Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Look at the NEOCH Website...

We now have 16 items for the auction as part of the Hand Up Gala. If you would like to participate in the auction go here. Things are all coming together for this first of its kind event. We hope that many will be able to enjoy a great meal, and we hope to have support from the community.

The Homeless Congress is gathering signatures from the candidates running for County Council and County Executive to support regulating the shelters. They have obtained the support of the Green Party executive candidate David Ellison, and now six candidates running for County Council have said that they will support a bill to regulate the shelters if it comes up. We have invited the candidates from the downtown districts to the next Homeless Congress meeting. The Congress needs six candidates who win a seat on the new Council to support this legislation to get it passed by the Cuyahoga County. They will continue to work on this critical issue.

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

What is Up With the Grapevine?

The Death of the Street Newspaper

NEOCH has not published the local street paper since last August/September 2009. We haven't said much about it for the last year. NEOCH has struggled to stay alive in the worst economy in the last 40 years. It is a rough time for most non-profits, and we had to significantly downsize. We just have not been able to afford to publish the paper for the last year.

While the newspaper in Cincinnati and Columbus are doing well, we just could not keep our paper going and the worst is that we were first in the state. Cleveland just does not have the pedestrian population that it once had to buy papers on a regular basis. We could not attract enough quality vendors who would stick with the program. We could not convince groups like Downtown Cleveland Development to help out the paper to outfit vendors as alternatives to panhandlers. Imagine uniformed vendors on the same corner as a panhandler. How long is a panhandler begging for money going to be able to compete against a nicely dressed vendor with a product? We could not find support to pay for the staff of the paper. The street newspaper was an idea outside the traditional funding box, and no one seemed to get the empowerment possibilities of this micro-enterprise project.

Finally, we were not willing to end our commitment to not censoring the population or changing content to be filled with happy news. I always described the paper as 15 pages of depression for $1.25. We could have done feel good stories and profiles, but that would not be honest to the population. Homelessness is tough and hard and full of depression, anger and resentment. There is very little happiness except after a family has found housing. Many other papers supplement their content with non-homeless information to keep people from dying of depression while reading. As a homeless organization, we stuck to our mission and the content was hard to digest. We also allowed the homeless writers to say anything that they wanted even if it was critical of the shelters, government, or even NEOCH.

Anyway, a group of poets--Ben, Stephen, and others are working on raising enough money to pay for one issue for the holidays. We will probably have to change the name of the paper, and start fresh. After the paper stopped publishing some people started using old copies to panhandle. The paper's name has been sullied. We need another $1,200 to get a paper together for the holidays. We do have plans to try to link the paper to a local training programs for the future after the economy stabilizes.

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Hate Crimes Against Homeless People

Ohio Identified as the Third Most Dangerous State for Homeless People

Over the past eleven years (1999-2009), advocates and shelter workers around the country have received news reports of homeless men, women and even children being harassed, kicked, set on fire, beaten to death, and decapitated. A new report released by the National Coalition for the Homeless documents a rise in hate crimes against homeless people. In Ohio, the number of hate crimes directed towards the homeless population rose to 13 in 2009 making Ohio the third most dangerous state in the union. Currently, the federal government does not recognize the homeless population as a protected group, vulnerable to hate crimes. The report, Hate Crimes Against the Homeless: America’s Growing Tide of Violence, documents all the attacks (just under 120) with 43 incidents resulting in death in 2009.

The FBI classifies a hate crime as “A criminal offense committed against a person, property, or society that is motivated in whole or in part, by the offender’s bias.” In 2008, there were seven hate crimes in the United States against protected classes that lead to death according to FBI statistics while there were 27 hate crimes against homeless people that lead to deaths according to the NCH research.

The hate crimes report was released in August 2010, and classifies the most dangerous states for hate crimes against the homeless as those with fifteen or more acts of violence carried out against the homeless population in a year. In 2009, Ohio officials reported a serial killer targeting vulnerable homeless women and a number of attacks on campsites in Cincinnati. Ohio was identified as the third most dangerous state in the United States, and fourth most dangerous state in the last 11 years.

Perhaps the most widely publicized case in Ohio was that of Anthony Sowell, the alleged serial rapist and killer. According to police and prosecutors, Sowell targeted homeless women in the Cleveland area, and is currently waiting trial on these charges. Sowell is innocent until proven guilty, but police investigations allege that he would lure these women to his home with the promise of drugs or shelter. By the time Sowell was discovered, he had allegedly killed 11 homeless women, six victims in 2009 alone, and their bodies were found inside and around property in which Sowell was living. After his arrest, two survivors came forward stating they had been raped by Sowell.

Homeless persons often live a transient lifestyle, with inconsistent contact with family or friends, making the population an appealing target for criminals to exploit. It is known that many of the victims’ in this case where not reported missing for long periods of time; also, many victims are unwilling to report hate crimes to the police.

While cases like Sowell’s receive a great deal of media attention, many of the violent attacks of the homeless receive minimal exposure. In the past ten years, hate crimes against the homeless have occurred in ten of Ohio’s cities. Those attacks consisted of 43 non lethal attacks and 17 fatal attacks.

In 2009, Cincinnati police reported that two separate hate crimes were committed against two homeless gentlemen. One man was physically and verbally assaulted for being homeless. When police questioned the attacker, he responded with indifference saying, “He was just a bum, who cares?” The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless cited this incident as a clear example of a hate crime. “The use of ‘bum’ clearly denotes a sense of inferiority,” said Josh Springs, executive director of the Cincinnati Coalition.

The second hate crime in Cincinnati in 2009 was even more violent. A homeless man, George Smock, was walking in front of the County Court House when four teenagers tried to kill him. Smock was doused in lighter fluid and set on fire by the teens. He neither knew, nor provoked his attackers. Onlookers extinguished the flames and saved Smock from severe injury or death. Although his attackers tried to take his life, Smock did not file a report immediately following the attack. When asked why, Smock replied, “I didn’t fill out a police report that night, which I should have done, but I’ve got to live out here.”

Interestingly, negative portrayals of the homeless receive a great deal of media attention and only stand to make the public more apathetic to the population. Movies like “Bumfights” can easily be viewed on You Tube. The “bum” is commonly used in film and television. The word “bum” degrades the population and implies that their struggles stem from laziness, not a complex web of societal barriers and holes in the social safety net. In addition, there is a correlation between the number of municipal laws directed at homeless people and the number of hate crimes directed at those experiencing homelessness.

Nationally, states are beginning to recognize the need for homeless people to be added as a protected class because of their vulnerability and fragility. The Hate Crimes Against the Homeless Statistics Act of 2009 is pending federal legislation currently before Congress. It was announced last week that there will be a Congressional Hearing in the US Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss the rise in hate crimes on September 29. This act would make the homeless population a protected group and raise the penalty for those attacking homeless individuals. This Act is sponsored by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge of Ohio. The City of Cleveland passed an ordinance in 2008, making repercussions for “intimidation” and harassment more severe if these crimes are perpetrated against an individual because of his/her homeless status. The Ohio legislature has re-introduced a bill (HB 509) to classify intimidation as an offense against homeless people in order to provide some additional protections.

The NCH report has extensive references of all the crimes that are documented across the nation against those experiencing homelessness. NCH has prepared a list of recommendations for states and local advocates of what they can do to protect homeless people from future attacks. Finally, the NCH Hate Crimes report provides model legislation for states and municipal governments to adopt in order to increase the punishments against those who are violent against those sleeping outside to try to begin to reduce hate crimes.

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Gourmet Meal for Homeless People

NEOCH Teams Up With Cosgrove Center

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Catholic Charities Cosgrove Center introduce a unique charity event for Cuyahoga County. This is the first year to try this cool idea of providing a fantastic meal to homeless, hungry and generally lower income individuals. We are staging this event at the familiar setting of the Bishop Cosgrove Center, which serves hundreds everyday while also serving the neighborhood with pantry. Executive Sous Chef John Aldewereld of Sans Souci Restaurant on Public Square is chef who is donating his time and talents to prepare a wonderful lunch for homeless people on November 9, 2010. We need your help to support this event!! We are asking the public to donate $40 to support one homeless person to enjoy this meal. We hope to serve 220 people at the Bishop Cosgrove Center with your help.

The Hand Up Gala will feature music, linen on the tables, nice dishes and centerpieces to set an atmosphere that matches the meal that will be prepared. To encourage ticket sales for this once in a lifetime event, we are holding an auction in which the name of everyone that donates will be entered into a drawing for items from the Cleveland Browns, the Cleveland Playhouse and the Doubletree Hotel along with many other items. For full details on the auction go here. You can buy tickets to this event directly from our website by clicking on the "Donate Now" buttons. Help us provide a once in a life time meal to homeless people this fall.

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

County Council Election

State Senator Mike Foley speaks at the 2007 Homeless Memorial

Homeless Congress Asks Candidates to Support Regulating the Shelters

The Homeless Congress last week voted to ask every candidate running for the new County Council and County Executive to make a pledge that if elected they will support the regulation of the shelters. At this point, there is no law that sets a minimum standard for shelter in Cuyahoga County. We spend $30 million on homeless services, and have no ability to enforce regulations on the shelters. This has allowed 100 women to sleep in a shelter with only one shower. This lack of a policy has allowed women and men to be kicked out of the shelter at 10 p.m. forcing them to sleep in a bus shelter or on the streets. This lack of oversight has made it nearly impossible to get the government to review a complaint that a client may have with regard to a publicly funded shelter. The members of the Congress are willing to negotiate exactly how the regulations are structured, but they want something in law that will protect homeless people from being dumped out onto the streets without warning.

At this point, three candidates have endorsed the regulation of the shelters, and the full list can be found here. Thanks Phyllis Crespo of District 7, Laverne Jones Gore of District 9 and Dale Miller of District 2 for endorsing the regulations. A special thanks to Ms. Crespo who attended the Congress meeting last week to listen to homeless people. There is one more Homeless Congress meeting before the election, and we have invited District 3 and District 7 candidates to meet with representatives of the Homeless Congress.

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

County Does a Good Job on Funding Request

County Scores in the Top of the United States on Federal Homeless Application

In a time when the County is kicked around for the corruption and the inability to police itself, we have some good news. Cuyahoga County and especially Ruth Gillett director of the Office of Homeless Services scored in the highest percentile in the United States for applications for federal dollars. In the past, cities received a bonus for high scores, but this year they just got a pat on the back. Anyway, Gillett and the Cuyahoga County application scored a 90.25 out of 100. The high score in the United States was 91.25. Those cities that scored below 71.25 did not get their full funding. None of the cities in Ohio fell below the 71.25 funding thresh hold. Cuyahoga County had the high score in Ohio. Cincinnati had an 88.5; Dayton received a 86.25 with the State of Ohio which is completed by COHHIO received a 85.25. Akron and Canton both received an 80 with Youngstown at 80.75 and Toledo finishing with 81.25. Columbus drew up the rear for the state with a 79.25. Columbus previously had a score below the minimum funding level, which meant that only existing programs were funded for one year and the rest of their allocation went to other cities. So, congratulations to Ruth Gillett and Cuyahoga County.

No one in this community can deny that Ruth does a great job on the applications for resources especially from other governments. I have never understood why the Office of Homeless Services did not concentrate only on raising funds and applying for dollars, and leave all the rest to some other entity (planning, research, coordination, training, oversight, and enforcement). If we could figure out a way for homeless people, advocates and the service providers to have some say in how decisions are made locally for the allocation of resources and who has access to assistance, we could move things forward in actually reducing the number of people experiencing homelessness.

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Congressional Homeless Civil Rights Hearing

Judiciary Committee to Host Hearing on Hate Crimes

It was announced today the the Senate Judiciary Committee, for the first time ever, will host a hearing to talk about hate crimes directed at people experiencing homelessness. Get your TiVos set for C-Span 3, I would imagine around Midnight after Book TV on the 29th. There is a bill pending that would at least direct the Justice Department to study the issue of attacks on homeless people. NCH will testify along with a family member of a victim and an expert from California who studies this issue.


The Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, has scheduled a hearing entitled “Crimes Against America’s Homeless: Is the Violence Growing?” for Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. The hearing is being called by Senator Cardin to chair.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Volunteer Opportunities in Cleveland

How Can I Help Homeless People?

Pictured: Kytara of Baldwin Wallace, Larry Davis, NEOCH Volunteer Coordinator, and Joe of Case Western Reserve from the summer 2010. Joe and Kytara both gave up their summer to serve homeless people in Cleveland. Kytara cleaned up our volunteer programs and Joe put together our family street card.

We have posted an updated list of volunteer activities for individuals or groups in Cuyahoga County to use if they want to volunteer to assist homeless people. Holly and Kytara contacted all of the homeless services to gather projects that may interest volunteers. We have posted the list of direct service opportunities in our community including the contact for each of the projects. There are everyday projects such as serving a lunch or clerical to special projects that may take a couple of months or may involve some specialty skills. While NEOCH can always use your help, we encourage you to spend some time directly serving those in need.

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

New School Children Resource Available

What to Do If You Are In Danger of Becoming Homeless While in School?

The state and federal government have clear and unequivocal rules for protecting a child's education. The goal is to get a child situated within 24 hours after becoming homeless with a preference for maintaining their school life unbroken. So, whenever possible, advocates try to keep the child in the school they were attending before their guardian became homeless. The State of Ohio Department of Education enforces these rules, and will make sure that school districts don't try to enforce an arbitrary residency rule on homeless children.

Thanks to our new VISTA, Holly, we have updated the list of contacts from each school district in Cuyahoga County. As the new school year begins, we have posted the 2010-2011 list of homeless liaisons within each school district in Cuyahoga County. With the passage of No Child
Left Behind each district in the United States had to appoint one school official who could help children who may be experiencing homelessness. These liaisons can help identify resources within the community for homeless children, and will help set up transportation back to their school of origin. So, lets say a child's family becomes homeless in October while the child was attending Maple Hts. elementary school, they could search our list and find the district's contact. This district official would help the child pay for transportation from the Harbor Light shelter in Cleveland back to Maple Hts. school every day. They could help with tutoring assistance or printing a family street card from our website to help the household stay together during their stay in the shelters.

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

How is the Stimulus Working for Homeless People?

Homeless Prevention Dollars in Cuyahoga County

In 2009, in the wake of the housing collapse, the federal government provided millions to cities to help prevent homelessness. The feds pumped money into existing programs so that they did not have to put a bunch of dollars into creating new infrastructure. In Cuyahoga County, we received $14 million that had to spent by 2012. The money was to be used to prevent homelessness, and to quickly move people back into housing if they became homeless. The City received $9.8 million, and gave it all over to the County. This may seem counter-intuitive since the FBI has set up camp around the Ontario Ave. County headquarters, but the City Council members had to go on summer break. The City of Lakewood took their $900,000 out of the pool, and they are using those funds for eviction prevention with the assistance of Lakewood Christian Services. Cleveland Heights decided to pool their money again with the County and so gave their $750,000 to the County Office of Homeless Services for distribution.

The County came up with their own plan for how to distribute the $13 million, and sub contracted with EDEN development corporation to distribute rent money, Mental Health Services to provide case management and administer the central intake to determine eligibility. Legal Aid, CTO, CMHA, Famicos, Catholic Charities, and the Department of Aging all received funds to help people prevent evictions. The Cleveland Mediation Center handles the payments to landlords in order to prevent evictions. We were told originally that only one third of the dollars would go to staffing and 2/3 would go to direct assistance to clients. This has proven to be difficult, and additional staff are being hired to keep up with the incredible demand for help during these difficult economic times. Money was set aside to pay for Housing Cleveland website and to purchase birth certificates and identification for homeless people as well.

Officials have had to engage in a "course correction" because things are not going as planned. Too many people are eligible for the funds and thus flocked to get help for their eviction. This has only increased over the last two months since the other pool of eviction diversion funds has dried up. CEOGC received a separate allocation and blew through their money in one year helping hundreds of families from becoming homeless. Through June the County was distributing twice as much for eviction help compared to those being placed in housing to get them out of homelessness. The Cleveland Mediation Center is overseeing the money to prevent evictions way faster than expected. They were so overwhelmed that they were setting up appointments after the hearing at eviction court. This usually meant that the individual would have to relocate to a new apartment, which is certainly not ideal. Now it looks like there was so much demand that they are going to limit rental assistance to only those in subsidized housing. Some in the community are angry that these decisions are made without any community input or oversight, but that is how things go in the County.

The other piece of the program is rapid rehousing, which is currently operated out of the two main shelters in Cleveland. With eviction diversion or homeless prevention, the County can provide rent to keep a person in housing. The other side of the HPRP stimulus dollars is the rapid rehousing and the agencies administering the rehousing program help find housing and then do follow up services to make sure the person will stay in housing. Many out in the field still wonder about the wisdom of giving away money at a shelter that are already overcrowded, but that is the plan. County and steering committee members defend both sides of the program saying that it is a new experiment and never before tried on this scale. The problem is that it is also time limited and we only have 19 months left to get it right.

Cleveland Hts seems to have backed the wrong horse here. They were one of two suburbs to get their own allocation. Lakewood officials pulled their money to use within the city limits, and have been giving money out at a rapid clip to prevent evictions. In fact in 2009, they were giving more money out than the entire rest of the County. But Cleveland Hts pooled their money with Cuyahoga County and were only able to serve 32 people through June 2010. The County wide average is that those receiving help average $825 per household as part of homeless prevention/eviction diversion. This means that Lakewood has served around 350 households since October of 2009 when the program began. Cleveland Hts has served 32 households or they have used around $26,000 of their $750,000 that the federal government provided as part of the stimulus.

So, here are the numbers from October 2009 to June 30, 2010:

Total prevention dollars spent: $906,996 or 1,190 households
Total Rapid Rehousing dollars spent: $412,602 or 1,548 households served
The total number of households re-housed is 232 from the Rapid Rehousing side.

We haven't had enough time to see if people are becoming homeless again, and since there is no central access point for all shelter it might never be possible to access these numbers. We still have to see if those facing eviction in non-subsidized housing will turn to the shelters in greater numbers because there is not rental assistance money available to prevent evictions as part of the course correction. We do know that thousands have been helped, and without these dollars the shelters would be overwhelmed. But the shelters are still completely full almost every day of the last year, and we still cannot provide a bed to everyone in need. It is unfortunate that we never get to discuss, as a community, strategies to use $14 million in the best manner possible instead of decisions being made based on the abilities of staff or agencies or course corrections made at the whim of the providers.

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Bernadette Janes Passes

A Good Friend of the Coalition

Bernadette Janes, a diminutive grandmotherly type who spoke loudly with her pen, has passed away. Janes was a longtime friend of the Coalition, and wrote a number of stories in the Homeless Grapevine newspaper here and here and here. She was great at profiles of people like Sabrina and Arthur, and had a history of supporting social justice organizations in Cleveland. Every so often she published letters in the Plain Dealer. Janes supported the rights of women, opposed the attacks on poor people by government and marched against wars. She was a veteran and was a great volunteer for NEOCH. In fact, at the 2007 Annual Meeting, Bernadette was awarded Volunteer of the Year for 2006 for NEOCH. She would take the Community Response Transit bus every week or every other week depending on her health to NEOCH to volunteer. Bernadette had no problem with stuffing envelopes or entering data or doing a profile for the Grapevine. She realized that all of it contributed to improving the Coalition. Every mundane task freed up time for the director to issue an advocacy alert or the development director to send out a grant. She was happy just helping, and loved interacting with the staff.

Janes talked to us about homelessness and tried to understand how things had gotten so out of control in our society that families were the fastest growing population of homeless people. She wanted to learn from the people that she interviewed. Bernadette wanted to understand the health issues that led to Arthur becoming homeless, and then she was able to boil down those complicated ideas into a story for the Grapevine. She wrote advocacy journalism to educate the public about the holes in the US safety net. She tried to listen to Sabrina's story about family homelessness and capture that pain, anger and harm that this caused to put it all down on paper.

Another guardian of social justice lost in Cleveland. We miss Bernadette, and wish her family strength in this time of sorrow.

Updated 9/7/10: Text from the announcement at Busch Funeral Home. "Janes passed away on September 3, 2010. Memorials may be forwarded to Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), [Address slightly incorrect, but corrected here] 3631 Perkins Ave., #3A-3, Cleveland, OH 44114. Memorial services will be at the funeral home at 12:00 noon on October 9th. For those attending, in honor of Bernadette's life, colorful attire is encouraged, and please bring a non perishable food item for donation to the Hunger Center. Friends may call from 11:00 - Noon at the BUSCH FUNERAL HOME, 21369 CENTER RIDGE RD, FAIRVIEW PARK. Cremation by Busch Crematory."

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Cincinnati Police Allowed to Run Over People

Another Reason to Boycott Cincinnati

There are so many reasons to stay away from the city of Cincinnati, and today the Cincinnati prosecutor's office announced one more reason. Prosecutor Joe Deters held a press conference to inform the community that Hamilton County would not pursue felony charges against police officer Marty Polk for running over and killing Joann Burton as she slept under a blanket in Washington Park in the Over the Rhine neighborhood. In Ohio, the County acts on behalf of the state to pursue felony (serious) charges, and the cities oversee misdemeanor cases. This is an unbelievable decision, and hard to make any other conclusion except that if this woman had not been homeless or had not been an African American or not been either this police officer would be waiting for a manslaughter trial to start.

Are homeless people so disposable in Cincinnati that police are free to kill them without criminal charges? Or is racism still alive and well within the Cincinnati judicial system? The prosecutor claimed the definition of a vehicular felony involved "heedless indifference to consequences and perversely disregarding known risks." This seems to be exactly what happened here. The police officer went up over the curb, and then drove off the path and then decided to drive over the blankets in the park in the daytime. How is that not a "disregard of known risks?" How is running over a person not considered ignoring the consequences of driving up on the grass? I just cannot imagine if a white baby were killed sleeping under a blanket by a police car while the parents were playing volleyball in the park, the the officer would have been immediately fired and charged with vehicular homicide. Besides not being homeless, what could Ms. Burton done to prevent her own death if this were an accident. She was asleep, and not bothering anyone. Should she have set up cones or flashing lights? Is the city going to provide traffic cones to indicate that a homeless person is sleeping to avoid these "accidents" in the future?

I don't understand how Cincinnati is so hostile to low income, homeless, and African American people. Elected officials have tried to close down the Drop In Center shelter for over 20 years. They have undercharged vicious crimes against homeless people on a regular basis according to the National Coalition for the Homeless hate crimes report. Officials never really healed the wounds from the 2001 riot in the Over the Rhine neighborhood. City Council has repeatedly passed laws directed at homeless people. The Cincinnati police have long been under the scrutiny of the Justice Department and community groups because of alleged racist behavior and an unusual number of deaths with young African Americans taken into custody. This decision this week to let Officer Polk off without criminal charges is just another in the long line of poor leadership within the City of Cincinnati, and another reason to steer clear of the City.

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.