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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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Behind the Yellow Door Profile

A couple of weeks ago there was an impressive series on the impact of severe mental illness on a family.  Lora wrote up a nice summary of the article and we link to it here.  It dedicates a lot of Washington Post ink to a detailed look at a well adjusted husband's decent into madness. 

A man lives alone behind a yellow door in suburban Maryland. He shuns his wife, refers to his sons as ‘’suns’, ignores phone calls from his father, shuts all the blinds, and never accepts visitors inside. Certainly, one would expect an intervention from the family, friends, neighbors, etc. who have been reaching out to him, but nothing happens. The man has stayed behind the yellow door for two years now and shows no signs of coming out.

Despite his alarming behavior, the man behind the yellow door is relatively healthy and clean. He still tends to the lawn and keeps house. Despite the fact that he shows symptoms of schizoaffective disorder, he cannot be declared dangerous. As a result, he cannot be involuntarily confined to a hospital. He is not desperate or dangerous enough to meet the high standards for involuntary commitment to a mental hospital, and as a result, his family and friends are forced to simply stand by as his erratic behavior worsens. And worsen is exactly what they hope will happen. A psychiatrist recommends that his parents cut him off financially so that he will be forced into desperation, his sister hopes he becomes homeless, and his wife even admits that she hopes he will attempt suicide and fail. In a twisted way, they are only hoping for the best … because unless this man worsens, he may never get better.

Half a century ago, there existed a state of constant fear of psychological diagnoses and mental treatment. Rebellious children, loud-mannered women, immigrants, homeless people, and the like faced incarceration in a psychiatric ward where they were subject to ‘treatments’ of various inhumane natures. Then, a 1975 Supreme Court case changed the system. The ruling established a higher threshold for involuntary commitment to mental institutions and effectively safeguarded the sane from involuntary imprisonment. Now, forty years later, the tables have turned, and instead of worrying about wrongful confinement, people are finding it harder and harder to get into these hospitals in order to seek medical treatment.

That is to say, untreated mentally ill persons are left unaided, homeless, or, in the worst case scenario, left to deteriorate until they reach a breaking point. Today, we hear about large-scale acts of violence in which the perpetrator was reported to have shown signs of mental illness and in which family and friends failed to effectively seek treatment for the shooter. The signs of mental illness were all there, but due to subtle wording of federal legislation, treatment was kept out of reach and violence followed. We no longer fear the witch hunt atmosphere fueled by 20th century psychiatric standards, but instead, we fear for the people who desperately need treatment will be ignored when they could have been helped. We fear the violent psychological breakdowns and imminent suffering that could have been prevented.

Advocates are pressing for a bill to change Maryland involuntary commitment law. They wish to alter the wording of the law so that, to be eligible for involuntary commitment, a person does not have to ‘present’ a danger to himself or others but is only ‘reasonably expected, if not hospitalized, to present’ a danger. [Ohio has stepped forward to pass changes in the involuntary commitment--we will post the changes in a future post.]  Some oppose these changes, arguing that the new language would enable a roundup of the homeless, economically unstable, and the like. We would return to the ‘darker days’ of hospitalization. Would it be worth the risk? Is hospitalization the solution?

As the debate for these legal changes continues, the man behind the yellow door completely cuts off contact with his family. After two years of being a recluse, he leaves the house and is now somewhere on his own. His family loves him and would do anything to help, and for better or for worse, they let him go.

by Lora Zuo

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Homeless People Need Supplies in the Summer

It is not just the winter that homeless people need help with donated items.   We have a new outreach consultant, Tyrone, who is out on the street everyday building trusting relationships, but we do not have hygiene kits, blankets or other items to distribute.  We see a big decline in donations during the summer.  There are not the religious groups, schools in sessions, or general public members who think about homelessness in the summer.  In actuality there are more people outside in need of help in July then there are in January when we are flooded with donations.  What do we need in the summer?

  • Tents
  • Bottled water (gallons are good as well)
  • Bus Tickets
  • Hygiene kits (trial size soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, brush, comb, deodorant, plus other personal care items in a bag)
  • Bug spray and sunscreen
  • Back packs or gym bags
  • Rain ponchos

We are open from 9 to 4:30 every day to drop stuff off over near Cleveland State University.  Many Saturdays we are open (call ahead 432-0540).   We can distribute the items to people living outside or in places that are not appropriate for humans, but we need your help collecting the items.  We hope that you can help.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry


NEOCH Comments on Open Internet Rules for FCC

There were nearly 1.2 million submissions to the FCC regarding net neutrality including NEOCH.   We felt it was important to comment on this issue on behalf of homeless people in Cleveland.  The proposed rules would create a fast lane for the Internet in which cable companies could charge certain web content providers more money to access these fast lanes.  The NEOCH website provides content including videos and access to our Street Card information card (being the most popular).  Most of our clients are accessing the internet with outdated equipment in computer labs and libraries.  We believe that our agency would be harmed because we could not afford to put our content on the fast lane, and our clients would be harmed because critical information would be delivered to them in the slower lanes. 

Nearly every job application, housing application and health care access is increasingly being done through electronic means. The last time the housing choice voucher program was opened it was done by web only applications and only for one week.  Access to legislators, bureaucrats and government is largely done by e-mail or by submitting information through a public website.  Unemployment compensation and the food stamp program are almost exclusively done online.  The life of a homeless person and their ability to find stability involves sending and receiving information electronically in an open and in the fastest means possible.  

NEOCH also is a partner in the website which features 32,000 apartments including pictures, maps and extensive details on each building.  We would not be able to pay for faster access to our constituents looking for housing through this website.  The 150,000 unique users per year would face a slower and more frustrating experience when searching for housing. 

NEOCH is concerned that...Internet Service Providers would be able to charge content providers extra for preferential treatment and faster access.  Nonprofits simply cannot compete with for-profit websites if paid priority is implemented. 

We believe that the Internet should be treated as a public utility that provides essential services in our community.  Because of the access to medical care, housing and income is largely done by accessing the Internet, any regulation of the Internet must foremost be in the public interest. 

This is a summary of the comments that we submitted on behalf of homeless people in Cleveland, Ohio.  Gino Scarselli, our interim executive director, put a great deal of work in putting together our comments.  We hope that the Commissioners will keep the Internet open to charitable organizations and religious groups in practice.  We will continue to track this issue.  For a complete look at our submission click on the link below

NEOCH Comments on Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry. 


Does Institutional Violence Provide Cover to Hate Crimes?

Over the weekend the Albuquerque police made an arrest of three young people accused of killing two homeless people.  This after police shot a homeless person who was giving himself up earlier this year.   It seems that cities that mistreat homeless people or pass laws directed at homeless people are also the cities that have higher numbers of hate crimes directed at homeless people.  Albuquerque police have a large number of officers involved in shootings (40) of which 26 were killed since 2010.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty just released a report on the large number of laws directed at homeless people.   The Law Center details the surprising rise in cities which have made it illegal to feed people outside.  There are panhandling laws, anti-sitting laws, anti-"camping" laws, loitering, and no feeding laws.  These "quality of life" ordinances are on the rise, and there are consultants sitting in hotel conference centers crafting new ways to hide homeless people.  Then there are police actions to arrest and hide homeless people.  These include private security for Business Improvement Districts harassing homeless people to go into hiding.  Then in those cities that use law enforcement to solve homelessness there is a corresponding increase in attacks on homeless people

In the 1990s, when there were routine arrests of homeless people for sleeping outside in Cleveland we also saw regular attacks on homeless people.  We saw the stun gun attacks and bricks being thrown from motorists.   We have not seen the level of hate crimes that they see in Cincinnati, which still has not worked out how they deal with a growing population.  If government targets homeless people with laws or arrests it seems to give cover to violent or fringe elements of society to attack fragile populations.  If you place the National Coalition for the Homeless hate crimes report on top of the National Law Center criminalization report you see some huge overlapping cities especially in cities in Florida. 

We have been dealing with homelessness for 40 years, and it seems as though cities have not learned anything.   They still try to deal the problems associated with homeless people instead of dealing with the root cause of homelessness: housing.  They are still trying to regulate homelessness out of existence instead of providing affordable housing and behavioral health services.  Fair share development laws, minimum wage increases, universal access to treatment are sure fire ways to end homelessness.  Passing "quality of life laws" are sure fire ways to prolong homelessness. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry


Russell Family Releases Statement on the Settlement

Last week it was announced that there would be settlement in the federal lawsuit between the estates of Malissa Williams and the estate of Timothy Russell against the City of Cleveland in the shooting death from November 2012.   There were some toxic comments made by the Police Union throughout this process and again last week when the settlement was announced. 

We have a bias since both of the individuals killed by the police had experiences with being homeless and Michelle, Tim's sister, is a member of the NEOCH Board of Trustees.  We have hosted meetings with the police commander regarding this issue and the impact on homeless people.  And as citizens of this community, we were shocked by the militarization of a simple police chase that ended with the execution of two unarmed individuals.  We know that both individuals had large extended families who were all providing input into this lawsuit.  There was disagreement with executors and family and extended family over who should speak for the two people killed in a desolate area of East Cleveland. We know that the Williams' family were living on the edge and had a great deal of experience with poverty and have immediate pressing needs.  NEOCH had similar issues in the 1990s when we tried to settle a federal lawsuit involving three homeless people were dumped.  It is really hard to get all these individuals all on the same page and make policy changes.  These disagreements and the immediate needs of some of the parties made any settlement difficult.  Below is the statement issued by the Russell family members including our board member Michelle. 

The statement released Sunday evening by Paul Cristallo, attorney for the Russell family, said the following:

“From the day the Cleveland Police shot and killed Tim Russell, his family has been suffering. Tim’s father Dave, his sister Michelle, his brothers David Jr., Donald, Michael, as well as their spouses and children, lost a beloved family member in a gruesome execution that became a public spectacle. The Russell family did not ask for this tragedy nor the publicity that has come with it.

Rather than be able to deal with Tim’s death in a private and personal manner, the Russell family was put in a position of having to deal with the media, investigators, community activists, government officials, and, of course, public opinion.

 Before Tim’s body was laid to rest, the Russell family has had to deal with disparaging and hurtful comments. People who never knew Tim or Melissa posted tasteless, racist and mean spirited comments about them and their families. Yet as awful as many of those comments were, the Russell family has always appreciated that ignorant people exist, the internet allows people to hide behind anonymity, and that the only judgment that matters is the one that comes from God.

The Russell family’s strength and faith does not, however, make them impervious to insults.

Prior to any relevant facts regarding the shooting coming to light, the police representatives were calling this a “good shooting”. The police involved in the pursuit and shooting were lauded by union representatives as “heroes." We now know they were wrong. It is clear that Officer Michael Brelo, Police Supervisors and any of the Cleveland Police involved with the November 29, 2012 pursuit and shooting were not heroes; far from it. Mayor Frank Jackson, Attorney General Michael DeWine, Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, the U.S. Department of Justice Investigators and countless members of the community who appreciate what it means to shoot two unarmed people 137 times recognize that Tim and Melissa’s killing was a horrible tragedy.  

It is apparent, however, that the Cleveland police union representatives are going to continue in their desperate attempt to spin this tragedy into anything other than a complete debacle by some members of the Cleveland Police. They have committed to a public relations campaign that is simply baffling and will, ultimately, further alienate the Cleveland Police from the community they are hired to protect.

Evidence the most recent comments by union counsel and now defense attorney Mr. Pat D’Angelo. Apparently it wasn’t enough for the police union to denigrate Tim and Melissa while praising their (now disciplined or indicted) members for the unlawful pursuit and shooting. Tim and Melissa’s families are now being accused of being in it for the money and not having a relationship with the deceased.

Tim Russell had a close and loving relationship with his immediate and extended family. Tim regularly attended church with his family and was one of the founding members of “From Darkness to Light”, a registered charity which assists homeless people. His family loved him beyond words and they suffer his loss every day. Disparaging Tim’s relationship with his family or impugning their motives isn’t based in reality. It’s nothing more than disrespectful spin. It’s another ill-advised comment which is meant to distract and insulate the Cleveland Police from taking responsibility for their mistakes and shortcomings.

For police representatives or their attorneys to continue to make inaccurate, mean spirited statements in this regard, it tells us more about their motives than anyone else’s.  Regardless of your opinion relative to how the Cleveland Police handled this situation, and regardless of your judgments of Tim and Melissa, you don’t know how their families have suffered or what is in their hearts.”

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

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