On October 4, 1994, members of the homeless community with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union as well as the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless filed a lawsuit against the City of Cleveland to seek protection from the courts for a policy by the City of Cleveland of dumping homeless people on the outskirts of the city.
Four homeless individuals were willing to risk possible police retaliation and put their names on this lawsuit to reverse this unconstitutional policy of picking up and dumping homeless people. This dumping was not confined to these four individuals, but they were the four that were willing to stand up for their rights to freely move in the downtown area.
After two years of depositions and an extremely difficult discovery process, the City of Cleveland refused to settle this lawsuit, and a trial date has been set for February 18, 1997.
The homeless and the ACLU contend that to combat a perceived panhandling problem in the Downtown area and the Flats they set a police van aside to pick up homeless people against their will, and transport them to distant locations (usually off the bus route). Brian Davis, Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless said, "This was not confined to a few rouge police officers, but a broad policy to deliver the message that panhandling is unacceptable in Cleveland. This was an attempt to use extra legal measures to slam the door on panhandling because of its impact on downtown businesses."
One of the plaintiffs has said that not every homeless person was dumped during this time. He claims that the city set up "sacred ground" in which panhandlers and homeless people were not welcome. These off limit sites included Gateway, the Tower City side of Public Square, and the Flats.
Some police officers did not like the policy, but were told that City Hall demanded that they "remove" homeless people from these high traffic areas, according to one of the plaintiffs.
The City said in its memo to police announcing this policy that it was an attempt to deliver the "less fortunate" to needed services. This despite the fact that the van was "delivering" homeless people to services at 4:30 p.m. when very few homeless services are open.
A deposition of former Third District Commander Martin Flask was recently completed. The ACLU is planning to subpoena Cleveland Mayor Michael White. The ACLU is asking for a jury trial, and will seek damages for the four named plaintiffs as well as a commitment from the city that dumping will never be policy again in Cleveland.
Copyright is held by the NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published January – February 1997 Issue 19