No Agency Monitors Shelters

Editorial 

If you give my organization a substantial pot of public money you should have a large stake in how that money is spent. When did our social service agencies become so arrogant that they are above regulation when they are almost all publicly subsidized? The City Mission can make a case that since they do not accept public money from government; they do not have to respond to government regulations. Except that supports the City Mission is from citizens who claim that money on their personal income taxes which in effect lowers the amount of money going to the government. Therefore, a portion of the money that goes to the City Mission comes out of the public coffers and thus should force them to abide by government oversight. So why is their, such a vacuum in government oversight of the shelters in Cleveland? Why can a shelter kick a person out for speaking and deny them a grievance hearing? Why do the shelters get away with treating theirs clients like dirt? Why does one shelter get recommended for federal funding when they tell their clients that if they say anything negative to the review team they will be evicted? Then the shelter follows that threat up with actually evicting a family that dared to speak up. Why do we continue to support programs that have little if any impact on the community?

In 1992, we came together to form the joint City of Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services to coordinate services locally. The office had the lofty goal of ending homelessness while to the contrary homelessness has increased every year of the existence of the Office. We have seen increases in federal and state dollars provided to Cuyahoga County to wage our war against homelessness, but have yet to make a dent. We have actually had 17 straight years of increases in people requesting shelter. If this were an actual war we would have surrendered years ago. And why oh why are the City of County not responsible to tell the homeless community how they are spending money intended to help with moving people to stability.

Throughout the last decade, we have seen scandals in both the Alcohol and Drug system as well as the Mental Health Community pointing to the need for greater oversight within those systems. Reform needs to also come to Homeless Services before a scandal shakes the confidence of the community partners and funders. The County Office of Homeless Services never reports to the homeless people directly. They never inform the constituent that brings all these millions of dollars to the community of the reason behind the decisions. OHS does a poor to dismal job of providing oversight of the shelters that exist in Cleveland. They make very few demands on these organizations, and there is very little stress on the system to the right thing. Very few providers give it a second thought to kick someone out in the middle of the night to sleep on the streets. It is easier to avoid the hassle of figuring out which party is right or wrong and just throwing out both parties creating the disturbance. Shelters know that there will be no consequence for their actions. If a homeless person does complain that they were unjustly barred from a facility the worst thing that will happen is that it will appear in the Grapevine. They never feel it in the pocket book. It seems that our society never wants to criticize the good Samaritan. 

We do not want to make the life of a low paid social worker any more difficult than it already is on a daily basis. We do not want to put added stress on the life of a case worker who should be able to be trained to provide client based advocacy to more people into stable living situations.  We should expert Executive Directors to demand respect of their clients from all employed by an agency. We need to require good fiscal oversight of  people’s hard earned public money when it is used by not-for-profit organizations. And we should demand that someone within government is there to assure that all these things take place. When there is a problem they should be there listen to the concern of homeless people and respond. This does not happen in our community. It makes the life of homeless person even more frustrating, and can lead individuals to the decision to give up trying. We often hear,  “What is the use ? There is no one who has the time or ability to help me.”   

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55

Local Homeless News Briefs

Triumph House Closes

Every year the County sends a team around to the various federally funded transitional shelters, permanent housing programs and a couple of support services. The team attempts to interview current clients to get a sense of the treatment they are receiving. This year, clients at Triumph House, a transitional housing program serving families with young children, was viewed. They found significant problems at the facility with both the administration and the programs. Clients were told if they say anything negative about the program, they would be expelled from the program. When clients did tell about the problems with staff and grievance procedures, one family was dismissed from the program. On June 14, Triumph House announced that they were closing the program. The program is in former  public housing units and the grant is awarded to the local Public  Authority. The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority is seeking another provider to continue this program. The Grapevine will feature a longer story in the next issue about Triumph House.

More on 2100 Lakeside:

Larry Goodman who was the day to day administrator at the troubled Salvation Army men’s shelter resigned his position. The facility has come under a great deal of criticism from homeless people, and is currently in negotiations with the City of Cleveland to reform its operation. Phil Mason, current senior public affairs officer for the Salvation Army, will be the day to day operations director of the facility until a replacement can be found. 

Billions in Debt:

The State of Ohio is facing an expected $4billion dollar debt by the end of the next fiscal year (July 2003). The only way to balance the budget this year was to tap one-time sources of funding like the rainy day reserve and the tobacco settlement. These funds will not be available next year. There is talk in Columbus of eliminating entire departments to balance the budget. There are no longer debates concerning 6% or 10% cuts, but huge slashing of the state budget in many areas. Tom Hayes, the director of Ohio jobs and Family Services, was quoted that there is debate within the welfare offices of cutting dental, prescriptions and other benefits for children through Medicaid in an attempt to lower the double-digit growth in Medicaid over the last few years.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55

Housing Commission Reports Severe Shortages

Millennial Housing Commission Reports to Congress; Recommendations Include Provisions to End Homelessness.

On Thursday, May 30, the congressionally appointed Millennial Housing Commission released its final report to Congress, outlining 13 principal recommendations to address the shortage of the nation’s affordable housing. The recommendations, which include provisions to end both transitional and chronic (or long-term) homelessness, fall into three main areas: the creation of new housing tools, major reform of several current housing programs, and the steam lining of existing programs. The key recommendations targeted to ending homelessness included: Eliminating chronic homelessness over a 10-year period through the creation of 150,000 additional units of permanent supportive housing Certificate Fund. Providing a capital subsidy for the production or preservation of units targeted exclusively to extremely low-income households (restrictions enabling occupancy by extremely low-income households would be capped at 20% of the units in any single development to avoid concentrating poverty). Appropriating additional funds for substantial annual increments of Housing Choice Vouchers to address the housing problems of extremely low-and very low-income families and taking reformative steps such as:

  1. – increasing authority for local program administrators to change payment standards to respond to market conditions, enacting measures to match voucher holders with services that foster employment and other opportunities.
  2. – strengthening and enforcing the requirement that owners of housing produced with federal assistance accept voucher-holding households, including extremely low-income households.
  3. - creating “thrifty production voucher,” which could be used in combination with LIHTC, HOME, CDBG programs for households with extremely low incomes.

Income Housing Tax Credit Programs, including changing the tax Credit Program, including changing the tax code to allow states to use Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) funds for one-time grants to tax-credit properties. Creating Congressionally authorized” preservation entities”-organizations that purchase and preserve affordable housing-and tax incentives for owners who sell property to these entities. Improving public housing by reducing regulatory burdens for public housing agencies and transitioning to a project-based approach. Additionally, the commission issued a number of supporting recommendations including: increasing funding for housing assistance in rural areas; increasing funding for Native American housing; and streamlining state planning requirements for community development programs. To view the full report, see http://www.mhc.gov/

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55

Hate Crimes and Violence Against Homeless Rising

The National Coalition for the Homeless recently released the annual publication, HATE:A report of Hate Crimes and Violence Against Homeless People in the United States in 2001. The report found in 29 cities across the country there were 78 acts of hate  crimes violence committed against  people experiencing homelessness, 16 of which resulted in death. The report complies news reports for the year 2001 and lays out recommendations to ensure that one of the most vulnerable groups in our society-people without permanent housing-are protected against hate crimes and violent acts.

The report aims to educate lawmakers, advocates and the public about the problem of hate crimes and violence against people who are homeless. Cincinnati, Ohio was included in NCH’s report for 2001. The case involved a group of individuals aged 14 through 16 who hit a homeless man in the head while he was sitting in a park. Two days later, police officers found the man transported him to the hospital. Due to the attack, the man suffered a series of strokes resulting from internal injury to the brain.

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), serving as the local advocate and monitoring site for NCH, has documented cases of violence against homeless people, including bricks, glass bottles, and garbage being thrown at individuals and one man being set on fire while sleeping. Many local activists and members within the homeless community consider the unsolved murders of two homeless men in September and October of 2001 to be hate crimes and suspect that the perpetrators were housed persons. Police were never able to determine the culprits.

Shelters throughout the country have received increasing reports of men, women and even children being harassed, kicked, set on fire, beaten to death, and even decapitated. Over the last three years alone (1999 through 2001) there have 109 murders of people without housing by housed people, 140 victims of non-lethal violence in 82 cities from 32 states and Puerto Rico. The youngest victim was a four month-old child; the oldest was a 74 year-old man. “In Cleveland in the 1990s we saw a rise in attempts to criminalize homelessness and it was only natural to see similar increases in anger directed at homeless people.” In said Brian Davis, Executive Director of NEOCH. “We did not see as many crimes committed against homeless people between 2001-2002 as we did the year after Cleveland began a policy of sweeping homeless people in 2000-2001.”

 NEOCH and NCH call on Congress to instruct the General Accounting Office (GAO) to investigate the nature and scope of violent acts and crimes that occur against people experiencing homelessness. HATE: A Report of Hate Crimes and Violence Against Homeless People in the United States in 2001 can be found at www.nationalhomeless.org.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55

Dog Editorial Barking Up Wrong Tree

Dear Editor:

This is a response to the recent editorial in the Grapevine, Dogs Get Better Treatment  then Homeless People.” If research had been done instead of sensationalizating a few programs it would be obvious that this is no true. Have you ever driven down Martin Luther King Blvd. or St Clair Avenue and seen the packs of homeless dogs running and getting hit by cars? Or how about the half-starved dog tied on a chain to short to shelter itself from the heat or cold? To assume we treat these poor creatures better then the homeless is absurd. I have worked with homeless and I participate in animal rescue and there is no comparison. One huge difference is the animal cannot speak or defend it self and if it does it is destroyed. Homeless people have a voice and they do have advocates. Animals do not have that among their own species. I feel it is no ones right to tell me where I should march or donate time or money. Perhaps people should stop blaming animals for everything. We have taken their homes our cities we kill them relentlessly on the highways so please do not compare them to homeless people. Homeless people do need help and a voice and we definitely need to act in this area. But it only aliments may when we are told that we spend too much on this or that and somehow it should be designated for people, after all who is to say which species is the more developed?

Vickie L. Smith

Cleveland

Editor’s Reply: You need to re-read the Editorial from the last issue. The point was not that dogs are not in need of help. The point was that our priorities in this country are backwards when dogs and cats have better facilities than those built to serve humans. We hate to break the bad news to you, but people, governments and society already tell you who and what you can donate your time and money. All non-profits are regulated, and everyone from the United Way to the IRS tells you who you can donate your money to.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55

Vendor Pursues Master’s Degree

by Jimmy Heath

 Gregory Payton’s study of the causes and effects of homelessness on society began with his own first-hand experience. Payton was once himself homeless and caught up in the throes of addiction.

 After a lot of hard work and determination, Payton will be graduating from the University of Cincinnati this month with a Bachelor of Science in Addiction Studies and an Associates Degree in Liberal Arts and Social Science. He has recently been certified as a Chemical Dependency Counselor (CCDC 1). In September, he will be entering the Master’s Program at UC.

 But Payton’s life was not always this focused. He returned to Cincinnati in 1996 from a good paying job as a shipyard machinist in Virginia. "I came home because I was in trouble. I didn’t know I had a disease," says Payton. He had turned to alcohol and crack as a way to combat the loneliness of a recent divorce and what he thought was an empty life. In Cincinnati, Gregory Payton found himself homeless and living at the Drop Inn Center, running the streets in search of crack cocaine. The Drop Inn Center was where he first heard about the Steetvibes Vendor Program. Donald Whitehead (then Director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, now Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington, DC) came to the Drop Inn Center to recruit people as Streetvibes Vendors. "I’m proud to be the person that sold the first Streetvibes," says Gregory. "I was tired of working for nothing at the temporary labor agencies. And I got to know Donald Whitehead, who knew about homelessness from his own experience." But selling Streetvibes was just the beginning of Payton’s journey to sobriety.

"I had an experience that helped me get sober. I saw the police beating on rowdy patrons at a New Year’s Eve party at a bar in downtown Cincinnati. It wasn’t just that incident alone, but everything about my life came into focus. I saw these people, the police and the out-of-control drunks, acting the way they were and thought, ‘I can’t be a part of that insanity anymore.’" Payton questioned the deeper part of what he saw. He was frightened and scared. "These are how people treat each other and themselves? It was all so wrong. I was determined to make a change in my own life too."

 Payton went to a meeting of Narcotics Anonymous and got sober, and eventually found a job at a treatment program for men in Avondale. "I worked third shift at the Freeman House, basically staying up all night and watching the house." But the Freeman House soon closed its doors and Payton was out of a job. "The minister who operated the program ran off with the money!"

Gregory moved back downtown and got a job at the Drop Inn Center and returned to selling Streetvibes to make a little extra money. "Someone approached me while I was selling the paper and asked me to come to UC and share my homeless experience with addiction studies students," says Payton. "After the session the professor said he thought I should be a student and one day I could become a teacher too." Payton, now working as the interim director of the Drop Inn Center’s treatment program for homeless men, had thought about furthering his education and had even taken a few classes in pursuit of his chemical dependency counselor license. He felt the need to return to school, not only for the benefit of his clients at the Drop Inn Center, but to learn more about his own addiction. But college was a different challenge for Payton. "I didn’t think I had what it took," he says.

Gregory started at UC with one class in the summer of ’98 and found that it was what he was looking for. Eventually enrolling full-time, Payton continued to work as a counselor at Transitions, a treatment program in Northern Kentucky. Now he’s ready to graduate and in the fall will continue to pursue his Masters Degree at UC.

Gregory is one of many success stories that we are proud to report on in the Streetvibes. Countless people over the years have benefited from the Streetvibes Vendor Program. Many others have found their way out of homelessness through the many services provided by the Drop Inn Center. In addition to emergency shelter, the Drop Inn Center provides addiction treatment, jobs and training. Gregory Payton will continue to be living proof that there is a potential for hope and joy in a life that was once broken.

Originally Published in Cincinnati Ohio by the Streetvibes newspaper.  Re-Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55

Sub Prime Lenders Target Minority Neighborhood

Information compiled from the year 2000 Home Mortgage Disclosure Act data shows that Ohio Metropolitan Statistical Areas rank very high in aggressive marketing of sub prime refinancing loans in both African-American neighborhoods and concentrated minority neighborhoods versus white neighborhoods.

 Application number for sub prime refinancing loans in African-American neighborhoods for the year 2000 show that Ohio MSAs represented 5 of the top ten MSAs in the entire country, and 9 of the top 50 (or 18% of the top 50 MSAs in the country). The same data for sub prime refinancing loan applications in concentrated minority neighborhoods for the year 2000 show that Ohio represents four of the top ten MSAs in the entire country, and six of the top 20 (or 33% of the top MSAs in the country).

Residents in Ohio minority and African-American neighborhoods are twice as likely to receive a sub prime loan than residents in white neighborhoods. This information further supports the contention that the lack of prime lenders in these neighborhoods has led to the explosion of sub prime lending in these same neighborhoods. "The unfortunate truth is, many of these borrowers could possibly qualify for prime loans but prime lenders have left these neighborhoods subject to the heavy marketing tactics conducted by sub prime lenders," said Chip Bromley director of Metro Strategy Group. Both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have confirmed that anywhere from 10% to 50% of sub prime borrowers could qualify for a prime loan.

The exponential growth of the sub prime market is not due to impaired credit but to a new form of red-lining. This is further reinforcement of recent research by such groups as Center for Community Change, ACORN, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development showing that sub prime products are over-marketed to minority communities.

This new data only confirms and supports previous research done on sub prime lending in Ohio. Statewide, sub prime lending is having dramatic and dangerous impact on minority and African-American neighborhoods. "The State of Ohio needs to devote its attention to this issue immediately. This is a serious civil rights issue to be addressed by a full scale investigation by the Ohio Civil Rights Commission," said Bromley.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55

Salvation Army Shelter Nears Boiling Point

News Analysis by Brian Davis

History of the Shelter:

In 1999, County officials led an effort to replace the deplorable Project Heat shelters for men after a series of protests led by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. During this time the City of Cleveland began an overly broad interpretation of the quality of life laws, which led to the threatened arrest of hundreds of people who slept on the streets. This only accelerated the efforts to create a quality shelter to bring the many people in from the cold.

The Salvation Army was chosen as the provider of services and they set about to create a plan. The plan called for a slight increase in the number of people who would utilize the facility over the capacity under Project Heat. There were also plans to move the Salvation Army PASS transitional shelter into the building as soon as phase 2 renovations were complete. This would allow men to work a case plan and then move into a stable living arrangements and then to permanent housing. The facility was to be used 24 hours a day with the benefits of the many social workers from the nearly one-hundred social service agencies assisting the men.

The program was doomed from the beginning when over 100 people more than anticipated sought shelter. The Salvation Army was slow to complete renovations on the kitchen, which made it difficult to operate 24 hours a day. Very few social service providers came to the table to assist. Basically, the Salvation Army and the Veterans Administration were drowning in men in need of services. By the time phase 2 renovations were complete the other half of the facility was needed to accommodate the 400 men that showed up every night. Salvation Army officials were presented a list of questions to respond to for this article, but they declined to respond.

Other problems facing the Army was the renovations were more expensive than anticipated. They paid way more than expected for the lease on the building, and they had many staffing problems. The Salvation Army was running a facility that it had no idea how to administer. All decisions, from staffing to the expenditure of money, were being made out of the New York office. This made it nearly impossible to change in order to respond to the needs of the thousands who were in need. It was like having a skeptical mother in law running the household from another city of a newlywed couple with one dozen adopted children. Chaos reigned.

It all Comes Crashing Down

The Salvation Army traditionally operates shelters with rigorous codes of conduct with a significant screening process for entry. They also almost always have time limits on an individual’s stay at their shelters. The City and County and the Coalition for the Homeless all pressured the Army to accept anyone that walked in the door. The message from all outside sources was accept all and move them on as soon as possible. In fact, the County even held a meeting in October 2001 to explore making 2100 Lakeside the entry shelter for all other shelters. This would mean that a man would have to first do an intake at 2100 Lakeside and then would be placed in the appropriate other shelters in the system. Many shelters resisted this idea because the 2100 Lakeside residents were viewed as the hardest to serve.

 So the Salvation Army was absolutely unaware of how to run this shelter with its size and difficult population. The most glaring problem with the shelter was the resistance by the higher level administrators in partnering with the homeless residents to improve the shelter. Out of turf issues or a total lack of understanding, the Salvation Army never could understand the value of seeking open and honest input from the men who use the shelter. The men often said they were treated as either children or inmates by the staff.

Problems Slowly Creep into the Public Eye

In April 2001, the Coalition for the Homeless was commissioned to review the shelters and present that information to the City and County. There were serious problems at 2100 Lakeside from theft issues by the staff, unclear expectations, and serious problems with staff disrespect and demeaning behavior. NEOCH asked the Army for permission to organize the men into a Resident Advisory Committee to work on the problems with a representative body that could speak for the population. In the fall, NEOCH met with the men to outline the problems and then recommend solutions. The residents wanted more input on the rules and staffing decisions. They wanted to have a voice in the management of the facility and wanted clear rules and guidelines spelled out. The resident committee faced much opposition from Salvation Army management.

During this time the Army, feeling increasing pressure from all sides to manage a better facility, fired their director, Angelo Anderson. They brought in John Ansbro who has experience with the New York Salvation Army and locally with the City Mission and the Harbor Light Complex. Ansbro was supposed to fix the facility, but worked only part time at 2100 Lakeside shelter. He kept his job and reportedly his salary at Salvation Army’s Harbor Light complex while drawing a salary as Acting Director of Salvation Army 2100 Lakeside. City and County paid his salary at both facilities.

Conflicts Arise at Shelter:

The facility made significant strides in cleaning up the shelter so that it looked cleaner and they added a maintenance man to fix some of the crumbling interior. They could not correct the huge number of complaints and the growing resentment of the staff. Actually, with every sink that was restored two other problems were created from the withdraw of the availability of lockers to the discontinuation of the medical beds.

Then in January 2002, the Salvation Army arbitrarily began turning people away at night. After a week of no resolution of this problem, the Coalition for the Homeless took action and protested. This turning people away angered the City and County as well who were both caught off guard. The City officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Ruth Gillett, director of the County Office of Homeless Services, declined to comment. High level Army officials denied that they were ever turning people away publicly, while Coalition staff visited the shelter at night and watched people turned away.

After much media exposure and a negotiated compromise with the City and County the situation was resolved that the County would pay additional amount on the Army contract when more than 370 people presented themselves at the shelter. The County would pay an additional amount to house the overflow at Harbor Light. This provided some comfort to the Army that actually permanently assigned a group of men to Harbor Light thus receiving a per diem for a consistent group of men.

The Army blamed the City’s Building and Housing and Fire Department for turning people away at two public meetings. They claimed it was not safe and that the City was demanding strict adherence to the occupancy capacity. The City’s housing safety team actually had worked out a compromise to allow more into the shelter provided there were additional safety procedures put in place in a written correspondence obtained by the Grapevine.

Tensions between staff and residents continued to escalate. The resident committee had made recommendations in December 2001 that would improve the shelter. Those recommendations were either ignored or promises were made and never kept. The resident committee saw many changes take place that were actually contrary to their recommendations. The men were not allowed in until 6 p.m. and were told they could not come into use the bathroom. In the two hour wait outside many of the men with chronic health conditions were forced to use the alley as a bathroom. This disgusted the men and made them feel like dogs according to one angry letter sent to City Council about the situation.

Raymond Robinson (See Grapevine #54) actually began pestering City Council about the deplorable conditions at the shelter. He was told by Ward 7 Councilman Fannie Lewis to put a petition together. While gathering signatures, he was stopped by the shelter staff and actually punished by having his bed taken and forced to sleep on the floor. After a confrontation with the Coalition for the Homeless staff, Robinson was given a bed back, but faced all kinds of hardships within the shelter.

Problems Only Escalate

 In late April and early May, the residents met again to outline the problems for the Salvation Army. Very few changes were addressed, and so the resident committee asked for a meeting with the County to resolve this problem. The men were told that the Army was going to again restrict access to the 360 men per night, and they dismantled the remaining programs that existed at the shelter. Staff had developed an "us vs. them" mentality, and were routinely asserting their authority over the men.

The resident committee had received a copy of the Salvation Army budget for 2100 Lakeside and found many discrepancies. There was a line that said, "social service assessment (10% of revenue)," which was a fee the Army was charging the City and County for running the program. This money was reportedly going to the main office in New York City. There was a food allocation listed of $170,149 despite the fact that the Army never served food at 2100 Lakeside. The food was donated by church groups or the PASS program. The men wanted to know where this money was going. The 2100 Lakeside budget listed a food service coordinator’s salary again despite the fact that the renovated kitchen was not used and no food was prepared at the shelter.

Army officials kept assuring the County and City that the kitchen would soon open. They kept saying that they would allow the men to use the bathroom while they waited outside in meetings with the community. They kept telling the County and City that they were not going to turn people away despite the public admissions to the contrary. At a tour of the shelter, the staff assured Councilmen and City officials that they make accommodations for men that work late into the evening when this was actually not the case. The staff began setting their own rules every shift.

One day, the men would be allowed to watch television and the next night nothing. There were charges of extreme mental torture by the staff of the guests especially of the men with mental illnesses. Robinson reported seeing the food falling onto the floor as it was brought into the shelter and the staff just scooping it up and serving it.

Finally, a meeting was set with Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim McCormack to discuss the problems at the shelter. After one year of trying to make changes, the residents and the Coalition were at a point that they needed an immediate change.

Coalition staff asked for a meeting with the men the night before the meeting with the County to get a sense of the thinking of the residents. I had previously been placed on the banned list and was denied entrance to the facility on a number of occasions. After a brief meeting on May 28 in which police were called to break up the discussion, the residents of 2100 Lakeside shelter voted no-confidence in the current administer of the shelter, and asked County and City officials to seek a new shelter operator. Staff at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless met with the men using the 2100 Lakeside shelter, and were asked to leave the facility. I refused to leave while talking to the men, and Salvation Army staff called the police to remove me. The men voted to seek a new shelter operator and the meeting broke up without an arrest. The men began circulating a petition and nominated two people to act in their interest.

 On May 29, the Coalition along with the representatives from the resident committee met with Commissioner Tim McCormack and City Councilwoman Fannie Lewis to deliver the message that the men no longer have confidence in the Salvation Army and are asking for an immediate community meeting to develop a scope of services. There were nearly 40 people at the this meeting on May 29 including County staff, social service providers, resident committee members, and representatives of the Salvation Army when the men delivered the message that they no longer had confidence in the current shelter operators. The 2100 Lakeside Resident committee is a group of nine men who were voted as the spokespeople for the 400 men who sleep at this overcrowded shelter every night. Thomas Lewis, an eight-month member of the resident committee said, "We have tried over the last six months to work with the Salvation Army, but things have actually gone from bad to worse."

Raymond Robinson repeatedly went to Cleveland City Hall to get a resolution of the deteriorating shelter. He assisted in the circulation of a petition that asked the Salvation Army to transfer the program to another provider. The resident advisory committee was able to get 326 people to sign the petition before Robinson was banned from the shelter.

The main areas of concern for the men who stay at 2100 Lakeside include:

1. Disrespectful, under-trained, under-supervised, insensitive staff

2. A lack of services, knowledge of services, and qualified social workers at the shelter

3. Overcrowded conditions with an average of 50 to 75 people sleeping on mats on the floor every night.

4. Huge problems with the facility that have gone on for years including clients standing out front with no bathroom every day for two hours, a lack of a working kitchen, and constant problems with the mail.

5. The single biggest problem is the lack of accountability for the shelter and the inability for the Salvation Army to involve the residents as partners in solving these problems.

The men were at a point at which they believed that the Salvation Army had repeatedly broken their promises, misled the residents, and violated their trust. They had not acted in the best interest of the community or the men who use the 2100 Lakeside shelter. Facing possible retaliation, they asked for a new administer of the shelter with all speed before a tragedy occurred at the shelter.

Salvation Army staff Retaliates

The loudest critic was Raymond Robinson, who actually began complaining to the City of Cleveland and City Council in early April. He faced retaliation before by the Salvation Army staff, but persisted in raising the issues. In early June, he was evicted from the shelter and was forced to sleep on the rainy streets of Cleveland.

Robinson was assisting with a petition drive at the shelter, and had harshly criticized Salvation Army staff at the May 29th meeting with Commissioner McCormack. On June 5, 2002, he led a group of men who cleaned up the shelter in order to be able to watch the NBA Finals. The men were told at the May 29th meeting that if they cleaned up after dinner of the cafeteria, they could watch television, which was also in the cafeteria. The Salvation Army staff cut the television off at the start of the game because the cafeteria had allegedly not been cleaned the previous week. Robinson complained, telling the men that this was a violation of the agreement that the residents had struck with management the previous week. He complied with their orders and vacated the television room, but was upset that once again the rules were changed.

He and Leroy Rodgers were complaining about the injustice of the situation when staff had police escort the two out of the shelter. According to shelter documents, Rodgers was terminated for "arguing with another client, was asked not to argue but refused. Client was told if he said one more word he would be put out. Client insisted in being put out (sic). Client out until further notice."

This was signed by Brady Evans of the Salvation Army. In essence, Rodgers was put out for saying another word when he was told not to. Certainly not an offense that justifies many nights on the rainy cold streets of Cleveland according to Rodgers. Robinson was put out for allegedly "inciting a riot," but was not arrested by the police for such a serious infraction in a volatile facility.

The two men came back the next day and asked for a grievance hearing because they believed the facts of the case were in question. After finally receiving a copy of the grievance procedure on Friday June 7, they formally filed a request for a hearing. They both felt that until they had their grievance hearing they should not be punished. Staff of NEOCH helped them file the grievance and assisted in getting it in the hands of the supervisors of the shelter. The two wanted a hearing as it states in the Salvation Army grievance procedure. Instead they were forced to sleep on the streets until the grievance was heard. The two men kept asking for a grievance hearing to be heard before the banning from the shelter took place. They felt that if the ban was reversed how could the Army compensate them for sleeping on the streets while they waited for the appeal.

After the Salvation Army rejected the request for a grievance hearing or the suspension of the punishment until a hearing could take place, the men went to the County for help. It was thought that since the County and City give the shelter $1.2 million, they could exert some pressure on the Army to do the right thing. After a series of telephone calls, Ruth Gillett emerged from her office telling the men that she could not convince the Army to reverse their decision. She said that she was sorry, but would "remember the actions of the Army." This was hardly comfort for the two men who were facing sleeping on the streets for the weekend.

Gillett helped to secure shelter at another facility in the system, but could not assert any authority over the Salvation Army.

This demonstrated how justice was settled within the shelters. Men are punished and then must make an appeal to get back into the facility. There was no presumption of innocence. No attempt to accommodate them until a grievance hearing could be scheduled. There was no concern for their well being when a dispute arises. This was the prime example of the need for some entity in Cleveland to enforce standards on these programs that make life and death decisions every day.

City Council meets:

The next step for the men was a meeting with Cleveland City Council who had heard for months the complaints of some of the residents. Councilmen Frank Jackson convened the meeting on June 14 and members of the City Administration, fire, police other social service providers were invited. The Salvation Army was represented by Ansbro, Captain Ricardo Fernandez and members of the their local advisory including Pepper Pike Mayor Bruce Akers. The men who stayed at 2100 Lakeside went through the litany of problems with staff, a lack of leadership, and facility problems. Salvation Army officials listened as the shelter residents described being called "maggots," having donations stolen by staff, and the regular abuse. The Army said that they had opened the facility at 4 p.m. as their contract with the City of Cleveland stated. It turned out that they did not begin to open the shelter at 4 p.m. until June 17, 2002.

The men presented their petition asking the Salvation Army to be asked to leave the shelter operation. Jackson stated that the City and County were not at that point yet and asked the men to negotiate with the Army on some of the most egregious problems. Councilman Joe Cimperman agreed to convene this meeting between the Army and the residents to report back to Council. The resident committee members agreed to meet with the Army in an attempt to lower the tension level and avoid a tragedy. They still want to replace the Salvation Army and devise a new scope of service for a new provider. Realizing it would take months to transition, the men are willing to talk to the Army about the immediate problems to protect both clients and staff until other arrangements can be made.

The Office of Homeless Services advisory board met and are devising a statement to seek a quick resolution of this problem with the shelter. They are urging all parties to come to a quick resolution of the problem so that the safety concerns can be addressed before the winter months.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55

 

New Tracking System Diverts Money from Housing

A commentary by Brian Davis about the current effort to develop a Homeless Management Information System in the United States.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors reports homelessness in America’s cities has steadily increased for most of the last two decades. Very few American cities have developed appropriate or adequate housing to suit the diverse needs of America’s growing homeless population. In fact, since 1979 the amount of federal funds dedicated yearly to housing low-income families has plummeted by $14 billion. This extreme lack of resources has led most communities to make decisions that force their entire homeless population into well established programs carrying the unspoken message to conform or suffer on the streets.

 The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal that has yet to meaningfully address America’s housing crisis, has now demanded that all municipalities and states must devote their dwindling human services or housing resources on a computer tracking system for all homeless people. While HUD’s "Homeless Management Information System" might have a neutral ring to it, it is rife with potentially sinister applications. This new computer tracking system permits administrators to track homeless people as they access services or can even act as a gatekeeper to prevent people with disabilities or other "problems" from accessing life sustaining programs.

In an effort to meet a Congressional mandate for an unduplicated national homeless count, HUD has enacted rules requiring every jurisdiction receiving federal homeless assistance dollars must construct a computer tracking system by 2004 or risk losing those federal dollars. Communities rightfully fearing legal exposure or the potential violations of privacy risk losing federal funding for non-compliance.

 Across the United States, advocates are voicing serious concerns that this counting method adopted by HUD as flawed, and fear it will actually increase the number of Americans who will spend long periods of their lives without housing. Today, many Americans harbor understandably adverse feelings about furnishing personal information for a government database, regardless of their housing status. No matter what security protocols such a database might feature, the reality is that many will opt out of the system by not seeking help.

 Civil libertarians are not alone in their concerns that computerized tracking systems would potentially violate the privacy rights of homeless people. Providers of emergency services to domestic violence survivors fear that such a computer system could make it easier for abusers to stalk their victims. Health care and mental health professionals worry about the potential for violations of their client’s confidentiality. This is not just an abstract academic debate. San Francisco along with many other American cities are poised to fingerprint, photograph and widely share the life history of a homeless individual’s life within the human service network. And we are all well aware that there are few guarantees with data privacy in an age of hackers and data pirates.

 Meanwhile, rural communities of Appalachia, the plains of Iowa, and the Pacific Northwest do not have the capacity or the numbers to justify devoting the amount of resources that these computerized tracking systems require. Current HUD allocations for construction of these tracking networks are so small that many communities will be forced to use local resources to implement this federal mandate. It is sadly ironic that a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and Executive Branch would force an "unfunded mandate" on communities, considering it was the Republicans who coined the term.

 HUD has collected years of data and analytical research on hand regarding the extent of our national housing crisis. Government and Elected officials could easily fund a study in a few representative cities and combine those findings with the existing data to come to an academically-based estimate of our national homeless population. This would certainly lead to a more accurate count than an unproven system that relying on homeless people willing participation with a select group of services to achieve an unduplicated count.

 It might be easier to support a data tracking system if it increased housing and health care funding for homeless and low income families. The two previous Presidential administrations developed very conservative estimates of homeless Americans, but despite these numbers we saw dramatic decreases in affordable housing and alarming increases in the numbers of uninsured people. Homeless people might find themselves more willing to reveal their personal information if it seen as an avenue to stable decent housing, but the current federal mandate does not guarantee housing to anyone. Data collection schemes such as this computer tracking system serve no one as well as politicians, social workers, and grant writers who will use the information to justify requests for the small federal funding pool dedicated to actually ending homelessness. It will make bureaucrat’s job easier, while making services harder for homeless people to access.

Instead of trying to manage this housing crisis, isn’t it about time to treat our national disgrace of homelessness as an emergency that demands immediate attention? A strong wind hits a suburban Ohio town or some other natural disaster strikes in the United States, the federal government responds with a surge of federal assistance. New York City was the recipient of an unprecedented amount of emergency finances and resources in the wake of the World Trade Center attack. In fact, charitable organizations clamored to help the survivors of that disaster before we had determined the number of people who died.

We should adopt this approach to the national embarrassment we have labeled homelessnes. Let us bring America home and then develop a management information system to prevent a future crisis.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine Street Newspaper Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55

 

Activists from Around the United States Gather in Covington, Kentucky

by Lisa Etling

 On Monday June 10, approximately 300 homeless people and advocates from around the country braved the ninety-degree heat in Covington, Kentucky to participate in a rally and three-mile march to City Hall. The event was organized by the homeless people in Northern Kentucky and the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), with support from various religious organizations and homeless coalitions from Covington, Cincinnati, Louisville, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Indiana, Louisiana, Montana, and New Hampshire. Fourteen representatives from Cleveland also made the journey to participate in this first national mobilization sponsored by NCH.

According to NCH and local homeless people, Covington police have threatened homeless individuals with arrest for merely sleeping outside or sitting in the park too long, and seized their property. The rally was planned as a response to this criminalization of Covington’s homeless people and the destruction of a homeless encampment along the Ohio River. On April 15, Mayor "Butch" Callery ordered workers to raze the camp where thirty homeless people were staying, destroying all their belongings, from blankets to prescription medication to pet kittens. As NEOCH Director Brian Davis explains, "Instead of addressing the root causes of homelessness, public officials have repeatedly responded with attempts to move its homeless citizens out of view and into another city."

The 2000 census estimated a homeless population of 3,000 in Covington. However, this city of 44,000 provides little emergency relief, only a total of 92 shelter beds, and lacks affordable housing units. In fact, according to NCH, "the U.S. Housing and Urban Development recently declared Northern Kentucky one of the most distressed areas of the country."

The Cleveland group, made up of residents and former residents of 2100 Lakeside and homeless advocates, left for Covington on Sunday evening and stayed the night at a drop-in center in Cincinnati. They provided bucket drums and a drum machine that added even more energy to the march.

The rally began in Goebel Park at 9:30 am with speakers from the local homeless population, religious groups, and NCH. Executive Director of NCH, Donald Whitehead, gave a stirring speech to the gathering, quoting from Martin Luther King and expressing the need to mobilize; "We have to get tired. We have to stop waiting so we can bring America home." The rally concluded with a prayer service and a litany reading, appealing to past activists from Frederick Douglas to John F. Kennedy to Sojourner Truth to Mother Theresa.

The 300 marched along Covington’s streets, carrying banners, signs, and drums and stopped at a parking lot, the proposed site of a Life Learning Center, that would provide such services as job training and laundry/shower facilities. However, Mayor Callery cast the deciding council vote against building the center, instead approving the site for a county jail.

 The march concluded at the City Hall with a meeting with Greg Jarvis, the City Manager, serving as the representative for the Mayor and City Council, who couldn’t be present because they were working. Marchers filled the conference room to its maximum capacity of 175.

 A Covington woman experiencing homelessness read the list of requests and Mr. Jarvis then answered questions from the crowd, claiming that the city’s police had gained a nationwide reputation for "showing compassion and sensitivity to [their] homeless." He also stated that Covington was one of the few cities in Kentucky that gave money to its social services, approximately fifteen percent of its Community Development Block Grant budget. When asked about Commissioner Alex Edmondson’s statement that Covington would not become "the social services capital of the world" and the movement in Cincinnati to charge Covington for the services provided to its homeless citizens that had been shipped over the river, Jarvis declined to comment.

Many expressed disappointment with the short meeting, but believed the event stirred up dialogue in the community. Karen Sweeney, an advocate from Cleveland who has attended other homeless rallies, expressed such sentiment, stating "I felt that we weren’t given enough time to express ourselves, like we were in Washington, D.C." Donald Whitehead summed up the mood, stating " I was a little upset that the mayor didn’t show up, but it’s consistent with how he’s treated the homeless. What really happened today was about building public awareness around the issue of homelessness."

The day concluded with a picnic back at Goebel Park, where homeless people and advocates were given a chance to relax, discuss the event, further action, and show support for each other. The day’s events attracted two Cincinnati and three Covington television stations, a print journalist, and a radio station. Northeast Ohio organizer Oren Casdi was satisfied with the event and the drum machine’s popularity, but hoped that the turnout from Cleveland for the next national mobilization will be greater.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine Street Newspaper Cleveland Ohio July 2002 Issue 55