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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.

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Wednesday
Apr292015

Local Reports from National Coalition Meeting

 The best part of the National Coalition for the Homeless meeting is hearing from other communities what is happening locally.  There are a lot of tremendous ideas and amazing advocacy going on in the local community.  This last meeting was held in Denver and we already posted some observations about Denver and Colorado.  Here are some highlights from what is going on around the country from NCH Board members. 

Minnesota

  • Struggling with trying to maintain state funding for homelessness and affordable housing with a tough budget.
  • Activists are working on fair housing issues within the state to rebalance the home ownership rate in Minnesota which is one of the lowest in the Country for African Americans.

Chicago, IL

  • The Homeless Bill of Rights passed the State (one of only three).
  • Agreement on sweeps by the police that resulted in throwing items away for those resistant to shelter.  Police will give one week notice before a "clean-up."
  • Working with re-entry folks on human trafficing issues.  Pilot program with the housing authority for trafficked women to get into housing.
  • Working on additional funding for affordable housing.
  • They had a setback in an SRO law passed which makes it difficult to transfer ownership because of neighborhoods gentrifying and wanting to eliminate low cost housing.
  • Fighting for a $13 minimum wage.

Indiana

  • Indianapolis Mayor vetoed their bill of rights passed by the City Council.
  • Large HIV outbreak in the southern part of the state--started an emergency needle exchange program and are working with trafficked women to try to limit spread. 

Sacremento, CA

  • Increase city trust fund to $25 million
  • Working on coordinated exit planning from various publicly funded programs.  They also have an employment collaboration working with homeless agencies.
  • Working on a better system for serving those addicted with a more "on-demand" system.
  • Statewide homeless bill of rights did not have the votes will be re-introduced in January 2016.
  • They did the DC criminalization survey  and found 75% of those surveyed had been arrested or threatened with arrest for purely innocent behavior of being homeless.
  • 2,900 anti-camping citations issued in Sacramento from 2012 to 2014.

Sentencing Project (national)

  • US leads the world in incarcerated individuals by large numbers. 
  • They have become involved in the Black Lives Matter campaign because of the relevance to their goals of bringing justice to the judicial system especially in cities. 
  • There is a true bipartisan effort to reform sentencing esp. for drugs.  The right wants to look at cost savings and the left is looking at justice.  Trying to limit excessive sentencing and look back at previous over sentencing.

Arkansas

  • The Coalition in Little Rock is barely hanging on and trying to speak up when necessary.

Austin, Texas

  • Gathering stats around the interaction between police and homeless people.
  • Sued the City over landlords not taking Section 8 voucher program under anti-discrimination law.

Atlanta, GA

  • 250 beds closed over last four years.
  • Now the men's shelter has had to serve 60 to 100 families every night with mats on the floor.
  • No new housing being developed locally, and last year 30,000 applied to the housing choice voucher program.
  • Working on fair housing complaint against HUD over loss of shelter locally.
  • Still working to resolve the ownership of the big shelter
  • Working with LGBT you to expand access to shelter.

Florida

  • No Medicare expansion and the indigent care has created a huge hole in the state budget.
  • Serious funding problems for services to the mentally ill.
  • Housing Trust fund is raided every year. 
  • Orlando has a new commission on homelessness that is working on putting together funds for Permanent Supportive Housing.
  • Working with the Veterans Administration on their "vulnerability index."

Mississippi

  • Formed a new regional Continuum of Care with the Mayors around the City of Jackson.
  • Purging the Public Housing Waiting list to get rid of the names that have been on there for seven to nine years and they are starting fresh.
  • Creating food gardens with some of the social service providers, and more groups are using food bank assistance to get fresh food.

Puerto Rico

  • The territory or commonwealth is nearing bankruptcy, which puts a strain on all public services.
  • They are trying to encourage billionaires to live in Puerto Rico and pay taxes.
  • The Bloomberg consulting group has been working with cities on urban issues including San Juan, and has a draconian approach to serving homeless people.  Basically involves shipping them out.
  • Trying to reform the police and teach them how to not violate the rights of homeless people. 
  • Ever increasing numbers of homeless people seeking help. 
  • Talked about the WBEZ/This American Life radio program about the relocation of addicts to non-licensed facilities in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City.  These men get stuck in the cities and have no way to return to the island.  

Denver

  • The Right to Rest bill has galvanized Denver's homeless population around this law.
  • The Denver auditor criticize the City for not meeting its goals to end homelessness that they signed 10 years ago.  Declared that there were not measurable outcomes and little progress.  Also criticized the city for enforcing a "no camping" ordinance as more costly than effective.
  • Denver increased population and no vacancies has created a rental crisis and causing rents to increase.
  • Denver is trying out social impact bonds with 300 frequent flyers in the jails to provide housing alternatives and any savings in law enforcement/court fees would go to the investors in the bonds.   

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Wednesday
Apr292015

Colorado Turns Down Homeless Bill of Rights

Hate and Lies Prevail in Denver

The Colorado State Legislative committee turned down the Right to Sleep/Homeless Bill of Rights legislation this week in Denver.  This is part of a national movement to pass bills of rights throughout the country.  In response to the large number of people who are harassed by police for innocent behavior of sitting, sleeping, standing in the public space, advocates tried to reduce the involvement of law enforcement in the distribution of social services.  

In surveys done in Colorado, San Antonio, San Francisco, Washington, and Oregon, they found 80 to 90% of the population experience discrimination by law enforcement in their communities.  This was an attempt to reduce interactions between law enforcement and homeless people in the State of Colorado. In the survey conducted in Denver, 70 percent of respondents said they were harassed, ticketed and even arrested for sleeping outdoors, and nearly as many, 64 percent, for simply sitting or lying down to rest.  73 percent said they had been turned away from shelters when they tried to enter. 60 percent also said they had their property seized by city employees and/or law enforcement.

The bill would specifically:

  1. The right to use and move freely in public spaces without time limits or discrimination based on housing status.
  2. The right to eat and share food in public spaces
  3. The right to occupy a motor vehicle that is parked on public property.
  4. The right to a reasonable expectation of privacy in public spaces.

Activists came from around the country to support the Colorado initiative.  There were homeless people from Skid Row, Boulder, Seattle, Baltimore, New York City, DC, San Francisco among others who rallied at the State House to push this forward.  They were extremely disappointed and disruptive after it became clear the bill was going to die. 

The Denver Post reported the opposition this way: Kathy Haddock, senior assistant city attorney for Boulder, cited more than $3 million annually the city spends on homelessness (This is the money given to Boulder from the Federal Government and not local funds).

"'Right to rest' is a good phrase, it sounds good, it's a good sound bite, but homelessness issues are not addressed simply by providing people a place to rest," she said. "In fact, using public property to become a replacement home for people means that property also becomes their bathroom, cooking area, trash bin and congregating area.

"As a result, those areas become unusable by others and are very expensive for the city to provide trash removal and human-waste removal services."

Even though these rules only applied to public property, retail lobbyists testified against the bill.  Trial lawyers testified against the bill as did the Chamber of Commerce.   Boulder and other cities in Colorado who have made it illegal to be homeless testified against the bill, because of the "expense" of defending lawsuits.  The cities were worried that police would sue them if they threatened arrest of homeless people. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

PS:  Cleveland has a federal consent decree signed in February 2000 that protects homeless people from harrassment by the police for purely innocent behavior. 

Wednesday
Apr292015

Denver And Homelessness

The National Coalition for the Homeless met in Denver Colorado for their twice yearly face to face meeting and held a conference on criminalization of homelessness.  Denver is one of the 25 largest cities in America, and has made some progress on homelessness in America, but has a long way to go.  It is the state capital so there are far more resources available in Denver than other Colorado cities, but there are many people sleeping outside.  There is no guaranteed access to shelter like in New York and Cleveland. 

The police regularly ask homeless people to move along, but never answer the question, "to where?"   There are many who travel through Denver to greener pastures.  I met a man who was sleeping outside from Bangor Maine by way of Washington and Chicago who was deciding on whether to stay or move on.  The outreach teams had tried to work with him in his first three weeks in Denver which is more than happens in most cities.  There also seems to be a growing number of people migrating to Denver because of the recreational marijuana, which is a far more expensive of a habit than cigarettes.  Housing is extremely expensive with supply not matching demand.  They have far fewer abandoned properties when compared to most Midwestern cities, but they do exist. 

Denver has many more laws on the books restricting homeless people and a pretty strict panhandling law.  They do have a pretty amazing healthcare for the homeless operation with five clinics, including a brand new clinic attached to their permanent supportive housing project with dental services and a complete pharmacy.  I was impressed with the level of care delivered to homeless people with an attempt to make the healthcare for the homeless clinics a medical home for low income people.  They screen people who come in for mental health issues while they are assessing their physical health needs.  People do not have to make appointments somewhere else and then face other challenges such as timing and transportation.  The new Denver health care for the homeless clinic has a huge and respectful waiting area and a seamless process to apply for housing once they have sought healthcare assistance. 

In Cleveland, most of the services are built around the shelters and even with Coordinated intake those staying at shelter are easiest to find and usually get access before those waiting on the streets.  In Denver, the system seems to be centered around health care as the first point of contact for most.  Those without housing seem to look healthier than I have seen in the Midwest or the East Coast.  I don’t know if this is from the amount of walking necessary in western cities or the number of farm and domestic workers among the homeless population.  Transportation is much more accessible in Denver when compared to Cleveland but not like DC, NYC or Boston. 

Denver is a clean city, but about three times the number of people sleeping outside compared to Cleveland.  There are no where near the numbers of people living outside as Washington DC, San Francisco or Boston.  There were a number of grassroots organizations helping to provide a voice to those living in shelters or on the streets.  There was not a real advocacy Coalition focused on the needs of homeless people and providing input to government or the social service community.   This is not unusual for a capital city where advocacy groups get overshadowed by the State Coalitions and all the money and resources goes to state efforts.  There is not the tradition to organizing in union cities like Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago.  So, there is not a strong tenant association or commitment to organizing low income residents of the city. 

They are making progress and have built large numbers of affordable housing units reserved for homeless people.  They have permanent supportive housing for families which most cities have not found the ability to fund.  They are working on funding a law enforcement diversion program which is supposed to save the city money over incarceration.  Finally, there are horror movie scary Mimes performing in Downtown Denver, which is unsettling, but at least they are not dressed as clowns. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Friday
Apr242015

Civil Legal Aid and the Value of Pro Bono Work at City Club

"...And Justice for All?"

Two recent City Club speeches featured individuals who spoke eloquently about the barriers low income and poor people have with the American Justice system.  On May 1, they featured Thomas Mesereau Jr. of the Mesereau Law Group who talked about the importance of Pro Bono work by lawyers, judges and all those working with the judicial system as part of Law Day.  Then a week earlier they featured Martha Bergmark of Voices for Civil Justice who gave a defense of expanding access to legal representation for those facing civil court cases.  These two together bookend a really nice look at the big holes in the American system for distributing justice. 

NEOCH partners with the Cleveland Bar Association on Homeless Legal Assistance Program, and has struggled with both topics for discussion.  We only serve people with Civil Matters since we do not have the insurance for criminal cases.  We always have a hard time attracting attorneys to the program and the number of civil cases is overwhelming.  As Ms. Bergmark described these are serious cases including the loss of housing, loss of custody of children and the loss of income in bankruptcy.  Bergmark does a great job of describing the need for access to counsel for low income people.  There is a strong commitment to pro bono work in the legal community, but often that is soft legal work like consulting with the Cleveland Orchestra or serving on the Board of the Center for Families and Children.  These are both worthy organizations who need legal help, but it is not the same as keeping poor people out of the shelters or settling income disputes with employers that might save someone's home. 

We have seen a decline in the number of legal clinics that we offer to homeless people partially because we cannot find enough volunteers to help.  It is very difficult to find help with civil matters such as child custody and divorce.  If you are not a victim of domestic violence, it is impossible to find help with a divorce from a lawyer.   These cases go on for a long time and it is just overwhelming for a volunteer to be involved in these cases for years.  Often, a mother can be tied to this guy who is dragging her into more and more financial peril because she cannot get a divorce.  Her credit will be wrecked sometimes for life which makes it difficult to get a job, housing or a college degree all because she is tied to this man.   Almost all of the programs in Ohio with lawyers for homeless people have gone out of business over the last 10 years.

I recommend listening to these two podcasts from the Cleveland City Club.  The great legal minds in Cleveland need to get together to provide funding for bolstering programs like Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance to have those opportunities to serve low income individuals.  They need to expand CHLAP and other volunteer driven projects.  It would be great if we had lawyers at the municipal courts to help with evictions of other matters like we do in the criminal courts.  We need more opportunities for low income people to walk in to see a lawyer to answer the question "...do I have a case or what can I do to defend myself?" 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

 

Friday
Apr242015

Cuyahoga County Needs a Missing Person Database

When Kyle Waler was found dead in the Tremont neighborhood yesterday, his family said that he had been missing for more than a week.  We are so sorry for the family who worked to battle addiction and then lost their son to the disease.   None of the outreach workers that we help to coordinate had contact with Mr. Waler before he died.  We are sorry that we could not intervene to help th2015 Homeless Stand Downe family with their son before he died on the streets of Cleveland.

It does raise some issues that we need to address in Cleveland.  Maybe this unfortunate death will lead to some changes that would improve Cleveland for those battling addiction. 

  • Missing persons
  • Detox on demand
  • Privacy used as a weapon against people.

It might come as a surprise for family members that you have to file a missing person report in the city of residence not in the city in which the person may be last seen.  So, a small jurisdiction like Woodmere would take the lead in investigating even though larger cities like Cleveland might have the expertise in finding the person.   There are also two different missing person databases that have to be searched locally and do not overlap.  One is run by the City of Cleveland Police Department and then one constructed by Cuyahoga County. They have different information and are set up in a different manner.  Neither has the ability for outside information being added from family or case workers. 

Right now, there is a wait for getting into detox in Cuyahoga County.  If you make the decision to seek help you may have to wait for three or four days on the streets attempting to abstain from drugs or alcohol before you will get help.  This can often be the difference between getting help and losing the will to find help for months or years.   In addition, the recovery system is fractured in not building relapse into the recovery process.  Often there is only punishment associated with relapse that disconnects the person from the help that they need.  We wrote about the dysfunctional Recovery system earlier this year.

Finally, families will be surprised to realize that the shelters have no ability to give information out about their residents.  This is to protect privacy, and we support expanded privacy like being able to be anonymous in the system.   We do not want shelters to be able to just provide information at the door about the residents, but we need to figure out a work around using the web to both protect privacy and help families reunite with their loved ones.  The problem is that we have not created alternatives to find people especially loved ones who may need help and additional support.  Why isn't there a missing person's database that is interactive?  Why isn't in this Facebook generation a central repository that allows people to post information about their lost loved ones?  Why isn't there a way for case manager to tell family members to stop looking for a relative because they do not want to be found?  Why can't we harness the power of the internet to reduce the number of people who are missing?  

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinions of those who sign the entry.