Who Should Represent Homeless People?

This is an inside baseball post and may be way too far into the weeds for most people, but we did advertise back in June for homeless people to apply for the Office of Homeless of Services Advisory Board so we should provide an update.  The County Office of Homeless Services approves the $30 million that comes to Cleveland for the shelters and the housing for homeless people.  They recently changed their bylaws and the composition of their membership.  They tried to reduce the people sitting on the board with a conflict of interest and added four positions for homeless people.  This was a much needed reform, but the big problem with this group is there is never an alternative or an ability to tweak the proposals up for a vote.  The voting process is all or nothing.  They give the voting members an up or down vote on everything. For example either vote "yes" to accept the $30 million or vote "no" and all the shelters close?  We faced the same choice with the vote over new members.  We were offered a vote on a slate of candidates of 15 total while 31 individuals had applied.  It was yes to all 15 candidates selected by some committee or no and there is no board, I guess? All of our expertise and knowledge are disrespected when we are a rubber stamp for staff or an unelected committee. 

All the votes are pro forma with the work done in committee or by staff and the board in a similar manner to the old County Commissioners who were just rubber stamps for a bunch of insiders and patrons.  NEOCH advertised the fact that there were four slots open to homeless or formerly homeless on the advisory board from the two who were currently on the board, and homeless people responded.  Fourteen people applied with 7 currently living in the shelters.  One person stands out for his nerve to take one of these slots.  Keith Moody applied for one of the four homeless slots.  He is staff of the Veterans Administration and has been staff for at least 17 years or more.  He also has a board membership of one of the local shelters.  He had been sitting on the board for years as a "homeless advocate" and so he has gotten to know the other board members, but he has not been homeless for over 20 years. 

The Board members did not get to see the applications or even the reason why the committee selected the candidates for developing this slate.  In fact, the paperwork distributed to the board for a vote gave no biographical information for any of the candidates and did not even list where these indivduals worked.  It was a "trust us" vote.  The committee did all the work for us so we didn't have to worry our pretty little heads about the details.  Full disclosure NEOCH fought to maintain one appointment to the OHS advisory that does not need the full vote of the advisory just like the City, County, and Housing Authority.  When the advisory was chartered by the City and County in 1993, NEOCH had three appointment positions. 

Moody rarely interacts with homeless people except as their case worker.  He does not know anything about sleeping in the shelters. He does not attend the Homeless Congress meetings and does not listen to the issues facing people struggling with housing.  There were plenty of other choices, but the committee was familiar with Keith Moody so they selected him for one of the precious homeless slots.   I don't understand why the Veterans Administration allows a staff person to take a homeless position on the Advisory when they have their own position and that staff is certainly not homeless. 

Moody does not understand the challenges facing women in shelter with the closing down of so many shelter beds or the waiting list for families to get assistance because he rarely communicates with these individuals.   He does not understand the lack of fair housing rights enforcement in the shelters or the fact that the grievance process is broken in Cuyahoga County.    Keith is a personable guy who gets along with most of the board so it would be tough to tell him that he is no longer welcome as a voting member.  This is why Moody should have never applied as a formerly homeless person and put these overly nice committee members in this difficult position. 

We had a board member who applied and was homeless five years ago.  He decided that it was too long ago to use his homeless status in the application.  He applied for one of the open slots as a community member.  Since many of the committee did not know who he was, he was not selected.  While Moody used his long ago status as a homeless person to nudge out the other 16 people who applied and were denied a spot on the board.  We hope that the group tightens up the application process and the qualifications for membership to assure that this valuable slot is reserved for individuals who have some recent contact with people experiencing homelessness.

Brian Davis

By the way the picture is of Loh with those bizarre snails downtown.  Loh received a slot on the OHS Advisory. 

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