By Mike McGraw
As chairman of the Cuyahoga County Council Health and Human Services Committee, Dan Brady has spent a great deal of his time in recent months listening to the testimony of homeless individuals and advocacy organizations about the current state of shelters in the county and the need for minimum shelter standards legislation. Our staff writer sat down recently to talk to Mr. Brady about how the issue of homelessness fits into the newly restructured county government, how the recent debt-ceiling deal will impact homeless services, and what ordinary county citizens can do to make their voice heard when it comes to the issue of homelessness.
Street Chronicle: Dan Brady, thank you for joining us. It’s my understanding that the Office of Homeless Service [OHS] that exists in the County structure was created by both the City [Cleveland] and the County but placed within the County. I am wondering with the recent change in the County government, how will the Offic be integrated into the new government?
Dan Brady: Right, I think it’s a significant change. I’m the Chairman of the Human Services Committee [on County Council] and we are and have been in the process of defining our role in County government. It’s clear to me that there is a significant role for Council and this Committee in this area. I, years ago, was on the Health Committee of the Cleveland City Council, and that was an entirely different focus most of the time. This is a broader, much broader focus. And there is the City Hall administration is very much involved in these issues within the City of Cleveland. I think that this is an opportunity for local government in a large metropolitan area to be able to take a closer look at these issues. And in the County Council we have the opportunity to provide a forum for discussion and dialogue about this issue.
SC: Who besides you, among the Council members, is on the Human Services Committee?
DB: Yvonne Conwell is on the Committee, and quite active, Pernel Jones is on the committee and quite active, Sunny Simon is on committee and has been active on these issues, Councilman Gallagher from Strongsville, so far his focus has been on how the Committee relates to justice affairs, i.e. the County jail, healthcare at the County jail, and Metro – so there are five of us. Certainly there are other people on the Council who are more than aware of this issue. The focus of the Council tends to be urban-centric, several of us are from the City, and I think that makes it very different from the County Commissioner form of government.
SC: I believe that it’s within this Human Services Committee that recently you heard some testimony from some individuals who were experiencing homelessness?
DB: That’s right, we’ve had series, almost weekly series of presentations since last winter on the vast array of agencies that serve the County. We’ve had a presentation from some people on the issue of homelessness and homeless shelters.
SC: What did you learn from the homeless individuals that you might be able to pass on to the public?
DB: No question, I think this was one of the first opportunities, but we plan to keep the door wide open for people who want to advocate their cause to come before the Committee, whether it’s on the scheduled presentation or not, to make public comments. We learn from these comments and these presentations that we wouldn’t learn from other people.
SC: If my understanding is right, part of the role of County human services is to administer Federal money?
DB: Yes, it generally the way I see County government is as an arm of the State, and under State law counties are structures of State government. We have a new structure now; that creates opportunities for big metropolitan areas like Greater Cleveland. And Federal funds are big part of it; some Federal funds come through the State, some come directly to the City, and a lot of it comes through the Health and Human Services levy, which leverages more money from the Federal government – it’s a mix.
SC: So, have you had a chance to examine recently the severity of the impact of what was just agreed to in the debt ceiling debate, on the homeless funding that the County would be involved in?
DB: Well, I haven’t drilled down that on the debt ceiling agreement, except to understand in the broader sense that this agreement will give us fewer resources than we would have otherwise.
SC: As a creature of County government, the Regional Transit Authority is something that provides a link between who are poor and homeless, and employment. Do you have any thoughts on how RTA could better serve the transit-dependent and homeless?
DB: I understand the issue and I’ve heard it raised. I’ve been to meetings where this issue has been discussed in the different forums. I’ve heard concepts promoted. There is a connection that County makes appointments to the RTA Board along with many other Boards, I guess that could be taken up with the RTA Board. I don’t want to dismiss that as not appropriate to the homeless, but it’s not just for the homeless, for low-income people generally. I’ve been to parts of the world where transit is available and at very low cost and sometimes at no cost.
SC: Finally, you did say you were going to hear from homeless individuals at the Council. What could anyone else from the general public do to support the efforts of anyone on Council that wanted to help people with homelessness?
DB: I think that while the districts are pretty big with over 100,000 people in them, and while the responsibility stretches across the whole metropolitan area, you are more likely to be able to have a County Council representative attend a meeting or speak to you directly than you would have been able to with the three Commissioners in such a large community, 1.3 million or so depending on the Census. Lobbying the Council members is possible. The Council chambers down at the Justice Center are open to the public. There are eleven different Committees that meet, there are lots of different forums. At the regular Council meetings, anyone who wants to speak to the entire Council on any issue, broad or narrow, regional concern, they can do that. All of that is now online, and streamed live, so I think there’s an opportunity here created a public forum for public discussion of these issues.
SC: I want to thank you for taking the time to talk today.
Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and The Street Chronicle published Sept. 2011 Cleveland, Ohio