Friday, November 26, 2010

Prospects Over the Next Two Years

Elections Have Consequences

There are big changes underway within homeless services and these changes will have huge consequences on the struggle to move away from the "poorest city in the nation" designation. This has nothing to do Republican vs. Democrats. This has more to do with the number of people elected to office who do not like government. There is now a clear majority in state government and within the legislative branch of the federal government in Washington who see government as a huge problem and cannot see government solving problems. Here are a few broad concepts about what homeless people can expect as a result of the elections. We will have a detailed document about what the community can expect with specific project outlooks available to our members, because just as there are consequences for elections there are specific rewards for being a member of the Coalition.

Federal Government:
There is a strong push to return to the 2008 federal funding levels. This will have the most significant impact on the Housing and Urban Development funding, which supports many of the shelters and housing programs in the community. The big issue is what will happen with all the programs developed out of the 2009 stimulus bill that was passed. The original thought was that the prevention programs and rapid rehousing programs would receive additional funding after the 30 months of stimulus funding was exhausted. It was thought that the federal government would add funding to the Emergency Solutions Grant, and would be able to support the existing emergency shelters as well as at least a piece of the programs that prevent families from entering the shelters or the quick movement back to housing. After the election, it is very likely that there will not be enough funds to support both the emergency shelters and the prevention programs, and therefore the local community will have to make big decisions.

State Government:
At the state level there will be huge changes. These would include the privatization of various departments within state government, and even more competition for state dollars. There will be more of a focus on rewarding better outcomes, and probably an overhaul of the state emergency shelter program. It is likely that the state will fund new priorities of the new administration. Ted Strickland had worked as a counselor in a prison before his political career, and there were a number of re-entry programs started over the last few years. It is unlikely that the new Governor will have this same affinity for trying to ease people back into the community. It is unlikely that there will be a state housing trust fund, and this will put additional pressure on the state housing tax credit program. It will be interesting to see what happens with welfare benefits and the job training program, because there is a state matching requirement in order to receive the federal dollars. Both programs will probably mean a greater emphasis on serving those who are most likely to succeed and those people with multiple problems or barriers to stability will be left behind.

The mental health and alcohol drug addiction services will probably be cut again in this budget cycle. It is unlikely that every county will get funding due to forced mergers and cuts. Those who hate government will want to see better outcomes, and might force competition among the big agencies receiving government funding to assist those struggling with addiction or mental illnesses. They might also reward those programs that can show private sector investment to match state funding. Big government opponents often believe that Alcohol services can be done more effectively by religiously based organizations similar to Alcoholics Anonymous. This could lead to the total elimination of publicly funded treatment programs in Ohio. We may hear the same words we heard echoing through the 1990s in the State House with regard to a number of state funded programs, "We provide so few dollars of general assistance to individuals in Ohio that it was not worth it and tax payers might as well cut the program all together." I could see this same logic used on the alcohol and drug addiction programs. This was not the opinion of the single adults who were barely hanging on with $100 in cash that went to parent to allow them to stay in an unused bedroom or to buy hygiene items or clothing in order to find employment. But this bizarre logic is often used down in Columbus to put a positive spin on budget cuts. It is almost like they are saying, "Government has done such a horrible job in addressing the problems facing our society because we have for 20 years starved government for funds that now we might as well eliminate government funding and let the private sector solve the problems."

Cuyahoga County
All these changes at the state and federal level will mean that some tough decisions will have to be made at the local level. We will have to decide on the priorities for scarce resources. In 2010, all the county funded human services programs had to take a 6% cut or more. It is likely that the state funding to cities and counties will be cut or even eliminated, which will blow a huge hole in the County budget. We will have to decide on funding for shelters, transitional shelters or supportive services. We will have to decide if outreach services are more important than eviction prevention. County government will have to figure out how to fund food programs in the suburbs or domestic violence beds within the City. All of the homeless services will have to prove their value to the community in competition with health care, foster care, job training, or child support enforcement programs. How will we be able to operate a 24 hour a day helpline at the same time as we fund a case worker at all the new permanent supportive housing programs. At the local level, there are a few powerful agencies that dominate the current homeless landscape who will probably have to take a haircut in their budgets, and there will be smaller programs without the political influence who will not survive past 2012.

All of these "haircuts" mean cuts to staff, a decrease in financial oversight, a reduction in bus passes available, and fewer housing opportunities available to low income people. We will talk about the impact on homeless people with these changes and the potential struggles faced as a result of the election of anti-government forces to lead critical parts of the government in upcoming posts.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Collecting Your Shelter Stories

Have You Had Experience with Cleveland Shelters?

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Congress are collecting the stories from people who have previously lived in a shelter in Cleveland. We want to hear both the good and the bad experiences. We want to hear from you about your discharges from the shelter or the first day that you showed up at the shelter. We want to hear about staff treatment, and the things that surprised you while staying in a shelter. We would like to know if the shelter met your expectations, and if you felt safe. We want to know that your tax dollars were being used to effectively serve the population.

NEOCH and the homeless people who attend the Homeless Congress have been trying to convince City Hall that there is a need for oversight of the shelters. The Homeless Congress members decided to start collecting stories to present to local elected officials. We have made this easy on our website. Sprinkled throughout the site is the above logo. You can click on the logo and complete the form to easily send information to the Coalition about your experiences with shelter. We will keep your identity private, but we may follow up with you to verify the information. Please send this information onto others that you know who spent time in the shelters. We want to present an accurate picture of the shelters in Cleveland.

Brian Davis
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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Hunger and Homelessness on the Rise in Ohio

The National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week Highlights Recent Increase in Demand for Services

PRESS RELEASE: The National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week (Nov. 14-21) highlights the challenges faced by millions of Americans who lack access to basic necessities. The campaign, coordinated by The National Coalition for the Homeless, occurs each year the week before Thanksgiving, and also showcases effective programs in Ohio, such as Cuyahoga County’s Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH).

“Northeast Ohio never recovered from the 2001 downturn, and we are struggling every day find space in church basements to provide a warm space to everyone looking for shelter,” said Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director Brian Davis.

Focusing attention on hunger and homelessness issues is especially important in Ohio as legislators begin conversations on how to balance a gaping hole in the state budget that’s estimated at $8 billion. The USDA’s recent report on household food security indicated that more than one in seven Ohioans faced a daily risk of hunger. Ohio ranks 9th highest of all states on the measure of food insecurity.

Homelessness is considered a lagging indicator of a troubled economy, meaning that people exhaust all other options before accessing shelters for help, says Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO). “Across the state, the numbers tell the story of increasing hardship among those who’ve lost their jobs, are in foreclosure, or have unexpected medical bills,” says Faith.

In Franklin County, the Community Shelter Board will spend 3000 percent more this year than last on overflow costs for family shelters. In the Miami Valley, the two primary family and single adult shelters saw a 35 percent and 27 percent respective increase in occupancy in the first two months of November 2010, compared to the same period last year. And in Cuyahoga County in September alone, 275 men who had no previous experience with homelessness, entered the county’s largest shelter.

The Hunger and Homelessness Awareness week coincides with the launch of the 20th anniversary of the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, a flexible funding source that responds to growing homeless numbers as well as to the critical housing needs of Ohio’s military veterans, senior citizens, people with disabilities and working families.

“The priority of the OHTF has always been to direct dedicated funds to those most in need,” noted Faith. “This is a unique funding source that becomes even more important when social service safety net programs are cut to the bone.”

The OHTF began in 1990 when voters approved a constitutional amendment making housing a public purpose. Following years of advocacy from COHHIO and member groups, the Ohio legislature approved in 2004-2005 an increase in the recordation fees to create a permanent dedicated funding stream for the Ohio Housing Trust Fund.

Since then the OHTF has distributed more than $369 million to a diverse universe of projects, including adult and youth shelters, affordable housing development projects, home repair, rehab and energy savings projects, Habitat for Humanity of Ohio, funds to enable home ownership, support services to help those in need stay in their homes, and service coordination for seniors, among other projects. “These funds have been the safety net needed for more than a million people in every county in our state, with half or more going to projects in rural counties,” said Faith.

COHHIO/NEOCH Press Release issued November 16
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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hand Up Gala a Success

182 Guests Served At the 2010 Hand Up Gala

The Gala took place on Tuesday November 9 at the Cosgrove Center. We have posted two pages of pictures on our website for the public to see the event. There is still an opportunity to donate by clicking on the "donate now" button on this blog or on the website in order to participate in the auction. The drawing to distribute the auction will be Monday November 15, 2010. There are also a few pictures on the front page of the Hand Up Gala page.

There was a fantastic committee that organized the event. We have to thank Nicole, Luke, Larry, Don, Cathey, Dominica, Dorothy, and Michelle for their service over the last three months. We have to thank the Brush High School Sound Station Show Choir and Brush Chorale. A big thanks to Chef John Alderwereld and Chef Mark Lyons from the Sans Souci Restaurant in Cleveland for preparing this awesome meal. Vicky Knight and Anytime performed and thanks to the NEOCH Board and Catholic Charities' Board for volunteering to serve the meal and seat the guests. This was a substitute for our regular annual event fundraiser and silent auction. Instead of asking for money this year we prepared a four star meal for homeless people and asked our donors to support the two organizations and this event. We only spent 19% of the money raised to advertise and host the meal (administration). There were nearly one hundred businesses that donated food and auction items to make this event a success.

Remember, there is still time to donate for this event and check out the pictures.

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

Congrats to New County Council

Four Winning Candidates Support Regulating the Shelters

Congratulations to all the winning candidates for Cuyahoga County Council, and especially the four candidates who said that they would support some form of Shelter Standards. These men and women have an amazing job ahead of them. They have to restore confidence in government while creating a new form of government. The shelter standards are critical for this community to finally have protections against capricious evictions from shelters. This is also important for the community so we never ever place homeless people into a shelter with only one shower for 100 people. Here are the four that claimed that they would support some local standards.

District 2 Council Member
Dale Miller

District 4 Council Member
Chuck Germana

District 7 Council Member
Yvonne Conwell

District 9 Council Member
C. Ellen Connally

The Homeless Congress and NEOCH will continue to press all the new County Council to pass these regulations.

Brian Davis
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Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Hand Up Gala Next Week

Annual Event in which Homeless Get to Enjoy the Fine Meal

PRESS RELEASE: Nearly every non-profit in the community has a special event in which their members dress up, go to a fine dining restaurant, listen to speeches, and participate in a silent auction. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless has hosted a benefit similar to this for the last six years. We also invite a number of beneficiaries of our program to attend, and we usually have a speaker from our Street Voices project talk to the members and thank them for helping the organization serve the public. This year we decided to turn things on their head. We partnered with Catholic Charities to send out the invitations to our members and supporters, but we are preparing the meal for the homeless and hungry of Northeast Ohio instead of our patrons.

The Bishop Cosgrove Center (a program of Catholic Charities) and NEOCH have partnered on the first ever Hand Up Gala on November 9, 2010 to provide an amazing meal to homeless people prepared by Chef John Aldewereld of San Souci Restaurant at the Renaissance Hotel. This special meal will benefit both charities as they prepare for another difficult Cleveland winter. "We are asking the public to support the Coalition and the Bishop Cosgrove Center so that we can do our valuable work throughout the year. Your help will allow homeless people to enjoy this fantastic meal that would normally be served as part of our annual event," said NEOCH executive director Brian Davis. "Put away your evening gowns and you will not need that strategy guide on when is the best time to bid on a silent auction item. This year, we need your support to provide a memorable meal to people hurt by the loss of a job or the foreclosure of their home," Davis said.

Tickets are $40, and can be purchased at the NEOCH website at Everyone who buys a ticket will be entered into a drawing to win some fantastic gifts provided by area business partners. Some of the auction items include theatre tickets, hotel stays, restaurant gift certificates, tickets for a Lolly the Trolly Tour, Cleveland Browns signed football, and the Midwest League Champion Lake Erie Captains, along with many other items. All proceeds support the costs associated with running the two organizations.

Executive Sous Chef John Aldewereld has a four star meal planned, and we will create a wonderful ambiance for this once-in-a-lifetime meal featuring table cloths, china, and floral centerpieces. There will be a jazz ensemble, and we hope to have local celebrities serve and act as hosts for the event. We will serve 225 low income, homeless, and hungry individuals.
This event is supported by sponsors including Keybank, Avalon Foods, Berghaus Flowers, and Morgan Linen.

For those who are not aware, the Cosgrove is a wonderful institution in Cuyahoga County. Here is more information about their services:
Catholic Charities supports a comprehensive continuum of care to fragile populations throughout Northeast Ohio, including at the Bishop Cosgrove Center. They offer a breakfast and lunch to hundreds of hungry people everyday and offer supportive services to those who have struggled to find a hand up out of poverty. The Bishop Cosgrove Center also serves the neighborhood with a pantry program, and they have a 20 year history of providing comprehensive care to those struggling with poverty.

Written by NEOCH Staff
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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Homelessness in the County Election

Very Little Discussion of Homelessness

As a non-profit organization, we do not get involved in electoral politics, but with the lack of much discussion on homelessness in the County Executive election we really did not have much of a chance to get involved. There was one question asked about homelessness in the debates between County executive candidates from September. This was a horrible question that linked homeless people to a lack of security. Now, I love WCPN and recognize it as the best news radio station in Ohio, but Eric's question was offensive. I like Mr. Wellman normally, and I know that he was getting the questions from the audience but this question should have been discarded. If someone from the audience had asked a racist question or a sexist question, it would not have been used.

But here is the only question that we could find about homelessness during the County election debate. Most of the candidates pointed out the false comparison between safety and people who were downtown and experiencing homelessness. Also, these are people and so they do not like being referred to as "the homeless." They are not homogeneous and share very little common characteristics except their housing status.

Cuyahoga County Executive Debate
September 28, 2010 on the CSU campus
Candidates for County Executive
hosted by Eric Wellman of WCPN

Candidates: Matt Dolan, David Ellison, Ed Fitzgerald, Ken Lanci, Tim McCormack, Don Scipione.

Eric Wellman Asks Question: Stay in Downtown Cleveland [and] Making the streets safer; making the streets of downtown Cleveland pedestrian friendly and safer connects directly to stimulating downtown business safety is a necessity to add it to encourage foot traffic and family friendly activity downtown. The needs of the homeless population in downtown Cleveland need to be addressed to make steps for this goal. As County leaders, how will the Council apply a formal statement of engagement with the homeless population in downtown Cleveland?

Tim McCormack: Is this about safe streets or the homeless?

Eric: I think it's about both. The question pertains to the homeless.

Tim McCormack: When I was present of the county Commissioners, we had two homeless shelters, one for women and children that was horrific. I walked in and inspected one late night and ordered that we get those people out, and within months we built a new shelter for women and children as well as many mental health persons within that population. 2100 Lakeside was built in about three months. 1,000 plus men are there every night [Editor's Note: Lakeside can only serve 400 people with a maximum of 550 with overflow--not 1,000 people]. Many of who are veterans, now all of you think some times the worst were pathetic in many as in where there lives have gone. So I was very active in building that must important to close off. Service wrap around drum addition, mental health and housing services are all their now on site in order to move them to viability.

Don Scipione: I don't see the relationship between homelessness and safety. First of all, I agree with Tim's clarification of the question. There are two separate issues. Now, are talking about the homeless situation. This is what County government does it part of there responsibility deal with people who can not help themselves, we get to create a more variant society that will lend it self to more people working at job and prosperity that's a long term solution, but let's not get confused. San Francisco... has anyone ever been to San Francisco and seen a homeless person? They are all over the place that's not stopping tourist coming to the city.

Matt Dolan: Here is an example of the co-operation level we talked about; we can be involved in public safety. We are the administrative arms of law enforcement and the city has a jail and the county has a jail that is an example. You work with the city and let the administrative arms of the county run the jails that allows the city to be what they are responsible for public safety and law enforcement. More people, more officers on the street so that the people feel save to come downtown to work downtown and create the thriving atmosphere that I talked about in my opening. The County has to change, as Tim McCormack says, its delivery of services wrapped around those who run...administrate and operate 2100 Lakeside; continue those relationships with the non-profit sector so that we are administrating those county services as effectively as we can to get people back to work and in good health.

David Ellison: The homeless are not necessarily criminals and they don't... I have a problem with the question just like the others do. The County, the majority of County, its work is to provide health and human services and its primary obligation until this new charter was passed. The reality is that it's not working very well right now and in the time of greater economic stress, it's going to work even more poorly. We have to find a way to engage the people who don't have homes that are homeless and at the same time address the problems of criminal behavior and punishment and that kind of thing. If people don't have options and opportunities except to commit crime or to be out on the street, our system is working and we should be looking to solve problems.

Ed Fitzgerald: When I was Mayor in my city, we made sure we preserved human services so that those who do find themselves to be homeless have options. We have a very aggressive program when it comes to trying to provide housing, especially transitional housing. We have had some success with. My city, as we sit here today, is 27% smaller in terms of personnel, which allowed us to make a lot of physical progress, but we used some of these savings, and put them into our Police Department, which is now 10% larger. We integrated those Police officers into them up and down our commercial area- we have what is called neighborhood police officers. It has worked. Our crime rate overall is down 18%, and robberies in my city are down by 20% - our overall crimes are down by more than 40%. The county can play a roll in this. Over 10% of county employees are Sherriff Department employees. They have a downtown patrol that would be a good first step. There is more they can do to support local law enforcements and direct services.

Ken Lanci: I had the opportunity to spend several hours at the homeless shelter. I went in the afternoon to handle the intake. There were 330 people that day. We served meals and after that, I sat down with several of the homeless to try to understand how they got there. I think we have put more emphasis on prevention. (When the horse is out of the barn, it is really hard to go get him.) What I came back with is the feeling that our Judges, in a lot of cases, are over sentencing people for non-violent crimes. Crimes, which one would think, you would have to think about them in the perspective of who is going, what there record and do they deserve this? Because when you sentence someone to prison, you have ruined their opportunity to get a job. So therefore, they end up, if they have a family, with family or relatives or they end up in a homeless shelter. My focus is going to be on prevention working to be able to help them before they get there.

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