Find Help

Donate to NEOCH

Homeless Voting
Hand Up Gala
About NEOCH

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.

Follow us on Twitter
Handup Gala14
Monday
Oct132014

How Can Akron Better Serve Homeless People

The City of Akron was sued last week by students from the CWRU Law School for displacing people and then dumping their valuables.  This is a throw back from the policies of big cities in the United States from the 1990s.  Frustrated over the growing number of homeless people and what seemed like throwing good money after bad, cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York turned to law enforcement to solve a social service crisis.  NEOCH sued the City of Cleveland to stop the sweeps and the dumping of materials from people just trying to survive.   They sent their police force out to arrest, threaten arrest and terrorize a fragile population.

The Chicago Coalition won lawsuits as did Miami advocates against their municipal governments back in the 1990s.  These cities had to pay homeless people for their homeless policies. They used their armed police force to make it illegal to be homeless.  Those policies were found to be expensive and ineffective, but Akron seems to be stuck in the 1990s over their homeless policies.  In visiting Akron, they have a bad problem with people begging for money in almost every freeway off ramp.  They have many people sleeping outside and very few outreach workers.  It is no wonder that community leaders are frustrated with the large number of homeless people.  But handling the problem with law enforcement is the opposite solution to the department.

Remember that cracking down on panhandling does nothing to the homeless populations.  All panhandlers are not homeless and all homeless are not panhandlers.  We have been working with people who are resistant to shelter for 22 years, and so we have some better ideas:

  • Guaranteed access to shelter is critical to the success of any homeless policy. If there is not a place to refer a person then there will be people sleeping outside.  If when the shelter beds are full they shut their doors, what do you expect a person to do?  If you go to the shelter on a regular basis and they do not have a bed for you, then you are going to give up and sleep outside.  It is also inhumane to push people around the downtown when there is not a bed inside available.
  • Coordinated outreach services is also needed to provide the best possible services to those living outside.  This can help connect a veteran to the VA and those struggling with PTSD with mental health services.  It is important to build trusting relationships with those resist going to shelter.  If there are not people on the streets interacting with people on the streets, they get forgotten. 
  • Laws don't work--competition does!  Akron has the most severe legislation in the State of Ohio and it has not eliminated panhandling.  In fact, there are now a class of low income people who have a license to panhandle.  They now have a City sanctioned "job" called begging for money.   Sweeps and dumping of a homeless person's stuff does not work.  It only exacerbates the problem because people get tickets and get arrested, which makes it less likely they will find a job.  If you want to address homelessness and specifically panhandling, you have to have an alternative.  Social service providers should be provided funding to get people off the streets.  Those who can help the most people off the streets should be financially rewarded.  There should be a competition for finding panhandlers real jobs.  We need to provide an effective alternative or the problem will continue to grow. 
  • Police are not social workers.  They should not be drafted into forcing people into shelter or arresting people for purely innocent behavior of being outside.  Police should not even be in the business of telling homeless people to move or warning people that they will have their "stuff" thrown away.  Social workers and outreach staff should be asked to engage people living outside and provide help before anyone threatens the individuals who are resistant to going into shelter.  Let's look at it in a similar situation to an eviction.  There is an official written notice and then the individual has their day in court.  Then before all these checks and balances are undertaken can the bailiff come out to supervise the throwing away of items.  Society allowed these individuals to establish a home outside and forgot about them for months if not years, it is unfair to then attack these campsites and destroy their homes.
  • Build affordable housing or plan on more and more money going to emergency services.  We cannot have a community in which wages are stagnant and 5-6% of the population are unemployed, and then people are punished for living outside.  There are another group who are permanently unemployed, and we are losing affordable housing every year.   We still have people who have behavioral health issues, and so there are these huge holes in the social safety net.  We can't let people fall into homelessness and then punish them for finding a way to survive. If we continue to see destruction of affordable housing, there can only be more homeless people in our cities. 
  • Akron should support the creation of a street newspaper sold by homeless and very low income people.  Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Toledo all have papers sold on their city streets.  It is an effective alternative to panhandling.  This is much more dignified way to earn money--selling your words on the street.  Cleveland Street Chronicle could help establish a paper.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Monday
Oct132014

A Better Shelter for Women in DC

Going back 30 years, we have not figured out how to serve women in shelter in Cleveland.  There was a guest editorial in the Huffington Post about a new way of thinking about women's shelter that we should listen to in Cleveland. 

 We have written about the problems in our nation's capital with serving homeless families and the large number of people sleeping on the streets.  Friendship Place operates a shelter in Washington DC called The Haven for single women.   This is written from the perspective of the Executive Director, and so you have to take it with a grain of salt.  All Executive Directors exaggerate the effectiveness and atmosphere of the shelters.  But the information that they have learned seem reasonable and we wish we had them here in Cleveland.

Women hang on longer, drawing help from friends, relatives, coworkers and fellow congregants. As a result, they tend to exhaust their natural resources to a greater degree than men, which can have an impact on the rebuilding process.

 These women that are served at the Norma Herr shelter and at Friendship Place are single, but a large number are estranged from family and children.  They have faced violence, exploitation, and abuse.  Some need safe haven from trafficking and others have mental health needs that are unmet.

The shelter in Washington has decided not to kick women out in the morning and then have them wait to get back in the shelter.  Cleveland went the other way by kicking women out and making them line up at 3 p.m. to get back into the shelter starting in 2012.  The County says that this is an overnight shelter and does not want to pay for social service offered during the day.  The women are expected to go find those services on their own.  The shelter in DC allows women to take night classes or work at night and then sleep during the day.  This is difficult in Cleveland. 

The shelter in DC does not have overnight staff.  The women are trained to respond to emergencies and help the other residents.  In Cleveland, there are babysitting night time staff all night and an armed police officer 24 hours a day (very expensive!).  The shelter in Washington has found improved outcomes and improved participant satisfaction, something lacking in Cleveland.

"This simply makes sense: the women feel trusted and empowered.  They are part of decision making process and know they are treated with dignity and compassion by their new community --the Friendship Place Community."

according to Director Giraud.

The shelter claims to be saving money, which was the reason the county eliminated day services in Cleveland at the Norma Herr Women's Shelter.  Friendship Place in Washington finds that the women can take care of themselves and don't need staff to help with sleeping.  We wish we had this progressive vision for offering women shelter in Cleveland.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Sunday
Oct122014

CWRU Students Sue City of Akron over Homeless Policies

The City of Akron has never been good about taking care of homeless people.  They have the worst laws for panhandlers in the State of Ohio.  They have very few shelter options and they do not guarantee access to a shelter bed.  This means that if the shelters are full, homeless people must sleep on the streets.  Last week, we found out from a group of CWRU student law students that Akron Police were moving homeless people out and then throwing away their valuables. 

Eleven homeless people living outside in Akron allege that the Akron Police were stealing and discarding valuables from homeless people.  The lawsuit claims that the Akron Police under the direction of City officials would raid their campsites and then throw away tents, clothing, medicine directly to the City landfill.

The Akron Police claim that they did give proper notice and that most of the items taken were drug paraphernalia and other contraband.  According to the Plain Dealer, the police claim that they acted properly.  Personal property is held in high regard in the State of Ohio, and so government has to go to great lengths to hold personal property in a secure manner.  A person can go to prison for 25 years and government must keep their property safe and return it to them upon release.  To dispose of forgotten property governments must issue a public notice and provide sufficient time to retrieve these items.  A landlord must ask the court to dispose of a tenant's belongings if they disappear.  The lawsuit claims that the City government did not secure their belongings after confiscating them, and the personal property was taken directly to the trash. 

In nearly every case going through the courts, when a City throws away the belongings of homeless people they have to pay. I know that in Miami, Chicago and a number of cities in California were all forced to compensate homeless people for the loss of their valuables.  I can't see how this is going to end any differently for the City of Akron.  In Cleveland, we fought this all through the 1990s with settlements that provided homeless people $3,000 for picking them up and dumping them on the outskirts of town, and then we settled on an agreement between the City and homeless people in 2000 in a case called Key vs. City of Cleveland that police will not harrass homeless people living outside for purely innocent behavior.

The bigger issue for residents of Akron is that when cities start targeting homeless people we see an increase in hate crimes against the population.  When government gives the go-ahead to treat homeless people as lesser citizens, there are disturbed people who take that signal as open season on torturing, attacking and becoming violent with fragile people living outside.  Unfortunately, these are mostly young people who terrorize people living under bridges or in abandoned property.  We know that these laws and police sweeps lead to feelings of betrayal and abandonment by the population and it only keeps people homeless for a longer period of time.  This will not reduce the population, but will do the opposite.  We explore what Akron should do to reduce the number of people sleeping outside in a future post.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Post Script:  The CWRU Observer did a good summary of the case published this last week.  (One note, Brian is no longer Executive Director of NEOCH.  He is a community organizer, but the story is still sound.)

Friday
Oct102014

Hope House Cuts Ribbon on First Home Given Away

Last night, the City Mission, Church on the Rise and the Land Bank cut the ribbon on a new project called Hope House.  This is a partnership to provide homes to families coming out of Laura's Home who are ready for the responsibility of owning a home.  City Mission manages the Laura's Home family homeless shelter and found a property worth saving from the Cuyahoga Land Bank.  They went to Church on the Rise to provide the funding and volunteer base to make this project work. 

Michelle (pictured here on her new back porch) and her five kids will be moving into the property.  She has seven children with two adult children living on their own.  Michelle was beaming last night showing off the work that she did on the house.  She has put in the sweat equity with the other members of the congregation to help put this house together.  She helped scrape off old paint and cleaned up the backyard.  She carried building materials and assisted all the craftsmen who helped put this house back together.   There were so many who donated materials and labor in order to return this dilapidated house that will help with the effort to heal this neighborhood.

Councilman Tony Brancatelli said that he was honored to be at the ribbon cutting, and Gus Frangos of the Land Bank said that this is the exact project that the Land Bank was created to do.  Both felt that Michelle was going to be a wonderful neighbor as she has overcome so many obstacles to get to this place.  WEWS-TV5 attended the festivities and interviewed Michelle.  It was an uplifting day to see a family move from the shelter into a renovated house.  It has new windows, fresh paint, a new porch, brand new floors and a newly renovated kitchen. The house was cut up and beat up and eventually abandoned.  Michelle will raise her family in this beautiful home after a slight interruption of instability.  They are right on a busline in a recovering neighborhood.  People brought welcome baskets from throughout the community.  They brought food and towels and household items to welcome her to the neighborhood.

This is a new venture for the City Mission called Hope House and we hope that this is the first of many similiar projects to move families back into housing.  It is a great project that is the subject of almost every gathering of homeless people.  "Why can't we rebuild all those abandoned properties in the community to reduce the homeless population," is what we hear at almost every meeting of more than three homeless people.   This house is the answer to those questions.  It takes a partnership between the homeless providers, government, and religious organizations to make this work.  We hope that more churches and synagogues will step forward to help.  Congratulations to Michelle and the staff of City Mission for making this work.  Thanks to the the Church on the Rise Congregation led by Pastor Paul for stepping forward to be the first congregation to purchase the house and contribute the volunteers. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Thursday
Oct092014

Guest Post: City Mission Official Gives Other Side of Housing First 

A New Class of Chronically Homeless?

by Rich Trickel, CEO of the City Mission in Cleveland.

On September 16, 2014, Northeast Ohio Media Group published the article “Housing First Opens Newest Apartments in Work to End Homelessness” by reporter Tom Feran. Certainly this is cause for celebration—the new building with its 65 subsidized studio apartments will be a godsend to some chronically homeless individuals. Furthermore, the article goes on to say that as a result of the last 8 years of housing first in Cleveland, chronic homelessness has been reduced by 73%! Since the reality on the ground where I am isn’t even close to that claim, I tried to find out where that stat come from and how it was calculated. How can a city whose shelters are currently overwhelmed with homeless families state that chronic homelessness has decreased by 73%?

The first clue in understanding the dramatic claims made by housing first advocates is to understand the meaning of “chronic homelessness.” HUD has segmented the homeless into categories, assigned definitions, and focused their strategy and therefore, their resources on only one group – chronically homeless. To be chronically homeless you are an unaccompanied homeless person (single, alone, not part of a family, not accompanied by children); with a diagnosable substance abuse disorder, a serious mental illness, or a developmental disability; and have been continuously homeless for a year or more, or have had 4 episodes of homelessness in the last 3 years. To put this in perspective, there are approximately 600,000 homeless individuals in the US on any given night; only 20% will qualify as chronically homeless. So the primary strategy set by the government to eliminate homelessness, the strategy that is being embraced by almost every major metropolitan area, is only focused on 20% of all homeless people. Furthermore, the largest growing segment of the homeless - women & children, do not fit the definition and are therefore not counted and not able to access the resources dedicated to the chronically homeless.

It’s also helpful to understand how a statistic like a 73% reduction in chronic homelessness was even computed—not by a careful day-by-day count of all homeless, but by a single count on a single night in January. This is called the Annual Point In Time Count. Then, based on that single night comparison over time, the claim – a  73% reduction—is made. Can a single count on one cold January night accurately represent anything?

And there’s another problem. Not only is the majority of energy and attention focused on this small segment of the homeless, but most available resources are as well. In Cleveland, the majority of dollars provided to battle homelessness have been spent on permanent supportive housing – housing only available to the designated chronically homeless. Because of this, a number of facilities serving homeless women and children have been forced to close, resulting in the growing numbers of homeless women and children. And it’s not just happening in Cleveland – Washington DC is bracing for a 16% increase in family homelessness this winter, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance is reporting a 60% increase in homeless families over the last few years and a 108% increase in unaccompanied homeless kids and the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention in Indianapolis reports a 19% increase in family homelessness.

It’s time to take a long hard look. Are we unintentionally creating a new class of chronically homeless individuals – women and children as a result of the current housing first policy? When confronted with the reality most cities are facing right now, why do we continue to insist housing first is the only effective strategy to ending homelessness? How long will we ignore the growing numbers of homeless women and children flooding our cities?

Rich Trickel, CEO of the City Mission, can be reached at 216/287-9187.  We welcome comments to this post by clicking on the "Post a Comment" below this journal entry. Note that Cuyahoga County Officials and the Housing First Initiative were invited to submit a response.

Guest posts reflect the opinions of the authors and not necessarily of NEOCH.