Local News: Homeless Families Face Greater Difficulties

New Public Square Curfew Enforced

The curfew on Public Square began to be enforced on October 2 2007. Two individuals received tickets the first night from the Cleveland police. Other moved to the sidewalk, behind buildings or at the soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Square to avoid a citation. This new law prohibits homeless and those who want to sit down while walking downtown from using Pubic Square between 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. There are non – homeless groups who are weighing their options within the judicial or executive branch of government to counteract this law.

City Rats Plague Public Square Providers

On October 3, 2007, on the day after the curfew went into force, the City of Cleveland decided to clean up the Square – since no one will be sleeping there going forward. The city found a large number of rats burrows during the clean – up, and declared a health emergency. They worked to exterminate the rat problem, and in doing so decided that no more food could be served on the Square. City officials said that all the food, the lack of trash receptacles, and the construction has made it impossible to serve food to homeless people on Public Square. Police were sent out to stop any group from unloading food and those groups were threatened with arrest or large fines for providing food without a permit.

The City had met with the food providers once per month beginning in July 2007, and had assured the food providers on September 27 that they would not ban the distribution of food to homeless people while a compromise was worked out.

The City has a decades old law on the books that requires all groups to get a permit from the Health department before they can distribute food. For the last 20 years this law has not been enforced until October 3, 2007.

Food distributors including churches, Food Not Bombs, and temples were relocated to a parking lot near East 18th and Lakeside Ave. The new location had no security, no lighting, no trash bins, and no places to sit down. After three weeks, the City agreed to a site closer to Public Square as long as the food providers sign a “covenant” that they will clean up and eventually move inside. This has caused a great deal of suspicion and anger among the volunteers who provide food to homeless people outside.

Voting Lawsuit Continues

Before the 2006 election, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Service Employees and International Union sued Kenneth Blackwell, then Ohio Secretary of State, and the State of Ohio over a requirement for identification in order to vote. The plaintiffs were successful in negotiating a compromise for the 2006 election, but that was a temporary solution. The Coalition and SEIU are still attempting to negotiate a compromise to this problem. Individuals who earn low incomes and homeless people often do not have access to identification, and therefore would not be able to vote a regular ballot on Election Day. According to plaintiffs, it costs between $17 and $75 to get identification depending on availability of the birth certificate, and therefore the law amounts to an illegal poll tax as a fee for voting. The State wants to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to decide on an Indiana voting identification law that is pending before the court.

NEOCH Not Dead Yet

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless nearly went out of business in the summer of 2007. With help from local foundations, the City of Cleveland, and concerned individuals the coalition was given some breathing room to figure out a plan for the future. After tow months of debate and strategic thinking, the coalition has made decisions about the future. The plan for the future of the Coalition is available on the NEOCH website under “About us/Strategic plan.”

NEOCH intends to keep publishing the grapevine in 2008, but will not have a staff person dedicated to this activity. The Board is planning to also maintain the Cleveland Homeless legal Assistance Program and dedicate staff to advocacy and public education. Cleveland Community Voice Mail and Bridging the Gap program will be transferred to another social service provider in the community in 2008.

Feds Extend Deadlines to Replace Aviation Shelter

The Federal Aviation Administration has relented in their demand to have the overflow shelter at Aviation High School close in 2007. The FAA considers the shelter a security concern because of its proximity to Burke Lakefront Airport, and had demanded that the City close the facility no later then Halloween 2007.

City and County officials have purchased North Point Inn on superior Ave. as the replacement for Aviation. North Point will have 160 shelter beds and will operate as a 6 to 8 month transitional facility for men who have the ability to earn income and move into housing. Unfortunately, North Point needs a new sprinkler system before it ca open, and that will take a number of months to put in place. The other issue is that the strip club bar is not strutting quietly into the dark, and they refuse to close.

Because of all these issues, the FAA has given the City extra time to close the overflow shelter at Aviation High School. The new deadline is January 2008.

Women’s Shelter Struggles Against Nature

The community Women’s shelter the entry shelter for women and families who become homeless, has struggled to recover from a fold after heavy rains this summer. They also have had to battle and infestation of bedbugs that has made life at the shelter difficult. CWS has two buildings next to each other. One is a two-story building where the women stay during the day, with a kitchen and staff offices as well as bedrooms. The other is a three-story building with a basement, beds on the second floor and the former health care clinic on the first floor.

The basement was flooded and all the furniture, offices, family area, and sitting room were destroyed by the flood. The shelter has not had the resources to renovate the former clinic for use as a shelter, and now is contending with the water damage to the basement. On top of all of this, the shelter has had to replace every wooden bed in the facility with metal beds in order to fight a bedbug outbreak. Bedbugs are making resurgence across the United States, and they burrow into furniture with direct contact by a pesticide as the only method for elimination. All of these challenges are making the stay of homeless families especially difficult in Cleveland.

East Side Catholic’s Iwosan Program Closed

Cleveland lost three shelters for those experiencing domestic violence in the last five years, and this summer Cuyahoga County saw the closing of an alcohol and drug treatment facility for homeless women. East Side Catholic shelter, struggling to stay open over the past two years, this featured 36 in – patient treatment beds, but any loss in the community is a huge step backwards. Cleveland has so few opportunities for treatment beds that are not assigned by the judicial system, and programs for women are even more scarce. These closures make it difficult for women to find a path back into housing, and can be trace to federal policies away from families and toward long-term homelessness.

OCHA Conference on Re-Entry a Big Hit

The AmeriCorps VISTA members under the statewide initiative of the Ohio Coalition of Homeless Advocates hosted a conference in Columbus to focus attention on the re-entry of homeless people for corrections facility. The conference at YMCA in Columbus on October 12 had 160 participants, including presenters from around the state of Ohio. Five Coalitions from around Ohio co-sponsored the conference, and local VISTA Joshua Kanary and Sarah Valek helped to lead the effort in organizing this conference. Edwin Paris, a speaker on the problems homeless people when the exit jail and try to reintegrate into the community. The Community Housing Network staff in Columbus gave an overview of their program, and Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections Re Entry administrator, Angi Lee gave a presentation on the State efforts. Evaluations of the conference were mostly positive, and plans are underway for a gathering in 2008.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland, Ohio, Issue 83, November 2007