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Published: Wednesday, 12/19/2007

Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board is under fire

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
At a 2006 event, Ken Leslie, center, helped a group of homeless people, including James Jozwiak, left, obtain birth certifi cates.
At a 2006 event, Ken Leslie, center, helped a group of homeless people, including James Jozwiak, left, obtain birth certifi cates.
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A high-profile homeless advocate who founded Tent City in 1990 and arranged for last month's impromptu local visit by rock singer John Mellencamp has declared war on the Toledo Lucas County Homelessness Board he helped create.

Ken Leslie is accusing the board of bureaucratic sluggishness, wasteful spending, and possible fraudulent activity. He resigned his seat Nov. 26 and is now calling for the Rev. Deb Conklin, its interim part-time director, and Louis Escobar, its chairman, to step down. Both said they've done nothing wrong.

Through his new Web site, 1matters.org, Mr. Leslie is calling on area residents to hold the board accountable for its actions so that homeless people get more services. The system will be fixed, he said, only if the community comes together and pressures those in power. He has scheduled a dual purpose rally and memorial service for 7 p.m. tomorrow outside Government Center.

"I can tell you right now that I feel our money is being wasted," Mr. Leslie says during a five-minute presentation now airing on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=kc2fKOELc3s.

The board is an independent, nonprofit corporation established by the city of Toledo, Lucas County, the United Way, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Continuum of Care program to streamline homeless services.

Mr. Leslie, who has gone from being a stand-up comedian to the president of a headhunting firm called Strategic Search Consultants, said he helped form the homelessness board with a $2,000 personal donation in 2004 plus $5,000 from a fund-raiser he arranged.

The city, the county, and the United Way followed with individual commitments of $25,000 each. They are at various stages of releasing those funds.

In the words of Bill Kitson, United Way of Greater Toledo's president and chief executive, Mr. Leslie is "the face of homelessness in our community."

"So when he says something is wrong, you've got to stop and take notice," Mr. Kitson said.

That's what the United Way has done. Saying "we totally agree with him on the need," Mr. Kitson said it has suspended its remaining $12,500 payment to the board until it sees progress.

"We are not going to keep funding plans," Mr. Kitson said.

That is one of Mr. Leslie's more sweeping allegations, that the homelessness board has been fixated on generating one planning document after another, rather than carrying anything out.

Mr. Leslie said people are "dying on the streets" because of the delays.

"Everyone should feel we have not moved fast enough to help the homeless in our community. That's a given," Mr. Kitson said. Where the two differ is Mr. Leslie's allegation, stated on his Web site and in interviews, that Ms. Conklin falsified a federal document to justify the continued flow of tax dollars to Toledo-area service providers.

This was her first year for submitting that paperwork. In the past, the city was responsible for it.

Ms. Conklin, pastor of Peace Lutheran Church on Pearl Street, steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. So has Mr. Escobar, a former Toledo city councilman. The United Way had a city official review the documents in question Monday afternoon, according to Mr. Kitson, and was told they are in order.

"There's no reason to take any action against her. She hasn't done anything wrong. I don't know what's going on with Ken," Mr. Escobar said.

Another of Mr. Leslie's beefs is with area service providers who accept federal tax dollars yet fail to provide demographics and other types of information into a national data tracking system called the Homeless Management Information Systems.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development uses the tracking system when deciding how much money to distribute to dozens of communities it serves.

Mr. Leslie said the board should follow through and require providers to participate if they want to remain eligible for tax dollars. Failing to do so keeps the region from getting the money it deserves, he said.

The Rev. Dan Rogers, the Cherry Street Mission's president and chief executive officer, said Mr. Leslie's complaint "has merit."

"Why not hold their feet to the fire and be required to participate if you're receiving tax dollars?" Mr. Rogers asked.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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