Cleveland Has A Really Nice Downtown

 We did our regular count of homeless people on Black Friday again this year.  We started this back in 1999 in response to a lawsuit against the City of Cleveland.  This was the traditional weekend during the White Administration when homeless people were swept off the sidewalk.  Police were dispatched to go out and harass homeless people out of sight by saying, "Get up and get out or you will be arrested."  NEOCH sued and won a settlement which is still in force.  Since that time we go out and check on the population and count how many are outside.  In 1999, there were as many as 60 people sleeping outside.  This year, there were three.  Before you cheer there are a few caveats.  One, the overnight drop in center at Metanoia is now open and draws about 60 people inside.  Second, this is the lowest number for the entire year.  It is a holiday weekend and many people go visit family and are welcomed back in the house even for a short time.  Third, we have reduced the overall number of long term homeless through coordinated outreach, Permanent Supportive housing and guaranteed access to shelter.  Last year, there were eight in the downtown, so this is also down from last year. 

This is only a small geographic area of the 20 blocks downtown.  We drive and walk every street downtown looking for people who choose to sleep outside.  It is not a count of anything that can be used for any academic analysis of homelessness.  One thing that we have to say is how nice Cleveland's downtown is compared to other cities.  Look at these pics below.  We should be proud of the Downtown.  It is pretty special.  There are not homeless people sleeping on benches, in the bushes, in bus shelters like there are in other cities.  The homeless service providers should be richly rewarded for keeping down the population by doing everything they can to keep the shelter doors open.  Thanks to Frontline Services, Lutheran Ministry, Salvation Army, Volunteers of America, Metanoia, West Side Catholic, EDEN and all the other groups that feed, cloth, and shelter homeless people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In any other city in America these benches would have homeless people sleeping on them.

 

 

 

 

Look how clean the bus shelter is. Many cities have homeless people sleeping in the bus shelters 

 

 

 Brian Davis

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2015 Count Sees Increases Homeless People Downtown

Every year on Black Friday we count the number of homeless people sleeping downtown. By the way, can we change the day after Thanksgiving to Malcolm X Memorial Day instead of naming a day after commercial activities?  We can still call it Black Friday, but just for a different reason.  This year saw a pretty large increase from the three sleeping outside in 2012 to 2014 to eight in 2015. 

It is no where near the dark days of 1998 with 60 people sleeping around the welfare building and on Public Square, but it does reverse a trend from the last three years. It could be an anomaly because of the nicer weather, but I seem to remember 2012 being a warmer Black Friday.  It could be that the larger number of women and families requesting shelter translates to larger numbers outside even though we did not count any women downtown last week.  The longer that a shelter is operated the more people who have a negative experience at that facility and will not go back.  The longer we have 2100 Lakeside as the main shelter for men, the more likely that a low income individual will have some contact with the facility.  They may have stayed there and had their documents stolen or gotten in a physical altercation with another resident.  They may have been disrespected by a staff or a volunteer and may have decided to not return.  We have not seen a radical change in the shelter since 2002-3 when the shelter was taken by a different non-profit and could say, "Give us a try, we have all new management."  The large number of people sleeping on the West Side may view the relative open space downtown as attractive.  Shelter resistant people may be moving back downtown because the West Side is "overcrowded," and they value their solitude.  

In 2013, we detailed some of the reasons for the decrease in the number sleeping downtown as we also talked about those same issues in 2012Here is the 2014 summary of the count.  Much of the success we have seen still exist, but there are some dark clouds on the horizen.  We lost more shelter beds over the last year, and 2016 will see the loss of 82 beds with men's transitional decreasing.  We continue to see a lack of Rapid rehousing funds to meet the demand, long housing waiting lists and a sudden change in the hours for Coordinated Intake causing confusion and longer stays at shelter.  We continue to "divert" people seeking shelter to their cars or the streets.  

I got to talk to Yuri, Kenny, and George but the rest of the folks were asleep.  No one said that they were being harrassed by anyone, which is good.  We gave away many blankets, gloves and socks to the people we met.  We hope that this is just a one off increase, but community leaders should come together to make sure that the tools are in place to prevent this increase from becoming the norm.  This increase is in contrast the rosy picture presented by HUD in September as they announced the results of the faux "complete" counts in January of every year.   We do not want to return to the days when there were dozens of people downtown.  We usually consider this the low number for the winter because it is the holidays and families take their kin in during Thanksgiving.  It was also the time that Mayor White directed the police to start harassing homeless people as the Christmas shopping season started.  

Brian Davis

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How Many Homeless Are in Downtown Cleveland?

Over the last 16 years, we have had a long decline in the number of homeless people sleeping in Downtown Cleveland.  From 60 in 1998 then the shelter opens in 2000 and the number went down to 4 people.   Then it spikes up to 40 in 2006 for some reason and now it has remained steady at 3 people in 2012 to 2014.   We did not survey in 2011 because of the Occupy movement sleeping downtown. 

We started doing this count on Black Friday during the Mike White administration because homeless people were being arrested, threatened with arrest, and transported out of the City during the Thanksgiving season.  NEOCH sued and eventually won a settlement with the City.  We then began surveying homeless people downtown to see if they were being harassed or threatened by the police.  We also kept a count of the number of homeless people.  This is a low number since many homeless people go into stay with families during the holidays.  The shelters are not as busy on Black Friday compared to other Fridays.  Now we have 16 years of numbers of people sleeping downtown, and it is a huge success. 

The big change that happened in the early 2000s was the introduction of the big shelter in Cleveland that did not turn anyone away.  Then in the mid 2000s, there was the stepped up outreach, the introduction of the Permanent Supportive Housing units for the long term homeless and the downtown clean up crews.  Then over the last three years, we have had the Metanoia Project that has reduced the number of people sleeping outside across the City.  All these together have resulted in fewer people sleeping outside.  It is not that we have solved homelessness or even solved people sleeping outside.  There are far more visibly homeless people sleeping on the West Side of Cleveland then there were 10 years ago. 

Denise, the outreach trainee and I met "Darnell" this morning sleeping outside.   He said that he had been kicked out of the 2100 Lakeside for defending himself in a fight.  He was not aware of the Metanoia Project and was trying to stay warm until the library opened.  We offered Darnell a ride and gave him a hygiene kit.  No matter how many shelter beds, how much housing built for homeless people and how many workers are out on the streets, there are always emergencies.  There are always people who will not go into shelter or are kicked out of their house on any given night.  There are people who do not know where to find help and wander the streets in Cleveland. 

Brian Davis

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No Bathrooms in Downtown Cleveland

We received a complaint from a friend of the Coalition about a woman relieving herself behind a vehicle near the financial district of Downtown Cleveland (between East 6th St. and East 9th St. in the old Short North).   She was shocked that this homeless woman was outside using the bathroom.   I asked one of the full time social workers helping people in the Downtown area where people could go to use the bathroom.  Here is her response: "The answer is the Library, city/county buildings with ID, the courthouses, and Justice Center. All other buildings are private."  We have basically six locations downtown with public restrooms and two require ID and all require going through a metal detector.  

The Coalition and most of the social service agencies have realized that this was a problem.  The Downtown Cleveland Alliance, the Cleveland Police Department and the Parks and Recreation folks have all seen this as an issue.  A few years back, Jim Schlecht of Care Alliance developed a plan for portable restrooms, found people who would clean them, located space, got police approval for a location.  Everyone signed off on the plan, but it was shut down by the City of Cleveland.   The DCA had looked into self cleaning nice tourist friendly stand alone facilities, but were again shut down by the City.  

For some reason, the administration does not want to see public restrooms in Downtown Cleveland.   It is so strange that there is all this talk of a 24 hour city and yet no where can a slightly intoxicated tourist or suburbanite relieve themselves unless they get into a bar or business or go behind a car.  I know that homeless people get blamed for this many times, and I am sure that there are many homeless people relieving themselves in public, there are also many pedestrians doing this.   As a former bartender downtown, I can tell you that I have seen hundreds of my nicely dressed suburban patrons who would relieve themselves behind a building or between cars, both men and women, because the bars had closed and there was no where else to go.   If the City is going to move to a vibrant and active city, they are going to have to fund and locate public restrooms downtown like they have done in San Francisco, London, or Philadelphia (pictured here).

Brian Davis

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Received a Strange Call Today about the Chronicle

I got a call from a pedestrian who bought a Street Chronicle newspaper today from one of our vendors and wanted a few questions answered.  He confirmed all the information that is on page 2 of the paper (Code of Conduct and newspaper operations).  How much do they pay for the paper--$.35?  Where does the money go when a pedestrian buys a paper--into the pocket of the vendor?  Then he asked, "Do you verify where this money is going to assure that it does not go to drugs or alcohol?"   This is an amazing question. 

Have you ever asked the guy at Starbucks serving coffee if any of their salary goes to alcohol or drugs?   Have you every asked your cab driver or the UPS driver?   Would you have the nerve to ask your doctor during a physical if he uses any of his income for alcohol or drugs or your postal carrier or the woman at the DMV?   Setting aside the fact that alcohol is a legal drug, it is none of your business what a vendor does with his or her money.   The guy was incredulous when I indicated that he got a product (a paper) for his money.  He said, "But common you know what I mean, I didn't want the paper."  Actually, no I did not know that.  

The Street Newspaper is 15 pages of solid material written by people with experience of homelessness along with our volunteers.  The content is worth $1.25 to find out what homeless people have to say about issues.   The paper is an alternative to panhandling.  Would you rather have a guy begging on the streets or someone with a product to sell?  Some of the founders of our country would write down their words and sell them on the streets of Boston and Philadelphia.   Isn't this something valuable to our society--making money off of your own words when times are tough?  You have a right to walk by the vendor and give your money to the guy working at McDonalds or Walmart or the local Chinese Restaurant.   If you don't want to take the paper that is your right in this society.  If you don't want to support an alternative to panhandling that is your right. 

The reason that I became involved in the struggle to end homelessness in America was the street newspaper sold in Cleveland.  I bought a paper from a guy in University Circle while attending college, and he was so enthusiastic that it had his story and picture in the paper.  I thought it was a cool concept that you would sell your own words to make some change.  I know that Bob who sold me that first paper was an alcoholic and was struggling with finding help, but he was also a man in need.  Who was I to say what he did with his money.   He earned it, and it is a tough living.  It is hard to have 90% of the people walk by and say "No."  It is hard to go out in 18 degree winter storm to sell papers in the morning to people on their way to work.   The vendor has rain and the heat to deal with and dramatic changes in weather that is a staple of the Cleveland landscape.  They deserve every dollar they earn. 

So, Mr. Pedestrian caller, you don't have to buy a paper from our vendors, but you have no right to know their personal history.  They are independent business contractors who are trying to make a living in the face of health issues, financial disasters and broken marriages.  Support the paper as an alternative to begging or don't, but please don't be so judgmental about your fellow travellers downtown.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry. 

Where have all the Homeless People Gone?

I am just amazed by the small number of people sleeping downtown these days.  Only a dozen years ago there were 40 people at the Welfare building. Public Square had at least a dozen people sleeping, and Superior Ave always had people at East 9th because of the heated sidewalks.    They are all gone.  No one sleeps at the Welfare building and there are rarely people on Public Square.   Where have all the homeless people gone in Cleveland?  

On the Friday after Thanksgiving since 2000, we have gone downtown to count the number of homeless people sleeping outside.  In the past, we had 15 people to cover the downtown because there were so many people sleeping outside.  We wanted to talk to them to make sure that the police were not harassing them to test our lawsuit settlement from 1999.   Today with the small number of people sleeping outside it only takes one person to talk to these individuals.  This year we only found three people downtown between Old River Road and East 20th and the lake and Carnegie Ave.   This is the same number as we found last year.  We have stats on our statistics page here on the Downtown homeless number.

It has to be said that this is not a measurement of how many are outside since there are many who sleep on the West Side of Cleveland, across the river or on the East side in Midtown or St. Clair/Superior.   This is also not representative of the population living rough in the downtown.  Since it is a holiday weekend, it is probably one of the smallest number of people sleeping downtown for the year.  We use this as a baseline to compare to previous years since we have counted on the same day of the year for 14 years.   It is not a count of anything but the number of people sleeping downtown on the day after Thanksgiving.   The only big picture that we can say is that the trend of people sleeping downtown is way down compared to 15 years ago.  Why? There are a number of reasons we see so few people living outside in the downtown:

  • Guaranteed access to shelter in Cleveland.  We do not turn people away and the shelters are way better than they were in the 1990s. 
  • A well developed coordinated outreach program with trained professionals regularly building relationships with people who sleep outside. 
  • The introduction of the Metanoia project three years ago for the winter.  They focus on serving those who are resistant to shelter.  They are a drop in center and not a shelter.   They try to encourage people to come inside instead of sleeping outside on the weekends and holidays in the winter.
  • The clean up ambassadors from Downtown Cleveland Alliance are visible and regular presence downtown and they have a social worker who is on the streets interacting with homeless people. It is hard to sleep on the sidewalks if a big vacuum comes down the sidewalk at 6 a.m.
  • Permanent supportive housing have targeted people who have been homeless for long periods of time.  They have housed 500 people over the last six years and try to get people recommended by outreach workers who will never get into housing without the assistance of the PSH.
  • The move of the religious groups away from serving downtown and providing food in a random fashion whenever they had the volunteers.  This often kept people on Public Square, because they had no idea when a church would show up to provide food or clothing. 
  • There are so many more private places to live with the number of abandoned structures in our community.   Why stay outside on a sidewalk when there are 18,000 structures in Cuyahoga County that are sitting empty?

Brian Davis

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Panhandling Does Not Pay Very Well

There are amazing over estimates of panhandlers in our community.  Many believe these guys are making hundreds of dollars and a living on easy street.  A new study was released which paints a different picture of the life of a panhandler. Research out of San Francisco surveyed 146 panhandlers and found that they averaged $25 per day.  This in one of the wealthiest cities in America with one of the more sizable homeless and panhandling populations in America.  The Union Square Business Improvement District commissioned the study and found that even if the average panhandler worked 7 days a week they would not be able to afford housing at the fair market rent in one of the most expensive rental cities in America. The richer the pedestrian population, the more disposable income and the more likely the individual will give to a panhandler.

Most people believe these guys who beg for money make a mint.  There are myths about panhandlers driving expensive cars while begging for money.  This sets this mythology straight.  Most panhandlers are making below poverty wages, and it is a tough existence.  You have to go out in the heat, rain and in Cleveland in the winter snow.   If they take the day off, they do not get paid.  There is no vacation or sick leave for panhandler.  It is a tough existence for spare change.  The survey did not say how long it took these guys to make $25, but I would guess around 6 hours a day of being told "Get a Job" by hundreds of people.   Since the survey was not clear on the number of hours, it is hard to say how much the panhandler makes per hour, but there is no doubt panhandling does make a living wage.

The typical panhandler in San Francisco is a middle aged single male who is disabled and a member of a minority population.   The panhandler typically beg for five years, and 94% use their money to purchase food.  Only 3 percent of those panhandlers were not interested in finding housing.  Nearly 70% were single and over a quarter had served in the US military.  53% panhandle seven days a week, which means that they do not have the luxury of taking days off and live day to day.  44% use the proceeds of their panhandling for drugs or alcohol, and one quarter admit they are alcoholics (32% admit being drug addicts).  82% claimed to be without housing. 

It points out the need to find alternatives to panhandling (like the street newspaper movement).   It dispels the myths that these guys pretend to be homeless when they are not always.   This study shows that panhandling is a tough existence and is not a quick path off the streets. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Downtown Sees Sharp Decline in Shelter Resistant

We did our count of the downtown homeless back in November, and posted the results on our website for this last year.  It was a significant decline in the number of people sleeping outside.  We have not seen these low numbers since 2100 Lakeside opened in 2000.   Now, before we break out the champagne there are a couple of things to keep in mind.  The shelter resistant have spread out to other sections of the city.   There has actually been an increase in the number of people requesting shelter in Cleveland over the last year, and a large number of people are staying inside at the Metanoia project at St. Malachi on the weekends when we do the count.  It does prove that if you offer a space that has high tolerance for difficult to serve people they will come inside. 

We outline a number of reasons on the page describing the population why we have seen a decline in the number of people who live outside.  All of these items work together to result in a decline in the population.  Not one magic bullet has caused a decline in the population.  All of these trends work together to change the number sleeping outside.  This is great news that there are in fact fewer people who risk their lives living outside, but we still have a ways to go to get everyone inside.  Two big things that would result in a significant decline in the population: changing the law regarding sexually based offenders and establishing minimum standards for the operation of a shelter in law. 

The sexually based offender law unfairly stigmatizes people who have huge areas of the city where these individuals cannot live.  While no politician wants to touch a law that is viewed as being tough on criminals, it is a stupid law.  Most abuse of young people happens by relatives or friends and not a stranger.  So all these laws that prevent offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school or even working close to a day care center have the result of keeping people homeless for long periods of time and costing taxpayers millions.  They have very little to do with preventing crimes against young people, but they have a heavy price for society.  

The shelters need to be better regulated to encourage people to come inside.  I have talked to hundreds of people who resist going to shelter because they have been kicked out or because they have serious concerns about the operation of these publicly funded facilities.  It is the only congregate living facility that does not have a law to protect the residents.   So many people would come inside if there were greater protections against discharge and were more transparent. 

Brian Davis

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Downtown Cleveland is Much Improved

I participated in the count this Thanksgiving weekend, and I have to say Downtown Cleveland is much better than it was in the 1990s.  It still seems dead compared to the pictures of the 1960s and 1970s and that movie A Christmas Story filmed in Cleveland.  But I have to say that the Downtown is actually beautiful for an industrial city like Cleveland.  There is not the debris blowing around downtown like tumbleweed of the Plain States.   There were visible clean up crews who gave up their Black Friday shopping to keep the downtown looking nice.  There are more people walking around than there were in previous years with the Casino operational, but even the abandoned buildings are well maintained. 

The worst looking building was the old City Club building on East 9th and Euclid, which is under renovation.  The closed stores are boarded up or have some display in the window.  There are not a ton of broken windows or dust or decay.  The sidewalks look nice from the power washing, and the trash is not overwhelming the canisters.  The flower displays are maintained, and the streets are not giant sink holes that are not being maintained.  I miss the Thanksgiving parade, and the window displays, but the downtown is really nice.  It is like a professionally decorated present waiting for more pedestrians to open this gift.  It seems as though we are pregnant with anticipation of a building boom sparked by the Casino, the Medical Mart, and a centralized County building that is just around the corner.

Remember that there was a man who slept on the corner of West 9th and Superior near the bridge on the heating grate?  He was gone.  Remember all the people who slept around the welfare building on East 17th and Superior--all gone?  Remember the number of people sleeping around the Convention center?  They are gone because of the construction taking place, but they moved out of the downtown area.  We always had people sleeping around Public Sqaure even after the curfew went into place, but there was no one this last weekend.  It must be said that there are far more people on the Near West Side of Cleveland and around the west bank of the river, but the overall numbers are much reduced from the 1990s. We have to credit Care Alliance, the Veterans Administration, Mental Health Services, Volunteers of America, the Salvation Army, and the Labre Projects for coordinating their work to assist those who do not like going to shelter for the decline.  We have to credit the city for moving the meal site off of Public Square and working with religious groups to find alternatives to distributing food where there were not trash recepticles.  At the same time, the City has resisted passing a law restricting religious groups that would be challenged in court.  And we have to credit the County for supporting the construction of housing for those who have been on the streets for a long time. 

I took some pictures of the downtown that I used in this post and the last one to show that our downtown has changed dramatically over the last 20 years.  There are notable empty buildings such as the Ameritrust tower and the building on East 9th and Superior, but it does not seem like a city emerging from the Apocalypse as it did in 1998.  The Flats are a shadow of their former days, but the warehouse district seems to be well maintained.  The statues and monuments stand out when the grounds around them are manicured.  Tom Johnson and Jesse Owens seem to have a better disposition than they had in the 1990s.  Downtown is not a scarey place and is not the ghost town of the past.  It is struggling with find a personality, but all the pieces are in place at this point. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Dramatic Decline in Those Sleeping Outside Downtown

Where have all the homeless gone?   Every year since 1999, we have walked the downtown from the river to East 20th and the Lake to Carnegie Ave. to see how many people are sleeping downtown.  In the 1990s, Mayor Michael White was ordering the Police to go downtown on Thanksgiving weekend to harass homeless people off of the streets in order to reassure shoppers that it was safe to come downtown.  There were over 60 people sleeping in the downtown in the winter of 1998.  This was a foolish policy that NEOCH confronted with three lawsuits, and won each time.  It also contributed to the development of 2100 Lakeside Shelter, and the policy of not turning people away who show up requesting shelter.  Those sleeping outside became a flashpoint between the business interests downtown and those struggling with poverty during the late 1980s and most of the 1990s.

   We settled our last lawsuit in February of 2000 and since that time we have had volunteers walk the downtown talking to homeless people and counting the number who sleep outside.  We make sure that the agreement we struck with the City of Cleveland is holding, and there is no violation by the Cleveland Police or any City officials.  For the past dozen years, the agreement has held with minor infractions typically outside of the downtown area.  We walk on the Friday after Thanksgiving early in the morning every year.  We believe that this is the lowest number for people sleeping outside for the hole year.  It is a baseline for how many people are going to be downtown this winter.  Most people go back with family or friends during the holiday, so it may be two to four times as many people sleeping downtown during this upcoming winter.  We estimate that the number is going to be down from previous years. 

This shows that the current policies of Cuyahoga County are working.  This shows that despite the dire warnings of some that allowing everyone who wants shelter without a time limit does not in fact lead to overwhelming numbers of people outside.  This shows that the coordination of outreach services and building relationships with all those resistant to shelter works.  This shows that the attention paid by Downtown Cleveland Alliance to keeping the area safe and clean is also working.   Here are the numbers. We did not count in 2011 because of the Occupy movement being downtown.  We know that there were homeless people sleeping at the site, but we were not sure how to factor that into the total.  Were they all "homeless" or were they homeless people from other areas?  We did not want the numbers thrown off, so we just did not count anyone in November 2011.

(One late note:  The other thing different this year when compared to the last 12 years was that Metanoia is open.  This overnight drop in center is open at St. Malachi on the weekend from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and this year it is open on the holidays over the winter.  So, this is the first time that a facility is open targeting people who sleep outside to provide assistance, and they were full this last weekend. )

Years Numbers
1998 60
1999 42
2000 4
2001 6
2002 9
2003 11
2004 19
2005 27
2006 40
2007 17
2008 19
2009 18
2010 14
2011 **
2012 3

**Did not count because of Occupy Movement

Roldo: Derelict Paradise And the Casino

I love Roldo Bartimole.  He is a treasure for the City of Cleveland.  We are so lucky that Roldo agreed to stay in Cleveland despite our ineptitude, corruption and our inability to make decisions on big projects.  We need more Roldos in this city.  You would think with the ease of publishing today we would have more Roldos in every city.  After all, when Roldo was doing his best muckraking in the City, he had to type all this stuff out in his house and then pay to print off copies of his Point of View.  He had to pay to mail them to the movers and shakers in Cleveland to get his opinions circulated.  Now, he can post something on the internet and more people in one hour can read his stuff then read every Point of View he ever published.  But, the reality is we do not have the citizen journalists that we used to have.  I don't know of anyone covering local non-profits and the dramatic changes that are taking place.  We need someone to cover the Cleveland City Council meetings with more than just the motions and votes, but providing us context for what is happening and giving us some insight on the backroom deals.  We have an entirely new government with Cuyahoga County that should be getting the Roldo treatment every week. 

Why doesn't the Scene publish must read pieces like the Free Times used to feature?  There were broadsides every week about Mayor White or Tim Hagen or some boneheaded decision made in Cleveland Hts in the weekly paper that we all felt we had to read because others were going to ask about it or it would be featured a couple of weeks down the line on the evening news or in the morning paper.  Roldo has occasional features in Cool Cleveland, and they are entertaining, but they are not the investigative bombshells of the past that would cause a City Council President to take a chair to the author or cause the feds to look into why a promised building was never developed by one of the patrons of local politicians.  Roldo uses the release of Dan Kerr's book Derelict Paradise as the backdrop for a piece on the impact of the casino on Cleveland.  I am not sure that the Casino is going to have the level of devastation on the poor people as Roldo predicts, and Dan's book is after all a history book.  If we had opened a casino in Cleveland in 1995 before Detroit, the Indiana riverboats, internet poker, and Pennsylvania casinos, they would have had a huge impact on destroying a segment of the population.  At this time, there are so many opportunities to feed a gambling addiction, the casino is just one of a hundred ways to throw away your money.

Dan is a great community organizer, but we have been on the opposite side of a bunch of issues.  We were not on the same page with regard to Food Not Bombs serving food on Public Square and we were not on the same page regarding unions and the Community Hiring Hall.  Just for context, Dan interviewed hundreds of homeless people in the mid 1990s in Cleveland.  That really colors your perspective on homelessness by talking to people who are at the lowest point in their life.  These men and women are angry and lash out at society, the shelters, and the government that allowed homelessness to persist for 35 years.  The homeless individuals that Dan sat down with to interview were typically the hardest core homeless people.  These were people who were homeless for a very long time and had rejected help from the system. 

So, Dan's thesis naturally comes from a position of anger and not the detached third party observer of most researchers.  This is not a bad thing.  There is a strong history of citizen or advocacy journalists like Studs Terkel or Roldo, I. F. Stone, or others who have made great progress for the United States.  But the reader has to recognize the perspective.  So, the period in which Dan is a first person witness is some of the worst times for poverty in Cleveland's history.  The population was falling off a cliff, and poverty was on the rise.  We were still coming out of the crack epidemic, and people were just beginning to take advantage of the coming housing bubble with predatory lenders.  The federal government was shedding affordable housing, and manufacturing jobs were disappearing faster than alcohol after prohibition.  The reality is that Cleveland was no worse than most other cities in America.  Progressive who led cities, conservatives, bureaucrats, and businessmen mayors all had plans and all tried cracking down on panhandlers--unsuccessfully for the most part.  During the Bush Administration, over 400 cities submitted plans to end homelessness in five years or to end homelessness among the "long term" homeless in five years, and not one city in the United States was successful. 

Every city in Ohio tried to crack down on panhandlers and legislatate them out of sight or out of existence, but those plans failed.  Every Mayor for the past 100 years has issued plans for community development and very few of them come to pass.  How many times have we developed a plan for Public Square? Burke Lakefront? the Waterfront? the neighborhoods? Whiskey Island, and Downtown?  If you are confused go visit the Ferris Wheel next to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame or the pedestrian walkway downtown.  Yes, we destroyed affordable housing for the stadiums, CSU expansion, Cleveland Clinic, and the Flats development, but what city has not done this?  Columbus destroyed pretty much every public housing unit in the city.  Cincinnati has successfully eliminated all the affordable housing downtown.  These were not unique to Cleveland as described in Derelict Paradise or by Roldo.  This is a failing of the federal government in the United States to protect and preserve affordable housing.  Only the federal government has the ability to enforce fair housing regulations, has the power of the purse, and can force communities to do the right thing for poor people.  Relying on cities or counties which do not have the money to do any significant housing development to make these decisions is short sighted and not understanding of the reality.  All the supportive housing that has been built in Cleveland has about 25 funding sources, and the local community makes up about 15% of the funding.  The big players are the federal government and state government in the development of housing. 

These plans and the destruction that takes place are not as insidious or conspiratorial as Dan describes.  A lot of this is just landlords seeing bigger dollars in the private sector.  The Jay Hotel was destroyed in order to build condos, which could generate five times as much in rent.  Now that West 65th is a jumping hot spot, the Detroiter is closed and the owners are waiting for the market to be ready for expensive condos to go on that space.  All of these things that happen are more the result of the private sector wanting more money per square foot rather than developers controlling politicians.  The feds could require all development that involves even $1 of public money be balanced with affordable housing, but they do not.  If the County or City made this requirement, the developers would just turn away from public dollars and the local government would be sidelined on the decision.  

Things are not as bad as painted by Roldo or Dan.  We don't have sixty tents underneath the Cleveland Browns bridge as we saw during the Campbell administration.   We do not have hundreds of people sleeping downtown as we saw during most of the White Administration.  We do not have nearly as many people sleeping outside as we saw in the past.  Yes, we have lost an incredible amount of affordable housing, but we have people who meet every month to stem the tide.  Also, there is no report on the thousands of units saved by the current Mayor (Arbor Park, Winton Manor, Carver Park, Tremont Pointe, to name a few) or the last few mayors.  We do not have the large scale tent cities of Seattle, Sacramento, or Portland.  We do not have hundreds of people turned away from shelter every night like Columbus, Pittsburgh or Chicago.  Yes, the shelters are bad places that need reform and proper oversight, but they are 100 times better than they were in the 1990s.  Homeless people are better off today then they were in 1995, and some of that has to do with Dan Kerr and the protests he helped with in the late 1990s. 

Check out the book and always read Roldo, but understand the context.  It is not as bad as it looks from ground zero for poverty in America: Cleveland of the 1990s. 

Brian Davis

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