Why is Cleveland Still Second in Poverty in the US?

Commentary by Angelo Anderson

       I’m wondering how we change the landscape of having people sleeping on steam grates on side streets in downtown Cleveland Ohio to stay warm?  Does being on a side street make them invisible? Or do we choose to ignore them because of why we think they are there?  If these people were sleeping by the casino or stadium would we arrest them? And then charge them with what--staying warm overnight?  There are many of us who make assumptions as to why a person is sleeping outside on a grate or the ground with covers trying to keep warm.  Have ‘YOU’ ever considered the real reason why? Or do you believe the propaganda fed to us through various media channels and the opinions of others regarding homelessness? Do you know?

          How fast is a nations decline when we ignore the fact that poverty is growing while we have extreme wealth also growing?

        POVERTY is about scarcity, dearth, or the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money.  We closed the institutions that house and treat the mentally ill and they are left to their own sufficiency.  Where did they go?  Who is willing to help?  No monitoring, no medication – this leads to a lack of trust and outbursts and breakdowns, behaviors that are not socially acceptable and why?  Our society has not found a place in its melting pot for those who don’t fit the mold.  As survivors, these mentally ill turn to the streets and create a space they can call their own.  In their minds, they too need a place to call home.

       Cuts to unemployment benefits, SNAP (foodstamps), Women’s Infant and Children, Head Start Programs, cuts in funding to Public School Systems, rising college tuitions and shrinking availability of student loans and grant. POVERTY GROWS AND IS PERPETUATED – Without access and information, people can only teach what they know.  We often mirror our environments. Lack of access to resources, or the red tape to get essential resources makes it difficult for the already less fortunate. 

      Inability to obtain employment that provides for life basic necessities – POVERTY IS SUSTAINED – This cycle is often found in low-income, undereducated populations, however it is now starting to spread to middle-class populations due to our nation’s declining economy and marginal job market.

       SUSTAINED POVERTY can lead to: homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, criminal activities, violence, and mental health issues.  

       Our society ignores all its ills until that ill hits one of the affluent.  Then we have advocates and rights and protestors who don’t understand ‘why’ something isn’t being done to help.  Well, what about our everyday people who have worked 20 – 30 years and the plant closed the doors?   

         How about our veterans who served on the front line so that we can enjoy the freedoms our great country offers; and yet when they have PTSD or are shell shocked we leave them in the streets or bushes to die like we don’t care.  What happens when it’s your company that downsizes after you purchase a home, a car, and start tuition payments?  How will you handle it when the insurance company says no to the critical medicines needed for everyday functionality?  When will you start advocating for tuitions that are affordable to everyone? 

       If not now, then when?  If not you, then who?   Those “PEOPLE” you walk by on the grates – some of them worked alongside you.  Those “PEOPLE” you snicker at, miss seeing their children and the comforts of home life.  They would like a smile, a hello, some acknowledgement of their existence.

       As our nation changes, there is a greater possibility of you joining one of “those people” on the grates than there is of them joining you in the workforce.

       I wrote this at the beginning of the year.  Having taken on a new role at one of the local shelters, I feel even stronger about the state of homelessness in our nation.  I believe that at some point we have to develop programs that hold the men and women that are in programs designed to help them get out of homelessness more responsible in paying for the services that they receive.

        If a person is living in a homeless shelter and getting a bunch of meals every day; they have a clean and safe place to sleep; they have a place to wash their belongings; they can receive mail at that facility; they have services in place that help with finding housing or getting medical care; they should be asked to pay something for all that help.  Free services over time become an entitlement in the eyes of many that receive them.

         If a person is getting a monthly check, food stamps, and medical assistance, and pays nothing for having their needs met how are we not enabling them?  If I can take my money and drink alcohol or get high or get a hotel room for a weekend or a week (some of them); why can’t I pay a little for my stay at the shelter?  If I have a payee and I’m staying at a shelter because my payee is not doing the right thing, why can’t I get a new one a get help faster in finding a place of my own?  If we took a different path to lowering the number of people living on the street can we then make a bigger impact?

        By having a percentage of my food stamps go to the food budget of the shelter will that lower their overhead?  If I pay a dollar a night from my check to stay what impact would that make on the program? Could they buy more bus passes or purchase condiments for the kitchen? If I have to save a small percentage of my money to move out can the process be speeded up?

         But what do I know? I’m just a writer for a homeless newspaper, but I wonder.

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Street Chronicle October 2014 Cleveland, Ohio