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