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