“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.”
More demand for housing aid and less money from the feds have combined to create a simple but brutal equation swelling the number of homeless individuals and families in the Cincinnati area and across the country. As more low-income people need affordable places to live, they have fewer housing options to choose from and less federal aid available to them, data shows. That’s left an increasing number of families and individuals on the streets.
In 2011, $2,225,000 was available to Hamilton County residents for rental assistance through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. This year, it’s just $750,000. These federal funds provide much-needed aid to families struggling to make rent payments.
The cuts come at a time when affordable housing is getting harder to find. The amount of available affordable housing has decreased by 6.8 million units since 2007, while the number of very low-income renters who need it has grown by more than 2.5 million, according to data from the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
The money spent on rental aid in the past made a dent–a study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found the number of people experiencing homelessness in the United States dropped by 17 percent from 2005 to 2012, despite the economic recession and national housing crisis. Especially effective was the 2009 Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Act, which spent $1.5 billion to aid families experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Locally, federal programs have been crucial. Nearly all families in Hamilton County who received rental assistance through such programs avoided becoming homeless, according to a report by Strategies to End Homelessness, a Cincinnati non-profit.
Despite the success of the program and increasing need, the number of people in Hamilton County served by federal anti-homelessness efforts has dropped by more than 56 percent since 2011.
That year, 2,810 people received rental or utility assistance in Hamilton County from programs provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That number dropped to 1,870 in 2012, and dropped again to 942 in 2013. This year is on pace to see a similar number–about 966– receive the services.
Meanwhile, the number of homeless in the county is rising. 8,271 people in Hamilton County experienced homelessness last year, according to the Strategies report. That’s up from 7,838 people in 2011 and 7,983 in 2012.
Families are hit especially hard hit by federal spending cuts.
"I have never seen this many families come to us from sleeping in a car," Darlene Guess, director of client programs at Bethany House Services, told the Cincinnati Enquirer July 9. The Cincinnati area's five shelters that serve homeless families in the city help about 1,000 families a year, service providers estimate.
The reductions come as a result of the 2011 sequester, continuing across-the-board cuts to federal programs that happened as a result of Congress not being able to reach budget agreements. Some of the funds were first allocated during the federal government’s 2009 stimulus efforts.
Shortfalls at HUD caused by the cuts could eventually mean as many as 140,000 fewer families nationally will receive rental assistance, and that 100,000 homeless or formerly homeless people will be cut off from other assistance programs offered through HUD.
Other dynamics associated with gridlock in Congress have exacerbated the problems facing low-income people on the brink of homelessness–Democrats and the GOP in Congress have fought a pitched battle over extending unemployment benefits for millions of Americans, for instance, as unemployment levels recede at a stubbornly slow pace. Many have reached the end of their benefits, and now struggle to pay rent or mortgages.
A coalition between Equality Ohio and other major LGBT groups on Friday officially declared it will not support a 2014 ballot initiative that would legalize same-sex marriage in the state. Instead, the coalition plans to continue education efforts and place the issue on the ballot in 2016. But FreedomOhio, the LGBT group currently leading the 2014 ballot initiative, plans to put the issue on the ballot this year with or without support from other groups. CityBeat covered the issue and conflict in further detail here.
The group heading Commons at Alaska, a permanent supportive housing project in Avondale, plans to hold monthly “good neighbor” meetings to address local concerns about the facility. The first meeting is scheduled at the Church of the Living God, located at 434 Forest Avenue, on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. Some Avondale residents have lobbied against the facility out of fears it would weaken public safety, but a study of similar facilities in Columbus found areas with permanent supportive housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas. In January, a supermajority of City Council rejected Councilman Christopher Smitherman’s proposal to rescind the city’s support for the Avondale project.
Gov. John Kasich’s income tax proposal would disproportionately benefit Ohio’s wealthiest, an analysis from Policy Matters Ohio and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy found. Specifically, the proposal would on average cut taxes by $2 for the bottom 20 percent of Ohioans, $48 for the middle 20 percent and $2,515 for the top 1 percent. The proposal is typical for Ohio Republicans: They regularly push to lower taxes for the wealthy, even though research, including from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, finds tax cuts for the wealthy aren’t correlated with higher economic growth.
Mayor John Cranley says he wants Catholic Health Partners to locate its planned headquarters in Bond Hill.
A new Ohio law uncovered more than 250 high-volume dog breeders that previously went unregulated in the state. The new regulations aim to weed out bad, unsafe environments for high-volume dog breeding, but some animal advocates argue the rules don’t go far enough. CityBeat covered the new law in further detail here.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald could face a longshot primary challenger in May. But the challenger, Larry Ealy of the Dayton area, still needs his signatures confirmed by the secretary of state to officially get on the ballot.Former Gov. Ted Strickland could run against U.S. Sen. Rob Portman in 2016, according to The Plain Dealer. Strickland cautioned it’s not an official announcement, but it’s not something he’s ruled out, either.
A bill that would make the Ohio Board of Education an
all-elected body appears to have died in the Ohio legislature.
Currently, the governor appoints nearly half of the board’s members. Some legislators argue the governor’s appointments make the body too political.
Science says white noise can help some people email@example.com.
The group heading a supportive housing project in Avondale on Friday announced it will initiate monthly "good neighbor" meetings to address local concerns, with the first meeting scheduled at the Church of the Living God, located at 434 Forest Ave., on Feb. 25 at 6 p.m.
National Church Residences (NCR) says the meetings will help "set the highest property, safety, and conduct standards" for the 90-unit Commons at Alaska facility, which will aid chronically homeless, disabled and low-income individuals.
"National Church Residences is excited to become part of the revitalization of the Avondale neighborhood," said Amy Rosenthal, senior project leader for NCR, in a statement. "Through this series of meetings, we look forward to sitting down with our neighbors and answering their questions about our organization and in particular the planned apartment community."
The meetings should help address some Avondale residents' concerns about the project. Although several opponents of the facility say their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude that follows so many supportive housing projects, critics consistently argue the housing facility will attract a dangerous crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.
Critics' claims actually contradict some of the research done on supportive housing. A study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus found areas with permanent supportive housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.
Still, the controversy eventually reached City Council after Councilman Christopher Smitherman proposed pulling the city's support for state tax credits funding the project. In January, council rejected Smitherman's proposal and voted to continue supporting the project. (It's questionable whether a different council decision would have made any difference, since the group already received state tax credits last June.)
By several economic indicators, Cincinnati's worst-off certainly need more support. About 34 percent of the overall population and more than half of the city's children live in poverty, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
Correction: This story originally claimed the facility would house 99 apartments, based on a previous estimate. The amount of apartments was actually reduced to 90 through negotiations. We apologize for the error.
The agenda defined City Council’s first meeting of the new year — the first full session since council decided to continue work on Cincinnati’s $132.8 million streetcar project.
The meeting also showed that the Democratic majority — once fractured over the streetcar project and parking privatization plan — now appears to have formed a coalition on most issues facing the city. Perhaps more than anything, that could indicate the direction of Cincinnati for the next four years.
Most contentiously, the Democratic majority on City Council rejected a repeal of the city’s contracting rules for Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) and Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) projects.
The rules dictate how the city and county will award contracts for the federally mandated $3.2 billion revamp of the local sewer system.
The city’s rules impose stricter job training requirements on city contractors and require them to fund pre-apprenticeship programs that would help train new workers in different crafts.
Councilman Chris Seelbach, a Democrat who spearheaded the rules, argues the requirements will help foster local jobs and job training.
But the Republican-controlled county government, which also manages MSD and GCWW, says the requirements unfairly burden contractors and favor unions. Last year, county commissioners halted MSD’s work on the sewer overhaul in protest of the city’s rules.
The county’s halt has put 649 jobs and $152 million worth of sewer projects on hold, according to data released by Councilman Charlie Winburn, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
With the federal mandate looming, county commissioners on Wednesday unanimously proposed a compromise that would create some job training and inclusion initiatives.
“We are approaching a crisis here in this dispute with the city,” said Commissioner Greg Hartmann, a Republican who opposes the city’s rules.
Vice Mayor David Mann, a Democrat, said he will look at the county’s proposal. But he cautioned, “I’m not going to repeal it until we have a substitute. To have a substitute we have to have conversations. This could be the beginning of a framework.”
The issue could end up in court. The city’s lawyers previously claimed they could defend the local contracting rules, but the county insists the city would lose.
“Portions of what the city wants will not stand in court. Our lawyers should meet,” Hartman told Seelbach on Twitter.
If the city and county don’t act before February, Winburn said the
federal government could impose a daily $1,500 fine until MSD work fully
Supportive housing project in Avondale
A supermajority of council — the five Democrats plus Charterite Kevin Flynn — agreed to continue supporting state tax credits for Commons at Alaska, a 99-unit permanent supportive housing facility in Avondale.
Although several opponents of the Avondale facility claim
their opposition is not rooted in a not-in-my-backyard attitude, many
public speakers argued the housing facility will attract a dangerous
crowd that would worsen public safety in the neighborhood.
Supporters point to a study conducted for similar facilities in Columbus that found areas with permanent housing facilities saw the same or lower crime increases as demographically comparable areas.
Other opponents decried the lack of outreach for the project. They claim the project was kept hidden from residents for years.
National Church Residences (NCR), which is developing the facility, says it will engage in more outreach as the project moves forward.
Councilman Christopher Smitherman, an Independent, said council’s decision ignores what most Avondale residents told him.
“The supermajority of residents that I have talked to that are directly impacted by this project are against it,” asserted Smitherman, who is leading efforts against the facility in council.
Even if council decided to rescind its support for the Avondale project , it’s unclear if it would have any effect. NCR already received state tax credits for the facility back in June.
City Council unanimously approved a study that will look into potential race- and gender-based disparities in how the city awards business contracts.
The $690,000 study is required by the courts before the city can pursue initiatives that favorably target minority- and women-owned businesses with city contracts, which Mayor John Cranley and most council members support.
But Flynn and Councilwoman Yvette Simpson, a Democrat, voiced
doubts that the study’s findings will fulfill the legal requirements necessary to legally enact initiatives favoring minority- and women-owned businesses.
Given the doubts, Simpson cautioned that the city should begin moving forward with possible inclusion initiatives before the disparity study is complete.
“I do think we need to rally around a mantra that we can’t wait,” agreed Democratic Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld.
Once the study is complete, several council members said it will, at the very least, provide valuable data to the city.
Other notable actions
• Council approved a tax budget that lowered the property tax millage rate from 5.7 mills to 5.6 mills, which will cost $500,000 in annual revenue, according to city officials.
• Council approved an application for a $70,000 grant that would fund local intervention efforts meant to help struggling youth.
• Council approved an application for a nearly $6 million grant to provide tenant-based rental assistance to homeless, low-income clients with disabilities.
• Council disbanded the Streetcar Committee, which the
mayor and council originally established to look into halting the
project. Streetcar items will now be taken up by the Major Transportation and Regional Cooperation Committee.
The Federal Transit Administration told Mayor John Cranley and streetcar supporters that it won’t extend its Dec. 20 deadline for federal grants funding roughly one-third of the $132.8 million street project. Without the federal grants, the project would likely die because local officials say they are not willing to make up the loss with local funds. That means the city has until Friday to decide whether to continue the project — a decision that could come down to City Council’s swing votes, Kevin Flynn and David Mann, and whether private contributors agree to pay for the streetcar’s annual operating costs over the next three decades.
Meanwhile, streetcar supporters say they have enough
signatures to get the streetcar on the ballot. But without the federal
funds, a public vote might not be enough to save the project since the charter amendment only calls for using funds allocated as of Nov. 30, 2013.
Hamilton County’s shrinking government might sell off several downtown buildings to accommodate the size reduction. The buildings could be converted to condominiums or hotels to appease high demand for downtown residential space.
Despite previously criticizing tax breaks for Cincinnati
businesses, Chris Finney of the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending
and Taxes (COAST) will receive tax credits to open his own law firm in
Clermont County on Jan. 1.
Addressing the so-called heroin epidemic is a top priority for Ky. officials in 2014. Drug overdose deaths in Kentucky have quadrupled since 1999, putting Kentucky’s numbers above every state except West Virginia and New Mexico, according to a study released in November.
Some Ohio wildlife officers wrongfully hunted deer while on the job, according to the state’s inspector general.
Ohio gas prices dropped in the last work week before Christmas.
The Mega Millions jackpot could break last year’s record $656 million prize.
A video game might help diabetics control their blood sugar by putting them through a genuine workout.
Although some members of City Council appear ready to rescind support for a supportive housing project in Avondale, a previous study commissioned by the group in charge of the Avondale project found supportive housing facilities cause no negative impact to neighborhoods in which they’re located.
The study, conducted by Arch City Development and the Urban Decision Group, was commissioned by National Church Residences (NCR) to gauge the neighborhood impact of five permanent supportive housing complexes in Columbus for the chronically homeless, disabled and poor.
The study found crime increases in most of the areas surrounding the facilities, but the increases were roughly the same as or less than demographically similar areas in Columbus.
After interviewing Columbus residents
located around the facilities, researchers also reported general
agreement that the facilities had a positive effect or no impact on the
Although three of the facilities are located near four Columbus City Schools, researchers wrote Anne Lenzotti, director of facilities for Columbus City Schools, "has received no complaints about any Central Ohio permanent supportive housing project at the district or individual school level."
The study, with its generally positive findings, calls into question many of the complaints voiced by opponents of the Avondale project.
Two members of a City Council committee on Tuesday agreed to advance a resolution that would rescind support for state tax credits going to the 99-unit supportive housing facility in Avondale.
But since the project already received state tax credits in June, it’s unclear whether council’s vote would have any effect on the project’s fate.
Opponents of the facility argue it will worsen Avondale’s problems with poverty, alter the look of the area and damage revitalization efforts. They also complain that NCR failed to conduct thorough community engagement prior to proceeding with the project.
Proponents claim the dispute stems from a not-in-my-backyard attitude that follows so many supportive housing projects prior to their completion. They say more community engagement, beyond what’s already occurred with Avondale Community Council, will begin deeper into the planning process and shape the project’s parameters.
The full body of City Council could take up the resolution rescinding support for the Avondale project on Dec. 18.
Read the full study below:
This article went through some technical difficulties and temporarily disappeared as a result.
Work began yesterday on an audit of Cincinnati’s $132.8
million streetcar project, but streetcar supporters are upset the audit
will only look at the costs and not the potential return on investment.
The city hired KPMG, an auditing firm, to review the
streetcar’s completion, cancellation and operating costs by Dec. 19, the day the federal government says it will pull up
to $44.9 million in grants funding roughly one-third of the project.
Losing the federal funding would most likely act as a death blow for the
project, since most local officials — even some streetcar supporters —
say they’re unwilling to allocate a similar amount of funding through local sources. Mayor John Cranley and City Council asked for the audit before they decide whether to continue or permanently cancel the project.
Meanwhile, streetcar supporters yesterday kicked off a petition-gathering campaign to get a city charter amendment on the ballot that would task the city with continuing the streetcar project. But given the federal government’s Dec. 19 deadline, it’s unclear whether the ballot measure, which could go to voters as late as May, stands much of a chance. Streetcar supporters say they’ll lobby the federal government to keep the funding on hold until voters make the final decision on the project.
A City Council committee yesterday voted to rescind council’s support for a supportive housing complex in Avondale that would aid chronically homeless, disabled and low-income Cincinnatians. But because National Church Residence already obtained state tax credits for the project in June, it might be able to continue even without council support. The committee’s decision comes in the middle of of a months-long controversy that has placed neighborhood activists and homeless advocates at odds. The full body of City Council could make the final decision on its support for the project as early as today’s 2 p.m. meeting.
City Council could also move today to repeal a “responsible bidder” ordinance that has locked the city and county in conflict over the jointly owned and operated Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). The conflict comes at a bad time for MSD, which is under a federal mandate to revamp the city’s sewer system. Councilman Chris Seelbach argues the ordinance, which he spearheaded, improves local job training opportunities, but opponents claim it places too much of a burden on businesses and could open the city to lawsuits. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.
Some City Council members are concerned Interim City Manager Scott Stiles’ compensation package could act as a “golden parachute.”
State Sen. Eric Kearney of Cincinnati yesterday resigned as running mate for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald. Kearney’s decision came after media outlets reported that he, his wife and his business had up to $826,000 in unpaid taxes. The controversy grew so thick that Democrats decided Kearney was too much of a distraction in the campaign against Republican Gov. John Kasich.An Ohio House Republican pitched a proposal that would slightly increase the state’s oil and gas severance tax, but the industry isn’t united in support of the measure. When it was first discussed, the House plan was supposed to act as a downscaled but more palatable version of Gov. Kasich’s proposal, which received wide opposition from the oil and gas industry.
Speaking against a bill that would tighten sentences for nonviolent felony offenders, Ohio’s prison chief said the state is on its way to break an inmate record of 51,273 in July. The state in the past few years attempted to pass sentencing reform to reduce the inmate population and bring down prison costs, but the measures only registered short-term gains. The rising prison population is one reason some advocates call for the legalization and decriminalization of drugs, as CityBeat covered in further detail here.
More than one-third of Ohio third-graders could be held back after they failed the state reading test this fall. But the third-graders will get two more chances in the spring and summer to retake the test. Under a new state law dubbed the “Third Grade Reading Guarantee,” Ohio third-graders who fail the reading test must be held back starting this school year.
Only 5,672 Ohioans signed up for new health plans through
the Obamacare marketplace in November. Still, total enrollment in
federal marketplaces was four times higher than it was in October as the
troubled Obamacare website (HealthCare.gov) improved. Reports indicate
the website also vastly improved right before the White House’s
self-imposed December deadline to get the website working better.
William Mallory Sr., prominent local politician and ex-Mayor Mark Mallory’s father, died yesterday morning.
A home kit allows anyone to find antibiotics in leaves, twigs, insects and fungi.
A City Council committee on Tuesday voted to rescind council’s support for state tax credits going to a 99-unit supportive housing facility in Avondale that would aid chronically homeless, disabled and low-income individuals.
But since National Church Residences already obtained tax credits for the project from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency in June, it’s possible the project could continue even if council stands in opposition, according to Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.
Still, the decision from the Economic Growth and Infrastructure Committee comes in the middle of a months-long controversy that has placed neighborhood activists and homeless advocates in a heated dispute. (CityBeat first covered the issue in greater detail here.)
Independent Christopher Smitherman and Republican Amy Murray, the two present members of the committee, both voted to pull support from the project. The issue will now go to a nine-member City Council, which consists of five Democrats, and Democratic Mayor John Cranley.
Smitherman, chair of the committee, claimed the project’s issues spawned from a lack of community engagement.
“I want everybody to take a pause,” Smitherman said. “Respecting our city, in my opinion, means that you do the community engagement at the level that reflects the magnitude of what you want to do.”
Smitherman’s comments followed testimony from neighborhood activists who oppose the facility and homeless advocates who support it.
Opponents insist they support policies addressing homelessness. But they argue the “massive” facility would alter the neighborhood, worsen Avondale’s problems with poverty and damage revitalization efforts.
Supporters claim the dispute stems from a not-in-my-backyard attitude that predominates so many supportive housing facilities.
“In our society, we have a tendency to say we don't want ‘those people’ in our neighborhoods. And history dictates to us that conversations that start with ‘we don't want those people here’ don't typically end well,” said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.
Finn of Strategies to End Homelessness
said the facility is part of his organization’s Homeless to Homes plan, which council
previously approved to address Cincinnati’s struggles with homelessness.
Finn’s organization aims to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County from more than 7,000 in 2012 to roughly 3,500 in 2017.
The Avondale facility could also help reduce Cincinnati’s high levels of poverty. More than half of Cincinnati’s children and more than one-third of the city’s general population live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2012 American Community Survey.
The full body of City Council could take up the issue as early as Wednesday. Smitherman advised both sides to attend the council meeting and state their cases.
Updated with additional information from Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness.