About this issue…
In Grapevine #26, we featured a series of articles about life in the men’s shelters. We continue that this issue with a look at the women’s shelters (See Stories on page 2-6). This is the heart of the mission of the Grapevine: to provide space to homeless people
To speak to the public about issues that they have concern about. Shelter is certainly on the minds of most homeless people.
We expected a serious backlash against the Grapevine over some of the comments in the paper. A couple of the shelters that were given negative reviews in the last issue were the larger and best funded shelters in Northeast Ohio. They raise a tremendous amount of money and have a great number of volunteers.
Most of the comments about the Shelter Life series were surprisingly positive. One of the shelters came off looking very good. It wasn’t as though homeless people complain about everything. Those who stayed at the Volunteers of America shelter were truly grateful for the services that they had received They did not like a couple of the rules, but overall they left with a feeling that they had been treated with some degree of respect.
We thought that a critical story about men’s shelters would generate letters and calls along the lines of homeless people should be glad that they have anything. Our society is like that. Homeless men do not generate any kind of sympathy because of this myth of pulling one’s self up by their boot straps and the self made man crap and all those images they they push on us in the media. If a man cannot make it on his own then he is lazy or stupid or both and he should be glad for any kind of help.
Surprisingly, we received many positive calls and comments praising the series. We received a couple of calls every week about what san eye opener this series was to the readers. One caller said that it took a lot of bravery to put these articles in the paper. Our only negative response was that one staff person resigned over the articles. She said that she could not support a paper that conflicted with her work ethic and her religious background. She expressed in her resignation that it was not right to criticize religious people who were trying to serve God by offering shelter to homeless men.
I can only come to two conclusions with regard to why we did not receive many complaints about the series, and I believe that they both have some degree of truth. One is that the paper is not viewed as a threat. We do not touch many people so we will not jeopardize any shelter’s funding. We are basically preaching to the choir for the most part. The people who buy a paper are sympathetic and have some familiarity with the life of a man in shelter. Those who feel homeless people should take what they are offered and shut up would never buy the Grapevine.
Second, these stories are too close to reality and so why comment? There are a special group of people who can be helped by the mission based shelters mentioned in Issue 26. The vast majority of homeless people cannot be reached by the prayer, spirituality, and rules of the missions. Besides isn’t there a saying that says the customer is always right?
What made it all worth while was that homeless people and the homeless vendors said, “You got it right. That is exactly like it is, and I am glad that people will start to read about that.” We will continue to provide the stories from the atreets. We are available as a forum for debate regarding shelter and services to homeless people. In the end, we are one of the only places that provides a conduit for poor people to communicate to the general public.
Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue 27 May 1998