LOH GIVES ANOTHER SIDE OF THE HOMELESS CONGRESS MEETING

When Homeless People Meet OHS, Again:  What A Surprising Homeless Congress Meeting on Thursday, 13th July 2017

  Finally, NEOCH has a new director in charge, so that we can resume our monthly Homeless Congress Meeting to discuss all the lousy miserable homeless issues, again!

     Wait!  Who is coming to the Homeless Congress meeting this afternoon?  Wow, Ms. Ruth Gillett of the Office of Homeless Services!  She is brave enough to come back to this "brutal meeting" as she called it to her bosses?!  Oh, What?  She is here to talk about some Single Adults' Housing Strategies business ... AND answers questions?!  Hold on, first of all, Is there such a thing as Housing Strategies for Single Adults?

 

    Secondly, Ms. Gillett will ANSWER questions.  Oh, well, many still remember HOW she answered questions, or actually did NOT answer questions back in March and April, right! Afraid, be very afraid!  Will homeless people mistreat Ms. Gillett again?!  Curious to know ...... As the World Turns ......

       Huh?!  Who is that lovely lady sitting in the last row, definitely a new face at this meeting?  Ms. Gillett went to this lady to greet her, so she must be with Ms. Gillett.  All right, now the meeting starts with Mr. Roy Love, i.e. NEOCH Board President, to get the agenda for this meeting and the minutes of the previous meeting approved. But, an elderly homeless grandma already starts asking questions to Ms. Gillett.  Oh, how hungry are we homeless people!  Trying to find answers for our problems everywhere and anytime.  In all likelihood and most probably we will find NONE!

       Now, the meeting and events homeless people should pay attention in our community are announced.  And...here comes the drum roll...finally, the new guy in charge is introduced, Mr. Christopher Knestrick!  Unfortunately, he is sitting at the front, and not jumping out of a huge cake!  But, he is looking good, and his voice...wow, talk about a new face for NEOCH, and a new voice for homeless people!

      Now, it is time for the Reality TV show!!  What?!  Ms. Gillett always seems like such a nice Grandma, but at this meeting, she suddenly turns into a tough Grandma?  She proclaims that she does NOT have to come to these meetings because we were disrespectful to her in past meetings.  But she still decided to come to inform us the new policy and the vote at a big "advisory" meeting next week.  Wow!  What should we do now?!  All go to sit in a corner and have a "time out" as they do at the women's shelter.  Or, no food tonight ... which happens nearly every night at the shelter, anyway. 

     Well, after she begins telling us about this new policy, the elderly homeless grandma starts in on her legitimate questions which cannot wait any longer, and just like the shelter doors opening at 3 pm, others also start asking questions.  But, they are all well-behaved, waiting to be called on by the new guy in charge.  However, the answers from Ms. Gillett have NOT changed much.  Some questions she ignores while others she does not really answer in a straightforward manner.  Lots of spin, but no real answers, again!

      Now, in the middle, our new guy in charge, honestly and politely, asks two questions.  And, our Tough Grandma, Ms Gillett, says that Chris's question is INSULTING?!  Please!  He is new to the job.  This is his 7th business day at work.  Can't she even give him a little break?!  He only wants to know if there is anything for the staff or case workers when they do NOT do their jobs properly or do NOT do their jobs at all.   The proposed policy clearly states that homeless people will receive NO services at the shelters after turning down three housing offers.  And his questions are based on what he hears right here right now in this meeting from all the questions and comments, and especially, from the women sleeping at the Payne Avenue shelter.

       Guess what Tough Grandma says?  Now, she sarcastically asks what Chris would do with the staff. She wants to know our new guy wants the staff and case workers to be FIRED or to be SHOT in the Dark?!  Well, our new director at NEOCH does NOT mean that and Ms. Gillett knows it, correct?  But Tough Grandma ONLY has a one-sentence answer for Chris's legitimate question:  "The staff will be held accountable."

     She is the one forgetting that in this new proposed policy, there is NO mention of impartial third party to handle the grievances for homeless people.  In addition to that, as always, Gillett never mentions what actions to take when the staff and case workers do not perform or even fail residents.  Our new guy just points out the obvious.  What a plot twist!  Nobody sees that coming.  Or, do they?

       But, wait a minute!  If a homeless person can be FIRED or punished from a homeless shelter to get SHOT in the dark or put in permanent time-out because they turn down three housing choices, why can't the bad staff or careless case workers have their pay cut or face some punishment for not performing  their duties to help homeless people?!

        Anyway, after the presentation and the Q&As, Ms. Gillett leaves the meeting before the meeting is really finished as she has done in the past.  But there are many voices to whom saying, "thank you," and "have a nice evening," ...... and so on.  But, that lovely lady sitting in the last row, she continues writing notes, and she does not leave! 

        Our new guy at NEOCH is brave, no doubt.  After asking his "insulting question" that offends Ms. Gillett, he continues the meeting without having a mental breakdown.  Maybe, he will have a future at this job after all.

       Raffle tickets are drawn, two winners are happily receiving their prizes.  Then time for the update of new Women's Shelter Bidding Process after the failure of the last process.  Oh, FrontLine Service is NOT entering the Bid?  Thanks, whoever made this possible.

 

     And then we talk about the letter to the new CEO of ADAMHS Board to re-state our wish to support a separate facility for homeless people with severe mental health issues.  Sure, the new guy also reminds us NEOCH can no longer help sheltered homeless people to file grievances.  But, now we can go to County Council Meetings to do so. Oh, that lovely lady is still writing notes throughout the whole meeting, even at the end of the meeting? Her hand is probably very, very sore by now, but her notes are probably even more than notes taken by one of her bosses from the County.  Cuyahoga County Councilman, Dale Miller attended the March Homeless Congress meeting  and he really listened to all of us, and of course Ms. Gillett.  We can tell that Councilman Miller really listened because he brought up many of the complaints at a County Council meeting and made staff from Frontline Services answer the concerns of many of the women. And the responses from Frontline staff were not up to the satisfaction of the County Council who cut their contract from 3 years to 8 months. 

        Well, that's about it.  What a meeting!  Let's have a toast to our new guy surviving his first meeting with his "insulting question," and to our being "disrespectful" to a person who earns a salary from taxpayers. 

~~~  Narrated by "Troublemaker" Loh  ~~~

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County Attempts to Reduce Number of Single Adults Using Shelter

We have documented the attempt to reduce the number of people who reside in the County shelters with a committee that the County created.  They had proposed an awful recommendation in March that we editorialized would add to the number of people sleeping outside. After Paul Sherlock and Jim Schlecht passionately decried the potential rules would harm homeless people, the rules were tabled for further study. 

The County committee met and our friend, Loh, attended and gave us a summary of the results. These are potential rules for the shelters.  This has to be voted on by the "Homeless Discussion Group" known as the Office of Homeless Services Advisory.   There are problems, but this is a huge victory for the advocates.  Cleveland will not shrink from its commitment to provide shelter to everyone in need. 

Recommendation from the Single Adults Committee Meeting

June 15, 2017

Exit Plan required of all shelter residents:

  • Within 1 week of arrival (at least a start)
  • Needs to include: income, safety, client choice
  • To be documented
  • 45 days

Review of Rights & Expectations

  • Within 24 hrs
  • To include Exit Plan, Follow-up expectations
  • To be documented

Exit Plan Follow-up by Shelter Staff

  • Frequency depending upon level of need
  • To be documented

 Resident Expectation:

  • Actively engage in Housing Plan

Staff Expectation:

  • Communicate with Outreach Partners
  • Continued effort with those who have yet to be successfully engaged
  • To Be documented

If shelter residents have not moved out of shelter after 3 appropriate housing offers the following would take place:

  • Cleveland Mediation Center (Editor's Note: which is now a program of the largest homeless service provider Frontline Services) will host a mediation between the resident and shelter staff
  • If the resident continued to reside at the shelter after the 3 housing offers and the mediation agreement, the resident’s shelter services would be curtailed to basic shelter accommodation.
  • Residents could appeal the shelter service limitation using the shelter grievance policy.

This is a victory for advocacy that no one will be kicked out to the streets and we have to thank Jim Schlecht and Paul Sherlock for the advocacy.  The reality is that the Women's shelter is only a basic shelter accommodations so there is really nothing to take away from the 200 women staying on Payne Ave at night.  There are couple of things to consider with this committee:

  1. There are such a small number of people who fall under this policy is it really worth all these meetings?  Very few people in our community turn down housing, and it will not free up much space.  There are so many waiting for every bed left in our community that this small population is hardly the problem. 
  2. There is nothing in these rules that puts pressure on the agencies to be better at managing the multiple barriers to housing for their clients.  Women with a mental illness, huge debt issues, and previous evictions are hard to house.  Guys with a sexually based offense or an arson conviction are extremely hard to house, but the agencies are not stressed to work with individuals on their individual needs in the same way the residents are pressured to get out of the shelter. 
  3. Case managers force people to bend to a small number of programs available in our community instead of trying to find the best path off the streets for those in need.  They do not set up hours that are conducive to the residents or make things clear to those seeking help.  No one takes the time to explain the homeless landscape and the services available to those struggling with housing. 
  4. None of these rules address all the barriers that we have created in our society.  The lack of acceptance that people make mistakes and need to be given a second chance or the unreasonable expectations built into our economy are not one of the bullet points.  The inability to prepare people to live independently or be able to afford to pay rent are not looked at by these committees.  The racism and discrimination that are on the rise in our society are never factored into these plans.  The shredded safety net and frustration in dealing with the health care industry are not discussed in any of these documents. 
  5. If you were the director of a shelter, would you want another shelter's program mediate for you?  Would one small landlord want another giant landlord conglomerate to come in and mediate between the small landlord and their tenant?
  6. The entire grievance process is broken in the shelters and so this needs to be corrected.
  7. Also, the reality is that most people don't ever want to sleep in a shelter.  They have no privacy and are extremely overcrowded with bunk beds everywhere.  When they get to be like the Renaissance Hotel in Downtown Cleveland then we can talk about people overstaying their welcome. 

If the committee wants to address the rise in Single Adult homeless people there are so many other areas they could focus instead they are focused on the small number of people who have given up.  We cannot expect as a society to have neglected affordable housing for 25 years and not see a sharp increase in homelessness.  We heard about a used car lot on the East Side of Cleveland that keeps its cars open at night so that people do not break the windows and every morning they have to wake up homeless people and ask them to exit the cars.  The lack of shelter beds, the lack of trained staff who can help people, and the many barriers that society puts in people's way would be a good place to start the discussion of why there are so many single adults asking for help.

Brian Davis

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Update on Limiting Shelters in Cleveland

This came up in the previous Office of Homeless Services in March, but was tabled after Paul and Jim from Metanoia showed up to protest.   Here is the previous proposal for shelters: "Shelter will be limited for those who refuse to participate in a housing plan or refuse to accept stable housing when offered."

Here is the new suggestion:  "Shelter maybe limited for those who have available resources and refuse all options for stable housing.  Determination to restrict will be based on a case by case review at each shelter site."

Here are my questions for those who are proposing this requirement:

  1. Is there some oversight by an impartial third party without a bias of these decisions by the shelters?
  2. Can you appeal this decision to County Council if you were improperly denied the life sustaining bed in shelter?
  3. Why are we so involved in people’s personal business? As we said previously there are 1,000 reasons why a person would reject housing (it is located in a high crime neighborhood; I was raped in that neighborhood; it is where my abuser lives; it is too small for when I get my kids back; it is not on a busline; it is no where near my job, etc.)
  4. Who will take responsibility for these people when outreach find them living on the streets and will they provide more money to the street outreach teams?
  5. When the street populations increases after this policy is implemented will the County take responsibility for the increasing numbers of panhandlers and people sleeping outside?
  6. How can the County find money for new glass for the Q, but cannot find money for women who need help moving into housing and therefore turn down Frontline’s recommendation for housing? 
  7. Will the family shelter and men’s entry shelter share this information with other shelters when they deny someone shelter?  Thus creating a blacklist of bad homeless people who refuse housing?
  8. If it is determined that staff made a mistake in their determination to deny a shelter bed to a disabled individual, can the County require that staff person to sleep on the street for a period of time?
  9. Is this a solution looking for a problem?  How many people are actually rejecting houisng for a frivolous reason?
  10. Can someone explain to me how this policy will help us locally?  What is the cost/benefit analysis of this project?  Is it worth the hassle since staff will inevitably misinterpret it? Will it save the county any money or just cost more money with incarceration and emergency room visits? 

We have heard that Cleveland Mediation Center will handle grievances from this policy.  The problem is that the Cleveland Mediation Center was recently taken over by Frontline Services, a shelter provider.  So, Frontline staff will be deciding if another Frontline staff person made the correct decision in denying shelter or if another shelter provider made the correct decision.  Would a landlord allow another landlord to decide the validity of their eviction instead of an impartial judge at Housing Court? 

This is government turning away from its own constituents who need the most help.  This will be voted on at the Office of Homeless Services meeting on May 18 at Greenbridge apartments at East 75th and Euclid across from Aldi's (right on the Healthline).  We hope that Paul and Jim will be able to make it to talk about how this "improvement" does not address the fundamental flaws in the previous proposal.

Brian Davis

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County Plan Will Result in More Sleeping Outside

Cuyahoga County has a problem.  There are too many people sleeping in the two entry shelters.  We are one of the last cities in the United States that does not turn people away if they ask for help.  There are so many asking for help that we are constantly running overflow and the Women's shelter is dramatically overcrowded among the hundreds of issues on Payne Ave. (How many days in a row do you run overflow before it becomes the actual number of beds needed?)  The County floated an idea for time limits as a response, but instead came up with these new rules to be included in the contracts of every publicly funded shelters.  The County Office of Homeless Services Advisory will be asked to approve these new rules for shelters in Cuyahoga County.   

Guiding Principles for Emergency Shelter

  • Shelter is a temporary, safe space for people who are literally homeless*, fleeing domestic violence, or a victim of human trafficking.
  • Shelter should be brief, rare, and non-recurrent.
  • Shelter services focus on helping individuals and families access stable housing.

Shelter should be BRIEF :

  • Shelter staff and clients will work together to develop a housing plan with a goal of rapidly exiting shelter.
  • Shelter will be limited for those who refuse to participate in a housing plan or refuse to accept stable housing when offered.
  • Shelter staff will prioritize staff time and resources to reduce length of stay

 Shelter should be RARE:

  • Shelter entry is the community safety net to be accessed after appropriate interventions such as prevention, diversion, and accessing other systems’ resources have been fully explored.

Shelter should be NON-RECURRENT:

  • Returns to shelter will be minimized by stable housing, linkage to resources, and after care when appropriate.

These are some fancy words, but they shift the burden of housing people from the shelters to the jails, RTA buses, hospitals, libraries, and outreach workers.  We hope you Cuyahoga County tax payers don't mind a homeless guy sleeping on their shoulders on the bus because that person struggling with an addiction could not get into shelter. How are all these policies directed only at the homeless individual?  Where is the punishment for the staff who do not understand the resources available in our community and are making bad referrals?  What about punishments for the continued employment of frustrated, burnt out and poorly trained staff?  Where is the punishment for the County officials who shut down too many shelter beds (520 over the last dozen years)?  How about a strategy that if your agency places people in housing and 25% return to seek shelter in six months, all of that staff loses their offices and desks? They would have to perform their duties in their car until they get their numbers down; or how about they lose salary; or even lose the contract for overseeing those services?

I am still looking for one strategy from the above information for how to deal with single adults.  These are broad lofty goals with affirming language that no one could disagree with (brief, rare, non-recurrent), but what does it mean?  The policies the County outlined have to be the most offensive policies put on paper in the last 20 years.  I can give you 5,000 different good reasons that an individual would turn down housing and yet the County and the shelter staff are going to respond to those choices that a family makes by declaring them ineligible for shelter. 

  • The grandmother who lived over on Imperial Ave and does not want to be in the Mt. Pleasant area because she came face to face with a serial killer.
  • The young mom who was raped on Lorain Ave. and she declines housing over in that neighborhood, because she does not want to meet her attacker at the store. 
  • The Dad who realizes that there is no grocery store in the area and they do not want to take two buses to get food.
  • The family that wants to hold out for housing near their school that their kids' love and have been so beneficial to their education. 
  • Or the mentally ill guy who believe that there are aliens on Woodland and declines housing. 
  • All of these people are fragile, damaged or make a logical choice that helps their family and need help filling their housing needs.  They do not need to be punished for their decisions. 

My problem is that staff will misunderstand these goals and use them as weapons against residents instead of using them to encourage housing.  We still have staff who misunderstood the preference for those who have been homeless for a long period of time.  Staff at the Women's Shelter are saying that they can only help the residents with housing after they been homeless for that magic one year mark.  I can’t even imagine how this new rule will be used to reduce the “problem” people at the shelter.  They could just declare that the person turned down housing and must leave the shelter at 11 p.m. after a verbal outburst by that resident against the staff.  A quick and easy discharge with no grievance, paperwork or chance for appeal and all in compliance with the new County rule.

In Cuyahoga County, we do not have any oversight of the shelters.  There is no one to go in order to appeal a denial of service to an impartial third party.  So, when a decision is made that the person is ineligible for shelter because they turned down housing where do they go to appeal this decision?  The County policy does not put in place a mechanism for appeal of these decisions. They are expected to go before the director of the shelter and hope that that director goes against their own staff. 

Any group or individual who votes for this policy is publicly stating that they don’t care if more people sleep on the streets of Cleveland.  The result of this policy is that you will have more trying to stay safe in the emergency rooms or riding the RTA all night or sleeping on the streets or abandoned buildings.  Taxpayers will see a decline in the number of people using the shelters, but we will all have to witness a rise in the numbers outside. The meeting is Thursday March 16 at 9 a.m. at the ADAMHS Board on the 6th Floor (2012 West 25th St.), and is open to the public.  This will mean a much bigger population at Metanoia next year, and all the day time drop in centers will have more people seeking help.

We are the richest country in the history of man, and we cannot give a homeless guy with a mental illness a mat on the floor?  Cuyahoga County has enough extra in tax dollars to dress up the arena with more glass, but we are complaining about too many adults seeking shelter?   If Cuyahoga County, Frontline Services and Lutheran Metro Ministry are struggling so much with the numbers, ask the voters to contribute money to a shelter fund so they don’t have to walk over people on the sidewalks.  Who is going to act as a leader in effectively addressing homelessness instead of just coming up with new strategies to harass poor people into being ashamed that they have to ask for help?

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

PS: Thanks to Paul Sherlock and Jim Schlecht for showing up for the meeting.  This proposal was tabled for the committee to redraft and resubmit to the County. Thanks to Loh and Ramona from the Homeless Congress and Linda from City Mission who spoke clearly that this policy needs more work before it is ready for prime time.  We will keep the readers posted when this comes back at the May meeting.

No Bid Contracts in Cuyahoga County Homeless Services

NEOCH staff testified against the no bid contract being provided to Coordinated Intake operated by Frontline Services today.  We do not support these contracts especially when combined with the $700,000 given to EDEN for Rapid Rehousing this is over $1 million going to this endeavor without a competative bidder.  We believe that there are others in the community who could do this critical service in Cleveland or there should be a discussion if the County themselves should be overseeing Intake to save us money.  We believe that an RFP process could get some reform of the Intake to be fairer to homeless people and more transparent for the community.  Here is the letter that we submitted to the County Controlling Board.

July 28, 2016

Cuyahoga County Board of Control             
2079 East 9th Street, 4th Floor - Committee Room B
Cleveland, Ohio 44115

RE: Coordinated Intake Funding Request

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless was informed that the expansion of Coordinated Intake would receive funding without a competitive bid.  We oppose this decision and hope that the Controlling Board will intervene to force a competitive bid.  We believe that selecting which shelter a person must go to and who receives rapid rehousing rental dollars is so important that we must as a community assure that the correct provider is in place for this critical service.  We also do not believe that we have ever had a discussion as a community to determine if this service would not be better undertaken by the County Department of Jobs and Family Services. 

The staff at Coordinated Intake are very nice people and in fact one of the managers is a former employee of NEOCH.  The lack of transparency by the current provider and the inability to provide oversight with the current contract are the main issues for NEOCH.  These funds came to Cuyahoga County because a number of men’s shelters were closed.  These shelters provided housing for single males for an average of six to eight months on average, and now those beds are removed from the system.  We lost women and family beds over the last six years and we do not want to turn the men’s system into the disaster of the women’s system. There is only one way for government to make big decisions and that is through the contracting process. 

This contract was last put out for bid in 2012 after an extremely corrupt process in 2009 for awarding this contract.  We did not have much of a track record and we did not understand the full ramifications Coordinated Intake.  We did not realize the impact on the shelters and the transformation of the emergency shelter system locally.  We did not realize when this was started that the women and family shelters would disappear so rapidly.  We did not realize that the Central Intake would demand that homeless people go through Intake or lose their status as a homeless person.  Now, we see the full ramifications of the Intake and we need to step back to set guidelines and refine the goals for reducing homelessness.  

The current Coordinated Intake is not responsive at all to the public, and a person’s fate for where they will sleep at night is in this Coordinated Intake’s hands.  They have never had their rules approved by any other agencies or homeless people.  They have never talked to homeless people about the goals, prioritizing of certain populations over others or the morality of diverting mothers with children from shelter.  We still do not know how the grievance process works for intake, and we have never had an honest debate about the cost/benefit analysis of emergency shelter vs transitional shelters vs. permanent supportive housing.

We are especially concerned about the diversion of families away from shelter.  We believe that this will lead to a tragedy in which a woman returns to her abuser and is killed.  We have already met women sleeping in their cars with their children because they were afraid to reveal too much information to the staff at Coordinated Intake.  Families are not always clear about their access to shelter locally and are not clear about the responsibilities of the Intake staff to report possible abuse to Children and Family Services.  The merits and ethics of diversion have not been debated publicly and yet 24% of the families who seek shelter in Cuyahoga County are sent away. 

I believe that if a private company wants to supplant the County Government with an essential service, they need to show good cause for why they can far exceed Cuyahoga County from overseeing this operation.  Shouldn’t low income people struggling with housing see a case worker employed by the County in order to assess what other benefits they may be eligible for as well? Wouldn’t Cuyahoga County be more invested in the conditions of the shelters if they were sending people to the shelters every day?  Couldn’t Cuyahoga County Department of Jobs and Family Services do this service better and for less money without all the overhead of buildings and administration or additional staff? 

We have yet to hear a good reason for why this contract should not be put up for bid.  It is a large expansion of the current contract with additional rental assistance available.  Most of the shelter contracts in Cleveland combine pools of other resources, but that does not mean that they cannot withstand the scrutiny of a request for proposal process.  We want to see a public bidding process to provide some level of transparency to this extremely powerful and secretive organization.  We never get any release of information on the number of people sleeping on the floor every night or the number of people denied a medical bed or the number of families split up every night.  How do we provide solutions to the problems associated with homelessness if we do not get reliable, up-to-date information about the number of people falling into homelessness? 

United Way First Call for Help has an updated daily dashboard on the essential services they offer through their 2-1-1 telephone referral system.  I can login right now to find how many people are seeking help with food, shelter or housing every day from 2-1-1.  This is a case of a private non-profit offering a superior product to government and providing regular information to the community.   Shouldn’t community leaders know how many families are seeking shelter this week or this month and how many we could not provide a bed?  Do we know if First Call for Help might be interested in expanding their service to include Coordinated Intake?  They certainly would be more transparent and would create an advisory board similar to the one they created when they took over the affordable housing website locally, HousingCleveland.org. 

We have to wonder if the reason that we do not get information out of Coordinated Intake is that it paints a negative picture of the organization.  Frontline Services runs the largest women’s shelter in Cleveland at the same time as Intake and they are the leading proponent to permanent supportive housing.  What if the release of information would show that they are doing a horrible job at the Women’s shelter or that there has been a significant uptick in people failing out of permanent supportive housing and going back to shelter?  We need an unbiased intermediary to provide referrals to shelter who can be open and honest in the release of information.

We urge you to intervene here and order that the Office of Homeless Service undertake an open and transparent process for selecting a Coordinated Intake provider.  We need enough time to allow for those groups to respond and we need some strict outcomes that involve community input.  We want the system to take into account the unique needs of homeless people and to provide information to the general public.

Thank you for your time and your service to the community.

Sincerely,

Brian Davis

The County Controlling Board tabled the $500,000 contract for Frontline Services until next Monday August 8 at 11 a.m. at their regularly scheduled meeting.  We will be present to correct some of the things that were brought up by staff at the meeting today in order to ask that the County seek bids for this service. 

Brian Davis

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Who Should Represent Homeless People?

This is an inside baseball post and may be way too far into the weeds for most people, but we did advertise back in June for homeless people to apply for the Office of Homeless of Services Advisory Board so we should provide an update.  The County Office of Homeless Services approves the $30 million that comes to Cleveland for the shelters and the housing for homeless people.  They recently changed their bylaws and the composition of their membership.  They tried to reduce the people sitting on the board with a conflict of interest and added four positions for homeless people.  This was a much needed reform, but the big problem with this group is there is never an alternative or an ability to tweak the proposals up for a vote.  The voting process is all or nothing.  They give the voting members an up or down vote on everything. For example either vote "yes" to accept the $30 million or vote "no" and all the shelters close?  We faced the same choice with the vote over new members.  We were offered a vote on a slate of candidates of 15 total while 31 individuals had applied.  It was yes to all 15 candidates selected by some committee or no and there is no board, I guess? All of our expertise and knowledge are disrespected when we are a rubber stamp for staff or an unelected committee. 

All the votes are pro forma with the work done in committee or by staff and the board in a similar manner to the old County Commissioners who were just rubber stamps for a bunch of insiders and patrons.  NEOCH advertised the fact that there were four slots open to homeless or formerly homeless on the advisory board from the two who were currently on the board, and homeless people responded.  Fourteen people applied with 7 currently living in the shelters.  One person stands out for his nerve to take one of these slots.  Keith Moody applied for one of the four homeless slots.  He is staff of the Veterans Administration and has been staff for at least 17 years or more.  He also has a board membership of one of the local shelters.  He had been sitting on the board for years as a "homeless advocate" and so he has gotten to know the other board members, but he has not been homeless for over 20 years. 

The Board members did not get to see the applications or even the reason why the committee selected the candidates for developing this slate.  In fact, the paperwork distributed to the board for a vote gave no biographical information for any of the candidates and did not even list where these indivduals worked.  It was a "trust us" vote.  The committee did all the work for us so we didn't have to worry our pretty little heads about the details.  Full disclosure NEOCH fought to maintain one appointment to the OHS advisory that does not need the full vote of the advisory just like the City, County, and Housing Authority.  When the advisory was chartered by the City and County in 1993, NEOCH had three appointment positions. 

Moody rarely interacts with homeless people except as their case worker.  He does not know anything about sleeping in the shelters. He does not attend the Homeless Congress meetings and does not listen to the issues facing people struggling with housing.  There were plenty of other choices, but the committee was familiar with Keith Moody so they selected him for one of the precious homeless slots.   I don't understand why the Veterans Administration allows a staff person to take a homeless position on the Advisory when they have their own position and that staff is certainly not homeless. 

Moody does not understand the challenges facing women in shelter with the closing down of so many shelter beds or the waiting list for families to get assistance because he rarely communicates with these individuals.   He does not understand the lack of fair housing rights enforcement in the shelters or the fact that the grievance process is broken in Cuyahoga County.    Keith is a personable guy who gets along with most of the board so it would be tough to tell him that he is no longer welcome as a voting member.  This is why Moody should have never applied as a formerly homeless person and put these overly nice committee members in this difficult position. 

We had a board member who applied and was homeless five years ago.  He decided that it was too long ago to use his homeless status in the application.  He applied for one of the open slots as a community member.  Since many of the committee did not know who he was, he was not selected.  While Moody used his long ago status as a homeless person to nudge out the other 16 people who applied and were denied a spot on the board.  We hope that the group tightens up the application process and the qualifications for membership to assure that this valuable slot is reserved for individuals who have some recent contact with people experiencing homelessness.

Brian Davis

By the way the picture is of Loh with those bizarre snails downtown.  Loh received a slot on the OHS Advisory. 

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Homeless Congress Notes for June 2016

The June 9th Homeless Congress meeting was the last meeting before the RNC, so it was important to discuss the changes in the voting process for the upcoming presidential election.

 Ed is a long term member of Homeless CongreFirst, it was reported that Voting Golden Week is back, which allows anyone not registered to register and vote on the same day.  Golden Week is the first week of October.  Between October 5th and 12th is the tentative dates for Golden Week, but this has not been confirmed because it is currently being appealed. 

 NEOCH did win the lawsuit pertaining to Absentee ballots after thousands of ballots were thrown out in the past for something as small as putting in one wrong digit in your zip code.  Information on what is allowed was discussed in detail to ensure that residents are prepared for the upcoming election and NEOCH will be registering anyone that is not registered over the summer.

 NEOCH is also suing because many voters were purged from the voting roles.   The state did not follow the proper procedure in the purge.  Anyone who has not voted since 2008 probably was purged. 

 Members were informed and encouraged to join the Office of Homeless Services Advisory Board.  The current Board members are encouraged to be on a sub-committee.  The term is 2yrs. or 3 yrs.. This will allow the Congress members to better understand what is needed to address the problems they are having to overcome homelessness and be better prepared to address any barriers to housing.  They were also informed that it will not be a problem to use the West Side Catholic Center as their voting address after discussion with the US Postal Service.

 The problems and concerns addressed at the hearing were the next topic of discussion.  The 13 solutions recommended by the Homeless Congress on how to reform the Community Women’s Shelter were discussed and the May 2016 Congress meeting with Cuyahoga County Council President Dan Brady.  He agreed to try to meet the deadline set by Congress for September 2016 which states that “if changes are not implemented by September 2016, the Homeless Congress will revisit the idea of changing the service provider who oversees the Community Women’s Shelter."

Then there was a discussion about the upcoming RNC, and the lawsuit filed by the NEOCH and Organize Ohio by the ACLU.   The problems that the RNC will impose on the homeless population was also addressed. To name a few:  The event zone territory encompasses “4 of the 5 largest shelters in Cleveland, a daytime drop in center and the healthcare for the homeless site”, and the “prohibited items are common items that homeless people carry everyday”. 

 Brian Davis wrote a letter to the Chief of Police to voice his concerns and to advocate for the homeless population to avoid any unnecessary arrests.  He asked that 1) “The event zone be reduced in size”, 2) “Homeless people should be cited as residents who are exempt in Section III (c) …” This is especially important with all the out of town police coming in … or the important bond of trust built up over the years between homeless service providers and the Cleveland Police Department or”, 3) The City could provide $85,000 for two months’ worth of rental assistance…” to put displaced individuals in “housing for the summer”…

 At the time of this meeting a law suit had not been filed.  One was later filed by Organize! Ohio, NEOCH, and Citizens for Trump for various reasons. [In late June, these organizations won the lawsuit.  Organize! Ohio’s complaint was in regard route limitations for the upcoming March to End Poverty 2016 and permits, NEOCH’s was in regard to the restrictions that effect the homeless population and access to services etc.. and Citizens for Trump’s was permit and limitations specific to march routes.]

 The Bishop Cosgrove Center will be closed during the RNC, but shelters will be open. 

 The Justice Center is also doing their part by clearing out a few beds to accommodate for possible arrests.  There was a brief discussion of the ability for those who use the shelter and get a disability check, which we will take up in the future.   Congress needs to focus the August meeting on priorities for the next year. 

 by Ramona Turnbull

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County Advisory Looking for Homeless Members

The Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services is looking for homeless people to serve on the board.   The Board decides on the regulations for operating a shelter in Cleveland (but does not enforce these regulations) and which agency gets the funds.  Most of the rest is just discussing homelessness locally.  Here is the flyer created by the OHS staff.

They are going to select 2 to 4 homeless people to be on the board.  Below is the application to print out.  Applications are due by June 17.   The application asks if you were "literally homeless."  This is a bizarre expression created by HUD that makes no sense.  HUD has been using it to clarify that the person meets the HUD definition of homelessness, but that is the most limiting definition.  It does not include those living in a garage or basement, doubled up with a friend, just out of jail, living in a motel or a bunch of other scenarios.  it is not the understanding of homelessness that the man-on-the-street would use.  It is actually the figurative definition of homelessness, but in this backward world of homelessness "literally" means "figuratively" and vice versa.  Weird. 

The application does not ask when the person was figuratively homeless so they can avoid people who had their most recent experience with homelessness in the 1980s or 1990s.  Also, it does not indicate how the committee will decide between one homeless person over another.  There are no demographic information if they would want to get representation from a certain group (LGBT, veteran, families, or youth, etc.)  Hopefully, this will be corrected for 2017.

 Application for OHS Advisory

 

 

Brian Davis

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Still Missing Cuyahoga County Council

Despite the rumours to the contrary the Community Women's shelter is still in need a dramatic reform. Staff have not been trained properly and are still disrespectful.  Grievances are not followed up on, and management dismiss the concerns of the women.  We are so thankful to have heard from Councilman Dale Miller in January, but we want to hear from the others.  We want them to visit the shelter at 9:30 p.m to see the devastating conditions that they fund.  If County staff are saying that we are exaggerating the number of people sleeping in the shelter, then the County Council members should take the time to go over to the shelter at 9:30 p.m. and count the number of women sleeping there.  Sit down with them and talk about the issues in confidence to avoid retaliation problems.  We want to meet with the women who live in the shelter and tell them to their faces that they are exaggerating the extent of the problem as was said at the January 20 meeting by County staff.  We want them to come to the Homeless Congress meetings to hear directly from County taxpayers forced to stay in the shelter. Congress meets on the second Thursday of the month at 1 p.m. at Cosgrove Center.  Now, that the Council has a larger salary, how about going out to some of the facilities you fund to see how they operate and if you are proud of the services being offered?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Brian Davis

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PS: Putting 30 more beds into an already overcrowded shelter with staff who have lost all compassion is not helpful.

Rest in Peace: Transitional Shelters

We had a presentation from the consultant the County hired in July about the changes that are taking place with regard to the Department of Housing and Urban Development funding and the rules associated with receiving funds from the federal government.  Suzanne Wagner, a national consultant and huge cheerleader for Permanent Supportive Housing, came to Cleveland to tell us that the time is up for transitional programs.  The studies have all been done, the research is complete and the transitional programs are too expensive and keep people homeless for too long.  So get ready to convert the transitional shelters to something else.

We have steadily moved forward with this plan to eliminate transitional programs by de-funding all the transitional beds for women.  Some of those units were transformed into permanent supportive housing with the optimum word permanent.  While the average  transitional bed may turn over once or twice a year, the average PSH bed turns over once or twice every 10 to 15 years.   If these beds are not replaced it creates a back up on the front end of the shelters.  We have steadily lost transitional beds while steadily increasing the number of overflow or temporary beds locally. 

Yes, there are studies that show PSH are more economic for the community, but they do not compare apples to apples with regard to transitional programs.  They never factor in the capital cost of building a permanent housing unit when compared to the transitional shelters.  They do not factor in that the homeless pool of resources is not growing and yet the homeless programs have to slice the pie thinner and thinner.  We have to pay the housing costs of those in PSH every year with homeless funding along with all the other "priorities" we are mandated to serve coming out of Washington.  We have to prioritize family homelessness and youth homeless while our money is all going to Permanent Supportive housing which neither youth nor families typically qualify for.  In 2015, we spent 83% of the federal homeless dollars on Permanent Supportive Housing according to Cuyahoga County with a similar budget as we had in 2005.

Facility                                                  Monthly Cost                                 Yearly Costs

  • Emergency shelter costs                   $5,000                                        $26,800
  • Transitional Housing                         $2,700                                        $32,500
  • Rapid Rehousing                               $880                                           $6,500

This was distributed by Wagonner and comes from the HUD Family Option Study July 2015.  Again the problem is that this does not factor the cost of building these units and it does not factor in the loss of housing vouchers in the community that support these projects.  These vouchers were previously used to support a broad cross section of low income people.  Now, they are confined to a limited population in a geographically small area.

The problem with all of this is that 20 years ago, we heard from similar consultants who came to Cleveland telling us how great transitional programs can be for the community.  They said, "Look, your alcohol, drug and mental health programs are failing you, and so you need to create alternatives locally where people have the time to find the treatment they need."  They told us that transitional programs are a "game changer" and will significantly reduce homeless.  Our advocates at the time in the community said, "Okay, lets try it."  We invested in nearly 1,000 units of transitional housing in the community to ease people out of homelessness into housing.  The big issues were that they screened many out of joining the program (so does the PSH program), and they kept people for a longer period of time than was necessary (but no where near permanently!).  We needed these beds in our community for people with big issues.  The transitional shelters were slow in preparing the bed when a person left but they became an integral part of our response to homelessness.   It was confusing if these beds should be under the landlord tenant law since many lived there longer than the typical lease, but many found the help they needed in a transitional program.  Instead of fixing these shortfalls, HUD and Cuyahoga County are moving to eliminate public funding for transitional shelters. 

In November 2015, Cuyahoga County will declare "functional zero" in the number of homeless veterans.  So, this has to be considered a victory and we should use the lessons we learned from "solving" veteran's homelessness.  The Veterans Administration never moved away from transitional shelters and we have many veteran only transitional beds still in the community.  They were a strong part of the response to vets struggling with PTSD or traumatic brain disorders.  They were important for veterans in recovery or those with long term health issues.  We had a diverse number and type of programs available to homeless veterans.  Some transitional programs were tied to employment opportunities, some were tied to their health issue and other transitional programs were within HUD funded programs.  The system obviously worked since we are declaring victory.  Why is HUD forcing people to fit into these narrowly constructed programs?

Aren't there 700 people in the community who would benefit and would be better citizens if they had time to recover in a transitional program?  We need a diverse response to homelessness, because our society is diverse.  We need rental assistance for some, transitional for others, legal help for some and shelter for others.  One size does not fit all in the homeless community.  Say goodbye to the transitional shelters which are already gone in Chicago and Columbus.   It was nice while it lasted, but they have been declared obsolete by HUD and the County.  Those with a disability who may need a longer time to get stable are out of luck unless they stay homeless for a year and have the "right" kind of disability. 

Brian Davis

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Sr Donna Hawk: 1943 to 2015

She was a hawk, befitting her name, on the near West Side of Cleveland protecting homeless people.  My first memory of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless was a picture of four tough looking women on the front of the Plain Dealer Metro section being sworn in as Deputy Registrars to assist homeless people to vote.  This was in early 1990s and they looked like no one would mess with them.  They had won the right for homeless people to use a park bench as an address to vote, and all of the volunteers in the back of the photo were going to fan out and bring social justice to the community.  The one on the right with her hand up being sworn in was Donna Hawk who passed away last night.  Sister Donna Hawk was never intimidated by power or the powerful.   She helped to found Transitional Housing Inc. out of an abandoned motel on the near West Side of Cleveland (now called Front Steps).   She had a deep love for helping women even those who have made mistakes in their life.

Sr. Donna was a part of the Coalition at its founding in 1987.  She was the County appointment to the Office of Homeless Services. She worked to bring more resources to the struggle to end homelessness and create safe places for those without housing.  Sr. Donna stood up to neighbors who responded to homeless people with fear.  It is always difficult to argue with a nun.  She embarrassed politicians into finding a space at night for everyone who requested help.  Sr. Donna was a strong, opinionated champion for mending the social safety net.  She believed that government could solve problems and that by focusing on a problem elected offiicals can allieviate human suffering. 

Sister Donna Hawk did not always agree with the direction of the Coalition or our advocacy positions, but family members often disagree.  At the end of the day on the big issues we agreed that it was an injustice people had to spend time without a home.  We agreed that the richest society to ever exist could find a way to provide housing to every one living in our city.  We agreed that women need additional attention and resources because the overwhelming majority who experience homelessness have a history of serious abuse leading to an emergency.

Sister Donna Hawk Funeral Liturgy:

Monday, February 2, 2015, 10:00 AM

St. Joseph Center at the Sisters of St. Joseph mother house – 3430 Rocky River Dr.

Celebrant: Father Bob Begin

Here is the Congressional Statement from Dennis Kucinich recognizing her work in Cleveland:

"Madam Speaker, I rise today in honor and recognition of Sister Donna L. Hawk of Cleveland, Ohio, as she is named the West Side Catholic Center’s Walk in Faith recipient of 2009. Throughout her life, Sister Donna Hawk has turned her faith into action, uplifting the lives of those living on the streets. Sister Donna has become a nationally-known leader by creating and operating transitional housing for the homeless, especially for women and their children fleeing domestic violence. While working for many years as a volunteer at the West Side Catholic Shelter, Sister Donna developed a special compassion for women, many of whom had young children seeking refuge from abusive situations.  In 1986, without funding, Sister Donna teamed with Sister Loretta Schulte to rally community leaders and developers in order to transform a motel on Cleveland’s west side into Transitional Housing, Inc.—a place of shelter and source of counseling and resources for women and children in need. For more than twenty years, Transitional Housing,Inc. has served as a model for similar programs throughout the nation and across the world."

 

Brian Davis

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County Staff and Providers Discuss Homelessness

The County is the caretaker of much of the assistance for homeless people in Cuyahoga County.  We receive around $24 million in funding for homelessness and housing programs.  County staff complete the application for funding, and do a very good job of following all the rules to maximize our allocation.  While nearly every other city in Ohio has faced a loss of funding because of problems with their application, Cuyahoga County has never had this issue.  They could do a better job of overseeing the shelters use of these funds, but that is another post. Every jurisdiction that receives homeless funding must have a local committee to oversee the funds.  In Cuyahoga County, this group is the Office of Homeless Services Advisory Board.  There is a committee called the "Review and Ranking committee" which forwards the list to the Cuyahoga Council for approval.

This year, the federal government required the County Continuum committee to approve a plan for how to count homeless people on January 27, 2015.  This "Point in Time" count is the dumbest thing done by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.  There are a huge number of problems with the count including that it does harm to the homeless community by dramatically under-representing the number in a community.  The Homeless Coalition representatives both voted against the plan.  No one else joined in opposing the plan to attempt to "count" homeless people.  We would have no problem if federal government wanted to count the number living in shelters in Cleveland.  We can all trust that data, and we know that would be accurate.  Once they open it up to counting people outside on one night the data is useless.  Our issues with the Point in Time Count are:

  • The media and elected official misunderstand this data and regularly inaccurately portray this as some kind of census of homeless people.  There is no way to make the leap between one day and the number for a year.  It is factually flawed.
  • It violates all rules of collecting statistics for research.  To make this leap from those who you see on the streets to actually measuring a point in time stretches reality.  The variables of abandoned buildings, RTA rapid transit and buses, and hospital waiting rooms where homeless people may be staying make it impossible to do an actual point in time count.
  • Most of the other similar sized cities estimate the number of homeless people while Cleveland does not.  This makes it look like we have a tiny population compared to other cities.  They lie and we are honest locally. 
  • This exaggeration by other cities harms Cuyahoga County funding.  We get fewer resources because we have theoretically reduced the number of people sleeping outside.
  • No matter how great a job we do in serving homeless people (and we are doing a pretty good job), we are still the second or third poorest city in America.  With so many living in poverty, there are going to be many people struggling with housing. 

In other news, we heard that neighbors have filed a lawsuit to stop the next Permanent Supportive Housing project from going forward.  This will slow down the development of affordable housing for disabled homeless people in Cleveland.   It will cost additional funds to defend this lawsuit to overturn the building permit issued by the City of Cleveland. 

Shelter numbers for 2014 were released and we will post those on our website, because we trust those numbers.

The County limited the scope of the Public Policy committee to focus on a couple of narrow items.  There are huge issues in our community that shelter providers and social service groups should consider and layout a plan.  There are huge issues such as the explosion in family homelessness, the relationship between police and homeless people, problems with mentally ill homeless people, and recognizing and better serving victims of human trafficking in the women's shelters.  The providers are busy dealing with the crisis of homelessness everyday, and just don't have the time to weigh in on solutions.

There is still funding available to renovate the local shelters from the State of Ohio.  There are four projects going forward, but there is still funding available to help improve the facilities of local shelters. 

Brian Davis

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Upcoming Events

Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance Meeting

On Monday July 9 at 1:30 p.m. the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance meets at the US Bank/HUD offices at 1350 Euclid Ave. in Downtown Cleveland.  This meeting is a way to educate the public, housing providers and government about new programs or new resources in the community.  The group works to protect and preserve affordable housing locally.  This months meeting will feature representatives from the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority including the CEO Jeffrey Patterson.   We will also hear a presentation from the Cuyahoga Land Bank and all that is going on with that organization as they lead the effort to recover from the foreclosure tsunami.   There is surface parking all around the area.

OHS Meeting was cancelled for July 11

The Office of Homeless Services meets every other month on the second Wednesday of the month.  The meeting next week was cancelled because the county is hosting a cryptic meeting at Visiting Nurses Association. 

Community Briefing on “Pay for Success” &
Conversation on Priority Setting for
Health and Human Services
Wednesday, July 11, 2012 9am - 12pm
Please register online at
http://employment.cuyahogacounty.us/
For more information call 216 987-7010
Please join us for a community conversation on setting human service priorities and a briefing on “Pay for Success”, a non-traditional funding formula and performance-based contracting partnership.

I have no idea what any of that means, but the County Health and Human Services is inviting the community to this briefing.

Homeless Congress Meeting

The Homeless Congress will meet on July 12 at 1:00 p.m. at the Bishop Cosgrove Center.  We will have a presentation about Central Intake and the changes with the entry shelters in Cleveland at the meeting.

National Alliance to End Homelessness Conference

The NAEH conference is in Washington DC between July 16 and July 18.  This is a very good conference if you work at a homeless service provider especially at a Permanent Supportive Housing Agency, youth program, or diversion/central intake facility.  If you are a homeless advocate, homeless person, or social justice champion, it is not the best place for you.   For the social justice types, you might want to avoid this conference.  You will be dissatisfied and angry at the end of each day. 

Community Service Alliance Fundraiser.

July 21, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. is a yard sale for the Procops Transitional Housing Facility.  Support employment programs that target homeless people by attending this fund raiser.  Go to their website for more information.

Legal Aid Clinic

August 14, 2012 at the Veterans Service Commission on Prospect at 3:30 p.m. lawyers from Legal Aid will be present to assist veterans with their legal issues.  Any low income veteran is welcome to attend to get help.