Wellstone Death A Huge Loss to Homeless People

 

        Homelessness is no longer front page news. Housing is too complicated a problem to tackle especially in this era of small government and big defense. Homeless people and those who realize that the housing crisis is a national disgrace lost one of the few champions on Capital Hill with the death of Senator Paul Wellstone.

        Often the lone voice in the Senate to champion proposals that would benefit disenfranchised populations. The words “principled” and “deep convictions” were thrown around by the President and his Senate colleagues. Some of Wellstone’s most strident opponents in the Senate seemed to be using those words to mean “wrong” and “deeply flawed.”

        He was one of the few Senators who used long forgotten and unpopular words like homelessness and affordable housing. He was one of the last elected officials to follow in the footsteps of Robert Kennedy and the idealism of Camelot and the 1960s. He even retraced the steps of Kennedy through Appalachia, Chicago and Los Angeles public housing properties to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Kennedy poverty tour. While not receiving near the attention of American royalty walking among the peasants of 1967, he did call attention to lack of progress in addressing poverty in America in the last thirty years. He did not just have a fond recollection of Kennedy, but lived the values and pushed the idealism into his legislation.

        He was an outcast even within his own party as homeless people are often outcasts in their own neighborhoods. He was the lone dissent on the war resolution against Iraq. He was a leader of the Progressive Caucus, and often told audiences that we need to focus on “good education, good health care, and good jobs in America.” He was the only Senator up for re-election coming off his “no” vote on welfare reform. He was a critic of President Bill Clinton for talking about high minded social justice issues, but providing little money to back his rhetoric.

        He did not always follow the progressive vote having voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, and the terrorism bill that was passed in the days after the September 11 attack on the United States. His importance to homeless people was not that he voted the liberal party line, but that he was one of the few Senators that even spoke about the issues of poverty. Homeless people and housing activists could take comfort in the fact that he was there acting in our interests. We all could feel that at least someone in the Senate cared about our issues, and it was not hopeless. We felt that maybe the lack of affordable housing would be taken up by our government if at least someone was talking about the issues.

        The sad reality is that most homeless people and most low income people do not vote. They do not see anyone serving their interests, and so what is the point. There is no one who talks about exploitation by banks, temporary labor companies, and medical insurance companies because we all know who pays the tabs on re-election—banks, temp. companies and insurance companies. Paul Wellstone was the exception to what we have all grown to accept—politicians are beholden to big business and corporate interests.

        Wellstone gave us all hope that someday our issues would be heard and we could realize the vision of Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, and George McGovern. He proved that a radical grassroots organizer could be elected. He was the counterbalance to the hate filled, war mongering, and scape goating that so often drives elections these days. He stood in stark contrast to the Clinton mantra of moving toward the center in order to attract voters

        We all hope for another decent politician to come forward in the most exclusive club in the United States who will talk about homelessness and affordable housing. We hope that the people of Minnesota send forth another son or daughter to be a leading voice on progressive issues in the United States Senate. And we hope that the improvement of education, universal health care, universal living wage, and a right to safe decent housing becomes a reality and we remember Senator Paul Wellstone as a founding father of this progressive agenda.

          Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio November 2002 Issue 57

The Silent Crisis Sweeps Across Northeast Ohio

by Pamela Vincent

        The world marks 21 years since the first case of AIDS was diagnosed with great strides having been made in researching the disease and in treating the symptoms of people with the disease. The early fear and panic it caused has given way to an attitude of “Let’s not talk about it and if you have it keep it quiet mentality,” according to AIDS activists. Because people aren’t willing to talk about AIDS, it’s difficult to keep public awareness and education activities a priority. How many people are aware that the AIDS epidemic is still growing out of control? Few paid much attention to anything but the protests at the last World AIDS summit.

        AIDS has moved off of the front pages of most major newspapers. Americans have changed their opinion about the disease because of the recent advancements in a treatment regimen. Earl Pike from the local AIDS Task Force, Latonya Murray with the Disabled Men’s Shelter and Marty Hiller with the Cleveland Free Clinic are all on the front lines in the battle to assist people suffering from this debilitating disease. The three discuss the increasing number of people with AIDS in our area, especially low income and homeless people.

         Grapevine: Earl, what is the function of the AIDS Task Force and how long has is been around?

        Earl Pike: The AIDS Task Force was founded in 1983 and this coming February marks our 20th year of existence. Back when the first AIDS cases were being diagnosed there was a great deal of fear and paranoia surrounding AIDS and initially everyone was in a state of panic. Because of that the initial cases of AIDS in North East Ohio were treated poorly. The people that were infected had no support system and even the health care community, who didn’t have as much understanding of the disease as they do now, were afraid to treat AIDS patients. Individuals with AIDS were isolated not only from other patients but from the community as a whole. Early on volunteers ran the Task Force and over the last 20 years the number of services available has grown with the number of cases reported.

        The way it works is that each person that comes to us has a social management worker assigned to him or her. Because the disease brings with it feelings of isolation and despair, their caseworker is often the only person they can talk to about their disease that understands what they’re going through. Each of our caseworkers is assigned 100 clients (60 over what the State Board recommends). The first thing we try to do with homeless individuals is find them a place to live.

        We have a housing program that can accommodate families as well as individuals and a long-term facility for people that are sicker and need 24 hour care. Our housing program can only accommodate 750 out of the 1,700 cases we are treating so there is a severe shortage. Our demand on food load has tripled and on top of that our State funding for prevention was cut by $200,000 and our State money for AIDS medication was cut by 1.5 million. This means that more people will go untreated, get sick and die.

The rest of our services cover transportation to and from Doctors and other appointments, recovery resources for clients that are also dealing with substance abuse problems, massage therapy, education departments that targets numerous races/genders for education and prevention, providing 200,000 meals a year and a person who deals with public policy and educates public officials about HIV and AIDS. We have an extremely dedicated and hard working staff. They are constantly dealing with sickness and death and it takes it’s toll on you and it changes you.

        GRAPEVINE: What do you feel is the number 1 reason for the increase of AIDS cases in Cuyahoga County?

EP: Largely there is mass denial that we have a serious problem with AIDS. People think it can’t happen to them, they take risks or they think that a cure will be found to treat them. They confuse the success with medications to treat AIDS with a cure for it. There is no cure for AIDS! The majority of people think that we’re at the end of the epidemic but we haven’t even peaked in numbers yet.

        We don’t expect a vaccine until around the year 2050 and by 2010 (8 years from now) we estimate nationally an accumulated 210 million cases of AIDS throughout the world. By the year 2020 over 70 million people will have died from AIDS. Right now Russia has a very large population of AIDS patients as do China (20 million cases) and Africa has a severe AIDS epidemic. The first AIDS case was diagnosed in 1981 and anyone born that year will be 70 by the time a cure is found. Most of us were young when the initial outbreak began. This will go on to affect our children and grandchildren.

        These are just straight facts I’m giving you.

GRAPEVINE: What is the current number of infected individuals in this area? Do you know how many of them are from the Homeless population?

        EP: Right now there are approximately 1,700 cases of AIDS in this area of Ohio. In 1999 the number was 718 so it’s spread almost two and a half times in the last 3 years alone. Of that number 60% are African American, 15% Latino and 25% White. The largest number of cases in this area is among African American men and 29% of our clients are women heads of households. The profile of new cases is directly related to poverty and race. The population it affects the most makes less than $10,000 per year and 42% of the people with HIV have been homeless at least once. You can literally place a map of the poverty areas in the United States or even the World and lay it over a map of the areas with the highest number of people with AIDS and it would match.

        AIDS clearly has had a significant impact nationally on poverty areas. Poverty and Race go hand in hand with the disease. These people have overlapping problems. Not only are they dealing with low income or homelessness but also they often have a substance abuse problem and poor health. When someone comes to us we spend months covering the basic survival issues before we can even deal with HIV. The service our staff provides makes sense because they understand the disease and the people they treat, in fact 15% of our staff have HIV so they’re aware of the needs involved.

        GRAPEVINE: Given that this is not a new virus and people are fairly educated to the causes of the HIV virus what else can we do as a community to help in prevention?

        EP: For the low income and homeless population you can’t fight AIDS by giving people a condom and a place to live. You have to give them hope and shelter and stability among other things. Homeless people lack inner qualities that need to be addressed. For the rest of the general population there’s still a huge phobia surrounding AIDS. People don’t like to talk about sex and drugs. For example there aren’t any condom ads on TV. Why not? It would certainly help in prevention. People talk about this being a gay disease and initially it was a gay disease and it continues to largely affect the gay population. However, the thing to remember is that it’s not who you are but what you do that counts. More and more women are having unprotected anal sex. That puts them at a greater risk. Some people think God is punishing people with AIDS. If AIDS was God’s way of punishing us we’d all be sick.

In reality the gay population is responsible for every organization that helps AIDS victims and the progress that’s been made in finding cures and treatments. They took the initiative to help themselves and now there are professionals that provide services where once it was largely run by volunteers and now funding is available but there’s still a long way to go and more money is needed to treat the afflicted and to do research to find a vaccine.

        GRAPEVINE: Are homeless people more at risk of getting AIDS than other groups of people?

        EP: I would say because of their lifestyle they aren’t as healthy to begin with and because the homeless often have other problems they are at a greater risk for acquiring the disease. It’s also impossible to do medical care for someone without housing. They have special needs and nutrition that needs to be addressed. I urge all the shelters to give out free condoms to the homeless and to educate their residents about prevention whether it’s sexual or drug usage. Our staff is available to speak at any of the shelters or for any group that needs education. I think the shelters should make it an official policy to hand out condoms to everyone coming and going from their facility. The cost of a condom is only 10 cents. That’s an inexpensive cost to save a life.

        Laytonya Murray is a Shelter Supervisor at Mental Health Services. The Grapevine asked her about her contacts with the problem of AIDS in the homeless community.

        GRAPEVINE: Can you give me some back round information on the Disabled Men’s shelter? How long in existence, the average number of residents, lengths of stay...etc.

        LM: The Disabled Men’s shelter has been in existence for two years and has accommodations for 50 men. We often exceed that amount and try not to have more than 55 men here at a time. The average length of stay so far is 8 to 10 months. Most of the residents (about 80%) have mental illness disabilities and they usually move out of here and into a group home or a facility where they can develop daily living skills so they can eventually care for themselves.

        GRAPEVINE: Has the increase in AIDS cases in Cuyahoga County impacted the Disabled Men’s shelter?

        LM: No not really, we’ve only had 3 residents this year and 3 last year that had AIDS. Of the men afflicted with AIDS a few of them have been transient for a long period of time. They have the same provisions available to them as the other residents.

        GRAPEVINE: Does the shelter have special provisions or make special provisions for residents with AIDS?

        LM: The shelter does not have or make special provisions for them and the residents with AIDS usually transfer to a facility where they can stay long term and get the proper care they need. The men usually get help from the AIDS Task Force and are placed in a facility through their assistance.

        GRAPEVINE: Has this created financial or other additional burdens for the shelter or are the AIDS residents just as challenging as the other disabled residents?

        LM: We haven’t experienced any additional burdens because of them. The men don’t usually stay here very long. They seek long term care at a facility specifically for their disability. We do have an educational group where we teach sexual prevention of AIDS and we provide free condoms to the men. We encourage them to practice safe sex but some of the men don’t care about their well being that much.

        GRAPEVINE: Do you feel that being homeless contributes to their disability or makes them more susceptible to acquiring a disability or AIDS?

        LM: Some of the men are homeless because they have disabilities and I think the homeless men that are more transient are at a greater risk for acquiring AIDS or any other disability. They are in situations where there is the potential for contracting the virus and some of them take that risk. They either don’t know any better or they don’t care.

        Marty Hiller is the director of the Free Clinic of Greater Cleveland. They serve a diverse population including homeless people. They also have a program for people with AIDS.

        GRAPEVINE: Working at the Free Clinic, have you seen a large increase in the number of AIDS cases within Cuyahoga County? If so what do you attribute that to?

        MH: We’ve never had a disease that we knew as much about as quickly as we did and knew how to prevent it and yet new AIDS cases continue to occur. People seem to have the attitude that it can’t happen to them and people as a whole aren’t as vigilant about the disease and that has contributed to the increase. There’s a new generation of people that it is affecting. It initially hit the gay population first, and now we see young people in their teens and early 20’s in a situation where they explore their sexuality and they don’t have the same awareness and education that we were exposed to when the disease scare initially started. A large portion of new cases is among the younger generation. Education among teens is high but with teens you have a significant barrier in that they think it can’t happen to them or that it’s somebody else’s problem.

        Drug usage also contributes to the increasing number of cases of AIDS. The syringe exchange program hasn’t been greatly accepted by the Political areas and hasn’t been widely put into use and therefore it has the outcome of increasing cases.

        GRAPEVINE: Do you know what percentage of the new AIDS cases are Homeless and are there more men affected than women?

        MH: I don’t really know the answer to that question. Perhaps there are people at the state level that would know this answer. The homeless and poor seem to have a disproportionately higher rate of AIDS, but I don’t know the percentage of homeless or the number of men versus women infected.

        GRAPEVINE: Are homeless people able to get long term treatment for AIDS from the Clinic or are they referred to another facility or treatment center?

        MH: Yes, the clinic has a treatment program that provides long term care without regard to income. There are a number of out patient treatment programs that provide care without regard to income. University Hospital, and Metro, Care Alliance has a treatment program. Care Alliance was previously known as health care for the homeless. If we have someone in our treatment program that needs hospitalization we would use Metro. Infectious disease unit.

        GRAPEVINE: Do you think being Homeless increases the chances of acquiring HIV and AIDS?

        MH: When you’re homeless you often have severely limited options to how you live and it can impact the ways in which this disease is transmitted. We suspect more numbers of infections due to sexual transmission than through drug usage. We do offer free condoms and have a syringe exchange program in place. In some cases an individual or homeless person might not know any better and in other cases they might know and not care. If they are using drugs or alcohol or if they are mentally ill they might take other risks like practicing unsafe sex.

        GRAPEVINE: What kind of cost is associated with treating the AIDS virus on a per person basis?

I’ve heard it’s approximately $150,000 over the life of the disease and most of that is the cost of medication.

        It seems that people with AIDS are living longer due to advances in medications and treatments. Do you find that is true among the Homeless people suffering from AIDS or do they have a harder time fighting the disease due to their being homeless?

        MH: Once you’re infected you need to keep yourself in good health and use a complex array of drugs and you fit that together with a person with an unstable, complex lifestyle and it works against them. If they don’t keep to their medication schedule they won’t stay healthy. It’s imperative that they take all their pills every day and the lifestyle of the homeless doesn’t work well with the treatments that can be most effective. Homeless people with AIDS presents a real problem because if they remain homeless they won’t effectively be able to be treated and they won’t keep themselves healthy otherwise. When we treat homeless people we recommend them to case management services to either help place them or to the AIDS Task Force for help placing them.

        In dealing with AIDS patients we work to improve the over all health of the individual, we have made great strides in treating this disease but we haven’t found a cure. People are living longer and with greater quality of life but we can’t take a person and cure them of AIDS. Public health speculation puts a vaccine cure date at approximately the year 2050. We can’t put an exact cure date down because we don’t know when it could happen and we can’t say that a vaccine or cure for AIDS is soon to come because it’s not.

          Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio November 2002 Issue 57

Police Defy City Council and Judge in Austin

by Richard R. Troxell

        On September 28, 2000 the Austin City Council struck the words “sleeping” or “making preparations to sleep including the laying down of bedding” from the city’s “No Camping” Ordinance.

        This action came on the heels of Magistrate Jim Coronado’s ruling that one cannot criminalize sleeping. The ruling came after over four years of direct street and court action led by House the Homeless, Inc. and its members all of whom are homeless and formerly homeless people.

        Recently, I have been receiving reports that police officers are issuing tickets to individuals who were not “camping’ but merely sleeping. In response, House the Homeless, Inc. issued a public notice seeking people who may have been injured by receiving one of these tickets.

        When we received nine such tickets, we brought this to the attention of Robert Dogget an attorney at Texas Rural Legal Aid. As Director of Legal Aid for the Homeless, TX Rural Legal Aid’s outreach project, I then wrote to the Chief of Police, the Chief of the Park Police, the City Manger, the Mayor and all Austin City Council Members and included a copy of the nine sample

tickets.

        Assistant Police Chief Fealy wrote back on behalf of Police Chief Knee saying that only one of those tickets was issued incorrectly by the City of Austin Police Department. Assistant Police Chief Fealy stated however that they would put the word out to that officer about proper procedures. He went on to write that if there were any kind of real problem, (which they

doubted), they would retrain police officers. Assistant Chief Fealy attributed all eight of the other tickets to the City Parks Department.

        (Clearly, from our perspective we don’t care who is issuing the tickets...it’s all the City of Austin).

        Acting in my role as Director of Legal Aid for the Homeless, using the Public Open Records Act, I then requested a copy of all “no camping” tickets issued since the ordinance was rewritten on September 28, 2000. The response to Legal Aid was that most of those tickets were in storage, but they did have 453 such tickets that Legal Aid could look at. I said that those would do for a start.

        On each ticket there is a section entitled “Violation,” where the officer writes the “charge” (i.e. “Camping in Public Area”). However, there is also a section called “Remarks” where an officer can put additional information. We found that, over and over again, several different police officers wrote things like “sleeping on cardboard, “ or “sleeping and using backpack as pillow” in the “Remarks” section. In fact, in just this one sample, we found 195 bogus tickets. These improperly written tickets had been issued for “camping” when even by the description of the police officers writing the tickets; there was no offense. In the words of the police officers these people were merely sleeping. However, when we searched the COA data base, we found that ALL of these “sleeping” tickets had been incorrectly entered under the code of “camping.”

Why is House the Homeless, Inc. so concerned? First, each no camping ticket carries a fine of at least $200.00. Failure to pay the fine or to do free work for the City of Austin which it refers to as “Community Service,” results in a “warrant” being issued. If you are picked up on the warrant you then serve jail time.

        Furthermore, over and over again, we find that even though homeless folks tell police officers that they are staying at or using the ARCH or the Salvation Army to get their mail; police write down the insulting word “transient” instead of writing a mailing address on the ticket. This demeaning term helps deface homeless citizens and enables people to treat homeless persons as non-citizens. It also implies that they are not contributing members of the community and sends the message that the community has no responsibility for their welfare.

        Additionally, failure to write down a mailing address prevents any notification that the ticket has been turned in for processing. A person who is issued a ticket must appear by a certain court date or within 10 days of the ticket issuance. But the police believe that they have two years to turn in the ticket! That means if they haven’t turned it in when you call, you have to keep calling for up to two years just to enter a plea of either innocence or guilt! If the police wrote the word “transient’ instead of writing down a mailing address, there is absolutely no possibility that they can reach anyone by mail about court proceedings. Again, this results in the issuance of a warrant for arrest.

        What’s the big deal?

        If the ticket goes to warrant you have been found guilty by default. In addition to going to jail you can then be denied access to housing by the Austin Housing Authority for ten years because of your “criminal record!”

        House the Homeless, Inc. held a meeting on September 18th when 35-40 homeless folks discussed the issue. House the Homeless, Inc. has called for: 1) suspension in the issuance of all “no camping” tickets where people are merely sleeping, 2) a letter issued by the police stating that sleeping is legal anywhere in the City of Austin other than in a park after curfew or unless it blocks a passageway or on private property without permission 3) the retraining of police officers about the legality of sleeping and the associated issuance of tickets and the use of the word ”transient” and the routine failure to properly note a mailing address.

        At this point, the battle moves into the court system where city officials continue to prosecute folks where tickets have already been issued. In fact, Texas Rural Legal Aid has just prepared to defend a homeless person who was issued a ticket in 1996! Six years later.

        Footnote. Community Court is the court where homeless persons are expected to perform Community Service and “voluntarily” serve time for their “Quality of Life” crimes such as violating the “No Camping” ordinance. On Thursday, February 27th, the Austin American Statesman reported that Stacy Shorter, the 1st administrator of the Austin Community Court, was indicted on felony charges associated with the theft of millions of dollars intended to create housing for poor people at Vision Village. No housing was ever created.

        This is a submission from the Austin Homeless Advocate street newspaper October 2002

 

          Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio November 2002 Issue 57

People Experiencing Homelessness Looking For Storage Space

By Michelle Martin

        Imagine the burden of carrying your belongings with you, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For many Cleveland homeless like Tony Gentile, this is a reality. Cleveland is currently lacking storage lockers for homeless people to use in order to keep their important documents, a change of clothing, and other personal items. Lost or misplaced documents often makes obtaining city services, and ultimately, getting back on their feet more difficult. Mr. Gentile summarizes it by saying, “If you walk into a potential employer’s office carrying all your worldly possessions, it does something to your credibility.”

        Changes at area shelters have left a huge demand for storage lockers and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, along with Mr. Gentile, are asking for the community’s support in obtaining storage lockers for our homeless citizens. According to Mr. Gentile, this project started earlier in the summer of 2002. NEOCH and Mr. Gentile are asking local social service agencies for non-committal letters of support to help in acquiring space for lockers. A rally for the homeless is tentatively scheduled in November to start at 2100 Lakeside and end at City Council. After several letters of support are received, NEOCH and Mr. Gentile hope to discuss with the Cleveland City Council the possible use of city buildings for a nominal daily fee.

        Other cities such as Atlanta, Cincinnati, and Denver have adopted plans to help the homeless with their storage needs. Those plans are being looked at in hopes of helping Clevelanders with similar situations. Gentile is soliciting letters of support for his campaign. He has met with a few providers and is going to forward his letters to City Council and Cuyahoga County.

          Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio November 2002 Issue 57

Ohio Voters Believe Welfare Law Should Reduce Poverty

        Ohio’s registered voters choose education, job training, publicly funded jobs, and childcare as their top priorities when considering changes in the nation’s welfare system, according to a poll to be released today, a day before the 1996 federal welfare reform law expires. The U.S. Senate is considering a reauthorization proposal that closely matches the poll findings.

        The poll was conducted by the Triad Research Group for Have A Heart Ohio and the Federation for Community Planning, a nonprofit based in Cleveland. The poll results show strong voter support for families on welfare to have access to education, job training and, childcare as well as to publicly funded jobs when private employment is unavailable. The survey also showed little support among Ohio voters for making marriage promotion or tougher work requirements a high priority for welfare reauthorization.

        The poll also found that a majority of Ohio voters willing to extend welfare benefits beyond Ohio’s three-year time limit in a number of circumstances. According to John Corlett of the Federation for Community Planning, “In a number of instances Ohio’s voters seem more willing to continue benefits than Ohio’s elected state and county officials.” For example, 67 percent would extend benefits for “women who are working at a job but whose earnings are still below the poverty level.”

Education, Training, Public Jobs, and Childcare are Top Priorities for Ohio

        “Ohio’s voters clearly want the U.S. Congress to focus on services that help persons on welfare to move from welfare to work, and in circumstances where jobs aren’t available they think it is appropriate to create public jobs,” Corlett added.

        When asked whether tougher work requirements or expanded job training, education, and childcare should be a priority, Ohio voters chose expanding job training, education and childcare by a nearly two-to-one margin – 61 percent to 33 percent.

        Education and training received broad support from Ohio voters, with 8 out of 10 agreeing that welfare recipients should be able to fulfill their work requirements by taking courses to complete their high school education or by taking job-training programs.

        Childcare is also seen as important, with 7 out of 10 Ohio voters favoring an increase in childcare funding as part of welfare reauthorization. And over half of Ohio voters are willing to pay more taxes in order to increase childcare funding, further evidence of strong voter support for childcare funding.

        In the midst of a continuing economic slowdown, 8 out of 10 Ohio voters also favor creating public jobs for people on welfare who are willing to work, but can’t find employment. But the U.S. House proposal contains insufficient funding for most states or localities to undertake any major public job creation program.

        Fewer than 3 out of 10 Ohioans favor implementing tougher work requirements for people on welfare – a proposal which was part of the welfare plan passed earlier this year by the U.S. House.

Ohioans Cool to Federal Marriage Promotion Proposals

        Increasing funding for programs that encourage welfare recipients to get married receives scant support from Ohio voters. Only 15 percent of Ohioans would spend additional welfare funds on programs that encourage marriage versus 80 percent who would invest those funds in expanded job training, education, and childcare. Only 12 percent think marriage promotion should be Congress’s first priority for the welfare system, and only 14 percent would be willing to pay increased taxes to pay for such programs.

Ohioan Reject Increased Work Requirements

        A key sticking point in the debate over welfare reauthorization is whether work requirements should be increased from 30 hours per week to 40 hours per week. The legislation being considered by the Senate would retain the 30 hour-a-week work requirement. By a nearly two to one margin, Ohio voters think expanded job training, education and childcare should be more of a priority than increased work requirements.

Ohioans Favor Tax Relief for Low-Income Workers:

        Several states currently use federal welfare funds to provide state tax relief to low-income workers. Seven out of 10 Ohio voters would support giving low-income parents a tax break on their state income tax. Nearly 60 percent of Ohio voters would choose state income tax breaks for low-income working families over tax breaks to businesses to encourage economic development.

Ohioans Favor Extending Welfare Benefits for Persons Experiencing Hardships

        Ohio law limits welfare recipients to no more than 36 months of cash assistance in their lifetime. After 36 months, recipients, depending upon where they live, may be allowed to reapply for up to 24 additional months of assistance. Ohio voters seem much more willing to extend benefits further than is currently allowed by either Ohio law or by county practice. Eight out of 10 Ohio voters would extend benefits for women who are caring for a sick or disabled child or other family member. A nearly equal number would extend benefits for women who have physical or mental disabilities that limit their ability to work. Finally, nearly 70 percent of Ohio voters would even extend benefits to those who are working at a job but whose earnings are still below the poverty level – a characteristic that applies to a majority of those women who have left welfare for work.

        The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a bill to reauthorize the 1996 federal welfare law that incorporates several provisions – stricter work requirements, less emphasis on education and training, and marriage promotion – that seem to contradict the opinions of Ohio voters. The U.S. Senate is currently considering reauthorization and Senators Voinovich and DeWine are considered key votes in the federal welfare reform debate.

          Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio November 2002 Issue 57

National News Briefs

Chicago Killer Captured on Video:

        A nicely dressed man was caught by surveillance video killing a homeless man as he slept. Floyd Mummert, 64 was killed by a white male who stabbed him in the head. Mummert was a former oil company worker who was homeless for the last eleven years. Police suspect that the individual was either a “thrill killer” or was attempting to kill a witness to some other crime seen by Mummert. Chicago Police have circulated the grainy photo to neighbors and other homeless people.

Bring America Home Act to be Introduced

        The National Coalition for the Homeless has assisted in the drafting of language to move toward ending homelessness. John Conyers of Michigan and Julia Carson of Indiana will introduce legislation in January called the Bring America Home Act to move huge numbers of people into housing. The bill is expected to state that housing is a basic human right, and would dramatically expand resources for affordable housing and homelessness. The bill would expand health services and provide protection to day laborers. It would provide greater income and work support to people experiencing homelessness. There are also expanded civil right’s protections for people experiencing homelessness. The Grapevine will have more information in coming issues.

Bum Fights Video Director’s Arrested

        As the Grapevine reported in the past, Las Vegas producers sold hundreds of thousands of copies of a video depicting homeless people fighting. The team were trying to raise money to produce a Hollywood motion picture by filming homeless people engaged in dangerous activities and fighting in bloody battles. Police and FBI officials in San Diego made arrests of the directors of the bum fights video who had recruited and paid homeless people in the San Diego area to be a part of the project. The men who appeared in the video were given small donations and are planning a civil lawsuit against the filmmakers. The video is no longer available for sale by the Las Vegas film makers.

Tree Dwellers Homeless Again

        For a dozen years, Besh Serdahely and Thelma Caballero have lived in San Mateo County in the shadow of Silicon Valley in a tree. The pair constructed a series of huts in a public park far away from civilization. The County were given the couple eviction orders, and the couple lost a court battle to continue to live among the trees. They had hosted elementary school children and taught them about alternative life styles. They were well known within the County, and did not bother neighbors or other citizens. The judge ordered them off of the land, and a community development organization was trying to relocate them.

Forced Mental Illness Treatment Passes California

        A controversial law in California would allow mental health workers to ask courts to force those with a mental illness to receive treatment. It is unclear the success of the project since there is no money attached to the initiative. The bill would allow a judge or magistrate to order a mentally ill person into outpatient treatment and force medication on them. Current California law is similar to Ohio law that allows committal for those who are a danger to themselves and/or others or they are so disabled that they cannot eat or shelter themselves. This expands that authority to not just stabilize the individual, but requires treatment to individuals with repeat hospitalizations.

        Parents of mentally ill people lobbied for the legislation, while homeless activists fear that it will be used to target homeless people. Without an expansion of money for mental health treatment, it is unclear how this law will be implemented.

New York City Again Outside the Law

        A judge has ordered the city to provide “medically appropriate” housing to homeless people with AIDS who activists say were living in deplorable conditions. Justice Eileen Bransten issued the temporary restraining order in September when a group of people with AIDS complained that the city was sending them to filthy, rat- and roach-infested hotel rooms that lacked heat, hot water and electricity. The issue centered around the question of whether a person with a compromised immune system can survive in such deplorable conditions.

        The City of New York also was forced to close an old jail that was used as a shelter after outcries from the homeless community. A young boy committed suicide while waiting to get into a real shelter, which expedited the closure. New York City signed a consent degree to guarantee shelter to all families in need, but has had a difficult time living up to this agreement.

Irish Citizen’s Support Housing As A Right

        An opinion poll reveals that 71% of people in Ireland believe housing should be a constitutional right and 42% believe homelessness is a disgrace to society. Simon Communities of Ireland surveyed likely voters in Ireland who said that the responsibility for solving the homeless problem lies with the Government. More than three-quarters (76%) of poll participants said the Government should take the lead role in eliminating homelessness. Just 6% pointed the finger at local authorities and 1% at charities.

        Government officials had promised a 50% reduction in homelessness over the next five years, but have failed to act. Activists want a detailed plan using accurate data. The issue many groups are concentrating on include discharge planning especially from mental health institutions.

Santa Cruz continues to Battle Homeless People

        Coming on the heals of a court victory which allowed the police in Santa Cruz to arrest people for protesting using sidewalk chalk art, they have now extended a ban on asking for money after dark. Some panhandlers converted to street musicians to get around the panhandling law, but the ban was quickly extended to those who play music. City Council has banned Hackey Sack, sitting on the sidewalk, and placing personal items on the sidewalk. The City has also extended no-panhandling zones significantly within the downtown.

        Published in the November 2002 Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 57

 

Local Homeless Issues Raised In 2002

2100 Lakeside Update:

        Rising numbers are again plaguing the men’s shelter. The City of Cleveland and the Salvation Army have worked out a comprise to bring additional bathroom facilities to the shelter to accommodate more than the 365 people a night at 2100 Lakeside Men’s shelter. The Salvation Army did fire Ron Reinhart, who has worked with homeless people in Cleveland for over 15 years. The shelter has returned to a divided facility with like minded individuals occupying six different communities similar to the first director’s strategy.

        The County Request for Proposals was competitive with at least three social service providers seeking to take over operation of the shelter. Even if the existing provider gets the grant there should be dramatic improvement in the services to homeless people. The minimum requirements for submission to the County were very progressive and demanded a great deal of involvement by homeless people.

Lawson Jones Sleeps at Shelter:

        County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones did in fact keep his promise to sleep at 2100 Lakeside men’s shelter. The Grapevine has dogged Commissioner Jones into keeping his promise which he first made at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Annual meeting in April. Jones did not announce his presence, and was able to get an idea of the conditions at the facility. At the next Commissioner meeting, Jones talked about his stay and the intelligent men he met. He specifically was disturbed that the facility ran out of blankets early in the evening and the fact that nearly 90% of the men were African American. The Grapevine will carry an interview with Commissioner Jones in the next issue conducted by an alum of the shelter and a community volunteer.

Riverview Moves to Fill Vacancies:

        Over the last year Riverview Towers in Ohio City has seen between 150 to 220 vacancies. This public housing project was designated for seniors (50 years and older) only three years ago. During the last annual planning process the maintaining of this facility for seniors came under scrutiny by housing and homeless activists. Seniors are not moving into the Towers despite extensive renovations and a marketing campaign. In October, the public housing authority announced the passing of 80 units at Riverview specifically targeting the single men who currently reside at 2100 Lakeside shelter. This plan was approved by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Board, which will contract with the Ohio City Near West Development Corporation to assist with the application and placement of the individuals. Further details on the plan are to be worked out.

CMHA Annual Plan:

        The CMHA annual plan was passed by the Board of Trustees in October. This is an annual update of policies and procedures for agency staff to follow. One notable improvement for homeless people is the reinstatement of actual preferences that will benefit homeless people. In the past there were seven preferences including for veterans, those coming out of treatment, and those enrolled in work training program. The individual received equal status if they qualified for any one of the preferences, which translated to the fact that 80% of the population that applied for housing received a preference.

        The new plan will allow the agency to establish real priorities for housing with those coming out of a residential treatment program as the highest priority, those involuntarily displaced by natural disaster the second highest priority, and homeless people as the third highest priority. An individual will apply for the priority that provides them the highest priority. This shows the importance CMHA places on housing homeless people.

        Housing activists were not able to overturn the senior only policy or the minimum rent which requires people without income to apply for a hardship exemption or have to pay $25 minimum rent. The Legal Aid Society had proposed an innovative idea of putting in the plan language to protect innocent tenants from eviction as part of the “One Strike and Your Out” policy. This would protect a grandmother from eviction if her disabled grandson were caught on the CMHA property breaking the law. CMHA said that they would continue to investigate these evictions on a case by case basis. For more information on the CMHA annual plan, see the public housing website at: www.cmha.net.

Care Alliance Looking for New Leader:

        The often embattled organization, Care Alliance, saw the resignation of controversial executive director, John McKinney. Care Alliance was originally constituted as Cleveland Health Care for the Homeless, and had a mission to provide basic health care for the medically indigent who found themselves homeless. The agency began to broaden their mission to include public housing residents, people with AIDS, mentally ill people and women. Many claimed that the agency was adrift following funding streams while neglecting its core mission of providing health care to homeless people.

        Care Alliance was fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the State of Ohio. Cuyahoga County was engaged in negotiations that have dragged on for over a year to settle outstanding debts and usage of property owned by the agency. Those knowledgeable with the agency have said that there was a split among the Board of Trustees over the culpability of the executive director for the lack of confidence in the organization and the precarious funding picture for the agency.

Free Times Ends After Ten Years

        Over the past 10 years, the Cleveland Free Times has featured stories about homelessness including a cover story on staying in the Jay Hotel, Camelot, and temporary labor agencies. Cleveland readers benefited from some diversity in journalism with the Free Times often covering stories never appearing in the Plain Dealer. The Free Times did a cover story on the dumping of homeless people on the outskirts of town and a profile of Robert Igoe, who was soon after provided a home, education and stipend by an anonymous donor.

        The Free Times closed as a result of a trade by the Village Voice and New Times company at a national level. Village Voice agreed to close the Free Times, and in exchange New Times agreed to close the Los Angeles alternative paper. This allows Scene Magazine in Cleveland owned by New Times to publish without competition.

        Congressman Dennis Kucinich, House District 10, has asked the Justice Department to investigate the closing of the Free Times as a violation of anti-trust laws by conspiring to form an alternative media monopoly in the two markets.

United Labor Agency Takes Greater Role in Hiring Hall

        The union created social service and training organization, United Labor Agency, has contributed $30,000 to hire a project development director to bring the Community Hiring Hall to reality. The ULA will assume fiscal responsibility for developing the project, and are currently looking for a staff person to move the project forward to the point of opening the door. The hiring hall brings together religious, non-profit and union to open a facility for day laborers to find work that pays a fair wage and does not subject them to the exploitation of the for-profit temporary labor companies.

Women’s Center Meet with Administrator

        The women who stay at Catholic Charities Women’s Shelter on East 18th St. have formed a resident committee and constructed a priority list of problems. They met with the director of the shelter to discuss issues ranging from staff treatment, curfew and wake up hours, and problems with the current facility. They plan to have continued discussion with the shelter directors, but have made progress just in the first meeting.

        The shelter got new carpeting and the entire facility was painted. The staff was instructed to allow the women in immediately after dinner and allow women to leave the facility at night to get a breath of fresh air. They also successfully argued for a later wake up time on the weekends. The residents will continue to press their issues.

Selling Cleveland

Initiative Stumbles

        The Homeless Grapevine staff proposed in the last issue to sell Cleveland, Cuyahoga County and the surrounding counties in order to close the expected $4 billion dollar deficit. Thus far, there is no response from Governor Engler of Michigan. Staff will take up the issue after the election as a new Governor takes office. There is also talk of sweetening the pot by lowering the price because of the depressed economy.

        One bright spot was that WCPN announcer, April Baer asked Ohio Governor Taft about the initiative. He quickly offered that neither Cleveland nor Toledo was up for sale. This brought a question as to whether there are similar efforts taking place in Toledo that have not been publicized. If both Cleveland and Toledo are competing to leave the state, we need to take a page from Salt Lake City Olympic Committee and offer certain “perks” to Michigan legislators. Peterson Nuts for life?

                    Published in the November 2002 Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 57

Jones Meets Welfare Activists About Poverty

by Valerie Robinson

        Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor organized a meeting in late summer with Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones at which we presented our October 2002 Anti-Poverty Human Rights Proposal. Representatives were there from various social service organizations, justice groups, and one representative from the E. 18th St. Woman’s Shelter. In attendance from the County were Commissioner Jones; Gary Norton, executive aide to the Commissioner; Betty Meyers, deputy chief administrator of the County; and Jim Corrigan, Ms. Meyers’ aide. The hour and a half meeting was cordial, and Commissioner Lawson-Jones gave us the impression that he would like to work with us.

        Commissioner Jones is especially interested in activist’s idea that a mother whose child is under one year of age should not have to work outside the home, but rather may spend the time with her infant as well as doing appropriate developmental activities. This is in keeping with federal and state guidelines. The infant death rate in Cleveland (a count taken of infants under one year of age in the city of Cleveland) is roughly double that of the nation as a whole. Therefore any move to protect the health of Cleveland’s infants by allowing them to stay with their mothers will be a positive step.

        He was also receptive to the idea of looking at what other counties around the state are doing with regard to hardship policy. Parents and caretakers who endure hardships are allowed to remain on welfare after their time limits have expired, and it is important for the County to have as many hardship categories as federal law allows. Anti poverty activist’s proposal is based in part on the policy of Hamilton County in southern Ohio, and adds six new hardship categories to the four specified by Cuyahoga. It is essential for the County to come into line with other counties like Hamilton. Therefore we were gratified that the Commissioner said that he will consider our suggestions.

        The one area of our meeting that was disappointing was regarding the “good cause” policy of the County, and here we may have to meet with Commissioner Jones again. This is of the greatest importance because of the poverty and unemployment in Cleveland. We are proposing that families in poverty be able to return to welfare for the remaining two years allowed by federal law.

        The 1996 federal “welfare reform” law allowed recipients five years of cash assistance, but low-income families in Ohio were forced to take a two year break after three years of receiving Ohio Works First (OWF) benefits. After not receiving OWF assistance for two years, a parent/caretaker can reapply and become eligible for up to two additional years if it is determined that “good cause” exists. We propose that “good cause” be defined simply as a request for assistance from a family in need. We further recommend that, in this time of high unemployment, there be no requirement for a parent/caretaker to have worked during the two years of not receiving benefits.

        We also discussed policy with regard to the increasing number of children in custody, now numbering 5,800. Our proposal states that “children should not be removed from a family for environmental reasons or as a result of being born into poverty”, and points out that “resolving the immediate needs of a struggling family is far less expensive than the cost of maintaining the child within the foster care system”. The Commissioner said that it was Cuyahoga County practice not to remove children from their families solely for conditions that exist as a result of being in poverty.

        Although this is the professed practice of the County, we feel that a statement enunciating this policy should be formally included in law. We are hoping to have a follow-up meeting with Commissioner Jones regarding these issues.

        Published in the November 2002 Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 57

 

Housing Even More Out of Reach in 2002

        According to a report issued by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless in conjunction with the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, low income workers in the greater Cleveland area must earn almost three times the federal minimum wage or $14.38 per hour, if they are to afford rent for the average two-bedroom apartment. The report, entitled Out of Reach 2002: Rental Housing for America’s Poor Families—Farther Out of Reach Than Ever, takes a detailed look at the ever growing disparity between rental housing costs and the minimum wage.

        “Out of Reach shows that the affordable housing crises in Ohio continues to deepen,” said Brian Davis, executive director of NEOCH upon the release of the study. “At a time when the State of Ohio continues to cut all key housing and homeless programs to the tune of 15% over the last year with more cuts expected next year. This has led to many tax paying citizens finding themselves unable to afford rent in Ohio,” said Davis. “As the economy tries to rebound from a slump not seen since the early 1990s, the gap between what people can afford to pay and the real costs of hosing continues to widen at an unprecedented pace.” Since 1997, the housing wage (the amount one must earn per hour for a 40 hour work week if they are to afford the average rent for a two bedroom apartment) for the State of Ohio has jumped by nearly 25 percentage points. To put this into context, the housing wage is nearly two-and a half times the minimum wage.

        “With the State of Ohio facing a budget deficit of approximately $4 billion in the coming biennium, critical elements of the social safety net could well be looking at additional cuts. This does not have to be the situation,” said Davis. “In spite of the current crises, there is a way for the state to step up to the plate and save a key element of the safety net and boost the economy a the same time.” Davis also said, “Permanent and dedicated funding for Ohio’s Housing Trust Fund not only puts affordable housing within reach for the state’s working poor, but it provides a way to pump billions of dollars into the state’s economy.” Since its creation in 1991, the Ohio Housing Trust Fund has provided critical housing assistance to an estimated 317,000 households, created more than 50,000 jobs, and generated more than $1 billion in wages alone. “We need to commit to a dedicated revenue source for the Housing Trust Fund or we will continue to slip further into this housing crises.

        According to the report in Cuyahoga County:

        The housing wage for a one-bedroom apartment in Cuyahoga County is $11.60 per hour (or 225% of the minimum wage), the housing wage for a two bedroom apartment is $14.38 per hour or (279% of the minimum wage) and the housing wage for a three bedroom apartment is $18.29 per hour (or 355% of the minimum wage).

        Minimum wage workers in Cuyahoga County must work at least 90 hours per week to afford rent for a one bedroom apartment, 112 hours per week to afford rent for a two bedroom apartment, and 142 hours per week to afford rent for a three bedroom apartment.

        Things are getting worse according to the report. Across the board within the state’s 88 counties, the amount one must earn to afford an apartment increased from 2001. In fact, the Cleveland area recorded a jump in housing wage of more than three percentage points. By comparison, the inflation rate for 2001 was less than two percent. While this difference is slight, it shows that housing costs continue to outpace inflation.

          Published in the November 2002 Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 57

Homeless Lack Health Care in Cleveland

by: Amanda Brooks & Lindsay Friedrich

        Imagine having to wait to receive a bus ticket, wait to be seen at a clinic for hours, while getting treated like a second class citizen, and then receiving a prescription slip you don’t have the money or ability to fill. This is a glimpse of health care in Cleveland for homeless people. Wait and wait, then receive little or no help. There are so many homeless people who have had to battle in order to receive minimal health care.

        A survey was recently conducted to find out what is lacking in the health care offered to homeless people in Cleveland. Results from the survey of 87 homeless people in Cleveland show that there are many unmet needs. Despite many respondents saying there is limited choice and location in health care for the homeless people of Cleveland, 65% of those surveyed were able to get to a clinic when they were in need.

        The largest responses when asked how health care could better serve the homeless people of Cleveland were: help filling prescriptions, ability to get regular check-ups, better hours, bus tokens to allow ease of travel, and to treat the homeless people with respect. These are just a few stories from those on the front line of the battle for sufficient health care for the homeless people in Cleveland.

        Lisa Smith lives in Cleveland and is frequently homeless. When asked about health care in Cleveland, she had a long history of negative experiences. However, she has found Care Alliance has always helped, treating her quickly. Smith said there were always doctors available, the staff was courteous, and her prescriptions were filled there.

        Ms. Smith did not have such praise for St. Vincent Charity Hospital. She said she has waited there several times for several hours. “If you have insurance, you are a queen or king there,” she said, “but if you have no insurance they tell you to get a home remedy book, or they give you some home remedy.” Smith complained once about the lack of actual care, and the nurse said, “It’s out of our hands.” Yet, she still had Smith sign the ‘white homeless form’ which allows the clinic to receive money for the homeless population they ‘serve’. Her experience at St. Vincent Charity Hospital shows the poor treatment many homeless people receive from staff at these facilities.

        One homeless man, 69-year old Willis, has had different experiences with different clinics. At Care Alliance he said he received the best care they were able to offer to him. He used to go to Murtis Taylor clinic, but since they closed, he said there is a big problem with lack of health care facilities in that area. “I don’t think the health care here provides enough for all the different problems people have,” Willis said. “They throw us all together and treat us all the same. It lacks a whole lot.” Willis does have a variety of health problems to deal with, including spinal cancer, diabetes, neropathy (numbness in legs due to the diabetes), Drusen (a rare eye disease), and arthritis. “I’m in pain twenty-four hours a day,” he said. Due to his long list of health problems, Willis requires medicine in order to alleviate some of his pain and suffering. His prescriptions are difficult for him to attain. His story is like that of 19.4% of the survey respondents who said the biggest health care need in Cleveland for the homeless people is prescription coverage.

        Aside from dealing with his various health problems, he had a very bad experience at one clinic, though he would not reveal which one. He was accused of having narcotics in his system when he was admitted to the facility. He was aggressively interrogated. However, two days later, the staff informed him that someone made a mistake, switching his sample with another patient with a similar last name. No one ever apologized, and they continued to question him throughout his stay at the hospital. This is another example of how homeless people are treated with a lack of respect by many of the health care facilities in Cleveland.

        Leslie Stanchik, 31 and currently homeless, lives on the streets of Cleveland. She is also dealing with the lack of health care in Cleveland for homeless people. She had a child four months ago. She was able to get prenatal care from University Hospitals. This was due to the fact that she made it into their database before the hospitals non-insured patient quota was reached. “They have to take a certain number of non-insured patients,” Ms. Stanchik said. However, she realized that she was lucky to get in since other clinics are farther away with strange hours, and overworked staff. She said that the hospital staff treated her very well, and did not treat her differently because of her lack of housing. Her friends on the streets warned her about other clinics and hospitals. Ms. Stanchik has never tried to receive treatment anywhere else because of the stories of hassles others have been through.

        Regardless of her University Hospital experience, Ms. Stanchik did say she still has trouble with health care. She is unable to visit an eye doctor in order to receive much needed glasses. She is also unable to get in to see a dentist, which she said was a major concern for her. This is also a major concern for 38.9% of survey respondents, who stated that dental care was their major health need which has gone unmet. Stanchik stated that she really needs both of these services, but has not found a way to receive them. “Most eye doctors and dentists want money up front if you have no insurance, and I don’t have the insurance or the money,” said Stanchik. Most services are available at the Free Clinic, she has found that short hours and lack of available bus tickets has kept her from being able to utilize this facility. “I never know when they are open,” Ms. Stanchik said, “it depends on the day if they are open, accepting patients, the hours; you always have to wait, it isn’t worth it.”        

        Even though their hours are often strange, and the facility is located rather far for many of the homeless people in Cleveland, 48.1% of survey respondents said the clinic they visited most often is the Free Clinic.

        One formerly homeless woman, Pat Swindell, 34, said that she found health care in Cleveland to be anything but helpful. She found health services in the area for pregnant women to be practically non-existent. Swindell was told by local facilities that there was no more room in Cleveland for her to be cared for. She was transported to a shelter in Akron in order to receive care for herself and her unborn child.

        Swindell has two children, and it is difficult for her to get them in for check-ups due to the limited clinic hours and staff. She said there is still great need for improvement in the health care for homeless people. “Not all homeless people are there because of drugs or alcohol,” said Swindell, regarding how homeless people are treated as patients. Swindell said that more women’s clinics and health services are desperately needed.

        Another void in her opinion is a lack of treatment facilities for those suffering from drug or alcohol addiction. Swindell said that to get help at Metro Hospital for an addiction problem, one needed to go through the outpatient program to qualify for the inpatient program. Swindell claims that anyone familiar with recovery programs knows this is opposite of the needs of the addicted individual. It is also difficult for homeless people to be able to make it to outpatient treatment consistently given their lack of transportation. This is a major health care issue since, according to a survey conducted at one shelter early in 2002, many homeless people have had to struggle with some addiction problem. According to the recent health care survey, 35% of the respondents stated that their greatest need was mental, alcohol, or drug treatment.

        Overall, Cleveland lacks a reliable way to provide health care consistently to homeless people. The local hospitals are able to accept a certain number, no where near fulfilling the need. The clinics are either partially staffed, hard to get to, or offer insults with treatment. This all causes homeless people to be left without reliable health care. Many interviewed considered the health care shortages as an outrage, since Cleveland is a city with world renowned health care providers.

         Published in the November 2002 Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 57

 

Food Stamp Barriers Harm Low Income Access to Entitlement

Commentary by Teri Donelson

        For those living in poverty to receive benefits that they are entitled, they go through a large amount of red tape from the Department of Human Services in order to receive benefits. It does not matter your circumstances; those who are poor suffer from the same bureaucracy. A recent college graduate who is currently an AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) member has chosen to live below poverty level for one year to serve her country and today has to fight to receive food stamps from the government. The men living in the YHaven center are having to fight in order to receive their benefits directly instead of being issued them through an intermediary.

        Susan Baker just graduated from Cleveland State University and decided to answer the President’s call and give a year to community service. As a VISTA member, she is not allowed to work or attend school for the entire year of her service. She works a minimum of 40 hours a week and must survive off a “living allowance” of $769 a month, which comes to about $4.43 an hour. Because of the high rental cost in Cleveland, over 50% of her allowance is spent on housing, there is little left for utilities, high gas prices and other bills. Susan only “qualifies” for $33 dollars a month for food stamps.

The Department of Human Service does not consider the “living allowance” as income with other assistance programs such as public housing, TANF and WIC , but with the food stamps, they are allowed to count the allowance when calculating the VISTA member’s income. During President Bill Clinton’s administration, AmeriCorps became the umbrella for all National Service Programs: VISTA, AmeriCorps State and Direct, and National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC). All AmeriCorps programs except VISTA members are exempt from this rule; their living allowance is not considered income.

        The conflict seems to be an issue that has been over looked for years. From interviews of VISTA members throughout Ohio, Government entities seems to be confused and do not know the policy so VISTA members continue to receive incorrect information, conflicting answers and more bureaucracy. Kevin Black, a former VISTA member said, “What I don’t understand is why AmeriCorps members receive those benefits when they make more money than VISTA members and they are also allowed to have a second job and they can attend school while they serve, it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

        Brit Rapp, The attorney for the VISTA program confirmed the reason why VISTA members are not entitled to food. When the VISTA program was established in 1973 the farmers learned that individuals would be able to receive food stamps just because they were going to become VISTA members and raised a storm in Washington. They vowed to go to Congress and fight the entire development of the VISTA program if members received full food stamp benefits. So in order to receive some of the benefits like public housing assistance, TANF, and WIC congressional members compromised stating that only members who were receiving benefits prior to service could continue receiving them and not have their living allowance calculated as income.        

        Due to the shift in the economy farmers have become strong advocates for expanded participation in the food stamp program because it is guaranteed money spent on food. “It is hard to believe that over 6, 000 VISTA members across the nation suffer because of the actions committed over 35 years ago” commented Lisa Etling current VISTA members.                 This policy doesn’t apply to AmeriCorps members because when President Clinton established the AmeriCorps program they were able to add on income disregard for food stamps eligibility. There are very few benefits that the majority of VISTA members are entitled to receive because most are single individuals without children. Most VISTA would only be eligible for a small food stamp allocation and residency in public housing which have huge waiting list, since most VISTA members are placed in urban impoverished environments

        Attorney Rapp said that each state has the right to determine whether to consider the VISTA allowance income or not. Baker said this: “I’ll survive somehow for this year. But what bothers me the most is the way I was treated and I couldn’t imagine having to deal with those workers in order to eat! Its completely frustrating because I’m working for the government and the government doesn’t want to help me.”

        At Y Haven, a substance treatment center, they are having trouble with the food stamp department as well. For eleven years on the west side of Cleveland and six years on the east side, food stamps were issued directly to the residents; but now that has come to an end and the benefits for residents will have to be issued through YHaven. As a result the men are now dependent and will not be able to get their benefits directly from the Human Service. Joe Gauntner, Director of Health and Nutrition of Cuyahoga County, confirmed the reason why the men at YHaven are not able to receive their benefits directly. According to Mr. Gaunter, when this program expanded from the west side to the east side the type of license they needed changed. When they expanded to the east side they were considered an “out patient facility”, however, once changes were made they became a licensed “residential treatment center”.

        Under the provisions of The Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Abuse, a resident in an alcohol or drug center can not take applications or receive food stamps directly; the “shelter” is supposed to retain the card for the client. The state regulations simply reflect the federal requirements. Chip Joseph, YHaven’s Executive Director says “we made the changes to be licensed as a residential treatment center but we want the men to receive the food stamps directly and not to be given them through the shelter.”

           Angelo Anderson, Job Coach for New Life Community said this, “The bottom line is this: food is a necessity not a luxury. Food stamps is one of the last entitlements available, so why are there so many restrictions for receiving it? It is already a humiliating experience to ask for help, but when you are faced with so many restrictions it makes it an even worse situation. It’s time to go back to the basics in order to receive food stamps. If you live in poverty you should be able to receive those benefits without the bureaucracy. Its that simple.”

        Published in the November 2002 Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 57