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