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The Drop Inn Center: “Stuck Between a Rock & a Reallocation of Shelter Funding”

Most of you know that one of the major reasons I am running for Cincinnati City Council is because of my work with the low-income & homeless population in our City.  Not only did they inspire me to seek public office, but my frustration at how the social service sector was (is) (mis)managed led me to desire a seat at City Hall.  Yes, I do believe that I can make changes that will benefit ALL in our City.

I posted a status this morning on Facebook in response to Sheriff Jim Neil’s threatened arrest of homeless people on the steps of the Court House.  It received numerous responses and “likes.”  The topic of the Drop Inn Center came up and its (potential) move.  I served on the board of the Drop Inn Center for two years and it taught me so much about the lack of prioritizing the City places on the homeless.  The poor – yes.  The homeless – no.

So, I felt the need to publish the following paper (nine pages long) that I wrote for my Public Policy course at the University of Notre Dame.  It is a comprehensive look at the reallocation of shelter funding at the City level – and how that has forced those in the field of sheltering the homeless to make very difficult decisions.  These are just facts, nothing more – but they shed light on the inner-workings of institutions that affect our City’s most vulnerable population.  These facts also show that pointing the finger at one single entity is not the answer – nor is a siloed mentality when trying to alleviate the burden of homelessness.  We have to come together.

Unity Assists.

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The Drop Inn Center:

Stuck Between a Rock and a Reallocation of Shelter Funding

HOMELESSNESS

Homelessness has always, and not always, been a problem in the United States.  It always has been a problem in the sense that there have always been people living on the “streets.”  From the inception of this country, inequality has always played a major role in in keeping those at the top, at the top.  However, it was not until the 1980s that homelessness became an epidemic in this country.  In the first four years of Reagan’s presidency, homelessness more than doubled in the United States.  Apparently, “trickledown economics” did not have the desired effect.

Furthermore, in 1980, the year Reagan took office, federal funds accounted for 22% of city budgets.  By 1989, that number had become 6%.  Add on top of that the deinstitutionalization of mental institutions, Congress’ slaughtering of HUD funding, and a debilitating lack of affordable, rental properties in urban areas and you have modern-day homelessness.

In 1981, In response to the inevitable, Coalitions for the Homeless began sprouting up in major cities across America.  Groups of concerned citizens rallied together to try and head off what they saw coming; namely, a homeless population with which the country was unprepared to deal.  It was at this time that The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless (GCCH) was formed and served as a model for the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) that was to come in 1984.  In fact, the GCCH was formerly located at 1506 Elm St., the current site of Choices Café, and many of the plans for the NCH were drafted at this location.  A Cincinnati man, and good friend, Donald Whitehead was one of the first Executive Directors of the NCH.

Donald was a graduate of the recovery programs at the Drop Inn Center (DIC), Ohio’s second largest shelter and the state’s largest emergency shelter (i.e., one that takes everyone, intoxicated or otherwise – unlike many faith-based shelters).  The DIC has been in operation since 1978, three years before the first Coalitions arose.  A local man named buddy gray founded the DIC, the Coalition and about six other local social services.  He was a man of vision who saw the “writing on the wall,” and realized that, due to historical and upcoming political decisions, the homeless were only going to get pushed further and further down.

Donald was one of buddy’s friends.  Donald also suffered from the disease of addiction – a disease that, until the 80s, was seen as a moral deficiency and not something that was actually a medical condition.  buddy had alcoholism in his family and did not see the sense in someone dying in the snow just because they drank.  This was his inspiration for the Drop Inn Center, a shelter that was far ahead of its time and that many try to emulate to this day.

Tragically, buddy was murdered on November 15th, 1996.  His partner, Bonnie Neumeier, tells me stories of the feds hauling buddy off, telling him to be quiet, etc.  buddy was killed by one of the mentally ill men in the DIC, but to this day no investigation has been launched, and no one is certain how Wilbur, the killer, managed to get a brand new gun to kill buddy when the man could not even tie his shoes.  Regardless of what really happened, when buddy was killed, everyone knew they had to mobilize to fulfill his legacy.

CURRENT VOICES AND STAKEHOLDERS

Around the time of buddy’s death, in 1995, the Cincinnati Continuum of Care was founded.  In fact, all around the country Continuums cropped up to serve as City Hall’s wing of homeless advocacy and process implementation.  Recently, in Cincinnati, the Continuum changed its name to Strategies to End Homelessness (SEH).  Their purpose is to implement “a single, coordinated and inclusive process for the planning and management of the local (City of Cincinnati and Hamilton County) Continuum” (www.strategiestoendhomelessness.org).  The Executive Director of SEH is a man named, Kevin Finn.

Roxanne Qualls was the former mayor of Cincinnati and political aficionado.  She supports renewed economic development in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine (OTR) neighborhood.  After World War II, the “white flight” of urban cores all across America struck OTR the hardest in Cincinnati – particularly when the Mill Creek Expressway was leveled to make way for Interstate 75; displacing 1,000s of people in section 8 style housing.  OTR had always been an historically working class neighborhood, but in the 50s and 60s it saw its most debilitating decline economically.  As a result, OTR became the home of the DIC, the GCCH and a number of other 501(c)3 public benefit organizations that serve the poor.  This concentration of services is currently a policy debate that wages daily at City Hall, i.e., the debate of whether or not these services should be spread out to de-concentrate and redistribute the homeless population.

Roxanne’s mission to redevelop OTR is spearheaded by the development company, Cincinnati Center City Development Corp (3CDC).  Their Mission Statement reads:  “3CDC is a non-profit, real estate development and finance organization focused on strategically revitalizing Cincinnati’s downtown urban core in partnership with the City of Cincinnati Corporate Community.  Our work is specifically focused on the Central Business District and in Over-the-Rhine” (www.3cdc.org).  The CEO of 3CDC is a man named, Steve Leeper.  Their Board is comprised of business leaders and executives from Cincinnati Bell, Kroger, The Cincinnati Enquirer, Deloitte and Touche, Western & Southern, PNC, US Bank and Procter & Gamble (to name but a few).

So, we have Kevin Finn (SEH), Roxanne Qualls and Steve Leeper (3CDC) on the development side.  Kevin speaks on behalf of the homeless.

The Executive Director of the Drop Inn Center is Arlene Nolan – recently named by the Cincinnati Enquirer one of Cincinnati’s “20 Women to Watch.”  Arlene was hired 2 ½ years ago when the DIC’s long term ED, Pat Clifford, was fired.  Pat’s removal was a result of the changing nature of the DIC’s current issues – namely, continuing to serve those that no one else wants (including the other shelters) while feeling the pressure from the city and 3CDC to move out of OTR and make way for further development.  The Board of the DIC is comprised of representatives from the banking and legal communities, religious communities, advocacy community, formerly homeless community and educational community (this person is, of course, me).

OVER-THE-RHINE (YESTERDAY AND TODAY)

All of the voices and stakeholders named above have the same vision in mind – that OTR become a safe place, filled with renewed life and business, and void of a homeless population that has long gone underserved (even by the public benefit groups who have always vied for the same dollars).  However, the methods through which we navigate this ambiguous territory of serving the homeless and revitalizing downtown are all but similar.

OTR is the nation’s largest intact historic district at .67 square miles.  In the late nineteenth century, German Immigrants came to Cincinnati to settle.  The result of their settlement is a beautiful downtown neighborhood just north of the Central Business District (CBD).  The CBD and OTR are separated by Central Parkway.  Central Parkway used to be the Miami-Erie Canal and was traversed by a number of foot bridges; hence the coinage of “crossing over the Rhine” to get to downtown’s residential and brewery district.

At one time, OTR brewed the majority of beer in America.  It still hosts one of the largest open air markets in the country, Findlay Market, the nation’s largest Music Hall, the only K – 12 performing arts school in the country – School for the Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA) – and is renowned as housing the country’s first incorporated fire department.  For these reasons and more, it has become the focus of Cincinnati’s push to revitalize downtown.

OTR is also one of eleven cities on the National Historic Registry’s “endangered cities” list.  For this reason, and the registration of OTR as “historic” a number of years ago, the rehabilitation of housing in the area has grown much more costly.  I led an affordable housing rehab project before the registration and it cost around $30,000 (for a pretty nice, three-story unit).  Just last summer, I finished leading a project on a similarly-sized unit and it cost $250,000.  In short, without massive financial backing, the rehabilitation of these historic buildings for market or affordable housing is next to impossible.  As a result, on behalf of Choices Café, I approached 3CDC a couple of years ago to help finance an affordable housing rehab and they agreed.  This was done, in large part, to hold them to their word that they were not looking to gentrify the area.  So far, they have been good neighbors.

Today in OTR there are shops, restaurants, theaters, the Art Academy and many more amenities.  People are vying for spots in OTR to live, and streets that a few years ago no one would walk down are crowded and lively.  It is quite nice to see, actually, and I enjoy many of these new amenities myself.  However, walk a few blocks east or west and you will see examples of a failing economy and poor policy decisions.

OTR is also host to Washington Park.  The park historically was a home for the un-housed and vagrant, mentally ill people.  It is currently fenced off and being redone to the tune of 6 million dollars.  Washington Park Elementary school was torn down to expand the area, and the park should be re-opened in a year or so.  The park will have a 500-space parking garage beneath it and its main entrance will be directly across from Music Hall.  Sitting just on the southwest corner of the park is the Drop Inn Center.  Right next door to the DIC is the brand new, state-of- the-art School for the Creative and Performing Arts (which was moved to that location only 2 years ago).  Flanking Washington Park are condos, Memorial Hall, a church and OTR Community Housing.

So, here we are – in a revitalized district of the city, many new neighbors, a brand new K – 12 school, a lot of money pouring in and a homeless shelter sitting right in the middle of it all.

HOMELESS TO HOMES

SEH, in conjunction with the city government, published the Homeless to Homes (H2H) plan around 7 years ago.  The plan’s goal is self-explanatory, but the methods are a constant source of debate in board rooms and city chambers.  The issue that affects the DIC most is that of the reallocation of funding for shelters.

As with any emergency shelter, we do not receive many fees from programs.  As a result, we rely heavily on individual donations and foundation monies.  Last year, the DIC received around $400,000 from foundations.  These very same foundations are now giving their money to SEH & the authority to the SEH Board to allocate their foundation money as they see fit.  This, on the surface, seems like a nice, streamlined way of doing business.

Around three years ago, SEH and the City called for action and implementation of the H2H plan.  Admittedly, the DIC dragged its feet.  The plan called for a new woman’s shelter, even though DIC already had one.  The YWCA jumped at the opportunity and got the SEH money.  Even though they still receive the money, they are still not open and the DIC is taking all of the women.  It costs us $50 per bed per woman, and the YWCA’s shelter will cost $250 per bed per woman.  Regardless of the reality, we still serve the city’s homeless women population, but do not receive funding.

H2H also called for an adolescent shelter – Lighthouse Youth Services leapt out front and grabbed the money.  This was two years ago, and although they still receive the funding, they are not yet equipped to handle the burden of chronically homeless youth (a growing problem in America and Cincinnati), so the DIC is taking the youth.  Again, with no funding.

The writing has been on the wall for years, well before I moved to Cincinnati and well before buddy gray was murdered – the writing being, of course, that the city wants the DIC to move.  The heat is felt more today due to the redevelopment of the park and the movement of SCPA, but the sentiments have always been the same; no one wants an emergency shelter near anything else.  Ironically, or appropriately (you decide!), no one wants homeless people either.  This is a clear division of the desires inherent in the market vs. the polis.

THE MOVE

We formed a site committee a while ago to work with 3CDC to find us a new location.  Admittedly, our facility needs a facelift and could better serve the homeless population.  If the DIC can get its dream facility by moving, then so be it.  This has caused a rift in the advocacy community that sees us as “sellouts” and not living up to buddy’s legacy.   Of course, SEH, City Hall and 3CDC are not happy with us either.  The good news – and the only news that I really care about – is that the homeless community is happy with us because we exist.  However, their voice is rarely, if ever, heard in these crazy policy battles.

3CDC has brought us three sites, all of which are either in disarray or too far away from the population we serve.  We took one option to them in an effort to take the reins of our fate and they unilaterally dismissed it.  So, here we are, right at the beginning.

As all of this has been going on, SEH has taken a hold of most of the major foundations’ money and become the overseer of who gets what.  This was recently finalized in the past couple of months.  The way it will work is, to wit:  If an agency takes money from foundations, they cannot receive money from the city or SEH (the line between which is rapidly fading).  However, if you take money from SEH and the city (which an agency has to if they do not want to get shut out of the helping the homeless business) then you cannot solicit foundations for funding.  The long and short of it is that the DIC has to play ball with SEH and, in so doing, receive far less than the $400,000 we were accustomed to in the past.

At the last DIC board meeting we discussed, ad naseum, the above “catch 22.”  We have been compliant with the city and 3CDC’s desire for us to move and gotten nowhere.  We have been compliant with H2H and gotten nowhere.  The DIC board goes to great lengths to avoid going down the “conspiratorial route,” as that kind of “hell no, we won’t go” attitude tarnished our reputation in the past.  However, looking at the realities as they are, it is difficult not to believe that the city just wants the emergency shelter gone and would rather farm out all of the various homeless populations to brand new, more expensive agencies.

HOMELESSNESS IN CINCINNATI TODAY

The most recent “Point in Time” homeless count mandated by HUD and published by SEH was just released.  The numbers are somewhat skewed as the DIC opened a “Winter Shelter” for the months of December, January and February because the city closed their “Cold Shelter.”  A significant difference between the Winter and Cold Shelters is that the Cold Shelter was only open if it was below 10 degrees.  The DIC’s Winter Shelter was open throughout the tenure of the chillier months.  Not to be redundant, but while of this bickering regarding potential moves and monetary allocation was going on at City Hall and in our board room, the DIC was still taking care of those that no one wanted.  As a result, we seem to be being punished for skewing the numbers to HUD.

So far, in 2012, the number of people in emergency shelters has increased by 33%.  The number of people on the streets declined, however, due to the opening of the Winter Shelter.  The number of folks in transitional housing increased by 40% in 2012.  This last number is excellent, but is due largely to the fact that HUD has redefined an “emergency shelter program” as a “transitional housing program.”  A little word-smithing is the surest way to garner more support for your organization and show better organizational effectiveness, no?

I cite these numbers to show that the homeless population in Cincinnati is not getting any smaller.  H2H calls for fewer shelter beds (50 max) and more affordable housing.  This is something with which I cannot argue.  However, cutting beds with no contingency plan in place is irresponsible.  What we did at the DIC was split our 180 bed shelter into thirds.  We have one “entry shelter” with 50 beds.  We have one “safe shelter” with 50 beds.  We have one “step-up shelter” with 50 beds.  What’s more – each of these “separate” shelters have 10 beds for overflow – a grand total of 180 beds.  More wordsmithing.

SOLUTION

Every policy debate is a paradox and filled with quandaries that have no clear dividing line.  OTR cannot remain poor as poverty breeds crime, desperation and drug use.  At the same time, without better funding of the educational system, those issues will never go away (but I digress).  The new development in OTR is not inherently bad and 3CDC has proven to be a good neighbor in many ways by mixing condos and rental properties so as not to jack up the property value in OTR by too much.  Additionally, they have included affordable housing units in many of their residential properties.  Strategies to End Homelessness’ H2H plan is very good in principal, but there is a population that cannot be served by the plan – the chronically mentally ill, addicted, homeless and diseased population of society – those who the DIC embraces.

The DIC is prepared to move if need be, but every time we get to a point where things look good, we get shot down.  Furthermore, SEH has not promised any operating capital once we move.  My position on this issue is that we do not move if we do not get some kind of legally-binding  agreement that stipulates SEH, their posse of foundations and City Hall fund, in part, the continued operations of the DIC.  All of the sites we are considering are significantly larger than where we are now, and we can’t even pay the bills where we are.  If we move into a site with 1,000 square feet more space, the writing will, once again, be on the wall.

I was a proponent of the move for many years.  Today, I propose a new strategy (one I proposed at our last board meeting):  We sit still and refocus on who we are and who we serve.  For years, the DIC has had an inferiority complex.  For years, the DIC has taken arrows from advocates and business owners.  For years, foundations have played games with those who sleep on our shelter floor.  And, for years, the DIC has served, on average, over 60% of the city’s homeless population annually.  If we stopped doing that, then the city would really have something to complain about.  I feel it is time to let the City know that we know we do a good job.  It is not time to drop the bomb, but rather, let these stakeholders know that we have a bomb – that we are confident in the job we do – and that, regardless of how many of our programs get stripped out from under us, we will always be here to serve those that Lighthouse, the YWCA, City Gospel Mission and others will not serve.  Furthermore, we have re-branded ourselves, hired a new executive director, re-staffed, cut costs at the expense of our recovery program and our reputation is currently gold.  We no longer have to be the whipping boy.  We want to be a team player, but if we continue to get put in a bind, I say we go our own way and make our own fate.  There is no law that says we have to abide by SEH’s policies (aside from the “law” of pragmatism).  We own our building and cannot be moved if we don’t want to move.  In many ways, we could do our own thing and ignore the pressure.  This is not my style, nor is it the board or Arlene’s style, but it is where we are going if something does not change and we are not treated with a bit more dignity.

If we do move, I reiterate my stance that future funding needs to be on the docket.  Without it, we are sealing our own fate.  We also need to be the party in charge of site selection, not the city or 3CDC.  It is possible for new restaurants, schools and homeless people to all live in the same area.  However, no one knows what it looks like because it has never happened.  Cynicism is the enemy of progress, and I feel too much cynicism from the city and SEH.  I contacted Roxanne Qualls to come down to the DIC and meet with Alrene, as she has not been there for many years.  She agreed and now the dialogue is opening up.  The board is (in my mind) frustrated from years of not going over people’s heads.  At our last meeting I tried to convince Arlene that she needed to go above Kevin and Steve.  For, at the end of the day, Roxanne calls all the shots.  That’s how it is in Cincinnati.

In conclusion, my guiding principal in this ongoing, ever-changing landscape of social service funding is written in Latin on the City of Cincinnati’s flag – Juncta Juvant – “Unity Assists.”  It seems that two-word phrase was good enough for our founding fathers and mothers, and I do not see why it shouldn’t be good enough for us today.  If nothing else, it is something to shoot for.  3CDC, the city, SEH and DIC need to unify for the common good.  In this case, that would be serving the homeless and revitalizing Cincinnati’s economy – two phenomenon’s that are not mutually exclusive.  The DIC needs city money and 3CDC’s power brokers.  3CDC and the city need the DIC to serve those that no one else can; if, for no other reason, that it helps make OTR more attractive for the new YPs that are moving to the area.  Ideally, the motivation would be to help the homeless because it is the right and just thing to do, but one cannot have it all.

One thing’s for certain – whether my solution to not move or move with contingency is the answer – the city needs to realize that the issue of homelessness is not going away and if people are willing to work for a pittance to help deal with it, then all concerned parties should allow them to do so and support them.  Egos and agendas need not be a part of this discussion of societal betterment – yet they are – and navigating those waters is tricky, but necessary.  At the same time, DIC needs to be the loudest voice and leading the way in Cincinnati regarding serving the poor.  If we are strong, the other agencies are strong.  Years of history back this point.  Hopefully, in the coming months, a solution will be reached in the form of an ideal, practical facility.  One thing I have learned – you will not always make loads of friends when you are speaking on behalf of those without a voice.

 

plane

A Better Plan(e)

The year was 2004.  Mayor Luken signed & City Council passed Ordinance 167-2004 effectively prohibiting the City from soliciting commercial service providers to Lunken.

The year is 2013.  The City Administration has recently been in talks with Allegiant Air about doing precisely what ordinance 167-2004 says it cannot.

The campaign trail has introduced me to so many new people who are experts in their field.  It is clear to me that one thing Cincinnati is NOT short on is knowledgeable citizens.  This is good news for us – we never need to hire consultants because our citizens have most of the answers.  This knowledgeable citizenry has greatly aided me and my fascination with Lunken.

One of Linwood’s community leaders has been very gracious to lend me support in my Lunken studies, and has helped provide me documentation for my perusal along the way.  I begin this post with a very appreciative shout out to Alex Linser.  Thank you, Alex.

And now back to the topic at hand.

I add the following to my official policy platform.  That is, once elected, I promise to stand firm in my position that I do NOT support Lunken’s FAA status being changed to allow for commercial carriers.

For Lunken to to bring Allegiant Air to town, they would have to change their FAA status from Class IV to another status.  Lunken’s current status, Class IV, is defined by the FAA Website, as “an airport certificated to serve unscheduled passenger operations of large air carrier aircraft. A Class IV airport cannot serve scheduled large or small air carrier aircraft.”

Translation:  scheduled passenger flights and/or commercial flights cannot come to Lunken.

“What’s so bad about passenger flights/commercial flights leaving from, or coming to, Lunken,” you rightly ask?

Nothing, really.

However. . . .if Lunken’s status is changed, then the City will have NO authority to restrict the amount of commercial traffic that comes in & out of the airport.  No authority.  Why?  Because the type of FAA status Lunken would need to bring in Allegiant Air would prohibit them from denying landing privileges to any carriers.  Furthermore, much of this conversation has been happening without the oversight of the Lunken Airport Oversight and Advisory Board (created in 2000 by an ordinance & charged with the duty of overseeing operations at the airport).  Where has the LAOAB been?  To be frank, nowhere really.  Fred Anderton, the airport manager, has effectively & slowly eroded the board’s authority to the point that many members simply stopped showing up to meetings.  Furthermore, the mayor did not appoint replacements for these members when their term limits expired.

So why the secret talks?  Why the sense of urgency? Why the seemingly deliberate disintegration of an oversight body?

The answer can be found in a recent Cincinnati Enquirer article from August 29th, 2013 titled, “Lunken Wasted Thousands of Dollars, Says Audit.”  The Airport needs a new revenue stream, but at what expense?  Whose fault is their current state of affairs?  Surely it is not the citizens in the “Lunken Neighborhoods,” i.e., Linwood, Mt. Lookout, East End, Columbia Tusculm, and others.

You see, it is THESE citizens that will hurt the most if Lunken changes their Class IV status.

In other cities where this type of expansion took place, property values dropped by 40%.  Many middle-income families have most, if not all, of their equity tied into their home.  The expansion of Lunken would be devastating to those families around Lunken and create even MORE poverty in a City that has far more that it can handle already.  Furthermore, the City only actualizes around 30% of its revenue from property tax anyway – a drop in values would hit core services on the City-wide level as well.  At the end of the day, the destruction of livable communities in the Lunken Neighborhoods would have an adverse effect on EVERY community.  I repeat, 52 equals 1.

Lastly, just to be clear, this issue is NOT the same as the runway expansion project at Lunken.  I support the expansion as it would allow corporate jets to take off and land with tanks filled with enough fuel for no-layover flights to Asia.  This would serve to not only retain many companies that provide numerous jobs in our City (P&G to name but one), but it could also potentially attract MORE businesses to locate here in Cincinnati.  Additionally, these flights would not open the door to an uncontrollable amount of commercial flights coming and going all day long as Lunken would be able to remain Class IV with the runway expansion.

All of that said, Lunken Airport still is in the midst of a financial crisis.  This I recognize and is why I have reached out to a coalition of Lunken Neighborhood Leaders and asked for a seat at their table.  They are designing an economically viable plan for the airport that is not a detriment to the quality of life to the neighborhoods.  I am currently learning from them, and fully plan to bring a feasible alternative to the stake holders at Lunken that will have come from those with the most knowledge – the citizens.  I, like the citizens of the Lunken Neighborhoods, do not want to impede progress, but feel that the plan for Lunken’s future should incorporate the neighbors affected by a potential change in status, and not just pushed through by an administration that is effectively at risk of violating a City ordinance.

To all East Side Lunken Neighborhoods – I hear you.  To all other neighborhoods – quality of life is at the forefront of my mind, and all 52 of us need to rally around each other and see to it that every one of our neighborhoods is as livable as the next.

 

Equality Cincinnati PAC Endorses Cincinnati City Council Candidate Mike Moroski

The Equality Cincinnati Political Action Committee has announced their endorsement of Cincinnati City Council candidate Mike Moroski. Equality Cincinnati PAC is an independent local organization dedicated to the mission of working toward full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Greater Cincinnati and to prevent discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Equality Cincinnati PAC is pleased to announce that we will be extending our endorsement to the campaign of Mike Moroski for Cincinnati City Council”, the PAC said in a statement. “We would like to congratulate and thank him for his commitment to LGBT equality.”

“I am honored to receive this endorsement. Working tirelessly for equality and civil rights has been my life’s work, and to receive the endorsement of Equality Cincinnati PAC is nothing short of humbling,” Moroski said in response to the endorsement.

“I look forward to working with the principal parties who make up Equality Cincinnati, and all related organizations, to promote and defend legislation that provides full equality for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender peoples in Cincinnati, in addition to preventing discrimination and violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

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Napkins, TOMS, & Unity Assists

Last Tuesday I got a call from the Hamilton County Board of Elections (BOE) saying that Team Moroski was 46 valid signatures short of the required 500.  We turned in 783 signatures on August 12th.

After receiving the news, my wife, Katie, simply walked up to me as I sullenly placed my phone on the table.  Being more perceptive and aware of my own feelings than I am, she did not need to be told that the news I had just received was not good.  We sat in silence for no more than one minute when she broke the ice.  Quite directly, and with passion in her voice, Katie asked, “so, what do we have to do?”

“Start from scratch,” I told her.

She looked at me and said, “go get ‘em.”

I called my Campaign Manager, Nick Tilly, and told him the news as I rushed down to my car to swing by UPS to get copies of the BOE’s petitions. On the way I called a couple of other Team Members and supporters asking if they would be willing to take petitions.

“We have one week,” I told my supporters on the phone, “one week to get over 1,000 signatures.”  1,000 signatures was my self-prescribed goal.  Nick & I immediately created a goal for just the two of us – 500 signatures by Sunday, August 18th.

I told Nick that I would meet him in Pleasant Ridge.  Why did I go to the Ridge?  Probably because that is where I feel most at home.  When I moved to Pleasant Ridge in 2000 I was just beginning my work in the community and most of my friends had moved away, or were about to move away, after college.  I was taken in by the community, and they helped me to grow into the man I am today.

My neighbors in Pleasant Ridge ALWAYS supported my every endeavor – from non-profit coffee shops to my backyard house concerts.  I knew that the Ridge was the best place to start our weeklong adventure.

I parked my car at the Gaslight Café – my home away from home.  The Family that owns the Gaslight has always been so good to me, and I truly consider them to be part of my extended Family.  When they honored me by putting my picture on the “Wall of Fame” I felt that I had arrived.  In fact, I still get a kick out of showing that picture to people.

The first signature I got was from my good friend Laura, a bartender at the Gaslight.  I knew that was a good omen.

After Nick & I hit the pavement for a few hours, a Family invited me in for dinner.  This was the end of day one.

Almost.

Nick & I returned to the Gaslight and I grabbed a napkin.  Over the course of the past 16 years (the amount of time I have lived in Cincinnati) I have developed numerous great ideas on napkins from the Gaslight.  And I knew that if we were to be successful in the coming week that we would need a solid plan.  One written on a Gaslight Napkin.

So, the plan was conceived with minimal changes made along the way.  The picture above is of the final plan as it stood after a week of making adjustments.  The napkin has been in my wallet until this morning when I took it out and knew we could comfortably move on with the rest of the campaign.

When I woke up last Wednesday morning I realized that I needed a better strategy for the morning hours than just “milling about Downtown.”  So, I canvassed Government Square.  Up and back, up and back I went for two hours.  I met many people traveling to work, many seeking work, and numerous teenagers taking the bus out to King’s Island for their summer job.  Of course, the teenagers did not sign, but the drive I saw in them to grab the bus for a 45 minute ride to get to work so they could help their family inspired me.  The woman who rode a bus over an hour to help a wealthy man who couldn’t leave his home in Hyde Park humbled me.  And the numerous people who told me they had never met a politician before saddened me.

I made a lot of new friends at Government Square this morning.

Nick & I then dropped off petitions to Derek Bauman and made our way to Hyde Park.  We stayed in Hyde Park for a couple of hours and then went to Evanston.  I have a lot of friends in Evanston, but felt it was time to meet more.  And meet more we did!  Lots of people were out on the street and they all told me stories of the tightly knit community in Evanston that desires more investment in their neighborhood.  If you need evidence of how tightly knit Evanston is I encourage you to attend one of their Community Council meetings or just drive by their Rec Center.  It is ALWAYS packed!

After all of this signature gathering and friend making, we had a fundraiser at the Montgomery Inn Boathouse where we showed Team Moroski Social Media Coordinator’s film, “Cincinnati’s Abandoned Subway.”  Paige Malott, our Social Media Queen, is also a film producer and general awesome creative spirit.  It was a great night and a nice opportunity to take a breather.  As Nick & I did rested our dogs, Deputy Campaign Manager, Devoe Sherman, ran around Downtown and Mt. Auburn grabbing more signatures.

Thursday morning took me to Government Square yet again.  And yet again I made numerous new friends.  Nick & I then made our way to the Northside and Clifton after dropping off petitions to Greg Landsman, Roxanne Qualls, and Laure Quinlivan – all of whom agreed to help gather signatures for us.  A great day overall, except for the mile and a half jog I took with someone (in my TOMS!) only to be turned down when I asked for his signature.  We did not see eye to eye, but jog along him I did, answer his questions I did, but sign he did not.  Good news is that I got my exercise for the day, and wore out another pair of TOMS (by this point on the napkin plan I was on my second pair).

On Friday we all met at Coffee Emporium and folks showed up to sign throughout the morning and the afternoon.  Wendell Young stopped over to sign, and later that day his campaign staff asked for a couple sheets so they could help us out at the Black Family Reunion the next day.  After lunch at the Emporium, Nick & I headed to Sayler Park to knock on more doors.  My third pair of TOMS were breaking in nicely after three hours of hitting the pavement.  We then met up with Neighborhood Outreach Coordinator Michael Heckmann and made a pit stop at Price Hill Chili.  While there, Pete Witte stopped by to grab a couple petitions.  After dinner we hit the Enright Eco Village where the Schenk Family invited me in for a great conversation, and then we rounded out the day at the St. Williams Festival.

Saturday morning came early.  After all, it was time for the Black Family Reunion Parade!  I love the Black Family Reunion, and was so excited to march in the parade.  I made the decision to switch back to Doc Maarten’s for the day.  Actually, I switched back to Docs for good.  My feet were really aching at this point and my TOMS needed a break. The parade was so much fun, and I think I shook every single person’s hand along the route (which is always my goal – but I came the closest to doing so at this parade).  After the parade the Team headed down to Sawyer Point for the Reunion.  I saw so many friendly faces and heard so many words of encouragement.  The UFCW was very kind and had a few petitions at their booth so people could sign.  It was also great running into Jeri Tolliver who put me on the air the second I walked by the Buzz’s live broadcast to talk about how awesome the re-gathering process was going.

Nick & I had plans to go to Avondale after Sawyer Point, but we hit a signature wall.  There was no more steam.  At one point of not talking for five minutes and gazing into an undefined distance, I turned to look at Nick who had the same blank expression on his face.  So, we took a break.  At the end of the day, I finally got a decent night’s sleep after watching Katie Holmes’ “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”  It’s actually pretty good.

(Note:  Nick & I collected 500 signatures by Saturday afternoon – we were a full day ahead of schedule.)

And then Sunday came!  Nick & I knocked on nearly every door in Mt. Auburn.  We ran into Kevin Johnson’s brother as well – which was really a neat bonus as Kevin was the very first candidate to call us & express support when the news broke that we did not get all of the required signatures.  After knocking on doors, Nick & I went to the Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation’s Biergarten.  Wow, what a lot of fun that is.  If you haven’t been, you need to go.  The good people of Walnut Hills are really banding together to create something special and I felt quite blessed to be a very small part of it.

After our exciting morning & afternoon, we headed to MOTR Pub in Over-the-Rhine were my friend Bonnie Whitmore (from Austin, TX) was playing.  It was fun having a friend stop through town in the midst of all of this re-gathering and to bring me back to Earth with some beautiful songs.  Perfect timing, Bonnie.

Monday came and I was alone.  My Campaign Manager (believe it or not after reading all of this) has a full time job and he had to be there all day.  So, I hit East Walnut Hills, Mt. Auburn, and Avondale on my own.  My goal for my final push was 50 signatures.  And 50 I got.

My 50th signature of the day is noteworthy, however.  As most reading this blog know, I have spent the past 12 years working with our City’s homeless population, hard-to-hire population, and recovery population.  The woman who put her name on my petition and was my 50th of the day had grown up homeless.  Her 21 year old brother had 6 children and a felony conviction.  She was returning from work at Amazon and carrying her small child.  She told me that she would never let her son grow up in the kind of environment that she did.  Yes, she got to where she was because of hard work and determination, but also with the help from some agencies in the City.  It is for this woman that I have worked tirelessly for 12 years.  It is because of this woman that I decided to run for Council.  It is on behalf of this woman that I am willing to work 20 hour days, take arrows from nay-sayers, and never quit until at least a FEW things are set straight in our Local Government.  I knew that, after speaking with her, my day was over.

When Katie looked at me last Tuesday and said, “go get ‘em,” I knew that this was an opportunity and not a setback.

And it was.

It was an opportunity to get back out into the neighborhoods and hear more ideas, stories, and aspirations of the Citizens of this great City.  And one thing that tied all of this together?  The UNITY that I felt.

We gathered 783 signatures over the course of five months last time.  In one week we gathered 1,111 signatures.  People would flag us down on the road to sign.  This is a testimony to the Movement that is occurring in Cincinnati.  A movement of change & progress.

We are on the threshold of an endeavor to build fiscal strength & social vitality in our great City.  Come November, you will have the opportunity to help shape Cincinnati with your vote.  And your vote DOES count.

Your vote is a vote for a balanced budget.  To fix our pension problems.  To help small businesses expand – thus creating more jobs.  Your vote will help the homeless and those being released from prison get back on their feet and function in society.  Your vote is your voice, and you can’t make a change unless you vote.

It is important to get registered to vote if you haven’t already.  If you need help doing so, are unsure if you ARE registered to vote, or to find WHERE you vote, follow this link.

November 5th will be a watermark of change for Cincinnati.  It will signify the positive direction toward which this City is heading, but we cannot do it alone.  We need your help.  We are in this together and we need to unite for change.  I saw this unification this past week in a way I have rarely experienced in my life.

My entire career has been spent mobilizing communities and groups of people over causes that make our City more just.  And I have seen amazing results when people come together.  This is why you constantly hear me say, “Unity Assists.”  It is written on our City’s flag, and it is our mantra for a better future.

Before I close, I need to thank all of those who worked double time to gather signatures:  Katie Moroski, Greg Landsman, Dan Traicoff, Jared Kamrass, Laure Quinlivan, Roxanne Qualls, Jens Sutmoller, Wendell Young, Paige Malott, Evan Hennessy, Derek Bauman, Pete Witte, John Eby, Nikki Mayhew, Leslie Rich, Trinette Zawadzki, Devoe Sherman, Mike Rogers, and Chris Wooten.  A special thank you to Michael Heckmann who ran all over this City and placed yard signs this week.

Thank you, Team Cincinnati, for a great week.  I look forward to seeing all that we accomplish together from now until Team Moroski’s re-election in 2017.  We can get a lot done in four years – so cast your vote wisely – cast your vote for change – cast your vote for someone who understands the common struggles most of us face – cast your vote for Moroski on November 5th, 2013.

 Unity Assists.  Much Love.  See you around Town.