What Can We Do About Indigent Burials?

In response to an inquiry regarding a homeless guy who died and his disabled parents do not have the funds to bury or cremate their son, First Call for Help staff sent this:

The general rule about indigent deaths is the municipality where the individual died is responsible for the burial (via Ohio state law http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/gp9.15). In Cuyahoga County, the Cleveland Dept. of Public Health administers the program. Municipalities may decide how to address this need, but they don't have to offer burial.

Attached is info. on the process in Cuyahoga County. The phone number to reach the Cleve Dept. of Vital Statistics is 216-664-2317. Note that if you call to leave a message, their voice mail does NOT mention indigent burial, but it is the office to contact.  Also notice that there is no funeral available, just cremation services in Cleveland.

Also wondered if this person is a veteran. If so, might contact the Veterans Service Commission 1-866-915-8387.  They do help with funds for an indigent veteran and the burial.

Finally, I have a call in to St. Ignatius to double check this, but my understanding regarding their pallbearer ministry is that they provide youth to assist with pallbearer duties, but typically do not have funds available to help.

Here is the specific listing in the database:


601 Lakeside Ave. Rm. 122  Cleveland, OH  44114

(216) 664-2317   Voice

(216) 664-2315   Recorded Information Line

(216) 420-7596   FAX




REQUESTED SERVICE: Cremation Services


(216) 664-2317 Voice: No mention of cremation on voice mail.

SITE DESCRIPTION:Maintains and issues certified copies of vital records for the city of Cleveland and most suburbs in Cuyahoga County.


TRAVEL INSTRUCTIONS: Nearest intersection is Lakeside Ave. and E 6th St.  There is public transportation to this site.

WHEELCHAIR ACCESSIBILITY: ALL services accessible or available. This site has an accessible restroom.

SERVICE DESCRIPTION:  Provides cremation for deceased who do not have the financial means to pay for private death services. Will not supplement family's money. Viewing, burial, and memorial services are not available. Family of indigent deceased individuals has up to 90 days following cremation to claim ashes of the deceased.

HOW SERVICE IS PROVIDED:  On-site. Dept. will arrange with private contractor to handle.

WHO QUALIFIES:  Deceased individuals who do not have the financial means to pay for private services. Deceased must have had no life insurance and have been a resident of Cleveland for at least one year prior to their death.

HOURS OF SERVICE:  M-F: 8:00am-4:00pm

FEES:  Family of deceased individuals who were residents of the city of Cleveland may receive ashes free.


HOW TO ACCESS:  Phone for information and availability M-F: 8:00am-4:00pm.


Brian Davis

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A Rough Day in Cleveland Due to the Weather

We had a great plan.  We had so many people working to protect the poorest of our citizens in Cleveland.  We had safety forces, government, and social services all working together to help.  Yet we still lost someone due to the cold. Monday and Tuesday night and Tuesday during the day, we had many teams of workers and volunteers out working to protect people living on the streets.   We offered thermal sleeping gear, blankets, tents, handwarmers, shelter spaces and even nights in a hotel.  There were about a dozen people who refused to come inside no matter what we did.  Then there was one gentleman who we did not find and he passed away.   We have a hard time interacting with people who stay in abandoned buildings.   It is impossible to go on private property and check all these abandoned buildings.   We lost a member of the homeless community who froze to death while squatting in an abandoned house that we were not aware was living in that part of town.

There were outreach workers travelling outside last night from 6 to 10 p.m.  We gave out hundreds of blankets over the last few days.  The streets of Cleveland were deserted over the last two nights.   We know that a couple of homeless people went into the recreation centers that stayed openon Monday night and staffed by the Red Cross.  Most people went into the shelters and every shelter bed was full with three overflow shelters operational.  The Metanoia project brought scores of people inside who would be staying outside in the cold if they were not open.  But with all this human capital and resources going to protect people, we still lost one. 

There are so many different reasons people are on the streets.  There are hundreds of reasons people reject living in the shelters.  There is mental illness, a rejection of charity, pride, alcoholism, anger, fear, and on and on and so many more.   We did everything we could, but we could not be everywhere. 

Tuesday was a rough day for homeless people and for local social service providers.  I know that a number of the staff who showed up to help were dealing with their own issues back at their own homes.  Some had water pipes breaking at their house, but they were working to save lifes at the centers.  Some had their furnace go out and still went in to help people.  Some had their cars die in the cold while they were helping people with the meals.  The temperature at NEOCH was 52 degrees on Tuesday, but we still stayed hours to follow up on calls for help or for those in need of a ride.  Even with everyone communicating and all the resources and all the donations given out we still lost one person.  It is tough working in the shelters. 

Brian Davis

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Names of those Who Passed Posted on our Site 2014

Thanks to Jay Westbrook as one of his last acts of official business provided a few remarks for our Homeless Memorial Day 2013.  The event was at St. Malachi on December 21, 2013 at 7 p.m. as the Metanoia project was getting started for the night.  We had Rev. Dr George Jackson from Agape Renaissance Center and Fr. Tony Schuerger of St. Malachi both offering prayers for those who passed away.  Jim Schlecht of Metanoia Project read the names of those who passed away, and I gave a brief look at the current state of homelessness.  We have a video on the front of our website of the entire service.  We also have a posted the names on our Memorial Section of our website.  

This is one of the saddest, but we consider one of the most important events of the year for the Coalition.   Homeless people are often forgotten in our society, and the least we can do is remember those people on their death.   We spend the last two months of the year gathering names from every social service provider and from homeless people.  This year, there were 20 fewer names read when compared to 2012 which is good news.  We had a very nice turnout of homeless people, housing activists, social service providers, members of the Coalition and board members who attended the memorial service. This is the 27th Candlelight Vigil in Cleveland.  From the beginnings on the cold winter days of December on Public Square to Trinity Cathedral and St. Paul's in Cleveland Hts. and St. Patricks church, we have held these vigils throughout the community.   We have read hundreds of names over the years and brought people together to mark a moment of silence in remembering our brothers and sisters we lost. 

Brian Davis

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City Wide Vigil for Those Killed in Police Rage Incident

Pastor Jerome Hurst is coordinating a City-Wide-Prayer, which will take place on January 15, 2013 to remember Timothy Russell and Melissa Williams.  This is the actual date of birth of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.--an appropriate day to remember the death of two homeless people.  Please plan to attend and support the family in their effort to bring everyone together to pray and to pressure the government for justice.  The prayer vigil is at the Southeast Seventh Day Adventist Church on January 15, 2013 at 7 p.m.   The Southeast Seventh Day Adventist Church is at 16602 Tarkington Ave. near Karruish Park off of Lee Road.  Both families ask that you attend this interfaith prayer session.

Brian Davis

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We Remember Those Who Died

On December 21, 2012, NEOCH along with 105 cities in the United States remembered those who passed away over the past year.  We have honored those by reading the names for the past 26 years, and 2012 we read the largest number of names in our history with 74 individuals passing.  Some of the shelters that typically report one or two names had 12 names.   We had suicides, murders, and most passing from the hardships of living without a home.  We did not get all the ages, but from the one third that we did receive the median age of those who passed away was 46 years 2 months old.  With the sleep deprivation, the high cholesterol food, and the stress, homelessness really takes a toll on your life expectancy.  

We were honored to have State Represenative Nickie Antonio attend and say a few words to the 120 people who attended the memorial.  It was nice that a number of providers from the Veterans Administration, West Side Catholic, Care Alliance, 2100 Lakeside attended the memorial.  We also had Ruth Gillett from the County Office of Homeless Services and Doug Shelby from HUD attend to light a candle in honor of those who passed away.  Fr. Tony from St. Malachi (pronounced Mal-a-key in the Irish tradition) blessed those who had died.  Rev. Charlie Hurst from First Presbyterian and Charlene Higginbotham from Euclid Ave Congregational all said prayers for those we lost over the last year.  We had some prominent deaths including Patricia Jackson who slept outside for years on the West Side of Cleveland, Timothy and Malissa who were killed by police in East Cleveland, and David Simmons who had volunteered for a number of programs after finding housing.  We have to thank the Metanoia Project for all their help in allowing us to hold the memorial at their site this year.  Metanoia is a winter overnight drop in site that opens the doors of St. Malachi to keep people resistent to shelter safe during the weekend, holidays and during snow storms.  They open at 7 p.m. and provide a warm place, food, programs and a quiet place out of the snow.  Thanks to Carl, Tim, Jim, and the rest of the staff and volunteers for providing this critical service in our community.

We have posted the list of names on our memorial page, and we will keep everyone in our thoughts and prayers as we enter a new year. 

NCH Announces 2012 Hate Crimes Report

2011 was one of the most dangerous years for homeless people in the United States according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. The National Homeless Hate Crimes report was issued this last week. 

  • 1,289 reported acts of bias motivated violence have been committed against homeless
    individuals between 1999-2011.
  • 339 homeless individuals lost their lives as a result of the attacks.
  • Reported violence has occurred in 47 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, DC

The violence continues, and with thirty-two known deaths, 2011 ranks in the top-five deadliest years for attacks on homeless people over the past thirteen years, and with one hundred and five attacks, ranks as the sixth most violent year since NCH began tracking the violence in 1999. NCH has found startling data in the number and severity of attacks. However, the reports also acknowledge that since the homeless community is treated so poorly in our society, many more attacks go unreported. Hate crimes against the homeless community is a growing wave in need of public attention.

Ohio was again identified as the third most violent state in the United States behind California and Washington state.  One bright spot was that after many years of leading the national Florida has fallen out of the top five.  There were 32 attacks that led to the death of a homeless person.  Ohio was listed as the fourth most dangerous state over the last dozen years. Fortunately, none of the deaths in 2011 occurred in Ohio.  

The non-lethal attacks in Ohio occured in Enid, Elyria, Columbus, Toledo and two incidents in Cleveland Ohio.   One incident in January 2011 was a library guard attacking a homeless person, and then an incident in July was referenced in which two young people attacked a homeless guy with a shopping cart on Public Square.   The complete report can be found here

There is a renewed effort to get a bill passed in Congress to ask the Justice Department to begin to keep track of these hate crimes and report on those to Congress.  Unfortunately, at this point law enforcement does not report these crimes as a hate crime to the FBI.  Even though the number of hate crimes outpace every other population protected by federal hate crimes, it is not recognized by the US government.   These are terrible crimes in which vulnerable innocent people are attacked just because they are outside and a symbol of our inability in the United States to provide an adequate safety net.  It is a real sign of the violent times we currently live. 

Brian Davis

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Timothy Ray Russell

The staff and board of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless have our Board Treasurer, Michelle Russell, in our thoughts and prayers over the loss of her brother Timothy.  His memorial service was today, and featured a moving tribute by his family and friends.

They remembered him as a man of God who had a thirst for life.  Timothy had some rough times, but was trying to get his life in order at the time of his death.  He was a member of the Twinsburg Seventh Day Adventist church, and was fondly remembered by his Pastor Steven Valles.  Russell was a laborer, and had one son also named Timothy. 

The family is trying to make it through this tough time by coming together to support each other.  They talked about all the questions they have had over the last week.  The family of Malissa Williams were in attendance, and were also in shock over this incident.  We hope to have a memorial for Williams over the next few weeks so that her friends in the homeless community can grieve. 

We also wait for some of the questions to be answered by the County and the State of Ohio investigating this tragedy. We hope that people can contain their anger while the investigation is completed.  We hope that people do not stereotype all police as acting in this manner.  We also trust that people will not blame the victims who lost their lives fleeing an army of police while this investigation is taking place. 

I heard from a number of people living in the shelters that they were afraid that relations between the safety forces and homeless people would deteriorate.  I think that the City put to rest any doubts about whether Russell or Williams were using a gun in their meeting earlier this week, but there may be some angry officers who may blame homeless people for the negative publicity.  Every media story and every news item only brings up more questions.  It was a sad day for the Russell family, the homeless community, African Americans who see this through the prism of the civil rights movement and a setback in relations between the police and the public.  Rest in peace Timothy. 


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Sad loss of life on November 29th in East Cleveland

As we prepare to remember those who passed away and we begin to collect the names of those to read on December 21, 2012, we were sad to see the news that two homeless people were killed in East Cleveland after a high speed chase and an overwhelming number of bullets.  We reserve making any statements on the situation in East Cleveland while we wait for the results of the investigation being conducted by law enforcement.  We agree with the families who want to see a federal investigation of this shooting.  We know that Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell were both homeless.  Staff did not know Mr. Russell, but we had contact with Ms. Williams a number of times.  We know that she smiled a great deal, and it was obvious that she had a mental illness.  We know that she was dressed in clothing that was way too big for her, and she seemed to live in her own world.  She had very little interaction with the others at the shelters, and was reluctant to engage people that she did not know.  She did not cause much trouble for the shelter staff. 

Both facilities that these individuals lived in most recently have metal detectors so if they did had guns they were not bringing them into the shelters.  One of the facilities has an armed police officer on the premise 24 hours a day, so it is unlikely that Ms. Williams had a weapon of her own while sleeping in the shelter.  We will include both their names as we read the names of those who passed away at the Metanoia Project at St. Malachi on December 21, 2012.  It is hard to understand how Ms. Williams could have been involved in this situation. 

Update: We have found that our board treasurer was the sister of Timothy Russell.  Michelle and the family are extremely upset and are asking for prayers from the public as they grieve.  I talked to a few workers from shelters who knew Mr Russell and said that he seemed like a calm guy.   Michelle said her brother was not violent, and did not have a gun.  This entire situation raises so many questions about excessive use of force.  We hope that the FBI can shed some light on the pursuit and the use of force against two homeless people.  The entire Board of the Coalition would like to express our deep condolences to the Williams and the Russell families.  We will hold a moment of silence at the Hand Up Gala in memory of our two friends. 

Brian Davis

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Homelessness and Early Deaths

Homelessness Can Kill You

Homelessness: A Silent Killer (A research briefing on mortality amongst homeless people) is one of the most frightening reports ever released about those who experience homelessness.  First, it was released in England and the research concerns homeless citizens of the Crown in England.  Amazingly, it was also released on December 21, 2011 which in America is National Homeless Memorial day.  We mark the first day of winter with a candlelight vigil and we remember the people who died after experiencing homelessness. The report finds that on average homeless men lose 30 years of their life after a period of homelessness and homeless women lose 34 years. 

The report finds that a third of the early deaths are as the result of alcohol and drug addiction and the health affects associated with abuse issues. There is a pdf version of the report on the crisis.org website.  Homeless people are nine times as likely to commit suicide then the general public. Deaths as the result of traffic accidents are three times as likely, infections are twice as likely and falls are three times as likely among homeless people over the general population. The final summation of the report is the most frightening.

Being homeless is incredibly difficult both physically and mentally and has significant impacts on people’s health and well being. Ultimately, homelessness kills.

The study finds that four out of five individuals start using one new drug after becoming homeless.   The sleep deprivation, the unstable food situation, and the mental stress of living in shelters and on the streets take a toll on individuals.  I thought of this report after the deaths of Roosevelt Darby and Jesse Smith Jr. from the National Coalition both before their time.  If this report is true, this is a national health epidemic in every country with sizable and visible homeless populations.  Anything that takes 30 years off the life expectancy of a citizen needs to be moved up the priority list of problems to solve.  The report has recommendations for improving the health care system, which is a public system in British Empire.  The second recommendation is to institute a right to shelter, which we would certainly support for the United States.  Only a couple of cities in America have this right including New York (by court order) and Cleveland (by contract as a condition of receiving public money).  This is a health concern that we should address as we would legionnaire disease or Asian bird flu.


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