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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.


Throw Money at a Problem and Government Can Succeed

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been working toward and end to veterans homelessness.  They have set the end of 2015 as the goal for an end to veterans homelessness and it looks like Cleveland is close.  This only proves that governement can solve problems and that throwing money at a problem can solve social service issues. 

We are reaching "functional zero" which is the point at which there is no one left without help.  There is no veteran left behind without a place to stay.  No one has not been screened and is on track to get into housing.  We are approaching that point in Cleveland.  We have only two veterans living outside and all the vets in shelter are moving toward housing.  There are vacancies at almost all the veteran's only beds in the community.  It is becoming harder to fill the women only and men's vet beds, and the VOA new facility on Euclid is really helping to move people into housing.  They are quickly moving veterans who show up into permanent housing even those with huge barriers to overcome.  It has been impressive to see the coordination and the work done in Cleveland to end veterans homelessness. 

We still need to work on families who become homeless and families who the veteran passes away not related to his service.  Overall, we have seen a huge decline in the number of veterans in Cleveland who are homeless over the last five years.  There is a separate court for veterans.  There are housing vouchers for vets.  There are employment programs and coordinated intake sites just for vets.  There is a separate medical system that has not been plagued by the problems in other communities.  We have a really nice hospital and a pretty good behavioral health system for veterans.  There are civil rights protections for veterans and resources available for most intangibles.  A veteran can go to the Veterans Service Commission in any Ohio County to get funds to repair their car to get to work or to purchase identification or buy emergency food after an unexpected bill shows up.  The point is that we have designed a strong safety net for veterans and we are making significant process toward "functional zero."

This should dispel the myth that government cannot solve problems.  We have spent 35 years trying to solve homelessness, but we have never provided enough resources to actually do anything but tread water.  We have never provided enough housing vouchers or built enough affordable housing.  We have never provided enough rental assistance to get people back on their feet.  We have paid only lip service to civil rights protections in housing, law enforcement, and employment.  We have a judicial system that is not serving poor people and until last year a large portion of the low income population did not have access to health insurance.  We still have a pathetic behaviorial health system and do not have an effective way to get emergency resources to families struggling in our community.  Now, we have a map to solve a problem with veterans who became homeless.  If we throw money at a problem, we can solve that community issue.  Next up to solve the problem of family homelessness. 

Brian Davis

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Timothy Russell Family Find No Justice in Cleveland

Dear Michelle Russell, sister of Timothy:

I am so sorry that you have to endure this third injustice regarding your brother.  I hope that you can find some peace despite the court not being able to punish this Cleveland Police Officer for the murder of your brother.  I know that this undermines your confidence and other's confidence in the justice system and, in fact, local government.  It is unfathomable that a man sworn to protect the Constitution could jump up on the hood of your brother's car, reload his weapon firing 49 times, and that does not result in a conviction.  Have we reached the point that those wearing a badge are above the law and cannot be prosecuted?  We are so thankful that you have dedicated your life to serving low income and homeless people and have participated as a NEOCH Board member over the past five years in pushing social justice.  Your strength in court, testifying on behalf of your brother, and in the press conferences has been a model of stoicism. 

The first injustice was that we could not quickly move your brother back to stability and better assist with his behavioral health issues.  Because of privacy rules, there was no way to reach out to family members to alert them that their son, brother, and friend was struggling with many issues including homelessness.  The homeless service system has little ability to get family members involved if the homeless individual is embarrassed or unwilling to have contact with family members.  We never made the link that your brother was a client of another NEOCH Board member and that he needed help that he was not finding in the current social service system.  We may have made some strides in changing the social service system since 2012 with coordinated intake, but I am not sure we are yet responding appropriately when family members become homelessness in Cleveland. 

The second injustice was the police chase and then execution of your brother for not stopping when faced by a wall of blue.  I grieve for you, Michelle and hope that you can find peace after this horrible incident.  I trust that with all the investigations and the Justice Department condemning of the Cleveland Police provides you some comfort. I was encouraged that there will be improved training, police cameras in the cars and body cameras on all patrolmen as a result of this tragedy. But none of that will bring back your brother or Malissa Williams.   It is incomprehensible that more officers were not charged with a felony after the death of two homeless people in our community.  How can two unarmed people fleeing for their lives be gunned down in a parking lot in East Cleveland?  How can race not be taken into account with so many white officers executing two African Americans? The 13 police officers had all these weapons and police cars against these two people with a mental illness driving in a 25 year old car and so far have faced only a 30 day suspension.  Why is lethal force the first response by the Cleveland Police Department in this and a number of other incidents?  How bad was the training of the CPD officers that this could go so wrong?  And is anyone going to pay for how bad these officers were trained?   After all, both the Chief and Safety Director at the time were promoted after the November 29 murder of your brother.

The final injustice was today with the not guilty verdict of one of the police officer in your brother's death.  We listened to the verdict and all the comments after the verdict and are still stunned by the Judge's decision.  The Judge was so meticulous in detailing every shot and every step of the shooting (how you were able to sit in the court room for that hour was amazing).  The details overwhelmed the big picture of 60 police cars and 137 bullets.  It seemed that the Judge was mired in when your brother's heart stopped and which bullet killed Williams while ignoring the injustice of 13 police officers immediately shooting two unarmed citizens.  Why is it so easy to put a black man with drug paraphernalia or a box cutter in jail, but the police who kill, choke to death, or violently restrain a mentally ill woman are given a walk?  Why are African Americans who kill a white bar owner immediately charged and pushed into a plea deal while we wait months and years to get justice when a white police officer uses lethal force against an African American?  Many in Greater Cleveland are saddened and embarrassed that justice for Williams and your brother is delayed. 

Our community needs your voice to promote police reform and a dramatic change in oversight of law enforcement.  I hope that you will become involved in enforcing the Justice Department agreement to make sure that your brother's voice lives on.  We need a complete overhaul of the police union contract with the City and a new strategy on rehabilitation instead of incarceration.  Stay strong in the face of injustice.

Brian Davis

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Great News For Open Records in Ohio 

The Ohio Supreme Court in a split decision sided with a reporter from Otterbein College in Westerville that will release the police records from this private college.   The Supreme Court decided that since these officers were doing public safety in place of the regular police force of Westerville Ohio they should be subject to public disclosure.  If the student had wanted to see local crime stats or how the police were responding to crime in the area, those records would be available through a public records request.  If they wanted to see how the Otterbein Police were responding, those records were denied because Otterbein claimed it was a private college not subject to public records request. 

The Ohio Supreme Court found that when a private corporation is engaged in replacing a public service, they must abide by the same disclosure requirements as the Westerville Police Department are subject to.   This is great news for then being able to pry open documents being held by private charities conducting public business. 

The publicly funded shelters in Cleveland are all subject to disclosure rules because they receive government assistance.  Those who claim to be a religion are not subject to the same disclosure and can keep their 990 tax returns private.  We hope that this ruling can be broadened to include other activities being done by non-profits operating public services such as prisons, schools, and shelters.  We could use more sunshine in all of these activities to show how our public dollars are being used to house people, educate them and incarcerate them.  All of these are previously done by government and now are being privatized largely in the dark.  We even have the oversight of whole industries being done by private industry such as fracking, financial transactions, waste removal and storage as well as power generation.  These are often skilled professions that government no longer has the skill to oversee, and is not deferring to non-profits or other corporations.  A little sunshine never hurt any industry or charity.  

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.



Weekly Update on Homeless Stories in the News

Here are a few interesting news stories about homelessness from the last week.  Click on the blue text to view the source article.

by Dan the Intern

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Contentious Homeless Congress Meeting

Commentary by Megan the Intern

    On May 14th the monthly meeting of Homeless Congress was held at 1pm at Cosgrove, and a large number of people attended because of the speaker from Cuyahoga County.  34 were shelter residents and 16 represented other community organizations came to hear from County Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell. Some of the organizations represented included Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland Mediation Center, Laura’s Home, Cosgrove Center, Norma Herr Women’s Shelter, 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter and NEOCH.  County Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell was one of the founding members of the new form of government and had previous experience working in the social service community.  Conwell’s presence caused the large turnout and the tension to run high.

    The meeting began with introductions, followed by a summary of the agenda by the executive director of NEOCH Brian Davis.  First on the agenda Councilwoman Yvonne Conwell addressed the audience, describing her role as a council member and as vice president of the Department of Health and Human Services committee.  Following the address, Brian Davis presented the Congresswoman with some of the major concerns of Congress members, and invited her feedback. 

     Residents of the shelters and permanent supportive housing units attend the Homeless Congress meetings every month to work on issues that impact all their lives.  For this meeting the topic of discussion focused on the lack of enforcement of the recently approved and published list of County regulations for shelters.  Not only are the regulations not enforced, but there are no means to enforcing them.  There is no one to go to within the County to tell that there is a problem and no one goes out to the shelters to see if the regulations are being followed.  This is such a great concern of Congress members because it jeopardizes the civil rights, health and safety of homeless people.  With no forum outside of the shelters or other social service providers that can address the concerns and grievances of its residents, the rights, health and safety of residents are at the mercy of shelter employees.

       The topic of enforcing shelter regulations stirred up quite a debate between those employed by Norma Herr shelter and the members of Congress.  One of the regulations discussed as an example was bed rest.  The proposed regulation states “The shelters must accept ‘bed rest’ orders from legitimate health professionals including Care Alliance.”  Residents of the shelter reported that the shelter was not accepting bed rest orders from Care Alliance, (considering them illegitimate) the health care provider recommended by shelters. Shelter residents also reported that when bed rest orders are accepted, they are only allowed 1-2 hours of rest before being told to leave the shelter. Others said that they were flat out denied bed rest and told if they were too sick to leave they should go to a nursing home. Norma Herr staff disputed this, stating that they do honor bed rest orders even from Care Alliance. 

    Staff of the Cleveland Mediation Center claimed that they serve as an impartial third party forum to enforce shelter regulations and investigate grievances.  This statement caused an uproar among Congress members. CMC staff said that they can address any of these concerns and have had many meetings about these conditions for the past month.  Many in the audience pointed out that the Women’s shelter has been a problem for years and things have not changed.  Even the men at the meeting were tired of waiting for a change in the women’s shelter.  One member pointed out that CMC is on the payroll of the Norma Herr shelter, and cannot be considered a third party.  CMC also argued that the 42 grievances collected by NEOCH in one week against the women’s shelter were impossible to investigate due to the fact that half of them were anonymous. 

        NEOCH disputed CMC’s claim by pointing out that grievances with names were not addressed or investigated.  CMC and Norma Herr disputed this by stating that disputes are a process that takes time.  CMC stated that the organization is making an attempt to improve standards by implementing listening circles designed for shelter residents to address their concerns.  When current residents of Norma Herr were asked if they have noticed any improvements they reported that they had not.

    In an effort to wrap up the meeting, Councilwoman Conwell gave some closing remarks.  She stated that she had compassion for both sides in the debate.  Councilwoman Conwell stated that as a former employee of the women’s shelter, she knows that some shelter residents are truthful and others are not.  Therefore, she believes grievances should be dealt with on a case by case basis by a neutral party.  The problem with this logic is that truth cannot be determined without an objective third party. Congresswoman Conwell also added that she would try to arrange a meeting with the county council committee to discuss improved shelter standards and regulations.  While such a meeting might improve the letter of the standards and regulations, with no means of enforcement, it will not likely improve the spirit of such regulations.

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