As the year winds down, I reflect back on the state of children in our community with the changes in the welfare system, and I see a series of broken promises. Our county’s children and their caretakers, both implicitly and overtly, were promised a safety net. The children were promised that if their mothers got off the welfare roles and went out to get a job, the mothers would be able to support their family. The children were promised that poor people would have access to health care, quality housing, and a quality education to pull themselves out of poverty.
As a representative of those who live on the streets, I see that the covenant that we had with our next generation has been broken. I am very concerned about the outlook for poor children in this time of broken promises. As is documented so effectively in the past with statistics about how bad childhood poverty is in this community, shelters have seen large increases in the number of children needing services. The fastest growing population in the shelters is women and children. The level of children living in poverty in Cleveland is unnecessarily high. The problem is that there are new federal and state initiatives that can only exacerbate that problem.
What we seen recently is a dramatic increase in the need for food with pantries and meal sites seeing record usage. We have seen dramatic increases in the number of homeless women with children and longer stays in the shelters. We have seen more women with children with AIDS. Because of the federal government no longer building housing, we have seen a large reduction in affordable housing locally. There are plans on the table to reduce housing by 1,800 units in Cleveland over the next year. We see a chaotic welfare system locally with electronic food stamps that do not work, case workers who are unable to be reached, and huge increases in sanctions and case dismissals. All of these changes in the welfare system mean that children of welfare parents suffer without food or stable living arrangements.
The state has refused to adopt policies which are available that would ease some of the suffering associated with welfare reform. State officials have refused to exempt areas of labor surplus like Cleveland from some of the rules regarding food stamps. They have refused to accept children at 200% poverty into the Medicaid program as the Federal government allows. They have refused to exempt certain populations from the rules of welfare reform who may need more time in finding a job including domestic violence victims. And in the most egregious example of executive malpractice, they have turned back money to create welfare to work jobs in the state of Ohio.
In the past, when the welfare of children was raised, politicians of both parties listened. We have cast that our, and broken our promises to our children. In the past two years of a thriving economy, we have seen the shelters remain full every night, and our social service network is showing signs of strain under the pressure of increased demand. We need to make a new covenant with our future generations and promise universal health care, available jobs with a health care, available jobs with a living wage, available affordable housing that is not administered by the Sate Corrections Department, and quality education that will teach all of our children to be good citizens no matter what community that they live in.
With signs of an economy that is slowing, we could be in for rougher times ahead. If we see even a mild economic recession, those families that are staying with other families would become homeless. Jobs in the areas of high unemployment would be harder to find, and there would be no vacancies in the dry spaces under the bridges.
Finally, I want to say that it is raining in Cleveland. In fact, raid does not begin to describe the level of poverty in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, and it is criminal to keep nearly $1 billion dollars in a State Rainy Day Fund. This money, along with the surplus in the Human Services fund, should be used to create jobs and housing in the neighborhood of Cleveland.
Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 30 October – November 1998