New Analysis by Brian Davis
I am not an impartial observer when municipal governments target homeless people. I am the chair of the National Civil Rights Organizing Project in partnership with the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. I led the Coalition with a couple of lawsuits against the City of Cleveland in the 1990s regarding police interactions with homeless people. We monitor a settlement from 2000 over the arrests or threated arrests of homeless people for purely innocent behavior. As director of the Coalition, we coordinate all outreach activities in Cleveland and regularly check folks on the streets.
Cleveland leaders battled with homeless people for nearly a decade with regular sweeps and five lawsuits over public policy. Finally in 2000, the City of Cleveland settled with the Homeless Coalition (Key vs. City of Cleveland) that police would not threaten arrest for purely innocent behavior of sitting, sleeping, eating or standing on the sidewalks. The City of Akron has entered into a policy of sweeping homeless people and their valuables away for the “crime” of living without a home.
The National Coalition for the Homeless issues regular reports on local government attempts to make it illegal to be homeless. They are always innovating in how they use law enforcement to “solve” homelessness with anti-panhandling, anti camping, anti-sitting, anti feeding laws sweeping the country. It seems as though many Mayors have lost confidence in the social service community and turn to law enforcement to hide homeless people. In the end, no matter how many citations or summons or rides out of the downtown, those involved in the criminal justice system will be back. Right now, there is no death penalty for loitering.
The men who are ticketed or swept off the land will be back and will be harder to house because of their criminal background. Another interesting thing we found in the NCH reports was the correlation between a rise in hate crimes when cities began passing anti-homeless laws. It seemed as though when the city began targeting homeless people for tickets and “quality of life” violations there was a spike in attacks by young people on this vulnerable population. We have seen this in Cincinnati, where there are many laws restricting homeless people and they have the highest number of hate crimes against homeless people in Ohio.
In October, a group of law students at CWRU helped a group of homeless people file suit against the City of Akron over the policy of picking up and throwing away their valuables. A group of 11 homeless men and women approached the students about City vehicles coming out to remote locations and picking up all their belongings including tents and throwing them in the garbage. This issue received a great deal of media attention, and the City of Akron officials told WEWS NewsNet 5 that they had given warning to the individuals and claimed drug paraphernalia was found. I was able to speak to Patrick Moe who denied that he received any warning and that there was food, clothing and identification thrown away at his site.
Moe claimed he was living “off the beaten path,” in the woods. He was alone and then a couple of other guys moved into the neighborhood. He stayed outside and no one bothered him and no one came to offer him help. There were church groups, but no one from the City or any government offered help. Then on Veterans Day in 2013 a City truck came out and threw away all his belongings including his tent, clothing and food and took it to the City dump. Moe claimed that there was no warning and no discussions about alternatives. No one did an inventory of the items, they just threw it all away.
Moe’s wife died in 2012 and he spiraled out of control eventually becoming homeless in August of 2012. Akron does not have guaranteed access to shelter like Cleveland so there are very few resources available especially for men. Moe said he was not a fan of all the rules, and the fact that they hold your money and the religious requirements to maintain a bed. Moe was working through an appeal process with Social Security in order to find housing.
Moe had stayed in the shelter, but then moved into a tent. Moe had his military identification taken along with his wife’s death certificate as the two most valuable items he lost. He had family memories and pictures with his wife that he lost and a bunch of other valuables. He received another tent and that was thrown away also. Moe was angry that he was not bothering anyone and all his stuff was thrown out while homeowners would come down near his site and drink and litter and were loud and no one bothered them
Moe said, “This is no different than them coming into your home and throwing away your stuff.” He was not a drinker and this was not a drug camp. He was just trying to find a way back into housing. Moe was thankful to have found a transitional housing program after he started volunteering with a group. Moe said that they heard about his situation and were kind enough to let him in to see if it would work out. If he had not found this housing, he would have moved back deeper into the woods. He was very disappointed in the City of Akron for violating his rights and he said he did nothing to provoke this theft of his personal property.
Copyright Cleveland Street Chronical and NEOCH January 2015