MY FRONT PORCH VIEW - A Look at an Impoverished Rust Belt Town

Arctic Vortex Challenges, the Call to Help the Homeless and Recalling a Past Encounter

By: Cindy Miller

 There are a multitude of topics I could have written about for this current issue of the "Cleveland Street Chronicle" such as the Affordable Care Act and its effect on the local rural population, the continued effects of the mounting unemployment in the Ohio Valley and Medicaid Expansion; just to name a few.

 This past winter weather presented me with many challenges of maintaining a safe and running vehicle and the dangers I faced from exposure the weather could have presented with my current health situation.  In other words, I was restricted from leaving my home to interview people during the Arctic Vortex.

 With this in mind, and being thankful that I have a home, I still spent many hours daily reflecting on the plight of the homeless in Cleveland and within my own Ohio Valley home region.

 I found I was not alone in these thoughts.

 News of the opening of warming centers, for many who lost power, seemed to spark interest in helping the homeless. 

 One newly created warming center in Steubenville was focused on helping the homeless.  Volunteers came together to cook meals, gather warm clothing, sort hygiene products and offer compassionate understanding.  Area pizza shops delivered hot pizzas to the warming center.  Volunteers saw to it that the homeless received medical care and transportation.  One gentleman, living by the river, received a fishing pole and tackle so that he could fish. 

However, keeping the Friendship Room Warming Center in daily operation has presented problems.  The building used is the site of a ministry known as the Urban Underground, a place to help youth in Steubenville.  This limits the time spent for adult usage, especially since warmer weather days will be the norm.  A new, full-time location must be found.

 As of this writing, a friend who volunteers at this center was able to arrange for me a future meeting with the center founder.  A full story will be featured in an upcoming issue.  The Friendship Room Warming Center is the name of the Facebook page.

 Several area nurses, who do missionary work, made public pleas for coats, gloves, socks, blankets, sleeping bags, hygiene products and food for folks living in camps in East Liverpool, Ohio in Columbiana County.  Unfortunately, East Liverpool has no shelters for homeless people and these nurses provided health checks to those who showed up; some of which have children living with them.  Naturally, there is the fear of discovery that the family is homeless which could result in the family having to break up.

A former next door neighbor, now living in Pittsburgh, was inspired by NEOCH and the clevelandhomeless Facebook page to answer the call to create 'care kits' for distribution to the homeless and anyone in need throughout the tri-state area.  Not only do these 'care kits' provide needed products for humans, she has also taken into consideration the needs of their pets. She, her psychologist husband and her two children put these together. 

 Here on the Toronto, Ohio home-front, no warming centers were opened with the reason being that no calls were received for help. 

 I am certain there are probably a few homeless people in the area; the hidden homeless living well under the radar in wooded areas outside of the city limits to the south. 

Often I am reminded of the morning I met Michael; a kindly older gentleman who was passing through Toronto on his way to Buffalo, New York.

It was 7:30 am the morning of March 4, 2010 when I drove downtown to photograph some of the vacant storefronts on a bright and sunny morning.  I had passed Michael, as he was walking, noting that his face was not familiar looking.  In a town with a population of 5,200, it is quite easy to distinguish residents from non-residents.  The main street through town was deserted, void of traffic and parked cars.  The only people walking the area were me, my friend Judy, on her way to open the Dollar General store and Michael.

As I was photographing some of the buildings, I did not notice that Michael had crossed the street to ask me, "Ma’am, could you direct me to the homeless shelter in town?"

In conversation with Michael, I learned a multitude of things about him; he was born in Mexico, had spent all of his adult life working the carnival/side show circuit, had always been paid in cash under the table and that he had thumbed a ride with a trucker in hope of getting to Buffalo where, he assumed, his grown daughters lived.  Michael also was not sure exactly how old he was but said he thought he was 70 years old.  He also had not seen his daughters since they were little girls, well over 35 years ago.  He never married their mother.

There is no shelter in Toronto but there are several in Steubenville; 8 miles to the south.  When I explained this to Michael, he told me he was at one in Steubenville and that he was tired of waiting for help and that is why he left the shelter the previous night.  He hitched a ride, was dropped off at the north end exit of Rt. 7 and slept in a wooded area off the exit until daybreak.

I gave Michael $5 and directed him to a gas station/convenient store two blocks south where he could get coffee and, perhaps, something to eat while I searched for help.

Getting assistance from the police department proved fruitless. It was suggested by one of the captains that I drive Michael to Steubenville.  That was not a good common sense solution.  I drove home and made a multitude of phone calls to Steubenville and found a shelter where he could be taken.  However, I still faced the challenge of getting Michael there. 

The wait continued until 9 am when offices of Toronto churches opened and I was able to find a minister who was available to meet Michael and drive him to a shelter in Steubenville. 

I followed in my vehicle and walked in with Michael who was greeted with open arms by the staff and residents of the shelter he had left the night before.

I was most impressed by this shelter, a beautiful, fairly new building that was more like an assisted living facility than a depressing old building that was converted to house the homeless.  Residents were enjoying playing board games and dancing in the recreation room; a bright, sun-filled and cheerful atmosphere.  The shelter was specifically for the housing of homeless folks with possible mental health and behavioral issues.

One staff member checked Michael back in and said he would be served breakfast; a hot breakfast which I saw delivered to him in the recreation room.

I had spoken with the assistant shelter director on the phone and we upon my arrival that morning.  Due to confidentiality, he could not disclose, by phone, that Michael was a resident of the shelter nor could he prevent Michael, or any resident, from willfully leaving.

Michael's case provided a multitude of obstacles for this shelter to help him. Having worked his entire adult life paid in cash, there were no records filed with Social Security or the IRS.  He had absolutely no identification and there was no record of his birth that could be found including baptism records.

Efforts were made to find his daughters in Buffalo, however, Michael had not seen them since they were little girls so he was not even certain if they still lived in the Buffalo area or what their married names could be, providing they did marry.

He thanked me for my help.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle

May 2014   Cleveland, Ohio