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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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Entries in outreach (33)

Tuesday
Nov182014

Jim Skerl at St. Ignatius Constructed a Program to Befriend the Forgotten

As we start the winter season when our focus switches to keeping people warm, we remember the founder of the Labre Project locally, Jim Skerl.  The Plain Dealer did a nice job in remembering this amazing teacher from St. Ignatius High School with a series of articles including a nice piece by Terry Pluto

West Side Catholic, which is right across the street from St. Ignatius, expressed their grief over the loss of Skerl:

Words cannot adequately express the community’s sadness over the loss of Jim Skerl , teacher at St. Ignatius.  Mr. Skerl impacted so many in the community through his work with L’Arche and as the founder of the Saint Benedict Joseph Labre Ministry to the Homeless and the St. Joseph of Arimathea Pallbearers Society.  His legacy lives on in the lives of those he touched – including mine.

We have to remember the revolutionary nature of the Labre Project.  In a time of fear of everything and lawsuits, Jim was able to figure out a way for young energetic students to go outside to meet with those resistant to shelter where they live.  He convinced concerned parents of the value of the program first as a way to deliver food to the streets, but the program quickly evolved into a way to build friends with those living outside.  These young people first at Ignatius now at John Carroll and CWRU go out and deliver food, clothing and winter items to those often forgotten by society.  With this extending a helping hand, they listen and hear from the population.  The build a bond that extends after a person gets into housing.  They provide the most powerful weapon against homelessness in listening and treating people with respect.

These students know what is happening on the streets of Cleveland.  They know who is staying outside and they are often the first people homeless people meet when they move out of their housing.  They can often link them to "professional" outreach workers at the agencies.   These students are talking to these guys and treating them with compassion no matter their mistakes or human faults.  The Labre Project helps move people to get off the streets.   It keeps people safe while they are living without housing. Finally, it gives the students a lifelong desire to incorporate community service into their daily life.  They graduate realizing that their volunteer efforts helped the community and they want to do more. 

We will miss this quiet revolutionary from the near West Side of Cleveland.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Thursday
Nov062014

Blanket Drive Starts Now

It is that time of year to help us out collect items for out blanket drive.  We have set a goal of 3,000 blankets this year.  We are going to ask our members for help as well as local businesses, unions and religious groups who might have congregants or employees collect items for those resistant to shelter.

We have a flyer available at the bottom of this entry that you can use to print out or distribute to family or employees.  We also have a webpage dedicated to the blanket drive here.  We collect blankets and donations at our office then give them to the outreach workers in the community.  We give to Care Alliance staff, Frontline Services, Metanoia, Labre and Volunteers of America and others.  We give to the people who are developing relationships with those living outside. 

This year we have an outreach trainee, Denise, who is working with people who are reluctant to go to shelter.  She is learning about all the resources available to homeless people and all the programs that may be able to help.  The trainee position is funded by the Community West Foundation and they have blogged about our blanket drive here.  She will be working with the religious groups who minister to the people living outside and then attempting to connect with the "professional" organizations.  Denise will be distributing these winter items to the veterans, couples and homeless individuals trying to stay warm this winter.  By the way, the last trainee, Tyrone, our previous trainee, was hired by Care Alliance as their afternoon/evening staff. 

We can come and pick up donations if there are more than 35 items.   Just call 432-0540 to make arrangements.  We are near Cleveland State University and you can drop off donations anytime between 9 and 4:30 p.m.   We also have some Saturday hours.

Blanket Donation Flyer to print out and distribute.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Monday
Oct132014

How Can Akron Better Serve Homeless People

The City of Akron was sued last week by students from the CWRU Law School for displacing people and then dumping their valuables.  This is a throw back from the policies of big cities in the United States from the 1990s.  Frustrated over the growing number of homeless people and what seemed like throwing good money after bad, cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York turned to law enforcement to solve a social service crisis.  NEOCH sued the City of Cleveland to stop the sweeps and the dumping of materials from people just trying to survive.   They sent their police force out to arrest, threaten arrest and terrorize a fragile population.

The Chicago Coalition won lawsuits as did Miami advocates against their municipal governments back in the 1990s.  These cities had to pay homeless people for their homeless policies. They used their armed police force to make it illegal to be homeless.  Those policies were found to be expensive and ineffective, but Akron seems to be stuck in the 1990s over their homeless policies.  In visiting Akron, they have a bad problem with people begging for money in almost every freeway off ramp.  They have many people sleeping outside and very few outreach workers.  It is no wonder that community leaders are frustrated with the large number of homeless people.  But handling the problem with law enforcement is the opposite solution to the department.

Remember that cracking down on panhandling does nothing to the homeless populations.  All panhandlers are not homeless and all homeless are not panhandlers.  We have been working with people who are resistant to shelter for 22 years, and so we have some better ideas:

  • Guaranteed access to shelter is critical to the success of any homeless policy. If there is not a place to refer a person then there will be people sleeping outside.  If when the shelter beds are full they shut their doors, what do you expect a person to do?  If you go to the shelter on a regular basis and they do not have a bed for you, then you are going to give up and sleep outside.  It is also inhumane to push people around the downtown when there is not a bed inside available.
  • Coordinated outreach services is also needed to provide the best possible services to those living outside.  This can help connect a veteran to the VA and those struggling with PTSD with mental health services.  It is important to build trusting relationships with those resist going to shelter.  If there are not people on the streets interacting with people on the streets, they get forgotten. 
  • Laws don't work--competition does!  Akron has the most severe legislation in the State of Ohio and it has not eliminated panhandling.  In fact, there are now a class of low income people who have a license to panhandle.  They now have a City sanctioned "job" called begging for money.   Sweeps and dumping of a homeless person's stuff does not work.  It only exacerbates the problem because people get tickets and get arrested, which makes it less likely they will find a job.  If you want to address homelessness and specifically panhandling, you have to have an alternative.  Social service providers should be provided funding to get people off the streets.  Those who can help the most people off the streets should be financially rewarded.  There should be a competition for finding panhandlers real jobs.  We need to provide an effective alternative or the problem will continue to grow. 
  • Police are not social workers.  They should not be drafted into forcing people into shelter or arresting people for purely innocent behavior of being outside.  Police should not even be in the business of telling homeless people to move or warning people that they will have their "stuff" thrown away.  Social workers and outreach staff should be asked to engage people living outside and provide help before anyone threatens the individuals who are resistant to going into shelter.  Let's look at it in a similar situation to an eviction.  There is an official written notice and then the individual has their day in court.  Then before all these checks and balances are undertaken can the bailiff come out to supervise the throwing away of items.  Society allowed these individuals to establish a home outside and forgot about them for months if not years, it is unfair to then attack these campsites and destroy their homes.
  • Build affordable housing or plan on more and more money going to emergency services.  We cannot have a community in which wages are stagnant and 5-6% of the population are unemployed, and then people are punished for living outside.  There are another group who are permanently unemployed, and we are losing affordable housing every year.   We still have people who have behavioral health issues, and so there are these huge holes in the social safety net.  We can't let people fall into homelessness and then punish them for finding a way to survive. If we continue to see destruction of affordable housing, there can only be more homeless people in our cities. 
  • Akron should support the creation of a street newspaper sold by homeless and very low income people.  Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Toledo all have papers sold on their city streets.  It is an effective alternative to panhandling.  This is much more dignified way to earn money--selling your words on the street.  Cleveland Street Chronicle could help establish a paper.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Wednesday
Aug202014

Interesting National Stories

It was not even a month ago that social service providers from Cleveland and around the United States were in New Orleans for the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference and now the City undermines its effort to build a trusting relationship with a raid on a large campsite. I guess City officials did not learn anything from the conference.  They did not give sufficient notice (2 days) and they did not have sufficient housing available to the 160 people sleeping outside.  In addition, they came with garbage trucks to throw away all the belongings.  The City officials called it a public health hazard ignoring the health concerns of the individuals with no where else to go.  Many suspect that this has more to do with the upcoming New Orleans Saints football season than it had to do with public safety.   Even the article from the Associated Press gave very little information about housing assistance offered to those sleeping under this bridge.  There are so many reasons why these guys are under a bridge including mental illness, sexually based offenses, debt issues or other reasons that prevent the individuals from signing a lease. 

There were two stories on NPR about the advancements made in San Antonio in how to better serve Mentally Ill individuals.  These three articles talk about the savings to the healthcare and law enforcement community by keeping mentally ill out of jails and emergency rooms.  They claim a $50 million dollar saving over the last five years through their efforts.  Jenny Gold talks about police officers trained to better deal with those with a mental illness.  We saw the negative outcomes in St. Louis this week with police firing on a knife wielding mentally ill man.  San Antonio seems to be taking a different approach.  There was also a story on the data gathered and used to provide better services to the mentally ill in San Antonio.  We do some training in Cleveland, but we are a long way from diverting mentally ill people from jail.  Cleveland police waste a ton of resources on arresting and processing and incarcerating mentally ill individuals.  Look at the long arrest record of Malissa Williams before her killing in November 2012 after that fateful police chase. 

The statistics offered by HUD on homelessness are flawed to the point of being useless. 

The Washington Post looked at levels of homelessness in the United States with this graphic.  Since it is nearly impossible to count homeless people living outside who are constantly moving around. This graphic can be better understand by showing the extent of shelters in the United States. We have advanced to the point that we do a good job counting homeless people living in shelter, and those numbers are solid statistics.  The problem is that if a City does not build or increase shelters or locks the door when they are full then they have no relationship to the number of homeless people.  So, California and New York put a great deal of money into housing and homelessness, while Louisiana and most of the Southern states contribute very little.  There are large numbers of homeless people sleeping outside in Florida because of the weather that do not get counted in this study.  Take this survey and graphic with a grain of salt and realize it is more a picture of the concentration of shelters in the United States.

Harriet McDonald of the Doe Fund wrote a commentary for the Huffington Post striking back against the National Alliance to End Homelessness push for more Permanent Supportive Housing. This is a battle that advocates lost about six years ago, and there are still a few out there who want to turn back the clock.  Cleveland has developed 570 units of housing under the "Housing First" model, and they are beautiful new housing for a fragile population.  Unfortunately, this is the only housing being developed in most communities so it is hard to criticize.  Ms. McDonald makes some very good points that there are losers in this race that are not being served because we have turned 80% of our resources toward long term, disabled homeless people.  We see family populations exploding and single unemployed people who cannot find any help.  We see that young people who stay with family and friends are not eligible for help. 

We have written often questioning the long term funding for these projects, the real savings realized by the community, and the fact that these buildings are being over-sold in the community.   But in the face of federal cuts to other mainstream housing programs and the prioritizing of HUD funds exclusively for PSH/Housing First projects, what choice do we have.  In the end, we tried exclusively emergency shelters that served a limited number of people and that did not work.  We tried transitional programs that screened out more people than they served and quickly evicted residents for falling off the wagon.  That did not work very well.  We did not fund supportive services at Public Housing, which caused huge issues for neighbors.  So, we are left with Permanent Supportive Housing as the latest trend.  It would be much better to have all these types of housing services available to the population, because everyone is different and everyone responds to different intervention techniques.  But we don't have enough money or political will to give multiple approaches a chance to work.  The NAEH types and the Housing First people won.  They had great publicity and pushed one sided research on the community.  They made big boasts that they could shut down shelters if Mayor's jumped on the band wagon with Housing First.  We get some nice buildings in our community that will demand 24 hours of supportive services for the next 30 years, and unless we build millions of units we are still going to need shelters. The next administration may feel that these PSH buildings are fads and will be onto something else, but right now Housing First is the only game in town.

One tough story from the Friday StoryCorps series on NPR about a family living in their car in the Seattle area.  This is an interview between a Mom and her teenage daughter struggling to survive after the collapse of housing market in the United States.  The father had been a part of the corrupt Countrywide group who contributed a great deal to destabilizing the housing market in America.  I wonder how families who were victims of the predatory lending of Countrywide heard this story?  It would have led to a lot of healing in our community if Angelo Mozilo and David Loeb of Countrywide were sentenced to one year of living in an automobile on the streets of any major city in America.  I think that many of these "Masters of the Universe" who's corrupt business practices led to the financial downturn, should have been made to experience the results of their banking procedures.  They should have been sentenced to having to live in abandoned properties or forced to try to sell houses squeezed between two abandoned properties.  They should have had to sleep on the streets or in shelters to talk to some of the victims of their greed. 

The interview was tough to hear about this teenager having to go to school everyday and return to a vehicle at night.  She tried to study and apply for college while consolidating her life into a tiny space.  The sleep deprivation, the inability to have a place for her stuff, and the stress on the family must be overwhelming.  It was a powerful story worth a listen.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Friday
Aug082014

City Councilmembers Show Up For Teach In

Cleveland City Council members, Mamie Mitchell, Phyllis Cleveland, and Zach Reed attended the Teach In last night to focus on Permanent Supportive Housing and Outreach Services.  We had Peter from the Community West Foundation and Valeria from the Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board of Cleveland attend the event.  It was a nice event with our gracious host Gerald, the Property Manager of Greenbridge Apartments. 

We heard from a couple of residents of the buildings who spent years living on the streets of Cleveland.  A few men and a woman talked about being "rescued" from living outside and the outreach workers saving their lives.  One gentleman who now lives on the west side in one of these brand new beautiful Permanent Supportive Housing Projects talked about it being time to come inside.  He was so thankful for meeting Jim Schlecht to help him relocate to his own apartment building.

Paul, one of the volunteers, included a touching note from a guy who lived in a hole in a wall in the folder for each participant who was so thankful for all the work in trying to get him into housing.  We may publish this in an upcoming issue of the Street Chronicle.  Paul talked about the mental illness and fragile people he sees outside. We got to hear from three professionals working on building trusting relationships with homeless people including, Toni Johnson, Steven Campisi and Jim Schlecht.  Thanks to EDEN Inc. and Frontline Service for help in setting this up and presenting at the forum last week.  Thanks to Elaine and Christine for offering the space and talking abou the history of these fantastic buildings. 

With federal sequestration over the last two years, we are losing funds for homelessness and housing in Cleveland.  Federal cut backs are potentially costing us outreach staff and state cutbacks will mean that we will not have a ribbon cutting in 2016 of a new Permanent Supportive Housing project.  This will break an eight year streak of opening brand new buildings.   The purpose of this event was to highlight to the community the great partnership among the many groups.  From the Department of Veterans Affairs and Care Alliance finding people on the streets to Frontline Services and EDEN moving people into apartments, it is a nice system that is working for 570 people in Cleveland.  We need the local community to step up to support these programs to make up for the loss of federal funds.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.