A Glimpse Inside the Shelters in Cleveland, Ohio

Commentary By Angie, the Shelter Inmate 

It is 4 a.m. and she is sitting by the window watching the snow and dreaming.  Imagining herself in a different life, “In my own little corner in my own little room I can be whatever I want to be.”  Sometimes she is a character from one of the books she reads, living a wonderful life in New York City, London or Hawaii and having a staff that caters to her every need.  Limitless cash to add to her enormous wardrobe.  Glamorous vacations to Rome, Europe and Madrid.  Her inner circle includes only the very rich.  She knows nothing about the poor or homeless.  She assumes they deserve to be there because they are too lazy to work. They have no responsibilities hopes or dreams, they are all the same.

If only she knew some of the shelter inmates, perhaps she would see they are just like her.  The only difference is when she played the roulette wheel she won and the shelter inmates lost.  Some of the shelter inmates led productive fulfilling lives until they lost. 

Then someone walks by and interrupts the dream.  The dark clouds of reality bringing with them hopelessness and despair. I am a shelter inmate once again stripped of my individuality and uniqueness. Most of the staff speak to us with a condescending tone. There are more rules than I can count. Our requests go unanswered.  The food is cold and tasteless. I had to sleep fully clothed because it was so cold.  The staff ignores our requests for help with the heat.  Finally, NEOCH was involved and almost immediately the upstairs was warm and we had several space heaters.  It’s not unusual for several bathrooms to be out of order for several days or weeks.

The medical waste container used for disposal of needles has been full for months.  The staff response, “don’t ask me; ask someone else.” I don’t use drugs I am a type II diabetic.  Maybe I need to learn patience; humility or maybe I am here to help someone.  I prayed to God to remove me from an abusive relationship and he brought me here.  My faith has carried me this far and I am grateful.  I stay busy looking for work, attending free classes or workshops.  If I have a bus pass I try to eat at churches or facilities that offer hot meals, hopefully within walking distance. Anything to stay away from the shelter (jail).  There is a great deal of theft at the shelter.  Most of us sleep with our backpacks or purses on or under us.  I find it hard to trust others.  There is lots of hatred, frequent fighting and greed.  Sometimes I feel like a robot voiding my feelings or emotions., fighting to survive the day.  Mentally disabled residents sometimes fall through the cracks. MHS (Mental Health Services, now called Frontline Services) does the best they can.  The following agencies go above and beyond.  NEOCH and West Side Catholic Charities provide food, clothing and help with Alcohol/Drug addiction and health services. Cleveland Downtown Alliance provides transportation to West Side Catholic Center and other locations.  There are all these other groups, agencies and individuals that assist the homeless that I could not possibly mention them all.  God bless you, the readers and supporters of the street newspaper, your chair in Heaven is waiting for you.

I look forward to tonight so I can rest and find some peace.  The bubble that surrounds me is difficult to enter, a response to my environment so I am protected emotionally and physically.  I have been assaulted three times during my time as a shelter inmate.  Twice physically and once sexually, each time a scar remains.  Changing my attitude of the world.

“Another day has begun, another struggle, another journey.”

Thank you. The first step to stopping ignorance is a glimpse.

Copyright Street Chronicle/NEOCH FEBRUARY 2014 Cleveland OHIO