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Constructive Alternatives to Criminalization

While many cities are pursuing criminalization measures, there are some examples of governmental entities and service provider groups that are working to address street homelessness in a more productive way. Although no city has completely ended homelessness or completely eliminated all criminalization measures, the models below can serve as positive examples of how to address the issue.

Alternative to food sharing restrictions: Cleveland, OH

While many cities are imposing restrictions on groups that share food with homeless individuals in public, Cleveland has pursued a more productive approach to help homeless persons obtain food. The City of Cleveland contracted with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) to bring individuals and groups who serve food to homeless people together to talk about how to improve services. The coordination effort stemmed from a long-standing public debate related to serving food in downtown areas of the city, especially the center of downtown called Public Square.

As part of the project, NEOCH coordinates all the professional outreach teams providing services to homeless people who are living outside. NEOCH began this process by organizing monthly meetings with outreach workers. The goal was to develop one contact number so that individuals could call an outreach worker in lieu of calling law enforcement about any concerns over a homeless person in a public space.
In addition, NEOCH coordinated a disjointed food sharing system with the goal of eventually moving all the food providers indoors, but still supporting the right of groups to share food with individuals who would like to eat outside. For example, NEOCH found that on Sundays on Public Square in the center of downtown over 700 meals are served by six different groups. However, on Monday nights no groups regularly shared
food on the Square. The first step was to eliminate duplication and to get every food provider to agree to a uniform set of standards on the preparation and distribution of food.

The next step was to relocate the food distribution from the heavily traveled center of downtown to a parking lot 18 blocks east. This was a hardship especially for those living on the near west side of Downtown. In exchange for agreeing to the move, the food sharing groups were given access to bathrooms as well as an indoor location during bad weather.

The final step was making available an overnight indoor location in which any church can bring food or provide warm clothing or spiritual counseling. Cleveland advocates have thus far opened this indoor location only for two nights a week and only in the winter on a trial basis. In 2009, advocates hope to find the funding for a seven day a week overnight drop in center to serve those who choose not to go to shelters.
For more information, please contact the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless at neoch@neoch.org or 216.432.0540.

Downtown Street Team: Daytona Beach, FL

The Downtown Street Team officially kicked off the program in January 2009 with the goal of reducing panhandling and homelessness in Daytona Beach. In order to reduce the need for panhandling, the program provides participants with jobs and housing. To participate in the program, a homeless individual must fill out an application that is available at all local service providers and go through an interview process. Upon admission to the Street Team, each individual not only has a job, but also may stay at the
Salvation Army and then may move to a transitional housing program. Under the program, participants are hired to clean up the downtown area of Daytona Beach.

Though the program is relatively new, a number of participants have already left the program to move on to other full-time jobs and housing. The program was influenced by a similar program in Palo Alto, California, that developed “kits” that other cities could purchase to help implement comparable programs. Volusia/Flagler County Coalition for the Homeless, the city of Daytona Beach, and Bo Brewer of People Business, Inc. purchased the kit to start the program and city commissioner Rick Shiver currently heads the program. Participating organizations include the Volusia/Flagler County Coalition for the Homeless, the Salvation Army, the Daytona Beach Chamber of Commerce, and the Downtown Business Partners. The
Downtown Development Authority, the city of Daytona Beach, local businesses, and private donations currently fund the program.

For more information, please contact the Volusia/Flagler County Coalition for the Homeless at (386) 258-1855 or http://www.vfcch.org/.

“A Key Not a Card”: Portland, OR

As part of its ten year plan to end homelessness, the City of Portland has funded an initiative, called “A Key Not a Card,” that enables outreach workers at various agencies to offer permanent housing immediately to people living on the street. Five different service provider agencies participate in the program. The funding from the city for housing is flexible in that it can be used to pay rent, back rent, security deposits, and can vary in the level of subsidy. The goal is to get people housed for 1 to 2 years while they
can secure permanent subsidies, public benefits, or employment, as appropriate.

From the program’s inception in 2005 through spring 2009, 936 individuals in 451 households have been housed through the program, including 216 households placed directly from the street. At twelve months after placement, at least 74% of households remain housed. At three and six months after placement, at least 93% and 87% remain housed, respectively. For fiscal year 2008/2009, the program was funded with $1.93 million in city general funds.

For more information, visit http://www.portlandonline.com/bhcd/index.cfm?c=30140.

1811 Eastlake Project: Seattle, WA

1811 Eastlake project provides supportive housing for 75 formerly homeless men and women living with chronic alcohol addiction. The project operator worked with county officials to identify people who were the most frequent users of crisis services. Placement in the housing was offered to 79 people and 75 of those individuals accepted placement. Residents benefit from 24-hour, seven day a week supportive services
including onsite mental health and chemical dependency treatment, health care services, daily meals and weekly outings to food banks, case management and payee services, medication monitoring, and weekly community-building activities. Residents are encouraged but not required to participate in treatment.

A first year analysis of the program found that it saved the county $2.5 million dollars in one year by significantly cutting residents’ medical expenses, county jail bookings, sobering center usage, and shelter usage. The savings dwarfed the project’s $1.1 million operating costs. After one year, 66% of the residents remained in the housing. Residents have voluntarily cut their alcohol consumption in half.

For more information, visit http://www.desc.org/1811.html.

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