By Jenny Lindquist
The second annual Homeless Stand Down, a day-long event that provided services to homeless people, was held on August 25 at Cuyahoga Community College's Metro campus. Approximately 400 homeless persons received food, respite, and access to services which may assist in breaking the cycle of homelessness and encourage hope, vision, and health.
Sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs, Catholic Charities, and many other community groups, the Stand Down's mission was to improve the quality of life for homeless people. Cleveland's Stand Down is one of the few in the country in which service providers for veterans and civilians are working together to combat homelessness. "It's a beginning," said Tom Halfhill, co-chair of the Stand Down committee and a Clinical Social Worker at the Department of Veterans Affairs. "We're not going to break the cycle of homelessness in one day, but we can provide the homeless with opportunities to access services."
Among other things, homeless people had a chance to get medical check-ups, register for social security and veterans benefits, receive counseling, get legal aid, and gather information about educational and employment opportunities. Over thirty service providers were available to talk with interested people. Area shelters; Healthy Family, Healthy Start; the Ombudsman Office; and the City of Cleveland Human Resources Office were among those represented.
Homeless people also had the opportunity to take showers, get haircuts, and eat a hot lunch. At the end of the day, participants received a personal hygiene kit, a warm blanket, and several T-shirts and other items of clothing. Entertainment was provided by a live DJ, live band, and a professional storyteller, Mr. Hatbox. An arts and crafts area sponsored by Project ACT allowed children to make hats, bracelets, and pictures.
Most of these activities could not have been provided without the support of volunteers. Among many other things, community members, Department of Veterans Affairs staff, and agency representatives served food, gave medical check-ups, disseminated information about services, and distributed fresh produce. According to Josephine Shelton-Towne, VA volunteer coordinator and Team Leader of the VA Silver Pathway Program, over 110 volunteers helped to make the Stand Down run smoothly. Volunteer Doug Jones said he'd "like to volunteer again next year." Jones, vice-president of marketing at Charles Management, who is active in Veteran affairs, added that "it was a beautiful event for a lot of people who needed a good day out."
Members of the homeless community had mixed reviews of the event. (Angelo). However, a client attending the Homeless Forum on August 29 at the Cosgrove Hunger Center said that the Stand Down "failed to address the serious issues of homelessness"--namely, housing and jobs. Other homeless people at the Homeless Forum commented that the Stand Down should be held more than once a year.
Despite these criticisms, however, Halfhill remained pleased with this year's effort. "We learned from last year, and this time we were more organized and better prepared." Chip Joseph, co-chair of the Stand Down committee and Director of Emergency Assistance programs for the Catholic Diocese, attributed the success of the Stand Down to a number of things. "I think that the Stand Down was partly successful because of the efforts made by individuals from many different agencies. But the real successes happened in spite of the committee's efforts. The ideas behind the Stand Down made the Stand Down work."
What was most important was that the Stand Down planners did not forget what the day was all about. "We want to treat the homeless with dignity and respect," Halfhill said. "We want to show them that they're not just numbers." Joseph, too, had a message for members of the homeless community: "We'd really like to thank you all for coming." Plans for next year's event will begin within the next few months.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published Oct. – Dec. 1995 Issue 12