Commentary: Who Elected You Mayor?

by Brian Davis

A lot of times activists are criticized for not dealing with reality, but dealing in an academic or dream world. Critics say that we are cynical and overly sensitive. They say that we are the first to criticize, but we never offer realistic solutions. Activists never have to serve many divergent communities with varied backgrounds and prejudices. Most of these criticisms are not far off base. In fact, The Grapevine is just one of the songbooks for the choir.

Activists have to represent the idealistic viewpoint. They have to see things as they could be and say “why not?” It is a radical concept, but we need to elect leaders to serve the needs of the most vulnerable while raising society by convincing the citizens of the importance of your activities. A true leader shapes and molds the issues, as opposed to our current elected officials, who react to public opinion polls.

So what would I do if I were elected Mayor of the City of Cleveland? My first day, I would get every city worker together. I would tell them my plan for the next four years. I would outline my focus for the administration, which would be to significantly reduce poverty in Cleveland. We would bring in programs and ideas from around the country and around the world that have had the most success. I would then ask each employee to “adopt” two or three families who live below poverty.

A part of their week would have to be to check up on this family and help out whenever possible. The success of each city worker’s adopted family would factor into promotions and pay increases. This would allow the city workers to see how their efforts impact the families who they serve. It would give workers a taste of the bureaucratic nightmare that we have created. It is hoped that systems would work better if the people in charge of those bureaucracies had to navigate them on a regular basis. From police officers to sanitation workers, they would be responsible for helping to lift people out of poverty.

Housing

I would make housing my highest priority. From low income to high income, housing would be a priority. All development that took place would require a commitment to developing low-income subsidized housing as a part of the project. We would work with the County to construct a local housing trust fund to develop affordable housing funded by a modest fee in the tax homeowners pay when they buy a home.

Income and Jobs:

So that workers can afford this housing, we would pass a living wage ordinance in Cleveland. All organizations doing business with the City of Cleveland would have to pay a living wage. This would include non-profits that receive any funding and businesses that get any kind of tax abatement. This livable wage would also include health care. We would then publicly identify those businesses that are providing an anti-family poverty level wages.

I would also get public funding for a not-for-profit temporary service to compete against the exploitative downtown temporary services. This agency would put more money in the hands of those most in need. This would provide a decent income by which people could pay for housing and some stability.

Health Care:

Next, I would address the growing disparity in health care to low income and homeless people. Since we now only have one non-profit hospital, and the many of the for-profit hospitals seem to have plenty of money for new buildings and fancy research facilities. We need a commitment from the hospitals to serve low income individuals with a motto of a person’s health is priceless. We need longer-term respite care centers for people who stay on the streets. We need dental assistance for homeless and low-income people, so that the solution to a cavity is not pulling the problem tooth. (There is some stigma associated with showing up for a job interview with missing teeth).

I would convene a meeting with all the hospitals that operate in the community to begin to get some commitments to better health care for low-income individuals and families. I would also lobby the County Commissioners to significantly increase the Human Services levy to pass a separate Mental Health levy to bring funding for mental health services to those of other cities in Ohio. Then I would march down to Columbus and get the Alcohol and Drug Boards more money. Alcohol addiction services as well as mental health services should receive the same funding from HMOs as any other health problem. I would demand that housing people with drug problems be a part of the treatment efforts. Without housing, we are just wasting money putting people into treatment.

While in Columbus, I would urge that a stable source of funding be found for the Ohio Housing Trust fund and there be significant influx of money for housing. (Thank you for fixing the schools finally, but without housing no matter how great the school is homeless children have hard time learning). I would also tell the elected officials working in Columbus that their welfare plan is hurting our community. I would also tell the elected officials working in Columbus that their welfare plan is hurting our community.

Upon my return, I would direct my law department to file a lawsuit against alcohol and spirits producers and distributors. Using the same precedence established in the smoking lawsuits, I would sue in order to develop a source of funds to create treatment on demand for all our citizens.

Children’s Welfare:

I would ask that the two major foundations in the community fund the two major universities to collaborate on studies to show the health and welfare of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County children. That would be the measurement of my success or failure. If children were better off in this community than my efforts are successful. As long as I was talking to the two large foundations, I would ask why they fund programs that serve low-income individuals but they do not have any people living in poverty on their Boards

or Advisory committees?

Cleveland Public Schools:

I would return the school control to the community. I have enough to do without having to be the CEO of the schools. I would like to have a majority elected school board, but a couple of seats reserved for stakeholders like the City of Cleveland. This mix of elected and appointed Board should be held accountable to the community for improving the schools quickly.

I have no idea what I would do the second month…Oh yeah, those two important issues that so dominated the previous administration would be handled a little differently. First, I think that the importance of the airport is a little overblown. I would continue the strategy of the White Administration except to offer the City of Brookpark something in exchange for the loss of the IX Center. Second, I would end all public subsidies for play- grounds for the rich. The importance of sports to our economy has been way overstated and I would hold these publicly funded playgrounds accountable to returning a profit to the citizens of Cleveland.

At the end of my term, I am sure that Cleveland would be a better place to live and there would be fewer homeless people on the streets. Homelessness is a solvable problem and through leadership and broad community activism we can implement the years of trial and error to begin to reduce poverty.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 35, June 1999, Cleveland, Ohio

 

Urban Camping

Car Camping Causes Commotion

by Bridget Reilly

The Centennial Car Camp for the homeless, where I lived for a total of about 7 months in two different years, was formed partially in recognition of the fact that many “homeless” people live in camping vehicles or tents and can’t meet all the requirements to be admitted into a shelter. It ran for parts of three consecutive years: 1993, 1994 and 1995. It was reluctantly funded each time by a combination of four different governments: the cities of Eugene and Springfield, Lane County and the State of Oregon.

The initial start-up costs were high but the lion’s share of this money was used to pay a round-the-clock staff of “coordinators” because these governments insisted that the campers would need 24-hour supervision. The camp consisted basically of a parking lot; each space occupied by a vehicle or tent with a few other amenities like a toilet and a sink.

It was a very welcome innovation for its time, providing relief from legal persecution for hundreds of homeless campers including babies and school children-a safe haven where we could rest while we were supposedly trying to “get our lives together.’

But in retrospect, it’s also not hard to see its many shortcomings. As has been the case with all the partial “relaxations” of the camping ban, it meant exchanging one type of hassle or inconvenience for another.

For one thing, behind the formation of such a camp is the assumption that none of us would mind being crammed like sardines into a noisy ghetto filled with people of our “kind”, segregated from the rest of society and lorded over by a staff of glorified baby sitters.

For another, the rules of this camp, as in any type of emergency shelter arrangement, only addresses the lowest common denominator of the homeless. We were all assumed to behave as unruly drunks and violent antisocial idiots who had to be coerced into acting civilized. We were also assumed to be too stupid to have any hand in the making of the rules we were expected to follow.

Of necessity there is a certain kind of camaraderie that develops in these ghetto-like situations. Many people described the camp as a “family”, a “community” and such. But there was also a tension due to the fact that we had no democratic say in the way the camp was run. There was a large discrepancy between our perception of ourselves as independent campers-dwellers and the government’s perception of us as shelter inmates.

All in all, I think it was just as well that the centennial model was not able to continue, as those four governments were not willing to continue paying such high costs. As I said, most of the money was wasted on the salary of those babysitters whose presence was not even needed by most of us. So that experiment was scrapped after three years and it was back to the drawing board.

A few months after the closing of the second car camp, I was dumped by my three-year partner and left no recourse but to become an “illegal camper” on the streets in a disabled rig I could neither drive nor repair. Then for almost two years I was able to take refuge in a private driveway; also in violation of a state zoning law that is rarely enforced. Then it was back to the streets again. I did eventually get a ticket for the “crime” of willfully and maliciously occupying my own camper on “public property”.

This was in September 1997, at the same time that I was getting ready to go to Seattle for the NASNA (North American Street Newspaper Association) conference. I had already secured permission to part my camper in a church parking lot while I was gone to ensure that it wouldn’t be ticketed and towed. The pastor originally said I could park it and camp there for a couple of weeks.

After I got back from Seattle, I had to go about searching for a lawyer to fight my camping citation. I was also still trying to figure out how to get my truck running (it needed a new alternator and battery, among other things). My “two-week” stay at the church got stretched out to six weeks while this was going on. The pastor was getting quite antsy for me to leave as there were NIMBY (“Not In My Back Yard”) business owners in the neighborhood who were complaining about the length of time I’d been there, (as if that was a good reason to complain). After a series of friendly warning hints that it was time to go, he finally took the gloves off and got ugly, saying that I would have to get out in three days or be towed. A fine example of Christianity in action, huh?

I managed to find someone with a tow chain who could pull my truck out of there and move it to a new temporary location. At this place lived a mechanic who directed me to a store where I could get a cheap alternator; then he installed it free of charge. So then my truck was, more or less, mobile again. Also, while I was in the church parking lot, The Homeless Action Coalition was mounting an intensive “Campaign for Legal Places to Sleep”, pressuring the city to provide some hassle-free place for the homeless by such and such a date (though they kept extending the date to an alternative time) or else they would commence civil disobedience actions.

This did produce some results in November, in the form of a slight amendment to the camping ban. Now we could camp in certain designated industrial zones-but only for 24 hours at a time. We were still required to move every day, which meant that a lot of us were no better off than before.

Well, I was going to say a whole lot more, but I see that this story, brief and incomplete synopsis though it be, is already getting to be quite a bundle. So I guess I’ll close here and take up the next chapter of the saga another time. If anyone has questions about what I’ve written, feel free to write in care of the Grapevine-I know I have left out a lot of information. That will give me a hint as to what to write next.

Editor’s Note: Bridget Reilly is a regular contributor to the “Homeless Grapevine”. Previously she published the “Houseless Journal” in Eugene, Oregon. She can be reached in care of the “Homeless Grapevine”.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 35, June 1999, Cleveland, Ohio

 

Struggles for a Livable Wage Job in Cleveland

Commentary By Marsha Rizzo

I am a vendor for The Grapevine working towards helping the homeless.

I was an honor roll student and I graduated in drafting computers (CAD). I was a certified welder, I went for a job and when I applied for the job I showed my credentials, and they told me I was over-qualified plus they asked me my age and I told them I was 43. They told me that they had never hired anybody as old as I was at the time. So age discrimination is out there and it is hard to prove. When they told me I was over-qualified it wasn’t the idea of being over-qualified, it was being over-aged. This over-aged woman could have benefited the company.

I take pride in the work I do but they didn’t think I could benefit their company. It was the heartless people who worried about how old I was and not what I could do for the company. I have a heart too and it beats the same way. I have compassion but compassion is love and justice. If companies could take into consideration compassion and justice and not worry about how old we are and our housing situation then we would be able to have jobs and there wouldn’t be any homeless people. We are not asking for a handout, we are asking for jobs and to be treated fairly. When we stand on a corner and sell The Homeless Grapevine we are doing a job just like people who sell The Plain Dealer. So when we sell the paper called The Homeless Grapevine we are selling the truth of what agencies, companies and our community are doing to the people. We are doing our job because we are concerned. We have people telling us to get a real job (easier said than done). I have skills and I was an honor roll graduate, but I still sit here in poverty struggling for existence day by day, minute by minute, second by second. We don’t need charity; we need jobs in our city.

JUST GIVE US JOBS!

Editor’s Note: Marsha has quickly become one of the top vendors in her first month selling the paper. She was able to graduate from her probationary status within two weeks.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 35, June 1999, Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

STRAIGHT FROM THE STREETS

Ted Jackson turned up for an interview and some assistance in late May. Jackson said that he was minding his own business living rough under the railroad tracks in the St. Clair/Superior neighborhood. A Good Samaritan showed up and built a house for him out of wood purchased from a local hardware store. Columnist Denise Dufala of the Cleveland Plain Dealer got word of the work of this volunteer and published a story about him on a Sunday in March. The next morning, Jackson went to do his laundry and when he returned his “house” and all of his stuff was gone. Another temporary housed individual who was a neighbor to Jackson said that the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Cleveland police had picked up Jackson’s house.

He had his identification, some cash, clothing and flashlights taken. Jackson wanted to know what kind of person would throw away someone’s house. Officials from ODOT never returned repeated calls for comment. Jackson is looking for legal representation. The Grapevine will feature an interview with Ted Jackson in July.

The PASS program received its full $1.5 million in funding (Grapevine #34). Ron Reinhart, Director of the Salvation Army PASS program said, “I think we are obviously grateful to all those who helped us get the funding. I think the biggest issue and the biggest victory is that HUD will give technical assistance to others in similar situations in the future. This should prevent future injustices.”

It took another meeting with Congressman Kucinich to complete the process. In early May, Kucinich summoned representatives of the PASS program, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and officials from HUD. HUD sent four attorneys to the meeting. They asked one question which one member of the NEOCH delegation said, “seems like it could have easily been answered over the telephone.” The HUD officials said that everything seemed to be in order and that there did not seem to be anything else that might hold up the application.

On May 14, HUD announced that the PASS program would be funded under the 1998 grant funding. The ongoing story of Chief and Tyrone (Grapevine #34). Tyrone Jordan stayed a couple of nights in the shelter but after an illness did not return to his shanty. Chris “Chief” Herman, after moving his place around a couple of times, was arrested for trespassing and spent a couple of nights in jail. His stuff was cleared away from the Cedar Avenue site.

 He has since moved over to the Hough area and has teamed up with the President of the Homeless (Grapevine #32) to build what they are calling “Camelot” under one of the bridges.The Grapevine vending licensing issue is finally moving through City Council. Out of the blue, the White administration sent the legislation to City Council exempting the Grapevine vendors from the fee associated with a City permit and license to sell items on the street. In hearings before City Council, White spokesperson, Henry Guzman referred to newspaper sellers as “Free Speech Vendors.” He said that they were trying to correct current law that would force vendors to get a license, but would not be burdened by the hardship of a substantial fee associated with that license.

 

Councilman Joe Jones of Ward 1 expressed concern over a proliferation of newspaper vendors in his ward if this legislation passes. He cited problems that he has now with the Nation of Islam vendors in his ward. He wanted to know if he would see a dramatic increase if there were no fees associated with the license. Guzman assured the Council members that they would still have the right to approve all street licenses outside the downtown area.

 Officials from the Grapevine had many questions regarding the legislation and hope to have the opportunity to get some of those questions answered before the full City Council approves the legislation. The Grapevine will feature a more comprehensive story in July.

 In a recent tour of the overflow shelters known as Project Heat by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Director Brian Davis, Charlene, a supervisor for the site at the Welfare building said that 80% of the population had been in the shelter for the entire 9 years that she had worked at HEAT.

 This shelter is for “fragile” populations: those with a mental illness, the elderly and those with AIDS. This means that 45 men are using this place with a mat on the floor as their home for 9 years. These men have been forgotten by the world. They are existing but leave no footprints.

NEOCH has been doing advocacy to get this system cleaned up. The Coalition is trying to get the city and county to improve the overflow shelters so that they are not dumping grounds for people forgotten by the community.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 35, June 1999, Cleveland, Ohio

 

Learning Valuable Lessons

by Barb Hess

 I began working as an intern at NEOCH in January of this year. My internship was a requirement of course work at Baldwin-Wallace College where I am finishing my Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services. For the past 10 weeks I spent my Saturday mornings at NEOCH under the supervision of Dinah Blake. Most of my focus was spent working with the vendors of this publication.

I was introduced to the Grapevine about three years ago while volunteering at the Catholic Worker storefront, a drop-in shelter in Cleveland.

It wasn’t until I began my internship that I understood how the paper operated and how it was presented to the public. I also had a great deal of interaction with the vendors of the Grapevine. I found these individuals to be driven by the amount of paper sales they could achieve. To become a permanent vendor, a vendor must sell 300 papers in one month. Not an easy task! I experienced Tanya’s excitement when she became a permanent vendor back in February.

She came into the office to have her picture taken for her permanent vendor’s badge. I had the honor of taking her picture, probably because I’m a little taller than Dinah and could take the photo without cutting off Tanya’s head! The camera had no film left and I could see the look of disappointment on Tanya’s face. I told her not to go anywhere-I would be right back with film. I ran out and bought some film and soon Tanya had her badge.

When one of the vendors would stop in early Saturday morning to purchase $10.00 or $20.00 worth of papers, most often they would ask how late NEOCH would be open that day. The confidence these individuals had to sell these papers was inspiring. (Being in sales myself, I know how important confidence is!) Also, it is pretty tough to stand out in the cold on a Saturday morning and sell papers to rushed market shoppers who may not be aware of this publication and cannot take the time to find out about it.

My intent of this article is to share. If this is your first copy of the paper, don’t make it your last. Also, spread the word. I passed a copy of the paper to a colleague of mine and she asked me if that was a legitimate publication. She had been asked to purchase a copy of the paper on the Cleveland State Campus and never heard of it. I told her that it was legitimate and gave her the low-down of the operation and purpose of the paper. So if I tell two friends and so on, awareness of the paper will be greater.

The paper offers a lot and serves as financial assistance to the vendors who sell it. I commend all of the Grapevine vendors for their belief in the paper and their abilities to sell. When one vendor, Anthony, asked me what I was going to school for I replied “Human Services” and he replied, “Barb, never forget to be humanistic when dealing with people.” What a true statement! Also, best of luck to Beatrice on her new summer adventure! May you greet each day with the motivation to succeed.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 35, June 1999, Cleveland, Ohio

back to Issue #35

Drop-in Center Opens All Day

 

    Beginning June 1st, The Bishop Cosgrove Center will stay open until 7 p.m. in order to serve dinner. Currently the Catholic Charities operated agency serves breakfast and lunch to over 200 people each day. The agency, located on E. 18th and Superior serves homeless and very low income people, some of whom took up residence on Superior Avenue in the evening. This caused some controversy with regard to the homeless who sleep on Superior and neighbors including St. Peters Catholic Church. Currently homeless people reserve dinner from a Salvation Army Food truck.

    Last year the administrators of the Cosgrove center submitted a grant to the county for the funding needed to serve evening meals. In late 1998, they were awarded this grant from Cuyahoga County. However, shortly after this news, plans for the evening meal were shelved. “There was a great deal of speculation around why Catholic Charities suddenly shelved plans for extending hours. In the end it was never confirmed who or what was the source of the neighborhood opposition,” remarked Brian Davis, Director of the Northeast Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH).

    Councilman Joe Cimperman of Ward 13, where the Cosgrove Agency is located, held a series of meetings with representatives from St. Peters, the county, Catholic Charities, the Quadrangle, homeless people, NEOCH and the city. The homeless people who attended were allowed to explain how dinner would actually reduce the number of people just “hanging around” the area and how it would help them in other ways. Catholic Charities was also able to explain details of the plan to neighborhood representatives. Finally when Cimperman asked if there was an opposition by any parties present, the room was silent. In late April, Catholic Charities was once again planning to use the County Grant.

    When asked for a quote about the situation, Catholic Charities declined, but did confirm on June 1st they will begin serving dinner at 5:30 p.m.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 35, June 1999, Cleveland, Ohio

back to Issue #35

 

Cuomo Stumbles Over Advocate’s Questions

Commentary by Angelo Anderson

Every few years the National Coalition for the Homeless sponsors a National Summit on Homelessness. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo addresses this year’s group. During the question and answer segment following his keynote address he angered many of the attendees when he remarked that he was not convinced that welfare reform had made people homeless. Among catcalls and “boos” the Secretary had to slip out the back door of the auditorium.

What often allows politicians to make remarks such as Mr. Cuomo’s is the lack of a definition of homelessness. Defining homelessness is the most challenging of tasks. The typical way to get definitions is to use a dictionary to see how everyone else is using the word. With homelessness, this way is not available. Different people use the word in substantially different ways; often without realizing their audience is misunderstanding them.

There is no simple way of describing a homeless person, even though the term suggests that there is a single defining characteristic: being without a home. The homeless population includes single men, single women and families. The homeless are white, African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American. They are refugees and aliens, parolees, runaway youth, veterans, the elderly and former hippies. They are alcoholics, drug addicts and mentally ill. Some suffer from a combination of all of these problems and many have serious medical issues. Some homeless are victims of domestic violence and others become homeless due to economic disasters or the loss of a job, over which they had no control.

Generally, the homeless man or woman is impoverished, transient, and often lacks the social skill or emotional stability needed to improve his or her situation without considerable outside help.

Homeless people are sometimes defined as those with the inability to secure regular housing when such housing is desired. Homelessness is not symbolic of extreme poverty, but is a condition of the most extreme deprivation, the absence of a place to call one’s own. Spending a night in a bus station does not qualify as homelessness, if it happens to a person on vacation. It is homelessness when a person is evicted from regular housing into a futile search for affordable housing. It is when they live for several months with friends or family members while looking for a place.

Please note, homelessness is not a problem that is limited to a particular setting or to certain types of people. Many people who are marginally housed are often termed the “hidden homeless.” The situation of the hidden homeless underscores the problem of extreme poverty and homelessness.

Advocates cultivated the use of the word “homeless” in the late 1970s intending it as a non-stigmatizing fashion of referring to the street dwelling poor and their counterparts in shelters. In the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987, homelessness was used to describe nighttime:

  • · An individual who lacks a fixed a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.
  • · An individual who has a primary night time residency that is supervised publicly or privately as a shelter designed to provide temporary living accommodations including welfare hotels, congregate shelters and transitional housing for the mentally ill; an institution that provides a temporary residence for individuals intended to be institutionalized; or a public/private place not designed for or ordinarily used as regular sleeping accommodations for human beings.
  • · People who are at imminent risk of losing their housing because they are being evicted from private dwelling units or are being discharged from institutions and have nowhere else to go are usually considered homeless for program eligibility purposes.

In the United States, conservative estimates indicate that more than 1.5 million people are homeless nationwide. On the other hand, more liberal estimates indicate that as many as 3,000,000 people may be without shelter. The phenomenon of homelessness is increasing. One measure of this growth is the increase in the number of shelter beds over time. Cleveland reported in 1998 a 15% increase in requests for shelter and a 20% increase in family requests for shelter.

Most Americans seem to believe that homelessness is a new phenomenon caused by the combination of regressive governmental policies and the recession of the early 1980s. The truth is that homelessness is not new. Although they were classified or labeled differently in earlier periods of American history, there have always been homeless Americans.

Most of us look at the issue of homelessness in one of three ways:

  • · With hostile judgment
  • · With a charitable view
  • · With a liberal therapeutic view

However, homelessness is not an isolated phenomenon. The fate of homeless people is bound up in the broader economic and social trends that are reducing the standard of living of the working class and poor.

Among the homeless population some are homeless for a short period of time, some for many years and others cycle into and out of the state of homelessness.

Homelessness in the world’s most wealthy of nations is a shameful phenomenon. Across the nation individuals without enough food, clothing or housing wrestle to live-while many others enjoy multiple homes, full closets and often grossly packed kitchens.

In a nation where CEOs make 419 times the amount of the average worker and others pay as much as 80% of their income for rent-is there any reason we have homelessness?

It is my hope that over the next two years, we here at NEOCH will continue to try and put a face on homelessness by putting into practice some of the advocacy strategies and thoughts that were conceived in Washington. By doing so we hope to find better ways to represent those people on the street and in the shelters of Cleveland to the often-uneducated politicians.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 35, June 1999, Cleveland, Ohio

Homeless Shelter Life

City Fails to Care for Poor

Commentary by Barb Hess

“Cleveland is a punitive city in its efforts to aid and assist the homeless population in this city.”

Those are the words from Charlene, a woman residing in the overflow women’s shelter. Charlene became homeless when she lost her job. She is a native of California with a degree in social work.

She explained to me that the city does nothing and the homeless population do not advocate themselves. She said in California the homeless picket agencies to gain attention and voice their needs for shelter, food and other necessities. Charlene is going back to California thanks to a bus ticket provided to her by a local church. She plans to write an article for the homeless paper in her city about the conditions in Cleveland.

Ginny (not her real name) told me that this particular shelter offered no counseling services and did nothing to help her find her family residing in another state. She was also offended that the shelter bused residents to a church dining hall and made them stand outside in the cold before the shelter opened. The Salvation Army truck would come by to give out a dinner of pasta and coffee. There were also men waiting outside to eat who harassed the women. She felt her dignity and respect were under attack.

Marsha (not her real name), a new resident of the shelter arrived last night with her young children. Her caseworker told her that if she could not get her kids to school each day, social services would take them from her. Where is the compassionate side of this social service agency? Why are these women left to deal with the fact that the shelter and minimal care is the only assistance we can offer?

Please note that only one side of the story is heard here and there may be more to any situation. But why should anyone be living in a temporary shelter without some direction and help to offer them better living conditions and alternatives? Is Cleveland doing enough to address the growing homeless population of women?

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 35, June 1999, Cleveland, Ohio

 

Advocates Energized After Summit

by Todd Neumann

Homeless advocates Brian Davis and Angelo Anderson represented the Northeast Ohio Coalition of the Homeless and Cleveland at this year’s National Summit on Homelessness sponsored by the National Coalition for the Homeless. The annual event was held in Washington DC and representatives from 46 states attended with over 700 people registering. The Summit was designed to bring together advocacy groups from across the country in an effort to share the latest information on the face of homelessness. Conference participants attended seminars on housing, health care, livable income, civil rights and homeless children’s education. Currently, homeless and formerly homeless people, activists and social service organizations participated in this four-day summit May 1-4, 1999.

Mary Ann Gleason, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless said, “I thought there were a lot of people who became engaged in a new way as advocates.” She said that from the feedback and her follow-up discussions the conference added new energy to the movement. She felt especially grateful to Civil Rights activist Reverend Joseph Lowry who “handed off the baton” to poverty advocates.

In addition to providing advocates with the latest statistics and forums in which to share their local barriers and victories, the Summit helped to organize lobbying teams. Much of this lobbying concentrated on protecting the Community Re-Investment Act, preserving and creating affordable housing and defeating House Bill 1073 which would “block grant” all HUD McKinney program money to the local jurisdictions.

Gleason identified tangible areas that she felt some consensus was building including:

  • ·         The Community Housing Investment trust to create a resource pool to build one million units of housing for those making minimum wage or less.
  • ·         Better advocacy around health care and specifically combating addictive disorders.
  • ·         Refocusing the movement away from emergency services to long-term solutions including housing, living wage campaigns and housing trust funds.
  • ·         Serious attention to protecting the rights of the homeless people.
  • ·         The need for advocates to be engaged at all levels of government of government by showing successful advocacy campaigns at the state, local and federal level.

Perhaps the highlight and most controversial part of the conference was a Keynote Address by HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo. While answering questions following his address, the crowd went into an uproar when he remarked that he was not convinced that welfare reform had made people homeless in the United States and he also said that he was not aware of any HUD funded programs that require a credit background check. He slipped out the back door after attempting to answer the questions from the participants.

Local participants Brian Davis and Angelo Anderson of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless each moderated seminars on Civil Rights for homeless people and Creating and Sustaining a street newspapers respectively.

“I thought that it was a wonderful forum to direct an advocacy strategy to make homeless people a protected class and crimes directed at people just because they are homeless fall under the Federal hate crimes laws,” said Brian Davis, executive director of NEOCH.

Angelo Anderson, program manager at NEOCH said, “I learned a lot about housing policies and what may be coming down the line.”

Anderson was able to ask HUD Secretary Cuomo about the status of the HUD grant to the Salvation Army PASS program. Cuomo was aware of the PASS funding problems and said that a decision will be announced by May 14.

Over the next two months, NEOCH staff said that they will be putting in practice some of the advocacy strategies and thoughts that were conceived in Washington. This conference will allow the NEOCH staff to better represent those on the streets and in the shelters of Cleveland.

Gleason said that she was “most excited that we are turning the corner.” She said, “The need for systematic change came blustering forward at the summit.”

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 35, June 1999, Cleveland, Ohio