Big Changes Expected in the Homeless Community and Other Local News

Changes Coming to the Shelters

With the passage of the HEARTH law or the reauthorization of Department of Housing and Urban Development McKinney Vento law, there are huge changes expected for the local shelters.  The McKinney Vento law funds nearly every shelter in Northeast Ohio, and this updated law will change how these shelters operate.  The definition of homelessness will change, and it is much more complicated to actually figure out if a person meets the HUD definition of homelessness.  There should be additional housing and resources available to families, and the process for distributing funding may change. 

New Voting Strategy

The Ohio Secretary of State has proposed new voting procedures that she would like the Ohio legislature to pass.  These will have a negative impact on the participation of homeless people.  Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner is proposing to eliminate the “golden week” that was so popular among poor people in the last election.  Golden week was the week 36 days before the election in which a citizen in Ohio could register to vote or change their address and then ask for a ballot and vote at the same time at the main election offices in each County.  Over 500 very low income or homeless people took advantage of golden week to vote in Cleveland.  The other change is to require two forms of identification when voting in person.  One would need to be a government issued card, and the other could be any identification.  Homeless people have a difficult time maintaining government issued identification, and challenged the state over identification in 2006.  That case has yet to be resolved.

Stand Down Held in February

Over 2,000 individuals attended the Stand Down this year in February.  This three day affair was held at the Cleveland Convention Center, Trinity Cathedral, and Pilgrim Church.  Nearly 700 volunteers assisted in staging this event, and groups from all over the City helped to make this event a success.  InterAct Cleveland was the main sponsor along with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, and nearly 60 charitable organizations, 140 religious congregations, and many government institutions helped.  There were hot meals, bagged lunches, medical professionals, clothing, personal care kits, and entertainment.  The Cleveland Photograph Society was on hand to take portraits of homeless people who could then pick them up at the end of the event.  These professional portraits returned something of beauty back to the participants who must face the dreary misery of homelessness every morning.

Stimulus Will Pump Funds into Struggle to Prevent Homelessness

The February passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will provide $14 million in funds for Cuyahoga County to prevent homelessness.  This is the first large scale effort by the federal government to try to prevent households from having to move into a shelter.  This three year effort must be in place by September 30, and it is hoped will fundamentally change the way shelters and social service providers respond to a person in need of housing.  There will be additional dollars available for rental assistance and additional funds for attempts to move people back into housing quickly.  As of July, the County has not announced how they intend to use these funds. 

Homeless Congress Working on Shelter Standards

At least two representatives from each shelter meet every month to talk about issues that have an impact on homelessness, and to take action.  The big issue that the Congress has worked on for two years now is a request to Cleveland City Council to adopt a set of shelter standards that would regulate the publicly funded emergency shelters.  Right now there are a set of guidelines from the State of Ohio, but there is nothing that requires fair and equitable treatment for the individuals who sleep in the shelters.  The big issue is that at this time there is no government office that can accept complaints regarding shelter.  Even if a person is evicted from the shelter at 2 a.m. there is no place to go to complain about this issue outside of the agency that did the eviction.  The Congress is asking City Council members up for election this year to pledge support for a shelter standards bill.  The other issue that has come up recently is the new co-payment requirements at MetroHealth hospital, and the inability to pay by some members of the homeless community.  The Congress wrote a letter to the president of MetroHealth asking for a waiver of the fee at least until the danger of the flu pandemic is behind us. 

Cleveland Tenants Organization Wins Anisfield Wolf Award

Because of their work on protecting tenants in foreclosed buildings, the Cleveland Tenants Organization was awarded the Anisfield Wolf Award by the Center for Community Solutions and the Cleveland Foundation.  CTO has begun notifying tenants as soon as a landlord falls behind in their mortgage or utilities, so that a tenant may prepare for a possible default.  Before CTO began their work approximately 35% of all the foreclosures involved tenants, and they were usually caught off guard when the Sheriff showed up to serve an eviction.  This project gives extra time to the tenant to figure out where they can relocate or find other housing.  CTO received $20,000 for this annual award for outstanding work in the non-profit sector in Cuyahoga County. 

Shelters Are Still Full

The two entry shelters stay full every night, but the women’s shelter has experienced severe overcrowding in the summer.  The Men’s Shelter at 2100 Lakeside has seen a drop in the population.  Every bed is full, but there is not the need for as many mats on the floor and problems with overflow.  The Women’s shelter has seen the population explode in the last two months with as many as 152 women or women with children sleeping in the shelter.  The building can only accommodate 160 people, and averages around 120.  Women typically leave bad living arrangements during the summer, while men are shown the door more frequently in the winter. 

Friend of the Grapevine Passes Away

David Westcott was a seven year member of the NEOCH Board of Trustees, and passed away in March 2009.  Westcott was a big supporter of the Homeless Grapevine newspaper.  He was an advocate for the end of the death penalty in Cleveland, universal health care, and advocated for additional help from the local religious community on homelessness.  Westcott became involved with NEOCH when the Coalition was suing the City of Cleveland over the rights of homeless people to sell the newspaper.  Westcott was a long time supporter of the ACLU, International Partners in Mission, and West Side Ecumenical Ministry.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue #87 in July 2009 in Cleveland Ohio.