The NEOCH Board celebrated 23 years of service to homeless people in Cleveland with a gathering to wish their long time director, Brian Davis, a goodbye. The Breen Center at St. Ignatius was the site of the goodbye event on June 23. Kathy Rothenberg James of the City of Cleveland Department of Public Health and a NEOCH Board member presented a resolution from the City of Cleveland. Kathy and Roy Love, Board President gave Brian an award from the full Board to recognize his work in navigating the organization through rough times and gave Brian’s wife and two daughters flowers.
Elegant Differences catered the event and the co-proprietor as well as Homeless Grapevine founder, Angelo Anderson spoke at the event. Jim Schlect also talked about his work with NEOCH and the compassion exercised by Brian. Toni Johnson who has worked at every aspect of homelessness spoke about all of the times she called the office looking for information from Brian. There was a banner that people could sign to say thank you to the former Executive Director of NEOCH. Roy Love was the Master of Ceremony and provided some history of the organization under Brian Davis.
Nicole Evans of Catholic Charities (pictured here) spoke about all the joint projects that she has worked on with NEOCH and Brian. Buzzy, one of the Street Chronicle vendors spoke about the NEOCH picnics and how he appreciated meeting Brian's family. He felt that Brian was not all talk. Sabrina Otis spoke at the event about finding NEOCH and Brian after struggling to get along in the family shelters in Cleveland. She complained to Commissioner Jane Campbell who was running for Mayor at the time, and Brian helped her.
Brian's family all attended the gathering and Rosamond Davis, Brian's mom, spoke about how proud she was of her son. Staff member, Ramona, talked about her meeting Brian while she was trying to survive in the Women's Shelter. There were around 100 people who attended the gathering. Many old friends attended the goodbye event after retiring from their jobs including Bill Resseger from the City of Cleveland and Spencer Wells. Spencer was the director of the Cleveland Tenants Organization who was the first to hire Brian when CTO was overseeing NEOCH's operations. One special guest was Anita Cook the retiring executive director of West Side Catholic who fell and broke her arm in the last week. She was only released from the hospital after surgery on the day of the party, but claimed she had to make the gathering.
Board members Larry Davis and Kathy Loseto both spoke about their work with Brian. Larry worked as a tenant leader, an AmeriCorps member and finally a Mature Service member. Kathy recently joined the Board and commented about how serious and focused Brian was on helping to end homelessness. A friend from Detroit, Clark Campbell tried to turn the event into a roast for Brian in discussing Clark's attempt to convince Brian to join him living on the streets. Campbell was homeless living out of a bus in the late 1990s and was one of the plaintiffs who filed suit to save "Camelot," the old Ward Bakery facility in which he lived from the City's wrecking ball.
New Director of Operations, Chris Knestrick was on hand and said a few words about his excitement for taking the helm of the organization. He looked forward to reaching out to everyone in the room for help as he navigates the homeless social service system. Two amazing things were that Loh, a friend of NEOCH, attended the event, but did not speak. She is a fixture at the County Council meetings and takes every opportunity to speak. The other was that the Cleveland Police had a representative attend to say goodbye to Brian. NEOCH sued the City in the 1990s three times over police unfairly arresting and ticketing homeless people and had an often contentious relationship with the Police. NEOCH now regularly meets with the Cleveland Police in an attempt to respond to homeless people living outside with social services instead of law enforcement.
This post reflects the opinion of the NEOCH Board.