“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.”
Strategies to End Homelessness on Wednesday released its first annual progress report detailing how the organization intends to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County by half from 2012 to 2017. That means reducing the county’s homeless population of more than 7,000 to roughly 3,500 in five years.
The plan doesn’t focus on providing shelter services to the needy; instead, Strategies to End Homelessness is advocating tactics that prevent homelessness entirely and attempt to permanently address the issue.
The main strategies, according to the report: prevention,
rapid rehousing that lasts six to 12 months, transitional housing for up
to 24 months and permanent supportive housing that targets the
chronically homeless and disabled.
For the organization, the goal is to reduce homelessness by using supportive services to get to the root of the issue, whether it’s joblessness, mental health problems or other causes, and ensure shelter services aren’t necessary in the first place.
“Of the various types of programs within our homeless services system, households served in prevention were least likely to become homeless within the next 24 months,” the report reads. “Among supportive housing programs, Rapid Rehousing programs cost less, serve households for significantly shorter periods of time, and have increased long-term success compared to other supportive housing program types.”
The cost savings get to the major argument repeatedly raised by homeless advocates: If society helps transition its homeless population to jobs and permanent housing, governments will see savings and new revenue as less money is put toward social services and the homeless become productive economic actors who pay taxes.
Prevention in particular had particularly strong financial results, according to the Strategies to End Homelessness report: “In 2012, the estimated average cost per person served in homelessness prevention was $787, which is 60 (percent) less than the estimated cost of $1,322 per person served in an emergency shelter.”
Meanwhile, permanent supportive housing topped the list of costs, coming in at an average of $6,049 per person.
Despite the ambitious goals and promising results, the group’s prevention program has run into some problems. The federal government never renewed temporary federal stimulus funding that was financing a bulk of the prevention program, which cut off a major source of money starting in July 2012. Strategies to End Homelessness managed to pick up funding later in the year through the federal Emergency Solutions Grant, but the financial support is much more modest, according to the report.
Still, Strategies to End Homelessness appears undeterred. The report claims 78 percent of shelter residents transitioned to housing in 2012. The organization intends to continue prioritizing its resources to achieve similar sustainable outcomes in the next few years.
Strategies to End Homelessness is a collaborative that pools local homeless agencies, including the Drop Inn Center, Lighthouse Youth Services and the Talbert House, to tackle homelessness with a less redundant, more unified strategy.
In 2009, City Council and Hamilton County commissioners approved the organization’s Homeless to Homes Plan to “ensure that homeless people receive high-quality emergency shelter with comprehensive services to assist them out of homelessness.”
But the plan has run into some recent problems. The permanent supportive housing facility proposed for Alaska Avenue in Avondale has been met with community resistance, which convinced City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Monday to place a two-week hold on the project while an independent mediator helps the two sides reach a compromise.
In Cincinnati, homelessness-reduction efforts have also obtained less local support in the past decade as City Council consistently fails to uphold its human services funding goal.
The controversial proposed supportive housing facility
for Alaska Avenue in Avondale was the main subject of a heated session
of City Council's Budget and Finance Committee today, which resulted in the committee's decision to put the project on hold for two weeks. The committee also announced its intent to allocate $5,000 for an independent mediator, which the city administration will be responsible for finding.
A slew of Avondale community members spoke out in opposition of
the project, while representatives from National Church Residences (NCR), Josh Spring of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition and Kevin Finn of Strategies to End Homelessness were some of those who publicly expressed support for the project. Many in opposition articulated concern that predominantly poor black neighborhoods such as Avondale are "targeted" for low-income housing projects like these, while supporters insist a spread of misinformation is largely responsible for the tension and that the complex is a necessary step in moving forward with the city's 2008 Homeless to Homes Plan, which explicitly cited NCR as the well-regarded nonprofit developer and manager of supportive housing facilities commissioned to bring a permanent supportive housing facility to the city.
The proposed project, coined Commons at Alaska, would be a 99-unit facility providing residency and supportive services to the area homeless population, particularly those with with severe mental health issues, physical disabilities and histories of alcohol and substance abuse. The project, which gained City Council's official support in February, has recently come under scrutiny from community group Avondale 29, Alaska Avenue residents and other community stakeholders who are fervently expressing public distaste for the facility, which they worry will threaten the safety and revitalization efforts in the neighborhood. CityBeat covered the controversy here.
Councilman Smitherman, who originally voted against Council's support for the project in February, vocally expressed his opposition, and later, Councilman Winburn rescinded his support for the project.
"It appears that maximum citizen participation did not happen... you are having hundreds of people who are not ready yet for this project. So something went wrong somewhere," he said.
Winburn was also the one to announce the motion that asked council to suspend the project for two weeks.
Both sides are expected to once again go in front of the Budget & Finance Committee on a Sept. 30 meeting.
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.
This year, the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition's annual Hunger and Homeless Unity March will focus on an abundance of issues regarding the poor and homeless in our city.
Marching a route that highlights the path of homelessness, the walk will move through the southern portion of Over-the-Rhine, through the Central Business District and end in Lytle Park beside the Anna Louise Inn.
The Anna Louise Inn has been involved with a series of legal disputes with Western & Southern Financial Group as the corporation is on a mission to buy the Inn's property to expand their business. (CityBeat covered the issue in-depth in a Aug. 17 cover story, "Surrounded by Skyscrapers.")
For more than 100 years, the Anna Louise Inn has been serving local women in need. Located in Lytle Park, it is the only single-room occupancy residence for women in the city and acts as a safe harbor for women who have nowhere else to go. Former Anna Louise Inn resident Pam Franklin will speak about the importance of affordable housing at the event.
Not only will the march show support for social service agencies such as the Anna Louise Inn, it will be educational. Participants will learn about local residents being affected by gentrification, businesses suffering from displacement and the affects of foreclosure. Attendees will learn that in order for "new life" to enter, "existing life" does not have to leave.
"This will be a time to protest and to become more informed about the current injustices," says Josh Spring, the Executive Director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.
Everyone is invited to participate in the march and learn about the affects of gentrification and displacement this Saturday.
"This really is an event for everyone — people that already are against gentrification, people that might be against gentrification, people that are for it, and people who don't know what gentrification is," Spring says. "Everyone will gain some truth from this experience."
Beginning at Buddy's Place at 1300 Vine Street, the march is from 12:45-3 p.m.
Three homeless aid groups in Cincinnati are getting a bit of help from the federal government. On Sept. 19, the Secretary of Veteran Affairs announced it awarded nearly $600 million to homeless aid groups around the United States, and three local organizations managed to secure $600,000 of that funding.
The money will be awarded primarily to Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries, but Goodwill has partnered up with Strategies to End Homelessness and the Healing Center at Vineyard Community Church to make full use of the money.
Kevin Finn, executive director of Strategies to End Homelessness, says the money will help make up for stimulus funding that was recently lost — at least in the case of military veterans.“It’s going to go to helping veterans and their families that are either at risk of becoming homeless or already homeless,” Finn says.
That makes the grant funding different in two major ways:
First, the money can now be used to help veterans’ families, not just
veterans. Typically, aid to veterans is allocated in a way that can only
benefit veterans, but this money will help their husbands, wives and children.
Also, the money will also be used to help vets at risk for homelessness instead of just vets who are already homeless. With the traditional, limited funding, homeless aid groups can only reach out to people who are already out in the streets; with this new funding, groups like Strategies to End Homeless will be capable of taking preventative measures that keep vets in a home.
The new funding, which Finn estimates will help about 200 families, will be divided between the local organizations so they can each take on different roles. For Strategies to End Homelessness, that mostly means working on short-term solutions for homeless or at-risk vets.
“The biggest (services) will be rentals and financial assistance to either get them to be stable in housing or keep them in their housing and prevent them from becoming homeless,” Finn says.
After that, care will shift to Goodwill, which will work on job training, job searching, tutoring, computer training and other important tools to help keep vets employed and housed.
“If the financial support can keep them from being homeless in the short term, then the services that the Goodwill case manager will put in place will hopefully keep them from being homeless in the long term,” Finn says.
To reach out to vets in need, the organizations will use current connections, street outreach programs and phone hotlines to make sure the program reaches as many people as possible while staying efficient. To Finn, one of the most important tasks of Strategies to End Homelessness is to make sure no funding is wasted and the organizations coordinated by Strategies to End Homelessness do not have redundant programs.
Strangely enough, aid to vets has become a political issue recently. Forty Republicans in the U.S. Senate recently blocked the Veteran Jobs Corps Act, which would have funded job programs for military veterans. Ohio Rep. Connie Pillich recently introduced a resolution in the Ohio General Assembly to encourage U.S. Senate Republicans to pass the bill.
Cincinnati’s winter shelter for the homeless might not be able to open until mid-January if it doesn’t get more contributions, says Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.
That means hundreds of homeless people could be left out in the cold — literally — for at least a month longer than usual if the shelter doesn’t get more donations.
Spring says the winter shelter is currently looking at roughly $32,000 in donations if the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office gives $5,000 as previously promised. The city also plans to give a contribution, but it’s looking like they’ll give less this year than they have in the past, according to Spring.
The $32,000 is far short of the $75,000 necessary to keep the shelter open for roughly two months — from late December through the end of February.
“It’s a bit of a precarious place to be at in November,” Spring says. “For regular folks out there and companies that want to invest in people not freezing to death or losing their appendages to frostbite, it’s definitely time to give.”
According to Spring, the goal each night is to shelter 91
people, although the number fluctuates depending on the circumstances of any
given night. But the shelter ultimately services hundreds of homeless while
it’s open as some people improve their situation and additional numbers fall into homelessness.
For its run between late 2012 and early 2013, the winter shelter housed roughly 600 people.
“It’s a relatively cheap program to run,” Spring claims. “To serve about 600 people with $75,000 is pretty good.”
The shelter is put together by the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, Drop Inn Center, Strategies to End Homelessness, Society of St. Vincent De Paul and Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati. It’s supported largely by private contributions.
“When we started doing this three years ago, it was sort of a new thing,” Spring explains. “It’s not so new anymore, which makes bringing in dollars more difficult. But the need hasn’t changed.”
Anyone can donate to the winter shelter — and Drop Inn Center — at tinyurl.com/WinterShelterCincinnati. To contribute specifically to the winter shelter, type in “winter shelter” in the text box below “Designation (Optional).”
With a push from Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls and City Council approval, the Homeless to Homes plan is moving forward. The shelter-moving plan, which was originally put together by Strategies to End Homelessness, will use $37 million in loans to build new shelters for the Drop Inn Center, City Gospel Mission and the YWCA. But some homeless advocates have criticized the plan because it forces them to move homeless shelters they don’t want to move. Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says the money could be spent better developing affordable housing and creating jobs to help eliminate homelessness.
Just one day after President Barack Obama’s re-election, one left-leaning Ohio group was already making demands. They want federal unemployment benefits renewed. The group’s research director, supported by economic data, says the expiration of those benefits could have bad repercussions for the unemployed and the federal and state economies.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati investment professionals are beginning to renew worries about the federal fiscal cliff. The fiscal cliff, which includes emergency unemployment benefits, is a mix of tax hikes and budget cuts set to automatically occur at the end of the year. The Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan agency that measures the impact of federal budgets and policy, has warned about the fiscal cliff’s potential economic damage. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has also warned lawmakers about the fiscal cliff.
A state appeals court ruled today that the city of Cincinnati is allowed to reduce retirees’ health benefits. The cuts in benefits are meant to shore up the city’s pension plan, but retirees, including former City Clerk Sandy Sherman, filed a lawsuit arguing the benefits can only be increased, not decreased. The case could still move to the Ohio Supreme Court.
Hamilton County’s new Democratic sheriff, Jim Neil, is already making plans. He says he favors alternative sentencing to deal with jail overcrowding, and he wants to audit and restructure the sheriff department’s budget to cut waste.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine will be in Cincinnati Thursday to unveil Cincinnati’s first prescription drug drop box. The drop boxes are meant to reduce prescription drug abuse and improper ingestion.
A sign of what could come to Cincinnati next spring: Columbus’s casino reported $18.3 million in revenue for its first month. Cincinnati’s Horseshoe Casino is currently being constructed and is expected to open in spring 2013.
Blue Ash-based Empire Marketing Strategies is buying a plant site in Mason for about $820,000, and it could create 200 jobs.
In case you missed it, CityBeat posted comprehensive election results for Cincinnati, Hamilton County, Ohio and the U.S.
State Democrats and Republicans have an explanation for two incumbents losing in the Ohio Supreme Court: names. On Democrat William O’Neill defeating Republican incumbent Robert Cupp, Ohio Republican Party Chairman Robert Bennett said O’Neill won because he has an Irish-American name. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern said, “Sharon Kennedy is a great ballot name. That’s why she won.” Redfern says he will introduce legislation that will require party affiliation to appear on the Ohio Supreme Court ballots.
The election didn’t change much in the Ohio Board of Education. It remains five Democrats and six Republicans.
Councilwoman Laure Quinlivan said the approval of Issue 4, which extends City Council terms to four years, will be good for local business. She argues “there’s a great business case to be made for having a more stable and reliable local government.”
While marijuana was legalized in some states, Butler County led what it believes is its biggest marijuana bust in history. More than 900 lbs of marijuana were seized.
Bill Cunningham, local conservative radio talk show host, may retire due to Obama’s re-election. Oh well.
In the story of another conservative meltdown, CityBeat has a special letter for the Lebanon tea party: We’re sorry.
Perhaps the national media’s most under-reported story of election night was that Puerto Ricans favored statehood in the polls for the first time. If Congress and Obama act, the island could become the 51st state.
Popular Science has an open letter to President Barack Obama. While they like how Obama generally supports science funding more than a President Mitt Romney would, they want Obama to do more.
The controversial permanent supportive housing facility proposed for a residential area of Avondale that caused outrage amongst Avondale community members took a small blow today when Cincinnati City Council members Pam Thomas and Charlie Winburn introduced a motion at a City Council meeting to rescind council's original support for the facility.
The proposed facility, Commons at Alaska, would be a 99-unit housing facility providing residency and supportive services to the area homeless population, particularly those with severe mental health issues, physical disabilities and histories of alcohol and substance abuse. CityBeat covered extensively the Avondale community's concerns about the location of the facility and how the project's developers felt the facility was misunderstood ("Home Invasion," issue of Sept. 4).
On Feb. 13, City Council offered its official support for the Commons at Alaska project in a resolution, a decision members of Avondale 29, the group formed to oppose the project, say was made without proper community outreach and neglect for proper considerations of the facility's effects on the already-blighted surrounding neighborhood. At that time, Christopher Smitherman and Cecil Thomas (before he resigned his position) were the only two members of council who did not vote to pass the resolution.
The motion reads: "When the resolution was heard by City Council, a small minority of the 18,000 members of the Avondale Community expressed their support for the development. Further, the North Avondale Community Council has voiced their opposition to the development. With this resolution, the majority of the community who are opposed to the development are being heard."
The developer, National Church Residences, is a well-respected developer and manager of housing facilities for the homeless nationwide. In June, the project received more than $1 million in tax credit financing from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which would allow NCR to move forward with building plans and eventually begin construction in summer 2014.
City Council's official support was originally cited in NCR's application to the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which may have factored in to OHFA's decision to award the tax credits. The motion will be voted on in council's Budget and Finance Committee on Monday, Sept. 16 at 1 p.m.
Despite problems with staff and records, a report is calling changes to Ohio’s youth prisons system a model for the nation. The report from a court-appointed monitor praised the Ohio Department of Youth Services for reducing the number of offenders in secure confinement and spreading services for youthful offenders around the state. However, the report also points out staff shortages, inadequate teachers and inconsistent medical records. Advocates for youthful offenders claim the bad findings show a need for continued court supervision.
There’s a new sheriff in town, and the old one is becoming a visiting judge. Simon Leis, who served as sheriff for 25 years, is best known for going after an allegedly obscene Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit and prosecuting pornographer Larry Flynt. As visiting judge, he will take on cases other judges are assigned but can’t get to due to full dockets.
An appeals court is allowing City Gospel Mission to move to Queensgate. The special assistance shelter wants to move from its current Over-the-Rhine property to Dalton Avenue, but businesses and property owners at Queensgate oppose the relocation. In its opinion, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals said opponents to the relocation “have not raised any genuine issues of material fact in support of their constitutional attack upon the notwithstanding ordinance in their capacity as neighboring businesses and property owners.”
Butler County nonprofit services are worried that a greater need for their services in 2013 will force more budget tightening.
U.S. retailers did not have a good Christmas. Holiday sales were at the lowest they’ve been since 2008. The disappointing sales have forced retailers to offer big discounts in hopes of selling excess inventory.
Former president George H.W. Bush is in intensive care “following a series of setbacks including a persistent fever,” according to his spokesperson.
The Food and Drug Administration says FrankenFish, a giant, genetically modified salmon, is environmentally safe.
Fun fact: More Iranians worry about global warming than Americans.
Colleges are now helping students scrub their online footprints.
Antifreeze now tastes bitter to deter animals and children from eating it.
Scientists have developed a highly advanced robot boy capable of doing chores. Keep its face in mind, for you could be looking at the first of our future robot overlords.