It’s nice to meet you, Gillian! My name is Brianna Zgodinski and I’m the Communications + Narrative Strategist for Cleveland VOTES. What is your role at Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless?
Hi! I’m the Housing Justice Community Organizer. So in our Organizing and Advocacy department, there are three of us: we have a Director of Organizing and Advocacy and two Housing Justice Community Organizers. In my role as a Housing Justice Community Organizer, I organize residents to build power in their buildings and neighborhoods.
We are very busy at Cleveland VOTES keeping our partners and community educated about current campaigns and issues that could affect them (like OHB458). What are some campaigns, issues, etc.. that you’re focusing on at NEOCH?
There are several campaigns we’re working on. Some are grassroots community organizing campaigns. There is also some more legislative advocacy work. One ongoing campaign for NEOCH is “Pay to Stay,” which is legislation that’s been introduced and passed in 8 different municipalities across the county so far (including Cleveland). Pay to Stay (PTS) steps into the current eviction process. If you’re getting evicted in the state of Ohio for nonpayment of rent, and you’ve come up with the money for your payment before your hearing, you can still be evicted under existing legislation.
What Pay to Stay stipulates is if you can come up with the money before your eviction hearing, then you can’t be evicted for nonpayment. So I know it’s just a small piece and a small intervention, but it’s something. It’s been introduced at the county level in Cuyahoga County, and if it passes there it will apply to all municipalities in the county.
Pay to Stay has gone hand in hand with Right to Counsel, which recently passed in Cleveland. Due to Right to Counsel (RTC), more people are getting represented now for their eviction hearings. We’ve been doing a lot of canvassing for RTC at NEOCH. We talk to a lot of people who are being evicted and help them determine if they qualify for RTC. Because RTC isn’t universal–you have to be below a certain income threshold and have someone under the age of 18 living in your household. So we canvas to let people know about RTC and refer them to Legal Aid if they qualify.
What I personally spend a lot of time on is working with the United Residents of Euclid Beach (UREB). UREB is a tenant’s union that was founded last summer by the residents of Euclid Beach Mobile Home Park after their land was bought by the Western Reserve Land Conservancy. On Feb. 9 of this year, they were told by the Land Conservancy that they’ll have to be out of their homes by Sept. 1, 2024. So we’ve been fighting to keep residents in their homes, to get the Land Conservancy to negotiate with the tenants’ union, and to get residents of the park just compensation.
Our community partners are frequently looking for new ways to get civically engaged, but there can be confusion and intimidation around all the different types of activism. Can you, for example, please explain for everyone the difference between organizing, advocacy, education & outreach?
Those are actually the four main things we do at NEOCH. Advocacy looks like raising awareness around a certain issue. Advocacy work is more likely to be in the realm of elected officials and policy and legislation and in the political space. So that might look like Pay to Stay, for example, which was an advocacy push.
Organizing is bringing a grassroots constituency of people together who are impacted by a specific issue and working together and using the collective power of that group to directly challenge a system or organization (or whatever it may be). It’s a grassroots group of people coming together and using their power together to create change.
NEOCH’s education raises community awareness around the root causes of homelessness as a pipeline to get people involved in organizing and advocacy around housing justice.
For NEOCH’s outreach work, we have a team of outreach workers who work with unsheltered folks using a trauma-informed approach. We use outreach to build relationships with people with the long-term goal of getting them into housing.
What is your advice to someone who wants to get activated with a local or state campaign, but doesn’t know where to start (because there are a lot)?
First, figure out what issue it is that you want to address, such as housing justice or reproductive justice or LGBTQ+ rights. And then do some research to see if anyone in your local community is already working to address the issue. There are some really great groups in Cleveland that you can plug into.
Now if there isn’t already a group for the issue you care about, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still organize. You might need to do a little capacity building yourself. So that would look like thinking about who you need on your side to address that issue. You might want to reach out to other folks who share a similar stance or who are also affected by the issue. First, figure out what issue it is that you want to address, such as housing justice or reproductive justice or LGBTQ+ rights. And then do some research to see if anyone in your local community is already working to address the issue. There are some really great groups in Cleveland that you can plug into.
By building a network of people, you can have more power within the system than you would alone.
Say, for example, that your rent is going up, or you have issues in your building that aren’t being fixed. You would want to talk to your neighbors about it and see if they’re experiencing the same thing. Then you can come together as a group and convene a meeting to talk about your shared issues and strategize around how you could collectively challenge that system. By building a network of people, you can have more power within the system than you would alone.
To get involved with some of the campaigns + initiatives that NEOCH has been organizing (such as the campaign to save the Euclid Beach Mobile Home Community) you can visit neoch.org or follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.