by Brian Davis
If you were enraptured by the Cleveland mail person that worked 500,000 days in a row for the last 60 years or the two dogs that were lost on Lake Erie, you might have missed Mayor Michael White’s State of the City address. Well, actually, you didn’t miss anything. He told us that we need to reform our schools (I guess having the state take control of your city's schools mean reform is necessary). The mayor said crime was bad, and city workers can expect lower pay or a loss of fringe benefits as part of his privatization plans. And of course, we must find a home for our beloved Browns.
Because your political leadership has sold you out for business interests and your local media has been co-opted into a public relations arm of the city, the Homeless Grapevine will attempt to piece together a state of the community from the people’s perspective. These are tough words and not for the faint at heart, and certainly not for children who will grow up and flee this city in a few years. This is a true picture of the city without the rose colored glasses and the bicentennial haze.
Cleveland ranks as one of the most racially divided cities in the nation at this time. It is estimated that nearly 50 percent of all young black males in the Cleveland area are either unemployed, have stopped looking for work, or are in jail. Our largely African-American inner city residents are kept as slaves of the temporary services.
The affordable housing stock is shrinking as fast as the dollars going to Benny Bonanno's 1997 mayoral election campaign. It is a good two year wait to get into a subsidized housing unit in Cleveland, and with federal reforms things are only looking worse. People are forced into substandard housing because fewer and fewer landlords are accepting Section 8 vouchers. A single individual must maintain a full-time job of $8.00 an hour to get an apartment, but inner city temp services are paying $4.25.
In the early 1970’s, Cleveland had a poverty rate of 17 percent, and now we see poverty at 42 percent. This is an astonishing figure that is overlooked. Despite the mayor calling Cleveland a comeback city, we still have a large number of people emigrating from the city of Cleveland. If things are so great, then why are people fleeing the city?
Cuyahoga County still has not recovered the jobs lost during the last recession. We lag behind communities such as Youngstown and Toledo in getting the jobs back. The 28,000 jobs that voters of the first sin tax were promised have not materialized--as a result of the Gateway complex. We did get under 2,000 jobs of a temporary and part time nature. We spent $500 million for these two facilities at the expense of the future of our city. One economist has looked at cities across the United States and has reported that the Cleveland economy has reached a state of "no return" statistically.
Homelessness is growing, and is predicted to increase its rate of growth over the next few years. With welfare reform, a federal cut back on housing, and a lack of concern for anyone that receives assistance, the number of people traveling the streets at night will increase. When citizens are unable to find assistance from the government, and private sources are completely stretched to the limit, the survival instinct will engage. Crime will increase, and the suburbs will attempt to restrict access to the invading onslaught of poor. At this time the largest increase in expenditure for the state of Ohio has been incarceration and "rehabilitation" in the budget.
With no end in sight to the increasing prison population, we seem to be entering a higher-class form of genocide. Instead of killing large, troublesome classes of people as previous empires have done, we put our citizens in jail--and at this time that population is largely minority. Three strikes and you are in for life is the slogan. Rehabilitation is no longer an option. Only a country with such a tremendous Gross National Product could sustain such a drain on our finances as incarceration provides.
There is no model in history of a society maintaining such a huge population in jail. Eventually the captive population will rebel or society will be bankrupt. From 1990 to 1997, the State of Ohio increased its expenditure on alleged "rehabilitation" and corrections by 135 percent from over $400 million to just over $1 billion. While money allocated to the mentally ill increased 28 percent over the same period and money spent on assisting those with a drug addiction decreased two percent.
Some of the problems, including the increase in homelessness, the lack of a real minimum wage, and the growing prison population, are not exclusive to Cleveland, but our leaders locally are not providing any alternatives or ideas to solve these crises. Our alleged "leaders" are leading us down a rode to perpetual poverty or a permanent underclass in Cleveland.
Our elected officials are not preparing our region for the future. Bonds are sold for constructing a stadium, not housing. Parking rates are increased to construct a sports facility, and at the same time there is no stable fund for the Housing Trust Fund in Ohio. Taxes are forgiven to businesses and banks at the expense of our children.
There is no good news in the real state of the city, but we get enough good news from the media and politicians. It is difficult to see a positive side of spending public money on the Rock’n’Roll hall of fame when people can’t find access to basic health care. It is hard to cheer for a "state of the Art" football stadium in our future, when people are living in such extreme poverty.
There are opportunities for citizens to make a change, but they all start with electing true leaders that are not captured by one interest. In making your decisions in the voting booth in March and November, it is imperative to pick candidates that will work for the good of the community. Choose a candidate that speaks for the people and not for businesses or civic organizations or media interests.
A real comeback city would not boast a trip to the World Series as its greatest accomplishment, but a 100 percent graduation rate from high school. The introduction of an entertainment museum is a source of pride for the city, but the introduction of a minimum standard past which no citizen can fall below is a real accomplishment. These false proclamations of Cleveland on the rebound only lead to alienation and resentment by those that were rolled over by this city’s comeback.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published March – April 1996 – Issue 14