Advocates Energized After Summit

by Todd Neumann

Homeless advocates Brian Davis and Angelo Anderson represented the Northeast Ohio Coalition of the Homeless and Cleveland at this year’s National Summit on Homelessness sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The annual event was held in Washington DC and representatives from 46 states attended with over 700 people registering. The Summit was designed to bring together advocacy groups from across the country in an effort to share the latest information on the face of homelessness. Conference participants attended seminars on housing, health care, livable income, civil rights and homeless children’s education. Currently, homeless and formerly homeless people, activists and social service organizations participated in this four-day summit May 1-4, 1999.

Mary Ann Gleason, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless said, “I thought there were a lot of people who became engaged in a new way as advocates.” She said that from the feedback and her follow-up discussions the conference added new energy to the movement. She felt especially grateful to Civil Rights activist Reverend Joseph Lowry who “handed off the baton” to poverty advocates.

In addition to providing advocates with the latest statistics and forums in which to share their local barriers and victories, the Summit helped to organize lobbying teams. Much of this lobbying concentrated on protecting the Community Re-Investment Act, preserving and creating affordable housing and defeating House Bill 1073 which would “block grant” all HUD McKinney program money to the local jurisdictions.

Gleason identified tangible areas that she felt some consensus was building including:

  • ·         The Community Housing Investment trust to create a resource pool to build one million units of housing for those making minimum wage or less.
  • ·         Better advocacy around health care and specifically combating addictive disorders.
  • ·         Refocusing the movement away from emergency services to long-term solutions including housing, living wage campaigns and housing trust funds.
  • ·         Serious attention to protecting the rights of the homeless people.
  • ·         The need for advocates to be engaged at all levels of government of government by showing successful advocacy campaigns at the state, local and federal level.

Perhaps the highlight and most controversial part of the conference was a Keynote Address by HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. While answering questions following his address, the crowd went into an uproar when he remarked that he was not convinced that welfare reform had made people homeless in the United States and he also said that he was not aware of any HUD funded programs that require a credit background check. He slipped out the back door after attempting to answer the questions from the participants.

Local participants Brian Davis and Angelo Anderson of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless each moderated seminars on Civil Rights for homeless people and Creating and Sustaining a street newspapers respectively.

“I thought that it was a wonderful forum to direct an advocacy strategy to make homeless people a protected class and crimes directed at people just because they are homeless fall under the Federal hate crimes laws,” said Brian Davis, executive director of NEOCH.

Angelo Anderson, program manager at NEOCH said, “I learned a lot about housing policies and what may be coming down the line.”

Anderson was able to ask HUD Secretary Cuomo about the status of the HUD grant to the Salvation Army PASS program. Cuomo was aware of the PASS funding problems and said that a decision will be announced by May 14.

Over the next two months, NEOCH staff said that they will be putting in practice some of the advocacy strategies and thoughts that were conceived in Washington. This conference will allow the NEOCH staff to better represent those on the streets and in the shelters of Cleveland.

Gleason said that she was “most excited that we are turning the corner.” She said, “The need for systematic change came blustering forward at the summit.”

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 35, June 1999, Cleveland, Ohio