An Open letter to the new Mayor from the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless

Dear Mayor Jackson:

             Congratulations on your election as new Mayor of Cleveland.  We are so proud that someone with a community organizing background and a deep concern about poverty is now the May.  The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is at your service in the struggle to end homelessness.  We have never had a close relationship with a Cleveland Mayor, but I certainly hope that we can change that over the next four years.  We have studied the problem of homelessness over the last 15 years, and would like to recommend some activities that could go a long way to reducing the need for shelters in our community.

We need someone who will take the lead to solve this problem locally.  There was talk of asking the school board to resign; we believe that you should ask the voluntary resignation of the senior staff at the Office of homeless Services.  This is a joint City and County office, but for years the City has taken only a minor role in the Office, and the County has done little to get the other cities within Cuyahoga County involved in the struggle to end homelessness.  The City and homeless people need to be more involved in the Office of Homeless Services including the selection of a Director.

  1. The previous administration had started discussions about a center downtown that religious groups feed homeless people in a warm clean facility with running water.  This was a good idea for Downtown businesses would embrace.  Cleveland needs a 24 hour drop in center downtown in which homeless people could get a warm meal, a place out of the cold or heat, and a place for the hundreds of churches to coordinate their help.  We are sure that businesses and religious organizations would pay for the upkeep and heating of such a building.  There are many non-profit organizations that would be willing to administer this properly.  The big issue with the previous administration is that they never followed through on a number of good ideas that were proposed.

       3    We need to pass local legislation to set standards for the shelter.  The city of

Washington DC recently passed legislation, which provides a framework for

operations of a shelter, oversight parameters, and outcome milestones with the city.  This legislation will assure that those who choose shelter are aware of the benefits and limitations.  This could transform the shelters from a temporary residence to a training facility or stability center.

      4.    Shelters need to focus more attention on outcomes, and not just drop their responsibility when the homeless individual moves to another facility.  The shelters cannot just be a place to sleep for a couple of months.  They need to help to rebuild people’s lives and stay in touch with them to assure that they do not continue to cycle through the system.  Shelters can be more like a community center for jobs, health care and legal assistance and not just overnight place to live.  The shelters need to be measured on their progress toward moving people to stability and their continued progress in maintaining housing, not by merely helping the easiest to serve.

      5.   At this point, there are two shelters that are forced to feel the pain for the entire City.  Both 2100 Lakeside Shelter and the Community women’s Shelter take  everyone who walks in the door.  The other shelters are more selective, and therefore do not have the issues and the problems that the two entry shelters face everyday.  There should be no discharges form one shelter to another, and        there should be incentives for moving people with multiple barriers into housing.

6.      Mental Health Counseling needs to be expanded dramatically in our city. In the last 10 years, NEOCH staff have witnessed a great deal of trauma within the homeless community, especially within the women’s shelter.  National data show that around 80% of the women who enter the shelters have some level of sexual or physical abuse in their recent past.  We would go a long way toward serving the population if professional counseling wee available to everyone.  The ability to talk about some of these traumatic events with a professional would also go a long way to addressing the barriers to housing.  At this point, mental health professional counseling services are rationed to only those who are a threat to themselves or others.  We need help in pushing the state to provide counseling to all homeless people in order to work through the trauma of homelessness or abuse in their background, or war, or all of the above.

7.      The state of Ohio is sitting on a huge rainy day fund that was originally intended for very low-income and unemployed families, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.  We hope that you will push the State to recognize that it is raining in Cleveland, and we need those funds.  We would ask that the money be used for housing assistance for displaced families living in our shelters.  We could use the funds to support local vouchers for homeless families that could be administered by the Section 8 program or the Shelter Plus Care provider in the city.

8.      In 2002, the County signed on in support of a National Housing Trust Fund. During the presentation two out of the three commissioners pledged support for a County-wide housing trust fund.  In a move toward regionalism, how about asking the County to finally start collecting resources from the sale of homes that could be used to build affordable housing for everyone?  We need to follow the lead of Franklin and Montgomery County and create a County-side affordable housing trust fund.

9.      Help us forgive and forget.  There are so many people clogging up the shelters who are re-entering from incarceration? The shelters need some support in finding more appropriate placement for people coming out of the judicial system.  It is not appropriate, as other cities have done, to restrict certain classes of people from entering the shelters, but we need to find an alternative to shelter.  This problem is especially true for sexually based offenders.  We believe that the major cities in Ohio should sue the State to force legislators to find this mandate. The Sate requires sexually based offenders to register and not live anywhere near kids, but make no accommodations as to where these individuals are suppose to live. Shelters do not have the staff to effectively serve sexually based offenders.

  10.    The biggest issue to face your administration is going to be the problem of over-flowing shelters.  We have asked for the last year someone to take the looming crisis seriously, but have heard nothing.  Aviation High School is slated to become the new Crawford Aviation Museum.  In Cleveland, we seem to wait until there is a crisis before we ace, and we settle for inappropriate spaces or bad locations.  Can we work on planning for problems within our system before they become crises?  Over the last 10 years, we have had many programs enter crises that could have been prevented, but instead were neglected until they exploded.

    11.  Please let the panhandling ordinance die a quiet death.  It is inappropriate to restrict where low-income people can ask for money.  We ask that you avoid a court fight with civil liberations by limiting any legislation to aggressive behavior only.

 Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine December 2005 Issue 74