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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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Award Winners from NEOCH

Photo by Norman Wolfe

The Board of Directors of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless presented the Advocate of the Year award to Eileen Kelly at the Annual Meeting on March 19.  We also gave the David Westcott Volunteer of the Year award to Kimberly Fischer for her outstanding work last year.  Eileen Kelly invited a number of St. Colman friends with her to the annual meeting to help celebrate her social justice award.   Kelly helped start the Identification Collaborative in Cleveland nearly 10 years ago, and they have served thousands.   Last year, Kelly did a great deal of work trying to get the Social Security Administration and the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in protecting access to identification for homeless people.  This year the hard work begins of trying to raise enough funds to keep the project going. 

Eileen Kelly has worked to continue funding the identification collaboration.  The key to the success of the ID Collaborative has always been a focus on the advocacy piece associated with getting individual's identification.   The discussions with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles when they are trying to establish residency for homeless people.  There was a change in Social Security Administration procedures that made it more difficult to obtain a print out. The "print out" verifying that the individual has a social security number can be used to obtain a state ID which then allows the individual to receive new social security card.  Kelly led a delegation to confront the Social Security Administration at a meeting convened by Senator Sherrod Brown. It seems like such a small inconvenience when a housed person loses their identification, but for a homeless person it can mean the ticket to housing, a job and the ability to vote. 

We also gave an award to Kimberly Fischer, a recent student at Kent State University as the David Westcott Volunteer of the Year for 2013.  Fischer came to NEOCH a couple of times a week to help and she developed a close relationship with some of the vendors.  She helped vendors write their stories for the paper.  Fischer also helped with setting up two NEOCH Facebook pages and improved the NEOCH website.   While working on her health issues, she volunteered her time to help homeless people.  Fischer was not able to attend the ceremony, but was so appreciative of the award.  She made an impact on the agency and the staff and other volunteers who she worked with on various projects. 

You can see more on the 2013 Award Winners in our annual report.

Brian Davis

Opinions reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry


Ione Biggs Award Winner

Jay Westbrook and Maria Smith were honored by the Homeless Coalition as the 2013 and 2012 Ione Biggs Social Justice Award winners respectfully.  We presented them with a plaque that they can display on their office wall.  We also have a recognition plaque in the office with the engraved names of the previous winners. We keep Ione Biggs name alive in Cleveland with this Social Justice award, and each of the winners knew Ms. Biggs and were fans of her advocacy and dignity.

For those who do not know, Ione Biggs was one of the first female police officers in Ohio.  She had a long history of fighting for the rights of women especially women of color.  She was an anti-war activist.  She was a long time friend of NEOCH and regularly attended our demonstrations for improved conditions in the shelters.  Biggs was a member of the City Club and she was regularly asking leading questions to those who had to face her for the weekly lunch.   The Ione Biggs Social Justice Award is intended to highlight the life achievements of the recipient in the area of community service, public policy, access to justice, and equality that changed the lives of those who live in Greater Cleveland.  Previous winners include David Westcott, Gail Long and Frank Jackson. 

Maria Smith is an attorney at Legal Aid Society of Cleveland specializing in eviction prevention and she has a deep understanding of re-entry and benefit issues.   On the award that we gave to Maria Smith as the 2012 Biggs winner it said,

For a lifetime of outstanding contributions to the advancement of equality, civil rights, structural change, as well as increasing the opportunities of the politically, economically and socially disadvantaged in Greater Cleveland to obtain affordable housing or maintain existing housing. Smith has worked to create a society that can forgive and can provide equal access to its people.

Maria Smith has worked to keep people out of the homeless shelters and pushing an agenda to forgive those who have served their time.  She advocates for reducing barriers to affordable housing and broadening access to subsidized housing units.  Smith works on a daily basis to prevent improper evictions.  She has co-chaired the County Re-Entry Task Force, which has created greater opportunities for those attempting to re-integrate into society and find stability. Smith has made a long career in arguing against spending US tax dollars on death and war arguing for allowing tax payers to direct public dollars to peace and human services.  We congratualate Maria Smith for the decades of service to Cleveland, homeless people and creating a just society.

We also recognized retired Councilman Jay Westbrook of the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood.  Here is the inscription on Westbrook's award:

For a distinguished career serving the people of Cleveland and assisting the economically and socially disadvantaged to access federal resources and maintaining a safe place to live in our community. He provided honorable service to those struggling with housing and living in poverty attempting to work toward a more just society.

Westbrook was one of the leaders of the strategic plan that led to the creation of the County Office of Homeless Services in the early 1990s.   He has worked to preserve and expand affordable housing in Cleveland, and was always a friend to the Homeless Coalition.  Westbrook was railing against the financial services industry for raping the Cleveland neigbhorhoods years before the tidal wave of foreclosures.  He helped try to pass legislation to protect the neighborhood which were all challenged by the banks and mortgage servicers.  Westbrook as City Council President and member of the leadership team on City Council maintained universal access to shelter for the last 25 years.  We believe this policy has saved the lives of thousands of people locally.  We congratuate Jay Westbrook as the 2013 Ione Biggs Social Justice award winner.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.


Annual Report Posted on the Website

We had a really nice Annual Meeting on Wednesday night with a full house of over 40 people.  We were proud to give lifetime achievements to Maria Smith and retired Councilman Jay Westbrook as the 2012 and 2013 Ione Biggs Social Justice Award winners. Both graciously tried to find others who deserved the award more than they did, but we finally convinced each to accept the award.  It was nice that both knew Ms. Biggs before she passed away. 

We had some good food (thanks Jennifer) and around 40 people attended the Annual Meeting.  We had a number of members of the Homeless Congress and a couple of our friends from the social service sector. We have posted the NEOCH Community Benefit Report on our website now which details the awards that we presented on Wednesday.  It also gives a brief look at our finances and a history of the last year for the organization.   We gave an award to Eileen Kelly as Advocate of the Year and Kimberly Fischer as the 2013 Volunteer of the Year.  We will have details posted about all of our award winners.  We have added our strategic plan for the next three years to the Community Benefit Report (Annual Report).  We are also working on a web page that will detail all of our award winners from the past.   It is an incredible group of people and we need to remember the great work of all these individuals.

Brian Davis

The opinions expressed are those of the author


Still Room For You at the Annual Meeting

We have the awards ready for retired Councilman Jay Westbrook and Legal Aid Attorney Maria Smith.  We are giving out our Volunteer of the Year award as well as Advocate of the Year.  The first two award winners will receive the Ione Biggs Award for their lifetime of amazing work in the area of social justice.   Then we give out awards for 2013 and two outstanding individuals who went above and beyond last year. 

We will have a light meal and the release of our Annual Report.   All are welcome, but we ask that you Reserve your spot so we know how many people are going to attend.

March 19, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. is when the meal will start.  The program will start at 6 pm.  The Annual Meeting takes place at the NEOCH offices at 3631 Perkins Ave.


Two Related Stories on the Criminal Justice System

There were a strange group of articles in the paper that point to the two different approaches to the criminal justice system in America.  The Justice Department announced a change in the sentencing recommendations for drug offenses then on the other end the Plain Dealer had a story that the Governor was asking for additional criminal justice money because they are running out of space in the jails.  Attorney General Eric Holder is asking for a reduction in the range of sentences for federal drug crimes.  At the same time, he is requesting that Federal Prosecutors not object to requests for sentencing reductions.  This will affect nearly 70% of the drug trafficking cases in the federal courts. Here is the NPR report on the issue.  This is not only because of the injustice of our sentencing rules, but the economics of incarcerating thousands of people every year.

Going the other direction is the State of Ohio which is asking for $53 million increase to reduce overcrowded prisons and hire additional staff.  They will also add funding for rehabilitation programs, but the bulk of the money is for additional incarceration funding.  There was some rumblings by the Ohio Republicans in the legislature about sentencing reform to save the state money in 2013, but it never went anywhere for fear of being viewed as weak on crime.  The Ohio Inmate population is approaching record numbers. We are now over 50,000 people incarcerated which is double the population in 1988. 

How does this have anything to do with homelessness?  We know that a sizable number of the homeless population have a history with the criminal justice system that keeps them homeless or extends their stay on the taxpayer's dime.   We know that the criminal has destroyed the lives of their victims through violence or financial crimes, and we have to keep that in mind whenever we talk about the criminal justice system.  The victims need to be considered whenever discussing sentencing reductions.  We also need to recognize that these individuals paid their debt to society.  They were convicted of a crime and served their time, and we need to not keep punishing them.

Often the shelters are just an extended stay in a prison without the ability to make your own decisions.  There is a lights out time (11 p.m.).   They tell you when to get up and when to eat.  They tell you when the bathroom is available and you have to consolidate all your worldly possessions into the size of one locker or a foot locker.  For some, it is a life sentence because they are tagged with a community notification label that will prevent them from employment and housing for the rest of their natural life.   The taxpayers are then responsible for their food, clothing, housing and medical care for the rest of their life.  Shelters have no possibly of finding housing for some people in our society, because of their criminal background.  The Sentencing Project has a good website about the societal impact of our harsh incarceration policy on the financial health and moral health of the United States as well as the civil rights implications of incarcerating so many minority populations

We do the resident council meeting at 2100 Lakeside Shelter to hear about the concerns of the residents and take those problems to the management of the shelter for some resolution.  The February meeting, we had a gentleman who was a Tier 3 sexually based offender, and was very angry that no one was being honest with him that he would never qualify for any housing program.  He had spent a year in the shelter and was just realizing that he would never get into housing, and would live out the rest of his life not being able to rent or buy his own housing.   He wanted to know why no one had told him this up front and was honest with him that he would not qualify for any program in the community. 

Brian Davis