Two Other Retirements that Will Hurt Social Justice

West Side Catholic Center has always been able to attract really good directors as well as staff who have remained committed to keeping the program as one of the top homeless services in Northeast Ohio.  Anita Cook, the current Executive Director, announced her retirement last week to take effect at the end of September 2017.  Anita has always found a great deal of patience and empathy for the residents of the neighborhood who seek help.  West Side Catholic is a gem in Ohio City and an essential service to those who need assistance.  Anita has steered the organization through the collapse of all transitional housing programs in Cleveland and the loss of long time staff Sue DiNardo. She has seen a renovation of the shelter and the addition of jobs programs to the programming.  She knows exactly what is going on over on the West Side and has offered the drop in center as a venue for any group offering help.  From the students at Ignatius helping with a meal to our outreach workers coming through looking for the next person on the housing list, West Side Catholic is open to help.  Anita reached out to partners when there were issues with US mail services, and hosted our Homeless Memorial Day in December. 

Anita has made homeless people feel supported and appreciated when placed in leadership positions.  They do not feel isolated, and Anita actively seeks their input.  She has vision and always selected a quality staff who are driven by the mission and not the money.  Anita has our respect and has earned the respect of homeless people in the community.  We will miss her, and hope that the Board picks another quality Director to lead this critical service in the community. 

Charles See of Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry is also retiring after founding the Community Re-Entry Program.  NEOCH began as a program on LMM, and when I was volunteering we were on the same floor as the Community Re-Entry program.  Charles was a good friend of NEOCH as the head of one of their pillar programs.  He was involved in criminal justice reform way before it was cool.  He cared about what happened to people being released from prison before most politicians and other community leaders did.  He was an early adopter of loudly complaining about the financial toll all of this rush to incarcerate people was doing to our society. He along with Rev. Dick Sering would tell anyone who would listen that this mass incarceration was a stain on our society.  Now everyone is saying what Charles See said 25 years ago.

See had to endure while all the re-entry specialists at the jails were defunded, and then deal with the results of these short sighted decisions on the Cleveland community.  He saw the pipeline straight from incarceration to shelters, and spent decades trying to get these guys jobs.  He expanded the group to include Women and worked with youth who were facing the messed up juvenile justice system.  He persevered through the good times and the bad.  He kept the agency alive during the era when no one cared about African Americans being sent to jail for drug offenses as well as the law and order times when all the money went to locking everyone up and no money went to helping people reintegrate into society.  It is amazing that he has worked on this issue for 44 years. 

Both of these retirements are going to be tough for the social justice movement.  Charles See has been a wonderful advocate for a group that is even more misunderstood than homeless people.  His voice in Cuyahoga County and down in Columbus is going to be missed.  Anita Cook is primarily a social service provider, but she has helped on a number of social justice causes such as voting and the inability to get identification.  She has always made her facility and her clients available to community organizers and social justice groups.  You may think this is a small thing, but I can't tell you how many places make it impossible or make us jump through an extreme number of hoops to get anything done.  NEOCH Board and staff wish them both much success in their next chapter in life.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry. 

Cogswell Hall--100 Years

Staff of Cogswell Hall saw our post about Cosgrove Center and their 20 years of existence and wondered if we could mention Cogswell Hall serving Cleveland for over 100 years. Their building was renovated back in 2009, but the original construction was in 1914.  Their growth and continued existence is impressive and they are celebrating with an event on September 19 called Coming Home.  Now for those who do not know Cogswell Hall is a permanent supportive housing apartment building on the near West Side of Cleveland.   They are helping those who have been homeless for a long period of time back into housing.  They have social services and other help available to this mostly disabled population.  They should be congratulated for making it one hundred years, and we should celebrate this newly renovated building improving our neighborhoods in Cleveland.  We are also proud that they are fellow Community Shares Members here in Cleveland.  Staff at Cogswell Hall are always helpful with voting, protecting client rights and other social justice issues. 

In looking back at the Cogswell Hall history, it really shows how the city has changed in the last 150 years.   We have grown up and improved our fair housing obligations, but what have we lost during that time?  Cogswell Hall started serving exclusively women and now takes all, but is there a need to serve women in a separate facility?  All the previous incarnations of Cogswell Hall are still necessary in Cleveland, but have sadly disappeared.  They started as a temperance union for women, which is not something we talk much about today.  In an age of medical marijuana, very few are talking about outlawing alcohol.   That would be pretty much the end of professional sports, reality shows, tractor pulls, wrestling, and demolition derbies if we outlawed alcohol consumption.  In 1892, they became a halfway house for those leaving the women's workhouse.  They were a training facility and provided "anti-alcohol encouragement."  These are services we need today.  We have Women's Re-entry, but they don't have a building for transitioning the women back to full time employment and stable housing.  This halfway house for women coming out of incarceration is a type of program we could use today.

In 1899, Cogswell Hall moved to the West Side and worked on preventing young girls from getting into trouble.  Now, we have the YWCA doing the same type of program, but working with a slightly older group of young women.  We could use more programs that work with young women to keep them out of trouble.  The Cogswell Hall current building was built in 1914 and had 27 rooms and was known as the training home for girls.  The group changed their name to Cogswell Hall in 1952--renamed after its founder.  In the 1970s, Cogswell started renting apartments to older women 60 years of age and older. This might be one group that the market is sufficiently serving at this time.  We have an aging society and we may see a need for senior housing in the next 10 to 20 years, but at least right now we are meeting the housing needs of seniors.  Many landlords want to rent to seniors because they do not have parties and typically have steady income.  With only around 1% of the homeless population over 60 it is not a huge issue in Cleveland in 2014. In the 1970s, I am sure that Cogswell Hall served a vital service to seniors. 

In 2004, Cogswell Hall started accepting fragile women of any age and providing supportive services.  While fair housing standards say that apartment owners cannot discriminate based on gender, there was some merit to serving women separate from men.  Women experience violence leading to homelessness at huge rates.  This often makes it difficult to live in the same building with men.  Women still face discrimination in the workplace, pay rate discrepancies, and archaic hiring practices that make it necessary to provide additional help. They still face landlords who prey upon women and they need fair housing protections, but we could use separate facilities to serve especially fragile females.  We keep losing programs for women in this community, and that makes it harder to serve women and female headed households.  We lost East Side Catholic shelter, Triumph House, the Care Alliance program for women, Family Transitional, Transitional Housing Inc, and now this month Continue Life for pregnant young moms.  All these programs were lost in our community and only a handful of the beds were replaced.  We are not doing all we can do to serve homeless women in our community.  While we have made great strides in providing fair housing for minority populations and women, there has been a cost.  This major step forward has actually set back the fragile females who need extra assistance overcoming obstacles in our community.

The building over on Franklin is impressive and the wrap around services offered are wonderful.  Cogswell Hall serves a critical need in our community as they have done for 100 years.  We hope that you can support Cogswell Hall in 2014 to mark their landmark anniversary.  We wish them good luck on their fundraiser.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Two Related Stories on the Criminal Justice System

There were a strange group of articles in the paper that point to the two different approaches to the criminal justice system in America.  The Justice Department announced a change in the sentencing recommendations for drug offenses then on the other end the Plain Dealer had a story that the Governor was asking for additional criminal justice money because they are running out of space in the jails.  Attorney General Eric Holder is asking for a reduction in the range of sentences for federal drug crimes.  At the same time, he is requesting that Federal Prosecutors not object to requests for sentencing reductions.  This will affect nearly 70% of the drug trafficking cases in the federal courts. Here is the NPR report on the issue.  This is not only because of the injustice of our sentencing rules, but the economics of incarcerating thousands of people every year.

Going the other direction is the State of Ohio which is asking for $53 million increase to reduce overcrowded prisons and hire additional staff.  They will also add funding for rehabilitation programs, but the bulk of the money is for additional incarceration funding.  There was some rumblings by the Ohio Republicans in the legislature about sentencing reform to save the state money in 2013, but it never went anywhere for fear of being viewed as weak on crime.  The Ohio Inmate population is approaching record numbers. We are now over 50,000 people incarcerated which is double the population in 1988. 

How does this have anything to do with homelessness?  We know that a sizable number of the homeless population have a history with the criminal justice system that keeps them homeless or extends their stay on the taxpayer's dime.   We know that the criminal has destroyed the lives of their victims through violence or financial crimes, and we have to keep that in mind whenever we talk about the criminal justice system.  The victims need to be considered whenever discussing sentencing reductions.  We also need to recognize that these individuals paid their debt to society.  They were convicted of a crime and served their time, and we need to not keep punishing them.

Often the shelters are just an extended stay in a prison without the ability to make your own decisions.  There is a lights out time (11 p.m.).   They tell you when to get up and when to eat.  They tell you when the bathroom is available and you have to consolidate all your worldly possessions into the size of one locker or a foot locker.  For some, it is a life sentence because they are tagged with a community notification label that will prevent them from employment and housing for the rest of their natural life.   The taxpayers are then responsible for their food, clothing, housing and medical care for the rest of their life.  Shelters have no possibly of finding housing for some people in our society, because of their criminal background.  The Sentencing Project has a good website about the societal impact of our harsh incarceration policy on the financial health and moral health of the United States as well as the civil rights implications of incarcerating so many minority populations

We do the resident council meeting at 2100 Lakeside Shelter to hear about the concerns of the residents and take those problems to the management of the shelter for some resolution.  The February meeting, we had a gentleman who was a Tier 3 sexually based offender, and was very angry that no one was being honest with him that he would never qualify for any housing program.  He had spent a year in the shelter and was just realizing that he would never get into housing, and would live out the rest of his life not being able to rent or buy his own housing.   He wanted to know why no one had told him this up front and was honest with him that he would not qualify for any program in the community. 

Brian Davis