News Stories for this Week

There was an explosive report issued out of the University of Berkeley and proof that cities are making it illegal to be homeless.   The report shows that 58 cities are passing laws that are unequally enforced on homeless people.  They cited anti-camping laws among others as unfairly targeting homeless people for criminal citations. 

Channel 3 has been looking at people who live outside in this extreme cold. They talked to Rick and before that Christine.  They have been talking to people who stay outside.

Channel 19 put aside their tabloid news and did a nice story about the Salvation Army Canteen (not a Cantina).  The Salvation Army feeds hundreds in East Cleveland and Cleveland. 

St. Louis takes steps to make it easier to participate in the voucher program and makes it difficult for landlords to refuse to take a voucher.  We need similar laws that would not allow landlords to discriminate against voucher holders. 

We love the libraries and in Cleveland they are really helpful to homeless people.  This is a story about how libraries are trying to adapt to the number of people who are homeless and using the facility.  This is a Huffington Post article about libraries attempts to help homeless people with jobs and health care. 

How about a public restroom in Cleveland?  New Mexico was looking at introducing a shower bus that goes around the community to help people maintain their hygiene. 

Mother Jones did a long story about Housing First.  I am always dubious about quoting statisitcs (72% drop) when we know how unreliable counting homeless people can be.  They do a good job of outlining all the good items about homelessness.  It does not mention some of the draw backs of the programs or how the programs that are saving money can spend that savings on other homeless people.  It is a good overview of the issues and the program characteristics.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

HUD Announces Funding for Cuyahoga County

The Department of Housing and Urban Development ahead of the Secretary of HUD appearing on the Daily Show, awarded to Cuyahoga County $25,342,376.00 in funding for homelessness and housing. 

a) Every shelter and service provider seeking renewals funding received the money they requested.  They get what they got to fund the shelter or service when they opened--no cost of living increase ever in the HUD world.

b) Renewals involving leasing/rent assistance received increases from the amount requested because of the recalculation of the rent amounts to align with Fair Market Rents in Greater Cleveland. This is true for all except one Shelter Plus Care program.  The County is going to ask for a correction on the one program.

c) All other renewals were approved for the amount requested.

d) The County wrapped a bunch of programs into two "reallocation requests" for funding from funds that were left once HUD funds all the renewals.  These projects may not have scored high enough locally, but changed their program to meet current expectations. The County rolled a bunch of programs together to submit two big requests for funding. This strategy was risky, but worked in putting them all together into two projects.  "All in" approach to funding requests.

 

The bad news was that the one new project submission for housing vouchers attached to the new Permanent Supportive Housing building on Detroit Ave was not approved.  We will see what impact this has on the funding for supportive housing locally.

$3.88 million of the funding goes to transitional shelters and supportive services or 15% of the funding.  The other 85% of the funds go to housing long term homeless or disabled homeless people in Cuyahoga County.

  • Cincinnati received $15.38 million.
  • Toledo received $4.88 million in support
  • Columbus only received $11.06 million which seems low to me.
  • Dayton received $8.37 million.
  • Akron received 4.47 million.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Guest Post: City Mission Official Gives Other Side of Housing First

A New Class of Chronically Homeless?

by Rich Trickel, CEO of the City Mission in Cleveland.

On September 16, 2014, Northeast Ohio Media Group published the article “Housing First Opens Newest Apartments in Work to End Homelessness” by reporter Tom Feran. Certainly this is cause for celebration—the new building with its 65 subsidized studio apartments will be a godsend to some chronically homeless individuals. Furthermore, the article goes on to say that as a result of the last 8 years of housing first in Cleveland, chronic homelessness has been reduced by 73%! Since the reality on the ground where I am isn’t even close to that claim, I tried to find out where that stat come from and how it was calculated. How can a city whose shelters are currently overwhelmed with homeless families state that chronic homelessness has decreased by 73%?

The first clue in understanding the dramatic claims made by housing first advocates is to understand the meaning of “chronic homelessness.” HUD has segmented the homeless into categories, assigned definitions, and focused their strategy and therefore, their resources on only one group – chronically homeless. To be chronically homeless you are an unaccompanied homeless person (single, alone, not part of a family, not accompanied by children); with a diagnosable substance abuse disorder, a serious mental illness, or a developmental disability; and have been continuously homeless for a year or more, or have had 4 episodes of homelessness in the last 3 years. To put this in perspective, there are approximately 600,000 homeless individuals in the US on any given night; only 20% will qualify as chronically homeless. So the primary strategy set by the government to eliminate homelessness, the strategy that is being embraced by almost every major metropolitan area, is only focused on 20% of all homeless people. Furthermore, the largest growing segment of the homeless - women & children, do not fit the definition and are therefore not counted and not able to access the resources dedicated to the chronically homeless.

It’s also helpful to understand how a statistic like a 73% reduction in chronic homelessness was even computed—not by a careful day-by-day count of all homeless, but by a single count on a single night in January. This is called the Annual Point In Time Count. Then, based on that single night comparison over time, the claim – a  73% reduction—is made. Can a single count on one cold January night accurately represent anything?

And there’s another problem. Not only is the majority of energy and attention focused on this small segment of the homeless, but most available resources are as well. In Cleveland, the majority of dollars provided to battle homelessness have been spent on permanent supportive housing – housing only available to the designated chronically homeless. Because of this, a number of facilities serving homeless women and children have been forced to close, resulting in the growing numbers of homeless women and children. And it’s not just happening in Cleveland – Washington DC is bracing for a 16% increase in family homelessness this winter, the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance is reporting a 60% increase in homeless families over the last few years and a 108% increase in unaccompanied homeless kids and the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention in Indianapolis reports a 19% increase in family homelessness.

It’s time to take a long hard look. Are we unintentionally creating a new class of chronically homeless individuals – women and children as a result of the current housing first policy? When confronted with the reality most cities are facing right now, why do we continue to insist housing first is the only effective strategy to ending homelessness? How long will we ignore the growing numbers of homeless women and children flooding our cities?

Rich Trickel, CEO of the City Mission, can be reached at 216/287-9187.  We welcome comments to this post by clicking on the "Post a Comment" below this journal entry. Note that Cuyahoga County Officials and the Housing First Initiative were invited to submit a response.

Guest posts reflect the opinions of the authors and not necessarily of NEOCH.

Interesting National Stories

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Permanent Supportive Housing Featured on WCPN

Solution: Permanent Supportive Housing

David C. Barnett had a nice story on WCPN yesterday regarding the new permanent supportive housing projects.  We appreciated hearing from a resident "Joan" who lived at one of the apartments.  We know many people who have been on the streets for years living in these properties.   We have a former vendor who has a huge issue with alcohol living in the Broadway neighborhood.   His former residence was a tent next to the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland. 

We have 560 units now in Cleveland spread out throughout the community.  These buildings are turning desolate and deserted corners of town into vibrant neighborhoods.   These apartments are great for a group of people in our community who need the help.   The staff go out of their way to keep evictions down and work with the men and women.  This is part of the 100,000 units campaign featured on 60 Minutes over the weekend.   We have a friend of the Coalition who slept in a box car over near 2100 Lakeside Shelter for years.  He would come to our meeting and rail against the shelters and services.  He complained about staff mistreatment and stupid rules that the shelters implemented.  He got into one of the first housing units and took his loud voice to establishing a tenant council in the building.  He has prospered over in the building and seems to be doing well.   It was exactly what he needed. 

These are all beautiful buildings and in Cleveland we have opted for new construction for most of the Permanent Supportive Housing.   They are great places to live and wonderful examples of what we can do as a society to improve the lives of homeless people.  We should be proud that we have done a great job in targeting these units to the people who have been on the street the longest.  It should be obvious, but Irene Collins' words are exactly on target,

"It’s much less expensive than having someone out on the streets where any doctor appointment would be at the emergency room, or checked into a psych rehab hospital, which is very, very costly.  The cost of keeping someone in a shelter is a whole lot more than the cost of keeping someone in some kind of permanent housing situation where they are a lot more stable."

My concern is that these units are being over sold.  They will not end homelessness.  They are not a silver bullet, and I am not sure it is good idea to exclude so many who could benefit from these services.  There are many large families that are going to cost the community millions of dollars if they spend a long period of time homeless, but the PSH programs are reserved for single adults at this time.   They will not even replace one shelter bed in Cleveland.   We have as society neglected affordable housing for 30 years so the 560 units will not have much of an impact on homelessness.  We have lost 10,000 units locally from neglect and properties falling down from age.  We need to develop 1,000 units a year for the next 10 years and we could start closing the shelters.  Remember when they opened the CMHA Housing Voucher waiting list in 2011, 64,000 unduplicated people tried to get on the list in Cleveland. 

We also have to remember the high cost of the PSH units for the future.  We have to pay for the supportive services and the 24 hours of staff care provided for tenants in the building.   We need to pay most of the rent for these individuals for probably the rest of their lives.  They will most likely make somewhere between $0 per month to around $700 for disability assistance.  This means that 50-100% of the tenants rent will need to be picked up by the government for the rest of their life.   These are expensive for the community to operate and we do not have a dedicated revenue source for the rent and support services. 

Finally, there are those who keep saying that these projects save the community money.  This is true, but it does not save the shelters any money.  It saves law enforcement, health care providers, mental health community, and hunger programs money.   It is much cheaper to house 400 people in a dorm room with a few staff to watch them when compared to the maintenance and case management for an apartment building.  Walls and privacy adds costs to any project.   The problem is that the hospitals, jails and mental health agencies are not going to take the savings and turn it over to the homeless programs.  They are going to spend the savings of the 570 people currently in the PSH on other poor people.  MetroHealth is not going to reward 2100 Lakeside shelter with the $50,000 they saved on our friend who lived in the box car from his frequent trips to the emergency room every year.  They are going to spend it on the other 100,000 poor people they see every year. 

Housing First is a great concept with some wonderful properties, but there are plenty of families, veterans, young people who could benefit from being in these units but do not qualify.  Even though families are the fastest growing population in the community, they do not typically qualify for these beautiful apartments. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

More Permanent Supportive Housing Funded

Sleeping on the Sidewalk

The Cleveland Housing Network received the good word from the State of Ohio that they will receive tax credits fro the new Permanent Supportive Housing project in Cleveland.   The project will be at 83rd and Detroit Ave. and will cost $9.5 million.  The project tentatively called Emerald Alliance VIII will be complete in the fall of 2015 and contain 66 one-bedroom apartments for those who have been homeless for a long period of time. 

CHN will develop the project with EDEN managing the building and MHS providing case management.  The ADAMHS Board, KeyBank and CMHA are all involved in supporting this project for the Housing First initiative. 

CHN also received support from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency and tax credits for their renovation of the Westerly in Lakewood, which was built in the 1960s and needs a makeover.  

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry