Throw Money at a Problem and Government Can Succeed

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been working toward and end to veterans homelessness.  They have set the end of 2015 as the goal for an end to veterans homelessness and it looks like Cleveland is close.  This only proves that governement can solve problems and that throwing money at a problem can solve social service issues. 

We are reaching "functional zero" which is the point at which there is no one left without help.  There is no veteran left behind without a place to stay.  No one has not been screened and is on track to get into housing.  We are approaching that point in Cleveland.  We have only two veterans living outside and all the vets in shelter are moving toward housing.  There are vacancies at almost all the veteran's only beds in the community.  It is becoming harder to fill the women only and men's vet beds, and the VOA new facility on Euclid is really helping to move people into housing.  They are quickly moving veterans who show up into permanent housing even those with huge barriers to overcome.  It has been impressive to see the coordination and the work done in Cleveland to end veterans homelessness. 

We still need to work on families who become homeless and families who the veteran passes away not related to his service.  Overall, we have seen a huge decline in the number of veterans in Cleveland who are homeless over the last five years.  There is a separate court for veterans.  There are housing vouchers for vets.  There are employment programs and coordinated intake sites just for vets.  There is a separate medical system that has not been plagued by the problems in other communities.  We have a really nice hospital and a pretty good behavioral health system for veterans.  There are civil rights protections for veterans and resources available for most intangibles.  A veteran can go to the Veterans Service Commission in any Ohio County to get funds to repair their car to get to work or to purchase identification or buy emergency food after an unexpected bill shows up.  The point is that we have designed a strong safety net for veterans and we are making significant process toward "functional zero."

This should dispel the myth that government cannot solve problems.  We have spent 35 years trying to solve homelessness, but we have never provided enough resources to actually do anything but tread water.  We have never provided enough housing vouchers or built enough affordable housing.  We have never provided enough rental assistance to get people back on their feet.  We have paid only lip service to civil rights protections in housing, law enforcement, and employment.  We have a judicial system that is not serving poor people and until last year a large portion of the low income population did not have access to health insurance.  We still have a pathetic behaviorial health system and do not have an effective way to get emergency resources to families struggling in our community.  Now, we have a map to solve a problem with veterans who became homeless.  If we throw money at a problem, we can solve that community issue.  Next up to solve the problem of family homelessness. 

Brian Davis

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Housing Homeless Vet staff, Ruth Fiala, Passes Away

Ruth Fiala
(November 15, 1955 - May 2, 2014)

This came from the Cleveland Plain Dealer today. 

RUTH E. FIALA (nee Somerville) age 58. Beloved wife of Charles; step mother of James M. (Wendy) and Michele; grandma "FiFi" to Andrew, Aaron, Anthony J. and John M.; daughter of the late Ruth (nee Miller) and Raymond F. Somerville. Ruth was currently employed by the VA Hospital, Wade Park campus and was in private practice specializing in psychological therapy in Rocky River, Oh. Passed away May 2, 2014. Funeral Mass Friday, May 9, St. Patrick Church (3602 Bridge Ave.) at 11 A.M. Interment Holy Cross Cemetery. Friends may call at CHAMBERS FUNERAL HOME of CLEVELAND 4420 ROCKY RIVER DRIVE AT PURITAS THURSDAY 4-8 P.M. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to St. Francis School 7206 Myron Ave, Cleveland Ohio 44103.

Ruth was part of the staff working to end veterans homelessness in Cleveland.  She had worked to provide housing vouchers to homeless veterans and was a part of a number of trainings offered by the Coalition.  We are shocked over her death which came suddenly last week.  It is a big loss for the homeless community. 

Brian Davis

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Veteran Homelessness in the Community

There are many in the community who do not like homeless people.  Much of this has to do with myths and misconceptions about those struggling with housing.  There are two populations which get near universal support: kids and vets.  Homeless children are innocent and did not ask to be without housing.  They are often the victim of their parents bad decisions or problems revolving around the inability for the parent to find a job or maintain housing.  Veterans are viewed by most as the "deserving poor" because they served their country, and often have problems associated with the trauma or personal demons from combat.  Despite all those who want to help, it is amazing how much they have to deal with to get assistance in the community.  It is no one person's fault, but the system is just so complicated. 

They must have the right kind of discharge to receive some help, and that is typically the first question agencies ask, "what kind of discharge did you have?"  Some places will only provide service to an individual based on the number of months they were in the military.  If they get injured after two months, they only qualify for two months of assistance which makes no sense.  The wait for disablity help is about 2 years at this point, which is just criminal.  Everyone is asking for forms to be filled out and they all ask for the same information over and over again.  They all do the same verifications and searches and checking the story and then double checking.   The vets have to deal with government agencies, private charities, and publicly funded charities.   They have so many people who want to help, but everyone needs something else from the veteran.  They ask for social security, discharge papers, or specifics of the veteran's service.   They ask for identification, medical screenings, a history of their housing, a resume, family contacts, dependents, tax forms, court proceedings, birth records, and service related health problems. 

It would seem so simple.  The individual serves their country for 2 or 4 or 6 years, and may or may not spill their blood in a foreign land.  They need on-going medical help and especially counseling help to ease back into civilian life.  They need a job and some assurance that they will have a place to live while they re-establish life states side.   It would seem that with all the people and organizations willing to help this would not be hard to provide the help needed to a small segment of the population.  It has become so complicated.  Not only do you have the new people everyday entering the system facing the nightmare of paperwork, but there are thousands of wounded warriors from previous conflicts.  There are many who were discouraged by the failure of the system from decades ago who still need help.  

There was a veteran summit last week to try to weed through some of the issues faced by veterans.  It is hoped that the new central resource center for veterans at 7000 Euclid Ave. will help vets cut through the red tape to find stability.  There is a nice article on the front of the new Street Chronicle about the center.  The facility stays open late and the staff there will work to find help for any veteran in our community.  We also have put together a two page document for homeless veterans to use.  The Veteran Street Card attempts to put all the resources available on one page that a vet can use while they seek help


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Veterans Street Card

We have published the updated Veterans Street Card this month.  With the new funding for ending homelessness among veterans a great deal has changed over the last year.  The new Veteran's Street Card includes the 1-800 number for those need help.  There is the new Family Services grant for Mental Health Services and the new Central Resource Center that opened for Veterans are all on the new Street Card.  Feel free to print out the Street Card and make as many copies as you want.   The Street Card has all the services available to veterans on one piece of paper.  It has bus routes to the facilities and gives an overview of the services at each facility.  

My staff and I got to tour the new Central Resource Center for the VA.  It is located at a newly renovated building at 7000 Euclid Ave.   The paint is still fresh and the furniture has yet to be broken in.   They have space for community groups to come in and consult with veterans.  The VA staff would prefer that newly homeless individuals start their path back to stability.  The facility is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and they encourage veterans and those who work with veterans to send them over if they need help.  All of the diverse programs that the Veterans Administration oversees from medical to treatment to employment assistance can all be accessed through this Center.   Even non VA funded projects that serve Veterans such as the Veterans Service Commission and VOA veterans programs can be found at the Center.  They are building their programming and their schedule for partners utilizing the site.   There are veterans meeting at the facility regularly and the place has not even been open one month. It is a nice entry point for those who gave a piece of their life to defend and protect the Constitution as a member of the US Military.  I would have liked to see a similar pleasant atmosphere for the non-veterans Central Intake site instead of locating it in a shelter as we have done in Cleveland, but the veterans have a really nice facility.

Brian Davis

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Voting Success in Last Election

Homeless People Do Vote

We are working on compiling the numbers from the last election, and so we are looking at homeless participation in the 2012 Presidential election.  We had a great response to voting by those sleeping in the shelters and were newly registered.  The NEOCH staff signed up 322 voters from July through October, and 93%  of those we registered actually voted.  This is a powerful number proving that homeless people do in fact vote.  To show how important it is to have as many early voting hours as possible only 2 out of the 322 people voted on Election Day.  Nearly all the homeless individuals voted by mail or at the Board of Elections in Cuyahoga County. 

These were the registration cards that NEOCH staff handled.   We are also looking at the voters registered by the shelters in Cleveland.  We will have those numbers in the next week.   These individuals who have lost their housing, their jobs and most of their material possessions took the time to register to vote and then they showed up to be counted.   Almost everyone who registered while staying in a shelter then showed up to vote.  

We took a Vietnam era who had never voted in the past over to vote during Golden week when his buddies at the VA Hospital Transitional shelter were also going.  

We took a woman who got into housing between the registration deadline and Election Day.  We took her over to vote on Election Day and she was terrified that she would not be allowed to vote.  She had never voted before and she was a devout Muslim who wore a vail.  She was worried because her ID did not have her new address and she did not want to take off her vail to prove her identity.   The poll workers were great and kind to her and she had no problem voting.  She started crying on the way back to her apartment. 

We had a voter who cast an early vote at the Board of Elections and almost talked himself out of being able to vote.  He had become homeless in between the time he had registered and when he was voting.  He kept trying to clarify with the poll worker that he was homeless now and so was not at that address.  He finally voted after not having voted for years.

We had homeless people who waited in line for 45 minutes on the Sunday before the election to vote, and a woman who made sure that her roommates at the Community Women's Shelter all completed their mail in ballot as soon as they arrived at the shelter. 

Brian Davis

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VA Cleveland Community Resource and Referral Center Open

 Two veterans, William and Larry, give out presents to homeless kids as part of the 2011 Toy Drive

The Veterans Administration announced the Cleveland Community Resource and Referral Center (CRRC)  is now open.  They are located at 7000 Euclid Ave., Suite 202, in the Midtown neighborhood of Cleveland.  Their hours of operation are Monday-Friday 8:00 AM-8:00PM.   This is part of the VA initiative to end homelessness in the veterans population by 2015.  We applaud this great idea and welcome it for Cleveland.   We believe that having a central intake center separated from the shelters is the right way to go.  We believe that this will be a great addition to the struggle to end veterans homelessness. 

They provide outreach services to veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.  Their CRRC team consists of social workers, case managers, vocational rehab counselors, supportive employment (HVSEP) and a medical support assistant.  The CRRC philosophy is deeply rooted in collaboration with community partners who also serve our veterans.  The community partners are invited into the CRRC to meet with veterans or provide an educational session from budgeting to dealing with landlord tenant issues.   For homeless veterans where it is clinically appropriate, the CRRC offers washer/dryer and shower facilities to assist them in moving forward.   For a consult or to speak with someone from the CRRC call:   MAIN LINE (216) 391-0264.

Brian Davis

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Thank You to Our Veterans

Today is Veterans Day, and we honor those who served their country.  This Veterans Day comes as we continue to see between 20 and 24% of homeless population made up of individuals who served the United States.   There is a plan to end Veterans homelessness by November 2014.  This is a good thing, but we are a long way from that reality.  We saw a report from HUD this last year that showed a decline in veterans homelessness, but that was based on fiction and guesses that could never withstand academic scrutiny.  We will never be able to end homelessness among veterans if we cannot even figure out the extent of the problem.  Veterans still have a hard time getting help with their mental illness in the vast bureaucracy.  Everyday another veterans returns from Afghanistan troubled, uncertain, and without the proper support to return to civilian life. 

We have a number of new programs for veterans including a rental assistance program and a new Central Intake system in which should help.  We still have a lot of silly rules and obstacles in place that keep the dedicated staff from providing the help necessary to get people into housing.  For example, if a veteran gets into a per diem bed at 2100 Lakeside (a shelter bed no different than any other bed in Lakeside) they have a limited period of time or they lose their eligiblity for a permanent supportive housing apartment in the community.  The Veterans Administration is putting a large investment into serving homeless people with nice new buildings including the Domiciliary at the Veterans Hospital.  They are still making bad decisions on some of the subcontractors who have been entrusted to serving the veterans population.  There are still far too many programs that do not get the job done.  There are still too many staff who are don't do enough to get people into housing or serve our veterans with compassion. 

The Domiciliary staff did a ton to get people registered to vote and then getting those veterans to actually vote for who is going to lead the country.  There are plenty of people who honor our veterans, but not enough who are willing to provide the best health care coverage available in this country.  It does not seem that there is enough concern to provide housing to all veterans even if they self medicate with alcohol or drugs.   There is a great deal of rhetoric especially by politicians, but not a lot of coordination of services among all the systems that serve veterans.   With two years left to end homelessness among veterans, there is a long way to go.  We will need a ton of housing vouchers; we need more forgiveness, and we need a massive expansion of health care professionals who specialize in trauma.   We could honor by veterans best by actually ending homelessness among veterans.  Thanks for the free meals being given out today by corporations and businessess.  Now it is time for free housing for a couple of years while the veteran transitions back into civilian life. 


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Shelter Resistant Gives Thumbs Down on PD Coverage

The Shelter Resistant called to complain about the Cleveland Plain Dealer article earlier this week about the campsites that have grown on the near West Side.  There are a number of people who would never live in a shelter even if we opened up the Renaissance Hotel as a shelter.  I was stuck in DC during hurricane Sandy, so I was not in town when the article appeared.  A few of the guys called the office to complain about this invasion of privacy by reporter Mark Naymik.  This is always a tricky situation since publicity usually results in more people offering help, but this is also their home and no one likes a reporter trampling around your home describing your castle no matter if it is brick or blue plastic sheets.   This "new" neighborhood is on the side of the hill that is slipping into the Cuyahoga River, and long since abandoned by pedestrian and commuters after the street was closed.  

Evidently, there was only one guy around, a veteran with some mental issues judging by the conspiracy theories he was relating to the reporter.  The other residents of Riverbed Road were not happy that the reporter looked in their tents.  They did not like that the veteran was representative of the residents, and the characterization of their beer choices as "poverty beer." They wanted me to pass along a message to the reporter to "stay out of their s@#t."   I have done that here. 

This population is one of the reasons that it is going to be impossible to meet the November 2014 deadline to end veteran's homelessness.  The veteran interviewed in the story has been in housing before and most of the current VA staff are aware of him.  He has multiple barriers to housing, and he has a deep mistrust for institutions such as government, the Veterans Administration, and the media.  It would take multiple agencies with health care, housing, mental health and legal help all sitting around the same table working together to stabilize these type of gentlemen.  Many have addictions or they self medicate to work through their issues.  They need care that just does not currently exist in our community.   They need a "no barrier" shelter in which everyone is welcomed.  Then they need help clearing up issues and building a trusting relationship with someone.  Then they need a level of care and understanding while in housing that really does not exist at this time.  We have a number of square pegs trying to access the VA system that need to fit into all the round holes we have built.

Brian Davis

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NEOCH Annual Meeting Planned

Annual Meeting 2012

Homeless Coalition to Host Annual Meeting, Focus on Homeless Veterans

      The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless will host its 2012 Annual Meeting in the NEOCH Conference Room on March 15, 2012 at 5:30 p.m... The Annual Meeting is a chance to reflect on accomplishments made during 2011, release its Annual Report, and prepare strategy for the next year in our effort to end homelessness. NEOCH intends to give out awards to those who have made outstanding contributions to forwarding the Coalition’s mission and worked to end homelessness. This year’s meeting will also serve to spotlight the issue of homeless veterans.
      Recently, the federal government has made homeless veterans a priority and has allocated many resources to ending this crisis. Toni Johnson, of the Veterans Administration and longtime friend of NEOCH, will give the keynote address on new strategies and programs in place for serving homeless veterans in Cleveland.
         All are welcome to attend. The meeting will take place at 5:30 PM and a light meal will be served. NEOCH is located at 3631 Perkins Ave., Cleveland (Between Chester and Payne Ave.).  We ask those who plan to attend to RSVP. 
Brian and Volunteer Lauren
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