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.
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.
Let’s start the morning roundup with a truly radical idea: How about using Paul Brown Stadium as a homeless shelter during the roughly 340 nights a year when the Bengals aren’t using it?
That’s just what might happen with the new Marlins ballpark or the Tampa Bay Rays' Tropicana Field in Florida if two state lawmakers have their way. They want to enforce an obscure 1988 Florida law that allows any ballpark or stadium that receives taxpayer money to serve as a homeless shelter on the dates that it is not in use. Sounds like a great idea to us.
Homeless advocates gathered in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse on Wednesday to speak out against the county sheriff’s attempts to evict homeless people sleeping at the courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center with the threat of jail time.
The press conference came on the same day that four local homeless filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Neil’s new policy is cruel and unusual because it punishes people for being homeless.
Charmaine McGuffey, head of the Hamilton County Justice Department, says the policy is necessary to address a public health issue. She explains that every morning county officials are forced to clean up urine and feces left by the homeless the night before, and often the county doesn’t have the resources to completely disinfect the areas.
Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, says county officials should stop using taxpayer money to address public defecation and focus on the state of the economy. He’s asking locals to tell county officials, “I want my government to invest in jobs and housing, not in pushing people to the margins.”
If the policy remains, Spring says the county could at least compromise and hold enforcement until the winter shelter opens, which would provide another housing opportunity for many of the homeless people who currently rely on county buildings for a safe spot to sleep.
McGuffey says the current timeline for the winter shelter opening — two months — is too much time to wait for what she describes as a public health issue. She says it’s also unclear whether local organizations, which are still gathering funds for the shelter, will have enough money to open it.
At the press conference, Spring was joined by several homeless people who shared their experiences. All the speakers echoed a similar theme: They’re not homeless by choice, and they only sleep on county property because it’s much safer than the alternatives, such as alleys and abandoned buildings.
McGuffey insists no one is trying to demonize homeless people. She says officers try to link homeless people with local human services when possible. Some of that outreach is already underway through trained officers and neighborhood liaisons, and starting next week the county will bring in a trained mental health professional to act as an advocate and outreach coordinator.
But if help can’t be found, McGuffey says officers have to threaten arrest to invoke a “sense of immediacy” or homeless people might never leave the properties and the public health issue would go unaddressed.
So far, the sheriff’s office sees the program as successful. Over the past four weeks, it’s brought down the amount of homeless people camping out at the Hamilton County Courthouse and Justice Center each night from 40 to 12, according to McGuffey. She says the reductions exemplify people who were redirected to human services, but there’s no hard evidence showing those people actually got help or whether the reduction is temporary.
Spring says there aren’t enough human services to get all of the city’s homeless help. That, he claims, is the real problem that needs local officials’ attention.
Over the past decade, City Council fell far short of its funding goal for human services,
which aid homeless and low-income Cincinnatians.
candidates, including Chris Seelbach, Greg Landsman and Mike Moroski,
say increasing human services funding to 1 percent of the operating budget will be a
priority for them over the next few years. The increase would represent an
improvement, but it would still fall short of the city’s 1.5 percent goal.
Meanwhile, Strategies to End Homelessness aims to reduce homelessness in Hamilton County from more than 7,000 to roughly 3,500 over the next five years through an initiative backed by the city and county.
As part of Homelessness Awareness Month, Spring and other
advocates will march in support of homeless causes later this month. The
march will begin at 3 p.m. on Oct. 26 at 1300 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine.
With the war on drugs widely considered a failure after more than four decades, experts are suggesting legalization and decriminalization as viable alternatives. One concern: Despite recent attempts at sentencing reform, Ohio’s prison population is set to grow further and breach a capacity barrier previously set by the U.S. Supreme Court in a ruling against California. With costs rising and drug use rates seemingly unaffected by harsher enforcement, groups of academics, former law enforcement officials and civil libertarians say it’s time to look at states and countries that have abandoned criminalization and harsh enforcement with great success. To read the full story, click here.
A planned supportive housing facility in Avondale is raising concerns for residents who claim the complex could hurt a neighborhood already plagued by poverty, crime, obesity, unemployment and homelessness. Particularly worrying for Avondale 29, the group opposing the plans, is that the facility is near a daycare and elementary school, which the group says could have a negative impact on neighborhood children. Supporters of the facility say the opposition is based on widespread misinformation. They point to a similar similar supportive housing facility in Columbus, which, according to the Columbus Police Department’s Gary Scott, had a positive impact on the community surrounding it.
Opponents of Cincinnati’s parking lease were dealt two major blows in court yesterday: The Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear their first legal challenge and effectively upheld the city’s referendum-immune emergency powers, and the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court refused to place a temporary restraining order on the lease despite claims that the city manager made “significant and material” changes to the deal without City Council approval. Both the challenges come from the conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST), which claims parking rates and enforcement hours will rise because the city is ceding too much power over its services by leasing its parking meters, lots and garages to the Greater Cincinnati Port Authority. Supporters of the parking lease argue the plan is necessary to leverage the city’s parking assets to finance development projects that will grow the city’s tax base.
Commentary: “Secrecy Plagues Potentially Good Programs.”
The city is fighting to have a document removed from its legal battle over the streetcar with Duke Energy. City officials says the document is “nothing scandalous” and the city just made a mistake by accidentally disclosing it, but a Duke attorney says the document is a source of “embarrassment” for the city and important to the case. As part of an agreement, Cincinnati and Duke are arguing in court to settle who has to pay an estimated $15 million to move utility lines to accommodate for the streetcar route.
Advocates of the federally funded Medicaid expansion yesterday filed petitions to the state attorney general’s office to get the issue on the 2014 ballot. As part of Obamacare, states are asked to expand their Medicaid programs to include anyone up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. If they accept, the federal government would pay for 100 percent of the expansion’s cost for three years then indefinitely phase down to 90 percent. The Health Policy Institute of Ohio found the expansion would save Ohio $1.8 billion and insure half a million Ohioans. Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, and state Democrats support the expansion, but Republican legislators are resisting it.
More than two-thirds of Ohioans support laws that protect gays and lesbians against job discrimination, but more than four in five mistakenly think such laws are already in place at the state and federal levels, according to the 2013 Ohio Values Survey from the Public Religion Research Institute. The survey also found a slim majority of Ohioans oppose amending the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage, which somewhat contradicts earlier polls from The Washington Post and Quinnipiac University that found a plurality of Ohioans now support same-sex marriage.
State agencies are probing the second high-profile suicide in an Ohio prison in the past month. Ariel Castro, a Cleveland man who was sentenced to life for kidnapping three women and beating and raping them as he held them for a decade, was found hanging on Tuesday after an apparent suicide. His death was the seventh suicide in an Ohio prison this year and the 35th since 2008. “As horrifying as Mr. Castro’s crimes may be, the state has a responsibility to ensure his safety from himself and others,” said Christine Link, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, in a statement. “Questions remain whether Mr. Castro was properly screened for suicide risk and mental illness.”
The Ohio Development Services Agency is offering $30 million in loans and grants to employers who train their workforce. “Building a strong economy is about ensuring Ohio’s workforce has the tools it needs for success,” said David Goodman, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, in a statement. “We want our workforce to be ready for the competitive jobs of tomorrow.”
Ohio legislators are asking the federal government to pursue a balanced-budget amendment. Although the amendment might sound like a good idea in campaign platitudes, many economists agree it’s a bad idea because it limits the federal government’s flexibility in reacting to economic downturns that typically cause deficits by lowering tax revenues and increasing the amount of people on government services.
A Fairfield, Ohio, woman is being forced by the Fairfield Board of Zoning Appeals to get rid of five of her seven dogs. The woman, who says she suffers from depression, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, says she needs the dogs to cope. The zoning board said it had heard anonymous complaints from neighbors, which apparently convinced the board to not provide an exemption for Fairfield’s two-pet limit.
Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble is considering dropping some products and offering low-price alternatives for others in response to growing concerns about lacking performance.
For the second time in a year, an Ohio judge is publicly shaming a convicted idiot.
A new implant allows doctors look into people’s brains.
That's the number of Cincinnatians cited in a 2012 report from Strategies to End Homelessness that are either staying in shelters or in places not meant for human habitation.
The Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition will coalesce to recognize the plight of those 7,000 when it
holds its annual Homeless Awareness March on Saturday, Oct. 26 starting
at 3 p.m. at Buddy’s Place, a permanent housing facility
for the homeless located at 1300 Vine St. in Over-the-Rhine.
Josh Spring, executive director at GRHC, says the march will explore areas in Over-the-Rhine and the Central Business District particularly plagued by homelessness. There will be about 10 stops, each of which will be marked by a speech from representatives of several advocacy groups, including the Interfaith Workers' Center, OTR Community Housing, Streetvibes, People's Coalition for Equality and Justice and the Drop Inn Center.
The march comes at a particularly auspicious time for GRHC, which recently helped four homeless plaintiffs file a lawsuit against the Hamilton County Sheriff’s office for depriving homeless people of their constitutional rights by threatening to arrest people who sleep or inhabit the common areas around the Hamilton County Courthouse and Hamilton County Justice Center downtown.
Those areas have recently become the center of a public
health debate between groups like GRHC and county officials, who have been forced to clean up urine
and feces left behind the homeless and argue they
just don’t have the resources to keep up.
The GHRC held a protest on Oct. 16 in front of the courthouse asking Sheriff Neil to rescind the policy, the same day the lawsuit was filed.
In an effort to compromise, Spring and other supporters have asked the county to at least wait to stick to the policy until the winter shelter opens in December, but county officials are hesitant to ignore the cleanliness problem for that long.
Advocates such as Spring, however, argue the city should take a “prevention first” approach instead by figuring out what will keep Cincinnatians from becoming homeless in the first place.
Spring says he hopes the march will draw both people who have come specifically to protest displacement and others who come to learn about the nature of homelessness in Cincinnati. "We really hope people walk away with some passion to go and do something about this," he says.
Last year's march was centered around protesting Western & Southern's manipulative legal disputes with the Anna Louise Inn, which provides safe and affordable housing to low-income women. The battle came to an end in May when Cincinnati Union Bethel, which owns the Inn, signed an agreement with Western & Southern to move from Lytle Park to Mount Auburn.
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.
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).”
Despite unanimous opposition, City Council yesterday fulfilled duties dictated by the City Charter and reluctantly voted to allow the controversial pension amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would privatize Cincinnati’s pension system so future city employees — excluding police and fire personnel, who are under a separate system — contribute to and manage individual 401k-style accounts. Currently, the city pools pension contributions and manages the investments through an independent board. City officials, including all council members, oppose the amendment because they say it will cost the city more and hurt benefits for city employees. Supporters of the amendment, who are backed by out-of-state tea party groups, claim it’s necessary to address Cincinnati’s rising pension costs. CityBeat covered the issue in greater detail here.
The conservative Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) is once again taking the parking lease to court. The legal pursuit comes after City Solicitor John Curp denied COAST’s challenge. COAST claims that the city manager made “significant and material” changes to the parking lease, but Curp said the changes were ministerial and only made as a result of delays caused by COAST’s first legal challenge against the parking lease. If the latest legal tactic is successful, City Council could be forced to vote on the changes made to the parking lease, which could endanger the entire lease because a majority of council members now say they oppose the plan. A hearing is scheduled for the challenge today at 11:30 a.m.
Hamilton County is evicting homeless squatters from its courthouse, but it plans to carry out the evictions by connecting the homeless with existing services. “We don’t want to get mired down in too much political debate,” Hamilton County Sheriff’s Major Charmaine McGuffey told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s a public health hazard.” About 750 people in Hamilton County are homeless throughout any typical night; of those, 700 spend the night in shelters and the rest, who are mostly downtown, sleep outside.
Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, who’s running for mayor against ex-Councilman John Cranley, yesterday unveiled two TV advertisements: “Neighborhoods” and “Wheelbarrow.” The first ad touts Qualls’ supports for neighborhood investments. The second ad is particularly aggressive and claims Cranley was forced to resign from City Council because of ethics issues regarding his personal investments.
The number of Ohioans on welfare dropped over the past few years as Gov. John Kasich’s administration enforced federal work requirements. Ben Johnson, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, says the efforts have brought the state’s welfare program into federal compliance.
Ariel Castro, the man convicted for the decade-long kidnapping, beating and raping of three Cleveland women he held captive, was found hanging in his prison cell on Tuesday after an apparent suicide.
Attorney General Mike DeWine yesterday released an update on the state’s sexual assault kit testing initiative: So far, the attorney general’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation has received 3,530 previously untested rape kits from 105 law enforcement agencies in Ohio. The agency has tested 1,488 kits, leading to to 460 hits in the Combined DNA Index System.
Internet cafe owners submitted petitions yesterday to put a law that effectively banned their businesses on the ballot. State officials claim the cafes were hubs for criminal and illegal gambling activity, but cafe owners say the ban is unfair.
This frog listens with its mouth.
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:
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