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The Cleveland Street Chronicle
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Ione Biggs Award Winners

One of our most loyal and visible members of NEOCH was Ione Biggs of East Cleveland. She had a long history of fighting for civil rights and liberty in our community and raised her voice at the City Club and on Public Square against injustice. Ms. Biggs was one of the first female police officers and spent years working on social justice issues. She supported NEOCH throughout her life by attending protests and lending her powerful voice to issues associated with homelessness. We recognize her commitment to women’s equality, peace, universal health care, a strong social safety net and an end to homelessness by awarding the lone Biggs Social Justice Award to individuals who have worked to further the struggle against injustice. The award is intended to highlight the life time achievements of social justice advocates in community service, public policy, access to justice, and equality that led to change. With the downtown and tough economic times, we, have not been able to give out the Ione Biggs Award. Ione was a representative of the UN Conference on Women, and she was a champion of civil rights and equality for women in Cleveland. Ione had a unique talent for cornering elected officials to get them to do the right thing. She was able to keep in contact with all the peace and justice organizations in the city. Ione Biggs broke many racial and gender barriers, and she cast a long shadow in Cleveland. NEOCH wanted honor her by creating an award based on her legacy of Social Justice.

2006 Ione Biggs Social Justice Advocate: Mayor Frank G. Jackson

Mayor Frank G. Jackson was the recipient of the award because of his extensive work in assisting low income and homeless people in the city of Cleveland.  He was the council president when the Department of Housing and Urban Development began dismantling affordable housing. The call from Washington was that the housing was deplorable and needed to be taken down.  Jackson mobilized the community to oppose this policy.  He said many times that HUD allowed the housing to deteriorate and therefore has an obligation to replace the housing.  He mounted a campaign to prevent the wholesale destruction of thousands of affordable housing units and the bulldozing of entire neighborhoods.  Jackson was successful with a number of new townhouses built in the Central neighborhood of Cleveland.  Jackson has a long career in community organizing and preserving affordable housing.  He was a tenant leader before getting into politics while attending law school.  He was the first Mayor to speak to homeless people at the largest shelter after taking office.  He helped ease the tensions between police and homeless people that resulted in so many lawsuits in the 1990s in Cleveland.

2007 Ione Biggs Social Justice Award: Gail Long

Gail Long became involved in a broad range of social, political and economical justice issues, such as the anti-war movement, bridging the racial divide, fighting for state budget equality, and universal access to health care. She passionately fought for her constituency on the near west side of Cleveland through health care accessibility and affordability by creating a county-wide coalition called Citizens to Save Metro Health that fought against any privation of Metro Health hospital. She has served on the Cleveland Housing Network Board as well as the Cleveland Tenants Organization’s Board to preserve and expand affordable housing opportunities. Long did extensive work with Cuyahoga County to protect low income families through two decades of reform of the welfare system. Long’s tenacious commitment to stand, walk and work with disadvantaged people is why the committee chose Gail Long as the 2008 Ione Biggs Award winner. We present this award to Gail Long, and her name will be placed on the plaque kept in the main office of the Coalition.

2008 Ione Biggs Social Justice Award: David Westcott

David served on the NEOCH Board for eleven years. He came to the organization in the early 1990s as a true advocate for homeless people. He pushed the agency to rise above every barrier to focus our attention on an end to homelessness. David was always frustrated with the pace of change in this community, and wanted to see religious, government and social service organizations come together to reduce the number of people sleeping in shelters. He was a real asset to NEOCH by improving our systems and operations and guiding us through rough years after September 11 and the beginning of this latest recession in 2007.  He was a former Army officer in World War II and Korea. Westcott served as Executive Director of the Lutheran Council of Cleveland and as a social worker at WESM. He volunteered with Brookside Family Neighborhood Center, International Partners in Mission (IPM), and the ACLU. He was proudest of his work as a Board member of IPM building a solid organization that reaches out a hand in peace and in the model of the teachings of Christ to lift up disenfranchised populations in El Salvador, Beruit, and India. He was the 2002 Homeless Advocate of the Year as selected by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.

2012 Ione Biggs Social Justice Award: Maria Smith

Maria Smith is an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, and has a long history of working to open access to subsidized housing locally and is one of the main architects of the re-entry housing programs. Maria Smith is an expert on the landlord tenant law and has assisted hundreds in avoiding eviction.  Smith champions civil rights and bringing justice to the judicial system. Smith has assisted many in appealing their denial from subsidized housing, and wants public resources to be used in a just and fair manner. Smith has publicly fought against the funding of wars and defense spending by the US government and is a big proponent of equality and forgiveness. 

2013 Ione Biggs Social Justice Award: Jay Westbrook

Jay Westbrook is a retired City Councilman from the Detroit Shoreway   neighborhood of Cleveland. He worked to create the City’s first strategic plan to address the rise in family homelessness in the 1980’s Westbrook helped create the first joint City and County office to meet the needs of homeless people. He has assisted in maintaining a City commitment to not turn anyone away who requests shelter in the City of Cleveland saving thousands of lives. He has been a strong and consistent voice to preserve and expand affordable housing and resisting community opposition to shelters and social services in the neighborhoods.