Another Growth Year for Homelessness

January-February 1997:

The Homeless Still Art Workshops took place at The Black Box sponsored by the AmeriCorps*VISTA program and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. Each workshop attracted from 40-60 people with much of the work displayed during the summer as part of the Homeless Still workshop. The most popular item was the plates made by people staying in various shelters. All the plates were purchased during the exhibit.

            The Grapevine remembered Stanley “buddy” grey, who was killed in late 1996, with a series of articles about his legacy.

            The Grapevine also lost its appeal on February 3 to prevent the City of Cleveland from licensing our vendors. The case was appealed (see story on page 1).

            The City of Cleveland settled the lawsuit brought by three homeless men who had claimed that they were kidnapped and dumped by the police. The city pledged that violations of a homeless person’s right to move around downtown will never be the policy of the City of Cleveland.

            Cleveland hosted the National student COOL conference, which is a coalition of college students that do volunteer projects in their community. The National Coalition for the Homeless, along with NEOCH, did a number of presentations to attempt to break some of the myths associated with homelessness and to encourage students to get involved in battling poverty. Many homeless people of Cleveland did presentations at the COOL conference.

March-April:

            Homeless people, activists, and community groups marched on the first Saturday in March from Cleveland State to the Department of Human Services to protest the fact that the Governor refused to exempt areas with high unemployment from the food stamp work requirement. This meant that people who used food stamps for three consecutive months would be cut if they were not working or volunteering. George Zeller of the Council of Economic Opportunities estimates that between April of 1996 and April of 1997 Cuyahoga County saw 16,811 fewer people receive food stamps. At the same time only 9,968 jobs were created locally.

            NEOCH held its annual conference with featured speaker Councilman Frank Jackson, who spoke about empowerment.

            On March 18, the City of Cleveland held a public hearing on the future of affordable housing locally with City, Public housing and Housing and Urban Development officials presenting information. HUD officials said that there were 5,000 project based Section 8 contracts that will expire locally in the next two years. HUD does not have a plan for what to do with all these people who will need other housing.

On April 12, students from Cleveland State University and St. Ignatius High School, along with volunteers from NEOCH, went out on a cold and rainy Saturday to help clean up the near West Side of Cleveland as part of the National Student Campaign against Hunger and Homelessness.

            Elmer Richards, a friend to many homeless people, died on the streets of Cleveland. After he died, someone took his bicycle. He reportedly was always helping others, from fixing bicycles to advocating on behalf of people on the streets.

May-June:

             In late April a man, named Ottaway Washington was left in an alley behind a Cincinnati homeless shelter by a police officer. The man was found several hours later dead.

             On May 6, the Cleveland City Council held a follow-up hearing on the future of affordable housing. Residents and community organizations testified about what was happening locally with affordable housing especially in Ward 7 and Ward 5. Most people said that they were being told to pay market rate rents or move out. Many could not find habitable apartments for the same price that they were currently paying. Concern was raised about the increases in minimum rents, and the units slated for destruction by CMHA further reducing the stock of affordable housing.

            In early May, the Xchange Point was finally given a license to begin distributing needles on the streets of Cleveland. Later in the year they found office space as well.

            The Grapevine did an investigation of Cleveland Health Care for the Homeless and the services that they offer. The conclusions were that there was a fair amount of concern over the administration of the program, and those providers that had a CHCH clinic were satisfied. Those that did not were dissatisfied. Homeless people had a very mixed reaction to the service with some satisfied but a number of people extremely critical of the services offered by CHCH.

            NEOCH began a series of workshops called Creating Positive Solutions to identify the most critical short-term priorities and long-term solutions to homelessness. Every month in 1997 the staff of the Coalition sat down to talk about ways to reduce homelessness and opportunities for homeless people to be involved in the solution.

            The portion of the Federal Budget dedicated to combating homelessness remained unchanged from last year (which was a 26% decrease.)

            In late May, and running through September, NEOCH sponsored the Homeless Still: A Second View of the Streets Art Exhibit at five of the larger galleries in Cleveland. Over 100 artists submitted work whose subject matter was homelessness or poverty. Participating galleries included the Cleveland Playhouse, Cuyahoga Community College, Beck Center of Lakewood, Lightkeepers Gallery of Lakewood, and Case Western Reserve University Mandel School. Each show featured an opening with food by Food Not Bombs, poetry and performance art. The show had a large directory with volunteer suggestions, statistics, and solutions.

July-August:

            The Cleveland area underwent its annual application for HUD homeless Super NOFA block grant. In the past the city had received $10 million dollars. The homeless were involved in identifying the highest priorities and then reviewing the projects that were seeking funds. A weekend drop in center was ranked number 1 of the new projects seeking HUD support. In December, it was announced that Cleveland only received $6 million. The results are on page 13.

            Locally and throughout the state, tutors went into the homeless shelters to assist homeless children catch up in their schoolwork. Over 50 volunteers spent the summer assisting children with unstable living arrangements. Cleveland Public Schools Project ACT coordinated the program locally.

            The Grapevine started a series in which we follow a homeless person through the system to get an insight into life on the streets. We have followed Brian Johnson for the past six months as he stayed at Project HEAT and then moved to the PASS program, battled alcoholism and epilepsy. We will continue this series in February.

            The Cleveland Homeless Stand Down took place on August 22 at the Cuyahoga Community College. Approximately 750 homeless and low income attended the event and were able to receive medical care, job skills, housing information, haircuts, showers, food and entertainment.

            Activists were unsuccessful in getting the State Legislature to assign a guaranteed revenue source for the State Housing Trust Fund. The Fund builds housing and provides prevention funds for people in danger of losing their housing. Activists wanted a small increase in the tax to those buying a new house to provide a stable source for the Housing Trust Fund.

September-October:

            Four members of the Homeless Grapevine attended the founding conference of the North American Street Newspaper Association in Seattle. This organization will provide technical assistance to new and existing papers, build public awareness, and improve the quality of existing papers.            The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority changed its priority list so that homeless was not the top priority. The standard is now the top priority the “under housed” which is a larger segment of the population. The second highest priority is homeless families that have successfully completed treatment.

            On October 1, Cleveland Health Care for the Homeless decided to withdraw its night street outreach program. This was a collaborative effort to keep outreach workers on the streets for the entire day. None of the collaborators or government official were formally informed that the program would be withdrawn. After a public outcry, the program was extended for an extra month. At this time, there are no regular outreach workers on the streets in the evening.

November-December:

            As in other cities throughout the United States, Cleveland has seen increases in people seeking shelter. At the same time that the media boasts of record profits for major corporations, and low inflation, and a wonderfully healthy economy, our shelters are burgeoning. Because Cleveland does not have an accurate census of the number of homeless people in Cleveland, we can only rely on anecdotal information. We know that the emergency shelters are always full on cold nights or rainy nights. We know that the overflow shelters are at 100-150% capacity every night.

            On November 28, Rodney Shaw, a sometimes homeless man, died on the streets of Cleveland. Reports were that he was assaulted prior to his death, and that might have had something to do with his death.

            The effort to find another home for Project HEAT is still underway, but progress is slow. Cuyahoga County officials hope that in 1998 a better overflow shelter system will be created.

            The National Homeless Memorial Day was remembered in Cleveland as well as in cities throughout the United States. Instead of the Public Square memorial that NEOCH has overseen for the past 10 years, it was decided to hold a church service. NEOCH asked churches around the city to put a notation in their bulletin, and talk about those who have died on the streets from the pulpit. About 15 churches participated, with Pilgrim Church on E. 105th conducting a candlelight vigil.

   Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 24