Stopping Attacks on Homeless People Nationally

     For five years, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) has tracked a disturbing increase in crimes targeting those experiencing homelessness by young people and severely disturbed individuals. These are well-documented violent attacks on homeless people that result in injury and in many cases death of a vulnerable population. NCH published the report, “Hate, Violence and Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness,” to document data from news reports and homeless shelters on the number of homeless victimizations that have occurred in the past five years (1999-2003). The report was released on June 15, 2004. It is available from the National Coalition for the Homeless website ( or as a link on the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless website (

     There was a joint press conference held in Los Angeles, California and Cleveland to release the report and criticize major corporate retailers trading in exploitation. In Cleveland, the focus was on the hate crimes report and the plan for how to stop future attacks. The Cleveland Coalition will also identify the national retailers who are profiting from the sale of hate videos showing homeless people being attacked, exploited and abused for entertainment. In March of 2004, nine large national retailers were selling these hate videos. After the press conference in the three cities, all of the retailers pulled the videos from their inventory.

     In Downtown Cleveland, four perpetrators, aged 16 to 19, who videotaped the attack, used a 50,000-volt stun gun to shock homeless people in their genitals; they also kicked and reportedly urinated on one, all while laughing. Of the accused, three are juveniles, and were charged with delinquency assault. The one adult, Joshua Langenheim, 19, was charged with six counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of possession of a criminal tool. In the State of Ohio, assaulting a homeless person is not seen to be, by law, a hate crime. NEOCH will release the plan for how to address the assault on homeless people in the future.

     Marty Gelfand from Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s office attended the release and voiced his offices support for the General Accounting Office doing a study on the rise in attacks.

2003 Hate Crimes/Violence Report specifics

     The most recent hate crimes/violence report, from 2003, documented 61 non-lethal attacks and 9 deaths committed against people experiencing homelessness. These crimes occurred in 36 cities and 22 states and Puerto Rico.

1999 – 2003

• Total number of violent acts over 5 years: 281

• Total number of deaths over 5 years: 131

• Total number of non-lethal attacks over 5 years: 150

• Number of cities where crimes occurred: 119

• Number of states, plus Puerto Rico, where crimes occurred: 38

• Age ranges of the Accused/Convicted: From 11 to 65 yrs

• Age ranges of the Victims: From 4 months old to 74 yrs.

• Gender of Victims

• Male: 229 Female: 34

Video Exploitation of Homeless People

     The National Coalition for the Homeless has also been documenting the rise of hate speech in the United States directed at homeless people. Advocates are now tracking a disturbing trend of “Bum Videos” since 2001, in which homeless people are coerced to perform degrading and dangerous stunts for money, alcohol or food. Five different videos have been produced in the past four years: “Bum Fights,” “Bum Fights 2,” “Bum Hunts,” “Bum,” and “Bag Lady Beatings.”

In some of the more severe video scenes:

1. A homeless man drinks urine he perceives is a beer.

2. A homeless man runs head first into a stack of crates for a nickel.

3. A homeless man with drug addiction problems sets his hair on fire.

4. A man, pretending to be Steve Irwin of “Crocodile Hunter” fame, calls himself the “Bum Hunter.” He chases and tackles some homeless people, while sneaking up on others who are lying down. He sits on top of them, ties their hands and feet together with duct tape and makes remarks as if they were animals (“this one is a fine species”, “a small guy like this is very susceptible to predators”, “look he has got no teeth, smoking crack deteriorates your gums”, and “I want to look in his cart to see what he has stolen”). He also makes degrading comments such as, “if I came in here with a brand new bandage (to fix a homeless man’s arm), he would immediately try to rip it off because he doesn’t know the smell, he thinks it’s new, and we all know that bums don’t wear new clothes, they only wear old clothes.”

5. A homeless man is offered a quarter to drink Windex. He takes a gulp of the bottle for 1 dollar. He is shown vomiting shortly afterwards.

6. A man shoots potatoes and apples at homeless people with a “Bum Gun.” He knocks down a homeless man on crutches; he shoots one in the head; he shoots another in the back, etc.

Corporations Marketing Homeless Exploitation

     Recently, major corporate retailers including Tower Records, Amazon, Borders, Virgin Mega Stores, Target, Best Buy, Blockbuster, Barnes and Noble and Trans World Entertainment have found it acceptable to sell these videos and DVDs in their stores or on their Internet sites or both. Best Buy was the one retailer held out for special condemnation in Cleveland for continuing to sell the video “Bum Hunts” in stores and on their internet site until the press conference.

The National Coalition for the Homeless, the oldest and largest national homeless advocacy organizations in the United States, aims to protect the rights of homeless people. NCH has sent letters, faxes and e-mails asking mainstream retailers to:

a. Immediately stop selling these videotapes or DVDs, and destroy the current inventory.

b. Turn over the profits from the sale of these violent videotapes to an agency of their choosing that serves homeless people.

c. Pledge to never purchase these violent exploitative films that depict homeless people as props in a voyeuristic display of depravity.

As of June 17, 2004, the retail corporations have responded to NCH’s request accordingly:

Have Stopped Selling Hate:


• Target

• Virgin Mega Stores

• Barnes and Noble


• Best Buy

• Borders

• FYE Entertainment

• Tower Records

Request for General Accounting Office Investigation (GAO)

     Homeless men, women, and children around the nation are particularly vulnerable to crimes against them because they represent an easy, visible target and often lack a place to retreat for safety and protection. U.S. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) is calling for a General Accounting Office (GAO) investigation to assist Congress and the public in obtaining much-needed information on the extent and scope of violent acts and crimes against people experiencing homelessness. The study would examine perpetrators’ behavior, prevention, education and law enforcement strategies. Furthermore, such an investigation would help federal, state, and local officials identify actions that could be taken to prevent and reduce such crimes. This request has been endorsed by nearly 500 local and national organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Council of La Raza, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, National League of Cities, National Organization of Women (NOW), and Volunteers of America

     In Cleveland, Congressman Dennis Kucinich wrote to Attorney General John Ashcroft asking for an investigation of the stun gun attacks and a rise in hate crimes directed at homeless people. In August of 2003, in both Cleveland and Chicago, young people were caught videotaping themselves hurting homeless people. The Justice Department never did respond to the Congressman’s call for an investigation.

     Also in the report is an overview of the alarming rise in the marketing of homeless exploitation with “shock jocks” using homeless people as props in disgusting stunts around the country. There was a hoax in Cleveland with a radio station claiming to pay homeless people to have themselves stunned. There was also a college editor in Dayton calling on students to run down homeless people with their cars.

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B

Shelter Recommendations for Transgendered Safety

     “I don’t think most Americans have any idea how much discrimination transgender people face,” said Matt Foreman, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Executive Director. “If they did, more people would be doing something about it. Transgender people who lose their jobs because of discrimination, then lose their homes because they can no longer pay the rent or mortgage, are still likely to get a ‘your kind is not welcome here’ from an emergency shelter. I am hopeful that this guide will be a tool for shelters to make changes so that all people have a safe and warm place to stay.”

     “Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People” is a joint publication of the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Earlier this year, the National Coalition for the Homeless adopted a nondiscrimination resolution covering transgender people. The guide combines the transgender expertise of the Task Force with NCH’s expertise on shelters to produce a usable guide that is suitable for homeless shelters across the country.

     “We believe that every person has the right to shelter and that right should not be denied because of ignorance, injustice, or insensitivity,” said Donald Whitehead, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

     Most homeless shelters are segregated by sex, and, most shelters, if they accept transgender residents, require that they be housed with members of the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender women who identify and live as women but were born male report that male residents harass, sexually proposition, and sometimes even assault them. Transgender men who identify and live as men but were born female are sometimes placed in men’s shelters that do not have privacy in bathrooms (no stall doors) or in showers. Gender-based dress codes are also a significant problem, especially for transgender youth in shelters who can face discipline for simply dressing according to their own gender identity.

     The problem of unsafe shelters for transgender people is especially alarming given the frequent and pervasive discrimination that transgender people face. For example, many transgender people are not welcome in their family home, have been harassed out of school, and cannot acquire employment. Due to this discrimination, transgender people have an increased need for social services, including homeless shelters. Unfortunately, when shelter policies, other residents, and the service providers themselves discriminate, which is an all too common reality, transgender people often have nowhere to go.

     The Guide is designed for shelters that want to provide safe shelter for transgender people but are not sure how to do so. The Guide provides many answers to concerns about safety and privacy for all shelter residents, including transgender residents, the bulk of which are addressed without monetary expenditures.

“Our goal was to ground our policy recommendations in the reality of shelter life. That is why the recommendations are based on successes at real shelters across the country,” said Lisa Mottet, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Legislative Lawyer for the Transgender Civil Rights Project and lead author of the Guide. Recommendations in the Guide are primarily derived from solutions forwarded by shelters and advocates in Boston, San Francisco, Toronto, and Washington, DC.

Mottet developed her expertise on making shelters safe for transgender people while working with a coalition of groups in Washington, DC. For her work, she received the “Human Services Award” from Transgender Health Empowerment, Inc., a local transgender organization.

In addition to its own distribution, the Task Force and NCH are encouraging local activists to share this guide with local homeless shelters, assist them with policy development, and provide transgender-sensitivity training for shelter staff.

     “Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People” is available for free download from the National Coalition for the Homeless Web site and the Task Force publications library. at

     The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Transgender Civil Rights Project provides legislative and strategy assistance, including evaluation of legislative language, to activists and organizations working to pass trans-inclusive anti-discrimination bills or to add transgender protections to existing laws.

Editor’s Note: “Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People” is available on the National Coalition’s website at

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 65 (b) June-August 2004 Cleveland, Ohio

Shelter Politics Dominate Local News Updates

Men’s Overflow shelter:

     The County and City worked together to extend the period of time the men can continue to utilize the overflow shelter at Aviation High School. The men’s shelter is dangerously crowded with over 500 people seeking shelter every night in a shelter than can house 400 men. The Salvation Army in 2003 had resorted to sleeping men in shifts, and housing some men on the loading docks outside their facility. The resident council at the shelter had demanded and petitioned City and County officials to open an additional facility to serve the growing need. After more than one year and many false starts, the closed Aviation High School was chosen to serve 150 people in need of shelter.

     This facility was opened in March, and transportation is available from 2100 Lakeside shelter to the overflow. The men say that it is peaceful and a welcome relief from the chaotic days of stuffing 600 men into a facility that is intended for 400. In the morning the men are able to be transported to the temporary labor companies, Public Square or the Cosgrove drop in center. The overflow was slated to close in June, but an extension was worked out through September.

     There are now underway attempts to buy 2100 Lakeside, and Councilman Cimperman of Ward 13 has publicly talked about the overflow shelter transition into a new facility over an 18 month process. Sources within the City have also talked about plans by the County to drop the Salvation Army as the provider of men’s shelter at 2100 Lakeside. There was a great deal of anger over the demand by the Salvation Army of a significant increase in the budget in early 2004.

Women’s Shelter:

     There are many unhappy women staying at the new entry shelter for women opened at 2219 Payne Ave. called the Community Women’s Shelter. Most women say that they do not like the “Army” approach that the new provider has taken in operating the shelter. Mental Health Services took over the shelter in February 2004, and moved into new larger facilities on Payne Avenue during that same time. While the shelter has almost doubled in the number of beds available, many women are unhappy over the direction of the shelter.

     They are unhappy that they must be searched by a police officer upon entry, they are unhappy that staff does not consult them on rules, and they do not appreciate the young staff that was hired. There are many women who like the urgency that the new staff places on getting women into more appropriate facilities, but a majority complain about the cramped conditions during the day. All women are confined to a dining area for 10-11 hours of the day. It is a difficult undertaking to accept anyone that comes to the door and maintain peace for a little over 100 women per night, but there are a growing number of women who are giving up on the Community Women’s Shelter. This is a dangerous trend that could see more women returning to abusers or sleeping outside and vulnerable.

The East Side Drop In is Back

     After shutting down for men for most of the day for the past few years, the Bishop Cosgrove Center finally reopened to men during the hours that 2100 Lakeside is closed. The Cosgrove had provided a lunch always, but for much of the day was closed to men. The Women’s entry shelter had moved into Cosgrove Center, which had displaced the men. There were a significant number of men outside last summer trying to find a place out of the sun. The day time shelter offers showers, clothing, and times for social service providers to meet with clients. The opening of the drop in shelter is very much appreciated within the men’s community and allows a diverse crowd to break bread together.

     The Cosgrove hosted a spring Community Health Fair organized by the City of Cleveland that attracted hundreds.

Day Laborers Sued Over Advocacy Campaign

     Ameritemps Day Labor company filed a civil lawsuit citing commercial defamation and libel, interference with a business relationship, and unfair competition against the Day Labor Organizing Committee. In April, the Day Laborers demonstrated at Larry Dolan’s house over the treatment of workers at Jacobs Field. Dolan, owner of the Cleveland Indians, sent a strongly worded letter condemning the demonstration. Ameritemps did not like the negative attention and the stories in the media, because they hold the more than a million dollar contract to clean the stadium after games. Thompson Hine is representing the temporary labor company against homeless and low income workers.

     The unfair competition is for the local attempts to start a Community Hiring Hall, which is not a DLOC undertaking. They have a position on the Board, but have a separate fiscal agent and a separate identity. We will continue to track this developing story.

Domestic Violence Shelter loses State Funding

     The state of Ohio has begun to crack down on eligibility for the Emergency Shelter Grants awarded in the last year. First East Side Catholic lost funding because they were determined to be discriminating against boys over age 13. They were forcing families to break up in order for mothers with boys over 13 to enter. The state also found in the law that Domestic Violence shelters are prohibited from receiving funds from the Emergency Shelter Grant.

     The same shelters had received ESG dollars for at least six years with very few questions asked. The Ohio Department of Development attempted to change the way the money was distributed, but this did not go over well with the social service providers. As an interim step, the state scrutinized applications thoroughly, and a few providers were dropped.

     This is a second blow to the Domestic Violence Center which lost part of their victims of crime money from the state after the merger of Templum House and the Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence. This caused one of the shelters to close for lack of funding. Now the shelter under Ohio law is not considered an emergency shelter.

Around the State:

Columbus News: The Columbus Shelter Board undertook a strategic plan for better serving men called “Rebuilding Lives.” The goal was to move the shelters out of the downtown and put them around the City of Columbus. One shelter, The Open Shelter, objected and remained in the immediate downtown area near the Center for Science of Industry. For bucking the system, they lost all their public funding. In order to survive in 2003, they sold their building to the City of Columbus. In exchange the City gave the shelter one year to find another location or close.

     The year is up June 30, 2004, and the City is demanding that the shelter close. The Open Shelter was the only shelter to serve sexually based offenders. They were the only shelter that served the hardest to serve. The Open Shelter is not going down without a fight lashing out at the funding community, the city government , and downtown businesses. They have staged protests, and are demanding to stay open. They claim the 100 men that they serve will be sleeping on the street.

Dayton Panhandling: In an effort to further humiliate pan handlers, the City of Dayton quietly passed a law that requires pan handlers to register and now must wear huge 7 inch by 7 inch identification badges around their neck. This legislative scarlet letter is intended to discourage panhandling. The previous registration law did little to reduce panhandling, so the City has taken the law to the next level. Officials could not be reached to verify if the license in fact had a giant scarlet “P” on it.

Cincinnati Shelter Threatened: Cincinnati plans were released in late May for the redevelopment of the Over the Rhine neighborhood near the arts center of the Cincinnati Symphony. The plans do not include the Drop Inn Center Shelter. The shelter disappeared from the neighborhood if the vision of the arts community is successful. They intend to build a children education center and attempt to remove homeless people from Washington Park. The shelter has always faced threat, but the current political environment is hostile toward the impoverished, social services, and affordable housing.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 65 (b) June-August 2004 Cleveland, Ohio

Commentary: Republicans Breaking Thirty Year Promise on Building and Maintaining Affordable Housing

By House Democratic Leader

Nancy Pelosi

     The budget should be a statement of our national values, but for the fourth time in four years, Republicans in Congress and President Bush are seeking to pass a budget that is nothing less than an assault on our national values. From health care, to job creation, to education, Republican policies simply do not respond to the challenges facing American families.

     Housing is a prime example of distorted Republican priorities. While Republicans are happy to continue tax cuts for wealthy corporate interests, they are making cuts that threaten safe and secure homes for thousands of children and families across the country. Last month, in the middle of the fiscal year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development changed the rules and retroactively cut back funds for housing initiatives. Heartlessly, the Administration is taking housing money away from needy families who were promised it. This is unheard of in our history and reveals a new level of aggressiveness on the part of the Administration.

     This Administration is breaking a 30-year promise to help low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe housing. For the first time, the government will no longer pay the full cost of rent vouchers. This will impact not only needy families but also the private landlords who rent homes to them. San Francisco is one of the most expensive places to live in the nation, and any assault on affordable housing will be felt here.

     Working with Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, our leader in the House of Representatives on housing issues, I will fight any attempt to undermine affordable housing. The consequences of the new ruling will be devastating. In cities across the nation, thousands of families that now receive housing support through Section 8 vouchers could face dramatic rent increases or even eviction from their homes and apartments during the next few months.

     The poorest and most vulnerable families will suffer the most, and these cuts would likely contribute to homelessness in San Francisco and across the country. In San Francisco, there are already 27,000 people on the waiting list for Section 8 housing, and the list has been closed since 2001. We need to increase access to Section 8 housing, not cut it. This change is shortsighted, and it is sudden.

     Clearly, the Administration has decided not to wait for Congress to weigh in on its new Section 8 proposal, which was included in this year’s budget, to reduce and block grant the voucher program. It has already drawn criticism from both sides of the aisle this year. Under the President’s 2005 budget, housing assistance could be cut for 250,000 families across the nations who are currently receiving Section 8 housing assistance.

     These policies are outrageous, and they are wrong. We must ensure that no family in America loses a safe, decent home in which to raise its kids because of reckless cuts by this Administration.

Originally published in STREET SHEET, a publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco:

Ohio Activist Plan to Confront Attacks on Homeless People

State activists in Ohio intend to make an effort to stop the violence directed at homeless people through monitoring, improvements in the law, and local advocacy efforts. These are the efforts planned from the Ohio Civil Rights activists:

1. Collaborate with other Coalitions around Ohio to monitor violence directed at homeless people. Every month we meet to discuss strategies to confront hate crimes and criminalization efforts. At this time, we have monitoring agencies in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton. The Coalition intends to expand to contacts in Toledo, Akron and Youngstown in 2004. There are efforts underway to develop a statewide database to track hate crimes and municipal efforts to criminalize homelessness.

2. Support Federal effort to get the General Accounting Office to investigate. On June 14, Congressman Conyers sent a letter to every member of the U.S. House of Representative asking for a GAO study on hate crime. Efforts are underway to ask every member of the Ohio delegation to sign on to this letter. After three years of waiting for a GAO study, and with the knowledge that summer is the time of greatest risk for homeless people, the Coalition is pressing for federal action on hate crimes.

3. Work to develop statewide legislation to add homeless people to the anti-hate crimes state legislation. In August of 2003, four young people attacked homeless people in both Youngstown and Cleveland. The prosecutors at both the City and County found that they could only charge these young people with a misdemeanor. Coalition staff felt that this was an injustice to charge predators who went into our community with the express purpose of violently attacking a group of people who find themselves homeless. Staff are working with the City of Cleveland and State legislators to improve the Ohio hate crimes law to include homeless people. This will increase the range of options that prosecutors can charge perpetrators of a crime against homeless people and would increase the penalty for those convicted of a hate crime.

4. Stopping the trafficking of hate. While many retailers have stated that they will stop selling the hate videos like “Bum Fights 1” and “Bum Hunts,” the videos are still available on smaller websites. The group is pleased with its victory in forcing the retailers that were selling these exploitative videos like Target, and Barnes and Noble from pulling them, but the effort now is to get the filmmakers to stop filming these horrible videos and give up the profits from the sale of these videos.

5. Work to get homeless people to educate them about street exploitation. Ohio Civil Rights activist’s suspects that the young people in August were going to sell copies of the videotapes in the attacks in Cleveland. In other cities homeless people were offered money to drink urine or Windex or fight or harm them for money. Staff throughout Ohio intend to work with outreach workers statewide to caution homeless people from accepting money to be videotaped.

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B

National News, Confrontations and Panhandling

Homeless Shelters Feel Squeeze

     The NOAH Shelter, the Cape’s only drop-in overnight shelter for the homeless, is struggling under an $80,000 deficit and desperately trying not to cut staff and services. The shelter served an all-time high of 533 people last year. To help agencies with difficult times a coalition of human service providers has emerged with a concept for a “continuum of care” for homelessness services. The $300,000 proposal to fund prevention programs on the Lower, Outer and Mid Cape would chew through the bulk of the $465,000 remaining from the county’s 2003 budget surplus. A third of the money also would be set aside for an acute-care facility for the homeless. County leaders say the surplus funds should go to Cape’s cash-strapped municipalities. A vote of the general assembly on the surplus items is scheduled for April 7.

Attacker Gets Probation

     Homeless man Albert Blanchard was set on fire as he slept in downtown Nashville last year, by a Mr. Erwin, a 30-year old jeweler from Clarksville, who could not remember setting the man on fire because he had been drinking with two friends. Erwin stated he threw a lighted match on Mr. Blanchard’s leg and then ran away with his friends. A witness said he saw flames and ran to help. Blanchard was on fire from the waist down. Mr. Erwin was sentenced to four years probation. Mr. Blanchard, who is being cared for by his sister, spent more than six months in the hospital, has had eight surgeries so far and is facing more.

King Settlement for Tent City

     King County Executive Ron Sims, who has long been opposed to tent cities for the homeless, agreed to allow a temporary tent city for the homeless on county property near Kirtland. His action headed off a confrontation with Seattle-based groups that vowed earlier this month to occupy park land somewhere in King county on May 6 if an agreement had not been reached. Sims allowed the temporary city to go up for 90 days. This gives the county, with guidance from King County Council, time to find other non-park, county-owned properties that could serve as a more permanent location for Tent City 4. Sims proposed that the county enter into an agreement with Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) and the Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL) to establish and operate the city.

City Razes Homeless Man’s Shack

     The Detroit Police Department, acting on orders from the city Building and Safety Engineering Department, gave Ralph Thomas, 56, one hour to move his belongings out of a shanty he built on a vacant lot at Michigan Ave. and West Grand Blvd. before it was razed. Thomas had lived in the shanty for about two decades. The driver of the backhoe waved his hand and declined comment. Other city officials did not return phone calls. Mr. Thomas was able to get most of his belongings out of the shanty before it was destroyed. A friend allowed him to store his belongings until he found a place. An outreach coordinator who assists the elderly in southwest Detroit is looking into what services Mr. Thomas may be qualified to receive.

Woman Who Feeds Homeless Forced to Move

     Mary Judd has fed the homeless daily from her front porch in Raleigh for eight years. Raleigh’s zoning enforcement administrator sent Ms. Judd a letter stating she must shut down because she is operating a charitable institution and her property is not zoned for that. The city has given Mary until June 23 to relocate and is helping her find a vacant building that is properly zoned. The city received a tip that led to the inspection.

Men Charged in Brutal Beating of Homeless Man

     Clifton Agnew, who was so brutally beaten and stabbed that he was not expected to live, is showing improvement at University of Louisville Hospital. Police arrested 19-year old Tyreese Hall and 40-year old Derek Edmonds and charged with robbery and sodomy. The report says Mr. Agnew was robbed, stripped of his clothing, and sodomized with sticks, boards, and bottles, causing internal injuries. He was then stabbed repeatedly.

Safe Zone Agreement Reached

     The Monroe County Commission and Key West City Commission reached an agreement that allows a temporary safe zone to be erected on county land to house the homeless. Four Quonset tents are being erected adjacent to the Monroe County Sheriff’s office on Stock Island. The city has been trying for months to provide a place for the homeless to sleep so that a ban on camping in the city’s wetlands can be enforced.

Homeless Assistance Shelter Delay

      It’s been a year since Dallas voters approved $3 million in bonds for a homeless shelter, but a facility won’t be opening any time soon. Due to the small volunteer staff it has been difficult to compile the needed information. These numbers are important because it will determine how much money the city receives in federal aid. The city postponed a vote on the homeless facility in February after three suggested sites drew heavy opposition. Now the city is working to identify a location that fits new criterion: at least 1000 ft. away from single-family homes, and public or private elementary and secondary schools; the shelter would also be a least a 1/2 mile away from any overnight shelter and it would be within walking distance of public transportation. In the meantime, as the homeless population continues to grow, the city department that deals with homelessness plans to request money to rent a temporary site to help alleviate the problem and to hire four addition outreach caseworkers.

Homeless Activists Stage Protest in Rhode Island

     A group of homeless people and student activists traveled from Providence to Barrington to protest the state’s lack of affordable housing in front of the Barrington Town Hall. The protesters set up a “Ribbon of Shame” in front of Barrington Town Hall, which the bikers broke through when they arrived. According to Catherine Rhode, protest organizer and member of the advocacy group People to End Homelessness, the event was the first in a “Tour of Shame” that will eventually visit towns across the state to push for affordable housing.

“Bumfights” Producers Sentenced

     The producers of the controversial Bumfights videos were sentenced to three years probation and community service working with the homeless for their roles in producing the films in which homeless men perform dangerous stunts. The judge called the three producers of the Bumfights video “opportunists motivated by greed” before handing down their sentences. The trio plead guilty May 9 to a misdemeanor charge of paying homeless men to fight in front of the camera. After the sentencing, the three men snickered when they were asked them to comment on the sentencing. Michael Slyman, another Bumfights producer, received the same sentence May 16. The attorney for the three producers confirmed that there is another Bumfights video coming out. The $20 videos have sold more than 300,000 copies.

Insurance Scammers Accused of Recruiting, Injuring Homeless

39-year old Michael Garner was known around area homeless shelters as the bone-crusher. Police say for a least 2 years he recruited the homeless to be victims in staged auto accidents. Garner allegedly inflicted real injuries on the homeless using a sledgehammer or the butt-end of an axe. Although some of the settlements were six figures many of the homeless were paid only several hundred dollars apiece and left with life long injuries that required extensive surgeries. Police began investigating after shelter operators noticed a high number of residents suffering with broken legs and arms. Mr. Garner, along with 5 other organizers, were charged with aggravated fraud conspiracy, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, aggravated insurance fraud and six counts of battery.

Daily Bread Kitchen Opens

Hobe Williams, Jr. saw the need of feeding the hungry and opened the Daily Bread Community Kitchen in Morristown. The opening of Daily Bread Community Kitchen with free lunch/dinner program was a move of faith that stood a 10 year test and continues to feed the hungry on a daily basis. Mr. Williams manages to provide as many as 1,000 free meals a week with the help of volunteers, businesses, and the collective community. Since its inception in 1993, no one has left the Daily Bread hungry. Williams is undertaking yet another project to better serve the community. He plans to remodel a building that now houses his furniture business. The building will accommodate more seating and a better food prep area/kitchen/food storage and serving facility. The project is estimated to be over $200,000 and Williams is researching possible grants available to help with the relocation and remodeling.

Interfaith Program Shelters Homeless

     Though not religiously affiliated, Interfaith Hospitality Network is a nonprofit, private organization that provides emergency shelter in 11 local churches for families with children. Other churches provide donations and support to Interfaith. During the day, Interfaith shuttles its guests to school, work, recreation, or to the program’s headquarters. Of Savannah’s programs for the homeless, Interfaith has the smallest capacity, but they are the only emergency program that provides space for families to stay during the day.

     At night, the program doesn’t separate older children from their parents. Boys over 13 are allowed to stay with their mothers. Over the past decade, families with children were among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. Forty percent of the homeless population in Savannah is made up of women and children, according to the local Economic Opportunity Authority.

Homeless Man Set On Fire In Corpus Christi

     Lucas Adama Wiser, 21 remained in the burn unit with burns to his arm and leg, including some third degree burns to his leg, after being set afire by six to eight men as he lay sleeping on a bench outside Corpus Christi Metro Ministries. A video shows two cars stopping abruptly after passing the Mr. Wiser, the men jumping out of the cars and running up to the sleeping man, and then flames leaping in the air as the men run back to their cars and speeding off. Witnesses said the man ran into the street covered in flames. Local television stations aired the footage in an effort to help police identify the attackers. Though police indicated they have some idea whose behind the attack, no arrests have been made.

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B

Job Opening in Community Activism


Wanted: Community Activist who can deliver the art community to support social justice. Because of recent tragic events, the homeless community currently has a job opening for a community activist. We cannot pay any money, but the rewards are incalculable. We need someone who can bring social justice to the Greater Clevelanders in digestible portions that will not offend. Homeless people will interview people who can undermine society in mocking and yet entertaining fashion. We are looking for someone charismatic and can keep the attention of a crowd, but will not try to dictate the agenda. They leave the leadership of the movement to the experts, those who have experienced homelessness, but will attend demonstrations and will confront injustice at every turn.

The qualifications for the job include an easy nature, and jovial personality. The successful candidate will be able to work with a diverse population. They must treat all as brothers in arms from those with a mental illness to those with a drug problem. They must realize that the prison industrial complex is as much of a problem as the war in Iraq and can see that racial discrimination is alive and well. They must be available at all times for protests, demonstrations, and emergency meetings. When a city issues eviction orders to a group of squatters or the shelters organize a softball game to make the bail for protesters or the Coalition throws a party to celebrate the end of a horrible despot of a Mayor, the activist must be ready with a new work to commemorate the event. Most importantly, the applicant should be non-judgmental. The social justice movement requires that the activists set aside their personal biases and accept that we are fighting for equality and fair treatment for all people including criminals, the lazy, those who have made mistakes as well as the politically popular children.

     Skills necessary for the applicant include some demonstrated success in the arts community in order to have credibility with peers. Must have an ability to inspire artists to work on social justice pieces. Even though it is obvious, the successful applicant must be creative and think of unique approaches to get the message out. Some examples of real world creativity would be criticizing County policy on the day that County officials are giving you an award or bringing the needs of the homeless community to local area bakers through poetry. Must have a good deal of energy, and eat, sleep and breathe social justice. It is important to have the ability to attract new members to the movement by subtle means like art or entertainment.

     While activist and public education organizations do a good job in getting the message out with statistics, persuasive arguments, and experts, it is the artist who is usually most effective at altering the course of public opinion through ridicule, sarcasm, and subtle forms of humiliation. The successful candidate will need to be well versed in all of societies problems, and be able to see how they all relate. The individual must cloak themselves in a symbolic coat of social justice with sleeves of the death penalty, a lining of poverty, a belt of universal health care, and a train of universal living wage. The community activist will need to inspire with humility with humanity on the side. The perfect activist must be subservient and willing to commit for the long haul. They must have faith that change will occur, but not be depressed over the slow pace of change. The candidate must be willing to work behind the scenes, but shout the message from the front of the pack when necessary. This individual must have the ability to heal wounds and riffs within the artistic community, but allow a certain amount of tension and competitive fire to invigorate the movement.

     It is a heavy sword that you pick up if you choose to apply. You will gain in notoriety, but also in stress. You will be the subject of criticisms, and will most likely be cheered and jeered. You will take on the rich and powerful, and they will take you on. You will be sought after by politicians looking for “cool,” and you will be condemned by politicians looking for conservative voters. Your friends will decrease, but you will be invited to a lot more parties.

     To apply submit qualifications and resume in the most creative way that you can think of to the NEOCH offices. For those especially creative or gifted ideas we will present in a future edition of the Homeless Grapevine. Finalists will be chosen, and will perform a live audition before the men at one of the local shelters, and will be on probation for the first year of service. If you have to have to ask questions, you do not understand and are probably not qualified. While the monetary rewards are limited, the societal benefits are priceless. For more information see George Carlin, Michelangelo, St. Paul, Frederick Douglas, Thomas Paine, or Jonathan Swift.


 Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B


Commentary: In Honor and Remembrance of Daniel Thompson

By Dennis J. Kucinich

U.S. House of Representatives

     Mr. Speaker, I rise today in honor and remembrance of Daniel Thompson, Poet Laureate of Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Daniel Thompson passed away last week after a 2-year battle with cancer. Through his words as a poet and his deeds as a tireless advocate for the homeless, the hungry, and people on the streets, Daniels Thompson set an example for his community.

     Daniel’s public readings were held as often in jazz clubs, junkyards and jailhouses as they were in bookstores, cafes, and other ordinary venues. His poetry, often humorous and playful, conveyed messages about our times and inspired our thoughts and actions. He was a frequent contributor to the “Homeless Grapevine,” Cleveland’s monthly street newspaper sold by homeless vendors. His poem, “A New Beatitude,” was published in the March-April 2004 issue of the Grapevine:

Walking to starlight

In a dark season

I hear a new beatitude, America


Blessed are the homeless

For they shall inherit the street

The sidewalk, the bushes

The cold, cold ground

Whatever falls from heaven

Pennies of rain, of snow

Any spare change of weather

Day-old manna

The donut and the hole

The donut, the hole in the sock

In the sole of the shoe

And in the cold, cold ground

And O I almost forgot, America

This, too, from you

The cold eye of the stranger…

     But it was not just Daniel’s word, but also his deeds that will be missed. He frequently brought food and water to Cleveland’s homeless and he petitioned city and county officials to install public drinking fountains for people living on the streets. He marched with Martin Luther King in Chicago and as a freedom rider in the deep south in the early 1960s where he was targeted by an angry mob in North Carolina in 1961.

     Mr. Speaker and Colleagues, please join me in honor and remembrance of Daniel Thompson. Like other poets hailing from Cleveland such as Langston Hughes, Hart Crane, and d.a. levy, Daniel has a place in our community’s literary history. And as a citizen, Daniel Thompson will long be remembered for his advocacy, sympathy, and soul. But his presence on Cleveland’s streets will be sorely missed.

(Appearing in the Congressional Record of May 11, 2004)

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B

Commentary: Homelessness Transformed by President Reagan

By Brian Davis

      The Homeless Grapevine and all homeless service providers mourn the loss of the 40th President of the United States, Ronald Wilson Reagan. We all owe our jobs to this great American. Without Ronald Reagan, all of us would be working on containing the spread of AIDS or finding jobs for the unemployed. Instead, we have had the benefit of full time employment because of the domestic policy of the Great Communicator.

     He taught us to be proud of America in the face of a growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. He thankfully curtailed the growth of the unions by terminating the air traffic controllers, otherwise the few remaining shelter workers might be unionized at this time. We might have had to pay our shelter workers a decent wage that would keep them out of poverty. Thankfully, we can increase the number of shelters at relatively low costs because the workers make pathetic wages thanks to our beloved Ronald Reagan.

     He transformed our country so that homelessness was accepted, and not just for men, but with familiarity we accepted that families could be homeless. There was a spirit of laziness that had enveloped our country from the 1960s with hippies, drop-outs and those long haired freaks. Reagan changed all that. He punished laziness, withdrew support from the disabled, and those born into poverty or experiencing homelessness to go look for a job in the classifieds. During the eight years of the Reagan dynasty, the country secured social worker jobs, shelter workers, and meal site workers for decades to come. The naïve felt that this strategy was a clever way to end homelessness by shaming the country into finally ending the war on poverty when families started appearing on the street homeless. Silly optimists--who were proven wrong after 19 straight years of increases. We all know that Reagan had Midwestern values, and poverty, homelessness, the frail and disabled were not part of Reagan’s America.

     He brought the wacky ideas of Barry Goldwater to the mainstream. He gave us our beloved full employment program for shelter workers that critics called “voodoo economics” or “trickle down economics.” This is such an insult for one of the greatest Presidents of the last century. He created entire service institutions that will continue to “trickle” on our society for decades. He made people happy to have a job to the point that they will wake up from their shelter bed at 4 a.m. to wander over to wait for a horrible day labor job in places called the “House of Pain.” There were entire industries created or expanded by Reagan including finding low wage jobs at temporary companies, professional shelter workers, or paper shuffler in the health care industry.

     Reagan beat the Soviet Union, and without an enemy the Americans turned on the poor. For 40 years we had the Evil Empire to blame for our problems. We could blame them for the oil crisis, or why “Johnnie can’t read” or for inflation. Without the Soviets, we turned on the “welfare queens,” and the “corrupt unions,” and we even turned on “We the people” by cannibalizing our own government. A victory is a victory. It is a lot easier to be angry at people that we see everyday than funnymen like Yakov Smirnov or a guy with an unfortunate jelly stain on his head. We can slap a picture of a welfare mom or a corrupt government official on the front of our daily newspapers, but Russians do not look evil (they are the same color as the majority of Americans).

     We learned about the benefits of less regulation over corporations, and how we could live with budget deficits. We learned that the health of corporations would save our country even if a large number of people suffered. A corporation that provide hundreds of jobs at expense of some not having a job and all wages stabilize at a manageable level is good for America. I have even come to accept that we need to reward these titans of the board room with lavish salaries, benefits and comfort because they hold the keys to our future. Before Reagan, it was obscene to make 100 times the average employee. Now, that seems quaint and seem as remote as button shoes or bouffant hair styles. Most corporate executives are justly provided 400 to 600 hundred times the average employee, because we have to accept the fact that they are more equal than the rest of us. It turns out that we all might only be three-fifths of a corporate executive.

     I along with all of the people working on homeless owe a huge debt of gratitude to President Reagan, and we agree that his likeness should be placed on the dime. Afterall, who else should replace the guy who brought us out of a depression than the guy who made panhandling one of the few jobs available in many American cities. The next time a guy says, “Brother can you spare a dime,” that dime will contain the image of the man who introduced homelessness to the mainstream of American—Ronald Reagan.

 Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B

Commentary: Homelessness Strikes Suddenly

by Felicia

     No one expects to wake up homeless, at least I never thought this would happen to me. I’ve had the best of jobs, a custodian at Ohio State University, an interior and exterior housepainter. I relocated from Columbus, Ohio to Akron, Ohio where I landed a job at the Form Rubber Company. I had various jobs in the food services, an assistant manager at the Hamburger Station, a head cook at Access Incorporated, a job at Gogo’s etc, etc. I earned a college degree (Associates) in Liberal Arts, attending Akron University, majoring in Art History.

     My plight began when I ended up on the penitentiary. I ten decided to relocate to Cleveland, Ohio feeling that things would be better and a lot of opportunities would be available to and for me. Boy! Was that a lie. I became extremely depressed; because I have no family here, my associates are few.

     I ended up in the Cosgrove Shelter and have been in a shelter for the last six months, my health problems making me unemployable. I’m with mental health services and have many health problems unable to get health care through Human Resources. I walk around on a daily bases feeling hopeless, lost, unworthy, withdrawn at times. I want to end it all just so the emptiness and pain will go away. Yet, no one cares about what a homeless individual goes through. If only society would place themselves in our shoes.

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B

Homeless Youth Survive the Foster Care System

by Pamela Vincent

     The mission of the Department of Children and Family Services (CFS) is “To assure that children at risk of abuse or neglect are protected and nurtured within a family and with support of the community.” CFS claims to embrace the philosophy that children grow better in families and support this by keeping children close to their families whenever possible through neighborhood foster care. Its programs have the goal of stabilizing and reuniting families that have been weakened through poverty, illness, or crisis, resulting in neglect or abuse to children. (See

     This raises questions regarding the Foster care system are, and its operation in Cuyahoga County. First, what happens to those children that age out of the foster care system each year that aren’t reunited with their birth families or aren’t adopted, do some of them end up homeless and destitute? The other question is whether homelessness is one of the criteria for removing children from their families?

According to James McCafferty, the director of the CFS Department, fewer than 100 children “age out,” or as they call it are “terminated,” each year from their system. The statistics listed on the website from the department are slightly higher than he quoted.

     In 2003 alone, 187 children were terminated from custody. Of those, 118 (59%) were terminated to stable housing situations with little to no risk of homelessness. 69 (41%) were terminated to unstable or unknown housing situations, with significant risk of homelessness. Within the same group of 187 youth, 108 were terminated to stable support systems and 79 (43%) were terminated without a stable support system.

     In the last 3 years the Department of Children and Family Services spent between $1,150,228 and $1,493, 740 in operating expenses. A portion of these expenses are for foster parents to support their foster children and for foster children between the ages of 16-18 to go through the Independent Living Program, where they’re taught about life after they’re terminated from the CFS and how to take care of themselves on their own.

There are many options available to these children. The Independent Living staff will assist those children choosing to go on to college or certified training in applying for grants and federal aid. The children who do choose to take advantage of this option, in return, continue to receive a monthly stipend for the duration of the time they remain in school or until the age of 21. The stipend is for living expenses and is the same amount the foster parents received for their care.

     McCafferty went on to state that “homelessness is not a criterion for removing a child from his/her parents unless the child is endangered by being exposed to the elements, such as living on the streets in the winter or not properly clothed or fed.” If a parent were endangering a child in that way you would first question whether they were of the right mind and need other assistance and secondndly CFS would try to find the family temporary housing and will put them into hotels for the time being.” McCafferty did not know of any of these cases happening or having been brought to his attention.

     In 2003, McCafferty signed a letter obtained by the Homeless Grapevine in that he says, “This letter is to confirm that your children were taken into custody by the Department of Children and Family Services ...due to lack of adequate housing and associated issues related to lack of adequate housing.” The mother that received this letter was not living on the street, but was facing eviction. She was not given the opportunity to go to shelter before the agency intervened.

     What of the children that do not go on to college or receive formal training? In 1999 the Federal government passed a law called the “Chafee law” based on work done by the late Senator Chafee from Massachusetts that allows children aging out of the foster system to receive financial aid as they transition into society. There are, however, certain conditions that have to be met to qualify for this aid. The children need to have:

1. Graduated from high school or have obtained a general equivalency diploma or it’s equivalent, as stated in the Chafee Foster Care Independence Act of 1999.

2. Not lived with their parents prior to or after the age 18.

3. Not had any unresolved record of criminal history

4. Or were not currently enrolled in other programs with the CFS and already receiving continuing service.

Each child remaining in care after the age of 18 must sign a voluntary extended care agreement and be assigned a CFS caseworker to monitor them. The children are educated or assisted in finding housing and jobs, writing resumes, preparing meals, doing laundry, managing money, maintaining personal hygiene, and various other life skills. A child will only be discharged from the program before the age of 21 if:

1. he/she refuses to meet with their caseworker, 2. their whereabouts become unknown or 3. they become self sufficient and no longer need the support of the Independent Living program.

Despite this program, 41% are leaving the care of CFS to unknown living conditions and at significant risk of homelessness. Despite having been educated in Independent Living and having continuing support available to them why do some children put themselves at risk for homelessness? Perhaps there isn’t an answer for this but only another question. How do you instill in some one the desire to care for themselves?

Editor’s Note: For more information on the foster care system or the Independent Living Program please call the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services at: 216/431-4500 or visit the Web site listed above.

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B

DLOC Members: Their Stories

by Colleen Bittner

     Michael Stephens is a day laborer and DLOC member who has lived in Cleveland for about ten years. He’s worked part-time over the past several years for Minute Men and Ameritemps, and during that time he’s seen a lot of unfairness.

     “If you are sent to a job and the company ends up not needing you through no fault of your own, you are supposed to be paid for four hours. However, this is often not the case, and you are still charged $2 for the van ride. The locations of temp places are near homeless shelters, which results basically in slave labor for pay. At Jacob’s Field they’ve pushed the time for garbage clean up from six hours down to four - so in the end each worker makes only about $18 for their efforts. Overall, anytime you go to these temp agencies, there is no respect for the people [the day laborers] that are making them rich,” says Michael.

     He became involved with the DLOC when he was introduced to DLOC founder Dan Kerr. He began passing out fliers and worked with Dan to set up a hotline for day laborers with problems/concerns who had no outlet. After a few months of struggling the group started getting more recognition, and Michael was honored by Cleveland Jobs for Justice for his work.

     “Oren and I are trying to get more people involved. We started having meetings and we recently went to Washington D.C. to learn about issues affecting day laborers throughout the country. We had a protest against the Secretary of Labor of 1,000 people, with coverage on CNN and in the Washington Post.”

     Michael doesn’t get paid for his work with the DLOC and is taking a risk - the workers are starting to know him and once the temp agencies connect him with the DLOC, it will be harder for him to get work.

     So why does he do it? “I want to see the organization grow. We don’t have enough people that are truly dedicated. And. if I don’t put in time, who’s going to do it?” he says.

     A woman who wished not to be identified, Alexandra, is a day laborer who lives in Cleveland. She’s experienced first-hand the disrespect, humiliation, and sexual harassment of temp agencies.

     “Men at the temp agencies and at the companies I’ve gone to say that if I go to bed with them or perform sexual favors, I’ll have a guaranteed ‘return’ ticket, meaning I can come back to the job. If I can find other women to do these things too, that’s an extra plus for me. I see ex-prostitutes and women on drugs and alcohol who are the main targets of sexual harassment. It upsets me because they are already hurting in their life and then they are being hurt some more by the employment agency. Women’s rights are being violated every day.”

     And it’s not just women’s rights, but people’s rights. “Nobody wants to be humiliated. Nobody wants to be hollered at. When you don’t show up every day at the temp agency, as a punishment they won’t send you out for three to four days. They want you to come there every day and just wait,” says the woman.

     “The working conditions at some companies we are sent to are filthy. One company had the bathroom and kitchen combined into one area, things littered all over the floor that you could trip and fall over. I told Minute Men about it, and they told me not to go back if I didn’t want to, and didn’t stand by me because they didn’t want to risk losing their contract.”

     She heard about DLOC from a friend and wasn’t really interested at first. Then she saw they were really trying to do things and make a difference. “A lot of people are afraid to get involved, but I’m not. I’m trying to go against the temp agencies full-fledged, but I am still working for them, so once they know I am with DLOC they won’t send me out. But you have to sacrifice some things. I don’t want to be treated unfairly. I don’t have to be quiet. I am not afraid of their tactics and I know I always have legal recourse.”

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B

Another Domino Falling in the Fight to Solve the Affordable Housing Crisis

News Analysis

By Brian Davis

     In the 1990s, the federal government dramatically changed the landscape of many cities by restructuring the housing program of the Nixon/Ford era bureaucratically called the Project Based Section 8. This program provided private landlords funds to house low income people, and those that qualified paid only 30% of their income for rent. As the subsidy agreements expired, the government began restructuring. Many landlords were forced out or voluntarily left the program, those tenants who had lived peacefully for years were offered a housing voucher to use in place of the subsidy they had received. The Project Based program became very unstable, and created a great deal of fear in the urban communities.

     The housing vouchers offered by the federal government instead seemed like a safe bet. The voucher program, administered locally by the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, was stable or growing for years. It had become a sizable outlay for the federal government, and cities found two to six times as much demand than available vouchers. A few cities could not find a way to manage the program or were corrupt in the management of the vouchers (including Cleveland in the mid 1990s.) Cleveland worked out its problems, and has reached a point that thousands are waiting and every voucher is out on the street.

     Now the federal government is re-evaluating the voucher program. There is an all out assault on the program by the Bush administration on one of the few programs that serve poor people. Last year, there were attempts to put time limits on the vouchers and would have transformed the program in much the same way as the deconstruction of welfare under the Clinton administration. This proposal to transfer the program to state administration was shelved when they realized too many Congressional districts would rise up in revolt.

     This year the administration rebounding from the 2004 budget loss with the voucher program, they went forward in stripping the program anyway. In what can only be viewed as a unique and unprecedented interpretation of the budget resolution, they are providing housing authorities the same amount of money they were paying in the middle of last year. No cost increase for inflation or any new voucher holders that came onto the program, which has caused major problems with the current budget for many housing authorities, who are raising a stink in the media.

     The Cleveland situation as explained by Cathy Pennington, director of the local Housing Choice Voucher Program, at the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Authority meeting, translated into an operational loss on every voucher issued. She described the remedy that the local office has worked out in order to balance the budget while not disrupting anyone’s housing through eviction or canceling contracts. They lowered the rents that the Housing Authority is willing to pay, which in the end makes it harder for tenants to have a choice to move into suburban communities. They also tapped into their reserves, which is bad public policy to utilize all the emergency funds that normally goes to sudden increases in utilities or other crises. Pennington said that at this time they were funded at $12 per month less than the cost of operating each voucher. While $12 sounds like a small gap that translates to $1.87 million budget shortfall for the agency over a year.

     While addressing the hole in their current Voucher program, the Bush administration has proposed a decrease in the 2005 budget and dramatic changes in policy that could mean the loss of 250,000 housing assistance vouchers in the United States. There is talk of stripping some of the targeting toward the poorest in our community and reducing inspections of units. Pennington was unwilling to identify the number of the total 13,000 vouchers currently issued in Cleveland that would need to be cut if the Bush administration budget passes. The CMHA voucher program is working to people into housing, while making plans for huge budget cuts. Pennington was optimistic that the dramatic changes proposed for the program would be denied by Congress, but was unsure that the massive budget cuts could be overturned.

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 issue 65B