Editorial: Oversight Needed, Even at Private Shelters

Editorial

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless acts as a watchdog in the community and we take grievances from homeless people about the publicly funded service very seriously. When the staff get a complaint, they do all they can to follow up with the agency privately. If that does not work, they have more public means of pressuring the organization. All of the letters received regarding Laura’s Home present an especially difficult problem for the Coalition the Homeless and for the Grapevine.

Just to step back, we must clarify the role of the Grapevine here in relation to NEOCH. The Homeless Grapevine is a program of the Coalition, but has an independent editorial function. NEOCH Board members do not influence content and have no oversight of the editorial position of the newspaper. The Board of Trustees do not influence content and have no oversight of the editorial position of the newspaper. Brain Davis is the director of the Coalition and the editor of the Grapevine, but makes up only one-fourth of the editorial board. If any one of the members of the editorial board does not agree with the position then the piece does not become the editorial for the paper. If the vote is not unanimous among the four editors (which includes the vendor representative) then the piece gets printed as a commentary representing the views of the author. Some pieces may have three votes and one hold-out, but would not be listed as an editorial. The reason that the editorials are not signed is because they represent the opinion of the four editors.

So the Coalition responds to complaints and the Grapevine has a separate structure for responding to issues. Today, we face the issue of Laura’s Home, a structure run by the City Mission of Cleveland. The City Mission is an evangelical, privately run, and privately funded shelter. While the public donated to City Mission, no government entity gives money. The name leads many to believe that this shelter is run by a “city”, but the city just refers to its geographic location and not its administrative function. So the question for everyone is how does the community address problems at a shelter that does not receive government money?

The Coalition has no leverage and no government to complain to about problems at the City Mission or a St. Herman’s House of Hospitality. Staff of the Coalition have never had a very good relationship with staff at the City Mission. In 2002, Laura’s Home opened as a transitional facility for families. It is a beautiful facility on Puritas Road, but was never fully occupied. Women claimed it was difficult to meet the criteria for entry and it was very hard to live by the strict rules and religious requirements. In 2005, the City Mission closed their family emergency shelter, Angeline Christian Home, and moved staff and residents into Laura’s Home.

Obviously, by the tone of the enclosed letters this was a rough transition.

 The Grapevine would like to see a reform of Laura’s Home and some oversight of this facility. Shelter space is so critical in this community with only half those in need actually being able to find shelter bed every night. If the letter writers are correct, it seems that City Mission officials need to address the problems associated with nepotism at the shelter, and individual donors should demand some reform of Laura’s Home. We offer the City Mission this space in the next issue in order to respond without censorship to the letter and to our recommendations. We believe that every shelter bed in the community is a valuable asset similar to power lines or water treatment facilities. We believe that it a government responsibility to feed and shelter its citizens. Therefore, when a private facility offers a shelter bed, the government still has an obligation to provide oversight and set standards for those beds.

We recommend that all shelter workers in the city, including those from City Mission, either become government employees or all shelter worker join a union with the guarantee of no reduction in staff until the need for shelter is met. We believe that every shelter should pay into a pool to hire at least two (one woman and one man) client rights officers that would have office hours at every shelter, including the City Mission facilities to address grievances. Finally, we recommend passage of a shelter standards law under the direction of the City of Cleveland Department of Community Relations as was done in the District of Columbia.

We hear almost every day from homeless people who have nowhere to turn and nowhere to go to complain about their treatment within the shelters. There is no one within the system who is not paid by the shelter who can wade through some of these tough life and death decisions and find common ground between the shelter staff and the residents. There is no government entity with any purse strings power that is willing to regulate the shelters at this time.  While it is not the role is the Coalition or the Grapevine, we do hear form shelter staff that they are overworked and underpaid and also do not have any way to communicate problems or issues that they with regard to that care and treatment of residents.

Laura’s Home certainly has some big issues to address, but the other shelters in Cleveland also need better oversight. The shelter are caught between ever tighter budgets, moving from one crisis to the next with their clients, and hiring, training and retaining qualified staff. They have hug issues to overcome and operate in a near impossible environment. While government provides very little oversight, all levels of government are demanding better “outcomes” and reductions in the time spent in the shelter by homeless people, but they are not offering any additional money. It is time for a summit with every shelter including the City Mission to get all these issues on the table and take some of the pressure off these critical services in our community.

Raising Minimum Wage Will Fix Many Problems

Commentary by Richard Troxell, Austin, TX

Immigrant workers are pouring across the southern border but not our northern border.  This is because the economy to the North relative to ours.  People streaming across the southern border are willing to leave their homeland, to sleep eight people in a room, leave their homes for as long as eight years, and send 85% of the wage they earn back to la familia.

When the immigration demonstrations began here in early April, every flag we saw was Mexican.  Hearing the anxiety that this caused for North Americans, the flags were quickly exchanged for the Stars and Stripes.  But the sentiment was clear; the homeland is Mexico.  All surveys show that the vast majority of migrant workers intend to come here for a short period of time, earn as much money as possible and return home to their families as quickly as possible.  But as the years roll by, workers become desperate to be with their families, so they send for them at great expense, person risk and even death.

President Bush says that the undocumented workers come to do work that workers in the United States don’t want and won’t do.  This is true.  Workers don’t want those backbreaking jobs at the wage that is being offered.  According to several US Conference of Mayors Reports, it is a wage that won’t enable a full time, minimum wage worker the ability to rent a basic apartment anywhere in the US.  So what is the incentive to work a full time, 40 hour a week job if it still leaves a person homeless and unable to afford basic housing?  According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, 3.5 million people will face homelessness this year.  The government says that 42% of these people are still working at some point during the week.  Obviously, the work ethic is there, but the wage is not.  These workers come from the pool of 10,000,000 minimum wage workers and the pool of 12,000,000 immigrant workers.  This is a significant portion of our core workforce doing work that can’t be out-sourced.

That federal minimum wage is $5.15 an hour.  Imagine working 40 hours a week for 50 weeks, earning only $10,700, and still not being able to afford basic rental housing.  As Oprah Winfrey observed recently, you can’t just raise the minimum wage one or two dollars to expect to make any difference.  Six or seven dollars an hour still won’t house anyone in our most expensive cities.  And to raise it anymore than that would destroy small businesses in rural America.  We can’t have that.  So what do we do?

We have come up a pragmatic solution.  We fix the federal minimum wage.  Using existing government guidelines, we have created a formula that links the wage to the local cost of housing and ensures that anyone working a forty hour week will be able to afford basic rental housing wherever that work is done throughout the United States.  We believe, that upon passage, this can end homelessness for at least 1,000.000 minimum wage workers, stabilize small business by reducing their employee turn over and reduce the subsequent retaining costs almost to zero.  But won’t this turn over and reduce the subsequent retaining costs almost to zero.  But what we have learned is – it is not our culture that draws these workers; it is our dollars. Once we embrace the moral tenet that a wage must afford a worker basic rental housing, other countries will follow suit.  They will set their own standards.  And when they do, when people can afford the basics of  food, clothing shelter, and have access to health care, they will remain at home with la familia.

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio June 2006 – Issue 76 

LOCAL NEWS: DV Victims and Shelters Put “on notice”

 

Safety Ambassadors Patrol Downtown

The bright yellow shirt-wearing crews Downtown are the new clean up team and panhandlers shields hired by the Downtown Alliance business group.  Block by Block, from Louisville, Kentucky was hired after the Downtown businesses taxed themselves to pay for these “ambassadors.”  Their duties are to clean up Downtown and engage pedestrians.  They have a truck, one off-duty police officer, and a social worker who acts as an “outreach worker” along with the 60 people patrolling the streets.  They travel from the Warehouse district to East 18th St.  There are similar programs in other cities administered by the same for-profit business who surround a panhandler and encourage pedestrians not to give to those asking for money and instead ask people to give to agencies.

Back into the Fire for Five Local Shelters

In the last Grapevine, we learned that all the shelters “on notice” by Cuyahoga County Review Team were taken off the list in February.  In April, the Office of Homeless Services announced that five programs were now on six months of monitoring, in which staff would continue to review the projects to assure improvements.  There are still no details on the reason for the 2005 monitoring and results.  Only one word is given to explain why each of the 2006 shelters and programs made the monitoring list.  The 2006 group that will receive continued monitoring include East Side Catholic (2205 member) for “budget” problems, and Zelma George Shelter (also a 2005 member) for program and client problems.  In additions, Continue Life is “on notice” for management problems, Wilson Tower (Salvage Army) for capacity issues, and Shelter Plus Care for tracking and documentation problems.

Hiring Hall Evaluating Future Contracts

The Community Hiring Hall did not receive the City of Cleveland contract.  The for-profit bidder underbid the Hiring Hall. This has caused layoffs and the staff are reevaluating the contracts that this non-profit temporary company will pursue.  Board and staff are committed to making this unique experiment work.  The Community Hiring Hall has homeless organization labor, and religious groups all at the same table trying to provide decent jobs without the exploitation of very low- income individuals in Cleveland seen in many for-profit day labor companies.

Predatory Lending Law Passes

After years of study and banking industry claims that they could regulate themselves, the Ohio legislature finally passed a law to restrict predatory lending in Ohio.  After reaching the top two in the number of foreclosures and bankruptcies of any state in the U.S., the Senate and House agreed on a law that provides strong safeguards for consumers by backing them with the enforcement powers of the attorney general’s office; and specifies prohibitions on non-bank lenders and mortgage brokers. The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio’s executive director, Bill Faith, called the bill a milestone for homeowner protection.  “After years of research, debate and advocacy. I am pleased at the progress we made today on behalf of Ohio’s homeowners; and on behalf of the many victims that have fallen prey to unfair and deceptive lending behaviors that will no longer be allowed, Faith said.

Domestic Violence Bill Ruled Unconstitutional

The Ohio Court of Appeal, Third District ruled that the Ohio Domestic Violence statue was inconsistent with the 2004 passed Ohio Constitutional Amendment preventing the state from passing any law that undermines marriage as being between a man and a woman.  The so-called “Defense of Marriage” act is inconsistent with the Domestic Violence law that allows prosecution of same-sex or non-married partners who live together and act violently toward their partner.  This sets up a hearing in the Ohio Supreme Court since appeals courts have split on their decisions on the constitutionality of the domestic violence statutes in Ohio.

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine- Cleveland, Ohio; June 2006:  Issue 76

Local Woman Describes The Homeless Odyssey

 

Commentary by Name withheld upon Request

The thought of my suffering and homelessness is bitter beyond words.  I will never forget this awful time as I grieve over my loss.  Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this:  the unfailing love of the Lord never ends!  By his mercies we have been kept from complete destruction.  Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each day.  I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance therefore, I will hope in him.  For the Lord does not abandon anyone forever.  Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion according to the greatness of his unfailing love.  Foe he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.  But I called on your name, Lord, from deep within my wells, and you heard me!  You listened to my pleading; you heard my weeping! Yes you came at my despairing cry and told me, “Do not fear.”  (Lamentations 3:19-24, 31-33, 55-57;NLT)

The third chapter of Lamentations has become sore to an anthem for me these days.  As I exited physical therapy, I was almost positive I would still have my job.  I arrived at the establishment of my employer thirty minutes later, sat down with two men whom I had never met (I had been on a three month medical leave), and was fired.  Almost fours years of service, four years of laughter and tears all came to an end at the blink of an eye, right along with my self worth.  I was a loyal, dedicated worker, who gave my all, even after I was injured while doing my job.  I went through constant scrutiny and harassment on a daily basis, but refused to throw in my white towel.  I had been under the impression that I would be allowed to heal from my back injury, get back to work, and life would just go on.  But this never happened.

Shortly after losing my job, I lost my apartment.  I wasn’t able to recuperate my lost wages in a timely manner to stay in my apartment another month.  So I was forced to move, bypassing any eviction procedures.  I moved in with a family member where I suffered even more emotional abuse, which led to a move down to Texas.  Moving to Texas was an easy decision to make.  In hindsight, all I was doing was running from problems instead of facing them:  Homelessness, joblessness, motherless ness, depression, anger, hatred, confusion, bitterness, as well as the physical pain from my back.  And on top of it all off, I was in debt.

For a while things looked promising in Texas until I suffered a breakdown.  I wanted to end my life, but couldn’t bring myself to do so, so I ended up calling some people for help, namely my best friend here in Cleveland.  If she hadn’t motivated me to leave the house, I would have taken over 800mg Motrin.  I thank God for her everyday.  But I was escorted in handcuffs to a facility in Dallas, Texas called Green Oaks Behavioral Hospital where I was put under a 24-hour suicide observation.  My body completely broke down; my blood pressure was reaching stroke level, I just didn’t even care anymore and I wanted to die.

“How could this be?  How can I be surrounded by all these crazy people?  I don’t belong here.”

I had no more fight in me and felt like I was losing the battle.  So I just remember praying to God in my head to stop the hurting and just let me die.  I was losing my mind, losing myself, and my identity; after years of mental, physical and sexual abuse trying to conform to what everybody wanted me to be or who they portrayed me to be.  I just wanted out, to be free of my personal hell, to end all suffering, and all existence.  But God had other plans for me.

November 2004, shortly before thanksgiving, I came back to Cleveland with nowhere to go.  My own mother had turned her back on me in favor of her husband (who is not my father) and put me in some seedy hotel the day before thanksgiving.  I left the hotel and ended up spending the holiday with my younger brother and his father, who was notorious for beating the crap out of our mother.  It just boggled my mind as to how a person who put my mom through so much pain could welcome me into his household as if I were his own child while the woman who gave birth to me wouldn’t even give me the time of day.

After leaving his place, I stayed with my best friend until New Year’s Day 2005, when I moved in with my “play mother.”  That didn’t work out so well, so back o my friend’s house where I stayed for about a six-week period prior to entering Angeline Christian Home.  I stayed at Angeline for 15 days which resulted in me becoming saved.  March 17, 2005, during evening chapel service, Zion Pentecostal Church of Christ came to speak. This was awesome for because I had not been to church in almost 20 years, even though my grandmother always begged me to go back.  The message was “God is a keeper of his word.”  I don’t remember the exact wording of the sermon, but it was so powerful I was baptized the very next day.

So it seemed that things might start getting better.  I was so wrong.  The Monday after Easter, I was notified that I wouldn’t be receiving the 15 day extension and had to leave.  So here I am stressed, depressed, jobless, and homeless, and newly saved with nowhere to go but the streets.  But the members of the church intervened and found me a place to stay at mother’s this was the worst thing ever, but it provided a temporary solution until I could get into this new Christian-based facility called Laura’s Home.

Saturday, April 16, 2005, I was finally accepted into Laura’s Home.  Laura’s Home proved to be a haven of rest and a beacon of hope.  I was safe; safe from society, safe from people hurting me.  I was able to reflect on God and myself.  As I studied the Bible, I got to re-learn myself – who I am, whit I like, what I dislike, and what I am capable of doing and what makes me happy.  The only thing I couldn’t come to terms with was how did I end up there?  I wasn’t a bad person.  I’m still a virgin, I’ve never been arrested or in any trouble with the law, I’ve never smoked, drank, or done any type of drug, never been to jail.  I truly believed that I was doing everything right and shouldn’t be in this situation.  I just knew that these choices were keeping me in good standings with God.

That was the problem.  Well, that was part of the problem.  I was living my life the way I should have (with a few snags), but at end, I wasn’t completely yielding to the Lord.  So upon entering LH, I was placed on a 30 day restriction away from family and friends, unable to call anyone or receive calls, no letters, no visitations, no leaving the premises, Some people may think that was a harsh thing, but for me and others who to endure this process, it was good.  Even though it got stressful not being able to communicate with loved ones, it helped to alleviate a lot of burdens and clear my head to think.  I was given the time to breath, relax and focus on me without the pressures of the outside world.

As I write this paper, I am currently coming out of my homeless situation.  I look back on my stay at Laura’s Home with bittersweet memories.  When I first went in, it was a program I would tell everybody about, but when I left, it became a place I couldn’t bear to mention.  It’s just not the same as when I went in a year ago.  With new “higher-ups” in position, it is more strict, more cold, and not as nurturing to the women come through the doors seeking refuge.  Women who are not long-term residents of the program are forced to vacate the premises from 9-4, regardless of whether or not they have somewhere to go or the means to get there.  People were told that they could choose to leave if they didn’t agree with how certain things were going.

When I first went in, we were able to voice our opinions on how things were running.  After all, it was our lives that were being affected by these rules.  Now those voices are no longer heard.  People are afraid to speak up in fear of being put out.  I couldn’t watch the events unfold.  I was also going through some of the same struggles with these changes of events and changes in rules (or laws as I sometimes refer to them these days), with the exception of the 9-4 rule.  But all in all, I would not trade in experiences at Laura’s Home for anything in the world.  Being there, I learned about god, I learned about myself, I made new friends (which I hadn’t done in ages), and I also learned to type a little.

 I AM CURRENTLY A STUDENT AT Cleveland State University.  I dropped out a little over six years ago, so it’s a refresher being back in school.  I still attend church.  Now that I’m not in the shelter anymore, I can resume going back to Bible Study.  I just thank God for not giving up on me when I had given up on myself.  And I thank Laura’s Home for allowing me to live there to get myself on my feet, because it really taught me how to treat others.  How not to treat others, and how people treat you when you are homeless and dependent upon them.  Even though I was never disrespectful to the people on the streets, I have an even greater sense of compassion for their struggle.  Nevertheless, I was homeless.

PLEASE NOTE

This articles are not intended to reflect the views of NEOCH, the NEOCH Board of Trustees or our member agencies or individuals, but to help homeless people and advocates express their opinions.  The Homeless grapevine attempts to provide uncensored space for homeless people to speak out.

 

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine June 2006 – Issue 76

Laura’s Home Needs Reform

 

Dear Editor,

I am writing in concern with several issues involving Laura’s Home.  Please keep in mind I do not want Laura’s Home to close.  Laura’s Home is a wonderful facility, unfortunately the way it is run is my greatest concern.  I am an ex-employee and I have noticed the abuse the women were receiving from the authority that was set over them.  My understanding is this is a place that offers shelter, security, and safety yes, but at what price?

I have seen the residents/clients’ spirits squashed from day-to-day with harsh rules and fear, not to mention the fear of the Security Staff.  The Security Staff afraid of voicing concerns or making a mistake; actually everyone is walking on eggshells in fear of losing their jobs, like those who already lost their jobs.

At this point, I have nothing to lose because I have already been terminated because I voice some of these concerns.  I was told it was my work performance, and I was told I did a “no show” back in Septembwhich was a lie.  Nevertheless, this allegation was never brought to my attention until May 16th – the day of my termination.  This is just the tip of the ice burg.  There have been several other residents/ staff who were put out or “let go’ due to upper management fearing negative exposure. If the wall at Laura’s Home could talk, the public would be saddened with the alarming way souls are being cast into the lake of fire just for being in a homeless shelter. I am crying out for justice; not for myself, but for the souls who are looking for a second chance in life.

Sincerely,

Gizell Ranzy

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine-Cleveland, ohio: Issue 76

Homeless Outreach a Labre of Love for JCU Students

by Yvonne Bruce

It’s five o’clock on a Friday evening at John Carroll University. Classes are over, and students are thinking about dinner and making plans for their evening out.  But inside a dining room in the student union building where about twenty students have gathered to put together a meal, those plans do not include going to a movie or a concert o a club, and the dinner being put together is not for themselves.

Those students are participating in the labre Project, a food-and-fellowship gathering that brings a meal and a sympathetic ear to homeless people in Cleveland every Friday night.  The labre volunteers tote sandwiches and drinks to wherever the homeless live – under bridges, in abandoned buildings, deep in the scrub that’s taken over empty lots and dead end streets – and ask how they’re doing, ask after their friends and families, trade stories, tell Browns jokes, and perhaps exchange a few handshakes and hugs.

On this Friday in February, one of the coldest nights of the winter, Brendan McLaughlin was coordinating the food preparation at the John Carroll dining hall.  Brendan and his friend and fellow freshman Brian Mauk began the labre Project three years ago, when both were sophomores at St. Ignatius High School (their project is named for St. Labre, patron saint of homelessness) This would be the severity-first week in a row one of them has made the Friday excursions.

 As I bagged cookies and made sandwiches, more people trickled in.  Not all of them were students:  Chris, a sophomore, had brought his parents and his godmother.  Dennis was a John Carroll alumnus.  Some of those milling about looked as new as I was; some were clearly old hands.  Matt, one of the first-timers, had come for reason I would hear many times that night:  a friend of is had done this, and loved it.

The food and hot chocolate were packed up by 5:45, and Brendan called us all together for a brief orientation.  He gave us newcomers a short history of the project and reminded everyone that our goal this night was primarily friendship.  Food was secondary.  I wondered how the homeless we would visit felt about these priorities.

As we milled in the parking lot, waiting for the vans to pull around and discussing our routes (volunteers choose one of three routes through the city – East Side, Wild Wild West, or Last Frontier).  I asked a longtime volunteer, James, what kept him coming back every Friday night.  He seemed surprised at my question.  Finally, he shrugged. “There’s nothing to keep me from not coming, I don’t understand why everybody doesn’t do this.

I took the Wild Wild West route. The driver was another longtime volunteer, Patrick Prosser, who works in the John Carroll Financial Aid office and is a Board Member of the Coalition for the Homeless.  He asked us to introduce ourselves.  As the volunteers in the back row began, I turned to watch the scenery.  We were leaving behind the affluent neighborhoods surrounding John Carroll – University Heights, Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights – on our way to the Cleveland city limits.

Our first stop was a spot under the freeway near Jacobs Field.  One of the volunteers grabbed a sandwich, cookies, and a jumbo cup of hot chocolate, and we all jumped out.  As we neared the protected angle of earth where the underpass meets the ground, the sounds of late rush hour traffic faded slightly. 

 “Jupiter!”  Dennis called out.

There was a tiny statue of a Virgin Mary on a ledge of the underpass just above our heads; it marked the entrance of Jupiter’s home.  I took a picture of it, feeling like a trespasser.  Dennis called again.  We saw some of Jupiter’s things and his bike stashed neatly under some brush, but no Jupiter.

 We left the steaming hot chocolate on another ledge incase Jupiter came back early, It turned out that many people we had come out to visit tonight would not be “home.”  Dennis said they had likely gone to a shelter because of the cold.  Knowing a little something about the many dangers that face the long term homeless, I hoped Dennis was right.

The next part of our route took us through areas of the West Side I had never seen before.  At one stop, near a mixed residential area somewhere between the Cuyahoga River and Ohio city, we hiked through a large, brushy field.  I-90 angled upward to our left.  A few cats, clearly used to the outdoors but not feral, walked with us until we got to an elaborate lean-on built at the bottom of a freeway berm.  The cats hurried ahead to rub against the legs of the people who came out of the lean-to greet us.

The residence ingeniously constructed.  A chest high concrete wall ran parallel to the berm, it was in between these that the lean-to was constructed against the wall itself that the fire was burning and reflecting its warmth into the living space.  Most of my fellow volunteers brought out the food and drink and renewed their acquaintance with the five people who were sharing these quarters. One of the residents was standing apart, so I introduced myself and mentioned how much I liked cats.

This fellow, Gary, scooped one up.

“Oh, yeah, me too.”  They nuzzled. “This is Momma Cat.  There’s Tinker Cat over there, and Baby Cat’s around somewhere.

Gary and I talked about his past.  He was from south but had lived all over the country.  I expressed surprise that he would sty for the Northeast Ohio winters, but he had been involved for years in a relationship with a woman from Cleveland and had many friends and acquaintances in the area.  Cleveland, he said was home.

By the time we left Garry, Barbara, Paul, Jim and Karen, forty-five minutes had gone by and I was starting to feel the single digit cold. So were the other first timers.

Our next stop was at the side of a pitted and potholed street running through a largely deserted industrial area.  Through the bare trees and scrub I saw the flow of a fire.  We got out with our food and hot chocolate and walked toward it, Dennis and Pat calling out again.  Bruce came down to greet us.  He lived here with Jim-Bob and Bosco the cat, a tiny ball of fur I picked up more for warmth than out of friendliness.  Bruce and Jim-Bob seemed oblivious to the cold, but we first-timers huddled around the fire while Bruce regaled us with Browns jokes.

“How do you keep Browns payers out of your yard?  Put a goalpost in it.”

We laughed through chattering teeth.  Matt, the first-time volunteer who was crowding me out of my toasty spot by the fire, hadn’t brought a hat or gloves.  I kept shifting my weight from foot to foot, trying to keep the freezing ground away from  my thin-soled boots.  By this time, the wind chill was well below zero.  Thirty minutes later, just as I thought I would have to go back to the van for warmth, we left. Jim-Bob hugged all of us goodbye.  I noticed his gloveless hands had grown swollen and hard from constant exposure to the c

Our last stop of the night took us down to the banks of the Cuyahoga.  We were looking for Charles, but there was no trace of him or his camp.  No matter how far into the brush Pat and Dennis searched and called.  As we pulled away and headed downtown, I thought with irony that there had been more of the volunteers tonight than the homeless people we had been looking for.

A phone call to the other vans confirmed that they had encountered a lot of absences, too.  We agreed to meet early at the usual rendezvous, Public Square.

Our van reached the square in a matter of minutes and we parked at the corner of Daniel Thompson way.  Pat and Dennis told us that there was a group who usually camped down Daniel Thompson, a street the Labre volunteers call simply “The Alley,” so we gathered up more sandwiches and hot chocolate and set o

As we neared the end of the block, three minivans with Metro Church Ministries painted on their sides passed us and turned left.  A few more minutes’walk brought us to a line of homeless individuals camped on the sidewalk in an angle formed by two buildings.  They were bundled up in sleeping bags and blankets and being approached by a half-dozen Metro Church volunteers.

We stopped.

“Guess they beat us to it, “ said Denis.

Back to the square we went.  Matt’s ears were bright red and his lips were turning blue, yet he managed to outstrip me on the race to the van.  Matt and I and other first-timers piled in and shivered uncontrollably.  The other two vans had pulled in behind us, and I looked through the window as the seasoned volunteers standing outside chatting.  I saw Brian Mauk laughing with two men near the Public Square fountain.  Chris stood with his parents and godmother talking with another group of tattered and unshaven souls – everyone was smiles and laughter – and I saw that Brendan was right; the homeless individuals met tonight and now watched through the van windows did indeed  seem hungrier for human contact than for food.

At last we were off.  As we headed back to John Carroll, we raided the leftover sandwiches and cookies and talked about whom we’d met and what we had seen.  The conversation drifted away to classes and majors and hobbies and television shows, and I felt a part of the camaraderie that brought so many of these students back Friday after Friday.

It was after ten o’clock when we pulled up to school and unloaded the van.  I was dead tired, but the other volunteers, pumped up by their experience, seemed ready to go out again.  As I made my goodbyes and headed toward my car, Brendan left me with a final reminder:

“We’re here every Friday Com see us again.”

The Labre Project welcomes donations at John Carroll University

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio June 2006 – Issue 76

Homeless Endangered Across America

 Homeless shelter chief accused of dodging taxes on $2 million

Detroit (AP) – The head of a homeless shelter has been indicted on accusations of diverting money from his agency to make $760,000 in illegal campaign contributions and dodging taxes on $2 million in income.

Homeless man return wallet containing $900 cash

SANTA ANA, Calif. – A homeless man searching through garbage bins for recyclable cans found a missing wallet and had it returned to its owner.

Kim Bogue, who works as a janitor in the city’s government buildings, realized that her wallet was missing last week and doubted she’s ever get back the $900 and credit cards inside.

According to the article, Bogue was saving for a trip to Thailand.  Days later, a homeless man found the wallet wrapped in a plastic bag in a trash bin, when Bogue had accidentally thrown it away with her lunch. 

He gave it to Sherry Wesley, who works in a nearby building.

Bogue reportedly gave the man a 4100 reward and expressed the opinion that if anyone else had found the wallet she would have never seen it again.

Homeless man beaten with bottle

An article in Myrtle Beach’s Sun News reported that a homeless man was seriously injured after being beaten with an empty vodka bottle in Chapin Park.

Edward Grimmage was taken to Grand Strand Regional Medical Center after he received deep cuts to his head from the attack with the broken liquor bottle, according to Myrtle Beach police.

James Shaw of Conway was charged with assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, and resisting arrest, police said.

Shaw remained in J. Reuben Long Detention Center in lieu of $5,000 bail.

Grimmage, whose condition was unknown, was the second homeless man in the past several weeks to fall victim to an attack.

Steven Walsh, a homeless man who was believed to be in his early 50s, was assaulted March 23 and died several dies later from his injuries.

The incident involving Grimmage and Shaw happened in Chapin Park, 1400 N. Kings Highway in Myrtle Beach.

Grimmage reportedly told police that Shaw shouted obscenities at him so he walked away.  Shaw followed him and punched him in the head, causing him to fall down.  Shaw then struck him with the empty bottle.

Shaw kicked and screamed at officers who arrested him, according to an incident report cited in the article.  Two police officers subdued Shaw, who was then taken to J. Reuben Long Detention Center.

Man stabbed to death in homeless shelter

ROCHESTER, N.Y.  A 43-year-old man was stabbed to death inside a city homeless shelter Tuesday.

Anthony Williams had apparently been involved in an argument with another person prior to the stabbing, said police Lt. Tim List in the article.  Police were reportedly not sure if the other person was a man or a woman.  Officers also did not know what the altercation was about.

Williams’ sister, Loretta Kidd, said Williams was born in Florida and had lived in Rochester for about 20 years.

Two Men Charged in Death of Homeless Man

Cumberland County detectives filed arrest warrants for two people suspected in the death of a homeless man.  Detectives charged Bakhiyia Douglas and Hope Mills with second-degree murder in the death of Curtis Green.

Green’s body was found on a rural road in Cumberland County in April.  An autopsy shows the cause of death was blunt force trauma to the upper body.  They also charged Nathaniel Solomon with accessory after the fact in the death.  Investigators say there was an ongoing dispute between the men.

Good Samaritan Program Plans to Expand

The only homeless shelter in Santa Barbara County got the funding it need to expand Construction of the expansion has begun and when finished, the $2million project will help more than just the homeless population.  It will have the full service commercial kitchen.  The kitchen and dining hall will serve about 150 people three square meals a day, but volunteers have a bigger plan for the facility.  Good Samaritan and Community Action Commission will partner together and will provide 3,000 meals for all of their North County Head Start programs, their senior program and also provide meals to Juvenile Hall.  At night the dining hall will turn into a shelter for the homeless.

Elderly women tied to homeless insurance scam

LOS ANGELES – Two elderly women were charged with mail fraud after collecting $2.2 million from insurance policies they took out on a pair of homeless men who died in mysterious hit-and-run accidents. They were arrested because police feared they were targeting more transients.

The police are investigating whether the women were directly involved in the men’s deaths.  Helen Golay, 75, and Olga Rutterschmidt, 72, alternately claimed to be a fiancées’, close relative or business partner of the men to get insurance policies worth more than $4 million.

According to the article, authorities aren’t sure who was behind the wheel when the men were killed and have not ruled out the women.

Each of the women, neither of whom had a criminal record, have been charged with eights counts of federal mail fraud for collecting money from policies they held on Kenneth McDavid, 50, and Paul Vados, 73.  McDavid was run down in June and Vados was struck and killed in 1999 – both in alleys apparently without eyewitnesses.  Each death occurred shortly after the two-year wait that made the women eligible to collect on their policies.

The women reportedly befriended McDavid and Vados and provided them apartments in exchange for their signing individual life insurance policies.  The women then duplicated Vados’ and McDavid’s  signatures on rubber stamps and used them to secure more than a dozen other policies.  The women ended up collecting $2.2 million and wanted more, filing lawsuits when some companies didn’t pay.

McDavid’s body was found in a alley last June.  He appeared to have been run over.  Vados was found dead in an alley in 1999 and also appeared to have been run over.  Golay and Rutterschmidt claimed his body.  They had told one insurance company that he had no relatives when he actually had three, according to the affidavit.

Police learned of the women’s connection to the men serendipitously – one detective investigating one of the deaths overhead another talking about his investigation of the other.

Homeless Soldier Ambushed

A former U.S. soldier living in some woods in DeLand, Fla., was ambushed by four teens in the city’s third attack on a homeless man, according to Local 6 news.

According to the article, Bill Railsback, 51, was drinking beer at a homeless camp when the teens jumped and began to beat him.  Railsback fought back and injured at least one of the attackers.

Rainsback said he believes he broke one of his attacker’s arms during the scuffle.  He said his attackers were between the ages of 16 to 20.

The attacks are happening in remote locations in woods.  According to the article, this is the third assault on a homeless man in DeLand since March.

In April, four Holly Hill teens received 22 to 35 years in prison for beating a homeless man to death.

The First United Methodist Church in DeLand is offering a $1,000 reward for information concerning the attack or the identity of the attackers.

Copyright: NEOCH Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio; Issue 76 

 

Health Care Forum Decries Lack of Universal Coverage

 

By Brian Davis

In a rare switch, politicians were invited to listen to constituents about one of the growing areas of disparity in our society.  Advocates held a health care summit on April l, 2006 at Trinity Cathedral with every local, state and federal candidate for office.  They were invited to listen to the problems residents face when they seek help for a broken leg or a heart attack.  Current office holders and those running for office in the May primary attended while David C. Barnett of WCPN hosted and kept the recitation of negative experiences with the U.S. health care industry moving along.

The recurring theme throughout the day was the belief by health care providers that Ibuprofen will cure all.  A former registered nurse who claimed that “profits were valued more than patients,” complained of chronic back pain and bedsores and was offered Ibuprofen.  Another woman had a long-term disability, but was repeatedly sent away with only an Ibuprofen prescription.  It seems from the testimony from the testimony on that day that current insurers were offering Ibuprofen is place of nation health care.

The most upsetting testimony of the day was a Cleveland Heights woman, Carla Ruttner who railed against a “broken” health care system.  She was especially angry with insurance companies who tried to keep costs down by diverting patients from seeking specialized help, and was incense that doctors were assisting in these efforts.

 “Part of the doctor’s job was to keep patients from seeing higher priced specialists and thereby holding down costs,” said Ruttner.  She recounted that a doctor in Hawaii told her husband to see a cardiologist when he got home from vacation because of a few irregular results in a few tests.  The doctor that her husband saw as a “gatekeeper” for her sub par insurer said, “You don’t need to see a cardiologist; you need to get your blood sugar under control.”  Ruttner went on to say, “Two months later with his blood sugar under control, but not having been admitted to see a cardiologist, he died of a heart attach.  He was 60 years old.”

 Ruttner and others were given the floor for a couple of minutes to speak about the broken health care system in the United States.  “I would like to know what kind of country we are that we have permitted this to go on?”  Ruttner asked.  State Senator Dale Miller was in the audience and characterized Ruttner’s story as horrible, adding, “We just cannot allow things like that to go on in this country.”

There were doctors who testified about the lack of care in the hospitals, and the confusing billing problems, and the insurance-driven decisions made on behalf of patients.

 Event organizer Dr. Tom Pretlow described his own stay at University Hospital when he faced substandard care as a result of a shortage of nurses.

 “If you thing that you are same because you have insurance and are going to a hospital with a good reputation, think again,” said Pretlow.

Fellow event organizer, Valerie Robinson of Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor focused her remarks on a theme that came up with nearly every speaker – the need for universal health care in the United States.

 In an interview after the hearing, Senator Miller responded to Robin’s call for Universal Health Care by talking about the petition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for universal health care in 2007.  Miller said, “The testimony certainly shows in a real personal way that the health care system in Ohio and in this country is badly broken.  We have very, very serious problems, and we really need a system of single payer health care in this country.”

Chris Ferren, a union activist, tried to find alternatives for his members to the high costs of insurance, which nearly bankrupted his union.  Ferran went a step further that Miller and said, “The fact that healthcare is provided in our country on a for-profit basis is a moral outrage.”  Dr. Michael Siedman, a family physician, was amazed that the United States spends the most per capita on healthcare and cannot do a better job of providing continuous basic care to all of those living in the United States.  He talked about some of the problems he faces in his practice trying to negotiate insurance.

Rev. Mark George also gave a run down of failings of health care insurers saying, “The insurance companies won’t pay unless they’re forced to.”  His attempts to help some off his constituents provide a him a “real education” about the way things work when a person is trying to find medical help.

One of the first speakers who was a doctor compared three of his patients’ experiences.  Each received different levels of care based on their health insurance coverage.  One patient delayed a surgery because she could not afford it, but it would have substantially improved her standard of life and would have prevented her from missing work due to illness.  Another patient could only take medicine for his kidney problems about 60% of the time due to a lack of funds.  This patient’s inability to pay for medicine will force him to go onto a kidney dialysis machine.  This treatment will be covered by Medicaid, but is the most expensive of health care options, and certainly not desirable to a patient.

One of those testifying, Julie Frazier, was struck after listening to all the horror stories how anyone could legitimately claim that the U.S. health care system was the “envy of the world.”

 Maureen Dietrich talked a great deal about her chronic health condition, which made it impossible to drive, and her insurer gave no thought to the difficulty of getting to see a doctor on a regular basis for test without a vehicle.

 Dessa Schmidt described her embarrassment as a small business owner and not being able to offer her employees health insurance.  She then found she had a long-term health problem that made it impossible to afford healthcare for anyone.  Ms. Schmidt contemplated moving to another state or closing her business in order to find a better environment for health care coverage.

Noreen Sharp described the 4500 a month she spent with a health care plan plus $19,000 out of pocket expenses last year because she has colon cancer.  The local healthcare for the homeless program, Care Alliance, struggles to serve the growing homeless population.  Leo Winneman said that until last year, they were turning 6 people a day away.  They had solved this problem with the opening of a renovated clinic, but now face 1% cut in federal funds and a 2.5% cut in funds to serve those battling HIV/AIDS in the next year.  Winneman also talked about the difficulty homeless people face in recovering at “home” when they live in a shelter, and the difficulty of getting identification – which makes it difficult to find sustainable help.

 The hearing lasted nearly four houses with short three to five minute horror stories delivered to the politicians who attended.  Medical students talked about the fear of having to deny care due to money and the “disgrace” that no politicians have solved this problem.  A CMHA resident, Belinda Pitts, talked her chronic health condition and the difficulty in paying for the 20 medicines that she must take.  She has lived as a homeless person because of her medical bills and in a message aimed at the politicians said, “This is no joke.  Stop playing around”.

 Many that summed up the event felt that it was democracy in action.  Organizer Pretlow said he had found a weakness in the current advocacy effort for universal health care.  “Personally, I am looking for an activist group with which I can identify to attack these problems.  There appear to be major flaws in all-healthcare activist groups that I have joined to date.  In terms of goals, at the Ohio level, SPAN Ohio is probably the group with which I agree most nearly.  These problems probably need to be attacked at the state level over the above whatever, if anything, happens at the national level.”

Pretlow went on to say, “I would want to find a focused organization that does not depend on ‘a [one] leader.’ We need thousands of leaders.  This is war, and it should be designed to breed independent action and democracy.”

Pretlow said that this hearing made him more aware of the scarcity of quality health care, and the difficulty most new physicians face when they graduate hundreds of thousands in debt.  Another issue that he sees is the problem of rising salaries and proliferation of health care administrators.  In 2002 there were 25 times the number of health care administrators.  In 2002 there were 25 times the number of health care administrators providing no direct medical care as there were in 1970, while the number of nurses and doctors is only 2.5 the number of 1970.

 

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine June 2006 – Issue 76

Former Director Weighs In

 

Dear Editor,

It is with a heavy heart and great concern I find myself writing this letter.  As a former director of Laura’s Home, I am heart broken at the state and deplorable conditions which have developed at Laura’s Home over the past 6-8 months.  Although I have and continue to applaud the vision and mission of the City Mission, I believe they have made decisions related to the care of homeless women and children which have proven to be detrimental to not only their physical but mental health as well.

I resigned as Director of Laura’s Home on 8/1/05 due to the City Mission’s decision to significantly restructure the women’s shelter to become more of a drop in center, where little to no additional services were provided (outside of meals and shelter).  Laura’s Home went from being a holistic recovery center for homeless women and children, where they were allowed to be human with all of their frailties and failures.

The goal was to help them become self-sufficient in an atmosphere of grace and acceptance.  However, over the past months, I continue to receive numerous reports from former supervisees, funders in the community and former clients that the environment has deteriorated to one of fear and punitive discipline.

Reportedly, not only are staff but residents as well are forced to “walk on egg shells” for fear of being terminated or discharged from the facility.  Of course these reports are all hearsay to me.  However, I believe the reports to be accurate because proposed changes presented to me last July would have led to such a deterioration.

My only purpose in writing this letter is the hope that the City Mission and Laura’s Home would get the assistance they need to take a closer look at how they are providing services for homeless women and children.  If I can be of any further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely yours,

 Renell Williams, M.Ed., LSW

Copyright: NEOCH-Homeless Grapvine; Cleveland, Ohio: Issue 76

Ex- Employee Prays for Reform

Dear Editor,

This is one woman’s story:

When I was hired at Laura’s Home, it was a wonderful place to work.  The pace was fast and hectic but seeing the women and children grow, their wounds heal, and their eyes get opened to a Savior who loved them made it all worthwhile.  The director at that time was caring, compassionate and always ready with encouragement, yet tough enough to not be naïve about women’s issues. 

Changes were coming and the director didn’t accept those changes and we ended up with a new director.  He made his wife a chaplain at Laura’s Home, even though she was not ordained to be a chaplain. He then started shifting life at Laura’s Home around making it hard for residents and front line staff alike.  (Of which I was one). We were no longer “supervisors”, but became “security” and the placed turned into a prison-like atmosphere.

I wanted to leave then, but thought “this is a Christian place; surely they have some good plan that I’m not seeing,” so I decided to wait and see. Things got worse and they fired one of my co-workers. No one knows why to this day.  Next, it was me. The woman who poses as head security would drag me by the arm and make me pack up women and children’s rooms and throw them out because she found a piece of candy in the room.  THEY were thrown out while others doing sexual misbehaviors were allowed to remain.  This baffled me and made no sense at all.

It was tough for me to stay then, but it got worse. (And trust me when I tell you that I’m just mentioning a few things that occurred there).

Next, “head security woman” would come sown to our office and harass me and tell me that I was doing things, (that I was not) and said that my co-workers and the residents said I was (trying to make me feel that everyone was against me).  My co-workers sent her e-mails “confessing” to what they had done and I made copies of them to show her. She then accused me of TELLING them to do the deeds. This kind of thing went on for a solid month-every day. Every day I got blamed for anything and everything that went on there – even on my days off she would call me at home and accuse me of something.  She’d blame me for taking phone calls and misguiding the people who called, even though by then she had put me on the midnight shift.  (No one called on THAT shift!)

I hopelessly tried clearing myself and asked her to bring forth my accusers because I could stand blame-lessly before them.  She could not produce them. She told me that she had been speaking up for me all month and that the director would have fired me if she had not.  Then…I was terminated and told I had a month to find work.

During this time my co-workers would meet in a car in the parking lot to pray for me.  They had to pray there because they feared being fired too if they were caught. I called the director and requested to see my records because I was being accused falsely all month and I didn’t want that false record to follow me.  He met with me the next day and told me that it was his choice and that he didn’t have to show me anything if he didn’t want to.  I told him that though he might want to fire me, that I’m self-supporting and that I wanted to be able to secure work since the mission doesn’t pay into unemployment.  I told him (very politely I might add) that the employee handbook stated on page33 (I believe) that I had the right to see my records once a year.

To see that I knew what the handbook said angered him, and he told me to skip the month; I was fired on the spot! I Asked unbelievingly, “is this what happens when someone asks to see their records?” He snapped “In your case!” He also stated that he would give me a bad recommendation for not resigning.

I am still amazed that ANYONE could be so horrible to someone for no apparent reason; could make up lie compounded by lie and put them in a record that could follow and harm you.  I still feel violated today by this appalling behavior that made no sense whatsoever.  The whole grueling month was a nightmare.

I wrote a letter to the head of the City Mission, who did not even bother to acknowledge me or give me the courtesy of answering it, so you are my next step.

I’ve since found out that two other good employees that I had the privilege of working with have also been fired for made up reasons, and two more will have left by the time this is printed, due to the cruelty and dishonesty that is going on there.

This letter speaks only for the employees.  I have heard that there is bad news planned for the residents also.  But I will let that person tell you about that when she writes HER story.

I only know that this MUST end soon!  Thank You For Listening,

Sincerely,

Name Withheld Upon Request

Copyright: NEOCH Homeless Grapevine;Clevland, Ohio-Issue 76

Cuyahoga County Failing Victims of Domestic Violence

 

Commentary by Brian Davis

Just five years ago there were two organizations serving the needs of homeless women fleeing an abuser:  the Center for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Tem plum House.  Neither was overly healthy, but how many independent non-profits were during the beginning of this six-nightmare recession in Cuyahoga County?  They merged and Cuyahoga County went from four domestic violence shelters to just one.  We have narrowed the definition of domestic violence to those who are immediately fleeing an abuser.  Yet studies show between 70-80% of women in emergency shelters have some abuse in their past.

 This is not to condemn the one agency left serving Domestic Violence victims.  The Domestic Violence Center is doing amazing work with an overworked staff shrinking resources.  The DVC staff try to serve a broad population on a shoestring budget. They put in long hours and do everything in their power to keep the women of Cuyahoga County safe.  They have tried to redesign their program to serve as many as possible, but there are plenty of women who have nowhere to turn for help.

 The Homeless Grapevine and Coalition for the Homeless staff have become painfully aware of the impact of domestic violence over the last few months.  In February, a guest of the Interfaith Hospitality Network was allegedly murdered by her “boyfriend.”  According to a Plain Dealer story, she was brutally stabbed in front of her young children by a man she had dated for the past year.  Then in May, the Vice President of the Board of Trustees of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless was allegedly shot in the face while trying to end a long relationship with a roommate/boyfriend.  We have also had a hard time finding a safe place for staff who were fleeing abusers over the past five years.

 We made a mistake by letting the two organizations merge into one.  Supporters will argue that we have two other shelters (West Side Catholic and East Side Catholic) who have stepped up to serve this population.  They both try to fill this void, but it is not the same.  The DV shelters have all of their staff trained to provide support.  They all understand the pressure that the women face to return to their abuser. They all understand the difficulty in standing firm against abuse when “The Dad is so good with the children.”  The women who show up on their doors have very specific needs and a very specific process for healing.

 Just for comparison, look at the Counties that border Cuyahoga County.  What follows is the Counties listed in order of number of shelter beds for Domestic Violence victims per resident (based on 2005 Census figures).

Geauga County 16 beds, 95,218 people or 1 bed for every 5,951 people

Summit County 90 beds, 546,604 people or 1 bed for every 6,073 people

Erie County 10 beds, 78,665 people or 1 bed for every 7,867 people

Lake County 27 beds, 232,466 people or 1 bed for every 8,610 people

Medina County 18 beds, 167,010 people or 1 bed for every 13,469 people

Lorain County 22 beds, 296,307 people or 1 bed for every 13,469 people

Portage County 5 beds, 155,631 people or 1 bed for every 31,126 people

Cuyahoga County 34 beds, 1335,317 people or 1 bed for every 39,274 people

 Where are all the corporations?  The beer companies?  The Women’s Rights organizations?  How did we let it get so bad that we only have 34 beds for the women and children fleeing a domestic violence situation in Cuyahoga County?  The state Attorney General’s 2004 report has startling figures on the incidents of violence against a spouse/roommate/date in Ohio.  The state reports shows that just in 2004, 1 in 100 women were abused and yet we have only 34 dedicated beds in Cuyahoga County!  We have an Office of Homeless Service, but they never sounded the alarm that there were problems with sustaining these programs or tried to raise awareness about problems within the system.  Why don’t some of the largest foundations or United Way hold a community dialogue about this problem?  Where are the County Commissioners on this issue or local religious leaders?

 My suggestion is that each city within the County should have their own strategy to address domestic violence within their community.  Each of the cities would set their own goals to move toward zero incidents of violence.  In the spirit of regionalism a few cities could join to set up DV emergency shelters to meet the need and share resources to fund these facilities.  The Domestic Violence Center in Cleveland could oversee training, administer the program, and coordinate advocacy for all these facilities.  For too long, we have relied on a shrinking number of community leaders to worry about this problem and shamefully, we have made little progress.  National studies show that 1 in 4 women will experience violence in their lifetime, but with a little leadership we could make Cuyahoga County a lot safer for women.

One positive note in this disturbing song is that the State of Ohio passed Senate Bill 313, the family violence exemption to welfare rules, by adding it to a child welfare amendment.  The Ohio Empowerment Coalition has worked on this issue for a couple of years.  This will allow women facing domestic violence to be exempt from welfare time limits.  Currently, each County as the option to adopt exemptions to welfare time limits.  Cuyahoga only recently allowed family violence as an exemption.  Now it is time for all Ohio counties facing economic hard times to exempt those families who cannot find living wage employment.

 

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine June 2006 – Issue 76

Coalition for Homeless Translates Letter as a Public Service

Below is the actual letter from the County Office of Homeless Services. This Office is very low profile and so we have taken the liberty to translate this letter for those who do not know a lot about homelessness or government speak. It is often difficult to cut through bureaucratic language to get to the point. As a member of the alleged “advisory” and as a public service, the Coalition staff will cut through the euphemisms and niceties to give you the real story.

The Honorable Frank Jackson, Mayor

Re: Cuyahoga County (with some small input from Cleveland) Office of Homeless Services “Advisory” (in name only) Board

Dear Mayor Jackson:

As the make-no-waves co-chairs of the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services (OHS) Discussion Group, we are writing to introduce ourselves and to express our hope that someday a politician will take notice of our little discussion group that meets on an infrequent basis to talk about how bad homelessness is in our community. We appreciate the fact that the City pays part of the Office expenses and salary and look forward to continue our long discussion about how bad homelessness is with your representative on the Advisory” Board.

With little to show over the last 14 years, OHS was established in May 1992, through a City of Cleveland Ordinance, the OHS “Advisory” Board was given broad goals without much accountability to:

Assit the Office of Homeless Sevices in implementing a the community’s Homeless Plan ( which most of us have never seen),

  •  Facilitate interagency and intergovernmental cooperation (which we interpret to mean only Cleveland and the County),
  •  Identify and review public policy issues impacting homelessness ( unfortunately no one told policy makers in the community),
  •  Develop funding priorities, in particular for public funds ( which we felt was an old-fashioned idea, but not practical today),
  •  Establish criteria to evaluate delivery of services (too hard for a discussion group),
  •  Develop avenues to communicate concerns regarding policy issues (it sounds like we are road construction crew), and
  • There are a few other items, but we ignore them so we won’t even mention them.

Although our community has now seen 20 continuous year of increases in homelessness, we have figured out ways to make crap sound like caviar in our letter. We like to model ourselves after the U.S. EPA. It all looks good on paper—Clean Water and Clean Air, but there is no way to enforce these rules. While still not allowing currently homeless people to join our discussion, we have added members to join to the OHS “Advisory” Bored membership. We are especially proud to offer more opportunities for current employees of the shelters to oversee themselves, we have:

  1. Reviewed and set a policy standardizing the grievance procedures for people being served in homeless programs, although there is still no place for homeless people to actually have their complaints heard.
  2. Established guidelines for requesting a participant to leave an emergency service program, but again this is not enforced by anyone with any control over the money.
  3. Institutes a murky criteria for new projects seeking funding that has mothing to do with community needs or the opinions of homeless people.
  4. Improving the process for assuring dependency by social service providers on government funding and we have a system to make it look as we are actually monitoring the quality of the programs.
  5. Cried about not being involved in the planning that came when the convention Center was discussed, and we then ground that process to a dead stop. 

 We would also like to acknowledge the sole piece of work the Office of Homeless Services spends all of its time on. This Office makes sure that the Greater Cleveland community receives its fair share of the millions of dollars in funding from HUD that is set aside for our area, which is becoming increasingly a major pain.  The Office of Homeless Service staff keeps the shelter and services in line and quiet by managing this federal grant.

We have decided to change the measurement of success by labeling managing a sinking ship as a success, but we recognizes that the community continues to face challenges including:

  •  Finding new sources of funds to throw at the problem and still not solve homelessness, since the feds will only pay for people homeless or cutting then loose to fend for themselves.
  •  Relieving the severe ret facing many Cleveland households who do not have a disability, but cannot find housing on their low incomes.
  •  Developing alternatives for persons being released from prison system, so that they do not move one jail to what many in our community consider another jail called shelter.

Both through our involvement on the OHS “Advisory” Board and our professional experiences, we think it is hilarious to call ourselves an “advisory” group when we are not advising anyone and most people don’t know what the hell we do. We pledge to continue to sit by the phone hoping that someone will ask us to provide some advice, and we ask to work with your office to figure out a way to get one particular member (whose name rhymes with a popular rental car company) of our discussion group to stop attending. Our dream for the few times that we actually meet this year will be to:

  •  Develop effective homeless prevention strategies using no money,
  •  Figure out why it takes over three years to complete a plan to address homelessness, figuring out new ways to put lists in letters, and
  •  Improve, with minor changes, the federal funding application process, because what else are we going to work on?

 We would be overjoyed if you actually paid attention to our discussion group because there is nothing that a Mayor needs more than a lot of empty talk about homelessness. We could talk about how to maintain a government job when the problem you are assigned to fix gets worse for your entire tenure, and to answer any questions you might have about the how to write a good federal grant application.

 Sincerely,

The people who occupy the chairmanship of this discussion group charged with deflecting critical attention to the Office of Homeless Service. Translated from government-speak by Brain Davis (whose name rhymes with Avis Car Company).

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio: Issue 76

A Letter from the OHS Advisory Board to Mayor Frank Jackson

The Honorable Fran Jackson, Mayor

Re: Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services Advisory Board

Dear Mayor Jackson:

                As the newly elected co-chairs of the City of Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services (OHS) Advisory Board we are writing to introduce ourselves and to express our commitment to continue working together with the elected officials of the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to address the issues of homeless in our community. We acknowledge and appreciate the past support of the City and Cuyahoga and look forward to working with your representative on the Advisory Board.

                Established in May 1992, through a City of Cleveland Ordinance, the OHS Advisory Board was given broad goals to:

  • Assist the Office of Homeless Services in implementing the community’s Homeless Plan,
  • Facilitate interagency and intergovernmental cooperation,
  • Identify and review public policy issues impacting homelessness,
  • Develop funding priorities, in particular for public funds,
  • Establish criteria to evaluate delivery of services, and
  • Develop avenues to communicate concerns regarding policy issues.

Although our community has nor resolved the problem of homelessness, much progress has been made. Whole diversifying and strengthening the OHS Advisory Board membership and offering more opportunities for formerly homeless individuals, we have:

  1. Reviewed and set a policy standardizing the grievance procedures for people being served in homeless programs.
  2. Established guidelines for requesting a participant to leave an emergency service program.
  3. Institutes clear criteria for new projects seeking funding through the HUD Continuum of Care funding process.
  4. Improved the review and ranking projects for the Continuum of care, including a process for monitoring agencies with deficits.
  5. Worked in collaboration with the Coalition for Affordable Housing to assist in developing a plan to prevent homelessness and increase the supply of affordable housing.

We would like to acknowledge one aspect of the Office of Homeless Services. This office is instrumental in the Greater Community receiving millions of dollars in funding from HUD in its Continuum of Care process, which becoming increasingly competitive. The Office if Homeless Services staff managers a community application process that has been successful in maintaining the community’s pro rata shares of HUD homeless dollars.

Even with these successes, the community continues to face challenges including:

  • Finding a source of funding for homeless prevention efforts as the $20 million from the continuum of Cleveland of Care only be used for intervention and not prevention.
  • Relieving the severe rent burdens facing many Cleveland households.
  • Devolving alternative for people being released from the prison system that minimize the risks of homelessness.

Both through our involvement on OHD “Advisory” board and our profession experiences, we are well acquainted with the issues and challenges facing our community as well as the ability to make lists within letters. We pledge to work with your Office and others to continue addressing the problem. Our focus for the next year will be:

  • Developing effective homeless prevention strategies,
  • Support the completion of the Heading Home planning process, and
  • Improving the Continuum of Care process further to assure HUD funding for homeless services.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to dialogue about the important issue, the OHS Advisory Board’s work, and to answer any questions you might have about the Homeless Continuum of Care.

Sincerely,

Valeria Harper-Bledsoe                                                                                Dianna M. Cyganovich

Co-chair                                                                                                                               Co-chair

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 76.