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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.

Saturday
Aug152015

NPR and WashPost Take Up Criminalization

This is how not to do law enforcement. Austin Texas Police in full riot gear patrol near the shelter. These officers cannot be identified and their badges are not visible. Photo by Richard Troxell

NPR had a nice story about the Justice Department weighing in on the Bell vs. Boise Lawsuit.   This was a good assessment of the issues with an interview of Eric Tars of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. It is worth the listen.

The Washington Post also did a good overview of the issue. 

"Homelessness is just becoming more visible in communities, and when homelessness becomes more visible, there’s more pressure on community leaders to do something about it," Tars says. "And rather than actually examining what’s the best thing to do about homelessness, the knee-jerk response — as with so many other things in society — is 'we’ll address this social issue with the criminal justice system.'"

There was a story about this issue here:

By Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

We felt that this was such a historic decision that we have dedicated a page on our website to the decision which has a copy of the well written brief.

Saturday
Aug152015

Paintings at University Hospital

University Hospital Humphrey Gallery is hosting portraits of homeless people staying at 2100 Lakeside. Every Friday over a semester of his junior year at Cleveland Institute of Art, Elmi Leodan Ventura Mata would visit 2100 Lakeside Shelter in Cleveland to paint portraits of some of the men living in the shelter.  His portraits are on display right off the main entrance of UH through the middle of September.  We have a few photos of the artwork and we will have a few more in the Cleveland Street Chronicle.   It is worth stopping in if you are on the Case campus to see these fine works of art.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry. 

Saturday
Aug152015

County Council Meets to Discuss Women's Shelter without Homeless Woman

The Women sleeping at the Norma Herr Center have been complaining about the conditions at the shelter for months, years and in fact decades.  10 years ago, many of the same issues promoted a demonstration set for the day Katrina hit New Orleans.  We cancelled the event because of the crisis and the break down of the infrastructure in the Gulf Coast, but the problems at the shelter still exist.  There are food complaints, staffing issues, grievances, facility problems, lack of oversight, and a lack of enforcement of the County rules for running a shelter.

Over the last six months the women have been bringing their complaints to our monthly Homeless Congress meetings to let elected officials know about the problems.  In May 2014, we had County Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell as the guest speaker at the Homeless Congress to hear the concerns of the shelter residents.  She heard from the women who stay at the shelter along with a response from the County staff and many of the shelter providers were present who disputed the poor conditions and staff mistreatment.  Councilwoman Conwell said that she would take some of the concerns back to the full Health and Human Services Committee.  That meeting took place on June 17, but there were no women from the shelter present. 

We have heard that Conwell wanted to hear from the "other side" so she did not invite any residents from the shelter.   This is absurd.  If I had known, I would have never allowed anyone except residents of the shelter to speak at the May Homeless Congress meeting.  Many of the people who commented on the shelter either worked for the shelter, were contractors of the shelter or were supposed to be overseeing the shelter.  In fact three of the people who attended the County Council June 17 meeting spoke at the May Homeless Congress Meeting to defend the shelter.  We have written a letter criticizing Councilwoman Conwell for this "secret meeting." She owes the women a hearing as she promised at the Congress meeting.

Dear Councilwoman Conwell,

Recently, it has come to NEOCH’s attention that you held a meeting on June 17th about the shelter issues brought forth by the Homeless Congress from May.   We are writing to express our profound regret that you did not invite any homeless people or their advocates to the meeting. However, before doing so, I would like to mention some points brought up in the May Homeless Congress meeting. Bed rest was one of many concerns including disrespectful staff, horrible food, and improper discharges were also mentioned.  At that meeting, you heard from both representatives from the homeless community as well as the social service agencies.  So, then why only invite the social service providers to the June 17 meeting?  Most of the homeless population are intelligent individuals and can describe the conditions in which they live. Why did you hear only one side of the issue?  It is like you held a discussion about bike safety in the County and invited only automobile drivers or a hearing on expanding the Cleveland landlord tenant law into all the County, but only invited landlords to discuss the issue. 

There was not a single resident of Norma Herr at the meeting even though women from the shelter regular attend your meetings? We could have helped facilitate attendance if you had told us?  If someone was there to represent the residents, you could have asked if the procedures being “implemented” to address concerns were effective.  You could have heard directly from people sleeping there if the abuse they allege has continued.  You could have heard if conditions had changed in response to the May Homeless Congress meeting or the 44 complaints submitted in April to the County and to Frontline management.

At both meetings, the issue of grievances came up. At the Homeless Congress meeting you mentioned that cases should be handled on a neutral basis.  It seems disrespectful to the women who find themselves without a place to live to not be invited to the County meeting about the place they sleep.  As you know from your years working at the shelter, these women are taxpayers and largely find themselves without housing through no fault of their own.  Many of these residents can tell you why they do not trust the Cleveland Mediation Center.  They could tell you why CMC is beholden to Frontline Services and cannot be considered neutral.   An organization cannot be a neutral 3rd party when they are paid by one of the parties to administer a program just as a judge could not be considered impartial if they were receiving program funds from one of the lawyers appearing before them.

As for bed rest, the staff has set an arbitrary limit on the number of people who can stay in no matter if they have a bed rest order or not.  They have made severely disable women sleep in the lobby and wait in the cafeteria all day until a bed opens up.   If any residents of Norma Herr attended the June 17th meeting, this statement by Frontline could have been refuted.  We could have brought women in walkers to the table to show that bed rest orders are not followed.   Again, this comes back to the lack of representation of the women who are affected by these issues.  We urge you or any of the Council members to show up for dinner around 5:30 p.m. on any night (UNANNOUNCED)and then answer the question would you want your disabled relative to stay in this tax payer supported shelter?

The women could have talked about all the holes in the “shelter standards” offered by the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services and the fact that there is no where to go if you have concerns that those standards are not being followed.  Finally, after all the heart ache that you heard from the women staying at the shelter that you fund, it seems cruel that the only outcome will be a future committee meeting on the “positive things that are happening at the shelter, since the media focuses on the negative.”  If this were only true then there might be changes at the women’s shelter.  We have not seen any negative stories about the women’s shelter.  From our experience, the women’s shelter is the one facility out of step with the rest of the system.  The staff are cruel and not being supervised.  They do not see their job as intervening to help, but instead are merely employed to prevent a riot.  There is no incentives for women to work a housing plan, and no sympathy for the unique issues of each of the 150 women sleeping in the shelter. 

I call your attention to the feature on WCPN in July (http://www.neoch.org/cleveland-homeless-blog/2015/7/21/wcpn-looks-at-homeless-youth-in-cleveland.html).  This young person was going to Tri-C full time and was sleeping at the women’s shelter.  She was starving because no staff would hold a bag lunch for her and dinner was served before she got back from class.  The media is only reporting was is really happening in our community.   You do not need better publicity, you need to demand a better shelter.  Please, please follow up with a real hearing featuring current or former residents of the shelter who can give you an honest assessment of how our taxpayer money is being spent at the only facility available to single women.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Saturday
Aug152015

Rest in Peace: Transitional Shelters

We had a presentation from the consultant the County hired in July about the changes that are taking place with regard to the Department of Housing and Urban Development funding and the rules associated with receiving funds from the federal government.  Suzanne Wagner, a national consultant and huge cheerleader for Permanent Supportive Housing, came to Cleveland to tell us that the time is up for transitional programs.  The studies have all been done, the research is complete and the transitional programs are too expensive and keep people homeless for too long.  So get ready to convert the transitional shelters to something else.

We have steadily moved forward with this plan to eliminate transitional programs by de-funding all the transitional beds for women.  Some of those units were transformed into permanent supportive housing with the optimum word permanent.  While the average  transitional bed may turn over once or twice a year, the average PSH bed turns over once or twice every 10 to 15 years.   If these beds are not replaced it creates a back up on the front end of the shelters.  We have steadily lost transitional beds while steadily increasing the number of overflow or temporary beds locally. 

Yes, there are studies that show PSH are more economic for the community, but they do not compare apples to apples with regard to transitional programs.  They never factor in the capital cost of building a permanent housing unit when compared to the transitional shelters.  They do not factor in that the homeless pool of resources is not growing and yet the homeless programs have to slice the pie thinner and thinner.  We have to pay the housing costs of those in PSH every year with homeless funding along with all the other "priorities" we are mandated to serve coming out of Washington.  We have to prioritize family homelessness and youth homeless while our money is all going to Permanent Supportive housing which neither youth nor families typically qualify for.  In 2015, we spent 83% of the federal homeless dollars on Permanent Supportive Housing according to Cuyahoga County with a similar budget as we had in 2005.

Facility                                                  Monthly Cost                                 Yearly Costs

  • Emergency shelter costs                   $5,000                                        $26,800
  • Transitional Housing                         $2,700                                        $32,500
  • Rapid Rehousing                               $880                                           $6,500

This was distributed by Wagonner and comes from the HUD Family Option Study July 2015.  Again the problem is that this does not factor the cost of building these units and it does not factor in the loss of housing vouchers in the community that support these projects.  These vouchers were previously used to support a broad cross section of low income people.  Now, they are confined to a limited population in a geographically small area.

The problem with all of this is that 20 years ago, we heard from similar consultants who came to Cleveland telling us how great transitional programs can be for the community.  They said, "Look, your alcohol, drug and mental health programs are failing you, and so you need to create alternatives locally where people have the time to find the treatment they need."  They told us that transitional programs are a "game changer" and will significantly reduce homeless.  Our advocates at the time in the community said, "Okay, lets try it."  We invested in nearly 1,000 units of transitional housing in the community to ease people out of homelessness into housing.  The big issues were that they screened many out of joining the program (so does the PSH program), and they kept people for a longer period of time than was necessary (but no where near permanently!).  We needed these beds in our community for people with big issues.  The transitional shelters were slow in preparing the bed when a person left but they became an integral part of our response to homelessness.   It was confusing if these beds should be under the landlord tenant law since many lived there longer than the typical lease, but many found the help they needed in a transitional program.  Instead of fixing these shortfalls, HUD and Cuyahoga County are moving to eliminate public funding for transitional shelters. 

In November 2015, Cuyahoga County will declare "functional zero" in the number of homeless veterans.  So, this has to be considered a victory and we should use the lessons we learned from "solving" veteran's homelessness.  The Veterans Administration never moved away from transitional shelters and we have many veteran only transitional beds still in the community.  They were a strong part of the response to vets struggling with PTSD or traumatic brain disorders.  They were important for veterans in recovery or those with long term health issues.  We had a diverse number and type of programs available to homeless veterans.  Some transitional programs were tied to employment opportunities, some were tied to their health issue and other transitional programs were within HUD funded programs.  The system obviously worked since we are declaring victory.  Why is HUD forcing people to fit into these narrowly constructed programs?

Aren't there 700 people in the community who would benefit and would be better citizens if they had time to recover in a transitional program?  We need a diverse response to homelessness, because our society is diverse.  We need rental assistance for some, transitional for others, legal help for some and shelter for others.  One size does not fit all in the homeless community.  Say goodbye to the transitional shelters which are already gone in Chicago and Columbus.   It was nice while it lasted, but they have been declared obsolete by HUD and the County.  Those with a disability who may need a longer time to get stable are out of luck unless they stay homeless for a year and have the "right" kind of disability. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Saturday
Aug152015

Other Things to Donate

One of our friends who lives outside saw the post about donations needed in the summer and wanted to add a few things to the list.  We give out items all year round, (click on the link to view our list) but here are a few things that we need for the summer:

  • Rope and plastic canvases especially larger plastic with ring holes for the rope are very helpful.   This is to fortify places against the elements. 
  • Blankets--we are actually out of blankets right now.  We are overwhelmed with blankets in the winter, but at a loss in the summer. 
  • Tents are at a premium during the summer, and we can always use those portable for the guys who decide not to utilize the overcrowded shelters.
  • Towels, washcloths and sheets.  We typically give most of the sheets to the shelters, but most homeless people need towels and washcloths.  These are big items that go really fast when we get them in.

During the summer the number of families increase, and over the last three years this has been especially acute.  We have had to start busing families to an overflow center to serve everyone asking for shelter during the summer.  This overflow center is closing this month, and I have no idea what will happen to families in September.  I have not heard from anyone what will happen if more families show up asking for shelter than we have beds.  Here are a few items that the Coordinated Intake could use:

  • Baby Formula and small new play toys
  • Diapers and car seats
  • Strollers and snacks for young kids (breakfast bars, dried fruit, dry cereal, etc.)

If you have items for those living outside or for Coordinated Intake, you can drop them at NEOCH and we will get them to the appropriate people seeking help.  You may ask, "Why do I have to drop them off when some groups come out and pick them up?"  That is true that there are groups that pick up clothing and household items, but those groups often sell their items to fund their transportation and storage.  We are not spending our time going to the suburbs to pick up items.  We are spending our time distributing the items donated to those seeking help.  If you want to guarantee that the items you donate will go to people in need for FREE, then you have to do part of the work.  You will have to drop them off at those groups who are distributing the items to those living in the shelters or on the streets.  If you don't mind that a percentage of your donation is sold to make money for the non-profit then call one of those groups who comes around to pick up your gently used items. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.