By Michelle Lasky
On a hot day in July, the Northeast Coalition for the Homeless attempted a new form of advocacy meeting--- representative democracy. Every shelter in the county, along with the drop-in centers and the outreach teams were invited to send two members two members to a meeting at the Bishop Cosgrove Center to recommend an agenda for the Coalition to follow. There were 10 facilities presented, each represented by two members, including two people who call the streets of Cleveland their home. Seven additional providers attended, but were not able to bring homeless clients.
The men and women met in the Cosgrove Center gymnasium around large dining room tables. The providers and other observers sat around the walls of the gym watching homeless people deliberate. Brian Davis, executive director of NEOCH, explained the function and role of the Coalition and discussed the critical areas of the organization. Davis described how the men at 2100 Lakeside had requested this meeting, and the purpose for meeting. There were some concerns that many of those present did not have a very good knowledge of the Coalition. There was some discussion about how this Congress should be structured and the agenda was approved.
Most of the meeting was spent discussing NEOCH’s strategic plan and the areas of advocacy on which the Coalition decided to focus its energy from 2005-2010. A few additional items were added over the past year and at this meeting. Almost all have developed as a result of local and national events. For example, the Coalition added the need for a disaster plan to relocate homeless people during an evacuation of downtown in response to the Katrina disaster. The threat of closing shelters due to budget cuts or local development needs has prompted the Coalition to add the issue of overcrowding in shelters to its strategic plan.
Some of the discussion of the meeting revolved around a standard grievance procedure in the shelters and the need for a place outside the shelters to air grievances. There were also concern that there was not enough information available in the community about available services, and especially about housing options. Additionally, a few women were worried about the environment at the Women’s Shelter. A few of the individuals who sleep on the street wanted to talk about conducting police training for interaction with the City for police to not harass those who live on the streets.
There was a concern expressed by a few representative about the number of people denied for Medicare or Medicaid. Davis explained that since there were three or four organizations working on this issue in the community it probably would not be the Coalition’s role to step into their territory; but to train those agencies to better serve homeless people.
Another topic was the most facilities do not focus on helping those individuals with very specific problems like mental illness or those with a physical disability. One issue that rarely is raised within the shelters is coordination of services by churches on the streets to provide food or clothing. The members who live on the street were concerned about getting the churches to collaborate to reduce duplication and the nights when no church comes downtown. There also was interest in helping Bill Hahn maintain his service of using Catholic Charities‘s truck to deliver supplies and food to those who stay outside. With all the controversy last year over this program, Davis said that this would be difficult.
Transportation was an issue that Homeless Congress representative agreed was often overlooked. It is very difficult for homeless people to find a way to get a job or look at housing. This inability to find transportation makes it very difficult for homeless people to keep appointments in order to move out of the shelters.
Copyright Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH Issue 77 July 2006 Cleveland Ohio