by Max Johnson
In December of 1995, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty released a report "No Room for the Inn" detailing local opposition to housing and social service facilities for homeless people in 36 cities in the United States. Cleveland was ranked in the top five of cities with exclusionary policies.
On a national level, the report shows that "local opponents and cities have tried to preclude or limit those who provide housing and services to homeless people even though demand for those receiving services is high."
The report draws some conclusions from the examples of NIMBYism or the "Not in My Backyard" syndrome, which is defined as organized attempts to exclude services in neighborhoods and cities. The successful opposition to services, "ensures that many people will not get the housing and services they need to escape from or remain off the streets," according to the report.
The National Law Center points out that the congressional welfare reform will push aid to the poor to state and local governments as well as private non-profit providers. This is dangerous since, as the report states, local government is "often the catalyst for excluding homeless services. The prevalence of NIMBY reaction to housing and services for homeless people indicates that many localities might be more interested in moving homeless people than eradicating homelessness."
May Boyle, Cuyahoga County Commissioner, said, "Although I cannot speak for Cleveland city officials, I find it disturbing that this city is listed in the top five of "most exclusionary cities" toward the homeless. Economic development is important for Cleveland to continue to flourish, but we must not forget to help the citizens who live here."
City of Cleveland officials could not be reached for comment due to vacations and Mayor Michael White was in Atlanta with National Football League officials.
The report concludes that attempts to shut-down or shut-out homeless services are "short sighted, counter-productive and inhumane."
Cleveland was singled out because various neighborhoods opposition to ProjectHEAT sites operating overflow space for homeless people to sleep in their community. Also, the closing of the Downtown YMCA Single Room Occupancy flop house and the inability to find a new place for the facility was sited. In addition, the Cleveland police policy of moving homeless people out of the downtown business district contributed to Cleveland being named one of the top five NIMBY communities.
"No Room for the Inn" attempts to dispel the major concerns that proliferators of the NIMBY philosophy espouse. The report finds that the NIMBY opposition to homeless service centers is grounded in people's fears about attracting homeless people and about declining property values, quality of life, and neighborhood character. The report shows that all of these concerns are not reasonable, and the creation of a shelter or other service usually has very little impact on the neighborhood.
Finally, the report makes recommendations on the local and federal level to curb NIMBY activity including amending the Fair Housing Act to prohibit the exclusion of people simply because they are homeless. They recommend that states should require municipalities to draft plans regarding how they intend to meet demands for services--and hold localities accountable to the plans. Incentives should be set for localities to permit the construction of services within their jurisdiction.
A copy of the report can be obtained from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty at 202-638-2535 or send $5 to NEOCH with your return address.
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published January – February 1996 Issue 13