The Stories Behind the Faces of Homelessness

by Susan Knight

     The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless has released its results from their 2000 homeless study. Numbers are important, however it is the stories behind these statistics that make up the tragedy of homelessness in Cincinnati. It is these stories that we hope to share with you:

     58% of our City’s 25,000 homeless are women and children. Deborah, age 24, and her two children are currently staying in an emergency family shelter. She had been taking computer training in anticipation of losing her welfare eligibility. Unfortunately, her training was not completed before her welfare benefits came to an end, and she took a job at a fast food restaurant. In her second month on the job, she got a call from her daycare provider informing her that her children had head lice and had to be picked up immediately. Unable to reach her manager; she closed the restaurant and went to pick up her children. She was fired the next day. Facing eviction, Deborah and her children moved in with her mother; but soon had to move into the shelter.

Deborah acknowledges that she has made some poor life choices. She dropped out of school in seventh grade and became pregnant when she was 18 and went on welfare. At 20, Deborah became pregnant again. The father of this child walked out one day and never came back.

     She is determined to build a life on her own for her children. He comment about welfare sums up the challenges she faces: "It’s a tough system; you have to be on top of things to keep your benefits coming. And even when I did make it to all of my appointments and did all that I was told to do, I could never seem to get ahead. But still, I wish I could have finished my PC training."

     At the age of 13, homeless boys leave the system, where they end up, we do not know, but have some ideas. Arnold is a 35 year-old male. At 14, he ran away from home and was subsequently arrested and put into a boys’ group home. Arnold rebelled against the structure and authority, and left the group home. He eventually joined up with a group of wanted felons and became entrenched in a life of drugs and crime. At 16, Arnold shot a man and was imprisoned for four years for attempted murder. In prison, Arnold graduated highschool and upon his release, looked forward to going to college and pursuing a career as a printer for the local paper. As an ex-felon, however, Arnold could not find employment and the local university would not accept him. Arnold returned to crime and once again ended up in prison. In prison this second time, Arnold went into recovery and continued his education. After he was paroled, he pursued his education at Cincinnati Bible college—the only institution that would accept him, and worked part-time at a local homeless shelter. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree, but could not find housing because of his felony record. After several months of sleeping at friends’ houses and various other places, he got a job taking care of an elderly man and was permitted to live in the house.

     Soon after, he became a pastor at a local church, a job that provides housing. Arnold has since founded Way of Life Ministries, providing food and goods to those in need. He has been in recovery for 7 years.

     The average age of a homeless child is 8.5 in Cincinnati. Erica is 43 years old. The verbal abuse from the man she was living with escalated and she feared for her and her children’s safety. She moved out but had nowhere to go. When Erica first tried to enter the shelter she was told that she and her 8-year-old daughter, Shawna, were welcome, but her 17-year-old son, Tyrone, was not. Fortunately, within a week of living in their car, a space opened up at the Chabad House, which would accept Tyrone. Erica told the caseworker that their problems began two years earlier when her husband died from lung cancer. Erica had no work experience and her husband had no life insurance. Neither Tyrone nor Shawna wanted to go back to school. Tyron had trouble doing ninth grade work, and Shawna was already two years older than most of her classmates. Shawna still wets the bed, and Tyrone has been classified as a behavior problem for two years.

     When Erica finally signed up for welfare, she quickly found it very difficult to meet the work requirements and still care for her children. A long string of missed appointments led to her administrative termination from welfare. Soon after, Erica and her children were evicted from their apartment. She knows that she should get a job but doesn’t see how she can make enough money to support her and her children.

     The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless is working tirelessly to address the systemic issues in Cincinnati that so profoundly affect the lives of our homeless population. This study allows us to better grasp the daily struggles of our City’s homeless and their efforts in obtaining safe, decent affordable housing for themselves and their children.

     For a complete copy of the report, please call 513/421-7803

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52

 

Shelter Residents Never Got to Ask the Mayor…

     In late October, the men who stay at 2100 Lakeside Shelter were supposed to meet with the two candidates running for Mayor of Cleveland. The event dissolved for many reasons, but the men had worked on a series of questions for the perspective Mayor. We present those here still waiting for an answer from the new Mayor. These are the issues that homeless men have expressed concern, and will pursue.

1. The City of Cleveland has been in recession since the fourth quarter of 2000. The finances are nearly unable to be audited, but in all likely hood Cleveland is broke. With both the County and the State making huge budget cuts, will you as Mayor cut services to homeless people in order to balance the budget. If no, how will you balance the budget of the City of Cleveland?

2. How will you make up the cuts to the mental health system by the State and County so that homeless mentally ill are not forced to sleep on the streets? How would you increase funding to fund residential mental health institutions for homeless people with a severe mental illness?

3. We all know that there are many programs that exist in our community, but we cannot find out the information about all of them. We need a place to go that would have information on housing, shelter, jobs, training, and education. How would you fund a central place for homeless people to get information about all the services that exist in our community?

4. We do not have the information to point us in the right directions. There is a great need to improve the training for all staff at the shelters. Shouldn’t the staff at the shelters be better trained to be more knowledgeable of all the services that exist in the community so we can move on to self-sufficiency.

5. How would you make all the properties that were renovated and are sitting empty as well as all those buildings that are sitting abandoned available to homeless people and low income people to live in?

6. How would you expand the number of transitional beds for homeless people to move into permanent housing?

7. In other cities there are programs called direct housing, which provide vouchers to fragile populations (mentally ill, families, etc.) when they are being evicted. These programs have intensive supportive services associated with them so that a caseworker shows up every day to help the family. This saves the community money in providing buildings because these vouchers can be used anywhere. We do not need to spend money on sheltering people while they wait for housing, and these programs are successful in other communities. How would you get this type of program started in Cleveland?

8. Would you appoint one staff person within your administration to work on the problems of homelessness in Cleveland?

9. Some police officers are inappropriately harsh and lack an understanding of the needs of homeless people. Would you offer sensitivity training classes to police officers to educate them on the needs of homeless people?

10. Right now there are very few bars available for us to lift ourselves off of the streets especially in finding housing. How would you make more bars available to us to lift ourselves out of the shelters, and provide us a hand up?

11. How would you improve the services at JTPA, the one stop career center over on Payne Ave., so it is advertised and available to homeless people?

12. There are not enough places for people to pay for short term housing emergencies except the poverty motels or places like the horrible Jay Hotel. How would you create places where people can pay rent on a short term basis that may also have services available? We need places where homeless people can stay that they can pay rent to move back to self sufficiency.

13.Most shelters are overcrowded. If we had more opportunities to move on to stable housing these shelters would not be full. These suggestions that we have made need to be taken into account by the next Mayor and the staff person assigned to work on homelessness. You need to be aware of these problems and start to develop more opportunities for homeless people to move into housing. Would you if elected be willing to meet with us and our representatives on a regular basis to discuss the issues? Please answer yes or no and then you can expand on the concept.

14. What is your position on funding a Community Hiring Hall run by and for day laborers? If you will not fund it will you provide space or assist in getting the hiring hall employment contracts?

15. Will you appoint a task force with homeless people well represented to develop a plan in our community to deal with homelessness?

16. What would you do to improve homeless people’s access to medicine, doctors, and getting a medical card? We need a health care advocate to get us the proper health care from the hospitals and clinics

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52

Mentally Ill Underserved

     These are recommendations made by members of the mental health social service community to the new Mayor of Cleveland Jane Campbell. They are divided into the four different departments within the City of Cleveland.

Public Health Department :

1. Improve the public health department to include some involvement with the mental health community. Appoint an individual who works in the City of Cleveland public health department who will specialize on mental health issues.

2. Boost the commitment of the City to the Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services. Appoint an official City of Cleveland liaison to the Office of Homeless Services who will routinely work with social service providers and will report to the Mayor trends, problems, and funding opportunities.

3. Explore greater involvement for the City of Cleveland in the appointment of Trustees of the Mental Health Board.

Building and Housing:

4. Tenants that are living in an apartment or house that Cleveland’s Building and Housing Department has condemned should be mailed notification of condemnation so that they can prepare to move. Currently a notice is posted, which landlords often remove.

5. There was a TANF funded effort to prevent evictions through the Cleveland Tenants Organization and Eden Inc. We ask that the City of Cleveland work to continue a program to contact households facing eviction in order to attempt to have social services intervene and possibly prevent homelessness.

Community Development Department:

6. The last census of homeless people in Cleveland is over a decade old. The City of Cleveland needs to coordinate an updated academic count of homeless people residing within the City.

7. Meet with Mental Health Agencies to encourage the development of a strategic planning process including a look at the large number of mentally ill individuals currently incarcerated.

8. Attack the affordable housing crisis by putting together a redevelopment plan for those with the lowest income. There needs a broad-based commitment to providing housing to the lowest income population and the disabled with federal and City of Cleveland resources.

9. Become more involved in the decisions at the state that negatively impacts the care and treatment of those with a mental illness.

Safety Department:

10. The City should establish a protocol for how the police respond to homelessness and homeless people including some additional training with the input from the social service/mental health community.

11. The Mental Health Community is willing to help with City of Cleveland efforts to address mentally ill homeless people on the streets.

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52

Mayor Campbell: Where Do You Go From Here?

Commentary

by Pete Domanovic

     When I was sleeping on the sidewalk near Broadway and Harvard in the middle of winter, at the ripe old age of thirteen, I wasn’t expecting to be writing anything at all thirty-five years later. During that time there were only a few shelters in Cleveland. I couldn’t get into any of them at that age, so I slept wherever I could. I was pretty much treated like a criminal during the rest of my teenage years for not having anywhere to go. After turning eighteen, there was nothing to do but go look for work. Cleveland was one hard place to be for those who are poor with no where to go.

     The Salvation Army was the first place I looked for help. I could not get in because I didn’t claim to be an alcoholic. The Rescue Mission at that time was the same way. There was nothing else to do but to go somewhere else. Everywhere I went it was the same thing. From Ohio, to Florida, to California, a homeless person needed to be an alcoholic to stay. When I realized I needed to be an alcoholic to stay alive, I trusted the Salvation Army in Santa Barbara, California. The Salvation Army Rehabilitation Center there was a pretty good place to be now that I acted as an alcoholic. Their program for alcoholics was work therapy. We each went to their church meetings, alcohol meetings, and worked 40 hrs. per week. For this we received a couple of dollars a week, enough to buy some tobacco for the week.

     The work we did was all related to the Salvation Army Store part of the operation. In reality, we worked for the American Salvage Company. My pay was, and I believe still is room and board plus a few dollars per week. During the time Reagan was president, the American Salvage Company was competing financially with the Dow Chemical Company. That didn’t look good, so they took it off the open market, and now the only ones who could buy stock were the Salvation Army officers. After ninety days, or whenever the client felt rehabilitated, the Army said goodbye. Some people chose to stay there for as long as they could, but those who were unable to work had to leave. It seemed as though very few people leave on good terms. They always treat homeless people as if we were leaving them in a bind. I guess that discourages people from asking for bus fare or anything like that.

     Another choice available was the Rescue Missions. The City Mission in Cleveland is one of the network of missions throughout the United States. Claiming to rehabilitate the alcoholic, it’s a strong religious based program. My job there would most likely be anything concerning the daily operations of the Mission—from cleaning to kitchen work. Though a rescue mission may have as many as thirty people on their staff, there are only a small handful that will speak to the clients. The rest are fundraising staff. When clients were not actually doing work, they required us to sit out in the open somewhere, and read our Bibles, and do our Bible studies. This was for the benefit of the potential donors on tour through the facility.

The missions also give each client a small gratuity in an attempt to meet basic needs. I received as much as ten dollars every two weeks from the last Omaha, Nebraska mission I was in. Pastor Bob was the top preacher at that facility. Everyone guessed the mission took in about five million dollars a year. Homeless people are really looked down upon when they ask where the money goes, but the answer is always, out of the country. When we think about all the organized rescue missions (about two hundred in one organization) in the United States, they could have bought a small nation by now and filled it with the poor.

     After being all over the country, and being in quite a few of the places mentioned, Judas is still in charge of the poor. Not necessarily the directors, but after a short time we can always tell who is actually running the show. We realize really fast that homeless people are only there to make the place function, and any needs we have are placed on the back burner.

     The real heroes in my opinion are the people that pull to the side of the road when they know a homeless person is in trouble and ask what they can do. The school girls at St. Patrick’s who volunteer their own time to feed homeless people are the people who I admire. The donors who are giving from the heart, and not because of taxes. For whatever reason these people have for utilizing these centers, unwillingness to work is not one of them. These places are thriving due to the worker who keeps them alive. The person talking behind the door asking for donations would not lift a mop, or broom to help, and would if they became homeless would not be able to handle it and would probably add to the suicide rate in Cleveland.

Best Shelter in the United States:

     The best shelter in the country would be in Atlanta, Georgia. If you go there looking for hundreds of counselors or everyone there telling you that you need this and that. Forget it. It’s strictly for the working man. They actually charge you $6.00 per night. That might sound a little strange coming from a homeless shelter, but that is how they support the shelter.

     This place does not have all the overhead associated with the shelters here in Cleveland. Social workers, alcohol counselors and the such. They just have their rules and what it takes to make the place functional. You don’t need to do chores, because they hire people to do that.

     This shelter accepts no money except the rent that you pay. They have a T.V. room that you can watch what the majority votes to watch, or rent movies for the V.C.R. If you’re hungry, they have a canteen that doubles as a work hall. You can come down in the morning and have a coffee and breakfast if you like and wait for a job, if you don’t already have one.

     Well, since there are no counselors and social workers there making up an agenda for you, you have to make up your own. That of course would mean that you need to have your rent paid in advance and take care of all your other needs. If you have issues like alcoholism or drug addiction, they will be happy to refer you to the appropriate resources, and work with you in whatever you think you need.

     The thing that makes this the best shelter would be that they treat you like a full grown man. There is no one there telling you this and that, and you can be yourself. About the only thing that would get you put out would be a violent act or a threat of violence.

     The real thing a home-less person needs is opportunity. You already know how to work and save money. With your own agenda, you can begin to do the things you need to do from day one. You also know that if you stray from what you need to be doing, you can no longer pay your rent.

The Worst Shelter in the United States:

     One of the worst shelters in the country is 2100 Lakeside Shelter here in Cleveland. The main reason is that it is so large with such a diverse population that it is impossible to feel safe. One of the most important features of a shelter is to at least provide a secure environment for the people that stay there.

     The Salvation Army is claiming that their new goal at the 2100 Lakeside shelter is 20 people per month shall be eliminated from their roster. What we need to know is, will they be placed somewhere, or will they just be eliminated? Eliminating people is relatively easy, when you consider how it’s being done. If staying true to their past, they will just tell the shelter staff that 20 people per month can not come back, and that will be it.

      It’s really easy to show numbers that claim success. This is usually done when seeking funds. First thing is the Salvation Army Professional panhandling staff put in their request for money? Then they need to show on paper their goals and accomplishments. If 20 people per month don’t come back, that is an accomplishment. Of course you don’t mention they are not allowed to come back. Of course these are professional people wearing bright crisp uniforms, and mostly have never come in contact with any poor people. Contact with the poor is delegated to other poor people, and usually winds up just doing things for their homey. Anyone else looking for help just needs to find there own homey.

Editor’s Note: Pete Domanovic has traveled around the United States and stayed at well over 100 shelters. He currently is staying at a shelter in Cleveland. These are his opinions based on his tremendous experience with shelters. He is a member of the Day Labor Organizing Committee.

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52

Fresh Ideas for the New Mayor

We have presented suggestions from different constituents for how to deal with the homeless problem in Cleveland. There were a few heard on the streets that could be characterized as somewhat extreme, but we present them in an effort to cover all the bases. These are not the opinion of the Grapevine staff, but merely heard on the streets.

     1. Make all juries consist of homeless people exclusively and always sequester them. Instead of a jury of your peers, the new initiative would be a jury of the down and out. After all, that diverse group that heard the OJ trial was certainly not a group of his peers. This is a fantasy to think society could impanel a jury of a defendant’s peers, so get rid of it. Instead we choose a jury made up of homeless people to hear these cases. That small token amount of money that juries get would be much more appreciated than the doctors and business executives who take off work for jury duty. With homeless jurists, we have the added societal benefit of placing the individuals in hotels for the night and out of the shelters and streets. All jury trials that last more than one day would demand that the jury be sequestered in a hotel for the night. Even for traffic court proceedings, the court would sequester the jury.

     2. Pay homeless people as professional athletes in each city. There are so many sports that we only get to see once every four years in the Olympics. It would be nice for each city to have traveling Curling, Greco-Roman Wrestling, and Judo teams. Our society pays a great deal of money and attention to sports and so therefore by employing homeless people as athletes they could attain some of the respect in the community that they deserve. The skills of many of the sports are precisely the skills learned in attempting to survive on the streets. For example, trying to sweep on an icy surface (curling) is similar to the hours of volunteer mopping of shelter and meal site floors. There are many instances that homeless people must wrestle or fight for their survival, which could be easy channeled into prowess in boxing, judo or wrestling. This suggestion relies on the concept that many people will pay to see a competition if the uniform of the combatants has your hometown on it. This would be a WPA program for the century of sports and entertainment. Imagine: homeless people representing the Cleveland Bubbleheads competing in the World Water Polo Championship in Cape Town, South Africa.

     3. Election Money for Housing, not advertising. Make all elections publicly subsidized with free airtime and use all the money previously used to buy elections to instead buy affordable housing for the very low income. Mayor Campbell spent a record $2 million to become Mayor of a City facing deep recession and the destruction of its manufacturing base without a public cash assistance safety net. That money could have fixed up the 1,000 units of public housing that are currently offline and provided 1,000 homeless people and families an opportunity to live in decent housing. This is a fantasy, but it demonstrates the tremendous waste that exists in our country when we do not even provide the means to survive for a substantial number of our citizens.

     4. Bill the suburbs for their homeless problems. For every homeless person who shows up at the shelters most recently homeless from a suburban city, the City of Cleveland should invoice that particular suburb the cost of shelter. We have all heard George Carlin’s idea about building low cost housing on golf courses. "Golf courses—plenty of good land in nice neighborhoods that is currently being wasted on a meaningless activity…It is time to reclaim the golf courses from the wealthy and turn them over to the homeless." This project would compliment the golf course proposal. Each night the City would collect information from each shelter and then would bill the city of origin for each family or individual that came from outside the City of Cleveland.

These families paid their taxes when they were living in Shaker, Rocky River or Independence, and then when they were down on their luck their community turned away. Shelter is very expensive and the cities might do more to prevent evictions if they started to feel financial pain for responding to homelessness with a bus ticket and a street card.

     5. You want sidewalks, then give us your toilets. Cities provide the infrastructure to get customers to the business’s doors. They provide lighting, sidewalks, clean streets, etc. that make it possible to operate a business. For years the amount of money contributed to government by businesses and corporations has steadily decreased. And now we find that corporations and businesses are waging war against homeless people. Business owners do not allow homeless people to use their bathrooms. They routinely call the police to dislocate panhandlers from their sidewalks and are usually behind government attempts to criminalize homelessness. Homeless people patronize these businesses, and are treated as second-class citizens. In fact, in Downtown Cleveland now that many stores are closing, homeless people are sometimes the only people patronizing these businesses.

The new Mayor of Cleveland should take a more aggressive stance with local businesses. What kind of "tough love" is this, not allowing homeless people to use the bathroom? Do the managers feel that if they do not allow homeless people to do their duty inside they will not want to be homeless? They should be fined if they refuse a homeless person the use of their public restrooms. They should be ticketed for every frivolous call to the police about purely innocent behavior like sleeping or panhandling. Finally, any business that attempts to push criminalization efforts with legislation or suggesting Gestapo executive order will be publicly humiliated as anti-American and subject to additional taxes and additional inspections.

     6. Sue the liquor distributors to get more treatment beds. We have printed this suggestion before, but it is still relevant today. The federal government was successful in suing the tobacco industry to recover the cost of Medicaid for the public costs associated with smoking a legal product. We should use this same tactic to sue the liquor and beer producers and distributors to recover the costs associated with detox and residential treatment. With this added income from any settlement, Cleveland could expand alcohol and drug services to homeless people. For too long the alcohol and drug industry has peddled its medicine and never minded the costs to society. There are a certain percentage of our population who become addicted and cannot afford to find treatment. It is time for the liquor industry to pay up.

     7. If you can’t beat them, join them. Panhandling has been around since the dawn of time. There certainly is no honor among panhandlers, but they are a part of the urban landscape. No matter how illegal, how much enforcement takes place, or how hard a city makes it on panhandlers, it is impossible to prevent people from asking pedestrians for money. Mayor Campbell should take an alternative approach to dealing with panhandling. Raise the bar by offering free classes to panhandlers and pay them to take the classes. Then hold annual awards for the most professional panhandlers, the most clean cut, and the most courteous. Provide substantial prizes to the winners and then publicize their names. This would raise the level of panhandling in our city and could be a model for other cities. Also a tip, the best way to combat panhandling is to encourage expansion of the Grapevine and adding street musicians downtown. Panhandlers hate competition.

     8. Close the shelters to homeless men with children. Again, this is not necessarily the opinion of the Grapevine, but we have heard this on the streets. For too many men it is easier to cut family ties and stay in the shelters. One solution would be to eliminate shelters for men who are not disabled and for those who have children. The only non-disabled men that could enter the shelter would be those men who never had children or those who had custody of their children. This would make men think twice before leaving their family if they could not find a shelter that would take them in. The only way that this would work is if the Child Support Enforcement Office would do a better job of helping men live up to their obligations by speeding the process and making the system fair. It sounds cruel and the charitable organizations would never go for it, but it might work.

     9. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… Temporary labor companies in the downtown area treat their clients like slaves. They have constructed a modern day plantation in which men and women must come to work at 4 a.m. and are paid an amount that barely can keep them alive. If they annoy the field master or dispatcher they are punished and they are expected to give their entire day to the company. Since we all know that this goes on we should not hide it. Mayor Campbell and City Council should pass a law that says that temporary day labor companies must dress their employees in the slave fashion of the early 1800s and must force them to sing Negro spirituals while they work. Downtown Temporary day labor companies should be referred to as Plantations and the people that work there should be called overseers or Mas’sers and they must wear straw hats and carry shotguns. Finally, the Mayor could codify what already happens in practice by passing the Fugitive Day Labor Law, which would require one temp. company to return a day laborer if he tried to flee to another Day Labor company.

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52

Displaced Clevelanders Need A Plan

Editor’s Note: In this issue of the Grapevine we compile the recommendations for the new Mayor of Cleveland, Jane Campbell. After 12 years of ignoring or criminalizing homelessness, Mayor White is retiring. Enclosed on page 6-7 are recommendations from homeless people and advocates.

Dear Mayor Campbell:

     There is not enough safe decent affordable houses or apartments available in Greater Cleveland. We thank incoming Mayor Jane Campbell for focusing on the housing needs of those who elected her to lead the Rock ‘n’ Roll City. She has correctly articulated the desperate need of community development organizations and leaders to come together to address this affordable housing crisis and has surrounded herself with some of the most competent housing advocates to be a part of her transition team.

     We ask that in this transition period Mayor elect Campbell keep in mind three people who represent a growing segment of our population who have trouble affording even affordable housing. Brenda was hospitalized earlier this year and lost her job and soon after her apartment. Since recovering from her life threatening illness, she has only found part time work and cannot find a landlord who will rent to her. Thomas stays with his mother in the downtown area and works full time. He has only found work at a temporary labor company, and cannot afford an apartment on his near minimum wage salary.

     Paula’s husband died and she has two children to nurture. Paula has a disability that should prevent her from working, but she found that she could not feed her children surviving only on her disability payment. She has taken a telemarketing job. Even with her disability and her job she cannot find housing for her family and stays with her mother.

     Demand for housing for Brenda, Paula and Thomas is so fierce that Brenda wonders on a daily basis why she is being punished. Paula has nearly given up on her dream of a place of her own for her family and feels that she is left waiting for a miracle. People who can find only low wage work, part time or no work at all and those with a disability are part of the diverse fabric of Cleveland. They do the work that very few others want to do or survive with life long debilitating health conditions and they all deserve a roof.

     Our new leadership team in Cleveland can make Paula’s miracle come true by focusing on developing housing for our citizens who can least afford the high cost of rent. We can avoid the huge drain on local human service budgets that are constantly attempting to address Paula, Thomas, and Brenda’s emergencies. We can address their long term poverty by stabilizing them in housing and bringing social workers to help. Unfortunately, we cannot rely on the federal government riding in to rescue us from this critical shortage of housing. We need a strong team assembled to focus on building housing with the support services to keep struggling families and individuals in the housing that is developed.

Thomas, Brenda and Paula and her children have great potential, but need a stable place to grow and prosper. We ask that you remember these three as you take the reigns of this wonderful city.

Sincerely,

Brian P. Davis

Editor

 Copyright NEOCH published January 2002 in Cleveland Ohio Issue 52

Cleveland Mayor Reports Dramatic Increase in Homeless Singles and Families in 2001

     (From Press Releases) The U. S. Conference of Mayors reported another increase nationally on the number of people requesting shelter (13% increase) continuing a 16-year trend. The City of Cleveland reported a 15% increase in people seeking shelter and a 15% increase in families seeking shelter. The report states that in Cleveland there are "increasing numbers of single men and women are becoming ‘permanent’ residents of the shelter system. It is taking longer for families with children to find appropriate permanent or transitional housing. This is reducing turnover at full service emergency shelters and leading to increased use of the overflow shelters." The 2001 Hunger and Homeless in America report was released this week by the U.S. Conference of Mayors featuring statistics from 27 major cities in America.

     Nationally, the City of Washington D.C. reported an 82% increase in families seeking shelter with San Antonio (45%), Chicago (35%), and New Orleans (28%) also reporting large increases. Nine out of the 27 cities that reported listed an increase in their shelter beds with 44% of the shelters turning people away nationally. The Mayors from the report site: a lack of affordable housing, low paying jobs, substance abuse, and mental illness as the main causes of homelessness. Every city reported that they anticipated shelter demand to increase in 2002.

     Cleveland reported that families sometimes had to break up in order to get into shelter, and some families are turned away from shelter. City of Cleveland officials reported just over 1,000 shelter beds. and nearly 1000 transitional shelter beds in the community. The report shows that 79% of the homeless population in Cleveland is African American and 40% have substance abuse problems. The report shows that 54% of the homeless population was composed of members of a family. Cleveland also reported that housing requests increased and the Section 8 program had stopped taking applications. The report says that in Cleveland "full service shelters routinely turn away families because of a lack of space."

     Brian Davis, director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, was saddened to see the increases in homelessness once again venture into double digits after three years of smaller increases. "As we enter a recession, we are seeing an escalation in the number of homeless people. We are seeing more and more people being evicted and we face the reality that our two main shelters are dangerously full." Davis went on to say, "Without the safety net in place to keep individuals and families out of the shelters, we will continue to see dramatic increases in homelessness. It is a shame that we did not address this extreme form of poverty with permanent housing in the 1990s during a time of great prosperity."

     Based on estimates from previous years and the U.S. Census the 15% increase would mean nearly 27,000 homeless people in Cleveland over the last year. For a complete copy of the report go to www.usmayors.org.

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52

City Mission Loses Its Direction with Latest Billboard Campaign

Editorial

     "Help for the Hopeless" signs have sprung up across our city intended to generate funds for the City Mission shelter. There are missions throughout the United States that collaborate on regular advertisements on buses, billboards, and print ads in major daily newspapers. The missions throughout the country are religiously based shelters that offer a bed to individuals in exchange for some proselytizing. In Cleveland, they concentrate on alcohol and drug issues by relying on assistance from the    Christian God.

     They have a beautiful facility in Cleveland, which is rather sterile and reminds the tenants of a corrections type facility with bullet-proof glass and metal detectors in a very secure environment. This has always puzzled me in that men who are full of God should not be a threat and should be the least likely to become violent. Also the employees of these facilities should have an extra close relationship to God and have some spiritual protection against random acts of violence.

     This new campaign of providing help to the hopeless is offensive and paternalistic. Homeless people are not hopeless. In fact, who has more hope then a man who wakes up everyday in a smelly shelter with nothing but the clothes on his back but continues on this treacherous path? Most of the people I interact with who happen to be homeless are far from hopeless, and very few have given up.

     These men and women hope everyday that they will make it onto the Section 8 voucher list or that they will hear that their name has been called on the Public Housing waiting list. They hope that they will finally get a slot in transitional housing. They wake up at 4 a.m. and go to the temporary labor company hoping to be hired on a full time with health benefits and a livable wage. They raise their voices to speak out against injustice even if that means that they lose their bed or their place in line for a job.

     These signs are so offensive and show a total disregard for the population that they serve. It is amazing that a national consultant would advise the City Mission to use such offensive characterizations for homeless people. We need these signs to come down so that we can get the less offensive alcohol and cigarette billboards back. How does an agency minister to a person they view as hopeless? Why give money to hopeless people? Shouldn’t we concentrate our donation dollars on agencies that are helping people who want the help?

     I am shocked that an agency that has ministered to homeless people for nearly 100 years would alienate the people they serve with such offensive billboards. It just goes to show that there are some charitable organizations that have been around for years not because they do things right but they may be doing things incorrectly and have yet to learn their lesson. So when you hear charities say, "trust us, we have been around for nearly a century," stop and think that maybe if they had done things right in the first place they would have put themselves out of business years ago. Or it could be that they are just hopeless.

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52

Candlelight Memorial Held to Remember

     There are scores of homeless people dying each year in Cleveland. Some die from hypothermia or organ failure and some from unknown causes. For the past 15 years the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) has joined the National Coalition for the Homeless in observing National Homeless Memorial Day. NEOCH and Interact Cleveland has hosted a candlelight vigil for all who have died on Sunday, December 16, 2001 at Trinity Cathedral. Nationally, 60 cities had ceremonies to remember all homeless people who have lost their life due to being targeted, victimized and killed as a result of homelessness. These are the silent victims of society’s indifference to social justice for all.

     It is very difficult to determine how many homeless die in Cleveland each year. The Cuyahoga County Coroner’s office defines individuals as homeless only if their remains are not claimed. If the deceased was homeless at the time of their death and a relative claimed their remains then by the Coroner’s office that person was not classified as homeless. There are not reliable statistics available. Cities such as San Francisco do extensive research on the number of homeless people and have found that 100 homeless people die on their streets every year.

     At the ceremony at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland four people were remembered by name. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless remembered A. Rameriez, who was killed at the end of September at East 22nd and Davenport near the railroad tracks. There was also Johnny Davis, who was beaten to death near Micheal Zone Community Center on the West side of Cleveland. There was a friend to all homeless people known only as Chief who was also killed earlier in the year. David Campbell came to the podium and delivered a short eulogy to his friend Chief. He remembered Chief’s American Indian roots and his ability to survive in makeshift housing.

     Jim Schlecht, an outreach worker, talked about a man, James Gratchen, that he knew who died across the street from the VOA shelter. Gratchen died in October after living on the streets for years.

Budget cuts are being proposed this year for the Cuyahoga County and one of the cuts proposed would cut the homeless/indigent burial programs. The proposed budget cut will stop the current policy of burying indigent individuals.

     The vigil was during the weekly meal at Trinity Cathedral. Those who gathered for the meal were encouraged to bring the name of someone who has died due to being homeless and suffering the effects of poverty. Council president elect Frank Jackson, Reverend June Begany, and members of the NEOCH Board of Trustees were among the Vigil participants.

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52

Affordable Housing Needed for Low Income Clevelanders

     There is a significant need to preserve existing rental units and produce additional affordable housing for low-income residents for both the general population and special needs populations. Given the income levels of most current and former TANF recipients, there is a specific need to increase the supply of affordable rental housing.

Within first 90 days:

1. Maintain the current city efforts to preserve existing housing that has a project based subsidy.

2. Review existing housing development funding and identify opportunities for funding preservation and development of low income housing (create a priority in the city’s housing trust fund).

3. Convene the Northeast Ohio Legislative delegation and request their support for a dedicated revenue source for the state housing trust fund at a $100 million a year level. In addition, consider enabling legislation that would allow the development of a local trust fund that could match and use state generated funds along with a local dedicated revenue source.

4. Create an alliance with the mayors of other Ohio cities facing severe housing shortages for their low-income population to develop a strategy for funding the state housing trust fund.

5. Introduce legislation that prohibits discrimination in rental housing based on source of income (use of Section 8 vouchers).

6. Sign-on to Sept. 1998 city council resolution making policy to preserve project based section 8 properties in Cleveland.

Within One Year

1. Develop a plan for the preservation of existing privately owned multi-family housing that builds community capacity to rehab and manage the housing.

2. Convene a working group with representatives from City Council, Housing and Urban Development, NEOCH, Cleveland Tenant Organization, CMHA, and Community Development Corporations that focuses on increasing the supply of very low income housing and develops a plan including options for subsidizing rental housing development for very low income renters.

3. Create a neighborhood trust fund with a dedicated revenue source to support community development at $100 million a year in addition to present funding (Community Development Block Grant/Home, etc.) for homeownership, commercial and green space projects and then target the existing City Housing Trust Fund to subsidize very low income housing development and retention of multi-family rental units and preservation of project based subsidy units.

4. Make the expansion of supportive housing a priority initiative of the joint City-County Office on Homelessness.

5. Make the development of a plan to address multi-family rental properties problems with elevator repair a priority for the Department of Building and Housing.

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52

2001 Year in Review

by Brian Davis

     For every 2001 year in review this obligatory statement must be included: "2001 can be divided into those events before September 11 which are a blur of triviality and those after the terrorist attack which are still in sharp focus." I bring this up only to say that the hope that sprang from September 11 is slipping away. The opportunities that were created are mired in debate over how the Red Cross can use the money collected and what exactly is a stimulus package.

     The world of homeless people in Cleveland after September 11 is a little more dreary than the world before the event. People are even more suspicious of others as we close the year. We had this huge outpouring of compassion to the victims of the hijacking and kamikaze attacks immediately following the fateful September day. Those fighting poverty had hope that people would begin to see the thousands everyday who suffer because of the skewed priorities that exist in our country. We hoped that there would be a new pride in the country to address the suffering that takes place on our streets everyday.

There were initial hopes that we could heal our grief with billions of dollars directed at correcting this wrong. With our money, we saved the airline industry. We kept families from losing their housing or lives even though they did not have official death certificates. And we rekindled our faith in the ability of government to solve problems. It was only a short jump to apply those same principals to addressing institutional poverty and the housing crisis. Unfortunately, the time to make that leap of faith is evaporating. We are losing that small window of opportunity for another generation or more.

     Not since Kennedy’s assassination did we have the bravado to set lofty goals for our government and actually make a stab at meeting those goals. We said that we would be on the moon in ten years, we would address poverty especially rural poverty, and we would deal with the 100 years of discrimination. It was almost as if Kennedy was martyred in order to move the country forward. We had that same window on the days after September 11, 2001, but that is slipping from our reach.

     We could put all of our veterans in housing. We could provide universal health care for our citizens and fund a massive building boom in this country to energize the economy and bring all of our citizens out of the cold and into a safe, decent, stable place to live. It is reasonable to set a goal of cutting by two thirds the number of people incarcerated or providing mental health assistance to three times as many people. Without leaders to speak these bold visions, the United States will never move forward.

     This is not to say that the events of September 11 did not have a profound impact on homeless people even in Cleveland because they did. Every American was rocked to their core in seeing the disaster played out in high definition and in our living spaces. There is a certain sadness and anger over the huge number of people who lost their lives when the Age of Innocence in America ended.

     In Cleveland, we review the other events that had some impact on homeless people.

Housing:

     The Section 8 Housing Voucher program briefly opened its waiting list in 2001 and 35,000 individuals or families applied. 10,000 of those applicants were placed on a waiting list and given a lottery number to be drawn over the next three to four years. The others can apply again in 2004 or 2005 if they are still in need of housing and are not dead, in jail or left the area. The HUD subsidized buildings that exist did not disappear as rapidly as previous years. There were a couple of buildings that the owners opted out of the program or were thrown out. Places like Longwood, which features over 700 affordable units, were showing renewed signs of life with a bold renovation plan. Currently there are over 30 buildings that HUD has deemed are troubled and are on the watch list for this year.

     The public housing program managed by CMHA got a little smaller for homeless and disabled people when one-fifth of the total inventory over 2,200 units were classified as "senior only." This meant that only people 60 or 55 and over could secure a lease in those buildings. CMHA is the 10th largest Public Housing Authority in the County, but now has the fourth highest number of designated units in the country. This in combination to the 1,000 units that are currently not on-line makes it very difficult to find housing locally.

     Evictions increased by 17% in Cleveland in 2001 when compared to 2000. Cuyahoga County had put in place an eviction diversion plan to attempt to prevent families who were in danger of losing their housing from being forced on the street or into the shelters. This program provided short term rental assistance for 6,000 families before it came to an end with State budget cuts. Homelessness increased 15% in 2001. There is no telling how much more homelessness would have increased especially family homelessness without this rental assistance.

     Cleveland passed the local landlord tenant law, which provided some teeth to the state law. It mandated security if the residents and the City of Cleveland agreed there was a need. It also provides monetary penalties to landlords that violate the law. It is a tool to prevent landlords from illegally evicting a tenant.

     The housing wage increased by over $1 per hour in Cleveland. The housing wage is the amount of money that an individual needs to make in order to afford the fair market rent. The Cleveland housing wage is now $11.29 per hour or a job at minimum wage for 88 hours a week in order to afford housing.

Economic Justice:

     The temporary day labor workers became a force in Cleveland when they organized a hearing before City Council to reveal the exploitation that exists within the downtown companies. The post-Labor Day hearing was shaped by doctoral student, Dan Kerr, who also prepared a report on the exploitation based on 100 interviews. The day laborers are collaborating on the creation of a Community Hiring Hall and possible legal avenues for relief including the eventual introduction of legislation restricting excessive fees and sending people to unsafe working conditions.

     A large number of families lost their benefits in Cuyahoga County, with 200-400 families a month reaching their three year time limit in Ohio. CWRU studies also found that 64% of the families that leave welfare live below poverty after they stop receiving cash assistance. They also found that the single greatest obstacle that families leaving welfare have to overcome is maintaining housing.

     Payday lenders and predatory mortgage lenders increased their market in the City of Cleveland. These two poverty institutions suck money out of a community and cause huge debts that eventually lead to bankruptcy, evictions, and the loss of homes.

Emergency Services:

     The Grapevine investigated the federal funding system for distributing grants to transitional and supportive housing programs in Cleveland. Both the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County responded to this criticism. The 2001 funding process still did not address the impact these programs have on the community and a cost/benefit analysis. Homeless people released a report on the local shelters, which detailed their comments about the shelter system. A few of the facilities came out looking good, but many had problems. One of the most seriously flawed shelters or services was 2100 Lakeside shelter, according to the report. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless helped to organize a resident committee, which is currently attempting to address the situation at the shelter.

     In an article in the last Grapevine, there was a discussion of bringing housing leases to the transitional shelters and providing greater due process within all the shelters. These attempts are in their infancy, but will be apart of the news coverage in 2002.

     Care Alliance closed two buildings in July of 2001 closing four programs in the process. Government officials (both local and federal) were slow to react allowing the clients to be cast to the wind. Many of the mentally ill women were forced to seek shelter in the Catholic Charities shelter, which has made the shelter a volatile place with a dangerously large population. HUD eventually did respond with a demand of the agency to repay over $500,000. The shelter for mentally ill men was reopened in October under new management. The resolution of the fine and the final disposition of the buildings should be addressed in 2002.

Health Care

     There was a scabies outbreak at the largest shelter in Cleveland. This rapidly spreading skin disease was contained by the quick actions of the Salvation Army shelter staff, Cuyahoga County, Care Alliance, and the City Health Department.

     MetroHealth hospital, which operated the local neighborhood health clinics, was threatened with eviction. MetroHealth Systems are where most homeless people find access to health care. The closing or disruption in services would have had a tremendous impact on the homeless community. At the last minute, a compromise was struck between the City of Cleveland and MetroHealth hospital.

     Both Alcohol and Drug and Mental Health services became more difficult to access in 2001 for homeless people. The Alcohol and Drug system lost treatment beds to the Criminal Justice system, making it more difficult to find sober living in the city. The Mental Health system lost funding locally. This will make resources scarce in 2002. The first anticipated cut will most likely take place in supportive services and access to mental health housing.

Civil Rights

     There were rumblings of the creation of a Mental Health Court locally, but efforts dissolved because of disputes among the partners. This drive for a Mental Health Court will most likely be renewed in 2002. The Grapevine featured information and commentaries both pro and con regarding mental health courts.

     Hate crimes increased in 2001 with attacks on homeless people by citizens seen during the beginning and end of the year. From fire bombs thrown in Tremont to a series of unsolved murders of homeless people over the last five months of the year. One man was stabbed near the railroad tracks and a former resident of Camelot was beat up and died in a warehouse. Another man was beat to death on the West Side of Cleveland.

     Activists took over a building in Glenville neighborhood and found a huge hidden homeless population of people sleeping in abandoned houses. This population is impossible to count, but their presence is felt in almost every neighborhood of Cleveland. The house, occupied to call attention to the affordable housing crisis locally, was used by a man who had been homeless for three decades. The action drew a smattering of attention in the local media.

     In 2000, Mayor White of Cleveland signed an agreement to not send the police out to arrest or threaten with arrest homeless people for purely innocent behavior. The Coalition for the Homeless sent volunteers out during the Thanksgiving holiday to test the continued enforcement of this agreement. The legal observers did not witness any contact between homeless people and the police and those who seek refuge on the streets reported a quiet weekend.

Other Items in the news for 2001:

     There was a dispute over the release of the 2000 Census count of homeless people. Local Congressman Dennis Kucinich wanted the numbers released. The National Coalition for the Homeless did not want the numbers released fearing a vast undercount. The Kucinich bill lost in Congress, but the Census released later in the year the shelter count only. There was in fact a huge undercount even in people using the shelters across the country. In Cleveland, the numbers were actually fairly accurate, and showed the fact that the shelters were operating at 130% capacity.

     Cleveland citizens voted for a new Mayor, and the homeless community hoped for a more cordial relationship with the new city administration. Mayor Jane Campbell pledged to develop a plan for the affordable housing crisis and promised to broaden the discussion to include the suburbs.

     In the news from the Grapevine vendors for 2001, Marsha Rizzo Swanson was chosen locally to attend the North American Street Newspaper conference in San Francisco. During the conference, there was a competition among the vendors to see which vendor could sell the most papers on the streets. At the second annual street sales contest, Swanson beat vendors from Boston, Cincinnati, the host city, and the defending champion from Edmonton. She will be given airfare and lodging in Boston at the 2002 NASNA conference.

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52