The Dissenting Voice of the Streets

Commentary by Terry Messman of Berkeley California

         An outspoken brand of iconoclastic journalism had emerged for the harsh experiences of people living on the streets in dozens of cities in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Over the past decade, this dissident press of the poor has created a radical alternative to the values and biases of mainstream journalism at the very moment when dissenting voices and poor people are largely shut out of the major media.

        The first two street newspapers in North America were Street News in New York City and Street Sheet in San Francisco, both founded in 1989. From there, the street newspaper movement spread rapidly to dozens of other cities during the 1990s, and now 40 successful street publications exist in the United States, with 10 more in Canada and about 100 in Europe and other parts of the world, according to Michael Stoops of the National Coalition for the Homeless.

        Dozens of street papers have joined together to found the North American Street Newspaper Association (NASNA) with the mission of building a "movement that creates and upholds journalistic and ethical standards while promoting self-help and empowerment among people living in poverty."

         Although our nation's long traditions of muckraking and advocacy journalism are now neglected, or shunned like the plague by the corporate media, this new grass-roots press has materialized from the most unlikely fringes of society to offer fire-breathing analyses of corporate America's economic depredations. Street newspaper editors have found that if you don't accept advertising from merchants and corporations, you are entirely free to report on how downtown business interests are the driving force behind nearly every police crackdown against homeless people, or how big real-estate developers cause countless evictions by gentrifying inner city neighborhoods.

         But what has been little noticed up until now is how thoroughly these street papers have challenged the entire world-view and modus operandi of the corporate media. In a fascinating twist, a group of completely independent homeless newspapers have managed to escape control by the "powers that be" at the precise historical moment when corporations have bought, sold and taken over nearly all mainstream publications. Because street newspapers operate on shoestring budgets, they are not beholden to the considerable pressures of conservative publishers or corporate advertisers.

        The outspoken and frankly partisan brand of reporting offered by these papers is also a bracing challenge - or a slap in the face - to the safe, sanitized, neutralized reporting of the mainstream press, which has, by and large, bowed to the idol of "objective journalism" and forsaken journalism's heritage of hard-hitting dissent and critical analysis of the established order.

         "Not only the mainstream press, but even the alternative media are not dealing with our issues," said Stoops. "I don't see any of the media sources dealing with poverty issues. I see the street newspapers as being the only significant venues for exposing poverty issues. We believe street papers are the most creative way for homeless people to express themselves to the general public in their own words and voices."

         The very act of selling these street papers provides a needed challenge to the corporate chokehold on publishing. People who buy papers from a homeless vendor provide them with a source of income and a positive alternative to panhandling, with no corporate profiteer taking a cut. Of equal importance, this innovative system of distribution enables homeless organizations to sell radical publications directly to the broader public, thereby escaping the "progressive affiliation" of reaching only the already converted.

 No More Need to Grovel

        No longer does the homeless movement have to beg and plead for the mainstream press to give fair coverage to the injustices that poor people face and the protests they mount. Brian Davis, editor of Cleveland's Homeless Grapevine, said, "We don't have to grovel for stories to get into the mainstream media because now homeless people have their own paper. The other media now know our stories are going to come out in our own paper, so we tell them they might as well cover our issues because we're going to publish them anyway."

         Paul Boden, director of the Coalition Homelessness in San Francisco, said, "Street Sheet has given a recognition and credibility to the Coalition we would never have otherwise. We just couldn't create that kind of recognition and identity for out work if we didn't have our newspaper."

         Given the breadth and diversity of the Coalition's multi-pronged homeless advocacy, it is all the more impressive when Boden declares that Street Sheet is perhaps the most powerful weapon in their arsenal. "The power of the press is fucking awesome," he says. "If our articles are written clearly and articulately, and the public senses there's a truth to it, it becomes fact."

         Boden explained that it takes a long time for a street paper to build up its most important resource - credibility. Much of the Street Sheet's veracity stems from the editorial consistency it has enjoyed from having Editor Lydia Ely provide a consistent shape and tone to the paper for many years now.

         "The reason the paper has a real impact with service providers, the mayor's office, and the health department is because of where we get our information - from homeless people and front-line staff," Boden said. "And we check everything out in depth, so over time you get a reputation for being accurate."

        Probably every activist in every movement knows the frustration of doing painstaking work and pulling off a successful protest of an undeniable important social issue - only to have it ignored by the conservative press in an apparent attempt to suppress the message. Boden describes the homeless press as one antidote to the news management and outright censorship of the corporate media.

         "Homeless papers are important because the major newspapers no longer hold the government accountable," he said. "Papers now are there to sell more issues to make more money to then buy TV and radio stations. A lot of papers have become conglomerates. Conglomerates aren't going to hold the officials accountable who give them tax write-offs.

        "And the scary part is that journalists seem to have bought it. The idea of journalism as a club to beat the government into submission and make it accountable - I don't see it anymore. Mainstream journalism has become a sales entity. There's certainly more pages devoted to advertising than to investigative journalism in the Chronicle."

         That analysis resonates with Anne and Forrest Curo, who founded Street Light in San Diego in 1996 after the mainstream press ignored the protests of the homeless community during the Republican Convention that year.

        "We noticed that the police had become more hostile to homeless people as the Republican Convention neared," Curo recalls. "We decided if the City were going to arrest people, we would hold a protest to make them do it openly."

        Despite holding a highly visible Sleep Out at the San Diego Concourse for a full week, homeless activists found that the wide array of media outlets present for the Republican Convention ignored the protest.

         "It's a matter of how you do any effective protest if you have no access to the public," Curo said. "There are just a great number of issues where the city government's line on homeless people is not only wrong, it's absurd. But if you don't have your own newspaper, you don't get a chance to point that out."

         Homeless advocates in cities across the nation charge the members of the establishment press too often skew their reporting to favor downtown businesses and the anti-homeless policies of city officials, and present stereotyped accounts of homeless people that directly contribute to the growing trend of scape-goating the poor.

         Indio Washington, the feisty editor of New York's Street News, said, "No question homeless voices are locked out of the main media. The mainstream media is governed by Big Brother and the corporations and everyone who advertises with them. By us not having that mush advertising, we tell it like it is."

         Many street newspapers question the concept of objective journalism altogether; instead, they say, their papers have the higher goal of seeking the truth. And that entails comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable, as Dorothy Day used to say.

         "I have different ideas of the true meaning of objectivity," Street Light's Curo explained. "I feel that the side of the issue that I don't cover are people and organizations favoring gentrification and economic cleansing, and they get covered well by the other media. Those forces are really the problem we're up against - really powerful and wealthy and influential groups who stand to make a lot of money if they don't pay attention to these issues of poverty. So our job is to bring out the part of the story that is more significant: the immediate human consequences for the people who have the most to lose."

         Norma Green, director of the Graduate Program of the Journalism Department of Columbia College - Chicago, echoed this view, saying that the importance of street newspapers is that they are the voice of "people who aren't represented by the status quo but want to shake up the status quo."

         Green teaches a journalism course entitled the "Alternative Press" that focuses on "journalism by people that have been stereotyped by the mainstream, including the imprisoned, the homeless, disabled people, gays, lesbians and transgenered people, political radicals and peace activists."

 She is not researching and teaching the history of the street newspaper movement because she finds the papers to be a "profoundly important" means of expression.

         Green said, "Most people think of the homeless as 'the other'. And if you learn anything from reading these street publications over their whole history, it's that homeless people aren't 'the other' - they're us. It must say something about the human spirit, that despite all the adverse conditions homeless people face, they're able to express themselves. It's so vital they have this medium because street newspapers manifest the imagination and vision of their creators."

 Bread and Justice

        Imagination and vision are vital components of any social-change movement, but the homeless movement is also concerned with sheer survival - with bread and justice. Street sheet vendors in San Francisco sell more than 30,000 issues a month and Street Spirit Vendors in Oakland and Berkeley sell nearly 25,000. That's a lot of bread and justice: nearly $50,000 per moth of direct economic redistribution exchanges hands every month in the Bay Area. Chicago's paper, Streetwise, lists a distribution of 60,000.

         Indio Washington was himself a homeless vendor of Street News in New York for years before he began writing for the paper, en route to becoming its editor three years ago. Washington is very clear about the economic value of these publications.

        "Being homeless myself and selling that paper allowed me to make money and not panhandle or beg," he said. "When I was homeless I didn't like to beg. Having a product to sell that I could make money from was so important. I was able to buy clothes and go to a movie, and even go to a hotel with my girlfriend. It let me come back to reality. Before being a vendor, I was in another world; I was talking to myself on the streets."

         Later, Washington began writing articles for Street News. "It gave me a goal," he recalls. "It gave me something to do besides just sleeping and eating and wandering."

         Now that he has make the decade-long journey from street vendor to editor, Washington says: "It feels awesome to be the editor, because I always try to do more." His overarching goal for the street newspaper movement is also pretty awesome.

         "We have a logo with a homeless person in a circle with a line slashed through it: that means stop homelessness now," he said. "It's like the Impossible Dream, man, but that's my goal."

 Injustices Exposed and Overcome

        The act of widely publicizing injustice in a street newspaper can lead to unexpected victories. Boden described how a Street Sheet expose led to a major reform of the Community Substance Abuse Services (CSAS) in the S.F. Department of Public Health.

         "We exposed the putting green in the director's office and how they funneled contract money to a nonprofit agency to pay for furniture and cell phones that went into the offices of CSAS staff," he said. "We were the major voice hitting on that. Then people who had been intimidated began coming to us with more documentation. Staff that knew it was wrong and staff from other nonprofits blew the whistle."

         The example teaches volumes about the power of the press - even the rag-tag grass-roots street paper.

        "Without a paper," Boden reflected, "we might have spent six years filing administrative complaints, but by exposing it to our 34,000 readers we had an immediate impact. People that are doing something sleazy, illegal or unethical, the last thing they want is to and about it in a newspaper."

         My experience as the editor of Street Spirit, the East Bay's homeless newspaper, bears out the power of the dissident press. East Bay Hospital, a notoriously abusive psychiatric facility in Richmond, had a 12-year track record of violating the rights of poor and homeless psychiatric patients, confining people in restraints for unjustifiably long periods and using poorly trained staff to dispense staggering amounts of anti-psychotic drugs in the absence of any meaningful therapy.

        For years, the mainstream press failed to report those scandalous conditions. But after Street Spirit began a 16-part series documenting the intolerable mistreatment of low-income clients, including several suspicious deaths, patients' rights groups mobilized and protested at the hospital: several Bay Area counties launched their own investigations; and the alternative weeklies and mainstream press finally began reporting as well.

         Due to Street Spirit's investigative reporting, a campaign was launched which shut down East Bay Hospital, the largest psychiatric facility in Contra Costa County, and one of the very few in the nation ever closed due to public outcry. Without a street newspaper unafraid to break the silence and speak out on behalf on the voiceless victims, it is inconceivable the hospital would have been shut down or even reformed.

         In Cleveland, The Homeless Grapevine recently brought to public attention the wretched conditions in some shelters and gained a place at the bargaining table for homeless people.

         Brian Davis said, "The Grapevine has brought to the forefront the deplorable conditions in the overflow shelters. They're worse than being in prison because of overcrowding, lack of facilities and staff disrespect. Because it's all come out in our paper, we've been meeting for about four months now with community leaders and the bureaucrats to resolve conditions in the overflow shelter."

         San Diego activists have witnessed a similar positive impact from their reporting. "Homeless people who came into our offices told us that after Street Light started coming out, police were treating homeless people differently," said Curo. "Some homeless and formerly homeless people were convinced enough by that that they were willing to help out on the paper on that basis alone."

         But street newspapers do more than uncover the unreported stories of our time. They do something else that is less tangible, but no less valuable. They give a sense of hard-won validation to longtime fighters in the homeless movement.

        "It makes it a lot easier to participate in a very frustrating uphill battle when the work you're doing is being validated and respected," Boden said. "We're not going to get plaques from United Way or the mayor. The validation we get is from the Street Sheet. It really energizes your batteries to see your work have an impact even if you're losing in the political arena."

        Indio Washington says it best: "I was homeless without a winter coat and I was freezing my ass off. I went into a church to pray and a guy took me into the rectory and gave me a leather coat. So it's like God or the Great Spirit or whatever has been good to me. And I want to give back to others. And now I have this paper to give and it's like having a new baby to put out every issue."

 Editor's Note: To find out more about street newspapers, contact:

Street Sheet c/o Coalition on Homelessness

(415) 346-3740

Street Spirit

c/o American Friends Service Committee

(415) 565-0201, ext. 25 or email: spirit@afsc.org

Street Light

(619) 338-9081 or email: forest@cts.com

Street News

(718) 268-5165

National Coalition for the Homeless

(202) 737-6444, ext. 311

Republished by the Homeless Grapevine Issue 34 April-May 1999

 

Take a Minute to Look at the Voice of the Homeless

Commentary by Anthony Ball

           We live in a world today when industry, money, power, fame, guide our everyday dreams. It's an anxiety within us to have these things in order for us to think that we are successful. But what is life? Life is a place to live, when you get sick you get medical attention, when you get tired you go to bed and you get rest. These are just your basic functions that we need in order to sustain our survival, but how is it that human beings do not have the necessities in order to live a comfortable life.

            Is it wrong to wake up in a heated place? Or is it all right to have shelter, and you don't care about anybody out there living on the streets who is cold and miserable? Then we must remember those people who might not make it through the night because it's too cold.

           I think if people really focused in on that value then nobody would have to be on the street. If people just would care, show their compassion, for another human being, we could clean up this situation. I know we live in a world where extreme violence is normal, and everybody is scratching and crawling and disrespecting each other just to get what they want.

            Let me give you an idea of what I'm saying. I am a vendor for this paper. This is another form of homeless service that is not dealing with shoes, or food or some congregation of a church. It's a paper about dealing with a voice and issue to help amplify that voice to get certain matters out there to different people.

         Hopefully these people can come together and try to make a way so that they can decrease the number of people living in poverty so that people can live there lives in some degree of peace. I think the paper is one of the best things that ever came out because most people just can't go to the Plain Dealer and ask them to let you put an article in their paper. In dealing with poverty and people living in the street, the street newspaper allows us to voice our issues without having to go through a bunch of red tape. This is perfect because everybody then has a voice.

         I think people should show more support for the paper. Let's say you have to go to the hospital and you didn't get your treatment like you were supposed to because you were homeless and had no insurance. You knew the hospital was biased against you when you went to that hospital, and so "boom" you could put that in the paper and let everybody know about that hospital and then something might be done to correct the problem.

            Most vendors out there were homeless, and we do make money from selling the paper. It helps us maintain housing, food, or whatever basic necessities might be needed. But we also care about the paper we're putting out because it's a paper that tells you what's happening with other organizations. There are a lot of organizations that claim that they help the homeless. For instances West Side Catholic on West 32nd Street has a couple of staff members who are very hard on some of the homeless. The Bishop Cosgrove Center has some staff that used to be on the street. Now that they are staff members, but they don't know how to handle that authority and they can't deal with people. They often treat people real bad and the Project Heat shelters are always dirty with feces in the urinal. They never wash the blankets and never clean the mats. If the Health Department came to Project Heat to inspect the shelter I believe that they would have to shut them down because it's really bad. I've been in a lot of shelters, so I ought to know about it.

            Being a vendor and really selling the paper to the public is a good thing because it's getting the issues that need to be addressed out in the public. What I think that needs to be told by as many people as possible is that vendors who are distributing the Grapevine often see many people pass them by rather than stop and purchase the paper. Don't get me wrong, we have many supporters/customers of the paper, but for every 500 people who go by me I might get one or two people to stop. I feel that's not a good ratio. I think more people should be involved in the paper. Some say that they gave at the church or at the their jobs. Some say they volunteer or work at the City Mission or I often hear a whole bunch of things as far as what they're doing.

            I really appreciate what's being done, but what they need to understand is that this is a paper and this is a whole different way of helping the homeless. The purpose of the paper is to amplify the voice of those on the street so that they can be heard. If people would come to read the paper they would be able to get into the mind of the homeless person or learn a little bit about that lifestyle. They may learn more about homeless people and break some of the myths. Readers may find out why people are on the streets and that most are eager to get off the street, and that most do want to work.

           There is a bunch of able bodied individuals out there or on the street who can work, but that is not always evident without knowing more about that person. I think it is wrong to judge a person just because he or she is homeless. I often hear that from a lot of people. Then you have some homeless people in wheelchairs, or people too old or some of them crippled or just basically cannot stand the standard basic day of today's 40 hour work week schedule. You have to be able to get to know a person before you can second guess a person's motives.

            Now don't get me wrong there are people out there who want to be out there, but we can't overlook the homeless people who truly need help. I ask that you not make an excuse for why you do not help. The paper is one of the best things going on to confront of any kind of discriminatory action toward the homeless. We can fight back by putting it in the paper and getting the information out to the public. When we put it in the paper, then the public can be aware and come to understand how people get treated at the Salvation Army or at other United Way funded organizations. They can learn about different branches of organizations that claim they do certain things but don't.

         For instance, when you pick up the Plain Dealer and see articles about embezzlement of money, or fraud. When these people or companies are indicted or brought up charges you know not to bother with these companies or people, and that is what the Grapevine can also do. The Grapevine can print stories about the lives of some of the people in the paper. Readers can learn how homeless people are treated at certain shelters and or certain food banks. Readers will have a better insight about homelessness.

         Vendors at the Grapevine are all badged. Downtown has a variety of people not affiliated with any particular organization , for instance a guy with a Santa Claus hat with his own newsletter, or a guy who tosses candy to people who claims to help the homeless or a lady with a clipboard. These people have no organizational ties, whereas vendors at the Grapevine are all badged and sign a code of conduct. Some of the other street vendors can be confusing to people walking around downtown. Some of the street vendors are scam artists. That's why the vendors at the Grapevine all wear badges, so you know who we are. There are also scam artists who pick up one or two Grapevines and pretend that they are vendors. Remember that the badge identifies the legitimate vendors from those scam artists because it's important for consumers to know who they are purchasing papers from.

            This shows the respect to the consumer to know we care about the product that we put out. Eventually things will get better for people. Some will move into housing and better paying jobs, but the paper will always be there. So I have a lot of respect for people who buy the paper, and ask that our supporters let others know more about the paper. First they must be careful who they help. We must place some values on another human being and not just invest in the Cleveland Browns, Convention Center, and Big Business Franchise. I have seen that in dealing with city, state and federal government officials tend to be less interested in men. I think that if the government were only focused on people we would live in peace and security.

         My last thought is for people who believe in a Creator greater than man. In his creation of Adam and Eve, they were placed in a paradise garden and they were to be fruitful and multiply. He didn't mean that some people enjoy life and others shouldn't. He wants all people to get along and be happy and live our lives as one. We must begin to forgive one another and make things right that were wrong. So if you have it in your heart to spread the Word to other people no one should have to go through the turmoil of homelessness. We live in a world where turmoil is a certainty. Our issues must be addressed and focused upon. Our main issue is helping people to live a normal life-not with hatred, or bigotry, and racism. Please remember we're human. Lets act like one. That's what morals and values are all about.

 Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 34 April-May 1999

 

New Stories of Homelessness Attracts Media

News Brief

compiled by Alex Grabtree

         Homelessness is beginning to get the attention in the news media that it had in the 1980s. There are a number of stories that have appeared in the Plain Dealer, the Free Times, or on television or radio. Enclosed is a brief update on some of the stories that have appeared over the last month.

Zelma George Shelter:

         The Interchurch Council of Greater Cleveland went out of business. They cited as a reason a lack of institutional denominational support. Demand for food and shelter continues to grow, but the Inter-church Council was forced to give up the struggle to find dollars to stay open. According to documents from the Council, they had a $139,000 line of credit debt from KeyBank that needed to be paid back along with a number of other debts. While they could raise funds to operate on a yearly basis they could not seem to make a dent in paying off their debt.

            Because of excessive rent on the Zelma George Shelter and administrative overhead to operate a number of food pantries, the InterChurch Council was forced out of business. A former employee told the Grapevine that the Council never recovered from the split between the Hunger Network and Interchurch Council. In 1995-6, the Hunger Network, a subsidiary of the Interchurch Council, separated and became an independent organization. They took a substantial Cuyahoga County contract from the Council, which sources say was the beginning of the end for the Council.

         All the services operated by the Council were transferred to other organizations. The Zelma George shelter was eventually handed over to the Salvation Army. A number of social service organizations bid on the shelter, with two organizations: Cornerstone Connections and Salvation Army the finalists. Cornerstone Connections currently operates the overflow shelters known as the Project Heat sites, which open only in the evening. They do not have any real experience operating an 24 hour emergency shelter. Because of complaints raised in the Homeless Grapevine by customers of Project Heat and in other forums, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless opposed the bid by Cornerstone Connections.

         In 1998, the building for the Zelma George shelter was donated to the Interchurch Council. In order to settle their debt with KeyBank and others, they sold the building to the Salvation Army. This raised a few ethical issues within the community. Questions were raised by various funders of the Zelma George shelter of the ethics of selling a building that was donated in order to pay a debt incurred by a parent organization and not entirely by the shelter. This will mean over $200,000 will pay the debt of the Council from the Salvation Army instead of being used for services or housing. The building reportedly needs major repair and officials from the Salvation Army are currently assessing the money needed to bring it up to their standards.

Belvoir Cliffs Apartments

         Councilman Roosevelt Coats in early April led a demonstration in front of Belvoir Cliffs Apartment building with the support of neighbors from the Euclid Park housing complex. Coats is asking for HUD to demolish the property so that the land can be redeveloped with houses. HUD has so far refused; saying that there is a huge need for affordable housing in the community and Belvoir Cliffs can be renovated.

         Sources at HUD said that they took possession of the property at the urging of the Councilman. They then presented him with a legitimate non-profit development company that was willing to pay $5 million dollars to renovate the facility, and the Coats rejected the offer. This has forced HUD to open the project up to a public auction for non-profit or for-profit entities to bid on the buildings.

            Belvoir Cliffs has the potential to house 160 families. Coats is asking the complex be demolished so that single family homes could be built. In 1998, City Council passed a unanimous resolution asking HUD to take whatever action necessary to preserve affordable housing in the City of Cleveland. The Coats' plan for Belvoir Cliffs would dramatically reduce the amount of affordable housing in his ward in conflict with his vote on Council resolution which attempts to protect existing affordable housing.

 Tyrone and Chief:

        Tyrone Jordan and his friend Chris "Chief" Herman were featured in Grapevine #32 about the shanty that they built to protest the conditions inside Project Heat. In the cold of December, Jordan and Herman slept in a house built from milk crates and plywood behind the abandoned All Hands Car Wash. As reported in the Grapevine, Jordan had been interviewed by the news media, and two Councilman had shown up to talk. After making it through a tough winter, the two faced greater adversity than Mother Nature-the wrecking ball.

            After an eviction threat in early February that never materialized, a huge construction crane showed up in early March. The anonymous worker nailed a bright pink note saying "Leave by 2/15/99 or face criminal charges" to the side of the shanty; as Jordan stood by saying, "Why are you nailing that there when I am standing right here?" They stayed. On March 10, a construction supervisor showed up and told Herman and Jordan to leave by the end of the day or they were going to bulldoze the shanty. They stayed.

            The next morning the construction worker again showed up and said, "You have one hour to leave or you will be arrested." Jordan and Herman, who was very sick at this point, moved the facility just off of the property line of the All Hands Car Wash. The construction workers did not touch the shanty's former home for a couple of days. Eventually, Herman had to be transported to the hospital. He was able to get some medicine and recovered in his shanty.

           In their new location, their new "landlords" harassed them on a number of occasions. It seems that a number of people did not want to see them jeopardize the development of the business that is being built on the site of the former car wash. They were told to vacate the land by 3/27/98 or face arrest. According to Herman, on Friday 3/26/98, another Cleveland City Councilman visited, saying that they did not have to move.

            On that same Friday, Herman reported that some other drifter shop-lifted a package of hot dogs at a nearby convenience store and was caught. To escape, the individual pulled a knife and fled to the shanty. The police showed up and arrested the individual. According to Herman, one hour later, members of the Cleveland Police Vice Squad showed up at the shanty and told those gathered to vacate within the day or the shanty would be set on fire. All of the "supporters" of the shanty scattered out of fear of arrest, and Herman moved the place across the street in the middle of the night.

           The Cedar Road shanty remains, and thus the protest remains.

 HUD Super NOFA:

         Tuesday March 23rd, a Congressional Investigative Committee heard the concerns of Cleveland's homeless community with regard to HUD funding. On Christmas Eve 1998, the Housing and Urban Development agency announced funding of permanent and transitional housing programs in the United States. The city's highest priority, the Salvation Army PASS program, was not funded for continued operation. After inquiries by the press, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, and the County Commissioners it was discovered the program was not funded because one box had been mismarked on the application.

         The current and former residents of PASS were extremely concerned and called for support in the community to rectify this situation. During a meeting with Commissioner McCormack and Congressman Kucinich, director of NEOCH, Brian Davis and the Salvation Army delivered written and verbal concerns from homeless residents calling for some remedy to this situation. Brian Davis remarked, "The residents and staff of PASS could not understand how one small mistake on an application could totally disqualify a successful program."

            Following this meeting Kucinich was able to schedule a hearing during an investigatory committee of HUD. Brian Davis of NEOCH was invited to testify before the House Government Reform committee and communicate the concerns of those without stable housing. Because of the uproar, HUD is allowing, for the first time, a community to resubmit an application. "We are extremely excited about this," Davis said. He continued, "It is a great victory for the homeless of Cleveland and goes to show, when the homeless are organized and directed their voice can be heard even in the halls of Congress."

         The homeless of Cleveland and the United States were able to influence HUD policy and make a change to strengthen the relationship between the community and HUD. Davis said again, "We are encouraged by this development and hope HUD will now approve the resubmitted grant application. It shows that advocacy can have an impact on changing our society."

 Recommendations made at the hearing by Davis include:

" Modest changes need to be implemented in the HUD Homeless Assistance funding, but House Resolution 1073, which establishes a block grant for the McKinney Funds, is not the answer.

" Renewal funding for programs that support people in permanent housing such as the Shelter Plus Care program should receive renewal funding from the mainstream housing programs (Section 8).

" There should be a separate release of funds for the renewal funding and the new and expansion programs.

" HUD should have better communication with the local community so that they are a partner in the process.

" Local HUD staff should be allowed to help a local jurisdiction with their funding application to avoid technical errors.

" HUD should be more vigilant in reviewing renewal applications to assure that they are effectively serving the community.

  Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 34 April-May 1999

 

More Random Thoughts to Rattle Your Cage

Commentary

By Brian Davis

             A quick glance at the new quarters shows an impressive new face along with a commemoration of the 50 states on the back.  But a careful look shows a symbolic reduction in “Liberty.”  That’s right, the word “Liberty” has been significantly reduced.  This can be directly attributed to the reduction in our won personal liberty that we now face in the Untied States from random drug tests to police officers who act with impunity to harass and intimidate its citizenry. And so now we have formalized that relationship by reducing liberty on the new quarter.

             On the other hand, the displacement of the large word “Liberty” on the new quarter with the words creasing nationalism that we see in this country.  From the increasing vigilance of the border to protect against so-called illegal immigrants to the U.S. position as world military dictator, America is beginning to formalize its empire, and so we proudly display or maybe it just looks better.

             A plan was put in place in response to the congregation at St Peter’s concerns about the number of homeless people on their doorstep.  You may remember that St Peter’s put up a fence and some lovely gardens to keep homeless people away from their door.  They were widely criticized as following a very unchristian approach to homelessness.

             Cuyahoga County, the City of Cleveland, and staff at Catholic Charities formulated a more reasonable response to the growing number of homeless people in the evening around the church.  They put together six months worth of funding to keep the Bishop Cosgrove meal site open until 8:30 p.m. when the Project Heat overflow shelters open.  This would allow homeless people, especially men, to stay inside and wait for the shelters to open.  They would have access to bathrooms and a dinner inside.  They would prevent the trash, urine, and other debris from collecting on the church grounds.  It is a humane approach to dealing with this horrible situation and certainly one that the Catholic Church, a traditional friend of the poor, would embrace.

             Some unknown force in the city has blocked this plan.  This Darth Vader of homeless services remains unnamed.  This entry has forced Catholic Charities to “put this project on the shelf for now.”  So lets go over this again.  This County developed and wrote the contract for this expansion of service. The City provided this money.  Councilman Joe Cimperman, who represents the area around the church, continues to push for the project.  And Catholic Charities staff came up with the plan to expand one of their services.  So where does the opposition come from to extend the hours of the Cosgrove Center?

             St. Peter’s parish council continues to deny that they had anything to do with the project being shelved.  Eventually the story will come out.  I only hope that this story will come out before the real St. Peter has to sort this out in front of his gates.  You know, the gates that do not discriminate on the basis of the housing status.

              Living in a shelter is already too much like living in a jail, who decided that a shelter would be located in the proposed jail?  The County Commissioners are forwarding a proposal to build a large jail, social service mall and a shelter for homeless people on E. 55th St. The Councilwoman for Ward 7 is supportive of this plan, but the Mayor and Councilman Joe Cimperman are apposed to the idea, because the neighbors were not consulted.  Well, homeless people were not consulted about this matter either.

            It seems that the Commissioners are trying to solve all their problems with one huge war so that they do not have to keep fighting these small battles against NIBYism.  Hey, they could locate a methadone clinic, needle exchange, treatment facility, and group home for the mentally ill in the social service wing of the warehouse.  Throw in some gypsies and one of outcast religions du jour, and got yourself a concentration camp.

 

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 34 April-May 1999

Learning About the Tough Streets

By  Anthony F.

               Clyde Owens is in the residential treatment program at PASS at the Salvation Army, which is helping him and the other men come to term with there substance abuse and other poverty related issues.  He has been in the program for twenty months and is now ready to live in the community and allow someone else to take his place at this agency.  This will free up a bed for another person who wants to turn his life around.

             The question that I put before him was, “What do you think was the most important element missing in the homeless community?”  Owens said healthcare for homeless people was the most important necessity missing in the homeless community.

             I was somewhat surprised because I thought for sure that housing and food was going to be the highest priority.  I immediately began to switch my role as the interviewer interviewer to the caseworker, which is what I do for a living.  I informed him that the Department of Human Services offers medical treatment to individuals who have no income and take prescribed medication.  I thought that I had an answer for what he claimed was missing in the homeless community.  Again to my surprise he began to educate me on the fundamental of being homeless and the need for healthcare.

             First, he talked about using the example of being diabetic and having to take insulin intravenously with a needle.  He said that yes, the DHS will provide the medical but when a person lives in a shelter and others become aware of the clean needles they become open prey and a victim for crack heads and addicts who will steal those needles for their own illegal drug use.

             Secondly, “Where do you store the insulin medication that the doctor has prescribed?”  Owens asked.  There is no place to store medication because a resident can’t put them in the refrigerator.

             Thirdly, when medication or needles are stolen, which is not unusual, the doctor may honor the request the first or second time, but they will impose limits on what they will reissue.  The rush to judgment may cause doctor to suspect homeless people of selling their medication or needles.

             Lastly, those who take insulin need to eat on a routine schedule to feed the insulin, because balancing the right nutrition intake is important to maintain quality health.

                  This was far beyond the scope of my reality because I was thinking like someone with a permanent place to live.

             I asked him what he thought was the solution to this problem.  He replied that it’s as easy as ABC.

             He states that there needs to be a healthcare facility that’s open twenty-fours a day, an open door health care for the homeless.  They could dispense the medication at the appropriate times, monitor the intake of medication, and assure that the clients are being routinely seen by doctors.

             I am beginning to understand that I need to do a pardigm shift and begin to think more universal and not so limited in my reality thinking and begin to be cognitive of the community to which I’m relating.

  Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 34 April-May 1999

 

 

 

 

 

Homeless Leadership Union

           The Homeless Leadership Union developed the highest priority gaps in the community and presented those to Councilman Frank Jackson. They are now working on looking at couple of specific programs that the City might be able to assist in developing.

        We need a seven day a week drop in center that operates 24 hours per day for men

Solution: Open the current overflow shelter to another provider, and see if they can build a better system.

            There needs to better information about the services that are available in the community.

Solution: NEOCH is developing a central referral center storefront that will have a centralized information center.

            There needs to be more food sites available to homeless people.

Solution: Engage the Hunger Network and others to coordinate services.

            There is a lack of treatment available in the community. Also there is a lack of options available after the completion of treatment.

Solution: The Alcohol and Drug Board needs to get back into the housing business.

            There is a lack of coordination and oversight of all the homeless social services.

Solution: There needs to better government oversight of funds locally.

            We need to develop a clear path off of the streets, especially for men.

Solution: Use the model developed by the PASS program to expand those services and services that support a complete Continuum of Care.

            There is a lack of oversight of the payee system.

Solution: Engage the Mental Health Community to provide better services.

            There is a severe lack of affordable housing especially for people receiving checks.

Solution: Housing needs to be a right in our community. We should acquire some of the abandoned buildings in the community to use for homeless people or service providers.

            There is a lack of decent paying jobs in Downtown Cleveland.

Solution: Assist in the formation of a not-for-profit temporary service.

            There is a lack of medical care for homeless people.

Solution: There needs to be an expansion of clinics with doctors open to homeless people.

            Identification is difficult for homeless people to acquire.

Solution: Assign a contact at Vital Statistics to interact with homeless people and providers who can help secure identification, especially from other cities.

            It is difficult for homeless people with a handicap to find shelter.

Solution: We should have a committed effort to improve the shelters to accommodate handicapped people, and also develop a hospice care center for homeless people.

            Agency staff are not passing the donations onto homeless people.

Solution: We have developed a pledge form for providers to sign.

            The Union also looked at specific ways to improve the overflow shelter system. They have made some suggestions for what are the basic services that are needed to improve the overflow shelters:

1. They need to be open for people who work second and third shift.

2. They must have a place for people to store bags and other valuables.

3. They must have shower facilities that are accessible when the drop in centers are not open.

4. They must have cots for people to sleep on. The linen needs to be cleaned every night.

5. There needs to be special accomodations for people who get put out of the shelter so that they do not have to sleep on the street.

6. They must have a grievance procedure.

7. They should try to hire homeless people to work in the shelter.

8. There should be telephones available for use or at least pay phones.

9. They should have other social service organizations visit the shelter on a regular schedule, including a doctor.

10. They should have a washer and dryer available for use.

    

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 34 April-May 1999

 

Dow Jones Mark Raises Hope for Homeless

Commentary by Todd Oldman

           The Homeless of Cleveland have been waiting with anxiety ever since it appeared in March that the Dow Jones Industrial might soon stay atop o the 10,000 mark.  The city’s street dwellers let out a cheer of joy when the market measure actually achieved this historical goal.

             Balinda Osbondi, a Grapevine vendor, was at the Bishop Cosgrove Center when the news came across the wire.  “I was waiting for breakfast.  I woke a little late and had just arrived at Cosgrove.  I am lucky I didn’t sleep through it.” Tony Tall also recalls what he thought, “I will for the rest of my life remember where I was the moment the Dow toped 10,000.  Usually they make us listen to rap and hip-hop music, but in the middle of the day – they cut in and announced what had happened.  I can’t tell you how much joy I felt in my heart.  I ran to the phone to call my mom collect but there was already a line.”  Things were not so rosy all day however.

             Just as the mood of the cafeteria had reached euphoria someone mentioned that the tide had turned and the market was beginning to fall again. “My heart just stopped! I could not stand to see the advances we had just made be taken away with such ambiguity.” Remarked Stanley Clause.

             The crowd rushed down Superior to watch ticker through the window of McDonald & Co. Securities, Inc. The glass became foggy with the breath of the hundreds of homeless crowded near with anxiety as they watched the Dow at first creep slowly and then begin a general free fall back towards the 9,000’s Clause again said, “ I couldn’t watch.  But when I heard the young strawberry scream ‘NO!’, I knew it had happened.”

             Soon the crowd was overwhelmed with tears.  The revelry was over.  Some say they even saw a tear in the eye of old man Stuart Doberman, the wisest and most experienced of them all, as he turned his shopping cart around and went looking for aluminum.  Many homeless people had pt all their hopes in the Dow.  They saw thousands of job coming to Cleveland.  They knew if the Dow stayed above 10,000 there would be o need for food stamps, welfare, or temporary service companies.

             If the city’s most powerful political, business, and religious leaders could not help them, who could?  As the millennium approached the homeless came to believe only a 10,000 Dow in 1999 could turn their lives around.

             A group of the hard core waited outside McDonald Securities hoping the market would rebound.  They left only when angry priest complained they were blocking his way to his broker.  As the last stragglers disbursed a child asked her mother if they would ever reach the “magic number” again.  Tired and hungry the young mother took a drag of her cigarette before telling her daughter in a tone more wishful that determined that she was sure one day they would.  The little girl smiled and went back to looking for aluminum cans.

 

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 34 April-May 1999