Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tough Year for the Shelters and Homeless Individuals

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for Homeless sent the following letter to Mayor Jackson asking for help with regard to the trauma that the homeless population has gone through over the last year. Our concern is that a great deal has happened, and we have not gathered as a community to address some of these big issues.

Dear Mayor Jackson:

Over the last year, a number of high-profile incidents have deeply traumatized the homeless population of Cleveland. Although there was a great deal of attention in the media on these issues, we have had neither a proper recognition of the seriousness of these incidents, nor a discussion of how to prevent these issues in the future. We were witness to the murder of a shelter director after which there was no investigation, no community-wide discussion, and no after-incident report issued to avoid future violence within the shelters. Questions such as, “How could the discharge procedure or grievance procedure or safety plan be improved to assure that this never happens again?” have yet to be addressed.

Some of the more horrific incidents over the last year include:
  1. Nearly a dozen women were killed on Imperial Ave. A few had spent some time in the shelters, while most were homeless and never sought help for their addiction or their lack of housing from the social service providers. Why did these women with addiction issues avoid staying in the shelters in exchange for abuse by a sexually-based offender?
  2. The young child who was scalded in an East Side motel had only recently left the shelters. Was she discharged properly and was there anyone within the system representing the best interest of the child? Again, there was no discussion locally about this tragedy; what could we do to avoid this in the future?
  3. There were a number of other issues that we have seen including a suicide within the shelter, the loss of limbs because of MRSA or a serious staph infection, improper discharges into the night, and shelter staff defying their own grievance procedures. What can we learn from these incidents to keep residents of the shelter safe in the future?

Although these terrifying issues significantly impacted the shelters and the local residents using them, no government entity has convened any discussion to provide a roadmap for a safer future. It must be said here that most of the shelters are wonderful places and are healthy places for individuals and families experiencing homelessness. There are a few that are not up to the standards of the others. For example, the veteran’s facility on East 152nd St. is a great shelter that is respectful to the veterans population, but has no standard for intake or discharges. Cuyahoga County looked into the death of the toddler in the hotel, and the City looked into the Imperial Ave. murders, but no one has convened a discussion about these incidents and their impact on the shelter system in Cuyahoga County/City of Cleveland. As a homeless advocate, in our opinion, these incidents point to a systemic lack of oversight of the shelters.

We believe that it is time for the City of Cleveland to pass legislation to regulate the shelters. In the City Council elections, 13 elected council members said that they would support a shelter standards bill if it were proposed. We just need one office within the City to oversee these regulations. NEOCH is requesting that the city take the lead in discussing these issues and look at examining these regulations for the shelters. To compare, the residents of the City of Cleveland have a place to go if they need to complain about predatory mortgage brokers, landlords or nursing homes, but on the other hand a resident of the shelter has no where to go to complain. We spend over $30 million dollars per year on shelters and permanent supportive housing programs directed toward homeless people, but we do not have regulations to move these shelters up to a safe level in which we can all be proud. We believe that the shelter standards regulations are the appropriate response to these tragedies within the homeless community.

The shelter standards would address the follow issues:
  1. In response to the Imperial Ave. murders, the need for a “wet” shelter in the community to serve those who are actively using and need help with their addictions.
  2. In response to the MRSA or staph infections, an infectious disease protocol for shelters.
  3. In response to the death of the shelter director, the shelters should have a plan for keeping residents and staff safe that is approved by an outside agency.
  4. In response to the East side motel scalding, the shelters should have specific rules for housing children in an effort to keep them safe.
  5. To address all of these issues, the City should employ someone to resolve grievances and there should be a client advocate system constructed within the shelters.
All these points and more would be addressed by the passage of the shelter standards bill. Please help us move this legislation forward.

Brian Davis
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Time to Support the National Housing Trust

Sign on to National Letter Asking Congress to

Fund the National Housing Trust Fund NOW!

Within the span of a week, organizations from every state, DC and Puerto Rico have signed on to the letter - Thank you for your action!

Now, the goal is to get as many signatories as possible, including organizations from all 435 Congressional Districts, in order to urge every Member of Congress to support funding for the National Housing Trust Fund.

Please JOIN the national sign-on letter today. Please make sure every organization in your network or coalition signs on.

Let your Members of Congress know that your organization supports the NHTF and that their support of the NHTF will help your state build and preserve housing for people with the lowest incomes, and create needed jobs.

Please SIGN the letter in this link


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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rough Year Annual Report

NEOCH Annual Report now Available on our website

What can only be described as the downsizing year, the NEOCH annual report is posted on our website. In the spirit of a downsized year our annual report is only 8 pages long this year. It gives a snapshot of 2009 including finances and programming. We present our two award winners for 2009:

Mike Piepsny of the Cleveland Tenants Organization as the 2009 Advocate of the Year
Michelle Russell as the David Westcott Volunteer of the Year.

The report also details our donors for 2009. Feel free to check it out and tell us what you think.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Explaining Housing Programs

Housing 101 by Cleveland Tenants Organization/BTG

For social service, counseling and housing professionals working with the Homeless Prevention Rapid Rehousing Program in Cuyahoga County.

Housing 101: The HPRP Program, a guide for practitioners. Sponsored by the Homeless Service Agency Network, Bridging the Gap, and Cleveland Tenants Organization.

Friday, April 30th 2010 from 9 am to 12:30 pm. (registration begins 8:30 am).

at Stella Maris auditorium. 1320 Washington Ave Cleveland, OH 44113.

Over the past year Housing 101 has held a series of well received and attended seminars and classes on a wide range of housing issues. This fourth class will concentrate on the new Homeless Prevention and Rapid Rehousing Program, which is one of the largest housing programs aimed at the homeless populations that we have seen in years. We will hear from local experts who are working day to day with the program on the goals of the program, how it operates and how agencies can help their clients benefit from it.

Class Fee: $15

Continuing Education Credits: 3 hours for counselors and social workers.

To register contact: Randy Cunningham at

Bridging the Gap/Cleveland Tenants Organization.

3631 Perkins Ave, Suite 3-A 4

Cleveland, Ohio 44114

216-431-0616 or e-mail btg (at) clevelandtenants dot org

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Portraits of Homeless Residents will be in City Hall next week

Staff at 2100 Lakeside will display the portraits show at the City Hall Rotunda next week. The presentation of the show will be Monday April 19 from 5-7 p.m. with a short overview and talk by staff and residents of the shelter.

I went to the show when it was hung at CSU Levin College, and I urge everyone to go see it. The interesting part of this show that separates from other shows is there is a narrative that Lydia Bailey prepared with each of the images. You get the opportunity to read the story behind the image, and get to know the subjects. Catch the opening and stick around for the City Council meeting at 7 p.m. What a great night--poverty, art, and democracy for free.

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Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Legal Assistance Schedule Posted

Where to go for a Street Lawyer?

NEOCH has struggled over the last three years having had to layoff nearly all of our employees and relying more on volunteers and national service members, but one thing that we are proudest is that the community of homeless people have not suffered because of our financial issues. We were able to transfer all of our programs to other social service providers and maintain those services in the community. Our housing program and voice mail system are under the direction of other agencies and are still providing services in the community. We are working on finding funding for the Homeless Grapevine newspaper.

One program staff that we were forced to eliminate in 2009 was the director of Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance, but with the help of the Metropolitan Bar Association and volunteers from a bunch of local law firms and the Cuyahoga County Law Library we have kept the program in operation. We still have volunteer attorneys going to the shelters and drop in centers and offering legal help. We will also have an intern this summer working on strengthening the program.

The schedule for the Legal Program is on our website now here. If you are homeless and need to discuss non-criminal matters with an attorney, you can go to the Wednesday clinic at the May Dugan Center. If you are staying in the 8 shelters that have a monthly clinic, you can talk to the attorney about a security deposit that you may not have gotten back or a check from an employer that was held. In addition, the Bar still maintains a monthly divorce clinic to teach people how to file for divorce on their own. The lawyer can answer questions about visitation of a child in custody of the County or a child support order. They can help with an expungements or landlord tenant issues for those who are currently homeless or in imminent danger of becoming homeless. This is a wonderful service that serves over 300 people per year.

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

Census Count in Cleveland

Counting Homeless People as Part of the Census

It is an overwhelming task to try to enumerate the population, and it is especially daunting to count the transient populations. NEOCH did a ton of work over the last month to get as many homeless people as possible counted. We met with Census officials on a regular basis, and distributed Census gear to every homeless person who we met. The Census was at all three Stand Downs, and we gave out thousands of fliers.

Overall, I think that they got everyone at the shelters, but the other counts are unlikely to yield any good numbers. The Census officials counted shelters on Monday then soup kitchens on Tuesday and then the outdoor sites on Wednesday. The Census made the last minute decision to categorize transitional shelters as group quarters instead of shelters and so were planning not to count any of those facilities this week. We appealed this to the regional office to ask that they reconsider this decision, since transitional shelters are shelters and were counted in the 2000 Census. By skipping the transitional shelters, we would have a significant under count. They changed their minds about noon on Monday, but officials were not able to get to the transitional shelters until Tuesday or even some on Wednesday. NEOCH called every single shelter three times to make sure that a Census worker had visited their site. We found that four facilities were skipped, and we informed the census employees.

There seemed to be a lack of staff assigned to the homeless count and certainly a lack of clerical staff preparing for the count. It seems that were a lot of people advertising the importance of the Census, but not as many doing the actual count. We did not hear back from anyone else who said that they were missed, so we believe that every shelter was counted. We do not have much information on the second day of the count, when they were doing hot meals and mobile canteens, except that five or six of the homeless drop in/meal programs have Census staff on site for 15 to 20 hours a week to answer questions and encourage people to complete the application.

The last day was very bad and highly questionable as to accuracy. We gave the Census staff a list of all the outdoor sites that we were aware of locally. But it is nearly impossible to find these individuals in one 24 hour period. Basically, the outdoor count was a waste of time. Census staff really wanted to do the count at night, which every one of the professional staff said was a bad idea. We suggested early morning (6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 5 to 8:30 p.m.), but they could not be convinced and went later into the night on Tuesday night. No matter if they have an army of counters, it is just impossible to count homeless people who live outside in 24 hours. So, they drove by a bunch of sites that we had given them, and tried as hard as they could in the dark to count, but this was not a good use of resources or time.

In 2000, only the shelter numbers were released and I am pretty sure that we did a good job in Cleveland with that count. It was a great deal of work trying to get the Census count correct, and most cities don't have an advocacy homeless Coalition to coordinate these activities.


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