Overflow Shelters Troubled




Cleveland, Ohio

Interview 1 of Joshua

     To find out what the shelters are like, people really need to go to one and stay there for the night. It’s far more scary than any horror movie you’ve ever seen. The staff and director at Site A are rude as hell. They really don’t care about anyone, it’s just a job to them. They refuse to let anyone in if they think you might have been drinking or using (drugs). They retain the right to force you to leave at any given time for any given reason. You can’t say anything to the staff or make any suggestions. If you do, you’re out the door. The sad thing is that I’ve found the staff gets their bad attitude from the director. She doesn’t care what they say or do. You say anything to her, she’ll kick you out herself. I’ve been searched for no reason at all. I wasn’t drinking that day or doing anything to make them think I was high or a danger to anyone, yet they grabbed my bags, dumped everything out and went through all the pockets. They patted me down and took everything out of my pockets. It’s bullshit! The cops aren’t supposed to search you without a warrant yet you have shelter workers who do.

     The only good thing I can say about Site A is that when it’s unbearably cold outside, it’s warm in there. If you can get past the bullshit with the staff you have a hard time dealing with the living arrangements. You’re jammed up against the next guy. There’s no room in there. They only have one toilet and you have to wait too long to get in to use it. If you have Diarrhea, you’re in a whole lot of trouble. I really try to take the good with the bad but that place is too much to take.

     If I could change things, I would let the staff know they would be fired for being disrespectful to the homeless people. I’d space out the mats and put in more toilets. I’d wash the blankets two or three times a week. They really smell funky. I’d actually spend some money on cleaning supplies. I’d train the staff in public relations, you know, sensitivity training. Maybe then they wouldn’t be so damned high and mighty.

Homeless React to Conditions at Overflow Shelter
Interview 2 of Gary

     I’ve spent a few nights at Site A (Site A is a shelter located in downtown Cleveland) it’s really disgusting. The mats are way too close. They’re only about one and one-half inches apart. You never know who you’re sleeping next to or what might just crawl over. It’s way too cramped. You can’t get in to Site A without an I.D. If you lose your driver’s license, too bad, you sleep on the street. After you register with them, they give you a site card. You have to show this every time you go there. You have to be in by 8:30pm and you can’t go outside to get fresh air or to smoke. There are usually too many people there for them to enforce the rules. You have to get up at 5:30 in the morning, and be out the door by 6:00. They don’t give you breakfast, just a place to sleep.

     It’s really hard to sleep there. You have to deal with people who talk all night and all sorts of disgusting odors. The blanket they lend you usually stinks. You never know who used it last or what (disease) they have. It’s almost impossible to go to the bathroom at night, the mats are so close it’s hard to get up without stepping on someone else. They only have one toilet to approximately 90 people. I really had more trouble staying there than out on the street. There are too many different personalities to put up with, too much bickering.

     The staff there is really nasty. Most of them used to live on the streets and got a job at the shelter. Now they see themselves as authority figures. They insult you and you can’t say anything back to them or they throw you out. They always throw the fact that they got off the streets in your face. They don’t realize that if it weren’t for the rest of us homeless people, they wouldn’t have jobs. They forgot where they’ve been. It’s kind of funny that not too long ago they were in the same situation, and knew how hard it was to put up with other people’s abuse. Now they got a job and do the same things they hated other people for.

     If I could change Site A, I would get a bigger facility. It’s really bad to have people so cramped. I’d put in bunk beds to space everyone out even more. I’d make sure there were more toilets and showers. I’d make taking a shower mandatory. I’d put in a library and open the place up earlier in the day. It’s a bitch staying outside in the freezing weather until 8:30 at night.

Editor’s Note: Gary is a young man in his mid-thirties who was interviewed at the West Side Catholic Center.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio Issue 26 April 1998