By Norman Wolfe
On Friday, February 28, with the temperature hovering 1 degree above zero, I ventured out on a ride along with Care Alliance’s Jim Schlecht to tour sites of those that are resistant to shelters. I originally wanted to do this since July of 2013, but I felt that Jim’s time was best served without interference by me. Jim doesn’t take people out, but because of my position as a NEOCH Boarc member, he made an exception.
Also, I had a friend living on the streets who I wanted to introduce to Jim. At 8:00 a.m. I arrived at Malachi and met Jim at our starting point. He told me in advance that a long-time volunteer who is friends with many living outside would be riding along with us. Jim introduced me to Paul who is an imposing presence on the West Side of Cleveland. We left Malachi. Jim is well known for not turning down anyone when they request his help. As we were about to leave I noticed that Jim had a cup of coffee in hand and during our three hour tour, he was not without it.
Now we’re loaded in the van and pulling out of the parking lot when he flagged down another driver to make of delivery of sorts to the driver. He gets back behind the wheel and off we go. Our first stop was a “camp” under an overpass (I had no idea exactly where we were). As we approach the site more than a half block away, I could hear barking. The closer we got the louder the barking. For some reason I had no trepidation to continue, beside Jim been there many times before. When the site came into view, I was amazed by the size of the area. I could tell by the spacing of individual tent placing, that there was a degree of personal space allotted to each occupant. I was surprised that there wasn’t much litter; it was somewhat well kept. A little deeper into the camp was a large tent structure where the person we were looking for stays. Although he wasn’t there Jim did leave a blanket and some hand warmers for the owner. We trekked back to the van and headed to our next stop.
Our next stop started at a Burger King where Jim knew that the person we were looking for would be waiting. He grabbed a jacket and hand warmers for his client. We entered the building and found one lone customer sitting at the rear of the dining room having a cup of coffee. , but this time he was not there. So, we headed out to the location that the client’s site is but was stopped before we got too far by the lone customer who told us that the other guy had gone to a nearby church that served meals for those living outside. Instead of returning to the van, we crossed the street where another street person stayed in a space of the building where he works with the owner’s blessing. That client wasn’t home either. So, this time we return to the van off to the church.
We arrive at the church where we sat with a client with a cup of coffee. The first thing that I noticed was how his eyes seem to brighten up when he saw Jim. I could tell that Jim was someone that had earned his trust. When Jim handed him the jacket, he carefully inspected it as if he was at Brooks Brothers’. It was evident that the jacket meant the world to him. I have to admit, I was a bit jealous of the quality of the jacket. It’s an example of the selflessness of the donor; they didn’t think twice of giving away such a quality item to someone in need.
While we were there, the worker seems curious about us and started digging for information. She is very much concerned with those who come to the church and she is very protective. As it turned out, she had tried to help Jim’s client get a State ID but each of her attempts (2) were turned down because of lack of information on the form (heard this before). She asked Jim for a business card and she, Jim, and Paul walked off to another room. So, there I was left with the client at the table alone. I felt that the cook had taken Jim aside to discuss other matters in general. All in all it was a productive visit; Jim found his client and delivered much needed items to him; Jim and Paul found another resource for keeping in touch with his client and potential other street people in need.
Our next stop was a stop site closer to downtown. When Jim stopped the van, I looked around to see if I could spot where the site was. I learned that the sites are well-camouflaged, nothing elaborate, just well blended locations. The client wasn’t there so we moved on the next site.
This site was in the most incredible location of all the sites we went to, only because the others were where I would have thought them to be. We hiked to the site to find no one home. There was evidence that other caregivers had visited the site, but I got to see the care that Jim demonstrated. Jim placed his care package where he knew the actual property of the owner was; then the gathered up the previous caregivers packages were and placed them along with his. His concern for details was refreshing. We retraced our steps back to the van and headed out to the next site.
The location of this site was ironic in some ways because of the activity being conducted in a nearby spot. It was close to a high end condominium under construction. There was no one at the site so we just aborted the visit to make one last stop.
Our last stop was St. Paul Community Church on the near West Side of Cleveland, where Jim and Paul talked to several of the people there that seem to just want to be heard without prejudice. They found the right two people in Jim and Paul for that purpose.
Well, it was just around 10:30 a.m. and we were done for the day of in the field outreach. I’m sure the day was just starting for Jim. After the many months that it took for Jim to fit me into his schedule, it was well worth the wait.
Since we can never know the full depth of things we do and the people we influence, finding out about the lives that Jim touches everyday was impressive. A case in point is Paul, who rode with me on the ride along.
If you’ve been involved in the homeless in any capacity, you know Jim. Jim has been involved with the resistant to shelter community for many years. So, I will draw your attention to another advocate for the homeless resistant to shelter community—Paul. Paul was introduced to me as another volunteer. However, as it turns out, he is not only a volunteer; he is another facilitator like Jim. I think facilitator is closer to what these two guy do. It’s one thing to donate, which in no way reduce the importance of donation, but the donations have to get to the right people that go out and deliver those much needed donations.
Paul has been an outreach worker for many years and his story is as interesting as Jim’s. Paul goes the extra step, he actually takes people and give them a chance to learn a trade or earn money in order to sustain themselves.
There is another thing I learned while out with Jim and Paul is.”…that there are businesses, churches, concerned citizens, etc. that” as Paul puts it, “understand what these people are going through and want to help them in some way to get headed in a direction to getting back on their feet.”
There are number of things that NEOCH and all the partners do that was very evident during the ride along; the clothing that are donated to the homeless is so prominent in the survival of those living outside. If you have jackets, sweater, trousers, blankets, etc. consider donating them to one of the outreach partners; especially those that need them will well appreciate them. The winter blanket drive is a year round activity at NEOCH.
[I had intended to take pictures to accompany this article but their privacy was more important than ruining your mental image of the condition these people live in—besides, you wouldn’t be able to find them anyway.]
Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle
May 2014 Cleveland, Ohio