The National Coalition for the Homeless officially opened the Cleveland Regional Field office on November 23 with a ribbon cutting and a forum on racial equity. There was some confusion among local advocates about this office, and we wanted to clarify our goals and objectives since this is the first of five regional sites we intend to open.
It is a natural fit for NCH to open our first office in Cleveland for a number of reasons. The first is our long history of working with the local homeless Coalition and other advocacy groups in the area including the closed Cleveland Tenants Organization. NCH has strong ties to Ohio advocates across the state, including Bill Faith of COHHIO and Donald Whitehead (when he was in Cincinnati) both serving as Board Presidents. Currently, Cincinnati Coalition Director, Josh Springs is a board member, and Brian Davis, now on staff at NCH, served as Board Vice President when he was the local director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. If we were going to pick one natural fit for NCH it would be either Cincinnati or Cleveland.
Cleveland has a long history of creative and effective advocacy that were used as models for other communities in the struggle to reduce the number of homeless people. The Key vs. City of Cleveland federal court decision is one of the only federal lawsuits still in existence that protects those who stay outside from harassment by the police for sitting, sleeping, lying, or eating on the sidewalk. The work protecting those who stayed outside during the 2016 Republican National Convention is used by other cities today when a special event comes to their town. The opening of the waiting list at CMHA to those experiencing homelessness and the attempts to deconcentrate poverty while preserving the overall number of public housing units was used by other cities as a model. Many cities are pushing for a Justice Department meeting with groups of homeless individuals while negotiating a consent decree with the police as Cleveland and Cincinnati both started years ago. The work with the local ACLU on various homeless issues in both Akron and Cleveland including the overturning of panhandling legislation has always been impressive. There are only 15 similar homeless led organizations like the Homeless Congress—a local group of homeless people who meet every month to push an advocacy agenda. One of the first six street newspapers in the country was started in Cleveland and continues to this day. The outreach work of the local Coalition and getting individuals into hotels during the pandemic was impressive and life sustaining.
In the long history of moving homeless legislation in Congress, Ohio has been critical to that success with Representatives like Dennis Kucinich, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Senator Sherrod Brown and the current Secretary of HUD, Marcia Fudge, all championing the rights of people who experience homelessness. This office will be a regional office to attempt to bring current advocates together from throughout the region, to support and build stronger networks in places like Akron, Toledo and Dayton. Cleveland has a strong local commitment toward advocacy with the Poor People’s Campaign, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, NAACP Cleveland Branch, Organize Ohio, the Homeless Congress, and the ACLU that we will continue to enhance their work. We may be able to offer local groups input on national policies or figure out ways to influence change at the national level that benefits Cleveland, but our role will never duplicate or supplant local advocacy. There is plenty of work to do locally with a continued rise in homelessness and the NCH field office intends to support local efforts already in place.
The overarching goal of the regional offices is to mobilize people who experienced homeless and those currently experiencing homelessness to add their voices to an effort to create the structural changes necessary to end homeless. Too often efforts to end homelessness fail because those efforts are conducted in silos. The goal of Bring America Home Now is to raise the resources to the level of the needs of the people and not just to the level of need of the service sector. There is far too much suffering for territorialism. At NCH and through the BAHN campaign, it is our belief that the needs of the people must transcend the needs of the institutional interests.
Cleveland has been among the top five cities for poverty for two decades now. It is appropriate for NCH to have its first field office in one of the poorest cities in America, as so many living with low-incomes also struggle with housing stability. The National Coalition began the process in December 2020 to open field offices, and we saw an opportunity when the previous director of NEOCH became available for our open position of Director of Grassroots Organizing. Since we were all operating remotely, Brian Davis stayed in Cleveland to begin to make contacts out in the field. He has regular contact with Coalitions throughout the United States especially in those communities where the rights of people who are unhoused are particularly under attack. NCH began identifying possible field sites in May 2021 with a plan for five regional sites in California, Texas or Atlanta, the Midwest, Florida and the Central Plains or Minnesota. We announced these plans at our kickoff of the Bring America Home Now Campaign in June 2021, and promoted the idea on our website and in social media.
Over the last year, Davis and NCH staff have been in discussion with the local Coalition and members of the Homeless Congress, collaborating on awareness events and NCH policy and organizing committees. Over the summer of 2021 NCH firmed up plans for a Cleveland regional office, reaching out to the local Coalition about collaborating. NCH staff have been meeting regularly with the leadership of the Homeless Congress, and Loh, a local advocate with homeless experience, has been on the agenda for, and participated in, several NCH online events. NCH will hope to meet with other local advocates to discuss our plans, including Organize Ohio and the local chapter of the NAACP. We have made every effort to be transparent about our plans and goals.
NCH’s field office in Cleveland is in no way meant to construct a new homeless advocacy organization or duplicate existing services and efforts. We will be working with people who have experienced homelessness in the Cleveland area to setup an advisory group to provide input from those who are currently living without housing on federal policies with the CDC, HUD, and the Department of Justice. This is a natural step for a group founded on the principle of raising the voices of those without housing and being led by people who have experienced homelessness. We believe that those who have experienced homelessness have the expertise and knowledge of how we will ultimately end homelessness. We are excited to partner with advocates in Cleveland, and the larger region, to bring the ideas and direction of people who have been homeless into fruition, truly Bringing America Home and ending homelessness across the country.