Voucher Program Returns with Minor Adjustment

The Federal Emergency Management Association or FEMA Board has approved the release of $625,382 to four organizations to oversee the Adult Emergency Assistance program, or “voucher program.” The funds will be available for emergencies up to $1,000, beginning in September, through Catholic Charities, Salvation Army, Council for Economic Opportunities of Greater Cleveland, and a new agency to the AEA program, East Cleveland Neighborhood Center.

Despite returning $48,000 between them, both Catholic Charities and Salvation Army will again distribute funds through the program. There will be a $1,000 one-time cap on the allocation to an individual this time, and individuals will only be allowed to receive funds once during the allocation period (one year). Plans have not been finalized on how to police this one-time allocation rule between the four agencies.

The agencies that distributed the funds previously have promised to expand the number of vendors that will accept the vouchers with emergencies ranging from housing, to clothing or transportation, among other things.

In addition, the agencies have agreed to provide better information about the program to clients, and applications will be accepted from a broad spectrum of non-profit agencies.

The program received criticism in its trial run (Grapevine #14) from the Legal Aid Society for mismanagement and the lack of oversight. Bob Bonithius criticized the program as a government block grant to a community with a local non-profit managing the distribution of the program. He was critical with the outcome of this experience.

The Empowerment Center criticized the limits on the program, and the access to the program.

There will be 23 sites available to schedule an appointment to pick up a voucher this time.

The FEMA Board convened a special sub-committee to interview the three providers in the program, the opposition to the program, and a group of recipients. They made recommendations back to the Board, which were debated in a July 19 meeting.

On August 8, the FEMA Board approved the applications from Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, CEOGC, with equal allocations of $200,000 and East Cleveland Neighborhood center with $25,382. The four groups met in late August to coordinate and standardize the application process.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #17, August-September 1996

The Grapevine Empowers Cleveland’s Homeless

by Jean Taddie

Now in its 17th issue under the direction of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, The Homeless Grapevine has been informing greater Cleveland about homeless issues for more than three years. The Grapevine has grown to a scheduled eight issues for 1996. Distribution for each issue is about 13,000, according to editor Brian Davis. While the newspaper informs the public, it also provides opportunities for homeless people to express themselves and run their own business. “It’s self-help,” explains vendor Angelo Anderson.

The idea of a homeless newspaper in Cleveland came in 1991 from a graduate student working on his thesis project. Fred Maier, a Kent State University graduate student, worked with the men at a temporary homeless shelter to develop the original Homeless Grapevine issues. As a liberal arts student, Maier wanted to develop a work that would make a public statement. The men working with Maier wanted not only to express their opinions but also to earn some money for it. The idea of The Homeless Grapevine was born.

Maier collected articles from the men at the shelter, typed them up, had them photocopied, and then handed them out to vendors who could sell the newspaper for 25 cents. Unfortunately, problems developed with the paper. One problem was with the newspaper itself. It was photocopied, so some people made a bootleg copy of just one page and would sell it for more money. The legitimate vendors were hurt by this because the bootleggers harmed The Grapevine’s credibility.

Another problem was that the shelter where Maier and the group worked at was closed down. This made it more difficult to coordinate the project. Finally, Maier graduated in 1992, and his involvement in the project decreased. Without his leadership or a place to work, printing of The Homeless Grapevine was suspended in 1992. But neither Maier nor the homeless vendors gave up the idea.

Maier and the vendors asked Bryan Gillooly, former Executive Director for NEOCH, if the Coalition for the Homeless would sponsor the paper. Gillooly related, “They both came to me separately. The vendors were like, ‘Bryan, you ought to do something about this—get this paper going.’ [Maier] said basically the same thing. I’ll admit I was reluctant because I knew it wouldn’t pay for the time we had to put into it. . . . but [I] decided, ‘What the heck, we’ll try it.’”

In spring of 1993, issue one of the “new” Homeless Grapevine was on the streets. Gillooly and NEOCH took responsibility for editing and producing the newspaper, but homeless men and women were still responsible for writing most of the articles and for distributing the paper.

One of the early goals of The Grapevine was to give homeless people a voice. “The concept was to help homeless people to express their views of what it’s like to be homeless and to get that word out there. That was not the story being told by the media,” Gillooly explained. Another goal was to create a way for homeless people to make some money for their efforts. Vendors pay 10 cents for their copies of The Grapevine and sell them for one dollar. The profit made on each newspaper belongs to the vendor.

In addition to The Grapevine’s goals, Gillooly explained, “There were a lot of hopes for what could happen if the vendors would work together—the political force.” The first three issues were created almost exclusively by homeless people who expressed their perspective and opinions. Gillooly explained that he started having problems with getting enough material: “Eventually we learned that some of the vendors didn’t want to write or simply couldn’t write.” NEOCH relied more on staff and volunteer time to produce future issues. Lorna Dilley, former Community Relations Coordinator for NEOCH, edited issues three through six. She explained that vendors submitted poems or information, and additional stories came form volunteers who interviewed homeless people. “We would try to have some kind of central theme for the articles.” In return for writing or being interviewed for an article, vendors received free newspapers that they could sell.

Currently, vendors are still encouraged to submit articles and poems. Brian Davis, Grapevine editor since issue seven, explains, “We always give preference to the articles and poems that come in from the homeless, even if they don’t relate to our central theme.” He encourages homeless people to get involved so they can have a voice in the community. “We would like to use this voice for advocacy by and for the homeless community.”

The voice of the homeless can now be heard in Cincinnati as well as Cleveland. Beginning in July, 1995, distribution of The Homeless Grapevine spread to the greater Cincinnati area. The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless responded to new anti-panhandling laws by giving homeless people a new opportunity to get involved and make some income.

“The newspaper is a business, not a charity,” says Davis. As editor, he works to protect the integrity of the newspaper. He makes sure that The Grapevine content is newsworthy, by focusing on factual reporting as well as commentary and artistic works. Distribution of the paper also has standards. In order to distribute The Grapevine, vendors must register with The Grapevine and agree to follow a code of conduct. Davis emphasizes, “We want vendors to become like business owners.”

Vendors like Angelo Anderson like the opportunity to be their own boss while they’re earning an income. Anderson, who has been a vendor since issue four, states, “I like being my own boss. I can make my own hours and not have someone always telling me what to do. I sell my papers around Cleveland wherever the action is.” On a good week, Anderson says, he can sell as many as 300 newspapers. He explains, “It can be discouraging—getting a lot of rejection. But for every ten ‘no’ responses, there is a ‘yes.’” Because of this money-making opportunity, Anderson is able to pay rent and is no longer homeless.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #17, August-September 1996

Street Newspapers Organize

by Brian Davis

On August 19-21, street newspapers from around the world gathered in Chicago, for what was billed as a time to share information, exchange ideas, and celebrate the existence of media outlets for voices from the streets. Out of the conference was born the North American Street Newspaper Association, which will meet annually.

Angelo Anderson and Savetta, both vendors from Cleveland, and Donald Whitehead and Lemuel Israel from Cincinnati represented the Homeless Grapevine newspaper.

Savetta characterized the event as “Wonderful, and very enlightening. I felt a true sense of camaraderie and a real feeling of community with all these papers,” she continued.

Professor Norma Green of the Columbia College provided a historical look at street newspapers, from the first—Street News in New York (who was not represented at the conference) to the current proliferation of papers in 50 cities.

Approximately 75 representatives of 20 different papers in Canada and the United States as well as Tessa Swithinbank of the United Kingdom’s Big Issue (keynote speaker) were gathered by the National Coalition for the Homeless, Chicago’s Streetwise, and Seattle’s Real Change newspapers.

Each paper was given the opportunity to talk about the particulars of their paper and provide some historical perspective. The first day culminated in a look at vendor issues, publishing and content issues, and leadership issues.

An emerging issue that flowed just beneath the surface of the conference was the role of vendors in leadership and decisions of each paper and, at the heart of the matter, the mission of each paper. A vendor from Chicago got to the heart of the matter when he said that the staff of the papers must keep in mind the reason that they are in business—homelessness and reducing the homeless population.

Savetta said, “I didn’t want the paper to overshadow the purpose of the papers. I would like to see more participation by the vendors around the country.”

Tim Harris, editor of Real Change and an organizer of the event, said, “It is inevitable. I expected these issues to develop. It is indicative of the powerlessness these people feel. Our job is to deal with [these issues] constructively.”

The second day was organized around the concept of formalizing the relationship between the papers and constructing a street newspaper trade association. The memberships in this association were picked at, but not finalized.

Some of the areas that the new North American Street Newspaper Association are going to undertake include sharing news/commentaries among the members, technical assistance, creating a World Wide Web page, publicity, and training. Probably the most difficult goal of the NASNA is the facilitation of new papers in major cities, such as Detroit, that do not have a street newspaper.

Harris of Seattle has a goal to have a street paper in every major city in America and Canada by 2000. He says that the street newspaper association is the first step to that end.

Membership in the NASNA will be finalized this year, and bylaws and the structure of the organization will be released at next year’s conference of street newspapers.

Ron Lonus of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, who attended the street newspaper summit, hoped that this will be an annual event, and that all the papers will stay in contact.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #17, August-September 1996

Project Act Struggles to Deliver Education to All

by Ayme McCain

The Cleveland Public School Project Act (Action for Children and Youth in Transition) is using a comprehensive, holistic approach to ensure the educational success of homeless children in transition. Project ACT provides the direct instructional and support services needed to facilitate the homeless child’s transition into school and their ongoing participation in the educational system. One of the main goals of Project ACT is to make sure that every school-aged child is registered for and attending school. August 28 marks the first day of school and Project ACT wants to remind parents that if their child is not registered for school they should make this their priority. To register their child for school, parents will need their child’s birth certificate and immunization records. Project ACT is prepared to help parents obtain the necessary records.

Project ACT also has programming for Early Childhood, School Age, and Adolescent children and youth. These programs operate out of emergency and domestic violence shelters, a public library, and several Cleveland Public School buildings. The programs operating at these sites include homework assistance, tutoring, and educational enrichment provided by Cleveland Public School teachers. Project ACT Early-Child teachers also help in the identification and referral of special needs children for early childhood screening and intervention services.

In addition to the teachers, Project ACT also has a social worker who works directly in the shelters helping parents obtain and maintain all of their child’s important records. The parents are provided with a “Family Facts Book” that consolidates the documentation of the child’s immunization records, birth certificate, social security number, and other important family information, complete with a Polaroid picture of the child (birth-grade 6). This book enables the parent to maintain the child’s records in an organized folder.

In order for any child to do well in school he/she has to have the necessary supplies to complete his/her work. Project ACT is able to provide homeless students with the tools they need to be successful in school. Some of these items include book bags, school supplies, and books. In conjunction with Reading is Fundamental, Project ACT has also been able to establish libraries within the homeless and domestic violence shelters.

“We have high standards for our children and we want them to succeed,” says Marcia G. Zashin, coordinator of Project ACT. “We want to have all of the barriers that are keeping homeless children from attending school removed, and we want to provide all of the necessary items they need to be successful in school. This can only happen if the teachers, parents, and shelters work together, keeping the best interest of the child in mind.”

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #17, August-September 1996

Building Houses Not Jails Was the Message

by Kate Uhlir

“Lookee here Man, you lookin’ for a building? City don’t buy buildins. Not for the homeless. No buildin’ for you buddy. Galleria Tower City kicks you out all the time. Nobody wants to see you, Man. If nobody sees you, maybe you ain’t even there!” Ben, a volunteer, dished out vivid reality with bean and hot dogs at the Memorial vigil for deceased homeless, Cleveland victims in the “war against poverty.”

The vigil, in downtown’s Jesse Owens Park on Lakeside Avenue, provided a social setting for nearly 100 who attended. Along with hot dogs, there was sweet melon, a little laughter, and tears glistening in the flickering light of a dozen broken candles pressed into the cement at the foot of their personal “wall of memory,” which revealed names of those who lived and died in the streets of Cleveland.

On a park bench, Hildario hunched over a larger soup pot and hummed quietly. He mechanically chopped carrots on a dirty cutting board and slid them into the pot. I asked, “What are you thinking, Hildario?” “Don’t think no more, ma’am. Whaddaya gotta think about? [It’s] always the same. And then ya die.”

Mourners rapped, read poems, and tried to sing—something holy, something sacred or hallowed in honor of dead friends whose whispers haunt the night wind. They reached for the right words to speak their yearning loneliness, their admiration long ago they rejected their dreams.

“Hey, here comes Cinderella!” A fancy white horse, pulling a white carriage, turned the corner and trotted down Lakeside Avenue. Somber faces followed fringed surrey and the clopping horse. It didn’t look real. But it moved and snorted like real. The hollow clopping intruded into their meager commemorative—a prancing, snorting, frilly, white movement, another monument to over-entertained Clevelanders who cloister themselves inside an extravagant bubble.

As the carriage rolled down Lakeside Avenue, 44-year-old Amos shouted, “Cinderella! She’s got a house. Wonder what kinda house she got?” The young carriage driver, who wore high leather boots, a nineteenth-century waistcoat, and a three-cornered hat, snapped his reins and hurried away.

“There’s money for a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, new stadiums, new museums; but there are more and more homeless in Cleveland,” stated Brian Davis, a spokesman for the Coalition for the Homeless. He looked at 37-year-old Jack, who added, “When you don’t got a home, it’s a one-way street, goin nowhere.”

A loud shout came from the direction of the jail in the Justice Center across the street. “Hey man, somebody’s trying to get out. Stay there, Buddy. Leese ya got three squares.” Rahim squinted as he studied the Justice Center, a many-storied, $22 million concrete stage. He grunted softly and crawled into a tent . . . while a white horse and young driver, wearing white gloves, high leather boots, and tri-cornered hat, pulled a white surrey through the night streets of Cleveland’s “new” downtown.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #17, August-September 1996

Advocates Sleep Out to Protest the Lack of Housing

by Karen St. John Vincent

On the cold and overcast Memorial Day Weekend, with the sounds of the annual Rib Burn-off wafting towards downtown, and the Saturday night revelers cruising Lakeside toward the Flats, a modest gathering took place peacefully in Jessie Owens Park. Some 100 homeless people and volunteers of Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Food Not Bombs came together for food, fellowship, and to pay honor to those casualties of the war on poverty.

The Memorial weekend sleep-out was the brainchild of NEOCH volunteer Jim Patton, who was searching for a way to bring people in the community together for fellowship and prayer.

“From the start the thought was to have this camp-out at Jessie Owens Park,” said Dan Kerr, one of the founders of the Cleveland chapter of Food Not Bombs. “When we realized it was going to be near Memorial Day, it became a lot bigger and the focus changed.”

The evening began with a vigil service. All present were invited to become part of a circle; some held hands. Some held candles, some held cigarettes and shuffled their feet, remembering a friend who had died on the street, Patton read the Bible. The Lord’s Prayer was recited in unison.

A dinner followed of hot dogs, stew, and soup, and people were given the chance to write their own personal sentiment on a “Memorial Wall” dedicated to those who had died. People were also given the opportunity to participate in forums dealing with the most pressing issues, including housing and temporary services.

“We did a forum on empowerment . . . bringing some power back to the homeless, who are pretty disenfranchised, pretty much not heard from,” said Brian Davis, director of NEOCH. “We also did one on temporary service, looking for suggestions of how to break that monopoly that exploits homeless people, giving them minimum wage to do some pretty difficult manual labor with no benefits and no chance of a raise.”

Food Not Bombs conducted a forum on alternative housing that dealt with getting people off the streets and into homes. A discussion ensued about what it would take to acquire abandoned buildings to refurbish and turn into housing for the homeless. For Davis, some of the important issues brought out in discussion included the organization of people willing to take ideas further beyond the forums and the addressing of some specific issues the priorities, the looking in to service that may not exist but need to.

“We just try to build some community. You know, NEOCH is part of your community and you’re part of our community,” said Davis. “We need you to be part of our organization to try to gain that voice.” Despite the rain and cold, 60 people spent the night.

“We did have a lot of support,” said Kerr. “Students from BW [Baldwin-Wallace College], Community Outreach helped bring the grills and water containers, Daniel Thompson helped organize the open microphone and the performances. He also helped us get the wall, and St. Herman’s donated a bunch of blankets . . . it went really well.”

As for Davis, when asked of the possibility of having a similar event next year, he responded, “I have no problem with continuing this as an annual event. But that’s entirely up to the volunteers, and to the homeless who would want to do it again.

“I don’t want to say we’ll do it every year because, hopefully, we won’t need to do it every year.”

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #17, August-September 1996