Atlanta Update on Homelessness

Atlanta has to be in the top 10 worst cities in the United States for homeless people.  In my opinion, San Diego is the worst city because they keep finding innovative ways to make life hell for those without housing, but Atlanta is up there.  There are some huge decisions coming  for City leaders in Atlanta, but based on past decision making homeless people are going to suffer.  Atlanta has had progressive Mayors for years and is the home to the King Peace Center, but cannot seem to get it together to unify leadership around an effective strategy to deal with poverty and homelessness in the region. Here is the write up from the National Low Income Housing Coalition "Notes from the Field:" 

Atlanta Passes Homeless Opportunity Bond

The Atlanta City Council unanimously approved an ordinance on July 18 to address homelessness over the next three years. Invest Atlanta, the city’s economic development authority, will issue a $26 million Homeless Opportunity Bond in an effort to make homelessness “rare, brief, and non-recurring.” This legislation culminates four years of work by the United Way of Greater Atlanta, Partners for Homes, and the City of Atlanta. The bond will finance activities targeted to homeless families and youth, chronically homeless individuals, and families at risk of homelessness.

The City Council approved an initial bond of $26 million with agreements from local non-profits to augment the city’s investment. The United Way of Greater Atlanta committed $26 million in matching donations, and Invest Atlanta will leverage $66 million in public resources to be used in conjunction with the bond, raising the total public-private partnership investment to more than $115 million.

The United Way and the City of Atlanta aim to end veteran homelessness by 2017, chronic homelessness by 2019, and youth homelessness by 2020, and the bond, together with the additional funds, are essential in meeting this goal. Together, the City of Atlanta and its partners plan to place 500 chronically homeless individuals in permanent supportive housing, secure permanent housing for 300 homeless families, and prevent 100 families from entering homelessness. They will also create 264 new emergency shelter beds and 254 new housing interventions for homeless youth by 2020.

In the last four years, the City of Atlanta has made strides in tackling homelessness. HUD reports that since 2013, the number of unsheltered homeless individuals in Atlanta decreased by 52%, chronically homeless individuals by 61%, and homeless veterans by 62%. The lack of affordable housing, however, leaves many at risk of homelessness. According to NLIHC’s 2017 Out of Reach report, Georgia renters must earn $14.25 per hour in order to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment and $16.79 per hour for a two-bedroom apartment. In the Atlanta metro area, these numbers are even higher: renters must earn $16.50 to afford a modest one-bedroom apartment and $19.04 for a two-bedroom apartment. The minimum wage in Georgia is $7.25 and the average renter wage is $15.61; both fall short of what renters need to keep rent and utilities under 30% of household income.  The new Homeless Opportunity Bond is a significant investment towards providing housing for the thousands of Atlanta residents experiencing homelessness. Chronic housing poverty – extremely low income renters paying so much for their housing that they cannot afford other necessities - puts thousands more at risk of homelessness.

 

I attended the US Social Forum in Atlanta in 2007 and have regular contact with Anita Beaty who ran the huge shelter down in Atlanta until earlier this year.  She and her group have basically been attempting to bring justice to City through three administrations. The City has gone down the path of most other cities in shutting down public housing, reducing the number of affordable housing units available, and eliminating access to emergency shelter.  Here is an article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution about Anita and her decades of work protecting homeless people.  The shelter has been under threat for a dozen years over a water bill and health issues.  Anita and her volunteers just want to provide a place inside for anyone who comes to the door.  She never wanted to hang up the sign the Peachtree-Pine shelter that there is "No Room at the Inn."  At the end of August, the Business Improvement District in the neighborhood will take over the shelter and stop taking new residents. 

Then by November 1 the main shelter in Atlanta will close down the building and the 1,000 people who use the Peachtree/Pine shelter will have to find another place to live.  As Atlanta enters the colder months of the year, they are going to have to find places for a significant number of fragile, disabled, those struggling with addiction, and men and women who cannot find a job.  There will be no overflow in the area and just like Cleveland, Atlanta has shuttered hundreds of shelter beds over the last eight years.  Whenever I look at other cities in America, it makes me so glad that we still have a commitment to try to house everyone who comes to the door. The above article indicates that the City is building new facilities to be ready by 2020 while the crisis is coming in November 2017.  I hope that the guys can hold out on the streets for three years while the new shelter is prepared.  

Also, don't believe any of the numbers in the above article.  The HUD Count is completely bogus; conducted by untrained volunteers with a different method in every city.  It is a one night count that has no relevance to the rest of the year, and attempts to count an extremely mobile community who by their nature attempts to stay out of sight.  Finally, building housing is expensive, and in a hot real estate market like Atlanta the $26 million will probably build enough housing for 150 people.  There are hundreds of homeless people who need help in Atlanta.  There will be tons of people waiting for a shelter bed once the city stops taking people into the Peachtree-Pine shelter.  Winter is coming to Atlanta.

Special to NEOCH by Brian Davis

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It is August and the Shelter is Overflowing!!!

Women's Shelter Residents Staged Mock Groundbreaking to push for the creation of a new shelterMost people do not think of homelessness during the summer and we get only a small number of donations during the summer, but right now the family and women's shelters are over capacity.  They are so full this weekend that they are putting women with children in the shelter for single women which is already overcrowded.  A few of the women called this morning to ask what is the deal, "Why are they putting children in the women's shelter again?" 

I did some investigation and found that every shelter is full and they encouraging people to stay with family or friends until Monday morning.  Workers are forced to tell Domestic Violence victims to go to a police station if they fear for their safety.  I guess having your kids sleep in a jail cell at the police station is safer than sleeping in a car or on the streets, but it seems cruel to tell a woman fleeing with her kids to go to a jail to be safe.  She has to uproot her family and flee the comforts of her home and she ends up in jail on her first night of her new life on the run.  This would not inspire confidence that the County encourages fleeing the violence in the home by telling women to sleep in the lobby of a police station. 

The Women's shelter has around 200 women sleeping every where with only 160 beds.  So they are already full to capacity and now they have women with children sleeping in one of the rooms.  This means children are interacting with the 200 single women at the shelter and one bathroom is blocked for only families. They also have one staff assigned to babysit families taking them away from the other 200 women who need help.  For the past five years, we have seen the rise in families during the summer months, but the County has done very little to address this crisis.  We have eliminated 444 beds in the local shelter system most of those in the family system.  This is a crisis brought on by the decisions made by the County staff who allowed over 300 family and women's beds to disappear.  The women's shelter is way over capacity and we have not added any beds for the summer. Because of this poor planning, we have no where to refer a family today.  We have heard that it is cheaper to offer rental assistance to families, but that does not help on weekends like this one when there are no beds available.  A young child cannot sleep on a promise for rental assistance.  We have two shelters that take families in to sleep on the floors until a bed opens up, and those spaces on the floor are full.

I have yet to understand why this is not front page news?  Why is Frontline Services so secretive about this information?   This is exactly what we were talking about with the Coordinated Intake transparency problem this week.  Why does the Coalition for the Homeless find this out from residents of the shelter and not from the agency?  I am sure that there are churches or other groups who would help if there was some media?  The people of Cleveland are generous and would act if they heard children are suffering in the lobby of the police stations or are stuffed into the shelter for single women with those just released from jail, those with an active addiction, and the mentally ill.  The women organized earlier in the year a series of events to practice opening a new shelter in an effort to nudge the County into acting to create a new shelter.  No one listened, and now we are telling women and families that they are on their own until Monday morning. We hope that no one is hurt this weekend because we do not have a shelter bed available in Cuyahoga County. 

Brian Davis

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Signs of Hypothermia

This is from the National Institute of Health Website:

Warning signs of hypothermia

Sometimes it is hard to tell if a person has hypothermia. Look for clues. Is the house very cold? Is the person not dressed for cold weather? Is the person speaking slower than normal and having trouble keeping his or her balance?

Watch for the signs of hypothermia in yourself, too. You might become confused if your body temperature gets very low. Talk to your family and friends about the warning signs so they can look out for you.

Early signs of hypothermia:

  • cold feet and hands
  • puffy or swollen face
  • pale skin
  • shivering (in some cases the person with hypothermia does not shiver)
  • slower than normal speech or slurring words
  • acting sleepy
  • being angry or confused

Later signs of hypothermia:

  • moving slowly, trouble walking, or being clumsy
  • stiff and jerky arm or leg movements
  • slow heartbeat
  • slow, shallow breathing
  • blacking out or losing consciousness

What are we doing to meet the needs of homeless people in the extreme cold?

  1. Shelters are not supposed to close during the day during extreme weather.  People are allowed to stay inside during the day so they do not have to brave the cold to get to the drop in centers.  (Most days many have to leave from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. )
  2. Cleveland shelters never turn people away who ask for shelter.  This means that we have to run an overflow system with transportation many nights of the year, but it keeps people safe.  It is expensive, and we thank Cuyahoga County taxpayers for this support.
  3. We have a night time drop in center open on extremely cold nights and every weekend winter night for those who do not like to go to shelter.  It is called the Metanoia project and is over at St. Malachi.  This is where the outreach teams can drop people when they find people outside after 7 p.m. at night.  There is a similar facility on the East Side of Cleveland for single women called Seasons of Hope. 
  4. The City of Cleveland and a few of the suburbs have opened warming centers for anyone (including homeless people) who need to stay outside. 
  5. We have teams of outreach staff outside driving around in vans looking to pick up homeless people and take them inside. Many of these workers have backpacks full of boots, long underwear, gloves and winter socks to give out.  These are the donations provided from Community West Foundation Socks Plus Campaign.  
  6. In addition, to the socks and boots, we have used some of the funds to put people up for the last few nights to keep them safe.  We have 8 people who need additional help and will not go to shelter that we have taken inside to keep them warm during this extreme weather.  

Brian Davis

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Overflowing Shelters and the Cost

 Columbus once again struggles with overflowing shelters and people being turned away.  This is a perennial problem in the Capital City.  They never seem to get things in place during the winter.  Of all the things we complain about in Cleveland, the sheltering of people who ask for help is not something we complain about.  The City of Cleveland and especially Ruth Gillett of the County Office of Homeless Services do it right every year.  We never have the problems that other cities experience.   We don't have to fight about the temperature getting to certain point or if the temperature reading is at the airport or downtown. 

Columbus seems to have problems every year with overflow.  Every year they claim to have everything under control and every year there is a problem.  Last year, they opened an overflow for men far from downtown and then the day care center next door objected.  Now this year, they were not prepared for all the families.  Why not avoid all these issues by just offering shelter to everyone who comes to the door?  Avoid all the hassles by just figuring out a way to handle overflow in the summer when there is not the demand, and then it will be easy to fill the gaps when it matters.  This is life and death, and Columbus has been on the wrong side for years. 

Is it expensive to offer a bed to everyone who asks for help.  The county would have to provide staffing, transportation and cooperation among the agencies.  Guaranteed access to shelter saves lives and government should do whatever to save lives.  We must keep people alive while they get back on their feet or reconcile with family or conquer their demons or work through their mistrust of other people. 

Brian Davis

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Articles in the News Around Homelessness

WEWS-TV 5 had a nice story on family homelessness and the overflow problems in Cleveland. We have had seven months of overflow shelter for families.  What month do we say this is no longer an overflow problem, but a lack of family bed problem.  We closed Continue Life earlier this year, and West Side Catholic reduced the number of transitional beds for family.  This is what happens when you cut back on beds available to families, you have to pay to transport and open up church basements for these emergencies.

The New York Times had a strange story about the feeding program.  I understand presenting a balanced story, but this is just strange.  The proponents of the law do not have any evidence or proof that feeding programs are "counterproductive."  It is one side saying that laws against feeding are morally bankrupt and lead to unnecessarily going to jail for purely innocent behavior while the other side is saying, "but we don't like to see poor people lining up to eat."

A positive story from Vox media about the decline in uninsured individuals in the Lesbian and Gay community.  Health insurance will also reduce homelessness in America when people aren't forced to decide between rent or medicine or food.  

The National Center on Family Homelessness has found that one in 30 children are homeless in America.  Since Ohio was right in the middle for the states around the national average, this would mean that 9,137 children were homeless in Cuyahoga County in 2013 and 88,323 were homeless in Ohio during the same time.   NCFH uses the Department of Education definition of homelessness which includes those sleeping in garages and friend's basements while they search for housing.  

Brian Davis

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National Updates on Homelessness

Barb Poppe Stepping down at InterAgency Council

Our friend, Barb Poppe, from Columbus Ohio former shelter director and current US InterAgency Council on Homelessness has announced that she will step down next month.  She is the wife of COHHIO Director, Bill Faith and was the coordinator of funding in Columbus Ohio for years.  The InterAgency Council publishes reports on homelessness and was the first agency to push a housing first strategy.  They also have a really nice newsletter.  Barb put her stamp on the agency by focusing on the rise in family homelessness and beginning to talk about the problem of youth homelessness.  The InterAgency Council is supposed to work with all the federal departments (Social Security, HHS, HUD, Labor and others) that may have cross agency concerns with homeless people.  For example, Social Security not giving out printouts is going to make it difficult for homeless people to get ID which makes it difficult to access entitlements and health care.  The USIAC is looking into the problem that privately funded shelters are having with coordinated intake in Cleveland. 

Surplus Military Property Available in Sandusky

Federal law requires that military surplus property be offered to homeless programs before being sold.  This is rather a dubious law since military bases are rarely in the heart of an urban city where there are large numbers of homeless people.  But it is the law, and NEOCH receives notices of federal surplus property.  This year it is the Rye Beach Pumping Station on Columbus Ave. in Sandusky Ohio 44870.   It is GSA Control Number 1-Z-OH-598-2-AB or HUD number 52401410002 if you want to claim it for a homeless program in Sandusky Ohio.  How you would turn a 6,424 square foot pumping building and 60K of water piping into anything useful for people without housing is difficult to imagine?  The property was listed in the federal register and is available through the General Services Administration in Chicago until March 10.  Good luck and please invite us to the grand opening of the pumping station/homeless shelter.  We would love some pictures of that. 

Justice Department Urges States to Forgive Felons And Allow them to Vote

Attorney General Eric Holder is reaching out to ask the States to restore voting rights to those felons who have paid their debt to society.  Kentucky and Virginia never allow a felon to vote.  Those released from incarceration and probation are stripped of their rights for the rest of their life.  Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wyoming force the individual to beg and plead with the state to restore their voting rights.   There is an estimated 5 million Americans who need to move to a state that forgive and allow people to move on.  I have never understood why we have a national election for President, and we allow each state to do their own thing when it comes to electing the Commander and Chief.  Why can some states disenfranchise felons?  Why can some states require burdensome proof that poor people cannot produce?  Why do some states (Florida, I am speaking of you) make students and old people wait for three hours to vote?  Why do some states allow same day registration and others allow voting by mail?  How is this a fair system?  Holder said about the felons:

"By perpetuating the stigma and isolation imposed on formerly incarcerated individuals, these laws increase the likelihood they will commit future crimes," Holder said during a speech at a criminal justice reform event hosted by The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights at Georgetown University Law Center on Tuesday.

Psychiatric Drugs and Medicaid

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is asking the Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to not implement the changes to Medicare Part D.  NAMI alleges that this will make it difficult to get anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications.  The changes will take these drugs off the preferred list of drugs, and may limit their usage in 2015.  NAMI has put a petition together to oppose these changes.   Here is the link.

National Coalition for the Homeless on Bitter Cold

National Coalition for the Homeless Executive Director, Jerry Jones, was on the NPR Program Tell Me More about the extreme weather and its impact on homelessness.  Unfortunately, news reports have identified 10 homeless people died because of the extreme cold weather.   Jones did a good job explaining the hardships faced by the population; the folly of making it illegal to curl up in a doorway; and the strange concept of figuring out how cold it should be before opening an "overflow" or cold weather shelter.  Some cities say 40 degrees or 32 degrees or 20 degrees before they open an winter shelter, which makes it difficult for those without housing to adjust to the winter.  I have advocated that every city in the United States should provide shelter to everyone who shows up for help like we do in Cleveland.  If you are a tax payer in the richest country in the history of the world and you lose your housing, your government should offer you a warm place inside.  Think of the madness in many cities which close the shelters when they get to a certain number and the temperature outside is 34 degrees. Then the law enforcement arm of the city go out and arrest the person who could not find a bed and instead is sleeping on the doors of a religious organization.  This is America in 2014.

Brian Davis

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Extreme Weather Plans in Cleveland for Homeless People

Many are worried about homeless people during this extreme weather.  Most of the shelters and social service providers are on the job today working to keep people safe.  The shelters stay open when it is this cold.  They do not turn people away and they do not make them leave during the day.  There are overnight warming places available (St. Malachi and Seasons of Hope for Women) that serve those who do not go to shelter. The City is also opening the Recreation Centers as warming centers.  The Plain Dealer's Tom Feran has done a series of articles on the cold here, here, and here.

Many outreach workers have gone out today and yesterday to convince those who are resistant to shelter to come inside.  NEOCH is coordinating this information and working to get everyone inside today.  We have three sites we are working on right now, but we think everyone is doing a good job staying safe.  The area we do not have very good coverage is East Cleveland.  I am not sure what is happening out there with those who sleep in abandoned buildings.  I do not know if there is outreach to them, and I am not sure what the City is doing to get those people inside.

The shelters never run out of space in Cleveland.  They will open overflow sites (City Mission, VOA, and a group of churches) if the entry shelters (2100 Lakeside and Norma Herr) are full.  We never turn people away including on the extreme weather nights.  If you want shelter in Cleveland, we will find a place for you.  RTA is working on a plan for today to provide transportation to some of these warming centers if people are in need and have no way to get to those places.   We will provide more information later.  Some of the groups are willing to offer short term motel stays if there is no other options in the community.  If you want to help, you can drop cold weather items at our office until 4:30 p.m. on weekdays and most Saturdays (3631 Perkins third floor--near CSU).  But don't go out if it is not necessary.  We have plenty of items at this point.  You could help refresh all the outreach teams with donations next week. 

Brian Davis

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Help Us Keep Homeless Families Together in Cleveland

Over the past few months, NEOCH, Frontline Services, formerly MHS Inc., and Cuyahoga County have been working to address the rising problem of family homelessness. Each May, Cuyahoga County sees a rise in families in need of housing—a rise that continues to increase throughout the summer and lasts into early fall. Many reasons can cause this rise in homelessness, ranging from relocation in warmer weather, an end to the school year for kids, or personal reasons unique to each family. For more information on the causes of family homelessness, see our past blog post here.  

So far this summer, we have reached out to local religious organizations and been offered generous support and overflow space. We have dedicated a page to how religious organizations can get involved located here, including a list of the current religious organizations supporting our response to family homelessness.

We are working to gain support of these organizations who are dedicated to serving the religious needs of the community and have helped support NEOCH and other homeless agencies in the past. Already Cuyahoga County has located overflow space that has been used to support families. In one typical night, there can be 15 families (for a total of roughly 63 family members) in need of housing and it is thanks to the support of these religious communities that these families have safe shelter.

However, now we look at equipping these spaces with the essential goods they need to continue to house families. We are hoping to collect donations of healthy snacks and breakfast foods for both overflow housing and Central Intake. By providing these foods, we can ensure these families have breakfast on weekends when food centers may be closed. 

If you are interested in getting involved with the family homelessness initiative, please contact NEOCH at (216) 432-0540 or advocacy (at) neoch (dot) org where you can learn more about what we need and how you can get involved.

By Laura Dunson (NEOCH Intern)

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County Responds to Family Homelessness

Each summer as school ends and warmer weather (usually) begins, more and more families find themselves without shelter and a place to sleep. Family homelessness itself can be caused by many reasons: poverty, unemployment, difficulty accessible affordable housing, addiction, domestic violence, etc. But around every April, Cuyahoga County slowly sees a rise in the number of families in need of shelter. Why the rise now?

A lot of reasons can add to why family homelessness grows during the summer. With the kids in school up until now, parents may have been unwilling to leave their current place—wanting their kids to finish the school year. Sometimes having all the kids home for the summer makes it difficult for elderly parents or grandparents to keep extended family under the same roof.  As summer comes and kids are at home more often, it may cause added stress in the household and lead to part of the family leaving.  The warmer weather may make moving and travel more accessible when Cleveland’s chill made it less of an option before. Families and landlords may be less willing to force out tenants during the cold months, but in the warmth they are more likely to evict. Paying for child care during the summer can cause additional financial problems and contribute to a rise in homelessness. Finally, we have centralized the shelter system so everyone goes to one facility for help.  This had made it more difficult for people to wait for the best shelter bed to open with repeated calls.  The family has to show up requesting shelter to get in line for a bed.  Before a mother could talk her friend into allowing the family to stay while they waited for a bed at a shelter.  Now, the family goes to Central Intake to line of for a bed.  All of these reasons and many more unique and personal reasons can help explain why the summer months see more children with parents arriving at the shelters, searching for a place to sleep.

But unfortunately, each summer as these families search for shelter, there are limited places to send them. Families need different sort of shelter than individuals—families require more privacy and a safe and supportive place for children.  Finding housing for a group is a bigger task than finding a bed for a single person.

NEOCH, MHS Inc., Cuyahoga County, and several faith communities in the area have worked together to find a solution to this problem.  Here is the current plan to address family homelessness this season:

1. Intake hours for families: 8:00 - 7:00 Mon- Fri; 9:00- 5:00 Sat/Sun. This encourages families to be proactive and acknowledges the families searching for housing due to need versus interest in staying in a hotel room.

2. Overflow accommodations will be met through a church in Cleveland Hts. and Zelma George Emergency shelter beds.  The day after a "one night" stay, staff will try to find a longer stay shelter or permanent diversion.

3. In mid July, Family Promise will begin using a church in the Broadway neighborhood as a permanent site for 4 families. 

Finding this housing was an incredible relief, but we aren’t done yet. We are still in needs of supplies to help make these changes and housing go smoothly. A list of needed supplies can be found here.  If you are interested in getting involved or making donations, please contact NEOCH at advocacy (at) neoch (dot) org more information. We will be putting together information that religious organizations can use to provide help to homeless families in Cleveland.

 

By Laura Dunson, NEOCH Intern

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