Shelter Intake in District of Columbia

The Washington Post had a front page article on the number of "diversions" from shelter in the nation's capital.  The story focused on one family given a bus ticket back to North Carolina.  Only 21.9% of those who request shelter in DC are offered a bed which the Post compared to New York City at around 50% and Boston offering shelter to 44% of the homeless families.  It is really hard to get accurate data from Cleveland's Coordinated Intake, but it is around 72% to 83% of the families are offered shelter.  This means that we have the highest percentage of sheltered families among big cities in America.  Cleveland needs to be proud of this policy of working hard not to turn people away.   We should champion this and show how much compassion there is locally.

The previous Mayor of DC was only admitting 9% of the families who requested shelter.  Here is how the Washington Post quoted a critic of the policy in DC.

Amber Harding, a staff attorney at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, said social workers appear to lack clear guidelines on how to assess need and when to encourage other housing options, such as staying with relatives. She said clinic lawyers frequently persuade senior city officials to reverse decisions made at the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, the central intake point for homeless families.

“To me, it is a sign of a broken system that someone can go to the family resource center and be denied and I can tell their same story to the senior leadership . . . and they get admitted,” Harding said. “You shouldn’t need a lawyer to get into emergency shelter.”

The federal government gives $2 billion to tthe majority of families who request help.  Denying shelter to a family should never be the response.  It is costly, but providing assistance can help.  It can re-establish that government can solve problems.  It can pick up hidden issues such as depression, behaviorial health issues, addiction, or domestic violence that women are reluctant to disclose upon first encounter with an intake worker.  If a family makes the trek down to see a stranger who works on behalf of the City or County and asks for help, they should be given some assistance.

One of the problems is the various definitions of homelessness. Does sleeping on a strange couch count as homeless?  Does the family staying in a motel count as homeless?  Does the family who is spending every other night in their car and the other nights with their sister count as homeless?  DC spends $80,000 on hotel nights to accommodate the overflow.  Cleveland spends far more on transportation and monitoring of overflow.  There is nothing similar to the Washington Legal Clinic in Cleveland to complain about these decisions made by Coordinated Intake.  There is also no oversight of these arbitrary decisions made at Intake. 

These are life and death decisions that could result in the break up of a family, and should not be made after a half hour to one hour interview with a stranger.  In the richest country on earth, we should default to offering the bed to everyone coming in the door and sorting their housing situation out when they are safe.  They keep saying that intake is like the triage done at a hospital.  Hospitals do not discharge people to the streets until the individual sees a trained professional and until they are stabilized.  Coordinated intake has no oversight.  Government does not provide a check on the system, and there is no way to protect against mistakes until there is a tragedy. 

Brian Davis

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An Open Letter to City and County Government

Dear Mayor Jackson and County Executive Fitzgerald:

We are writing to urge the City of Cleveland to develop an affordable housing plan similar to the one released by Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City. The Housing New York: A Five-Borough, Ten-Year Plan1 intends to lower income inequality by making new housing units available to more households with lower incomes (under about $25,000 a year). Specifically, the plan consists of investing $41 billion for 200,000 units of new and preserved housing.  At a Brooklyn meeting, De Blasio insisted that, “in a progress city, everyone should have the opportunity for affordable housing, and that’s what this plan sets out to achieve”. Indeed, advocates for affordable housing certainly see this plan as worthy of admiration and imitation.

Housing New York streamlines regulations and processes in hopes of opening up new development opportunities, containing costs, and speeding up affordable housing construction. De Blasio also means to double the capital budget, target vacant and underused land, and protect tenants in rent-regulated apartments. Certainly, these goals make Housing New York the largest and most ambitious affordability plan of its kind in our nation’s history, but if the plan is successful, the 200,000 units of housing will be enough to serve more than a half-million people in New York City. That said, we believe that Cleveland should try to put together a similar plan called Housing Cleveland in the next few months. As Mayor de Blasio demonstrated, the proposal for a housing plan of this scale need not be a lengthy procedure. After only 5 months in office, de Blasio announces a plan that tackles affordable housing issues quickly and aggressively, and there is no reason why Cleveland cannot do the same.

In Cleveland, there is a rising number of fair housing complaints combined with an inadequate supply of housing that meet basic requirements. We have talked about a funding source in the creation of a Local Housing Trust Fund, but it has not happened.  There are waiting lists of 19,000 for public housing, 6,000 for voucher programs, and 64,000 people applied for housing in 2011 when Section 8 was opened. 22,000 people are homeless and a growing number of homeless families are attempting to find shelter every night.  There were 30 families sleeping in the overflow shelter in Cleveland last week, because we did not have space.  Also and unfortunately, Cleveland did not receive any of the state tax incentives to build housing in the competition announced last month, which means a year of not developing any affordable housing.  We also see repeated cuts to housing and homeless programs with Sequestration and other budget austerity programs resulting in the closing of shelters, elimination of rental assistance, and reductions in staffing for housing and homeless programs. 

Observing these numerous issues at hand, we must suggest that it is urgent for the City of Cleveland to follow in New York City’s footsteps. We must step up our efforts to build and preserve affordable housing, and so we ask you, as the Mayor of this progressive community, to please consider pushing for a Cleveland Housing Plan.  I am sure that we have the talent within the administration or with our non-profit partners to develop a Cleveland Housing Plan by the beginning of 2015.  


Brian Davis

We have posted our one page advocacy alert on our website that you can print out and distribute to supporters

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Homelessness in the News

Heat Wave has an Impact on Homeless and more homeless in shelter due to heat

Palm Beach TB Outbreak Covered Up

NPR covers Philly Food Ban

New York City: Homelessness Getting Worse

Rhode Island Passes Homeless Bill of Rights

Some homeless people are not good people

Heat and Homelessness

Extreme weather is always dangerous for those living outside.  Most people remember homeless people when Cleveland gets a big snow storm, and the media calls for more help.  But when temperatures reach over 100 degrees those outside are in nearly the same danger as those outside in January.  Dehydration can come on quickly.  The world starts spinning and the individual becomes disoriented, and can quickly pass out.  For those isolated and living alone, this can be deadly.  On Saturday, one of our vendors at the West Side Market, while selling the Street Chronicle, did not drink enough water and had to be taken home by a Good Samaritan.  If you are going downtown, bring an extra water bottle for the homeless guy you see.  Most have the good sense to be inside, but on the weekend it is harder to find air conditioned places open to seek shelter from the heat. When the County declares a shelter emergency, the facilities are not suppose to close during the day as is the custom.   I assume that this happened on Friday and Saturday. 

TB Outbreak in Homeless Community

A report from the Palm Beach Post today showed that in April the CDC reported a huge outbreak of individuals with tuberculosis in Jacksonville, Florida.  Public health officials were focused on their massive budget cuts that the Governor had just signed into law,and the closing of Health Departments in the state.  The spread of infectious disease in the homeless community is what keeps shelter providers up at night.  Since homeless people move around so much, any infectious disease can quickly move through a congregate living facility and infect thousands.  MetroHealth Hospital takes the lead in Cuyahoga County in overseeing infectious disease control.  From the article, it sounds as though because of budget cuts, Florida took their eye off the ball by not controlling TB outbreaks early with a protocol of vaccinating everyone who comes in contact with the infected individual.  The case went untreated for 18 months and some who came in contact with the individual later died.

Philadelphia "Helps" Homeless by Restricting Access to Food

We have discussed this before here in March. NPR did a story this week about the City of Philadelphia trying to restrict religious and other groups from distributing food outside.  Beware of the Mayor who only wants to help a population by passing laws that takes away their rights.  We have discussed how foolish this whole plan is to limit the core mission of many of these churches.  The law will not go into affect until a judge hears the challenges to the restrictions.  Here is the Mayor's take on limiting religious freedom:

"I believe that people, regardless of their station in life, should be able to actually sit down, at a table, to a meal inside, away from the heat and the cold, the rain and the snow, the vehicle exhaust and all the other distractions of everyday city life," said Mayor Michael Nutter to NPR.

I agree with the sentiment, but it is not the job of government to tell people where they can receive food.  This should be a non-profits job to strike a compromise that everyone can agree on as was done in Cleveland.  Check out the link to the agreement we fashioned in Cleveland. Everyone wants homeless people to be able to enjoy a nutritious meal, but they don't need the big stick of government spending time and resources beating up on churches or their congregants.

New York City Homelessness Increasing

This was from a month ago in the Huffington Post, but we missed it.  Wanted to call attention to it for a couple of reasons.  First, this is by an independent academic observer so it is not an advocate saying that the local homeless administration had failed.  Second, New York City was championed by the previous federal administration and the Bloomberg administration as being on track to end homelessness with a 10 year plan.  The previous InterAgency Council director made frequent trips to New York to heap praise on the Mayor for "solving homelessness" by building thousands of  permanent supportive housing units.  Many complained that federal cuts to mainstream programs like Public Housing and the voucher program was no way to "end homelessness,"  but very few were listening intoxicated by these beautiful new apartments for homeless people.  Now things are coming back to bite the administration who spent so much time on moving the "long term" homeless into housing they forgot to work on the family population.  There is no way to "solve homelessness" with big holes in the safety net, which only got bigger with the downturn in 2008.  We did not see an expansion of cash assistance, child care help, student loan forgiveness, employment training, and medicare expansion before 2014 in order to stabilize the families losing housing, jobs, health insurance, and prices of staples increasing.  It is no wonder that family homelessness is increasing in New York City and Cleveland and most American cities.

Rhode Island Homeless Bill of Rights

This is some great news out of the state of Rhode Island with the passage of the Homeless Bill of Rights.  We hope that this is the start of a trend to reverse 20 years of municipal actions making it illegal to be poor.  There were some items compromised out of the legislation, but it is a great start for the drive to create a kindler, gentler society.  The law protects people from using public spaces, equal treatment by government, and protects against discrimination by an employer because of a person's housing status.  The law makes it easier for homeless people to establish residency in order to vote, there are privacy rights guaranteed by law for those who use the shelters and services, and establish rights for those who sleep outside to some degree of privacy.

Homeless People are not all Good People

In Florida, a homeless guy was renting out houses to unsuspecting people who had no idea that they were paying rent to a "landlord" who did not have ownership of the property.   The homeless population are no different then the general population.  The vast majority of people are kind trustworthy people who are working to find a hand out of homelessness, but there are a few who are criminals looking for an easy score.  Just like the guy who raped an elderly woman at St. Clair Place in Cleveland, and was found hiding in the shelter down the street, there are some bad people among the vast majority of upstanding citizens.  When a neighbor is found to be a predator, it does not taint the whole street as bad.  When a homeless person is found to be a criminal hiding among the population, it should not make people uncomfortable around all homeless people.

Brian Davis

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