by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: News
at 10:49 AM | Permalink
Streetcar fund healthier than thought; Boehner wins speakership again, proposes fruit ladders to the stars; Ferguson grand juror sues St. Louis County prosecutor
Hey all! My colleague, CityBeat arts editor Jac Kern, just got engaged over the holiday and there’s champagne everywhere in the office right now. Congrats! Now I’m going to try to power through the distraction to bring you the news because I’m a soldier like that.So the streetcar contingency budget, which is set aside for unforeseen complications and cost overruns, is healthier than previously thought, officials announced yesterday. Last month, streetcar Project Executive John Deatrick announced that the worst-case scenarios his office ran had the fund down to about $80,000 after everything was paid out. But after some political blowback, especially from streetcar foe Mayor John Cranley, Deatrick and company went back to the drawing board, reassessed costs and adjusted that figure. The new estimate is that the contingency fund has about $1.3 million left. What changed? Not much. Deatrick says the streetcar team renegotiated some contracts and scaled back a fence around the streetcar substation. That fence was set to be solid brick, but will now be partially steel. Some council members, including Chris Seelbach, expressed concerns that the project was being scaled back due to political pressure, but officials with the project say it will run the same distance with the same number of cars for the same amount of time and that it hasn’t been scaled back in any meaningful way.• As the weather gets colder, demands on area homeless shelters are increasing, straining space available for those with nowhere else to go. While a funding increase council passed last month has given area shelters more money to work with, demand may outpace the increase."The demand for winter shelter has been greater than expected this winter," Strategies to End Homelessness President and CEO Kevin Finn said in a statement. "... Such increased and early demand could exhaust resources that we hope will last us through February."• Local grilled cheese dynamo Tom + Chee is expanding, its founders report, with plans to open five new restaurants in Southern Texas, mostly in suburbs of Houston. The company has partnered with the Tunica-Biloxi tribe to bring the restaurants to the region. The new restaurants will join 13 others in Georgia, Nebraska, Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee. • Northern Kentucky residents who have been touched by the region’s heroin epidemic took their concerns to the Kentucky state capitol in Frankfurt yesterday. One-hundred-thirty Northern Kentuckians came to the rally asking for changes to state laws that could cut down the number of heroin overdose deaths. Among the policy changes advocates are asking for: repeal of a law that keeps Kentucky police from carrying anti-overdose drugs like Narcan. Police in Cincinnati and many other cities carry the drugs, which can mean the difference between life and death for overdose victims. A new program in Kentucky will give state funds to three hospitals to provide Narcan kits to emergency overdose patients, including St. Elizabeth Healthcare in Fort Thomas. The hospital was chosen due to the high number of overdose victims it treats. • It’s official. Rep. John Boehner, R-West Chester, has lived to fight another day as speaker of the house. Boehner held the most powerful perch in the House despite challenges from the far-right wing of the Republican party, who hold that he didn’t do enough to repeal Obamacare and cut the federal budget. Tea party-affiliated reps had a similar mutiny attempt last session, in 2013, when 12 voted against Boehner for speaker. This time, opposition doubled, as 24 conservative House members voted against him. Boehner still coasted to a win, but the drama highlights the continued fissures in the party. Even as it grows more powerful— the 246 seats Republicans hold in the House are the most they’ve had since the 1940s — it’s clear there’s little agreement about what should be done with that power. Perhaps in reflection of this mixed-up mindset, Boehner offered this lumpy, ill-formed bag of metaphors on the House floor after his win.“So let’s stand tall and prove the skeptics wrong,” Boehner said. “May the fruits of our labors be ladders our children can use to climb to the stars.”Fruit ladders to the stars, y’all.Boehner was quick to deal out discipline to members who voted against him, having two Republicans who voted against him kicked off the House’s powerful rules committee, which sets the agenda for the House. • One of the grand jurors in the Darren Wilson case is suing the St. Louis County prosecutor over what he says were misleading statements about the grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson. Prosecutor Robert McCullough presented evidence to the grand jury after the August shooting death of unarmed 18-year-old Mike Brown by Ferguson Police officer Wilson. The grand jury member accuses McCullough of misleading the public about the grand jury’s deliberations and is asking to be able to speak publicly about the case in his suit. The juror, who so far has remained anonymous, is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. Brown’s shooting along with other police shootings of unarmed black citizens have triggered civil unrest and activism around the country. • Finally, this isn’t really news related but I have to share it anyway. Here are the ladies of Downton Abby, which just started a new season, playing Cards Against Humanity. Warning: it gets a lil raunchy. Also, you’re welcome.
by Nick Swartsell
Posted In: Homelessness
at 12:48 PM | Permalink
Additional proposal would add $45,000 to winter shelter
A proposed city ordinance could add homeless people to groups protected by hate crime laws, making Cincinnati one of just three cities to do so. The proposal by Councilman Chris Seelbach could add up to 180 days in extra jail time for those convicted of crimes against people because they don't have homes.“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.”
by German Lopez
Money would put shelter closer to $75,000 minimum goal
City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee on Thursday
called for the city administration to locate $30,000 to help fund the
winter shelter, which would push the shelter closer to the $75,000 it
needs to remain open from mid-to-late December through February.
The shelter currently estimates it’s at approximately
$32,000 in contributions, according to Josh Spring, executive director
of the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition.
The city administration now needs to locate the money and
turn the transaction into an ordinance, which will officially allocate
the funds. Spring says that should go in front of the Budget and Finance
Committee in the next couple weeks.
Although the $75,000 is often cited as the shelter’s goal,
Spring emphasizes that it’s only the minimum. If early March turns out
to be a particularly cold, the shelter would prefer to stay open for
some extra time, which would require money above the $75,000 minimum.
But without the city’s contribution, the shelter won’t have enough money to stay open beyond even 30 days.
Spring says the program is necessary to keep Cincinnati’s
homeless population from freezing to death. Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld
echoed the sentiment at Thursday’s committee meeting, saying it would be
shameful if the city allowed people to die due to winter conditions.
The winter shelter aims to house 91 people each night and
kept roughly 600 people from the cold throughout the 2012-2013 season,
according to Spring.
“It’s a relatively cheap program to run,” Spring previously told CityBeat. “To serve about 600 people with $75,000 is pretty good.”
Still, Spring says money has been more difficult to
collect this year. He attributes that to reduced enthusiasm as the
concept becomes more commonplace.
“When we started doing this three years ago, it was sort
of a new thing,” Spring explained. “It’s not so new anymore, which makes
bringing in dollars more difficult. But the need hasn’t changed.”
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.
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).”
by German Lopez
State GOP restricts Obamacare, group fights homelessness, school grades linked to poverty
As the Oct. 1 opening date approaches for the Affordable Care Act’s (“Obamacare”) online marketplaces, outreach campaigns are beginning to take root and aim at states with the largest uninsured populations,
including Ohio and its more than 1.25 million uninsured. But the
campaigns have run into a series of problems in the past few months,
with many of the issues driven by regulatory changes and opposition from
Republican legislators at the state and federal level. So far, none of
the state’s “navigators” — the federally financed organizations that
will participate in outreach campaigns and help enroll people into
marketplaces — have been certified by the Ohio Department of Insurance
as they await completion of 20-hour federal training courses. Meanwhile,
some organizations have been shut out of the process entirely,
including Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, because of
regulations enacted by state Republicans.
Strategies to End Homelessness yesterday released its first annual progress report
detailing how the organization intends to reduce homelessness in
Hamilton County by half from 2012 to 2017. 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.
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.
A new study found Ohio school performance is strongly tied to student poverty. Damon Asbury of the Ohio School Boards Association says the results shouldn’t make
excuse for low-performing schools, but he claims there are other
factors the state government should consider when grading schools,
including whether low-performing schools actually need more, not less,
funding to make up for a lack of resources. Greg Lawson of the
conservative Buckeye Institute seems to agree, but he says his
organization, which supports school choice and vouchers, will soon
release a study showing no correlation between state and local funding
and student performance.
CityBeat commentaries:• “Republican Prudes Hold Down Ohio’s Economy.”• “Poor Jenny, Poor Cincinnati.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer yesterday held its endorsement interviews with mayoral candidates Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley, with some of the highlights posted here. Also, check out CityBeat’s previous Q&A’s with the candidates: Qualls and Cranley.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says the state’s Identity Theft Unit has received 600 complaints and helped adjust $250,000 in disputed charges since its creation last year.
Libertarian Charlie Earl yesterday announced he’ll run in the 2014 gubernatorial race. Earl served in the Ohio House from 1981 to 1984 and ran unsuccessfully for secretary of state in 2010.
Cincinnati State is getting a $2.75 million federal grant to expand the school’s manufacturing program in the region.
Cincinnati Children’s is testing a new bird flu vaccine.
The Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County received the Auditor of State Award with Distinction for a clean audit report.
A new study suggests people act more selfishly when interacting with wide-faced men.
by German Lopez
First progress report outlines strategy, initial outcomes
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
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 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.
by German Lopez
Grant will provide $600,000 for at-risk and homeless vets
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
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
“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
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.