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This blog is dedicated to distribute current information about the Coalition for the Homeless in Cleveland or poverty or the state of homelessness. Entries are written by board or staff of the Coalition. The opinions contained in this blog reflect the views of the author of the post. This blog features information on shelters, affordable housing, profiles, statistics, trends, and upcoming events relating to homelessness. We welcome comments, and will remove offensive or inappropriate messages. All postings are signed by the author.

The Cleveland Street Chronicle
Jim Schlecht Event
Monday
Mar272017

Two Other Retirements that Will Hurt Social Justice

West Side Catholic Center has always been able to attract really good directors as well as staff who have remained committed to keeping the program as one of the top homeless services in Northeast Ohio.  Anita Cook, the current Executive Director, announced her retirement last week to take effect at the end of September 2017.  Anita has always found a great deal of patience and empathy for the residents of the neighborhood who seek help.  West Side Catholic is a gem in Ohio City and an essential service to those who need assistance.  Anita has steered the organization through the collapse of all transitional housing programs in Cleveland and the loss of long time staff Sue DiNardo. She has seen a renovation of the shelter and the addition of jobs programs to the programming.  She knows exactly what is going on over on the West Side and has offered the drop in center as a venue for any group offering help.  From the students at Ignatius helping with a meal to our outreach workers coming through looking for the next person on the housing list, West Side Catholic is open to help.  Anita reached out to partners when there were issues with US mail services, and hosted our Homeless Memorial Day in December. 

Anita has made homeless people feel supported and appreciated when placed in leadership positions.  They do not feel isolated, and Anita actively seeks their input.  She has vision and always selected a quality staff who are driven by the mission and not the money.  Anita has our respect and has earned the respect of homeless people in the community.  We will miss her, and hope that the Board picks another quality Director to lead this critical service in the community. 

Charles See of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry is also retiring after founding the Community Re-Entry Program.  NEOCH began as a program on LMM, and when I was volunteering we were on the same floor as the Community Re-Entry program.  Charles was a good friend of NEOCH as the head of one of their pillar programs.  He was involved in criminal justice reform way before it was cool.  He cared about what happened to people being released from prison before most politicians and other community leaders did.  He was an early adopter of loudly complaining about the financial toll all of this rush to incarcerate people was doing to our society. He along with Rev. Dick Sering would tell anyone who would listen that this mass incarceration was a stain on our society.  Now everyone is saying what Charles See said 25 years ago.

See had to endure while all the re-entry specialists at the jails were defunded, and then deal with the results of these short sighted decisions on the Cleveland community.  He saw the pipeline straight from incarceration to shelters, and spent decades trying to get these guys jobs.  He expanded the group to include Women and worked with youth who were facing the messed up juvenile justice system.  He persevered through the good times and the bad.  He kept the agency alive during the era when no one cared about African Americans being sent to jail for drug offenses as well as the law and order times when all the money went to locking everyone up and no money went to helping people reintegrate into society.  It is amazing that he has worked on this issue for 44 years. 

Both of these retirements are going to be tough for the social justice movement.  Charles See has been a wonderful advocate for a group that is even more misunderstood than homeless people.  His voice in Cuyahoga County and down in Columbus is going to be missed.  Anita Cook is primarily a social service provider, but she has helped on a number of social justice causes such as voting and the inability to get identification.  She has always made her facility and her clients available to community organizers and social justice groups.  You may think this is a small thing, but I can't tell you how many places make it impossible or make us jump through an extreme number of hoops to get anything done.  NEOCH Board and staff wish them both much success in their next chapter in life.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry. 

Saturday
Mar252017

Correcting A Few Misunderstandings

Mother Jones magazine focused on the Opioid crisis and the rise in deaths (click here).  They focused on the number of deaths in Cuyahoga County and how it is overwhelming our Medical Examiners' office.  NEOCH saw the effect of this crisis in December when we read the largest number of names of homeless people in our 30 year history.

Morning Edition on NPR had a report on the rise in death rates among white people (click here) in the United States in a despair index. This ties into the feelings of insecurity and the turning to drugs to self medicate in America.

"In a follow-up to their groundbreaking 2015 work, they say that a lack of steady, well-paying jobs for whites without college degrees has caused pain, distress and social dysfunction to build up over time. The mortality rate for that group, ages 45 to 54, increased by a half percent each year from 1999 to 2013."

These two stories illustrate my issues that I face at NEOCH everyday and why it is time for me to move on.  There have been a number of media stories in the local news and they might have provided some confusion that deserve further explanation.  This is not a problem with the reporting but more of space issues. 

1. My salary is not the issue.  I have never wanted more money and salary is not that important to me.  I am certain that I make at the low end of nearly every Executive Director in the community.  I am also sure that I could have asked for more money, which would only mean that I would have to raise more money to accomplish our goals at the Coalition.  We have always posted our Tax Returns and so my salary has never been a secret.  The Coalition had tough times where I had to take a salary cut, but I was never working at NEOCH for the money.

2.  I am not cutting and running when times get tough.  I have given 23 years to this struggle for housing justice, and we have had a lot of tough times over the years.  As my family can attest, I have lived and breathed homelessness for all those years.  I have waited for years for things to get better or at least focus political capital on housing or homelessness.  I have waited for the State or Federal government to turn to solving homelessness for everyone or to even prioritize homelessness in a national discussion. How long do I have to wait?  We took a sharp turn away from helping people in 2010 in Ohio and then a dramatic change at the federal level in 2016 away from housing as a human right. I need to work at a job in which I can solve problems.  I want to work in a state or on a community problem that can show victories and will not be deciding on how to cut the pie thinner each year among worthy populations.

3. Trump vs. Obama and the treatment of homeless people.  My point in bringing up the Trump election was not to say Obama was way better, because he wasn't.  My point was to say that if we lost 444 beds over the last 10 years, think about how bad it is going to be.  I mean, it is not going to get better based on the austerity budget proposed and the campaign rhetoric of "draining the swamp" by Trump.  As a housing advocate, I live in the swamp.  The new administration did not bring anyone in who spoke about the importance of housing or that infrastructure improvements should include affordable housing.  Obama was a community organizer in a public housing complex so he had some understanding of the issues.  Even with that understanding and appointing two long time housing advocates to run the Housing Department, we still saw reductions in the public housing budget and flat funding for homelessness (sequestration!).  My point was that if we could not see an improvement in the eight years of a housing friendly president, how bad is it going to get with a President who knows absolutely nothing about affordable housing?

4. I am just another over-reacting progressive. With all the work we do on voting, I understand that elections have consequences.  When there is such titanic change in society, a social justice group has to also change. NEOCH is working on changing and need a change in leadership.  I could wake up in the morning and work on convincing federal officials to be sensitive to local homeless issues or working with state issues to expand the Housing Trust Fund.  My issue is that the conflicts are growing and the problems facing homeless people are mounting.  The victories are growing fewer and the defeats are growing more frequent.  The number of homeless babies taken into custody of Cuyahoga County, and the number of families who have split up in order to get a bed in a shelter. When NEOCH was a bigger organization, we were housing people one every three days and providing other tools to end homelessness.  How many decades do we wait on a National Housing policy?

5. Is moving the answer? The Congress of the United States hates housing programs and when most of our elected officials think of draining the swamp, they are thinking of subsidized housing.  The new President and his cabinet officials show no affinity for affordable housing or that housing is related to the health of a community.  So, we are left with community organizing and public policy at the state level.  There are states that are trying to confront the issue of a lack of affordable housing and the rise in homelessness.  Ohio is not one of those states. It might be better to go to another state to be able to organize and agitate.  Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are contributing all that they can (or at least that is what they keep telling me), and so there is no one left to listen to my advocacy pitch. 

6. Is this an issue for NEOCH or homeless people?  NEOCH relies on very few public funds ($34,000), and while these dollars are under threat, it is only 20% of our monetary revenue in 2016.   NEOCH is not a direct service provider so we do not provide beds, food, or housing to the population.  We are the primary homeless advocacy organization in the community and we have built our organization around public policy and forwarding an advocacy agenda.  NEOCH should be fine and will look different, but is not in danger of closing.  That does not mean that we do not see the suffering and the growing number of problems facing our constituents.  This is why I have said that it is "soul crushing" to see what is happening and to realize what is coming soon.  Nothing that I have seen over the last five months has changed my mind about my assessment of the tidal wave of cuts coming to poor people. 

7. This is going to harm NEOCH.  I don't think this is correct.  I love NEOCH and would never do anything to harm to the organization.  I actually think that this could be a new beginning for NEOCH.  In the mid 1980s, NEOCH was started to help the shelters open new facilities to meet the increasing number of families.  We will just be starting over to meet a similar crisis.  The Coalition will be able to find a person who can meet those needs and may have the skills on developing new programs in the community.  Plus, this new person will not have all the baggage that I have in dealing with other groups including the local foundation community who hate to see charities fighting with other charities.

8. This is all around sour grapes regarding the Women's Shelter.  I actually gave my notice back in November, but agreed to stick around if West Side Catholic were given the contract to run the Women's Shelter. I really wanted to help improve the conditions at the Women's Shelter, but the County went another way.  In discussions with the NEOCH Board, it was decided that the Annual Meeting was the best time to announce the resignation.  Sure, it was a huge blow to NEOCH and to me that we had done all this work exposing all the problems at the Women's shelter and the County decided to continue the contract with Frontline Services. Even if we had gotten the shelter, this would have only delayed my decision until 2018.  I know that NEOCH, Metanoia and West Side Catholic could have created one of the best shelters in the State of Ohio. I know that the collaboration would have improved conditions; would have found overflow space for all the women asking for help, and would not have re-traumatized the women, but it was not to be.

9. The NEOCH History.  I am so proud of all that NEOCH has accomplished over the last 22 years.  We are one of only two cities that does not turn people away if they ask for shelter.  We have a federal court decision that is still in effect that protects homeless people from police arresting or threatening arrest for purely innocent behavior.  NEOCH has done a great deal to improve the shelters, and we have helped to coordinate all the activities of those who go out on the streets to serve those who are resistant to shelter. We successfully fought a Mayor who hated homeless people, and we put in place some really good annual events that should continue.  We have some really good training programs, an affordable housing website, plenty of good information on our website, and we have helped with plenty of successful lawsuits to protect homeless people.  The numbers living on the streets is down and the number of homeless veterans are also down.  Cleveland can be proud of a lot of successes regarding homeless people, but it is a fragile situation.  These advances can easily be overturned.  I think that we are in for some really tough times ahead.

10. We need all the homeless advocates now more than ever. I disagree with this sentiment.  It is extremely difficult to organize a transitory population like homeless people.  They are not well liked at City Hall and are horribly misunderstood.  They are often confused with panhandlers and do not have a natural constituency of support.  Advocates could work on the larger poverty issues with the hope that this translates to helping homeless people with housing.  It is hard to educate politicians by dispelling some of the myths associated with homeless people and never getting around to the solutions.  It is much easier to talk about families struggling to pay the rent or making decisions between baby formula or medicine. We need more shelters and social services right now.  We need an emergency response to a crisis.  Advocacy efforts in the area of housing will need to wait until there are better times.

11. What is wrong with the County?  Just as we need more funds to address the housing crisis, we need more confidence in government.  It is no help if money is pouring in, but no one is keeping an eye on the cookie jar.  If a low income person asks for help and they are pushed to a subpar facility with bad food and no one to go to in order to complain, they become discouraged with government.  They decide not to vote because "nothing changes." They talk to family and friends about how bad government is and how they got mistreated.  Cuyahoga County is in charge of homeless services and has made terrible decisions over the last 20 years.  Taxpayers are not well served by the homeless system constructed by Cuyahoga County.  There is no independent grievance process.  There is no oversight of the services so they are making a significant impact, friends are rewarded and critics are punished, and there is no plan.  No one tries to get every group focused in the same direction and no one ever tries to mediate the tensions that develop between these charities who often compete for funding.  We bounce from one federal trend to the next, and the County does not identify or fully support the essential needs in our community.  Tax paying women who lose their housing should never have to endure the trauma they go through in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

12. Why would I have a resignation picture taken in a Hawaiian Shirt? This was an archive picture from last June 2016. We have Hawaiian Shirt Fridays during the summer at NEOCH as a team building exercise.  It is true that I am usually the only person who participates, but it does limit my future employment to a few islands in the Pacific.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Friday
Mar242017

Media About NEOCH Director's Resignation

This was left on our Facebook page and is touching so we thought we would give it more attention on our blog.  

"I'm so saddened to hear this news, when I was homeless I was blessed to meet him and he truly touched my heart. He talked to me and actually listened to my plight. He treated me with such respect which was something lots of people didn't do including the people that were supposed to be assisting us. He gave me his card and was interested in knowing my point of view of the agency that was helping. I actually felt like a human being instead of just a statistic. I wish he would stay but I wish him well but a little bit of my heart breaks for the people that are still struggling, I appreciated the time he took to talk to me and the hope he gave me." --Chellbaby E.

Here are the other stories about my resignation

Mark Naymik of the Plain Dealer wrote about it in his column. http://www.cleveland.com/naymik/index.ssf/2017/03/cle_chatter_citing_trump_budge.html

Mike Sangiacomo of Plain Dealer wrote about the resignation here.  http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2017/03/homeless_coalition_head_resign.html#incart_river_home (I forgot to say, why does the Plain Dealer allow for anonymous comments? They do not allow anonymous letters to the editor. Also, why the Hawaiian Shirt in March? Why not from the Memorial in December for the picture?

Eric Sandy of Cleveland Scene Magazine wrote about it here. http://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2017/03/23/the-director-of-the-northeast-ohio-coalition-for-the-homeless-is-resigning. No calls from the County wishing me well yet--keeping the telephone lines open.

Kabir Bhatia interviewed me about my stepping away from NEOCH here.  http://wksu.org/post/after-22-years-brian-davis-stepping-down-northeast-ohio-coalition-homeless

Forgot to include the link to the NEOCH Press Release here.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Friday
Mar242017

Award Winners from Annual Meeting

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless gives out awards at our Annual Meeting every year.  On March 23, we recognized a few people who have provided outstanding services to homeless people in Greater Cleveland.  Roy Love is the Board President who presented all the awards.  It was a really nice crowd who showed their appreciation to the people who have helped improve the lives of homeless people.

2016 David Westcott Volunteer of the Year:

            Michael McGraw is recognized for outstanding work writing for the Homeless Street Chronicle newspaper and his regular volunteer work at the Homeless Stand Down. McGraw has helped with the Hand Up Gala and regularly attends NEOCH events.  McGraw is a true champion of the work of the Coalition and is always willing to help advance the mission. 

2016 Advocate of the Year:

            Joseph Mead is recognized for outstanding work representing the interests of homeless and low income people in Greater Cleveland.  Mead of Cleveland State University and the ACLU is recognized for outstanding work advancing the cause of civil liberties over the past year in protecting free speech on the sidewalks in Youngstown, Akron, and Cleveland; for his outstanding work to protect domestic violence victims against evictions in the suburbs of Cleveland, and his protection of homeless people sleeping outside in Akron. He has worked at the Justice Department and is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School.

2016 Media Personality of the Year:

            Joe Pagonakis is recognized for outstanding work as a member of the fourth estate. He is identified as the WEWS TV 5 Troubleshooter, and has focused much attention on the poor conditions at the Community Women’s Shelter on Payne Avenue.  Pagonakis is a graduate of Ohio University and has spent his career down the street at WEWS TV.  Pagonakis is regularly putting a face on poverty with stories on human trafficking, housing struggles and the plight of homeless people.

Outstanding Achievements in Civil Rights:

            Brenda Gray served as a board member with NEOCH since 2009, Gray has provided leadership to the homeless community.  Gray is a lawyer specializing in juvenile justice, and volunteered with NEOCH to protect access to legal assistance for homeless people.  Her legal experience was invaluable to the NEOCH board of trustees and she has served as an officer for the Coalition in the past.  Gray was a strong advocate for an independent and healthy  advocacy organization that defended the right to vote and was dedicated to the protection of  individual liberties. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Thursday
Mar232017

NEOCH Director Announces Resignation 

To:  NEOCH Membership

Because you are a supporter of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, I wanted to let you know that I have given notice to the Coalition. I am going to resign from NEOCH effective June 1, 2017.  The Coalition is releasing a strategic plan (click here) this week that will re-focus the agency on convincing the private sector to shelter, house and provide supportive services to those who lose their housing.  Under new leadership, NEOCH is going to take on an even more valuable role to figure out strategies to meet increasing demand for help.  NEOCH will continue working on fulfilling its mission of ending homelessness with new, energetic, hope filled and enthusiastic staff.   

NEOCH has a really strong Board and they have worked on a transition plan. There is a committee to find new leadership.  The NEOCH Board members all have a passion for social justice and want to make sure that homeless people are not forgotten in the broader discussion on poverty.  I have told the Board that I would be willing to assist the organization if I land in Cleveland, because I believe that NEOCH serves a critical purpose within the community.  I hope that you will continue to support NEOCH in order to make sure that the voices of homeless people will continue to be amplified.

It is a rough time for all those who value social justice and that is only complicated by bad decisions made by Cuyahoga County.  NEOCH has become one of the premier civil rights Coalitions in the country and has won many legal victories with the City and State of Ohio to protect the rights of those without housing.  NEOCH has done a great deal to improve conditions, organize the population and protect them from unreasonable laws or harmful public policies in Cleveland.  If we accept some credit for improvements, we have to take responsibility for the suicide attempts in the shelters and the rise in deaths among homeless people. The issues facing the Coalition in the next few years include the large number of families seeking help and the reality that many of these families have to split up when they go to shelter, disabled and elderly women sleeping on the floors, and pregnant homeless moms who lose their babies to foster care.

I worked with NEOCH for 22 years and have often rubbed the establishment the wrong way. A new person can try to build bridges and downplay the advocacy piece until there is a better time for social justice.  The agency can always use your volunteer assistance or your support in talking to elected officials on the importance of emergency housing assistance.  NEOCH is only as strong as its membership.

Sincerely,

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry