The basis for all that we do at NEOCH is forgiveness. In the United States, we do not value forgiveness and we punish some people for life. Typically, those who cannot afford legal representation, people of color and the disabled repeatedly face barriers because of past mistakes. In addition, we put such a stigma on people who become homeless, those with a disability, and re-entry folks that it is like they are walking around with a scarlet letter.
Norman Wolfe was a quiet man who overcame a lot of these barriers in life. He made big mistakes in his past and he paid dearly. He served the United States in the Navy, and fell all the way to the men's shelter in Cleveland. I met Norman because he filed a grievance against mistreatment that he was receiving at a veteran's only bed at the shelter. He was so angry over how the grievance process failed at the shelter that he kept pushing for the development of a Resident Council at the shelter. Even after he was able to secure housing, he would attend the Resident Council meetings, take notes and push the shelter staff to respond.
Norman was a regular at the Homeless Congress meetings and represented other homeless people on the NEOCH Board. In 2015 and 2016, he was volunteering for Organize Ohio and the state budget folks called NOBLE. Norman was the Master of Ceremony for an all day discussion of the NOBLE advocates in preparation for the 2015 state budget struggles. He also helped organize the End Poverty Rally and March on the first day of the Republican Convention in July of 2016. Norman was elected to the County Office of Homeless Services advisory board. He walked with a cane, but many other homeless people leaned on him to protect their rights.
NEOCH gave him the Advocate of the Year award in 2014 and wrote up an overview of his accomplishments here. Norman was so helpful working to try to reform the shelter rules and regulations locally because he had experience with how these rules play out at midnight. He was able to get in writing that shelters should not discharge people into the night for non-criminal activity. This reduced the number of times women would miss meals at the Community Women's shelter because they were in "time-out." He visited Columbus to push for a fair state budget for those working to re-enter society and those struggling with their housing, and he helped push for reform of the women's shelter.
Two pieces of unfinished business that Norman was passionate about in Cleveland that we hope someone will take up the struggle. We were never able to get a fair grievance process locally within the shelters and social services. Norman came to the Coalition originally because he could not find justice with regard to the mistreatment he received from VA staff working at the big shelter. He always wanted to see an impartial third party grievance process started, but we never were able to get this accomplished.
He also tried to convince the shelter that veterans in the shelter should not have non-vets come into their community at the big shelter to use a veteran's bed at night if the veteran is out for the night on a pass. The problem is that the County requires every bed in the big shelter be full every night or they will not pay for overflow, so some of the beds are used multiply times a night with a change of sheets. Guys go out to work at midnight or don't come back until dawn and so the shelter has to navigate this difficult choreography to have every bed full every night. Norman was pushing that since the Vet Community at 2100 Lakeside are paid through a per diem contract with the federal government and not County funds and that vets are allowed to be away from the shelter for 48 hours and still maintain the bed, they should not have drunk guys or severely mentally ill filling a bed when they are away. The problem is typically these one-night overflow guests are disruptive and can send a guy working on his sobriety over the edge. Norman could never convince the shelter to keep the Veteran's community independent and free from outside destabilizing individuals.
Norman will be missed by many members of the Homeless Congress and his quiet voice will be silenced at the County Office of Homeless Services advisory.
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Post Script: Norman Wolfe's family has finalized his funeral arrangements & his obituary will be published soon. The viewing will be held at 12:30pm on Wednesday, August 16, followed by a funeral service at 1pm at Pernel Jones & Sons Funeral Home located at 7120 Cedar Avenue, Cleveland 44103. Norman will have a military burial at on Thursday, August 17 at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery.