New Voting Laws Disenfranchise Minorities and Homeless

By Ellen Kriz

An alarming trend has swept the country as states repeatedly introduce legislation to restrict the voting process. Many of these laws require voters to present a photo I.D. issued by the government or proof of citizenship. Currently, 11% of the population does not have proper photo identification; that is over 21 million voters according to the New York University Brennan Center. When it comes to the merits of democracy and equal voting rights, this is a huge demographic to lose. Other laws make it difficult to even register. Some of the barriers to registration include the elimination of same-day registration and voting, and harsh restrictions on groups that organize voter registration drives. For example, Florida passed a law which required advocacy groups to submit all registrations within ten days or face a $250 fine, and if a single registration is lost, the organization has to pay $5,000. The League of Women Voters in Florida has already stated that it will no longer be able to organize registration drives due to this measure. Overall, about 180 restrictive bills have been introduced in the legislatures of 41 states (NYU Brennan Center). Voting rights could be severely altered on a national scale if these bills continue to pass.

Ohio has been one of the most active states to limit voters just in time for 2012 election. Ohio eliminated the week-long period in which voters could register and cast the ballot on the same day. It also recently passed a bill to reduce the hours for early voting opportunities. These restrictions were overturned after community groups gathered enough signatures to allow voters the chance to weigh in on these issues.  Early voting is essential in big cities like Cleveland where the polls are often crowded even with allowances for early votes. The Secretary of State limited the number of hours Ohioans are allowed to cast an early ballot.  Consider Northeast Ohio in general with its large densely concentrated population compared to the rest of Ohio, and it is one of the reasons that Ohio is a swing state. How will the elections be affected if thousands of voters are unable to cast their votes this year? If the effects are significant in Ohio alone, imagine how the national landscape will change with the efforts of other states. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 79% of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency will be altered by changes in the voting process in November.

Why have states so vehemently pursued these measures? The supporters of this movement claim that they are attempting to limit voter fraud to make the elections fairer and more consistent.  “One of the things, I think, that was really going wrong was the opportunity for local elections to be displaced or stolen, by just people coming in and moving their address,” Florida State Representative Dennis Baxley told CNN.  The problem with their reasoning is that the new restrictions disproportionally affect minority populations, making it difficult for African-Americans, Latinos, students, and the elderly to vote. “It’s true that there is some voter fraud in this country … but there is no credible evidence that there is any systematic in-person voter fraud. It’s not a serious problem,” Richard Hasen a political science and law professor at the University of California-Irvine told CNN.

Flawed logic, however, is not the only factor at play, here; many suspect that the laws are being introduced with discriminatory intent. The populations that are being limited the most are usually more inclined to vote for a liberal candidate, and because of the timing and widespread scope of this legislation, some suspect that Republicans may be trying to manipulate the outcome of the coming election. Speculative political motivations aside, though, low-income, minority, and other disadvantaged populations are being disenfranchised as new regulations are put into place.

The homeless populations in particular will experience more difficulty voting than ever if these laws continue to pass the state legislatures. In order to obtain a valid state photo I.D., they have to present birth certificates or similar identification. It is unlikely that those documents have survived housing instability or confiscations by police raids. Furthermore, it is too expensive to obtain a new certificate once the original is lost, and many states require identification to replace identification. The reduction of early voting periods also poses an unreasonable barrier to homeless people who want to cast a ballot. Early voting is especially crucial for the homeless because it makes transportation barriers easier to overcome. Finally, ex-felons in Iowa and Florida have been disenfranchised which may affect the homeless population more than others. Individuals who cannot find shelter often violate certain city ordinances. These are usually misdemeanors, but it is a felony in some states to miss a court date, and it can be more difficult for homeless individuals to make it to court without reliable transportation (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty).

All of these restrictions might violate the Voting Rights Act which protects the interests of minority populations. Although it is not illegal under the act to restrict the impoverished, minorities often experience the most poverty; they comprise about 59% of the homeless population, and African-Americans alone account for 45% (National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty). This is just one way to challenge the restrictions with federal law, but it should be obvious that minorities and the poor deserve to be fairly represented in a true democracy.

That is why NEOCH is trying to educate the public about the right to vote and pass out as many voter registration forms as possible to those who may have difficulty registering in Cuyahoga County. It is essential to challenge the changes that are taking place to ensure that the voices of our most vulnerable populations are heard.

Editor’s Note:  For more information about the new voting laws see  or

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle Cleveland ,Ohio October 2012 NEOCH

Valentine's Days Celebrated at the Cosgrove Center

By Demetrius Barnes 

 Editor’s Note:  Terrell Valentine is the case manager at the Bishop William Cosgrove Center administered by Catholic CharitiesShe has become a friendly face for the hungry and homeless in Cleveland.  Valentine administers the pantry services, clothing program, and distribution of identification assistance at the Cosgrove Center.  She can provide a shoulder to cry on and assistance pointing people in the right direction or provide a referral to another program that can help.  Ms. Barnes interviewed Valentine over the summer of 2012.

 Demetrius Barnes: When was William Bishop Cosgrove Center established and can you talk about what Cosgrove does, to those who are not aware?

 Terrell Valentine: I believe in 1996 the William Bishop Cosgrove Center came about, they were feeding people in the St. John Cathedral in the basement. And they collaborated because the Bishop Cosgrove was using the Erieview Catholic School, an all girl’s school, some years ago. Catholic Charities bought the building because it had everything: it had the shower; it had the cafeteria; it had everything it would be incorporated to become a day drop-in center.  Now, the things that we offer here are basic needs that are showers, meals (breakfast and lunch). We a have a clothing closet that’s open twice a month.  We also offer Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on Tuesdays.  We also collaborate with some outside initiatives including Care Alliance with Jim Schlecht having office hours here.  A lot of people are familiar with Jim Schlecht, and he is here on Tuesday’s and Thursdays and he assists people with housing needs as well as birth certificates and Photo I. D’s.  We also work with Toni Johnson who is a V.A. Representative here. She sees individuals here on the Third Wednesday of the month.  And then we have the transformational art center where we work with Pam Meyers and Mike who work with individuals doing arts and crafts and that is Monday thru Thursday.  I also provide individuals with I. D’s and Birth Certificates on Mondays and Wednesday, and we can assist individuals when funding is available with rent and utilities. 

 Cosgrove Center also does a Christmas Distribution which initially started in the 44114-44115 area.  We limit the distribution of Christmas Toys to target one or two zip codes. You have like first come first serve, because everybody is struggling.  We have gifts for children 0-12 years old we try to have gifts for children, we try to give them a couple of gifts per child.  We also have Prevent Blindness Ohio here and they provide eye exams and glasses for those without insurance.                                            

DB: What type of help do you offer to those in need and what type of people ask for help?      

TV:  I get people from everywhere although we focus our service on the 44114 and 44115 area zip-codes.  I get calls from people from everywhere not just individuals who are in the shelters.  We get calls from all over of people looking for ID’s and birth certificates.  It is overwhelming the number of people who need help. I get people coming to Cosgrove who just need to talk or who just need to vent.  I have people who kind of just follow up with me. Because even though I catch a lot of people in a bad place they sometimes come back in a good place.  I get people who call me from all over [the region and] they are housed, they have moved on and go about their life.     

 DB: How long have you worked with Cosgrove and what is your background? 

TV:  I’ve been at Cosgrove for 10 years and I’ve been working for Catholic Charities for 12 years because I worked for St Martin De Porres prior to Cosgrove.  Before working for Catholic Charities, I was at Goodwill.  I worked with Cosgrove for 10 years, yeah and I came from Martin De Porres family center where I worked with women residential just released from prison. A friend of mine from Martin De Porres got a promotion and became program director here and asked me to come here and try working in this area.   Prior to me doing this my mom actually worked here for 6 years as program director and asked me to come here as well. 

 DB: Do you have any cases where a person or family was wealthy then fell into hardship and ended up needing help, or are there most people here living in poverty?

T.V:  We did have a person who was living at the Spot [a shelter for fragile populations] but he frequented the Cosgrove for meals.  For whatever reason, he didn’t seem to fit and after he got to telling his story he had been a producer and a writer in California and he moved back in Cleveland. His family didn’t know where he was and the Plain Dealer did a story allowing him to reunite with his family.  They reunited him and [tried] to take him back home.  A lot of individuals that I meet live in poverty, but not everyone was living in poverty.  I met one individual woman had a Phd in Psychology and she lost her job and she was living at the shelter.  So you get people from all walks of life. It’s all kinds of circumstances and what I found today it’s just a lot of things that happen.  You can lose your job; you can lose you home; you can succumb to drug addiction; your spouse can die and there are a lot of reasons why you might come to Cosgrove.

 DB: Without using names, do you have especially touching or heart warming stories of people who have succeeded?

T.V:  One in particular was an individual who had been homeless for 13 years.  But had worked all his life but still was homeless.  He did not have his Birth Certificate because he was born in Alabama and they had no record of his birth because he was born in a home and after a long time of trying to [secure] that document, he finally received it.  Then he started to receive his Social Security for all those years. He still volunteers with us and he gives back to us.

 DB: About how large are your caseloads during the course of a week when you are doing case management?                                   

TV: What I do, I see [people on] a walk-in basis. I don’t necessary do appointments.  Individuals just come in when it’s needed and I can see anywhere from 5-10 people on a day to day basis. What I’m doing over all is application assistance rental assistance and utilities Assistance and I do keep records of all that stuff.  I do work with Jim Schlecht.  I do work with some people that may have a case manager with Mental Health Services or Murtis Taylor [behavior health agency] but for some reason they haven’t been meeting with their case manager.   We work individuals with the harder cases with some individual cases that are not having their needs met.  I work with individuals on a one on one basis and [try to find them] services until they get their needs meet.

 DB: What type of organization will you refer one to when trying to get help finding housing?     

T.V:  Jim Schlecht and I are both working with because a lot of individuals that come to me do not have income and they cannot find a place for whatever reason. A lot of people aren’t familiar with looking for a house on the computer You tell me how much rent you are willing to spend and I get on the computer [to help narrow down your choices].  They can come in to Cosgrove if they need help filling out an application.  The individual can bring their documents and it’s been most effective in helping people to get into housing.  There is housing available especially for seniors. 

 DB: I know that you help people with I. D. why is this a big issue in the community?

T.V:  After 9-11 that created a lot of difficulty for individuals. You just have to have your I.D  and it have to be updated and it cannot be expired even though that picture have your face on it, it cannot be expired. You have to have that, in order to go into work.  For housing you definitely need your I.D and your Birth Certificate.  You know you need those items just to function and even with walking around in downtown Cleveland with no I.D that’s not a good thing because if the police happen to pull you over and you don’t have an I.D they can actually hold you for 24-48 hours until they find out that you are actually who you say you are.

 DB: What is the mostly used service that is offered through William Bishop Cosgrove and what is it?        

T.V:  I think a lot of people come here primarily for meals the pantry are a big part.  I’m working with Identification Crisis Collaborative at West Side Catholic that’s who actually give us the funding to do this.  Even prior to me working with [West Side Catholic] some years back I use to do I.D’s and birth certificate through Catholic Charities, and it has always been a major issue. It has always been something that we’ve done and we’ve done on a larger scale. People need their documents to function in life especially when you’re trying to move forward. When you are trying to get out of a bad place or trying to get a job or trying to get housing, you need those things that’s the things. 

 DB: What makes Cosgrove such a special place for the hungry and homeless? 

T.V:  I think because everyone is treated like family here.  Once you’re in here, we get to know people, we relate to the people not like this is a homeless person but just like this is a regular person. You are just a regular person [when at the Cosgrove], and I think treating people with that dignity and respect is key [to our success].  And I’m a firm believer, just for myself, you just treat people right, period.  We will put you to work here you can go in the kitchen; you can help me on the floor; you can go in the clothing room; we put you to work to make you feel some self worth again.

 DB: Is there anything else you would like to highlight?

T.V:  I just think that Cosgrove is that place [you can go if you] are in a bad place. [It is a place] that you can come and if you can’t get all of your needs met, we may be able to help.  We hope that you will leave here feeling worthy inspired and motivated. 

 Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle  Cleveland, Ohio October2012 NEOCH

Street Newspapers Are Important to America

By Kim “Supermutt” Goodman

 Street newspapers were created to give a voice to the homeless and low income community. It is a way for the poor to show the higher income members of society that homeless and low income people are not always addicts or lazy people. They have talents and special skills, but they don’t always have the same resources that is necessary to live a stable life. Street newspapers also give people who made bad choices in life a chance to explain why they did the things they did or what they learned from their experiences and how they changed for the better.

 Street newspapers are usually published by an organization that provides a service to homeless people. The Cleveland Street Chronicle is published by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH). The set up of street newspapers usually require a person to sign up and be trained on how to sell the paper. Each person must follow a set of rules in order to become a vendor and each new vendor is given a few free papers to start out with. Each vendor is required to pay a small amount for each paper and sell it for a higher price. We pay 35 cents per paper and sell it for $1.25. Everything over the 35 cents is ours to keep. Street newspapers are a great way for people to help a person in need directly and a great way for a person to earn an honest income for themselves. Street newspapers were originally created for homeless people in general but many have now included formally homeless people and anyone who is in danger of becoming homeless. This can include people with criminal records, people with mild developmental disabilities who are too advanced for sheltered employment, those who have mental illnesses and learning difficulties or those who struggle with standard employment.

 Street newspapers do more than just give a person a job. Some people become a vendor as a temporary source of income. It is something for them to do to earn an income between jobs and something that they can add to their resume instead of leaving an empty gap. Being a vendor also allows a person to connect with resources and people who can help them find a better job or opportunity. Sometimes it can help a formally homeless person raise the money they need in order to start their own business venture.

 Street newspapers are extremely important for those who struggle with standard employment because many times they have some type of differences that make them stick out from their typical functioning peers which can sometimes make their peers reject them or look down on them. A lot of people who struggle with getting and keeping a job may also lack social skills that society finds appropriate. When a person sells a street newspaper they are forced to interact with people and over a period of time many improve their social and communication skills.

 Street newspapers can also change people’s lives for the better. People who were abused or neglected may view people in a negative way but as they sell the paper they will meet a lot of people who are caring and compassionate and will learn that all people are not bad. Some people will sell the paper in order to get money to get high, but one of the requirements is that in order for a person to sell the paper they must be sober. Then when a person stays sober long enough to earn an income for themselves, many times they learn that they no longer need to be intoxicated to deal with the world. A lot of times the kindness and compassion they see and hear from their customers is what helps them to live sober lives.

 Street newspapers can have a positive effect on America. If young adults who just aged out of the foster care system were told to consider becoming a vendor of a street newspaper, fewer young women would sell their bodies if they struggled to find work and fewer young men would sell drugs or commit crimes when they can’t find work. Many of these young people wouldn’t feel a need to get involved with a mate or others that they don’t really want to deal with in order to get a place to live. If a person who was just released from jail or prison were told to consider becoming a vendor of a street newspaper they would be less likely to steal something, rob someone or commit another crime because they need money and can’t get a job. These people could sell the paper, learn job skills, sharpen their social and communication skills and earn an honest income for themselves.

 The most important thing that street newspapers do for its vendors is help them build relationships with others. Many times homeless or formerly homeless people deal with feelings of loneliness and some may lack family and close friends. Once they become a vendor sometimes a person becomes friends with the other vendors. A lot of times the vendor builds a relationship with their customers. Many customers enjoy listening to or reading about things that a homeless person has to say in the paper. Many times it makes a customer feels good watching how the vendor is growing or advancing in their lives. As the vendor sees how proud their customers are of their accomplishments, it helps them to take more pride in themselves.

 The organizations that publish street newspapers do a lot to keep the paper going and the vendors work hard to get them into people’s hands. As a customer keep in mind that street newspapers are a good way for a person to earn an honest income for themselves, but many times kind words, a friendly smile or a little compassion can mean more to the vendor than the dollar or two that you give. Street newspapers are about more than just earning an income, it’s also about changing a life and building relationships.

 Copytright    Cleveland Street Chronicle  Cleveland Ohio October 2012 NEOCH    

Updated Vending Law Does Not Apply to Chronicle Vendors

News Commentary By Ellen Kriz

In November 2011, the City of Cleveland revised the “Peddling and Produce Dealers” law (Chapter 675) and renamed it the “Street Vendors” chapter. A few months ago, a Cleveland Street Chronicle vendor was ticketed under amendments made to this chapter of Cleveland’s codified ordinances. This vendor, according to the City, did not have the proper licensure that is required under the revised law to sell the street newspaper downtown. There were letters and calls back and forth between NEOCH (publisher of the paper) and the City of Cleveland.  In the end, the incident was nothing more than a misunderstanding.

The Department of Finance has clearly admitted that NEOCH’s street newspaper vendors are exempt from the law under Section 675.01 (b) which states that “The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to sales…by charitable organizations in conjunction with solicitations for charity.” In a media inquiry to the Division of Assessments and Licenses, the City said that due to this clause, “The November 2011 amendments to Chapter 675 of the codified ordinances of the City do not affect NEOCH’s street newspaper vendors, given that NEOCH is a charitable organization soliciting for charity.”

Nonetheless, the revision of the “Street Vendors” law excludes explicit guidelines for the sale of street newspapers which is just one example of how communities largely ignore the issues faced by low-income and homeless populations. “If the law had been clearer about the specifics of street newspaper vending and the role it plays in free speech, perhaps the situation could have been avoided all together. Street newspapers have been sold in Cleveland for twenty years, and the Street Vendors Law has not been revised in thirty years,” said Brian Davis editor of the Street Chronicle.  In correspondence to the City, Davis said that there is no reason that the Street Chronicle could not be considered when the changes took place. He went on to question the City’s commitment to free speech.  Oversight has again made it unclear whether the City of Cleveland fully supports or even cares about the street newspaper and its role in empowering the homeless and others who are often overlooked. 

The street newspaper is one of the easiest ways low-income individuals can make their voices heard in Cleveland. And they are most easily managed by NEOCH itself. When the City starts to regulate the vendors, the entire street newspaper is threatened. This is mainly because the bureaucracy of government makes it much more difficult to manage and monitor licensed vendors versus frauds, not  to mention that the cost of the city licenses are too high for a low-income individual—more than $250 for a stationary and mobile license.

And when a street newspaper is threatened, the free speech of people who otherwise struggle to be heard is also threatened.  The individuals who sell the Street Chronicle often publish their own writing, an opportunity that is often hard to come by even for the affluent.  The newspaper gives low-income people an outlet. It is a small way for these people to make an impact while so many other opportunities are barred from them. The newspaper also raises awareness about what homeless people experience in our community, and what others can do to help. If vending becomes too difficult, getting the word out about homelessness would take a significant hit.

Not everyone needs to devote themselves to eliminating homelessness, but at the very least, citizens should feel obligated to understand what is happening in their communities on all levels. They should have an appreciation for the complexity of poverty and the right of impoverished people to make their voices heard. The City’s failure to recognize the Street Chronicle in its revised vendor’s law should be a reminder that the homeless do not receive the attention they deserve in the government and otherwise. And this problem is exactly why the Street Chronicle is so important in Cleveland. It is one of the few publications in the area that puts the spotlight on homelessness and keeps this vital issue in the minds and hearts of the community.

Copyright NEOCH October 2012 Cleveland, Ohio

NEOCH Publishes its Twentieth Annual Homeless Street Card

By Ellen Kriz

For twenty years, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless has printed a comprehensive guide to services available right from the street to homeless people.  NEOCH’s Cuyahoga County Street Card has provided an invaluable service to Cleveland’s homeless community for two decades and has been replicated in cities across the United States. This pocket-sized guide to social services in the Cleveland area is easily accessible and comprehensive. It provides up-to-date information about shelters, health clinics, job training agencies, meal sites, addiction centers, and more. An individual who is homeless or in danger of becoming homeless can utilize any of these resources directly from the streets, and the Street Card even lists bus routes to any of the sites.

NEOCH distributes up to 10,000 of these handy cards to libraries, police stations, schools, as well as the meal sites, and encourages people and organizations to make as many copies as they can for distribution. NEOCH would like to thank the Cleveland Clinic for generously printing the Street Card this year and allowing us to continue this important service. Without the dedication of community partners like the Cleveland Clinic, NEOCH’s efforts to connect the homeless directly to vital resources would not be possible.

Distributors can hand out the Street Card in the suburbs, food pantries, neighborhood centers, and even pass them to panhandlers in lieu of money. NEOCH also publishes specialized versions of the card for veterans families struggling with housing. If you need a Street Card or would like to pass some out, you can download it at  There is a quick link right on the front page of the website.

Copyright NEOCH October 2012 Cleveland, Ohio

Riding the Rails and Tramping Around the Country

Commentary by Raymond Jacobs


     Back in the early 1960’s, after I returned home from the military, I rode the rails a while, traveling coast to coast and city to city having the fun of my life. I would hit a city and work for a couple of days to make a few bucks, so that I could get a good meal and clean-up a little bit, then get back out on the road. Sometimes I find a flop house in the cities for 50 cents per night and I would spend a couple of days there, then I’d get back on the rails. Back in those days hopping freight trains was the thing, because anywhere you wanted to go, the train would take you including Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California. I have traveled all over the states either by rail or tramping.  Just to clarify, tramping  is also known as hitching it or hitch hiking, I’ve been all over, here a day there a day, a couple of nights, then back on the road we go. Labor organizations would help you get spot labor by the day and pay you by the day I would spend the night in a hotel. We would avoid places like the Salvation Army and soup kitchens, because I would rather pay for a good meal.

        I recall one time while on the road that I met another hobo and we went to a place called Hobo Heaven, it was outside.  Everyone was sharing and telling there stories the box cars they road in or how they kept warm in the winter even when they traveled up North. This guy’s name was Joe and mulligan stew was his game. He would go into the grocery store and buy a little meat a few vegetables along with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. He’d put a bunch of bowls together then we would go out to Hobo Heaven and cook it up in a big old pot. Everyone would eat a bowl of the mulligan stew. After that we would sit around singing a few songs, telling stories then bed it down in sleeping bags. Some of the guys would get the midnight special; which was a train that slow down or stopped when it came out of the yard at or around midnight; which we could board with no problems.

The day of the real hobo is almost gone just is that of the real hitch hiker. I remember one time up in St. Louis, Missouri, right down the river from my hometown of

New Orleans. Actually East St. Louis is what it is called. I was out hitch hiking, and I stopped into the truck stop, which had signs posted that outlawed soliciting of any kind. I

had some money, not a whole lot. Upon entering the truck stop, I was asked by a trucker “Which way are you headed?” I told him that I was headed back southwest towards New Orleans. He then asked if I wanted a ride.  There was a waitress who was carrying a bus load of dishes, which she dropped on the floor running to her boss to tell him that I was trying to solicit a ride which wasn’t true. The trucker responded to the owner of the truck stop, informing him that it was he who asked me if I was going his way. He further stated that he offered me a ride if I wood help him load and unload his truck at a couple of places a long the way. Well, this is how I made money; while on the road hitch hiking loading and unloading trucks along the way, traveling coast to coast across our great country. Those were the good ole days you could get $20-25 dollars for unloading a truck. The money I earned unloading trucks would last a few days it would allow me to buy clothing from the Salvation Army and to even get a good meal.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle Cleveland, Ohio October 2012 NEOCH

Street Chronicle Stats--Hunger

Top 5 suburbs receiving Food Pantry referrals

Top 5 unmet needs in food pantries in Cleveland

1. East Cleveland

1. East Cleveland 44112

2. Euclid

2. Slavic Village-44105

3. Cleveland Hts.

3. Detroit Shoreway/Cudell 44102

4. Lakewood

4.Glenville neighborhood 44103

5. Maple Hts.

5. Mt. Pleasant/Shaker Hts 44120

**From First Call For Help/211 October 2012


Top neighborhoods with highest percentage of people eligible for food stamps

Top neighborhoods with largest number of people served by the local pantries.

1. Kinsman


1. Old Brooklyn


2. Central


2. Glenville


3. Stockyards


3. East Cleveland


4. North Broadway


4. Jefferson


5. Woodland Hills


5. Detroit Shoreway


Statistics from the Greater Cleveland Food Bank study September 2012


Number of  Hot Meal and Pantry Programs Ranked by total combined number of food programs

1. Glenville


6. Fairfax


2. East Cleveland


8. South Collinwood


2. Hough


8. Kinsman


2. Lakewood


10. Ohio City


5. Central


10. Mt. Pleasant


6. Detroit Shoreway


10. Jefferson


Statistics from the Greater Cleveland Food Bank study September 2012

HUD’s New Definition of Homelessness

By Ellen Kriz

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a new definition of homelessness in late 2011, and it went into effect January 2012. The definition follows certain regulations and guidelines mandated by The Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act which was signed into law by President Obama in 2009. The HEARTH Act is basically a revision of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants, so it changes some of the policies of Continuum of Care (CoC) and Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) programming. HEARTH focuses on the needs of families and children and prioritizes preventative care or permanent supportive services for the homeless.

In addition to new record keeping rules to ensure thorough and accurate documentation, HUD specified some of the HEARTH Act’s more general guidelines to develop the new working definition of homelessness. The act also carved out the basics for the most drastic change to the definition—a new category of homelessness. Those who experience persistent housing instability (category 2) are now considered homeless. HUD interpreted the guidelines set out by HEARTH and defined housing instability very strictly. Youth under 25 or families with children who have not had permanent housing in 60 days, have moved two or more times in that time frame, and who have various barriers to stability or employment such as an abusive past, chronic disabilities, or illiteracy (among others) are now eligible for assistance that was previously unavailable. They must also be defined as homeless under another federal statute like the one used by the Department of Education to qualify as homeless due to persistent housing instability. This new homeless demographic will be added to the three previously existing categories: those lacking adequate nighttime residence, imminently losing nighttime residence, or fleeing/ attempting to flee domestic violence.

In Cleveland, the director of the Office of Homeless Services, Ruth Gillett, said that CoC providers in Cuyahoga County focus on assisting homeless individuals under categories 1 and 4 (no adequate nighttime residence and fleeing domestic violence). She commented that “these are the highest need households for homeless funding since they are in fact homeless. This targeted population, while not small, represents fewer households than would qualify under categories 2 and 3. Given the very limited resources, serving category 1 and 4 households makes the most sense.” And since CoC programs in the area targeted these individuals and households for services previously, the new definition does not require the Office of Homeless Services and other providers to adjust their policies.

In all, the new definition expands the population that is eligible for homeless assistance. Most groups do not expect that this will impact current programming significantly, just as most Cleveland programs do not have to make any major changes to who they serve. As HUD continues to define the parameters of the HEARTH Act, however, CoC’s may be encouraged or discouraged from serving certain populations. The HEARTH Act does allocate funding based on the performance of the programs that apply for money, so prioritizing homeless categorized under permanent housing instability, for example, could jeopardize or enhance performance records and motivate program directors to adjust policies accordingly. Even so, it is unlikely that the new definition will disrupt any of the important services that homeless assistance currently provides. It simply offers CoC and ESG programs the opportunity to reevaluate who and how they serve and reorganize administration procedures to ensure that HUD’s new policies are implemented efficiently.

Copyright  Cleveland Street Chronicle  July 2012   NEOCH

Dramatic Increase in Family Homelessness

Commentary by Brian Davis

          In most cities, the number of families experiencing homelessness increases during the summer.  The summer is now over, and we can look back on family homelessness in 2012 in Cleveland.  As of September 12, there were 590 families who attempted to enter the shelters in Cleveland, which was an increase over the number of families who entered the shelter in 2011.  According to records from the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services, the number of families seeking shelter increased dramatically and there are still a few months left in 2012. This is a huge increase that should trouble everyone.  The County has had to put people into motels, and has developed a central intake system to get people into empty shelter beds faster.  These numbers do not include the families who stay on people’s couches or in the basement of a family member who only are counted homeless by the school districts.  In Cleveland, the school district has counted well over 2,000 families just in the City of Cleveland.  This is bad news for the recovery from the financial crisis and housing bubble in Cleveland, and it is surprising that the County and City are not raising the red flag with the black square in the center.  Why aren’t they talking to the media or asking the state for help to meet the demand?

           The economy has still not recovered in Cleveland, and stimulus dollars are gone.  Over the last two and a half years, Cleveland spent nearly $14 million to put people in housing, get them out of shelters quickly, or prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place.  The stimulus had implementation issues, but it was an overall success.  Creating a prevention and rapid rehousing program from scratch is always going to have problems, but the bottom line is that it prevented hundreds of people from becoming homeless.  The stimulus worked to prevent a catastrophe on the streets which could have seen vulnerable populations, including families, sleeping on the streets in big numbers.  We did not see the number of people dying on the streets in Cleveland increase during this downtown, and we never had to resort to turning people away from shelter.  The stimulus kept the shelters from bursting at the seams over the last year, and prevented a ton of heartaches for many families.  This elected leadership of Cleveland should be made aware of this incredible increase in family homelessness and then should point to the success of the stimulus as an effective response.

          Cleveland and other cities need additional resources this winter to meet the demand.  The shelters need additional stimulus and federal housing support to get people into housing.  The simple fact is that 64,000 people requested a housing voucher last year which demonstrates the out of control need locally.  Only 10,000 names were picked and those people will be on the list for five to seven years.  This means that the waiting list for a housing voucher will be closed for the next six years.  We find that seniors can find housing with only a six month wait, but every other population is waiting three, five, or most likely seven years.  There is so much frustration that a low wage job will not allow the family enough income to afford a market rate apartment, but the wait for some kind of government subsidy is years long.

          This is going to be a tough year with a sizable family population and a steady number of single adults looking for housing.  It might not have been the best time to start central intake for families while we are running out of housing assistance funding.  This could complicate and frustrate a family seeking shelter because now there is this new screening mechanism in place.  All the shelters are trying to make this work with more people showing up at the door.  They are trying to keep people from sleeping outside, and they are working to reduce the frustration of waiting for stable housing.  For the young child learning to read, this constant moving is difficult and has a negative impact on school and their health.  We need to make this the highest priority to help these families find stability or we will just be creating problems of poverty, high health costs, incarceration, and no prospects for a job for the future.


Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle October 2012 NEOCH

How is the Casino Affecting My Newspaper Sales Business?

By Delores Manley

            I am writing about the Casino how my papers business is doing.   I sell my papers on Public Square when weather permits. Tuesday is my best day.  I sell the papers from 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.  My business is the same from last year but I only go for three hours on Tuesdays.

            I thought the people from the Casino would be very happy to give low income people some money, but like always, they say things like “get a job’’, or “We give to homeless everyday by paying taxes.”  I wish I had a good job, worked in expensive suits, acted like a big shot, worked for Key Bank/Sherwin Williams.  Last year one employee from Sherwin Williams gave me and my brother Donald a dollar. 

            The shifts at the West Side market I worked help me out a little but the hours are only in the morning.  It could be that maybe evening hours would be better, but I am not going to take that chance of going home in the dark.  I also have other obligations at home.

              In closing I would like to say that I had high hopes that the casino would help to increase my income, however that has not been the case so far. Many of the people who buy the paper are casual every day folks and students. I have yet to sell a paper to anyone entering or leaving  the casino.  I find that it is also difficult to tell who has won or lost money. The female gamblers also seem to have a very negative attitude when they are approached to buy the paper. I have found that the male gamblers are kinder when they are approached about buying the paper. I am still waiting for someone to purchase the paper with a casino chip.

 Copyright  Cleveland Street Chronicle  Cleveland, Ohio October 2012  NEOCH  

Central Intake Only Way to Enter for Shelter

By  Grace Gamble

In June of 2012, the Greater Cleveland shelter program expanded and formalized its Coordinated Assessment and Intake Program, Central Intake, which controls the admittance and dismissal of individuals from shelter.

Ruth Gillett , Director of the Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services, said, “our community has been working on implementing a Coordinated Assessment/Intake since FY 2008 when a pilot was established at 2100 Lakeside (the largest men’s shelter in Cleveland). With the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) funds…Cuyahoga County was able to expand this effort to the Community Women's Shelter.”

 This expanded effort has resulted in an updated system for the shelter program in which individuals seeking shelter must first meet with a homeless social service provider from the Mental Health Services (MHS)  agency at 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter to assess their needs.

 The MHS staff person along with staff from Cleveland Mediation Center work to find alternative placement outside the shelter. Diversion, which Gillett calls “the most effective intervention prevention” method, is a way for those who have recently maintained housing or have an income sufficient to purchase housing to find an alternative to seeking shelter.

 Those to whom diversion does not apply undergo an intake with a Mental Health Services staff member. At a Homeless Congress meeting in the summer of 2012, Ed Germerchak of Mental Health Services compared this intake to visiting a hospital.   Central Intake seeks to serve the precise needs of the individual by assessing which shelter is best for him or her. Although these intakes are done at 2100 Lakeside or the Community Women’s Shelter, the homeless person does not have to seek shelter at one of those facilities.  In fact, a woman with a child never stays at the Community Women’s Shelter.  They will be transported to one of the other family appropriate shelters in the community.  

 Moreover, if the ideal shelter is not available for the person at the time, they are placed on the shelter’s waiting list. Central Intake has the policy that a bed is never denied. Therefore, those individuals on the waiting list for a shelter are granted a bed in the Zelma George Emergency Shelter, an out of county shelter, or even a hotel.  The summer is always especially busy for families seeking shelter.      

 Like Cleveland, many other cities have tried to implement a centralized intake system. For many cities, such as San Francisco, this has proven successful. The HUD report, “Centralized Intake for People Experiencing Homelessness: Overview, Community Profiles, and Resources” includes the positive outcomes of San Francisco’s centralized intake program.  The report states that “rapid, efficient intake and assessment has helped families get assistance faster” and, “a fragmented family service system has been replaced by a coordinated, more efficient approach.”     

 In contrast, other cities have struggled with a centralized intake. Columbus previously had a system similar to that of Cleveland. Unlike Cleveland, however, Columbus did not ensure that every individual had a bed at night. Thus, loitering around the shelter where Central Intake was located became a huge issue.

 In an attempt to reverse the loitering issue, Columbus made intakes available only over the phone. Unfortunately, the change created more problems and the loitering did not cease.  Columbus officials ended the central intake at a specific facility and changed to a phone based system.  The only way to access shelter in Columbus is to call a central number, and then you have a limited period of time to get to that shelter bed.  The inability to find a phone to use, the long waits on the phone and the lack of transportation has caused issues among homeless people in Columbus.

 Mimicking the national results, the local opinions of Cleveland’s Central Intake are also mixed. Community Organizer at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Brian Davis, recognizes that Central Intake “does provide advantages for the community because there are a smaller number of people doing the initial intakes and so [there is] a smaller chance of getting it wrong.”

Likewise, a shelter provider who did not want to be identified said, “Our experience with Central Intake has been largely favorable. Since [we have been working with Central Intake] for awhile now, there hasn’t been a significant change. It does seem as if there continues to be a struggle to get all providers on board but definitely overall seems more cohesive.”

 Another provider added that this individual felt they were clear on their role and the role of Central Intake, and added,  “Overall, I feel it is going okay. I believe Central Intake is trying to be cognizant of our eligibility criteria, and the types of families we can best serve. I also feel they are being responsive when we are having difficulty with a family and need assistance with meditation.”

 In contrast, this same provider stated, “the challenges have been some clients coming to us without a clear exit plan identified, which makes things difficult, especially now that funding for housing assistance is more limited; and finding after the family had been assigned that alter their appropriateness for our program.” Another provider added “They still don’t have an understanding of level of care. Whoever is making the referrals has no ideas where the folks should go. We get plenty of inappropriate referrals.”

In response to these challenges, Gillett explained that shelters may need to assess their services and staffing abilities and adjust these according to the people that they are currently serving as a part of the overall system transformation that Central Intake is implementing.

  She said, “[Coordinated Assessment/ Intake] is focused on assuring that the resources committed through the Continuum of Care are responsive to the needs of the homeless persons. So, if current programs…are not able to meet the needs of the persons seeking shelter, it is incumbent upon the Continuum of Care to adjust the available responses to be more helpful to what people really need.”

 The main challenges that the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless sees with Central Intake include the fact that the Central Intake should not be at a shelter. Davis reiterated that the point that many homeless do not choose to seek shelter and thus would not find a shelter a logical location for finding help with housing or other barriers to stable housing. He suggests to instead establish a drop in center isolated from the shelters like the Veteran’s Administration has recently designed.

 In response to this, Gillett noted that “The VA is clearly a different system” than Central Intake. She added that their new Centralized Resources and Response Center was established because it was one of nine VA’s in the country selected to receive special funding for a stand alone facility.

In addition, Gillett adds that, throughout the past four years, it has been observed that “the most effective prevention intervention, that was most clearly linked to reducing entry into shelter, occurred at the door of the shelter…through diversion.” She added that “prevention that occurs early in the process of someone experiencing housing instability may stabilize the household, but is not linked with a reduction in the number of households entering shelter-which is a measure that Housing and Urban Development looks at in evaluating performance outcomes.”

 Another concern of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is that “the science behind Central Intake is not worked out yet. There are no questions you can better manage the time a person spends homeless through a common intake and better referrals,” said Davis. With the many challenges posed, Davis suggests the following to improve Central Intake: “Move it to a neutral location. They need some strong oversight of their operations by government or another independent non-profit. They need a way for a client to grieve to make sure that they are not improperly denied shelter.”

While many mixed opinions exist and challenges have clearly arisen, as a shelter provider states, “it is a new system for everyone, and it is to be expected that we will be working things out for awhile.”

 Copyright  Cleveland Street Chronicle  Cleveland, Ohio October 2012  NEOCH