What Can You Do to Help Overcrowded Shelters?

So, what concrete steps can concerned citizens take?" [to the Post about the Overcrowded Shelters in August]

This is an excellent question that will not fit in 140 characters so we will try to answer:

The Women's Shelter system is completely broken and we found this weekend that there were no beds available in the community.  The folks at 2-1-1 were told to tell people to come back on Monday, which is in violation of the guaranteed access to shelter that have been a part of the shelter contracts since 2000.  What can a concerned citizen do:

1. Call Dan Brady as the head of County Council to ask if he knew that the shelters were so full this weekend they were telling people to come back Monday.  Ask what is the status of his investigation on the Women's Shelter that was supposed to be complete by September 2016? Office: 216/698-2014 or email him at dbrady (at) cuyahogacounty (dot) us to ask about all this.

2. Cuyahoga County takes the lead on these issues so asking any of the County Council members would be helpful.  They distribute $33 million in funding, but there is no plan to end homelessness locally.  Things are getting worse and we have not seen many good ideas come out of the County Council.  It is fine to build permanent supportive housing, but that cannot be the only thing we do and it cannot be at the expense of everything else. 

3. Call or e-mail your local councilman to ask them why families are so under-served in our community.  From South Euclid to Rocky River to Bay Village and Westlake, they could all better address homelessness.  Even if you are in the suburbs you could ask them why there is only one domestic violence shelter in Cuyahoga County and there are so many (even from the suburbs) who are fleeing violence?  Ask your council person why we have so few domestic violence beds compared to nearly every county around us.  Ask them if they are committed to families having guaranteed access to shelter in Cuyahoga County, because that concept is slipping away.

4. If you are religious person or you belong to a civic organization (like the Kiwannas), there are many things that you could do from the small to the huge.  You could raise the issue and ask what your group could do to help?  Could they do a hygiene or water drive and then drop those at NEOCH during business hours or could they house families when there is a crisis like this weekend?   Our community lost a lot when Interfaith Hospitality Network closed, because the faith community is not as involved in the struggle as they were in the past.  We need to recreate this network and get faith leaders involved in the struggle to reduce family homelessness with various projects. 

5. Contact your favorite media personalilty to ask why they have not covered this story?  Why are they not talking about all the women stuffed into 2219 Payne Ave.?  Why they are not talking about the huge loss of shelter beds locally?  Or why a women fleeing domestic violence cannot get a bed in our community? 

6. Speaking of faith leaders, why not ask your priest, minister, pastor, rabbi or imam to talk about the subject of homelessness this week.  We are at a critical point and we need all the help we can get.  We need good ideas being put forward and we need some local discussions about homelessness. 

7. Volunteer at one of the shelters or direct service providers to become more familiar with what is going on locally.  This will help you to understand what is going on and can be better educated about possible solutions.  We have a web page dedicated to direct service opportunities available in the community.

8. Vote. Also, if you get a chance to meet a candidate ask them what they are doing to address the homeless crisis locally.  There will be town halls and candidate forums coming up and it is a good chance to put them on the spot. 

9.  The County Office of Homeless Services is in charge of the plan to fund the shelters and they enforce the guaranteed access to shelter.  Ruth Gillett is the head of the office and can be reached at 216/420-6844 and you could ask her what she is going to do to shelter families?  She is going to give you stuff about model programs...studies show...less expensive alternatives...etc.  But the bottom line is this weekend, we did not have any space for families who were sleeping in the single women's shelter and for years the last women's shelter has been overcrowded.  So, what they have been doing is not working and how are they going to solve this problem?  How many months in a row does overflow with people sleeping on the floor do we have to have before it turns into additional beds?   Let us know what she says if you get a chance to talk to her. 

10. Federal elected officials are the key to success here.  There is not enough money in Cleveland or Cuyahoga County to turn things around.  We need the federal government to step up to solve this problem.  We need a national housing policy.  We need the lead organization, HUD, to get back in the game of ending homelessness.  They need to take a few lessons from the Veterans Administration who actually made progress.  We have a senatorial election and every single House member up for election.  All need to be asked what they are doing about homelessness and the affordable housing crisis locally.  Hold their feet to the fire and get them to step up to take the lead in ending homelessness for everyone in America. 

If you do all of these or any of them let us know what happened.  Tell us about your experiences and the answers you heard.  Tell us if your group has become involved with Habitat or is making hygiene kits.  We need your help and only concerned citizens can make a change.  We are constantly bashing the politicians, media and the bureaucrats and they are tired of hearing from us.  Only voters can make a difference in turning this around.  Senior Citizens vote and call and complain, and look at all the great services available to those over 62.  There is housing, senior centers, and nearly every level of government has an office and program for senior citizens.  Their mobilization proves that voting and calling works. 

Brian Davis

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More Homelessness in the News

Homelessness and Governing

Recently, the city council of Madison, Wisconsin has passed legislation to prohibit discrimination based on housing, which the mayor vetoed.  However, homeless people were added to the list of protected classes by the city council overriding the mayor’s veto.

San Francisco just opened America’s first LGBT homeless shelter.  Though it is not big enough to address the whole community, it is a step in the right direction. The Jezzie Collins Shelter is one of the few new shelters created in the United States after huge federal cut backs over the last three years.  

An innovative plan in Hawaii plans to renovate 70 retired buses into homeless shelters.  However, with the highest per capita homeless population in the US, it is time for Hawaii to evaluate what the real problems are in their state.

Activists are asking that Hawaii work to solve homelessness, not make it harder for individuals.  A new study by the University of Hawaii says that homeless sweeps are more harmful than good. "They found that the people living there suffer property and economic loss, physical and psychological harm, and possible constitutional violations," according to the KHON TV report.

Public Defender, Robert Wesley near Orlandoand Orange County Florida stands up against the criminalization of homelessness, and, to an extent, the city is finally listening.  He said that these arrests were "a revolving door" for homeless people. Wesley specifically wants to revamp the arrest procedures for violating local ordinances — including urinating in public, having an open container, trespassing and sleeping in public — that almost exclusively affect homeless people. Instead of being taken to jail, officers would give violators a "notice to appear" in court, according to a story in the Orlando Sentinal.

In St. Cloud, Minnesota, high schoolers and the local Coalition for Homeless Men built the state’s first tiny house.  Yet, it still has a long way to go until someone can live there.  Many zoning and safety laws can prevent someone from having their tiny home. 

Cuts to ‘Food Stamp’ funding has caused nearly 255,000 people in Wisconsin to survive on 1 meal a day.  A disproportionate amount of these people are elderly or disabled.  One Congressman was surviving on Food Stamps and had their benefits cut down to $16 because they did not submit a utility bill as verification. 

No longer are cities merely criminalizing homelessness, but also criminalizing helping homeless people. San Antonio’s law costs one woman up to $2,000 just for feeding homeless people out of her truck.  She is fighting the ticket and the law.

Individuals Making a Difference

A Washington D.C. teen transitions from homelessness to finishing her first year at Georgetown.  She  discussed the difficult transition and disadvantages she faced compared to their wealthy classmates.  This Washington Post article talked to other young people who got out of homelessness. 

One former homeless veteran in Portland, Maine decided to give back to other homeless veterans.  He founded the Maine Homeless Veterans Alliance to connect homeless vets to the services that are available to them, and for those that do not desire the services, he helps in any way he can. 

A Seattle man is trying to change the stereotype of homelessness, largely through Facebook.  Rex Hohlbein started a non-profit called Homeless in Seattle, where he takes photos of homeless people and writes short stories about them in, while also operating a Facebook page that allows every day citizens to help with the needs of the homeless.

In Ann Arbor, landlords are helping to end homelessness by doing what all landlords should do, accept housing vouchers. In response, the Washtenaw Housing Alliance is honoring these individuals. (nice pic of a homeless couple in a tent with their dog--all things not welcome in shelters).

by Dan the Intern

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How Can I Volunteer for the Homeless Stand Down?

Our partners over at HandsOn NEO are looking for help with volunteering over at the Homeless Stand Down.  Here are the Volunteer Needs:

Homeless Stand Down 2015 Donation Sorting:

  • Various days/evenings/weekends Mid -December-January 22nd (Sign up to follow)
  • Veteran's supplies donation sorting - various dates, late December/Early January (location tbd)
  • Great for youth and families
  • Great for groups of 5-10 individuals

Homeless Stand Down Setup:

  • Friday, January 23rd 10am-5pm (multiple volunteer shifts) @ Cleveland Public Auditorium 
  • Help setup donations, decorate, and organize supplies
  • Great for groups of 10+ individuals
  • Drivers with large capacity vehicles are needed for donation transporting to Stand Down site

Homeless Stand Down 2015:

  • Saturday, January 24th, 7am-3pm @ Cleveland Public Auditorium 
  • Positions include- 
  1. Personal Shoppers to help guest find basic need items
  2. Distribution Managers helping organize donations
  3. Volunteer Guardians/Security 
  4. Kids area volunteers
  • Great for groups of 5-20 individuals  
  • Limited opportunities for teen volunteers. 16 and up only. No other youth volunteers are allowed. 

Homeless Stand Down 2015 CareVan Setup:

  • The week of January 25, 5:30pm-8:00pm (location tbd)
  • Help sort and organize donations 
  • Great for groups of 5-10 individuals

Homeless Stand Down 2015 CareVan Days:

  • Saturday, January 31st and Sunday, February 1st 9am-2pm 
  • Drive a van, serve a meal, hand out donations, etc.
  • Great for groups of 4-7 individuals 
  • Drivers with large capacity vehicles  are needed for donation transporting to CareVan sites

Click here to register for HSD volunteer positions. Go to the January calendar on the HandsOn NEO website.

***Volunteer registration is a first come, first served opportunity

***All volunteers MUST be signed up through the HandsOn website. There will be NO walk up volunteers allowed

***There will be Stand Down Pre-Event Overviews for 2015 volunteers. These Pre-Event Overviews are optional. You will receive email confirmations and appropriate instructions prior to the event. Stand Down volunteers DO NOT have to attend a HandsOn NEO volunteer orientation to participate. 

Call for entertainment volunteers! We are looking for entertainment for the 2015 Homeless Stand Down. This includes main stage performers, roving entertainment (caricatures, jugglers, drum circles, etc.) and kids area entertainment (face painting, puppets, etc.) Click here to express interest via a survey monkey questionnaire.

 Other specialized positions: We are looking for spiritual leaders from different faiths to be onsite to support those at the event. We are also looking for Spanish speakers to serve as translators. Finally, we are looking for licensed massage therapists to be onsite for back or hand massages. Interested parties should email HSD (at) handsonneo (dot) org.

Are you part of a group who wants to volunteer? Can 216-432-9390 or email HSD(at) handsonneo(dot)org for group registration.

You must use the HandsOn NEO website to volunteer, and it is an extremely rewarding experience. 

Brian Davis

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New Blankets/Mats Arrive at NEOCH

Earlier this year, we were amazed by these mats or blankets made by a volunteer out of plastic bags collected from grocery stores.  We were amazed by the craftsmanship and diligence of collecting thousands of bags and them putting them together in a roll out mat with a handle.  We give these out to the outreach workers who deliver them to people living outside and resistant to shelter. 

We did not have a name for the person last time, but we now know that Mrs. Luann Schuster makes these blankets for homeless people.  They are great and the individuals who receive these very much appreciate them.  It is great because they are waterproof and can be carried easily.  They are durable and are made with great care as you can see from the picture to the side.   On behalf of homeless people, we thank you for all your efforts.

Brian Davis

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Amazing Donations

Pictured above are a group of mats that homeless people can use to sleep on.  These are plastic and can be used for those who are resistant to going into a shelter.  They are waterproof and comfortable.  The amazing thing is that these are all made out of recycled plastic bags from the grocery store.  It looks like some fabric or cord, but it is a homemade mat from plastic bags.  We did not get the name of the volunteers who did this amazing work, but we will get it for you so we can thank them.  Here is another picture:

Even the tie is made from plastic grocery bags.  The outreach workers are going to love these when they meet next week.  Thanks to all the people who put this together.  They are great. 

Speaking of donations, we did not make our goal of 5,000 blankets this year.  I think that the mild winter made it harder to get people into the frame of mind for donating.  Plus we actually did not need as many blankets.  There was not as many nights of overflow needed this last winter.  Here is the total number of donations for this past winter:

  • 495 Blankets
  • 82 hats
  • 22 coats
  • 32 pairs of socks
  • 115 bottles of cosmetics.
  • 27 wellness kits

We also received gloves, scarves, comforters, sleeping bags, fleece throws, hygiene kits, women's and mens clothing, spring jackets, sheets and bedding, sweat suits and adult diapers.  Thanks to everyone who donated items this year.  We gave them out to the outreach workers who are out on the street building a relationship with those living outside. 


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NEOCH Annual Meeting

Congratulations to Chandra and Stowe NEOCH Award Winners


The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless held its annual meeting on March 15, 2012.  We introduced our 2011 Annual Report which is available on our website here.  We also gave out awards and had a nice meal provided by the Board.   Subodh Chandra was recognized as the Advocate of the Year for all his work protecting the rights of homeless to vote in person.  The Board recognized Brent Stowe from Lakewood as the Volunteer of the Year for 2011 for his help in restarting the street newspaper locally.  Toni Johnson (pictured above), a long time friend of NEOCH, and current staff of the Veterans Administration gave a keynote address about all the changes taking place to end homelessness among veterans.  She talked about the unmet need of the families of veterans locally and nationally. 

Subodh Chandra was pulled away from the event for an emergency, but had done so much work over the last four years in representing the interests of homeless people against the State of Ohio's attempts to limit access to the ballot box.  He won a retraining order in 2006 and 2008 election to assure that ballots would be counted in a consistent manner throughout the State.  He did a great deal of work on a settlement signed in 2010 that will govern the 2012 Presidential election.  Chandra has always been supportive of uncomplicated access to voting in the United States as the cradle of democracy.

Brent Stowe (pictured on the right) works at American Greetings and is the man behind the Street Chronicle.  He is a great graphic designer and we could not do the paper without his help.  He has volunteered his time to dramatically improve the layout of the paper.  He quietly gets the job done quickly and efficiently.  Stowe graduated from Kent State University and has a background in graphics and artwork.  

The Board voted officers for the next year to include Marcia Bufford as President, Roy Love as Vice President, Michelle Russell as Treasurer, and Brenda Gray as Secretary.  We looked at the main programs that the Coalition worked on in 2011.  Marcia Bufford highlighted some of the goals the Coalition is working on for 2012 and beyond.  


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