Workers Unite

Commentary By Pamela Vincent

             When I first heard about the temporary labor project (day labor companies), I had no idea of the problems and issues plaguing the homeless people who utilize temporary employment agencies.  I was both surprised and appalled by the dangerous working conditions and exploitation the workers are often subjected to.  I initially met with founder of the Low wage Workers Union and project director Dan Kerr, Lara Wixon a dedicated volunteer and Bob Molchan Jr. A volunteer, who is also a homeless temp worker.  The three of them briefed me about the interviewing process and places to meet the temp workers.  Since Bob has spent 20 years utilizing temporary employment agencies he was able to share some of the exploitative experiences that he and thousands of other workers like him endure through the temporary agencies.  I think I should clarify that not all-temporary agencies are guilty of such charges, but changes need to be made to protect all the employees regardless of which agency they work with.  This project was brought about because of the many complaints and allegations brought to light by the low wageworkers that utilize the agencies.  It was clear that they needed to organize and gather information to present their case to city officials with a public hearing.

            When Dan Kerr informed me of the number of temporary workers they hoped to interview (approximately 200) the deadline (September 2001) and the length of time each interview takes (approximately 45 min. to 2 hours) I thought this was a huge undertaking.  I was surprised that the temp workers were willing to spend so much time with us and give us their personal work histories.  Some of the workers were apprehensive about sharing their personal information with us. I think they feared that if the temp agencies found out they were talking to us, they’d punish them.  They didn’t want, so to speak, “bite the hand that feeds them”, I think it was their trust in the LWWU, NEOCH, and the compassion of the volunteers that gave them the courage to open us and share some very personal experiences with us.  Now that they are uniting as a grout it’s easier to take a stand against the temp agencies and they now have hope that things will change for the better.

            I asked Kerr to share his thoughts and impressions of the interviews he’s been a part of:  “The biggest surprise for me in doing the interviews that people were working in unskilled labor positions.  The interviews have made it clear to me that people are working in skilled jobs in both the industrial and construction sectors of the economy – jobs that used to guarantee a living wage.”

            He went on to say that “the interviews have also impressed upon me how pervasive the element of ear and retaliation is to the way temp agencies do business.  Nearly everyone I interviewed told me that if they raised a complaint they were generally ignored or told that it was their own fault.  If they persisted in raising their complaint, they would not be sent out to work.  This fear of not being sent out to work really puts workers in a position where they can not choose which types of work they will accept or decline for fear that they will not get any work at all.  In my opinion, this is what has allowed the persistence of unsafe working conditions in so many places that temp workers are sent to.”

            “The interviews also shed some light onto the persistent workings of racial segregation in the job market.  They have made it clear to me that women are working many of the same jobs as the men are working in industrial production, however, many are constantly faced with outrageous degree of sexual harassment.”  Dan was also surprised to find how willing so many people were to endure our lengthy interviews. “In spite of prevailing threats of retaliation, temp workers have shown that they are so fed up with the way the temp agencies are run that they are willing to risk talking in detail.”

            Lara Wixon had similar experienced and recounted to me how the interviews affected her personally.  “How can you describe walking in and out of someone’s life? Whenever I walk into the shelter and sit down for an interview, we almost always go so far into their life that I feel odd to just walk back out those doors at 2100 Lakeside.  These people have shared more of their stories and what they believe with me than people I’ve known for years…”  “As far as the work situation goes, everyone I’ve talked with would like to see the profits split a little more fairly.  So the majority of those interviewed would really like to see a non-profit temp agency started.  I also would like to see this project fly.  The other item missing from their work experiences is a little respect.  We all have felt this way or have been treated this way at one time or another, but some of the stories I have heard are out of this world as far as how humans can treat each other.”

            My own experiences have been filled with disbelief and outrage over the treatment the temp workers receive from the agencies.  One man I interviewed told me of a time where he was assigned to a job and the agency’s transportation driver called in sick so they asked another temp worker to use his van to drive the man to the work site.  About the same time the police stopped him and ran a check on his license only to discover it was suspended.  Not only did the driver get arrested and his van towed, but also the temp worked was taken to the police station where he was stranded overnight.  Upon calling the temp agency in the morning for assistance, they told him he was on his own finding a way back to town.  Not only did this man lose a day’s wages, and get stranded overnight but the agency also deducted a transportation fee from his check!

            The same man had another bad incident where he had been working close to 90 days for the same company.  Usually it takes 90 consecutive days of working at the same company for them to qualify for a permanent job. When he was one week shy of the qualifying date the company told him they did not need him anymore.  He then had to start all over again at another company.  He has yet to qualify for a permanent position and has become frustrated with the whole system.

            Interview, after interview our volunteers heard cases of hazardous working conditions, unpaid overtime issues, working 10+ hours without breaks and countless other violations of worker rights.  I was stunned to find out the following important facts about temp workers:

  • Many of the employees have worked for temporary agencies for 10-20 years yet they have no pension, benefits or security.
  • The number of different places and types of jobs they’ve done make them very qualified to find permanent employment.
  • They are not lazy, are more than willing to work and even though they’ve worked many years they have not earned enough money to afford housing or rise above the poverty level.
  • They are slaves to the temporary agency that keep them in a vicious cycle of reliance that most of them can’t break free from.

The ultimate goals What we want to see happen is to put regulations and laws in place to protect the workers, allow them to earn a living wage, and mandate that the agencies and companies they work for regulate their recruiting practices and associated fees.  The agencies need to be monitored and penalties and fines put in place for ones that violate worker rights.  The last and most important goal is to set up a non-profit community hiring all that would use the government subsidies in a fare and efficient employment system, where profits are more evenly distributed among the workers.

      This September we hope to present the discoveries in a City Council hearing.  The Low Wage Workers Union is urging all temp workers to be present at the hearing.  Since the hearing date hasn’t been set at the time of this printing LWWU and NEOCH will contact as many workers as possible through the shelters, meal sites and general gatherings.

      In closing, I’m reminded of the words of Helen Keller who said…”The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of the heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tine pushes of each hones worker.”  Together we can do this!

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -2001

States File Suit to Regulate Payday Lenders

By Angela Joyce and Susan Cihla

             This is Part 2 of our ongoing examination of Payday lenders.  In this issue, we’ll discuss the latest government-sponsored lawsuit against a payday lender, and discuss weaknesses in Ohio law, which may prevent Ohio governmental agencies from calling for justice for its residents.  For Part I see the Grapevine on the Internet at www.neoch.org under programs.

            July 13, 2001, marked the beginning of the latest state-sponsored lawsuit filed against a payday lender.  The State of Colorado is suing the country’s largest payday lender and check cashing company, ACE a.k.a. American Cash Express, Inc., of Irving, Texas.  The State of Colorado accused ACE of violating state laws and charging exorbitant interest rates to mostly poor clients.

            The state of Colorado is not the first government entity that has filed suit against a payday lender.  The State Attorney General of Virginia brought suit against several payday lenders some years ago.  In addition, a private, class-action suit is currently pending in Florida against another payday lender.

            The lawsuit stemmed from a lengthy report published by the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CO-PIRG. In April of 2001, CO-PIRG conducted a survey, revealing that payday lenders were exploiting their ties to national banks in order to charge higher interest rates and roll loans over in pursuit of double or triple fees. The Colorado State Attorney General’s office also began to investigate ACE’s practices during an audit ordered after ACE voluntarily surrendered its Colorado supervised lender’s license in December of 2000 ACE has been operating without a state license in Colorado every since.

            ACE terminated its Colorado license because its operators believe that its partnership with Goleta National Bank, of Goleta, California, allows ACE to sidestep restrictive state of Colorado regulations placed upon payday lenders.  Eric Norrington, an ACE vice president, told the Denver Post, “The dispute boils down to an interpretation of the law.”

            Colorado law permits payday loans, but does not classify them under their code of usury.  Usury codes in Colorado possess a loan cap of 36%.  Payday loans in Colorado may not exceed $500.00, and the lender cannot charge more than 20% of the loan amount for the first $300.00, and 7.5 percent foe the next $200.  For example, for a 14 day, $500.00 loan, the lender may charge a $75 fee, the equivalent of a 391% annualized percentage rate.  Under Colorado law, the original loan can be rolled over once, with the lender charging the same fee of $75.00.  After one roll over, the rate, by law, has to drop. The lawsuit alleges that ACE continued to roll over loans at higher interest rates.  The CO-PIRG survey revealed that ACE’s cash stores advertised three or more rollovers.  With these multiple rollovers, the customer could pay as much in fees as the original amount of the loan.

            The lawsuit rates questions as to whether or not a non-bank, lending agency, such as ACE, when in partnership with a nationally chartered bank, falls under the National Bank Act.  If that were the case, ACE and other payday lenders would not be obligated to observe state consumer protection laws.  Ken Lane, Colorado State Attorney General spokesman, believes the case may reach the Supreme Court.

            Representatives from ACE, on the other hand say their company is providing a valuable service to the community, and that the company has been overwhelmed by the demand for payday loans.  The loans are popular, they say, because so many consumers are denied access to traditional banks or credit lines.  According to CO-PRIG, residents of Colorado borrowed 86 million dollars from payday lenders in 1999; up from 67 mission the year before.

            No public or private agency has yet to determine either the number of payday loan borrowers in Ohio, or the loan amounts they borrow annually.  While Ohio law requires payday lenders to make their books and records available to the Attorney general on demand, this statue does not apply to any bank, bank holding company or affiliate of a bank or bank holding company.  Since most payday lenders are not partnered with financial institutions, even the Attorney General is prohibited from an on-demand examination of payday lender records in Ohio.  Furthermore, Ohio law prevents information gathered by the Attorney General for these purposes from being made public.  These statues make it difficult, if not impossible, for the public to gain any access to information, positive or negative, about payday lender activity in our state.

            ACE, at its area locations, does comply with Ohio state statues calling for full disclosure of interest rates and fees for payday loans.  However, it remains to be seen whether ACE is circumventing statues limiting a loan to a period not to exceed 6 months, by engaging in endless loan rollovers.  This should be of special interest to Ohio lawmakers, government officials, and residents: this is a law similar to that in Colorado, the violation of which is being answered there with governmental intervention.

            Ohio does not specifically name a 6-month limit on rollovers (i.e., newly negotiated loans): just existing ones.  But even if payday lenders like ACE were ordered or cared to restrict the duration of their rollover periods to 6-months, that’s little consolation to area debtors.  In that amount of time, a single loan could rollover 11 times, causing the consumer to pay 100% of the loan just in fees, without touching the principal.

            The consumer Federation of America, in response to payday lender abuses, recommended the following:

  1. federal legislation preventing the use of national bank and thrift charters to evade state small loan rate caps and usury laws.
  2. the maintaining and enforcement of interest rate caps for small loans at the state leave.
  3. compliance by payday lenders with the Truth in Lending Act by disclosing annual percentage rates, so consumers may comparison shop for credit.
  4. and state reform of existing payday loans laws, with lower maximum rates and comprehensive consumer protections.

The problem is, three out of four of thee recommendations (the three adoptable on

a State level) are already in effect in the state of Ohio.  The reforms are not slowing payday lenders and their bank partners in the least.

            In response to a query about the private class action suit filed against ACE in Jacksonville, Florida, ACE president, Jay B Shipowitz, was quoted as saying, “This produce (meaning payday loans) was designed and developed with thee types of claims in mind.  We believe that the favorable outcome of this matter will be an important step in the evolution and broader acceptance of this new credit product.”

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -2001

Solutions to Homelessness

            There are rumblings about setting in motion a plan to reduce homelessness.  In the past this was tried, but was centered around emergency services and never addressed housing.  Successful plans in other communities have all centered on housing.  Based on programs in other communities, interviews with homeless people, and the unique needs of Cleveland here are the recommendations to significantly reduce the number of people who exist on the streets.  This is the outline of a plan that could be undertaken by community leaders, business and government officials as was done in other communities.

1. Communities must develop a plan that involves housing and homeless service.

Find a community Leadership Team to facilitate the coordinate a plan.  This plan must have the majority of providers, foundation, community leaders and government willing to support outcome.  Accurate profiles and trends on homelessness and poverty must be in placer.  Homeless people have to be brought into the process as partners

Five critical areas to address:

             Outcomes:

a.      Affordable housing—Each government entity has a role.

b.      Supportive housing services.  Extensive cost estimates must be outlined

c.      High Risk and Chronic sub groups.  Costs for not following the plan must be outlined.

d.      Intensive prevention strategies

e.      Comprehensive health strategy.

 I. Communities must have a prevention plan to keep all new people out of the system.

Caseworkers would go to visit all those who are in danger of entering the system (families facing eviction.)  First call for Help would dispatch the workers, and they would have to have the resources to keep people in their housing or place them directly into housing or place them directly into housing with case management without entering the shelter system.  Need a dedicated pool to prevent homelessness.

  • ·  Communities must have a local effort to build, develop and fund housing plans for housing plans for homeless people.

Chronically homeless people are a fraction of the total population, but use most of the resources.  If the community can place these individuals into housing with a great deal of support services we save a great deal of money.  Communities need a dedicated pool of money to build new housing, renovate housing, and develop housing opportunities for homeless people.  Need to have a plan for the best path into housing for special populations.

  • ·  All Social Workers must first address housing stability then offer other support.

All licensed social workers should be involved in the quest for housing stability for homeless people.  It is a waste of money and time to try and offer assistance to a homeless person.  Treatment, literacy building, health care services have more of an impact for people with stable places to return to at night and to those that do not have to worry about their housing situation.  If every social worker from job counselor to welfare caseworker to hospital discharge social worker assisted people with their housing, fewer people would fall into homelessness.  At this time, we each have our specialty and we defer housing stability to “someone else.”

  • ·  Homeless agencies should keep people in shelter and move them into housing.

At this time, many homeless organizations in an effort to not contaminate the entire shelter population will immediately evict homeless people that come back drunk or high.  This denies the science of addiction, which usually involves relapses.  Take away privileges, begin eviction proceedings but do not line housing to social services.  Even if the individual is given thirty day notice to leave, the shelter should attempt to relocate them to a treatment center or similar facility.

  • ·  Communities should adopt a living wage tied to the cost of housing for all jobs in the region.

Studies have found people have to work 80 hours at minimum wage or find jobs to pay $10.00 per hour to afford the fair market rent in Ohio.  Communities need to require employers to pay adults an income tied to the fair market rent, which are updated yearly.  A component of this is to deal with plantation and exploitative nature of the temporary labor organizations in urban centers.  Low skilled workers need an alternative in order to break the cycle of poverty.

  • ·  Communities need to provide access to information and technology.

Most cities have resources to assist homeless people but do not have an effective way to distribute information about those services.  Homeless people need places to go to get access to information and technology and learning centers.

  • ·  Agencies must be held to performance standards that place people in housing.

To often we allow social services get a pass because of their good deeds, but never are asked for proving their impact on the community.  Homeless service providers must be held to a standard that requires them to place clients that seek help into housing with annual performance goals.  There also must be an attempt to move people as fast as possible out of the homeless situation.  Shelters are not always the answer for homeless people.  Many people can be successful with a less intrusive level of intervention.  Studies have shown that families and those with mental illness can be more successful going directly into housing support services.

  • ·  We all must lean to forgive and forget.

We consistently, over the last ten years, have moved to punishing an individual for life for mistakes.  Felons, people with poor credit, and those with previous evictions are punished by not being extended housing and even employment.  Those who serve their time or seek legal relief from their debts should not be forced into a homeless situation for life.  Communities must figure out ways for those that make mistakes to reintegrate into society.  It serves no one to continue to punish these individuals so that these individuals are desperate or depressed or both.

  • ·  Access to comprehensive health care and prevention care is critical.

We have seen a growth in the medically indigent that sacrifice there housing for medicine or for an expensive operation.  Universal health care would solve this problem, but short of that communities need to develop special protocols for homeless people who are in need of medical treatment.

  • ·  Massive increases in Mental Health counseling needed for low income individuals.

Too often we treat the triggering factor for an individual’s homelessness, but we never get around to treating the reason the individual turned to drugs or crime.  There is such a huge demand for mental health counseling most communities have prioritized only those with a severe mental illness (those who are a danger to themselves or other,) as deserving of counseling and support.  States need to adopt mental health parity so that individuals will get the same health coverage for mental illness as with other health problems.  By adding counseling services for people with any depression, personality disorders, and other obstacles to stability, we will all live in a healthier community.  People could work through the anxiety and rage from a history of sexual abuse or child abuse.

 This was developed by the Homeless Coalition through regular meetings with homeless people.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -2001

NASNA 2001

Street Newspapers Organize in San Francisco

 By Brian Davis

           The North American Street Newspaper Association has entered its adolescence on the road to full maturity.  In the growth of an organization, in its infancy people, come together for self-preservation or because of mutual interests.  In childhood, these organizations develop rules, work out trust issues, and make plans.  NASNA has gone through its childhood and now in adolescence is working   on ways to accomplish plans.  Only one member of our original leadership team of NASNA returned this year, but there is a youthful exuberance to transform NASNA into a movement for social justice in this hemisphere.

            Street newspapers from Edmonton to Jacksonville, from Boston to San Diego met in San Francisco for the Sixth Annual NASNA conference at the end of July 2001.  Staff, from 32 member papers were represented to participate in this once a year gathering of street newspapers.  Two members of street papers from Europe attended this year’s with over 120 people attending the gathering.

            San Francisco is a progressive city with draconian policies toward homeless people according to the vendors from Street Sheet, San Francisco’s street newspaper.  There were thousands of homeless people on the streets sleeping, waiting, and watching their shopping carts.  Chance Martin, Street Sheet editor host for this year’s conference, planned a series of events to unity the membership and confront intolerance in the city by the Bay.

            The members gathered with poetry and movies saying hello to old friends and conversing with staff from new member paper.  On the first complete of the NASNA conference, the membership has a tradition called the parade of papers.  Each paper has one representative introduce all the members that made the trek to the conference and then talk for a couple of minutes about what has happened to the paper over the last year.  The membership learned that in Florida, the local municipalities were engaged in a series of assaults on the local street newspaper, Homeless Voice.  Staff from Denver Voice talked about attacks and murders of homeless people.  The Seattle paper staff reported that they were leading an effort to bring more shelter to the homeless population and they were still supporting the sober living tent city.  There were new papers in Los Angeles, Tucson, Kentucky, New Hampshire and St. Louis.

            One other tradition features a group of tables with newspapers from around the world for exchange.  There were colorful papers from Montreal and photo copied journals from Santa Barbara.  There were standard newsprint style papers like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Austin and Dallas as well as glossy magazine style papers from Quebec City and London, England.  All these diverse style newspapers with commentaries, editorials, news and features that unity once a year as part of the NASNA conference.

            Workshops are one aspects of the conference with civil rights organizing, fundraising, and poetry all part of the days events.  There was a workshop on media advocacy provided by the Independent Medial Center, which provides free Internet news from around the world.  There were training sessions from vendors of street papers as well as for editor’s who needed to create a business plan.  There was one workshop for photojournalists, news writing and one on the Universal living wage.

           Ben Bagdikian rallied the troops as the keynote speaker.  Bagdikian is the author of the Media Monopoly and In the Midst of Plenty:  The Poor In America, and the former dean of graduate school of journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.  He talker about the national disgrace in our urban centers called homelessness.  He complained that no other democracy tolerates this type of treatment of its citizens.  The point of his talk was the attack on homelessness and poverty by the media monopolies.  He calked about he “cold war fantasy” of Star Wars and how just half of that expenditure could house every homeless person in every major city in America.  He said that there was “no excuse for the lack of spending on homelessness in the richest country in the world.”

           Bagdikian talked about the alleged “firewall” that is supposed to exist between and advertising aspects of the newspaper and the news and editorial side.  He said that the firewall has over the last 10 years of firewall has been constructed of flammable materials.  He urged the papers gathered to “show what could be done with journalism.”  He asked that hose gather and “shame our national political leadership,” but cautioned against advocating violence.  Bagdikian wanted to see a national paper of homeless voices, because our entire population is suffering with a lack of affordable housing according to the professor.

            The most somber part of his keynote speech was when the elderly author talked about the changes in homelessness over the last 20 years.  He said that his greatest fear is that in the United States we are raising a generation that has always seen homeless people as part of the landscape of downtown.  His greatest fear is that the new generation will take for granted homeless people and will stop caring.  He said, “Just as we don’t pay attention to lamp posts and fire hydrants, we take homeless people for granted.”  He wants this generation to remember that in the 1970’s we did not have nearly the number of homeless people sleeping on the streets.

            After the second annual North American vend off was son by a vendor from Cleveland, those attending the conference gathered for a direct action against the San Francisco Chronicle daily newspaper.  This is another example of the differences between San Francisco and Cleveland.  In Cleveland there are extensive, arcane permit requirements for a demonstration and the police will harass the protesters for straying from the sidewalk, blocking the sidewalk, blocking a doorway, using a bull horn, crossing against a light, walking without a permit and just about anything else to silence free speech.  In San Francisco, the police were remarkably restrained and allowed the group to really in front of the daily newspaper’s doors.  With one hundred protesters it was impossible not to block the sidewalk and the door.

            The other difference between Cleveland protests and those in San Francisco was the relatively small number of police that showed up for the demonstration.  In Cleveland there is usually one officer for every two protesters.  San Francisco had a reasonably small number of officers for this protest against the Chronicle, which reduces the chances of police rioting.

            The San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness organized the protest to call attention to the negative portrayal of homeless people in the media.  Only weeks before the conference, the Chronicle editorialized that Mayor Willie Brown should crack down on homelessness in UN Plaza which prompted the Mayor to take out the park benches.  The friends of the Coalition made up mock newspapers with headlines like “Fuck the Homeless” satirizing the underlying messages forwarded by the media.  The management of the paper offered to meet with the Coalition on the Monday after the demonstration to talk about coverage of homeless people.

            The business of the conference was to choose Quebec City as the site of the 2003 conference, vote on a new executive committee and affirm the decisions made over the previous year.  Two papers were awarded NASNA awards for most improved paper 2001.  Street Roots in Portland Oregon and LaQuete in Quebec City were jointly awarded the certificates for most improved.

            The final day of the conference is a planning session for the next year.  Priorities outlined by the membership included hiring a staff, collaborating on a poetry book, and deciding on a definition of a street newspaper for NASNA.  There was approval of the Universal Living Wage platform and a discussion of a code of ethical conduct for the papers.  In the end the papers have put aside their mistrust were developing a common vision for the movement.  Now that the braces have come off of NASNA they look to a bright future.

 

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -200

Kucinich wants Homeless Census Released

            Councilman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH-10) introduced an amendment in July to the Commerce, Justice, and State Appropriations bill to require the Census Bureau to release data collected on the homeless populations in the 2000 Census.

            “The 2000 Census was a tremendous undertaking. “Congressman Kucinich said,  “ I am concerned that even though the Census Bureau worked with local governments to ensure that people in shelters, at food banks and those living on the streets were counted, the Bureau has opted not to separate those county.  That would make it more difficult for communities to serve the need of those who are homeless and defeat the purpose of the Census altogether.”

            Congressman Kucinich introduced the amendment with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-14) which requires the Census Bureau to track data similar to what was released in 1990 on the homeless population, and top classify the homeless into categories which accurately reflect their living situations.  Presently, the homeless population will be included with people living in other non-institutional group quarters such as college dormitories and group homes.  The amendment was voted on this afternoon, and was defeated by a count of 217 to 209 along party lines.

            These are the comments made by Rep. Kucinich on the floor of the House in support of this amendment to release the figures on homelessness in America by the U.S. Census.

            “During the 2000 Census, local government and the homeless advocacy groups across the country, in a unique partnership with the Census Bureau invested resources in counting Americans sleeping in shelters, eating at soup kitchens and living on the streets. The Census Bureau has decided however, not to show the count of people living in shelters and people living on the streets separately.  People counted on the street will be lumped in with people living in other non-institutional group quarters, such as college dormitories.

            Local governments and community groups expected to learn how to better serve their homeless populations from this data collection.  However the data currently provided by the Census Bureau is not all useful to local governments in identifying the services needed for their homeless citizens.  It is encouraging to learn that the Census Bureau will be releasing a special report this fall showing some data collected through the service-based counts.  Our amendment will provide adequate funding for the production of this report.

            Only data provided to the local governments will enable communities to have accurate counts of people living in shelters and on the streets.  The data is not intended to represent the official government count of the homeless.  I consider the concerns of some national groups who would believe that these figures would reflect the official count of the homeless, but that’s a very difficult task.

            I’ve been contacted by local homeless advocacy groups in my congressional district in Cleveland, Ohio, urging the release of this data.  One group, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless assisted the Census bureau by holding a service fair to increase the number of homeless people counted.  As the publisher of a street newspaper, this group absolutely supports the release of this data.

            I urge my colleagues to support this amendment to provide your local governments with access to information collected on people living in shelters and on the street.  Homelessness is a serious problem in this country.  All of us know that it has many manifestations – people living on the street, in cardboard boxes, under bridges, or those assigned to homeless shelters.  For all the work that the Census Bureau did in it’s  last count, it’s important and essential that is Congress and the people of the United States have the exact data that was gathered by the Census Bureau.  There ought to be freedom of information for the public, to withhold that information or to say it might be misinterpreted is really to miss an opportunity to get a broader assessment of homelessness in this country.

 

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -2001

Grapevine Vendors Wins Trip to Boston

           The Homeless Grapevine newspaper sent two representatives to the North American Street Newspaper Association (NASNA) conference in San Francisco, California Jul 27-29.  Marcia Rizzo Swanson, a vendor of the Homeless Grapevine, won a trip to San Francisco provided by Trinity Cathedral of Cleveland and competed in the 2001 Street Sales Contest against vendors from Calgary, Edmonton, Montreal, Boston, Austin, Dallas, and Cincinnati.  She dressed in a cow suit and took to the streets of San Francisco selling nearly three times as many papers as any of the other vendors thus becoming the champion of North America.

            As a part of her victory she will receive a free all expenses paid trip to the conference next year in Boston, Massachusetts.  Vendors sell their won hometown street paper on the same street to pedestrian in the host city.  The tradition started last year at the Edmonton NASNA conference. 

            In 2000, Terry, a vendor from Calgary won the award as top sales person for North America.  Terry was hailed in his hometown as king of the vendors with stories in all the major media outlets, and a television crew actually followed him to the San Francisco conference to see if he could defend his title.

            Also at the NASA conference Brian Davis, editor of the Homeless Grapevine, was chosen Chairperson of the street newspaper association.  Over the next year the group hopes to hire staff and figure out a way to interact with the international newspaper organization based in Britain.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -2001

Former Camelot Tenant, Chief, Dies in an Abandon Warehouse

By Alex Grabtree

            One of the Knights of the Roundtable has fallen in combat against the establishment.  Chief died on July 2001 in an abandoned building on Cedar Avenue at the old Westinghouse Warehouse.  Chief was one of the residents of Camelot, and was a part of the vigil to save the building.  Chief in fact was the individual who came up with name “Camelot” for the building on Chester Avenue at East 48th Street. Chief was in his late 30s and had many names that he supplied to the world including Timothy John Brown, Chris Hermann, and Preston Lee Ross.

            He left no footprints for the world, but was well known in the homeless community as Chief.  He did not ask for shelter or vouchers or much help at all.  He took a meal and a shower but did not cost the community much else.  Grapevine readers will remember Chief as the squatter on Carnegie Ave. next to Mc Donald’s at East 31st Street.  He and another homeless person drew media attention when they refused to move their shanty stopping the construction of a Taco Bell that never did materialize.

            Chief then moved to Camelot and reinvigorated a community that refused to enter the shelters and wanted to be left alone by society.  His comrades at Camelot said that Chief believed in traditional Indian culture.  He claimed that he had taken classes at Harvard, and he had a significant drinking problem.

            When he opened his shanty on Carnegie, I would stop to make sure that he was all right in the cold Cleveland winter.  He often forgot my name, but was always willing to talk.  He became very sick while on Carnegie and he refused treatment.  Finally, we convinced his dormitory friends and neighbors to pressure him to go to the hospital.  He spent a couple of weeks in the hospital, but that winter left him scarred and weaker.

            The next time that I saw him was at one of the all day service fairs called the Stand Down when he was nursing a would after cutting himself while cooking outside.  He was looking for a doctor, because the hospital had released him with stitching and bandages that needed changing.  The cooking mishap took place at Camelot, and took Chief out of the rotation as cook.  When Camelot was lost he accepted his fate and moved on to find another building to occupy.

            The coroner has yet to rule on a cause of death.  His body was ravaged from the effects of prolonged alcohol abuse.  He did have some trauma to his body, but that could be the result of his tough life.  No family as stepped forward, and he is most likely headed for burial in potters field in Cuyahoga County.  A Native American who bounded around town will leave the would have met and forgotten thousands.  He never revealed much, but was one of the best listeners.

  Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -2001

Cincinnati Street Vibes Celebrates Five Years

By Brian Davis

Editor of the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Chairman of the North American Street Newspaper Association

             The staff, venders, and volunteers at the Homeless Grapevine in Cleveland would like to congratulate Street Vibes for reaching the five-year milestone.  As a fellow member of the North American Street Newspaper Association (NASNA), we have seen the five-year mark as the point at which a street newspaper achieves a degree of stability.  With a new editor, and a fine group of vendors we feel confidant that Street Vibes has reached some level of credibility and acceptance within the Queen City.

            The Homeless Grapevine was instrumental in fostering and nurturing the street paper idea in Cincinnati.  I remember coming down to Cincinnati with one of our vendors to pitch the idea to Pat Clifford, Buddy Grey and the Board of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless.  I remember the conferences in Chicago, Seattle and Montreal with members of Street Vibes as we gathered to form MASNA.  I remember the impact the paper has had on the city from highlighting the continued loss of affordable housing to the death and legacy of Buddy Grey to the crusades against the death penalty and gentrification of the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.

            I value your paper in order to bring the issues of poverty to the citizens of Cincinnati.  The paper gives homeless people access to the media, and acts as a watchdog in the community.  I keep up to date on the assault by the Slatkin Musical Blitzkrieg on the Drop Center every month.  We use articles from Street Vibes in every one of the issues that we publish in Cleveland.

            Now our task is to work together to get a paper in Columbus and Dayton.  We need to continue to agitate and continue grow.  We are proud of our sister paper in Cincinnati and look to a bright future.  Congratulations from the Homeless Grapevine which celebrates eight years this summer.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -2001

Conference Benefits Streets Vendors

by Marsha Rizzo Swanson

        The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Brian Davis, the editor of the Homeless Grapevine along with Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland had made it possible for me to go to the North American Street Newspaper Association Conference. I really enjoyed the trip, and I had learned a great deal.       

             I talked on the first day to one a young man named Tim. He is a real nice guy and I learned that he is homeless man and also that he had a lot of compassion. He lives on the streets of San Francisco. I do not believe that this young man does not deserve this kind of life. Where is our humanity and our government for Tim? There are many in San Francisco who are homeless and the government of San Francisco is only developing laws to make it illegal to be homeless. We will get back to this young man who is really having a hard time with his life and he makes the best of it.    

          I do not believe any of our government officials could survive what Tim has been through. They would not survive the way Tim has survived with dignity and strength.  Here is a man that eats out of garbage, and it sure is not steak that he is finding.

           When I was in San Francisco, I saw that the homeless problem was larger then the problem in Cleveland.  I Saw it on every street corner of this tourist city and did get to see the women’s shelter.  I met the radical Food Not Bombs, but I did not get to see a coup line.  I can’t say the number of hungry people, but there were tons of people sleeping on the street.

           I did not know that when I went to San Francisco that it was such a learning experience.  I found out a great deal in the workshop called “street journalism.”  I see why there are so many homeless people.  I saw that journalism is fancy and it needs to be created like art.  I learned that the purpose of journalism is to not lie to our people and to tell the truth about the things that are going on the streets.  This is not what I realize before I attended the conference.  I learned that reporters coming out of journalism school will sometimes exaggerate their stories or will not report on what is happening to the homeless, because it is not what their editors want to hear.

           I want to be one of those people who goes into the high schools and the colleges to teach our nation’s children what is really going on, especially with regard to homeless people.  I want to reach children what they need to know to avoid being homeless.

          I learned a lot of what is going on in this so-called USA.  I sold 63 Grapevine papers in San Francisco as part of the North American Vend Off II, and won the trip for next year’s conference in Boston.  I enjoyed the Vend Off.  It was fun.  Believe it or not, I was scared, but I did the sales anyway.  They told us that we could be arrested if we sold the papers in San Francisco.  Only the San Francisco paper could be sole because it had no ads and no price on the cover.  Brian told me that NASNA would cover any tickets they framed the ticket and hung in the Grapevine office as a trophy.

             In 2000, a man named Terry from Calgary Street Talk won the Vend Off.  I got to know him and I really like him.  He is a great guy.  I talked with him about how he had been in the streets and he is doing very well.  I know that there are a lot like Terry that are out there and need help but are not as strong as Terry is. 

             The need is there a so the fight is still on finding a way to help the homeless.  We will not be done until the fat lady sings.  I will protest until I can’t work anymore.  We did attend a protest against the big newspaper.  I joined the protest to tell them about the homeless people that I know.  I was there and I won’t forget where I came from.  I feel that people need to be heard and not shout down.  Homeless people should not be pushed around like a bouncing ball, which happens in San Francisco.  If you want people to respond to you and respect you then you need to respect the homeless in the same way.

             I also learned that homeless people don’t get the respect they should get.  At the shelters, they do not give the respect to the homeless the way that they should.  Many choose not to stay in the shelters, and then they are on the streets.  I always hear people say, “But there are shelters for homeless people.”  I don’t think that they realize that some of the shelters are worthless.  They treat people like dogs.  Do you get the picture?  If not think about it and go check it out for yourself.

             I also hear people say, “I will never be homeless.”  Well, that’s not always true and it can happen to anyone.  Never say never, because you never know when illness, tragedy or job loss is going to happen.

             One of the things I learned at N.A.S.N.A. conference was that they shared an Internet site about homelessness.  This is so people can be heard on the Internet.  Issues put on the Internet will give homeless people some freedom of speech and submissions can be done at libraries.  And there was also an effort that should allow for everyone to use the free computers.

             I also listened to a man at the N.A.S. A. Conference speak about the need to do a fundraiser to work toward getting more outreach in the community.  I went on the independent media center’s website in San Francisco.  They even put a picture of me on the Internet plus one of me in my cow outfit.  I dressed as a cow in the Vend Off and took to the streets.  It was a great feeling.  I made history for our Homeless Grapevine.  I think that this is what is needed for Cleveland Ohio.

             I’m proud to be a Homeless Grapevine vender through NEOCH.  I did learn about the truth and we need homeless to be heard in the community.  We need the homeless to be heard.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-Septembe-2001

Cleveland Passes Local Landlord Tenant Law

By Peter M. Iskin,

Legal Aid Society of Cleveland

              These are the major points with the Landlord tenant law passed by Cleveland City Council in July and signed into law by Mayor Michael White.  These laws only apply to apartments within City of Cleveland.  For questions or follow up contact the Cleveland Tenants Organization.

  1. Automatic Renewal Provisions (Section 375.02(b)).

The ordinance requires any automatic renewal provision in a lease to be set forth in clear language, in bold type, and in conspicuous type (i.e., twice the size of other print), if the lease is for an initial term of six months or longer.

  1. Fees for Late Payment of Rent (Section 375.02 (c)).

The Ordinance creates a maximum monthly amount for any fee for late payment of rent.  The maximum amount is the largest of $25. or 5% of the monthly rent for the dwelling unit.  In addition, for tenants who reside in a subsidized dwelling unit and are not obligated to pay the full monthly rent for the dwelling unit (e.g., public housing and section 8 tenants), the fee for late payment of rent also may not exceed 25% of the tenant’s monthly rent.

For tenants who do not reside in a subsidized dwelling unit, this means that:

  • ·        If the monthly rent is greater than $500, the maximum fee is 5% of the monthly rent;
  • ·        If the monthly rent is less than or equal to $500, the maximum fee is $25.

For tenants who reside in a subsidized dwelling unit, this means that:

  • ·        If the tenant’s monthly rent is between $100 and $500, the maximum fee is $25;
  • ·        If the tenant’s monthly rent is less than $100, the maximum fee is 25% of the tenant’s monthly rent.
  1. Rent Receipts (Section 375.04).

The Ordinance requires landlords to provide their tenants with signed receipts for

Security deposits and rent payments, provided the tenant makes a written request for such receipts and provided the payment is not made by personal check.

  1. Tenant Payment for Gas, Electric, or Water Service (Section 375.05).

The Ordinance permits landlords to require tenants to pay for gas, electric, or water service to the dwelling unit only if three conditions are met.  Those conditions are:

  1.  
    • The utility service is provided through an individual meter or sub meter that measures usage in the tenant’s dwelling unit only;
    • The rental agreement provides, in clear language that the tenant shall pay for such utility service during the tenancy only; and
    • The rental agreement provides, in clear language, that the tenant shall have reasonable access at all times to the meter or sub meter and the landlord grants such access.
  2. Retaliatory Non-Renewal of a Rental Agreement or Tenancy (Section 375.08).

 The Ordinance prohibits landlords from terminating or failing to renew a rental agreement or a tenancy in retaliation for the tenant engaging in a protected activity (i.e., tenant complaints to the landlord or a government agency, or tenant organization activities).

This prohibition is implemented with the same remedies and qualifications as exist for other retaliatory landlord actions under the Sate Ace.

  1. Reasonable Security Against Criminal Activity (Section 375.09).

The ordinance establishes a procedure in which, upon the request of the tenants of a multifamily structure or development, the Safety Director (or his/her designee) shall conduct a security audit of the common areas of the property.  A multifamily structure means a structure that contains thirty or more dwelling units.  A multifamily development means a tract of land or contiguous tracts of land on which there are thirty or more dwelling unity of the same landlord.

In the security audit, the Safety Director shall conduct an analysis of the common areas of the multifamily structure or development to determine whether the common areas have reasonable security measures against criminal activity.  Based on the analysis, the Safety Director shall determine what, if any, additional security measures the landlord must implement in the common areas to meet this standard.

The Safety Director shall conduct the security audit if two conditions are met.  First, a tenant petition requesting the security audit must be filed with the Safety Director.  The number of tenants who sign the petition must equal at least ten percent of the dwelling units in the multifamily structure or development.  Second, there must be a reasonable basis for finding that a security audit is appropriate for the property.  Such reasonable basis exists if:

                                 i.            The councilman of the ward in which the property is located requests the security audit;

                               ii.            During the thirty day period preceding the filing of the petition, the police department has received 14 service calls regarding the property; or

                              iii.            There is any other reasonable basis for concluding that, if a security audit is conducted, there is a reasonable possibility that the Safety Director will require additional security measures for the common areas.

If the Safety Director conducts a security audit and requires the landlord to implement additional security measures in the common areas, the Safety Director shall specify reasonable time periods in which the landlord must implement those security measures.

  1. Abandonment of Dwelling Unit by Tenant (Section 375.10).

The ordinance establishes standards and procedure for determining whether a tenant has abandoned a dwelling unit.  It also establishes procedures for the landlord’s disposition of any personal property of the tenant that remains in the dwelling unit after the tenant has abandoned the dwelling unit.

  1. Minimum Statutory Damages.

The Ordinance establishes a tenant remedy of minimum statutory damages, between $50 and $500, for certain landlord conduct that the State Act prohibits.

These minimum statutory damages supplement the State Act’s other tenant remedies for such conduct.  The prohibited landlord conducts to which these minimum statutory damages apply are:

  • ·        Knowing use of an unlawful teas term. Section (375.03(g).
  • ·        Unlawful entry of the dwelling unit.  Section 375.06 (b) (1).
  • ·        Unlawful self help eviction Section 375.07 (c)
  • ·        Unlawful seizure of the tenant’s personal property Section 375.07 ( c)
  • ·        Unlawful retaliation. Section 735.08 (b).

    Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -2001

Care Alliance Responds to Article

By Jay Gardner

Care Alliance Development Director

             We at Care Alliance are saddened and disturbed by the inaccuracies and biases of the Homeless Grapevine regarding our agency and many other homeless service providers.  We are disappointed that the Grapevine disregards the good work that we homeless service providers do.

            We are particularly disappointed that your article in Issue 48 focused solely on negative perceptions of our agency and ignored than many valuable services we provide.  Such attacks make it more difficult to maintain the morale of our hardworking and productive staffs, contribute to an inaccurate public image of the service providers, and provide a benefit to no one.

            The mission of Care Alliance is to provide high quality health care to those who need it most.  We stand by our work and maintain that Care Alliance is an asset to the community.  We provide quality health care in a cost-effective manner, to those who are homeless and to others in need.

            Although Grapevine readers may have been confused, Care Alliance continues to provide health care to those who are homeless, including those with mental illness and substance abuse issues.  Those in need may visit us at our Payne Health Center or at one of the many homeless service sites where we provide health care.  Our Health Care for the Homeless Team can be reached at 216-781-6724 for more information.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -2001

Attack the Messenger and Forget the Care

Editorial

By Brian Davis

             I have seen the Promised Land for healthcare delivered to homeless people and it is in Dayton.  I recently toured the Health Care for the Homeless Clinic of Montgomery County, administered by Good Samaritan Hospital of Dayton the The Other Place, a local non-profit day shelter.  It is an amazingly clean and healthy environment just outside of Downtown Dayton with doctors available, check ups, pediatric care, long-term care, and the most amazing feature- a dentist for homeless people.  There is not one place in all of Cleveland that a homeless person can go to get dental care, no matter how far they are willing to travel.  If a homeless individual needs dental care, they have the choice of getting it pulled or lettering the tooth die at which time it will fall out.

            The facility in Dayton has an outreach component to go into the community to find people in need of help.  The Other Place health clinic has a mental health case manager and drug treatment programs.  There is space for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and a kind and enthusiastic staff willing to help.  As I was visiting, a man entered the waiting area asking for help with a dental problem.  The staff told him “no problem, have a seat and the dentist will be with you in a minute.”  The same situation repeated in Cleveland would look a lot different.  After the staff calms their laughter when a homeless man enters one of the health clinics in Cleveland looking for dental care, local staff would sent Dr. Orin Scrivello from Little Shop of Horrors to remove the homeless man’s teeth.

            The Other Place Health Care Clinic is a model for Ohio and possibly the county.  It is a wonderful example of how agencies can collaborate to provide the best services for homeless people in the face of huge obstacles created by the health care industry in the United States.  In Cleveland, we have a poorly administered organization that has chosen a much different path away from serving homeless people.  The need for service in Cleveland is at least three times of that of Dayton.  It is almost worth busing homeless people down to Dayton just so that they can find decent health care coverage.

            The Grapevine has criticized the local health care for the health care needs of the community.  Examples include the ending of night time outreach services during the first month of winter, hanging signs in the clinics stating that homeless people will be responsible to pay for the services, expanding to serve people in public housing, and the recent closing out of spite of the two buildings in June of this year.

            Let it never be said that our criticism was aimed at the staff of Care Alliance.  For al the bad decisions made by the leadership of Care Alliance, they have hired some of the most qualified, professional individuals in Cleveland.  They have employed many of the most committed and compassionate staff.  From outreach staff who have gone above and beyond the call of duty and volunteer a great deal of their time to the nurses who put aside great personal adversity to assist homeless people.  Unfortunately, the leadership of Care Alliance had had no idea how to manage these individuals to best serve the population.  There was some program staff that needed more oversight and made bad decisions.  These was a rare caseworker or site supervisors who were incompetent and disrespectful, but by in large our complaints have focused on the decisions made by the agency.

            We have never heard answers to our complaints.  We have yet to heard from the leadership at Care Alliance to defend their program decisions.  It is much easier to attack the messenger than debate the issues.  They have followed the path of ad hominum attacks or taking pot shots at the newspaper or the agency that published the Grapevine.

While Care Alliance lobs attacks at the Grapevine, dentists are provided the bridgework in Dayton.  While homeless epileptics wander around the city looking for medicine, Care Alliance looks to get on the AIDS gravy train.  While homeless people are discharged from the hospital suicidal and needing constant care in Cleveland, Care Alliance battles government agencies over penalties and fines.

            After the experience of the last four months with Care Alliance forcing homeless people into the streets while the two buildings they own sit vacant or underused, I have no confidence that Care Alliance can convince funding organizations to trust them.  The State of Ohio found the organization did not live up their grant agreement and asked them to return $38,000 that was provided for building renovation.  If the other government entities that provided renovation funds follow the State of Ohio lead, Care Alliance could be responsible for returning nearly a half million dollars.

            It is time for the Care Alliance Board of Trustees to step forward and clean house or fold up the tents.  Once the organization loses the confidence of those who provide the funding the only choice is demonstrate to the community that the organization has changed its wayward behavior by bringing in new management and new management and new board leadership.  Currently, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Health and Human Services, Cuyahoga County, and United way are all re-examining their financial ties to the organization.  What is it going to take before the Board of Trustee reacts?

            For community leaders, they need to convene a group to develop a strategy to create a clinic for homeless people like the one in Dayton.  The County, City and the medical community need to make this a priority.  It is great to be thinking of constructing a biotechnology center with University Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic, but that is not going to provide dental care to homeless people.  We have neglected the poor for too long in this community.  It is time to provide the same level of care to the poorest citizens as we provide to our Mayor and our County Commissioners.  Anything less is a violation of the Hippocratic Oath by the doctors, and a human rights violation by the richest nation on earth.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #49 August-September -2001