Five Years of the Homeless Congress
Organized by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless
Residents of the shelters and those who are resistant to shelter meet monthly at the Bishop Cosgrove Center. They discuss problems that have an impact on all homeless people or a large number. They act by consensus, and do invite guests to listen to homeless people. Over the last five years, these are highlights of some of the actions taken by the Congress.
- Learning about what is going on in the community. This meeting is to exchange information about upcoming events or changes that have taken place for homeless people. The Congress members are informed of special events in the community (Stand Down, Memorial Day, Job Fairs, Health Care events, Census counts, Upcoming elections, and immunizations), and they are notified about changes within the shelters and services such as Housing Choice Voucher waiting lists, closing of Disabled Men’s Shelter, move of the Women’s Shelter, Overflow issues at Lakeside, voting changes, and the available money for Identification.
- Meeting with elected officials. The Congress has met with a majority of the new County Council. We have met with cabinet members of the City Administration. We have met with State elected officials and pushed an agenda to educate and better serve homeless people. Some of the things that have resulted from our meetings include, the State of Ohio designated December 21 as state homeless memorial day, a majority of the Cleveland City Council and Cuyahoga County Council have endorsed rules to regulate the shelters—still waiting for action, held a Hearing before County Council on homeless issues in 2011.
- Commented regularly on Public Policy that impact homeless people. The Homeless Congress has tried to influence decisions that change policy at the local level to make it better for homeless people. Some of these were successful including, the Office of Homeless Services presented the extreme weather policy locally to assure people were not left out in the cold, made sure in cooperation with Cuyahoga County that homeless people were counted locally as part of the US Census in the best way possible. Members of the Congress became plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the State of Ohio regarding voting rights. That case was successfully settled in 2010 and assured that people who show up to vote in person but do not have ID will have their provisional ballot counted. Congress pushed the County to continue to fund overflow shelter after Aviation High School closed, which was successful. Congress members successfully argued that homeless people should not be subject to the co-pay at MetroHealth Hospital.
- Received attention for the Issues of homelessness locally. The Congress has been featured in local newspapers and media including the Plain Dealer, Channel 5, Homeless Grapevine and Chronicle. Also, many of the members got tickets to the Browns and Indians last year.
- Homeless Congress has appointed members to local boards. The Congress has recommended candidates for local boards and members have successfully served including the NEOCH Board, OHS Advisory, and the Organize Ohio work group.