Vendors Temporarily Free to Distribute Newspapers

by Brian Davis

            On May 3, 1995, the United States District Court struck down the City of Cleveland’s vendor licensing law as it was applied to the Homeless Grapevine vendors and the Final Call distributors.

            The American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Nation of Islam had filed a lawsuit against the City of Cleveland to stop police ticketing of distributors of the two non-profit newspapers.

            U. S. District Judge Ann Aldrich ruled that the vendor licensing fee violated the free speech constitutional rights of the distributors and that the fee merely defrayed the cost of collecting the fee. The cost of the vending license did not offset the costs of regulating vendors in the way that a parade fee offsets the costs of police closing the street and providing crowd control, Aldrich noted.

            The court held that the fee is not legal because it is not tied to a peddler’s ability to pay the fee, which would make it impossible to distribute the Grapevine. Also, it imposes a “prior restraint on speech.”

            The city was, in effect, prohibiting the message in the Grapevine from getting out even before it is published, according to Vasvari. The requirement that each vendor pay for a vending license would have effectively eliminated the distribution of the newspaper. “Prior restraint is a particularly egregious offense against civil liberties, and prohibited by the Bill of Rights,” commented Vasvari.

            The city, by order of Mayor Michael White, temporarily stopped issuing tickets within weeks of the ACLU filing the lawsuit. The city had argued that the imposition of the fee was similar to that of the fee to parade, which the courts have found to be a legal imposition of a tax on speech.

            The court’s decision stated that the City of Cleveland’s argument was circular. The tax imposed on vendors goes to defray the cost of collecting the tax, but does not defray the cost of any regulatory system.

            Cleveland Law Director Sharon Sobol Jordan said that the ruling is in line with the legislation pending with city council that would require that newspaper vendors and charity solicitors to obtain a vending license, but would make them exempt from the paying the fee. When asked if the city was then happy with the decision, Sobol Jordan said, “We are looking at all our options legally, but from a policy standpoint it does precisely what our legislation addresses.”

             “We tried to enlist the ACLU to draft legislation. We finally just did it ourselves,” said Sobol Jordan. “We feel the legislation that we drew up will be good policy.”

            Vasvari confirmed that the city did try to enlist ACLU support for legislation. “Our role [at the ACLU] is that of a governmental watchdog,” stated Vasvari. “We are ill at ease,” according to Vasvari, in participating in the creation of legislation.

            A Homeless Grapevine vendor who spoke anonymously out of fear of being harassed by the police said, “Forcing us to get a license is just another way for the city to control us. What is the purpose if we don’t have to pay the fee? I think it is just another way that the police can harass us. They will stop us every time they see us to check if we have a license and to show us who the boss of the street really is.”

   A decision on whether to appeal the ruling has not been made, according to Sobol Jordan

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995

Vendor Charges Police Force With Racism

Editor’s note: The following is a two-part interview with John Mungai, a Homeless Grapevine vendor. The interview was conducted on April 14, 1995, Good Friday at the county jail. John has endured two years of police harrassment, and is currently represented by the American Civil Liberties Union in a case against the City of Cleveland. See article on page 3.

JM: = John Mungai

BD: = Brian Davis, Homeless Grapevine

JT: = Jean Taddie, Homeless Grapevine

Mungai is currently out on bail awaiting trial.

 JT: How is it going for you being here?

JM: The first two weeks was kind of hard. But I just said ‘well.'

JT: You’re not getting any trouble here? I mean as far as they’re not giving you any trouble in the jail?

JM: Sometimes, like there is one correction officer who just looks like the man who harassed me. So when I see him I get scared. I know maybe they are not related, but the image, you know...

JT: Yeah, it makes you a little nervous.

JM: Sometime I may feel a little sick. But in general, I just hope that some of the policemen don’t know I’m here. Maybe they know because...I’m scared, I’m fearful.

JT: Well, John, that’s just what we’d like to hear about today. Because it’s so hard to get in touch with you and your story deserves to be told. And if it’s O.K., we’d like to put the whole thing in the Homeless Grapevine newspaper?

JM: It’s all right as long as you don’t put my picture in it. Some of them don’t know me. It’s only when they ask me for my ID, or something like that. I told Kevin O’Neill (legal director of the ACLU), that just six days before I was arrested...I was so scared for the first time in my life. I was scared. I even went to the jazz club on West 6th. And then they followed me and I didn’t know what to do. I called 911 to tell them I’m scared of the police in the car. And they said I must have been kidding, then they asked me the police license number, and I told them. Then they called the police. Then the police came and parked [right there by me]. Then I heard them talking; they were communicating with them. So I was scared and I hung up the phone and I ran to the bar. I told the bartender that I was very scared. You know I even give them my information, who I am and all this because I thought they were after me. So sometimes I even say maybe I’m lucky I’m here.

JT: Why do you think they’re scared of you? Not scared, but obviously they’re worried about you. If they're going to follow you around and, you know, harassing you that way. Why are they doing this?

JM: I think one thing is, how can I say, all these white policemen, I think they resent the way I respond to them telling me to go away. The other people, maybe they just walk away. But for me, they have to give me a reason why I have to go.

JT: So they ask you to do something and you want to know why? And they don’t like that?

JM: No. I think most the time I win it. Because I talk to them [and tell them that] what they are trying to do is illegal and they don’t like that. No. No.

JT: So how did it start? How did you first get to know this police situation?

JM: For me it only started in spring last year —when I used to still be near Tower City. To this one police who was on a bicycle and then the lady [cop] came and talked to me in a nice way — asked me my name and all this. And then he told me from that day, I would not be allowed at Public Square at all. And I asked him why and he told me, well, he had an order from the city. We talked a little bit. He [told] me that it was just political. So that was the beginning. And that was where I used to be. I sometimes question them a little bit. But...I chose not to be taken to jail. So if I see them, I will just walk away. Maybe there is too many of us black people in the flats. That’s how I see it.

JT: So you think it’s a black thing?

JM: Yes, a black thing. Of course it is. It is, no question about that. Even if it were my own mother I was talking to—whom I try never to lie to— I would say the same thing. It was the truth. It’s a black thing.

BD: Was there any harassment by black [Cleveland police] officers?

JT: Never. No. No. Never. Most of the undercover police, they know me. They never even harass me. They just come and say ‘hi’ to me. They know I never do anything wrong. These are detectives. The [police officers] who I believe to get kickbacks from the businesses in the flats —those are the ones who are used as a way to get rid of the people who are...

BD: Well, the Flats does employ four uniformed police officers that walk down the street.

JM: One of which is the one who [harasses me]. I still see them, the short one and the tall. There are some others on duty, too, who get kickbacks. Sometimes I go [down to the parking lot in the Flats by Fagan’s and the Beach Club]. I have papers. I never go into the parking lot. I check to make sure I’m not close to the Beach Club and I’m not close to Fagan’s. I’m in the middle — 25 feet from any business. And still the guys [the bouncers], they come and they kick me away. And I have to walk away because they mean harm. They tell me, you better go now. You walk away or we’ll beat you up.

JT: So what it sounds like you’re saying is that it’s when you sell the Homeless Grapevine that they’re have a major problem with you standing there? That you try not to get in anybody’s way or go on to private property but you do your best to remain where you know it is legal for you to remain.

JM: It isn’t even where there is parking. The guys who are harassing me they even [threatened me].

JT: So these guys by Fagan’s, are they police in uniforms or are they bouncers?

JM: They are bouncers. The owner has come, himself. But when I refused to move, he goes get his bouncers. Then I have to keep going. I have told the police several times but they don’t do much.

JT: The police will not stand up for you if you are threatened by one of these people?

JM: No, I call police after they have gone inside. I understand their relationship. Whatever they get, they don’t care. I’m just a homeless guy. This guy tells me ‘you’re homeless; these people come here to the flats to spend money. They pay taxes. You are useless.’ They tell me that. They are talking to me. They are talking to me because they have frustrations they don’t know what to do with. So they talk like that, they don’t hide it.

BD: So then, last year you filed a case with the ACLU?

JM: Yes, this is another.... I’m there with my paper on the street and these two cars come. There was two people...there is a parking lot owned by the city. So there is this one guy, he is not homeless but he always goes there and tries [to collect money from people who are parking]. So a car comes people and he tells them “there is no charge, why don’t you give me $2 or $3 to clean the windows?” So I ask him, if I’m there with a paper, if he’ll take one car and I’ll take the other. So two cars came. The car just drove in; he went and talked to the driver. So when the other car came, I’m on the street. He asked me how much was the parking. I told him the parking is free. I just tell people it’s free and at the same time I can try to get [money for the paper]. So he said 'O.K.' so I showed him where to could get out the door, the guy [who was collecting money] came again (he had the other car). So I told him, 'why don’t you have shame?’ You just go over to the other car, you know. So we had a little talk. So the guy he had talked to, the first car was a sheriff off duty. So he said, why are you guys talking this way? The sheriff says we cannot even be in the Flats, we have to leave. If he sees us when he’s coming from the bar, he’s going to arrest us. So the other guy left, and we were standing was two feet from the street. So I left the parking lot and went out on the street and he continued to tell me, ‘Hey, you better leave. When I come back after having one or two drinks, I will arrest you.’ I told him I don’t care, I’m legally there on the street, and I’m doing nothing wrong. So he didn’t like [me]. This is like a 23-24 year old young white male, of which he was resenting my way of just trying to tell him [that] I’m here legally and I’m gonna be here. So in the meantime, the police car came. The other guy who left, the one who was washing [windows], tried to be a wise guy and tell the police that I was fighting with the sheriff. So the police car came quickly to help the sheriff. But when they came, there was no fight, they were even mad at the other guy. And they know me. So they said they couldn’t arrest me — that I wasn’t doing anything.

JT: So that’s the police officer who came because the other guy said you were fighting?

JM: With the sheriff. Then we had two policemen. They came and saw it’s me and they saw nothing was wrong. So the sheriff asked me to give him my I.D.. So I gave him my I.D. He told me I wasn’t wanted. So I told him, give me my I.D.., I’m getting tired of this. I want to go. He said, "You better not be like an asshole." I said, how dare you call me asshole. Then he said, 'O.K. I’m going to arrest you.’ The police were standing. They don’t see now why this guy is talking about arresting. He goes to his personal car to get handcuffs to come and handcuff me.

JT: The sheriff did?

JM: Yes, and the police are standing there. They don’t understand what this guy is doing. He arrests me and then he has to call in to the police (they do) to ask them to authorize the police to use their car.

JT: Because he was off duty at the time — the sheriff.

JM: Yeah. But he has no right to transport me to the police station. They don’t want to do that. I wasn’t drinking and I’m only challenging him for calling me an asshole. Then so they had to take me to the police station. He’s mad, so he says disorderly conduct, and I say its not disorderly conduct just because I’m challenging you. Then they took me there, to police headquarters...it’s five minutes to twelve. They had finished the work, so I would have to go to court the following day because it was before midnight. So they left. They did not put me in a cell — that means finishing the work—until three in the morning. This sheriff did not even write the report. I don’t even know what he was doing because I know he was drunk.

JT: So the same sheriff was there with you also?

JM: Yeah, he came, he drove there. He was the one who was to charge me, the police had nothing to do with it. So he didn’t file the charges until three in the morning. That means he wanted to punish me. Now I can’t go to court the following day. I have to spend all that night and the following day all day and the other night and go to court on Wednesday. That was Monday, December 26. So when they called me at three in the morning, I said what time am I to [be in] the court. They said you aren’t going. I tried to say, “Why, I was arrested before midnight?” Here he had written that I was arrested at 12:40 the following day. I was arrested at 11:15 p.m., now he’s writing that I was arrested two hours later — just to punish me. He typed that. But the police had the record that I was arrested the previous day. So I spent the night there [in jail]. In the morning, they called me and they said they can let me go. I think it was because I make protest. They found out something was wrong so they let me go and go to court the following day, the 28th. But that day when they let me go, the 27th, I saw the police in the Flats—the one who worked there—and I told me him this guy will totally charge me with disorderly...he said aggravated disorderly [conduct]...and resisting arrest. The police couldn’t believe it. He was trying to think of anything so that I would not have to go to jail. And those are the charges now, aggravated disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. No way I was resisting arrest.

JT: So this was December 26 of 1994?

JM: 1994. Now put all these charges and filed it. Even police are telling me, the following day after I see them again downtown, they couldn’t believe it. That even when they came after they dropped me there, at four in the morning they were summoned to the police station by there commander. That sheriff drove from Kinsman [back to downtown] to coerce them to go with those charges.

JT: So are you saying the sheriff tried to talk the police that saw what happened to...

JM: Yeah, to coerce them. It’s four in the morning. [The other police] are pissed off. They were telling me, they couldn’t believe it. He was coercing them. And those are still the charges now. I have gone to court like four times — three times. So it’s sad. It’s just sad. Aggravated disorderly conduct — as if I was fighting anybody—and resisting arrest. Those are charges that a judge can put you in jail [for]. And that’s all he said it was and only for those— it was just because I challenged him telling me to disappear from the Flats. I didn’t do anything.

JT: So is that what you’re in here now for?

JM: No.

JT: No, it’s for another arrest later, right?

JM: Yes...

 Editor's Note: In early May, the judge dismissed the disorderly conduct charge against Mungai. In Part Two of the interview, Mungai describes the charges that landed him in jail, which he claims are made up. He also describes the history of police harassment that he has faced. The next issue of the Grapevine is due on the streets in July.

          Mungai was able to make bail in early May to get out of jail and prepare for his trial. The first week he was out, two off duty white Cleveland police officers removed him from the Flats. The next week, the same officers called the police to arrest Mungai for drunk and disorderly conduct. [Mungai hates alcohol.] They tore up his papers and took him to the city workhouse.

 

            Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995

“She Was Our Conscience” Remembering Allison Bonagura

 By Brian Davis

            “She was quiet and reserved and yet on fire for social justice” were the words Sister Madeline Shemo, Associate Director of the West Side Ecumenical Ministry, used to describe activist Allison Bonagura.  The overriding sentiment among those that knew her was that she cared deeply about reforming society, but she was not interested in the politics or the glamour or the media attention that some issues generate.

            Allison Bonagura died February 4, 1995 of cancer.  After coming to Cleveland in 1989, one of her first tasks as an activist was organizing the Housing NOW bus trip to Washington.  According to Bonagura’s husband, Matthew Maruggi, she was inspired by noted homeless advocate Mitch Snyder, who sparked her interest in organizing people to combat homelessness.

            Maruggi said she was content to be behind the scenes.  She did, however, venture into the spotlight to lend her voice to the chorus of sadness around the deaths of Ralph Delaney, a homeless activist in Cleveland, and Snyder in Washington.  She spoke at the memorial services for both activists.

            As an employee of the west Side Ecumenical Ministry, she educated the staff and the public about issues ranging from welfare reform to healthcare to nuclear disarmament.  Shemo said, “She was our conscience.  She kept us alert and motivated us to action.”

            She had no aspirations for politics.  “She had a more prophetic role,” according to Maruggi.  “She was a voice for those that didn’t have a voice.  She had no desire for a position of power.”  Many were inspired by her voice, according to her friends, and her activism in Cleveland will be sorely missed.

            Linda Johanek, manager of women programming at Healthcare for the Homeless and friend of Bonagura, said that it is hard to act as an advocate in today’s society.  Few groups fund advocacy, and “it is not real popular today.”  But Allison loved her role as advocate, Johanek noted, and she loved helping people

She had a passion for social change,” according to Johanek.  “She was a wonderful person.”  Bonagura worked for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for National Healthcare as an advocacy coordinator.

Bonagura spoke and did a great deal of work for passage of a universal healthcare package in the U.S. similar to the Canadian medical system.  Realizing the current system was unjust, she even lobbied for passage of the California Universal Healthcare Program.  Her most powerful and successful campaigns were those that enabled ordinary citizens to petition the government said Johanek.

            Bonagura’s husband remembered, “She had a commitment over the long haul.  Her activism flowed from her faith.  She was concerned about people, not just policies.  She always brought it down to the personal level.”

            “The work was very consuming,” Maruggi said. “During her illness she did a lot of reassessing of what was important.  She was an activist, but she realized she had to take care of herself.”  He said that Bonagura was able to keep her goals in focus, and was not depressed by the slow pace of social change or daunted by the overwhelming obstacles she had to overcome..

            “My time I spend with Allison was a gift.  I was lucky enough to be married to this marvelous person.  It will be a long time to feel healed.  It is a big loss for me as well as others,” Maruggi concluded.

            The Northeast Ohio Coalition for National Healthcare has set up a foundation in Bonagura’s name to continue the advocacy work that was important to her.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995

Poverty Increases Again in Cleveland in 1994

 

            One-fifth of Cuyahoga County’s population now lives in poverty, according to the annual Poverty Indicators report released in early March of 1995.  In Cleveland 42.2% of the population live in poverty.  The county’s poverty rate has increased by 49% since 1980.

            The sluggish job-creation performance of Cleveland’s economy is still the main cause of local poverty growth.  “Persons are poor because no member of their household has a job that generates enough earnings to move the poverty level,” according to George Zeller, senior researcher at the Council on Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland.

            In comparison, the poverty rate of the United States is only 15.1 percent for 1993 (the last year the figures are available).  The 1990’s recession lasted ten months in Ohio and the United States, but lingered for three years in Cuyahoga County.  Thus the county lost employment during the 1990’s while the state and the nation experienced job growth.

            Since 1979, Cuyahoga County has lost fully two-fifths of its manufacturing jobs.  The devastating impact of manufacturing job losses has not been limited to the poor.  The 1990 census found the median incomes declined during the 1980s in all of Cleveland’s 35 neighborhoods, and in 38 of the country’s 59 suburbs.  Meanwhile, average incomes increased in 21 affluent suburbs at the edge of the county.  In metropolitan Cleveland, the rich are getting richer, the poor are becoming more numerous and getting poorer, and the middle class is losing income.

            On Cleveland’s east side, half (51.6%) of the population were poor in 1994.  More than one-quarter of Cleveland’s west side residents (28.3)%) were considered poor.  Between 1980 and 1986, most of Cuyahoga County’s poverty growth was concentrated in Cleveland’s east side.  But, all of the county’s growth since 1986 has been in the suburbs (a 17,100 person increase) and on Cleveland’s Westside (1 9,500 person increase).  Neighborhood depopulation has caused a decline of 4,700 poor persons since 1986 on Cleveland’s eastside.

            East Cleveland, where 41% of the population lives in poverty, is by far the poorest suburb in Cuyahoga County, but the poverty level is less that that of the Cleveland.  Other inner ring suburbs including Lakewood, Euclid, Parma, and Cleveland Heights have suffered from noticeable poverty growth recently.

            Many neighborhoods have poverty rates that greatly exceed the county average.  At least three-quarters of the population is poor in the Central, Kinsman, Fairfax, and Hough neighborhoods of Cleveland’s inner city. Poverty rates higher than 60% are also found in three additional east side Cleveland neighborhoods: Glenville, Union-Miles Park, and St. Clair-Superior

           Zeller points out that these findings are based upon official poverty income definitions set by the federal government.  A single person with an annual cash income of less than $7,360 is considered below the poverty level.  For an average family of three, the poverty income maximum is $12,320.  Most poor people in Cuyahoga County have incomes considerably below these maximum limits.

            The report attributed Cleveland’s poverty crises to several factors.  The most important cause has been the poor long-term performance of Cuyahoga County’s economy.  Between 1979-1993, Cuyahoga County lost $3.8 billion in real annual earnings from manufacturing jobs.  Increased annual earnings from growth in non-manufacturing jobs were only $1.5 billion.  Thus 10% of all Cuyahoga County paycheck earnings ($2.3 billion annually) have disappeared since 1979.  During that period, paycheck earnings increased by 5% in the rest of Ohio.

            The Cuyahoga County poverty rate for persons living in households headed by a single female parent is eight times higher than the same rate for persons living in married couples families.  The county’s percentage of all families that are headed by a single female parent increased from 18% in 1980 to 22.6 in 1990.

            The black poverty rate is four times higher that the white poverty rate in Cuyahoga County.  More than one-half of the black population is currently poor in the city of Cleveland.  The 1990 census found that 56% of Cleveland’s adult black males did not have a job.

            Poverty among the elderly has declined sharply for two consecutive decades in Cuyahoga County and in the city of Cleveland.  Average social security payments to Cuyahoga County households increased by 14% during 1980s, accounting for much of the decline in elderly poverty.  Conversely, the local poverty rate among children has skyrocketed.  Thirty-four percent of Cuyahoga County’s preschool children and 64% of all Cleveland preschool children live in a poor household.  A 54% cut in Ohio’s real Aid to Families with Dependent Children public assistance benefits since 1970 has increased the severity of local child poverty.

            Among the three major demographics factors, single female parent household composition is the strongest predictor of poverty status.  Race is the second most powerful determinant.  Low education levels have a significant association with poverty, but it is weaker than the effects of household composition and race in Cuyahoga County.

            The CEOGC report indicates two potentially effective anti-poverty strategies.  First, the number of adequate wage jobs available for Cleveland’s unskilled and semi-skilled workers must be increased.  The CEOGC report claims that manufacturing employment should be the number 1 priority of local economic development policy.  Second, a massive adult retraining effort should be organized, so that skill levels of the local labor force are more effectively matched with skill requirements of new local jobs that provide wages sufficient to lift people out of poverty. Cleveland did not successfully implement either of these strategies during the 1980s or the 1990s.

            The CEOGC is the anti-poverty Community Action Agency for Cuyahoga County.  In addition to its long -standing poverty research program, CEOGC administers the Head Start, the Community Services Black Grant, and the emergency Homeless program in Cleveland and its suburbs.      

            Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995

Lawsuit Claims Homeless Dumped by Police

By Jean Taddie

On October 5, 1994, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a lawsuit against the City of Cleveland on behalf of four homeless and formerly homeless plaintiffs and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.  Currently, lawyers from both sides are taking depositions and collecting documents during process will continue through July, after which lawyers may try to file for a summary judgment that would resolve the case before going to trial.  ACLU Legal Director Kevin O’Neill is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.  He explains that when facts are contested, a summary judgment will generally not be granted.  In this case, the facts are hotly contested, therefore, O’Neill and James Levin, an ACLU Cooperating Attorney for the plaintiffs, both predict that this case will go to trial, perhaps next year.

            The facts are contested in the case because the plaintiffs allege that Cleveland police officers, under the direction of their superiors, engage in “dumping” homeless people – a charge that the defendants flatly deny.  Specifically, the complaint seeks injunctive “to halt an unconstitutional policy, practice, and/or custom of the City of Cleveland under which police officers physically remove homeless and/or destitute individuals from certain sectors of the city, transport them against their will to various distant locations, and abandon them.” In addition, the suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the four names plaintiffs.  In a response filed by the City of Cleveland, the defendant denies all allegations.  Kathleen Martin Chief Train Counsel for the City would make no further comments while the case pending.

            The case revolves around the possibility that the City of Cleveland was diverting its police protection away from neighborhoods and downtown citizens in order to violate the constitution rights of homeless citizens.  At least three organizations – the ACLU, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and Federal Bureau of Investigations—each thought these allegations were serious enough to investigate.

            The ACLU’s Kevin O’Neill was one of the first to investigate the charges of police dumping of homeless people.  “During the summer and fall of 1992, I was receiving anonymous tips and hearing rumors about homeless dumping in Cleveland.  People would call me and warn me to “Look out for homeless sweeps.’’’These anonymous calls led O’Neill to investigate further.  Over the next two years, O’Neill interviewed nearly 40 homeless people and receives the same types of responses from them.  Based on his investigation, O’Neill discovered that Cleveland police officers have at least three devices they use to keep homeless people away from the downtown business district.  These devices include commanding people to leave, citations for disorderly conduct, and dumping.  There have been no complaints of dumping since the filing of this lawsuit; however, Levin speculates that problems with dumping could begin again this year when Jacob’s Field opens for baseball and the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame opens for business.  In addition, O’Neill states that police have stepped up the issuance of disorderly conduct situations to homeless people—tactic that is harder to combat since each case must be fought separately.

            O’Neill stressed that Police enforcement against homeless people has been used to protect the downtown business districts.  The four plaintiffs’ affidavits, which are attached to the lawsuit, allege a pattern of police enforcement against panhandlers, Homeless Grapevine vendors, and homeless individuals who were standing or walking in the wrong lace—i.e., in the business sections of downtown.  Each of the plaintiffs detailed one or more events when they were removed without consent from lucrative business areas downtown, including Public Square.  Playhouse Square, Jacob’s Field, and the Flats.  There were then dumped in industrial and residential neighborhoods that were far from the services that they depend on.  Some of the sites where people allege they were dumped include:  West 103rd and Harbor view, East 40th and Woodland, Brecksville Metro Park, Westside water treatment plant, the steel mill off West 3rd, East 46th and Central, East 55th and South Marginal Road, and Max S. Hayes Vocational High School.

            This pattern of dumping homeless people led the ACLU to send a demand letter to the City of Cleveland on February 8, 1994.  That letter demanded that the City investigate the allegations of dumping and call a halt to any such actions.  “When John Mungai was dumped by police after we sent the demand letter, that was the last straw.  That was when we decided to move ahead with filing the lawsuit, “ O’Neill explains.

            The City has denied and continues to deny all allegations.  The ACLU team expects a tough battle ahead proving their case through testimony and documents.  O’Neill explains that the ACLU team will have to challenge some of the testimony of police officers.  These officers have what O’Neill calls “special credibility” in court while homeless people do not.  In addition, according to Levin, the process of discovering documents is difficult because the defendants are not volunteering evidence that would be damaging.   “We are having to earn every document we get,” said Levin.

Some progress has been made in documenting this case, however.  Two memos may help build the case against the city.  The first is a signed memorandum from Mayor Michael White to then Police Chief Edward Kovacic dated May 8, 1992.  It reads:

            “Attached is, yet, another note concerning panhandlers in downtown Cleveland.  While I know you are working on this problem, I am forwarding this additional letter to you in an effort to once again impress upon you the extremely negative impact that this activity is having on our downtown’s viability.”

            The Mayor’s memo was also sent to the third District Commander Flask who addressed a memo to all the third District personnel on November 18, 1992.  In this memo, Flask discussed the police role in providing assistance to those who are less fortunate.  Furthermore, Flask outlined a new policy that was to begin immediately:

 

            “Effective today, Wednesday, November 18, 1992 van 399 will be in service on the first and second platoon, seven days a week.  Any homeless or hungry citizen observed in the Third District shall be conveyed by the assigned officers to an area shelter or food center.”

            According to O’Neill and Levin, these memos – as well as other evidence – suggest that lucrative business interests in the City of Cleveland are pressuring Mayor White, who in turn pressures the police force to remove homeless people from areas around their businesses.  The plaintiffs further contend that these actions are a violation of the United States and Ohio Constitutions.  In response to these allegations, Joe Scarbek from the Mayor’s Press Office said that the City is in disagreement with all allegations made by the plaintiffs but would make no further comment while the case was in litigation.

These serious allegations were studied not only by the ACLU but by other national organizations as well.  Richk Herz, of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, authored a report titled No Homeless People Allowed.  In his study, Herz surveyed 29 cities across the country to study the punitive policies that many local governments are adopting towards homeless people.  The survey, which was conducted throughout 1994, showed that some local governments are adopting stricter laws and enforcement standards against homeless people.  According to the report, these practices include “restrictions on begging; restrictions on homeless persons’ use of public places; police “sweeps” designed to remove homeless people from specific areas; selective enforcement of generally applicable laws against homeless people; and restrictions on providers of services to homeless people.”

Based on his survey of 49 cities, Herz compiled a list of cities having the “meanest streets.” Cleveland was listed in the top five.  Herz stated that the top five cities – Cleveland, Santa Monica, Santa Ana, San Francisco, and Seattle – were chosen because they had the “most pervasive” offenses during 1994.

            At least one other organization has researched the allegations made against the City of Cleveland by the downtown homeless community.  The Cleveland office of the FBI has conducted an investigation of these claims.  Special Agent Robert Hawk, could not make any comments about this report.  When asked why the FBI gets involved in local cases like this, Hawk stated that the FBI can investigate when there are “alleged violations of a person’s civil rights.”

            The Justice department report filed by the FBI is confidential, and can only be released to the pubic after filing a long arduous Freedom of Information Act petition. The ACLU recently received information filed under the successful petition of Freedom of Information Act – the information was 10 years old.

             Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995

 

 

Lawsuit Claims Homeless Dumped by Police

By Jean Taddie

On October 5, 1994, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio filed a lawsuit against the City of Cleveland on behalf of four homeless and formerly homeless plaintiffs and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.  Currently, lawyers from both sides are taking depositions and collecting documents during process will continue through July, after which lawyers may try to file for a summary judgment that would resolve the case before going to trial.  ACLU Legal Director Kevin O’Neill is one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.  He explains that when facts are contested, a summary judgment will generally not be granted.  In this case, the facts are hotly contested, therefore, O’Neill and James Levin, an ACLU Cooperating Attorney for the plaintiffs, both predict that this case will go to trial, perhaps next year.

            The facts are contested in the case because the plaintiffs allege that Cleveland police officers, under the direction of their superiors, engage in “dumping” homeless people – a charge that the defendants flatly deny.  Specifically, the complaint seeks injunctive “to halt an unconstitutional policy, practice, and/or custom of the City of Cleveland under which police officers physically remove homeless and/or destitute individuals from certain sectors of the city, transport them against their will to various distant locations, and abandon them.” In addition, the suit seeks compensatory and punitive damages for the four names plaintiffs.  In a response filed by the City of Cleveland, the defendant denies all allegations.  Kathleen Martin Chief Train Counsel for the City would make no further comments while the case pending.

            The case revolves around the possibility that the City of Cleveland was diverting its police protection away from neighborhoods and downtown citizens in order to violate the constitution rights of homeless citizens.  At least three organizations – the ACLU, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, and Federal Bureau of Investigations—each thought these allegations were serious enough to investigate.

            The ACLU’s Kevin O’Neill was one of the first to investigate the charges of police dumping of homeless people.  “During the summer and fall of 1992, I was receiving anonymous tips and hearing rumors about homeless dumping in Cleveland.  People would call me and warn me to “Look out for homeless sweeps.’’’These anonymous calls led O’Neill to investigate further.  Over the next two years, O’Neill interviewed nearly 40 homeless people and receives the same types of responses from them.  Based on his investigation, O’Neill discovered that Cleveland police officers have at least three devices they use to keep homeless people away from the downtown business district.  These devices include commanding people to leave, citations for disorderly conduct, and dumping.  There have been no complaints of dumping since the filing of this lawsuit; however, Levin speculates that problems with dumping could begin again this year when Jacob’s Field opens for baseball and the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame opens for business.  In addition, O’Neill states that police have stepped up the issuance of disorderly conduct situations to homeless people—tactic that is harder to combat since each case must be fought separately.

            O’Neill stressed that Police enforcement against homeless people has been used to protect the downtown business districts.  The four plaintiffs’ affidavits, which are attached to the lawsuit, allege a pattern of police enforcement against panhandlers, Homeless Grapevine vendors, and homeless individuals who were standing or walking in the wrong lace—i.e., in the business sections of downtown.  Each of the plaintiffs detailed one or more events when they were removed without consent from lucrative business areas downtown, including Public Square.  Playhouse Square, Jacob’s Field, and the Flats.  There were then dumped in industrial and residential neighborhoods that were far from the services that they depend on.  Some of the sites where people allege they were dumped include:  West 103rd and Harbor view, East 40th and Woodland, Brecksville Metro Park, Westside water treatment plant, the steel mill off West 3rd, East 46th and Central, East 55th and South Marginal Road, and Max S. Hayes Vocational High School.

            This pattern of dumping homeless people led the ACLU to send a demand letter to the City of Cleveland on February 8, 1994.  That letter demanded that the City investigate the allegations of dumping and call a halt to any such actions.  “When John Mungai was dumped by police after we sent the demand letter, that was the last straw.  That was when we decided to move ahead with filing the lawsuit, “ O’Neill explains.

            The City has denied and continues to deny all allegations.  The ACLU team expects a tough battle ahead proving their case through testimony and documents.  O’Neill explains that the ACLU team will have to challenge some of the testimony of police officers.  These officers have what O’Neill calls “special credibility” in court while homeless people do not.  In addition, according to Levin, the process of discovering documents is difficult because the defendants are not volunteering evidence that would be damaging.   “We are having to earn every document we get,” said Levin.

Some progress has been made in documenting this case, however.  Two memos may help build the case against the city.  The first is a signed memorandum from Mayor Michael White to then Police Chief Edward Kovacic dated May 8, 1992.  It reads:

            “Attached is, yet, another note concerning panhandlers in downtown Cleveland.  While I know you are working on this problem, I am forwarding this additional letter to you in an effort to once again impress upon you the extremely negative impact that this activity is having on our downtown’s viability.”

            The Mayor’s memo was also sent to the third District Commander Flask who addressed a memo to all the third District personnel on November 18, 1992.  In this memo, Flask discussed the police role in providing assistance to those who are less fortunate.  Furthermore, Flask outlined a new policy that was to begin immediately:

             “Effective today, Wednesday, November 18, 1992 van 399 will be in service on the first and second platoon, seven days a week.  Any homeless or hungry citizen observed in the Third District shall be conveyed by the assigned officers to an area shelter or food center.”

            According to O’Neill and Levin, these memos – as well as other evidence – suggest that lucrative business interests in the City of Cleveland are pressuring Mayor White, who in turn pressures the police force to remove homeless people from areas around their businesses.  The plaintiffs further contend that these actions are a violation of the United States and Ohio Constitutions.  In response to these allegations, Joe Scarbek from the Mayor’s Press Office said that the City is in disagreement with all allegations made by the plaintiffs but would make no further comment while the case was in litigation.

These serious allegations were studied not only by the ACLU but by other national organizations as well.  Richk Herz, of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, authored a report titled No Homeless People Allowed.  In his study, Herz surveyed 29 cities across the country to study the punitive policies that many local governments are adopting towards homeless people.  The survey, which was conducted throughout 1994, showed that some local governments are adopting stricter laws and enforcement standards against homeless people.  According to the report, these practices include “restrictions on begging; restrictions on homeless persons’ use of public places; police “sweeps” designed to remove homeless people from specific areas; selective enforcement of generally applicable laws against homeless people; and restrictions on providers of services to homeless people.”

Based on his survey of 49 cities, Herz compiled a list of cities having the “meanest streets.” Cleveland was listed in the top five.  Herz stated that the top five cities – Cleveland, Santa Monica, Santa Ana, San Francisco, and Seattle – were chosen because they had the “most pervasive” offenses during 1994.

            At least one other organization has researched the allegations made against the City of Cleveland by the downtown homeless community.  The Cleveland office of the FBI has conducted an investigation of these claims.  Special Agent Robert Hawk, could not make any comments about this report.  When asked why the FBI gets involved in local cases like this, Hawk stated that the FBI can investigate when there are “alleged violations of a person’s civil rights.”

            The Justice department report filed by the FBI is confidential, and can only be released to the pubic after filing a long arduous Freedom of Information Act petition. The ACLU recently received information filed under the successful petition of Freedom of Information Act – the information was 10 years old.

             Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995

 

 

Is That All There Is?

By Patricia Cichowicz

          My friend June asked me to go to the mall with her last week.  She had a 25% off coupon and wanted to use it to buy a pair of tennis shoes.  She started talking about how the one pair that she wanted was $90 with tax that was close to 4100.  She said she would save a bundle with this coupon. Then she says how do I like her Gucci purse that cost her 4200?  She claimed that she needed a sturdy purse to take trips so she thought it was worth it.

            While June got her shoes, I got out the wrinkle cream.  Reaching the “Big 5-0” can be a traumatic experience.  The lady informed me that the cream was $35 and could not be used under the eyes.  The cream for under the eyes was 445, and I had better buy the cleaning pack that was on sale for ony$27.  Wow, $107 just to look younger!  I decided that I would use lower wattage light bulbs instead.

            Afterward, we stopped for a drink ($3.50 each), and June went to buy cigarettes.  She came back complaining about the price, saying that at this rate it will cost her $100 per month to smoke.  With that I had two thoughts – one was June should give up smoking and the other that $100 does not buy much these days.

            That is all that a person gets on General Assistance each month (until July when the program is eliminated).  That is the price of my drink each day for the month.  No, a person cannot live on 4100 per month, but it is a safety net for people who, for whatever reason, find themselves in a deep financial bind.  Governor Voinovich, with the approval of the legislature, will eliminate General Assistance July 31, 1995.

            Mrs. Gwen Hill, the deputy director of the Department of Entitlement Services, expressed a great concern for the 20,000 recipients of FA in Cuyahoga County.  As the program is designed now, children under 18 not covered by another program, pregnant woman, and those disabled but not eligible for social security will still receive the cash and medication, but the medically dependent will lose the cash while keeping the medication allotment.  The Office of Entitlement Services determines eligibility for General Assistance and Disability Assistance, and the food stamps program.

            The end of GA may bring ugly results.  Sharon Parks of Michigan’s League of Human Services conducted a study of five counties in Michigan one year after GA was eliminated there.  The local communities and their network of private emergency providers were not able to meet the need for services.  In short, they were overwhelmed.

            The average number of persons served increased by 17 percent.  The private providers had to be more selective in whom they helped and whom they turned away.  The homeless were much more visible in the streets of Michigan.  In those five counties, 20,000 former general assistance recipients were evicted, and 7,000 said they had to use a shelter for part of each month.  There was escalating demand for food at the meal sites, and 27,000 persons said they went for more than one period of 24 hours or longer without food.

            Emergency rooms reported caring for an increased number of indigents, because many of the older GA recipients have chronic health problems.  After one year only 12 percent found jobs, and those were generally temporary or part-time.  Many of those that found jobs had access to cars.

             A large percentage of the GA recipients in Ohio are 36- to 60- year old men or displace homemakers that would have fit into the semi-skilled unskilled general labor pool.  The migration of 85, 000-manufacturing jobs from the Cleveland area in the 1980s caused a great absence of these kinds of jobs.  Thus the need for GA increased at this time fourfold.

             Many GA recipients have characteristics that make them unattractive to employers; namely, lack of transportation, lack of education, and, on occasion, a criminal record.  Therefore, the governor’s proposal to replace General Assistance with some type of job program will have to take this into consideration.  Perhaps it would be better to offer tax credits to companies with general labor jobs for hiring GA recipients, thereby getting rid of GA one person at a time rather than the sweeping budget cut that inhumanely leaves many out on a limb without a safety net.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995

Interview Simons Leaving Office of Homeless Services

 

 The following is an interview with Louise Simmons, Director of the Cuyahoga County/City of Cleveland Office of Homeless Services.  The interview was conducted by Angelo Anderson and Bryan Davis and transcribed by Tanya Goff.

Angelo Anderson:  Please start out with your name and a little background.

Louise Simmons:  My name is Louise Simon, and I’ve been a Clevelander all of my life and worked in the homeless field for over a decade.  I had been on the board of NEOCH at one point, and had to resign at the time that I took position as manager of the Cleveland/Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services.  I’ll be leaving June 16.

AA:  Describe your job with the Office of Homeless Services.

LS:  The office was created to coordinate and implement the Coordinating Council’s plan on homelessness.  That was an 18-month process whereby the community came together and developed a plan.  There was a consensus of what the community felt needed to be done in order to address the homeless problem in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.  There were eight goals identified and goal number eight was the creation of my office.  The goals of my office were to bring people to the table, to help coordinate services, making sure there weren’t duplications of services, and to try to work to the benefit of the area providers to try and bring additional federal dollars to the table.

AA:  With the loss of General Assistance do you think you will see an increase in the need for your services?

LS:  I definitely feel that there will be an increase.  I saw an increase in 1992 when it was first cut.  We saw a lot more people coming into the use of Project HEAT…I believe that our office will play an active role in helping coordinate services, particularly for the individual population.

AA:  What new services do you think should be developed because of the loss of GA?

LS:  WELL…THE office of Homeless Services completed a $25.5 million proposal to HUD to fund what we call the Continuum of Care.  And a big component of the Continuum of Care is a multi-tiered developmentally sensitive shelter particularly for men.  It would allow for a basic shelter like Project HEAT for people who want to continue to abuse substances; so that there would always be guaranteed a place to stay.  But if a person is wanting to better (himself) and get out of his situation, there would be another level they would go to.  And then, even a higher level that they would go to where there’d be more responsibilities, more independence, more privacy in their units.

            One of the things we have found is that you have project HEAT and then you have the Y-haven.  You have no rules and regulations or you have all these rules and regulations or you have all these rules and regulations and you know you get your own room with your own key and all that stuff, but there is nothing in between.

            I think that there needs to be the creation of jobs.  I think that the men need to be—and the women, but I’m particularly concerned about the male population—I think that there needs to be people out there that are helping to work with various corporations and agencies out these and looking for positions that homeless persons can fill.  Even if it’s in the mailroom, it’s a starting place.

AA:  Now, you hit on a good point.  You find so often in Project HEAT that they do work but that the money is just going “up in smoke.”  What would you think would be a good way to give the men some guidelines for Project HEAT to try to encourage them to stop the usage of over-abuse of the system?  I mean, we don’t want to see anybody out on the streets, but at some point you’ve got to help yourself.

LS:  I think that the problem with Project HEAT is that it was originally created to address the issue of frostbite.  It was created to just get people off the street so that no one would freeze to death.  It was never intended to be what it is now and I certainly don’t like what it is now and certainly don’t like what it is now.  I’d like to see something different.  I think the only thing we can do at this point is guarantee a person safe, warm place to sleep every night and to have some support staff there to help them when they are ready to make the move.  You know, I don’t think we can implement a lot of rules and expect people to jump through hoops.  I think they have to be willing to do it.

AA:  Okay, how long should society be expected to just give out a free ride?  Because basically if you look at it—and I’ve been in the program—if you look at it that’s really what it is.  It enables you to go to work and spend your money on drugs as if that’s what you want to-do.  And how long should you stay in this program and not better yourself?  I mean, one of the guidelines should be making the effort to better themselves.  Don’t you think?

LS:  I don’t know if there can be guidelines. I think that there can be.  Again, I go back to the fact that you need to have. Project HEAT right now does not have, in my opinion, the qualified staff it needs to help some of these men with some of their problems.  And, I think if you (should) have the appropriate support staff that is qualified individuals, whether they are former clients, which can be very helpful to that population, or people who are specialists in chemical dependency issues to be there when the person is ready.  Right now what you get is a mat on the floor, and here is a slip of paper with some referrals.  You don’t have anyone to really take your hand, in a sense, the next day and walk with you to the treatment center.

            One of the other things we had done is we were awarded $956,000 to do an innovative grant whereby we would have outreach services to the homeless.  The thought behind it is that there would be a team of people that would to out under the bridges and various parks and try and bring people in.  And then they’d bring them to a central location.  They would give them a medical assessment. They’d have the ability to shower.  They’d get a hot meal, have the needs assessment done, and they’d be able to sleep there.  And then the next morning there would be a case manager who would come in and say, you know according to the needs assessment you could use help doing A, B. and C.  And so when the person wakes up in the morning someone is there that is going to help them.  They are not just turned out on the street.

AA:  Is there a provision in there to help the person who enters this program and is trying to get back with is family.  So that there is some kind of support there because it seems that’s also a major part of recovery.

LS:  There (are) a lot of different aspects of the overall, but what the Office of Homeless Services has had to do is just coordinate what we have out there and what we need.  For instance, there is a program called Shelter Plus Care for someone who is chemically addicted, mentally ill or has AIDS.  It is basically a Section 8 certificate (low income housing rent controlled voucher) that can help that client.  So once the client’s gone through the innovative program, whatever we call it, and, say they are ready for housing reunification.  Then these Section 8 vouchers kick in for that person that was chemically addicted, mentally ill or has AIDS.  So there is that housing piece which is missing in a lot of programs that we now have.

Brian Davis:  How did you do in accomplishing your eight goals?

LS:  I think we did pretty well.  The first goal was to end homelessness through

Empowerment, which I think is a very broad goal and it, has to be woven unto everything that we do. We have increased the number of transitional housing units for families.  We have increased affordable housing through Shelter Plus Care.  We have done little bits and pieces of a lot of them.  I would love to be able to leave my job knowing that I was no longer needed, but I think that if Cleveland is awarded the $25 million that we are hoping to get, it will take care of a lot of the goals.  It would allow for a central intake so someone who is coming from anywhere could come to one location and get help.

BD:  What would you like to have accomplished but didn’t?

LS:  I don’t know if Ill be around to see the central intake, and the mult-tierd shelter be developed.  I wish I was around for that.  Id like to see more jobs created for the guys.  I’d like to see more individuals, corporations, and businesses get involved.  I think often-times (people) have a misperception of what a homeless person is.  I encourage people to come and see Project HEAT. I don’t know, I think the first time that I saw Project HEAT it was a real eye opener.  It was just unacceptable.  So hopefully it will change.

BD:  I have spoken to the people at the City Mission, and they say that 92 percent of the people that come in are homeless because of substances abuse. Hey say that substance abuse should be the primary objective.

LS:  But I’d have to wonder are they using because they’re in a situation?  Not necessarily as an addiction.  I’ve met people who’ve said, “I was never like this before,” but they got into this and they just got into a habit or routine.  And it’s not necessarily an addition much as it is that they’d be in a lot of pain and so they use this to relieve the pain.    I guess I would probably wonder..why do they feel that is the priority and what do they feel the office can do?  I mean the office is a quasi-governmental entity.  We’re not a direct service organization.  We can’t provide services,  but depending on the proposals that we receive for certain types  of services, we could certainly have an impact on the type of services we provided for that population.

BD:  What are you going to be doing after this job ends?

LS:  My husband and I are relocating to Minneapolis, so I’ll literally be out of the state.

AA:  Will you be trying to look for work in the same area there?

LS:  Hopefully, I’ve truly enjoyed working with the homeless population, and I think that Cleveland has a wonderful group of providers.  We’re very fortunate.  I think Cleveland is ahead of the game as opposed to a lot of cities in that we have the Office of Homeless Services.  We have a community wide-plan.  Now HUD is looking for a consolidated plan or they’re asking for a continuum of care, and Cleveland has that already.

BD:  What is the possibility for more single room occupancy housing?

LS:  There was a proposal submitted this past round for a supportive housing program, which is the $25 million we did and then also the $12.4 million in another shelter plus care.  And then there was I don’t know the figure was but Bill Rossinger was working on a SRO proposal about 80 or 90 units all told under the Famicos Foundation.

AA:  How much of an impact would 80 or 90 units make?

LS:  Not much.  To be honest.  In my opinion, not much.  The YMCA was filled when it was open and that was 268 units.

AA: Thanks for your time.

LS:  Thank you.

            Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995

Forming a Social Safety Net: Answering the Calls by Homeless People

 By Beth Ann Gaglione

            Many signs tell us that we have a homeless program larger than we would ever want to believe.  However, we continue to hide from the problem with food drives and coat collections.  When will we stop believing in the myth that we can cure hunger with our canned goods and move on to providing solutions that really work?

            The homeless myth our society lives with allows us to simplify a complex problem.  It is a way of looking at the world, being the determinant of meaning.  What we need to do is order to look at the world in a more realistic sense is to challenge the myth.

            I am not suggesting that we stop giving what we can to help the homeless through a transitional period.  I do believe that our charitable donations are well needed.  And by no means am I suggesting the same kinds of solutions that Representative Newt Gingrich has recently announced, which include cutting most of the funding programs designed to help the impoverished, therefore leaving it up to community people whom, he says, “know best” how to solve their problems.

            What I am suggesting is that we, as a society, stop thinking that our McDonald’s gift certificates are going to end hunger and that our old coats will keep 300,000 people warm at night.  Knowing that institutional change is incremental, we cannot wait for our lawmakers to come up with solutions.  If we do, they will probably only provide the same

Kinds of “band-aid” solutions the Bush/Reagan years provided to our homeless population.

            We need to form a social net for people who will inevitably fall through the cracks of the system.  To do that, we need to identify why we let people fall through the cracks in the first place.  In addition, we must identify the problems that the homeless and potential homeless population endures.    Finally, we need to examine the kinds of programs that work and consider ideas that will begin building the social net.

            The biggest mistake we have made in approaching homelessness in binding ourselves to the fact that individuals have individual needs.  Therefore, we must build a system in which each person can receive the individualized attention (in order to address his or her) problems.  In order to identify changes needed, we should understand the true needs of a homeless person.

            Social scientists have been able to agree upon three major problems that individuals within the homeless population may at one time suffer from.  Preeminently, at least 30 percent of our homeless population suffers from various forms of extreme mental conditions.  However, most also agree that the state of homelessness itself causes mental dilapidation.

            Homeless people run an extremely high risk of abusing alcohol or drugs, regardless of whether they suffer from mental disorders.  According to research done by

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 20 to 45 percent of the homeless population suffers from alcohol-related problems.  Alcoholism and drug abuse was seen as the only cause of homelessness in the 1040s when indigents were seen as “drunk men.”  Now, alcohol abuse affects men, women, and adolescents on our city streets. 

            The scarcity of low-cost housing leaves poor people with only one option of housing: to become a renter.  If a household living on $5,000 a year to spend 3- percent a month on housing, they would only be able to allot $125 per month to housing.  In reality, the typical poor renter spent $266 a month on their housing needs, more than double the highest amount affordable according to HUD.  Not only are these people supposed to overcome mental and physical ailments, but they must be fiscal geniuses in order to survive on $5,000 a year.

            Mental illness, alcohol abuse and scarce low-cost housing are far from the only problems that a homeless must face.  However, the social service community concerned with homelessness seems to agree that these three issues are the most prevalent among homeless people.

            The cause of homelessness are a phenomenon of the changes taking place in America society which have left many individuals without the family and community support systems on which they have relied heavily on in the past.  For this reason, “the problem must be viewed as defying immediate solution but is one which commands community-wide effort over a long period of time” (momeni, 1990.p178).  We must provide the impoverished with social services net dispensing preventative measures, programs that work, and an attitude toward the problem that reflects an understanding of the true meaning of homelessness.  If care-providers have already bought into the myth that we must give the coats off our backs as the only solution, then we have already failed.

            In order to put an end to homelessness, we must shatter the myth.  The myth says that the only way we can really help the homeless is to give to others, as we would want for ourselves.  However, we have already defined the problems as too severe for any food drive to fix.  We need to realize there are many other things we need to do as a society that would be more beneficial than charitable service efforts.  Changing people’s attitudes could be a first step.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine Issue 10 – May – July 1995

Floor Speech by State Senator Dennis Kucinich on General Assistance

 

 “I rise on the behalf of those who would like a job!  The fabled tired, poor, huddled masses, the wretched refuse, the tempest-tossed whose members sanction no political action committee, no legislative breakfasts, and no lobby, same the singular lobby of our own hearts, our own conscience, our own Judeo-Christian charity.

I rise not as a missionary to the inner city.  I am of the inner city poor.  I am by the inner city poor.  I am for the inner city poor and I am a Senator for the inner city poor, those General Assistance recipients who are the poor, euphemistically referred to today as ‘these people.’

Because despite the suit and tie, I come from ‘these people’ who begged for food at the backdoors of restaurants.  I come from ‘these people’ who would not choose to stay in poverty if hey understood they had a choice, if they had a chance to reach up, if a hand reached out.

            I come from ‘these people’ who have known the sheriff’s deputy showing up with the eviction papers and whose humble belongings were thrown out on a sidewalk as a makeshift flea market for rag pickers and street browsers.

            I come from ‘these people whose home was a car..…

            And in standing up in this Senate, I stand on behalf of al these people and on behalf of their children.  They are the reason I am in this Senate.  They are the reason I moved this amendment, which would change the system, which has limited poor people’s options. Change it from welfare to work for all!  Justice for all.  Justice for all!!

            So in recognition of the fact that there are many good-hearted people who want welfare reform, I come before you this afternoon with a program in the form of an amendment which will enable work, not welfare, for every able bodied person.  This amendment I offer puts humanity into so-called welfare reform.  It gives people an opportunity to reclaim their dignity during a period of misfortune.

            This amendment will enable at least 40,000 people who are not on welfare to get public works jobs at a total cost of 443,000,000 a year, much less than we are paying for welfare today.  I know that to some people this opportunity to earn nearly $200 a month will make a difference in their lives.  It is really a small amount of money, which no one could be expected to live on.  But it would provide a bridge across economic oblivion.

            We know from the grim accounts of massive job loss in our inner cities that the private sector has failed to provide opportunities for the employment of people on welfare.  Further proof is that in the un-amended legislation the private sector offers jobs to less than 10 percent of welfare recipients.  It is clear the private sector cannot and will not provide entry-level opportunities for the employment of many skilled workers, let alone people with low skills.  It then becomes a moral responsibility for state government to provide minimum wage public works jobs for those who need public assistance and who are able to work.  It is our civic duty.  It is our moral duty.

             Absent this amendment, which will provide work for people now on welfare, House Bill 249 represents a new low for representative democracy in a free society, an attack on those who are utterly defenseless.

            Oh yes, we have come a long way from the days when the poor people were put on public works programs to help them get back on their feet.  We’ve come back from the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the Raw Deal of Governor George Victor Voinovich.  We’ve come from the War on Poverty under President Lyndon Baines Johnson to the War on the Poor, executed by myopic federal and sate administrators.  Daily bread has been replaced by daily bull.  I ask you, my fellow Senators who among us would give our brothers or our sisters a stone when they ask instead for daily bread?

            We appear in this great State of Ohio to be in a moment in time when we are turning back the clock to a sad, depressed period of American history when “poor houses” dotted the land – except today we call them homeless shelters.  When the poor were given a lump of coal to warm themselves, except today our “tender mercies” would give them a one-time utility bill assist, if they have a house.

            This so-called welfare reform bill as proposed by Governor George Victor Voinovich ignores reality.  This bill relies on the crudest kind of stereotypes to advance a program which in the name of eliminating poverty – seeks to eliminate the poor.

            I note that this Senate chamber is today ringed with state troopers and detectives who are obviously here to offer protection to those members who fear that the hordes of poor people will quickly descend on Columbus by car, by bus and by plane, no doubt, to threaten the safety of those who would cast them aside as human detritus.

            Be at peace.  The poor are not here to answer with violence, which some of you will inflict on them by offering them no alternatives, no solace, no hope.  It may be that you will find consolation in the protection of our wonderful state patrol who sit among us in this chamber, but you may not escape the spiritual consequences of this legislation.  Wherever you will go there will be faces which will look back at you and ask the question you can never really answer – WHY?!?”

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May 1995

Cincinnati Restricts Panhandling

Homeless Grapevine sent for Cincinnati distribution

By Max Johnson

             In early May the Cincinnati city council passed a “sidewalk Protection Ordinance,” which prohibits sitting or lying on a sidewalk with a blanket, chair or stool between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m.

            Cincinnati also passed an Anti-Begging Ordinance which prohibits people from asking for change on the streets.  Both become law July 1, 1995.

            The legislation was sponsored by Councilman Phil Heimlich and was proposed by Downtown Cincinnati Inc., a downtown development and service organization. Both claim that ‘panhandling adversely affects downtown businesses, and feed (s) the perception that our downtown is unsafe.”

            David Phillips, CEO and DCI said that there were many studies that show the negative impact on business.  When pressed for the name of the organization that conducted a study linking panhandling with a decline in business, Phillips said,  “I can’t remember the organization that did that study, but exit polls (at Christmas) of shoppers cited panhandling as the number one reason they did not shop downtown.”

            The Anti-Begging Ordinance according to the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless will prohibit asking for change if the person is: threatened, entering a car, within 10 feet of an Automatic Teller Machine, within 6 feet of a storefront, or if it is after dark.

            Pat Clifford, Director of the GCCH, was quoted in Cincinnati Enquirer as saying, “Panhandling is the least of downtown’s problems.  DCI’s mean-spirited crackdown would be enforced on people with the least opportunity in society.”

            “Panhandling doesn’t help anybody one iota,” Phillips adamantly explained.  “Don’t kid yourself.  It is a device that destroys people,” he proselytized.

An important element of the panhandling initiative is to educate downtown workers about how they contribute to the social problem by giving spare change to panhandler’s money which many times feeds an addiction, not a person,” said Phillips, in an editorial in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

            The ordinance passed with only one councilperson voting against the proposal.  Clifford said that there was one bright spot, and that the ordinances were passed under a sunset provision until November 1995.  This means that the full council must revisit the issue in November to keep the anti –panhandling laws on the books.

            The Cincinnati Coalition has condemned the ordinances because, “there are no places for homeless, mentally or physically disabled to go when shelters are closed during the day…Homeless people should have at least the same fights as advertising executives, telemarketers, and politicians to make money by means some might find annoying.”

            There was a proposal to set up an unarmed patrol called “Cincinnati Guides” to report illegal activity and intervene and discourage people from giving money to panhandlers.  Phillips said that these guides would be social workers that could assess the needs of the panhandler and put them in touch with human service organizations.

            The fine for panhandling will be up to $100 or time served in jail.  Clifford said, “Heimlich’s programs do not deal with the underlying causes of panhandling: poverty, joblessness, and homelessness.”

            Phillips said the purpose of the legislation  will not be to put people in jail, but to “get them help to escape the prison of panhandling…This is an extremely positive program,” commented Phillips.

            When General Assistance is cut in August the number of those that will need assistance will increase.  “They will have needs big-time, “ said Phillips.  He went on to explain that his organization was attempting to set up a program to offset the loss of GA.  “I sure hope that something is in place by that time.  It is a difficult situation that isn’t going to get better.”

            When asked if the anti-panhandling law would be enforced if there is not a program in place to assist those that will lose GA, Phillips said that it would still be enforced.

            He GCCH will combat the loss of General Assistance and Heimlich’s Panhandling Programs by distributing the Homeless Grapevine in Cincinnati.  He Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless will continue the production of the newspaper and will give a quantity to the Cincinnati Coalition who will set up a vendor network.

            The grapevine will feature stories, artwork, and poetry from Cincinnati in addition to the work of artists from the streets of Northeast Ohio.  Brian Davis, Editor of the Grapevine said, “This is a great opportunity for us to expand the number of people that we reach.  Our mission is to be the voice of the homeless and the poor, and Cincinnati is a place where the homeless are under attack.  There is an attempt in Cleveland, Cincinnati and other urban centers to sweep the poor away with legislations and the police.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine Issue 10 May– July 1995

Studies on the Elimination of General Assistance

 

        In 1991 a series of changes and reductions occurred in Michigan’s social services programs, which had the potential for immediate and widespread impact throughout the state.  Funding for the Michigan Department of Social Services fell by 15.6 percent from the fiscal year 1991 to 1992 – the largest single year reduction in the department’s history.  The General Assistant and Job Start programs were eliminated, and services formerly provided through the Emergency Needs and GA Medical Programs were sharply curtailed.

            The project summarized below was undertaken by the Michigan League for Human Services in order to evaluate the impact of these substantial program changes on individuals, needy families, local economies, and community agencies.

Testing the Underlying Assumptions

            The project’s key research questions tested the reliability of the assumptions underlying the 1991-1992 social services changes that the local labor market, the private social services system and the extended family – together or separately – would replace the support formerly provided through GA and other programs.

FINDING #1

            The labor market did not significantly absorb former GA recipients.  Seventeen percent of former recipients were employed six months after elimination of General Assistance, with half of these working before the program ended.  Eighty-three percent of former GA recipients were unemployed.  Based on the survey data, 4,400 former recipients in the study counties found work.  Another 4,400 had jobs before their assistance was terminated, and over 46,000 former clients were not employed six months after the program ended.

FINDING #2

            Local communities and their network of private emergency services providers were not able t meet the increased need for services which follow the elimination of GA and reductions in the emergency needs and indigent health care programs.  As the average number of persons served weekly by agencies increased 19 percent in one year, waiting lists also increased, as did limitations on the types of persons eligible for services and the benefits available.

FINDING #3

            The extended family has not provided the support previously available through GA and other social services programs.  The population of former General Assistance recipients is one that is at risk of growing social isolation.

Assessing the Scope of Unmet Needs

            One year after the changes and reductions in the state’s basic needs programs occurred, it is clear that substantial unmet need exists in the areas of shelter, food, health care and transportation.

FINDIING #1

            The elimination of GA increased homelessness across Michigan.  Based on the survey, and estimated 20,000 recipients in the study counties experienced eviction following termination of the program, with a similar number reporting no regular place to stay.  The length of time residing in any one place decreased dramatically for former GA recipients.

FINDING #2

            Hunger in Michigan increased following termination of GA.  Based on the survey, an estimated 27,000 former GA recipients in the study counties went without food for 24 hours or more since the elimination of GA.  Private emergency service providers report an escalating demand for food in all areas of the state.

FINDING #3

            Former GA recipients have significant health problems, with individuals who are older reporting greater problems.  The number of community-based emergency services organizations which are providing health-related services increased by 48 percent following the dramatic reduction in GA medical services, but they cannot continue to provide these services at a level commensurate with demand.

FINIDING #4

            Lack of transportation is a significant barrier to accessing employment and training, health care and other basic need services.  Only 38 percent of former GA recipients reported having a driver’s license and less than 24 percent had a working car.

The Mandel Study

            The Center for Urban Poverty and Social Change as part of the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences conducted a study entitled “General Assistance Program Reduction in Cuyahoga County in 1992.”

FINDINGS:

            “A national study found whether or not a state had a GA program that covered the able-bodied persons was among the most important predictors of homeless rates.  In other words, communities that provided continuous benefits to al had much less homelessness per capita then those that had no GA program or restricted it to the medically needy.  Thus it seems clear that GA payments, among other things, can prevent individuals from becoming homeless.

            The impact of the absence of GA benefits can also be inferred from the anecdotal reports coming from states where persons have lost their GA benefits.  Increases are noted in evictions, use of homeless shelters, utility shutoffs, persons who cannot get needed medical care, and financial dependence on family members.

            Most GA recipients want to work.  Yet, only a little more than half have recent labor market connections, mainly temporary jobs in service and retail sectors.  Given the projected demand for labor in the Cleveland area, it would take more than seven years for all of the employable individuals termination from GA in April to find work even if transportation and other barriers to employment were removed.

            GA recipients’ risk of homelessness increased by approximately 17 percent following the April terminations.  Yet, most individuals without a home stayed temporarily with family or friends rather than on the streets or in shelters.  The number of individuals reporting hunger or use of emergency food did not increase.

            Almost one-third of GA recipients have applied for another government benefits since program reductions were announced.  For help with basic needs, former recipients have overwhelmingly turned to family and friends, and secondly, to community institutions and agencies.

            The GA Program in Ohio and many other states has always been a residual program without clear policy objectives.  It is meant as a safety net of last resort.  The decade of the 1980s produced considerable growth in GA.  The growth was greatest in counties such as Cuyahoga that experienced a drastic loss of manufacturing jobs in the state.  The program began to serve functions for which it is never intended.

Service Providers Cite Increasing Difficulty

            Ohio State University and the Ohio Coalition for the Homeless conducted a survey in 1992 of service providers within the state and came up with these results:

80% found it increasingly difficult to find housing placements, with 59 percent citing GA cuts as the cause.

59% found that homeless adults are referring to the lack of or inadequacy of GA as a cause of their homelessness (directly or indirectly).

            Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995

A Letter from Bryan Gillooly on General Assistance

 

Dear Homeless Grapevine:

            I believe there is a grave trend to dispose of entire groups of poor people that are developing into policy in Ohio state and national public assistance programs.  The trend is to put welfare recipients back to work.  In order to accomplish this, politicians categorize inconceivable numbers of U.S. citizens.  Those who can work may get help; those who can’t work won’t get anything.

            In our own home state, Ohio’s very popular Governor, George Voinovich, recently instituted the end to General Assistance, the public relief program for single and able people temporarily out of work and ineligible for unemployment benefits.  The national welfare debate identifies teen-age mothers and non-working parents as unfit for help.

            Simultaneously, industry is making two important changes:  1) increased use of temporary help, which for a significant portion of the work force effectively lowers wages, decreases stability in employment, eliminates access to benefits, and requires higher total work hours to maintain a consistent annual income, and 2) re-location away from the central city toward the highway access of edge cities.  Consequently, the pockets of poverty are getting deeper in the inner city, as people cannot access the types of gobs that match their education and training.

            Impoverished people who are not working are being hastily condemned despite the increasingly competitive work environment and clearly identifiable barriers like inadequate transportation, inconsistent work record, and the need to care for infants and children.

            The irony is too great to believe policy makers cannot see it.  Perhaps the ruling leaders know how tough it is to find a job and are trying to shame people to work against all odds.  Perhaps politicians are using the people that didn’t vote for them, or simply don’t vote at all, as the scapegoats for national economic problems.

            The obvious problem is that millions of people in the U.C. cities and rural communities are being cut of from public help and offered very limited economic alternatives.  One could argue such change may increase crime levels, or disease, or create some other crisis that will most severely affect poor families and their isolated neighborhoods.

            But the subtle problem is that people who elected the majority of state and federal policy makers will be blind to the consequences for the poor.  The middle class may see some kind of short-term improvements in government spending.  There may be some immediate economic payoff from an improved market.  Many people will maintain their income as industries move basic labor into another city suburb or country.  If their firm moves, or they need a different job they have the economic freedom to drive against rush-hour traffic, or in other directions bus lines don’t run.  And they can speed through the “bad” parts of town.

             The inexperience stemming from limited interaction with poor neighborhoods foster the growth of the new mythology against the poor.  Especially since November 1994, state and federal officials more boldly frame policy around the accumulation of political power, rather than in regard for the common good.  And as long as any one of us act apathetic, despite our beliefs, we too become a part of the problem.

            I encourage other Homeless Grapevine readers to remain open to the views of homeless and other people in poverty, and applaud the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless for raising a few eyebrows while helping people to become self-sufficient.

-          Bryan Gillooly

 Bill Gillooly was Directer of NEOCH until February 1995

           Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 10 May – July 1995