Update from Around Ohio

Former Cincy Coalition Director, Donald Whitehead

As part of the National Coalition for the Homeless Board meeting, we go around the table and give a presentation about housing, homelessness, and civil rights issues from the field.  I, as a board member, gather information from around Ohio to try to present to the NCH Board.  Pictured here is fellow board member, Donald Whitehead who now resides in Florida.  Donald is a great ally for people experiencing homelessness in Ohio as the former Director of NCH and former director of the Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. 

Cleveland:  The County went fully to a Central Intake system with diversion policy in April 2012 as directed by the federal government.  The last three years have seen huge summer increases in family homelessness. The mission based shelters are on the outside looking in and being told that if homeless people go to those facilities without going to Central Intake they will not be eligible for public funds for rent or public facilities such as transitional shelters.   We have issues with the diversion policy in Cuyahoga County with regard to families.  It is confusing and often results in families mistakenly leaving the shelter without taking a bed.  The only short term rental assistance available in Cleveland is for families.

NEOCH has constructed a great way for homeless people to speak and act collectively called the Homeless Congress.  The group has two representatives from each of the shelters as well as people who sleep outside, and we have a monthly meeting with 35 people attending every meeting.  We are still working on getting a shelter standards bill with third party grievances and tough oversight of the shelters passed by the new County government.  We are making progress in getting the current regulations to be made public and working on changes.   

Hundreds of police were disciplined for being involved in the police chase of two unarmed homeless people that resulted in their death at the hands of police.  The thirteen officers who fired the 130 shots at the two have not yet been charged pending the prosecutor finishing the use of deadly force report. In Cleveland, we are working to expand outreach and safe havens to women because of the serial murderers and the kidnapper who were targeting women.

Cleveland is facing a $1.7 million in cuts to the Continuum funded programs.  The County did come to a Homeless Congress to ask people living in the shelters how the cuts should be implemented locally.

Cincinnati:  The 100 year old Anna Louise Shelter lost their struggle with Western and Southern.  Their building was purchased and they will have to relocate.  The Corporation just wore them down and they could not continue the fight.  There have been homeless people sleeping around the County courthouse for years  in Cincinnati.  The sheriff has evicted them.  The Coalition went to court, but lost the request for a restraining order.  They have had protests and doing media work, but so far no arrests.

Toledo:  They are having a big fight between the Continuum and the Mayor over cuts to the shelters mostly in the Block Grant funding. They have a new Continuum leader after the previous person retired after previous years of fighting among the shelters and the government.  The whole funding of the shelters and possible closing of shelters has become an election issue in the race for the Mayor.  They also did not meet the bare minimum score from HUD to receive funding and so only got renewal funding of the existing shelters.

Columbus:  The City and the shelters are still having issues with overflowing shelters.  The Coalition went to City Council and got $100,000 additional dollars to take care of overflow.  The group that oversees all federal programs and dollars in Columbus have strained relationships with some of the shelters and the Columbus Coalition.   The City leadership is working on a plan to expand the shelters for single adults--finally.  They have changed so that all the case workers are mobile and travel to the shelters instead of having different case workers at every shelter.  Still working on a diversion plan, but it is not complete yet and not yet in practice. 

I talked a great deal about the victories in voting that are positive for all homeless people in Cleveland.  We won the right to extend our agreement with the state until after the 2016 Presidential election.  This will allow homeless people without identification will be able to vote in person on election day and will standardize the counting of provisional ballots throughout the state.

Brian Davis

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Panhandling Madness

People get so angry about panhandling.  It is a dividing point in our society.  There are passionate people on both sides of the issue.  There are those who love bypassing all the bureaucracy and administration of nearly every non-profit to give directly to a person in need.  Then there are those who hate seeing people have to beg for money, and know that most of the donation is going to feed a chemical addiction.  There are those that want to have a connection with a stranger who is struggling as directed by most spiritual texts.  Others see people who have made mistakes or are perceived to be lazy, and want government to respond to these "problems."

There were flair ups in this war over the last month in both Akron and Cleveland.  The City of Akron and Fairlawn both have extremely restrictive laws to protect pedestrians from the evils of panhandling. The Summit County Council was scheduled to add a panhandling law to cover the unincorporated places in the county.  They were prepared to make panhandling a job as the other communities in the county have done.  They had proposed requiring a license to beg and forcing panhandlers to wear a uniform (a vest).  Calmer head prevailed and they ditched these two provisions, but is working on passing a law that limits where a person can ask for money and outlaws aggressive solicitation (which is already illegal under the menacing laws).  Cleveland suffered a black eye over giving a good samaritan a ticket for LITTERING because the individual threw a dollar at a panhandler and it landed on the ground. 

All of these stories generated a ton of comments in the Plain Dealer and the Beacon Journal.  Yet, there is very little rational thinking on this issue.  No matter how many laws are made, begging will continue.  People will figure out a way around any and every law.  You can sponsor all the campaigns that you want, the people who like giving will continue.  The only way to stop panhandling is to find alternatives (such as a Street Newspaper!!!).  Sponsor a competition among the non-profits to see who can find alternatives for the most panhandlers.  No matter what Akron or Cleveland does with the laws, people will continue to keep giving and panhandlers will figure out ways to beg.  If a person finds themselves without options, they will turn to begging for money as the last option.

Brian