Interview 1 of Melvin
At the City Mission (Cleveland) the rules vary from shift to shift. They have too many Chiefs and not enough Indians. One person tells you one thing, the next guy tells you another. There are a lot of general rules like no smoking on the premises. If you have to smoke, you have to go across the street. Drugs and alcohol aren’t tolerated. In the morning you can’t leave unless you get permission-period. No exceptions. You have to be up by 6:00 A.M. and out the door by 7:00. You have to make your bed military style. At night, you have to be back by 6:00P.M. You have to attend inspirational meetings between 6:00 and 7:00 o’clock and believe it or not, they allow the speakers to smoke in the building! These are just speakers who say they went through the system and made it. Between 7:00 and 8:00, you have to attend religious services. Attending these meetings is mandatory.They call lights out at !0:00 P.M. If you don’t get there by that time you’re out for 7 days. If somebody does something wrong and blames you, they don’t even give you the opportunity to explain or defend yourself. You’re out! Awhile back, some guy got up in the middle of the night and smoked a cigarette in the middle of the night. He smoked a cigarette in the bathroom. They smelled the cigarette smoke, woke everybody up and threw all of us out. They didn’t even ask who did it! They just made everyone go. You enter and leave through the metal detector!
They have baskets downstairs, you have to leave all your belongings in them. You can’t take anything upstairs with you, except the clothes on your back. They loan you a towel, if anything happens to it, you’re out. If they find cigarettes, a lighter, or matches on you, they take them away and claim they throw them out. You can’t draw the curtains across in the shower! They come by and look at you naked and make sure you aren’t hiding any contraband. It’s humiliating! You’re treated like a prisoner! They consider cigarettes to be contraband! In the morning, you have to collect your belongings before breakfast or you can’t get them that day, even if it’s your coat.
If you try to get in their program you have to go through a police check. If you have a conviction, they won’t allow you to go to their GED classes or money management classes. Once you get accepted into the program, you’re not allowed to make or get any phone calls, and you can’t leave the grounds for thirty days. If you make it through the thirty days, you can stay for an additional ninety days. They find you a job, and you have to give them at least 20% of what you make. They even demand to see your bank account and want to know where and how you’ve spent any of your money.
If I could change their program, I would clear their staff out, and allow people to make suggestions, and eliminate all of the rules that are dehumanizing. I would allow residents to have privacy in the shower. That’s what really got to be changed. When they treat you like you’re not intelligent enough to do things or think for yourself, they take away the human part of you.
Editors note: Melvin is a middle aged man. He was interviewed at the West Side Catholic Center.
Interview 2 of Bryan
I only stayed at the City Mission for a couple of days when it was real cold. I’d never go back there again no matter how cold it gets. The atmosphere there is more like a prison than anything else. The staff is extremely cold and unfriendly. If you’ve seen a movie with a prison scene, you know what that place is like. They have a metal detector, you have to walk through it when you come in. They won’t hesitate to give you a breathalyzer test if someone tells you they saw you outside drinking. I had to take one and they said I failed. I don’t even drink! It was just an excuse to get me out of there because I won’t hesitate to speak out if I see them doing something wrong.
The staff their doesn’t let you say anything to them. I told them I was going to have Carl Monday (Carl Monday is a local TV news reporter) check them out. They really need to be shut down. They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with kicking people out for false reasons. If they were doing what they were supposed to be doing, they wouldn’t have to throw me out for speaking out. They play favorites, too. You can’t have one set of rules for one person, and not the other. They don’t allow smoking in there except for their friends. Every thing you do requires their permission. I got tired of asking, “ Excuse me, can I take a piss?” They demand you attend religious services, too. I really don’t mind that so much as I mind being treated as a criminal. I don’t drink, or do drugs, yet they always suspect you’re on something. You have to have a background check, to get in, and even when that comes in, clean, you have to enter and leave through the metal detectors. I think they’re afraid I’ll steal something.
They talk to you like you’re stupid or something. They act like only stupid people in need of their Godly guidance are out on the streets. They don’t realize you can be well read, and intelligent, and end up out there, because factories are closing. I used to work for Chevy, years ago, and got a permanent lay-off. I waited years to get called back, but none of us ever did. I then worked at a plastics manufacturing company, in Brookpark, they got new equipment, that took less people to operate. I got laid off. I know they won’t call any of us back. Technically, they replaced us. I hate being talked to like I’m a retarded 5 year old. The staff there shows anybody no respect. They think they’re doing you a favor. Like I said, I’ll never go back there again. It’s too controlling, an environment. I’d rather take my chances outside. If I freeze to death, I’ll at least die with my dignity intact.
Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio Issue 26 April 1998