Monday, February 27, 2012

Support the National Coalition for the Homeless

Crisis Hidden in Plain Site

I am a proud member of NCH’s board of directors, and over the years I’ve gotten an up-close look at the amazing work of this small but feisty, progressive, and passionate advocacy organization.  NCH is, simply put, the leading national voice for homeless and formerly-homeless people and progressive advocates in the ongoing struggle to end homelessness and protect the civil rights of those experiencing homelessness. 

That struggle has never been more vital than now, in the midst attacks on the safety net; efforts to criminalize homelessness in cities throughout Ohio, and a concerted effort to limit access to the ballot box for minority and low income populations.  We have seen a failure of leaders in Washington to work on comprehensive solutions to homelessness and instead pit one subgroup against another.  We have seen a failure of some advocacy groups to tackle the root causes of homelessness.  

I can assure you that NCH is standing as a national voice for those living on the streets or in the shelters for a comprehensive solution to end homelessness for all populations. I have helped work on a national foreclosure report to show how it impacts the homeless population, and I have chaired the National Civil Rights Organizing Project.  I know that the staff and board have regularly appealed to elected officials and federal bureaucrats to expand housing opportunities to meet the dramatic rise in homelessness and poverty since the economic crisis began.  NCH has, like many other progressive groups, also had to struggle with financial hardships in recent years – but we keep on fighting. 

So here’s why I’m asking for your help right now:  NCH has launched a special short-term appeal, called “Crisis Hidden in Plain View,” and a generous supporter has given us a $30,000 matching grant.  Their goal is to match and exceed that amount by mid-March – and I’d be so grateful if you could help us reach that goal.

Here’s where you can find information about the appeal and where you can donate:

Show them that Ohio cares and that we value a strong national advocacy organization.  Thank you so much for any help you can give.

Brian Davis
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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Today's Links

Photo by Cheryl Jones
A Couple of Interesting Stories

The Huffington Post published an article today about the impact of dramatic cuts on families.  We have seen a sharp rise in family homelessness in both Columbus and Cleveland over the last four years.  The most frightening part of this story was from a young child in Detroit:
“He said, ‘Oh, I’m not eating dinner because it’s my brother’s turn tonight. Tomorrow is my night.’”
The report from the Annie E. Casey foundation found 67% of the children live in concentrated poverty in Detroit.  Michigan has made dramatic changes in cash assistance and dropped 11,000 from the roles.  Over 400,000 are unemployed in Michigan, but only 60,000 receive benefits.

CNN featured an inspirational story about Lamont Peterson and his journey from homelessness to Light Heavyweight world champion. It is nice to see media stories in which homelessness does not seem like a permanent condition.    

The AP is reporting that the City of New York cannot proceed with their diversion plan as we reported previously.   The decision concentrates on the way that the policy was introduced.  The judge did not rule on the merits of the policy at this point.  The City is characterizing the policy as one that anyone can walk in for services whether they need it or not.  The Mayor of New York needs to stay in a shelter for a week, and he would realize that it is not a place where people would volunteer to reside.  This is the final step for most people who have lost everything else. It is an insult for the City to say to a desperate individual that they must impose on their Aunt Rose's hospitality or sleep on the streets. 

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Pete Passes

Homeless President Leaves the Scene

We had the pleasure of meeting with a guy, Pete Domanovic, who proclaimed himself President of the Homeless.  He sold the Homeless Grapevine in Cleveland, and struggled with trying to obtain his identification.  He kicked around the Slavic Village neighborhood in Cleveland, and always had an idea for how to improve life in Cleveland.  He was so depressed in seeing what happened to his old neighborhood with the foreclosure disaster.  He hated seeing the dirty streets and the abandoned buildings that marked and destroyed his neighborhood.  He complained everyday about the elected officials in Cleveland who allowed this to happen.  He always had a solution in mind for every problem, and I think that is why he took on the title of "homeless president." 

Here is the memorial page that his friends in Indiana put together: 
Pete became homeless at the age of twelve, living on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio. He has been all over the country doing different types of work, from the pipe yards in Texas, the shipyards in Alabama, the kitchens of Atlanta, manufacturing in Ohio, and everything in between. Finally, Pete found home in Bloomington, Indiana.  He knew Bloomington would be his final destination; it was a special place. Starting in the streets  he progressed to a stable job and moved into an apartment. He even acquired a cat “who had manners”.  During his own personal battles Pete wanted to educate the public about homelessness. He started writing about homelessness on a blog and had the opportunity to speak about homeless issues at Indiana University.  Pete wanted to inform people of the larger problem at hand– the inadequate social services and the need of individual-specific services for the poor, homeless and elderly.
Pete didn’t fight the battles alone, someone helped.  Someone lent a hand, someone gave, someone loved. Pete always returned the blessing; he was an amazing man.  Pete often spoke of Helpers, a project based in Bloomington.  He liked the idea and frequently donated part of his income to Helpers.
All of us at NEOCH were sorry to hear of Pete's passing and will miss him.

Brian Davis
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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Emergency Solutions Grant

How Should We Spend Our ESG Dollars?

The Homeless Congress in cooperation with NEOCH, the City of Cleveland, the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services, and the Bishop Cosgrove Center are hosting a meeting to discuss the new Emergency Solutions Grant funding. This is a new pool of funds that were intended to replace the stimulus funding from 2009.  It is hardly a replacement since we were given around $5 million per year for preventing homelessness in Cuyahoga County and the new allocation in 2012 will be around $600,000 to $700,000.  This is all because of the push in DC to cut, cut, cut, and cut until it hurts.  The program has been effective in serving thousands in Cleveland, but it will have to be scaled back because of funding from the federal government.

The Emergency Solutions Grant funding is distributed to Cuyahoga County and most every Continuum in the country.  In accepting these funds, the City/County must adjust their Consolidated Plan.  The Homeless Congress is having a special meeting on Tuesday February 28 at 1 p.m. at the Cosgrove Center to hear input from consumers of homeless social services about their recommendations in utilizing these prevention dollars.   The Office of Homeless Services is hosting another public meeting for social service providers and other members of the public on 
                                              Friday, March 2, 2012
                                              9:00 - 10:30 AM at
                                              the ADAMHS Board, 6th Floor
                                              2012 W. 25th St.--the old bank building kitty corner 
                                              from the West Side Market.
Parking is available on the street and at the West Side Market.  Parking is not available in the ADAMHS Board lots. Also, do not park in the depressing shopping center across the street or your call will be towed.
Congress passed the stimulus in 2009 to get the economy going, and with the housing crisis there was a huge pool created to prevent homeless.  There was an attempt to get this money on the street quickly, and so they dumped this money into existing programs.  Cuyahoga County received $14 million to be used between July 2009 and July 2012, and is just about out of funds.  Just for context, the program served 10,224 individuals between September 15, 2009 and December 31, 2011.  There were 2,074 families were served which is made up of 4,441 children.  Five percent of the total are veterans and 29% have some long term disability which makes it difficult to find housing.  Of the 6,800 who left the program before the end of 2011, 32% receive Social Security as their primary source of income with another 8% were receiving Social Security Disability, and 38% had some earned income but if they did not receive help they would have become homeless and had to live in a shelter. 

The program has funded legal help, mediation assistance,  the housing website, eviction prevention, rental assistance, housing search help, case management, and education of tenants of their rights when facing an eviction. We will have to figure out how to sustain these services with additional state or local dollars or figure out how to keep people out of the shelters with only about 15% of the money we had before. 

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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Homeless Stats Update

State of Homelessness Report

NEOCH is currently working on preparing a "State of Homelessness Report for 2011."  We ask public agencies and homeless organizations throughout the community to provide us trends, statistics and issues that impact the population.  Some of the things that we have gathered so far include:

  • The largest shelter in Ohio, LMM's 2100 Lakeside Shelter, had 140,136 nights of shelter to Greater Clevelanders or the same as 8.6 home games for average attendance at the Cleveland Cavalier basketball game for this season.
  • They served 233,000 meals in 2011 or the shelter served the same number of people as attend 3.5 games of the average home attendance at a Cleveland Brown's 2011 football game. 
  • The average length of stay decreased by 4 days between 2010 and 2011 at the Lakeside shelter.  The current average length of stay is 36 days.
  • There were more people showing up at the shelter requesting shelter in 2011 with 3,905 unique individuals, which was a 7% increase over the previous year. 
  • The women's shelter is around one fourth the size of the men's entry shelter at Lakeside, but they served 1,103 people in 2011.  
  • Cuyahoga County has about 21.1% of the family population living in poverty according to the 2010 Census.  
  • Based on poverty figures, NEOCH estimates that there were over 22,300 people who experience homelessness using the broadest definition of homelessness in the community.  This is a large increase from 2009 figures, but that could be related to the fact that 2010 was an actual figure from the US Census while 2009 was an estimate by the Census based 2000 count. 
We will have the full report available in the next month.  This is a teaser of the information that will be available to you in the near future.

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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bellefaire Youth Initiative on the Streets

Who Intervenes When Kids Hit the Streets

We invited staff from Bellefaire JCB's Youth Outreach Program to our outreach leaders meeting.  We have all the agencies that serve homeless people resistant to shelter in Cleveland.  We try to update the workers about new projects or new opportunities in Cleveland to better serve the population.  At the February meeting, Karen from the Youth Street Outreach team presented.  In the same week the Cleveland Jewish News featured a story about the project, and will mostly likely appear on the Channel 3 News (WKYC) on Monday or Tuesday. .

The team attempts to build trusting relationships with those who are estranged from their family or are having issues in the foster care system.  Bellefaire has started a drop in for young people at St. Paul's church on the near West Side of Cleveland on Thursday evenings and Saturday from Noon to 4 p.m.  St. Paul's Church is at 4427 Franklin Blvd.  The outreach staff are out at night on Thursdays in the winter at libraries, coffee shops, and other teen friendly spots.   If you are having issues or you know a teen struggling with their housing, you can call 216/570-8010 for help or go to their website at They have come to the understanding that young people need safe places and activities with other youth or they will find things to do that may not be safe or legal.

The other access point for the project is the RTA buses and Rapids.  Each of them have a "Safe Spot" logo that means that a teen can ask for help from the driver.  The RTA drivers and police have been trained to respond if a young person presents themselves and needs help. The staff are trained to deal with teens who are kicked out after coming out of the closet or struggling with being a victim of bullying in their school.   The problem of displaced youth is complicated because there are a number of criminals who prey on vulnerable young people.  These young men and women can be recruited into criminal enterprises or may be forced into sex trafficking rings.  Bellefaire, the Salvation Army and local and federal law enforcement partner to break up these evil enterprises that deal in the sex trade.

This is a difficult situation for the rest of the outreach workers to deal with.  There is always a question about reporting young people to Children and Family Services, and the rights of the guardians in these cases.  It is nice to have an agency that can navigate its way through these minefields.

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Monday, February 13, 2012

Victory In Hamilton County Voting Case

NEOCH Voting Settlement Preserved by Court

Way back in 2006, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless sued the State of Ohio over identification issues and voting.  We reached settlements for the 2006 and 2008 elections on the procedure for accepting identification on election day and how to count the provisional ballots. The Hamilton County Board of Elections in supervising the 2010 election decided to ignore the Secretary of State directive on counting of provisional ballots that were based on our settlement.  There was an extremely close race between Tracie Hunter and John Williams for juvenile court judge.  The final total provided by the Board was Williams winning by 23 votes.  This last week, a federal court judge in Cincinnati ruled that the hundreds of votes tossed out should be counted.

The Board of Elections excluded ballots that were cast with some error associated with the provisional ballot.  Many of these errors were the result of the poll worker misdirecting the voter in the proper procedure for completing the ballot.  It would seem obvious if the employee of the Board of Elections misdirects the voter, that voter should not be disenfranchised and have their vote thrown out.  The federal court judge has decided that these voters cast legitimate votes that must be counted if the poll worker erred. After two years of the seat being vacant and the people of Greater Cincinnati waiting for a decision in the case, the federal court has upheld our settlement.  The Cincinnati Inquirer story says that most of the disputed ballots are in heavily Democratic areas of town.  The local media is predicting that the election will swing the other way and Hunter will prevail.  Judging from the visceral response from the Hamilton County officials who answered the lawsuit and represent the other political party, they seem to agree. 

This is a victory for the Coalition and a victory for providing as many citizens as possible the chance to participate in democracy.  These same rules will be in place for the upcoming presidential election unless the state legislature makes changes this spring.  The difference is that these settlement and the directives will now have the success of being verified by the federal courts.  The Hamilton County Board of Elections has not decided if they are going to appeal this ruling. 

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Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Atlanta Shelter Gets Sacked by Judge

The powers that be in Atlanta received a favorable ruling from a Fulton County Judge, now they have to figure out what to do with 400 to 800 people who show up seeking shelter every night.  The local United Way, the Downtown Business Improvement District and the local foundation community have pushed around the Peachtree Pine shelter for years.  This week they succeeded in getting a favorable decision by a local judge that could result in the closing of the shelter by August 2012.  We have had short discussions about the Atlanta situation here and here and here on this blog.  The business elite in Atlanta got their wish, the shelter director is being evicted, and the shelter will be forced to close as summer winds down.  They cut off funding for the facility, and yet it stayed open.  They foreclosed on the building, and it remained.  A new owner purchased the property and worked to remove the existing shelter staff, but the Beaty's who run the shelter held on.   

In an especially harsh verdict against the Metro Atlanta Task Force, the director, Anita Beaty, was told by the Judge that she must leave the facility by February 15, 2012 at noon.  The United Way will take over the facility and have until August 31, 2012 to relocate all the residents to other shelters or into housing. It is likely that the Task Force's lawyers will appeal this decision, and this will likely push these deadlines.  But no city in the United States has ever relocated thousands of long term homeless people in a short period of time.  If it were not for the fact that these are peoples lives that the court is gambling with, it would be interesting to see if a social service collaboration can put together enough funds to relocate such a large number of fragile people.

The judge was very angry that the Occupy Atlanta advocates were allowed to move into the shelter.  Judge Craig Schwall in issuing his verdict on Friday had harsh words for Anita Beaty, the director of the Task Force.  The Atlanta Progressive News article quoted the judge as saying, "I'm not convinced they ( Jim and Anita Beaty) have the best interests of the homeless in this city.  If they did, they wouldn't be in contested litigation and move Occupy Atlanta in, which is a political statement.  And they would've let United Way in.  If they can't do that, its about power and control and revenge."  It is sad that the judge felt the need to condemn and question a person who has put 30 years of service to those struggling with their housing in his public comments. 

There will be many around the country watching this experiment in homeless crisis management. Cities typically do a poor job of assisting populations without media consultants or lobbyists with expensive suits in a time of emergency.  In context, the city of Atlanta already cut $18 million out of their 2012 budget and the next budget does not look good. The United Way of Atlanta reported a 10% decline in funds for 2011 to 2012.  Where is the money going to come from to serve a couple thousand people?

The Atlanta Journal article quoted Protip Biswas (I know, looks like a text message mishap) from United Way as being able to find space for 25 people in transitional beds.  He said, "We know we can small manageable numbers of 20 to 25, but if there are more that it will have to be a drastic solution of throwing mats on the floor." How many mats will fit on the floor of the Georgia Dome?   Based on those numbers and the reality that half the population turns over every 30 days, the United Way will start with 550 people and add around 275 new people per month.  At the rate of finding housing for 20 to 25 people per month and with the hope that Homelessness in America ends to coincide with the August 31st, 2012 deadline, Atlanta would be able to relocate those who show up at the Peachtree Pine Shelter over the next six months by April 2020.  We have plenty of experience with overflow shelter in Cleveland, and what judges, media, elected officials, and bureaucrats often do not understand--homelessness does not stop to allow us to solve a community problem.  When we shut down our overflow facility one winter in Cleveland, the discussion was always where are we going to put the 120 people who were living in the overflow shelter every night.  But the real discussion should have been about the over 900 people who used the facility during the course of the winter.

What typically happens when shelter is curtailed is that more people will live outside or they will ride the transportation system all day.  They will squeeze into the libraries or the hospital waiting rooms.  Transportation officials will become frustrated that more people will be holding signs at the freeway exit ramps.  There will be more people panhandling and sleeping on sidewalks.  Tensions will rise at the Atlanta City Council meetings urging relief from people trying to squeegee cars downtown or selling anything and everything to get enough money to find housing or find transportation to some other place.  Out of fear and a misunderstanding of the problem, the public and media will demand action.  Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression will win the day.  The elected officers will be forced to react with policies that transform the police into guards of orderly conduct.  Atlanta will overturn common sense, and will become colder, meaner and poorer.  The cradle of the Civil Rights movement will be transformed into the Capital of the Intolerance Movement.

Should we demand the MLK Freedom Center be relocated to a more appropriate city where there is not this intolerance of the impoverished? I understand that the judge was tired of this long complicated acrimonious court case.  I understand he was angry with the shelter throwing this hail mary, but why shut down the facility in six months?  How about ordering the City or the United Way to offer space to everyone in need within the city limits?  Under a court order to provide housing, shelter or a safe place to everyone who shows up at the door of City Hall that would force a compromise by both parties who were appearing before him.  There is no way that the shelter would close if the bottom line for the court was concern for those who need a place out of the sun or out of the rain in Atlanta. 

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Monday, February 06, 2012

Good News for the Shelters

Mild Winter and Low Numbers Welcomed by Homeless

This warm weather has been a big help for those trying to help homeless people, and we have not had to spend huge dollars on overflow in Cuyahoga County.  Cleveland is one of the last cities in the United States that will find a place for everyone who shows up at the door requesting help.  This has been policy for 20 years, and has kept the number of people who pass away down to a minimum.  We do not have large numbers of people freezing to death that is seen in other cities.  When things are horribly cold more people choose to go inside.  We have spoken about the confusion that some have regarding diversion, but overall the system is built to provide shelter to everyone in need.

The nice weather has translated to fewer days this winter of overflow for the men.  The County has not had to pay for as many days of overflow as they did last year.  So far through January, we were told that the Shelter has only needed 7 to 10 days worth of overflow for the whole winter.  This is great news.    The way the shelter system for men works is that they go to Lakeside, and then after dinner the staff figure out if there are enough beds inside the building to serve all those who showed up.  They have a mat room that can serve as the primary overflow.  They also fill empty beds within the shelter of people who have a pass for the evening.  These are people who may be visiting family or have an early interview on the far west side so they stay on a couch for the night or they may be in the hospital.  They get a pass so they do not lose their bed, but those empty beds must be used if needed.  Then once the beds are all full and all the mats are full, the bus is pulled out and transportation starts to other facilities.  They have at least three other groups in the community who are willing to help out including Volunteers of America and City Mission and a religious group.  It is a pretty elaborate system worked out between the County and the Lutheran Metro Ministry.  Thankfully, with the warm weather we have not had to implement it as much as last year. 

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

In Memory of a Friend

Gloria attended the 2011 Hand Up Gala
Gloria Wilson 1974-2012
The Bishop Cosgrove Center remembered Gloria at a memorial on Monday January 30, 2012.  Gloria helped us start a women's residence council at the Community Women's Shelter when the program was run by Catholic Charities.  Before health issues limited her ability to attend meetings, she was always vocal about her opinion.  Gloria attended Homeless Congress meetings, and encouraged others to speak up.  She attended the St. James church and sang in the choir.  She had found subsidized housing, which was the hand up she needed to find stability.  Gloria was very good at briefly and clearly telling an audience the problem and providing an avenue for others to help.  I remember that she testified about poverty at a gathering of advocates at Trinity Cathedral.  Gloria had five children and a loving family.   Gloria volunteered a great deal to help clean up at the Cosgrove and I always saw her at the Homeless Stand Down.  We will miss Gloria's voice at local meetings.

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Privacy for Homeless People 2

Public Comment Due to HUD February 7, 2012

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is recommending those experiencing homelessness and local advocates to respond to the call for public comments with regard to the release of Homeless Management Information Systems requirements.  These rules are critical to the protection of privacy for homeless people, and could have a major impact on how the shelters are funded going forward.  We have an advocacy alert available to those interested in responding just send us an e-mail and we will pass that along to you [neoch (at) advocacy (dot) org.].

To respond go to:
Enter the Docket Number:  FR-5475-P-01
or the Title:  Homeless Management Information Systems Requirements.

If you do decide to respond, please send us a copy of your comments to our advocacy e-mail.  Here is the subject of our comments.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless has accepted the use of HMIS to improve the delivery of services to those experiencing homelessness, but we do not support the use of HMIS as a system to report the extent of homelessness to Congress.  We have seen that the statistics are often mistaken for a count of the total number of people homeless in a city or county.  No matter how many qualifiers are included in the national Annual Homeless Assessment Report, both elected officials and the media mismanage the data as a complete count of homelessness.  There is such wide disparity in how this data is collected that there is no way to compare among service provider and certainly between cities this case management data.  We believe that a voluntary case management system would be worthwhile to collect data, but a mandatory system that attempts to collect an unduplicated count is nearly impossible in such a fractured system.

In a period of tightening budgets and federal cuts, we believe that these resources could be redirected to basic human services or housing assistance instead of the administrative services of counting people. We see the value of one electronic case management system overseen by HUD used by every social service provider in a community.  If the eventual goal is to arrive at the number of homeless people in a city or state as stated by Congress, we believe that HUD would receive much better information by funding local experts to conduct a census in representative cities.  We believe that local universities or foundations in various size representative cities, suburbs, and rural jurisdictions could develop an accurate estimate of the number of homeless people and then they could use that data to extrapolate a national estimate of homelessness. 

Here are a few of the areas that we have concerns:
  1. It should be made clear that there is not a minimum participation rate by clients for the social service provider.  The user who is experiencing a housing emergency and refuses to enter data should not result in a penalty or an issue with the performance standards for the local social service provider. 
  2. We believe that the security standards should emphatically and unequivocally state that law enforcement agencies should not have access to personal identifying information contained within the HMIS data without a warrant signed by a member of the judicial branch of government.
  3. We believe that the requirement for every publicly funded homeless service provider contribute data to a central management system is an unfunded mandate from the federal government.  There should be dedicated resources separate from the Emergency Solutions Grant or Continuum funding to implement this project.
  4. We believe that there are a number of state privacy laws that make it difficult for local agencies to submit data under these proposed rules.  
  5. NEOCH does not believe that an HMIS Lead organization should also be a service provider.
  6. The security standards, local policies and procedures and grievance process should be posted on an easily accessible publicly available website.
  7. There are no protections for clients outlined in the regulations for improper usage or improper release of data especially privacy violations by an HMIS Lead organization.
  8. Since this data is being used by the public and Congress for planning and local decision making on the proper allocation of resources, there should be a way for advocates or the public to challenge the data’s accuracy.
If you have questions or need more detail feel free to contact us.  Even if you disagree with our comments, it is important to have the public weigh in on these rules.  These requirements are forcing every publicly funded shelter in America to require everyone entering to provide data and then that data is compiled in an annual report and delivered to Congress.  While I understand the importance of data, it just seems like we are surrendering to the reality that we will always have homeless people in the United States.  We are forced to construct this elaborate infrastructure to keep track of those people without housing, because homeless families are going to be with us for generations.  We are resigned to have detailed rules about the counting of homeless people, and we are going to need shelters for decades into the future.  I want some political will to end homelessness this year.  I want to not have to count people next year with all the vacant housing in the United States.  Maybe I am a dreamer, but writing down all these rules to count homeless people just seems like we are agreeing to sign on to a similar document presented to General Lee in the parlor of McLean House in April of 1865.  

Brian Davis
Community Organizer

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