Editorial: Voting rights for homeless part of Supreme Court voter-purge case from Ohio

This editorial, by Director Chris Knestrick, was published on on the day of the Voter Purge case at the US Supreme Court. NEOCH was one of the plaintiffs in the case.

Men of the Lakeside Avenue homeless shelter in Cleveland are assigned sleeping bunks and mats in this 2002 file photo. The rights of the homeless in Ohio to stay on the voting rolls even without a fixed address, other than, sometimes, an intersection, are an issue in the Ohio voter-culling case to be argued at the U.S. Supreme Court today.(Roadell Hickman, The Plain Dealer, File, 2002)

Men of the Lakeside Avenue homeless shelter in Cleveland are assigned sleeping bunks and mats in this 2002 file photo. The rights of the homeless in Ohio to stay on the voting rolls even without a fixed address, other than, sometimes, an intersection, are an issue in the Ohio voter-culling case to be argued at the U.S. Supreme Court today.(Roadell Hickman, The Plain Dealer, File, 2002)

CLEVELAND -- Every vote counts -- and our democracy is strongest when each voice can be heard, and every eligible citizen can cast their vote. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) believes that participation in the democratic process is critical for those struggling with their housing.

For decades, we have worked with Cuyahoga County officials through litigation and organizing to assure that homeless people have access to voting.

Our work - and more importantly the fundamental rights of the populations we serve - is at stake in Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, which will be argued before the Supreme Court of the United States today.

I have over 10 years of experience working with the homeless community in Cleveland and directing advocacy efforts with the international and local community, and in July 2017, I became NEOCH's director. Since then, my time has been devoted to our mission to organize and empower homeless and at-risk men, women and children to break the cycle of poverty through public education, advocacy and the creation of nurturing environments. My work is about having people experiencing homelessness gain access to the seats and halls of power where decisions that impact them are being made.

Because the voting booth is one of the last places that people can turn to change policy, ensuring that our members and the people we serve can participate in the democratic process is at the core of our mission. Over the years, we have conducted voter-registration drives at homeless shelters and drop-in centers, coordinating and providing transportation to the polls, and conducted educational training sessions about how homeless men and women can cast a ballot and have it counted.

We know that members of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless were purged from the voting rolls. Therefore, speaking out against the practices challenged in the Husted lawsuit - in which NEOCH is a plaintiff - is a necessary piece of our mission and work to ensure long-term success and prevent those struggling with housing from feeling disempowered in our democratic system.

Ohio's county boards of elections used a "supplemental process," under the direction of Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, that, for example, unfairly purged hundreds of thousands of otherwise eligible voters in 2015 from the Ohio voter rolls who had not voted in an election since 2008. More than 40,000 citizens were removed in Cuyahoga County alone.

Furthermore, voters were notified by mail and those who did not affirmatively respond triggered the process, which could lead to their ultimate removal. This process falsely assumed that voters who fail to vote in multiple elections have moved, ignoring the multitude of other reasons someone might not participate in each election.

Being un-housed makes life precarious, and getting to the ballot box can be difficult when you are simply struggling to survive. Many members of NEOCH and the people we serve, for example, are frequently on the move and are unable to provide a permanent address at which they would receive such a notice. While Ohio allows such individuals the ability to use intersections and other nontraditional addresses, it makes it that much more difficult to receive notices via mail or ensure that they remain registered to vote prior to elections they wish to cast a ballot in. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for these same individuals to not participate in every single election due to difficult personal circumstances or otherwise unforeseen events. We know that homelessness is difficult, but voting should not be.

This process is particularly troubling as Ohio is historically one of the key states that factor into who wins presidential elections.

It is critical that the Supreme Court strike down Ohio's illegal process to ensure that all eligible Ohioans can vote, and that other states around the country are not able to remove voters in a similar fashion. Thus, the Ohio voter purge should not just trouble my fellow Ohioans, but all U.S. citizens.

I worry that if processes like the one used to remove otherwise eligible Ohio voters are upheld by the court, it will send a clear message to the homeless community that their votes do not matter, and their voices should not be heard.

There are already enough barriers for Ohioans - and individuals around the country - struggling with housing day to day; the constitutional right to vote should not be one of those barriers. Voting may not be a priority for each of these individuals at the time of each election, but protecting their right to vote is just as important to their survival as finding housing so that they can have a say in the laws and actions of the United States.

Chris Knestrick is director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

NEOCH's Lawsuit will be heard in the US Supreme Court on January 10th, 2018

Ohio’s Supplemental Process targets voters who fail to vote in a two-year period for eventual removal from the voter roll based on the presumption that such voters have moved. As a direct result of this process, countless voters who remain fully eligible to vote are stripped from the registration rolls and denied their fundamental right to vote.

Last year, NEOCH along with the Ohio APRI, and Ohio resident Larry Harmon sued the Ohio Secretary of State, alleging that the Supplemental Process violated federal law. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down Ohio’s controversial purge of infrequent voters, finding that Ohio’s Supplemental Process violates the National Voter Registration Act’s prohibition on removing voters from the rolls by reason of a voter’s failure to vote.

We filed this lawsuit because we believe that the right to vote should not distinguish between rich and poor but the supplemental process appears to do just that: targeting the most vulnerable among us. The supplemental process send a clear message to Ohio’s homeless population that their voice should not be heard. That is not what democracy is all about. 

Furthermore, The day-to-day challenges that the homeless face may already keep them from getting out to vote. And because the homeless do not reliably receive mail, the supplemental process penalizes them, making it even less likely they will be able to vote. This is neither sensible nor just; it is cruel.

As a result of the Sixth Circuit’s ruling, the federal district court entered an injunction for the November 2016 presidential election that ultimately allowed more than 7,500 Ohio voters to cast a ballot. All of these were eligible voters who would have been denied their right to vote under Ohio’s unlawful process, if the Sixth Circuit had not enjoined Ohio’s improper practices.

In February 2017, Secretary Husted requested that the Supreme Court review and overturn the Sixth Circuit’s decision. The Court agreed to hear the case in May and set oral argument for January 10th.

Here is a great video from the ACLU. 

Rest in Peace Buzzy.

The Street Vendors community lost one of our own this weekend.  Melvin “Buzzy” Bryant passed away quietly in his sleep over the Christmas Holiday. He sold the Cleveland Street newspaper for around 20 years and in doing so touched many people’s lives. His smile and eagerness to greet people made him one of the most loved vendors at the West Side Market.   


He was an incredible person with an amazing story. He was homeless for 10 years, spent time in prison and became a community activist and educator.  His lived experience taught him deeply about politics and the need for a deeper sense of community. He brought a deep wisdom to every conversation.  He was always looking out for other vendors. When our meetings got tense, Buzzy would step in and mediate disagreements and seek resolutions. His presence will be missed by so many.  Buzzy, thank you for wisdom shared.  

Buzzy was scheduled to sell the paper outside the West side Market on Saturday, December 30th from 10 to noon. In honor of him, Angelo Anderson will sell the paper to raise money for his family in this time of need.  

Memories of Buzzy from The Vendors

“He was an amazing person, friend and co-worker and I am really going to miss him.  My heart is still broke that he is gone.  It is not going to be the same without him.”  - Tammy Hobbs 

“I am going to miss Buzzy a lot without him being at the Westside Market and NEOCH offices things will not be the same because he was part of the crew.”  - Mike Owens

“Buzzy was a good friend and he would do a lot to help a person out.  He was a lot of fun to be around.  I have known him for a long time and I will miss him. “  - Kim “Supermutt” Goodman

“I’ll never forget Buzzy, we did a lot of things together.  Nobody could have been a bigger Indians fan than he was.  He went to many games a year down at the stadium.  He was my friend for 30 years.  I am totally going to miss him, I was to go before him.  We harassed each other all the time." - Raymond Jacobs

"He had a winning smile, a great attitude and he would give you the shirt off of his back.  That is one thing people didn’t realize about him.  Damn, I am going to miss him."  -  Angelo Anderson

"I lost a dear friend on Christmas Day. His name was Melvin 'Buzzy' Bryant. August 17, 1947-December 25, 2017. Buzzy was a sweet man. He never had a bad word against me or anyone else. I went to his funeral adn his family treated me like a human being. The vendors at West Side Market came to See him. There was a dinner for Buzzy after the services. I went with his neice to the gathering. Buzzy only got flowers for his casket. Buzzy was cremated. Buzzy, you will be missed by me especially." - Delores Manley

Words from NEOCH's Staff: 

"I am going to miss Buzzy.  He was fun, flirty and in his mind, a Lady’s Man!  He always had a smile on his face as well as a quick wit.  I’m going to miss reading his wonderfully informative articles and just miss his presence.”  Joyce Robinson

“He always had an amazing smile and a genuine greeting.  He always enjoyed people and made everyone feel like you were his best friend.  He was full of wisdom and always looked at things with a mature perspective and he tried to learn from everything.  He will be truly missed.”         - Denise Moore

"Buzzy one of our leaders at The Street Chronicle. He taught so many of us how to live through the hardships of life. His heart was for his people and his wisdom was shared with everyone." - Chris Knestrick  

Below is Buzzy's last article which was published in the November 2017 issue of The Street Chronicle

The State of the Country

Well the election is over and we have a new president, Donald Trump.  Let’s review these first 100 days and the state of the country since he has become president of these UNITED STATES.  The Dow is still going up, there are a few more people working, we don’t have a new Health Plan, poor people are expecting to become poorer, he still has Russia hanging over his head, and he has hired most of the people close to him and they are now FIRED.  It’s like watching The Apprentice in real life, but it’s happening at the White House. 

His popularity has gone down. So it really hasn’t been a great 100 days for President Trump.  I as an American citizen feel upset.  Not because I didn’t vote for him, but because from my observation he is running the country like he ran his TV show, The Apprentice.  He doesn’t have a clue about how to run a country.  I hate to think of the future after Trump.  He’s hired all these people with no experience in public service, but all were put in positions that can cripple the United States.  They are learning secrets about this country that the average citizen doesn’t know.   Who knows what they will use it for once they leave their positions.  We already have Bannon saying he can help the president more by his dismissal because of what he has learned being by his side.  Now we have a White Nationalist who has obtained secrets about the United States back on the air stirring up more trouble and the United States being torn apart at the seam.

 Trump supporters are distancing themselves from the president.  The country is in disarray.  What is it as Americans that we can do or say?   Where do we go from here?  Can we ever get back to being America?  Are we headed down the road of no return?  America what will our future hold for our children?  These are questions we must begin to answer for ourselves and our children.  Something positive has to be done to get America back on the right track.  I ask all Americans to stand up for what is right.  Let’s get America back to where America needs to be, on top; a country where people want to come, because most of us still believe in Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. 

I just hope that we don’t get into war with North Korea, because more middle to low income people will die for America while upper middle class and rich people stay home and tell the returning soldiers, “Thanks for your service.”  Let’s bring back the draft so those who weren’t around can witness how people dodge serving this country in the Armed Forces.

As I remember, during the campaign for President Donald Trump’s message was, “Let’s Make America Great Again.”  Well how great has he made America?  Stand up America. We deserve better; not with force, but with Peace.  Until next time, keep the faith.


Homeless Congress Notes for December 2017


The meeting opened at approximately 1:05p.m., in the St. Peter Room at Bishop Cosgrove Center.

After opening the meeting, Chris mentioned that two members of the homeless community had been found dead in the East 23rd and Superior Avenue area.

Chris mentioned that usually, everyone in attendance would introduce themselves, however, because of the larger than normal number of attendees, personal introductions would not take place. He did, however introduce Natasha Wynn, NEOCH’s newest outreach trainee.


LOH – as the representative for the Homeless Congress at Cuyahoga County Council Meetings and the ADAHMS Board, asked those present to spread the word about Homeless Congress to those unable to attend meetings.

NORMA HERR RESIDENT – food is bad, and Staff does nothing to nip altercations

LOH – Re: Eden and Frontline: Finally, doing things that should have been done all along because a new provider is coming on board.

Norma Herr finally has a microwave, a television, and film on the windows of the shelter, so that people outside can’t see inside the shelter.

NORMA HERR RESIDENTS – Voiced concerns regarding the shelter and staff:

  • Chopped meat looks green…
  • Will we ever have Wi-Fi?
  • Will the food improve?
  • Ongoing issues with the bathroom…
  • EDEN was unable to fix the faulty renovations to the shelter…
  • Staff takes donations intended for the residents…
  • Have to go through the worst to get to the better
  • Problem: People in recovery housed with people who are currently using…

KATIE DONOVAN ONDERS – from the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association Homeless Legal Assistance Program (CHLAP), talked a little about what CHLAP is and how it works.

  • Pro bono attorneys will visit homeless shelters to provide legal advice and assistance to homeless and at risk individuals.
  • All shelters have access to the list of services the pro bono attorneys can provide
  • Attorneys will volunteer at various levels, ranging from intake interviews, providing brief advice, or accepting cases for direct extended representation.
  • Ms. Donovan stated that she would take issues to attorneys to see what actions can be taken, in response to the following incidents that Congress attendees experienced:
    • 2100 Lakeside resident was robbed and assaulted, but had to call 911 himself, staff did not
    • Residents at 2100 Lakeside need to be separated by age and situation; because they aren’t situations occur.

LARRY BRESSLER -- Organize Ohio, spoke about the number of reports of homeless individuals who had received poor treatment at St. Vincent Charity Hospital.

St. Vincent Hospital is the closest hospital to both 2100 and Norma Herr shelters, but homeless people are treated badly there.

Example: A resident of 2100 Lakeside who had been “examined” following an assault, was given pills and discharged from St. Vincent, only to later discover that he had broken bones that had not been dealt with.

Mr. Bressler asked that Homeless Congress members join with United Clevelanders Against Poverty Poor People’s Campaign, which meets once a month on Thursdays. The next meeting is January 11, 2018. At this meeting, the testimonies of homeless individuals who’ve been mistreated by St. Vincent will be collected.

ERIC AND HEIDI – Cleveland Federal Community Leadership Institute They are participating in a project to gather information about issues that a certain population such as the homeless, or veterans, or youth, or aging people face every day. Working on a small scale and with no budget, Eric and Heidi’s goal is find out what they can do to help the homeless with issues such as: finding employment, finding God (spirituality), financial literacy, housing obstacles due to felonies.


METANOIA: Will be open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. Please spread the word to others living on the street so that they know that Metanoia is a safe place they can go to to get out of the cold.

NEXT MEETING: Thursday, January 11, 2018, to be facilitated by Joyce Robinson and Vishal Reddy, as Chris will be in Washington, D.C.

Notes taken by Joyce Robinson

Updated Street Card Published

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless announced the publication of the Homeless Street Card for 2018.  We are so thankful to University Hospitals for sponsoring this years printing.  The Homeless Street Card is a front and back piece of paper updated every year that contains extensive information on resources such as shelters, meal sites, job training agencies, health clinics, chemical dependency services and drop in centers. This valuable and convenient resource makes it easy for homeless individuals to find the assistance they need to get out of their situation

Read More

Homeless Congress Notes for November 2017

In the back room of the Cosgrove Center on Wednesday, November 8th (had to reschedule from the normal Thursday time), about 45-50 folks gathered around for November’s Homeless Congress meeting. We discussed several items and then jumped into the main agenda. The main agenda items were:

  • YWCA Update on Women’s Shelter
  • Campus District Inc. Efforts

YWCA Update on Women’s Shelter

From the YWCA, we had two guests: Teresa Sanders, Vice President of Social Services Programs and Operations, and Tish Gomez, Family Engagement Specialist. Teresa Sanders gave an update on the situation with YWCA and the Women’s Shelter.

YWCA Mindset: When Teresa mentioned to someone that the YWCA was interested in running the women’s shelter, someone remarked back, “Why would you run into the burning building?” Teresa said that for her, homelessness is a social justice issue and that everyone deserves to be housed. Teresa knows that one of the goals of the women’s shelter should be to ensure women secure housing so they can stay out.

Transition: Teresa felt that the transition needed to happen smoothly. This meant that if the contract was signed by December 1st, then it would be by March that the transition would be finalized. Teresa guaranteed that shelter operations would continue during that transition period. During the transition period, Teresa will be reaching out to

Changes: Teresa outlined several potential changes which included bringing more service providers into the building, increasing the number of case managers, and regularly meeting with the women in the shelter. Teresa also suggested that the YWCA’s highly transparent culture would reduce the likelihood of there being a toxic culture in the Women’s Shelter. The YWCA will create a highly transparent grievance protocol.

Staying the Same: Despite the YWCA’s religious roots, Teresa reaffirmed that no religious programming would be imposed on the women in the shelter. Also, Teresa confirmed that the women’s shelter would remain a shelter for just women.

Campus District Inc.

From Campus District Inc. (CDI), we had two guests: Bobbi Reichtell, Executive Director, and Rachel Oscar, Community Organizer.

Bobbi spoke at length about the importance vitalizing of the neighborhoods around the CSU campus, especially because many of the homeless services are centered in this community. Bobbi spoke about the Campus District’s recent ideas to beautify some of the spaces near the shelters in the neighborhood. The area around Norma Herr was of particular concern for CDI. Taking questions from the Congress, Bobbi said that the Mayor’s office is against any type of proposal that would dislocate or move the current shelters. Several members of the congress felt that cosmetic solutions for the neighborhood would not deal with some of the deeper issues in the community. Bobbi acknowledged that beautifying the space alone would not solve all the issues. She said that CDI is serious about working to also address those other issues, but that creating a community that is more visually appealing can also play an important part in vitalizing a community

Homeless Congress’s October Meeting Notes

In the back room of the Cosgrove Center on Thursday, October 12th, about 15-20 folks gathered around for October’s Homeless Congress meeting. We discussed several items and then jumped into the main agenda. The main agenda items were:

  • Potential involvement with the Poverty Truth Commission

  • Revisiting Homeless Congress’s 2017 priorities and brainstorming some potential 2018 priorities

  • Women’s Shelter Update

  • ADAMHS Board Letter

Prior to setting the agenda, Chris opened the space for the members of the congress to share non-agenda items.

Rude Treatment from Homeless Services Staff: One gentlemen mentioned the condescension he experiences from homeless services staff, whether it be at 2100 Men’s Shelter where he stays at or at the Welfare Office. Other members of the congress agreed.

Some members pointed out that this rudeness from staff is particularly strange because many staff in these institutions are previously homeless. However, they no longer empathize with the currently homeless, forgetting that “one missed paycheck is all it takes to be homeless”. Staff that were previously homeless instead now use their relative position of power to rudely treat people currently experiencing homelessness.

One gentlemen mentioned that it would be useful to have a monitor or auditor who ensures that homeless services staff are friendly and kind instead of patronizing.

Specialty Shelters: One gentleman mentioned that the current shelter situation is only based on one’s gender. He remarked that this causes an issue as some of the individuals at the shelter are experiencing severe mental illness. This an issue for those experiencing mental illness, as they are not provided the resources (caseworkers, therapy). This is also an issue for the other individuals in the shelter, as they feel the level of security protocol they are subject to is not suited for them. Having a separate shelter for those experiencing mental illness was suggested as a possibility.

Another member of Homeless Congress quickly suggested that Specialty Shelters used to exist in Cuyahoga County but were slowly phased out as funding has decreased. Chris mentioned that this occurred also due to HUD’s extreme focus on Permanent Supportive Housing to the detriment of developing a better shelter system. One member asked if foundations in the area, particularly Cleveland Foundation, provide funding for homeless services. Another member of Homeless Congress replied that foundations have become more focused on educational/youth initiatives than those focusing on homelessness.

2016-17 and 2017-18 Homeless Congress Priorities: Homeless Congress’s 2016-17 priorities were 1) shelter standards through regulations, 2) shelter requirements by law, 3) medical/health support at shelters, 4) Passing the Homeless Bill of Rights in Cleveland, 5) separate facility for severely mentally ill homeless men and women, 6) addressing discrimination of voucher holders, and  7) tiny homes campaign.

In this discussion, several things were mentioned:

  • Jobs: One member would like to see jobs and securing employemnt be an added focus. She felt that many individuals experiencing homelessness are still capable of working. Yet, the stigma associated with being a homeless individual limits their job opportunities. The inability to find employment through this disenfranchisement only makes it harder to no longer be homeless.

  • Addiction: Another member of Homeless Congress cautioned against seeing money as the only barrier to escaping homelessness. He feels that there needs to be a serious and genuine push to deal with addiction and mental illness within the homeless services provider. Even if individuals with mental illness and/or addiction secure housing or employment, they often return to the shelter system. They are often unable to maintain housing and employment without the proper emotional/mental

  • Toxic Culture At Norma Herr: One gentleman remarked that a staff member at Norma Herr remarked that going to Norma Herr without knowing anyone already there who could protect or take care of you meant that “you were f******!”

Women’s Shelter Update: Chris explained the situation regarding the Norma Herr Women’s Shelter, currently run by Frontline Services. The YWCA was the only bidder to offer to run the shelter. However, the County’s offer fell short of their requirements to run a dignified shelter. The city’s offered budget of ~$2 million was well below what the YWCA felt was reasonable based on the standards they wanted to see in the Women’s Shelter. Ultimately, the YWCA declined the County’s current offer to run the women’s shelter, though they left the door open if the offer were to change.

The next meeting is Wednesday, November 8th at Cosgrove Center. We hope you can join us there.

Notes taken by Vishal Reddy 

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Become a member of NEOCH this month.


Four months! It been only that long since I started as the new Director of Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. The work of defending the rights and dignity of people experiencing homelessness in our community is important as ever. The lack of affordable housing because of gentrification continues to fuel a rise in homelessness. There is no doubt that NEOCH will be an important organization to advocate when our community is impacted by federal policy and local development decisions. We have already won some important advocacy campaigns. None of this was possible without your involvement.

When the Irishtown Bend project sought to forcefully displace the two dozen homeless residents, we organized and advocated. We called for a relocation plan that respected the dignity and agency of the people that call the Riverbed home.Through our efforts, those involved in the project committed to finding the funds to make sure there is a dignified relocation plan for the residents.   

However, for every success, there is more critical work to be done. Today, family homelessness is on the rise in Cuyahoga County. Appoximately 50 woman and children are sleeping on a gym floor every night. The Women’s Shelter is housing forty more women than they have beds. The Men’s Shelter is regularly operating an overflow shelter. With federal cuts and increasing demands for supportive services, we need to make sure that people have access to and knowedge of the services.  This is why we put hours into research to publish a Street Card, which provides people in crisis quick and easy information to access services.

With your continued financial support we will be able to do even more. Our goal is to continue making a difference in our community and in the lives of those experiencing homelessness in Cuyahoga County. Your support can make our outreach more effective, our advocacy more courageous, and our relationships stronger. 

That is why I am writing to you today. We need you to make us strong. We need you to become a member of NEOCH.  In exchange for your membership you will receive: a subscription to our advocacy newsletter called The Bridge, advocacy alerts, invitations to special events, Street Card updates, a voice for homeless people, and a strong coalition and social change.

It is through your support that we continue to be a force for change in this community.  Please consider donating and becoming a member. As always, your contribution will be tax deductible and your membership will further the good work being done in our community. 

If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Chris Knestrick


P.S. Because of you, Cleveland’s homeless have a friend!  

You can click here to donate online! 

Family Homelessness Crisis Needs to be Addressed

“Mommy, where we at? The shelter again?”- Amaya, age 3.

Homelessness is not just a solitary struggle. The reality is 41% of homeless are comprised of families, a large majority of which are headed by single-mothers. Mothers and children are the fastest growing homeless demographic. In Cleveland, this crisis is growing, and it’s growing fast. We sought to explore the impact it’s having on the already precarious shelter system.

For a family, the path to access emergency housing in Cleveland is facilitated through Cuyahoga County’s Coordinated Intake office (run by Frontline). This one-stop-shop process is designed to direct families to need-appropriate resources within the community. Families are meant to be placed into a shelter or “diverted.”  Diversion, a policy that NEOCH does not support, seeks to place families in non-shelter locations such as with friends or family. Only once they are in a shelter will they be assigned a caseworker or seen if they are eligible for the Rapid Re-housing program. Rapid Re-housing is the only county program available to move families out of the shelter system. Unfortunately, permanent supportive housing is not available to families because the federal funding for the program is reserved for single adults. This system of giving resources only once the family is placed in the shelter means the family’s future is dependent on obtaining a spot in one of the city’s shelters. Families are thus beholden to the hope that these shelters aren’t at capacity.

 Hope doesn’t get them far though: family shelters in Cleveland have been at capacity for a while. Because all the family shelters are full, families are then sent to the overflow program at the City Mission if they are not diverted. Their family overflow program houses roughly 20 mothers and 30 children each night in their gym. It should be noted that the City Mission began the family overflow program in their gym last year in September 2016 because so many families were already being turned away since the other family shelters were full. The overflow program was meant to be a temporary solution to the crisis afflicting families, giving the County time to come up with alternatives. But quickly, it too has reached capacity, and there is still a lack of any concerted effort on the County to even acknowledge there is a family homelessness crisis.

What happens when even the overflow shelter is at capacity? First, countless women and children must continue fending for themselves, having been told by both the shelters and the single overflow program that they are at capacity. Second, the lives of those in the shelter are even more strained than normal since the shelters aren’t equipped to handle this quantity and those in the overflow program can’t be connected to resources until they are officially in a shelter. In the overflow, they will wait for weeks in a gym to be placed in a shelter.

We talked to several families who are currently staying in the overflow shelter to learn more. Tierra, who became homeless after issues with her abusive boyfriend, told us her's and her 3-year-old daughter's "daily routine". They leave City Mission gym before it closes at 7am, carrying all their belongings with them. Then, they get shuttled to Cosgrove Center where she must wait outside on the street with her 3-year-old child and belongings till its 8am opening time. After eating breakfast and lunch there, she leaves Cosgrove Center at its 2:30 closing time. Having nowhere to go at that point, she takes takes her child to the beach or library till 7pm when the City Mission opens again. Then, she falls asleep with countless other families on the gym floor of City Mission and attempts to sleep till the next morning.

In the absence of a stable shelter situation, families must expend a great deal of energy to simply go from place to place. Any semblance of consistency or normalcy is gone. Under this flux, struggles compound and build on one another quickly. One mother, Simera, has been at Overflow in the City Mission for a month now. She has been struggling to obtain medicine for her months-old son who’s sick. Another mother, Joanna, laments the fact that her teenage son, Draymond, is unable to attend school. He's already missed the first few critical weeks of school, who knows how many more he’ll miss this year?  The crisis and trauma of homelessness makes it difficult for her to get her son back into the CMSD. What is a mom to do when they are simply trying to survive?  

Also, the families who are in overflow shelter have no assigned caseworker who monitors them and keeps them up to date on the status of obtaining a permanent spot at a shelter. The lack of a transparent criteria or process for obtaining housing heightens this uncertainty; none of the families we spoke to knew what the criteria was to determine the order for families receiving shelter placements. Is it the number of children a mother has? Is it how long the family has been in the shelter? Is it the perceived likelihood the family maintains housing? None of the families knew for certain.

In one year from September 2016 to August 2017, the family overflow program at the  City Mission went from providing 71 nights of shelter for 23 women and 48 children to last month providing 1016 nights of shelter for 336 women and 680 children. That’s a 1400% increase in nights of shelter provided in one year. The county NEEDS to address this situation, and they NEED to address it FAST. There is a severe, growing crisis of family homelessness. Temporary bandaids like the City Mission’s emergency family overflow have quickly become permanent bandaids.

The county has proposed Rapid Re-Housing as THE solution to the crisis of family homelessness. However, this program is facing serious difficulties. Rent is only guaranteed for 3 months, tenants are given only 30 days to find housing, and some families are even unable to pay rent after that period expires. Shelters are having difficulty finding landlords to take Rapid Re-housing, as they’re in a difficult situation, as they risk a possible eviction if there is no permanent income to pay the rent. We are now even seeing cases where families are re-entering the shelter system after attempting Rapid Re-housing.

The options for homeless families become extremely limited. Family homelessness is clearly going up. Yet, the Office of Homeless Services claimed in a letter that “the number of families accessing emergency shelter through the Coordinated Entry System has been relatively the same over the past several years.”  NEOCH disagrees. We believe that we are in a crisis and other service providers agree. Something needs to be done.

The fact that a mother and her four month old child need to sleep on a gym floor for a month before they have any access to shelter services is the heartbreaking reality. Ultimately, to deny that there is a crisis is irresponsible, as the lack of further solutions to address this community crisis will continue to hurt the women and children who need support in a time of their individual crisis.

By Vishal Reddy 

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

NEOCH's Voter Purge Case goes to the US Supreme Court.

In a press release on September 18th 2017, Demos and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)  annouced that they will take NEOCH's purge case to the US Supreme Court.

They "filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court detailing how Ohio is violating the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) by targeting registered voters who fail to vote in a two-year period for eventual removal from the registration rolls — even if they have not moved and are still fully eligible.

 Targeting people for removal simply based on non-voting is a powerful tool of voter suppression. In 2015 alone, over 40,600 registrants in Ohio’s largest county, Cuyahoga, were purged from the rolls using this flawed process, and countless Ohioans have been denied their right to vote as a result of these unlawful purges. These purges are in direct violation of the National Voting Rights Act (NVRA)—that explicitly states that voters can be removed if and when they are ineligible to vote—not voting often enough does not make a person ineligible

The widespread disenfranchisement caused by Ohio’s purge process spurred NEOCH and the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), and Ohio resident Larry Harmon to challenge the practice in federal court. A federal appeals court ruled against Ohio, finding that Ohio’s purge practice violated the NVRA’s prohibition on removing registrants from the rolls for not voting. The state appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which will hear arguments in this case, Husted v. Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute, on November 8th"

As we have seen time and time again, homeless voters and other marginalized voters have to fight to make their voices heard in the electoral process. We worked hard to bring these voters into the electoral process, but unfortunately, the state of Ohio’s practice of purging registrants for their failure to vote locks the doors to the ballot box for many of these voters, which we believe is in violation of federal law and jeopardizes our democratic process.  

Here is a quick fact sheet about the Husted v. APRI 

Ohio’s Attempt to Purge Our Democracy

Ohio election officials use a controversial procedure to target voters for removal from the registration rolls based on their failure to vote “frequently” enough – a procedure known as the “Supplemental Process.” Under this process, Ohio counties initiate a removal procedure targeted at any voter who has failed to vote in a two-year period. Ohio assumes that anyone who has not voted in a two-year period must have become ineligible to vote by reason of a change in residence.  Based on that questionable assumption, Ohio targets these voters with a mailing requiring them to confirm that they are still eligible to vote.  If the voter does not respond to the notice or vote in the subsequent four-year period, the voter’s name is stripped from the registration rolls.

Many voters only vote in presidential elections, every four years. That does not mean they have changed their address or lost their eligibility to vote – instead it could mean that they are less interested in mid-term elections; or that they had work or family responsibilities that made it difficult to vote in a particular election. Nonetheless, many voters in Ohio get caught up in the state’s purge practice time and time again – finding themselves under constant threat of being removed from the voter rolls. And, if a voter sits out a single presidential election cycle, they are in danger of being purged from the rolls, even if nothing about their eligibility to vote has changed.

In 2015, hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters who had last voted in 2008 were removed from the voter registration rolls, with over 40,000 purged in Cuyahoga County alone. Many of these voters—as well as voters who had been purged under Ohio’s Supplemental Process in previous years—went to the polls in November 2015 and March 2016 only to learn that their names no longer appeared on the rolls, and were denied their fundamental right to vote. 

Case Background on Husted v. APRI

In 2016, after having notified Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted that Ohio’s Supplemental Process violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), the public policy organization Dēmos and the ACLU of Ohio brought a lawsuit on behalf of the Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), and Mr. Harmon, a Navy veteran who voted in 2008 but was ultimately purged under the Supplemental Process even though he was living at the same address and remained fully eligible to vote.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit struck down Ohio’s controversial purge of infrequent voters from its voter rolls in September 2016, finding that Ohio’s Supplemental Process violates the NVRA’s prohibition on removing voters from the rolls by reason of a voter’s failure to vote. The federal district court then entered an injunction covering the November 2016 presidential election that ultimately allowed more than 7,500 Ohioans to cast a ballot and have it counted in that election. All of these people were eligible voters who would have been denied their right to vote under Ohio’s unlawful process, if the District Court had not invalidated Ohio’s improper practices.

Secretary of State Jon Husted filed a petition for certiorari with the U.S. Supreme Court requesting the Court review and overturn the Sixth Circuit’s decision. In May, the Supreme Court granted the petition; it will hear arguments on November 8. 

Summary of What’s at Stake

Ohio’s Supplemental Process is an illegal process that unfairly places the burden of re-registration on voters whose eligibility has not changed.

The NVRA was signed into law in 1993, with bipartisan support, to protect the right to vote, increase the number of registered voters, and ensure that states properly maintain their voter rolls.

 Accurate maintenance of the voting registry is important and necessary, but that is not what Ohio’s Supplemental Process does. Ohio’s voter purge practices are based on false assumptions and result in the indiscriminate removal of far too many eligible voters.

At a time when there are approximately 50 million eligible citizens not registered to vote, it is critical that the Supreme Court strike down Ohio’s illegal process and ensure that other states across the country do not follow Ohio’s example to unlawfully remove eligible voters from the rolls and deny them their constitutional right to vote.





Homeless Congress Meeting Notes for August

Homeless Congress

August 10, 2017---Cosgrove Center

Organized by NEOCH

The meeting began with the new Director of Operations at NEOCH, Chris Knestrick, re-introducing himself to some of the members that had not met him yet.  Afterward, We went over the purpose of the Homeless Congress, what the Congress has done, some of the goals that have been attained or will be addressed, and why it is so important, which is, it can be a “bridge to City and State Officials” and it “allows homeless people to have a unified voice.”  Everyone in attendance was asked to complete the membership form in the back of the packet.  After informing everyone what the agenda was going to be for the meeting, Chris asked for an approval of the agenda. Members were informed of the dates for upcoming events which are the Cuyahoga County Council meeting, the Cuyahoga County Health and Human Services Committee meeting, and the ADAMHS Board meeting.  

It was announced that Ruth Gillett will not be attending any more meetings unless there is a specific reason for her to do so because she feels the members were being rude to her.  No one was purposefully rude to her but, being the bearer of bad news, as far as they were concerned, she did not like their response and seemed to take it personally.  It was not any member or participants intention of disrespecting anyone at the meeting, but we would like to extend an apology to her if she felt that it was. 

She was attending the meeting to keep the Homeless Congress up to date on the status of the Rapid Re-Housing Program and the Shelter Policies that would be put into place soon.  She also got input from the members for both projects.  She informed everyone, at the July meeting, that the Shelter Policies would be voted on by the Office of Homeless Services on July 20, 2017.  It was announced that the Single Adult Housing Committee presented to the Office of Homeless Services and the policy that they recommended passed. There were only two votes against the policy, one was Loh (member) and the other a representative from NEOCH. A copy of the Shelter Policy was included in the packets that were passed out to members.

Next, the discussion was about the bidding process for a service provider for the Norma Herr women’s shelter.  Loh informed members that Frontline will not be able to get any long term contracts as the service provider even if they choose to bid (which they have acknowledged more than once that they will not be bidding).  RP problems and the bidding process was the next concern.  Some of the concerned members asked what would happen if no one bids.  One response was that the current provider’s (Frontline) contract would have to be extended.  Another response for the RP problems is that there needs to be a quarterly report on the grievances that are turned in.    

One member wanted to know “why there are no residents involved in this process?”

This was discussed for a while and another member stated that the bidding process should also be public information.  Specifically, a member wanted to know what would or should happen if there is no provider in place by August. (We now know that there was one bid to the RFP) At that point everyone was informed that there are at least two agencies interested in applying for the contract and the date to submit a proposal has been extended to August 18, 2017. 

Larry Bresler, Executive Director of Organize Ohio, then began his presentation by informing members that one of the members and dedicated participants, Norman Wolfe, passed away.  He provided information on the viewing and funeral arrangements.  He then informed the members that Norman, he, and Ramona Turnbull were involved in orchestration of the End Poverty Now march and participated in the New Poor People’s Campaign.  He then presented about the new project called “The Truth Commission” and wanted to ask for volunteers to do personal testimonies on six focus areas (4 personal testimonies for each).  The focus areas are: 1) Environmental degradation, 2) Criminalization of the poor, 3) The right to housing including utilities, 4) The right to living wage jobs, 5) Right to quality education, and 6) Right to healthcare.  

The information provided by the personal testimonies would them be presented to people chosen to be commissioners.  The commissioners would then meet and “come out with their initial findings.”  Finally, the Mayoral candidates would be asked to respond to the findings.  There will also be music and poetry readings “presented while the commissioners are deliberating.” NEOCH will follow up with the members to make sure anyone who is willing to do a personal testimony be accommodated.   

Next, Ms. Eleace Sawyer introduced herself as the new President and CEO of Care Alliance and she wanted to discuss the changes or added services that will be put in place soon.  These positive changes do affect the members of the Congress and homeless population.  Care Alliance provides services at the women’s shelter twice a week.  She asked for feedback about the services being provided and need to be provided.  One member informed her that Dave’s Pharmacy will be moving and there is no pharmacy close enough to walk to for current residents at the women’s shelter to get prescriptions filled.  Ms. Sawyer talked about the Federal Pharmacy Program which may be able to assist to address this problem.  She also stated that she will be addressing this concern.  She informed members that nutrition and podiatry services are also being put in place to address the needs of the homeless population. 

She talked about having someone who is homeless or formerly homeless on their Board.  In addition, she would also like a representative from her staff to attend the Homeless Congress meetings.  Care Alliance also applied for transportation and were able to secure two vehicles.  One member commented on the fact that in Alabama it is considered a crime to be homeless and there is no healthcare.  Members informed Ms. Sawyer about how glad they are that Care Alliance is looking into addressing the food problems and will be in touch with the Food Bank to see what type of relationship can be established to better address the lack of nutrition in the food being served to the residents at the shelters.  One resident suggested a town meeting. She discussed special meetings and talked about looking at data about all the 911 calls made from Norma Herr by the residents.

Next, Akshai Singh:  Organizer, Cleveland for Public Transit, took the floor to discuss issues like fare cost, reliability, safety, and racial profiling by the RTA Police.  He also discussed service cuts and fare hikes.  The next fare hike is coming up soon and it will be a fifty cent increase on the current fare.  The fare could go from $5.50 to $6.00 at that time.  The organization he is representing is working to lower fares.  He informed the members that the Cleveland public transportation is the least affordable and there is no assistance for people who rely on public transportation.  He said they need to find local solutions and state side solutions.  Group members meet with RTA on a quarterly basis.  They will be discussing what improvements are needed so that the Mayoral candidates and the City Council can use it to improve the transportation system, make it more affordable, and reliable.  The next meeting is on August 31 at 7:00 pm.  One member stated that there is limited seating at the bus stops in certain areas (only 2 people can sit).  Another added that there are no public bathrooms in the Rapid Stations.  Mr. Singh stated that the RTA has been cutting services for the last 4 years.  The last topic on this subject was about the cost of tickets for riding when you don’t have one in advance.  This discussion went on for a while before the meeting was brought to a close

 The next Homeless Congress meeting is September 14th at 1:00pm.

You Can Now Register On-Line in Ohio

Cleveland has a competitive Mayoral primary coming up in September and then there are some important local races this November with every City Councilmember forced to campaign.  This is the first election with on-line registration.  It is too late to register for the primary, but there is over one month to register for the November election. 

September 12, 2017 is primary election day in Cuyahoga County.

October 10, 2017 is the deadline to register to vote for the November election.

Here is the Ohio Secretary of State's office link to register on-line.

Here is the Ohio Organizing Collaborative Link to register online to vote in Ohio?

According to the Ohio Organizing Collaborative staff, "For the first time, Ohioans are able to register to vote and update their registration through the Secretary of State’s website. So whether you’ve sat the last few elections out, moved since you last registered, or never voted before, you can get registered or update your registration today.  The last few months have been… kinda scary. I don’t know what the future holds for Ohio and our country, but I do know that there are important elections coming up this year and in 2018 that will have a huge impact our communities. That’s why it’s so important that we all register and vote."

The November election is November 7, 2017 polls open from 6:30 a.m to 7:30 p.m.  Remember that for homeless people "Vote by Mail" is the best option

It is so important for everyone to participate and to actually vote.  No matter how many barriers Ohio puts in your way, people died for everyone to have the right to cast a ballot.  Please do your civic duty and vote in both the primary and the General Election.

Special to NEOCH from Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.


Two Homeless Related Court Decisions

From the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty:

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued a Temporary Restraining Order against the City of Houston for citing homeless people under its new anti-camping ban. The ACLU of Texas, Dechert law firm, and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty filed the motion for TRO last week after police raided a homeless encampment. The order is can be viewed here.

Check out this quote from the order's conclusion:

 "The plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are subject to a credible threat of being arrested, booked, prosecuted and jailed for violating the City of Houston’s ban on sheltering in public.  The evidence is conclusive that they are involuntarily in public, harmlessly attempting to shelter themselves—an act they cannot realistically forgo, and that is integral to their status as unsheltered homeless individuals.  Enforcement of the City’s ban against the plaintiffs may, therefore, cause them irreparable harm by violating their Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment due to their status of “homelessness.”  Robinson, 370 U.S. at 666–67.  Moreover, there is no evidence that the City will suffer harm if a restraining order were issued, thereby, preserving the status quo that existed prior to the issuance of citations." 

NEOCH Comments:

In a strange juxtaposition, the City of Houston said that this law would reduce aggressive panhandling?  I have no idea how these two ideas are connected, but surprisingly no rainbows with pots of gold would result with this anti-camping law.  The shelters are all full in Houston with the average wait for a bed with only five shelters available. "The emergency shelters in Houston are full and have been so for years [Id. At 67 para. 16-17]. Therefore, homeless individuals wait in lines, daily, at the five shelters for any available space only to be turned away for lack of space. [Id. at pp. 75-76 para. 3-4]."

This is only a temporary ruling to prevent further tickets for "sheltering in public" while this case is litigated in Federal Court, but there is strong powerful language in the restraining order. 

In another case detailed by the Associated Press, the US Appeals Court has decided that day laborers are free to flag down motorists to solicit work.

NEW YORK (AP) -- A federal appeals court says day laborers in a Long Island town have a First Amendment right to solicit passing drivers for jobs. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday struck down a 2009 law banning the solicitation in Oyster Bay. The law had never been enforced. Here is a link to the full article.


This could doom the new City of Cleveland law regarding panhandling toward passing motorists.  In June 2017, the City removed its "aggressive panhandling law" and replaced it with a law prohibiting flagging down cars to solicit money.  A good civil rights attorney could make the case that panhandlers have the same First Amendment right to free speech as the day laborers.  Look for this to be the next front in the struggle for free speech.

Special to NEOCH from Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Displacement: The hidden cost of the Irishtown Bend Project

There is a lot of celebration for the proposed construction of Ohio City’s Irishtown Bend project. There have been radio interviews, newspaper articles, and community forums, although with very few public details about this new park. Despite all of this publicity, nothing is mentioned of the 20 to 35 people who are experiencing homelessness who live on the riverbed, some for upwards of 20 years.

The 17-acre proposed park would be cover most of the riverbed of West 25th Street from Detroit Ave to Columbus Road. The first phase of the project is a massive stabilization of the land, which will cost $49 million. The second phase, the actual construction of the park has no public price tag yet. Despite money flowing in from many agencies and foundations, the cost of relocating the Irishtown Bend residents - which NEOCH estimates would cost around $18,000 - is not a part of their budget.

NEOCH is appalled by the fact that the human cost of this massive project was not a top priority. We believe that the project organizers have both an ethical and legal obligation to relocate these residents.

In a recent meeting between NEOCH and Ohio City Inc., we were told that there was no money available in the current funding for relocations but that they would try to find some. Did none of the funders or grant seekers consider that these residents would need a new place to sleep at night? Do they not consider these residents to be valuable neighborhood constituents? 

Under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act of 1970, if federal money is used in a project, there is a legal responsibility to offer relocation money to those affected. In the meeting, Ohio City Inc. said they do not plan on using any federal money to stabilize the riverbed and they don’t know where the money is coming from to build the park. This is false. The Plain Dealer reported that the Lake Link Trail, funded by a $3.3 million federal grant, already has plans to be located in the Irishtown Bend. Clearly, there seems to be plans to use federal money in the second half of the project.

NEOCH believes this is a tactic to avoid legal responsibility. It allows them to start the work with non-federal money, and then bring in federal money after the people have been displaced.  We believe courts have found this shifting of when federal resources are used to be in violation of the spirit of the relocation law. If the organizers do not prioritize the people who call the Irishtown Bend home, they are at risk of losing all federal grants, including the one designated for the Lake Link Trail.

The residents of Riverbed road each have their own human story. There is no one uniformed reason why they have chosen to make a home in this location. One couple has chosen to remain together as they try to make their way back down south to where they are from. The shelter system does not have an option for couples to remain together as they attempt to overcome homelessness. They would be forced to separate.  Another man does not want to lose his dog. He has already lost everything he had through homelessness but remains committed to his companion. If he would enter the shelter system, he would be required to separate from his best friend. 

We at NEOCH are prepared to defend the legal right of those who live in this location. We are voicing our concern because the residents continue to ask our outreach workers about what they should do. They have very few options available to them for housing and fear being forcefully displaced and having their property destroyed.

If and when this project receives adequate funding to relocate people in a dignified manner, NEOCH is prepared to offer our assistance in these efforts. We have coordinated the main homeless outreach collaborative in the city for years. In so many ways, we are the most experienced and equipped to support such efforts. We have strong relationships with the residents of Irishtown Bend.

Rather than zip lines and boulder scrambles, the funders of this project need to center their work on the individuals who live there. Just as Irishtown Bend offered refuge to Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine of the 1800s, this location continues to be a refuge for those who have no place to call home. NEOCH demands that these women and men are offered just and timely relocation. 

Update as of 9/6/2017: 

Since publishing this post, there has been a successful advocacy campiagn to make sure that funds will be provided for the resident. The local media picked up the stories and there were stories written by Scene Magazine, and WKYC. 

On August 31st, NEOCH's members and supports showed up at a community meeting to demand relocation for the residents that live on Riverbed Rd. You can check out our twitter post here.  During the Q & A, the Executive Director of Ohio City Inc. publically promised to find the money to relocate people.  You can watch the video below.  

Subsequently, on 9/6/2017, Representative Nickie Antonio called together a meeting between all the stakeholders in the project (The City of Cleveland, Councilman McCormack, The Port Authority, The Office of Homeless services, the Metro parks), the service providers ( Care Alliance, Frontline, Metanoia, and NEOCH) along with some of the residents. We discussed the timeline for the start of the hill stabilization. It was clear that the start date has been pushed back to the spring/summer of 2018.  Ohio City Incorporated has taken on the role of convening the social service providers and facilitate the process. We will continue to pressure to make sure that this process happens, is transparent, and incorporates the voice of those residents who are currently living on Riverbed Rd. Furthermore, during the course of the meeting, the residents of Riverbed Rd, who were present, asked the group to have NEOCH facilitate the relocation.  It was stated that "We trust NEOCH more than any other service provider and want them to be the one's facilitating the relocation plan." We are honored by this comment and would be willing to facilitate the relocation of the residents as long as there are funds available to develop a dignified relocation that allows for the residents to have agency in the relocation options available to them.   

by Chris Knestrick

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.