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The Ohio Coalition of Homeless Advocates

The Ohio Coalition of Homeless Advocates is one of the state groups that are associated with the National Homeless Civil Rights Organizing Project (NHCROP). The purpose of OCHA is to monitor and keep track of civil rights violations in the form of hate crimes and policies that criminalize homelessness. The OCHA serves as a means of representing the rights of homeless people when certain policies threaten their necessary life functions. Currently, OCHA has representatives throughout the state of Ohio in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Appalacia and Toledo. It will continue to expand in Ohio so that the civil rights of homeless people in all communities can be maintained.

In order to facilitate the task of monitoring these violations, NEOCH is developing a database that will one day be used by representatives throughout the State to keep an accurate count of when and where civil rights violations are happening. The database will aid the purpose of the Civil Rights Workgroup and will help build a more organized connection between homeless communities throughout Ohio.

NEOCH settled our lawsuit with the State of Ohio regarding the rights of homeless people to vote. 

To view a copy of this settlement go here (pdf). This was overturned by the new law in Ohio in 2011, but that law was put on hold with a referendum.  At this point our settlement is still active.

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If you are currently homeless or in danger of becoming homeless, please see our Homeless Legal Assistance page here.

Organizing Information on Civil Rights in Ohio

(The following is based on information provided by the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, a field site for the National Homeless Civil Rights Organizing Project, or NHCROP.)

 

Where to access state and city codes online:

We began our project by researching laws that were applicable for homeless people or that homeless people were cited for. We found a few laws that homeless people (specifically panhandlers) were getting warned and moved along for; made copies of these laws, and gave them out to people on the street. We also gave people the name and number of a person who could be contacted if somebody violated their rights.

 

General Resources on the Law:

We used some other resources to get an understanding of how the law worked, including some of the following:

The Criminal Law HandbookThe Tables Have Turned: a Street Guide to Guerilla Lawfare, www.plf.net,  www.lawcollective.org, and www.findlaw.org which allows you to access recent court cases for free. Also helpful is the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, (202) 638-2535. Website: www.nlchp.org

The National Coalition for the Homeless coordinates the Civil Rights Project. You can read a copy of the criminalization report on their website: www.nationalhomeless.org/civilrights/index.html

You can contact the Homeless Civil Rights Coordinator at GCCH: (513) 421-7803, email: homelesscivilrights@yahoo.com

How to do a record request:

*This can be helpful to find out what kinds of things people get arrested for, how people plea, and sometimes helps when people have complaints against specific officers. You can request an officer’s records on use of force, formal complaints lodged against them, how many people they have arrested, and what they’ve arrested people for.

You legally have the right under state and federal law to have access to any record kept by any public office including, but not limited to, state, county, city, village, township and school district units. The following are a few exceptions:

  • Medical records
  • Records pertaining to adoption proceedings
  • Trial preparation records
  • Confidential law enforcement investigatory records.
  • DNA records
  • Information about youth in protective custody who have been released to the Dept. of Rehabilitation and Corrections
  • Peace officer’s residential and family information
  • Information pertaining to the recreational activities of a person under the age of eighteen
  • Identity of a suspect that has not been charged with the offense to which the record pertains
  • Any records that would give away confidentiality of a witness or source.

 According to section 149.43 of the Ohio revised code, all public records shall be promptly and reasonably prepared and made available for inspection to any person at all reasonable times during regular business hours. A public office or person responsible for public records shall make copies available at cost within a reasonable period of time. The requestor can be responsible for paying the cost of the record request (copies, postage, etc.)

To find the office that deals with records, you can go to the government section of the phone book and look up "police records" or go through the courts by going to the court clerk’s office.

How to develop relationships locally:

Outreach- I usually go to different spots in the city where homeless people frequent. I would just go up to groups of people and tell them who I was, what I was doing, who I worked for, asking them if they had any issues around being or hearing about people being brutalized or discriminated against. (It is helpful to have business cards with your name, address, and phone number.)

After establishing an initial contact it is important to address the specific needs people have and to follow through. If there is something that you can’t do, don’t tell people you will try to help them when you know there is nothing you can do; be straightforward. A lot of the outreach I did was not specifically related to civil rights issues. I often ended up just hanging out with people and talking about their lives. Get good at remembering people’s names.

Some of the specific needs people might have could be things related to civil rights, such as court support, jail support (or the promise of availability for jail support), or finding lawyers. Many times part of building a relationship will be helping people with other non-civil rights needs, such as housing or other basics. The most important thing we found was to be consistent and remember that you are advocating for homeless people’s needs as expressed by them.

Helpful information to be able to give to people:

  • Expungement information for your county- This is info you can get by calling the court clerk’s office, or by contacting your local Legal Aide office.
  • How to request their arrest records- some counties have ways to access this information. Hamilton County has a website www.courtclerk.org that has this information and has been very helpful to finding out if people have warrants or outstanding charges.  Cuyahoga County also has a website for its Clerk of Courts at http://coc.cuyahogacounty.us/.  The Franklin County Clerk of Courts has a website at www.fcmcclerk.com.   Usually there is a location where people can go and pay and get a police check. Having this information and fee waivers can be helpful for people who are trying to get jobs and housing.
  • Establishing relationships with local lawyers who take criminal and civil rights cases is really helpful. Contact the general council for the ACLU in Ohio for help with civil rights cases (info on how to contact them can be found at www.acluohio.org/about/NeedLegalHelp.asp).