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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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Monday
Sep152014

Street Card Available and On the Streets

Thanks to University Hospitals for Printing the 2014 Street Card

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) has updated its comprehensive guide to homeless services for homeless people known as the Homeless Street Card for the twenty first year. The Cuyahoga County Homeless Street Card is probably the most valuable resource produced by the Homeless Coalition.  It is a front and back piece of paper that contains extensive, up-to-date information on resources such as shelters, meal sites, job training agencies, health clinics, chemical dependency services and other assistance programs.  The Homeless Street Card lists all the services available to those without housing and must be accessible right from the streets.  They can fold it up and put it into a pocket or purse to carry around for reference. The Homeless Street Card also lists bus routes to get to some of these services as well as information on how to get identification.

We have seen dramatic changes in the world of social services with consolidations and the closures of shelters and homeless providers. Now, we have the Coordinated intake in Cleveland for finding shelter and services it is even more important that there is a document to assist people in finding help.  Typically, it is the key to finding food, shelter, and many other services that are critical to the persons’ circumstances.  The Homeless Street Card lists all the services available to homeless people who need assistance right off the streets without appointment or referral.

Through the generocity of University Hospitals, we were able to print 10,000 Homeless Street Cards and have begun to distribute to individuals, shelters, hospitals, schools, police stations, and libraries.  We hope that this one page guide will shorten a person's stay on the streets or in the shelters.  We hope that they can use this resource guide to move out of homelessness quickly.

 The most popular part of the NEOCH website is the page with our Street Cards (www.neoch.org/street_card.htm). On the website, we have also posted a shorter version of the Street Card which can be printed out on regular letter sized paper.   The organization also publishes a Veteran's Street Card for any homeless person who served in the US Military and a Family Street Card for the fastest growing population families.  NEOCH encourages people or agencies to make as many copies as possible and to distribute them to those in need. The newest edition of the Cuyahoga County Homeless Street Card can be downloaded for free at http://www.neoch.org under Resources/Street Card.  NEOCH can also mail a few copies by calling 216/432.0540.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Monday
Sep082014

Regulations of the Shelters

We have spoken often in this space about the lack of effective oversight of the shelters in Cleveland Ohio and here and here (must login to the site).  There is basically no existing laws that oversee the shelters in Cleveland or with Cuyahoga County.  There are state standards or guidelines with no oversight.  Then there are a few local regulations that are attached to each contract and the director signs that they will abide by those rules.  Right now those are posted as a pdf on the County website and as a searchable page on the NEOCH website.  They are not posted in the individual shelters, and there is no one impartial to go to in order express concern that the shelters are not following the requirements.  There are a ton of holes in the requirements that we had identified and a long list of missing regulations.  At the Office of Homeless Services Advisory Board meeting on Wednesday morning at 9 a.m. (2012 West 25th St. Sixth Floor) they will vote on a number of our suggested missing regulations.  Here are the expanded rules that will be voting on. 

It is disturbing that it takes so long to get any rule passed through the County "advisory" group.   There are new rules sent down by HUD regarding fair housing obligations of the shelters.  There are no rules regarding Central Intake, and there are no rules regarding discharge from a shelter to the streets.   The single biggest issue facing a homeless person using the shelter is who do they go to if they have a problem who will listen and respond?  With over $30 million spent on homeless services and housing locally, we need an impartial place to go to complain if the shelter staff accidently throw away all the belongings of a homeless resident.  We need not just a complaint mechanism, but a way to get compensation for the loss.  We have had shelters for 40 years in Cleveland; they are not temporary church based organizations anymore.  We need rules with oversight and an arbitrator to settle disputes. 

Other areas that we have looked at a need for additional requirements:

1. Discharges must be in writing with grievance procedure on the back of the page.  There can be an immediate discharge only for illegal activity otherwise must wait until the next day.

2. Rules regarding intake now that there is coordinated intake is in place in Cleveland.  Are you a client if you fill out the application for shelter?  What if you have second thoughts after being diverted back to a family or friend?  What should you be given upon intake?  Where do you grieve if you have a problem with intake?  What are the privacy rights of the information you fill out?  Who can see this information from intake?   Are you told what programs you are eligible for or what programs you do not qualify for?   Is there a maximum time that you stay in overflow?  It never says that you have a right to be anonymous in the HMIS system as HUD requires.  Does intake provide a housing plan or is that the shelter staff? Does intake staff take into account the person's disability when doing the intake application--mental illness may make it difficult or impossible to complete. Do we have sexual harassment protections in place at coordinated intake?  Are we providing sufficient protections at intake in response to the Violence Against Women act?

3.  Comfort animals are different than service animals are they allowed within the shelters?

4. The gender issues need to be posted in the shelters so that everyone is on the same page regarding transgender individuals using the shelters.  Are we accommodating sexual orientation when a same sex couple show up at Coordinated intake? 

5. Staff training is mentioned a number of times, but never formally outlined with what training is necessary to work in the shelters. 

6.  Operations #12 in the State of Ohio Standards say shelters shall have a policy about the control of weapons.  Can't we just say no guns in the shelters?  Do we want to add firearms to the volatile shelter environment?

There are many other holes, but these are the most serious that need immediate attention.  We will keep you informed.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Friday
Sep052014

Potential Chaos in Voting Hours

There was a great decision last week by Federal Judge Peter Economus to open up early voting including the preservation of Golden Week.  We wrote about this on our voting update section of our website.  Just click on the VOTE button on any page of the website.  This week, Judge Economus has allowed the state to join the lawsuit in their appeal.  We thought that Golden week was dead and had no hope in being resurrected especially when the case drew an extremely conservative judge.   The NAACP and League of Women Voters' lawyers successfully made the case that this is just an extension of the 2012 early voting case to get Judge Economus to decide on the case.   Now, we are scrambling to get homeless people to use Golden Week. 

One area that is going to be touchy this week is what happens at the local level.  The judge forcefully said that the Secretary of State should not block local expansions of voting hours, but he has a vote. I would recommend reading the 71 page decision, because Economus really went after the State of Ohio for limiting voting.  Full disclosure: the Judge quoted my testimony against the loss of Golden Week earlier this year when it was in legislative committee.  Economus's decision says:

The Court likewise concludes that SB 238’s elimination of Golden Week itself similarly burdens the voting rights of lower income and homeless individuals. The record reflects that in 2008, 12,842 voters utilized Golden Week to register or update their registration and vote; in 2010, 1,651 voters did so; and, in 2012, 5,844 voters did so. While these figures may be small in comparison to the millions of votes usually cast in Ohio elections, thousands of voters have utilized Golden Week during each of the last several elections.

What happens if the local board splits with the two Democrats wanting evening hours and the two Republicans want no evening hours?  The Secretary of State breaks all local tie votes.   Would he cross the federal judge and vote to limit early voting or cross his party and allow urban communities with large African American voters to open in the evening for voting?  Would he see that equality does not mean stuffing hundreds of thousands into the same building with only 5 hours of off work hours available a week to vote in person?  

There is also the matter of the appeal of this case that could cause chaos.   There is so little time left for boards to get ready for early voting, the State needs to drop their appeal and let us have the same hours we had in 2012.  Small counties were not been adversely impacted by different voting hours.  Cuyahoga and the other big counties did not have voter turnout far greater than the other counties.  The world did not end because each County had a different schedule.  Right now, we are planning for evening hours, weekend early voting and Golden Week.  If we have to change course again, voters are going to be so confused.  This appeal of the case can only be viewed as exclusively political and not helpful to voting in Ohio.  The Secretary of State is certainly not providing certainty in voting and allowing the local community to set their own hours based on the needs of their citizens; he is protecting the goals of his political party to limit access to early voting.  We need to allow the local experts to decide on the hours for their voters.

By the way, we are collecting volunteers for Early voting both with registrations and driving people to the Board of Elections.  Here is a copy of a flyer that you can print out or send around to family and friends...  Contact NEOCH if you want to volunteer.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry and not the Board or other staff of the agency.

Friday
Sep052014

Identification Collaborative Out of Money

Cleveland has one of the few Identification Collaborations in the country.  It is a small often overlooked matter for most to get that card in your purse and wallet, but it is often the ticket to nearly everything we do.  A few non-profits came together seven years ago with the help of an AmeriCorps VISTA member at NEOCH to create a fund to provide identification for homeless people. St Colman's Catholic Church and West Side Catholic took the lead with the project, and NEOCH honored Eileen Kelly earlier this year because of her efforts to keep the project going and including advocacy as a key component of the collaboration.    The project is temporarily out of money and this puts all those trying to get a state identification card or their birth certificate at a disadvantage. 

This is a horrible time to be out of money with two months left before the upcoming election.  Remember that if you want to vote in person on Election Day you must show identification.  Most of the ID that is required is tied to housing and a residence (utility bill, government mail to an address, etc.), and of course homeless people do not have a solid residence.   Even though early voting is available in Ohio, there are many who want to vote on Election Day with everyone else.  In fact, some do not think that it is really voting unless they vote on the first Tuesday in November.  Most will not be able to get their birth certificate in time for the registration deadline in Ohio, but it does not hurt to try. 

State identification is necessary for getting into housing, starting a job and obtaining health insurance.  It can take months to get a birth certificate back from some states, and the expense can be up to $60.  We have a system in place to streamline the process for obtaining the birth certificate and they have a law firm that helps with processing the paperwork.  The staff and volunteers with the ID Collaborative have a well developed system for paying for the identification and making sure that the individual has all the documents they need for each state.  One of the major accomplishments of the ID Collaborative was to hire an advocate to push for better public policy regarding identification.  It should be that homeless and low income people should not have to pay for their own document proving they are who they say they are. 

The ID Collaborative is a great partnership and involves nearly every social service provider in Cuyahoga County. We hope that in the next month local government officials will announce additional funds to help with identification.  There are a few agencies kicking in money for their own clients and the schools and Downtown Cleveland Alliance are still helping with identification.   It is such a small hurdle to be able to prove you are who you say you are, but it can be the difference between staying in housing and sleeping outside. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Tuesday
Aug262014

Cogswell Hall--100 Years

Staff of Cogswell Hall saw our post about Cosgrove Center and their 20 years of existence and wondered if we could mention Cogswell Hall serving Cleveland for over 100 years. Their building was renovated back in 2009, but the original construction was in 1914.  Their growth and continued existence is impressive and they are celebrating with an event on September 19 called Coming Home.  Now for those who do not know Cogswell Hall is a permanent supportive housing apartment building on the near West Side of Cleveland.   They are helping those who have been homeless for a long period of time back into housing.  They have social services and other help available to this mostly disabled population.  They should be congratulated for making it one hundred years, and we should celebrate this newly renovated building improving our neighborhoods in Cleveland.  We are also proud that they are fellow Community Shares Members here in Cleveland.  Staff at Cogswell Hall are always helpful with voting, protecting client rights and other social justice issues. 

In looking back at the Cogswell Hall history, it really shows how the city has changed in the last 150 years.   We have grown up and improved our fair housing obligations, but what have we lost during that time?  Cogswell Hall started serving exclusively women and now takes all, but is there a need to serve women in a separate facility?  All the previous incarnations of Cogswell Hall are still necessary in Cleveland, but have sadly disappeared.  They started as a temperance union for women, which is not something we talk much about today.  In an age of medical marijuana, very few are talking about outlawing alcohol.   That would be pretty much the end of professional sports, reality shows, tractor pulls, wrestling, and demolition derbies if we outlawed alcohol consumption.  In 1892, they became a halfway house for those leaving the women's workhouse.  They were a training facility and provided "anti-alcohol encouragement."  These are services we need today.  We have Women's Re-entry, but they don't have a building for transitioning the women back to full time employment and stable housing.  This halfway house for women coming out of incarceration is a type of program we could use today.

In 1899, Cogswell Hall moved to the West Side and worked on preventing young girls from getting into trouble.  Now, we have the YWCA doing the same type of program, but working with a slightly older group of young women.  We could use more programs that work with young women to keep them out of trouble.  The Cogswell Hall current building was built in 1914 and had 27 rooms and was known as the training home for girls.  The group changed their name to Cogswell Hall in 1952--renamed after its founder.  In the 1970s, Cogswell started renting apartments to older women 60 years of age and older. This might be one group that the market is sufficiently serving at this time.  We have an aging society and we may see a need for senior housing in the next 10 to 20 years, but at least right now we are meeting the housing needs of seniors.  Many landlords want to rent to seniors because they do not have parties and typically have steady income.  With only around 1% of the homeless population over 60 it is not a huge issue in Cleveland in 2014. In the 1970s, I am sure that Cogswell Hall served a vital service to seniors. 

In 2004, Cogswell Hall started accepting fragile women of any age and providing supportive services.  While fair housing standards say that apartment owners cannot discriminate based on gender, there was some merit to serving women separate from men.  Women experience violence leading to homelessness at huge rates.  This often makes it difficult to live in the same building with men.  Women still face discrimination in the workplace, pay rate discrepancies, and archaic hiring practices that make it necessary to provide additional help. They still face landlords who prey upon women and they need fair housing protections, but we could use separate facilities to serve especially fragile females.  We keep losing programs for women in this community, and that makes it harder to serve women and female headed households.  We lost East Side Catholic shelter, Triumph House, the Care Alliance program for women, Family Transitional, Transitional Housing Inc, and now this month Continue Life for pregnant young moms.  All these programs were lost in our community and only a handful of the beds were replaced.  We are not doing all we can do to serve homeless women in our community.  While we have made great strides in providing fair housing for minority populations and women, there has been a cost.  This major step forward has actually set back the fragile females who need extra assistance overcoming obstacles in our community.

The building over on Franklin is impressive and the wrap around services offered are wonderful.  Cogswell Hall serves a critical need in our community as they have done for 100 years.  We hope that you can support Cogswell Hall in 2014 to mark their landmark anniversary.  We wish them good luck on their fundraiser.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry