Thursday, December 29, 2011

What is Happening With County Homelesness?

Jan Eaton (Community Women's Shelter), Ruth Gillett and Sheri West (OHS) and Cathy Alexander (Mental Health Services) (sitting) at the June County Council hearing on Shelter Standards. Photo by Pleasure Simmons.
Cuyahoga County Homelessness 2011
The County Office of Homeless Services (OHS) "Advisory" board only meets every other month.  The last meeting was in November 2011, and we haven't written much about the County for the past few months.  At their last meeting they worked to clarify the definition of homelessness to include transitional programs, which was causing confusion for the Mental Health/Alcohol and Drug Boards and their staff.   This will all have to be updated again as the newly passed HUD rules are implemented locally which dramatically redefines homelessness.  This new definition will only confuse the entire community (Thanks Congress).  The Board also expanded to include a representative of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District--a very good idea.

The Housing First group (overseers of permanent supportive housing programs) has decided to expand to include families and young adults as the HUD rules change to allow for a small portion of federal dollars to go to these populations.  With the huge increase in family homelessness in America over the last three years (including Cleveland), this makes sense if not a little late.  Progressive cities such as Minneapolis and Denver expanded to include families years ago using state and local resources since HUD dollars were not available.  These communities have done a much better job in addressing the problem of homelessness, because they have not chased the federal gravy train, but instead set about solving homelessness and found the dollars to implement their strategies.  We did learn from the Housing First group that there is not really a solid source of funding for the supportive services associated with these properties.  This is concerning in that if HUD moves on to a new trend will these severely disabled people be left in apartments without case managers? Also, will we see the same problem we saw with Public Housing when they got rid of their social workers repeated with Permanent Supportive Housing?

We regularly criticize the Office for having the most talented and knowledgeable people sitting around the table, but wasting those opportunities never doing anything of substance.  From the surveys conducted by a consultant to OHS, it seems like one quarter of the board is similarly dissatisfied.  A lot of this frustration came up in the discussion as the "advisory" made plans for the next three years.  They attempted to put in writing some goals for the Office of Homeless Services, and I heard concern from many of the members that the Board should be working more on solving community problems and bringing more resources to address homelessness.  There is also some confusion if the "advisory" really advises anyone and are staff, elected officials or county bureaucrats really listening to the advise?

One of the best things that the OHS accomplished this year was to remain committed to universal access to shelter in Cuyahoga County by negotiating overflow beds for this winter.  With the disabled men's shelter gone and the building being used for offices and the VOA using their facility for other purposes, we were worried that we would not have a place for overflow mats.  Gillett assured us repeatedly that there would be overflow, and in the end she negotiated over 100 spaces for overflow of the men's shelter in Cleveland.  This is always difficult but important for Cleveland to keep the population inside and safe.  OHS staff, Ruth Gillett, attended the November Homeless Congress meeting, and heard from the men that they wanted the County to host a meeting of all the shelters to clarify the rules for staying open during an extreme weather situation.  Last year, on an especially snowy day in January a few of the shelters closed while others stayed open.  There did not seem to be clear guidance to all the shelters about the Cuyahoga County snow emergency policy.  This meeting has yet to be called.

Ruth Gillett did attend the November CAHA meeting about homelessness in Cleveland.  She presented some interesting statistics for the group:
  • The Office was established in 1993 and federal allocation of dollars to Cuyahoga County has grown dramatically from $1.4 million in 1989 to over $34 million in 2010.  
  • There are 1,122 shelter beds and 868 Transitional Shelter beds in Cuyahoga County.
  • 22% of the funds go to emergency shelter, 12% goes to transitional housing, 49% goes to permanent housing and 5% goes to supportive services, and 12% goes to prevention services.  (0.0% goes to public policy/advocacy/dispelling myths--FYI).
  • Using the deeply flawed management system, Gillett claimed there were 5,208 un-duplicated individuals using the shelter system in 2010.  So, using those numbers (which are probably way off) we spent $6,528.41 per person to get those individuals into housing.  (An apartment at fair market rent is around $7,236 for a one bedroom unit in Cleveland.)
  • Gillett tracked only 471 families using the shelters in 2010 with 645 kids using her deeply flawed management system. (the schools served over 2,000 school aged children in the same time with an broader definition of homelessness that the Department of Education uses.)
  • Using more credible statistics, Gillett claimed that 50% of the population stay less than 30 days in a shelter, but 20% stay more than a year.
  • Ruth Gillett presented statistics on the one day count of homelessness.  These are of no use to the community since so many people are missed on this one day count compared to other cities. 
  • Currently, there are 470 permanent supportive housing units open with a goal of 1,000
Gillett also identified a few problems with the current system in her presentation.  Those included:
  • Homeless people cycle through the shelters
  • There are minimal prevention services.
  • There is a mismatch of need and access to resources.
  • The homeless system is inefficient. 
  • The current shelter system is not very effective. 
The OHS staff are proposing a "NEW Approach" to address homelessness.  This includes:
  • Close the front door to homelessness by putting more resources into prevention activities and diversion activities.  (We have discussed diversion activities in this space earlier this year.) Better discharge planning and the creation of a real central intake where everyone gets a unified screening with a clear path outlined to get out of homelessness.)
  • Open the back door which means using HUD funding to develop permanent housing and affordable housing options for those experiencing homelessness.  There should be more short term rental assistance funding available and housing subsidies.  Finally, Gillett's plan includes more permanent supportive housing to serve those who have been homeless for a long time.  
  • Need to focus on shortening the length of time people are homeless.  Gillett suggests that this can be accomplished by helping people rapidly exit from shelter (Are there a lot of people hanging out at the shelter for longer than necessary because it is so fun to live without privacy or keeping your stuff safe from theft?)  Ruth Gillett suggests moving toward home based case management for those leaving homelessness.  She is proposing re-thinking assessment of household needs to focus on housing stability.  Finally she is suggesting that we connect people with mainstream resources for ongoing assistance. 
Brian Davis
Director of Community Organizing
Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Privacy For Homeless People

HIPAA Regulations and Homeless Memorial

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was signed by President Clinton in 1996, but the privacy provisions did not go into effect until 2003 in the United States and the enforcement rules were not in place until 2006.  They govern most health care organizations including mental health providers from releasing information about patients or disclosing health information collected from health insurers, hospitals, clinics while working to upgrade all records to an electronic platform.  The Coalition has been overseeing a homeless memorial day since 1987 in Cleveland with the reading of the names of those who died over the past year.  We call every social service agency to gather names, and then read an alphabetical list of homeless or formerly homeless people who died over the past year.  In the 1990s, we were reading 10-25 names.  These last two years, we were reading 40 to 50 names.  Our national sponsors for this event are the National Coalition for the Homeless and National Health Care for the Homeless Council who both help coordinate memorials all over the country. 

We have had no problems collecting names because privacy does not survive death.  All births and deaths in the community are public events that are announced in the paper.  The coroner does not identify people as homeless, but they will release the names of unclaimed bodies every year or those who were previously buried in the "Potter's Field" at the cemetery off Warrensville Center Road.  This year, only six days before the memorial, I was notified by Mental Health Services staff that they could not provide names with a link to a 2002 Q& A about whether HIPAA patient information survives death.  No meeting, no discussion, and no assurances that the agency talked to other health care organizations in the United States who participate in the memorial.  Just a two sentence e-mail was all we were given from MHS.  We had received names from the agency in previous years, and we sent the first letter asking for help collecting names in mid-September.  We heard nothing from the agency, which happens to be the largest homeless social service provider in Cleveland until December 15. 

Another bit of background information, NEOCH is one of the most sensitive organizations in the community when it comes to privacy.  We have filed numerous complaints regarding violations of privacy with social service providers.  When we had to submit data to the County regarding our clients, we assumed that the client would want to remain anonymous in the system and so they had to affirmatively declare that they wanted to have their social security number used in the County management system.  Most providers force the client to affirm that they want their social security numbers removed from the management information system, which is often uncomfortable when they are hoping for a bed that night.   We oppose the use of the County Homeless Management Information System (HMIS) in the shelters because it is too easy for private client data to be viewed by other social service providers to construct a registry of "bad homeless people."  Mental Health Services submits personal information to the County including social security numbers through the HMIS network, and we have even caught agency staff declaring that submission of social security number was a requirement for entry into a MHS facility (which is wrong).  So, while we do a great deal to protect the privacy of homeless people, we understand that once a person dies they really cannot object to their name being remembered and honored at that point. 

Why HIPAA Does Not Apply to Homeless Memorial
The Coalition is not releasing patient information as part of the memorial.  We are not saying, "Joe Smith who was mentally ill and sleeping at Lakeside and was a patient of MHS died this year."  We are not even saying that the person was homeless in 2011 and then passed away.  The list is a strictly the names of people who passed away in 2011 and had previous experience with homelessness. It comes from many different sources and is not divided by agency.  While homelessness certainly contributes to bad health outcomes, it is not a medical condition.  We also have used street names on the list and sometimes we only have their first name.  If the agency was in fact worried about the privacy of their clients there are ways around this concern.  With a little more time and some discussion, we could have satisfied the issues brought up by the MHS attorney.  Involving an attorney in this type of community service is why lawyers are held in such low regard and the reason we have warning labels on everything we consume, wear, or even use to clean with.  "Warning: May Contain Traces of Nuts" on a Hershey's Almond Bar or "Do Not Take if Allergic to Aspirin" on the side of a Bayer Aspirin container are typical of the nonsense we have to put up with today because of well meaning but overly nervous attorneys. 

We suggested calling the National Health Care for the Homeless Council who should understand HIPAA as a leading health care organizations and co-coordinator of National Homeless Memorial Day.  I have no idea if they ever did this, since no one at MHS would talk about this decision.  They just kept saying, "we want to help and we understand your position, but we cannot."   We suggested calling the many health care for the homeless organizations in the United States who participate in and in many cases even organize a Homeless Memorial Day in their cities, but heard nothing except a couple of short e-mails.  This is the kind of frustration that homeless people have to put up with everyday.  The lights are out a 11 p.m. for no good reason even if the NBA playoffs go long or some agencies throw away all a client's valuables when they are transported to the hospital by ambulance, and then when they come back they are even barred from digging through the trash to retrieve their own original birth certificate or family pictures.  If the shelters were more transparent and acted like members of the community who were always trying to provide a hand up, we would all be better off.

HIPAA Privacy Claims
The Center for Democracy and Technology is lobbying to get an improvement in HIPAA regulations, and they have criticized the enforcement of HIPAA regulations.  Here are their comments to Congress from 2009.
"Unfortunately, the HIPAA rules have never been adequately enforced. As noted above, HHS
has not levied a single penalty against a HIPAA-covered entity since the rules were implemented (footnote 18). The Justice Department has levied some penalties under the criminal provisions of the statute – but a 2005 opinion from DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) expressly limits the application of the criminal provisions to covered entities, and prosecutors seeking to enforce criminal penalties against individuals have had to rely on other federal laws."
There have been thousands of complaints, but very few have resulted in any prosecution or even any follow-up from the Department of Health and Human Services.  The handful that were prosecuted were obvious huge violations in which the release of information was to cover some criminal enterprise or obvious stupidity such as throwing away un-shredded patient information in an unlocked dumpster.  The likelihood that the local agency could have any problem with HIPAA and homeless memorial day is nearly non-existent.  We were willing to sign any agreement between the two agencies that we would not disclose any patient information from the agency, but never heard anything back.  It is hard to guess why MHS took this position.  Was it that as the largest provider, they have a stake in keeping the numbers down?  Was it that they did not want to be bothered asking their staff?  Did they not want to participate in anything associated with the Coalition?  I have no idea what the real reason was because we never got the chance to sit down face to face and discuss the issue.  We were never given the courtesy of discussing this important event in Cleveland.  These names were lost to the community in 2011.

The training manual from the National office does not mention HIPAA problems.  But in searching the public record, I could not find one place where this came up as an issue.  As a board member of the National Coalition for the Homeless, one of the national coordinators, I have never heard any other city raise HIPAA as an issue.  I could not find any controversy regarding any memorial in any part of the United States with a Google search.  So, again the chance of any backlash against Mental Health Services is minimal.  If anything, the Coalition is taking the risk not the social service providers in our community.  If Nightline can feature an entire show reading the names of US soldiers killed in Iraq, then we should be able to honor those who passed away in our cities.  The US Military has huge health care costs and does respect HIPAA privacy concerns, but they release the names of those who are killed in action every week.  Our fear is that by standing behind unreasonably cautious legal advice, we will forget these individuals.  We will not recognize that homelessness can kill by keeping down the number of people on the memorial list.  As we say every year, these individuals are largely forgotten in life, it would be a crime to forget these individuals in death as well.

Brian Davis
Director of Community Organizing
Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Candlelight Vigil

Collecting Names
As the Coalition tried to honor those who had died and had some experience with homeless in much the same way the military who lost their lives in Iraq were honored, we ran into some local resistance.  These are my words before the 2011 Homeless Memorial/Candlelight Vigil at St. Patrick's Hunger Center at 5:00 p.m. on December 21, 2011. This was the 25th Vigil held in Cleveland and we were apart of over 100 across the United States over the last year. We have posted a long discussion about why HIPPA does not apply to the National/Ohio Homeless Memorial Day on this blog.

“We know that there were exactly 4,485 US soldiers killed in the last ten years as a result of the Iraq war and an additional 314 members died from other Coalition forces (mostly from the United Kingdom).  As we leave Iraq, we could give you an honor roll of all those who died over the next four hours, because every week the US Military releases those names.  We can only give you an approximate number of wounded of 32,000 soldiers, because those soldier’s names are protected by federal regulations.  It is up to the soldier and their family to alert the community that they were wounded in Iraq.  We have no right to know their name, and the homeless community hopes that we never know their names as they recuperate from their wounds over the next 10 years. We do not want to see them show up at the shelters and we hope that the federal effort to end veteran’s homelessness is successful.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless reads the names of those who have passed away over the last year and have had some experience with homelessness on the first day of winter.  This is the 25th time we have done this activity in Cleveland, and the large number of names are painful to hear every year.  The first memorial was 1987 on Public Square with a handful of very cold and very committed activists reading the names of a couple of homeless people who had died.  We honor these individuals as friends who slipped through the cracks and often we could not help.  This is done in 105 cities throughout the United States and it is the least we could do to remember these moms, dads, sons, grandfathers, daughters, and grandmothers. We feel it is appropriate and respectful that we acknowledge these individuals in our community.

The largest homeless service provider in the Cleveland, Mental Health Services, refuses to provide names of individuals who passed away over the last year.  They have contact with the largest number of homeless people and administer the Central Intake in Cleveland, so Mental Health Services' information is critical to give us a full picture on the number of people who passed away over the last year.  We do not understand why MHS will not help us to honor those who died over the last year.  They are claiming a higher degree of secrecy than the US Military, and to the veterans in this room this is almost unimaginable.  So, I am sure that the list that we have today is not a complete list, and many of those friends we lost will be forgotten.   In my opinion this is deeply troubling that a group of people largely forgotten in life will also be forgotten in death.  I am sorry that we cannot remember the names of all those we lost over the last year.

We will read the names of those we have collected and then we will ask you if there are others that we do not read.  We will ask you to announce their names at the end of the service."

Brian Davis
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Saturday, December 24, 2011

Distributing Toys

NBC Today Show Toys and Household Items Distributed by NEOCH Staff

NEOCH Staff Wrapped and Distributed Toys Locally
Every year, NEOCH is the local recipient of the NBC Today Show Toy Drive gifts.  These are books, toys, and other household items donated by major retailers in the United States to go to children and families in shelters.   This year William (Santa hat) and Larry played Santa Claus by distributing the items.  Ms. Harris and Ms. Barnes wrapped the toys that we received from HomeGoods.  We gave out new cutting boards and kitchen cutlery and cooks' tools to those in transition to housing.  We distributed women's intimates, and bath and soap items to a women's shelters.  We gave away winter clothing, and a few smaller items that came in.  All of these items are new and the kids items we wrapped and delivered to family shelters with name tags identifying who would appreciate the toys the most.  This is a great program for shelters throughout the United States.  Thanks to NBC and the Today show and all the corporations which participate in this program.

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Friday, December 23, 2011

Homeless Memorial Day 2011

We Remember Those We Lost
This is the 25th time that we have remembered those who passed away in Cleveland.  What began with a few advocates shivering on Public Square and protecting themselves from the wind remembering a handful of people who died over the past year has grown to a large vigil with 175 people attending every year. We join over 100 other cities with similar memorials on the first day of winter.  This year we were joined by State Senator Nina Turner (pictured above) who was moved by the emotion of the event.  We also had Rabbi Joshua Caruso of Fairmount Temple and Rev. Joan Gattuso from Unity Greater Cleveland who both said a prayer from their faith traditions.  Deacon Bill Merriman of St. Patrick's Catholic Church welcomed us and said a prayer to remember those had frequented the meal site, but had left us this year.  There were a number of homeless people who added names to the list and it was comforting to have other social service providers in attendance.  Thanks to William Gilmore for saying a few words and staff from Congressman Dennis Kucinich.   Our old staff person and current CSU social work student finished the sombre evening with a song.

Here are the list of names we read.  These are names from the community of individuals with some experience with homelessness who passed away in 2011.
Tommy Atkinson
Bobby B
Joseph Barnett
Gary Bolten
William Bowdry
Maurice Brent
David Burkes
John Carlyle
Robin Carter
John Cicero
Jason Collins
Ed Cox
Bobby Crabtree
Brian Cushner
Ariel Delgado
James Hartman
Bobby Henderson
Kevin Holdsworth
James Johnson
Joseph Kopp
Virginia LeCato
Twila Legg
Leroy Lewis
James Lloyd
Lorenzo  Longshaw
Robert Marsh
James Mitchell
Robert Moore
Richard Neil
Victor Nieves
Clarence Patterson
Lee Patton
William Reynolds
Renaldo Rias
Daniel Rose
Umber Samular
Alonzo "Sonny" Taylor
Ronald Tidwell
Mike Truskowski
Greg Truthan
Hung Van Dang
Brian Vaughn
Randy Vertocnile
Robert Williams
Jerome Willis
Debra Woody
Jacinto Wright
Jerry Wyse
Chico "Jose"

Friends of Homeless People who passed
Ken Hughes
Gloria Poindexter
Dana Budzinski
John Carlson

All will be missed and we honor those who left us over this last year.  We believe it brings some level of dignity to remember those in death who society has largely forgotten in life.


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**This is not a complete list because the largest provider in Cleveland has decided this year not to provide names of individuals that they know passed away. More on this later.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We Are Still Looking for Blankets for Winter

Blanket Drive 2011

As you take a few days off for the holidays, please remember that we are still looking for donations this winter especially for those resistant to shelter.  Possible donated items that we distribute at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless to outreach workers who then deliver it to homeless people:

1.    New Socks
2.    RTA one day Bus Tickets
3.    New underwear (any sizes)
4.    Trial size soaps, shampoo, toothpaste, deodorant
5.    Toothbrushes, disposable razors, Ziploc sandwich bags
6.    Blankets
7.    Towels/ hand wash cloths
8.    Tissue/Kleenex
9.    Hand sanitizer
10.    Water Bottles
For larger donations of blankets (over 35) we can pick up!! Call Larry Davis at NEOCH 216/432-0540 or bring them downtown to 3631 Perkins Ave. just off of I-90 near Cleveland State University.
Press call 32 at the door. 

We are delivering the toys and household items we have collected on Thursday of this week as part of the NBC Toy Drive.

Last reminder that the Homeless Memorial Day is Wednesday December 21, 2011 at 5:00 p.m. at St. Patricks Hunger Center on the near west side of Cleveland on the corner of Bridge Ave and West 37th St.  State Senator Nina Turner will be our featured speaker along with religious leaders.

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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tough Times for Non-Profits

Did the Recession Really End?

We received a media release on Friday that is a sign of the times.  InterAct Cleveland (formerly East Side Interfaith Ministry) is closing.   Twenty years ago, there was the East Side religious collaboration, West Side Ecumenical Ministry (WESM), and the Interchurch Council.  Now all are gone.  What happened?  They were all collaborations built on a foundation of providing food to the hungry and they grew to serve the social service needs of Greater Cleveland.  WESM grew into a huge organization and in 2011 merged with the Center for Families and Children to become a too big to fail non-profit.  The other two went out of business.  The Interchurch Council closing was messy with a large debt and the transfer of their emergency shelter to the Salvation Army (Zelma George) after the Hunger Network split off from the Council. 

InterAct is citing the lack of foundation support, contributions from local religious organizations drying up, and individual donors turning to other organizations.  The Board statement says that this unstable funding has resulted in the inability to keep or attract quality staff.  The statement on the InterAct website says that the Board has analyzed their situation and concluded that the agency is not viable in the long run. My experience is that they have not figured out how to promote themselves as an essential service in Cleveland.  I am sad to see the organization go out of business.   

I remember Lyn Cooper and her crowded office on Euclid Ave.  I remember the food program donated by the Cleveland Clinic over on Carnegie Ave.  I remember Tony and Suzanne in the newly renamed InterAct as our downstairs neighbor on Perkins.  They partnered with NEOCH and other social service providers on the Homeless Stand Down and moved it to the winter.  For the past six years, they have brought a great deal to the Stand Down, and made this a huge event for homeless people in Cleveland.  Sr. Donna, Pam, and Toni took the lead with the Stand Down and expanded it to three days.  I remember the great work that they did to calm the community after the attacks of September 11, 2001.  They moved over to Franklin Circle Church and struggled to find their footprint in Cleveland.

Does this mean religious groups of different faith traditions have outgrown the need to meet at the same table or have we outgrown this need in Cleveland?  Does it mean that different religious organizations cannot figure out a way to sit together and work to maintain a corporation?  Are the values of diverse religions not compatible with those of non-profit organizations?  The "one religion non-profits" like Lutheran Metro Ministry, Catholic Charities and Jewish Community Foundation, are not struggling and are moving forward during this stormy weather.  What has happened in Cleveland that we do not see the value of multi-denominational religious organizations?

This morning, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the Freedom Museum is in trouble and could close by the end of 2012.  How could the a freedom museum in the United States at the same time as Time Magazine identifying the protestor as the "Person of the Year" be in danger of closing?  This is insane that we could lose the Freedom Museum!  The Museum documents the history of the underground railroad and the critical role Ohio played in assisting slaves to freedom.  I think that both InterAct and the Freedom Museum have a needed role in our community.  It is a bad sign that we cannot sustain these social service and cultural institutions.

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Couple of Items You May Have Missed

Homelessness in the Media

NPR's Morning Edition had a story of a homeless woman trying to get enough money to send a Christmas Card to her daughter on the popular StoryCorp section of the broadcast.  While living in the shelter, Queen Jackson was depressed around the holidays until she received a hygiene kit that contained a bottle of lotion with the most fantastic fragrance.  It cheered her up, and got her through the season.  Remember NEOCH is also collecting items to distribute to homeless people.  We are collecting blankets and winter items including hygiene items to distribute to those on the streets. Maybe your donation could help a woman down on her luck make it through the holidays. 

Staff of the local coalition as well as the National Coalition for the Homeless were quoted in the latest Nation magazine.  The article describes the cuts to the housing budget nationally and the strain that is putting on those with a low income.  I really like the quote from Neil Donovan at NCH:

“Today the housing safety net isn’t just frayed,” says Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. “It’s missing. And still everyone’s being told to walk the tightrope without any net.”
The entire issue is dedicated to a look at the cuts to all the New Deal programs and the impact of those cuts on our society.   From Medicaid to Food Stamps to poverty programs, they are all facing the chopping block, and the authors look at how this affects the Bronx or Cleveland or the Oakland school system.  It is a good read--check it out. 

The National Center for Family Homelessness has received a great deal of attention for their report on the sharp increase in children experiencing homelessness during the recession. The director was on Tell Me More on NPR talking about the report, and many newspaper wrote about how their state compared with regard to childhood homelessness.  This is the best part of the Center for Family Homeless reports is that it compares various state efforts to address the problem. It shows how state efforts to cut taxes has a consequence on the number of people living in poverty.   This report shows that nearly every deep Southern state as well as the desert southwest states having the largest increase in homelessness of over 40% in the last three years.  California is also on the worst list.  Texas is in the second worst category of 31% to 40% increases in childhood homelessness along with the other states bordering the South along with New York and Oregon.  Two Southern states (North and South Carolina) break with the rest of the South seeing only a 21% to 30% rise in childhood homelessness.  These are certainly not good numbers, but at least they are not horrible like much of the South and West.  This 21% to 30% increase in childhood homelessness is the same percentage increase for Ohio, Michigan and Indiana.

Brian Davis
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Monday, December 12, 2011

Homeless Memorial Day

Candlelight Vigil December 21, 2011 

               The 25th Annual Homeless Memorial Day will take place on December 21, 2011 at St. Patrick’s Meal Site 3610 Bridge Ave. at 5:00 p.m. at the Hunger Center. This year the candlelight vigil will feature State Senator Nina Turner as our guest speaker along with three religious leaders.  Media are welcome to attend and photograph the memorial/vigil.

               Joining with other cities throughout the state and country, the Cleveland vigil will include an inter-faith memorial service from the Jewish and Christian faith traditions.  In 2009, Ohio legislators designated December 21 as Ohio Homeless Memorial Day. Every big city in Ohio has a similar vigil to remember those who have passed away over the previous year. This year marks a quarter century of remembering those who died with some recent experience with homelessness.   We have seen a sharp increase over the last four years in families who find themselves homeless as well as those who are classified as living daily with food insecurity. Locally, we have seen a protracted state of economic despair having never recovered from the 2001 recession and seeing a tidal wave of foreclosures leading to this rise in homelessness. 

          For More information call 216/432-0540.
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Friday, December 09, 2011

Good Article on Homeless Students

Columbus Homeless School Children Increasing

The Dispatch did a nice piece this week on the rise in students who become homeless during the school year. Cleveland had an incredible increase in students in the 2007 to 2008 school year, but we have small increases over the past year.   The number of students in Ohio has increased by 70% since 2006.  The stats from the school district are a valuable tool to look at homelessness in the community.  They do not depend on the number of shelter beds like the homeless stats released by HUD do.  The definition is broad, but easily understandable compared to the definition used by HUD.  And every school district is using the same definition for the past 20 years, and they all must submit data for the school year to the state of Ohio.  The numbers listed in the report in the Columbus Dispatch for Cleveland are different from the numbers I have for the district.  They list 1,123 homeless students for Cleveland, but the graph does not indicate what time frame this is for.  I have 2,275 homeless children from July 2010 to January 2011 within the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.  I have 2,567 for the 2009 to 2010 school year (July 2009 to June 2010).  

But the story does show the huge growth in homeless children in Columbus.  I think that it points to the problem that many cities took their eye off the ball for the past six years especially Columbus.  They focused all their money and staffing on working on long term homeless people and the other programs withered on the vine without a safety net.  Instead of trying to solve homelessness for everyone and trying to reduce the population across the board, they put all their money on one sub-group thus making other sub-groups see their resources decrease and numbers grow.   There is so much pent up demand for housing, jobs, and social services that if you put all your cities resources on one population, all the other groups needing help grows.   Also, if you pay attention only to shelter numbers and the count that HUD does every year, you miss trends in the community.  There are a limited number of shelter beds in the community, and we do not create new beds based on increasing demand.  So, if the family population grows because more people are out of work, the shelters are often the last to know about this trend.  The schools are often the first to know about what is happening with families.

The story on 60 Minutes two weeks ago about homelessness in Florida had a similar message. We should pay more attention to the numbers from the schools.  They say a great deal about trends and issues facing the homeless populations.  It was interesting that the Dispatch quoted a Groveport school official who said that January and February are the worst times for a rise in homeless children.  That is not my experience, which shows a sharp increase in homelessness in May and June after school lets out, but that is not something that the schools would be able to track.  The other piece of information not in the article is the near collapse of the Cincinnati Homeless Child and Youth project.  This was one of the premiere school programs in the United States until a couple of years ago, and it has fallen on hard times with massive budget cuts.  There was a scathing report about the Cincinnati school districts efforts to meet the requirements to get children re-rolled within 24 hours of their family becoming homeless.

We should mention the fantastic program we have in Cleveland, and the massive undertaking of serving all the Cleveland Metropolitan School District children.  Project ACT does a great job in serving all the children living in shelters or on sofas throughout the community.    If a child's family falls into homelessness and the child was a student of CMSD or migrated to Cleveland to seek shelter, we can be assured that the staff at Project ACT will move heaven and earth to get that child back into school.  They will cut through the bureaucracy to get them back into their school of origin or place them in a new school if that is what the parent wants for their child.   It is a huge undertaking, but Project ACT has always done a great job with this transitory population.  During the time of homelessness, which must seem like a hurricane hitting the family to a child, it is nice to have the stability of school for the young person.

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Monday, December 05, 2011

Is Diversion Ethical?

Guests at the 2011 Hand Up Gala 

Is the trend toward diverting from shelter a passive barring the doors?

In November, the City of New York was sued by Legal Aid and the Coalition for the Homeless regarding the tactic of diverting families from shelter.  New York City is one of the only communities in the United States with a court protected right to shelter for every family showing up requesting help.  Diversion is a trend sweeping the country, encouraged by the so-called experts. to reduce the number of people "improperly" using the shelters.

The policy described by the City of New York is an attempt to "verify that people seeking shelter were truly homeless."  There was broad concern that the policy was being pushed too quickly and the social service community would not be ready.  The new date for implementation of the policy was scheduled for Friday of this week.  Advocates described the policy as "harassing and mean spirited."  The new policy in New York City was to determine if the person applying for shelter had exhausted every alternative including sleeping on a couch at a friends house before coming to the shelter.    The goal was to free up shelter space for those who have no where else to go.  The family shelter population has skyrocketed during the downturn to as many as 48,000 people on any given night just in New York City. 

Cleveland is flirting with a similar policy that often confuses those who are seeking shelter.  We are one of the few cities in the United States that has guaranteed access to shelter for those who request it.  So, a woman or a woman with a child goes to the Community Women's Shelter on Payne Ave. and men go to 2100 Lakeside Shelter.  Cleveland has also experienced record numbers in the family system.  Over the last two years, the central intake staff at the Women's Shelter have been working to "divert" people from entering shelter.   This means an interrogation about alternatives available in the community.  I have not seen much change at Lakeside.  Either the men truly have no where else to go or they understand that the answer is, "I have no where else to go."  The women and women with children get confused by the questions and think that the shelter is denying them access.  On the phone the women hear from the worker on the other line, "We are full have you tried to find other places to stay?"  Those who do not understand the shelter system or diversion and will get discouraged.  They think that the shelter is saying, "go find somewhere else because we cannot serve you."  They may decide to stay with an abuser over sleeping on the street or in a car or may jeopardize a family members rental lease by quietly moving onto a couch and trying to stay away from the landlord. 

Some of the potential residents looking for help do not press the person on the phone and the shelter worker does not mention that they will take anyone who comes to the door in need of shelter.  They are both talking past each other and some women are turned away.  It is not until they call our office or call First Call for Help back before they are told to show up at the shelter and they will be offered a bed.  I do not know if the shelter is intentionally deceiving the callers or not caring what happens to those seeking the shelter, but it confusing for the mom desperately seeking help for her kids.  It seems to me that if we have a truly central intake everyone in need of shelter would show up, and then the shelter would sort out where they can best be served.  But playing this game on the phone seems unethical to me.   We know that the courts in New York City did not look favorably on the diversion policy and the City was forced to delay implementation of this plan. 

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