Lakewood Churches Conduct 3rd Annual Homeless Sleep out

Interview by Kevin E. Cleary

            Cardboard boxes, sleeping bags, tents, and initially eager children adorned the facades of two Lakewood Churches in late January. Some of the children and organizers were spending their third year out in the cold to raise awareness of and donations for homeless people in Cleveland. Their first sleep out in 2005 coincided with one of the coldest nights in Cleveland history.

            Last year, Lakewood Congregational Church distributed copies of The Homeless Grapevine newspapers while conducting their sleep out. This year, a new church, Pilgrim St. Paul, also in Lakewood, joined the fray. The Homeless Grapevine checked back with one of the Sleep outs main organizers, Bret Callentine in February to see how the children fared this year.

Homeless Grapevine: Lakewood Congregational Church has been doing the homeless sleep out for 3 years now. How did it get stated?

Bret Callentine: The kids at LCC attended a national youth event where they met kids from an eastside church that did the same type of event (although theirs was done in July). Always looking for a new challenge, they decided to give it a try here in Cleveland.

GV: How did this year’s sleep out compare to past years?

Callentine: I though this years event went very well. However, that said, it was much different working with the new church and a comparable younger group. As for the conditions, the snow this year was a welcomed sight as opposed to the rain we had last year. Cold is somewhat easier to deal with than wet.

GV: How many kids participated this year? Callentine: We had about 12 kids at Pilgrim St. Paul and from what I heard, Lakewood Congregational Church had about two dozen.

GV: How much money did you raise/ items did you collect? Where were they sent?

Callentine: All told both church raised close to $3,000 (although donations are still coming in) I don’t have a final word from LCC but all of the money collected at PSP will be given to the group “covering Cleveland.”

GV: Did anyone’s dwelling make it through the night?

Callentine: Some held up better than others, but most all them suffered from some sort of structural failure. However, the kids quickly learned that regardless of what happened, they were better off just laying there rather than getting up and trying to fix it. In some cases, they were probably better off with the boxes collapsed on top of them.

GV: a second site (Pilgrim St. Paul) conducted a sleep out this year. How did the kids there do?

Callentine: As I suggested, PSP is where I was for the night. The kids did pretty good, however, they had a lot of learning on the fly. No matter how much you think you are prepared, unless you have done something like this before, it will definitely catch you off guard.

GV: You’ve mentioned the idea of recruiting all the churches in Lakewood to host sleep outs. Do you think they all will be conducted on the same night?

Callentine: The goal when this was started was to eventually have churches all over Northeast Ohio participate on the same night. Collecting money is a powerful thing, but opening the eyes of an entire city is what is needed to affect real change. And to that end, numbers definitely help. One group doing this is “a good idea”, two is “an interesting story”, but if dozens of groups participate, it becomes “a statement you can no longer ignore.”

GV: How cold did it get the night of sleep out?

Callentine: We don’t know. No one had a thermometer. However, that question reminds me of the one most popular from the kids that night… “Mr. Callentine, what time is it?” My only response was “What does it matter?” it doesn’t matter what the temperature was, only that it was less than comfortable.

GV: Did anyone get frostbite or sick afterwards?

Callentine: No frostbite to report, although we did end up sending a couple of the kids inside for precautionary measures. We were out there to make a point. However, the safety and security of the kids was always paramount.

GV: How did the community response seem?

Callentine: Response ranged from quiet curiosity to amazement. Although the most popular response we got from those passing by was a simple honk of the car horn. To which it quickly occurred to the kids, “that’s nice, but honking really doesn’t help anybody.”

GV: Are there any interesting stories from this year’s Sleep out that you’d like to share?

Callentine: In my opinion, the best part of the evening was the spontaneous arrival of several different people who just stopped by to support the kids and share their own individual stories of being homeless. I think it was critical to the kids starting to understand how wide spread this problem is, and that not everyone who ends up on the streets is there because of a mental illness or drug problem.

GV: Did you get media coverage from other outlets? If so, by what outlets?

Callentine: Most of the media was directed to go to LCC, so you might want to contact them as to the amount of coverage received, I do know that the Cleveland Plain Dealer did an article.

GV: Did any of the kids report an increased awareness of the struggle homeless people face after the event?

Callentine: Judging by the change in the expressions on their faces between the time they first stepped outside and the time when they were allowed to go inside, I’d say that they at least got a small glimpse of what it was like.

HUD Fails Again to Put Money Where Mouth Is

Editorial

            In late February, the Bush administration announced over $21 million in funding for homeless programs in Cuyahoga County. They championed an increase in funds nationally, but this is only a small part of the overall picture. Federal dollars have increased to homeless programs in order to renew, at the same cost, all the existing programs. For example, in Cuyahoga County of the $21 million given out yesterday, $18.5 million or 88% is to renew existing programs with no cost of living increases to these programs. That renewal burden has increased each year around the country, and has forced the department of housing and urban development to increase the dollars just to keep the existing services open and operational.

            While HUD has had to keep homeless programs open with a larger dollar commitment, they have been conducting a full frontal assault on existing housing programs. Each year the HUD budget has proposed massive cuts to affordable housing, which only causes more homeless people to show up at the shelter doors. HUD has had no problem funding band aid solutions with shelters and expensive but limited housing programs. While at the same time they have tried to eliminate their community to making housing affordable.

            It is only a small allocation every year for homeless spread over the entire United States, while housing has received only enough funds to starve it to death. While HUD champions their commitment to making impoverished cities end homelessness in 10 years, which happens to be two years after the current administration leaves office, they continue to cut many of the mainstream programs that homeless people depend on to move into housing. One year of funding homeless programs in the United States is only $1.4 billion (Editor’s Note: According to the budget listed at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2006/tables.html, this represents less than 0.0005% of the total budget) dollars for the millions of homeless people in America. Compare this also to over $300 billion sent on the record to fund the war in Iraq and a current $100 billion supplemental funding bill pending in congress to support the war.

            Just curtailing the Bush tax cuts would support the creation of millions of units of affordable housing. We need the federal government to put forward a strategy for housing everyone living in America. The only way to accomplish this goal is to have a Universal Health Living Wage for everyone working and disabled as well as Universal Health Care paid by the federal government. This may sound like an expensive proposition when we are experiencing record debts for as far as we can see into the future. But, it actually cost us more to put money into the endless black hole of “solving” homelessness for only a few people. The Bush Administration is winning the battle over solving homelessness with words, but is actually creating more and more homeless people on the streets of America every year.   

Homelessness on the Road

Editor’s Note: When we last heard from former grapevine writer Pete Domanovic, he was relating his experience in post- Katrina New Orleans (see “Six Months Later, Katrina’s wounds Unhealed” in issue 75). In this installment, Pete tells of his experiences travelling across the country, before and after his experiences in New Orleans. In Issue 81, we will print more Pete’s dispatches from Columbus, OH, where he is currently staying.

Commentary by Pete Domanovic

Well, I had a very good year when I was working at Pres-rite in Cleveland. I knew it would only last one year because it was one of those welfare-to-work deals where the company get half your wages back because they hired someone who was on food stamps. I really thought that job would last for me, but they changed owners. Even though I started at one of the lowest wages, and never got a raise, I was actually one of the highest paid when I left there. I decided to make one last trip around the country before I got too old to do anything else. Except this time I wanted to go to places I had avoided because they were too small and didn’t offer the day labor I was used to.

The first place I went to from Fremont, Neb. That’s about thirty miles north of Omaha. They had a nice little shelter there made from old motel. The most popular place there to get a job was at a telemarketing place. They even donate clothes to the shelter to meet the dress code requirements, and are major contributors to the shelter. After three months there, I got a job cleaning floors at a large grocery store and two days at a Menards hardware store. The jobs were really good jobs and I enjoyed working at those places. But they just kept adding on more and more work and no extra pay.

I had myself a nice little apartment in Fremont. The rent was high for the place $400 a month for an unfurnished studio slum. It wasn’t all that bad, but my job had already went from a 7 hour day to a 9 hour day mostly because other people weren’t doing their jobs. They made $50.00 a day more than me for doing less work, but they were relatives. I could have gone back to the shelter. The shelter there was extremely helpful in whatever you needed. The woman who ran the place bent over backwards to help were she could.

From Fremont I went to Columbus, Neb., and then to Norfolk. There were two rescue missions that were owned by the same outfit and they were starting a third somewhere.it only takes a couple of days to figure out what really is going on. This was one of those places that realized the joy of accepting gifts in the name of the poor.

Though they had room for 16 men, there were never more than five people staying there at any time. The pastors there were men who were hired on the spot to oversee the place. They were far from any type of religious people, they just to collect their minimum wage and only put the least amount of effort they had to.

I went north to Yankton, S.D. While hitchhiking there, a man in a pickup with a trailer picked me up and offered to let me help him for a day. He stopped for me so I could go to the county building and sign up for the shelter. By 9:30 that morning we were off to Vermilion, S.D. to pick up a Bobcat. He rebuilt old bobcats and sold them. He bought me something to eat three times, bought me a $30.00 phone card for my prepaid phone, and gave me $75.00 cash.

The shelter in Yankton was a house with three beds on the third floor. Now this is a shelter you would never want to leave. Within three days I had two part time jobs and was in my own apartment in one week. Anything I needed to get started was offered by the shelter director. I got a third part job working for the mayor of Mission Hill, S.D. this was the place I wanted to stay. I just didn’t realize that these were seasonal jobs, and there was nowhere to work during the winter months. I had much love for everyone I met in this part of the country, but when winter came, it was all over.

There were a lot of things I tried to get done when I was in Yankton. I even tried to straighten out my driver’s license. Of course when I tried to call Cleveland to try to pay my traffic fines, I was told I couldn’t just pay the fines. I’d have to come into the Clerk’s office and pay them $49.00 to set a new court date. My guess is Cleveland does this just to keep their tourist industry alive. If I could just straighten out my driver’s license, thing would be very different for me.

The person who gave me my first ride before I crossed the Missouri River, was the one who talked me into going to New Orleans. He was a really nice and sincere man who offered me a job driving a truck for him when I got my license straightened out. I believe he was ready to offer to help with my license, until I told him about having to come to Cleveland. It doesn’t even sound rational, and he probably thought it was a hustle. But, he bought my bus ticket and gave me $150.00 to make the trip to New Orleans. There are some really beautiful people in that part of the country.

After my time in New Orleans I went to Huntsville, Ala. They have what they call a working mission there. They give you room and board, and pay you $4.40 an hour. They charge the customer between $9.50 and $10.00 per hour for your service. It is actually a really good setup for homeless people. It was just the wrong time of year to be there. I was only averaging about 10 hours per week because of the weather.   

To Tallahassee, Florida: Now this is a city that no matter how many people come there, there is enough work to go around. But, then again, you can’t save any money there. The mission there charge you $50.00 a week. For my $50, I had to sleep on a church pew, and couldn’t take off my shoes until 9:00 p.m. I couldn’t take a shower because I didn’t have a bed in the building and still had a two- week wait to get in there. The other shelter was free but you had to sleep on the floor shoulder- to- shoulder. I went south from there trying to find a place I could work and save money at the same time.

Florida just does not work that way. You have to spend money. All the shelters charge money, which I actually believe is a good thing. The only problem is they are sold out before you get back. Orlando, Bradenton, Sarasota, are all the same.

Springfield, Illinois: a nice old little city with a very good shelter system. There wasn’t any real work going on there, but everyone seemed really content there. The state of Illinois mandates that everyone who is destitute gets at least $212.00 per month, plus food stamps. For lack of work, I left there and went to Bloomington, Illinois. I was told there was work there, but there really wasn’t. Coming back towards Ohio, I stopped in Champagne, Illinois. Another good shelter system. I took advantage of the $212.00 township check and found myself a telemarketing job. That was another place I really liked. But, by the time my shelter time was up, I still hadn’t managed to get a security deposit and 1st month’s rent together. I learned a lot about myself, going through all these places I used to avoid because the lack of day labor. I know how to relax now and wait for a pay day, and not deal with the hurry, hurry of day labor.

I took the money I had saved there and caught a Greyhound straight to hell.

 

Violent Crimes Against Homeless People on the Rise

Special Submission from the National Coalition for the Homeless

 Washington, DC – Reported incidents of attacks against homeless men and women have reached their highest level in years, according to a study by the National Coalition for the Homeless. NCH’s report, Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street USA: A Report on Hate Crimes and Violence Against People Experiencing Homelessness 2006, details the 142 violent crimes, against homeless individuals in the past year, the highest number of incidents since NCH’s annual study began in 1999. Attacks have increased 65% from last year, and over 170% since five years ago. This year’s attacks, which include beatings, stabbings, burnings, and rape resulted in 20 fatalities.

    Even more disturbing than the violence of these attacks are the identities of the attackers and their motives. In a significant number of cases, the crimes were committed by teenagers and young adults, for no apparent reason other than boredom.

    This March in Orlando, FL, August Felix, age 54, was beaten to death by five teenagers. The youths, all between the ages of 13 and 16, attacked Felix and others “for sport,” according to local police. Later that same month, 21-year-old Braymond Harris of Detroit was shot and killed by a 15-year-old boy. In the words of one Detroit police officer, the boy and his friends “just wanted to beat up a bum.”

   “It is NCH’s position that many of these acts should be considered hate crimes” said Michael Stoops, Executive Director of NCH. “Crimes against homeless people are motivated by the same intolerance as hate crimes against people of a certain religious, racial, or ethnic background.”

    Currently, federal law does not list housing status as potential motivation for a hate crime, though NCH and others are gaining ground in their battle to add homelessness to new hate crimes legislation. Such bills have been introduced into five state legislatures: California, Florida, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Texas.

    The full report can be viewed online at http://nationalhomeless.org/getinvolved/projects/hatecrimes/index.html.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 80 April 2007

Ohio Rep. Foley Speaks to the Grapevine

Interview by Teri Heer

    Mike Foley, 43, is the State Representative for the 14th Ohio House District, which includes Parma Heights, Brook Park and Wards 19, 20 and 21 on the west side of Cleveland.  Recently elected to a second term – his first term was as an appointee, filling out the last seven months of Rep. Dale Miller’s term – Rep. Foley describes himself as having a “distinct political ideology…left of most others.”  This self-proclaimed “progressive and passionate democrat” is strongly committed to Cleveland and the people he serves. 

    Foley is not a newcomer to this area.  He has lived in the 14th district for over 20 years and his children attend Cleveland Public Schools.  A graduate of the Cleveland Marshall College of Law, Foley has served as a community organizer for the St. Clair/Superior Coalition, worked for the Cleveland Housing Court and served as the executive director of the Cleveland Tenants Organization.  His background in public service and the non-profit sector has trained him well for work in the state legislature.  As Foley describes, his background has helped him to “think through issues, devise strategies, identify goals, [and] know who you need to get to in order to get things accomplished.”

    During a recent drive to Columbus to participate in meetings, Representative Foley took the time to speak with The Homeless Grapevine.

The Homeless Grapevine:  What do you think is the most significant issue facing the City of Cleveland today?

Representative Foley:  There isn’t one single issue that I can point to.  There are a lot of issues:  vacant housing, affordable housing, health care, lack of jobs, and the school system.  It all comes down to wealth distribution.  Cleveland is a poor city surrounded by suburbs of middle class folks and exurbs of wealth folks.

GV:  In light of Cleveland being named the Poorest City in America (again), what do you think needs to be done to address the issues with poverty that the city faces?

Foley:  Poverty is a huge problem.  It’s a national phenomenon and the national government will need to address it.  It has many components (housing, job readiness/availability, health care, etc.) and it has to be addressed at a higher level than the city.

   It’s a huge task with many components – Universal Health Care, affordable housing, and an educational system connected to jobs being created and available.  You need a strong public school system and affordable university education.  There are a lot of components and the person who must solve it needs to have access to and the power to control all of the issues.  It must be someone from the federal level.

   Mayor Jackson is as smart as they come.  He is working to put Cleveland into as good of a position as possible.  He is working around the edges to address things – directing the city toward accessing available resources to address the problem.  But there is only so much that any one city can do.

GV: Are you still supporting a Single-Payer approach to health care?  Why do you think this would be such a benefit to the people in the Cleveland area?

 

Foley: I’m in favor of universal health care and still support the Single-Payer approach (see inset).  It is a simple method, not crazed in the bureaucracy of insurance companies.  It takes the profit out of paper shuffling.  10% to 15% of the cost of health insurance is administration by health insurance companies.  The Single-Payer approach makes a lot of sense.  It’s not right – health insurance companies shouldn’t be profiting off of health care.  Everyone should be covered.  The system should be simple to utilize and as efficient as possible.

GV:  You mentioned during your campaign that you plan on bringing jobs back to Greater Cleveland.  How do you envision this being accomplished?

Foley: Greater Cleveland has advantages that others don’t.  [We have] research abilities (NASA, Case Western Reserve, University Hospitals, the Cleveland Clinic) and lots of smart people to develop products.  We need to further that.  We need to focus development dollars on alternative energy, biotechnology and high tech.  Cleveland has what Michael Polanyi refers to as “tacit knowledge” [knowledge that we don’t recognize ourselves and therefore isn’t easily shared].  We need to take advantage of that and put it into high tech [products] to create jobs.  We need to make connections to make-work.

GV: What changes do you anticipate in the Ohio House of Representatives, since Democrats gained seven seats in the past election?

Foley: We are relevant now.  Republicans could run roughshod [over the Democrats] prior to this session.  There were 39 Dems.  Now there are 46 Dems.  We’re in the game.  Some moderate Republicans will vote with us on things.  It should be a lot easier to be a Democratic legislator this year.  We should be in the mix.

GV:  How do you think the identified budget deficit and Governor Strickland’s requested 30% cut on State Agencies affect social services in Cleveland?

Foley: It will be tough.  I have been going to a lot of briefings.  I haven’t seen the numbers yet.  Current estimates are that the Governor’s budget will have a 1.5% increase over the last biennium.  I can’t predict the effect this will have.  It’s too early to tell.

GV: What plans do you have for the upcoming legislative session?

Foley: I’m planning on reintroducing the lead paint and foreclosure bills.  I will also be introducing a Hate Crimes Bill, making it illegal to target the homeless.  I met with the Homeless Congress in December [2006] and promised to introduce the bill. 

   Foreclosure is a problem.  We have a soft housing market right now.  We lead the nation in foreclosures.  Right now a house is foreclosed in court, goes up for sheriff’s sale and then the financial institution, by default, ends up buying the property back.  But the financial institution doesn’t take over the deed [at the sheriff’s sale], so they end up not being responsible for bringing things up to code.  Then properties can sit vacant for years.  The bill would require the sheriff to automatically put the deed in the financial institution’s name at the end of the sheriff’s sale.

   I will also be meeting with lead paint advocates to re-craft the bill from last session.  It would take $25 million of the TANF money from the feds and dedicate it to lead paint removal activities.  [The program] would be run through Ohio Department of Development (ODOD) and they would set the guidelines.  They [ODOD] already run a lead paint abatement program using community development block grant monies.  This would supplement that.

   I will also be working on the reuse of vacant property.  The foreclosure bill plays into that.  I will be meeting with people involved with reuse of vacant properties in Cleveland, as well as the City Council, Mayor, City Treasurer and folks in the City of Dayton (which has an active vacant property reuse program).  I’ll put my ideas out to a lot of people before I introduce things.

GV: You mentioned that you met with the Homeless Congress in December.  Can you describe that experience?

Foley: It was a great experience.  I’ve spent the last 20 years working with groups.  The Homeless Congress has huge issues to address.  They are articulate and well organized and I want to work with them.  They have the biggest issues people can have and they are doing a good job saying, “O.K.  These are the things we need to accomplish and this is what we need your help with.”  It is a hard group of people to organize and I’m impressed with their focus and how articulate they are.

GV: Representative Foley, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 80 April 2007

National News: Homeless Endangered Across America

Florida Police Destroy Tents

St. Petersburg, Fl – According to the Orlando Sentinel, police slashed and destroyed tents during a raid at a homeless encampment on January 19.  This attack drew criticism from both homeless advocates and city officials.  One homeless individual recorded a video of the raid and posted it on the web site YouTube.com.

Maryland Senate Includes Homeless in Hate Crime Bill

Annapolis, Md – The Washington Post reports that the Maryland Senate approved a bill that would add homeless people to groups protected under the hate crimes law.  Maryland is the second state to protect homeless people in this way and is among other states considering similar legislation (including Massachusetts and Texas).  An amendment to the bill that would add disabled people was voted down.

 Paraplegic Man Dumped on Skid Row

Los Angeles, Ca – Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center is being investigated for allegedly dumping a homeless paraplegic man in LA’s Skid Row area, according to AM New York.  The man was left with no wheelchair or walker and had to crawl with his hands down the sidewalk while dragging his broken colostomy bag.  The San Diego Union-Tribune went on to report that the hospital did not turn over records relating to the incident until City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo accused them of stonewalling the investigation. 

Homeless Woman Prevented Fire From Spreading

Lodi, Ca - A homeless woman likely prevented a vehicle fire from spreading to a nearby building by grabbing a garden hose and spraying the structure until firefighters arrived, according to the Lodi News-Sentinel.

   Laurie Williams, happened to be collecting cans when she turned down the alley and saw flames coming from a diesel truck. She asked an onlooker to call 911 and grabbed a nearby garden hose to keep the fire from spreading until firefighters arrived. 

New York Homeless Services Seizes Homeless Cats

New York, NYThe New York Post reports that on February 1, a Midtown homeless shelter was raided by the Department of Homeless Services and pet cats were taken away from the residents.  Fifteen cats were seized in the sudden intrusion that was prompted by a long-standing pet ban.

Antique Dealer Drops

$1 Million Lawsuit

New York, Ny – According to WOI-TV, Karl Kemp, Upper East Side antique dealer, dropped a million dollar suit he filed against Roger Greenlee, a homeless man who camped on the heating grate outside Kemp’s antique store.  The suit was filed because Kemp claimed Greenlee’s presence was scaring customers away.  The suit was dropped because Greenlee no longer camps in front of the store.

Young Florida Men Murder Homeless Man

St. Petersburg, FlSt. Petersburg Times reported on the indictment of two men, Dorion Dillard, 20, and Cordaro Hardin, 18, for the murders of two homeless men on January 17.  The two men, David Heath and Jeff Shultz, were shot and killed by Dillard and Hardin in St. Petersburg.

South Bend Men Charged For Murder of Homeless Men

South Bend, In – Daniel Sharp and Randy Reeder face four counts of murder in court for murdering four homeless men and then stuffing their bodies in manholes.  The two men killed the homeless individuals over some stolen scrap metal, according to WNDU.  Sharp will be in court on May 29 and Reeder on June 12.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 80 April 2007

Local Woman Fights For Her Family’s Rights A Profile of Sabrina Otis

by Bernadette Janes

    Although she has spent years striving for fair treatment for her family, Sabrina Otis should be looked upon as an advocate for all people subject to the constantly changing ordinances and plans of governmental leaders. Her ongoing struggle for suitable housing has put her in repeated contact with countless state and local officials from different levels. It has thereby caused her to be deeply versed in the confusing labyrinth of service programs that are supposed to meet the needs of Ohio’s lower-income families.

    A case in point is her recent “success” in obtaining temporary housing from the County. Her relief in receiving it was almost immediately marred by the fact that the entire heating system in the house had been turned off to allow for the repair of a broken chimney.  Typical of Ohio’s inconsistency of service, the chimney was quickly repaired, but the home’s heating system has not yet been turned back on, as of the month of January, often proving to be the coldest month of the year.  (Editor’s Note: Sabrina and her family have since moved to another property due to these issues.)

    Sabrina was born in Parma, Ohio and moved with her parents to Cleveland when she was in the eighth grade. After high school she supported herself working at a variety of jobs, and later participated in a welfare reform pilot program of the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. Receiving a scholarship, she attended college in Dayton, but will soon transfer to CSU to finish a degree in Criminal Justice. Her interest in working on human problems led her to join AmeriCorps, where she discovered the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and its helpful program, Bridging The Gap.

    Yet, becoming a working single mother brought inevitable problems finding daycare, as well as accusations of child neglect because of the lack and high cost of adequate housing. Homeless for a short period of time, Sabrina suffered the loss of her children to foster care, where they were mistreated and held out of school for four months. With her children now living with her again, she works as a custodian for the county, and ponders how to acquire permanent housing that will satisfy regulations calling for multiple bedrooms and no boy/girl doubling up of sleeping quarters for her five children.

    In accord with her desire to work on the difficulties of homeless families, Sabrina underwent training and has become a speaker for NEOCH’s Street Voices Speakers’ Bureau. To audiences in and around Cleveland, she tells of her belief that housing issues have been placed in the wrong agency. Since housing is being handled with constant shortcomings by the Children and Family Services Agency, she maintains that it should be placed instead under the Department of Human Services, where she believes housing could be more efficiently provided.

    In addition, Sabrina insists that homelessness is often not the fault of homeless people themselves. By law, she declares, the public authorities of city, county, and state are obligated to provide suitable housing for families with children. The problem, according to her analysis, is the well-known shortage of low-cost housing, while expensive developments can be seen going up in many parts of the city. Once again, the mentality of the market has taken precedence over the basic right of  Sabrina and her family, as well as thousands of other Americans, to the availability of affordable shelter as one of the necessities of life.

   Sabrina enjoys public speaking as a Street Voices speaker, now and then vividly retelling the story of her sometimes hotly-animated encounters with workers in charge of housing. Her children, however, through it all, have developed a friendly person-to person touch: kicking a ball around and exchanging gifts with other children last year at St. John’s church in Strongsville. Recently, Sabrina, prompted by her personal struggles, has also obtained training to become a mediator between landlords and tenants, expanding her experienced knowledge of situations faced by so many other tenants.

    In keeping with her well-rounded public spirit, she put that knowledge to good use last year by becoming a candidate for County Commissioner. As such, she did her best to inform the sitting Commissioners of their frequent failings. In her campaign speeches she educated the general public as well, imploring them to fulfill their civic duties and calling upon to study the issues and exercise the power of their votes to elect leaders more attentive to human needs.

    Yet, despite her years of struggle with only occasional victories, Sabrina has succeeded in one all-important endeavor. With her vigorous airing of vital matters of the day, she has made it very clear that, not only in Cleveland but everywhere in America, we desperately need more Sabrinas.  We need more determined individuals with the conviction and intelligent, impassioned voices to rouse the sleepwalking millions who work their jobs, pay their bills, and yet wonder why they’re still on a downhill path. If her ideas, energy and sense of civic duty were to be replicated throughout our society, we could go a long way toward recapturing the essence of that great country we all learned about, and believed in, long ago, in school.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 80 April 2007

Local News: Closing Shelters & Housing, Man Dies

Feds Give City Deadline for Aviation

   The Federal government, citing Homeland Security concerns, has told the City of Cleveland that they must relocate the overflow shelter at Aviation High School by November 2007.  Aviation High School currently sits on the campus of Burke Lakefront Airport.  Every night 150 or more people are bussed over to Aviation High School because 2100 Lakeside is always full.  These men seeking shelter are not given a background check and do not face the security screenings typical when entering an airport since September 11, 2001.  City and County officials cannot agree on the configuration for the replacement of Aviation High.  No public official has yet to ask the current residents of Aviation or 2100 Lakeside their opinions about the replacement of Aviation High School.

City of Akron is Roadblock of the Year

  The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless voted to “honor” the City of Akron as the Roadblock of the Year for “constructing the largest barrier to stability for homeless people in the region.”  The “award was given at NEOCH’s Annual Meeting in March.  In 2006, Akron passed a registration requirement for all panhandlers that barred those asking for money from being anywhere near any of the tourist attractions in Akron.  The law also extends to a prohibition against asking for money around a church or school.  It is the strictest panhandling ordinance in the country.  According to the Coalition press release, “This law will add criminal background to the obstacles to overcome by low-income people in Akron as they work toward stability.”

Family Homelessness Spotlighted

  NEOCH also held a forum on family homelessness in early March 2007 to highlight the growing problems faced by families as they struggle to find housing.  The forum highlighted issues such as the reduction in shelters for domestic violence victims, the inability for couples to find shelter where they can stay together, the lack of oversight of all the shelters, and federal policy’s mandated focus on “chronic” homelessness, to the huge detriment of homeless families.  The federal policy has led to instability within the family shelters, and at least two are in danger of closing.  The Coalition had four women testify about their experiences with regard to finding shelter and moving from homelessness to stability.  NEOCH is looking for partners to forward a family-friendly local agenda in serving families.

 Homelessness Can Kill

  Raydarreyl Collins, a homeless man, died on the East Side of Cleveland from the cold.  Collins died in early February while trying to stay warm in an abandoned house.  Outreach workers do not usually go into abandoned properties because of safety concerns.  Local advocates are working on strategies to prevent future deaths in abandoned properties.

Subsidized Building Under Threat

   Community Circle I, in the Hough neighborhood, has failed two federal inspections, and is proceeding to default.  This property has 160 units for single people and families, and is subsidized by the federal government.  This means that every resident pays only 30% of their income for rent.  Recent history is that properties that repeatedly fail their inspection trigger the federal government to dump the property; the tenants receive a housing voucher and the building closes forever.  Activists are working to preserve this housing for people who cannot afford to pay the high cost of rent, as there is not currently enough affordable housing available.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 80 April 2007

Local Advocates Comment on New HUD Report Special Submission from Cleveland Tenants Organization

Special Submission from Cleveland Tenants Organization

At the end of February, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a new report on the scope of homelessness in America.  HUD’s first-ever Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (available online as an Adobe PDF at http://www.huduser.org/Publications/pdf/ahar.pdf) estimated that 754,000 persons are homeless on any given night.  In America, the results are derived from two sources of data.  The first, is a national sample of 80 randomly selected diverse communities that have implemented HUD’s homeless data collection system for the shelters.  Cleveland was one of the randomly selected sites used in the data extrapolation.  Second, HUD relied upon local one-night counts of homeless persons both on the streets and in shelters.  That count took place in January 2005, across America.

   In the introduction of the report, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson was quoted as saying “We’ve got to remember that behind these numbers are people - individuals and families who are struggling to survive.  This report is a powerful tool to help all of us at the federal, state and local level design more effective responses to homelessness and better help those who are living in shelters and on our streets.”

   Despite the rhetoric, HUD continues to provide very small gains to homelessness in the shelters and limited housing programs, while making devastating cuts to the major affordable housing programs.

   “This report does show a real need to increase funding for those HUD programs that preserve and expand affordable housing.” said Mike Piepsny, executive director of the Cleveland Tenants Organization.  “It also shows that in order to truly make an impact on the number of homeless in America, funding for HUD programs that serve the homeless population and expand opportunities for affordable housing must be dramatically increased.”

   Recent HUD budgets have sustained most of the Homeless funding while decimating all subsidized housing programs.

   Brian Davis, Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless also found some value in the report.  “Using the methodology that HUD used in calculating the number of homeless in America, we clearly need to reconsider our estimates for Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.  Using HUD’s method used in this report from 2004 poverty figures, we can extrapolate that between 15,000 and 22,700 people were homeless during that year.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 80 April 2007