women’s Shelter – Mental Health Services * Care Alliance * St. Malachi Center * Project SAVE * The Church
* Catholic Charities – Bishop Cosgrove Center and Emergency Services at St. Augustine

Fiscal Agent: West Side Catholic Center, 3135 Lorain Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44113,

November 3, 2009

With No Proof of Residency Homeless Are Not Eligible for Jobs or Housing

As of October 8, 2009, people who are homeless and not living in shelters, are no longer eligible for state photo ID’s or drivers licenses because they have no proof of residency. Because state photo IDs are required for services including employment, housing and health care, these people cannot meet their basic human needs. This new mandate by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles prevents people who are living in their cars, abandoned property, on the streets, or any place where they cannot prove residency, from any chance of improving their lives.

The members of the Identification Crisis Collaborative are agencies that assist homeless and low income people to obtain their birth certificates and state photo IDs. They include homeless shelters, drop-in centers, churches, mental health services, and other agencies working with this population.

The process of acquiring a state photo ID is already fraught with Catch-22s. A birth certificate is required to get an ID, but in many states, you must send a copy of a state photo ID to get a birth certificate. People born in Cleveland can get their birth certificates at Cleveland City Hall, but a state photo ID is required to enter.

Now, all applicants for state photo IDs and drivers licenses must bring proof of residency – lease agreements, utility bills, etc., with them to the BMV, or leave and return with the documents. These regulations apply to everyone, but are particularly difficult barriers for the elderly, disabled, homeless and low income citizens.

Jim Schlecht, Outreach Worker for Care Alliance, which provides health care and help for people who are homeless, stated, “This new rule is keeping people homeless and a continuing burden on the community. It doesn’t make sense.” He is currently trying to assist someone who stays around E. 9th and Superior. This person, who is homeless and has no residence, has been sober for almost a year and wants to get off the streets. He has the opportunity to get a HUD subsidized apartment, but he cannot prove he has a current residence so that he can get a state photo ID. Because HUD requires a state photo ID, he is being denied the apartment.

Brian Davis, Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, stated, “The fundamental expression of American democracy is voting, and Ohio requires identification for those who want to vote in person on election day. These new rules will make homeless people into second class citizens on election day, unable to vote in person.”

Gerald Skoch, Executive Director of the West Side Catholic Center which operates a drop-in center for people who are homeless, stated, “The residency requirement is yet another burden placed upon the indigent and homeless striving for self sufficiency. The unintended consequences of this type of regulation are significant and usually overlooked. In our efforts to achieve greater safety and security we trample on the hopes of the marginalized.”

Eileen Kelly, Outreach Minister from St. Colman Church, stated, “Even if the homeless can’t prove their existence to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, we know that the men and women who are most affected by these new unreasonable requirements do exist. We meet them every single day at our doors and struggle with them to break down the barriers to work, to decent housing, to basic human services. By building these new barriers to obtaining official ID, it seems to us that the Ohio BMV is now in the business of preventing some of our most vulnerable neighbors from providing for themselves, from working, from living in decent housing, from voting.”

Francis Afram-Guyaning, Executive Director of CARE Alliance
Brian Davis, Executive Director of Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless
Gail Doucette, Director of Catholic Charities Emergency Assistance
Carol Fredrich, Executive Director of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry – 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter
Eileen Kelly, Director of St. Colman Church Outreach Ministry
Susan Neth, Executive Director of Mental Health Services – Community Women’s Shelter
Gerald Skoch, Executive Director of West Side Catholic Center

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