Thu 1/25 @ 7PM
Homelessness in Northeast Ohio is at an epidemic level. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) reports every homeless shelter in Cleveland is full every night. In 2016, Cleveland’s Coordinated Intake Center, which serves individuals and families who are newly homeless, screened 5,385 people, while the Cleveland Metropolitan School District reported over 4,000 homeless students.
NEOCH and MOCA are hoping to not only raise money but also awareness with its inaugural “Hear For The Homeless” benefit concert Thu 1/25 at the Beachland Ballroom. Scheduled to perform are Wesley Bright & The Honeytones, Carlos Jones, Hiram-Maxim, Morgan Mecaskey, Jul Big Green, Dolfish and Times10.
CoolCleveland talked to NEOCH Director Chris Knestrick about the upcoming benefit and Northeast Ohio’s homelessness crisis.
CoolCleveland: Let’s start with “Hear For The Homeless.” What is the benefit?
Chris Knestrick: This is the first time we’ve ever done it. The event is kind of a collaboration between MOCA and the NEOCH. First and foremost, it’s an event that’s bringing together local musicians and bands to raise money to support the coalition here in Northeast Ohio. It’s also part of his larger exhibit that they [MOCA] have with Phil Collins entitled “My Heart’s in My Hand.” We did a panel discussion there two months back with some folks who are currently experiencing homelessness that are artists, some people who previously experienced homelessness and other folks who started doing work with the homeless community in Cleveland. We talked about a lot of the issues that are currently around housing and housing insecurity in Cleveland. So this is kind of a follow-up event just to celebrate the arts, and recognizing arts and music are also something that people experiencing homelessness enjoy.
CC: How will the money raised from “Hear For The Homeless” help the community?
CK: The money will go to continue our work here at NEOCH. We do advocacy, education and outreach. It will go towards us continuing to reach out to folks that are living under bridges and along the railroad tracks. Mostly folks that are shelter-resistant. We’re trying to build relationships with them over long periods of time to be able to work with them to get housing or whatever needs they may have that prevent them from being housed in our community. Currently, every shelter is full in Northeast Ohio. We have a family homeless crisis that’s on the rise and our advocacy efforts are asking our elected officials both at the county and city level to address the needs of folks who are finding themselves homeless.
CC: Tell us about NEOCH’s mission.
CK: Our mission is to organize and empower homeless and at-risk men, women and children to break the cycle of homelessness through public education, advocacy and the creation of nurturing environments. Our work is founded on the belief that people who have experienced homelessness or people who are currently experiencing homelessness need to have a voice in the policies, the construction of those policies and how agencies are functioning in Northeast Ohio to help the homeless. So we try to bring folks that are unhoused in our community to the place where decisions are being made about money, about decisions that will affect them and impact them.
CC: Can you delve a little deeper into the challenges NEOCH is currently facing in the community?
CK: There’s a continued reduction in emergency shelter needs for our community. As we prioritize permanent supportive housing, we’ve reduced the number of emergency beds and emergency services that are provided to people who are experiencing homelessness. So that’s a huge issue around how are we working with families that are currently homeless. We know affordable housing is less and less in our community, and more and more families are becoming homeless. So the family overflow shelter is indeed overflowing. That’s something we need to address.
CC: What kind of inroads is NEOCH making with homelessness in Northeast Ohio?
CK: It’s a give-and-take situation with permanent supportive housing. Like, we’ve also seen over the last 10 years a reduction in the number of people sleeping on our streets. We haven’t in any way ended homelessness or are on a path to ending homelessness, but permanent supportive housing has indeed provided housing for hundreds of people that would otherwise be homeless in our community. I think Northeast Ohio has one of the best outreach models to work with folks. And you see little sparks of hope in different places. New York City is now allowing people that are being evicted from their house to have legal representation. That’s amazing. To bring that to Northeast Ohio would have a huge impact on the number of people who would experience eviction and likewise homelessness after that.
CC: Finally, what do you hope readers know about homelessness in our area?
CK: The fact that in our community there’s an increasing population of people that are experiencing homelessness and that these issues are not going away. It’s an issue that’s like a web, there’s issues of addiction, inadequate affordable housing and not having enough shelter beds. That these issues are complicated. First and foremost, if you encounter people who are experiencing homelessness, encounter them as a human being and ask them what’s going on and how you can support them? I think also make sure that your elected officials have homelessness and issues of housing as some of their top priorities.