Where have all the homeless gone? Every year since 1999, we have walked the downtown from the river to East 20th and the Lake to Carnegie Ave. to see how many people are sleeping downtown. In the 1990s, Mayor Michael White was ordering the Police to go downtown on Thanksgiving weekend to harass homeless people off of the streets in order to reassure shoppers that it was safe to come downtown. There were over 60 people sleeping in the downtown in the winter of 1998. This was a foolish policy that NEOCH confronted with three lawsuits, and won each time. It also contributed to the development of 2100 Lakeside Shelter, and the policy of not turning people away who show up requesting shelter. Those sleeping outside became a flashpoint between the business interests downtown and those struggling with poverty during the late 1980s and most of the 1990s.
We settled our last lawsuit in February of 2000 and since that time we have had volunteers walk the downtown talking to homeless people and counting the number who sleep outside. We make sure that the agreement we struck with the City of Cleveland is holding, and there is no violation by the Cleveland Police or any City officials. For the past dozen years, the agreement has held with minor infractions typically outside of the downtown area. We walk on the Friday after Thanksgiving early in the morning every year. We believe that this is the lowest number for people sleeping outside for the hole year. It is a baseline for how many people are going to be downtown this winter. Most people go back with family or friends during the holiday, so it may be two to four times as many people sleeping downtown during this upcoming winter. We estimate that the number is going to be down from previous years.
This shows that the current policies of Cuyahoga County are working. This shows that despite the dire warnings of some that allowing everyone who wants shelter without a time limit does not in fact lead to overwhelming numbers of people outside. This shows that the coordination of outreach services and building relationships with all those resistant to shelter works. This shows that the attention paid by Downtown Cleveland Alliance to keeping the area safe and clean is also working. Here are the numbers. We did not count in 2011 because of the Occupy movement being downtown. We know that there were homeless people sleeping at the site, but we were not sure how to factor that into the total. Were they all "homeless" or were they homeless people from other areas? We did not want the numbers thrown off, so we just did not count anyone in November 2011.
(One late note: The other thing different this year when compared to the last 12 years was that Metanoia is open. This overnight drop in center is open at St. Malachi on the weekend from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and this year it is open on the holidays over the winter. So, this is the first time that a facility is open targeting people who sleep outside to provide assistance, and they were full this last weekend. )
**Did not count because of Occupy Movement