City Official Seeks Incentives to End the Cycle

by Tom Hayes

Despite a rather tempting offer to be idealistic and unwind, Bill Resseger, who works with the Department of Community Development, when asked what he would do if it were within his power to end homelessness entirely, took a more pragmatic approach and spoke about how he would affect policy in Cleveland.

“The highest priority would be assuring the homeless of both the opportunity and the incentive to move beyond homelessness.” Resseger added that the homeless should be helped to find housing and helped to become self-sufficient.

It was important to Resseger, a nineteen-year employee with the City of Cleveland, to point out that Mayor White and the County Commissioners—and other local agencies—took an important step toward a solution to the homeless crisis when they came together and formed the Office of Homeless Services for Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland. The OHS, he felt, was an important means by which the County and City could work together toward the same goals. A prospect that is important if Cuyahoga County and Greater Cleveland want to solve the homelessness problem, which by all indications seems to be growing.

But again, despite an open invitation to comment on the causes of homelessness and the reason for the situation not getting any better, Roesseger was slow to comment and rather reflective.

On the budget, Resseger conceded that cuts coming from the federal level will have a considerable effect on the ability of the County and City to effectively create and implement programs to end homelessness. That these cuts mean a lot of initiatives will never get off the ground at all.

Further, he felt that Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland have yet to feel the impact of cuts at the federal level; and that the effects of cuts will be a while in coming. But still, Resseger maintains that it is one of the duties of the Office of Homeless Services to ensure that the community works together with the money it does receive: that one of the jobs of the City and County are to “coordinate and focus efforts and money toward solutions.” This is done by grant competitions.

Competitive grants are a part of the process for receiving Federal funds; especially now, when there are an increasing number of agencies seeking funds to serve a growing population of disenfranchised citizens. Funds are now more in demand, and yet, to receive them, agencies have to show they are working together to solve the problems of the community. Recently, a federal grant was given to five local agencies. The proposal was filed jointly by the five agencies—all with the assistance of Ruth Ann O’Leary, the only staff person right now at the OHS. This working together, when it is effected entirely, will be called the Continuum of Care: a meshwork of local agencies that provide services from the street up to independence.

When it comes to the homeless population increasing, Roesseger thinks that while it may be so, we should also consider the number of people taken out of the shelter system at the same time. He points to the Shelter Plus Care system—that, he says, will assist 500 substance abusers, mentally ill homeless, and AIDS patients; Roesseger also points to the Cleveland Metropolitan Housing Authority and its work with OHS to provide 450 women and children in transitional facilities with permanent housing at King Kennedy; and finally, he points to Y-Haven, which has designed a program that is to help men with substance abuse problems.

But Resseger’s final comments on the homeless problem are more thoughtful than immediate programmatic solutions. He thinks that not until the “factors that cause homelessness” are eliminated will the problem be solved. That, now, there is no living wage, no entry-level jobs, and no end to substance abuse problems.

Resseger believes that the homeless issues needs to be addressed at both ends: a homeless person’s immediate needs and the issues that cause homelessness as well as the regional economy and job creation.

“Where do people with the least job skills fit in?” he asks. He ended by questioning why people enter the job field with such low skills.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine published Spring 1996 – Issue 15