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Posts Tagged ‘Racial Equity’

National Coalition for the Homeless Opens First Field Office in Cleveland, OH

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

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.       

I had just scored a long touchdown – A reflection on Racial Injustice

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

by Donald Whitehead

I was a part of a small group of thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds who often played a lively game of tag football in the Burnet Avenue U.S Post office parking lot in Cincinnati, Ohio. 

I had just scored a long touchdown. As I was finishing my touchdown celebration, I noticed a University of Cincinnati Police cruiser drive by. I saw the woman in the back pointing at some of the people in the parking lot. Minutes later, the parking lot was swamped with police cars. Campus police and Cincinnati officers jumped out in mass with guns drawn, and suddenly we were ordered against the vehicles, and guns were pointed at our heads. We were confused and terrified about what was happening what we had done other than play football on the lot for several hours. Why was there so much anger coming from the police officers? Why did they have their guns drawn?

Donald Whitehead, NCH Executive Director, with Rep. Maxine Waters

I can still hear my best friend say, “let’s run for it.” I sometimes wonder what might have happened if we had taken his advice.  We know from recent history that running would have been a mistake, potentially a fatal mistake.  Luckily one of my brothers who wasn’t placed against the car had gone to get our parents.  Our houses were less than a hundred yards away.  

The white woman in the police car pointing had been robbed and assaulted by a group of black boys, and we fit the description. To her credit, after further inspection, the woman realized that none of our group was involved. The tension faded; however, the damage was done. We were good kids; we went to church every Sunday and sang in the Church Choir; none of us had ever been in trouble. 

This was our first contact with law enforcement ever.

We did not commit the robbery; in fact, it was us that got robbed that day.  We were robbed of innocence, robbed of trust in those that protect and serve—robbed of our belief in a colorblind world.  This is not a unique scenario; it is a lot more common than many would believe.

No child should have to learn such painful lessons with a gun pointed at their head.

That day was the first of many pen pricks of racism that I experienced and still experience to this day.

The incident also taught me not to be silent in the face of discrimination.  Our silence is negligence; we cannot see or experience injustice without protest or at the very least identify it. Our minor protest resulted in season-tickets-for-life to the University of Cincinnati football games.

The other lesson learned for me was the need to understand how and why I fit the description. Why am I suspicious without provocation? Why is my excellence somehow seen as out of the ordinary or achieved through dishonesty or criminality? I immediately wanted to understand history, my history, our collective history. I became a Dr. Martin Luther King fan; unfortunately, this was the only historical figure fully accessible in my post-secondary education.  

I became my own historian, and the more I have learned over the years, the more I have wanted to know.

I have been completely horrified by the middle passage, chattel slavery, black codes, and Jim Crow practices. 

I have also been so proud and grateful to my ancestors.  I am so respectful of their incredible resilience and their ability to survive the unthinkable horrors they endured.  

As my teams and I work to reintroduce the world to our full history, we often encounter the voices of the apathetic or the discouraged. The level of internalized racism is surprisingly significant. I find myself troubled by the thought that nothing will change from some in the community. 

To not believe in change is disrespectful to the many changemakers who have given their lives. Things have changed in many ways, most notably, the end of chattel slavery and the opportunity to gain civil rights have been hard-fought and slow and painful.

In many ways, it does appear that we are going in the wrong direction. From Charlottesville to massive voter depression efforts, it’s easy to be discouraged. It’s easy to ignore the senate election in Georgia or the election of Barack Obama when the Supreme court weakens the civil rights amendment. Watching angry crowds protest students having the ability to learn the unfiltered history of the United States by misrepresenting every attempt as the misunderstood Critical Race Theory, it’s easy to overlook that the Secretary of Defense is a dark-skinned black man.

Our racial reconciliation is recent in history; the first African Americans landed on the continent’s shores in 1619.  Brown versus Board of Education was passed in 1954. For 300 years, we survived on a steady diet of resilience, pride, and hope; we must never abandon those ideals. 

Those discouraged by the current state of our country learn from the setbacks and rejoice about the progress and never stop believing in change. Every living breathing African Americans is a product of success. We are descendants of unfathomable resilience.  Resilience from the 400 years of all of the things I mentioned earlier and resilience from the pen pricks of racism today and those yet to come. The great Booker T. Washington said “Success should not be judged by ones station in life but the obstacles they had to overcome to get there.”

Read more about how centuries of racial injustice affect who experiences homelessness today.

Black Lives Matter

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

Our Nation and the World are fearful of the uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic, and our hearts go out to George Floyd, his loved ones and all of us who are hurting right now. The massive protests that are taking place across the globe, are revealing years of pent-up frustration with racism and inequality. The militarization of policing in the United States and the repeated acts of violence against people of color by the police, creates a combustible threat—one that strikes at the very foundations of our democracy.

NCH stands in solidarity with those in America who are not satisfied with a society that fails to denounce the structural racism that plagues our nation.  As many of us watched in horror as George Floyd was murdered right in front of our eyes, or Ahmaud Arbery, who was hunted down and murdered on video, or Breonna Taylor who was shot and killed in her own home, we are reminded of many more precious lives taken by the hands of law enforcement – those who are trusted to protect us.

Repeatedly, we hear anguished cries as one more black or brown person takes their last breath, too soon. We are reminded of the reality that until we address structural racism in this country, these horrendous images will continue as nightmares in a never-ending loop.

As we battle multiple crises, the COVID-19 pandemic, the senseless death of yet another black man at the hands of law enforcement, and an attack on our civil liberties, we pray for everyone’s safety and health. We must remain vigilant stewards in hopes of an America and World filled with peace, equality, and justice for all.

Donald Whitehead
Board President
National Coalition for the Homeless

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