Vendors Suggest Changes During Summer Class

To the editors:

As newspaper vendors for The Homeless Grapevine, the publication of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, we are in a unique position to understand the needs of low-income and homeless, and all of us rely on the sale of our newspaper as a primary source of income.

Homelessness should be a temporary condition.  As American’s poorest big city, Cleveland must deal with its large numbers of homeless and low-income persons in a way that fosters their economic success.  We would like to suggest ways the city of Cleveland can avoid some of the problems of social welfare we have encountered and encourage its homeless and low-income citizens to become independent.

Most of our suggestions have to do with the way homeless shelters process, house, and treat their homeless and low-income clients.  While we understand that many shelters are often overcrowded and understaffed, we believe a more streamlined approach to sheltering the homeless would benefit both the homeless and the shelter employees.  Shelters need to adhere to a strict intake process that determines why a homeless person needs shelter, what source of income that person has, and that limits the length of time the homeless person can remain at the shelter.  By establishing a case plan that tracks each resident’s stay and employment progress, Cleveland can avoid the problem of homeless persons who move from shelter to shelter, using shelter housing as a permanent residence.

Because shelter housing should be the first step toward permanent housing, shelters can help prepare residents for the next step by making available at their facilities programs that provide job training, or, like Dress for Success, that help residents prepare for interviews and working life.  We would like to see RTA schedules available at all city shelters, too, and the city’s help in defraying the costs of transporting residents to any jobs they secure.  We would also like to see shelters offer separate facilities for the employed, so that these residents can benefit from the stricter schedules and goal-oriented behavior of their fellow residents. Shelters must strive to be comfortable sites in which the homeless and the people who serve them coexist peacefully and productively.  Shelters should provide educational activities for the homeless they house and psychological counseling for both the residents and the staff.  Shelters can encourage the sobriety of their residents by allowing chapters of Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous to meet there.  Shelters should require homeless person to take any medications they may be prescribed as a condition of their housing.  Finally, since the formerly homeless are in the best position to help the currently homeless shelters should make an effort to staff their facilities with those who have experienced homelessness themselves.

The changes we recommend might seem costly to implement.  To defray expenses, the city of Cleveland could turn some of its vast numbers of empty buildings into homeless shelters, and we think all city shelters should offer some kind of “savings bank” for those residents who have an  income that encourages them to save a percentage of it, a small portion of which might be taken and used to help run the shelter itself.  We feel that shelter residents will take their housing more seriously if they are contributing to its upkeep at the same time they are saving for their own future.

Implementing our ideas may indeed be costly, but it is far more costly in the long run to allow shelters to operate inefficiently and to do nothing to help shelter residents get back on their feet.


Cathy Brown, Dolores Manley, Frank Novak, Arthur Price Jr, Marsha Rizzo-Swanson, Homeless Grapevine vendors

Copyright:  NEOCH Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio- December 2005: Issue 73

Number of Homeless Teens in Illinois Rising

According to a story reported by the Associated Press, the number of homeless teens in Illinois has increased steadily, and the majority of them are females, says the first detailed study of this subject in 20 years.  

The results of the study were released at the Statewide Youth Homelessness Conference at the University of Illinois at Chicago in partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services, and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.  The study estimates that there were 25,000 homeless teens in Illinois in 2004.  This represents an increase of nearly 4,000 from the last comprehensive study in 1985.  Additionally the study found that the percentage of homeless females who said they had been pregnant doubled in the intervening 20 years.

Copyright:  NEOCH; Housing Grapevine: Cleveland, Ohio- December 2005/ Issue 74

New Housing Website Connects Landlords to Tenants

Cleveland’s new affordable housing resources, (see story on front page), is already attracting landlords and those in search of housing.  As of early December, 5,244 affordable units had made their way into HousngCleveland’s listings, and around 1,700 units were listed as available.  Approximately 1,200 landlords utilized the system in December, and the site has been averaging 800 searches a day this month.   Bridging the Gap and United Way 211/First Call for Help oversee this innovative project.

Copyright: NEOCH Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio-December 2005/ Issue 73

Homeless Counts in Major U.S. Cities and Counties

 By the Institute for the study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center.  HUD has requested a one-day count of the number of homeless people.  These are the results from January or February 2005.  The first column is the total number of homeless counted.  The second column is the percentage of that population that were homeless for one year or experienced four episodes over the last three years.  The third column is the population of the County or City and the last is the percentage of homeless vs. total population.  These numbers for Cuyahoga County and most cities do not include those living in abandoned buildings, and some cities seem to do more estimating than Cuyahoga County.


    City                                Homeless             %                Total               % of

                                           Population     Long Term     Population      Homeless

Detroit, MI





Orange Co. CA



2098 million


Washington D.C.





Boston, MA





Long Beach, CA





Los Angeles Co., CA



9.93 million


Hillsborough Co., FL

(Tampa, FL)



1010 million


Pasadena (City), CA





Multnomah Co., OR

(Portland, OR)





San Francisco, Co., CA





Clark County, NV

(includes Las Vegas)





Bernalillo County, NM

(includes Alburquerque)





Contra Costa Co., CA





DeKalb/Fulton Co. GA

(includes Atlanta)





Baltimore (City), MD





King Co. (Seattle) WA





Milwaukee (City), WI





Philadelphia, (Co.) , PA





Santa Clara Co., CA





--Cuyahoga Co, OH







Copyright: NEOCH Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio-December 2205/ Issue 73

Continuum of Care Report Still Needs Improvement


Commentary by Brian Davis

First, we must congratulate the County and the Review and Ranking committee for a few improvements in the process over last year.  We made a series of recommendations in 2004 (Grapevine 66), and two were acted upon.  Last year nearly all projects received an “A” on an academic scale.  This year half of the projects that received a “C” were actually put on probation.  This may seem like a trivial matter, but we have complained about two of the projects for three years and heard only silence from the County.  We certainly support the probation of these projects, but we still wish that homeless people were more involved in the remedy for these three shelters.  The people who stay at the shelter know when there is a problem and can tell if things have changed, so go interview them.

We also appreciate the attempt to have a community meeting with homeless people to discuss the Continuum of Care.  It did not quite work out as expected, but we certainly appreciate the effort.  It is interesting to see the comments that the Committee received, especially with regard to the Community Women’s Shelter.  Someone should go back and re-read those from this summer and apologize to NEOCH for questioning our advocacy.  Next time, if you want homeless input, someone with some power over funding just needs to stand up at a meal site and say, “I have authority over all of the shelter’s funding, and would be interested in hearing your comments, both good and bad, about any programs that serve homeless people.”  Don’t rely solely on people being willing to write problems down on paper next year, as some homeless people may fear recrimination, or be unable to write; but thanks for the effort anyway.

Now, for the problem from this year:

1) The reviewer of the projects should be consistent so that each shelter and service is held to one standard.  Relying on series of volunteers does not work.  It leaves too much to chance.  Some programs get a tough reviewer, others get a reviewer that has a relationship to the program being reviewed.  This process does work and needs to be scrapped.  Hire a professional reviewer to get a consistent standard that will put all the programs on equal footing.  To make things easier, all the other funders in the County should collaborate on a team to supervise the process including the City, County, foundations, United Way, Alcohol and Drug, and Mental Health Board.  Each of these entities has a stake and an expertise in oversight of funds, and should all review the program at one time in order to streamline the process.  Involvement by conflicted volunteers is useless and taints the results.

2) Again, no currently homeless people are involved in the process.  We have recommended this for years, but the committee must finally begin to pay a few homeless people to be reviewers.  Each person at the table has a job and part of their job is attending these meetings.  If the committee is serious about homeless participation they must pay a small stipend to cover the cost of a homeless person taking off work and transporting themselves to the meetings.  Also, formerly homeless people who work at a shelter or a social service agency cannot be considered to be representing the homeless community anymore.  Additionally, the meetings should take place at the shelters so that homeless people can watch the process.  For too many years the workings of the committee have operated in secret. 

3) Again, there is no time for the Office of Homeless Services Advisory to consider an informed vote on the process and the recommendations to HUD.  For years, the Advisory gets the results with two weeks left before the application is due.  There is no time consider the reviewer projects or read all the information submitted or to thoroughly consider the new projects.  Why keep up the fantasy that the Advisory Committee has any involvement in the process?  There should be a non-conflicted steering committee that supervises the process, but does not actually conduct the reviews, that meets throughout the process to approve it.

4)  HUD has very much taken away the funding of local priorities with this horrible “chronic” homeless initiative, but we still need to talk as community about local funding priorities.  There is no longer any money available from the Federal government for new projects, especially those that do not involve housing for long term homeless, but we should still have that conversation.  We certainly hope that Heading Home planning process will be the beginning of this dialogue.

5)  The committee needs to spend some time reviewing conflicts of interest.  No one from the Coalition was invited to the Review committee.  We did not have a program up for renewal funding, and we have a policy against serving on any board that we could be asked to review.  There were former board members, partners, and close associates that served on the review committee, and were even assigned to conduct the review of those programs so why was the leading advocacy organization not asked to participate?

6)  Please respond faster next time.  Most homeless people are only in the shelters for a few months so they need some urgency in reforming the services.  NEOCH warned the committee three years ago about Zelma George and East Side Catholic.  It should not take so long to recognize problems.  As a community, we only have a short time to build a relationship with a homeless individual, and that time is lost when a shelter is in chaos or consistently violating the rights of residents.   Those funding the shelters need to respond quickly to complaints, and set up a process to respond to grievances.  They also need to seek out comment on the services more than once per year.

7) The committee receives plenty of data, but does not seem to take into account the successes or shortcomings of the projects.  Why not reward the organizations that are having a higher degree of success with additional funds or local funds a local match?   With this recommendation, we also recognize the need to eliminate the cream skimming that tales place within the shelters.

8)  We still have never weaned any of these groups off the federal gravy train.  That train wreck will arrive at the station next year, when we do not even have enough funds to renew all of our projects.  NEOCH suggested years ago that we pick out one or two projects a year to find alternative funding.  The County never did accept our advice, and next year what are we going to do?  It is time to start an emergency plan for how to fund all these shelters and services with federal resources getting scarce.  Thank you so much for the improvements in the process, and we ask that the Committee act on our concerns this year.  We want to work with the County to assure that all shelters are the best places for everyone who enters and that everyone has the opportunity to move toward stability.

Copyright: NEOCH Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio- December 2005/Issue 73

2005 Grapevine Readers Survey Results

The staff of The Homeless Grapevine would like to thank everyone who contribute to the 2005 Grapevine Reader’s Survey (published in Issue 73, and on our website.)  Your feedback was greatly appreciated, and some of your suggestions will work their way into our pages in the coming year.  As promised, here are the results of our 2005 Grapevine Reader’s Survey! There were 16 surveys submitted, here is a breakdown:

 Age: 18-25 -1;  36-49 -3; over 50-12

  1. Work status: Part-time -1; Retired -5; Unemployed/no job-2; Full-time work-7;student-1
  2. City of residence: Cleveland-8; Bedford-1; Westlake-1; Maryville,TN-1; Mayfield Hts-1; Euclid-1; Lakewood-1
  3. What other local publications do you read?  Plain Dealer-15; Free Times-6; Scene-4; Sun Press-4; Other-4; Grapevine only -1
  4. How often do you purchase the Grapevine? Never-1 Sometimes-9 Always-6
  5. Do you read what you buy or pick-up? 16 yes
  6. Do you ever buy more than one issue? No-7; Yes-9
  7. Do you have hard time finding Grapevine? Yes-5; No-11
  8. Where do you usually buy a Grapevine? West  Side Market-9; NEOCH-3; Corner of East 9th-1; Somewhere else-3

10.  How have you found our vendors? Pleasant-10 Courteous-9 Professional-6

11.  How much do you usually pay for the Grapevine? Free-2; $1.00-14

12.  Who is your favorite vendor? All-4; Marsha-1; Arthur Jr-1; Tony-1

13.  Would you hire a vendor of The Homeless Grapevine if you had a job available? Yes-16

14.  Have you had a bad experience with a vendor? No-16

15.  How often do you see people use the Grapevine to collect money or panhandle? Not often-3; Sometimes-2; Never-11

16.  On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the vendors? 5-1; 8-5; 9-2; 10-7

17.  How much of the paper do you read? All-9; Most-6; Very little-1

18.  What articles do you enjoy reading? Editorials/Commentaries-12; Letters-3; News-12; Poetry-6

19.  What other areas would you like to see the Grapevine cover, or cover more? Editorials-3; Politics-2; more poetry-1; social issues-2; Job postings-2; Commentaries-5

20.  Would you be interested in seeing any of the following additions in the     Grapevine? Political cartoons-5; More poetry-3; Humor-4; Profiles-3; Reviews of cultural events or books-5; More social justice and advocacy-6; Forums-2; Job postings-4; The Grapevine is perfect, don’t change-2

21.  On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the trustworthiness of the Grapevine? (1=I do not trust the Grapevine, 10= The Grapevine has the utmost credibility) 4-1; 6-1; 8-3; 9-4; 10-7

22.  Agree or disagree with statement:Your paper panders to the liberal ideology in our society, and gives no other point of view?” (1=strongly disagree, 10=strongly agree) 1-4; 2-2; 3-1 9-1; 10-8

23.  How can we improve the content of our paper? “Good the way it is” -3; “Put in job postings” -1; “Put advertisements in them”-1

24.  Please rate on a scale of one to ten, how frequently you have discovered an issue because of coverage of the Grapevine? (1=constantly, 10=never) 1-3; 2-1; 3-2; 5-1; 6-1; 7-2; 8-3; 9-2; 10-3

25.  Has the Grapevine changed your opinion about any issue? Yes-11; No-5

26.  Do you think about or discuss the articles/issues in the Grapevine? Yes-14; No-2

27.  Do you enjoy the photography in the paper? Yes-14; No-2

28.  On a scale of   1 to 10, how would you rate the content of the articles in the Grapevine? (1=poor quality, 10=high quality/superior) 3-12; 5-2; 6-1; 7-1; 8-3; 9-3; 10-5

29.  Using the same scale as question #28, how would you rate the layout of the Grapevine? 4-1; 7-2; 8-2; 9-4; 10-7

30.  Using the same scale as the previous two questions, how would you rate the photography? 1-1; 5-2; 7-1; 8-3; 9-3; 10-6

31.  Do you have any additional comments about the content or layout? “No”-3; Put more economic factors    of the homeless”, Put more stories about the plight of the homeless like you did for the Katrina victims and their advocacy”.

32.  Have you ever been a Grapevine fundraiser? Yes-3; No-13

33.  Would you come to a Grapevine fundraiser? Yes-10; No-5; Maybe-1

34.  If you owned or managed a business, would you allow a vendor to sell the paper outside of your business? Yes-9; Maybe-7

35.  If you owned or managed a business, would you advertise your business in the Grapevine? Yes-9; Maybe-7

36.  Does the Grapevine serve its mission as a voice for low-income and homeless people? Yes-10; Somewhat-5; No opinion-1

37.  What is your overall impression of The Homeless Grapevine? (1=trash, 10=excellent) 6-1; 7-1; 8-3; 9-7; 10-4

Copyright: NEOCH Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio- December 2005: Issue 74

2005 Continuum of Care Report Elucidated


Federal Homeless Grant Explained Continuum of Care Funding to Cuyahoga County

The graph on the following page gives an overview of the distribution of a large part of the funds used by local social service programs to address homelessness. These funds, called the Continuum of care, are allocated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development for housing, transitional shelters (up to two years), supportive services, and housing vouchers for homeless people with disabilities. There is a confusing formula developed by HUD that take into accounts unemployment and a number of other indicators to determine how much each city in the United States is entitled to receive. All of these funds must serve homeless people as defined by HUD.

Funds Available Section:

This section describes the amount of money that each community in Northeast Ohio is entitled to receive. The county takes the lead by pooling all the money and completing the application for all the local communities. There is a complicated grant application that requires community planning, review of existing programs, an inventory of current homeless people, and then a local plan for addressing the gaps in services. A community must put all the components together or they do not receive any money. There must be help from all sectors of the community: from homeless people, business, government, veterans, and social service and advocates in putting the grant together. In years past, Akron, Canton, and Dayton have all had serious problems with the grant process that resulted in dramatic cuts or elimination from the competition for that year. In 2005, Cuyahoga County was allocated over $10.5 million for all the homeless programs except emergency shelters get a separate allocation that is administered by the City of Cleveland for a little over $1.2 million. HUD has stressed housing in the grant application, and therefore the County could receive additional $1.5 million if they use these funds for permanent housing for people who have been homeless for a long period of time. This brings the total Cuyahoga County potentially receive at over $ 12million to solve the problem of homelessness. This is down $1 million from 2004.

2005 Funded Projects: New Project:

These is a committee formed every year called the Review and Ranking Committee that looks at every program requesting renewal funds, and all the new projects. Most of the grant is renewal funding, but every year 3 or 4 new projects are funded. New projects typically involve the development or renovation of housing for homeless people in order to get the bonus. We have listed the new projects recommended by the Review and Ranking Committee and approved by the local Office of Homeless Services Advisory Board. EDEN Glenville project is a two year program to build 96 units of housing. Shelter plus Care is a 5 year grant that provides a housing voucher to people with disabilities. This chart provides the point in time count for each program and then the cost to house each person/family per year. Each of the projects cost the community between $6,000-$7,000 in homeless funds for these units. For comparison’s sake, the fair market cost of a housing voucher for a 2 bedroom place is $8,736 using the Fair Market Rent for 2006 or $7,176 for a one bedroom at Fair Market Rent for a year. These programs are recommended by a group of 30-35 community leaders who look at each application and forward the top choices to the OHS Advisory Board who rubber stamp the process and send it on to HUD for funding.  HUD reviews the documents and can fund the entire package or take out one or two of the projects and deny those projects funds or in the extreme they can turn down the entire request. There were 4 additional new applicants, but those projects were given lower rankings or were pulled because all the additional financing necessary to go could not be located.

Renewal SHP Projects

The bulk of the Review committee’s time is taken up going out and looking at the projects currently receiving money from the Continuum of care. The most important aspect of these funds are housing homeless people, and that is why the program is called Supportive Housing Programs or SHP. This process generates a score from 1-204 with three reviewers each submitting a score based on client comments, a look at the facility, and financial information. The committee is made of volunteers who have full time jobs and take a couple of hour each in smaller committees to visit each agency seeking funds. Once again this year, no currently homeless people participated as reviewers or as voting members of the Review and Ranking Committee. After repeated complaints there was a series of open meetings this year in which homeless people could comment on any of the programs. These meetings were conducted mainly by written survey, at the people overseeing the surveys did not explain very clearly what they were doing or what they looking for, according to witnesses who attended the meetings. In the end, only 33 people completed a survey at the three community meetings. There are many groups of homeless people that meet on a regular basis, but none were offered a chance to review the renewal or new projects. In looking at the scores, the overwhelming majority range from 160-204. Or, translated to the academic score, every project but three would receive an “A” or a “B” in college. Nearly every one of the projects in Cuyahoga County that serve homeless people and were up for renewal in 2005 are rated at 80% or better by the local community leaders. This kind of success should translate to overwhelming successes in moving people into housing and reducing homelessness. This is not the case, despite the reality that 12of 30 projects are given the highest ratings by the County review team, and 27 out of 30 were given an A or a B on an academic grading scale. Every project up for renewal this year, even the one that did not receive an “A” or a “B” in Cuyahoga County. Then there were a few of the projects that were recommended for a second year of funding in this grant. Those projects marked with funding listed in the “2 Years” column are recommended for a second year of funding with 2005 funds. The next column is the Review and Ranking committee’s score given to each project. This is the score that the three individuals give to the project based on a site visit and is on a scale of 1-68. The points are tallied and the final score is given to each to each program (listed on the last column of the graph). The ranking is between 1-204.  One issue is that the three people doing the ranking are different for each project and there is very little oversight to assure that there are no conflicts of interest. Reviewers who have a close relationship with the programs reviewed are not screened out. For example, a banker reviewed one non-profit service provider, and he had also helped arrange financing for that same program to housing. A development corporation member reviewed another development corporation seeking renewal funding despite partnering on a number of other projects in the community and a former board member of an agency also reviewed that project for renewal funding. There are current board members or advisory board members for non-profit organizations that sit on the Review and Ranking Committee to decide on funding for groups with which they have a relationship. It is even a conflict for the public agencies such as the City of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Mental Health Board or Alcohol and Drug Board to be involved the ratings. The problem with the public entities are that they must realize that if they give a low ranking and the project is not funded, they will have to find funding somewhere else to keep the project open. There is no attempt to reduce conflicts of interest or reduce the possibility of giving a high score to a project just so there is no reduction in the number of programs available to homeless people. For the first time, the Continuum of Care Committee did put the bottom three organizations on a watch list. These three projects would have to improve over the next six months or the County would move to replace the providers of these services. A smaller committee was formed to continue to work with the bottom three projects to oversee improvements. There was a request for $8.1 million in funding for renewal projects and $3.9 million for new projects chosen by the local community to be sent on to HUD for funding.                                                          

Overview of the Graph on Page 11 2005 Renewal Cost to the Community

All these programs have a goal of moving people to housing stability, but there is a wide disparity in the successes such as referrals to transitional housing or the ability to increase benefits, but permanent housing is true measure of success. Therefore this second graph shows the one year cost to the community. The first column is the one-year budget. The second column is the total number served in 2004. This figure comes from the Annual Progress Report submitted to HUD at the end of each year. The next column is the cost to the community of Continuum of Care money for each person served in 2004. It should be noted here that HUD requires each program to raise 20% of their total budget from local’s funds. So, the figure listed is not the agency’s total budget, but the amount of federal Continuum of Care funds used for this project. Very few of the projects raise more than the 20% required match. In fact, in looking at all of the budgets it is questionable that some of the projects truly do raise even 20% of actual matching funds. The next column is again taken from the HUD APR, which lists the number of people who found permanent housing during the year. The next column is the number of people who were incarcerated during the year. While this is not a positive outcome, it is an interesting statistic. The next column is the percentage of people housed based on the number of people served. For example, New Life Expansion served 143 people and only 33 found permanent housing, or 23%, so this means that the other 77% are either discharged or are still at New Life Community. The final column is the cost to the community of the Continuum of Care funds to house each of the clients. The danger to publishing this graph is that the programs will further screen people out of the program to serve “easier” people or those without a great deal of baggage. In order to improve their scores it is reasonable to assume that some projects will “cream skim,” and serve people with very few barriers to housing. The other option is the “McDonalds” approach to favorable results or large numbers served. Cast a wide net, serve hundreds of people, and the chance for success goes up. Neither of these strategies is best for the community, but at this point there is does not seem to be any consideration by the Review committee of housing success as a basis for Continuum of Care funding. It is a tough to come to the realization that most programs fail more than they succeed. There are a number of programs that only have single digit successes. More people fail out of the program than get into permanent housing in almost every program. Only one programs cracked the 50% barrier in Greater Cleveland (Hitchcock Center), and that was one of the programs put on the watch list. Hitchcock Center was told that they have six months to improve or face further sanctions by the County, and they top the list at 70% of their clients finding housing in their 20 unit transitional housing project in 2004. At this time, we do not have any means to compare equally the programs who place people into housing and see how those individuals maintain their housing for some length of time. There does not seem to be any relationship between the percentage of successfully housed and the rankings by the reviewers. We did not receive quality information for two of the projects. The reason for the lower success rates are that most programs have strict rules that make it difficult to demand sobriety and sober living environment. There is no tolerance for mistakes with most of the programs and the majority of individuals are kicked out for relapsing with their addictions. There are problems with too many homeless people are not familiar with following, and the reality that many are unprepared for congregate living situations. The other issues are that the transitional programs do not recognize the landlord tenant rights of the individuals. There is no separation between programming and lease violations. Each of the programs have a very weak grievance procedure and not broad knowledge of the ability for clients to grieve. The notable exceptions of programs that do a good job with client grievances according to Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless records include Y-Haven, Lakewood Christian Services, West Side Catholic, and Domestic Violence Center.

Copyright:  NEOCH Homeless Grapevine; Cleveland, Ohio -December 2005, Issue 74 Unveiled at Cleveland west Library

By Kevin E. Cleary

             On Tuesday, November 15, Housing had its official ribbon cutting ceremony at the historic Carnegie West library.  Though no actual ribbons were cut or harmed, representatives from 211/First Call for Help, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Bridging the gap, staff of Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s office, and many others gathered to see a demonstration of Cleveland’s new affordable housing website.

             The website, as described in a previous story (the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 71) is designed to connect landlords with affordable properties to potential tenants.  Landlords can list their properties for free on the site, and the listings are kept current by Social and many of the programs and agencies listed above.

             Van Gottl, co-founder of nonprofit software developer, spoke and demonstrated the website’s and demonstrated the website’s unique design and collaboration. He mentioned the contributions of SCK, a graphic design firm in Tremont who donated time and effort to help construct the locl website.  He also talked about cost-saving techniques and goal to revolutionize their industry. 

             “We are on a mission to change the way software vendors deal with state, local, and federal government.”” Said Gottl.

             Gottl also discussed a new feature, the Rental Checklist, which was developed by Leigh Ann Ahmad and Greg Reaves of Bridging the Gap.  Gottl said the rental Checklist will be emulated in future designs of similar websites.

             “this rental Checklist was developed locally, and we got permission to seal it.  It will say ‘Developed in Cleveland through,’” said Gottl.

             Martin Gelfand of Representative Kucinich’s office presented a Congressional resolution congratulating the agencies, county and city offices, and people involved.  The resolution was read into the Congressional record on November 15.

             Nathan Word, a Bridging the Gap client who found an apartment through, spoke about how he had been at a VOA (Volunteers of America) shelter for 13 months but was now able to become housed.  His new landlord, Anthon Laccheo, also talked about how Bridging the Gap had helped connect him to tenants through the website.

             Another landlord, Kenneth Williams, spoke very highly of the design of the site, and its services:  “I’ve used the site, the site is very good, the customer service is very good; they (Social call religiously.”

             As of this report, the website was receiving an average of over 1,000 visitors per day.

 Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine December 2005 Issue 74


Ex-offenders Often Face Discrimination Once Released

Interview by Ron Pleban

             In early November, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless intern Ronald Pleban interviewed Mike Sering about the difficulties many ex-offenders face once they are released.  Sering is the Director of Shelter and Housing for Lutheran Metro Ministries.  Lutheran Metro Ministries is responsible for running 2100 Lakeside, the area’s largest homeless men’s shelter.

 Grapevine:  Do prisons provide programs to help those that might become homeless or who come out of homelessness?

Sering: I am not aware of programs that specifically serve previously homeless people in prison.  Part of in-prison re-entry programming is intended to locate non-shelter housing when people are preparing to leave prison.  Given the prisons system’s limited social service resources, ideal and actual re-entry service resources, ideal and actual re-entry planning are not always the same.

 Gapevine:  Are there any programs available to them once they’ve been released?

Sering:  There are some programs specifically for people with records, like Lutheran Metro Ministry’s Community Re-Entry program and the City’s PROES program.  Other non-profit agencies have certain programs for this population , like Towards Employment, and many others serve people with records as they would serve any other eligible client.

 Grapevine:  What is the percentage of men coming out of prison that become homeless in Cleveland?

Sering:  those statistics aren’t available but at the shelter there are about 25 people per month whose last address was prison.  There are about 6,000 people per year released fro prison into Cuyahoga County.

 Grapevine:  Can homelessness be avoided if a person has been incarcerated a long time and loses their family?

Sering:  In theory, all homelessness can be avoided, but the real question is, are there adequate resources and opportunities for people with multiple and in depth barriers to avoid homelessness?

 Grapevine:  How difficult is it to find a job to pay the rent for people who have been incarcerated?

Sering:  People who are incarcerated have one strike against them in the eyes of most employers.  People with records are also likely to have additional barriers, such as poor or non-recent work history and low-education.  This, coupled with a poor economy for entry-level jobs, results in many people who work full time being unable to pay rent.

   Grapevine:  What services are available to people coming out of incarceration.  Are there halfway houses?

Sering:  Yes, some funded by the state, other ¾ houses may be more like boarding houses.

 Grapevine:  Are there any social workers who help people re-enter?

Sering:  Yes, most at the agencies listed above.  These types of agencies often prefer to hire social workers with a similar background, but people with records are often deterred from pursuing this occupation given licensing and other barriers to the school or the profession.  The State of Ohio also has the “Re-Entry Plan” which includes connecting social workers to people with records.

 Grapevine:  What help do religious organizations provide to those attempting to re-enter?

Sering:  religious organizations provide a core back-bone of service to people with records, often providing mentors, job opportunities, friendships, a place of worship, meals, and other support.  Community Legal Services has ecumenical roots, many churches have small or collaborative programs, and other denomination or congregations have issued statements affirming services to this population.

 Grapevine:  Are there any model programs that you would like to see replicated or expanded?

Sering:  Community Re-Entry is and deserves to be a national model and has been replicated already.  It also operated the “2nd Chance” program in partnership with Cuyahoga County Department of Justice Affairs, which is a national demonstration project to evaluate the effectiveness of expungment, record sealing and services on recidivism.  One of the most recognized models is the Delancey Street program in San Francisco which has a huge offering of services and opportunities, all financed by the work and service of the participants and receivers no government funding.

 Grapevine:  What are the major issues a person confronts after leaving jail or prison:

Sering:  I am not sure of the policies on this of other shelters, but 2100 Lakeside does not discriminate against people with records, but as available may offer special programs to address their specific barriers.  Collateral sanctions are a huge issue facing people with records.  One study identify over 300 ways that people who have done their time are still negatively affected by Ohio legislation.  Things such as barring employment in certain fields, housing limitations, licenses, etc. Individuals may have other issues such as low self-esteem, remorse, lack of resources, shame, few stable friends, large debt from past child support, restitution requirements, and paying fines, etc.

 Grapevine:  What is the recidivism rate and how can we reduce the number returning to jail?

Sering:  Recidivism varies from state to state and according to how it is measured.  Generally acknowledged rates range from 40-60% within 3 years of release.  Reduction can come from giving a true second chance, not being discriminated against, reducing collateral sanctions, and employment opportunities with accounts for approximately 1/3 of recidivism.

 Grapevine:  Is it legal to punish people for crimes committed 10 years earlier in selecting people for jobs or housing?

Sering:  The Ohio legislature has no law prohibiting hiring discrimination against people with records.  Ohio Rep. Shirley Smith is proposing legislation that would put a sunset on the allowable time for discrimination.  New York and others have some prohibitions against such discrimination.  Cleveland city council has introduced legislation that would bar discrimination against people with records when there is no “direct and substantial” link from the position to the offense.  Some employers impose excessive restrictions, while others have thoughtful, progressive policies that benefit the worker and the company.

 Grapevine:  What do you think should be the amount of time that an employer or landlord should look into an applicant’s background?

Sering:  Generally, 5 years seems reasonable, although it might make sense to have a graduate range, with less time for lesser offense, or offenses that do not relate to the position available.

 Grapevine:  With the toughening of Megan’s Law in Ohio, with restricts where sexually based offenders can life or work, what should we do as a society with sexually based offenders after they are released from incarceration? 

Sering:  There needs to be a fair balance between protecting our children, and how we treat and/or restrict people who have sexually oriented offenses.  An overly restrictive policy that blankets all such offenders may not be of the most benefit to society., and no studies have shown these policies to work.  Providing those who will respond positively to the right opportunities for success, with reasonable housing options make sense.  Some experts in this field feel the law should have a moderate baseline, but give judges more discretion based on each case.

 Grapevine:  Is a shelter an appropriate place for sexually based offenders to live? 

Sering:  A shelter is as appropriate for people with sexual offenses as it is for people with other offenses, or no offense – appropriate in that it should be a very temporary solution until the person can secure their own safe affordable housing.  General emergency shelters should not be looked to provide rehabilitation for people with sexual offenses, as that is best suited for professionals with those specific qualifications.

 Grapevine:  Is Megan’s Law an unfounded state mandate that results in many men becoming homeless because they cannot find a place to live?

Sering:  Some homeless men cannot find housing due to Megan’s law even though they work and earn enough for a low-cost apartment.  Some studies have been done to show the red line (all the areas that are restricted), and they show very limiting allowable housing areas in urban and suburban areas.

  Grapevine:  What are the voting rights of a felon?

Sering:  People with records have full voting rights in Ohio, as long as they are not currently incarcerated in a penitentiary.  Being “on paper,” or in jail awaiting trial does not take away this right.  (Editor’s Note:  “On paper” refers to an individual who is currently on parole or probation.)

Have a Happy and Unincarcerated 2006!

 Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine December 2005 Issue 74




Editorial: Charities Often Overburdened by Holiday Help

          The holidays are the time of year when everyone wants to volunteer and help those who are less fortunate.  Shelter and meal sites are bombarded with volunteers, all wanting to feed homeless people, or bring them clothing and holiday cheer.  Many are so bombarded that they have to turn away volunteers during the holidays.  Sadly, many meal sites and shelters are in much greater need of help throughout the year than during the holiday season.  The ideal time to volunteer is virtually any time but the holidays.  However, there are still opportunities available for those who would like to volunteer this holiday season.

            Despite the many struggles homeless people face throughout the year, food is one of the needs that Cleveland fulfills pretty well.  Catholic Charities, The Hunger Network, and a host of others do a pretty good job on that front.  We have a fairly sophisticated pantry system (though it could always be improved to provide more nutritious food) and regular community meals at a variety of sites, every day.  In order to receive food stamps, individuals are requested to volunteer 30-hours a month, so many meal sites often employ the same clientele who dine in them.  However, there are individuals who don’t frequent these sites or stay in shelters.  For these people, outreach assistance is often the means by which they receive food.  In fact, homeless people who sleep out on  the streets often get a better meal than those who stay in the shelters.  Food Not Bombs, for instance, serve vegetarian meals on Public Square every Sunday.  They’re not a religious organization, and would thus probably have a greater need for volunteers than a lot of other meal providers during the holidays.

            United Way’s First Call for Help monitors the free meal programs during the holidays.  They will provide you with the locations of meal sites and who might still be in need of volunteers.  If you are already involved with a meal program, or are already serving meals, please register with First Call for Help so they may send volunteers and clients your way.

            Another great resource is the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) Street Card. This provides homeless people with a list of places where they can receive assistance, and it will also provide potential volunteers with essential contact information.  A printable version can be downloaded from the front page of NEOCH’s website.

            As for other volunteer or donation opportunities, any shelters receive a large number of unusable donations, and also lack the space to accommodate such donations.  You should bear a few things in mind before donating something:  First, ask yourself if it is something that you want to receive.  For instance, would you want to unwrap a wrapped Slim Whitman record as one of your only presents?  Another thing to consider is that many people already donate baby clothes and small children, but older teenagers often receive few presents. The shelter situation in Cleveland already makes it awkward for many homeless teenagers, who struggle to stay with their families.  In addition, one of the fastest-growing populations of homeless people in Cleveland are teenagers.  The clothes which are donated often are intended for younger children, or are severely outdated.  Also, if you do send something which an older teen may enjoy, please remember to include batteries if it is battery-operated or any other needed accessories.  The best way to ensure that your donations are not wasted is to call ahead to various locations and ask them what they need.  Many shelters have websites which include ‘wish lists.” 

            Pleas also bear in mind that many organizations which help homeless and low-income people in Cleveland are non-profits.  They may or may not have the capacity to accommodate a large number of volunteers, or the work they may provide for new volunteers may seem tedious or unimportant.

            As a staff member of such an organization, I assure you that whet seems tedious is actually what most small charities need.  Such places often operate with few staff members, whose time is limited, and have seen volunteers of varying ability come and go.  Therefore things like envelope stuffing, cleaning, etc. may seem like a waste of time, but they actually provide the beleaguered staff quite a bit of help and relief. Repeated volunteering with an organization will lead to more complex tasks as the organization comes to know you and see that you are reliable, and will ultimately be more rewarding as you bond with the individuals around you. 

To contact Food Not bombs: 

Email:  veggies

To download a printable version of

NEOCH’s Street Card, visit

 To contact United Way’s First Call for

Help:  Dial 211 (if you are calling from a

Cell phone or office phone, dial 216/436-2000)


They are also available online at

 Correction:  In Issue 72, we published a story indicating Food not Bombs would starting serving meals on Tuesdays.  This is not the case.

 Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine December 2005 Issue 74



Bill to End homelessness in America Introduced in Congress

National Coalition for the Homeless

            Just because recessing for the Thanksgiving holiday, Congresswoman Julia Carson (D-IN) and nine co-sponsors introduced the Bringing America Home Act, an ambitious measure that would end homelessness in the United States.

             The Bringing America Home Act, H.R. 4347, is the most comprehensive initiative to date to address modern homelessness. The legislation is based on research, data, and the direct experience of persons experiencing homelessness, front line service providers, and state and local officials.  The bill includes housing, health, income civil rights components, such as an affordable housing production program, expansion of job training opportunities, civil rights protections for persons without housing, emergency funds for families facing eviction, increased access to health care for all, and Congressional support for living incomes.

             “The aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have brought to the forefront of the American people the socioeconomic problems that have actually existed for decades among millions of our neighbors.  The needs of families and individuals displaced by the hurricanes are no different than those who were without resources long-before the storms, “ said Michael Stoops, Acting Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

             “Congress should act quickly be extend to all Americans, including the millions of our neighbors experiencing homelessness each year, guarantees to affordable housing, comprehensive health insurance, jobs that pay a living a wage, and protection of their basic civil rights regardless of where they live.” Said Stoops.  In the United States, 3.5 million people – almost 40 percent of them children – experience homelessness each year.  Many homeless adults work, but due to high rents, right rental markets, low-paying jobs, and lack of affordable health care, they find themselves and their families living on the streets, in cars, in shelters, n abandoned buildings, in motels or in over-crowded, temporary accommodations with others.  More Americans than ever are one paycheck, one illness, or one rent hike away from homelessness.

             According to Congresswoman Julia Carson, “This bill will create affordable housing units in mixed income locations, greatly expand supportive housing, provide emergency support services for those in need, increase the equality of health care, and create job training programs for our poorest families, whose security is at the center of this legislation.  Most importantly, the bill gives poor Americans the opportunity to be self-sufficient.”

             “The Bringing American Home Act would end the disgrace of the worst form of poverty in the richest nation in the world.  It’s time for our elected officials to pledge this Holiday Season to help our most vulnerable neighbors with transformational changes in public policy.  It’s time to Bring American Home,” said Stoops.  Timed to the bill’s introduction, NCH re-launched the web site of its Bringing American Home Campaign,, where information about the Bringing America Home Act may be found.

             The National Coalition for the Homeless is the oldest and largest national organization dedicate to the mission of ending homelessness.

 Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine December 2005 Issue 74

An Open letter to the new Mayor from the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless

Dear Mayor Jackson:

             Congratulations on your election as new Mayor of Cleveland.  We are so proud that someone with a community organizing background and a deep concern about poverty is now the May.  The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is at your service in the struggle to end homelessness.  We have never had a close relationship with a Cleveland Mayor, but I certainly hope that we can change that over the next four years.  We have studied the problem of homelessness over the last 15 years, and would like to recommend some activities that could go a long way to reducing the need for shelters in our community.

We need someone who will take the lead to solve this problem locally.  There was talk of asking the school board to resign; we believe that you should ask the voluntary resignation of the senior staff at the Office of homeless Services.  This is a joint City and County office, but for years the City has taken only a minor role in the Office, and the County has done little to get the other cities within Cuyahoga County involved in the struggle to end homelessness.  The City and homeless people need to be more involved in the Office of Homeless Services including the selection of a Director.

  1. The previous administration had started discussions about a center downtown that religious groups feed homeless people in a warm clean facility with running water.  This was a good idea for Downtown businesses would embrace.  Cleveland needs a 24 hour drop in center downtown in which homeless people could get a warm meal, a place out of the cold or heat, and a place for the hundreds of churches to coordinate their help.  We are sure that businesses and religious organizations would pay for the upkeep and heating of such a building.  There are many non-profit organizations that would be willing to administer this properly.  The big issue with the previous administration is that they never followed through on a number of good ideas that were proposed.

       3    We need to pass local legislation to set standards for the shelter.  The city of

Washington DC recently passed legislation, which provides a framework for

operations of a shelter, oversight parameters, and outcome milestones with the city.  This legislation will assure that those who choose shelter are aware of the benefits and limitations.  This could transform the shelters from a temporary residence to a training facility or stability center.

      4.    Shelters need to focus more attention on outcomes, and not just drop their responsibility when the homeless individual moves to another facility.  The shelters cannot just be a place to sleep for a couple of months.  They need to help to rebuild people’s lives and stay in touch with them to assure that they do not continue to cycle through the system.  Shelters can be more like a community center for jobs, health care and legal assistance and not just overnight place to live.  The shelters need to be measured on their progress toward moving people to stability and their continued progress in maintaining housing, not by merely helping the easiest to serve.

      5.   At this point, there are two shelters that are forced to feel the pain for the entire City.  Both 2100 Lakeside Shelter and the Community women’s Shelter take  everyone who walks in the door.  The other shelters are more selective, and therefore do not have the issues and the problems that the two entry shelters face everyday.  There should be no discharges form one shelter to another, and        there should be incentives for moving people with multiple barriers into housing.

6.      Mental Health Counseling needs to be expanded dramatically in our city. In the last 10 years, NEOCH staff have witnessed a great deal of trauma within the homeless community, especially within the women’s shelter.  National data show that around 80% of the women who enter the shelters have some level of sexual or physical abuse in their recent past.  We would go a long way toward serving the population if professional counseling wee available to everyone.  The ability to talk about some of these traumatic events with a professional would also go a long way to addressing the barriers to housing.  At this point, mental health professional counseling services are rationed to only those who are a threat to themselves or others.  We need help in pushing the state to provide counseling to all homeless people in order to work through the trauma of homelessness or abuse in their background, or war, or all of the above.

7.      The state of Ohio is sitting on a huge rainy day fund that was originally intended for very low-income and unemployed families, the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.  We hope that you will push the State to recognize that it is raining in Cleveland, and we need those funds.  We would ask that the money be used for housing assistance for displaced families living in our shelters.  We could use the funds to support local vouchers for homeless families that could be administered by the Section 8 program or the Shelter Plus Care provider in the city.

8.      In 2002, the County signed on in support of a National Housing Trust Fund. During the presentation two out of the three commissioners pledged support for a County-wide housing trust fund.  In a move toward regionalism, how about asking the County to finally start collecting resources from the sale of homes that could be used to build affordable housing for everyone?  We need to follow the lead of Franklin and Montgomery County and create a County-side affordable housing trust fund.

9.      Help us forgive and forget.  There are so many people clogging up the shelters who are re-entering from incarceration? The shelters need some support in finding more appropriate placement for people coming out of the judicial system.  It is not appropriate, as other cities have done, to restrict certain classes of people from entering the shelters, but we need to find an alternative to shelter.  This problem is especially true for sexually based offenders.  We believe that the major cities in Ohio should sue the State to force legislators to find this mandate. The Sate requires sexually based offenders to register and not live anywhere near kids, but make no accommodations as to where these individuals are suppose to live. Shelters do not have the staff to effectively serve sexually based offenders.

  10.    The biggest issue to face your administration is going to be the problem of over-flowing shelters.  We have asked for the last year someone to take the looming crisis seriously, but have heard nothing.  Aviation High School is slated to become the new Crawford Aviation Museum.  In Cleveland, we seem to wait until there is a crisis before we ace, and we settle for inappropriate spaces or bad locations.  Can we work on planning for problems within our system before they become crises?  Over the last 10 years, we have had many programs enter crises that could have been prevented, but instead were neglected until they exploded.

    11.  Please let the panhandling ordinance die a quiet death.  It is inappropriate to restrict where low-income people can ask for money.  We ask that you avoid a court fight with civil liberations by limiting any legislation to aggressive behavior only.

 Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine December 2005 Issue 74

Amateur Sociologist Share Observations of Life on Street

By Lydia Bailey

             Ralph Pack Williams seems to view life through the habitual eyes of a would-be sociologist.  A friend of Ralph’s terms it differently”  “Ralph is the Rush Limbaugh of the homeless.”  Having been homeless for the majority of the last 25 years, Ralph Pack has had no shortage of social life to analyze and comment upon!  He is one of trinity’s frequent Sunday Lunchers, and I’ve spoken to him often.  Here is some of Ralph’s ongoing live prospective.

             There has been a strong upswing of people sliding through the cracks, becoming homeless in the past 10 years.  The reason for this is twofold:  loss of unskilled jobs, and loss of affordable housing.  As Ralph says, “The manufacturing age was primarily one of manual labor.  In industrial cities like Cleveland, the unskilled, uneducated, even those who didn’t speak English got a job.  Those same people are homeless today, and lucky if they can find 2 days of work a week.  The old style manufacturing jobs are gone.” Ralph moves on.  “we all have to admit how horrifying it is – how almost impossible it is – to afford not even decent housing on minimum wage.  In Cleveland, when I began picking up jobs around age 1, there were tons of cheap hotels, cheap apartments, flophouses.  These were the good days for the homeless.”

             Ralph’s own early life substantiates these observations.  Born in West Virginia, he says, “There was a strain of ‘migrate-ism’ there- my father being the perfect example.  We moved quite a bit. When he came to Cleveland he had no skills so he got a job on the railroad-unskilled, but a job considered middle-class and immediately available.”

             “Here is an example of the old economy versus the new economy,” Ralph points out.  “My father got a job as a fireman, loading the coal into the engine.  When diesel engines came along, they destroyed that job.  So my father hit the road again.  He was looking for an excuse to hit the road anyway.  He had job that paid pretty well but the appeal of the road was stronger.”

             After leaving high school, Ralph Pack held a variety of jobs – in trucking company, on the docks in Cleveland.  “On the docks, anyone could make a living, but then even the docks became automated – the jobs were gone.”  Ralph became homeless in his twenties, almost as a matter of choice (unlike the homeless today, he emphasizes.)  He “didn’t want to settle down, mow the lawn, I became a hopeless drunk for decades and decades.  Even in the ‘good days’ of the homeless it was bad because you were an outsider and because money is so important to American identity,”

                The heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, Ralph Pack’s favorite book, represents something Ralph has been seeing homelessness of late.  He describes it as “set in a Southern town – about some poor people who, with each other’s help, raised themselves out of their situation of poverty.  But after doing this, they lose their belonging together.  Belonging together-something of this is missing in today’s poor.  Hard to put a finger on, but it seems a ‘dispiritedness’ in which one just doesn’t rally or have a unity with anyone else.”

             “I would be one-sided if I didn’t mention all the good people who really help the poor,” he frequently adds.  “there is no shortage of food for the homeless – more church meals are opening up, But that was never the issue anyway – you can get a can opener and a can of beans and you won’t starve – but again, so few places to live.  Things won’t change till we realize how vulnerable, how alone, so many of us are.”

             CWRU’s radio station has broadcast several interviews with Ralph in the past year.  In them he speaks vividly of changes that have come about in Cleveland affecting those he’s known.  His descriptions have given me better eyes to see what the advocates for the more credible because of the deep stream of humanity running through them.

 Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine December 2005 Issue 74