NEOCH Index 2012

From the Cuyahoga Office of Homeless Services

  • Number of people who were newly homeless single adults in Cleveland in 2011 who sought shelter:             3,496
  • Number of people served by both emergency and transitional shelters in Cuyahoga County in 2011:             8,280
  • Percentage of the single adults leaving shelter with income in 2011:     43%
  • Percentage of the family population leaving emergency shelter with income in 2011:          38%
  • Percentage of the family population leaving transitional shelter with income in 2011:         78%
  • Percentage of the families staying in shelter who stay with family or friends before they come to shelter in Cleveland:       66%
  • Percentage of the single female sheltered population that have children that are not currently in their custody:             60%
  • Percentage of the families who are on Medicaid upon exit from the shelter system in 2011:         49%
  • Percentage of the families who are on Food Stamps or the SNAP program upon exit from the shelter system in 2011:           70%
  • Percentage of the families who are on TANF or cash assistance upon exit from the shelter system in 2011:             4%
  • Percentage of adults who enter the emergency shelters who first went through the new “Central Intake” in Cuyahoga County in 2011:     92%
  • Percentage of the population who stayed in shelter less than 30 days in 2011:         67.2%
  • Percentage of the population who have stayed in shelter longer than one year according to statistics from 2011:  0.7%.
  • The most common response from those leaving emergency shelter in 2011 to some other location was “Other/Don’t Know/Refused to Answer”  at 37.9%.  The second most common response was “To a Transitional Shelter” at 14.2% and the third most common response was “To another Emergency Shelter” at 13.9%. 
  • The most common response from those leaving transitional shelter in 2011 to some other location was “Going Back to an Emergency Shelter”  at 23.5%.  The second most common response was “Going to a Rental Unit that has a Subsidy” at 19.4% and the third most common response was “Other/Don’t Know/Refused” at 15.6%. 
  • Percentage of emergency shelter residents who enter the shelter without income in 2011:   65%
  • Percentage of the people entering shelter in 2011 who reported having at least one disabling condition:             30%

What is it like Living in the Shelters in Cleveland?

Commentary By Michael Boyd

I would like to talk a little bit about my experience in the shelter from being homeless off and on for fifteen years. I’ve seen more diversity in there. All colors, all races. The bad thing about the shelter is that they closed the shelter for the mentally disabled, and the mentally disturbed shelter, and now they are in 2100.

They stay up all night, walk the floors, urinate in the corner, and nobody can really stop them at 3, 4, 5 in the morning. The smell is so bad that you can smell the place a block away! The staff snatch the blankets off you at 5:30 in the morning, yelling in your ear, and trying to rush you out of the place. Most of the staff are formerly homeless themselves but, since they’ve been there so long (ha-ha), they don’t act like they remember being homeless.  I don’t understand! Somehow I think they’re losing touch with the reality of getting their own places!

One time when I was down there, I woke up and my shoes were gone, my bag was gone with my street newspapers, and nobody was able to help me find them. They gave me shoes that were size 11, and I wear a size 8. The good things are that the churches come to feed us, the staff is pretty good, and they give us shelter.

Also, I would like to add that the Coalition has helped me. Selling the paper helped me reconcile with my fiancé and get my life back on track. But somehow or another I would like to see the shelters improve.  I would like to see other people who have to live in the shelters be a little better, and not use the shelters as such a crutch for them.  I want to see them maybe clean the shelters a little bit better. 

I also would like to add that God is great. Never give up the faith, and even though we have nothing, God has something in store for all of us. It’s the reason why we all are still here! I like to keep saying that. God bless anybody who reads this, their friends and family members, and the people who don’t read it.

Spiritual Peace: The Definition of Homelessness

By T. K. Woods

The spiritual aspect of homelessness is a theory that spiritual homelessness is in sync with physical homelessness.  While being homeless, but also by seeking God and reading His word, I was given this insight about the connection between the two.  God used many women to give me knowledge and insight. One beautiful woman knew I liked to read and suggested I read Tell Them Who I Am: The Lives of Homeless Women by Elliot Liebow.  I enjoyed the book. It was almost like a camera following the women, and I got to go along for the walk while on my own walk.  Most of the women in the book believe in God or a higher power just like many of the women who were homeless with me.  Also, another likeness is that many of these women were repeat offenders of homelessness--they returned to homelessness multiple times.   

 Some women, after acquiring homes or even leaving the state, eventually returned to the same shelter.   I read the testimonies of the women who were tired of the repeat action in the book, but I’ve also seen up close the frustration that comes with the recognition that you have traveled in a fat circle only to return to homelessness.  I watched this frustration play out as I sat in the basement of the shelter. One day, this sister came in and had a major outburst: “Shit! I keep ending up at this shelter!” Nobody flinched; we were all used to sudden loud outbursts.  I thought I could not relate to her because this was my first experience of homelessness, but I could.  I failed to remember my own such outbursts of returning to the same brokenness--the same depression, the same fear, dealing with the same people who did not care for me.  Being with the same men who did not love me; drinking the same alcohol that did not fill me; and smoking the same blunt that did not ever get me as high as I really needed to go.  Much like her, I was homeless long before the physical manifestation of homelessness took place. 

 God gives us lessons, and when we fail to master them, we repeat them.  The repeats are never what destroy us; it’s the refusal to listen and hear God’s solution. It could be we just want to do what we want to do. We want the men we want and not the ones God wants us to have. Maybe we are seeking something that is not right for us: money, fortune, or fame.  Whatever the reason is, it’s something we refuse to give to God.  My definition of homelessness: the absence of God or the refusal to hear and obey Him.

Vendor Mark Read Was a Free Spirit

By Delores Manley

My husband, Mark E. Read, passed away on March 2, 2012. It was very sudden. I miss his compassion, love, security, and friendship. His last job was the Street Chronicle Newspaper. He was a very helpful man before he passed away.

Mark used to work at the University Settlement on East 49th Street in Cleveland back in the early ‘90s. He was the best cook at the settlement. He made very excellent meals for the homeless. Mark also did home remodeling for the University Settlement, making sure that the property was safe for the families that were in the housing. He also did remodeling for the son of the Lavert family, a famous singing family, who lived in Shaker Heights, Ohio.

My husband was also a landscaper and a carpet cleaner. He worked hard and loved making yards beautiful and helping people out on fixed incomes. Mark knew how to talk to people professionally and homeless people on the street. He also traveled to South Carolina and other places outside of Ohio to do his work.

Mark also was a limousine driver for a limo service in the late ‘80s. As a matter of fact, that is how I met him. He drove for a lot of famous people like Eddie Murphy, Martha Baxter-Burney, when they came into town.  Mark was a hard worker until he got a brain tumor, and that is what slowed him down. 

My last words for the paper are I really truly miss him very much. We were a normal couple.  We did fight, but it was so he would stay out of mischief and getting hurt.  Someone told somebody that the Saturday after he died, I was laughing about his death.  This is not true.  I married Mark because I loved him. He was a sweet person. I never thought my husband would leave so quickly. We were not a perfect couple, but I do dearly miss his smile, his love, and his companionship. I will see him again when the time comes.


Can You Tell a Homeless Person When You Pass Them?

Commentary by Raymond Jacobs

In 1994, when I first arrived in Cleveland, I met a young lady who would feed the pigeons everyday in the park area in front of Public Square. We became friends. As friends do, we started sharing our life stories. She began by telling me that she feeds the pigeons because they were homeless just like she was. Just viewing her outward appearance, you couldn’t tell that she was homeless. She was a laid off auto worker whose unemployment had run out.

I often wondered why a homeless woman would panhandle in order to buy popcorn to feed the pigeons.  I have to think that she was feeding the pigeons so that no one would know that she was homeless.  She told me, “I am homeless—they are homeless.  I am hungry—they are hungry.”  She knew that I was homeless, and finally the Downtown Alliance ran her out of public square for feeding the pigeons. I think that it is stupid to make it illegal to feed the pigeons. 

 I really felt sorry for her.  She did this everyday no matter if it was hot or cold. Then the Downtown Alliance ran her out of there.  They made her stopped feeding the pigeons.  I never saw her again.  She was escorted off the Square and she was crying that last day.  No matter how much snow or how cold she was feeding the pigeons.  I think I heard she had done it for 20 years on Public Square.

 We, a great industrial nation, have now become a nation of homelessness and poverty-struck citizens as a direct result of the poor decisions and policy making of our nation’s leaders. This lady became homeless while waiting for other benefits to kick in. This is happening daily at an alarming rate. It has also led to the rapid increase in homelessness among everyday citizens. This increase will continue even more when the soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan return.

 Presently in this country, the poor pay even more. The price is now the loss of pride and dignity which has been stripped away by a system they once believed in.  

Not Your “Typical” Type of Person

Commentary By Kim “Supermutt” Goodman

There was once a little girl pretty as can be with long hair; some people would call her a doll. To many people she was smart because she could memorize things and recite them so well and because she was very creative. To her teachers she was a good student because she was quiet and didn’t disrupt class. To a lot of people she may have looked and seemed like the perfect child. Despite her outward appearance, inside she was confused. Even though she looked and seemed so dainty, on the inside she felt masculine. She also didn’t know how to connect with her peers and used to just stand there and watch them, hoping that someone would connect with her. Everyone around her assumed that she was a loner or enjoyed being to herself, so no one connected with her. There were also lights, sounds, and smells that irritated and distracted her, but no one noticed. The little girl didn’t know how to verbally describe what was going on.

 As the little girl became a teenager, her differences became noticeable. The school’s curriculum advanced from memorizing and reciting facts to using the facts that were learned over the years along with new facts that were given, and the girl was not able to keep up. Each fact that the girl learned was just a fact that stuck in her brain like a computer file. She was not able to tell the difference between an important fact and an unimportant fact. To her, a fact was just a fact, and all were equally important. She also didn’t know how to read between the lines of things or use the facts she learned and apply them to things. All she could do was recite them. She was also a direct and visual learner who needed to be told exactly what to do and be taught hands on. Her grades dropped dramatically, and no one understood why. In addition to struggling with schoolwork, the girl still wasn’t able to connect with her peers because she didn’t share any common interest with them. Each day her classmates ran home to watch music videos, but the girl rushed home to watch after-school cartoons. While her classmates hung out at the mall or at each others’ houses watching movies and listening to music, the girl would sit alone in her room playing with her toys and reading comic books. It was obvious that the girl was not as mentally and emotionally mature as her classmates were. She still thought like a child.

Once the girl’s differences started to stick out more, she was teased by her peers and criticized by her mother. Each day the girl went to school she was unable to connect with the other kids. Most of the time she sat alone, and sometimes she was picked on. After a rough day at school the girl needed to be hugged, held for a few minutes, and be told that the kids were wrong to mistreat her. Instead, she was blamed and criticized. She was often told that if she didn’t act so differently, she wouldn’t get picked on and was told that if she wanted the kids to like or respect her she had to act “normal.” The girl had no idea how to “act normal.” She only knew how to be herself.  As time went on the girl learned that it was wrong to be herself, and she stopped talking about what really went on in her life because she didn’t want to be criticized or blamed for other people’s ignorant comments and actions. The girl kept a lot of things bottled up inside of her, and as more time went on, she became depressed. Slowly her self-esteem and self-confidence crept away. 

 The girl finally grew up and became a woman and was expected to suddenly start acting and thinking like a mature adult, but she still thought like a child and reacted emotionally like a child. The girl was not a magician who could suddenly change overnight, so she struggled to do things that “typical” adults found easy. She also had no self-esteem and a poor self-image. Since the girl could not seem to succeed at age-appropriate adult tasks, she eventually found herself out on the street and looking for love and acceptance. She was in search of a “family” to love and care about her. The girl wanted to be loved in a family sort of way and found out the hard way that love in the adult world was often tied to sex. The girl was unable to read people’s body language and social cues or see people’s hidden agendas, so she found herself in many difficult situations. She also struggled with her social and communication skills because they were not age appropriate.

 The girl soon believed that there was something really wrong with her, and she wanted to know what exactly was wrong with her. She knew that she was an adult woman, but she felt like a little boy on the inside and she wanted to know why. She spent a lot of time searching for the answers to all the questions she had on her mind. Many years later, her doctor told her she showed signs of Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a high functioning form of autism, and she spent a lot of time researching it. Learning about Asperger’s made the girl realize that she was not crazy or abnormal, and a lot of things from her past started to make sense to her. Then she also found out that there were people out there that showed androgynous traits (being born one gender but feeling like the other) and people who were asexual (not having sexual feelings for a male or a female). For once in the girl’s life, she felt complete.

The girl in this story is me. I don’t regret ever being homeless. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. While I was homeless I learned more about love, caring, and being a part of a family than I did being around people who lived in homes. A lot of the people who lived on the street for a long period of time were “different” like me. Some of their parents had either passed away or couldn’t accept the fact that they were different from typical people their age. Many of their relatives couldn’t accept their differences or were not aware that they were different and assumed that they didn’t want anything out of life. These people were rejected and abandoned by their relatives and hurting emotionally but still found it in their hearts to have compassion for one another. When my street friends looked at me, they looked past my outward appearance and saw me as a human being worth caring about. They nurtured me emotionally with long hugs, encouraging words, and comfort, which was something my mother didn’t do. Their support helped raise my self-esteem. My street friends became the supportive “family” I was looking for. A lot of us struggled together, overcame obstacles together, and grew together.

Even though I am no longer homeless, I still sell the Cleveland Street Chronicle to get extra money to pay bills and buy the things I need. I’m still trying to buy furniture for my home. I like writing for the paper because I have a lot of knowledge to share. I like selling the paper because I like being near people. After spending a great deal of time alone it feels good to interact with people. I don’t get along well with people my age outside of the street because we don’t share a common interest. Most people tell me I remind them of their kids, or they are too busy trying to figure out my sexual preference.

 One day I would like to own my own business so that I can hire people with differences and give them the opportunity to have a decent job. In addition to selling the paper, I also devote a lot of my time to autism awareness. In May, I ran in the Rite Aid Marathon’s 5K to support OAR’s “Run for Autism”. In July, I will walk in the Easter Seals’ “Walk With Me” charity walk at the zoo, and every August, I walk in the “Walk Now for Autism Speaks” charity walk. I also have my own autism awareness site. You can visit it at:    

My Thoughts on Jim Schlecht

Commentary by Brian Davis

  • Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
  • Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
  • Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
  • Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

I had the privilege of planning and speaking at the Jim Schlecht celebration.  No he is not retiring or dying.  Randy Cunningham of CTO decided that it was time to celebrate Jim's amazing body of work on behalf of the hungry and homeless.  Here is what I tried to say if I was a better speaker.  If you want to see more pictures or read more about Jim go to the NEOCH website and search “Jim Schlecht”.

I can't believe that Jim attended this event.  Thanks to everyone who kept the information electronic so that there was no way that Jim would see it.  Jim transitioned from assisting with hunger programs into homelessness.  I have to say that he is one of the few people that lives his faith.  I do worry that Jim is looking more and more like John Brown in his later years, and we all know how that ended.  I am sure that if we solved homelessness in the 1980s, Jim would be working with victims of AIDS or the mentally ill, or those working on re-entry issues. 

He is not an executive director type and he freely admits this.  Jim does not spend a great deal of time on paperwork preferring to meet people where they are and figuring out how to help.  He goes to the wall for people, and will help multiply times because he knows that no one is perfect.  Jim expects people to make mistakes.  There are people on the streets who don't like Jim.  I was flabbergasted when I heard this.  How could someone not like Jim Schlecht?  There were people who don't like Mother Theresa so I guess it is understandable.  Jim doesn't let him get it down.  He still reaches out a helping hand even to those who scorn him. He meets people where they are and when they are ready for a hand up. 

He calls all the time with requests, and it is impossible to say "no" to Jim.  So, earlier in the week Jim called asking about getting TV converters for homeless people moving into housing.   I am asking right now, spread the word, Jim Shlecht is looking for tv converters to turn the old analog TVs into usable entertainment for lonely homeless people moving into apartments. 

I have seen Jim at many anti-war rallies.  I remember being surprised to see Jim being arrested at the annual War Show in Cleveland during the labor day weekend one summer day.  I know that he lives his faith everyday when interacting with the hungry and the downtrodden.  He lives his faith when confronted with a society that spends tax dollars on killing people. I have seen him at vigils to remember those who died nearly every year, because the job is part of his faith.  He has stayed overnight at the Metanoia Project because his faith is 24 hours a day. 

Families are better off to have Jim Schlecht in Cleveland.  We are glad that Care Alliance hired Jim.  We are happy that he is willing to forgive and move on as a living expression of his faith.  He does not get involved in ageny squabbles and is not distracted by Facebook, Twitter or even e-mail. Jim just talks to people and helps thousands into housing sometimes more than once.  Cleveland is a better place because of Jim Schlecht. 

We have to thank Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman for his certificate of recognition and for Congressman Dennis Kucinich who honored Jim with a recognition on the floor of the US House of Representatives.  Toni Johnson, Terrell Valentine, and Randy Cunningham worked for a couple of months to put this celebration together.

This is an appreciation of Jim Schlecht, who for over thirty years has demonstrated exemplary service to the least of our community's citizens, who does not just talk about justice and compassion, but lives it day to day on the streets of Cleveland.  All Clevelanders can learn from his life of service and all our lives made better by his work. 

Homeless News Updates

By Ellen Kriz

Summit County softens stance on panhandling

            Summit County recently proposed tightening restrictions on panhandlers, but following criticism from some County Council members, the administration is pulling back on some of the proposed measures. They will no longer consider requiring panhandlers to obtain licenses or wear orange safety vests. The concern is that constitutional rights would be violated by such restrictive measures. The legislation will, however, prohibit aggressive panhandling tactics, lying about identity or monetary struggles, and begging within twenty feet of banks or ATM’s. Begging will also be prohibited between the hours of 8 p.m. and 7 a.m. If the law is passed, it will be effective only in townships like Bath which cannot pass legislation on their own.

Controversy over homelessness reopens old wounds in Ohio City

The Housing First Partnership was attempting to open a Permanent Supportive Housing Project in Ohio City. The organization was attempting to build a 55-unit permanent housing building on Lorain Avenue in an old Hollywood Video site. Neighbors were concerned about safety threats and decreased housing values.  The project also was opposed by a few community leaders who felt that Ohio City already hosts enough social service projects, and that the building should not be constructed on prime real estate. The State of Ohio denied the project tax credits because of a number of issues including the cost per unit and the smaller communities who received priority over large communities like Cuyahoga County.  There are currently 450 supportive housing units in Cuyahoga County, and the group will try again next year for tax credit support.

Toledo Shelters Fear Loss of Funding will Reduce Beds

            For nearly twenty years, Toledo has received thousands of dollars from the federal Community Development Block Grant, but this year, several Toledo shelters were denied access to these funds.  Family House in particular will lose 10% of its budget, nearly $85,000 while other shelters will experience similar losses. As a result, the shelters will have to cut back their services significantly. Toledo will receive additional funding through the new Emergency Solutions Grant this year, but those funds are restricted to housing assistance and preventing homelessness. These changes must be approved by the Toledo City Council before they can take effect.  A number of groups have complained to HUD that Toledo officials do not understand the limitations of the new ESG funding.

Rhode Island Approves Homeless Bill of Rights

A Homeless Bill of Rights which ensures that homeless individuals are treated equally in terms of employment, housing, law enforcement, and voting, was passed by the Rhode Island Senate. The House passed a similar bill, and the Governor signed it into law in June inviting advocates from the National Coalition to the bill signing.   There is a great deal of excitement about the law and it has been called “landmark legislation.” It is the first bill of its kind in the country, and it is supported by several major local non-profit organizations. Perhaps success in Rhode Island will prompt other states to advocate increased equality for homeless populations.        

Cleveland student David Boone worked hard to go from homeless to Harvard

            The Plain Dealer reported on the graduation of David Boone and his plans for the fall to attend Harvard University.  This was not unusual except that Boone spent part of his high school career homeless and sleeping in the bleachers.   He was accepted to 22 of 23 schools and turned down Yale and Princeton to study engineering at Harvard.  Boone was homeless for a good portion of his childhood. He often spent his nights on a park bench off of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and used his book bag as a pillow. He did his homework in the Tower City rapid station because it was heated, and he went to school at 5 a.m., mostly because he had nowhere else to go. As a child, he experienced gang violence after being pressured to join and dealing with his sister’s boyfriend who was a rival gang member. According to the Plain Dealer in a story that went national, one night, his home was attacked by gang members, and his family consequently split apart. He was left to fend for himself. His hard work and perseverance through tremendous difficulty have finally been rewarded as he prepares for college and a new beginning.

This Girl Knows God’s “Amazing Grace”

By Ellen Kriz

Perhaps one moment during my interview with Deborah E. Lettau sums up her experience with homelessness most concisely: “People make judgments about the places and people you associate with. Sometimes people will assume the worst. Some people want to assume the worst, and they don’t always want to let you forget about it either.” She paused briefly as her face brightened and her tone lightened: “But we don’t want to dwell on that.” Like many who have experienced homelessness, Debbie has been unfairly labeled and stigmatized. Nevertheless, she has overcome an onslaught of adversity and has directed her energy toward helping others turn their lives around. She has learned that “it’s not so much your money, but the quality of the time that you spend.”

Debbie was born in the Old Brooklyn area of Cleveland, the only child of an accountant and a comptometer operator. She was hired by the IRS as a file clerk and typist in February of 1974, and after nearly thirty years there, she was suspended in November 2001. Debbie did not go into much depth about what happened at the IRS; she was influenced by the wrong people, and by late January 2003, as Debbie lived without income, the IRS still had not decided if she could have her job back. She resigned in February 2003 for financial reasons. Debbie reflected that one would not expect a person who works for the IRS, a relatively steady government job, to be homeless. She emphasized that “back in the day” you’d think you could work for the IRS until you wanted to retire, but times have changed. Indeed, the loss of her long-term job was just the beginning of many difficulties for Debbie.

Debbie candidly discussed her struggles with alcohol abuse. She made a point of noting that she never used crack cocaine and that she has been sober since December 2002. She was also the victim of emotional abuse from a partner and his son who were involved with alcohol and drugs. They made it difficult for her to achieve sobriety and drained her accounts. Debbie admitted how dangerous her life could be at times: “I’ve been in situations where if the results were different, I could be in jail, prison, in the hospital, or dead.” For instance, her partner’s son was pulled over in her car at around 2 or 3 a.m. in the Bellaire Gardens area one night. A neighbor drove her and her partner to the area to pick up the car, and as they were walking, they were tackled by a few individuals who wanted to rob them. Before the attackers let them go, Debbie was hit in the head with a loaded 9 millimeter gun.

Debbie soon faced poverty again as she suffered through her abusive relationship and other difficult circumstances.  Her father was struck with dementia and her mother developed Alzheimer’s; both had to be admitted to a nursing home. She also became the victim of a predatory lender who did not contact her first or second mortgage companies about the loan. After struggling to make her payments, she lost her home of twenty years. Her parents died within two years of each other as Debbie dealt with failing mental health and threats to her sobriety. In 2004, while she was living with her partner’s mother after a period of rental housing, she fled to Alcoholics Anonymous. According to Debbie, it was a “running away from home” of sorts. She spoke highly of AA and her experiences there. She learned that she is responsible for her actions, even good intentions that were misguided. In the meantime, Debbie stayed at a friend’s house and worked at a party center and a thrift store. She resided at a facility run by the Salvation Army until she could be admitted to the West Side Catholic Shelter, a women’s and children’s home. Eventually, she entered transitional housing in 2006. Although Debbie faced homelessness in this period of her life, she also learned more about herself, the effects of domestic abuse, and how helping others can heal. Her fresh outlook was apparent as we spoke. She has accepted that some circumstances were out of her control, that she cannot change what happened, and perhaps most of all, that she “can’t change other people.”

Now Debbie has devoted most of her time giving back to the community and making God her first priority. She currently lives in a CMHA building close to her former home and attends services at Bethany English Lutheran. She also works at a men’s group home in Old Brooklyn. Many of the men have physical and/or mental disabilities, and have dealt with alcohol or drug abuse in the past. Debbie helps provide meals and other housing services. She also ensures that the men take their medication properly and are devoted to “straightening up their acts.” She fondly related how much she enjoys joking with her residents and getting to know them. Debbie is also involved with Transitional Housing Inc. (THI), the Women’s Outreach Center, and NEOCH’s Homeless Congress. To keep her new life in perspective, Debbie realizes that “God’s grace” has kept her alive and continues to work through her. It is no wonder that one of her favorite songs to sing is “Amazing Grace.”

In the future, Debbie wants to find a full-time position, possibly in the accounting field. Her daughter, Erica, is continuing her education at Cleveland State University, while Debbie hopes that maybe a third marriage “will be the charm.” Debbie also loves to write poetry. She has published work in the past, and has recently submitted work to the Lakewood Library. If her poem is chosen for the new artwork at the library, she will receive a $200 gift card to Players on Madison. Debbie chuckled as she quipped, “That might be the answer: I’m gonna get to have some lamb chops. It’s been a long time. That would be a treat.”

Thank You Cleveland for Helping the Shelters

Commentary by Angelo Anderson

Working at 2100 has given me a unique insight into human nature.  No matter how hard it gets for some of our residents, they refuse to give up.  It’s that spirit that motivates me to continue doing the work we do here.  While we are seeing more new and younger faces, we are also seeing less harder to place, long term homeless men returning to homelessness. 

What’s changed?  New housing programs have focused on placing a man into a unit with rules that recognize the challenges of housing that person. Making allowances and adjustments have given many a permanent home. 

As more and more people rent, we should see more landlords willing to take a voucher for the first and last months’ rent.  They should be willing to give a hand up to many that just need some assistance with what, for many, can be a huge sum to come up with.  This would provide hope for people that make slightly more than minimum wage.

Having a roommate is no longer frowned on in the homeless community, cementing friendships that often start out with two men watching each other’s belongings as they each go to work.  Many times, independent housing is doable if they work together to pay for and maintain a unit.

Many of the things that we are able to accomplish at 2100 are the results of years of trial and error.  I am part of a team that will always make mistakes, but will never give up encouraging, guiding, cheering, and pushing the men we work with to take the next step in their journey to become self-sufficient.

Your support and recognition of the need to provide the services that we do is the real key to lowering the number of homeless in Cleveland.  While we may work on the front line we are only able to succeed because of the support we receive from outside the shelter, whether it’s from the county, city, foundations, or individuals.  I thank you and they thank you. Your steadfastness and compassion is not in vain.

Interview with Barbara Poppe

Barbara Poppe is the Director of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness.  The agency has the Secretaries of all the departments that have any interaction with homeless people including Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Veterans Administration, and the Social Security Administration, Department of Labor and others.  The Agency regularly weighs in on policy issues and has published a blueprint for ending homelessness in America.  She is the former director of the Columbus  Shelter Board in which she coordinated all federal and homeless resources.  She had previous experience as the director of a local Columbus Ohio shelter.  Poppe’s press aide Jason Kravitz sat in and spoke as indicated.

by Mike McGraw

Street Chronicle: Just to review some facts that I’ve learned from the website, or that Jason has shared with me: the Interagency Council was created by the McKinney Act, sometimes called the McKinney-Vento Act, which was an Act of Congress from 1987, and right now you’ve got something like 18 full-time equivalents of staff, and your current budget is about $3.3M/year – do I have all that straight?
Jason: That’s correct.

SC: OK, and the Council consists of 19 Cabinet and other agency heads, and I’ve looked at the website as to what those agencies are, and the Chair of the Council right now is HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius?
: That’s correct.

SC: OK, so Barbara, would Secretary Sebelius, or whoever is the Chair at any given time, be your direct supervisor?
Barb Poppe: Yes, that actually is part of the statute that creates the Interagency Council and it is that reporting requirement.

SC: OK, so how often do you get to meet with Secretary Sebelius, or whoever the Chair is, to talk about running the Council?
BP: The full Council meets on a quarterly basis, and I’ve been in this position about two and a half years, and I consistently meet with the Chair of the Council on a quarterly basis. HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, who was Chair of the Council at the time I was hired in 2009, I’ve continued to meet with Secretary Donovan on about a monthly basis. And a lot of the programs that the Council is involved in are in the Dept of HUD, and Secretary Donovan is very passionate about the work we’re all doing to end homelessness.

SC: Have you had the chance to actually sit down with the President or VP in the two and a half years you’ve been there?
BP: We have not had a specific meeting with either the VP or the President on the work of the Council. We do work very closely through his Domestic Policy Council, which is headed by Cecelia Munoz as our primary reporting. And we have worked very closely with the VP’s office, particularly as related to issues relating to women and domestic violence. He has a special advisor on that topic, Lynn Rosenthal, so we’ve coordinated with her on that. We also work very closely with the President’s Office of Management and Budget, as well as some of the other divisions within the White House such as the Office of Public Engagement, and their Communications, and other places. So as issues and opportunities present themselves, we work closely with them. The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships is one of the members of the Council as well, as they have personnel that are situated in many of our Council member agencies, and those are staff that are also pretty active in the work of the Council.

SC: I think I was particularly eager to contact you for this interview because you come from Ohio, and you worked for a [Columbus] group called the Community Shelter Board for a long time before you came to Washington. Can you tell us briefly how you came to get the job as Executive Director of the Interagency Council?
BP: Well thanks Mike, I still am a Buckeye, and I live in Columbus, Ohio. I am married to Bill Faith who is the Director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing, so this is very much a family effort. I worked as director of the Community Shelter Board in Columbus, and was approached by the White House to determine whether I had any interest in the position. They were aware of the good work that was being done in Columbus and reached out to see if we could bring some of that collaborative work to the federal government. I was honored to be interviewed by Sec. Donovan and one the President’s Special Assistants, Derek Douglas who was with the Domestic Policy Council at that time. I was convinced that the President and his team are very serious about the project of ending homelessness, and they had a charge from Congress to create the strategic plan to end homelessness.

I was convinced that there was a special and unique opportunity to come to Washington and to help create collaborations at the federal level, but also to work with state and local governments in ways that would help those local communities be more successful. I certainly think of myself as a local community person, and I recognize the work that gets done on the issue of homelessness all gets done in local communities. I also think that, Mike, you’re from Ohio, and we tend to pride ourselves on being very practical and just getting things done, so I was kind of intrigued about whether you could bring that sensibility to Washington and just set about getting things done. So I’m proud to be a Buckeye here working for this administration.

SC: OK. I wanted to ask a little about HMIS, the information program that gathers data. I think it’s purpose is maybe just in part for a census of homeless people in a community at any given time, and maybe also some data about those people. Are you comfortable that that program is getting an accurate count of homeless people in a given community or across the country, as opposed to doing something like a census people would go out into the community and count people, because HMIS would be counting people at the point that they make contact with social services. So are you comfortable that that’s an accurate way to get a census?
BP: So, to back up just a bit, the US Census every ten years does do a count on homeless as part of the census. So it is part of the national census to collect information on men and women and children who are homeless at the time of the Census. So the one thing to know is that there is the official US Census.

The second piece to be aware of is that HUD requires that every community at least every other year do a one-day point-in-time count and those are usually during the month of January. And so Cleveland does that point-in-time count annually, even though it’s only a federal requirement to do that count every other year. And for that point-in-time count there are two components to it. One is there is a count of every person who is staying in a shelter or transitional housing program in your community, people who are actually sheltered and accessing services. There also is a part of the count that is focused on those who are unsheltered or on the street, abandoned buildings, living in cars, under bridges, that kind of study. So that kind of data is collected. In 60% of communities across the country, it’s collected every year, and in 100% of communities it’s collected every other year. So that’s a piece to it.

So the third piece is what you mentioned, the Homeless Management Information Systems, which is a requirement for every community to participate in the HMIS in order to receive Continuum of Care and Emergency Solutions Grant funding. And that is intended to be much, much more than a count. It’s actually intended to be collecting information on not just the demographic characteristics, but on the programs that people access and the results they obtain by participating in them. So it tracks things like changes in income, did they become employed, how long were they in the program?  Did they access successfully to housing? You can also track did they return to shelter, did they return to homelessness. Many communities now are also collecting information through their outreach teams, so they’re including information in their HMIS about people who aren’t accessing any sort of residential program who might be receiving services on the streets. So it’s much more robust than just a single point in time. The quality and the accuracy of that data is only as good as the community’s dedication to collecting that information. So the communities that have the best data systems are those that have nearly comprehensive coverage of all of the programs in that community, that are routinely checking and verifying the accuracy of that data, and then are using that data and analyzing it to understand the patterns, the needs, the gaps in services, and using it to inform decisions and how services get used. And so I think that communities that are doing that kind of work with their HMIS, it really is a benefit because they can ensure that there is a strong case for the quality of the program as well as the resources that are needed to ensure that the public receives services that can help them exit homelessness as quickly as possible.

SC: I found an article from the Toledo Blade from April 20, 2012 that refers to what the article calls the Emergency Solutions Grant, and I think it might be trying to refer to something called the Emergency Shelter Grant, which is on your website. And according to this article, what it calls the Emergency Solutions Grant, that half of the money from this program must be used for homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing. Does that sound consistent with the Emergency Shelter Grant, or can you clarify what that’s referring to?
BP: Under the McKinney-Vento Act, it created a program called the Emergency Shelter Grant, and that program continued throughout the history of McKinney-Vento until it was reauthorized in May 2009 under the HEARTH Act. And under the HEARTH Act, the Emergency Shelter Grant was ended, and the Emergency Solution Grant was put in its place. And the intent of the Emergency Solutions Grant was to continue to make funds available for emergency shelter and prevention programs, but also to enable communities to implement what’s called rapid re-housing programs. Rapid re-housing programs came into full scale under the Recovery Act which had a program called HPRP, the Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program.

And so as Congress appropriated the funds for the new Emergency Solutions Grant, there was an increase in that funding that was implemented this year. And because this year was the first year that the HEARTH regulations would apply to the ESG program, what HUD did was they took part of the money and issued it just as they had in the prior year under a formula to communities to use to keep emergency shelters and prevention programs open that were already being funded. And the additional money that they made available to communities they allowed those communities to use that resource for the new rapid re-housing program. So unfortunately, there was some misreporting in that story in April, so misinformation and miscommunication occurred, but in fact the amount of resources that are going to Toledo are significantly higher than the prior year. And those resources are available to continue emergency shelter operations as well as to enable program to rapid re-housing. You’re probably aware that the Recovery Act funding is ending through the end of that Recovery Act terms ends this summer. And so many communities are using the new ESG monies to replace and continue some of those programs that were funded under the Recovery Act HPRP program.

SC: So, you think, a city like Toledo, or another Ohio city, you’re saying it would not actually have less money available for emergency shelters that it did a year ago?
BP: That’s correct. The amount of resources available for emergency shelter did not decline from last year to this year from that federal Block Grant. The extra funds that they received were intended to continue and sustain programs related to homelessness prevention and rapid re-housing. There were some other changes that happened within the state of Ohio, based on the Census calculations also affected the formula this year. Some Ohio communities like Dayton that lost a lot of population between the 2010 and 2000 Census, in fact their dollars are now administered by that state, because Dayton was too small to receive their own allocation.

SC: In the Opening Doors document which was put out in 2010 with Sec. Donovan as the Chair of the Council, one of the key goals was to end chronic homelessness in five years, which would be by 2015. Is that still a goal of the federal government?
BP: Yes, the four population goals that were put forward in the Opening Doors plan continue to be the goals of that plan. They were reaffirmed last summer when we updated the plan. The Council just in its April meeting was discussing chronic homelessness and reaffirmed the goal to end chronic homelessness by 2015. So we’re very much focused on the goal of ending chronic and veterans’ homelessness by 2015 and ending family and child homelessness by 2020. The fourth goal is to set a pathway toward ending all other forms of homelessness, which is largely homelessness among individuals who are not chronically homeless, nor are veterans or youth.

SC: Thank you for your time, I know you’re busy.
BP: It’s great to talk with you, Mike. Thank you so much for covering this. I really appreciate the work of street newspapers across the country, and know that you provide a really valuable service in your community, as well as in terms of getting information out to folks, but also appreciate the opportunity for men and women to sell the paper and help them get some additional resources in their pocket. So thank you for volunteering with the Cleveland Street Chronicle.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle NEOCH July 2012 Cleveland, Ohio

Diversion Continues to Cause Confusion

by Ellen Kriz

The policy of diversion was introduced by the National Alliance to End Homelessness and first implemented in Columbus. It is now a nationally growing trend aimed at reducing homelessness and preventing potentially distressing episodes in the shelters. In nearly every city in the United States including Columbus, when the shelter is full they close the door.  This blunts the impact of diversion since the shelters turn people away for a lack of beds every day.  This program begins when an individual or family applies to an emergency shelter. An interview process known as a Coordinated Intake System determines whether the person(s) can find safe, stable housing elsewhere and can be “diverted” from the shelter. Oftentimes, this means trying to return the applicants to wherever they stayed the night before. Cleveland began incorporating diversion into its shelter system last year, and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is skeptical about the purported benefits of this new policy.

NEOCH is concerned about diversion because it could deny social services for those in need, and in practice, there seems to be some confusion about diversion processes. Clients have complained that they did not understand the diversion questions and were under the impression that there were no beds at the shelter. This is problematic because Cleveland has maintained a position that individuals who seek shelter are never denied a bed for the night. NEOCH fears that diversion will be used to reverse this admirable tradition. Entry-level staff at the shelter might use diversion to reduce crowding or discourage populations that are particularly difficult to care for from applying. It is troubling that some families, perhaps the most challenging population to accommodate, could be encouraged to move back into an abusive household. NEOCH questions whether the staff that administers the interviews is qualified enough to detect signs of abuse in a relatively short period of time during the interview process. NEOCH doubts that many women would reveal an abusive past so willingly to a total stranger.

Ruth Gillett from the Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services (OHS) and Dan Joyce, the director of the Cleveland Mediation Center (CMC) which staffs the Coordinated Intake System, were asked to explain the new policy and the ramifications for those seeking shelter. Joyce emphasized that diversion is not used to deny shelter. CMC focuses on returning applicants to safe housing for the night by helping pay utility bills and otherwise sustaining a permanent home. Joyce admitted that CMC does not believe that all needs should be met; their focus is housing. If mental issues come into play during the interview process, the applicant is referred to Mental Health Services (MHS). Joyce was defensive when the qualifications of his staff were called into question. The interviewers are not mental health professionals, but they are trained in conflict resolution, mediation, and identifying domestic abuse. Joyce noted that just recently a man came to the shelter and that CMC considered diverting him to his sister’s home. The staff successfully identified that this man was recovering from substance abuse and that his sister was a threat to his sobriety, so he was not sent back to her household. Although this anecdote sounds promising, it does not address NEOCH’s main fear that women and children could be placed in harm’s way because women are afraid to admit that domestic abuse occurs in their homes.

Gillett similarly insisted that the intent of diversion is not to push people away, but to stabilize housing and prevent potentially traumatic shelter stays. She asserted that, in this way, diversion is especially crucial for families since children who spend time in shelters reportedly have more mental problems. The majority of children who enter shelters are less than two years old when a lack of stability is detrimental to their health. In response to the domestic abuse issue, Gillett admitted that it is simply impossible to predict how a person will react to the questions and whether he or she will choose to hide information. Diversion is not a solution to all of the problems that surround homelessness; it is a response to a housing crisis. Even so, out of the 5,200 people who were sheltered in an emergency shelter last year, only 20% were diverted successfully. Although Gillett understands that this is not a groundbreaking success, she emphasized that diversion is just one of many efforts to provide good services for those in need.

Both Joyce and Gillett welcome a dialogue with NEOCH so that all parties involved have a clearer understanding of diversion and its practical implications. They are willing to consider suggestions that might improve protocol to make diversion processes more accessible and easily understood by shelter applicants. It seems that diversion could become a permanent fixture in Cleveland, and like any new policy, it will likely undergo numerous modifications before it most effectively serves those struggling to maintain housing.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle/ NEOCH July 2012 Cleveland Ohio