Update: thanks everyone for your compassion and support. We have been able to have a good conversation with Brian Zimmerman from the Cleveland Metroparks. We recommitted to making sure that there is more communication around working with our friends out in the streets. While the camp is no longer there, we know folks have found other places to stay and we will continue to make sure that they have outreach workers connecting with them, can survive the harsh weather and get access into housing. We are hopeful that in the future, we will have more time and better communications about how best to work with folks experiencing homelessness in our community.
The following letter was sent to Cleveland Metroparks in response to a abrupt demand for the few remaining residents to evacuate within 24 hours or face arrest for those that call the small area under the Detroit Superior Bridge on Riverbed Road their home. Metroparks used threats of jail and arrest regarding this immediate eviction as if homelessness were a crime.
Thanks everyone for your compassion and support. We have been able to have a good conversation with Brian Zimmerman from the Cleveland Metroparks. We recommitted to making sure that there is more communication around working with our friends out in the streets. While the camp is no longer there, we know folks have found other places to stay and we will continue to make sure that they have outreach workers connecting with them, can survive the harsh weather and get access into housing. We are hopeful that in the future, we will have more time and better communications about how best to work with folks experiencing homelessness in our community.
NEOCH will continue to take action to defend the rights and dignity of these people experiencing the crisis of homelessness. The 24-hour notice has put our work into a frenzy to try to make sure our clients are not arrested and/or targeted by the Cleveland Metroparks police force.
NEOCH has worked tirelessly to find dignified locations for these people, many have found housing. We’ve been working hard, meeting with City Officials, securing funding and moving forward on behalf of each remaining individual. Metroparks has acted in bad faith. After being a party at the table, we are appalled by Metroparks actions and the fact that they failed to even respond to the letter below.
Join us by emailing Brian Zimmerman, CEO of Metroparks, firstname.lastname@example.org to ask if the Cleveland Metroparks will stop targeting individuals and to share your concerns.
Below is the letter NEOCH sent:
Dear Mr. Zimmerman:
I’m writing to you regarding the community of homeless women and men that resides on land adjacent the Detroit Superior Bridge and Riverbed Road on the banks of the Cuyahoga River. Specifically, I am reaching out in dismay and concern regarding a recent notice Cleveland Metroparks issued to these men and women that they must immediately vacate a place they have turned to as a last resort in the face of homelessness. This move flies in the face of months of partnership to ensure that the future of this extremely vulnerable population is dealt with in a thoughtful manner.
As I suspect you know, our organization, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH), has been working collaboratively, proactively, and diligently with a group of stakeholders, including members of your staff, the City of Cleveland, Ohio City Incorporated, Frontline Services, LAND studio, and others, as efforts to create a new riverfront park and trail system proceed. NEOCH’s specific involvement has been to coordinate services to long term homeless residents of the proposed park site and to facilitate their ultimate move from the site into a beneficial new residence.
Our involvement also was borne solely out of a concern for the health and welfare of the homeless community on this formerly neglected and forlorn land that is now a hot commodity. With recent orders from Cleveland Metroparks, our worst fears are being realized as those with few or no choices are now thrown to the winds of fate with little thought of where they will go and how they will survive as winter is upon us.
It has come to NEOCH’s attention that the Cleveland Metroparks has just issued an order, effective immediately, that no one will be permitted to stay overnight on Metroparks property located adjacent to River Bed Road. Despite the trust built and positive outcomes of our ongoing partnership with your staff and others, our team at NEOCH were informed of this "eviction" notice only this morning, and the Riverbed Road homeless community were given a mere 24 hours to find new place to stay.
Today, I was invited to an emergency meeting with two Cleveland Metroparks police officers and informed that the residents had to move by the end of the day or they would be arrested. In that meeting, I was informed that this order was issued because of the upcoming construction for the Irish Town Bend Park project and, more disturbingly, because of a series of complaints from residents at the Stonebridge apartments – who apparently cannot stomach the sight of homelessness from their tax-abated abodes on high.
NEOCH has spent a year in conversations and hours of work to provide a dignified, safe, and non-traumatizing transition from homelessness to housing for the Riverbed Road homeless community. We engaged in this effort in good faith with our other partners, including Cleveland Metroparks, in the belief that as a community we can treat people experiencing homelessness with dignity and respect and not criminalize their presence and exacerbate their already difficult state in life. We have had agreements that the City would not clear out the riverbed and would allow our outreach workers to do their jobs. Homelessness cannot be solved through law enforcement. NEOCH’s trust in this partnership has been shaken to its core by this recent police action by the Cleveland Metroparks.
NEOCH’s efforts to find housing options for those residents and to gain their trust to be willing to take those options are complicated by the struggles homeless people face with mental illness, long-term trauma, and an often heartless public system. They require hours of outreach to gain the trust needed for them to take their own leap of faith and move to new housing. NEOCH has put in the work during this process to help many shelter resistant homeless women and men move forward. But the work is not done, and this knee jerk order by Cleveland Metroparks can only seriously damage the good work the partnership has done to date and caused trauma to an already targeted and traumatized group of people.
Rather than continuing on the path of finding dignified housing options for people, today’s actions by Cleveland Metroparks will use criminalization as a tool to displace our community’s most vulnerable to further development goals. It does not have to be this way – I am confident that with a reasonable amount of additional time, we can meet our ultimate goal. And no matter what, the short notice to the Riverbed Road community, and to our group of advocates here at NEOCH, smack of unfairness. The 24-hour notice has put our work into a frenzy to try to make sure our clients are not arrested and/or targeted by the Cleveland Metroparks police force.
In good faith, and based on our existing partnership, I would ask that Cleveland Metroparks temporarily suspend any ticketing or arrest of anyone living/camping on Metroparks property on River Bed Road and allow our community outreach workers to find dignified housing options for these people. This has been a place of refuge for people experience in homelessness in our community. We are only asking for a reasonable amount of time to do our work and are not advocating for a continued long-term homeless encampment on the site.
I continue to believe that working together, we can find a positive outcome for the Riverbed Road homeless community – one that does not ignore the need to move forward with the park and trail project and safety concerns, but also one that does not deny the basic human dignity of these women and men.
Please contact me at your earliest convenience to discuss this critically important matter.