January 30, 2023

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Public Commenters (30 min)
Piet van Lier  Ellen Kirtner-LaFleur  Elaine Schleiffer  Kasey Morgan  Katrice Williams  Zoe Rodes  Shannon Fang  Brian Houlehan  Marlene Goldheimer 

Piet van Lier

Blaine Griffin: I will start out with Piet van Lier. And Piet van Lier is from Ward 3 to talk about violence prevention. And he is representing Policy Matters Ohio.

And he is not being paid by anyone. Mr. van Lier, please acknowledge your time.

Piet van Lier: Good evening, President Griffin and members of city council. Thanks for the opportunity to speak to you, tonight, about the violence prevention proposal you're considering.

My name is Piet van Lier. I was born and raised in Cleveland. Long-time resident of the near west side, Ward 3. Also, a researcher with Policy Matters, where much of my work focuses on the criminal legal system.

How we work to prevent violence and re-imagine public safety is important to me, both personally and professionally.

I'm here tonight out of concern for my family, my neighbors, my community. And I'm encouraged that you are considering this proposal.

I share the belief with all of you that everyone--no matter what they look like or the challenges they may struggle with--has the right to feel safe, as they go about their lives.

Changing how we make our community safer for everyone, is exactly the kind of work the American Rescue Plan is supposed to fund.

If we don't transform public safety, we can't lay the foundation for a strong and equitable economic recovery.

From my perspective, addressing the kinds of mental and behavioral health challenges that are on the rise in our communities, will help prevent violence in our city.

That's why a significant part of my work at Policy Matters, is to get non-police care response implemented. Care response is a proven approach, that sends civilians on emergency calls to provide support, compassion and access to treatment--for people who are experiencing mental, behavioral health crises--and those who are unhoused or struggling with substance use.

In many cities, care response also focuses on youth and communities that have been over policed and under protected.

This approach has been implemented successfully, in a diverse range of cities; including Baltimore, St.Petersburg, Denver, Oakland, and most recently, Cincinnati-- where plans are being made to turn a pilot started last July--into a permanent program.

Program structure varies, depending on the city. In Cincinnati, teams include health workers and EMTs. Community members in St. Petersburg, trained community members, lead the response.

The program in Baltimore sends psychiatrists, nurses and social workers-- but the idea is the same everywhere.

Triaging calls to 9-1-1 and sending trained civilian responders for non-violent emergencies, rather than police these cities. And many more, have found this to be a safe effective way to allow police to focus on addressing violent crime--which they are trained to do--and in the process, save scarce public resources.

In Cleveland, we're moving in the right direction. Violence prevention and trauma-informed care are already a key part of how we make our city safer.

This council recently approved ARPA money to expand our city's co-response pilot, which sends social workers out with police officers.

And you approved the hiring of senior strategists, in the health department, who will help ensure that we have citywide strategists to address crisis care and response.

I hope that person will focus on all the opportunities we have to reduce violence. The missing piece is community engagement.

To be effective, we need to hear from residents about what they think will keep our community safer. And how we need to transform public safety.

The growing, coalition that's advocating for care response, is already talking to Clevelanders.

But the city must engage in this effort, with a broad focus on violence prevention. That's why it's critical that you support this proposal.

Thank you. And I'd be happy to answer questions at any point.

Blaine Griffin: Thank you, Mr. van Lier.

3:22 Permalink

Ellen Kirtner-LaFleur

Blaine Griffin: Next, we have Ellen Kirtner-LaFleur from Detroit Shoreway, Ward 15. She's here to talk about protecting renters against source of income discrimination.

She's representing policy, uh, she's not representing anyone. And she's not being paid. You have the floor.

Ellen Kirtner-LaFleur: Thank you, so much. My name is Ellen Kirtner-LaFleur. I'm here to speak as a nearly 10-year resident of Ward 15, currently living in Detroit Shoreway.

I'm imploring council to act on the urgent need for protections against source of income discrimination, for renters in our city.

This is an issue I see firsthand, watching the real estate market in my neighborhood. And the rental listings, that so often, I see you with statements like--no vouchers, no section 8.

By failing to act, the problem is twofold: first, low-income households who can actually obtain the limited available housing vouchers, in our community, will not have the opportunity to choose the neighborhood that best meets their needs. If they can find a unit that will accept their voucher, at all.

Second, we're leaving open the potential for voucher denial to serve as a proxy for racial discrimination. Especially troubling, in a city that is as historically and continually segregated as ours.

For Better or worse, housing policy from the federal level down, over time, has put an increased reliance on the private market, for decent affordable housing.

I understand that accepting vouchers adds compliance burdens to property owners.

However, allowing those property owners to opt out of accepting vouchers takes away one of our best options, under the current system, to make sure that low income Clevelanders are able to obtain housing that meets their household's needs.

My family and I, chose our neighborhood because it's a diverse place, with access to high quality transit and walkable amenities.

It's unacceptable to me, that so many rental units in my neighborhood are out of reach for folks who are seeking to live here, with a housing voucher.

I'm sure you're familiar with this research, but I wanted to close my statement with a reminder of what we know about our community--from a 2017 Fair Housing Senate report.

Per the report, nearly 90 percent of Cuyahoga County voucher holders are African-American.

Nearly 80 percent of voucher holders, surveyed in Cuyahoga County, cited refusal vouchers as a barrier to finding housing. That was the most commonly reported barrier.

The report states that residents with vouchers, are quote clustered in areas with high concentrations of poverty, crime, low educational opportunities and high exposure to environmental health hazards.

The report also states that housing providers effectively lack housing Choice Voucher Program participants, in their current neighborhoods and maintain racial segregation in Cuyahoga County.

I ask council to take a leadership role in protecting Cleveland renters from source of income discrimination. Thank you, so much for the time.

Blaine Griffin: Thank you.

2:38 Permalink

Elaine Schleiffer

Blaine Griffin: Next, we have Elaine Schleiffer from Jefferson, Ward 16--to talk about violence prevention.

She is representing REACH-- Responding with Empathy, Access and Community Healing. And she is not being paid by anyone. You have the floor.

Elaine Schleiffer: Thank you, Council President Griffin. And members of council, thank you for the opportunity to speak with you, here today.

My name is Elaine Schleiffer. My pronouns are: she/ her/ hers. And I'm the co-founder of an organization called REACH: Responding with Empathy Access and Community Healing.

We are Cuyahoga County's grassroots coalition, advocating for the expansion of crisis services and the advent of a new non-police crisis response, for those experiencing behavioral health crisis.

I helped to found REACH, because like a rising number of my neighbors, I am dual diagnosis.

That means, I've been diagnosed with a mental health condition, as well as substance use disorder.

I want to tell you firsthand, how challenging it can be for someone like me to access the right kind of medical care in Cleveland.

In past years, providers focused on either mental health services or substance use services. And many of our providers are now working to bridge that gap, so that people like me can receive the right kind of treatment.

We need to continue doing that kind of bridge building and gap filling with our continuum of crisis care services.

My experience is living at the intersection of public health and public safety. I want to underscore that there is no separating health from safety, when my health decreases--my need for crisis services increases.

If first responders fail to provide a specialized, immediate and right-sized response to that crisis, my proximity to the carceral system increases, as well.

Which can leave me without any tools to address root causes. A complete continuum of crisis care can be represented by what I call--the three C's: Cop-response, Co-response and Care- response.

Cop response is what we currently--rely on whether that's regular patrol cars or our specially trained CIT officers.

Co-response pairs our police officers with a mental health clinician or a social worker. In Care-response, those mental health clinicians or social workers are equipped to respond to behavioral health crises, without a police presence.

Care-response teams operate in cities like ours, including Baltimore and New Orleans. In the CAHOOTS program--in Eugene, Oregon--unarmed mental health workers respond to more than 24, 000 calls per year. And less than 3 percent of those calls require being escalated to a police response.

The other 97 percent receive immediate on-scene assistance, rapid access to service providers and wraparound care, as part of their health care-based response.

For a health-caused crisis, this represents a massive savings of time and money for the Eugene Police Department, as well.

The antidote to violence is not any one program or idea. The antidote to violence is a complete continuum of crisis health care and social services. And a municipal crisis response toolbox that includes: Cop-response, Co-response and Care- response.

Building a complete continuum of crisis services will help my neighbors connect to providers, avoid escalation and remain in the community. And will save lives. Thank you.

Blaine Griffin: Thank you.

3:00 Permalink

Kasey Morgan

Blaine Griffin: Next we have Kasey Morgan. Kasey Morgan is not from Cleveland, but she's here to talk about youth and community. And a plan to reduce violence.

She represents MyCom Cleveland and she is not being paid by anyone.

Kasey Morgan: Good evening, city council members and Council President Griffin. My name is Kasey Morgan. And I stand before you as a representative of a community collaborative, working to reduce community violence. Especially youth violence throughout the city of Greater Cleveland.

We support [Ordinance Number] 99.2023, because of the root of resident voice. Our consortium not only provides violence prevention services like safe passage violence prevention interruption.

Our work is also rooted in better understanding the gaps and services, and community needs that lead to increased violence.

ICONS, our collaborative, has not only the Change Seekers, Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance, as well as representatives from the Kunmi Foundation, to name a few.

To that end, our collaborative has been working to define a common set of pro-social terms that ensures entities in this space. That are working, are speaking the same language.

We have to have access to basic standard training and ultimately--to be ultimately-- better positioned to serve our youth and families.

So far, through a grassroots landscape analysis, we have identified over 70 agencies that report doing work in the violent space.

Through these agencies, we've identified over 200 volunteers and part-time and full-time staff.

While many organizations individually work in this space without a coordinated long-term violence prevention strategy, the plan we have we will not make any gains.

We have to work together to make sure we keep youth employed. We all are utilizing the same de-escalation techniques.

We are making sure that retaliatory violence is prevented and we are working in the same language.

That is why our larger collaborative of public, private and grassroots are really working to make sure that this long-term strategy is implemented.

[Ordinance Number] 99-2023 works to make that plan a reality. Further, this ordinance supports the integration of community voices as a central pillar of that plan, by providing resources that supports the integration of systems level agency services and community partnership that are all working toward the same goal.

Because of this, we believe that this ordinance is designed to strengthen the current work we are doing. And it is important, because it is the using community voice. Thank you.

2:47 Permalink

Katrice Williams

Blaine Griffin: We'll go to the next person, which is Katrice Williams. Katrice is from Ward 16.

And Katrice is to talk about Cleveland Thrive. She is not representing anyone and she is not being paid by anyone. Katrice, you have the floor.

Katrice Williams: Thank you, Council President Blaine Griffin. My name is Katrice Williams and I'm a resident of Ward 16. And I'm here in support of Ordinance Number: 999-2023.

Although I'm a transplant of Cleveland, Ohio and I have not lived here or was born here--I have invested my time and my livelihood and my residency here--because I believe in the power of community organizing. And also, community collaboration.

I believe that if we are able to work together in a collaborative effort, that we can improve our response to violence prevention.

Unfortunately, we tend to operate in silos. Not only in Cleveland, but in the great state of Cuyahoga County. And that diminishes our returns and ability to be able to respond to violence.

Violence impacts our entire community. And our historic response has been to increase firearms on the streets, increase military responses and boots on the grounds.

And we have even attempted to weaken our gun laws, which has contributed to the uptick in violence.

And at worst, we have seen disinvestment in our community--whether it be through mental health institutions--even before I was long born. Or increased investment in our cultural system.

So, I'm in here in support of that ordinance. Because I believe a community-based response has several benefits.

One, it has trusted messengers. Two, it has CVIPI trained responders. Three, it reduces the fear of community members, who have justice involvement-- particularly those on probation, or parole, or under some other sort of community supervision--and fear having contact with law enforcement.

In case that parole or probation will be revoked and they end up going back to the very institutions that caused them harm.

Thirdly, most importantly, it also empowers residents to use their community-based resources and tools, instead of our overstretched law enforcement.

And it encourages all of us to work together and bring our all cohesive efforts, under one umbrella.

But the negative of continuing to be siloed, is we continue to have inefficient deployment of our resources. We will fail to use data and forms and evidence based practices.

We will lack an inability to pivot and re-imagine responses that could be effective.

And most importantly, we won't have an ability to scale approaches that are most effective, because we lack flexibility and willingness to pivot.

So, I hope this ordinance can support the city's efforts to continue best practices. But also invest in community-based approaches, which have historically been underfunded.

And I do believe that this process can be easier, if you were to collaborate with the county to find a public funding intermediary, that can decrease the barriers to accessing resources-- especially for a small but nimble organizations--who are boots on the ground.

You would do that, for example, in the model in Pittsburgh--by looking at their Board of Health. That not only is a channel for some of that grant making, but they also provide technical assistance.

And I do have research that supports that best practice, if you would like to read it. So in summary, we need to stop working in silos and start working together.

Not only as the city of Cleveland, or as a county of Cuyahoga, but with other entities and communities experiencing violence. Thanks.

Blaine Griffin: Thank you.

3:44 Permalink

Zoe Rodes

Blaine Griffin: Alright, next we have Zoe Rodes from Maple Heights, to talk about smoking cessation in Cleveland.

Zoe is not representing anyone. She is not being paid by anyone.

Zoe Rodes: Thank you, for allowing me this chance to speak on tobacco use in Cleveland. My name is Zoe Rodes.

I'm a medical student and I'm here to urge city council to pass policies that's deters initiation and continued use of tobacco products.

We all know someone, maybe a loved one, who has used tobacco and is now living with high blood pressure or cancer.

Or is recovering after a heart attack, or a stroke. We all know that tobacco use decreases quality of life and has a steep economic cost, especially when you consider Medicare and Medicaid costs.

There are policies that will deter people from both initiating and continuing tobacco use. According to the economic research, informing tobacco control policy, raising tobacco taxes remains the single most effective strategy for reducing tobacco use, initiation, consumption and increasing cessation.

Initiation is especially a problem in children. We know that-- four out of five youths--who start smoking, start with a flavored product.

It's also a fact that in Cleveland--22 out of 26--retailers had exterior ads featuring flavored tobacco products, within a thousand feet of a school.

Policy changes are effective. In 2009, there was a Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which reduced cigarette intake of current smokers by more than half.

It also decreased smoking in youths. However, because menthol cigarettes and other flavored cigars and cigarillo were an option, youths turned to those products.

So, I urge city council to pass legislation that decreases, that bans flavored tobacco products. But, is also inclusive of all flavored tobacco products. Thank you.

Blaine Griffin: Thank you.

2:08 Permalink

Shannon Fang

Blaine Griffin: Next, we have Shannon Fang. And Shannon is from Fairfax. And Shannon is here to talk about smoking cessation in Cleveland. She is not representing anyone.

And she is not being paid. Please, proceed and please monitor your time.

Shannon Fang: Hi. My name is Shannon Fang. I'm a medical student and I live here in Cleveland. Thank you for allowing us to come speak to you today.

We are concerned about the economic health, and equity impacts, of smoking tobacco in Cleveland.

Cleveland has the highest rate of smoking, among any city in the U.S. At about 30 percent, this harms the health and the well-being of our community.

However, tobacco is a preventable cause of death. And you all have the power to make change. Specifically, we are asking for you all to introduce and pass legislation for a tobacco retail license. And it'll cost $500.00 to pay for the enforcement of this license.

And, it'll specifically require One-- not selling to individuals under 21-- which is already required. Two--ID'ing everyone under 30. And, three--banning point of sale tobacco, in storefront windows.

So, this means that places that sell tobacco cannot have signs with pictures or imagery of cigarettes, e-cigs to entice sales.

A 2015 study in Ohio, showed that point of sale tobacco signs were increased in places that were urban--had a higher African-American population, and were lower income--driving disparities most adult cigarette users want to quit.

Over half, have tried to quit in the last year. We know that it is difficult to quit. And it does take multiple tries. But, it is possible, with the right support-- evidence has shown that tobacco displays can reduce impulse purchases.

As well as create the supportive environment needed to quit, you know.

Imagine you've had a difficult day. You're trying to quit and you pass a store that has a sign with the sale of cigarettes.

It can push people trying to quit into relapse. And then, importantly, point of sale tobacco has specifically decreased use of tobacco among young people.

And we know that this is crucial for ending the tobacco epidemic.

Tobacco advertising is already banned in places like college campuses, in Ohio.

And we need it to expand into our community.

Thank you, for your commitment to the health, public health and safety of Cleveland.

2:32 Permalink

Brian Houlehan

Blaine Griffin: Next, we have Brian Houlehan from Cleveland. And he's urging council to support Medicare For All federal legislation.

He is not representing anyone. And he is not being paid by anyone.

Brian Houlehan: Again, my name is Brian Houlehan. I'm on 1906 West 52nd Street. I'd like to start by thanking city council, for the radical initiative that was introduced last week--which would relieve the medical debt of over 48,000 Cleveland residents.

I say it is radical, because the word means to address the root of a problem.

The use of AARPA funds to directly relieve the material needs, that plague so many, is the best use of the money we as a city, have been granted.

I urge you to enact it, as you delivered upon the overall budget. This matter is directly related to the main reason that I'm here tonight.

This function of the American Health Care System, since we do not have a Universal Health Care System in this country.

Local communities around the country, like Chicago and Toledo, are plugging the holes created by this nationwide dysfunction.

By allocating money to its citizens, to relieve this travesty visited upon them. I'm here in solidarity with the previous speaker in November, Miss Amber Akhtar.

She's a Case [Case Western Reserve University] pre-med student, who asked council to pass a resolution sent to each of you, asking Congress to pass a universal single-payer health financing system.

We would call it a new improved Medicare For All. According to a recent issue of Public Citizen--more than 100 localities--have already endorsed Medicare For All.

The latest in Denver; Gainesville, Florida; and Kent, Ohio.

According from Public Citizen, Denver City Councilman Chris Hinds--who suffered a paralyzing car accident in 2008--introduced the motion in the Mile High City.

He noted that private insurance does not protect Denver families from high rates of health care or high cost of health care.

He said, I went from being a runner and someone who played on three soccer teams-- to racking up one million in health care bills--in three months.

The majority of people declare bankruptcy, do so because of medical bills. And of those, the majority have insurance.

And likewise, in Ohio, they passed it in Ohio District 13. Which is where Kent is located.

And in Ohio [District] 13--more than 43,000 people are uninsured. And over 117,000 people live below the poverty threshold. So, likewise in Gainesville, Florida--where it was recently passed.

And, also in Lakewood. Uh Lakewood, I think about a year ago they passed a resolution.

Cleveland Heights passed a resolution a few months ago. Um, I would just like to leave you with a few numbers.

I would like to conclude by trying your attention to three numbers-- uh, 45,000; 250,000; and 330,000.

45,000 people die each year, due to lack of health insurance. Uh, per Harvard study, in 2009 and I've seen other studies that twice that number. Now in excess of 60,000.

Uh, 250,000 deaths are attributable medical error, according to each year.

According to a night to 2016 Johns Hopkins study, most errors arise from systemic problems-- including poorly coordinated care, fragmented insurance networks and the absence of our, uh, under use of safety nets.

330,000 Americans could have been saved during the Covid Pandemic, if the U.S. operated under a Universal Health Care System.

Namely, one-third of the total Covid deaths--according to a study by the National Academy of Science, published in June 2012.

The reason they found, was that people without insurance often don't have primary care doctors and are more likely to suffer from the types of preventable diseases, that exacerbated Covid risks.

These numbers mean that 1,711 people die per day, because we put profit over people, in our health care system. Or the equivalent of more than a 911 fatality, every two days.

Our terrible health care financing systems, just as big a national security threat is any unnecessary war that we as a nation, engage in.

I urge you to send a message to Congress, by passing this resolution. Thank you, for your attention.

Blaine Griffin: Thank you.

4:46 Permalink

Marlene Goldheimer

Blaine Griffin: Last up, we have Marlene Goldheimer from Cleveland Heights, to talk about council support for Medicare For All federal legislation.

And she is representing SPAN Ohio (Single Payer Action Network Ohio). And she is not being paid by anyone. Please proceed.

Marlene Goldheimer: Thank you. Um, greetings to all the Cleveland City Council members. And everybody else who's here this evening.

Amber Akhter, Ward 9, introduced Medicare For All resolution. Amber testified on why she believes the city of Cleveland should accept and adopt the Medicare For All resolution.

I also support the passage of this resolution. We are all affected by the devastating health care crisis in this nation. Onset of the Covid Pandemic in 2020, really solidified the inequities and disparities of our present health care system.

During that year, unemployment in Cleveland climbed to 38,900. Businesses shut their doors and countless employees lost their jobs.

Many not only were without a job, but lost their employer-based health insurance.

Suddenly, there was no money to pay a doctor, or get hospital care, or pay for life-saving prescription drugs.

It clearly pointed out, that putting the responsibility of health care coverage on employers is too risky. We need a system that guarantees access to quality, comprehensive, affordable health care-- regardless of whether we are working or not.

Rich or poor, in fact, it has been documented that 50 percent of businesses go bankrupt. Because they try to pay exorbitant premiums to insurance companies for their employees, to offer a benefit.

Medicare For All would be publicly funded and fairly financed. And would remove the financial burden from the employer, as well as removing exorbitant costs, foisted upon people struggling to deal with an illness themselves. Or of a family member.

What it must feel like, to get a diagnosis of cancer and then to have to worry about whether your insurance company will deny you life-saving treatments. And it happens very often.

Martin Luther King, Jr. really understood, when he said of all the forms of inequality--injustice in health, is the most shocking--and the most inhuman.

And you know, I hear this very often. But it's never mentioned, with the original quote.

And the end of that quote says, because people die, in addition when someone gets sick with an untreated, contagious disease--we're all at risk.

Blaine Griffin: Time!

Marlene Goldheimer: Okay.

Blaine Griffin: Please, finish. I'll allow you to finish up.

Marlene Goldheimer: Okay. Thank you. The organization that Amber represents, Partners in Health Engage, is very fitting. Because it encourages honest engagement and dialogue for the city of Cleveland.

Find out what your constituents are experiencing, and listen to their stories. And I think, ultimately, you will see why we want to support Medicare For All. Thank you, very much.

Blaine Griffin: Thank you.

4:01 Permalink