Mother Jones magazine focused on the Opioid crisis and the rise in deaths (click here). They focused on the number of deaths in Cuyahoga County and how it is overwhelming our Medical Examiners' office. NEOCH saw the effect of this crisis in December when we read the largest number of names of homeless people in our 30 year history.
Morning Edition on NPR had a report on the rise in death rates among white people (click here) in the United States in a despair index. This ties into the feelings of insecurity and the turning to drugs to self medicate in America.
"In a follow-up to their groundbreaking 2015 work, they say that a lack of steady, well-paying jobs for whites without college degrees has caused pain, distress and social dysfunction to build up over time. The mortality rate for that group, ages 45 to 54, increased by a half percent each year from 1999 to 2013."
These two stories illustrate my issues that I face at NEOCH everyday and why it is time for me to move on. There have been a number of media stories in the local news and they might have provided some confusion that deserve further explanation. This is not a problem with the reporting but more of space issues.
1. My salary is not the issue. I have never wanted more money and salary is not that important to me. I am certain that I make at the low end of nearly every Executive Director in the community. I am also sure that I could have asked for more money, which would only mean that I would have to raise more money to accomplish our goals at the Coalition. We have always posted our Tax Returns and so my salary has never been a secret. The Coalition had tough times where I had to take a salary cut, but I was never working at NEOCH for the money.
2. I am not cutting and running when times get tough. I have given 23 years to this struggle for housing justice, and we have had a lot of tough times over the years. As my family can attest, I have lived and breathed homelessness for all those years. I have waited for years for things to get better or at least focus political capital on housing or homelessness. I have waited for the State or Federal government to turn to solving homelessness for everyone or to even prioritize homelessness in a national discussion. How long do I have to wait? We took a sharp turn away from helping people in 2010 in Ohio and then a dramatic change at the federal level in 2016 away from housing as a human right. I need to work at a job in which I can solve problems. I want to work in a state or on a community problem that can show victories and will not be deciding on how to cut the pie thinner each year among worthy populations.
3. Trump vs. Obama and the treatment of homeless people. My point in bringing up the Trump election was not to say Obama was way better, because he wasn't. My point was to say that if we lost 444 beds over the last 10 years, think about how bad it is going to be. I mean, it is not going to get better based on the austerity budget proposed and the campaign rhetoric of "draining the swamp" by Trump. As a housing advocate, I live in the swamp. The new administration did not bring anyone in who spoke about the importance of housing or that infrastructure improvements should include affordable housing. Obama was a community organizer in a public housing complex so he had some understanding of the issues. Even with that understanding and appointing two long time housing advocates to run the Housing Department, we still saw reductions in the public housing budget and flat funding for homelessness (sequestration!). My point was that if we could not see an improvement in the eight years of a housing friendly president, how bad is it going to get with a President who knows absolutely nothing about affordable housing?
4. I am just another over-reacting progressive. With all the work we do on voting, I understand that elections have consequences. When there is such titanic change in society, a social justice group has to also change. NEOCH is working on changing and need a change in leadership. I could wake up in the morning and work on convincing federal officials to be sensitive to local homeless issues or working with state issues to expand the Housing Trust Fund. My issue is that the conflicts are growing and the problems facing homeless people are mounting. The victories are growing fewer and the defeats are growing more frequent. The number of homeless babies taken into custody of Cuyahoga County, and the number of families who have split up in order to get a bed in a shelter. When NEOCH was a bigger organization, we were housing people one every three days and providing other tools to end homelessness. How many decades do we wait on a National Housing policy?
5. Is moving the answer? The Congress of the United States hates housing programs and when most of our elected officials think of draining the swamp, they are thinking of subsidized housing. The new President and his cabinet officials show no affinity for affordable housing or that housing is related to the health of a community. So, we are left with community organizing and public policy at the state level. There are states that are trying to confront the issue of a lack of affordable housing and the rise in homelessness. Ohio is not one of those states. It might be better to go to another state to be able to organize and agitate. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are contributing all that they can (or at least that is what they keep telling me), and so there is no one left to listen to my advocacy pitch.
6. Is this an issue for NEOCH or homeless people? NEOCH relies on very few public funds ($34,000), and while these dollars are under threat, it is only 20% of our monetary revenue in 2016. NEOCH is not a direct service provider so we do not provide beds, food, or housing to the population. We are the primary homeless advocacy organization in the community and we have built our organization around public policy and forwarding an advocacy agenda. NEOCH should be fine and will look different, but is not in danger of closing. That does not mean that we do not see the suffering and the growing number of problems facing our constituents. This is why I have said that it is "soul crushing" to see what is happening and to realize what is coming soon. Nothing that I have seen over the last five months has changed my mind about my assessment of the tidal wave of cuts coming to poor people.
7. This is going to harm NEOCH. I don't think this is correct. I love NEOCH and would never do anything to harm to the organization. I actually think that this could be a new beginning for NEOCH. In the mid 1980s, NEOCH was started to help the shelters open new facilities to meet the increasing number of families. We will just be starting over to meet a similar crisis. The Coalition will be able to find a person who can meet those needs and may have the skills on developing new programs in the community. Plus, this new person will not have all the baggage that I have in dealing with other groups including the local foundation community who hate to see charities fighting with other charities.
8. This is all around sour grapes regarding the Women's Shelter. I actually gave my notice back in November, but agreed to stick around if West Side Catholic were given the contract to run the Women's Shelter. I really wanted to help improve the conditions at the Women's Shelter, but the County went another way. In discussions with the NEOCH Board, it was decided that the Annual Meeting was the best time to announce the resignation. Sure, it was a huge blow to NEOCH and to me that we had done all this work exposing all the problems at the Women's shelter and the County decided to continue the contract with Frontline Services. Even if we had gotten the shelter, this would have only delayed my decision until 2018. I know that NEOCH, Metanoia and West Side Catholic could have created one of the best shelters in the State of Ohio. I know that the collaboration would have improved conditions; would have found overflow space for all the women asking for help, and would not have re-traumatized the women, but it was not to be.
9. The NEOCH History. I am so proud of all that NEOCH has accomplished over the last 22 years. We are one of only two cities that does not turn people away if they ask for shelter. We have a federal court decision that is still in effect that protects homeless people from police arresting or threatening arrest for purely innocent behavior. NEOCH has done a great deal to improve the shelters, and we have helped to coordinate all the activities of those who go out on the streets to serve those who are resistant to shelter. We successfully fought a Mayor who hated homeless people, and we put in place some really good annual events that should continue. We have some really good training programs, an affordable housing website, plenty of good information on our website, and we have helped with plenty of successful lawsuits to protect homeless people. The numbers living on the streets is down and the number of homeless veterans are also down. Cleveland can be proud of a lot of successes regarding homeless people, but it is a fragile situation. These advances can easily be overturned. I think that we are in for some really tough times ahead.
10. We need all the homeless advocates now more than ever. I disagree with this sentiment. It is extremely difficult to organize a transitory population like homeless people. They are not well liked at City Hall and are horribly misunderstood. They are often confused with panhandlers and do not have a natural constituency of support. Advocates could work on the larger poverty issues with the hope that this translates to helping homeless people with housing. It is hard to educate politicians by dispelling some of the myths associated with homeless people and never getting around to the solutions. It is much easier to talk about families struggling to pay the rent or making decisions between baby formula or medicine. We need more shelters and social services right now. We need an emergency response to a crisis. Advocacy efforts in the area of housing will need to wait until there are better times.
11. What is wrong with the County? Just as we need more funds to address the housing crisis, we need more confidence in government. It is no help if money is pouring in, but no one is keeping an eye on the cookie jar. If a low income person asks for help and they are pushed to a subpar facility with bad food and no one to go to in order to complain, they become discouraged with government. They decide not to vote because "nothing changes." They talk to family and friends about how bad government is and how they got mistreated. Cuyahoga County is in charge of homeless services and has made terrible decisions over the last 20 years. Taxpayers are not well served by the homeless system constructed by Cuyahoga County. There is no independent grievance process. There is no oversight of the services so they are making a significant impact, friends are rewarded and critics are punished, and there is no plan. No one tries to get every group focused in the same direction and no one ever tries to mediate the tensions that develop between these charities who often compete for funding. We bounce from one federal trend to the next, and the County does not identify or fully support the essential needs in our community. Tax paying women who lose their housing should never have to endure the trauma they go through in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.
12. Why would I have a resignation picture taken in a Hawaiian Shirt? This was an archive picture from last June 2016. We have Hawaiian Shirt Fridays during the summer at NEOCH as a team building exercise. It is true that I am usually the only person who participates, but it does limit my future employment to a few islands in the Pacific.
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