The Shelters Have Taken a Step Back in Cleveland

By Michael Boyd

When I first became homeless it was in 1989.  My mother had just passed away and my father put me out.  I had come back home to help my mother before she passed.  The shelters were called “sites” then.  I remember there was a “Site A”, a garage across from Cosgrove’s with thin plastic mats on concrete floors.  We had thin wool blankets.  It was always cold in the wintertime. [Editor’s note: Site A was just a garage with a pull down garage door and one toilet for 70 guys that was not fit for human habitation.]  “Site A” was one of the first shelters I had ever been in. 

Years later I became homeless again. The year was 1999 and I went to “2100,” the current men’s shelter in Cuyahoga County.  My first night there I had just gotten out of prison.  There were a lot of men who had mental illnesses and would not take their medicine. These individuals could not sleep at night and they were not used to being indoors.  I watched a man urinate on a wall, very close to another man that was sleeping.  There is not much space in the shelter. The smell of body odor from all of the residents stays in your clothes, then it stays in your nose.  You cannot seem to get rid of it.  It seems like it is in your skin. 

I woke up the next morning at about 6:30 am with men yelling. They were trying to hurry us out of bed because we had to be off of the mats in 15 minutes. This reminded me so much of prison. They yelled at us in the same way.

Two days later, I made a doctor’s appointment with a local health clinic for homeless people. I told Dr. W that I could not sleep. I had pain in my knees and in my hips. I had just recently gotten into a fight and my arm was numb from the shoulder to the fingertips. I also told him my ulcer was bothering me. He gave me “sugar pills,” the “placebo drug,” because they were running a test to see if one drug worked and if the other did not. He also gave me 100 milligrams of Zoloft, which is an antidepressant and anxiety medication. They gave me medicine that I did not need. I took one of the pills and it made me sleepy. I could not shake it off to get up the next morning. 

We had to be out of the shelter by 8 am in the dead of winter. It felt as if there was no sympathy. Even the Animal Protective League would bring the animals in during the brutal cold. We were treated worse than animals.  We were yelled at and often disrespected. The point is, the shelters are not at all what they are thought to be. They are hard places to live in. 

Today, things have not changed much in the shelters. Most of the people who help run the shelters have been there since I stayed there the first time. In my opinion, they will give apartments to people that they know. I know a guy who got two apartments through a social worker and that is because he knew a couple of people down there. They have been playing favorites for years at the shelters.

I think if they would just find a way to deal with the people and their different personalities, positive changes could develop. Back in 1989 the mentally ill were housed at a different site.  Now they are housed in with the general population. It is causing a lot of fights. Literally, the men’s shelter has taken a step backwards when it comes to housing the mentally ill and keeping peace in the dorms.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle March 2017 Issue 24#1