West 2nd Street Renamed to Honor Daniel Thompson

by Ivan Sheehan

     On May 6, 2005 friends, fans and those closest to Cuyahoga County’s late Poet Laureate, Daniel Thompson, gathered at the street once known as West Second for a dedication ceremony in his honor.

     The portly, bushy-beard poet, activist and humanitarian known equally for his candid, illuminating words as his penchant for ruffling the feathers of authority figures from local judges to civil rights objectors in the south during the 1960s, was recognized for his contributions to the community-at-large with the renaming of West Second to Daniel’s Way.

     “He would have loved it,” says Barry Zucker, a friend of Thompson for nearly a quarter of a century, and the founder of Shaker Heights Library Poetry Not In Woods series.

    “Anyone who knew Daniel for any period of time knew he was into the history of things,” says Zucker. “He was really into the history of Cleveland – especially its poets.”

     Thompson was committed to highlighting Cleveland’s poetic contributions. During his lifetime, particularly after his official recognition as Poet Laureate in 1992, Thompson organized numerous poetry readings across town – from the Barking Spider in University Circle to area junkyards – that included recitations and discussion of the life and work of poets who impacted Cleveland such as Hart Crane, Langston Hughes, and d.a. levy.

     But Thompson’s interest extended beyond simply educating the community about Cleveland’s poetry heritage. “He was always trying to get the streets named after them,” remembers Zucker, “but he never succeeded.”

    Thompson’s dream of having a street in Cleveland named for one of the city’s brightest poets, and characters, would not go deferred.

     Brian Davis, Editor of the Homeless Grapevine, published Daniel’s work for over 10 years and worked with him for 15 years on poetry projects. Davis felt that Daniel would take special interest in breaking the law on his street. “I am sure that if Daniel were still delivering bread to homeless people, he would be driving the wrong way on this one-way street named after him.”

     “Everyone knew Daniel,” says Zucker. “He was such a character and so talented.”

     Within in weeks of his passing, his far-reaching collection of acquaintances orchestrated Daniel’s Way. And given his propensity towards legal tangles, the humor of the streets proximity to the Justice Center is not lost on those who knew him.

      “It is very ironic and funny,” says Zucker. Even in death, Thompson had the last laugh.

Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #71, July 2005. All Rights Reserved..

Editorial: Poppe Poofs Homeless People Away

     “About the only homeless people in Columbus right now are those who choose to be.” Barb Poppe Executive Director of the Columbus Community Shelter Board as reported in the June 2005 Esquire Magazine.

      This sentence has created quite a buzz in Columbus. Columnist Mike Harden of the Columbus Dispatch devoted an entire column to this startling “fact.” Harden visited an elderly center teeming with seniors who were making blankets and sleeping bags for homeless people. He broke the bad news to these sewing warriors that they were making essentials for those who want to be homeless. Harden interviewed Kent Beitel, one of the only providers willing to speak his mind (mostly because he was long taken off the public funding gravy train), about the devastating impact this statement could have on public support for social service providers.

      It is hard to comment on Poppe’s assertion about Columbus. It could be a throw-away line. It could be an answer to a leading question by an Esquire reporter, or it could be just wrong. We did notice that there is not a statement on the Columbus Shelter Board website retracting the statement. We also noticed that there were a large number of awards listed on the website about the national recognition for the Shelter Board in reducing homelessness. Harden seems to have made his judgment about the situation in Columbus by closing with a slam of Ms. Poppe: “A cynic might deduce that her work, and the $105,000 a year salary attached to it, is thus no longer necessary.”

      The real issue here is that many cities have put in place a planning process to theoretically “end” homelessness. Most cities only “end” homelessness for a small number of the population, but that is the nature of spin. The people of Columbus are five years into a plan called “Rebuilding Lives” to relocate the Downtown shelters in order to “better serve” homeless people. A lot is riding on the philosophy that dispersing homeless people is the best strategy to reduce the numbers entering the shelters. This is one of the shortfalls of allowing the private sector to lead a planning process. In the end if government fails, the citizens have a right to kick the politicians responsible out of office. If Barb Poppe’s plan fails in Columbus, homeless people, taxpayers, and funders have no one to vote out of office. While the funding decisions for local shelters and services go through Ms. Poppe’s group, the organization is a private non-profit organization and the Director is responsive to just a small Board of Directors.

      The other issue in Columbus is that the plan was developed, enforced and implemented by one organization and so there is no public official to blame if the gamble does not pay off. There is no person to take some of the responsibility if the state, local or federal government put up additional barriers. There is no legitimate watchdog in the process. There was no empowerment of homeless people to take the lead within the plan. Empowerment fosters independence, which fosters sustainable communities.

      There are a lot of great things in Columbus, especially the high standards for shelters and demands for rigorous outcomes. But, there are also serious issues that very few have the guts to speak about publicly for fear of retaliation. This is understandable in that all power is concentrated in one entity, the Emperor of Homelessness, Barb Poppe, and she has demonstrated what happens to people who do not play ball by cutting Kent Bietal’s Open Shelter from public funding and then having the City take their facility by eminent domain.

      Ms. Poppe is a great activist and has an impeccable career in serving homeless people with an unquestioned commitment to helping homeless people. The issue is that the privatization of traditional government services closes democracy from the process. Democracy allows for criticism of the “emperor” and his or her lack of clothing. Democracy allows for course correction if things are not working, and democracy allows for accountability at the highest levels. Unfortunately, democracy was lost in Columbus and the result is that Ms. Poppe is marching down Broad Street without any clothing proclaiming the homeless problem is nearing an end.

      Cleveland needs to take a lesson in their current planning process to assure that government is accountable for solving this problem locally. We complain all the time about the County and City’s feeble efforts to address homelessness, but at least they do not shy away from the responsibility. We have the opportunity to complain and homeless people have a microphone for lodging complaints. The Cleveland Heading Home planners would do well to look at Columbus and adopt some of Columbus’s positive aspects, but reject its concentration of authority in one private entity. Construct a bold plan in which government is expected to step forward to lead the effort to end homelessness with specific time limits and expectations. The planners must assure that there are the proper watchdogs built into the process to assure that we don’t get to the point of just proclaiming an “end to homelessness,” while thousands still do not have a place to call home, and many are still isolated from the current service system.

     Or in the alternative, we do have those buses that transfer the 200 people to Aviation High School every single night. If Columbus has basically solved the problem, we should just have the bus slide onto 71 South and deliver a group of homeless people to the Emperor of Homelessness at the Community Shelter Board so that the infrastructure in Columbus does not run out of homeless people to serve

. Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #71, July 2005. All Rights Reserved.

Local News:

Cleveland Begs For Improved Shelters and Budgets

Heading Home Underway

     The Community Planning Process called Heading Home Cleveland has begun with two subcommittees working on Affordable Housing and Preventing Homelessness and a goal of a complete report by September 1, 2005. The Plan is in the capable hands of Sisters of Charity Foundation Director, Julie Rittenhouse, and has a diverse leadership group steering the process. By August 2005, a draft plan is expected to be published and available for comment. The process to date has been very open and inclusive. Former Gund Foundation Program staff member Judy Simpson is the consultant and coordinator of Heading Home. The Homeless Grapevine will continue to monitor the progress of this plan.

Community Women’s Shelter Under Fire

     Rittenhouse is also the Board President of Mental Health Services. Staff of MHS have to date not attended any of the Heading Home Cleveland planning meetings. MHS is the fiscal administer of the troubled Community Women’s Shelter, which continues to receive complaints.

     At a community meeting in early June 2005, Community Women’s Shelter staff vehemently denied that they evict women in the evening in violation of Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Service rules. No homeless women or advocates were present to refute or show documentation of 7, 8, or 9 p.m. evictions of women for non-illegal activities.

     The press release (that appeared in Grapevine Issue 70 and is available at www.neoch.org) about evictions from family shelters to the streets was picked up by the Call and Post, yet the County still refuses to address this issue of fear within the family shelters. Many homeless women report problems and fear retaliation for speaking out, and written complaints filed with the Coalition for the Homeless go unanswered by the Community Women’s Shelter.

Panhandling Ordinance Begs to Be Forgotten

     Tabloid News station Channel 19 followed Councilman Zach Reed all over town and to his mother’s house to pressure him to bring the panhandling bill to a committee hearing. However, that did not happen before summer recess of City Council. Reed is the chair of Public Safety Committee, and even though panhandling has very little to do with public safety, the legislation is assigned to that committee. The City Council had no part in drafting the legislation and it was thrust on the Council by the Mayor’s office. The businesses downtown and the “Give Me Scandal or Give Me Dead Air” television news are pushing this legislation as the answer to all the problems downtown.

State Budget Passes

     The good news is that housing did well in the upcoming budget with an increase in the dedicated Housing Trust Fund going to affordable housing. The bad news is that everything else that sustains life faired poorly. When the process started, there was talk of billions of dollars in possible debt so programs that only got small cuts or no increase are grateful. Healthcare took a huge hit, so 25,000 parents will no longer have access to health care. The Disability Medical program was cut in half, and the funding for dental assistance program was also cut in half.

Other State News

     The proposal to force individuals to show a state IDor Driver’s license before voting died in committee. This would have put a huge burden on homeless people who have a hard time keeping identification. Local efforts to get homeless people birth certificates have already run into huge obstacles with a handful of states that make receiving public documents nearly impossible. These obstacles are not financial in nature, but have arisen to protect against identity theft and sensitivity to terrorism.

Homelessness Recorded

     Yvonne Bruce, instructor of English at the University of Akron and John Carroll University, has generously started a seminar on homelessness, titled “Recording Homelessness.” The seminar takes place in the NEOCH office after Homeless Grapevine vendor meetings and encourages homeless and formerly homeless people to take part in academic discussions about homelessness, as well as to record their experiences in writing. The seminar began June 2, and is set to take place after every vendor meeting (every other Thursday) throughout the summer. The class is currently reading Lars Eighner’s moving tale of being homeless with his dog, Travels with Lizbeth.

Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #71, July 2005. All Rights Reserved

 

Local Man Lives Outside the Shelter

by Kevin E. Cleary

     There is a certain stigma attached to homeless people who live outside the shelter system. They are often stereotyped as mentally ill, but often these individuals have very good reasons for refusing to stay in Cleveland’s homeless shelters. They often suffer from a forced transience brought on by life on the street. Many seek shelter under bridges or in abandoned buildings.

     Joseph Smith is one such individual. He tried to stay at the 2100 Lakeside shelter a number of years ago, but found it difficult to sleep and had very little privacy. Unhappy at the shelter, he lived instead under the Carnegie Bridge for a while until March of 2001, when work on the bridge prevented him from dwelling there any longer. It was then he moved into an abandoned factory building near the Flats.

     Mr. Smith collects scrap metal and other assorted items to earn a living. He has used many of these materials to rehabilitate the property that he has been occupying for more than 4 years. Hidden in an expanse of rubble and overgrown shrubbery, the building is most noticeable for its decrepit condition and graffiti.

     Much of the graffiti was written by Mr. Smith himself; hoping to warn away trespassers who would intrude on his privacy or threaten him. He sheepishly explained a particularly offensive piece of graffiti “I hate fags,” was written not out of homophobia, but in an attempt to intimidate individuals who had threatened to rape him.

     All of his worldly possessions resided with him, discarded items for which he finds use or the occasional profit. Mr. Smith is both enterprising and largely self-sufficient. He made improvements to the building through ingenuity and sweat. He transported items to his home in a shopping cart he kept chained to a nearby railing. He wrote poetry and musings on his pantries to keep himself occupied during cold winter nights.

     His four years of hard work will soon be down the drain as Forrest City Management plans to tear down the property that was Mr. Smith’s home. Forrest City could not be reached for comment, but Mr. Smith believes his home is being torn down merely to evict him. Since the building was never intended for residential use and Mr. Smith was effectively squatting on the site, he had no legal recourse to challenge his forced departure. As of this writing, he is en route to Kentucky and plans to make his living through subsistence farming and odd jobs.

     He was previously planning to move toward the front of the building in the Flats in preparation for winter. He had added metalwork to the front roof and inner wall and brought in a stove for warmth and heat, and was trying to find appropriate ductwork for ventilation.

     His comings and goings over the past four years had generated little controversy, though he states that some of the employees of an adjoining facility had recently taunted him about his forced departure, which he attributes partly to jealousy.

     “The dude told me, ‘I got a mortgage and you don’t.’ That’s just ridiculous. This place ain’t worth a mortgage. Anything that’s good in there, I put there.”

     While he was concerned about losing many items he had collected over his 4 years in the building that he couldn’t afford to transport those to Kentucky, he still seemed optimistic about the move. He expressed mixed emotions about leaving.

     “The cement’s cold in the winter. There aren’t any boots you can find that’ll keep you warm in the winter . . . And now since I’m fixing it up they don’t want me in here. It was fine as long as I was suffering. I just wanted a nice place for the winter.”

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 71 August 2005 Cleveland, Ohio.

 

HousingCleveland.org Ready for Landlords

 

by Kevin E. Cleary

     According to an old cliché, “too many chefs spoil the pot.” The originator of this statement might have retracted it if he or she could have predicted the creation of the upcoming affordable housing website, HousingCleveland.org. Conceived by NEOCH’s Bridging the Gap program, and stemming from meetings of a CAHA (Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance) subcommittee, this unique website is coming together as the result of a partnership between many different programs and agencies.

     The partners listed on housingcleveland.org include 211/First Call for Help (United Way of Greater Cleveland), Bridging the Gap, Cleveland Tenants Organization, Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services, Cleveland Dept. of Community Development, Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), the Cleveland State University Center for Neighborhood Development, Cuyahoga County Dept. of Development, EDEN, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, Maximum Independent Living, the May Dugan Center, and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

     Mike Foley, Executive Director of Cleveland Tenants Organization, was on the CAHA subcommittee and spoke highly of the partnerships forged to bring the website to fruition.

     “For CTO, I was happy because there were a lot of detail-oriented people on this committee who put a lot of thought into making this website both practical and user-friendly.”

     Other property listings in Cleveland charge a fee for landlords, such as those listed in The Plain Dealer, or at rent.com. HousingCleveland.org will be free for those seeking housing, and it is already free to landlords offering properties to people who are homeless or have low incomes.

     According to Leigh Ann Ahmad, Program Director for Bridging the Gap, “The website is up now for landlords to populate, and will be available for the public to search probably in September.”

     The project is modeled after a successful website in St. Paul, Minn. called housinglink.org. Cleveland’s website ran into some initial difficulties as early inquiries found the cost of building and maintaining such a site to be quite prohibitive. Thus, a coalition began to coalesce. President Van Goettel of socialserve.com was immediately responsive, and others soon came to the table.

     Countless meetings eventually led to some county funding, and United Way Services stepped up to provide the gateway. Socialserve.com agreed to develop and maintain the website. The result was a three-year agreement contracting United Way Services and socialserve.com at a total cost of roughly $74,000, significantly less than the initial estimate, according to Ahmad.

     Socialserve.com will ease the process for landlords by allowing them to FAX, email, or call in their listings. Socialserve.com will also call every two weeks to check with landlords and update their listings. By combining this with Bridging the Gap’s policy of following-up with its clients for a year, Ahmad feels this will reassure many landlords who might initially be wary.

     Landlords can list their properties at no charge, as well as set their own requirements for tenants, such as background or credit checks. Landlords can also specify whether they charge an application fee, accept calls in Spanish, and tenants they prefer to accommodate. A separate inventory will be maintained of handicap-accessible housing. The website is expected to be of great assistance to both landlords and tenants, but it will also benefit the agencies and programs involved.

     “It’s also good for advocacy and reporting the actual supply-and-demand of affordable properties in Cleveland,” says Ahmad. “Cleveland is unique in that it has so many affordable properties that are vacant. A lot of other cities have rent that is even more out of reach for those with low-incomes.”

Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #71, July 2005. All Rights Reserved.

Homeless People Struggle to Keep Their Dignity in Face of Injustices

Commentary by Jungle Lips

     I’ve been running away from home, or homeless since the age of 3. I always wanted to be homeless, until I actually had to be homeless. I used to see it as a way to be free. I still see a certain type of freedom, but I also see it as a kind of prison or punishment inflicted by society, for lack of opportunity, money, or responsibility. Being homeless is also quickly becoming illegal in many places. From homeless sweeps in Hawaii to Little Rock, Arkansas, homeless people who cannot or will not stay in shelters are being left with nowhere else to go.

    Locally, on the northeast corner of Superior and Ontario, business people sit and eat lunch, whereas homeless people sit to rest. Homeless people sitting there have been harassed by the police by for “littering,” (flicking cigarettes) while business-people doing the same are left alone.

   I’ve found that there are many institutions claiming to assist the homeless while seeming to keep them homeless. It seems they get a paycheck because there are homeless people and that the facility is present and available to end homelessness, but never utilized for fear of loss of a paycheck.

    I’ve seen many changes. If you’re going from friend to relative to shelter, and back again, you are no longer considered homeless by the government definition. And I’ve also seen more and more people falling into the poverty level of the economic brackets in our society.

    People now seem to grow more and more complacent with their surroundings, regardless of the quality of their surroundings. In another day and age, people would protest and become active against government policies. Whereas now (like people who are homeless) the activists have been beaten into submission and complacency by continually failing to taste the fruits of their efforts.

    For instance, a free clinic that opened in the 1970’s on Cornell Avenue to help people with drug and medical problems refused to take government money for a long time. When that free clinic started taking government funds, they were in essence, bought by the government, and the staff’s formerly enthusiastic political activism faded away.

    The truth be told, many people are poverty-stricken or homeless by the fruits of their own efforts. Many have tried to rise above that, but through programs designed to fail, they frequently either adapt to their surroundings, or fall through the cracks, many becoming apathetic or mentally ill.

    Being homeless and poor, I feel I have the liberty to say that some of us are crazy, but not all of us are lazy. We ALL still deserve our dignity, but most of us deserve it BACK!

   We’ve all been taught to escape through vacations, television, and various other means available in society. Some learn to escape reality through fantasy, some through drugs, both of which can become an addiction, in my opinion. However, if we don’t become addicted to liberty, it seems that we will continue our escapism and complacency, and never address reality. Addressing reality is absolutely essential to keep our liberties from eroding as quickly as they are.

Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #71, July 2005. All Rights Reserved.

Homeless Big Brother Tracking System Constructed

by Ivan Sheehan

     Big Brother is watching the nation’s homeless populations, but its gaze may be fixed with good intentions.

     In Fiscal Year 1999 Congress advised the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to collect data from a representative sample of existing Homeless Management Information Systems (HMIS) for the HUD Appropriation’s Act, part of the department’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report. By October 2001 HUD, with the insistence of Congress, established and published its goal to have all communities in the United States collecting and reporting data with HMIS.

     In Cuyahoga County the Office of Homeless Services directs HMIS development. The project utilizes an Internet-based data reporting system to assist homeless service organizations gather information about clients served, according to Homeless Services Program Officer, Carolyn Nabakowski.

     “Cuyahoga County has adopted the use of ServicePoint [from the for-profit corporation Bowman Internet Systems] as its HMIS software solution,” notes Nabakowski via facsimile. “It is being used with highly satisfactory results by dozens of states and cities around the country.”

      A group of representatives from the Local Continua of Care selected the software in 2002 following analysis of system needs and comparisons with other top-rated platforms. The Point program enables providers to connect with the system remotely via the Internet, and input data directly. In addition, shelters with existing systems may still utilize current management programs, and export that data to ServicePoint.

      “The goal of the HMIS project is to inform public policy about the extent and nature of homelessness in Cuyahoga County and eventually at the Federal Policy level,” says Nabakowski. And this goal is a feasible endeavor, according to David Jones, director of HMIS at 2100 Lakeside shelter.

      “Not only is it a possibility, we’re looking forward to it,” says Jones. “The largest obstacle to our shelter is that ServicePoint was designed for smaller providers with much less turnover. 2100 Lakeside by comparison has a much larger client base with tremendous turnover. The client to staff ratio puts a huge burden on staff.”

     2100 Lakeside Shelter welcomes approximately 1,300 individuals each month, and 550 each night, according to Jones. With only 22 fulltime staff spread over three shifts, accounting for all residents can be an extraordinary drain on the staff, whose focus is face-to-face care and guidance, adds Jones.

     Brian Davis, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, has worked with other advocates on the national level to oppose this data collection. “With all the problems in assuring the rights of homeless people when they enter a shelter, allowing government to collect very personal information, including social security numbers and place that informtion on a web- based system is risky at best.”

     According to the Fourth Annual Progress Report on HUD’s Strategy For Improving Homeless Data Collection, released by the department in March 2005, “most communities rely on HUD funding for a significant portion of their HMIS budgets.” The department’s Supportive Housing Program, a grant program, began supporting HMIS in 2004. The Continuum of Care Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) process also awards funding for HMIS. Applicants for NOFA funding are measured on a point system that examines need and commitment to Continuum Care and appropriates funds accordingly. In 2004, $21.1 million in funding for HMIS projects were awarded among 444 Continuum of Care facilities.

     The federal funding, however, is not enough to alleviate the full financial burden at 2100 Lakeside Shelter, and many other area facilities, according to Jones.

     Part of the funding problem stems from a lack of full HMIS reporting in the County. The Office of Homeless Services reported 2,085 shelter beds as of January 2005. Yet County HMIS service provider reports account for 1,517 beds being used, about 73 percent of the total available. The data represents the number of beds used in year-round family and individual emergency shelter beds; and year-round family and individual temporary housing beds. NEOCH lists 2,033 shelter beds in Cuyahoga County or nearly 98% of the January count, which means all those who do not utilize shelters are lost in the count.

     The ServicePoint system reports to HUD, and is capable of generating the HUD Annual Progress Report, which is a reporting requirement that all agencies receiving HUD funds must submit on an annual basis, according to Nabakowski. As funding is partially based on HMIS reporting, and with a quarter of the area’s beds appearing unused, some providers fear HUD appropriations will diminish accordingly.

    In addition, there are significant costs for larger agencies not using ServicePoint as the primary reporting system. Instead facilities such as 2100 are forced to purchase or create in-house systems.

   “Furthermore they will have to purchase additional software that allows the agency to talk to the county server,” says Jones. “We’ve addressed the challenge by designing our own system around the unique needs of our shelter and clients.”

    The system at 2100 was designed to be as streamlined as possible for case managers. It collects data to give providers feedback on client outcomes for case review; offers data for clients so they may review their own progress; and it can collect data that serves the needs of care partners so they may in turn better address the needs of 2100’s clients, notes Jones. Ultimately, Jones hopes to introduce barcode ID cards thereby eliminating resource-intensive activities such as signing in 550 people every night.

   “For us it’s about tracking units of service. Examples would be beds utilized, clothing, care-kits or meals distributed, meetings attended, referrals made, etc,” says Jones. “I believe it’s about providing accurate data and insight on how well the clients and staff do their jobs collectively and where we can improve…it’s about providing feedback.”

    Davis counters that with all the theft of personal data at MasterCard, Bank of America, DSW, and CitiGroup, is it worth gaining some very inaccurate statistics by forcing people to give social security numbers that would be available to 25 local shelter staffs?

    Since July 2004, the number of Cleveland providers participating in HMIS increased by 50 percent from 9 to 18, and the participation rate rose to 75 percent in January 2005, according to Nabakowski.

   “We have a realistic goal in Cleveland of getting all the shelters to participate in HMIS,” says Nabakowski. “Currently, all the shelters who are required to participate in HMIS [those receiving McKinney-Veto Funds] are entering their information into the system. The Office of Homeless Services is in the process of offering the use of the system to non-HUD funded agencies.”

Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #71, July 2005. All Rights Reserved.