Mentally Ill Need Support, Not Specialized Courts

Editorial

Services providers are meeting with Cuyahoga County judicial officials to craft a protocol for a mental health court locally. These courts would be a part of the Municipal Court system so they would handle people with misdemeanors. They would most likely only be available to non-violent first time offenders who are identified as possibly mentally ill. This small population would be identified by a court social worker from a brief interview before people enter the court for pre-trial pleadings on the third floor of the justice center.

Currently Akron is experimenting with the Mental Health Court system, as are communities throughout the United States. While the courts are crowded with those with a mental illness because of societal neglect, we cannot find reason to support the creation of a Mental Health Court in Cuyahoga County. We found that the eventual outcome of an individual entering the Mental Health Court is that they will agree to remain compliant with a treatment plan in order to avoid jail. While it should be the goal of every social service provider to encourage those with a mental illness to follow a treatment plan through the development of trusting relationships, we cannot use the criminal justice system to force treatment.

The Editors of the Grapevine are not sure that an attorney would be working in the client’s best interest by advocating that a homeless person enter the Mental Health Court. If a mentally ill person pled guilty to a misdemeanor like disorderly conduct or public urination they would get a minor punishment (usually time served) in the criminal justice system. If they entered the Mental Health Court, they would enter a treatment plan that could last for years. Non-compliance with the plan would mean that they could return to the criminal justice system. No effective legal counsel would recommend entering the Mental Health Court and the possible years of compliance, forced medication, and the fear of returning to jail if they deviate from the treatment plan laid out by "professionals." A lawyer that recommends the Mental Health Court would not be considering the best interest of the individual, but they are more interested in the best interest of the community and the judicial system.

Based on recent experiences with the providers in the mental health community who were willing to go along with the sweeping of homeless people, we feel that there is a danger that service providers will find it easier to serve those homeless mentally ill people in the Mental Health Courts and withdraw funding and resources from outreach teams. It is expensive and time consuming to engage homeless people with a mental illness on the street and build a trusting relationship with those people attempting to drop out of society. It would be a better allocation of resources to wait until those same homeless mentally ill individuals are arrested and serve them through the Mental Health Court. The editors do not believe that the criminal justice system should be involved in the allocation of social support services. We do not see evidence on a national level that long term mental health stability can be forced on an individual through the courts.

There are other examples of specialized courts for specialized criminals including recent experiences with Drug Courts. What has happened in some of these cities is that the specialized courts, Drug and Mental Health, reserve all the crisis beds in the community for the courts. Since the creation of these specialized courts do not usually mean the creation of additional crisis beds, those who voluntarily seek treatment are denied because the beds are reserved for the court system. We should not create a situation in which an individual has to be arrested in order to get mental health treatment.

Finally, we do not think that forcing someone to undergo treatment with the threat of jail time is the proper path to engaging an individual in a treatment plan. The mental health system was constructed to act as individual advocates for those suffering from a mental illness. What a betrayal of those they are serving by forcing them into treatment. Those suffering with a mental illness were betrayed when they were promised community wrap around services after the asylums were closed, and now since that promise was never funded we are arresting the mentally ill and forcing treatment on them. We need to stop using the criminal justice system to control our population. There are too many mentally ill people in the criminal justice system, but instead of solving that problem we are forcing people into compliance. How about figuring out a way to provide complete wrap around services for those with a mental illness so that they never have to enter the criminal justice system. That $1.6 trillion surplus would go a long way to solving this problem in our country.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #46-2001

 

Mental Health and Homeless Courts Sweeping Country

By Doug Lawrence

The last ten years have seen the growth of many types of diversion courts. These are court-based initiatives that attempt to deal with the root causes of involvement in the criminal justice system. These courts practice a therapeutically-oriented judicial approach. This means the courts attempt to resolve problems that face the defendant first and use punishment second.

The best known form of diversion court is the drug court. Other examples include domestic violence courts and re-entry courts for those returning to society after serving out their prison terms.

A new form of diversion court that is gaining popularity is the mental health court. These courts are developing because of the closing of the mental health institutions, pervasive jail overcrowding and increases in the homeless population. The United States Department of Justice reported in 1999 that 16% of all inmates in state and federal jails had a severe mental illness (schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are examples). 283,000 people with serious mental illnesses were in jail or prison, more than four times the number in state mental hospitals. The average daily number of patients in state and county psychiatric hospital has steadily dropped from 592,853 in 1950 to 71,619 in 1994.

Mentally ill offenders frequently spend unnecessary time in jail and without access to mental health treatment services on release, regularly become repeat offenders and go through the criminal justice system again. The goals of mental health court are to identify these persons as early as possible through screenings and referral of defendants. They also ensure effective legal advocacy for the mentally ill defendant. Other goals include: establishing the most effective and least restrictive treatment options available; supervising the delivery and receipt of mental health services and treatment; and diverting mentally ill defendants with non-criminal or minor criminal charges to community based mental health programs. All of these goals call for effective cooperation between the mental health treatment system and the criminal justice system.

Mental health courts do bring to light some of the problems for the mentally ill defendant. Screening procedures face the problems of accuracy and confidentiality. The requirement to identify and assess the defendants quickly can be incompatible with the need to conduct comprehensive assessments required for a reliable diagnosis. Confidentiality of the defendant would be breached without the consent to view their mental health records. This would mean that participation in any mental health court would have to be voluntary. The degree to which participation is voluntary is difficult to determine when dealing with defendants who suffer severe mental illness. Without first gaining the consent of the defendant, mental health courts can run the risk of coerced treatment.

In San Diego and Los Angeles California, Municipal Courts and Public Defender offices have come together to create a Homeless Court. The San Diego homeless court began in 1988 and evolved from a "Stand Down" to provide services for homeless veterans.

The San Diego homeless court has shown that homeless people did not attend court until the court came to them at the "Stand Down". This was not out of contempt for the justice system, but rather the daily fight for the necessities of life, clothing, food and shelter made it impossible. The fear of receiving fines that they can not pay also keeps homeless people away.

Many times homeless persons lack the proper documentation and resources to put on a proper defense. This, coupled with the fight for survival on the streets, puts them in a poor position to deal with the substantive and procedural issues that a legal case presents. Homeless courts allows the defendant to have their cases heard and disposed of at the same time.

Just as mental health courts put defendants in treatment programs, the sentences in homeless courts are not jail time or fines, but assistance. Defendants will be sent to shelters, receive drug counseling, job placement assistance or other services that will enable them to break the cycle of homelessness and entry into the criminal justice system.

Homeless court also has to be voluntary, because the defendant must get involved with shelters and service providers. This puts the defendant in a posture that will allow compliance with the court orders, and to put them on track to beat the things that resulted in their homelessness.

Between 1989 and 1992, San Diego court records show that 942 homeless veterans who went to court through the Stand Down resolved 4,895 outstanding court cases. In a one year span the San Diego homeless court helped 200 people clear over 500 cases.

The Coalition on Housing and Homeless in Ohio released statistics that on average in 1999 there were 3,080 homeless people in Cleveland. Experts say that a homeless court helps to lower that number considerably as it removes the legal barriers that keep people homeless.

The desired results of diversion courts are to relieve stress on both the justice and prison systems, as well as rehabilitate persons rather than warehousing them. In theory, this creates a stronger sense of justice, because it reintegrates the mentally ill and homeless person rather than shoving them farther away from society.

Editor’s Note: Lawrence is the Program Director of the Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program, which began in Cleveland in August 2000. A new "Mental Health Court" started in Akron in January of 2001.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #46 -2001

Have We Set Our Bars Too Low For Our Advocacy?

Commentary by Theresa Arant

As a housing advocate, I was invited to sit on a committee whose goal is to determine how to access affordable, stable housing for people with AIDS (PWAs). Also attending this meeting were many "advocates" for PWAs and universal health care.

The state homeless coalition estimates that nearly 450 homeless people are also infected with HIV in Cuyahoga County. Bearing this estimation in mind, I suggested that the committee’s goal be to secure fifty (50) safe, affordable and stable housing units for PWAs by the end of our work together. Understanding that 50 housing units only accommodates a little more than 10% of the targeted population, I thought the criticism I would receive would be that I was leaving too many qualified people out. Much to my surprise, however, an advocate for PWAs told me that this goal was unattainable and unrealistic. Although a minority few of the committee members agreed with me, the general consensus was that this committee could not achieve a compromised goal of housing 10% of its targeted population, but that six or seven percent was more realistic.

Since I’ve become more involved in housing advocacy in this past year, I’ve been constantly questioning the definition of advocacy. Given the opportunity to ask a panel of respected advocates at the Community Shares Kick-Off this fall, I did so: how should this community define advocacy? Their answer was vague. They said that action is more important than definition; if we tirelessly act on behalf of our clients, then we are advocates. At the time, this definition was not satisfying and, in fact, it was frustrating. I wanted to hear a concrete answer that I could repeat to people who ask me the very same question.

Since then, I’ve experienced many instances such as the one described above, where self-described "advocates" slight the work that could be done for their community in an effort to meet the goals that they set for themselves. Advocacy groups appear successful if they meet the goals that they set for themselves. What would happen, however, if the communities for which they are advocating set the bar? What would the goals be then? Would 7%, or even 10%, of housing for the homeless PWA population be enough, or would the remaining unhoused 90% fire those advocates who left them out of their goals? Are advocates doing enough if 10% is too much?

I can imagine the argument from these self-described advocates. They would say that they have learned to only bite off what they can chew, so to speak; that making promises to their communities that cannot be met is unfair. My question is: why can’t their high goals be met? What barriers exist that prevent housing for everyone? And, if that answer can be identified, why can it not be dealt with? Excuses can be made or solutions can be made. The choice is in the hands of the advocates. If they choose to make excuses for why anyone is without housing and also choose to give in to those excuses, then they should have the courage to tell homeless people that they are not working for them.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #46 -2001

Downtown Superior Apartments Focuses on Healing Souls As Well As Housing Homeless People

by Angela Joyce

I went to my interview with Dolores Taylor, Resident Services Coordinator for the Famicos Foundation Downtown Superior Apartments, thinking that I was going to get a history of Famicos, learn about the logistics of their facility, and hear some statistics of how many people they house, how many receive services etc. Well, I did learn this information, but I also heard the story of how the facility got underway and the amazing impact that it has had on its residents. Taylor beamed at me as she stated: "We’re not just housing the homeless, it’s so much more than housing the homeless—it’s healing."

Sister Henrietta founded Famicos (Family Cooperators) in the late 1960’s when she moved into the riot torn Hough area to help families rebuild their lives and community. Sister Henrietta later called on the business and suburban communities for volunteers and resources. Famicos was then developed in 1970 as a family and neighborhood development corporation whose mission is to provide safe, decent, affordable housing to low income families and support services for those with special needs in the greater Cleveland community.

The Downtown Superior Apartments (DSA) are just one example of the efforts of Famicos to provide safe, decent, and affordable housing; however, this facility is unique in that it provides permanent housing and support services for the homeless as well as low income individuals. DSA used to be privately owned until 1995, when the owner was unable to maintain the building any longer.

The City of Cleveland then came to Famicos and asked them to purchase the property and lease it out to homeless people primarily. Famicos then purchased the property and later began leasing in 1997. They currently lease 44 single bedroom and efficiency units; 30 of them are reserved for homeless people. DSA is one of the first of its kind in Ohio.

The concept of skipping the shelter and transitional housing phases and placing the homeless directly into permanent housing is a new one. Taylor explained to me that she came to the DSA with a traditional case management mindset with files and forms, and quickly learned that this approach was not going to work in this setting. She learned that in order to make the support services program successful she needed to let the residents tell her what they needed. So the support services program began by first developing a relationship of trust and creating an environment for dialogue.

Today, residents use the support services program on an as needed basis and the services utilized range from ongoing counseling to dental work.

Taylor makes referrals to the needed services and then ensures that the treatment and follow up are continued. There are also many informal services that residents utilize on site— staff is always on hand to help residents with forms or a letter they don’t understand, or even life skill issues like how to clean a stove. Taylor explained to me that she felt the on-site services are crucial to the success of housing the homeless: "This is the type of place where they can lay a foundation—where they can get the education they need, develop the job skills, get the help, recover from the issues whatever they may be, get all of that out of the way and lay a solid foundation for which to build their future."

In addition to supportive services, the DSA model also brings about a sense of dignity and responsibility to residents. Although they do have supportive services available, DSA is really independent living. Residents sign a standard lease and are only asked to abide by the ground rules and pay rent on time. The supportive services are optional, but most do take advantage of them. This type of model allows residents to maintain their dignity and not have to depend on the system for meals, shelter, and clothing. They are living independently but are still receiving the support they need to work their way toward stability.

Through most of the interview Taylor talked about the success of the residents. She smiled brilliantly as she told me story after story of residents who came to the DSA with major issues— drug and alcohol addictions, physical and emotional abuse, and depression were some of the common ones.

Taylor claims that there is tremendous healing and everyone here is better off than when they came, and it is evident in her stories. Some of those same residents who came in with addictions, abuse and depression are now attending college, working full time jobs, developing computer skills, working with children, and volunteering at treatment centers. Many of these successful residents have moved on to larger apartments and some are now even homeowners. DSA encourages residents to move on after they feel stable and secure. "I think it is important to move on and make that opportunity available to someone else because the need is endless, but they need some time and a sense of security" remarked Taylor.

We finished up the interview by discussing Taylor’s hopes for the DSA’s future. She hopes that in the near future they can secure funding to develop a community room. The residents already have a strong sense of community, but they would like to have a facility where community events could be held in a shared living area. Taylor also expressed a wish for more agencies like DSA in Cleveland: "We are changing lives for the better and it impacts the entire community." Residents at DSA become better citizens and often take the opportunity to pass on what they have learned, whether it is in the form of volunteering at a drug counseling program or helping new residents get back on their feet.

The residents have proven that the program works and the staff hopes that more facilities develop to give other people a chance to benefit from this model: "I’ve always believed that people need much more than a house, a lot more than how to budget, develop a resume, job search etc—it is healing that is so greatly needed. Once the healing begins, you have fertile soil in which life skills can take root," Taylor said.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #46 - 2001

Dollars Vs. Solutions: A Response from the City of Cleveland

by Linda M. Hudecek--City of Cleveland

I appreciate the opportunity to comment on your recent analysis of the local Continuum of Care process. While elements of your analysis could be helpful to those seeking to understand the basic structure of this process, many of the opinions, implications, and conclusions expressed are not supported by facts.

Some specific examples include:

Homeless Services, the article states that "very few of the goals have been realized." Included among these goals are such key program components as providing decent temporary shelters, providing environments (such as transitional housing) that combine housing and services to facilitate self-sufficiency and increasing affordable housing opportunities. To dismissively state that these goals have not been "realized" ignores the tremendous progress that this community has made over the past ten years in working to address the housing and service needs of the homeless. To cite some specifics:

3 In 1990, the community’s shelter capacity was 485 persons, with most of the facilities offering only mats on the floor. Shelter capacity is now about 950 with the last remaining location still utilizing mats being scheduled for replacement in the immediate future.

3 Transitional housing for families was almost non-existent in 1990, with only 12 available units. There are now 172 family transitional units offering up to two years of housing and a full complement of services designed to lead to self-sufficiency. Another 400 transitional units serve single men or women, an increase from 83 units in 1990.

3 Efforts to address permanent affordable housing needs have also produced significant results both through the Continuum of Care process and through the City’s work with neighborhood development organizations. Again, being specific:

% The Shelter Plus Care Program, begun in 1995, now supports over 1150 formerly homeless households in permanent housing with support services available when needed.

% The Horizons for the Homeless program has helped move 450 homeless families from transitional into permanent housing units through cooperation with CMHA.

% The non-profit Cleveland Housing Network now owns over 1700 houses that it rents to very low income families, with some of the units specifically linked to services for formerly homeless families through the SAFAH program.

2. The article states that: "One of the major concerns of homeless people was the overflow shelters, but this never made the priority list since it was not a HUD SHP funded program."

While emergency shelter is not eligible under HUD regulations for the Supportive Housing Program (SHP), developing high quality shelter has always been among the highest priorities of the Office of Homeless Services. That it has often taken longer than hoped has been because of the extremely difficult task of achieving some level of community consensus on acceptable locations. However, the existence of a new 350 bed shelter for homeless men and a new 50 bed shelter for persons with disabilities is tangible evidence that major concerns of the homeless are not ignored.

3. The article states that: "Only within the last year were the programs even reviewed to assure compliance with standards locally."

From the inception of the Continuum of Care process, funded agencies have received annual evaluation reviews and site monitoring visits from the Office of Homeless Services staff. During this past year, this process was greatly enhanced by the addition of team visits from the Office of Homeless Service Advisory Board’s Review and Ranking Committee. Contrary to a later statement in your article, these assessments did much more than assure that the organizations "had adequate fire extinguishers." They covered a wide range of issues and included client interviews conducted outside the presence of agency staff.

4. The article points out that "Many programs spend $20,000 to $30,000 for each person that they move into housing."

It is a favorite tactic of conservative politicians seeking to discredit social programs to take isolated statistics out of context and turn them into media "sound bites."

There are among the homeless population, certain persons with problems that are not easily or inexpensively resolved. The least "cost-effective" programs, based on the chart accompanying your article, are small facilities that work with persons with serious mental illnesses. For these clients, the road to some form of permanent housing may be long and difficult. Working with this population will never produce impressive statistics on your comparative chart. However, that is not justification for ignoring these critical needs.

5. The section of your article on the composition of the oversight committee portrays it as populated primarily by social service providers concerned almost exclusively with protecting their personal fiefdoms by allying with the other providers to assure that no objective analysis of performance can occur.

While many participants in the oversight process do work for service delivery agencies (and many do not), our experience has been that the overwhelming majority of persons working with the homeless in this community are extremely dedicated individuals that are fully committed to the interests of the homeless. There are presumably easier ways to get rich than working 12 to 14 hours a day in a homeless shelter.

Most of the agencies do receive relatively high scores through the review process. However, the fact that the grades for agencies range from A to D- would seem to belie the notion that the primary motivation of the reviewers is mutual self-protection.

6. The article ends with a number of broad statements that are neither documented nor supported by any persuasive arguments.

Along with the totally unsubstantiated assertion that homelessness in Cuyahoga County has tripled in the past ten years, the article concludes that with respect to homelessness, "there is no plan in place and there is no effort to better serve the needs of the community."

Elsewhere in the same issue of the Homeless Grapevine, a story on the HUD funding system states that "communities that do not do a good job of planning receive no funds . . . Dayton and Akron were completely shut out of their portion of federal homeless funding." On this basis, at least, the outstanding record of our local Office of Homeless Services in securing more than its share of competitive HUD funds would seem to indicate that HUD believes that a quality planning effort is taking place. In fact, in its evaluation of our most recent Continuum of Care application, the planning process carried out by the Office of the Homeless Services scored 14.38 out of a possible 15 points.

Homelessness has increased in Cleveland over the past ten years. However, the U.S. Conference

of Mayors’ annual Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness indicates that homelessness has

been increasing at similar or greater rates in every American city. Clearly, there are nationwide

social and economic factors at work that transcend the quality of local planning efforts. In spite

of the dedicated work of many individuals and agencies in moving thousands of people out of

homelessness, new persons and families continue to enter the shelter system.

By any objective measure, significant progress has been continually made in both the local Continuum of Care service system and its planning process over the past years. It is equally clear that many of the factors that lead people into homelessness and keep them there for too long have yet to be fully addressed. Future success will require the efforts, not only of the many dedicated people already involved, but also the commitment of many parties that to date have not been sufficiently involved in creating solutions.

As an advocacy organization, NEOCH must play an important role in this process, both in helping to assure that concerns and issues of the homeless are heard and in constructively prodding entities from the governmental, institutional and business sectors to do more. We look forward to continuing to work with NEOCH to help assure that all Cleveland residents have a place to call home.

Editor’s Note: Linda M. Hudecek is the Director of Community Development for the City of Cleveland. She was asked by editors of the Homeless Grapevine to respond to the articles in the previous Grapevine (Issue #45). The next issue of the Grapevine will look at specific examples of Dollars in competition with Solutions in Cleveland.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #46 -  2001

Cuyahoga County Responds to Grapevine Criticism

By Ruth Gillett-Office of Homeless Services

At your request, I am writing to respond to the recent Grapevine article concerning the Continuum of Care for Homeless Services in Cuyahoga County.

The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has defined the Continuum of Care as being comprised of four components: Prevention, Emergency Shelter, Transitional Housing and Supportive Services, and Permanent Housing. However, only two of these components, Transitional Housing/Supportive Services, and Permanent Housing, are eligible for funding through the HUD, McKinney Act, Continuum of Care grant application process.

Since 1993, when the Office of Homeless Services was established, over $73 million of competitive grants have been awarded to Cuyahoga County. Over $39 million, or 54% of the dollars have been targeted to create permanent housing options. Over 3,000 homeless persons have been placed in permanent, subsidized housing through these Continuum of Care awards.

The remaining 46% of the award dollars have gone to expand the number of transitional housing beds and the scope and availability of supportive services to single men, women, women with children, persons with AIDS, severely mentally disabled, chemically addicted and physically frail, homeless persons. It would not be an exaggeration to assert that every homeless person in this community has experienced some benefit from the shelter and/or services that have been funded through these components of the competitive grants.

An important feature of the McKinney awards is the requirement that the federal dollars be matched and leveraged with local funds. The permanent housing dollars awarded through the Shelter Plus Care grants require a $1 for $1 supportive services match from the community. Supportive Services and Transitional Housing grants require a minimum of a 3 to 1 match from the community. Applying these ratios to the grant awards, you can see that many more resources have been committed to meeting the needs of the homeless in our community, in a coordinated way. Local match and leverage comes from private donors, local foundations, community service agencies, the Veterans Administration, the Mental Health and Alcohol & Drug Boards, the AIDS funding streams, and State, City and County funds to name just a few. In addition to bringing financial resources together, the Continuum has brought diverse interests, talents, and disciplines together to try to understand how they can better serve clients who lack a permanent residence.

In spite of these new resources, homelessness and its contributing factors: poverty, addiction, mental illness, family violence, low wages, and a lack of affordable housing, have not been eliminated in Cleveland, or any other American city. However, as a community, I believe we have progressed in our understanding of the problem and our ability to implement appropriate, effective interventions, and, most importantly, the suffering of some of the most vulnerable members of our community, has been reduced.

McKinney competitive grants are awarded based in part on a community application process which HUD rates as to whether it is inclusive, fair, and reflects a strategic approach to addressing homelessness. Since 1994, the Office of Homeless Services (OHS) has assumed the responsibility for managing this process because of the direct relationship between resources and opportunities to affect change.

The local process has evolved in response to changes in HUD requirements, and input from stakeholders, including NEOCH. As a multi-year participant, NEOCH is aware of the complexity of the written application, and HUD’s often times confusing, directives. The OHS has attempted to meet both the spirit and the letter of the requirements within the organizational constraints that have existed. Preparing the Continuum of Care application is only one of the many initiatives that the OHS pursues as part of its overall objectives to:

· Prevent homelessness,

· Increase affordable housing opportunities, and

· Assure adequate and appropriate services and shelter for persons who are experiencing homelessness.

I welcome NEOCH’s continued advocacy and support in meeting these objectives.

Editor’s Note: Ruth Gillett is the program manager of the Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services. She was asked by editors of the Homeless Grapevine to respond to the articles in the previous Grapevine (Issue #45). The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless publishes the Grapevine, and is a part of the review committee. Brian Davis wrote the articles in the Homeless Grapevine and serves as executive director of the Coalition.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #46 -2001

Civil Rights Violations Increasing in the U.S

by Sheryl Lynn Smith

Civil rights violations are increasingly being carried out by individuals, public institutions and governmental entities against persons who are homeless. Local advocates believe that such actions, policies and ordinances are responses to homelessness driven by anger and frustration, and are fueled by the powerlessness of persons who are homeless in this society. Such actions, policies and ordinances are discriminatory because they target persons based on their homeless status and are unconstitutional.

NEOCH, Americorp*VISTA, and local agencies nationwide are working with the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) on ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind", a report on the Criminalization of Homelessness. Educating the public about the demographic makeup of the homeless population, causes, solutions and what individuals/groups can do is essential to the goal of ending homelessness. The NCH is providing substantive and timely information on issues related to homelessness and poverty to a wide audience.

Local governments continue to turn to the criminal justice system to address problems associated with homelessness in their communities. ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ due to be released in March, 2001, is an update of the National Law Center’s 1998 report which documents a rise in anti-homeless activities across the country, and examines the progress of this trend in the same 50 United States cities surveyed for past reports. It is the sixth such report published since 1991.

In ‘criminalizing’ homelessness, cities generally pursue one or more of four primary types of action: (1) enacting and/or enforcing restrictions on homeless people’s use of public spaces for necessary activities such as sleeping or sitting, (2) enacting and/or enforcing restrictions on begging, (3) conducting police "sweeps" designed to remove homeless people from specific areas, and (4) targeting homeless people for selective enforcement of generally applicable laws.

According to local advocates, Cleveland has repeatedly attempted to use its police force to enforce a policy of "Out of Sight, Out of Mind". In 1999, the mayor of Cleveland adopted a policy of threatening arrest of anyone sleeping, sitting or even walking on the street. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the NEOCH together sued the city to stop this policy. After two months of court battles, the city settled the lawsuit pledging not to engage in this activity. In 2000, there has been a rise in the number of homeless people arrested for criminal trespassing for sleeping underneath public bridges.

Brian Davis, executive director, said in an interview, "In the ten years that the mayor has been in office, his administration has used a hammer to deal with the rising homeless population. The City Council of Cleveland is at war with the Mayor’s administration which has made it impossible for the Mayor to get any anti-homeless laws passed. He has traditionally used Executive order to accomplish what he cannot accomplish through legislation," said Davis.

In an interview with Angelo Anderson, Director of the Salvation Army’s Men’s Emergency Shelter, he stated that "Sweeps seem to be directly connected with the holiday season in the city’s central business district which steps up enforcement of aggressive solicitation laws."

NEOCH and other activists worked to stop the sweeping policy in February, 2000. They have also setup a Care Line for the Central Business District, which allows businesses to call, and social service agencies to intervene instead of the police. According to Davis, "Although we have only heard isolated incidence of sweeping connected with events, we have seen limited attempts to prevent homeless people from going into surrounding suburban communities."

Public institutions are creating exclusionary policies that target persons who are homeless, such as restrictions on the size or number of bags patrons can take into a library. Local communities are selectively reinforcing existing laws, or writing new ones, that make criminal the performance of life-sustaining behaviors in public settings such as sleeping, standing, or sitting.

Over the past five years in Cleveland, the ACLU and NEOCH have challenged anti-homeless policies three times. The first was in 1995 was the kidnapping and dumping of homeless people. The second was the registration of homeless vendors of The Grapevine. The third was the sweeping of homeless people from the sidewalk.

Criminalization is an ineffective response to homelessness and its manifestations. Efforts to rid public places of homeless people through such policies are likely to be futile; in the absence of adequate housing, jobs and treatment, penalizing people for sleeping in public spaces or begging on the streets is unlikely to deter them. Homeless people who are chased out of one public area and who have nowhere else to go will simply move to another area. Further, broad bans on panhandling, and – when challenged by homeless people with no alternative place to sleep – broad bans on sleeping in public are especially vulnerable to legal challenges; indeed, several courts have struck down such laws as unconstitutional.

According to the ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ report, anti-homeless actions also constitute poor public policy. "They are counterproductive because they often undermine homeless people’s effort to escape poverty. Arrests, citations, fines, ‘moving-alone’ orders or other harassment by police only serve as barriers to self-sufficiency." The report continues to say that anti homeless actions "impose improper and unnecessary burdens on the criminal justice system. Reliance on police officers, who are not properly trained to deal with homelessness and attendant problems such as mental illness or alcoholism, and on jails, which are frequently overcrowded and usually cannot provide adequate supervision or treatment opportunities, often causes difficulties and widespread frustration within the criminal justice system."

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty recommends that cities pursue constructive policies, both immediate and long-term including: "1) adopting laws that are designed to assist rather than harass homeless people; 2) ensuring that law enforcement officials protect homeless people, who are disproportionately victimized by crime, rather than single them out for law enforcement action; 3) encouraging rather than limiting or harassing, private service providers; 4) addressing legitimate concerns, such as sanitation, through constructive rather than punitive responses, such as providing a sufficient number of restrooms, and; 5) fostering dialogue and outreach among city agencies, homeless people, advocates for homeless people, and members of the business community to find long-term solutions that address the underlying causes of homelessness."

NEOCH and other agencies have been instrumental in designing constructive alternatives. "We have done one police sensitivity training at the police academy," said Davis. This resulted in the 1999 sweeping policy being opposed by the police force who refused to arrest people. Davis said, "They were very sympathetic to our arguments, and quietly helped the Coalition behind the scenes." Advocates have also been effective with the state of Ohio, which has agreed not to conduct sweeps under bridges without providing warning to local outreach workers.

The ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’ report is a tool to rid society of the criminalizing "quick fix" attitude. It is designed to help communities begin to create adequate alternative solutions which address the problem of alleviating homelessness and discontinue the practice of focusing on the symptoms of the problem.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #46 - 2001

Army Wages War Against Minute Men

Commentary by Alex Grabtree

The Salvation Army is a one hundred year old Christian based "army" of enlisted folks fighting poverty. The Bush Administration has proposed expanding the efforts of the faith based organizations to fight poverty. The Salvation Army should be well prepared to take full advantage of this blurring of the separation of church and state. If the government is prepared to bring faith based organizations further into the fight against poverty, we have to ask how they will do in non-traditional roles typically reserved for the federal government, like fighting a war?

Those of us in Cleveland are in a unique position to see how a faith based army will react in a real war with the announcement in February that the Salvation Army will not allow the temporary labor organizations onto their property. The leading temp. service in the Downtown area is Minute Men. They send an army of low skilled workers out to job sites everyday and they have a good name for a combatant. For Minute Men and the other temporary labor organizations, this talk of a ban by the Salvation Army is a declaration of war. One member of the Minute Men staff mentioned to one reporter something to the effect of, how could they say those harsh things about us after we gave them the land for the playground behind one of their shelters?

So the gauntlet was thrown down and battle lines were drawn for a real live war between the Salvation Army and the Minute Men Army. This would truly be a Civil War, since the troops would need to pick sides. Currently the troops sleep at the Salvation Army at night and work for the temp. agencies during the day. The Sal Army, as they are affectionately known, does a great job with casualties because of that mobile canteen they own and they have a well tooled bureaucracy in place, but they have very little experience with offense and frontal attacks. Minute Men are always ready for a fight and reportedly have very organized connections in the underground economy. They have a good defense (they have been protecting their reputation for years), but they are really untested in making war.

The Salvation Army usually pursues a war of attrition by sending every decision that needs to be made up to the Generals in New York and then the strategy or battle plan comes back down the chain of command. This process usually takes months. Pentagon experts contacted for this article said that this strategy might have worked in World War I, but it has no place in modern warfare in an era of pinpoint accurate bombing and computer guidance systems. It was discovered that even on the first day of the war, they were pursuing peace negotiations with Minute Men. This adopting of the French strategy of making war was quite unexpected, but prevented any loss of life.

It seems that on the day the Sal Army announced the ban they received telephone calls from the Generals at Minute Men, and by the end of the day had backed away from the ban. They talked tough publicly, but had signed a non-aggression pact with Minute Men Services. They agreed to allow Minute Men staff to call the shelter and have the shelter staff announce that a van was coming over to pick up guys to be exploited by the temp. services. The war was over before even one person died or was fired.

The laborers who stay at the shelter operated by the Salvation Army were not important enough to go to war for, and certainly not important enough to die to protect. How do they expect to take on our national defense if they cannot even beat an untested corporation dependent on troops that feel a deep seated hate toward their superiors? For an Army, these guys are pushovers.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #46 -2001