104th Congress Will Make or Break Local Services for Homeless People

by Bryan Gillooly

            Two days after the release of Issue #7 of The Homeless Grapevine, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Mr. Andrew Cuomo, visited City Hall to invigorate planners and encourage other Clevelanders to advocate for the congressional authorization of funds for services for homeless people. At his press conference Cuomo touted an estimated $14 million as the amount that could be available to the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County should Congress approve a new mechanism to distribute the funds.

            The HUD proposal introduced to Congress was to combine existing lines of the federal homeless program budget into blocks to be distributed by local governments. Block granting is standard with some community development funds and allows local officials to respond more readily to their local community needs than could HUD from Washington, D.C.

            The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, wholly supportive of the homeless block-granting concept and in anticipation of congressional authorization, organized volunteers to solicit our readers’ opinion about how greater Cleveland could utilize several million dollars, if granted, towards the alleviation of homelessness. Your responses were the center story of The Homeless Grapevine, Issue #7.

            Support for the Homeless Assistance Grants represents a rare convergence between HUD officials and advocates for the homeless across the country. Despite this eclipse, the 103rd Congress was too hung up on national health care reform to approve the authorization of the Homeless Assistance Grants.

            The Congressional Appropriations Sub-committees did their job, one of which was chaired by U.S. Representative Louis Stokes. They had approved the combination of the Emergency Shelter Grants and Homeless Innovated Funds with the Supportive Housing, Shelter Plus Care, Single Room Occupancy Mod-Rehab programs into a single budget line titled Homeless Assistance Grants. Unfortunately, the funds were appropriated in a block without congressional authorization of the distribution method. Without authorization HUD must rely on the old process of competitive national grants, for which they are admittedly uninterested and probably unprepared.

            The result is that the 104th Congress, aimed in the direction of a Contract with America, must act in favor of the new block-granting concept to allow the Homeless Assistance Grants to be distributed. There is great fear among individual citizens and advocated for the poor that the new Congress is too conservative to continue even basic entitlements like Social Security and Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

            One would imagine even the most conservative person would want to realize a vision of simplicity and efficiency within government. Anything less would be a shame.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #8, December 1994-February 1995

Welfare Reform Delayed

by Jean Taddie

In June 1994, President Clinton unveiled a $9.3 billion welfare reform proposal. This proposal puts major emphasis on employment and training of welfare recipients in order to reduce dependency on welfare. To further reduce long-term dependency, recipients would be cut off from their welfare benefits after two years. The phase-in of this proposed two-year cutoff would begin with recipients who were born after 1971.

The President’s reform package also includes strong child support enforcement reform that would emphasize family responsibilities. Emphasis would be placed on tracking down fathers who are skipping out on their child support payments. Mothers would not have their welfare payments reduced for receiving child support from the fathers.

Clinton’s proposal depends heavily on jobs. In order to train and employ welfare recipients, there must be work available. If welfare recipients are unable to find work in the private sector, they will be employed on the public payroll.

With Clinton’s health care package delayed until 1995, the administration has said it will not act on welfare reform until the health care reform issue is resolved.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #8, December 1994-February 1995

San Francisco Adopts Rules for Homeless Receiving Welfare Aid

by Brian Davis

            San Francisco voters approved legislation called Proposition N that forces

 homeless individuals into “slum” hotels to receive their government assistance checks.  It is estimated that it will cost $700,000 to set up the program, and will not begin until at least July 1995.  The measure passed by only 2% of the vote in the November elections

            Proposition N forces people that refuse to receive their checks at these hotels or other residence to be dropped from the roles.  As it stands now a non-profit organization will have to oversee the program, but the non-profit organizations in San Francisco are balking at the idea of forcing people into housing against their will.

            Voters turned down, by a narrow 1% margin, a measure that would have outlawed sleeping on sidewalks or park benches during the day and early evening.  Paul Bowden of the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco said, “This is a tourists town, and tourism dictates how you set your social policy,”

            Proposition N would force homeless people to establish residency to live in these “deplorable hotels,” according to Stuart Hambone, a formerly homeless resident who now is a San Francisco ombudsman and GA rights union organizer.  He said the hotels that the homeless are asked to move into only recently were upgraded with heat.  They are roach infested and a center of drug trafficking.  Hambone believes that there will be many unhappy residence that will rebel.

            Currently, there are not enough units to house all the homeless people on the welfare roles.  Bowden believed that they will nave to kick people out of low income single room occupancy hotels to house the homeless.  This will allow the mayor to demonstrate that the program is working.

            Both initiatives were placed on the ballot by the mayor of San Francisco, Frank Jordan with no advisory panel or petition.  Hambone said that this is an attempt to guarantee Jordan’s re-election.  “The mayor can say, ‘Look, I cleaned up the city.’ He is trying to do well for the city, but this is not the right approach.”

            This is all part of the Matrix program of the Mayor, which is intended to cleanse the city of all eyesores.  Hambone believes it is class warfare by the mayor.  “This is not a permanent solution,” Hambone commented, “but merely a way to get the homeless out of San Francisco.”

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #8, December 1994-February 1995

Night Lines: An Interview with East Side Catholic Director

An Interview with Zerri Darnell, weekend manager of East Side Catholic Shelter

Members of The Homeless Grapevine interviewed Ms. Darnell about her work at a Cleveland women’s shelter.

Q: What are some of the most common causes of homelessness with women?

My experience is fire or the unexpected things, and then things like sudden illnesses that take up all the money that you possibly have saved. Other things are the alcohol and drugs. That’s what took me and that’s what takes a lot of people, because all the money goes to that.

Q: Do you find comfort in helping people with this job or are you discouraged by the number of people that have to be turned away?

I do find comfort in the ones that do get helped, but I do feel real sad. I don’t like to be the one that takes the calls to tell people that we have no space. It is very hard to do. That’s the hardest part—telling someone that we don’t have space.

Q: Is it difficult for the children?

The kids meet so many people here. And kids fight, because that is what kids do. There are a lot of rules for the kids. Like at their own home, they could probably just open the refrigerator and get things out, but that is one of the rules here. Some things are harder, but other things are better because the mothers have the time now to just be with their children and learn and do things together. I think that is really good. It gives them the time they need and the experience they need. We have a child social worker who helps the mothers be better parents.

Q: How does this impact the children and the rest of their lives?

I think that the children may even be more appreciative after being homeless as they are growing up, if they do remember being without and then being with and what it really means. They won’t take for granted the things that they have. When they come here they realize [that]. I think it is very important for them when they get their new homes. I think they appreciate it a great deal more, and they carry that with them. My kids didn’t live here with me, but they visited on the weekend, and they stayed with their grandma. But they sure love their grandma’s house now.

Q: Do you think that welfare should be eliminated to promote self-reliance?

No, I don’t think they should eliminate welfare. Some mothers with small children, that’s the only think they have to live on. Day care is so expensive; you can’t afford day care to work. And that’s all they have. There’re a lot of people that don’t have medical help. I don’t think they should abolish it. I think that there are ways around it. Like they were saying about when the children are school age the mothers have to go to school or go to work. That’s good; that’s real good. It gives mothers something to do, so that they are not just sitting around on welfare. There are other ways besides just tearing it down completely. Some people really do need that.

Q: How big an obstacle is child care to a homeless woman?

I think child care is a major issue, the reason women don’t go get jobs. Child care costs almost as much as the job is paying you. These women are probably like me. I started out at $5.00 an hour. Day care cost me almost my entire check. That’s why my children couldn’t live with me. I couldn’t do it. Day care is just so high.

Q: What changes would you recommend to get homeless women into houses?

First, housing needs to be available. There is not enough low-income housing. Or in the cases there is housing, they cannot live there very long. More day care. Day care that is affordable. Day care that is maybe on a sliding fee scale. Child care needs to be affordable to go to work.

Q: Are there things that people could do to change the condition of the homeless?

There are so many things out there already, but people need to be aware of it. I know a lot of people that don’t want to rent to homeless people or Section 8 or low income or welfare recipients. People need to be a little more open and a little more helping. I know there are apartment buildings that have plenty of space, but they won’t rent to certain people.

Q: What did this shelter do for you in comparison with others?

All the shelters are good. This shelter allowed me to get treatment. They helped me to get to detox. They allowed me to stay until they had a bed ready. They set aside that 14-day thing. Almost all the shelters are 14-day shelters. That is not enough time to do anything. If you are on alcohol or drugs you are still detoxing. Your mind’s not even clear enough to try to do anything. For homeless women or battered women two weeks is not enough time to find anything. Now with places when you try to rent you have to fill out applications; they screen you: there is this and that. Two weeks is just not enough time. They just move to another shelter. Uprooting again and moving somewhere else.

Q: What led to your homelessness?

My mother had a home that I did stay in. She got tired of me using and stealing and then she eventually put me out. I slept in bus stops, behind buildings, office doorways. I think when I got clean . . . I knew I could go to work, and I knew with a little help I could get along. There was no way I would have had the money straight out of treatment without transitional housing. They need more funding for transitional housing. You can stay there for two years. I stayed there for one. It is a very small room.

Q: What would you tell a politician who asked how they could turn around the problem of housing in America?

I think they could take some of these buildings and turn them into something. Transitional housing used to be old church houses that they turned into tiny apartments. There are plenty of spaces like that; with some small renovations they could be made into something livable for people who are homeless.

Q: How do you like your job here at the shelter?

Working here is good for me because I can never forget. I just love to help people. I mean the look on children’s faces light up when they get plenty of food to eat that day. I love that feeling.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #8, December 1994-February 1995

Mixed Signals for Ohio’s Poor

By Pat Cicowicz

            There’s good news and bad news on Ohio’s economic scene. The good news is that Ohio gained 57,700 new jobs between 1992 and 1993. The bad news is that Ohio still ranks 37th of the 50 states in growth performance, and the worst figures in the Ohio labor market in the 1980’s belong to Cuyahoga County, with a loss of 35,380 jobs and a rate of employment of –4.6%.

            If this all seems bad for a man looking for good fulltime employment, it is even worse for women. The poverty rate is 6.5 times greater for a single female parent than for married couples. In fact, 52.4% of all poor families in the U.S. are headed by single women. The Ohio Poverty Indicators of 1993 states that female-headed families are dramatically poorer than married counterparts, despite educational attainments.

            In Cuyahoga County the percentage of families headed by a single female increased from 18% in 1980 to 22.6% in 1990. It is interesting to note that during this time period Ohio’s rate of poverty also increased to 23%. The saddest result of all this is that 40% of all poor Americans are children. Regardless of race 25% of all American preschoolers are poor. In Cuyahoga County 24.2% of children aged 3 to 4 are poor. In fact, 72,268 persons aged 17 and younger in Cuyahoga County are poor.

            While welfare and food stamps are available for single moms, it cannot be considered a panacea at its current rate. In 1970, an Aid for Dependent Children mother with 2 children received $721 per month in 1993 dollars. In 1993, that same family of three received $341 per month—a decrease of 52.7%. A comparison of the number of poor in Ohio to the number receiving food stamps indicates that one-fourth of Ohio’s poor do not take advantage of their eligibility.

            What all this may mean is than not only will schools have to continue doing a good job in preparing students to be more competitive for the few existing jobs, but they will have to train students in how to start their own businesses and survive in this global economy.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #8, December 1994-February 1995

Improving the “System”

by Cindy Kennedy

            There may be as many different opinions from homeless people about how to improve the current welfare system as there are homeless people within the system. Surprised? You should not be surprised. The welfare system is highly complex in its rules, regulations, and restrictions. It is not unusual that the homeless population are often treated as a single group identical to each other. While in actuality, there are as many different opinions on how to change out U.S. tax system as there are employed people.

            Although opinions vary from person to person based on experiences, even similar backgrounds sometimes yield very different opinions. Two women interviewed at an east side women’s shelter expressed their opinions on how to improve the welfare system. They have had some common struggles and circumstances, but each had specific needs and convictions that differed at the time of the interview. Common to both was a history of drug abuse, and both were undergoing successful recovery. Also, both had children that at some point in their lives were taken away from them, and both were homeless.

            Both women said that they had decided to seek recovery and wanted to get their lives in order primarily because they were “tired.” They both stressed this fact. Not tired in that they had not slept their six-hour minimum the night before. They seemed to be tired of the daily experiences with drug abuse, violence, and not being able to care for their children the way they deserve.

            Dee (not her real name) said, “If I had adequate money for housing between now and the time I can get into Family Transitional Housing I’d be set. But I’m worried.” Her check for $491 per month just does not cover the food and rent she needs. She cannot stay at the shelter for an extended period of time, but Family Transitional cannot take her for two months.

            Dee stressed that the way the welfare system could be improved would be by providing her family of four children, ages 8, 10, 15, and 16, with a little more money for housing. Dee said that the lack of affordable housing was a huge obstacle to overcome for women in her situation.

            When asked about the possibility of moving into the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Association estates, Dee said, “That would not be a good idea for me. I’d never go back.” There are too many opportunities for drug abuse at CMHA. The CMHA has a patrol and “they do the best they can,” she says, “but it’s just out of control. They (CMHA) can’t help it.”

            Dee is a healthy 36-year-old woman with good communication skills and ambitious goals for making a living. Dee said that her history of drug abuse must have screwed up her memory because she finds it hard to remember job assignments and verbal directions. “Right now I have a bad memory, and I really couldn’t take a job just yet,” Dee explained. Hopefully, she said, with her progress in recovery, she would be able to retain a job next year. In the meantime, she beams with pride talking about her children, who are doing well in school, earning straight A’s and B’s.

            Another resident, Monica, said, “It should be mandatory for everyone getting welfare to get a GED.” She said that there are many programs for education, both high school and college, that welfare recipients could access. “There is day care available,” paid for by the state for those mothers with children, Monica claimed.

            Monica is working on her GED currently, and will attend Cuyahoga Community College next year to get her Plant Science Technology degree. The welfare system will pay for it. Monica is 26-years old. Why is she just now getting her GED? It has become embarrassing. Monica is now successfully completing a recovery program from drug abuse. She has five children, one of whom lives with her. The others live with her grandmother.

            Monica stressed the need for a high-school education. She had no ideas for reforming the current welfare system, except to link it to receiving a high-school education.

            When confronted by someone headed in the same direction as Monica, she said, “I would share my story and tell her she doesn’t have to do that. I would tell her she has choices, and I would take her places where she wouldn’t go otherwise.”

            Another perspective was provided by Nora Thomas, CCDC2, Pretreatment Coordinator at an east side women’s shelter. She said, “Six months is not enough time to get a GED, a job, etc.,” referring to the Job Works program which currently is set up to provide assistance for 6 months while a person is expected to graduate with a GED or find a job. Why is it that everyone else can expect an average of six months to two years to find a job during these economic times, but those on welfare must find one in six months?

            Thomas also said, “Early intervention leads to 90% recovery. We should have groups for those who misuse chemicals, not just for those who abuse them.” Thomas had strong opinions about the importance of spending more time and money on prevention.

            Three things would improve the welfare system, according to Thomas:

  • ·                                 More money for housing, depending on circumstances
  • ·                                 Mandatory GEDs across the board
  • ·                                 More time allowed to get GEDs and jobs

            With the current debate both in Ohio and nationally about reform measures for the welfare system, a concerted effort is needed to solicit the input of those within the system. It is vital when making changes to government assistance programs to hear what the recipients have to say about possible changes.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #8, December 1994-February 1995