by Tom Hayes
When the West Side Sun News reported on Thursday, August 17, 1995, that "Petitions Aim at Shutting Down Hunger Center"--about the St. Augustine Hunger Center on West 14th in Tremont--the real news was created.
In early August, sparked by rumors, the Homeless Grapevine--the newspaper of and by the homeless--began pursuing a story about an alleged petition drive to close the St. Augustine Hunger Center. These rumors were substantiated by homeless vendors and clients at the Bishop William M. Cosgrove Center, which, among other things, runs a hunger center at the corner of East 18th and Superior.
The Grapevine contacted Councilman Gary Paulenske, the councilman of Tremont's thirteenth district, who said he was unaware of any petition against the St. Augustine site. Councilman Paulenske said he would "never support the closing of St. Augustines." The Grapevine then contacted Sister Korita Ambro at St. Augustines who was also unaware of any petition. Sister Ambro, however, was fully aware of why such a petition could be started. That, while most of the homeless clients at the hunger center are respectful, eating and then moving on, there are "others who just aren't couth." Further, that these persons should realize how their "inappropriate behavior is hurting the name of the homeless." From these interviews, the Grapevine could not find any organized effort or an actual petition.
On August 16, the West Side Sun News contacted the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH)--the agency that publishes the Homeless Grapevine--and asked for any information NEOCH had about the petition. NEOCH had very little information, most of it rumors and speculation. Then, in the August 17th edition of the News, a report appeared discussing St. Augustine's Hunger Center and "a petition drive aimed at shutting it down." The September issue of The Plain Press reported the very same story.
The Homeless Grapevine found no evidence of any petition. In fact, the "petition" was a letter addressed to Father McNulty, St. Augustine's Parish Priest. The residents who wrote the letter, and did not want to be identified, said they were angry at being portrayed as wanting to close the Hunger Center. That, in fact, they had no intention of that at all. They were, instead, worried about incidents which had occurred around the site: public excretions and fighting; and about code issues: a paved parking lot behind the church and fenced in dumpsters (open to view and sometimes overrunning with trash, stinking in the sun.) The letter was an attempt to address these concerns.
There are only a few facts in the St. Augustine Hunger Center story and they are these: there is no petition; there is a problem between residents near the Hunger Center and St. Augustines; and finally, a few news stories "created" a petition that, as of yet, does not exist.
David Plata, the staff writer for the West Side Sun News, was quoted by the Grapevine as saying "no comment" when asked about the mistake.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published Oct. – Dec. 1995 Issue 12