Welfare Rights Groups Still Working for Change

by  Bernadette Janes

   The Empowerment Center Of Greater Cleveland and Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor are two organizations  working in the Cleveland area  to ensure the human rights of  Cleveland’s low-income  population. While at times their individual missions  may overlap, each has specific goals and the methods to attain them. With their outstanding dedication, persistent advocacy and unending service to low-income people, their presence is changing the lives of individuals and families  not only in the Cleveland area  but in the state of Ohio as well.

A Generation of Empowerment

   The Empowerment Center of Greater Cleveland began in 1966 with a unique drama.  A small group of welfare recipients decided to walk from Cleveland to Columbus to bring to the state government an appeal for improvement in the living conditions of people of low income and diverse ethnic backgrounds. They not only demanded that their peoples’ basic needs be met, but claimed that low-income people deserve to have a voice in the governmental issues affecting their lives. They wanted access to education, training, and the development of modern skills to help them acquire meaningful participation in their respective communities. In short, they wanted their human dignity affirmed.

   Like a small earthquake, their arrival in Columbus and their forthright package of demands created quite a stir in the capitol. Legislators could not avoid listening to their requests, and, despite the personal hauteur of Ohio’s powerful lawmakers, they could not help marveling at the intelligence of the determined little group. Then, as the news went out, people of other counties joined in. The group expanded, and named itself the Ohio Steering Committee, later changing it to the Ohio Welfare Rights Organization. As the movement gained renown and strength, it spread to other states, and soon the National Welfare Rights Organization was formed.

   Having been incorporated in 1970, the Ohio Welfare Rights Organization again changed its name in 1994 to The Empowerment Center Of Greater Cleveland, to emphasize the personal development of its clients, working toward the  elimination of inequality, and the intended inclusion of ordinary people in the shaping of policies by which they would be governed.

   Community organizing and the creation of new outlooks still reflect the Empowerment Center’s goal of increased access to the educational, cultural and political resources previously lacking in the lives of low-income people. Children are especially endangered by the loss of income support, which sometimes leads to the destruction of families. With family breakup, children are often put into foster care or even adopted away from their families. Mindful of that danger, the Empowerment Center works to educate and inform public officials as well as the general public about such regulations and governmental policies that hamper recipients’ efforts to rise above social conditions trapping them and their children in poverty and disadvantage.

   The Empowerment’s programs aim to guide clients to personal achievement, developing qualifications for higher-level employment, and to a new sense of self-suffiency and responsibility.  The Center’s computer instruction increases the range of job opportunities, while workshops and forums  bring participants a new awareness of important national political issues. Assistance in obtaining food stamps and discounted phone service are available to those who need them while going through this educational process, with neighborhood meetings for discussion and planning of future actions.

   Despite notable progress, conditions producing poverty have not yet altered enough to eliminate the need for assistance to Ohio’s low-income population.  However, with its Executive Director Tom Mendelsohn, its Board of Trustees and extensive professional Staff, the Empowerment Center Of Greater Cleveland has had some successes.  They think that these successes through time will significantly change conditions of life for low-income people, not only for those living today but for generations to come. Young people of the future will be able to take pride in how effectively the trudging feet of their forbears surprised the capitol of Ohio and brought a whole new way of dealing with problems of poverty and social exclusion.

STOP Working to Help Victims of Welfare Reform

   Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor is a member of the Ohio Empowerment Coalition, a statewide welfare rights organization. STOP began in response to welfare reform legislation under which low-income people faced a time limit to their eligibility for income support. The federal time limit was set at five years, but the state of Ohio cut its own time limit to three years.

   Welfare recipients are required to find employment and become self-sustaining within the three year interim. For those seeking education to improve their prospects, a complicated regimen was at first worked out whereby a minimum of school time would be counted against required working hours, but that plan did not succeed for very many students, and very few, if any, were awarded guarantees of state-funded four year college enrollments. As to the availability of jobs, a complicating factor at the time was that thousands of jobs were being transferred to other countries, under one of the early U.S. Free Trade Agreements, leaving welfare recipients seeking work in a vastly reduced job market. Even more problematic was the search for decent child care for mothers going to work at times required on day or night shifts.

   As time passed and recipients complied with work requirements, the maintenance of family stability became more and more difficult. Stop’s introductory pamphlet presents an analysis reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer of July 20, 2003, of ten U.S. cities being compared on the effects of Welfare Reform’s requirements. In the report, Cleveland was named last in quality of life for children, whose lives were deemed harsher than those in the nine other cities named in the study. The three-year limit is also said to be one of the factors in the rise of infant mortality in the Cleveland area, nearly double the national average. These developments show that many people are still suffering from the loss of income support. Yet, results also seem decidedly mixed, since significant numbers of others have succeeded in their search for desirable employment.

   With these varied outcomes, Stop’s stated mission of education, empowerment and many-sided assistance to low-income families has proven to be having an impact and experiencing progress through its community meetings, its coalition building, and its ongoing process of preparation for better futures. A call-in number is available for quick assistance to anyone in need. and STOP pays special attention to those physically unable to work and those needing extra help such as continuing health care.

   Stop’s new Family Connection Center at 12001 Buckeye Road is a great help as a training facility for Stop’s Work Experience Program. Already a substantial number of women have passed the regimen, with good outcomes increasing as the Program becomes more widely known. Headed by Executive Director Priscilla Cooper and her Board of Trustees and team of officers, the Family Connection Center has received grants from the Gund Foundation, the United Black Fund, and the Ida B. Wells Foundation.  These funds help immeasurably with Stop’s ongoing rallies and citywide meetings.

   Yet, despite many successes, change for the great mass of the people comes slowly, with families still experiencing breakup, children still shunted to foster care, and the frightening rise in the mortality of infants. All this shows that much more needs to be done to bring real stabilization to Cleveland’s low-income families. Such are the conditions that both the Empowerment Center Of Greater Cleveland and STOP Targeting Ohio’s Poor work to reverse every day, to uphold the rights of low-income people to better their situations in life, and to offer their children more satisfying futures.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 79 December 2006-January 2007, Cleveland Ohio.

Residents’ Council Helps Men at 2100 Be Heard

by Sarah Valek

   A shelter can’t run properly without hearing from the people that actually live there. This is a well-known adage at 2100 Lakeside Men’s Shelter, where a meeting is held each month for residents to air their grievances, concerns or complaints about the facility. In what are known as Resident Council meetings, the residents get to do the talking. And the staff must respond.

   Resident Council meetings consist of representatives from each of the six communities (and the overflow site) in 2100, one of the largest shelters for homeless men in the Midwest. The goal is to have every community represented so all issues can be heard. Brian Davis from the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless moderates in an open-forum style where anyone can speak up at anytime.

   The meetings start out slowly until Davis asks about the quality of food. Then it’s on. Residents start out by decrying the overabundance of pasta and hotdogs and move on to other issues such as confidentiality, favoritism, staffing, transportation and a lack of resources.

   After about an hour of grievances, the shelter director is called in to directly respond to all the issues. This allows residents to hear what action steps will be taken.

   Resident Council meetings were started about three years ago by Davis as a way to address complaints with the shelter. Tommy Parker, an alumnus who now works at 2100, has attended the meetings since they began.

   “I think the Resident Council is one of the best things they started here,” said Parker. He said certain complaints are handled immediately, but others need to be dismissed due to lack of funding, such as the excess of pasta and hotdogs.

   “Sure it’d be great to have steak and potatoes sometimes….” said Parker.

   Gordon “Ice” Mills is also a long-time Resident Council member.  A representative of the E (Emergency) community, “Ice” said the meetings “help to a great degree, but in the same token, some issues brought to the front are not really priority issues.”

    Discipline is a priority issue according to “Ice.” He said his complaints about the staff take weeks to get dealt with. But if a staff member were to complain about him, he’d get kicked out of 2100 right away. “Ice” mentioned that too many problems get lost in the run-around.

    Parker noticed how the meetings have positively affected Resident Council members. He can see how the men start addressing issues in their own lives and how they start talking to more residents in their community. “They have a better understanding of how things go on [at the shelter],” said Parker.

    The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is starting to implement similar meetings at the Community Women’s Shelter. The men have have now met for four years and were instrumental in the creation of a Homeless Congress to meet the needs of the entire community.

    As Parker said, “Until we get involved in something, we can’t change something.”

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 79 December 2006-January 2007, Cleveland Ohio.

NEOCH Reports on Local Thanksgiving Headcount

Commentary by Brian Davis

   Every year during the Thanksgiving weekend, NEOCH staff and volunteers walk downtown to count the number of people who choose to sleep outside. This has two purposes: the first is to make sure that there is no harassment of homeless people in keeping with the Key vs. City of Cleveland legal agreement. In 2000, NEOCH signed an agreement with the City to stop police officers, under the direction of the Mayor, from confronting homeless people and telling them that they could not sleep on the public spaces. NEOCH and a group of homeless people signed a court-supervised settlement after filing a lawsuit, which prevented police from arresting or threatening arrest of homeless people for purely innocent behavior of sitting, sleeping, standing or eating on the sidewalk. Every year NEOCH staff survey the downtown to make sure that the agreement is in place and there are no reported violations.

   Cleveland is one of the only cities in the United States with such an agreement, and so NEOCH staff go out to test this settlement every year. The other purpose is to count the number of people who reject the shelters during the year and get a snapshot of the extent of the problem. The holiday weekend is a good baseline, because it is typically the smallest number that will be out for the entire year. Many family members take their relatives in for Thanksgiving, while others stay in the shelters to participate in the large number of meals served during the holidays.

   This year, NEOCH staff reported a few things on this unseasonably warm holiday weekend. As reported by the local outreach workers, the weather has very little impact on the number of people sleeping outside anymore. The people who reject the shelters have an extensive plan for survival with blankets, plastic and even tents. This year NEOCH staff saw 40 people sleeping downtown — up from 27 last year — more than a 60% increase! There were not as many people seen on Public Square, but certainly just as many were seen around the Square in various places.  The boundaries for the NEOCH walk include every street from East 20th to West 3rd from Lake Erie back to Carnegie Ave. to Jacobs Field.

   Unlike last year, there did not seem to be anyone who was not prepared for the cold. There was no one sleeping near the Convention Center this year.  Last year all the homeless people who slept around the facility on Lakeside Ave were removed following a fire that was started in one of the encampments.  One disturbing trend is that the number of people sleeping outside has steadily increased over the last few years to nearly the level that faced Cleveland before the men’s shelter opened at 2100 Lakeside.

   In talking to some of the people who sleep outside, they report a variety of reasons why they do not move into the shelters. Some do not like the rules in shelter or find it too demeaning to ask for help. Others report a negative stigma associated with most shelters.  Some have gotten fed up with the wait or the lack of progress in the shelters and give up.   Some do not like to be near people, others do not like the problems with theft and some just don’t like the smell of being around a hundred other people.

   The Downtown businesses that have now taxed themselves to keep the sidewalks clean are not going to tolerate people sleeping on those clean sidewalks. There are grants pending and a strategy to educate both pedestrians in re-directing their charity away from panhandlers and to “educate” homeless people to sleep in more appropriate locations.  They are all paying $3 million a year for those clean up crews, and the security and outreach staff.  There is also an ongoing debate about opening a 24-hour drop in center just outside of the downtown area to redirect feeding programs as well as homeless people into a “warming center” instead of the streets. 

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 79 December 2006-January 2007, Cleveland Ohio.

Local News: More Homeless Sleeping on Cleveland Streets

No Homeless at Hopkins         

   Everyone staying out at the airport was relocated over the last three months.  Over the last several years, the clean and safe environment of the Cleveland Hopkins International became attractive to 20 to 35 homeless people a night.  Many slept near the baggage claim center after riding the RTA rapid to the airport.  There were a few who contacted advocates to object to the relocation, and two refused to leave and were arrested.  There were a larger number of women at the airport then most other locations because of the large number of security present at the airport.  Mental Health Services found housing for four of the individuals sleeping at the airport. 

Aviation High School Overflow to End Next Year                 

Federal agencies are getting very concerned about the large number of homeless people sleeping at Aviation High School just off of the property of Burke Lakefront Airport.  There is concern about the security of the airport with so many people sleeping at the back door to the air field.  City officials have assurances that the overflow will be open through this winter season, but then it must close.  The County is feverishly working on replacement sites, which will be announced in the next month.

School District Staff Gather to Learn About Homelessness

   In 2002, the No Child Left Behind law required that every school district in the United States identify staff to serve homeless children.  For the first time in Cuyahoga County the school district homeless liaisons gathered to learn their responsibilities under the law.  The Ohio Department of Education and NEOCH organized a forum for school district officials in Cuyahoga County to review the law, their responsibilities under the law, and to get clarity on questions that arise.  The Cleveland Public Schools program called Project Act assisted with the forum to provide forms and protocols based on their years of experience in serving hundreds of homeless children every year.  Fourteen school districts attended the forum in early December at Garfield High School, and were provided a wealth of materials.  Tom Dannis of the Department of Education walked the liaisons through the responsibilities, the reimbursement possibilities, and the reporting requirements in this two hour forum.

More Sleeping on Streets in ‘06

   Volunteers and staff from NEOCH conducted their annual walk Downtown to measure compliance with the Key vs. City of Cleveland agreement and count the number of people sleeping outside.  In 2006, NEOCH found nearly as many people sleeping outside in the Downtown Cleveland as were sleeping the year before the 2100 Lakeside Shelter opened.  There were 40 people who reject shelter and sleep outside as a baseline for the next year.  This count is during the holiday season, and history shows that this is the smallest number of people that will be sleeping outside over the next year.  There were some concerns raised that Public Square was not going to be available to homeless people in the near future.  NEOCH staff plan to meet with the police to discuss areas of concern and collaboration.  For more information on  this, see our story below.

Voting Woes Still Plague Ohio

   Despite reports of a smooth election by media, the two polling places observed by Coalition for the Homeless staff found substantial problems.  Teri’ Horne, NEOCH’s Director of Operations, observed the polling location near West Side Catholic Shelter, which was one of the 14 that were forced to stay open late.  The school was not opened early enough for the polling location to open on time.  Brian Davis, the Coalition’s Executive Director, observed the Sterling Recreation Center near 2100 Lakeside and the Community Women’s Shelter and found a long list of problems.   Sterling lost both of its precinct judges, which caused confusion the entire day.  NEOCH staff found poll workers were not adequately trained, and were not informed of the shifting state of the identification law.  At the Sterling Recreation Center, police had to be called to settle a dispute over homeless voting procedures. 

Insurance Costs Shut Down Hiring Hall

   Sarah Garver Megenhardt, the executive director of the Community Hiring Hall, is out on maternity leave after a rough year for the non-profit temporary labor agency.  After not receiving the City of Cleveland contract, the agency was hampered by substantial increases in Worker’s Compensation and Unemployment rates.  The agency moved back into the offices of one of the founding organizations, the United Labor Agency.  They continue to work on stability issues and are sending people out to work everyday.  They hope to rejuvenate their Board of Trustees and regroup when Garver Meganhardt returns in 2007.

Media Coverage Brings Back

Panhandling Law After Sunset

   The Cleveland ordinance regulating panhandlers expired in October 2006.  After media reports pointed out that the law had passed its sunset, the Cleveland City Council rushed into action to “protect” pedestrians.  The sunset clause in the ordinance had been included as a compromise with homeless advocates and others opposed to the measure.  But, with very little public notice and no invitation extended to the organized opposition to attend the hearing, the measure passed.  The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless opposes this ordinance because of the restrictions on where people can ask for money, which is tantamount to a restriction on free speech.  In the first year of the panhandling ordinance over 100 people were ticketed and only one person actually paid the fine.  The punishment for violating the panhandling restriction is a $250 fine.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 79 December 2006-January 2007, Cleveland Ohio.

House Bill 3 Settlement a Victory for Homeless Voters

Commentary by Brian Davis

   “Today was a good day for democracy,” plaintiffs’ attorney Subodh Chandra said to a local blogger named Yellow Dog Sammy.  After a marathon session of negotiations with the State of Ohio, attorney Chandra, The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, the Service Employee International Union and homeless people struck an agreement which would allow everyone to cast a vote and have that vote counted. 

   NEOCH and SEIU in Columbus filed suit in October against the Secretary of State Ken Blackwell over the requirement for Ohio voters to show identification before casting a ballot. Many homeless people have problems keeping identification, because of theft and the constant requirement to move around.   It is also unlikely that homeless people will have identification that corresponds to their shelter address. Local homeless service providers said that between 20 to 30 percent of homeless population do not have any identification.  Members of various homeless coalitions throughout the state found a wide variety of interpretations of the law requiring ID, which meant homeless people might have been disenfranchised from voting depending on their voting precinct’s interpretation of the law.

   Three homeless and low-income people went down to Columbus one week before the November election to fight for the rights of all voters in Ohio. They woke up a 5 a.m. to drive to Columbus and waited for 11 hours while lawyers negotiated. Pam Denton, Micky Trammell and Cornell Bishop all made the trip and sat in a jury room for hours waiting for a hearing to start while the State of Ohio negotiated with the team of lawyers representing NEOCH/SEIU.

   Pam is a graduate of Spelman College and grew up in Birmingham, Alabama during the last days of segregation. Her cousin was one of the children killed in the bombings. She told the lawyers that she was surprised that Ohio was doing what Bull Connor was trying to do in the South.  She is a very strong woman who volunteers, and had a very stable life in the suburbs. Her driver’s license expired and she had no address to put on a new license. Both Bishop and Trammell were veterans of the United States military, and had very difficult issues with regard to proving their identity. 

   The issues were broader than just homeless people.  Many housed individuals were also disenfranchised by the identification requirements.  There were students who had a university ID that did not display their dormitory address.  There were students who had their “home” address in some other state, but had in the past registered to vote in Ohio since they lived in Ohio for 9 months of the year and were in Ohio during the elections.  Then there were those who had sent in an absentee ballot, but had copied the wrong number from their driver’s license.  All of these issues were clarified by the settlement and it also clarified which votes would actually be counted.  The bottom line was that everyone who attempted to vote and went to the correct precinct would have their vote counted.

   The consent order also requires that those provisional votes that were in limbo be counted. Thousands of absentee ballots that were in doubt because county boards of elections were confused over the law or were inconsistently applying the voter-ID requirements would be counted.  One person mentioned as a disenfranchised voter was Henry Eckhart who had completed his absentee ballot incorrectly.  According to Chandra, “The Columbus lawyer and longtime public servant voted for 52 years without any issues. [In October], Mr. Eckhart, like many others trying to deal with the new law, wrote down on his absentee-ballot form the larger, more prominent number over the photograph on his driver’s license rather than the smaller driver’s license number. After voting began, some counties decided they were going to honor ballots like his; others were not. Mid-election, Secretary of State Blackwell issued a directive that all such ballots, and countless others cast under the cloud of electoral confusion, not be counted.”

   Chandra, again commenting to Yellow Dog Sammy said, “We achieved a consent order that contains major victories for voters.” In particular, the consent order “ensures that thousands of Ohioans whose votes were at risk because of a vague statute, compounded by the secretary of state’s failure to give directives (followed by a wrong and overly restrictive directive on the eve of the hearing), will be counted.” 

   The settlement clarified the language of the original law, and standardized the rules.  Anyone who showed up with either no identification or had a problem with their ID would be given a provisional ballot. The big difference was that the voter did not have to show up 10 days after the election to prove anything or sign an affidavit.  If the voter had a social security number, they just needed to provide the last four digits of that number and sign the book as they normally did, and they would get a provisional ballot that would not be challenged later.

   This is not a partisan issue either, because both Sherrod Brown (D) and Bob Taft (R) worked very hard as Secretaries of State to get every homeless person to participate in democracy. They both outlined the rules for homeless people to register and then vote and they both worked to reduce the barriers to voting. Bob Taft was one of the first Secretaries of State in the United States to implement rules for homeless people registering to vote. The Taft rules were models adopted by many other states and pushed by advocates. Ken Blackwell had the word “homeless” only one time on the Secretary of State website.  He never attempted to clarify the rules or assure that any changes in the law took homeless people into account.

   In what many commentators have identified as retaliation, the State of Ohio filed contempt of court charges against Chandra for informing the local Election Boards about the clarification of the rules.  This idea gained traction with the Cleveland Plain Dealer even though the argument for any violation of the law was tenuous at best.  Informing a public entity of the clarification of the law, as was done with another lawsuit (that time with the blessing of the Secretary of State’s office), did not cross the line according to Chandra.   The court reprimanded Chandra, but did not find him in contempt of court. 

   House Bill 3, the law that changed the registration and voting process, was not warmly received by Ohio courts.  The registration rules were struck down; the provisions that allowed poll workers to question the immigration status of voters was ruled unconstitutional, and finally, the identification requirements were clarified by the courts.  Activists hope that the legislature takes a more studied view of voting reform to work to enfranchise as many voters as possible in Ohio.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 79 December 2006-January 2007, Cleveland Ohio.

Homeless People Still Endangered Across America

Another Attack in America’s Most Dangerous State

Fort Lauderdale, FL - On the night of October 3rd, just two days after the television news program “60 Minutes” aired a story discussing the rise in hate crimes against homeless people, another homeless person was beaten in Fort Lauderdale according to WTLV NBC-12 and WJXX ABC-25.  Mark Davis was attacked by four men in their early-20s with a golf club.  In 2005, a report released by the National Coalition for the Homeless declared Florida to be the most dangerous state for homeless people.  This latest assault is the third instance of attacks on homeless people reported in Fort Lauderdale this year.

California Reminds Homeless They Are Not Welcome

San Francisco, CA – The city of San Francisco dedicated two days to making sure their homeless populations don’t forget they are not wanted.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Thursday, September 28th, was spent ushering homeless people away from the Grand Opening of the new shopping center on Market Street, including one wheelchair-bound individual who was lingering too close to the Market Street door.  Area police denied the claims, stating homeless people left of their own accord.  Police  claim that  because the shopping center attracted a new clientele homeless people did not want to be around.  This was followed up on Friday, September 29th, with a sweep of the homeless in Golden Gate Park.

Campout at City Hall

Fresno, CA – Homeless and homeless advocates of the city of Fresno in California camped out on the steps of City Hall to protest the degrading treatment the city’s homeless population receives, as reported by the San Francisco Bay Area Independent Media Center.  Some grievances that initiated the campout include the taking and destroying of the personal possessions of homeless individuals as well as harassment from the police who frequently stop and search homeless people and force them to move from one location to another.  However, while the protestors woke up the following Sunday morning, the Fresno Police Department was busy trying to move an encampment in another part of downtown adjacent to highway 99.

Homeless Man on Trial for Resisting Arrest

Oxnard, CA – The Ventura County Star reports that the trial of Jose Martinez for resisting arrest began on Tuesday, October 24th.  Martinez was arrested on February 5th after being stopped for jaywalking.  When police stopped him to ask what he was doing, they found it suspicious that Martinez (who requires a translator at court hearings) responded with non-verbal gestures.  They searched him, checked his ID, and then restrained him when he attempted to run away.  One of the officers claimed Martinez kept pulling on the officer’s gun, so the officer punched him.  No fingerprints, blood, or DNA were found on the officer’s gun.

LA Metropolitan Medical Center Dumping Homeless Patients

Los Angeles, CA – The LAPD told the Los Angeles Times that the Los Angeles Metropolitan Medical Center dropped off discharged homeless persons in LA’s Skid Row area, even though some of the patients said they did not want to be taken there.  One patient who was dropped off in the Skid Row area had asked if he could be dropped off at his son’s house.  One of the ambulance drivers involved in the incidents claimed to have been hired to regularly drop off discharged homeless persons in this area of downtown.  The hospital could be held in violation of the federal Emergency Medical Transfer and Active Labor Act as well as charged with false imprisonment.

Macon Discusses Panhandling, Again

Macon, GA – More than a year after a similar proposal was shot down by city council, Macon Councilwoman Nancy White again proposed a panhandling ordinance for Macon’s downtown areas according to WMAZ-TV.  Backed by area businesses, White’s proposal regulates “aggressive” panhandling in an attempt to make downtown Macon more attractive.  The previous proposal, introduced by Councilman Mike Cranford, was rejected by city council because it applied only to downtown Macon and did not address the growing panhandling problem throughout the entire city.

Homeless Moved to Build Homes

San Bernadino, CA – The San Bernadino Sun reports that in an attempt to move homeless people out of Seccombe Lake Park, City leaders have decided to turn the area into a gated residential community.  The City plans to vacate homeless people from the park when construction begins on the new homes.  Assembly Bill 1457, introduced by Assemblyman Joe Baca Jr., cedes 12.5 acres of the park to local control.

Judge Issues Restraining Order Against City of Fresno

Fresno, CA – According to KFSN-TV Fresno, a judge has signed a restraining order against the city of Fresno for taking the personal belongings of homeless people and immediately destroying them while tearing down homeless encampments.  Any personal belongings gathered by the city must now be put in storage for up to 90 days.

UCPD Not Like LAPD

Los Angeles, CA – As the LAPD begins to crackdown on the homeless situation in their Skid Row area, UCLA has taken an opposing stance, according to the Daily Bruin.  The campus police said in the article that they see no reason to arrest homeless people on the UCLA campus as long as they are not creating a disturbance.  Meanwhile, the LAPD continues to stringently enforce a no sleeping policy by ticketing homeless persons in downtown Los Angeles.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 79 December 2006-January 2007, Cleveland Ohio.

Heading Home Headed for Dustbin

Commentary by Kevin E. Cleary

   The Heading Home report was finally released on December 1st, with nowhere near as much fanfare as preceded its drafting.  The report, which was supposed to be released on Labor Day of 2005, is, to paraphrase, many days and many dollars short of its promises.

   The Department of Housing & Urban Development mandated each city to produce a 10-year plan to “end homelessness,” and a number of cities tried to accommodate that ridiculous, unfunded demand.  HUD’s mandate focused on housing so-called “chronically homeless” people, who are typically the hardest clients to serve.  (Editor’s Note: The phrase “chronically homeless” is regarded as highly offensive by many Coalitions, and homeless people themselves.  According to HUD, it refers to “an unaccompanied homeless person with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the previous three years.”) In the mean time, entire families have become homeless while programs and agencies nationwide have been forced to chase down often unwilling clients with increasingly scarce dollars.

   You will find none of this in the Heading Home report, which is one of its strengths and its drawbacks.  Thanks to suggestions from advocates and providers, Cleveland managed to avoid the quagmire of drafting an unworkable and largely unfunded “plan” that no one ever intended to follow anyway, as has been done in many other cities, like Indianapolis and Seattle.

   Unfortunately, the people of Cuyahoga County did invest $80,000 in what is basically a draft report that is long on facts and figures and offers only a few pragmatic solutions or suggestions.  I’m sure compiling these statistics was a chore, but I don’t know if it was worth spending $80,000; especially since many of these have been published in The Homeless Grapevine (which costs 1/80,000th of that), or are available online for free. 

   The report is overly vague where it needs to be specific.  It is also hamstrung by its failure to mention the federal government’s role in creating many of the problems the report is supposed to address.  There is no language in the report explaining the need for expanded federal help that is required to “solve” homelessness, and that only the feds have enough money to accomplish it if it’s to be anything more than empty talk.  But the report reads as if the increases in homeless families, lack of affordable housing, the endless bureaucracies that create multi-year long waiting lists, etc. all came out of nowhere. 

   The Heading Home report was supposed to propose specific remedies to address myriad needs.  Instead, we got vague and bureaucratic strategies, like forming an Interagency Council on Homelessness in Cuyahoga County to bring groups who serve homeless people together.  Couldn’t we have spent some of the $100,000 that was set aside for the report on actually doing that, instead of just recommending it?  Heck, they’ve got $20,000 left; I’m sure the catering will be excellent.

   As the federal government dumps responsibility for its homeless and impoverished citizens on states and cities, cities and counties are dumping their responsibilities on ill-funded non-profits.  In the words of comedian Steven Colbert, the federal government is asking cities to hurry up and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps after they’re done eating their own shoe leather.”  The report’s basic recommendations boil down to this: “those things that you’re already trying to do with no money, do them better.”

   The report is good at outlining some of the needs of the community, such as the need for better discharge planning for ex-offenders being released from prison.  But, short of making it illegal to dump ex-offenders off on homeless shelters, or keeping them in prison, there is no incentive for the prison system to spend resources on better discharge planning. At least 25 people per month go directly from prison to 2100 Lakeside, the area’s largest men’s shelter.  The report mentions that an 11-point Reentry Housing Plan has been developed by a subcommittee of The Cleveland Reentry Strategy group, but for some reason the plan is not included in the Heading Home report.

   The document is 34 pages long, including the title and a few unnumbered pages, so there should have been ample room for an 11-point plan, but at an apparent cost of $2,352.94 per page, I guess they wanted to save the taxpayers this burden.

   Though it’s my nature to be negative, I don’t want to give the impression that this report is entirely useless.  For instance, I think its suggestion for a “shallow rent” subsidy program of $100 to $200 a month to help impoverished families pay rent is a great idea.  The report claims that a fund of “only $12 million... could assist up to 10,000 extremely low-income households,” and make “the difference between decent, affordable housing and either an exorbitant rent burden or an overcrowded or uninhabitable dwelling.”  But that money for rent-assistance has to come from somewhere, and I fear it may also come attached to funding cuts in other essential areas and another byzantine bureaucracy.

   I have a suggestion that relates to this subsidy plan, and I wish I had seen it in the report. Heading Home cites a 2004 survey of County shelter residents conducted by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (see “Homeless Survey Yields Surprising Results,” Homeless Grapevine 67).  Nearly half of the respondents mentioned the inability to afford a security deposit as their main barrier to finding housing.  A program that paid security deposits would go a long way toward helping homeless individuals move beyond our overcrowded shelters.  This could be done via a non-profit credit union or employment agency where renters pay back the deposit at $20 a month; or this could be achieved through a subsidy similar to that mentioned above. 

   The report stresses increasing the availability of affordable housing as the main solution, which is a logical notion.  But, there are myriad problems associated with homelessness that need to be resolved on a case by case basis.  I would like to see more of a triage approach in our shelters and outreach to assess the needs of individuals and families, and a variety of housing options to accommodate those needs.  There is a need for pay-to-stay shelters, more domestic violence shelters (we would be a lot better off if all of the County’s shelters ran like the Domestic Violence Center), lower-cost mental health facilities, etc.  We need to expand our vision beyond the way we have “always done things,” especially in light of continued funding cuts.  For instance, transitional housing is a good and effective idea for moving people beyond the shelters and into housing, but it is primarily used only for those who struggle with addiction. 

   I like Robert Egger’s (see “DC Central Kitchen’s Robert Egger Shares His Philosophy,” Homeless Grapevine 78) idea for dumping the traditional shelter models.  He suggests purchasing of storefront buildings with revenue-generating businesses downstairs, and apartments upstairs.  I think this model could be used for non-profit “job-training” businesses downstairs that provide services to the community like dry cleaning, coffee shops, etc., or non-profits or government agencies could rent the storefronts to businesses in order to pay for the subsidized apartments upstairs.  There are so many good ideas out there, and we needed Heading Home to prioritize and organize them into a real plan.

   I think the report is a fair indicator of where we as a County are in regard to homelessness, but fails when it comes to delivering why we’re there and how to move forward.  Recommending more dialogue is always a safe bet, but Heading Home was supposed to be an actionable plan or at least a comprehensive strategy.  At this point, I’m ready to take a cue from Peter Pan and Cleveland.com’s commercials: I propose we all just close our eyes, clap our hands, and chant “I do believe in Cleveland, I do believe in Cleveland...” until it comes back to life like Tinkerbell... Now where is my $80,000?

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 79 December 2006-January 2007, Cleveland Ohio.

Cincinnati Activists Honor buddy gray 10 Years After Murder

by Brian Davis

   Buddy gray (he preferred his name in lower case letters) was a war resister, carpenter, preservationist, poet, community journalist, baseball coach, and friend to many. And he was known best as a relentless and uncompromising advocate for low income housing and other services for the poor. He came from a small-town, working-class family to live in Over-the-Rhine because he believed in the cause of liberation. He had decided, when he was still a young man that he could not tolerate the poverty and discrimination he saw in the world around him. So he entered what his brother Jack called “a journey of fearless, selfless service.”

   Buddy gray was killed by a disturbed man who was a neighbor to gray in 1996.   The man shot buddy in the shelter after hate materials were posted and distributed in the neighborhood.  This mentally ill man who had experienced homelessness was apprehended and later died in prison.  To mark the 10th anniversary there were a series of forums culminating in a march and memorial/grief session.  There were speakers, poets, artists, and musicians who remembered buddy gray and his impact on Cincinnati and the United States. 

   Michael Stoops from National Coalition spoke and Barb Anderson from Indiana came to remember her friend, buddy. Georgine Getty from the Greater Cincinnati Coalition and buddy’s close friend Bonnie Neumeier talked about gray’s legacy. Each individual spoke for 2 minutes with civil rights activists from the 1960s and 1970s standing witness along side college and high school students from Moeller High School and Xavier and Miami University.  Cleveland was represented by Brian Davis of the Coalition for the Homeless and Duane Drotar of 2100 Lakeside Shelter.  I spoke about gray’s legacy and how everyone misses these “Saints of the City” as poet Daniel Thompson described social justice activists.  Donald Whitehead, who was the previous director of National Coalition for the Homeless and the Cincinnati Coalition, talked about buddy saying “I’m glad you are here,” when Whitehead was at a low point in his life.

   There were so many stories and so many programs touched by buddy gray. His legacy was not extinguished when he was killed. The National Coalition and the State Homeless Coalition, both started by gray, carry on the struggle.  The Drop Inn Center has expanded over the last 10 years and continues to fight against gentrification. Buddy’s Place opened and is a welcoming meeting place for activist. It was easy to see potential conflict between the nearly 100 condominiums being developed while homeless people struggle to find affordable housing in the Over The Rhine neighborhood. Young activists took over gray’s development work, management of the shelter, and working to overcome injustice.  Drotar said that it was a wonderful event that will keep the fire burning for those who are working to end homelessness.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 79 December 2006-January 2007, Cleveland Ohio.