Panhandling Laws Changing But How About Outreach?

 

Columbus is the most recent big city in Ohio to announce that they are not enforcing their "aggressive solicitation" panhandling law.  This follows a US Supreme Court decision that struck down limitations on free speech such as asking for money.  Then the cities began following the Supreme Court decision with Youngstown, Akron, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo being forced to withdraw their panhandling laws.  Free Speech champion and panhandling law slayer, Joe Mead of Cleveland State University is the man behind the elimination of these laws.  He typically sends a letter under the letterhead of the American Civil Liberties Union calling attention to the Supreme Court decision and asks the City to stop enforcing these anti free speech laws. 

Most cities ignore him and then he has to file suit on behalf of those struggling in the city.  John Mancini in Cleveland was tired of being harassed by the police on East 9th or West 4th or anywhere around the Public Square and he joined Prof. Mead to file suit against the City of Cleveland enforcement of a panhandling law.  NEOCH had become aware of problems at the end of last year when the number of homeless people receiving panhandling tickets had seemed to increase and we were stuck working to find some of our clients when their number came up for housing.  It turned out they were in jail for not paying outstanding panhandling fines.  We had requested under the Ohio Open Records Act a copy of the number of panhandling tickets.  We found 1,517 panhandling tickets were issued from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2017. Here is the memo from the City of Cleveland in response to our request:

Here is the information from the City of Cleveland provided in March 2017:

ORC 605.031* and 471.06* Cases      From 1/1/2015 - 12/31/2016

Offense Code                                                      Total Count

 471.06                                                                   106

471.061                                                                 19

471.06A                                                                 53

471.06B                                                                768

471.06C                                                                1

471.06D                                                                7

471.06E                                                                 7

471.06F                                                                 17

605.031                                                                 12

605.031B1-M1                                                     38

605.031B1-M3                                                     5

605.031B1-M4                                                     61

605.031B2-10-M4                                               94

605.031B2-10-MM                                              77

605.031B3                                                            4

605.031B6                                                            9

605.031B9 M4                                                     137

605.031B9 MM                                                    102

                                           Total Case Count: 1,517

It is for this reason that NEOCH joined the ACLU lawsuit against the City of Cleveland. We also referred a number of our constituents to the ACLU who all were being regularly harassed with anti-free speech tickets. While most of the panhandlers do not meet the Department of Housing and Urban Development definition of homelessness, they are all certainly poor and struggling. They carry signs declaring that they are struggling and need help.  The ultimate self-proclaimed Scarlet P for "poverty," and for some reason the cities object to people announcing that they are struggling with stability and need help.  But were these laws effective? In June, the City of Cleveland withdrew the panhandling laws and passed a new law that restricts access to people flagging down cars.  This was a great going away gift for my tenure at NEOCH having spoke out against these laws in 2005 when they were first passed in Cleveland.  Thank you City officials for coming to your senses after a dozen years.

Only Cincinnati is left among the big Ohio cities that still enforce the panhandling law, and they have a rough one.  If you want to beg for money in the Queen city, you must get a license from the City and wear the license around your neck like a dog.  They have created a new profession of begging for money in the same class of jobs as hair stylist, tow motor operator, real estate agent and insurance broker--all of which need a license.  Akron had the same law with one additional anti-free speech provision and anti-common sense component that a panhandler could not beg for money outside a church?  Thus attacking two pieces of the first amendment in the same ordinance.  Did panhandling decrease in any of these cities with these laws?  Did it take time away from tracking down rapists, those breaking into cars or shoplifters?  How long does it take to write, prosecute, and process 1,517 tickets in two years in Cleveland?

We have talked about the need to tackle this problem as a social services and not with law enforcement. We heard about Albuquerque and their successful effort to find jobs for those ex-panhandlers.  There are good ideas available now that these failed attacks on the first amendment are being struck down.  Someone is going to have to come up with local funds to accomplish the goals of reducing panhandling. We estimate hiring a panhandler outreach staff would cost around $65,000 in Cleveland.   We have shown that coordinated outreach works to reduce the number of people sleeping outside, and we would love the opportunity to show what we could do with those struggling with stable employment. We suggest meeting these guys where they are and work with them on alternatives.   They need a non-traditional job to move back into regular employment, and they need some other options.  Right now, the message is either clean up and punch a time clock or beg for money until you get enough to self medicate or quiet your demons.  There are other options available, but there is no one there explaining those options.  We hope that Columbus, Akron, and Cleveland will put some resources into strategies that actually work and not just locking people up for begging.

Brian Davis

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City Withdrew Panhandling Law in Response to ACLU/NEOCH Lawsuit

We know that most homeless people are not panhandlers and there are many myths regarding panhandling in America, but a small number of homeless do seek money on the streets.  

Effective June 7, 2017 there is no specific regulation of panhandling on the sidewalks of Cleveland.  A person is free to say whatever they want including proclaiming for all to hear that they are poor and need help.  These repeal the two panhandling laws approved in 2002 and 2006 (both of which NEOCH opposed when proposed.)

There are still menacing, stalking, criminal trespassing, assault, theft by deception laws in place that can regulate illegal behavior on the sidewalk.  An aggressive panhandler who claims to be raising money for a charity or those who refuse to take “no” for an answer can be charged with a number of misdemeanors.  There is also the often abused “disorderly conduct” that is overly broad, ill-defined and used excessively by law enforcement as a catchall for anything they do not like. 

In place of the panhandling law, there is a new law (471.06) that prohibits soliciting from a driver of a vehicle.  You can no longer stand on the sidewalk or at the freeway entrance/exit ramp and hold a sign to ask for money from cars.   There are far more people engaged in this activity at nearly every freeway exit on the I-71/90 on the West Side of Cleveland.  There are more and more people on the sidewalks on both the East side and West Side trying to flag down traffic.  We imagine that there will be stepped up enforcement of these prohibitions on asking for money from passing vehicles.  Here is a the new law which also looks at riding in the back of pickup trucks?

The ACLU still has to negotiate a damages settlement with the panhandler who filed suit against the City of Cleveland. 

NEOCH is a party to this lawsuit so if you have any issues or if there are panhandlers who are continuing to experience problems you can have them contact NEOCH at 216/432-0540.  We have a lawyer on the NEOCH Board who is in regular contact with the ACLU regarding this case.

Brian Davis

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ACLU and NEOCH File Lawsuit on Unconstitutional Cleveland Panhandling Law


CLEVELAND—The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a lawsuit today in federal court, challenging two Cleveland city ordinances that criminalize panhandling. The ACLU argues that the ordinances unconstitutionally burden free speech because they target individual speech that asks for money and for help.

One of the ordinances bans standing near roads and asking for money from passing traffic. The other makes it a misdemeanor to panhandle on public streets and sidewalks within 10-20 feet of a wide range of locations including bus stops, valet zones, and the entrances to buildings and parking lots.

“Do we really want the government to decide what people are and are not allowed to talk about?” asked Joe Mead, volunteer attorney with the ACLU of Ohio. “The First Amendment means that cities cannot ban speech simply because people would rather not hear the message. Yet that is precisely what Cleveland’s ordinances do. They single out and punish panhandlers who ask for money, but do not punish any other type of speech.”

Federal courts across the country, including the U.S. Supreme Court, have continuously upheld panhandling as constitutionally-protected speech. The ACLU of Ohio successfully defeated a similar ordinance in Akron last year, and many other Ohio cities have voluntarily repealed these unconstitutional laws.

“In addition to being unconstitutional, anti-panhandling ordinances are bad public policy,” said Mike Brickner, senior policy director at the ACLU of Ohio. “Homelessness and poverty are distressing issues, and being confronted with them can make us feel uncomfortable. But criminalizing poverty—especially by ticketing or jailing individuals in violation of the First Amendment—is not a solution.”

Press Release from ACLU

Panhandling Question from a Concerned Citizen

I've been noticing homeless people standing by freeway exits with cardboard signs asking for help and have been thinking of what I could do apart from simply ignoring them. 

I've heard differing opinions about responding to homeless [people] on the street and wanted to know what your organization advises. Are "care packages" with socks, food etc. something that the homeless actually want? What about gift cards, or even cash? Please let me know what NEOCH thinks should be the best way for me to respond every time I see a homeless person standing at a freeway exit.

Thanks,

Joyce 

There are a few panhandlers on the freeway exit that we have regular contact because they live in the shelters or on the streets, but the majority are not really our clients.  Unfortunately, there is not a panhandling outreach staff in our community to figure out what their barriers are to stability (we have included a proposal that no one responded to locally).  There are a sizable number who need treatment or some help for their health issues, but they are not really homeless.  They are staying with friends or on private property that we are not allowed to go to. 

Care Packages are great for anyone struggling and we would recommend printing out a street card to include in them. You can never go wrong with a care package.  Why don't we give out more Care Packages to people we know are struggling?  Even the name sounds helpful.  I am not sure about gift cards or cash are that helpful, but maybe food gift cards like from popular Sub shops or from Dave's supermarket.  The big problem is that it is not safe on the freeway exits and is not safe for people to stop.  It is not the best place for these kind of transactions because the cars are travelling so fast.  They must be making some money or they would not be there, but it just is so dangerous. There should be an outreach team available locally to help these individuals figure out the best path out of debt and back into the jobs market.

Brian Davis

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Albuquerque Works to Assist Panhandlers

"Instead of taking the punitive approach and the regulatory approach, why not try something that uplifts everybody?"

was Mayor Richard Berry’s reasoning behind the implementation of “There’s a Better Way” Program. This program is a partnership between the local city government and St. Martins Hospitality Center-which is one of the largest homeless service providers in the state of New Mexico, to address panhandlers within city limits, and to move from treating panhandling as a crime, instead, as an opportunity for work and access to resources.

Originally, $50,000 was set aside for initial start-up of this program for the first 6 months, this program was implemented in 2015. The $50,000 grant from the city provides money for the van driver (salary & gas), who drives around Albuquerque in a twelve passenger van to pick individuals up who are actively panhandling. The grant also includes for money for sack lunches (up to 6 per operational day) and provides money for the days salaries. The program works as follows: the driver asks if the individual is willing to work that day, and brings him or her along, if the answer is yes. If the answer is no, however, the driver leaves a resource card with that individual and encourages them to stop by St. Martins in order to connect them to other services-from employment to public benefits.

This program runs two times a week, hiring about six people each day the program runs. Individuals in the program participate in public work projects and other city beatification related jobs. Individuals work for $9 an hour for approximately five hours a day (it is important to note that the minimum wage is New Mexico is $8.75). Workers are provided with a bagged lunch, snacks, water and other resources during their lunch break. Their lunch break also serves as a time for individuals to find out what other services St. Martins can offer them and what they qualify for. At the end of the work day, individuals are dropped off at the St. Martins Hospitality Center where they can gain access to more services, shelter and food. The program has been so successful, that as of July 1st, the program now operates four days a week and has doubled its operating budget.

According to Kellie Tillerson, Director of Housing and Employment Services at St. Martins, this has resulted in 932 job placements, helping 302 total individuals (numbers after deduplication). Ms. Tillerson did mention that they try to focus the program on those who have not been helped before (by this program specifically) in order to increase the impact of the program and encourage economic sustainability. This program has increased awareness in the community, and has helped to dispel some of the myths surrounding panhandlers. The emphasis on permanent job placement has been another development within this program, and an increasing number of calls are coming into the agency regarding local businesses and community stakeholders wanting to hire these individuals. This increased awareness and emphasis on economic sustainability beyond a day’s work is what makes the Better Way Day Labor Program possible to implement and offer continued opportunities to these individuals.

We can connect the development of this program to Bell vs. The City of Boise and the legal brief the DOJ filed, in that this offers more than just a criminal sentence to issues that are so often criminalized and dealt with punitive measures, this also moves us a step closer to ending the criminalization of homelessness in communities across the nation, by offering those who are willing to work and do not have the means to secure typical employment, paying jobs. It’s not that these individuals don’t want to work, it’s that often the jobs that exist for these individuals will not help them make ends meet in a significant way: or that they do not have transportation to get to that interview, or access to a computer to update and send in their resume. This program however, is working to change that by offering those resources, and giving these folks again an entry into the labor market… programs like this are moving us closer to where we should be as communities.

Locally:

In Cleveland, it is estimated that we have around 400 panhandlers in our city. It is imperative to hire an outreach worker in order to implement an employment and resource connection program for panhandlers in the community. Although, the program NEOCH seeks to implement requires just one outreach worker; who would focus on connecting panhandlers to necessary resources, as well as measuring and identifying the needs of this unique community. At the current moment, we do not have a very in-depth understanding of panhandlers in Cleveland, and the challenges that they face. St. Martins faced similar issues with measurement process within their own program, because they did not have an accurate count of panhandlers within the program area before the implementation of the “There’s A Better Way Program” (Tillerson).  

We hope to learn from both the successes of this program that the city of Albuquerque has implemented, as well as the failures-in order to address these needs in a Cleveland specific way. We estimate the costs at hiring a part-time outreach worker and implementing a program like this at approximately $40,000 a year. NEOCH is currently working to secure funding for such a position, and hopes that soon Cleveland will be able to work towards sustainable employment solutions for panhandlers in our own community.

Note: the exact numbers referenced above for the Better Way Program came from an email interview with Kellie Tillerson, Director of Housing and Employment Services at St. Martins.

Read more about panhandling and proposed solutions in Cleveland here.

To read more about the “There’s a Better Way Program” here are some additional resources:

http://www.smhc-nm.org/project-end-homelessness/theres-a-better-way/

http://www.governing.com/topics/health-human-services/gov-albuquerque-gives-panhandlers-jobs-not-tickets.html

https://www.cabq.gov/mayor/news/city-launches-effort-to-curb-panhandling

by Katy Carpenter

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Solutions: How To Reduce Panhandling in Cleveland

For more information contact Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless www.neoch.org

In almost every survey of pedestrians and those who work downtown, one of the biggest concerns is panhandling. From small cities such as Bloomington Indiana to mega cities like Atlanta, eradicating panhandling is always on the top of the list for Mayors.  Often panhandlers are confused with homeless people, and while there may be some overlap they are separate and distinct populations. For hundreds of years, poor people, those with addictions and the mentally ill have begged for money on the streets of urban communities.  Cities have tried law enforcement, anti-panhandling publicity, and shaming the population, but nothing has worked.  We have not tried meeting with the panhandlers to find alternatives for these out of work sales people.  What would it take to convince people not to beg for money?  

NEOCH coordinates all the outreach teams in Cleveland, and we can respond to issues if there are people sleeping outside.  We respond to City Council and City officials who call regarding homeless people.  This is separate from panhandlers who many times are not in fact homeless.  Some stay in the shelter, but others pay for housing with their income and therefore the homeless groups have no contact with these individuals.  Most panhandlers do not have access to the wealth of resources available to homeless people because they rarely access shelter.  We work closely with Downtown Cleveland Alliance, and all the teams meet regularly to coordinate services.  We also have regular contact with Cleveland Police Department and can quickly respond to calls about people facing a housing crisis. 

NEOCH believes that Cleveland should take the lead ahead of the Republican Convention to fund a panhandler outreach staff to interact and interview panhandlers then work to engage them in alternatives to begging.  We could begin to develop solid information, and figure out the challenges we need to overcome to reintroduce these individuals into the workforce.  We would be interested in hiring someone to meet with the panhandlers and encourage them to find alternative employment, assist with disability, or address health care issues that are forcing these individuals to beg.  Those who refuse, we would ask to sign a code of conduct and wear a vest declaring that they will abide by the rules of downtown.  We would be responsive to local businesses and law enforcement to engage these individuals and work to dramatically reduce the level of panhandling locally.

We believe that we could market the “Cleveland model” for dealing with panhandling and sell this idea to neighborhoods such as Ohio City or Gordon Square or even other cities such as Baltimore or Detroit struggling with panhandling.  We believe that a social service response will be much more effective than a law enforcement strategy.  We believe that local business owners and pedestrians will view this as progress and a solution to a problem that is perceived as out of control in most cities. 

We also want to continue to fund alternatives to panhandling such as the Street Newspaper program or sponsor a competition among area employment non-profits to serve these hardest to serve individuals.   We believe that competition can foster innovation.  We also believe that talking to these people as tax payers who are currently struggling will get us further then the sticks we have tried in the past.  We can expand on all these ideas with a bottom line of reducing panhandling and implementing a “friendly” population working to find stability. 

Brian Davis

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Denver And Homelessness

The National Coalition for the Homeless met in Denver Colorado for their twice yearly face to face meeting and held a conference on criminalization of homelessness.  Denver is one of the 25 largest cities in America, and has made some progress on homelessness in America, but has a long way to go.  It is the state capital so there are far more resources available in Denver than other Colorado cities, but there are many people sleeping outside.  There is no guaranteed access to shelter like in New York and Cleveland. 

The police regularly ask homeless people to move along, but never answer the question, "to where?"   There are many who travel through Denver to greener pastures.  I met a man who was sleeping outside from Bangor Maine by way of Washington and Chicago who was deciding on whether to stay or move on.  The outreach teams had tried to work with him in his first three weeks in Denver which is more than happens in most cities.  There also seems to be a growing number of people migrating to Denver because of the recreational marijuana, which is a far more expensive of a habit than cigarettes.  Housing is extremely expensive with supply not matching demand.  They have far fewer abandoned properties when compared to most Midwestern cities, but they do exist. 

Denver has many more laws on the books restricting homeless people and a pretty strict panhandling law.  They do have a pretty amazing healthcare for the homeless operation with five clinics, including a brand new clinic attached to their permanent supportive housing project with dental services and a complete pharmacy.  I was impressed with the level of care delivered to homeless people with an attempt to make the healthcare for the homeless clinics a medical home for low income people.  They screen people who come in for mental health issues while they are assessing their physical health needs.  People do not have to make appointments somewhere else and then face other challenges such as timing and transportation.  The new Denver health care for the homeless clinic has a huge and respectful waiting area and a seamless process to apply for housing once they have sought healthcare assistance. 

In Cleveland, most of the services are built around the shelters and even with Coordinated intake those staying at shelter are easiest to find and usually get access before those waiting on the streets.  In Denver, the system seems to be centered around health care as the first point of contact for most.  Those without housing seem to look healthier than I have seen in the Midwest or the East Coast.  I don’t know if this is from the amount of walking necessary in western cities or the number of farm and domestic workers among the homeless population.  Transportation is much more accessible in Denver when compared to Cleveland but not like DC, NYC or Boston. 

Denver is a clean city, but about three times the number of people sleeping outside compared to Cleveland.  There are no where near the numbers of people living outside as Washington DC, San Francisco or Boston.  There were a number of grassroots organizations helping to provide a voice to those living in shelters or on the streets.  There was not a real advocacy Coalition focused on the needs of homeless people and providing input to government or the social service community.   This is not unusual for a capital city where advocacy groups get overshadowed by the State Coalitions and all the money and resources goes to state efforts.  There is not the tradition to organizing in union cities like Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago.  So, there is not a strong tenant association or commitment to organizing low income residents of the city. 

They are making progress and have built large numbers of affordable housing units reserved for homeless people.  They have permanent supportive housing for families which most cities have not found the ability to fund.  They are working on funding a law enforcement diversion program which is supposed to save the city money over incarceration.  Finally, there are horror movie scary Mimes performing in Downtown Denver, which is unsettling, but at least they are not dressed as clowns. 

Brian Davis

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How Can Akron Better Serve Homeless People

The City of Akron was sued last week by students from the CWRU Law School for displacing people and then dumping their valuables.  This is a throw back from the policies of big cities in the United States from the 1990s.  Frustrated over the growing number of homeless people and what seemed like throwing good money after bad, cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Seattle, San Francisco, and New York turned to law enforcement to solve a social service crisis.  NEOCH sued the City of Cleveland to stop the sweeps and the dumping of materials from people just trying to survive.   They sent their police force out to arrest, threaten arrest and terrorize a fragile population.

The Chicago Coalition won lawsuits as did Miami advocates against their municipal governments back in the 1990s.  These cities had to pay homeless people for their homeless policies. They used their armed police force to make it illegal to be homeless.  Those policies were found to be expensive and ineffective, but Akron seems to be stuck in the 1990s over their homeless policies.  In visiting Akron, they have a bad problem with people begging for money in almost every freeway off ramp.  They have many people sleeping outside and very few outreach workers.  It is no wonder that community leaders are frustrated with the large number of homeless people.  But handling the problem with law enforcement is the opposite solution to the department.

Remember that cracking down on panhandling does nothing to the homeless populations.  All panhandlers are not homeless and all homeless are not panhandlers.  We have been working with people who are resistant to shelter for 22 years, and so we have some better ideas:

  • Guaranteed access to shelter is critical to the success of any homeless policy. If there is not a place to refer a person then there will be people sleeping outside.  If when the shelter beds are full they shut their doors, what do you expect a person to do?  If you go to the shelter on a regular basis and they do not have a bed for you, then you are going to give up and sleep outside.  It is also inhumane to push people around the downtown when there is not a bed inside available.
  • Coordinated outreach services is also needed to provide the best possible services to those living outside.  This can help connect a veteran to the VA and those struggling with PTSD with mental health services.  It is important to build trusting relationships with those resist going to shelter.  If there are not people on the streets interacting with people on the streets, they get forgotten. 
  • Laws don't work--competition does!  Akron has the most severe legislation in the State of Ohio and it has not eliminated panhandling.  In fact, there are now a class of low income people who have a license to panhandle.  They now have a City sanctioned "job" called begging for money.   Sweeps and dumping of a homeless person's stuff does not work.  It only exacerbates the problem because people get tickets and get arrested, which makes it less likely they will find a job.  If you want to address homelessness and specifically panhandling, you have to have an alternative.  Social service providers should be provided funding to get people off the streets.  Those who can help the most people off the streets should be financially rewarded.  There should be a competition for finding panhandlers real jobs.  We need to provide an effective alternative or the problem will continue to grow. 
  • Police are not social workers.  They should not be drafted into forcing people into shelter or arresting people for purely innocent behavior of being outside.  Police should not even be in the business of telling homeless people to move or warning people that they will have their "stuff" thrown away.  Social workers and outreach staff should be asked to engage people living outside and provide help before anyone threatens the individuals who are resistant to going into shelter.  Let's look at it in a similar situation to an eviction.  There is an official written notice and then the individual has their day in court.  Then before all these checks and balances are undertaken can the bailiff come out to supervise the throwing away of items.  Society allowed these individuals to establish a home outside and forgot about them for months if not years, it is unfair to then attack these campsites and destroy their homes.
  • Build affordable housing or plan on more and more money going to emergency services.  We cannot have a community in which wages are stagnant and 5-6% of the population are unemployed, and then people are punished for living outside.  There are another group who are permanently unemployed, and we are losing affordable housing every year.   We still have people who have behavioral health issues, and so there are these huge holes in the social safety net.  We can't let people fall into homelessness and then punish them for finding a way to survive. If we continue to see destruction of affordable housing, there can only be more homeless people in our cities. 
  • Akron should support the creation of a street newspaper sold by homeless and very low income people.  Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Toledo all have papers sold on their city streets.  It is an effective alternative to panhandling.  This is much more dignified way to earn money--selling your words on the street.  Cleveland Street Chronicle could help establish a paper.

Brian Davis

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CWRU Students Sue City of Akron over Homeless Policies

The City of Akron has never been good about taking care of homeless people.  They have the worst laws for panhandlers in the State of Ohio.  They have very few shelter options and they do not guarantee access to a shelter bed.  This means that if the shelters are full, homeless people must sleep on the streets.  Last week, we found out from a group of CWRU student law students that Akron Police were moving homeless people out and then throwing away their valuables. 

Eleven homeless people living outside in Akron allege that the Akron Police were stealing and discarding valuables from homeless people.  The lawsuit claims that the Akron Police under the direction of City officials would raid their campsites and then throw away tents, clothing, medicine directly to the City landfill.

The Akron Police claim that they did give proper notice and that most of the items taken were drug paraphernalia and other contraband.  According to the Plain Dealer, the police claim that they acted properly.  Personal property is held in high regard in the State of Ohio, and so government has to go to great lengths to hold personal property in a secure manner.  A person can go to prison for 25 years and government must keep their property safe and return it to them upon release.  To dispose of forgotten property governments must issue a public notice and provide sufficient time to retrieve these items.  A landlord must ask the court to dispose of a tenant's belongings if they disappear.  The lawsuit claims that the City government did not secure their belongings after confiscating them, and the personal property was taken directly to the trash. 

In nearly every case going through the courts, when a City throws away the belongings of homeless people they have to pay. I know that in Miami, Chicago and a number of cities in California were all forced to compensate homeless people for the loss of their valuables.  I can't see how this is going to end any differently for the City of Akron.  In Cleveland, we fought this all through the 1990s with settlements that provided homeless people $3,000 for picking them up and dumping them on the outskirts of town, and then we settled on an agreement between the City and homeless people in 2000 in a case called Key vs. City of Cleveland that police will not harrass homeless people living outside for purely innocent behavior.

The bigger issue for residents of Akron is that when cities start targeting homeless people we see an increase in hate crimes against the population.  When government gives the go-ahead to treat homeless people as lesser citizens, there are disturbed people who take that signal as open season on torturing, attacking and becoming violent with fragile people living outside.  Unfortunately, these are mostly young people who terrorize people living under bridges or in abandoned property.  We know that these laws and police sweeps lead to feelings of betrayal and abandonment by the population and it only keeps people homeless for a longer period of time.  This will not reduce the population, but will do the opposite.  We explore what Akron should do to reduce the number of people sleeping outside in a future post.

Brian Davis

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Post Script:  The CWRU Observer did a good summary of the case published this last week.  (One note, Brian is no longer Executive Director of NEOCH.  He is a community organizer, but the story is still sound.)

National Updates for March 2014

New York City

The new police chief of New York City, Bill Bratton, has tripled the number of arrests for panhandling as was done in the first two months of 2012.  This is a crackdown on those who sit by the subway asking for change which is annoying, but these guys need the help.  I have never understood giving people who are down on their luck a ticket for begging for money.  This seems like kicking a man when he is down.  Do they allow these guys to beg for the fine that they will be charged for asking for help?   Unless you provide an alternative for these poor people it will only perpetuate the problem. 

Washington DC

As every city in the United States is struggling with family homelessness, Washington is in an especially complicated position that the Courts are demanding changes.   The Mayoral candidates are at least talking about homelessness and ways to increase access to housing in the Capital City.   The families were not being provided privacy and violates they were violating a city law to protect children.  Cleveland does not have a law similar to this DC law, but we have a 25 year history of not turning anyone away at the shelter door.  We try as hard as we can never to turn a family, a man, a child or anyone away.  Why would a fragile 47 year old with AIDS be any less important in the nation's capital than a child?  Why not offer anyone who needs help a shelter bed and not just children?

Extreme Weather on the East Coast 

I missed this story in February from Tell Me More about the extreme weather conditions.  We are so far out ahead of most other states in the United States.   We have operated three overflow sites this winter and nearly two thirds of the nights since November 15 have been extreme weather this winter.  I am so glad that Cleveland does not only open overflow shelters in the winter.  People are more likely to suffer hypothermia during a cold rain that they do not get warmed quickly.  The National Coalition for the Homeless has a report on their website about the responses to cold weather.  Some open their winter shelter if it is under 20 degrees while others wait until 10 degrees.  

Chicago, Illinois

There was a nice story this Friday on Storycorps about a homeless young person and their embarrassment over being homeless that appeared on NPR.  This was the story of a teacher who discovered one of her students had become homeless and did not have a family to take care of him.  They reunite after he has stabilized in foster care.

Nashville Tennessee

In a unique way to get around food restrictions, religious groups are asking for the freedom to give out food as part of their ministry.  This law tries to sway Tennessee legislators without mentioning hungry or homeless people.  They are strictly asking for religious liberty which should be attractive down in the South.  Many Southern states have enacted laws limiting when and where people can be fed, so the activists in Nashville are trying a novel approach. 

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

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City of Lorain Foolish Panhandling Policy

ZERO TOLERANCE is the theme by local businesses in the City of Lorain over panhandling?  Yes, they are worried about people begging for money.  No, not zero tolerance for kids who become homeless, or food stamp cuts, or failing schools.   They do not have a zero tolerance for manufacturing jobs relocating to foreign countries or cuts to the mental health safety net, but that a guy living on the edge is asking for spare change.  Talk about misplaced priorities in Lorain--ganging up on guys with untreated behavioral health issues because they are viewed as the reason business is down in this depressed city. 

We talk often about panhandling in this space, because many confuse homelessness with panhandling.  We have written many times that panhandling laws and campaigns don't work.  People who give want to see the face of the person who benefits of their donation.  They do not want to have their donation spent on "administration."  This is short sighted among the donors, but it is a reality.  Many like that personal touch and no matter how many times they see signs to the contrary they want to give directly to someone in need.  We have this innate desire to help deep in our DNA.  

As we have written, when people are desperate enough to stand outside in the sun, rain, and snow shaking a cup, they have a real need.  Yes, it may be to feed a habit or mask the voices in their head, but those are health issues not lifestyle choices.  We need competition by non-profits (like the street newspaper) to be paid to turn panhandlers into workers.  We need health care specialists to sign these guys up for Medicaid so they can get the treatment that they need and deserve.  We need additional jobs and job training to quietly move these guys back into the workforce.  Good luck, Lorain businesses in throwing away money to reverse a practice that predates the Bible.  We hope that your "Zero Tolerance" campaign does not lead to violence and anger directed at a fragile population.  We have seen that when municipalities pass laws directed at one population hate crimes and violence increases against that population.  

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

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South Carolina Council Reverses Criminalization Law

We posted two blog entries about the absurd Columbia South Carolina law that would require homeless people to seek shelter or go to jail.  With all the national attention and pressure put on the City from national groups like the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center, the petitions on Change.org and the national media stories was too much for the City Council.  They backed away from the law and will go in a different direction.  It is amazing to me that they did not have the backing of their own police, and that not one council member saw the potential problems associated with this legislation to vote against it. 

According to the Huffington Post which quoted the Columbia Free Times,

“I will take responsibility for that getting into the public discourse,” Councilman Cameron Runyan said on Tuesday about his suggestion to force homeless people into confinement, according to the Free Times. “That is not the desire…We are not going to forcibly confine anyone.”

Instead the City is planning to expand outreach efforts with vans and will try the old standby of discouraging people from giving to panhandlers.  While certainly not as punative, these new efforts will have about as much success as their last plan.  The City Council does not seem to understand how federal benefit programs work.  They are proposing to steal the food stamp and social security benefits from the disabled and impoverished to pay for these programs.  We hope that this plan is adopted so that Columbia's City Council members can face Justice Department lawyers who could seek indictments for shaking down poor people to pay for government services.  Is Columbia South Carolina being run by a group of middle schoolers who have not yet passed their government classes?

Brian Davis

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Panhandling Upheld by U.S. Appeals Court

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (which covers Ohio and Michigan) upheld a lower court decision that found the Grand Rapids Police gave a ticket to two homeless people for asking for money.  The court ruled the statute that made it a crime to beg for money illegal.  The court found that this was an infringement on the free speech protections of the First Amendment.  The court found that the Supreme Court has never specifically ruled that an individual asking for money is engaged in expression, they did find that organizations were protected for soliciting charitable funds. 

The court found that Michigan had the right to regulate soliciting funds.  It could not prohibit begging for money by criminal law.  The Detroit News has a nice summary of the ruling here.  The two individuals, James Speet and Ernest Sims, sued in federal court to dismiss the ticket.  Speet was holding a sign that said, "Cold and Hungry, God Bless." He pled guilty when the police issued his ticket, and was unable to pay the $198 fine.  Speet spent four days in jail because he could come up with the cash and was not allowed to beg for the cash to pay the fine issued by the court. 

The other man was arrested on the anniversary of the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, July 4, 2011 and Sims asked on the street, "Can you spare a little change?" so that he could ride the bus.  The Grand Rapids police officer heard the conversation and arrested Sims on the spot.    Sims was a veteran of the US military and asked the officer not to send him to jail since it was a holiday.  He was given a ticket and had to pay the fine.  According to the Detroit News, three other appeals courts have upheld a person's right to beg for money.  

The State has to decide if they will appeal this ruling to the Supreme Court or ask the full sixth circuit to review the case.  Grand Rapids had given out 409 tickets for begging between 2008 and 2011, and 211 served jail time for asking for money.  The court is recommending focusing legislation on fraud and not the mere act of asking for money. 

Brian Davis

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New Vendor Uniforms for the Street Chronicle

Delores, Buzzy and Bobbette (left to right) in their new uniforms

The Cleveland Street Chronicle vendors gathered on Public Square yesterday for their bi-weekly meeting and to meet the media.  Unfortunately, no television media showed up, but we took plenty of pictures for the upcoming issue.  We are working to professionalize the vendor crew and compete better with the panhandlers.  The vendors want to retake the Downtown against the panhandlers.  They went through a customer service training and have the bright green uniforms in the hopes that pedestrians view them as more professional and trustworthy.  Our goal is to double the number of vendors that sell the paper over the summer.  We have added a press release to the site introducing the new uniforms.

Brian Davis

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Here and Now Discusses Homelessness

There was a nice interview with Neil Donovan of the National Coalition for the Homeless today on the radio program Here and Now out of WBUR from Boston.  The show featured a lengthy discussion about panhandling and some of the disturbing trends in homelessness on the Tuesday Feb. 12 program.  If you can get beyond the Boston heavy accents and expressions, it is a very good program.   This program is nice because they give the guests a chance to talk beyond just the sound bytes.  Neil discussed criminalization of homelessness, the affordable housing crisis, the exploding numbePhoto by Karen St. John Vincentrs at the shelters and plenty of shout outs to Pine Street Shelter system in Boston on this national radio show.  Neil felt that there was a level of compassion that is taken out of the equation when cities pass laws directed at panhandlers or install parking meters to take donations.  He made the point that if municipal governments were going to outlaw panhandling they should also include Girl Scouts, the Salvation Army, and firefighters during Labor Day weekend in that ban.  It was a very good interview and if you did not catch it, you should listen to his interview which was lasts around 16 to 18 minutes. 

Bob Dyer Hates Panhandlers

Some children see a shadow in the night and transform it into the Boogie Man or they hear a strange noise and it becomes the "monster under the bed."  Bob Dyer, columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal newspaper (or the shell of what previously was a newspaper) must have had a one-eyed man with a wooden leg bump into him as a child while Christmas shopping at Higbees, and he has forever had a vendetta for the downtown fixtures known as panhandlers.  He keeps writing these strange accounts about his adventures with panhandlers in Akron.  Give these men and women a break, they are poor people looking for some pocket change.  Isn't there a greedy slumlord, payday lender or evil debt collector, you could go after, Mr. Dyer? 

On June 18, he wrote a column entitled "Surprise! Beggars not all lazy--Offer of a job is met with some enthusiasm from folks on corners, surprising columnist."  I know, the set up for the article sounds like it was written by some guy just off the Greyhound from Mayberry.  But it was written by a guys from a semi-big city of Akron who has lived in the city for years.  Anyway, the hook is that he took a guy who manages property around the city with him and offered odd jobs to panhandlers to see if they would take the job.   The big surprise to this enterprising columnist was that everyone agreed to take the job or have their spouse do the job.  Wow, people asking for money will take any job that comes along because standing outside in the hot sun and being spit on, cursed, and scoffed at is easy street. 

The article never says if this was a ruse or did this property manager actually provide them work for the day.  Did they pay social security and FICA for this spot labor?  Did they do the e-verify system to make sure that these people have the ability to work in the United States or was this all a ruse for the story?   The worst part of the article is that after surprising himself with the revelation panhandlers do want to earn money he ends the piece by saying:

"I still don't believe the majority of people who panhandle  in Greater Akron are the real deal...The problem is this: You can't tell by looking who is gaming you and who isn't. And that is why I refuse to given any of them a dime."

He goes on to recommend giving to non-profit agencies in Akron.  He found 100% of the people were willing to work, and yet he is worried that it is all a trick.  What was the purpose of the offer, if he was just going to throw the panhandlers under the bus?  He learned nothing from this experiment.  He hated panhandlers before he ventured out that day, and he hated them when he got back. 

The article received a ton of comments, some good and others bad.  So, he came back the next week with a follow up to rub salt in the wounds of those down on their luck. "Panhandlers ignoring work offers.  Panhandlers say they'll work but don't return phone calls" had very little credibility and to top it off he ran a column on "readers" negative encounters with panhandlers.  Nothing about the Iraq War Vet with PTSD who cannot cope so is begging for money to buy smokes and other drugs to self medicate.  Nothing about sexually based offender who would love to work after successfully completing his sentence for urinating in a public park, but notification laws make him toxic to landlords and employers.  No one was quoted talking to a panhandler who could not get his child support adjusted after losing his job for 18 months building up such a huge debt that it no longer pays to work except cash only jobs like panhandling.  Surprisingly, the individual who is on disability that will keep her living in poverty for the rest of her life and every dollar she earns above the table is taken off her check was not represented in the "reader's" comments. 

Dyer was able to produce a second column about how much he hates panhandlers from the people who seem vindictive or angry that someone was getting this free money while they are stuck in a traffic jam.  Where is the anger for those development directors at those non-profit agencies who are basically panhandlers in suits?  Or what about the corporate lobbyists at City Hall begging for a contract, infrastructure, or those guys on the Akron Beacon Journal payroll who go down to Columbus to beg that governments will continue to be forced to advertise in their papers with "public notices" that no one reads; where is the anger?   We all have to beg sometimes.  Some do it in the hot sun in front of the entire community, while others do it from the comforts of their air conditioned offices. 

By the way, how do we know these panhandlers don't pay taxes?  They may want to be good upstanding citizens and declare the money that they make as gifts.   None of the stories from "readers" was fact checked.  It was just hearsay and rumors all presenting the negative side of begging.  My panhandler friend drove a Hummer and had a big screen TV.... Did anyone consider that it better to be the best person doing the worst job in the world over being the worst of the worst?  It may be the only way some of these guys can look at themselves in the morning if they say that they are making a goldmine.  I have no idea the point of detailing all the horror stories people have with panhandlers

My big issue is that if you don't like panhandling do something about it.  Find effective alternatives to panhandling.  Start a street newspaper in Akron.  Have a competition in Akron to see which group can employ the most panhandlers, and that group wins a big prize.  But telling people not to give to people they perceive as needy is a waste of time.  Passing laws to prevent begging has never worked, and again is a waste of time.  Find jobs for these guys that meets their needs that is more productive for these individuals.  None of the non-profits mentioned in the articles is helping panhandlers with their barriers to employment.  They are forcing guys to change their ways.  If they are not willing to change their behavior, they give up on them.  Stop complaining about panhandlers and do something to help. 

Brian

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Panhandling Madness

People get so angry about panhandling.  It is a dividing point in our society.  There are passionate people on both sides of the issue.  There are those who love bypassing all the bureaucracy and administration of nearly every non-profit to give directly to a person in need.  Then there are those who hate seeing people have to beg for money, and know that most of the donation is going to feed a chemical addiction.  There are those that want to have a connection with a stranger who is struggling as directed by most spiritual texts.  Others see people who have made mistakes or are perceived to be lazy, and want government to respond to these "problems."

There were flair ups in this war over the last month in both Akron and Cleveland.  The City of Akron and Fairlawn both have extremely restrictive laws to protect pedestrians from the evils of panhandling. The Summit County Council was scheduled to add a panhandling law to cover the unincorporated places in the county.  They were prepared to make panhandling a job as the other communities in the county have done.  They had proposed requiring a license to beg and forcing panhandlers to wear a uniform (a vest).  Calmer head prevailed and they ditched these two provisions, but is working on passing a law that limits where a person can ask for money and outlaws aggressive solicitation (which is already illegal under the menacing laws).  Cleveland suffered a black eye over giving a good samaritan a ticket for LITTERING because the individual threw a dollar at a panhandler and it landed on the ground. 

All of these stories generated a ton of comments in the Plain Dealer and the Beacon Journal.  Yet, there is very little rational thinking on this issue.  No matter how many laws are made, begging will continue.  People will figure out a way around any and every law.  You can sponsor all the campaigns that you want, the people who like giving will continue.  The only way to stop panhandling is to find alternatives (such as a Street Newspaper!!!).  Sponsor a competition among the non-profits to see who can find alternatives for the most panhandlers.  No matter what Akron or Cleveland does with the laws, people will continue to keep giving and panhandlers will figure out ways to beg.  If a person finds themselves without options, they will turn to begging for money as the last option.

Brian

 

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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