Interesting Stories Over the Last Week

Pam Fessler at NPR is on fire with homeless stories.  Two in the last week and relevant to what is happening in American cities.  The criminalization of homeless people is a huge issue facing this country.  In Hawaii, most of Florida and even Boise Idaho, the municipal government has given up trying to end homelessness and instead are house people in jails.  These cities are spending precious resources to incarcerate people for purely innocent behavior.  This is what makes the Justice Department filing so important.  Also, the Department of Housing and Urban and Development are giving extra points for cities that are doing a better job with reducing criminalization and discharges. 

One interesting note that was not in the story.  The City of Denver is trying something novel to avoid paying for incarceration by taking out municipal bonds to pay for avoiding jail.  These are similar to the Pay for Success program that Cleveland is undertaking.   They will pay back the bonds based on the cost savings for each person enrolled who does not go to jail but instead stays in housing.  This is a unique twist on social investment bonds and it all starts in January. 

Fessler also did a story on Permanent Supportive Housing, and the wonderful new property being constructed in DC.  The story appeared on the radio, but is better viewed online with the amazing picture of this new building.  Los Angeles is just dipping their feet into the new permanent supportive housing projects.  For a city as large as LA, they have only a small number of units in development.  After a period of no housing being developed these small numbers (100,000 nationally over last five years) are a drop in the bucket compared to the need. 

The problem is that we are paying for these units out of the money we had previously spent on shelters and only 20% of the population qualify.  This is the reason that shelters are closing and more families are struggling with housing.  These would be wonderful if it was all new money funding these projects.  If the veterans have reduced homelessness by combining shelter and housing and supportive services why is HUD doing the opposite.  These are beautiful units being developed, but they cannot be the only response to homelessness.  If we do not have an option for everyone who shows up requesting help, we will see only increases. 

Bringing Pets into the Shelters

Speaking of people who do not fit in the current shelter system:  what do we with homeless people who show up with their pets.  Huffington Post had an article about shelters that are now allowing pets. This is a group who are typically unwilling to kill or give up their "only friend" on the planet: their pets.  The article talks about a new a new partnership between a pet store and Family Promise.   We need this to start in Cleveland.  We have such a hard time placing people with animals.  It also shows the merits of having smaller shelters rather than the big facilities that Cleveland is stuck with at this point. 

Brian Davis

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Veteran Success Story

We have one positive and one sad veteran story for Veteran's Day.  This is the story of many groups and individuals working together can move mountains.  The Veteran's Affair staff found a 67 year old female veteran living on the streets of Cleveland in a car near a church on the near West Side of Cleveland.  She refused to go into shelter because she could not give up her two dogs.  One dog could be considered a companion animal for fair housing consideration; two dogs are a stretch.  The veteran refused to take the animals to the APL out of fear that they would be destroyed.  This made it impossible to find even a temporary place to live. 

Care Alliance staff contacted the Cleveland Police who found a safe place for the dogs and got the dogs seen by a veterinarian because of the relationship with the K-9 unit.  The Veterans Service Commission was willing to pay for short term hotel assistance while the female veteran was completing housing applications.  Because of her age there are housing opportunities available in the community.  The Frontline Services Veterans program is helping with rental assistance to get her into housing.   She also may qualify for rental help from the Cleveland Department of Aging.  The pet issue can be a huge obstacle for homeless people.  Many are so attached to their pets that they cannot find a safe place to live that is also safe for their pets. 

This was a feel good story of many groups working together to find a safe place for this woman who had served her country.  We also hope that this marks a change for the Veterans Service Commission to be more responsive to the needs of homeless veterans.  This elderly veteran finally found stability with the help of many different people and organizations in Cleveland.  Thanks to the CPD, Care Alliance, Cleveland VA, Veterans Service Commission, Frontline Services and the many others for honoring this women's service by going out of their way to help.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Homeless Families and their Pets

We received a call in the office today from a woman who was in need of rental assistance to prevent an eviction.  This is not unusual since we get about four of eviction calls per day.  This is by far the single greatest need in the community, but what made this especially difficult is that she had a pet.  She was looking for a shelter that accepted pets.  There are none.  All shelters will, of course, accept service animals, but none will accept a pet.  There are allergies, health regulations, and liability issues that make it impossible for the shelters to allow animals.  We also have an unstable system of foster care for pets.  We have seen where animals are sold while a family is staying in the shelter or the foster family gets attached to the animal and will not return the pet.  The intermediary (typically a vet) has also been known to declare that the original owner was not stable enough to be able to handle the return of their pet when they get into housing.  

The bottom line is that there is very little help for a family with a pet if they become homeless.  There are very few protections in law for the families, and if they do not have extended family willing to take the pet the animal is sometimes killed.  This is one of the biggest barriers to families or individuals not seeking shelter.  They may be so attached to the animal that they are not willing to go inside.   They may risk living in a car or abandoned building just so they do not have to separate from a beloved member of their family.  They may not be able to be willing to put their animal up for adoption, and are willing to live rough just to stay with a loyal pet.  The woman who called the office was angry that we told her no shelter accepted pets, and hung up on us.  We understand the frustration, but the shelters have to serve everyone in need of help and cannot risk the health and welfare of all the residents because a few have their pets.  We wish there was a better safety net in this county, but the reality is that the system is not built around pets. In the 1990s the animal shelters were often better than the human shelters in Cuyahoga County.  That is not the case anymore, but many do not want to leave their animals if they lose their housing.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.