Key Accomplishments in 2018

We hosted  24 Outreach Collaborative meetings to coordinate outreach services to the two hundred shelter resistance people experiencing homelessness in our community

We gave 200 people boots, 105 pairs of tennis shoes, 70 tents, 15,000 pairs of socks.

We housed and/or prevented evictions for 120 people.

Our Outreach Coordination Collaborative key participants had help people over 30,160 times and supported an estimated 4,000 unique individuals.  

During the Polar Vortex, we advocated for 24 hour drop in center,  hosted four emergency  conference calls to identify and schedule multiple outreach visits to  people at risk of freezing to death.

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Leadership Updates

There were a few more news stories about the change in leadership at NEOCH. 

April 14, 2017 WCPN news brief

Interview on the 42 mark of the Sound of Ideas on April 13 on the Sound of Ideas

There was a discussion at the end of the Weekly News Roundup on March 31 here.

We posted the job description for the staff that the NEOCH Board is hiring to lead the organization going forward.  It is the Director of Operations of NEOCH and is posted here.  The Board is going to take on more of a role while the organization transitions with board members taking on responsibilities for different programs such as the Congress and Street Newspaper. The Board will start doing interviews next week.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

 

Correcting A Few Misunderstandings

Mother Jones magazine focused on the Opioid crisis and the rise in deaths (click here).  They focused on the number of deaths in Cuyahoga County and how it is overwhelming our Medical Examiners' office.  NEOCH saw the effect of this crisis in December when we read the largest number of names of homeless people in our 30 year history.

Morning Edition on NPR had a report on the rise in death rates among white people (click here) in the United States in a despair index. This ties into the feelings of insecurity and the turning to drugs to self medicate in America.

"In a follow-up to their groundbreaking 2015 work, they say that a lack of steady, well-paying jobs for whites without college degrees has caused pain, distress and social dysfunction to build up over time. The mortality rate for that group, ages 45 to 54, increased by a half percent each year from 1999 to 2013."

These two stories illustrate my issues that I face at NEOCH everyday and why it is time for me to move on.  There have been a number of media stories in the local news and they might have provided some confusion that deserve further explanation.  This is not a problem with the reporting but more of space issues. 

1. My salary is not the issue.  I have never wanted more money and salary is not that important to me.  I am certain that I make at the low end of nearly every Executive Director in the community.  I am also sure that I could have asked for more money, which would only mean that I would have to raise more money to accomplish our goals at the Coalition.  We have always posted our Tax Returns and so my salary has never been a secret.  The Coalition had tough times where I had to take a salary cut, but I was never working at NEOCH for the money.

2.  I am not cutting and running when times get tough.  I have given 23 years to this struggle for housing justice, and we have had a lot of tough times over the years.  As my family can attest, I have lived and breathed homelessness for all those years.  I have waited for years for things to get better or at least focus political capital on housing or homelessness.  I have waited for the State or Federal government to turn to solving homelessness for everyone or to even prioritize homelessness in a national discussion. How long do I have to wait?  We took a sharp turn away from helping people in 2010 in Ohio and then a dramatic change at the federal level in 2016 away from housing as a human right. I need to work at a job in which I can solve problems.  I want to work in a state or on a community problem that can show victories and will not be deciding on how to cut the pie thinner each year among worthy populations.

3. Trump vs. Obama and the treatment of homeless people.  My point in bringing up the Trump election was not to say Obama was way better, because he wasn't.  My point was to say that if we lost 444 beds over the last 10 years, think about how bad it is going to be.  I mean, it is not going to get better based on the austerity budget proposed and the campaign rhetoric of "draining the swamp" by Trump.  As a housing advocate, I live in the swamp.  The new administration did not bring anyone in who spoke about the importance of housing or that infrastructure improvements should include affordable housing.  Obama was a community organizer in a public housing complex so he had some understanding of the issues.  Even with that understanding and appointing two long time housing advocates to run the Housing Department, we still saw reductions in the public housing budget and flat funding for homelessness (sequestration!).  My point was that if we could not see an improvement in the eight years of a housing friendly president, how bad is it going to get with a President who knows absolutely nothing about affordable housing?

4. I am just another over-reacting progressive. With all the work we do on voting, I understand that elections have consequences.  When there is such titanic change in society, a social justice group has to also change. NEOCH is working on changing and need a change in leadership.  I could wake up in the morning and work on convincing federal officials to be sensitive to local homeless issues or working with state issues to expand the Housing Trust Fund.  My issue is that the conflicts are growing and the problems facing homeless people are mounting.  The victories are growing fewer and the defeats are growing more frequent.  The number of homeless babies taken into custody of Cuyahoga County, and the number of families who have split up in order to get a bed in a shelter. When NEOCH was a bigger organization, we were housing people one every three days and providing other tools to end homelessness.  How many decades do we wait on a National Housing policy?

5. Is moving the answer? The Congress of the United States hates housing programs and when most of our elected officials think of draining the swamp, they are thinking of subsidized housing.  The new President and his cabinet officials show no affinity for affordable housing or that housing is related to the health of a community.  So, we are left with community organizing and public policy at the state level.  There are states that are trying to confront the issue of a lack of affordable housing and the rise in homelessness.  Ohio is not one of those states. It might be better to go to another state to be able to organize and agitate.  Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are contributing all that they can (or at least that is what they keep telling me), and so there is no one left to listen to my advocacy pitch. 

6. Is this an issue for NEOCH or homeless people?  NEOCH relies on very few public funds ($34,000), and while these dollars are under threat, it is only 20% of our monetary revenue in 2016.   NEOCH is not a direct service provider so we do not provide beds, food, or housing to the population.  We are the primary homeless advocacy organization in the community and we have built our organization around public policy and forwarding an advocacy agenda.  NEOCH should be fine and will look different, but is not in danger of closing.  That does not mean that we do not see the suffering and the growing number of problems facing our constituents.  This is why I have said that it is "soul crushing" to see what is happening and to realize what is coming soon.  Nothing that I have seen over the last five months has changed my mind about my assessment of the tidal wave of cuts coming to poor people. 

7. This is going to harm NEOCH.  I don't think this is correct.  I love NEOCH and would never do anything to harm to the organization.  I actually think that this could be a new beginning for NEOCH.  In the mid 1980s, NEOCH was started to help the shelters open new facilities to meet the increasing number of families.  We will just be starting over to meet a similar crisis.  The Coalition will be able to find a person who can meet those needs and may have the skills on developing new programs in the community.  Plus, this new person will not have all the baggage that I have in dealing with other groups including the local foundation community who hate to see charities fighting with other charities.

8. This is all around sour grapes regarding the Women's Shelter.  I actually gave my notice back in November, but agreed to stick around if West Side Catholic were given the contract to run the Women's Shelter. I really wanted to help improve the conditions at the Women's Shelter, but the County went another way.  In discussions with the NEOCH Board, it was decided that the Annual Meeting was the best time to announce the resignation.  Sure, it was a huge blow to NEOCH and to me that we had done all this work exposing all the problems at the Women's shelter and the County decided to continue the contract with Frontline Services. Even if we had gotten the shelter, this would have only delayed my decision until 2018.  I know that NEOCH, Metanoia and West Side Catholic could have created one of the best shelters in the State of Ohio. I know that the collaboration would have improved conditions; would have found overflow space for all the women asking for help, and would not have re-traumatized the women, but it was not to be.

9. The NEOCH History.  I am so proud of all that NEOCH has accomplished over the last 22 years.  We are one of only two cities that does not turn people away if they ask for shelter.  We have a federal court decision that is still in effect that protects homeless people from police arresting or threatening arrest for purely innocent behavior.  NEOCH has done a great deal to improve the shelters, and we have helped to coordinate all the activities of those who go out on the streets to serve those who are resistant to shelter. We successfully fought a Mayor who hated homeless people, and we put in place some really good annual events that should continue.  We have some really good training programs, an affordable housing website, plenty of good information on our website, and we have helped with plenty of successful lawsuits to protect homeless people.  The numbers living on the streets is down and the number of homeless veterans are also down.  Cleveland can be proud of a lot of successes regarding homeless people, but it is a fragile situation.  These advances can easily be overturned.  I think that we are in for some really tough times ahead.

10. We need all the homeless advocates now more than ever. I disagree with this sentiment.  It is extremely difficult to organize a transitory population like homeless people.  They are not well liked at City Hall and are horribly misunderstood.  They are often confused with panhandlers and do not have a natural constituency of support.  Advocates could work on the larger poverty issues with the hope that this translates to helping homeless people with housing.  It is hard to educate politicians by dispelling some of the myths associated with homeless people and never getting around to the solutions.  It is much easier to talk about families struggling to pay the rent or making decisions between baby formula or medicine. We need more shelters and social services right now.  We need an emergency response to a crisis.  Advocacy efforts in the area of housing will need to wait until there are better times.

11. What is wrong with the County?  Just as we need more funds to address the housing crisis, we need more confidence in government.  It is no help if money is pouring in, but no one is keeping an eye on the cookie jar.  If a low income person asks for help and they are pushed to a subpar facility with bad food and no one to go to in order to complain, they become discouraged with government.  They decide not to vote because "nothing changes." They talk to family and friends about how bad government is and how they got mistreated.  Cuyahoga County is in charge of homeless services and has made terrible decisions over the last 20 years.  Taxpayers are not well served by the homeless system constructed by Cuyahoga County.  There is no independent grievance process.  There is no oversight of the services so they are making a significant impact, friends are rewarded and critics are punished, and there is no plan.  No one tries to get every group focused in the same direction and no one ever tries to mediate the tensions that develop between these charities who often compete for funding.  We bounce from one federal trend to the next, and the County does not identify or fully support the essential needs in our community.  Tax paying women who lose their housing should never have to endure the trauma they go through in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.

12. Why would I have a resignation picture taken in a Hawaiian Shirt? This was an archive picture from last June 2016. We have Hawaiian Shirt Fridays during the summer at NEOCH as a team building exercise.  It is true that I am usually the only person who participates, but it does limit my future employment to a few islands in the Pacific.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Media About NEOCH Director's Resignation

This was left on our Facebook page and is touching so we thought we would give it more attention on our blog.  

"I'm so saddened to hear this news, when I was homeless I was blessed to meet him and he truly touched my heart. He talked to me and actually listened to my plight. He treated me with such respect which was something lots of people didn't do including the people that were supposed to be assisting us. He gave me his card and was interested in knowing my point of view of the agency that was helping. I actually felt like a human being instead of just a statistic. I wish he would stay but I wish him well but a little bit of my heart breaks for the people that are still struggling, I appreciated the time he took to talk to me and the hope he gave me." --Chellbaby E.

Here are the other stories about my resignation

Mark Naymik of the Plain Dealer wrote about it in his column. http://www.cleveland.com/naymik/index.ssf/2017/03/cle_chatter_citing_trump_budge.html

Mike Sangiacomo of Plain Dealer wrote about the resignation here.  http://www.cleveland.com/metro/index.ssf/2017/03/homeless_coalition_head_resign.html#incart_river_home (I forgot to say, why does the Plain Dealer allow for anonymous comments? They do not allow anonymous letters to the editor. Also, why the Hawaiian Shirt in March? Why not from the Memorial in December for the picture?

Eric Sandy of Cleveland Scene Magazine wrote about it here. http://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2017/03/23/the-director-of-the-northeast-ohio-coalition-for-the-homeless-is-resigning. No calls from the County wishing me well yet--keeping the telephone lines open.

Kabir Bhatia interviewed me about my stepping away from NEOCH here.  http://wksu.org/post/after-22-years-brian-davis-stepping-down-northeast-ohio-coalition-homeless

Forgot to include the link to the NEOCH Press Release here.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

NEOCH Director Announces Resignation

To:  NEOCH Membership

Because you are a supporter of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, I wanted to let you know that I have given notice to the Coalition. I am going to resign from NEOCH effective June 1, 2017.  The Coalition is releasing a strategic plan (click here) this week that will re-focus the agency on convincing the private sector to shelter, house and provide supportive services to those who lose their housing.  Under new leadership, NEOCH is going to take on an even more valuable role to figure out strategies to meet increasing demand for help.  NEOCH will continue working on fulfilling its mission of ending homelessness with new, energetic, hope filled and enthusiastic staff.   

NEOCH has a really strong Board and they have worked on a transition plan. There is a committee to find new leadership.  The NEOCH Board members all have a passion for social justice and want to make sure that homeless people are not forgotten in the broader discussion on poverty.  I have told the Board that I would be willing to assist the organization if I land in Cleveland, because I believe that NEOCH serves a critical purpose within the community.  I hope that you will continue to support NEOCH in order to make sure that the voices of homeless people will continue to be amplified.

It is a rough time for all those who value social justice and that is only complicated by bad decisions made by Cuyahoga County.  NEOCH has become one of the premier civil rights Coalitions in the country and has won many legal victories with the City and State of Ohio to protect the rights of those without housing.  NEOCH has done a great deal to improve conditions, organize the population and protect them from unreasonable laws or harmful public policies in Cleveland.  If we accept some credit for improvements, we have to take responsibility for the suicide attempts in the shelters and the rise in deaths among homeless people. The issues facing the Coalition in the next few years include the large number of families seeking help and the reality that many of these families have to split up when they go to shelter, disabled and elderly women sleeping on the floors, and pregnant homeless moms who lose their babies to foster care.

I worked with NEOCH for 22 years and have often rubbed the establishment the wrong way. A new person can try to build bridges and downplay the advocacy piece until there is a better time for social justice.  The agency can always use your volunteer assistance or your support in talking to elected officials on the importance of emergency housing assistance.  NEOCH is only as strong as its membership.

Sincerely,

Brian Davis

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Who You Gonna Call?

NEOCH is one of the last non-profits that actually has a human answering the phone as much as possible.  We get a ton of hangups, but we try to be available to answer questions in the community.  Since the shelters moved to a coordinated intake system even fewer places in the homeless social service system answer the phone.   We want to help, but for the most part there are only a few things we can help you with.

We do get some calls that are just people calling every single place possible hoping that they come across a guardian angel who will say, "We will give you rent to stay in your apartment come on down."  In Cleveland, this is as likely as calling around asking for a leprechaun to give up his pot of gold.  But most people are desperate for help so it is understandable.  Their world is collapsing around them and the phone is the only thing they have as a possible life saver. 

There is a trend among callers to say, "Hello, how are you doing?"  I know they are trying to be nice in the hopes that the person on the other line will offer the help they are looking for, but it is annoying.  They do not care how I am doing because I have said "terrible," or "rough" or any number of other responses and they just go forward and ignore your response.   Also, there are 23,000 homeless people, so we really don't have the time to chit chat about our issues.  We would prefer if you just ask the question so we can work on the 150 other things on our plate.   

Here are some reasons to call NEOCH (216/432-0540):

  1. If you see a homeless person that you are worried about and may need some outreach.  We will send an outreach staff person to come out to intervene. 
  2. If you are staying in a shelter or homeless service and need help filing a grievance or registering a complaint, give us a call. If you stay outside and feel you are being harassed or mistreated, please give us a call.
  3. If you are having any problems or have questions about voting for homeless people, give us a call.  If you need to know where to go to get mail or the address you should use as a homeless person to register to vote, call us.  If you are challenged at the polling place or get notification that your ballot may not count or were forced to vote by provisional ballot, give us a call. 
  4. If you work as an outreach worker and are calling for donated items, we love to hear from you.  Workers call for socks, tents, sleeping bags to see what is in stock. 
  5. Also, if you want to donate items to SocksPlus and need us to come downstairs to unload your car, feel free to call.
  6. If you have a public policy or advocacy issue that you want to talk to us about, we would love to hear from you.  If you want to ask why your family could stay together when they entered shelter or why do you have to give your social security number in order to get shelter, give us a call.
  7. If you want to volunteer for NEOCH, feel free to call and talk to Joyce.  If you want to volunteer with a direct service provider do not callGo to our website directly.
  8. If you want to sign up for one of our trainings or to get a login for the HousingCleveland website, feel free to call. 
  9. If you want to schedule a time for a formerly homeless individual to talk about their experience in moving out of homelessness with the Street Voices Program, please give Ken a call.
  10. The only job that we have is to sell the Street Newspaper.  Feel free to call Ken to set up a training in order to sell the paper. 

 Here are some areas that you might want to just go to our website and avoid calling.

  1. If you need a one page guide to local homeless services called the Street Card just go here to the website to print one out.  There is a vet street card, a family street card and even an easy to print card. 
  2. If you are confused about how to get into shelter in Cleveland and just need someone to explain it to you, here is a web page just for that purpose.  Or you can click the "Find Help" Button on the top of each page of the NEOCH Website. 
  3. If you want to find an old story from the Grapevine or the Chronicle, many but not all are on our website. 
  4. If you want to volunteer, it is probably easiest to go to our website to narrow down the choices.
  5. If you have questions about statistics and research, it is way easier to look at those on our website. 
  6. If you want to find available housing, it is best to look at Housing Cleveland.org for the 700 units that are available right now. 
  7. If you need a lawyer, we only have legal clinics out in the shelters.  You cannot call to get legal help anywhere.

These are reasons NOT to call NEOCH because we cannot help you!!!

  1. If you want to get in shelter, don't call!!!  Just go to 1736 Superior 2nd Floor.  There is no reason to call anyone, we cannot provide any information on the phone.  Every bed is assigned by Coordinated Intake on Superior and they cannot do that on the phone.
  2. If you need a referral to a social service provider or telephone number call 2-1-1 and not NEOCH.  We cannot help with this. 
  3. If you want rental assistance, we cannot help.  There are 55,000 people locally who need this kind of help, so you have a lot of people ahead of you. 
  4. If you need help to prevent an eviction call the Cleveland Tenants Organization, but please do not call NEOCH. 
  5. If you need help relocating to another community, please do not call NEOCH.  We do not want to see any more of a loss in the local population.  
  6. We do not have any jobs available except for the Street Newspaper.  No reason to call us.
  7. We do not give out donations directly from our office.  You have to get those from the outreach staff.  No reason to call NEOCH looking for donations. 
  8. We know that bus tickets are like gold in the homeless community.  There is no reason to call NEOCH or anywhere for a bus ticket--Gold is rarely given over the phone to a stranger.  Transportation is very expensive for low income and homeless people locally, we know that and you don't need to call us to remind us of this. 
  9. If you need utility assistance, don't call NEOCH.  There is a HEAP number to get an appointment and you can get that at 2-1-1. 

Wish that we could help more or that the County redesigned the Jobs and Family Services sites to be the one stop center for everyone struggling in the community.  This could increase confidence in government or show people that government can help.  We are at an all time low in confidence in government and this could help.  

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Josh Kanary: An Intimate Portrait from a Co-Worker

Josh giving thumbs up with the activists helping to drive homeless people to vote in 2008

Anyone who met Josh Kanary would describe him as kind, but he was far more than a surface-level "nice person." He was a guy who devoted his life to helping people -- to fight for the underdog, to focus on the otherwise forgotten. He was a homeless advocate, a community organizer, a self-described "oddity in an American world" who was about to receive his master's degree in social work. I met Josh while working at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH). We both worked as AmeriCorps*VISTAs and quickly became good friends.

Originally from Toledo, Josh was already working at NEOCH before I arrived. I remember him in the office, quiet and very polite. We were both involved in civil rights and advocacy, and quickly began collaborating on projects. During this time (in 2007) homeless people were increasingly subjected to hate crimes. Stories came out, nationally and locally, of homeless people being randomly assaulted by young men, many from the suburbs, who took videos of their attacks in some sort of prank. Josh was, rightly so, sickened by all this.

As the attacks increased (and some guys were making money selling these videos), the mainstream media took notice -- even Dr. Phil, who was running an episode wherein he confronted a guy at the forefront of these assault videos. Josh didn't know me well at the time, but he really wanted to see the show and didn't have cable. I remember him asking, sheepishly, if he could maybe, possibly, if it wasn't any trouble come over to my place and watch the show. I said yes, of course, and this was the start of us not only becoming partners-in-advocacy, but good friends.

We decided to focus on documenting hate crimes committed against homeless people in Cleveland. Together we took calls and met with people attacked on the streets and were both deeply affected by the stories we heard -- ambush attacks, stolen dogs, a whole lot of confusion. It was heartbreaking. Josh listened to countless stories of hardships. He never judged or jumped to conclusions -- he just listened with sincerity, documented everything and encouraged people to make police reports.

He had the idea of collecting national news stories of hate crimes to track where they were occurring. This research became part of the National Coalition for the Homeless' annual hate crimes report. I can remember him dropping news clippings on my desk, saying, "Did you hear what just happened…?" and so would begin lots of sighing and seemingly endless discussions on how the world was so messed up.

Josh never stopped caring. Instead of doing menial tasks to bide his time, he pushed his responsibilities further -- he organized music shows at homeless shelters, joined outreach teams to meet people living on the streets, helped with re-entry issues and wanted to visit homeless coalitions all across Ohio -- not because he had to, but because he felt it was the right thing to do. He wanted to get at the root of why people became homeless and who, exactly, homeless people were. He made surveys and gave out voicemail numbers to people who didn't have a phone yet needed a number to give out to friends, family or potential employers. Josh was always so proud of this service, impressed that something so simple could make a big difference for someone. 

Working to alleviate homelessness in one of the poorest cities in the country was a draining endeavor, yet Josh's humor and quick wit helped me get by. Much time was spent quoting The Simpsons and reading headlines from The Onion. He often invited me to watch him play guitar/banjo/harmonica at open mic nights; I likened him to Woody Guthrie… a Woody Guthrie who was also a gamer.

We frequently traveled to Columbus to meet with other VISTAs and hold conferences. Josh played CDs of old-time Americana music like Memphis Minnie, or maybe some Liz Phair or even video game soundtracks along the way. We'd never drive straight back. Instead we made a day of it -- I'd insist we'd get vegan bakery at Patty Cake and check out a retro clothing store; he would get a snickerdoodle and stand patiently in the store, commenting that the clothes were way too trendy (and hipster) for him. We even found ourselves temporarily homeless when a hotel we had to stay at rejected our supervisor's credit card. Even though it was late and we were starving and tired, Josh was still so polite.

AmeriCorps*VISTA terms last a year, but Josh signed up for a second year, and, in the process, inspired me to serve a second year as well. Whenever there was a slump in my work and I was left wondering what to do, I would go to Josh and he'd inspire me with another project. He got me back on track. Before we became VISTAs we had to take a training session in Chicago, but since we started at different times we didn't have the same session. I told him how at my training I was in a group that had to create and sing a song. The group chose to sing "Lean on Me" but inserted "VISTA" into the verses, so it went "Lean on me when you're not strong / And I'll be your VISTA, I'll help you carry on…"  Josh and I thought that was completely lame and would often recite those lyrics for a laugh. "You just call on a VISTA when you need a hand…" Funny though how, cheesiness aside, he was that VISTA.

After his two VISTA terms, Josh was hired at NEOCH as a community organizer, and then worked at a variety of non-profits while taking classes to get his Masters of Social Work from Cleveland State University. He figured a social work degree would enable him to continue helping disadvantaged people at a time when non-profit organizations weren't in positions to hire community organizers. During that time he adopted two cats, Lenny and Carl, and met Julie, who became his beloved wife. Josh left a positive impact on this world and will be missed.

Submitted by Sarah Valek

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