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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.

Wednesday
Aug122015

Thanks for the Help to Sign Up for Housing

NEOCH Signed 255 People up for Housing Voucher Last Week

            NEOCH participated in a major effort to house the homeless the week of August 3 – 7 by getting them signed up for the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Housing Choice Voucher Program. Through this effort we were able to sign up 255 homeless and at risk individuals for the housing voucher waiting list. Based on previous lottery statistics NEOCH estimate that 36**of these individuals will be offered a housing choice voucher. NEOCH recruited 24 volunteers with the help of HandsOn Northeast Ohio.  These volunteers brought their laptops, tablets and smartphones to 12 homeless shelters and drop-in centers and spent a total of 80 hours signing up homeless members of the Cleveland community for housing.

            The CMHA housing choice voucher program (HCVP) was formerly known as Section 8. This voucher can be the ticket out of homelessness to those that receive it.  However, the opportunity to sign up for this program is extremely rare. The HCVP only accepted applications for 5 days last week and this list only opens once every four years. Additionally, the application for the voucher program is only available online.

The infrequency of the HCVP combined with the online-only application, make this program difficult for homeless people to access. NEOCH saw the need to make the HCVP application accessible to homeless people as vital. The goal was to ensure that every homeless and at-risk person in Cleveland had a chance to fill out an application. With the help of our volunteers and several organizations, we believe we were able to come very close.

NEOCH would like to thank the Cleveland Tenants Organization and HandsOn Northeast Ohio for sending us volunteers from their staff. We would also like to thank the following organizations for allowing us to use space in their facility; 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter, Bishop Cosgrove Center, The City Mission, Laura’s Home, Northstar Neighborhood Re-entry Center and The LGBT Center of Cleveland. In addition to the 255 people NEOCH signed up, most of the local shelters dedicated staff and computers to sign up their residents.  We would like the facilities that hosted volunteers including: 2100 Lakeside, Laura’s Home, City Mission, Oriana House, Northstar Neighborhood re-entry and West Side Catholic Center. Lastly we could not have accomplished any of this without the help of volunteers. We would like to thank the following volunteers for their efforts; Fouad, Gina, Kathy, Sophia, Jessica, Shareasa, Mike, Jeramiah, Kris, Anne, Jennifer, James, Jeff, Beth and Kevin.

CMHA HCVP Sign-up Statistics

Total Applicants Assisted by volunteers: 255

Estimated # of people that will be housed due to this effort: ** (51 more likely)

Total Volunteers: 16

Total volunteer hours: 62

Average # of applications completed per volunteer shift: 8.2

Shelters and drop-in centers that hosted volunteers: 10

Megan the Intern

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

**PS:  August 21--Found out that about 50,000 people applied when the lottery was open which means that people have a 1 in 5 chance so 51 people we signed up will most likely receive a voucher eventually.

Wednesday
Aug122015

Justice Department Weighs In on Homeless Policies

Bell v. City of Boise

Everywhere across the country homelessness, an often involuntary act, is criminalized. Cities all over are making it illegal to be homeless and even to aid homeless people. Being homeless is a difficult ordeal, and for many it can seem, and is, never-ending, yet these cities are doing all they can to make it even more difficult for those that are homeless. In response, many people and organizations are fighting against these ordinances and laws that seek to criminalize homelessness.

Boise, Idaho is one of these many places that criminalizes homelessness. Continuously, the police are citing and fining people for sleeping on the streets, despite the fact that the shelters are full and there is nowhere for them to go. However, here, homeless people have decided to fight back against the city of Boise and sue them in federal court. Along with homeless people, the Department of Justice on August 6th argued on behalf of the homeless population in Boise.  Here is the Justice Department press release on the issue.

Sharon Bett, a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, argued that fining/criminalizing a homeless person for sleeping on the street, when the shelters are full, violates the 8th amendment’s clause on “Cruel and Unusual Punishments.” Bett notes that legal precedent, with regards to the 8th amendment, has stated that acts of conduct can be criminalized, but not an individual’s status. For example, someone can be fined for drinking alcohol in public, but not fined for being an alcoholic. In other court cases, dating back to the past decade, the courts have continuously maintained that being homeless is a status, not a conduct.

It has also been established that criminalizing people who are sleeping in public when shelters are full is a violation of the 8th amendment’s “Cruel and Unusual Punishment” clause. In reference to Boise, Bett uses precedent, set in Jones v. City of Los Angeles, 444 F.3d 1118 (9th Cir. 2006), claims that, if there is no place for a person to go (this would mean not being able to access a shelter), then that person’s sleeping outside becomes an “involuntary and inseparable from” an individual’s status of homelessness. So, the homeless individual should also be entitled to sleep in public, when there is no shelter that they can access.

Here is the heart of the Justice Department filing, "[i]t should be uncontroversial that punishing conduct that is a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human violates the Eighth Amendment. . .  Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity—i.e., it must occur at some time in some place.  If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless."

The essence of the argument put forth against criminalizing sleeping outside and Boise specifically, is that the status of homelessness, like being mentally ill or a victim of natural disaster, is a status, and a person’s status cannot be criminalized. However, conduct can be criminalized, such as an addict drinking in public, because, in this scenario, an addict could reasonably and voluntarily find a private place. Nevertheless, sleeping outside in public spaces is different, in that it is “involuntary and inseparable from” the status of being homeless. The Justice Department contends that the City of Boise should not be criminalizing the acting of sleeping in a public space, because these individuals have no where else to exist.  The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has been assisting with this case for the past three years.  Activists hope that they can use this briefing to change the law in Boise and use it in other cities in the United States.

The Case in the News

From National Law Center of Homelessness and Poverty

by Dan the Intern

PS:  We have set up a web page with the actual text of the brief submitted by the Justice Department here.

Tuesday
Aug112015

Quiz: Standard vs. Policy in Government

It is difficult to interact with government.  Homeless people are frustrated that there is no where to go within government to complain about conditions or to get an impartial verdict on discharge.  [Editor's Note: The County says that Cleveland Mediation Center acts as an impartial third party.  Most homeless people feel that CMC is too closely related to Frontline Services as the administrator of the "diversion" program at Coordinated Intake.] For example, where do women go if they get sick from the food served in the shelter?  Where do they go if they are transported to the hospital and the staff throw all their items away before they return from the hospital?  Where do you go to get someone not connected to the shelter to determine if your discharge from the shelter was fair and followed the rules?

Two weeks back a woman on a breathing machine and a walker was kicked out of the shelter for fighting with another resident.  Where can she go to complain that the staff just sat back and did not do anything about the escalating verbal altercation until the situation led to a physical pushing match?  Then they stepped in to kick both women out.  Most women find the current grievance process broken and the procedure never involves an impartial third party that is not a subcontractor of the Women's Shelter. 

The only way that homeless people have found that they have influence over how the shelters operate is the contracts given to the shelters by Cuyahoga County.  The County says that any shelter receiving public money must abide by "shelter standards" in order to receive public funds.  The director signs the contract verifying that they will in fact follow the "shelter standards" and then from what I have seen  forgets about it until the next year.  Over the last year, the shelters have been good about posting these rules on the bulletin boards, and the County included a change in the discharge procedure.  This was a big change and does not allowing staff to discharge people for non-criminal behavior.  It also allows for punishments not to be imposed that have an impact on a person's health and safety until they complete the grievance process.  These are huge improvements in the shelter.   The County has set up this elaborate system to approve new standards within the shelters.   At the July OHS meeting the County Homeless Advisory approved the following:

Public Policy recommendation (minus two members present at the meeting) to the OHS Advisory Board for confirmation

a) Scope of matters to be considered codifying as a Shelter Standard

  • The scope of a shelter “standard” will address reasonable requirements that concern basic shelter operations to assure safety, health, sercurity, and respect within the shelter facility. The objective of setting community standards is to establish a minimum benchmark for shelter operations. Standards are different from “policies”. Policies describe how a standard is implemented by the provider agency. 

In reviewing suggestions for shelter standards, the first step will be to decide if the proposal meets the criteria of a “standard” as opposed to a "priority."  We have come up with a quiz here for you.  From the current list of shelter standards pick if this is a standard or a policy.  The answers will be at the end of the quz.

Is this a standard or a policy?

1. Standard or a policy: 

A. All shelter staff shall receive training in at least the following: a. Emergency evacuation procedures; and b. Agency operating procedures.  OR

B. The shelter shall be clean and in good repair.

2. Standard or a Policy?

a. Shelters providing food service shall make adequate provisions for the sanitary storage and preparation of foods.

b.  The shelter shall have a written policy regarding the control of infectious diseases, such as HIV, tuberculosis, etc. (I.22)

3. Standard or a Policy?

a. The shelter shall post and read, or otherwise make known, the rules, regulations, and procedures of the shelter. (I22)

b. The shelter shall only require clients to perform duties directly related to daily living activities within the shelter.

4. Standard or a Policy?

a. Shelters must have written policies related to serving healthy, balanced meals, and shelters must have access to consult with a dietician regarding serving clients with special dietary needs. (IV.32)

b. The shelter shall provide sufficient showers/baths, washbasins and toilets that are in proper operating condition for personal hygiene.  These should be adequate for the number of people served.  Clean towels, soap and toilet tissue shall be available to each client.  (I. 13)

5. Standard or Policy?

a. The shelter shall assure that at least one staff person on duty is trained in emergency first aid procedures. (I36)

b. The shelter shall post and read, or otherwise make known, the rights and responsibilities of shelter clients that shall include a grievance procedure for addressing potential violations of their rights. (I22)

6. Standard or Policy?

a. The shelter shall have reasonable access to transportation services.

b. The shelter shall provide adequate natural or artificial illumination to    permit normal activities and to support the health and safety of occupants.  Sufficient electrical sources shall be provided to permit the use of essential electrical appliances while assuring safety from fire.

7. Standard or Policy?

a. The shelter shall maintain an attendance list which includes, at least, the name and sex of each person residing in the shelter.

b. Each shelter must have a written visitation policy as part of its safety plan (Visitation” refers to non-shelter residents seeking to enter the facility.)

Answers:

We have no idea what the answers are for this quiz.  We have no idea the difference between a policy and standard are.  We have no idea what this new rule means or if they will go back and take out all the policies from the current shelter standards.  It is a strange game of symantics we have to go through to get social justice within the shelters. 

http://www.neoch.org/current-county-standards

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Thursday
Aug062015

Homelessness in the National News

With the recent strings of police misconduct, it was sad to see police officers taunting a homeless person in Florida.

In some areas, city governments are taking steps, if minor, to limit the unjust actions taken by police against a large part of the population. Los Angeles is trying to increase police awareness about mental illness and de-escalation techniques. However, it is not going far enough, they need to account for how mental illnesses affect people when considered legal charges.  The LA Times takes a look at one mentally ill homeless woman caught in the legal system after being charged with assaulting a police officer.

Two St. Louis individuals are doing their own interesting take on the Food Truck craze. They are looking to create trucks with showers for homeless people to use.

Findings in San Jose show that many stereotypes of why people are continually homeless are very off-base. At one homeless healthcare program, 71% of the patients had brain impairment.  The sample size is small and will need further research to determine a definitive link.

To prevent homelessness, people need affordable housing. One Seattle study shows that a $100 increase in median rent corresponded to 15% increase in homeless population.  The study published in the Journal of Urban Studies showed that population growth and low vacancy rates also contributes to an increase in homelessness.

Stereotypes are countless when it comes to the homeless. This story provides an insight into what it is really like to be homeless and going to school. Many do not know the resources available to them and are afraid or ashamed to ask.  This is a first person account of being homeless in college.

Los Angeles recently announced a program to help homeless people clear minor citations and fines. This is a much needed step toward ending the criminalization of homelessness.  Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in June launching a one-time, statewide amnesty starting Oct. 1 to dismiss up to 80% of infraction-related debt and restore suspended driver's licenses.

In London, anti-homeless spikes have begun to pop up. One activist group could not stand the idea of this and built beds over these spikes.   There is a nice photo associated with this video story.

A study done in the United Kingdom has had results that show the longer someone is homeless the more costly that person becomes to society. The quicker homelessness is dealt with, or even prevented, the more money saved.

As Los Angeles houses more homeless people than any other city, the homeless crisis still increases. This article argues the issue is that no matter what LA does to combat homelessness the problem still remains that there is not nearly enough affordable housing.  This is an op-ed from a Los Angeles City Council member.

Faith-based groups speak out in San Antonio against ordinances that seek to criminalize generosity. Activists are saying that if you wish to feed a homeless person on the streets, you should be able to do so unabated. Local religious leaders were being ticketed for serving food to homeless people.

Non-profit organizations in New York City are providing homeless children a chance to attend a camp like every other kid.  During the summer, they provide children a chance to go to sleepaway camp sessions and to get away from the shelters.

One Atlanta initiative at the largest shelter in the South has homeless people planting urban, organic gardens to feed shelters. These gardens let the homeless individuals eat fresh food and obtain job skills. This is at the Metro Atlanta Task Force Shelter which has been under constant attack for the past 10 years by the City of Atlanta.

Evansville, Illinois is implementing a similar policy to Cleveland’s Coordinated Intake for homeless people. One of the biggest problems for the homeless if finding and understanding all the resources available. These policies give homeless people a central place that has the information to navigate all the services.

by Dan the Intern

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Thursday
Aug062015

NPR Stories About Homelessness

For Homeless Families, Quick Exit From Shelters Is Only A Temporary Fix

NPR did a series of reports on homelessness last week.  The first was on Rapid Rehousing and the second was regarding the work on ending veteran's homelessness. Rapid re-housing can be very helpful to give someone a place on a temporary basis when a person or family finds themselves homeless. The program is designed to be simple and temporary, however, the simplicity of the program can be its downfall. This program treats every homeless individual as a member of the same demographic with the same problems. Some cities flat out ignore other problems facing homeless people.  Doing so with any group of people is a red flag, and with the homeless community, rapid re-housing has many major issues. Programs for the homeless need to be flexible to individuals. In Cleveland, only families have access to Rapid Rehousing.  Some individuals cannot obtain a stable jobs in the time they are receiving the assistance, and sometimes, even if a person obtains a stable job, they cannot afford market rent without the assistance. Congress is not going to increase funding for homeless services anytime soon, so rapid rehousing must start implementing policies to be more successful. 

The U.S. Declared War On Veteran Homelessness — And It Actually Could Win

Since President Obama took office, there has been a 300% increase in funding for homeless vets. By doing this, the number of homeless vets has decreased significantly in many cities. Some cities have even reached “functional zero” meaning that if a homeless veteran requests housing, they immediately receive it. Yet, the use of the “functional zero” terminology is a double edged sword. Officials use “functional zero” as though it is the same as ending homelessness, but it is not. If veteran homelessness, or homelessness in any capacity were to end, then funding for that would not be needed. To maintain a “functional zero” state of homelessness, funding must also be maintained. Steve Peck, president of U.S. Vets in Houston, was attempting to raise funds, when donors said that they thought homelessness was over. Well, it needs to be made clear that there is a difference between the eradication of homelessness and “functional zero.”

There was one story about New Orleans and the whole concept of "functional zero" among veterans.  Another important aspect of this story was the importance of flexibility. Jim Zenner was a veteran of Iraq facing severe anger issues and depression from his time in the Service. So, when he found himself homeless with his son due to these circumstances, he would have been unable to gain shelter if it was not for one organization bending the rules for him. He later helped build and run a readjustment facility for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. The importance of this piece of the story lies in the organization’s bending of the rules. Homelessness comes in many different forms with countless scenarios, and far too often, if someone does not meet the classifications of the prototypical homeless person, they lose out on resources.  Resources and programs for the homeless must be flexible to the needs of individuals and groups, not merely one or the other.

by Dan the Intern