[image-1]Brian Davis, the director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, will resign this summer. According to a message he published today, NEOCH seems intent on aligning itself more with the private sector and religious organizations — rather than, e.g., Cuyahoga County — to achieve its housing and protective services goals.
Most recently, Davis spoke out against the county's apparently inevitable decision to award the women's shelter operations contract to Frontline Services, which currently operates the shelter and which has drawn strong criticism for its management over the years.
At monthly Homeless Congress meetings downtown, Davis presided over an engaged community that most recently has been turning its attention toward lobbying for a separate shelter for the "severely mentally ill" in Northeast Ohio.
According to recent estimates, there are more than 20,000 people who classify as homeless in the city of Cleveland. NEOCH works with the area's various service providers to ensure progress on matters like emergency and transitional housing, civil rights, education and health care. The coalition is run by a nine-member board, which Davis insists will oversee a smooth transition.
Davis's message, however, points to a growing rift between the county government, which runs much of the spectrum of homeless services, and NEOCH.
"I worked with NEOCH for 22 years and have often rubbed the establishment the wrong way," Davis wrote. "A new person can try to build bridges and downplay the advocacy piece until there is a better time for social justice. The agency can always use your volunteer assistance or your support in talking to elected officials on the importance of emergency housing assistance. NEOCH is only as strong as its membership."
He spoke with Scene this afternoon and elaborated on that point.
"We haven't seen eye to eye in most things for about 10 years," Davis said of Cuyahoga County government. "It's been a strained relationship with the county for homeless policies. By the end of this year, we'll have lost 520 beds in Cuyahoga County. We don't think that's a good strategy for how to reduce the population, especially when we're going to see massive budget cuts."
Davis has had a role with NEOCH since his volunteer days in the mid-90s, helping to run the Cleveland Street Chronicle and partnering with the Cleveland Tenants Organization before taking NEOCH independent in the 2000s.
"I stepped down as director hopefully to encourage people who I've annoyed — to try to get them back on board," Davis said. "If you are doing advocacy and no one is listening, are you really serving a purpose in the community? Nobody listens down in Columbus. Nobody is really listening in Washington anymore. It's really rough times."
Davis's resignation is effective June 1. Until then, the monthly Homeless Congress meetings will continue, and he's hopeful that they'll exist beyond his tenure at the helm. "It's certainly very popular among the population," he said.
The board remains committed to the newspaper, its outreach program and the process of bringing religious organizations back into the fold.