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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.

Homeless Voting
Friday
Aug052016

People's Convention Solve Problems in Pittsburgh

I was blessed with an opportunity to go to the People’s Convention in Pittsburgh, PA, which was held July 8-9, 2016.  This was a non-partisan and campaign free event.  It was organized by a diverse group of people and organizations.  Their commitment was to “lift up issues and problems that the Republican National Convention (RNC) will not authentically address and to develop collectively agreed to solutions."  It is referred to as “a People’s Justice and Peace Platform that will achieve just nonviolent, democratic, and sustainable results."  The People’s Convention was held prior to the RNC Convention in Cleveland in 2016.

A non-profit organization, Common Good Ohio, is dedicated to “fight for stronger and healthier communities," and made it possible for me (NEOCH) and other Ohio charities such as Organize! Ohio to attend the People’s Convention.  The campaigns I came across included Fed Up, “supporting the $15 minimum wage efforts in Cleveland, voter contact programs for the renewal of the tax levy for Cleveland Public Schools, and progressive candidates running for elected office in Ohio.

The campaign called Fed Up is in 2 parts: 1) “focused on putting pressure on the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates low temporarily, so the vulnerable communities can catch up and 2) to increase the diversity of each Federal Reserve’s region’s Board of Directors.”  This is so important in Ohio because there is a Federal Reserve Bank in Cleveland and “we have the opportunity to highlight the economic struggle” directly to the Regional Reserve President.

We left for Pittsburgh on Thursday, July 7th, so we would be able to have breakfast
Friday morning and attend the opening Plenary and Roll Call.  There were a variety of speakers informing us about the struggles and issues that are being addressed at the Convention.  We had lunch, another session to welcome allies and funders, and then prepared to “take it to the streets."  The “Still We Rise” March began at 2:30pm.  As we marched, we sang songs like, “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “We Will Win."  We also shouted chants like, “Still We Rise”, “The people united, will never be defeated!"  “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now”!, “Ain’t no power like the power of people, cause the power of people don’t stop!”, and “Whose Streets? Our Streets”!  We had a peaceful march to a few designated areas and downtown Pittsburgh, then back up to the Convention Center. 

After dinner, we had an evening Plenary and there were a number of speakers addressing the March from different areas such as New York and Texas.  We then had a choice of being entertained by a comedian, W. Kamau, who did “a comedic exploration of the current state of America’s racism” or a true story movie about an immigrant mother’s struggle to survive in New York City with her two children.  It was a Spanish film with English subtitles, as there was a very diverse population of participants.  The day ended with a rooftop party and then it was time to prepare for Saturday’s events and we turned in.  By the way, we stayed at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel and the rooms were very nice.

Saturday breakfast started at 8:00am. While everyone had breakfast there was a Break-Out Session which was a gathering of Executive Director's partners.  After breakfast, we had a morning Plenary and “Still We Rise” was recited by the community organization representatives.  When the representatives finished making their presentation, it was time to break for lunch. 

For the rest of the day there were a series of workshops available.  The series of workshops were called:  Fighting for What We Want.  There were 37 workshops to choose from and they were broken up into 7 categories:  1) And Still We Rise-Lifting Up Our Stories In Order To Win.  There were six workshops under this category, 2) We Want Power And Democracy!  There were seven workshops under this category, 3) We Want Freedom!  There were eight workshops under this category, 4) We Want An Economy That Works For All Of Us!  There were four workshops under this category, 5) We Want Our Homes, Our Schools, And Our Neighborhoods.  We Want Opportunity!  There were four workshops under this category, 6) We Want Our Health And Our Planet! There were five workshops under this category, and 7) Breakout Sessions During The Workshops.  There were 3 workshops under this category which included two field trips.

The workshop I choose to attend was very interesting.  It was the name of the workshop that captured my attention.  This was the one entitled End Poverty-A Universal Basic Income for Everyone.  There were two presenters and about 12 people including myself attending this workshop.  We discussed the Alaska once a year payout.  A tax is imposed on oil companies and put into a fund.  The citizens of Alaska would receive a yearly payment of approximately $2,500 a year.  This was done because the oil companies do not own the oil, they own the company.  We also discussed Switzerland’s attempt to put a Universal Income in place.  Switzerland would increase taxes on the wealthy corporations etc. and these taxes would assist to make the funds available for the citizens to receive a monthly benefit of $2,500.  The argument was that this would “replace social safety nets, minimize robust government needs, and this would increase workers’ bargaining powers in terms of employment."  It was placed on the ballot and failed.  If it had passed, Switzerland would have a Universal Basic Income.  The workshop was to get some input to find out if this would be a feasible possibility for the United States.

There was a lot of discussion and at the end of the workshop we were given some reading material and directed to the website if we wanted to pursue any further involvement. 

After the workshop, we had some free time to mingle.  Since I was going to be participating in the March to End Poverty Now in Cleveland on the July 18th, I met with some of the activist there, passed out flyers with information about the march and invited them to march with us for Economic Justice.  Later that evening there was a block party scheduled called, The People’s Block Party.  Although we wanted to stay and attend, the bus was leaving before it began.  We had a nice quiet ride back to Cleveland and a chance to relax and reflect on what we had done and learned.  We also got some really nice gear at the convention.  We got two tee shirts, a water bottle, scarf, backpack, and a wallet that can be worn around the neck.  I feel that I have grown and I am better prepared for the march I will be participating in prior to the RNC.

by Ramona Turnbull

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry. Thanks to Organize Ohio for the photos.

Monday
Aug012016

No Bid Contracts in Cuyahoga County Homeless Services

NEOCH staff testified against the no bid contract being provided to Coordinated Intake operated by Frontline Services today.  We do not support these contracts especially when combined with the $700,000 given to EDEN for Rapid Rehousing this is over $1 million going to this endeavor without a competative bidder.  We believe that there are others in the community who could do this critical service in Cleveland or there should be a discussion if the County themselves should be overseeing Intake to save us money.  We believe that an RFP process could get some reform of the Intake to be fairer to homeless people and more transparent for the community.  Here is the letter that we submitted to the County Controlling Board.

July 28, 2016

Cuyahoga County Board of Control             
2079 East 9th Street, 4th Floor - Committee Room B
Cleveland, Ohio 44115

RE: Coordinated Intake Funding Request

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless was informed that the expansion of Coordinated Intake would receive funding without a competitive bid.  We oppose this decision and hope that the Controlling Board will intervene to force a competitive bid.  We believe that selecting which shelter a person must go to and who receives rapid rehousing rental dollars is so important that we must as a community assure that the correct provider is in place for this critical service.  We also do not believe that we have ever had a discussion as a community to determine if this service would not be better undertaken by the County Department of Jobs and Family Services. 

The staff at Coordinated Intake are very nice people and in fact one of the managers is a former employee of NEOCH.  The lack of transparency by the current provider and the inability to provide oversight with the current contract are the main issues for NEOCH.  These funds came to Cuyahoga County because a number of men’s shelters were closed.  These shelters provided housing for single males for an average of six to eight months on average, and now those beds are removed from the system.  We lost women and family beds over the last six years and we do not want to turn the men’s system into the disaster of the women’s system. There is only one way for government to make big decisions and that is through the contracting process. 

This contract was last put out for bid in 2012 after an extremely corrupt process in 2009 for awarding this contract.  We did not have much of a track record and we did not understand the full ramifications Coordinated Intake.  We did not realize the impact on the shelters and the transformation of the emergency shelter system locally.  We did not realize when this was started that the women and family shelters would disappear so rapidly.  We did not realize that the Central Intake would demand that homeless people go through Intake or lose their status as a homeless person.  Now, we see the full ramifications of the Intake and we need to step back to set guidelines and refine the goals for reducing homelessness.  

The current Coordinated Intake is not responsive at all to the public, and a person’s fate for where they will sleep at night is in this Coordinated Intake’s hands.  They have never had their rules approved by any other agencies or homeless people.  They have never talked to homeless people about the goals, prioritizing of certain populations over others or the morality of diverting mothers with children from shelter.  We still do not know how the grievance process works for intake, and we have never had an honest debate about the cost/benefit analysis of emergency shelter vs transitional shelters vs. permanent supportive housing.

We are especially concerned about the diversion of families away from shelter.  We believe that this will lead to a tragedy in which a woman returns to her abuser and is killed.  We have already met women sleeping in their cars with their children because they were afraid to reveal too much information to the staff at Coordinated Intake.  Families are not always clear about their access to shelter locally and are not clear about the responsibilities of the Intake staff to report possible abuse to Children and Family Services.  The merits and ethics of diversion have not been debated publicly and yet 24% of the families who seek shelter in Cuyahoga County are sent away. 

I believe that if a private company wants to supplant the County Government with an essential service, they need to show good cause for why they can far exceed Cuyahoga County from overseeing this operation.  Shouldn’t low income people struggling with housing see a case worker employed by the County in order to assess what other benefits they may be eligible for as well? Wouldn’t Cuyahoga County be more invested in the conditions of the shelters if they were sending people to the shelters every day?  Couldn’t Cuyahoga County Department of Jobs and Family Services do this service better and for less money without all the overhead of buildings and administration or additional staff? 

We have yet to hear a good reason for why this contract should not be put up for bid.  It is a large expansion of the current contract with additional rental assistance available.  Most of the shelter contracts in Cleveland combine pools of other resources, but that does not mean that they cannot withstand the scrutiny of a request for proposal process.  We want to see a public bidding process to provide some level of transparency to this extremely powerful and secretive organization.  We never get any release of information on the number of people sleeping on the floor every night or the number of people denied a medical bed or the number of families split up every night.  How do we provide solutions to the problems associated with homelessness if we do not get reliable, up-to-date information about the number of people falling into homelessness? 

United Way First Call for Help has an updated daily dashboard on the essential services they offer through their 2-1-1 telephone referral system.  I can login right now to find how many people are seeking help with food, shelter or housing every day from 2-1-1.  This is a case of a private non-profit offering a superior product to government and providing regular information to the community.   Shouldn’t community leaders know how many families are seeking shelter this week or this month and how many we could not provide a bed?  Do we know if First Call for Help might be interested in expanding their service to include Coordinated Intake?  They certainly would be more transparent and would create an advisory board similar to the one they created when they took over the affordable housing website locally, HousingCleveland.org. 

We have to wonder if the reason that we do not get information out of Coordinated Intake is that it paints a negative picture of the organization.  Frontline Services runs the largest women’s shelter in Cleveland at the same time as Intake and they are the leading proponent to permanent supportive housing.  What if the release of information would show that they are doing a horrible job at the Women’s shelter or that there has been a significant uptick in people failing out of permanent supportive housing and going back to shelter?  We need an unbiased intermediary to provide referrals to shelter who can be open and honest in the release of information.

We urge you to intervene here and order that the Office of Homeless Service undertake an open and transparent process for selecting a Coordinated Intake provider.  We need enough time to allow for those groups to respond and we need some strict outcomes that involve community input.  We want the system to take into account the unique needs of homeless people and to provide information to the general public.

Thank you for your time and your service to the community.

Sincerely,

Brian Davis

The County Controlling Board tabled the $500,000 contract for Frontline Services until next Monday August 8 at 11 a.m. at their regularly scheduled meeting.  We will be present to correct some of the things that were brought up by staff at the meeting today in order to ask that the County seek bids for this service. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Saturday
Jul302016

Infrastructure Problems at NEOCH Office

A transformer blew outside our office and knocked out the electricity on Friday.  We still do not have phone, internet, air conditioning, elevator and access to the server yet.  We hope to be back to fully restored on Monday.  Brings up the need to invest in aging infrastructure in the United States. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Friday
Jul292016

Outreach Training for Homeless & Religious Groups

The Community West Foundation funded NEOCH to provide increased training to outreach teams both volunteer programs as well as the full time homeless social service providers.  The second Teach In for the group is September 1 at 5:30 p.m. and will be provided by the Greater Cleveland Food Bank locally.  This is the premiere food program in the United States, and they will provide public policy updates, safe preparation of food, and some of the benefit programs available through the Food Bank.  We need you to RSVP in order to secure your slot since we have a limited space.   We will post a copy of the flyer in the near future. 

Here is a flyer to print out and distribute to others.

Thursday
Jul282016

Who Should Represent Homeless People?

This is an inside baseball post and may be way too far into the weeds for most people, but we did advertise back in June for homeless people to apply for the Office of Homeless of Services Advisory Board so we should provide an update.  The County Office of Homeless Services approves the $30 million that comes to Cleveland for the shelters and the housing for homeless people.  They recently changed their bylaws and the composition of their membership.  They tried to reduce the people sitting on the board with a conflict of interest and added four positions for homeless people.  This was a much needed reform, but the big problem with this group is there is never an alternative or an ability to tweak the proposals up for a vote.  The voting process is all or nothing.  They give the voting members an up or down vote on everything. For example either vote "yes" to accept the $30 million or vote "no" and all the shelters close?  We faced the same choice with the vote over new members.  We were offered a vote on a slate of candidates of 15 total while 31 individuals had applied.  It was yes to all 15 candidates selected by some committee or no and there is no board, I guess? All of our expertise and knowledge are disrespected when we are a rubber stamp for staff or an unelected committee. 

All the votes are pro forma with the work done in committee or by staff and the board in a similar manner to the old County Commissioners who were just rubber stamps for a bunch of insiders and patrons.  NEOCH advertised the fact that there were four slots open to homeless or formerly homeless on the advisory board from the two who were currently on the board, and homeless people responded.  Fourteen people applied with 7 currently living in the shelters.  One person stands out for his nerve to take one of these slots.  Keith Moody applied for one of the four homeless slots.  He is staff of the Veterans Administration and has been staff for at least 17 years or more.  He also has a board membership of one of the local shelters.  He had been sitting on the board for years as a "homeless advocate" and so he has gotten to know the other board members, but he has not been homeless for over 20 years. 

The Board members did not get to see the applications or even the reason why the committee selected the candidates for developing this slate.  In fact, the paperwork distributed to the board for a vote gave no biographical information for any of the candidates and did not even list where these indivduals worked.  It was a "trust us" vote.  The committee did all the work for us so we didn't have to worry our pretty little heads about the details.  Full disclosure NEOCH fought to maintain one appointment to the OHS advisory that does not need the full vote of the advisory just like the City, County, and Housing Authority.  When the advisory was chartered by the City and County in 1993, NEOCH had three appointment positions. 

Moody rarely interacts with homeless people except as their case worker.  He does not know anything about sleeping in the shelters. He does not attend the Homeless Congress meetings and does not listen to the issues facing people struggling with housing.  There were plenty of other choices, but the committee was familiar with Keith Moody so they selected him for one of the precious homeless slots.   I don't understand why the Veterans Administration allows a staff person to take a homeless position on the Advisory when they have their own position and that staff is certainly not homeless. 

Moody does not understand the challenges facing women in shelter with the closing down of so many shelter beds or the waiting list for families to get assistance because he rarely communicates with these individuals.   He does not understand the lack of fair housing rights enforcement in the shelters or the fact that the grievance process is broken in Cuyahoga County.    Keith is a personable guy who gets along with most of the board so it would be tough to tell him that he is no longer welcome as a voting member.  This is why Moody should have never applied as a formerly homeless person and put these overly nice committee members in this difficult position. 

We had a board member who applied and was homeless five years ago.  He decided that it was too long ago to use his homeless status in the application.  He applied for one of the open slots as a community member.  Since many of the committee did not know who he was, he was not selected.  While Moody used his long ago status as a homeless person to nudge out the other 16 people who applied and were denied a spot on the board.  We hope that the group tightens up the application process and the qualifications for membership to assure that this valuable slot is reserved for individuals who have some recent contact with people experiencing homelessness.

Brian Davis

By the way the picture is of Loh with those bizarre snails downtown.  Loh received a slot on the OHS Advisory. 

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry