Victims of Hurricane NAFTA Need Housing Just as Badly

Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless applauds the effort by the City of Cleveland to find long term emergency housing for those displaced from Hurricane Katrina. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should lend a helping hand to the gulf region. We owe our brothers and sisters from New Orleans and the surrounding area at minimum a stable place to live within a welcoming community.

We would just like to respectfully ask that we adopt some of the same urgency in housing Cleveland’s homeless as we are New Orleans’ homeless. Make no mistake that we are not criticizing the current effort, but there are 2,000 people who sleep in shelters every single night in Cleveland. All we would ask is that we put the same kind of urgency into finding 1,100 units of housing that our current homeless population can afford. Since City leaders were able to find 1,100 units of housing for families displaced by Hurricane Katrina in just two days, how about identifying the same number of units that are affordable to our current “refugees of our own Hurricane NAFTA” over the next week?

We can solve the problems in the Gulf with the proper leadership, just as we can the problems of homelessness in our own community with the proper leadership. If we put our minds to solving the problem of homelessness in the Gulf region, we can take the same skills and move the thousands using our shelters into housing. Please, let us return to the time when government responded to the lack of housing for a family with the utmost urgency.

For those who are angry that Cleveland’s homeless population is going to the end of the line again, we certainly understand that anger but we need to consider some other information. First, Cleveland has a 10% vacancy rate. We do not have a lack of supply of available housing like other communities, but the homeless population by and large cannot afford or they have problems in their background that makes it difficult to engage in a lease. Also, the victims of Hurricane Katrina are bringing resources that our homeless population does not have to bring to a landlord. FEMA is offering housing assistance that it does not offer to non-disaster related populations. In an environment in which housing is not a right then we must expect that market forces dictate who gets into housing.

Please also remember that the victims of Hurricane Katrina had to go through a horrendous disaster never before seen in the history of the United States, and now find themselves in need. They had to relocate thousands of miles in order to find help with housing. We have never seen a city as large as New Orleans evacuated and destroyed at the same time we deal with the other communities along the Gulf Coast that suffered near total destruction. This type of devastation demands an extraordinary response. While federal officials dragged their feet, we cannot drag our feet locally and hold off on assisting these people while we debate the merits of helping our friends from Louisiana and Mississippi.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio-October/November 2005 for Issue 73

Tempers Flare Amid Crowded Dining and Malnutrition

An Observation of Community Women’ Shelter (from the inside)

Pt. 2 of a series, “A Fly on the Wall”

Commentary by Diana Dennis                

In last month’s issue (“Women’s Shelter Resident Observes Daily Life”, The Homeless Grapevine #72; Page 4-August-September 2005). I presented my first installment of a series of reports about my observations while a resident of Community Women’s Shelter.

Part 2 of this series covers the crowded conditions at the shelter, the quality of the meals served and the effects on the residents. I have changed the names of one of the residents involved to protect her identity.

In her article “New Home, Fresh Start for Women’s Shelter” (The Homeless Grapevine #67 Nov.-Dec. 2004) Pamela Vincent wrote: “The top concerns of the women were that they had no choice but to spend the entire day in one room with all of the women no matter their mental illness, health problem or addition all together.”

The exposure from frequent arguing and crowding of both the Community Room and sleeping rooms at  Community Women’s Shelter can be a traumatic experience especially for someone escaping abuse, suffering from depression or anxiety.

Cathy is bi-polar. Arriving at the shelter with a small suitcase and one change of clothing, she escaped an abusive domestic situation only to come into something she felt was far worse.

Obviously suffering from anxiety, with noticeable tremors and on the brink of tears she told me she wasn’t sure how much more she could take. Having only been at the shelter for a few days, she was in dire need of her medication to control her manic-depression and seizures. Having no money, Cathy was very fearful of leaving the premises, which was both physically and emotionally challenging for her. Several times she could not find her way back to the shelter due to memory problems and panic attacks.

Although she found many residents to be very kind by offerings her clothing and other items, Cathy did not feel the same compassion from some of the shelter staff. Feeling that some members of the staff were not taking her seriously she also felt misunderstood, making her more depressed and anxious.

At one point she was given a written warning for disorderly conduct while trying to convey to staff what she needed. The staff members on duty felt she was arguing with them when in fact, she was having great difficulty expressing her needs. She was always shaking and the crowded conditions in both the Community Room and her sleeping room increased her anxiety and panic.

Not only was she fearful of being turned out on the street for disorderly conduct because of her untreated manic episodes, confusion, and seizures from lack of medication, she also feared losing her bed and having her few possessions discarded should she need hospitalization. Because of this, Cathy did not report her seizures to staff.

After several weeks at CWS, one staff member finally recognized Cathy’s bi-polar condition and saw to it that she did receive her meds. However thankful she is for the staff person’s help, Cathy expressed concern over the length of time it took for someone to recognize, address her condition and handle it appropriately. Presently, Cathy is happily residing at Laura Home on the west side where she shares a room with two other residents in a home-like environment.

Tensions escalate more often during meal hours at CWS than at any other time of the day. Despite the shelter’s sleeping room capacity of approximately 135 beds, seating at the table can accommodate close to 50 residents. However, no more than 45 can be seated comfortably at the 9 tables presently set up in the Community Room. The remainder of those residents who do not have a place at a table have no choice but to sit and eat while balancing their plate and drink on their laps.

The cramped conditions during mealtime can be unnerving to many especially as people try to maneuver through the narrow aisle-ways between those seated at the tables. Often food or drink is spilled or someone is bumped.

The configuration of the tables have been changed several times but to no avail.          

The room is simply too small to accommodate so many residents at mealtime considering there are more than 100 residents at the shelter.

The population of the shelter is mixed at mealtime. Residents with mental disorders, women with substance abuse issues and women with children are among those who share the same dining area.  Whenever there is an altercation, children are often present to witness.

Several residents reported one such incident during supper involving a mother, her toddler and a resident with a mental condition. The Woman with the mental condition tried to pick up the child. The mother, trying to protect her baby told the other woman to leave her child alone. An argument ensued and both women were arrested, handcuffed and put in the same squad car. Fortunately, the mother was able to contact her parents to come to the shelter to pick up the child. Residents were upset that the mother was arrested and all felt that she rightfully protected her baby and should not have been arrested.

The actual meals served at Community Women’s Shelter are another subject of complaint by the residents. Any hearty meals for dinner are the result of church members preparing meals in church kitchens and delivering them to the shelter. If the church members stay and dish out the meals in the shelter kitchen or from a church bus outside, the chance of the meal being served hot is likely. Thanks to these caring individuals who painstakingly provide a hot meal to shelter residents, we enjoy a good home-cooked supper ranging from baked or fried chicken with mashed potatoes and green beans to spaghetti with meat sauce, salad and crusty bread.

Without the generosity of these churches, the residents would continue to have cold meals 5 out of 7 days a week. Most of the time meals at the shelter are served cold at room temperature. Some of the women heat up their food in the only microwave on the premises. But this is very time-consuming considering there may be as many as 50 women in the dining room during mealtime. Often, a cooked entrée is served on the some Styrofoam plate as potato salad, macaroni salad or lettuce making it impossible to heat the main course. Rarely is dessert or fruit served.

Occasionally, during the week various church groups will park along Payne Avenue or 22nd Street and provide packaged cookies, pudding, a banana, candy, sandwiches or a can soda. These treats may be the only sweets and the only source of fresh fruit many the women may receive throughout the week. Neither cold or hot beverage machines nor snack machines are on the premises. Sunday through Friday, breakfast consists of cold sugary cereal, cold bagels, instant grits or oatmeal. Coffee is the only beverage selection and often the shelter runs out of gallon jugs of milk before all residents eat. Often there is no butter or cream cheese for the bagels because these run out early or none have come in with the order. No institutional toaster is available to toast the bagels. Saturday, a church delivers individual packaged breakfasts of 2 spoonfuls of scrambled eggs, a hash brown potato patty, a sausage patty, toast and juice. By the time the shelter residents receive the packaged breakfasts, the meals are cold.

Many of the women have suffered vomiting, diarrhea and other intestinal distress as the result of an unbalanced diet. Most often symptoms appear within hour after eating spoiled tasting food. Children are served the same meals as the adults. There are no allowances for those requiring special diets due to diabetes, heart disease or other health conditions despite the claim in the shelter handbook that “special dietary needs (allergies, diabetes) must be discussed with the CWS nurse and specialist” which gives the perception that the shelter will abide by those needs. This is not the case.

Food stamps are a necessity, especially for women with special dietary needs. Surprisingly, obtaining food stamps (Ohio Direction Card) is not easy for the homeless and those living in shelters. In order to obtain an Ohio Direction Card, one must perform 25 hours of community service, have employment or be medication-dependent to the point that their life depends on the medication. I have observed some residents who are not medication-dependent but who are incapable of self-care due to less visible disabilities including central nervous system disorders that may prevent them from any physical work. They cannot meet the criteria to qualify for food stamps and many are awaiting a determination from the Social Security Administration for SSI or SSD. In the mean -time, they are reliant upon the unsubstantial meals provided by the shelter.

Copyright: NEOCH Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio; October/November, 2005; Issue 73   

“Recording Homelessness” Enlightens Participants

 By Yvonne Bruce

On August 25th, Grapevine vendors and NEOCH staff met with instructor Yvonne Bruce for the last session of “Recording Homelessness,” a biweekly seminar held this summer at the NEOCH offices in which participants read about, wrote about, and discussed aspects of homelessness.

The seminar had its first meeting June 2nd, when the participating vendors were introduced to the book chosen for the course, Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the street, written by formerly homeless author Lars Eighner. Participants were asked to read portions of the book and to prepare to discuss them at meetings, and meetings were devoted to readings aloud relevant sections of the book, comparing vendors’ experiences “on the street” with Eighner’s experiences, and writing in response to discussion.

The chapter from Travels with Lizbeth titled “On Dumpster Diving” proved especially interesting and inspired discussion at several meetings. In this chapter, Eighner provides a how-to guide for living from dumpster—everything from listing which foods found in dumpsters are safest to eat to where to find the best stocked dumpsters in town (next to college dormitories). Some NEOCH vendors who had in the past also been forced to use dumpsters for food and necessities agreed with Eighner that dumpsters provide useful items for those with limited resources, and they rued with him the policy some businesses have of locking their dumpsters.

As summer went on, discussion at the seminar moved away from Eighner’s book and toward the experiences participants had with welfare agencies in the Cleveland area. As a result of this discussion, the vendors compiled a list of suggestions for improving the social services offered to low-income and homeless persons in Cleveland. As the seminar’s final project, vendors crafted these suggestions into a letter submitted to the Plain Dealer; the letter was signed by seminar participants Cathy Brown, Dolores Manley, Frank Novak, Arthur Price, jr. and Marsha Rizzo-Swanson.

Finally, at the last meeting of the seminar on August 25th, participants recorded their responses to the seminar and gave suggestions for future seminars. While most of the participants enjoyed reading Travels with Lizbeth, they suggested for future seminars that a variety of material about homelessness be brought into the discussion. In addition, participants suggested that seminar discussion be more strongly regulated, either by restricting discussion to the topic at hand or by organizing conversation round-robin style, with each contributor given a time limit in which to make his or her remarks.

“Recording Homelessness” was enlightening for all the participants: it gave NEOCH vendors and staff a forum for their views, it taught the instructor much she didn’t know about homelessness and allowed her to get to know the members of NEOCH, and it resulted in the collaborative writing of a document whose purpose is to educate all citizens of Cleveland about the difficulties faced and overcome by our city’s homeless and low-income residents.                                                        

The letter will be published in Issue 74 of The Homeless Grapevine.

Copyright:  NEOCH Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio-October/ November 2005, Issue 73   

One Paycheck Away From Homelessness

Commentary by Marsha Rizzo Swanson

People who live in shelters should not have to put up with the junk the staff dishes out. I myself have gotten terrible treatment from one staff member at the Women’s Shelter who thinks she can single people out for punishment and blame them for wrongdoing like she is God. She’s blaming homeless people for wrongdoing of the staff. The things homeless people do are minor compared to what the staff does. It is wrong to treat homeless people this way. The staff gets a paycheck because there are homeless people staying there. When they treat homeless people poorly, think that it could be one of your family members who could be facing life on the streets.

Shelter staffs are paid to take care of homeless people. If there weren’t any homeless people they would not be happy because they would not have no one to pick on, or to hide their own insecurities. The staff at the Women’s Shelter act like homeless people are the only ones with issues, but the staff does not belong there working with homeless people because their issues get taken out on the people they’re supposed to serve. They need to have tolerance when working with homeless people.

We are their paychecks. The Woman’s Shelter makes three times as much as 2100 Lakeside per bed because they “treat” mental health clients, but the staff treats us like prisoners. They should realize that if they louse up their paychecks they could become homeless and get the same treatment we receive. If it were your family member what would you do? The staff is so inhumane, this is why many homeless people don’t like to be in a shelter. Busses break down and people have to be rerouted to other busses all the time. This causes people to be late to their jobs, or to their homes. It is the same for homeless people, but if we’re five minutes late to the shelter we have to sleep upward in a chair all night as punishment. Would you want your family member treated this way?

You probably wouldn’t give your family member a ridiculous curfew like a small child. We have to be back at 9:30 or we face punishment like a little child. We’re not treated like adults, and it makes you feel like you are in prison. The word “shelter” is supposed to mean a safe haven for homeless people. Men also go through this at their shelters. There are people who have frozen to death rather than stay in a homeless shelter.

People tell me that homelessness isn’t that bad because there are shelters, and that no one has to live in the streets but people don’t know what those who are homeless have to go through with the staff who work in the shelters. If a reader of The Homeless Grapevine would visit the shelters (NEOCH has Teach-Ins that tour homeless shelters), they would see what we go through.

Homelessness is a big issue in Cleveland and all around the U.S. It is very sad this is an issue where almost nothing is being done because some people think that most people are homeless because they’re uneducated or on drugs. This is wrong, there are homeless people who are well educated but got sick or had a bad car accident and ruined their careers and lost their jobs and homes. It could happen to anyone. Homeless people are just like everyone else and shouldn’t be judged. Most people are only a paycheck away themselves.

I am there myself now and I know what I have seen. That’s why I writing this, to let you all know the facts of real homelessness. We don’t have enough subsidized housing for people that make only minimum wage. Welfare has almost stopped, but poverty and homelessness haven’t gone away. We work and that’s one reason homelessness isn’t going away. We have talents and skills to be paid a higher wage, but the jobs available don’t pay enough.

Homelessness will go on until we all get an understanding, especially by our government that people need to be paid enough money to live on. If our Senators would live in a shelter, they wouldn’t stay five minutes after putting up with the staff’s garbage and abusive treatment. When people vote for government officials, they should make sure that the officials are aware of the God-forsaken shelters that I would not put a pig into.

When you have to pay huge rent prices and pay for food and clothing and you work for $5.15 an hour, you will never get out of poverty. But you should at least expect to be treated like a human being.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine in Cleveland, Ohio-October/November 2005 in Issue 73

Local News: Cuts Coming, Protest Postponed

Shelter Protest Postponed

The planned protest in front of the Community Women’s Shelter was postponed while members of Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s staff attempt to resolve some of the issues. According to press releases from Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (publisher of The Homeless Grapevine), there are objections to treatment by security guards, excessive punishments, and an inability to have grievances heard effectively acted upon within the shelter. Officials of the Coalition for the homeless and Mental Health Services, operator of the shelter, met to discuss compromises. It is hoped that by mid-October all the women at the shelter will have an appropriate venue to express concerns and have those concerns addressed properly.

HUD Watching Homeless Stats

The Federal government has asked that each community turn in accurate counts of the number of homeless people using services from the first few months of the year. Many cities told the federal government that they were not participate. Cleveland submitted numbers, which were accepted by the Department of Housing and Urban Development Four out of the largest five shelters in Cleveland did not participate, so their numbers were estimated. (Editor’s Note: This is similar to printing batting statistics in the Sunday paper for Major League Baseball and estimating the statistics from four out of the five best teams.) More surprising was the Federal government accepted these statistics given that our largest facility, 2100 Lakeside, holds 30% of all shelter beds in the community and they did not participate. Advocates anticipate that HUD will very soon use these flawed numbers as the basis for funding decisions, and may cut funding accordingly.

25,000 Families Wounded by Medicare Cuts

With the passage of the new State of Ohio Budgets, approximately 25,000 families will lose their health care coverage. At this time in Ohio, single adults have no medical insurance and are forced to use the emergency rooms in Ohio for their medical needs. Now, state officials are trying to control the burgeoning health care expenditure by reducing the number of families covered by Medicaid. In addition, the Disability Medical Care, which provided assistance to people with a disability waiting for federal assistance, is undergoing major changes. The state appointed a study commission that would report on the future of DA. Finally, the dental assistance provided to poor people was also nearly eliminated.

2100 Resident Council Backs Neighborhood Watch

The Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside have instituted a new program in which men who reside at the shelter volunteer to patrol the surrounding community in search of problems. Earlier in 2005, a shelter resident was killed in the neighborhood after a domestic dispute. This prompted the neighborhood, the residents and staff to come up with a plan to address this concern. A group of men volunteered and were trained as a neighborhood watch. They are in contact with the shelter and are directed to observe, but not to engage in conflicts.

The Resident Council at 2100 Lakeside was skeptical of the idea when it was first proposed. The Council worried about their safety and the fact that people were being punished for activities that took place outside the shelter.

After two months, the Resident Council has expressed support for the program. There is still concern over the safety of the men, but they agree that it has pushed drug and other criminal activity away from the shelter. This is a problem for the neighborhoods next to the shelter, but the area around the shelter seems to be safer and a quieter place to stay according members of the shelter resident Council.

New Transitional Facility Opens

A new facility for men graduating from 2100 Lakeside Shelter opened near St. Procops Catholic Church on the West Side of Cleveland. The facility was an old convent on the church campus and was boarded-up and unused. Local construction companies and men from 2100 Lakeside completely renovated the facility and it opened in the summer of 2005. The facility offers rooms for the men while they transition to stability and find employment and permanent housing. The men were part of the Community Service Institute at the shelter and have settled into this independent living facility.

Homeless Programs Find New Homes

The State of Ohio reclaimed the North Coast Behavioral Center behind Metro Health hospital emergency room. The previous administrators had offered Cleveland Community Voice Mail and the other programs under the Coalition for the Homeless offered space in the largely vacant building. The new administrators asked Community Voices Mail and the others to move. This allowed Cleveland Community Voice Mail to upgrade their system and relocated to a building at West 103rd and Lorain Ave. Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program also relocated with Voice Mail, but they do most of their work at the shelters and drop-in centers. Cleveland Community Voice Mail will keep its telephone number, and will have an additional 500 telephone numbers available to give to homeless people. NEOCH’s Bridging the Gap, a program which works to house homeless people is ironically still homeless.

Housing Cleveland.org Ready for Tenants

The new website available to homeless people in need of housing is up and running. (See “Housing Cleveland.org Ready for Landlords “Issue 71) The website is available through many social service providers and at every library with internet connections. The site allows landlords to list their property for free and then provides a searchable database for those in need of housing. People can search for specific bedroom sizes, specific rent levels, specific neighborhoods, and more. After one month in operation, the site already has 500 different properties listed. The site also provides a rent calculator to figure out how much a family can afford to pay in rent depending on the monthly income of the household. There is section on local landlord/tenants’ rights and a number of forms to print out to help with a search. The site was funded by Cuyahoga County and is coordinated by a large number of organizations locally including First Call for Help and Bridging the Gap.

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio for October/November 2005 in Issue 73    

Letters to the Editor

To the Editor:

Domestic Violence Center owns and operates two emergency shelters that serve women and children in our community who find themselves homeless as a result of violence and abuse.  AS DVC’s Executive Director, I found myself reading the recent Grapevine editorial regarding the Women’s Community Shelter with a great deal of interest.  Mostly, I found myself marveling at how the Grapevine could be so right and so wrong at the same time.

You are so right that homeless women need and deserve emergency facilities that are safe, that respect their dignity, that have resources on-site to provide immediate help, that provide both opportunities for privacy and community, that offer a healing environment and much, much more.

But you are so wrong about who is to blame for our inability to reach this goal.  Those of us who offer emergency shelter services have been presented with a nearly impossible set of circumstances.  The social “reforms” and policies of the past two decades have served to effectively dismantle the safety net for poor families.  Combined with the economic downturn that our community has experienced, this lack of a safety net has created an unprecedented demand for emergency shelter services by women and children with myriad and complex need.  Assessing and meeting these needs is an extraordinary challenge for the staff of our under-funded, over-burdened emergency shelters.  The staff who work in our shelters are dedicated men and women who work long and hard hours with little reward and less pay.  Just this past week, four of DVC’s staff came to me in tears of frustration over their inability to meet the rising tide of needs presented by shelter families.

And let’s talk about our shelter facilities.  None of the local shelters is operating in a facility designed for its current use.  We recognize that, consider ourselves lucky that we have the facilities that we do, and often find ourselves competing against one another for precious, scarce capital dollars for renovation and repair.  And that’s because identifying any urban or suburban community who will welcome an emergency shelter as its new neighbor is utterly impossible.

You’ve got that part all wrong, Grapevine.  It’s not the shelters that are the problem.  It’s not Mental Health Services, not the Office of Homeless Services, not the Homeless Services Advisory Board, not the shelter staffs; the problem is that the riches country in the world has selfishly turned its back on poor women and children.

Cathleen Alexander, Executive Director

Domestic Violence Center

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine in Cleveland, Ohio-Issue 73 in October/November 2005

Homelessness Across America

Honolulu Women Finds New Kitchen to Continue Meals

Honolulu-After faithfully spending every Saturday over the past 19 years feeding the homeless of downtown Honolulu, paying for much of the food with her own money, Sharon Black was ordered to stop.

Last month, after discovering that she did not have a state health permit, The Department of health ordered Black to stop feeding the homeless or face a $1,000 fine. Since 1988, she had used the kitchen at the institute for Human Services but the homeless shelter told her she would have to find another location to prepare her meals.

All Black needed was a Health Department approved kitchen willing to let her prepare meals each week. Entering the picture was longtime friend Penny Vance owner of a small snack bar who cooked all the rice for Black’s annual Thanksgiving feasts for the local needy. Vance told her desperate friend that she is welcome to use her kitchen at any time.

Now, with permit in hand, Sharon Black continues to serve meals to the homeless at Chinatown Gateway Park without fear of being fined.

Louisiana Restaurateur Raises Money, Feeds Those in Need

East Austin, TX- Lola Stevens has a history of helping the homeless and others in need. The owner of Nubian Queen Lola’s Cajun Soul Food and Barbeque on Rosewood Avenue in East Austin opens her restaurant on Sundays to 20 to 40 homeless people and feeds the group for free.

Every day she also cooks and delivers low-cost lunches for 40 children at San Juan Diego Catholic High School in South Austin. The school does not have a cafeteria.

Once homeless herself, the Louisiana native has helped raise thousands of dollars for Hurricane Katrina survivors by hosting two concerts at her restaurant featuring musicians evacuated from New Orleans.

Young Volunteer Reaches Out to Homeless Vets

Phoenix- As a high school student Brad Bridwell enlisted the aid of friends and started an outreach program making bag lunches to give to the homeless. Not only were he and his friends providing nutritious meals but they also included information about available program.

Taking his interest to college, Bridwell graduated magna cum laude from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in social work learned Spanish and became a certified grant writer.

Now, at the age of 26, he is the site director responsible for supervision, implementation and development of veteran residential employment programs for three regional offices of U.S Vets, a national organization that offers support for homeless veterans.

Utilizing a staff of more than 30 and an additional 40 AmeriCorps Volunteers, Bridwell is responsible for three facilities with a bed capacity of 343. In Phoenix, he runs a 67-bed facility called Victory House, a place where homeless veterans go for counseling, to gain work experience and live in a secure environment until they are ready to go it alone.

For more information about U.S. Vets, log onto www.usvetsinc.org

San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness Scores Victory

The Coalition on Homelessness, along with the help of several community based organizations successfully passed a new law to help poor people.

The Single Standard of Care legislation, which mandated mental health treatment parity, was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors. As a result 1,700 poor people have now regained their mental health treatment eligibility, and San Francisco is forbidden from withholding their treatment simply because they have no insurance.

The Coalition had been pushing the Department of Public Health to broaden its mental health criteria, at that time dubbed “Cluster Criteria,” according to San Francisco’s Street Sheet. Such criteria were so strict that people were sent to Psychiatric Emergency after repeated denials of preventative care by the City.

Medical regulations were put in place by the state to force San Francisco to adopt broader criteria, at which time the Coalition and other groups stepped forward to demand the same criteria by used for medically indigent or uninsured individuals.   

Florida Homeless Going Back to School

BROWARD COUNTY, FLA. - GED programs will be introduced by county staff to the Broward County Commission as part of the 10- year master plan to deal with homeless prevention, street outreach, housing ideas and time limits spent in shelters.

Encouraging programs like the GED is part of the goal to improve education, job readiness and job training for the homeless.

According to a census taken in January, there are more than 3,000 homeless people in Broward County in shelters and on the streets.

Copyright:  NEOCH Homeless Grapevine, October/November 2005-Issue 73, Cleveland, Ohio

Summer Seminar Enlightens Participants

 

by Yvonne Bruce

    On August 25th, Grapevine vendors and NEOCH staff met with instructor Yvonne Bruce for the last session of “Recording Homelessness,” a biweekly seminar held this summer at the NEOCH offices in which participants read about, wrote about, and discussed aspects of homelessness.

   The seminar had its first meeting June 2nd, when the participating vendors were introduced to the book chosen for the course, Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Street, written by formerly homeless author Lars Eighner. Participants were asked to read portions of the book and to prepare to discuss them at meetings, and meetings were devoted to reading aloud relevant sections of the book, comparing vendors’ experiences “on the street” with Eighner’s experiences, and writing in response to discussion.

   The chapter from Travels with Lizbeth titled “On Dumpster Diving” proved especially interesting and inspired discussion at several meetings. In this chapter, Eighner provides a how-to guide for living from dumpsters—everything from listing which foods found in dumpsters are safest to eat to where to find the best-stocked dumpsters in town (next to college dormitories). Some NEOCH vendors who had in the past also been forced to use dumpsters for food and necessities agreed with Eighner that dumpsters provide useful items for those with limited resources, and they rued with him the policy some businesses have of locking their dumpsters.

   As summer went on, discussion at the seminar moved away from Eighner’s book and toward the experiences participants had had with welfare agencies in the Cleveland area. As a result of this discussion, the vendors compiled a list of suggestions for improving the social services offered to low-income and homeless persons in Cleveland. As the seminar’s final project, vendors crafted these suggestions into a letter submitted to the Plain Dealer; the letter was signed by seminar participants Cathy Brown, Dolores Manley, Frank Novak, Arthur Price, Jr., and Marsha Rizzo-Swanson.

   Finally, at the last meeting of the seminar on August 25th, participants recorded their responses to the seminar and gave suggestions for future seminars. While most of the participants enjoyed reading Travels with Lizbeth, they suggested for future seminars that a variety of material about homelessness be brought into the discussion. In addition, participants suggested that seminar discussion be more strongly regulated, either by restricting discussion to the topic at hand or by organizing conversation round-robin style, with each contributor given a time limit in which to make his or her remarks.

   “Recording Homelessness” was enlightening for all the participants: it gave NEOCH vendors and staff a forum for their views, it taught the instructor much she didn’t know about homelessness and allowed her to get to know the members of NEOCH, and it resulted in the collaborative writing of a document whose purpose is to educate all the citizens of Cleveland about the difficulties faced and overcome by our city’s homeless and low-income residents.

   The letter will be published in Issue 74 of The Homeless Grapevine.

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Cleveland Ohio October 2005, Issue 73.

Editorial: Katrina Taught Us So Much

    This may be politically unpopular to say at this time, but most of the articles in this paper are based on unpopular concepts so we will go ahead—Don’t we all pay enough in taxes that our government should be able to respond effectively to a natural disaster? If we’re not paying enough in taxes then maybe we should so that we won’t need a bunch of movie stars and musicians raising a Carnival Cruise shipload of money, primarily for the Red Cross.

   Does this terrorist attack by Mother Nature on our Gulf Coast warrant the end of the “era of small government?” Since federal authorities practiced this level of devastation of New Orleans with the “Pam” exercise, having witnessed the devastation of the Tsunami of late 2004, and provided military hardware for any number of movies about extreme natural disasters over the last five years, why were they not prepared for Katrina?

   It is unprecedented in American history that one charity would collect nearly 80% of the private donations in response to one incident of national importance. The Red Cross is nearing $1 billion collected in response to the hurricanes. All these funds are going to an agency that has a stated mission to provide short-term emergency assistance in the immediate aftermath of a disaster — no, not FEMA. How fragile is our government that we need to rely on the Red Cross for ice, transportation, and shelter from the storm?

   We drive by firefighters, corrections officers and other authority figures shaking the cup asking for donations to help the Red Cross, even though they’re violating their own recently passed “Aggressive Solicitation” law. Some of think, “Go back to work protecting us! We already pay our taxes, and need more from our government.”

   If government workers have to resort to begging for money in order to keep our citizens fed, sheltered, and clothed how different are we from the struggling former Soviet Republics? Next, hospitals will be selling body parts in order to afford their MRI machines.

The hurricane has provided an amazing learning experience for the United States. Here are a few things that we have learned as a result of Katrina:

  1. It has been 13 years since the Contract with America, which was intended to reduce government and the level of taxation. Some of us did receive lower taxes, but government is substantially larger. How long can we sustain this imbalance?
  2. It may turn out that safety net services like food stamps, shelters, cash assistance to all poor people, and public transportation are important to society.
  3. It turns out that Arabian Horse Shows are not chaotic, dangerous, life threatening events that would provide a good training ground for federal emergency management.
  4. Housing is so precious in our society many will battle winds of 160 miles per hour and a 20 foot storm surge in order to keep their housing.
  5. Good government is extremely important. Some distrust and actively work for the elimination of government in favor of the private sector. In the aftermath of Katrina, we see that the private sector cannot evacuate people or provide emergency relief. We found that the private sector does a horrible job of distribution of vital resources like housing, health care and prioritizing reconstruction priorities, but so has the government.
  6. All of us were surprised to learn that George W. Bush does not care about poor black people.
  7. Local elections take on a new importance now that we have to think how a candidate would lead us if there were a natural disaster or terrorist attack in our city.
  8. It might not be the best idea to have our National Guard troops and heavy equipment in distant lands fighting wars against foreign enemies.
  9. We sure wasted a whole bunch of billions of dollars on the Department of Homeland Security that seemed powerlessness in the week after the hurricanes. The Department seemed mired in bureaucracy while many in the Big Easy suffered.
  10. Can we all agree the signing of welfare reform laws in 1996 was the formal surrender and official acknowledgement of our defeat in the War on Poverty? Welfare was an attempt to provide a minimum level that no family would fall below in the United States. Welfare reform turned out to be strictly a time limit to reduce the numbers receiving assistance. Very few actually left poverty, because as it turns out, wages have stagnated to the point that many families need two or three jobs now just to survive.
  11. Private non-government organizations need to develop plans for evacuation and disaster relief, because we cannot depend on the government to bring in the cavalry; or we need to completely reform the government’s priorities.
  12. It’s unfortunate that the majority of our country is no longer pagan. Think of the wonderful myths we could have if we still worshipped the Greek gods. With the alarming number of natural disasters and terrorist attacks over the past few years, we could have had the most amazing stories of triumph over adversity in history. Imagine hearing that the Hera Alert Level was at Orange, and you could see how much more effective that would be as a warning system.
  13. The condition of our environment, marshland buffers, and development that substantially alters the landscape might be worth paying some attention to with resources and resear

Copyright Homeless Grapevine and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Cleveland Ohio October 2005, Issue 73.

Homeless Sex Offenders Find Refuge in Local Shelter

by Kevin E. Cleary

Sexual offenders face a number of barriers to gainful employment and housing once they have served their time, and many more are in danger of becoming homeless as a result. This poses a number of problems for the individuals themselves, the community at large, law enforcement, and homeless shelters, which must balance a variety of sensitive issues while serving their mission.

The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office registry of Sexually Based Offenders shows that there are nearly 100 registered sexually based offenders who list 2100 Lakeside Ave., the area’s largest homeless men’s shelter, as their primary address. 2100 Lakeside provides shelter for up to 550 men per night, meaning that roughly 1/6 of 2100’s clientele are sexually based offenders.

Sgt. David Synkowski of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office states “it involves a lot more work” to track homeless sexually based offenders, but that shelters and programs such as 2100 fully comply with registration and reporting requirements.

These requirements occupy a gray area in that there are currently no criminal penalties for violating the distance requirements (living within 1000 feet of a school), unless the offender is doing so in direct violation of his or her parole conditions, according to Synkowski.

However, it is technically against the law for a sexually based offender to live within these distances, which are measured by property lines. Synkowski states that the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office does a great deal to ensure that offenders do not unintentionally violate the law. When individuals come into the office to register, they fill out a questionnaire, notify the department of their address, or new address, register their motor vehicle, and inform the department of their place of employment. The most serious offenders, labeled sexual predators, must do this every 90 days.

Synkowski states that Cuyahoga County crosschecks this information to ensure that the individual is not in violation, and asks them to sign papers stating that they have been notified of this law. Within 3 days to a week, a team is dispatched to verify the information the individual provided.

The myriad issues surrounding sexually based offenders and their ability to co-exist within various communities have proven difficult in more places than just Cuyahoga County. Organizations such as the National Coalition for the Homeless place a large part of the blame on government for the inherent chaos and confusion in dealing with these concerns, the burden of which is often shouldered by homeless shelters.

According to NCH’s Policy on Sexually Based Offenders Within the Shelters, “The reality is that there is a lack of discharge planning for people exiting the criminal justice system especially with regard to people convicted of sexually based crimes or violent crimes.”

Brian Davis, an NCH Board member from Cleveland said, “It is unfortunate that the legislators did not devise a strategy for housing sexually based offenders when they pass Megan’s Law, but we certainly are thankful that many shelters open their doors to all who are in need.”

Many feared this problem would worsen with Ohio’s House Bill 473 taking effect earlier this year. The law was changed to allow prosecutors and law directors to sue to evict sex offenders whose residence violated the distance requirements through a process known as injunctive relief. Previously, only landlords, neighbors, and school districts had the ability to bring actions against those violating the law. Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro recently defended challenges to the new law in court against claims the law was unconstitutional, citing the need to protect children from potential harm.

According to Synkowski, there has not yet been an increase in the number of homeless sex offenders since the law was passed: “No, I have not seen an increase, at least in Cuyahoga County.”

The issue continues to remain difficult. Those charged with sheltering sexually based offenders risk losing support in their communities if they accept offenders into their shelters. According to an Editorial in Issue 60 of The Homeless Grapevine, publicly funded shelters in Columbus were forced to sign “good neighbor policies” which prohibited them from sheltering sexually based offenders. This had the unintentional side effect of unobserved sexually based offenders roaming the streets for lack of a place to sleep.

Davis says that most shelters do not want the responsibility of housing predators, but claimed that “the community is better off if they are in shelter than on the streets.”

Synkowski states that 2100 Lakeside is within 1000 feet of a school, but since it is a temporary shelter rather than a permanent residence no attempts at filing for injunctive relief have been made. Michael Sering, Director of Housing and Shelter for Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry, the organization that manages 2100 Lakeside, indicates that the shelter has a positive effect for the individuals and the community at large.

“There are people with sexual offenses that live or pass through many communities, and ours is no different,” says Sering. “People with these offenses would benefit from programs and services to address their varied issues, and for the benefit of the community and the individuals we applaud any efforts to increase such programming.”

Copyright Homeless Grapevine and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Cleveland Ohio October 2005, Issue 73.

 

 

Cleveland Provides Hospitality to Evacuees

by Brian Davis

         City and County officials responded quickly after Hurricane Katrina to quickly assemble a welcoming committee for evacuees from the Gulf region. The Red Cross coordinated all disaster services and attempted to make contact with all those who had settled in the Cleveland area. After three weeks, over 250 families had relocated to the Greater Cleveland or roughly 660 people. There was an anticipated plane-load of people coming to Cleveland of an additional 250-500 people, but that never materialized. Instead, most evacuees made it to Cleveland and were staying with family and friends who lived in Cleveland.

         The convention center in Downtown Cleveland was prepared with 400 beds and 40 temporary  showers for the plane of evacuees. A three-day fair was organized, which featured almost every potentially needed service. First Call for Help put together a resource guide for those seeking assistance. The new website housingcleveland.org was offered as a resource for possible housing opportunities. Cleveland Community Voice Mail offered toll-free telephone numbers so that families spread across the United States could exchange messages. The postal service assisted with post office boxes so that families could have their mail forwarded.

      The Cleveland Department of Aging also offered help. Many of the human services staff in Cuyahoga County provided assistance. RTA was going to provide transportation from the airport when the plane arrived. Ten local hospitals offered medical personnel for assistance. Coats for Kids was present with a large amount of clothing. An impressive computer center was constructed to offer Internet access for evacuees. There were legal services and the Cleveland Public Schools were on hand to immediately enroll children in school.

    The goal was to find housing for the evacuees within two weeks and close the Convention Center shelter. Even though the shelter was never needed, the City of Cleveland Department of Community Development took the lead in coordinating housing assistance for the evacuees from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The Department of Housing and Urban Development offered transfers to those relocating from public housing or who had a housing voucher before the hurricane, which were only a handful of people. The rest of evacuees were offered a FEMA housing voucher that could be renewed for up to 18 months. This FEMA voucher would pay for housing at Fair Market rent for 18 months as long as the unit passed an inspection.

       According to those who participated in the relief effort, the Community Development Department did an impressive job of coordinating the huge outpouring of goodwill by landlords, organizations, and churches and attempting to match those resources with people in need. Certainly, editors of the Grapevine and officials of the Coalition repeatedly heard, “Why can’t we offer this level of help for our own homeless population?” There were several letters to the Plain Dealer along these lines as well. The simple answer is that the evacuees were coming to Cleveland with money that homeless people in Cleveland do not have (see statement from NEOCH).

    The Resident Council of 2100 Lakeside raised the same issue at their monthly meeting. They met with John Wilbur and Bill Ressegger of the City of Cleveland Department of Community Development to ask for help in moving some of the goodwill that came from the Hurricane Katrina relief to be directed at the men’s shelter at 2100 Lakeside. The City officials were very sympathetic to concerns of the residential leaders from the shelter, and the three men all came away feeling that they had opened a fruitful dialogue. There are future meetings set with the City to discuss these issues “after the dust settles, and all the evacuees are settled into housing.”

    Along with coordinating housing assistance, the City Department of Community Development was attempting to match church and organizations with families to provide follow-up services like dishes, house wares, and just a shoulder to lean on for the families. 75 to 100 churches had stepped forward, including many of the congregations from Interfaith Hospitality Network to assist. The hope was that the churches could provide the ongoing assistance to transport the families around town, help them with settling into a new city, and acting as mentor to the families.

    Cuyahoga County stepped forward to cut through some of the red tape with regard to Medicaid, cash assistance, and food stamps. The Department was offering a one-time cash advance to assist with relocation. This money was available in a timely fashion, unlike the cash assistance provided by FEMA. After the three days at the Convention Center, Cuyahoga County set up a special unit for Hurricane relief at the Virgil Brown Center to continue the assistance. Throughout the entire relocation process, counseling services were offered to the families traumatized by the destruction of their home city. The Red Cross and the local Mental Health Board have offered trauma specialists on site to assist with stress, depression, and dealing with the feeling of hopelessness often associated with natural disasters.

    While the City did not have a plane-load of evacuees, we have had a slow trickle of families finding their way up to Cleveland. County and City officials have gone out of their way to provide a little “southern hospitality” for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. From churches opening up their doors to public employees trying to eliminate red tape, the city has truly provided complete wrap-around services to a group of people who will be starting over with their lives. There were many at the planning table who wanted to show the Best of Cleveland in an effort to keep some of these evacuees as permanent citizens.

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Cleveland Ohio October 2005, Issue 73.

 

Caring People Help Homeless Man Beat Life on the Street

by Lydia Bailey

    48 year-old Paul Hardin drove a Peterbilt, and worked in auto body and construction. Drinking related ulcers, and head and leg injuries from a motorcycle accident disabled him. “I died 3 times and each time God brought me back…I’m still trying to figure out why.” He has lived under a bridge in Cleveland for three years.

……Spring is here and this morning Paul Hardin has walked the four blocks from the bridge where he lives astride highways ramps to Trinity’s Cathedral Hall. His leg hurts, and he is with the perennial pack he carries. “Soon I’ll have my own apartment, and won’t have to carry this thing.” Paul looks down at his pack, his eyes brighten, and he imitates a high, little voice, “No, don’t leave me,” the pack says. Paul has a smile that’s always ready to break out.

    I hear about Paul’s recent turn of events, “A nurse from Care Alliance, she knew I was underneath that bridge, and she tried to get me out from under there several times. ‘[Paul], you look like you’re dying here, and I heard you’re not even going to church to eat or nothin’.’ I said, ‘We’ll I don’t feel good…my legs don’t want to work right.’…So I’m just lying there. And so she says, ‘You’re comin’ with me.’” Paul imitates her voice- full of conviction, and you feel his gratitude. “Yep…a nurse named Donna from Care Alliance, and a fella, Jim Schlecht… They put me in Joseph’s Home.” This is where Paul stayed from September of ’04 to February ’05.

     I recall the last time I saw Paul in September. With his usual greeting, “Top o’ the morning to you,” he said he couldn’t stay. Paul wanted to tell me he was going somewhere. He gave me a piece of paper on which he’d written his full, careful signature... something so formal about this…here was this individual’s own identity, I surmise later. Paul had written the address and phone of Joseph’s Home on the paper. “That’s where I’ll be…Call me.” No time for being hail and hearty, he was out the door. I kept the number, but didn’t call.

      Joseph’s Home is a shelter with 11 rooms down the block from Paul’s bridge. A former convent, it is run by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine for homeless men with medical problems that regular shelters can’t handle. “Our niche is home health care; we’re not a nursing home, not a hospital,” says the Director, Sister Joan Gallagher. Paul describes his six-month stay as “Quiet, really quiet… But I’m getting sick of that bridge sound…the sound of cars wrecking above me.” Sister Joan gets to the point, “[Paul] had some serious medical problems when he arrived. The alternate for him would have been the shelters or City Mission. Even then, the men have to leave around 7:00 AM… If it’s raining, you get pretty desperate. We see a lot of orthopedic problems, broken backs, necks…and cancer or pulmonary.”

     In this suffering is motivation for change, says Sister Joan. “We have a captive audience here,” she chuckles. “People who are ill are particularly vulnerable. They’re the ones most likely to change.”

     For Paul this meant enrolling in alcohol rehab at Rosary Hall inside St. Vincent Charity Hospital. “He knew his drinking was causing a lot of pain. The only way to overcome pain was to overcome addiction.”

     At Easter, Paul proudly showed me his diploma from Rosary Hall. “What am I going to do with this thing?” he asks.

“You hang it in your new apartment,” I say.

“Oh yeah, that’s right, I’ll have a wall.”

        Sister Joan Gallagher continues pragmatically: “[Paul] needed to make contacts with social security. Our social worker helped him. [Paul] needed medication, and he needed to keep medical appointments. Our nurse helped him here.”

        All this materialized for Paul, just before a Cleveland winter. “A clean room, a bed and a chair, a   washer and dryer, a shared dining room,” Paul tells me. And within this environment, Paul slowly made friends.

      “After a while [Paul] saw he didn’t need to be defensive,” says Sister Joan. “Kindness and gentleness are important ways to help somebody move into new spaces for themselves.”

       She describes how Paul chose to team-up with two students who were at Joseph’s Home, doing their fieldwork in Occupational Therapy. “They challenged [Paul]…laughed with him. They found [Paul] liked animals, so they visited a vets office. They got along very well.”

      Then in February, Paul left the structured environment of Joseph’s Home, choosing his old bridge life instead. The issues of sobriety, income, and housing must have come back in force. Paul left, however, knowing he had some very good friends. “He needs to know,” says Sister Joan, “that we’re here, if he needs us. For the next few years, at least, Joseph’s Home “has a grant that pays for a Coordinator of Continuing Care, to follow up with the gentlemen…to see their income is being maintained, and their sobriety, if that’s an issue.”

       Now Paul has big news, as I talk with him at Trinity. As of April Fool’s Day, 2005, he received notice of social security payments. They go all the way back to September 18, 1995 when he had his accident.

       “I can’t wait to get me an apartment.” Then he imitates the high little voice of his pack again, “Oh, no, I don’t want to go there.”

        Paul is choosing his apartment carefully, he tells me, away from his drinking buddies. The weather is b reaking, and Paul says, “You won’t recognize me in a week or so. I’m gonna be clean shaven.” He hides his hurt when he speaks of the little kid at Trinity who said, “Look daddy, there’s Santa Claus.”

      Two weeks later, having not seen Paul, I will talk with those Outreach workers from Care Alliance who first helped him move from his blankets under the bridge. “[Paul] looks good,” Jim Schlecht says

     “He’s got his own place… Donna saw him the other day.”

     My regards to you, Donna Kelly and Jim Schlecht. You specialize in finding those who don’t go to shelters, who are hard to find.

      Each Sunday there are 175 or so homeless individuals in Trinity’s Cathedral Hall. Within our neighborhood there are nine shelters. We are the only organization that serves homeless people on Sunday mornings in downtown Cleveland. Here is Trinity, Care Alliance, Joseph’s Home, and Rosary Hall…You piece together these services, and it was just enough, just in time for Paul Hardin.

      My concern is that Paul and many others in Cathedral Hall could easily slip through the cracks. There is something in Paul’s manner that I have found more than once in individuals who are homeless. It’s a quality approaching what Frederick Buechner describes in his book, ‘Telling Secrets.” Buechner writes about our “original, shimmering self,” that gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. “Life batters and shapes us in all sorts of ways before it’s done, but those original selves which we’re born with...echo with the holiness of their origin.”

      Maybe it’s Paul’s vulnerability that has caused this to surface, giving him an honesty and simplicity. It is there in his smile that is always ready to break out. And, as Buechner would say, it is a source of strength and healing that Paul and others like him can draw upon - even in the most unlikely circumstances.

     “How did you manage bridge life for three years?” I asked Paul earlier this spring.

      He tells me, simply, “Every day I get up in the morning, I say, ‘Good mornin’ Lord. What we going  through today? I do! I talk to Him. When I go to sleep at night, I say, “Good night, Lord. Watch over me. I don’t know what’s going on, but watch over me…I’ll see you in the mornin’. That’s the way you’re ‘sposed to do it, isn’t it?”

(Editor's Note: Paul Hardin's name has been changed to protect his anonymity.)

Copyright Homeless Grapevine and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Cleveland Ohio October 2005, Issue 73.

    “How did you manage bridge life for three years?” I asked Paul earlier this spring.

     He tells me, simply, “Every day I get up in the morning, I say, ‘Good mornin’ Lord. What we going through today? I do! I talk to Him. When I go to sleep at night, I say, “Good night, Lord. Watch over me. I don’t know what’s going on, but watch over me…I’ll see you in the mornin’. That’s the way you’re ‘sposed to do it, isn’t it?”

(Editor's Note: Paul Hardin's name has been changed to protect his anonymity.)

Copyright Homeless Grapevine and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Cleveland Ohio October 2005, Issue 73.