Writer Reflects Back on Eye-Opening Articles

By Thomas Hayes

   My first contact with The Homeless Grapevine newspaper was of secondary, even tertiary importance to what I was doing at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) at the time.

   In 1995, I was an Americorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to American) sponsored by the Corporation for National Service, and was being transferred from a backwater outpost in Chillicothe, OH, to Cleveland.

   The transition, I knew, would be startling—from Appalachian poverty to inner city poverty: the conditions, surroundings, and finally, the actual people—one must admit to having different images of a poor rural Southern Ohioan and a poor urban Northern Ohioan. However, one thing remained constant, at least: poverty. Poverty is poverty wherever you go, and the intangible, soulful feel of it—and the facial expressions of those squashed under its weight-are uniquely alike.

   Being one who likes to be prepared for a situation, I took time in reading various materials on homelessness—an oversized photographic work from Los Angeles, which sought to capture the homeless in some Diane Arbusian style; as well, I had some essays by Andrew Cuomo, then deeply immersed in New York City’s homelessness problems. But strangely, the objective photographic viewpoints and the raw statistics shoveled at me by Cuomo gave me, as a reader, no real sense of any personal element—that is, what it feels like to be homeless.

   In Chillicothe, I had worked with an adult literacy program. Through various writing experiments, as well as the close, proximate experience tutoring provides, I was able to get a feeling for and understanding of the Appalachian experience of poverty—but it was not homelessness. In Chillicothe, one got the mother who was paid by the state to get her GED, who went home every night to an out-of-work husband who called her "stupid" or "useless." This, in order to keep her self-esteem low, out of the belief that she would leave him as soon as she was educated—a not unwise assumption, no doubt. In Cleveland, I read for the first time about the husband who called his wife "stupid" and "useless" and then beat her senseless, until finally she fled home, taking her children with her.

   I learned that there were colonies of women in this situation, huddled together in shelters for the purpose—a communal society built on fear and anxiety.

   For me, The Homeless Grapevine newspaper was my first intimate experience with homelessness—far moreso than any of the books—pictures or nothing I had seen previously. And this, I guess, is the first realization I have made—the singular opportunity that The Grapevine provides to its readers: the view of life on and from the streets.

   As I settled in to work at the Coalition, I noted that beyond all other duties I would have, one set was recurrent: dealing with The Grapevine’s vendors—and I do mean dealing. For anyone who has had any extensive interaction with the homeless, one learns quickly that, in general, these people are far from stupid. That may seem a rather dull way of putting it, but the homeless men and women I worked with knew the position they were in keenly, knew what they needed to get along, how to get it, and what they were up against daily.

   Let me put it this way, a person in the shelter system once talked with me about the homeless gathered in the meal sites and shelter systems. They were described to me, largely, as a group which had given up. In the "system" they languished. They knew where their meals were and when, where the shelters were, their staying rotation (that is, a homeless person may only stay a given amount of time—a week, say—and then must move on) and that this was all the majority cared about. He said they had given up any hope for a better life, these homeless men and women, and were content to spend their days moving endless from place to place. As some contrast, the vendors of The Homeless Grapevine were filled with energy; and more than anything else, took an active role in their own lives—the first step of which was going out on the streets every day and earning money on which to live.

   Even more, the nature of the business required skills of which society approved: budgeting, planning, looking toward future goals, and affective manners that showed a respect for the customer. To be a successful vendor required participation in the community; to make money, one had to sell—to me, and to all of you who are reading this. So my second realization was, in an idealistic sense, that the Grapevine serves as a bridge between two very different communities occupying the same city—the paper, in essence, forces a dialog between people, a conversation.

   Eventually, I began working on the paper myself. I had, in the past, some rudimentary experience with journalistic writing, and had an undergraduate degree in writing and English. At Chillicothe, I had improved on a newsletter that the literacy program issued using a desktop publishing program and some simple graphics. Here, however, the process increased in complexity, not just in the software used, but in the layout and design, as well as the generation of copy. The articles in The Grapevine were, at once, more serious and elevated.

   Beyond the recipes and insipid biographies that were generated for the newsletter consistently in a predictable order and format, The Grapevine included autobiographical stories, displaying the subjective lives of its homeless associates; it examined local funding issues and priorities—how federal moneys were allocated, distributed, and spent; The Grapevine studied how people in need of housing gained entrance to metropolitan housing, and how the law regards metropolitan housing tenants differently than it does housed persons; the newspaper challenged local organizations, such as We Share, and how their administrators abused aid to the poor for personal profit.

   In some of its toughest battles, the Grapevine took issue with local shelter providers in their policies—such as distribution of homeless moneys, or whether a certain location for a shelter was in the best interests of the homeless people who would have to travel there. From the location of check cashing operations next to bars and liquor stores, to the profit gouging tactics of Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs), the Homeless Grapevine has balked at producing the cliche story and angle and ignored the repetition inherent in today’s media. And so my third realization is the integrity of the Grapevine, its dedication under the editorship of Brian Davis to pulling out realities and jolting the willing reader out of the gray journalism clouding all of our heads today.

   Finally, it is best to mention the obvious and by far the most important gap filled by the Grapevine: its provision of a voice to the thousands of homeless men and women who, out of fear or torpor or lack of access to a system they did not create and which doesn’t represent them, cannot be heard. This is one of the key reasons for the existence of The Homeless Grapevine, and a reason it needs to keep on existing.

   The Grapevine has come a long was since its birth in 1993 as a photocopy paper. Its distribution has grown to over 11,000 readers, but its commitment to its mission of providing a voice to the voiceless and an income to the income-less has not changed. With a bit of luck, support, and with the continuation of the strong guidance it has right now, in ten years or more these most important of goals still will be a constant.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Vending Proclaimed Rewarding Experience

By Melvin "Buzzy" Bryant

   Outstanding, exciting, exhilarating, challenging, adventurous, sharing, caring, unforgettable and much, much more. I started out as a second rate vendor not knowing too much, but I learned from my mistakes through trial and error: learning how to communicate with the public; being courteous and considerate of others; not harassing anyone, but being kind and polite.

   The Homeless Grapevine was started as a means to get homeless people off the streets and help them get their self-esteem back. Most people who became vendors were panhandlers and didn’t see the significance in what The Grapevine could do for them. That led to a lot of dismissals instead of them coming back as vendors. They tried to give The Grapevine a bad reputation, thus destroying some of The Grapevine’s credibility.

   As other vendors came and went in some parts of the city, The Grapevine remains a medium for the general population to be informed of the dilemma of the homeless. NEOCH came up with a great idea when they introduced The Homeless Grapevine to those who are less fortunate than other members of society. It is a paper written by the homeless and even though some articles have been negative about some of the caretakers of the homeless, it has been mainly written to let people know that being homeless in the Greatest Country on the Face of the Earth isn’t always peaches and cream.

   There have been several vendors who couldn’t follow the rules and regulations that were the bylaws of The Grapevine, mainly started and suggested by the vendors themselves. When they were enforced, everyone had a complaint about the rules and regulations they had adopted and many of them left The Grapevine, but still tried to use The Grapevine as a means to support themselves as they went back to panhandling.

   I guess, in my opinion, the greatest asset that has been to NEOCH and The Grapevine is the many VISTAs that have used NEOCH as a means to advance themselves and as human beings to get close to the problem of the homeless. Some of those VISTAs have supported me in my most dreaded hour. Coming to my defense when I was in need of a friend to help me out of a difficult situation. They did not hesitate to give me their support. I have met a lot of people but none as sincere as the VISTAs that I met at NEOCH.

   I have gone through my ups and downs at The Grapevine, but I have not met an organization that was out for the general welfare of the homeless like I found at NEOCH and The Grapevine. It is on the individual to succeed at selling The Homeless Grapevine paper. There have been a few who were diligent and prospered from the selling of The Grapevine. Those who have not succeeded did not because of their own personality disorders.

Thru all the ups and downs that the paper has gone thru since its conception, it has endured and given some homeless people a chance to become a productive members of society. The Grapevine is a means for a person to get off from the bottom of the heap and so what is necessary to get off the homeless role and get back into main stream society. This is the job that I took being of some service to society like the hot dog vendor on the corner or the person who flips hamburgers at McDonalds or Burger King.

   The Grapevine isn’t a means of panhandling, it is a business and those vendors who are sincere succeed, those that don’t are not sincere enough. The Grapevine has grown over the years since its conception and it will continue to grow as long as the general public gets involved and support the vendors they see on the street corners, at the West Side Market, or throughout the neighborhoods. It needs the support of churches, shelters and the general public. The Grapevine has been and will always be the voice of the homeless. Just like people buy The Plain Dealer, The Grapevine should be a part of your reading material. It is full of true facts about what’s happening in the homeless community. In the Greatest Country on the Face of the Earth, homelessness should be obsolete.

   On this Fifth Anniversary of The Homeless Grapevine I ask all Americans to buy a copy of The Grapevine and know that this is not a radical publication, but a paper that is full of facts not fiction. When you see a vendor, take time out to contribute to the cause and eliminate homelessness in America. Take a stand for the homeless community and buy The Homeless Grapevine.

   Since I have been a vendor of The Grapevine, I have enjoyed many rewarding experiences and met a lot of understanding and caring people. It has helped me get my self-respect and self-esteem back and made me want to be a more responsible person and get back on my feet and find me a home, if those people who really care continue to help Grapevine vendors. We are not panhandlers, we are in a business, and that business leads to getting off the homeless role.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Unforgiving Welfare Sanctions Are Too Harsh

by Lynn Williams

Commentary

On June 23rd, the Ohio Empowerment Coalition’s Emergency Repeal of Sanctions policy was introduced as a bill at the Ohio House. The bill has been renamed the "Welfare Corrections Bill." Rep. Tom Roberts of Dayton and Rep. C.J. Prentiss of Cleveland are the sponsors. Co-sponsors include the following Representatives: Dale Miller of Cleveland, John Bender of Elyria, Vermel Whalen of Cleveland among others.

At the June 23rd press conference which Rep. Roberts and Rep. Prentiss held, members of the Ohio Empowerment Coalition spoke out fervently for the need to change the harsh sanction policy. Some of our members were sanctioned themselves and spoke about the painful ordeal they went through under sanction, scraping by to pay bills. Carla and Jay Pitzinger spoke about what their family went through under sanction. Carla stated, "At no time did a sanction help us become more self-sufficient. It only drove us further into debt. I was punished because I made a decision to miss work a couple days to take care of my disabled husband and my "Special Needs Child." Her husband has a spinal cord injury and is confined to a wheelchair.

Rosalind of Hamilton County spoke about how she has completely given up on trying to get any help from "The Department" because of frustration with all the endless paperwork requirements.

Her sanction first began with not being able to provide a birth certificate for one of her children.

The endless round of red tape frustrated her so much that she gave up trying. She is now scraping by on small jobs and living below poverty level. She and her children receive no supports such as food stamps or Medicaid, and frequently go without necessities of food or medical care. She is fed up with how she was treated by caseworkers. She may be one of the statistics of recipients who leave the welfare rolls for a job (although temporary, unstable jobs that pay below poverty level wages), but nonetheless her life and herchildren’s lives have not improved because of it. A sanction did not move her towards "self-sufficiency."

Rep. Prentiss stated, "The current system of sanctions is unforgiving...We need to remember that the goal of welfare reform is not simply to drive down the number of people on the welfare rolls...The goal of welfare reform is to lift families out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. Taking assistance group’s benefits and potentially undermining the quality of life of children whose mothers lose their cash assistance, food stamps, child care, and job training will not accomplish this goal. The only impact will be to further depress recipients and children’s standards of living and undermine our long term goal of success."

The Ohio Empowerment Coalition urges our members and other concerned citizens to continue educating the public and legislators on the effects of sanctions. Please contact us if you yourself have been sanctioned or terminated. Your story will be kept confidential unless you give us permission to share your story with the public.

Editor’s Note: Contact the following OEC member coalition in your area: Contact Center/Cincinnati Welfare Rights Coalition: 513-381-4242 Empowerment center of Greater Cleveland, Showa Omabegho: 216-241-5926

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 in Cleveland Ohio

Poem: The Time Before the Last

by Lee "Doc" Jordan

When I saw you before I mean
the time before the last,
it is a thought I’ll always remember,
one I don’t want to pass.
The time before the last was
much better you see,
because the last time I saw
you, I was going to leave.
Now, I am returning and I will
see you once more
it won’t be like the last time,
but like the time before.
I hope these thoughts are not
too hard for you to grasp,
but when I see you this time, it will be
like before, but it won’t be the last.

This is the first poem that appeared in the New Homeless Grapevine Issue #1

Tenant Claims Games Rigged

By Steven Michael

Commentary from Cincinnati Street Vibes

   Recently, Lincoln Courts gave a function in the parking lot behind the Public Relations Building on Cutter. The event was supposed to update the residents on the "Hope VI Project for Renovations" that is projected for the Lincoln Courts Projects.

   There were games for the children, prizes, free food... hot dogs, hamburgers, and soda there also. There was Bingo, where prizes were awarded in a drawing. Residents went around and got a card they gave you to fill out with stars and dots. You put the cards in a box they held for the drawings at the end of the event.

   Prizes were VCRs, 19" televisions, fans, a glass set, bicycles, etc. This is where the deception began. Lets start with Bingo. You were only supposedly allowed two cards. Some people had four to six cards. The lady issuing the cards must have previously checked the Bingo balls and cards because she knew exactly what cards to give to whoever she wanted to win. The same people kept winning.

   The Bingo game was fixed from the beginning; she held the winning cards and gave them to a selected few. You could see right through the scam.

   The prizes for the drawing for the other prizes was the next big scam. The box for the drawing held cards that were supposedly selected at random. Selected at random means to take 3 to 4 cards at a time, put them down on the table, and read the names the people you are familiar with? You still didn’t know who the other cards’ names were that she held up under the box. This was very disgusting seeing this going on right in front of your face.

   "Hope VI" is supposed to place residents in a selected apartment until the renovation process is finished. Well, I hope and pray they don’t select the residents the way the parking lot function was run or a lot of people are in for a rude awakening. I "hope" this doesn’t happen.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Reality the Plain Truth

by Donald N.

Reprinted from Issue #1

     Oh, Oh, I must have fallen asleep last night and left the television on again. The smell of buttermilk biscuits baking in the oven reached my nose. Bacon was frying and the aroma of coffee percolating seemed fresh on my mind. I inhaled the fragrances deeply as I pulled myself toward consciousness, my stomach growled from hunger.

     As I opened my eyes—POW; reality the plain truth. My thoughts of hunger quickly vanished. It had all been my imagination. I noticed that silent tear more acutely, it was a new one. The voices I thought was the TV. were actually two people arguing in the corner of the shelter. My memories of food dissipated quickly. God no! It was a dream. It was good while it lasted because they were all I had left, and they didn’t come very often. It had to be about 5:30 a.m.

     As I struggled to my feet to go to the bathroom to wash, it dawned on me what was happening. I was changing, I was becoming permanently homeless. As that bad taste slowly crept into my mouth, I wondered how long it would take for the transformation to be complete. I had seen it before. I worried. Not long I knew. I watched it happen to others. I walked toward the door with a bad taste in my mouth, and a new silent tear; but today was a new day. What would it bring? I didn’t really know, but I contemplated the first thing that I would have to steal.

     Someone else’s dream—to get me through.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 (originally published in Issue 1)

Oppressive Prison System Creates Explosive Prisoners

Commentary by James W. Pryor

     I’ve been a prisoner off and on in the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections (O.D.R.C.) since 1979, all resulting from parole violations, no new crime committed. However, I am just now becoming fully aware of the severe oppression existing within it’s system. There are many areas in which this oppression is expressed, or carried out by the O.D.R.C.

     First, we can look at the inadequate medical care that is provided for prisoners. An example would be the unqualified medical personnel who treat the prisoners. We as prisoners have no other choice but to be at the mercy of these individuals and the treatment they offer. It has been statistically proven that prisoners utilize prison medical facilities more frequently than individuals on the outside utilize public medical facilities. The quality of the care prisoners receive indicates that it is grossly inadequate, and yet the legislature wants to charge the prisoner for this same type of medical treatment. The type of medical treatment received coupled with the deplorable conditions that the prisoners are forced to live in are the major cause factors for the poor health of the prisoner. Yet, it is played up politically as a ploy to obtain further funding by the O.D.R.C. when these expenditures could be eliminated by offering adequate medical care in the first instance.

     Secondly, another area in which the prisoner is oppressed and forced to be passive is through the adult parole authority and the fear of retaliation. The fear of retaliation keeps the majority of today’s prisoners from filing complaints, grievances, or civil complaints concerning the mistreatment they receive. I’ve seen prisoners attacked and sexually assaulted by their fellow prisoners and even maltreated by the correctional staff. Yet, the prisoner will say nothing because of the fear of retaliation. This form of abuse creates today’s passive and submissive prisoner on the outward appearance, but is actually a volatile situation waiting to explode. We must consider the hope the prisoner has placed in expecting to see an un-callus parole board, possibly receiving a parole, and returning home to his family and friends. A parole would take him away from the deplorable conditions and situations he is forced to face on a daily basis.

     One example of this form of passive oppression comes in the false hopes created by the possible legislative enactment of Senate Bill 182 which augments no real changes or creates no form of commitment by the adult parole authority. The crucial moment in the prisoner’s life is his hearing before the adult parole authority which will determine whether or not to set his sentence and whether or not to grant a parole date. The adult parole authority is under no legal obligation to set the time and in practice it does not do so until it is ready to grant parole.

     By keeping the prisoners in perpetual suspense, never knowing from year to year what portion of his sentence he will serve, the adult parole authority maintains maximum control over the prisoner for the entire period of his incarceration. Do you think at an executive branch of the Government (the same government who incarcerated you in the first place) is going to change policies, guidelines, or anything else that would relinquish the maximum control they have now by keeping you in constant suspense?

     Lastly, another way the O.D.R.C. keeps adequate control over the prisoner is through mismanagement. This is evidenced by their failure to follow their own policies and procedures. They maintain no set of policies or procedures which they adhere to. What may apply to one prisoner does not apply to the next. This also helps them create a balance of strife and tension between the prisoners, just as they do with a limited number of phones, televisions, recreation equipment, or any other product used to keep the prisoner passive. This allows them to control you when they threaten to take away these little luxuries, just as it does when you fight among yourselves over them. This keeps you too busy to challenge the inadequacies of the administration.

     One answer I believe, is to change where necessary the ways in which these institutions are organized and managed.

     Poor prison conditions are produced by poor prison management. Cruel and unusual conditions are the product of failed management. And the reverse is also true: prisons where prisoners can "do time" without fearing for their lives or being pressured by their peers for sex, money or drugs; without fear of retaliation by the A.P.A. and where there exist standard policies that are adhered to; without fear of being abused physically or emotionally by their officers and abandoned to their educational (or her basic life skills) deficiencies, these are the products of sound prison management.

     An example is the severe lack of educational programs and security that exists within the Ohio prison system. The administration and correctional staff are improperly trained and cushioned in their jobs. No group of prisoners is unmanageable and no combination of political, social, budgetary, architectural, or other factors makes good management impossible. Difficult, yes; fatiguing, always; thankless, mostly; impossible, never. Even overcrowded maximum security facilities can be improved simply by changing the ways in which they are organized and managed.

     However, the O.D.R.C.’s A.P.A., psychologists, case managers, and unit managers seem to be unmotivated individuals who massage their consciences or "weak egos" by patronizing what they would call us prisoners, such as disadvantaged people or human waste as they portray in their actions. And whom they solicit for their own personal gain. The mind-boggling arrogance of these individuals is utterly beyond my belief, but it truly exists within the State of Ohio and it’s prison "industrial system."

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Low Airfares Prompts Vendor to Tour Chicago

by Dave Valentine

    I arrived in Chicago at Midway Airport in the early afternoon of Saturday May 19 , aboard a Southwest airliner . The tickets purchased at least seven days

    in advanced were only $39 plus tax or $49 each way. The first thing I did was ride a transit downtown to the loop station .

    The loop is Chicago’s famous downtown area comprised of a couple of city blocks. It includes landmark department stores such as Marshal Fields which dates back several decades. Also here is world’s famous Sears Tower with over 30 shops and restaurants and the biggest post office in the world under one roof. They give 1 ½ tours every Monday though Friday, except for holidays and Christmas seasons .

    Also here in the loop are the Chicago Board of Trade, The Chicago Mercantile Exchange, the civic opera building ,the historic Orchestra Hall with their world famous orchestra, and the Richard J. Daley Center and Plaza.

    I went to the Harold Washington library center, the main downtown library. This branch take’s up an entire block and is several stories high. Here I looked up some phone numbers, checked some maps, took some notes, and read some newspapers. The headlines of all of the daily papers were devoted to the recent death of Frank Sinatra. Chicago was always considered a "Sinatra kind of town" and the newspapers adequately covered the story of his death and some of his many old days in Chicago.

    Chicago is a big city with many criss-crossing main streets. Its transit system includes at least seven rapid lines and many buses. Some of the rapid lines through the loop are elevated structures, some run under the streets. There seemed to be a half a dozen cab companies operating. Bus or rapid fare was only $1.50, with second ride transfers available for an additional $.30, so this is the method of transportation I relied on while I was there.

    Besides the loop, other well-known neighborhoods in Chicago include the Lakeview neighborhood, Old Town, Lincoln Park, River North, Greektown, Chinatown, and Hyde Park. From the loop I headed north about five miles on a rapid train. I spent the evening in the Lakeview neighborhood, a very fast-paced area with many people , shops and stores. I talked to people here and hung around some of the coffee shops eating and drinking coffee. It was late so I checked into a cheap motel for the night.

    Then early Sunday morning I headed north in a rapid up the coast of Lake Michigan to Evanston, where there is a church that I was referred to. It serves as a shelter and serves a free community meal every night. I spent the afternoon walking around this college town of Northwestern University. I went to a library, bookstore, hiking store, ate, and drank coffee. When evening came I went over to the church for supper. It’s called Hilda’s Place and the meal was excellent, better than I expected. The shelter, however, was more for their program residents, so I was referred to an emergency shelter back in Chicago, which I promptly went to.

    Here I found I could shower, and they served a hot meal every night. This shelter houses about sixty males and is based on a first come first served basis. You get in line about 8:30 p.m. on the sidewalk out front. Then after check-in, we were each issued a blanket and a mat to sleep on which we had to put back in a store room in the morning. We were issued a cup for drinking coffee or water and a hot meal was served. Showers were optional. We could stay up and talk until 11 p.m., then it was lights out.

    At six in the morning we were awakened and shuffled back out into the streets again. Then if there was no place better to go by evening time, it was back to the shelter for the night. Breakfast was served every morning at a Salvation Army kitchen about two blocks away, but I found myself more often going to McDonalds or Burger King in the neighborhood, where I could more easily plan my activities for the day.

    Monday, I went back downtown to the Loop and observed the hustle and bustle of the city. I bought a current issue of Street Wise, Chicago’s homeless newspaper. Then I went to the Sears Tower, the tallest or one of the Northern Hemisphere’s tallest skyscrapers. It’s 110 stories high with a skydeck observation area, but it costs $8 and I only had so much money.

    In the John Hancock Center, on the 94th floor is the Hancock Observatory along with a skywalk that is Chicago’s highest open air experience. You can feel the wind and hear and see the city from 1,000 feet in the air. As with the Sears Tower, on a clear day you can see four states and for over 80 miles.

    On other days I rode around on buses to the various neighborhoods there or walked along the bike paths through parks. I visited Lincoln Park, where the Chicago riots were centered in the 1960’s. I got there too late to go to the zoo though.

    Also, along the lake front are beaches, other parks, an aquarium (the John G. Shedd Aquarium,) and a planetarium (the Adler Planetarium). Every June they have a Blues Festival in Grant Park less than a mile from Downtown. It lasts for days and is free. I wish that I could attend it. Maybe I will next year.

    There were still other places that I would have liked to visit. Well, I had a good time there, the weather was nice and I learned a lot.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

International News From the Streets

Sweeping the Parks I

From Real Change
Seattle, WA

excerpt from article Have a Bleeding Heart

by John Fox

    The local Parks Exclusion Law gives police and parks personnel the authority to bar people engaged in "unlawful activity" from a park and surrounding parks for up to one year. In the six months since the passage of the law, over 1,000 exclusion orders have been issued, and while they may be issued for any prohibited park activity, 30 percent of the exclusions were issued for "trespass" and approximately 50 percent were issued for drinking. About 10 percent were drug related.

    Police say that most of the 300 trespass exclusions were issued to people camping out at night after park hours. In a city with only 2,300 shelter beds each night for more than 4,500 homeless, this is not a surprising fact. Sleeping out in wet, cold weather is not a lifestyle choice, but a product of widespread poverty, homelessness, and a lack of services in our community.

    The Seattle Displacement Coalition has received several reports from homeless people who say that if they are gathered in a group and only one or two of them are drinking, all of them still receive an expulsion. And since there is no judicial review for those receiving exclusions (since an appeal could not be filed until after the 7-day exclusion period has expired) and police do not provide detailed reports, there is no way of determining how often the police abuse the broad authority they are given under this law.

    If the homeless cannot sleep in our parks, just where are they supposed to go? Last year, after police drove the homeless from their nighttime sleeping areas around the Municipal Building, and swept our greenbelts of nighttime "campers," a homeless person was run over and killed where he slept in an alley in the Denny Renegade and lost her leg. Closure of campsites in our parks and greenbelts, and issuance of parks exclusion orders carries real human consequence.


Affordable Housing Threatened

From StreetWise

Chicago, IL

from "Vouchered Out! Will Section 8 Worsen Public Housing Woes?" by La Risa R. Lynch

    Several Robert Taylor Section 8 recipients, whose buildings are slated for demolition, gave a wavering "thumbs-up" to a voucher program that, in theory, is supposed to provide them with market rate apartments. But, strikingly, no one would comment on record about the program because, in the words of one source, they "didn’t want to have unexpected problems" arise in their search for housing with their Section 8 certificates or vouchers.

    A Streetwise canvas of the Robert Taylor Homes last week found several residents who said they feared reprisals from tenant managers if they spoke about their frustrations with the delays in Section 8 program. This silence fuels suspicions among housing activists who say that the voucher program is seriously flawed, offering too few vouchers and not enough support for residents trying to find an apartment.

    "People are afraid to talk," said Wardell Yotaghan co-founder of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing. "I think only time will tell to see if they can find housing in the private market with their certificates".

Yotaghan also says that the fear of retaliation from tenant management staff has put a lid on the truth as to how well Section 8 is working.

    "If the lower level people find out that the residents are in contact with us because of problems that they are having, they will do things to tenants like minor harassment as retaliation," Yotaghan said. "I’m sure that the higher-ups at CHA don’t condone what they are doing but managers and coordinators are still doing it".

    Gregory Russ, chief of staff at CHA stated that the process of moving from public to private housing is a "traumatic experience" and should not be compound by harassment from relocation teams or the local advisory council. That kind of behavior would be "unacceptable and unethical-we are in the business of helping residents find housing not hindering them".

    Section 8 is a federally funded program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to obtain housing in the private market.

    In recent years, the profile of Section 8 program has markedly increased, as vouchers are viewed by public housing policy makers as being cheaper than building projects, which have been criticized for their isolation and crime problems, while also satisfying court desegregation decrees.

    The Chicago Housing Authority has promoted Section 8 vouchers as its answer to relocating displaced residents from public housing projects that are scheduled for demolition..

    According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development 1.4 million households, nationally, are under lease in the Section 8 program.


Homeless Settle Suit

Task Force for the Homeless

Atlanta, GA

    The city agreed to train police on how to deal with the homeless and pay $3,000 each to five homeless people who sued the city for alleged harassment dating back to the 1996 Olympic Games.

    Under a settlement announced in June, veteran officers as well as new recruits will receive the training, and the Task Force for the Homeless, an advocacy group, will monitor arrests of the homeless and allegation of abuse by police.

    The five homeless plaintiffs alleged they were arrested and harassed by police under ordinances adopted in 1991 and 1996 aimed at cutting loitering and aggressive panhandling

    The suit claimed that the ordinances were adopted to make downtown Atlanta attractive to 1996 Olympic Games visitors, a charge which the city denied but was reported widely in the national media in 1996.


Sweeping the Parks II

From Street Sheet

San Francisco, CA

    Last November, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown implemented what many see as a politically motivated crackdown on the homeless in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Mayor Brown had police forcibly remove hundreds of homeless people from Golden Gate Park, and in the process confiscated all their belongings. This had led to a group of twelve men and women filing separate lawsuits against the City in a San Francisco small claims court. They did this with the help of the Coalition on Homeless and the American Civil Liberties Union.

    The majority of the plaintiffs claimed that they either returned to the campsite to find their belongings missing, or they were given just a few short moments to gather up their belongings before they were hauled away. For this the Plaintiffs are asking for between $3,000 and $5,000 each in compensation for lost items, emotional distress, and punitive damages.

    According to the city, the police followed directives not to destroy any property of value. The twelve homeless men and women who lost their belongings, and the ACLU see this as direct violation their rights.


“Get Out of Town!”

Tuscon AZ

    A recent lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court claims that Tucson has made it a crime simply to be homeless in certain parts of the city.

    The suit, which was filed by 47 year-old Alan J. Mason, alleges that Tucson police have taken to arresting homeless people without cause, and then release them under the condition that they will stay clear of the area in which they were arrested for a period of time. This period of time could range from just the period until their case is heard, or up two years after they are sentenced in the case.


Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 in Cleveland Ohio

Poem: Homeless - What Would You Do?

Would you beg, borrow, or steal

To get you & your children a meal?

Would you sleep in a dumpster or on a steel grate?

Or try to get shelter and find you’re too late?

 

Would you walk in the cold all day and all night?

Not knowing if you’ll live to see the mornings light.

Would you dig in the garbage because your stomach’s empty?

No one really caring, this is life in the city.

 

Would you sell a paper called The Homeless Grapevine?

To build up your self-esteem, So life wouldn’t seem so confined.

Would you walk around for a day without taking a shower?

Smelling so bad you wilt all the flowers.

 

Would you think the only out is suicide?

Tired of being in this predicament, just waiting to die?

This is the plight of some, maybe not me, maybe not you.

The question remains. Homeless, What would you do?

by: Buzzy

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Homeless Grapevine Marks Fifth Anniversary

by Jean E. Taddie

    Five years ago, the first Homeless Grapevine issue was created in partnership with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. Since then, The Homeless Grapevine has focused on giving a public voice to homeless and formerly homeless citizens. It has also provided a forum for activists, concerned citizens, politicians, and service providers.

    Volume 1, which was named The NEW Homeless Grapevine, premiered Spring 1993. The idea of The Grapevine, however, began two years before. The newspaper was first created in 1991 by the residents of Project:HEAT Shelter "Site E," which at the time was located in a temporary classroom building of Cleveland State University. The shelter residents received guidance and production assistance from a Kent State University student who was working on his thesis research. Unfortunately, the fledgling newspaper did not survive.

    After about a year-long suspension, The Grapevine re-started production with the financial and technical support of NEOCH. Throughout this five-year, 28-issue partnership, The Homeless Grapevine has focused on homeless involvement and public education. Brian Davis, Editor of The Grapevine and Director of NEOCH, has been with the paper since Issue 7. He explains, "We are a journal about local poverty issues. We provide a unique product that you can’t find anywhere else in town."

    Each Grapevine issue focused around a central theme. Early issues were written and produced mainly by homeless and formerly homeless people. They shared their opinions, experiences, and poetry. These issues told the stories of individuals such as homeless children, displaced workers, and shelter residents. As time went on, The Grapevine continued to feature stories, poems and artwork by homeless men, women, and children. The paper also added more stories about important local poverty issues.

    "Vendor licensing has been a big issue that has gone all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court," explains Davis. The story, which was first covered in Grapevine Issue 7 (September/December 1994), revolves around the City of Cleveland’s policy for vendor’s permits. After several Grapevine vendors were ticketed for not having a $50 vendor’s permit, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Cleveland claiming this policy violated the First Amendment right to Freedom of Speech.

    The ACLU won in district court on May 3, 1995 (Issue 10). Unfortunately, the U.S. Federal Appeals Court reversed the decision on February 3, 1997 (Issue 20). The ACLU appealed the reversal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but on October 20, 1997, the Court refused without comment to hear the appeal, thereby upholding the City of Cleveland’s licensing policy. The Grapevine reported the Supreme Court’s ruling and the local response in Issue 24 (January, 1998). Even though the City of Cleveland had not officially worked out a policy for Grapevine vendors, some were ticketed by police. Grapevine readers responded enthusiastically to this issue. Davis noted that The Grapevine received cash donations from around 40 people and organizations, a figure he says is four times more than average.

    The Grapevine has focused reports on welfare reform since the issue became popular with politicians in 1995. The paper provided in-depth reports about the death of General Assistance in Issue 10 (May/June 1995) by analyzing the GA program and findings from research studies. In addition, all State Senators and Representatives from Northeast Ohio were surveyed about their role in the elimination of GA. A copy of Dennis Kucinich’s speech to the State House of Representatives was also included.

    The Adult Emergency Assistance voucher program was uncovered as a bad alternative to GA. Issue 14 (March/April 1996) exposed the program as experimental, haphazard, and arbitrary. The article explained how the program was seriously lacking in planning and fraud controls. One-time grants were awarded without standard criteria. Clients were not told what the eligibility requirements were and they felt the system showed favoritism to people who were liked by the agencies distributing the money. Issue 17 (August/September 1996) reported that in spite of the fact that distributing agencies failed to distribute all of the money, a new pool of money totaling $625,382 was given out in September, 1996, with minimal improvements to the program.

    The Homeless Grapevine has reported stories of fraud by agencies trying to make money off homelessness. Issue 13 (January/February 1996) uncovered WeShare, a telemarketing scam that put homeless and low-income people on telephones soliciting more than $1 million a year. The donations were supposed to go for job training and other programs to help homeless people. Instead, roughly 90% of the donations went to administration costs, which included paying workers less than minimum wage. WeShare was investigated by the FBI and Channel 3’s Paul Orlowski. One of the founders has since been jailed for harassment of FBI agents.

    Another agency, Project Homeless, was uncovered in Issue 16 (June/July 1996). The agency solicited donations by telephone, mail, and promotional events, and claimed to provide a wide variety of services to alcoholic and destitute clients. The Grapevine investigation found only limited food distribution, no shelter, transportation, or rehabilitation services that were claimed. The organization was investigated further by the Ohio Attorney General. The results of that investigation have been deemed not for public inspection by the Attorney General, which The Grapevine is appealing.

    Throughout the past issues, The Grapevine included the perspectives of many homeless and formerly homeless people. Issues 26 (April 1998) and 27 (May/June 1998) focused on shelter life, as told by the people who live it. Shelter residents doled out praise and criticism for different shelters and service providers. The organizations were also provided an opportunity to respond. "We received a big and consistent response from readers who told us they really liked these articles," Davis explains.

    Over the past five years, The Grapevine has used a wide variety of writers to express their knowledge and opinions of local poverty issues. Grapevine staff, volunteers, and vendors want to continue and expand this tradition. Stories and input from the homeless community will continue to be emphasized. "In the future, we want to feature more stories from runaway children and kids who are living in shelters," explains Davis. "Ideally, we would like to create a newsletter that covers stories specifically for homeless readers." If The Grapevine could consistently cover the costs of this newsletter, shelters and other sites could distribute it to clients for free.


Number of Vendors trained over 5 years:

527

Minimum Amount of money made by all of the Grapevine vendors: $250,000


 

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Goals Listed on the Front of the New Homeless Grapevine Issue #1:

1. Provide a forum for homeless people to share their opinions and ideas on issues that may or may not be specific to being homeless.

2. Share information for the homeless--about homeless rights, housing, legislative issues, maybe jobs, support services, etc.

3. Provide those not homeless with a greater understanding about what homelessness means and what it costs.

4. Provide income and foster responsibility to those selling the paper.

5. Provide a medium for those in need of skills training to have a hands on experience in production of a newspaper.

6. Empower the dispossessed: homeless and housed [alike].

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

From the Desk of a Volunteer...

by Mary Z.

   Volunteering is loving people in action by doing good to others. It is treating others through your work, like you would like to be treated. It is like giving to others at Christmas time and through-out the rest of the year.

   It is offering others a piece of yourself and they in turn give to you. It is feeling good about the world so big, for part of it is a small world inside of you.

   And last of all, a thought by Lydia Smith, my best girl friend, ... "ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country" ( John F. Kennedy)

   I have been volunteering most of my adult life, because when I became ill with Schizophrenia on top of Cerebral Palsy, I said to myself that I would give back to the people that sent me flowers and letters from all over.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Fire Can Lead to Life on the Streets

by Helena D.

   In this tenuous time of skyrocketing housing costs, any person can be months or even weeks away from becoming homeless. Take for example, Eugene, a fifty-six year old man, single with no dependents, who lost his apartment a year ago in a fire. Most renters do not have fire insurance so with his good fortune in not getting hurt in the fire, he became homeless without really trying.

   Eugene was given a week’s stipend to find housing courtesy of the Red Cross. After that he was literally on his own to fend for himself. He does not fit the stereotype of a drug addict, alcoholic, ex-convict or bum. He has skills, but no permanent address (other than the Virgil Brown facility on Payne Ave.) that he can have his mail delivered to.

Eugene still has a positive outlook even after a year on the streets. He has his portable radio with which he listens to the daily news. He spends a lot of time in the library—which is still free and open to the public. Even when voters vote down tax levies, the libraries still appeal to the masses.

   He [Eugene] had a car once, and with the prices of cars going up, people will soon be having to make a choice between living in a house and walking or taking the bus or driving. It’s a sad commentary when a car payment exceeds some apartment rents. Before his car was junked, he enjoyed driving out to Edgewater State Park in the warm weather, but then on slow days the police might hassle you.

While we’re sitting talking to Eugene, someone has donated some delicious white bread with nothing else. I notice that unlike Hollywood’s version of starvation, I don’t see anyone leaping out of their seats to grab their share. Many of the homeless can be grossly obese through diets heavy in carbohydrates. There is no joking or smiling at this homeless center but a somber attitude.

   Eugene was skilled at welding but would have to go back to school to get certification. It seems that certification is needed for everything nowadays. This is another way for the private for-profit institutions to get government financial aid for tuition. Eugene is told about JTPA and will investigate that avenue of obtaining a career and not just a "job" in something he enjoys and is skilled at.

   The homeless, like Eugene, realize that even though they might have a steady job at minimum wage, you can’t save enough for first and last month’s rent when one night’s stay at the Jay Hotel costs $37.00.

  People who have the hurly burly of a good paying job, who complain they have no time to have fun don’t know how long a day can be when there is no nagging boss or complacent employees to fill up your time.

 Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Cosgrove Responds to Criticisms

Dear Editor:

  I received your letter dated May 8, 1998 regarding the letter that Mr. Jackson wrote to the Editor of the "Grapevine." I sincerely appreciate your concern and consideration in that matter, but most of all I appreciate your fairness in this matter.

  First and foremost, Mr. Jackson has never approached me, my program coordinator or my staff to request a meeting with us. As far as that goes, he has never approached any of the staff requesting a meeting. If he had asked for a meeting, he certainly would have been granted a meeting.

  I have discussed this matter with my staff. As a result, we would like to extend an invitation to Mr. Jackson along with you and/or the staff of the "Grapevine". This will afford all of us an opportunity to meet with us to discuss this matter and to get to the bottom of the alleged problem. As you know, our doors are always open to you and your staff, and we are willing to meet with you and Mr. Jackson at your convenience. Again, I would like to thank you so very much for your support and the fairness you have shown us in this situation.

  As the Program Director of the Bishop William Cosgrove Center, contrary to Mr. Jackson’s belief, the clients are always and will always remain my first priority.

Sincerely,

Sharon F. Fields, LSW
Program Director

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Cosgrove Offers Respite Care

by Grapevine Bob

  This center is more than a center for providing meals for those in need. There is a young African-American man sitting in the office when you first enter the building, a self-acclaimed born again Christian. His name is Albert Williams, and he has been working in a capacity to help or work to give services to the Homeless since 1991, three years at Cleveland Health Care for the Homeless, and two years at Community Planning.

  Albert explains with a pleasant voice and smile, that this center serves between 4,000 and 8,000 meals in one month, along with the capacity to provide showers. In this very modern facility for men and women, once out of the showers the Cosgrove Center offers clean and usually new white socks and underwear, as well as clean clothing from underwear to outerwear.

  Albert says, "Not only do we serve a meal at 8:30 A.M., we serve a noon lunch in which chefs from leading clubs and restaurants in this facility deliver foodstuffs in two large shopping bags, also providing hot meals to senior citizens and the handicapped every month at surrounding facilities and residential districts."

  Opportunities for employment are able to reach those seeking employment; long-term employment, not short-term. Volunteers from local high-schools and colleges are received daily for help in preparing lunch trays for the noon meal. This task is usually carried out happily and enthusiastically. The Bishop Cosgrove Center would like the public to know that the facility has a need for donated food stuffs, canned goods, used clothing, underwear as well as outerwear.

  The Bishop Cosgrove Center is cleaned from bathrooms to stockrooms, with its kitchen facility being cleaned every first Monday of the month. This facility, with its hands-on supervision by Mr. Albert Williams, with his strong character and ready smile, is a four-star facility in which the public receives quality service.

Editor’s Note: The Cosgrove is located at 1736 Superior Ave.. They are open 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday (except the second Monday of every month.) They can be reached at 781-8262.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

 

Congregations Come Together to Serve Homeless Families

by Helena D.

   The Interfaith Hospitality Network, a nationwide nonprofit organization, will officially "open its doors" to homeless families with children in Cleveland. An Executive Director and caseworker/social worker have been hired with its office space residing in the Christ Episcopal Church in Shaker Heights.

    Kay Bork, newly arrived from the Cincinnati area where this organization is already established, helped to organize this timely idea in alternative temporary housing. Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) is a network of churches and temples of all religious denominations. A network of about 10 to 15 churches/synagogues will be volunteering their time and space to support homeless families with meals, housing, transportation and other needs a family might encounter until affordable housing can be established.

    Bork stated that the success rate for getting families into housing in other cities has run about seventy percent. She was surprised that Cleveland did not have such a program, and set about to create one. With the success of the Columbus and Cincinnati program, she expected that the community would embrace IHN in the Cleveland area. There have been unexpected obstacles by concerned citizens and local suburban municipalities that have delayed the start of the program.

    The children attend schools in their former neighborhood so there is no real stressful break in their studies or a disruption in their circle of friends. They have a trained social worker who will do the intake and on-going case management for the families.

    This program can accommodate at one time fourteen people including adults and children. The IHN expects to accommodate six families each with three or four members at a time.

    The families will be provided with meals, clothing, cleaning facilities and access to a van for driving to work, school, and doctor’s appointments. Each synagogue or church will host the families for seven days for three or four times per year. Eighteen churches are sponsors of this aid with nine being host sponsors.

    The IHN can be found in 55 other cities and should begin operation in Cleveland in late July of 1998. They are currently looking for volunteers and hope to expand the network to 13 local religious organizations.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Congratulations Extended from Readers and Vendors

The Ripening of the Grapevine

  I am pleased to have this opportunity to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the The Grapevine. I have had the privilege of watching The Grapevine grow from infancy to young adulthood. This has not been without the pains which are indicative of all growth processes.

  The paper in its beginning relied heavily on its editorial staff and service providers for articles, now we see many more articles contributed by the homeless. I myself had the honor of being published in some of the early editions and have helped rush the raw copy out to the printer to meet a publication deadline.

  There have been scary times when the papers’ existence has been in the balance. NEOCH itself and its Board of Directors questioned the viability of the paper as a project for the homeless.

  Others in the community wanted the paper’s demise because they objected to highly tainted criticism of the services. The Grapevine even had its day in court, with the City of Cleveland, to address issues revolving around vendor’s rights to sell the paper on Cleveland Streets.

  The journalistic style used in The Grapevine is diverse, sometimes irresponsible, and often offensive to the very people who are trying to help. The paper might be more appropriately named Sourgrapes, or Grapes of Wrath. Mindful of the papers shortcomings, we must also note that the opinions expressed are raw, free, and heartfelt. Therein lies the beauty of this publication.

  The paper’s commentary ranges from critiques of shelters and hunger centers, to obituaries marking the passage of our city’s homeless. The Grapevine is not only a vehicle for expression, but also a means of employment for folks trying to eke out a living.

  I am hopeful that the Grapevine will continue to ripen into a maturity that blends critical commentary with well deserved praise. I am certain of the paper always being the voice of the voiceless and sometimes a thorn in my side. Happy Anniversary!

Peace,

Chip Joseph--Catholic Charities Services


Longtime Vendor Proud of Grapevine

  Happy Anniversary Homeless Grapevine in Your Fifth Year, from Bryan Gillooly, the first Director of the Grapevine, to Brian Davis, the current Director.

  I helped establish this paper in its humble beginnings, back when the paper was, in spite of first amendment protections, rejected by and large by the public and by the City of Cleveland (if you got your perception from the reactions of the Cleveland Police Department).

  In its inception the Grapevine was sold in downtown business districts. The police response was overt; Cleveland’s Finest would put you in a police car, ride you a distance, usually (as reported by more than one Grapevine vendor) "They would take you so far where the bus did not run and say get out," or they would write you a ticket with the warning, "Next time we see you we will take you to jail." One guy had his newspaper thrown in the lake and was warned, "Stay out of the Flats."

  Well, be that as it may, the Grapevine has changed with the times. Now each vendor has a picture ID with an expiration date. The Grapevine has in bold letters "Buy from Badged Vendor Only" on the front page.

  The Director, Brian Davis, along with Grapevine Bob even went on Live radio to introduce the Homeless Grapevine to the City of Cincinnati, and now they’ve not only adopted our newspaper format, but have formed their own Grapevine.

  The Homeless Grapevine is not afraid to speak the truth. Due to money received in advertisements most newspapers will tell the truth as long as their advertiser’s good side is shown. Not so with the Grapevine. For example, articles rating local homeless shelters, homeless feeding places and Health Care for the Homeless have been reported good or bad in the Grapevine.

Happy anniversary, Grapevine, and many more.

Grapevine Bob


A Message from Board President

Dear friends and readers of The Homeless Grapevine,

  The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) is in transition from what was essentially a networking organization for the homeless shelter and service providers to an advocacy membership organization. NEOCH’s support of The Grapevine has not changed. This street newspaper continues to amplify the voices of homeless people in Ohio— raising public consciousness to the needs of the homeless and the near-homeless and attention to problems in service delivery and on-the-street treatment that threaten the very lives of homeless persons in our cities.

  The change agents in this transition include not only the homeless and the formerly homeless persons who participate in the writing, editorial control, and distribution of The Grapevine, but also Brian Davis, Executive Director of NEOCH, his staff, VISTA workers, and volunteers. Brian’s leadership has ensured the organizational transition to advocacy without our losing sight of NEOCH’s fundamental purpose —to enable and empower homeless persons to achieve self-sufficiency. Many new initiatives have been launched. Many more are in the making.

  We know that there are many challenges ahead, and that the number of homeless persons will increase dramatically as a result of the loss of entitlements and assisted housing inventory, and jobs that fail to provide living wages. NEOCH, as the only homeless advocacy organization in Northeast Ohio, needs your direct support as members- your time, energies, and leadership skills as we confront these challenges. As members of NEOCH, you will work hand-in-hand with homeless and formerly homeless persons to make a difference in their lives and your own. THANKS.

In Good Faith,

Keith P. Rasey

President, NEOCH Board of Directors

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Concern Raised over Grapevine’s Bias

Dear Editor:

   This is in response to your article in Issue 27 of The Homeless Grapevine titled "Single Men with Children Do Not Fit in the Shelter System". In reviewing this article, it comes to the attention of the staff here that in reporting this case, a number of concerns are raised. One is that though it may be true that presently the resources are minimal for single male parents and their children, this has been due to the fact that women have historically often been left as sole caregivers of their children.

   Secondly, you are reporting on a man who has left a previous residence and job to uproot his children to Cleveland and in doing so jeopardized the stability of his children. This man never thought to call his family prior to this drastic change in order to better plan his move. Why is it always an issue of gaps in agencies or systems that is focused on rather than looking at choices that a person has made?

   Finally, the brief reporting of a local agency’s assistance may in fact (since identity of the client is confidential) have been the Council of Economic Opportunity’s Family and Development Unit. How is it that this man and your staff were unable or even unwilling to provide credit where credit is due? Must all reporting on agencies be negative and blaming?

Sincerely,

Angela D. Kraft, LISW

Diagnostic Social Worker, Family Development Unit, Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland

Editor’s Response: The story from Issue 27 was about a gap in service that does exist in the community and not about one agency or another. Contrary to your comments The Grapevine has presented positive looks at the Cosgrove (Issue 28), Salvation Army Shelter (Issue 27), Volunteers of America and City Mission (Issue 26), and West Side Catholic. Please consider that the Grapevine allows uncensored access to the media for those on the streets who are usually in a desperate situation. Therefore, the stories reflect a feeling of anger and a feeling that the system has failed them.

Besides, I thought that social workers were suppose to help people without question and not judge their past mistakes. Sure, he may have made a mistake in not contacting his family, but if we did not serve those who had made a mistake that led to homelessness 70% of the social service providers would be unemployed.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio

Anti-Panhandling Law Ruled Unconstitutional

Commentary

by Donald Whitehead

    Since 1995 homeless advocates, homeless individuals, and lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union have argued that measures to strengthen a 1992 aggressive panhandling ordinance were unconstitutional in the U. S. District Court. The two ordinances restrict where and when panhandlers can ask for money and ban people from sitting or lying on business district sidewalks between 7a.m. and 11 p.m.

    While advocates for the homeless understand the need for restrictions against those who are aggressive in demands for money, it is common knowledge that most panhandlers are not of the aggressive variety. In addition, while we don’t advocate panhandling in any form, we understand that because of economic conditions along with the lack of affordable housing and many other important factors, people are forced into this behavior. Our resources should be used in providing safe, sanitary, affordable housing and not to prosecute individuals forced into panhandling.

    Steve Stuhlbarg, who with Scott Greenwood represented the panhandlers, said, "We’re delighted. We think this is a rigorous and proper application of the First Amendment principle. These laws were designed to target peaceful and non-coercive, and non-disruptive panhandling. These ordinances were targeted at people who are peaceful. The city doesn’t have the power to intervene in what people say on a public sidewalk." He said in a Cincinnati Post interview. "People have a right to peacefully ask for money. The stated purpose of these laws was to make panhandling disappear."

    Greenwood added, "The ordinances, in flat and total violation of the First Amendment, bans an entire type of speech based on its content from the most sacred area for public speech; the public sidewalk. The Court recognized that the poor and homeless have the same First Amendment rights as business people and corporations.

    Deputy Solicitor Robert Johnstone and Councilman Phil Heimlich, who sponsored the ordinances, said the city will likely appeal the ruling to the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Mr. Heimlich said that the decision goes against decisions in other cities. However, as usual, Mr. Heimlich has not done his homework. Recently, judges in Atlanta and Miami have also ruled against ordinances that violate the civil rights of homeless individuals.

    The National Coalition For the Homeless continues to monitor these discriminatory laws through the Civil Rights Monitoring Project. Mr. Heimlich’s statement claiming that this ordinance was originated because of safety has no validity. In an unscientific poll done by Streetvibes reporters on 4th street, most people who agreed to talk had little or nothing bad to say about panhandlers except that they were a little annoying at times; not one person even mentioned safety.

    Judge Sherman sighted five reasons why the ordinances fail the constitutionality test. The City did not have specific interest in enacting the ordinances; even if the city did have significant interest, the two ordinances are not tailored to serve that interest; the ordinances are not content neutral; the city restrictions on speech are unreasonable; the ordinances do not leave open alternative means for panhandlers to communicate.

    We hope this ruling finally puts an end to attempts to criminalize those who already suffer the day to day horrors of being poor in this city. We hope that this also puts to rest concerns about this non-existent safety issue so that more attention can be placed on real safety issue’s, such as crumbling school buildings and open air drug trafficking. Finally, if our city leader pay a little more attention to the poor and push for a livable wage instead of giving wealthy tax breaks. (just last week the city voted to stop taxing stock options) there wouldn’t be a need to panhandle.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 Cleveland Ohio