Activists continue to protest Western & Southern’s treatment of the Anna Louise Inn, which has been helping women in the Lytle Park neighborhood for more than a century. CityBeat last week reported the details of Western & Southern’s failure to purchase the property when it had the chance and the company’s subsequent attempts to force the Inn to leave the neighborhood anyway.
The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, released a statement on Saturday describing the protest banner as proof for local and national leaders that Western & Southern’s actions won’t be tolerated. The statement read: “We will continue to up the ante until you stop attacking the hard-working women of the Anna Louise Inn.”
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, said in an email to CityBeat that the plane flew for two 30-minute stints on Sunday. Spring said protesters distributed 2,000 flyers outside the tournament’s gates and that the people who learned what Western & Southern was doing generally expressed frustration. The banner was made possible by contributions from several local organizations, including Occupy Work and Wages, Amos Project, the Homeless Coalition, SEIU Local 1, Mount Auburn Presbyterian church and other concerned citizens and groups.
The banner asks people to go to stpws.com to learn more. The website redirects to www.southernwestern.net, which is the site where activists finally were able to publish a satirical video parodying a Western & Southern spokesperson proud of his company’s attacks on the Anna Louise Inn. The video was originally posted in June to YouTube and Vimeo, but was removed for copyright infringement shortly after Western & Southern found out about it. Western & Southern didn’t return CityBeat’s calls back then asking whether or not W&S was involved in forcing the removal of the video. The website includes a change.org petition asking Western & Southern to stop suing the Anna Louise Inn.
Cincinnati’s Historic Conservation Board is scheduled to hear arguments on Aug. 27 that could lead to a conditional use permit and allow the Anna Louise Inn to move forward with a renovation Western & Southern stalled by suing the Inn. It will take place 3 p.m. on the seventh floor of 805 Central Ave.
Read this week's CityBeat cover story on the issue here.
The Conservation Board staff reviewed the standards required for conditional use and the Anna Louise Inn’s application, concluding that the facility should be allowed to operate as a “special assistance shelter.”
The Board is expected to rule on the permit Aug. 27 after receiving the recommendation and hearing testimony from the Inn’s administrators and supporters. Representatives from Western & Southern Financial Group, which sued the Anna Louise Inn over zoning violations in 2011, will also have an opportunity to testify.
CityBeat last week reported the details of Western & Southern’s failure to purchase the Anna Louise Inn when it had the chance and the company’s subsequent attempts to force the Inn out of the neighborhood (“Surrounded by Skyscrapers", issue of Aug. 15).
Tim Burke, lawyer for the Anna Louise Inn, is pleased with the staff’s determination that the renovation met all qualifications for conditional use.
“I was certainly optimistic that we would get a positive recommendation,” Burke says. “This is obviously an extremely positive recommendation and we agree with it.”
The staff recommendation states that the Anna Louise Inn “creates, maintains and enhances areas for residential developments that complement and support the downtown core” and that “no evidence has been presented of any negative public health, safety, welfare or property injury due to the current use.” It also notes that “the Anna Louise Inn is a point of reference from which all other new and renovated buildings must be designed in order to be compatible with the district.”
The Anna Louise Inn only applied for the conditional use permit because Judge Norbert Nadel ruled in Western & Southern’s favor on May 4, determining that the Inn is a “special assistance shelter” rather than “transitional housing,” which froze $12.6 million in city- and state-distributed loans for the Inn’s planned renovation. The Anna Louise Inn appealed that decision but also applied for the conditional use permit from the Conservation Board under the judge’s definition, because special assistance shelters qualify for conditional use permits under the city’s zoning code.
Francis Barrett, lawyer for Western & Southern, appears to have taken exception to the Anna Louise Inn’s application. He sent a letter to the Conservation Board Aug. 20 stating that “the description of the proposed uses set forth in the application for conditional use approval … is not the same as nor consistent with the Court’s decision.”
Barrett didn't return a message left by CityBeat with the receptionist at his law firm after a Western & Southern media relations representative directed CityBeat to contact him there. Francis Barrett is the brother of Western & Southern CEO John F. Barrett.
UPDATE: Francis Barrett returned CityBeat’s call after this story was published. His comments are at the end.
Burke doesn’t know what Barrett meant by suggesting that the proposed uses in the Anna Louise Inn’s application for conditional use don’t follow Nadel’s May 4 ruling.
“We’re doing what they argued in court,” Burke says. “Judge Nadel’s decision doesn’t ever exactly say ‘you’re a special assistance shelter.’ It certainly refers to the Off the Streets program that way and it certainly refers to (the Anna Louise Inn) as a single unified use. It says ‘go back to the appropriate administrators and seek conditional use approval.’ That’s what we’re doing.”
Stephen MacConnell, president and CEO of Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the Anna Louise Inn, says the hearing will involve testimony from himself and Mary Carol Melton, CUB executive vice president, along with supporters of the Anna Louise Inn.
“We’ll bring a few witnesses just to basically lay out the situation,” MacConnell says. “The board will already have the staff recommendation, so the witnesses that we’ll bring will briefly testify about how we meet the required standards.”
Western & Southern will have a chance to appeal if the Historic Conservation Board grants the conditional use permit. Burke expects that to happen.
“What I’m pissed about is Western & Southern, they don’t give a damn,” Burke says. “We can do exactly what Judge Nadel told us to do and get it approved as a conditional use. They will appeal it to the zoning board of appeals. We can win it there and they will appeal it and get it back in front of Judge Nadel and then I don’t know what will happen.”
The hearing is scheduled to take place at 3 p.m. Monday, Aug. 27 at Centennial Plaza Two, 805 Central Ave., Seventh Floor.
UPDATE 5:36 P.M.: Regarding the letter Francis Barrett sent the Conservation Board Aug. 20 stating that “the description of the proposed uses set forth in the application for conditional use approval … is not the same as nor consistent with the Court’s decision,” Barrett said Friday evening: “I just felt that the description in the submission was different from the description in the decision. I would say it was just not complete.”
When asked for specifics, Barrett said: “I’d have to get the decision out and look at it carefully. I don’t have it in front of me I just thought in general.”
Barrett said Western & Southern will give a presentation to the Historic Conservation Board on Monday but declined to elaborate because it wasn’t finalized.
When asked if Western & Southern will appeal a ruling in favor of the Anna Louise Inn, Barrett said: “It all depends what the decision states.”
In the ongoing saga of Western & Southern vs. the Anna Louise Inn, there have been several court cases and zoning rulings, most of which have been appealed by one side or the other. Today it was the Cincinnati Zoning Board of Appeals’ turn to rule on something that’s already been ruled on, and it went in favor of the Anna Louise Inn.
The Board upheld a certificate of appropriateness for the Anna Louise Inn’s planned renovation, which essentially also upholds the Historic Conservation Board’s right to issue a conditional use permit — at least for now. Western & Southern is expected to appeal that permit, granted by the Conservation Board Aug. 27, before its 30-day window to do so expires.
Before this series of appeals can play out, the 1st District Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the Anna Louise Inn’s appeal of Judge Norbert Nadel’s May 27 ruling, which set in motion the Inn’s attempts to secure zoning approval from the Historical Conservation Board in the first place.
(All of this could have been avoided if Western & Southern would have purchased the Anna Louise Inn when it had the chance. CityBeat previously reported the details of Western & Southern’s failure to purchase the Inn and the company’s subsequent attempts to force the Inn out of the neighborhood here.)
About 40 people attended today’s hearing, including City Councilman Wendell Young, who said he supports the Anna Louise Inn but was not there to testify on its behalf.
By upholding the certificate of appropriateness, the ruling keeps alive a conditional use permit that could allow the Anna Louise Inn to move forward with a $13 million renovation of its historic building, once the expected appeals process plays out. (CityBeat covered the Aug. 27 Historical Conservation Board hearing here.)
The Board heard brief arguments from lawyers for both Western & Southern and Cincinnati Union Bethel and then entered executive session for about 15 minutes before ruling in favor of the Anna Louise Inn.
Western & Southern lawyer Francis Barrett, who is the brother of Western & Southern CEO John Barrett and a member of the University of Cincinnati Board of Trustees, told CityBeat after the meeting that he disagreed with the board’s finding because a designed expansion of the building’s fifth floor has not yet had its use approved.
“With this case, the Historical Conservation Board is basically approving for the certificate of appropriateness the design of the building,” Barrett said. “But the design included an expansion of the fifth floor, and until that use issue is resolved the code reads, in my opinion, you can’t approve the design because the use hasn’t been approved.”
Barrett during the hearing read a written statement to the board arguing two main points: that the Historic Conservation Board didn’t have the jurisdiction to grant the certificate of appropriateness; and even if it did, Barrett argued, the physical expansion planned makes it a non-conforming use which wouldn’t qualify for the building permit.
Cincinnati Union Bethel attorney Tim Burke told the Board that the Anna Louise Inn is not seeking a permit for non-conforming use because it already received a conditional use permit from the Historic Conservation Board.
“Western & Southern is doing everything it can to block this renovation from happening,” Burke told the Board.
At the Historic Conservation Board hearing last month
Western & Southern tried paint a picture of the Anna Louise Inn’s
residents contributing to crime in the area because a condition of the
conditional use permit is that the building’s use will not be
detrimental to public health and safety or negatively affect property
values in the neighborhood. But the Board granted the permit, stating
that the Anna Louise Inn will not be detrimental to public health and
safety or harmful to nearby properties in the neighborhood and that the
Board found no direct evidence connecting residents of the Anna Louise
Inn to criminal activity in the neighborhood. Western & Southern has until next week to appeal that ruling.
"These kids don't have to live on the streets and wonder every day where they'll be getting their next meal,” DeWine said in a statement.
The grant money, which totals $430,000, will be shared between the Cincinnati organization and The Next Step, another homeless aid organization based in Geauga and Portage counties.
LYS, which helps about 2,200 people in the Greater Cincinnati area each day, will get $137,500 year per year for two years. The money will primarily go to the Lighthouse on Highland facility, which is located in Clifton. Bob Mecum, CEO of LYS, says the facility helps youth between the ages of 16 and 24 that are typically victims of violence.
During the day, Lighthouse on Highland provides nursing, showering, washing, food, shelter, computer and case-management services. At night, the organization acts as a 28-bed shelter. On the average day, the facility helps 10 to 30 people with its street outreach services and 40 to 60 people with its on-site services. On the typical night, 27 out of 28 beds are filled.
“Through this grant from the attorney general offices, the services out of the Highland location will be funded,” Mecum says.
On average, LGBT youth face greater homelessness rates. Even though LGBT youth makes up only about 10 percent of the general youth population, LGBT youth makes up about 20 percent of the homeless youth population, according to the National Coalition of Homelessness. LGBT youth are also twice as likely to experience sexual abuse by the age of 12, and they’re about 7.4 times more likely to experience acts of sexual violence than heterosexual youth.
As part of CityBeat's continuing election coverage, we’ve once again sent a questionnaire to the non-incumbent Cincinnati City Council candidates to get their reactions on a broad range of issues.
Nine of the 14 non-incumbents chose to answer our questions. Others either didn’t respond or couldn’t meet the deadline.
During the next few weeks, we will print the responses from the non-incumbents to a different topic each time.
Today’s question is, “There is a movement afoot to move the Drop Inn Center homeless shelter out of Over-the- Rhine. Do you support or oppose this effort, and why?”
The Cincinnati Park Board today voted to strike down signs enforcing rules in Washington Park. The vote ended Park Rule 28, which allowed the Park Board to enact new rules by placing a sign on Washington Park grounds.
The signs, which the city could use to enforce any park rule as law, had recently come under fire by homeless advocate groups. In a statement, Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, wrote, “Park Rule 28 allowed opening for the back-room creation of the special rules in Washington Park that were written by an employee of the Police Department, a couple of Park Board employees and 3CDC employees — completely without the input of the public or any legislative body or process.”Before the Park Board vote, homeless advocate groups claimed the rules were being written away from public view — in part by private companies. Jerry Davis, member of the Homeless Congress, cited 3CDC's involvement in the rule writing as an example: “3CDC is a private corporation that does not answer to the Citizens of Cincinnati. This private group should not get to decide what rules are created and enforced. 3CDC is saying to the Citizens of Cincinnati, ‘You pay the bills and we make the decisions.' "
Three Over-the-Rhine residents, including Davis, sued the Park Board on Sept. 4 to put an end to the signs. In a statement announcing the lawsuit, Spring claimed the park rules “discriminate against certain classes of people” — specifically, the homeless and poor.
The Washington Park rules were different than rules at other Cincinnati parks in a few ways: They did not allow “dropping off food or clothing,” “rummaging in trash and recycling containers” or the use of any amplified sound. Homeless advocate groups claimed these rules were contrary to broader park rules that allow the sharing of food, permit inspecting and removing items from trash and recycling containers and only prohibit amplified sound if it disturbs the peace or safety of the public.
Homeless advocate groups said the rules hurt others as well. Spring wrote in the lawsuit’s press statement, “If a family decides to picnic in Washington Park and the parents hand their children food, they would be in breach of these rules, or if a friend hands a jacket to her walking companion, she would have broken these rules.”
Cincinnati Police Department Captain Daniel Gerard admitted the rules were targeting the homeless when, according to documents revealed by homeless advocate groups, he said, “Until the Drop Inn Center moves, the line about food and clothing drop off being prohibited is absolutely needed.” The Drop Inn Center is a homeless shelter.
Despite the Park Board vote, the lawsuit will continue. The city will file to dismiss the lawsuit, but the city claims the lawsuit should never have been brought forward.
“The issue was brought to our attention, we took a look at it and decided to take down the signs, yet they inexplicably decided to file a suit anyway,” said Aaron Herzig, deputy city solicitor. “That's not how it should work. The city looks at a concern and decides to take action, and there's no need for a lawsuit at that point.”
Jennifer Kinsley, the attorney representing the three Over-the-Rhine residents suing the city, defended the lawsuit and its continuance.
“We congratulate the city on doing the right thing by repealing Rule 28, but the lawsuit covers a broader range of topics than just that rule,” she said, citing statutory damages. She also said she's worried the Park Board ruling will not overturn rules already enforced by the signs: “It may and it may not. We've seen that the Park Board, 3CDC and others are willing to bend the law in order to make special rules for that park, so the status of the rules for that particular area are unclear at the moment.”
Herzig says the rules on the signs were not enforced after the signs were taken down “weeks before the lawsuit.” He says the only rules remaining are the rules officially published by the Park Board.
UPDATE 11-8-12: An aide to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls tells CityBeat that the $7 million loan will only go toward moving two of the shelters: the Drop Inn Center and a new women's shelter to be operated by the YWCA. Because the City Gospel Mission requires a religious component to is outreach to the homeless, it cannot receive federal funding. The original story follows below.
City Council on Wednesday signed off on a plan to apply for federal loans to help move three Cincinnati homeless shelters to new locations.
Council members voted with all but one approving the application for $37 million in loans, $7 million of which would move the Washington Park-area shelters.
If the loan is approved, the City Gospel Mission would move to the West End, a new women’s shelter would be build in Mount Auburn and the Drop Inn Center would move to a yet-undetermined location.
Cincinnati had pledged $10 million toward relocating the shelters. The loan would be paid back at $532,000 a year for the next 20 years.
Councilman Chris Smitherman was the sole dissenting voice. He said he supports the homeless, but he is wary of the risks of the loan and the city’s ability to pay it back.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, who said he moved to Over-the-Rhine shortly after the 2001 riots, voted to approve applying for the loan, but also voiced some concern.
“The reason I moved is because I loved it; I fell in love with the diversity of the neighborhood,” he said, noting income diversity as well as racial and ethnic.
“I would hope that we could find a location for the Drop that is in Over-the-Rhine and there isn’t a continued effort to push low income people out of Over-the-Rhine.”
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, said the shelters the city has now are perfectly adequate and the money could be spent better developing affordable housing and creating jobs to help eliminate homelessness.
“Historically a majority of shelters started between 1982 and 1990 because in that era we cut dollars to housing and employment,” Spring said.
“Shelters were never created to end homelessness. Shelters were created for people to have a safe place once everything else had failed them. We shouldn’t let everything else fail them.”
A man who was once homeless and relied on the Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine for shelter will return there later this month to sign copies of his recently released autobiography.
Donald Whitehead Jr. will sign copies of his book, Most Unlikely to Succeed, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. July 29 at the shelter. The Drop Inn is located at 217 W. 12th St.
“Homeless people are targeted because they’re vulnerable," Seelbach said during a news conference today in Washington Park, during which he also announced a proposal to add money for winter shelters. “This hopefully will send a message to everyone that even though homeless people may seem vulnerable and on the streets, their lives and their safety are just as important as every single person in Cincinnati we live and work with every day.”
Both proposals will need to be approved by Cincinnati City Council, but Seelbach says he's confident a majority of council will support them.
Six-hundred-thousand Americans experienced homelessness last year. One-fourth were children. Many are veterans. The National Coalition for the Homeless has been tracking homeless hate crimes since 2000. Over a four-year period starting in 2009, there were 1,437 attacks nationally and 357 deaths, according to a report from the coalition.
Currently, gender, sexual orientation, race, national origin and disability are protected under hate crime state and federal hate crime laws. Only two cities, including Cleveland, consider crimes against people because they are homeless to be hate crimes. Cincinnati would be the third if Seelbach’s proposal passes. Several states have committed to begin considering such violence hate crimes, including Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island and Washington. Legislation has been introduced into the Ohio General Assembly multiple times proposing a similar move but has been voted down.
“It will hopefully send a message to our community that people experiencing homeless do matter and that the city takes this seriously,” said Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition Director Josh Spring. “Primarily young people, high school and college age, commit these crimes. And if they’re caught, their response to why they did it is, ‘Why does it matter? It’s just a homeless person. We’re just cleaning up the streets.’ We want the city to say it does matter.’”
Cincinnati has seen a number of incidents of violence against the homeless, and the Coalition here has worked for years to get such actions classified as hate crimes. Four years ago, Robert Mehan was beaten and nearly killed as he was walking on Walnut Street downtown. A young man picked Mehan up and slammed him into the ground. He then beat him with beer bottles. Mehan was in a coma and almost died.
In July, John Hensley, a 49-year-old staying at the Drop-Inn Center, was leaving for work cleaning Great American Ball Park when he was attacked from behind by Alexander Gaines, 19, Brandon Ziegler, 21 and a 17-year-old minor. The three punched, kicked and kneed Hensley for 15 minutes. They’re currently facing charges in Hamilton County courts.
“They didn’t say anything, they were laughing," Hensley told a reporter after the incident. "I feel I was targeted because I am a homeless guy leaving the Drop Inn Center at 4 in the morning and no one was around, they thought they could get away with it and they didn’t.”
While the classification of such violence as a hate crime may make those experiencing homelessness safer in the long term, Seelbach’s other proposal, which would add $45,000 in funding for the city’s winter shelter, will bring more immediate relief. That’s a big change from the situation in the past, advocates say.
“We’re extremely happy about the change over the last several years,” Spring says. “It was not that long ago that the winter shelter did not open until it was 9 degrees wind chill or lower.”
Last night, The Drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine housed 292 people, according to Arlene Nolan, the center’s director. The winter shelter opened Nov. 19 this year, much earlier than usual.
“We’ve been able to accommodate well over 30 percent more than our normal capacity,” Nolan said.
Increased funding for the winter shelter “is something that is critical in assuring that we meet our ultimate goal, which is to make sure no one freezes to death on the streets in Cincinnati during the winter,” said Kevin Finn, director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
More than 750 people used the county’s 11 shelters last night, according to Finn. That’s just part of the city’s homeless population — others are staying with other people they may or may not know or sleeping in camps around the city.
Family shelters in the city are receiving about a dozen calls a day, according to Spring, and can only accommodate about 20 percent of the families who need their services.
“There is no silver bullet to ending homelessness or preventing people from attacking people who are experiencing homelessness,” Seelbach said. “This is part of the solution. The other part is strategies to end homelessness and getting people who are experiencing homelessness back into a house. That takes everything from the Drop Inn Center to transitional housing to permanent supportive housing and everything in between.”
When the stimulus package passed in 2009, the federal government sent out funds that worked to prevent homelessness. The funds, which seek to prevent homelessness instead of just treating the problem after it arises, made their way to local organization Strategies to End Homelessness. With the boost, the group, which coordinates efforts to combat homelessness in Cincinnati, has been helping thousands of at-risk people and those who are already homeless.
But that funding is soon coming to an end. The stimulus package was only meant to be a temporary jolt to deal with the Great Recession. It was not meant as a long-term funding package. For Strategies to End Homelessness, that prevents a new challenge.
The organization used the stimulus funding to partner with United Way and seven other local agencies to coordinate homeless aid. The organization is continuing its partnership with United Way and five of the agencies, but it will have to draw down some of its services.
“When the stimulus funding was in place, we were able to work with 250 households at a time to try to prevent them from becoming homeless,” says Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness. “Now, with the level of funding that is available, it’s more like 50 or 60 households at a time that we are able to work with.”
What this means is programs, such as the Homeless Prevention / Rapid Rehousing Program (HPRP), will continue to service people who are at risk of becoming homeless, but the program will have a stricter limit on who to help.
One bright spot for Finn is that even though the organization is losing most of the funding, it’s not losing it all. Due to the success of organizations like Strategies to End Homelessness, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has decided to make some of the funding permanent. This will let the organization continue focusing on some preventive measures instead of just focusing on what Finn calls the “meat and potatoes” of anti-homelessness efforts — or services for people that are already homeless — that have always existed.
“Sometimes when you work with the homeless you struggle to find a silver lining,” he says. “That is one right there.”
Finn says preventive measures are very important in fighting homelessness because once someone becomes homeless and the longer someone becomes homeless, the harder it becomes to get them back into new homes. Finn gave one example for why this is the case: “If they would get mugged in the street and lose their ID, an ID is something that you need in order to get an apartment and in order to get a job.”
At the end of the day, Strategies to End Homelessness will
continue working in Cincinnati, just with less funding. Finn says he
wants his organization’s continuous work to break some misconceptions
about anti-homelessness efforts in the city.
“I think sometimes the perception in the community is that services for the homeless and also prevention measures are sort of a number of little agencies out doing their own thing,” he says. “It’s very much a coordinated effort between us, the United Way and these five agencies.”