Southerner Brings Charm to Street Outreach

By Brooke McConochy

Danny Stephens was the Lead Vista for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless from March 1998 to May 1999. In May, Stephens took over Mark Budzar’s position with the Volunteers of America shelter. He is one of the Volunteers of America shelter. He is on of the daytime outreach workers who partly the city looking for homeless people that may need assistance or just a friendly face. When Danny Stephens handed me a small turtle as I stepped into his office and said “That’s Edmund.", I knew that he was not your typical outreach worker.

Homeless Grapevine: Where did you get Edmund?

Danny Stephens.: “One day my Dad let a bull out of the gate when he was taking the tractor out. He started chasing the bull with the tractor and he couldn’t catch it., so finally he got off the tractor and threw his hat down. When he reached down to pick his hat up there was little Edmund. He let me have him for a pet. That was about a year ago.”

I came to find out that Danny knew a little bit about turtles. In fact, Danny knows a little bit about a whole lot of things with sleeping on a steam grate not the least of them. He’s a large unassuming man with a Southern drawl and an infectious grin. His interests include fishing, farming, brick collecting, and making Christmas ornaments with his Mom, not to mention helping Cleveland’s homeless off the streets. His career in this rather unusual “service industry” began when he graduated from Shawnee State in Southern Ohio. He’s been helping Cleveland’s homeless for just over a year. First working with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, and most recently as an outreach councilor for the Volunteers of America shelter near West 25th and Clark.

D.S. “After I graduated from college, one of my professors wanted me to apply for VISTA (Volunteers In Service to America) in Portsmouth, so I did. VISTAs work in low-income areas and they try to help better their lives. I was working with kids in…I hate to say projects, but that’s what they were. I implemented a ‘Hooked on Fishing, Not on Drugs’ program down there. When I finished up my year of service, there was a lead VISTA position over in Cleveland and I decided it was probably the best move for me because I thought there would be more of an opportunity in Cleveland. The job market down South isn’t the best.”

H.G. “What are some of the differences you’ve seen between southern Ohio and here?”

D.S. “Up here people go to coffee shops. People down home are not going to pay $3 for a cup of coffee. Coffee’s free down there. Other than that, I don’t think then mentality is any different, but it’s too soon to say for sure.”

H.G.: “What about the people you’re helping?”

D.S.: “The kids I was working with down there didn’t have a lot of family support and rarely did have a male figure in their life. I kind of filled that role. That’s what I miss the most, the kids down there. Up here I’m working with more homeless adults, and that’s just a different story. There’s not as much homelessness down there. In an urban setting there’s always going to be more homelessness.”

H.G.: “Why?”

D.S.: “It’s got more people, and any time you put more people together it causes problems. Affordable housing is not really great in this town.”

H.G.: “Had you worked with the homeless people at any extend before you started here?”

D.S.: “Not before I came to Cleveland. I had a lot of misconceptions before I took the job at NEOCH. The public thinks that homeless people are dirty or lazy, and that’s just not true. The majority of homeless people work. When I was at NEOCH, my job was public education. This homeless calendar was part of that.”

H.G.: (Looking at the Calendar.) “This is your cousin?”

D.S.: “ He died four or five years ago at the age of 99. He always wanted to be 100, just a couple of months short. He could still dance. He loved to drink whisky and walk, probably walked 20 miles a day.”

H.G.: “Do you think he chose that life?”

D.S.: “Yeah, pretty much. I think it’s just what he wanted to do.”

H.G.: “Was he a deeply philosophical man?”

D.S.: “I don’t think so. I don’t think anybody else thought he was. I think he was pretty deep but I don’t think most people would agree with that.”

H.G.: “Anyone who walks for 20 miles a day has got to do a lot of thinking.”

D.S.: “He was in a nursing home one time. He used to escape all the time, come back and forth-there would be these old ladies in there with straps on their wheelchairs. He didn’t know what Velcro was so he would take his pocketknife out and cut the straps so they could get free.”

H.G.: “Was he always a part of your life as you were growing up?”

D.S.: “You’d see him every now and then. He’s walk the roads; sometime you’d pick him up and take him somewhere.”

H.G.: “ Did it strike you as a child, that this was an unusual way to go through life?”

D.S.: “ No, not really.”

H.G.: “What have you done since you left NEOCH?”

D.S.: “ Right now what I do with Volunteers of America is –we have a homeless shelter here-go out in the street and try to find people who want to come in to our shelter. We have emergency shelter with 22 beds. That’s 22 people off the street.”

H.G.: “They can just walk in, 24 hours a day?”

D.S.: “If we have openings, we’re full a lot, so it’s not real easy to get in. We also have a transitional program that is a step up from the emergency shelter. There we address each person different needs. A lot of the people we deal with have drug and alcohol problems.”

H.G.: “How do you deal with that.”

D.S.: “Well, we try to get them into programs like Daywood to help them with their addictions. We try to get them into detox and different things. If you test positive for drugs, then you’re out. It’s tough. I talk to people out on the streets. I just try to let them know we’re here. I’m not going to twist their arm to get in here, because if they’re not ready to come to a shelter it won’t work.”

H.G.: “What are some of the rules?

D.S.: “You can’t use. You’ve got to be in at a certain time. You’ve got to be out at a certain time. You’re expected to have responsibilities. You’re expected to help out. There are chores. It’s not living under the bridge. We’re in constant need, and you can circle this, or donations.”

H.G.: “Financial donations?”

D.S.: “Well, the outreach program really needs stuff like towels, clothes, and toiletries. I do a lot on the street too, with clothes giveaways and stuff. Like I said, I’m not twisting anyone’s arm to come here. I’m just trying to let them know someone cares. The system is pretty harsh and you can go through the system and get the idea that nobody really cares about you. I just want to let the guys know that somebody does care. Here’s a pair of socks or here’s a doughnut, if you ever reach rock bottom you can decide to come to the shelter and straighten your life up.”

H.G.: “You’re on the street, you’re out there?”

D.S.: “Yeah, and it’s pretty amazing the places that I find people. Under bridges, in the woods, steam crates, just everywhere.”

H.G.: “Steam grates?”

D.S.: “You know, on the city sidewalks where the steam comes up. That’s houses, that’s people houses, and you don’t mess with somebody’s home. You don’t invade that space.”

H.G.: “How do you approach these people?”

D.S.: “They know the van, they know the people pretty well. They know who the VOA is out on the street, so we can pretty much walk up right to them. I get all kinds of requests. Candy. ‘I want some candy.”

H.G.: “Do they joke around with you or do you ever get harassed at all?”

D.S.: “No, I never get harassed, but I get requests for any item you can name. And if it’s sitting in the office here, somebody might as well use it, peppermints, deodorant, clothes, and stuff like that.”

H.G.: “What percent do you think are addicted to alcohol?”

D.S.: “I would say over 50% is drug or alcohol related. Mental illness is a big, big problem also. We also have a contract with the VA and we supply beds from homeless veterans.”

H.G.: “Is it a lifestyle choice these people are making? A lot of people think they are content living that way, or don’t want to get out.”

D.S.: “Well, we all make choices, every choice we make we have to live by. That’s what life is, choices. But I don’t think…. who would want to live in a steam grate? Who would want to live under a bridge? It’s not easy. There are a lot of homeless people who don’t do drugs, too. There are a lot of homeless families, a lot of homeless kids.”

H.G.: “What exactly is your job description?"

D.S.: "I’m outreach councilor for the homeless people. You’ll see me driving the VOA van around and people will flag me down, or I’ll flag them down. Pretty much I’m there for anyone in the city who is having problems and needs somebody to talk to. If I can’t help them I’ll try to find somebody who can. We do whatever it takes.”

When I left the Volunteers of America shelter that afternoon I realized how naïve I had been. I’ve seen homeless people all of my life. I can’t count the time that I have walked by them, or around them, stepping away a little bit by apprehension maybe from guilt. I went home after the interview. I think I even turned the air conditioner on because it was getting hot and muggy. I had never really thought of what life would be like without a place to turn. I never thought about how these people lived. I was glad Danny Stephens had decided to make a difference and I decided I would make a difference too.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine July 1999 Issue 36 Cleveland Ohio.

Protesters Demand Better Treatment for Project HEAT

By, Chris Smekal and Dinah Blake

   The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) held a protest on what was billed as “Homeless Independence Day,” July 6, 1999. The demonstration was held at the Welfare Building on Superior Avenue. The protest was designed to force the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to finally take action to improve the city’s overflow shelters, Project HEAT, run by the non-profit Cornerstone Connections.

   The Protest featured homeless advocates and homeless people from across the city who have been subjected to the conditions at Project HEAT. Protesters demanded that the county immediately withdraw the contract from Cornerstone Connection and give it to another provider in order to improve the conditions to be regular emergency shelter. The Coalition gathered to call for a more compassionate staff employed at these facilities.

   Demonstrators then marched over to the Plain Dealer to protest the extreme editorials that have appeared over the last month. A June 5th article by Mike O’Malley of the Plain Dealer called the public to attention to the conditions many homeless are forced to live under if they want to stay at the Project HEAT. These conditions include verbal abuse by HEAT staff, dangerously filthy bedding, and constant fear of theft of violence while both staff members sleep during the night. Clients have also been publicly threatened with reprisal if they complain about conditions.

   When the Plain Dealer article came out NEOCH called for immediate action. “The contract must be withdrawn from Cornerstone Connections,” said Brian Davis, Executive Director of NEOCH, “This agency has acted with negligence by allowing these conditions to go on for too many years. Their director is unresponsive and unsympathetic to client complaints and has been unable to change the conditions. The Board of Cornerstone Connections is unaware of conditions and has neglected to do any oversight or monitoring of the staff.”

   Davis said the Coalition staged this protest after two weeks of inaction by the County to these deplorable conditions. After repeated calls, no plan of action has surfaced that will change the conditions outlined in O’Malley’s article. County Administrator, Tom Hayes, said that the County had given Cornerstone Connections time to correct the concerns raised by NEOCH. In a recent letter to the Coalition from Acting Director of Senior and Adult Services, Jane Fumich, who has been meeting regularly with members of Project HEAT, said, “We have asked the Salvation Army to meet with us to provide an update on progress/issues related to securing a property for a use as a permanent shelter for the chronically homeless made population.”

   Linda, a woman from another shelter, came to demonstration despite never having been forced to stay at HEAT, “because I want to show my support against project HEAT and the conditions that have there. I know how hard it was when I was homeless. The streets were really rough and tough. It happened so fast with me –I lost my husband, my apartment and my job went; then I was homeless.”

   The protest also centered around recent editorial comments in the Plain Dealer. On June 8th in the Cheers & Jeers section, the Coalition was Jeered for the “complaining that homeless …are getting a raw deal…the blankets may smell bad, the water pressure may be low…But isn’t a sleeping mat indoors preferable to bare dirt under a bridge?”

   On June 13th a lengthy and misguided editorial written by Beth Barber called the homeless and their advocates “aimless and clueless.” As a part of the “Homeless Independence Day,” those gathered held a “Bethbarberque” because Davis said, what is a summer holiday without a Bethbarberque?”

   Barber referred to efforts to improve conditions at HEAT as “blather about the rights and needs of ‘clients’…”. She alluded to returning to forced incarceration in asylums for people with mental illness or forced medication for the mentally disabled. Ms. Barber even called attempts to reform HEAT, “a tactic for persuading the public to pour more resources…into coaxing the dysfunctional off the street.”

   Davis said again “I am appalled that the Pain Dealer printed such a cruel and generally nasty editorial. Besides being mean and full of fear, Ms. Barber misses the point entirely. We are not calling for more money. We want her tax money spent more effectively. The tax payers are paying $6000,000/year for a shelter that is dirty, cruel, and demoralizing. It is so bad that many prefer to risk their safety outside. Many agencies I the community do not even consider Project HEAT a legitimate referral source.”

   Interestingly enough, Ms. Barber said in her article, “The Homeless need a bed, a shower, a toilet, referrals to social services.” These are precisely the things missing in HEAT that homeless people and advocates were demanding at the protest.

   Barber met protesters outside of the Plain Dealer for a debate with the rain soaked demonstrators. She said that she did not consider cleaning the toilets as a punishment, and did not see anything wrong with homeless people being told that they had to clean toilets. Davis asked that if the editors chose to write any further editorials that they visit the facility first. He said, “Ten years of this abomination is long enough. We are a compassionate community and we should no longer tolerate these facilities that strip homeless people of their dignity. No where else in the state do permanent overflow shelters exist which circumvent the laws regarding shelter standards.”

   The Coalition asked the Plain Dealer editors who came out for a better educated reporting on the poor and homeless of this community. Davis tried to dispel the myth that most homeless people were “uncooperative, the belligerent, the drunk and the drugged” as Barber referred to them in her column.

   “I have a college education. It can happen to anybody-real quick,” said Susan who was asked that we not use her real name. Ruth said, “If she (Beth Barber) had talked to homeless people, she could have made a beautiful article.” Larry, who attended the demonstration said, “The way [Barber’s article] comes off, I don’t think people realize how close they can be to homelessness. I never thought I’d be homeless, and I am today. [The article] shows a lack of compassion to fellow man.”

   A student who attended the demonstration, Bridget Gibbons said, “The demonstration caught my eye. I work in the building. I think it’s really sad if people are in the streets of there is shelter. I don’t understand.” Another demonstrator, Angelo Anderson II “I agree with what people are saying. They shouldn’t be treated like animals. They shouldn’t be turned away because they lost a card. A homeless shelter should be for homeless people-they shouldn’t have to clean toilets-that’s stupid.”

   A number of residents including an older man on a cane who said that he would rather sleep outside and drown in his pan in alcohol than sleep in these facilities. A woman said that she lost her job as a social worker and through a series of problems wound up in the women’s overflow shelter. She said that she was shocked that people had to sleep in these conditions.

   Another homeless woman said that she felt that is was unbelievable that homeless women with children would have to sleep on smelly mats with an uncaring staff. Finally, a current resident described the sweltering conditions that existed on the 90 degree weekends in early July. He said that it was so hot that the customers of Project HEAT staff relinquished and opened the doors when the fire department showed up, but forced the leaders of this modest rebellion out to sleep on the street.

    Demonstration organizers said that they would continue to press the City and County for a change in the overflow shelter contract, and may have to do another demonstration if the complaints of homeless people fall on deaf ears.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine July 1999 Issue 36 Cleveland, Ohio

Media Fails as Fourth Estate

Commentary by Steve Cagan

 On Tuesday, July 6th, I decided to attend the demonstration demanding changes in the Project HEAT program to take some photographs. I’m doing a photo project about how homeless people in Cleveland find and/ or create their own shelters. For me the struggle to win better conditions in places like the HEAT shelters is part of creating better conditions, so I thought I’d take some pictures there.

After a rally outside the Welfare Department office at East 16th and Superior (the location of on of the deplorable shelters), the group of homeless activists and their supporters walked the two blocks to the Plain Dealer, to protest the terrible ways that homeless people have been characterized by PD editorial writers.

I thought the action was very creative, responding to Beth Barber’s argument that it’s OK for homeless people in shelters to be required to clean toilets, the demonstrators brought toilet brushes and offered to clean all the toilets in the PD building in exchange for a place to sleep-a place that would certainly be better than the terrible conditions in the HEAT shelters.

At the door to the PD, Beth Barber herself was waiting along with Brent Larkin and a bunch of Burns security guards and city police, both in uniform and in plain cloths. For a minute, it seemed that Barber was actually going to listen to what the people has to say.

She seemed to be going through the motions. But then she became Beth Barber, and instead of listening with her ears and eyes and mind open, she began to argue with the folks. In the process, she showed that she was more interested in confirming her cold, heartless, vision of the homeless than she was in learning anything. Meanwhile, Brent Larkin pointed out individual people and it seemed to me that he was laughing at them.

It was another shocking reminder that the editorial staff of the PD is interested in defending the interests of Cleveland’s power structure rather than really getting to the heart of the issues that are important in the community.

The next day, the PD had an article that made it sound like Barber wanted a real exchange with people, though that was clearly very far from her mind. Well, we can expect them to defend themselves. And WCPN radio did their usual "He said, they said," story. But no one from the Cleveland Media did what the people at the rally asked for. No one went to examine the conditions at the HEAT shelters before writing their stories.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine July 1999 Issue 36 Cleveland Ohio.

Loriano Now Provides a Hand Up to Others

By A. Forbes

 Edwardo Loriano was born in New York, raised in Chicago and came to Cleveland in 1986 with his mother and two sisters. Throughout his life he has been in 11 foster homes, 3 group homes, and 4 penitentiaries. The foster homes were all right but he didn’t like being away from his family. He lived in foster home in Toledo, Bowling green, West Virginia, and Kentucky.

The Phoenix Society of Cleveland was instrumental in helping him secure his housing by referring him to the Shelter Plus Care program. The Phoenix Society helped him compose a letter to reinforce his situation and the fact that he was a recovering addict, who was in receipt of Social Security benefits by not had secured housing. They saw that the potential for success was there, and the obstacles that were keeping him out of housing. He was being turned down continually because of policies from different housing agencies and landlords regarding felony convictions. This policy is very different since many individuals who are homeless, or who have mental health issue, or are living with AIDS have criminal records and therefore are automatically ineligible to apply for housing.

He sent Agency Staff and Shelter Plus another letter verifying that he was living in the area shelters, and proof on his Social Security award letter. He then sent all documents into the program on the 21st of December and was accepted on the 5th of February. He pays 30 percent of his income toward his rent and Shelter Plus pays an additional 70 percent.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine July 1999 Issue 36 Cleveland Ohio.

Life Through the Footsteps My Father Left

By Te’tro Amaru

It’s truly ironic that my father, who I once proclaimed to know nothing about and life of life while I was in high school, now maintains to be the foundation of my knowledge of an about life. As life continues to take me though its roller coaster ride of ups and downs, my father continues to use his life’s experience and wisdom to focus my energies in a positive direction. A quarter through my life and I’m as confused as ever. “What could happen,” you ask?

Could it be that I graduated from college but wasn’t truly ready for the realization of the “real world”? Or is this something that everyone goes through at my age? The uncertainty and haunting fear of becoming a thirty-something year old still depending on my parents for financial support and a failure within the game of life.

Time and time again I maintain that life is what we make it as I secure myself within the ongoing wisdom of my father’s testament, “Success breeds success.” Now at age forty-something, a self-made man, successful entrepreneur, and a grandfather, I feel secure within his wisdom and truly believe that if I am steadfast in my beliefs that I will overcome life’s confusion and become successful as well. The tools have been implemented and the desire to accomplish my goals in life have hardened within my mind. The only unanswered question is how.

With the many talents and abilities I possess it would seem an easy thing to figure out. However, life seems to sidetrack me and through monkey wrenches into my plans ever so often, by way of female relationships, finance dilemmas, and most of all impatience. At these moments in my life it helps me to have a father as a best friend to turn his wisdom and experience to refocus my desires. So on his day of days, Father’s Day, we talked about life and discussed what he considered a normal dilemma that everyone my age goes through – the what to do now stage. I told him of my fears, my hopes, and dreams,, and of what I was doing to fulfill them and seemingly constant barriers that I was running into within every positive step I took. His reply was simply, “That’s life.”

Some things are so simple that it’s hard to see at times. Which is kind of easier said than done, when it comes t the predicaments of life. Still, by the end of the conversation, I firmly came to the realization that it is better to do something than to do nothing at all. I could fail without a try and only thoughts of what I should do and not do. Or I could simply do the things that I do best, give it my all, and pray for a successful result in the end.

And with those last thoughts and shared words between my father and me, life appeared settled (for now) and my desires refocused. There are a lot of things that I could do without in my life, but I do not know where I would be or who I would be with without the guidance of my father. So as life goes on I remain strong and focus on achieving what I’ve set out to do regardless of the various barriers that may come my way. One day at a time, doing all that I can by taking one step at a time, with my friend and father forever by my side, life’s mystery become elementary. There are a lot of things that happen throughout one’s life to make that person acquire certain thoughts and do certain unexplainable actions. But yet if we all remain focused on what we have set out to do in life, it will make the rewards that much sweeter in the end.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine July 1999 Issue 36 Cleveland Ohio.

Families Face Homelessness

By Vivian R. Howard

             What do you think a typical homeless person looks like?  An older Caucasian male with tattered clothing and an overgrown beard, who smells of liquor?  An African-American male (same clothing) who is high on crack cocaine?  Can you tell a homeless person when you see him on the street?  Did you know that the average age of homeless people is a teenager?  Families are the fast growing population of homeless people in the country.  The City of Cleveland reported a 20% increase in requests for shelter in 1998 among families.

             I recently had the opportunity to speak with a group of single mothers who had become homeless for various reasons.  The impression that I got from this conversation with that county agencies (and the policies that govern them) often contribute to the growing number of homeless families.  The women cited reasons such as interference on the part of the Department of Children and Family Services, sanctions from the welfare department (Department of Human Services), a weak child support system, and waiting lists for subsidized housing at Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority or Section 8 housing.  One woman, “Alice” noted that, after being sanctioned by the welfare department, she was unable to buy food and necessities for her family.  A “friend” reported her to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), who took all but one of her children.

             Her welfare entitlement was then reduced, causing her not to be able to pay rent.  Alice was then forced into the shelters downtown, from there it takes years on average to get back into a home.  She is now being told that if she can secure housing for all of her children, they will be returned to her.  “How am I supposed to do that?” she asked.  “They have taken all of my money; I can’t get it back until my kids come back.  I can’t get my kids back until I get enough money to get a place.  I can’t win for losing.”

             Kids are being hurt,” says another woman, “Jill.” “Welfare reform is not taking into the account the fact that some people are not going to be ready.”  Another recipient, Beth said, “ A lot of people need to catch up in the areas of education and training, and three years is not enough for some of the people who will be affected by the final bell of welfare reform after three years.” 

             Other women began to chime in, “Allow people to go to school before you cut them off!  Why not go after some of these fathers; the child support system is weak.” Yet another woman said, “The rules are not even for everyone; I still know people who sit at home and do nothing, and sill get a check,” The woman also spoke of caseworkers who seemed to look down on their clients and who have “forgotten where they came from.”

             Then Tara Harris, age 19, who specifically asked that her name be used, joined the conversation (when previously asked, she declined to speak with me).  “The real deal is that I was just lazy.”  I never thought that I would be homeless.  “Homelessness was a reality check for me.  Now I have a job and am about to get a place.  I am telling you this because it will happen to another young lady.”

             So, it is the fault of Cuyahoga County agencies, or the fault of the affected persons themselves that cause homelessness?  The reality is that both Tara and the other women were right.  The policies of some county agencies seem to be both contradictory and mutually exclusive.  How can you get a job with a living wage if you have no skills or education?  How can you attend school, go to parenting classes, get a job (that doesn’t pay enough to even hire a baby-sitter), improve your skills, and meet with your caseworker every week, all at the same time?

             Many of us who are blessed to have been able to get an education could not do all of this simultaneously, let alone someone who is experiencing extreme hardship.  On the other hand there are some people who do not take responsibility for maintaining their households.  When the consequences fall, some of them become homeless.  The truth is, we must establish a balance between entitlement and responsibility in order to make a dent in the growing number of homeless families and children.


Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 36  July - August 1999

And Welfare Justice For All?

Commentary by Lynn Williams

             Women who earn a four-year college degree have a 95 to one chance of needing to rely on welfare in the future.  Without that college diploma, a woman stands a five to one chance of needing welfare.  According to a report by Jobs With Justice, nearly all of the jobs that recipients are going into are entry-level positions and jobs that, lacking further education and training, will never lead to a higher salary at a livable wage level.

             A woman who works a full-time, round the year job at minimum wage ($5.15/hr.) earns only $10,300 gross income.  Deduct taxes and she earns even less that this amount!   She is extremely likely to lack health care insurance.  If she is in poor health, or needing medical treatment, medical gills could easily eat up a minimum wage budget. (See article on Health Care for Working Parents in Poverty)  With a minimum wage job, a family of three is living almost $3,000 BELOW THE FEDERAL POVERTY LEVEL!  Unless they are one of the lucky families with a Section 8 certificate or other housing voucher, market rate rent and utilities will drain a significant portion of the family’s income.  Families living at or below poverty level could easily end up on public assistance; if a crisis hits, they will not have savings to cushion them ‘til they’re back on their feet. (If their time limited for welfare is used u they won’t even has this option)

             This paints a pretty dismal picture, but there is something to be done about it.  If we are truly serious about lifting families out of poverty, we must:  1.  Raise the minimum wage to a livable wage for all workers.  2. Allow welfare recipients to count class and study time for a G.E.D. and college degree as their work requirement.  This is much more far-sighted than kicking women off now for temporary or low pay, “no future” jobs.  If a recession hits us, the recipients in entry-level jobs will be the first fired or laid off, probably without unemployment compensation.

             According to economist Rebecca in Glass Ceilings and Bottomless Pits, “It would be foolish for work/welfare programs to assume that women who find jobs will make steady economic progress toward substantially higher wages.  Some welfare recipients will be able to follow this model (particularly those with more education), but this is unlikely to be the typical experience among women who lack high school

            S.B.123 currently in the Ohio Senate would change state welfare policy to allow for two years of Full Time College to be counted as the work requirement for recipients.  Currently, only one-year (or 1040) hours are allowed in this manner.  In addition, S.B.123 would require welfare departments to promote and clearly display this information in a “campaign”.  As it is now, many recipients in Ohio are not informed that they can count college hours for the first year as the work requirement.  This is a well-kept secret!

             The Ohio Empowerment Coalition believes S.B. 123 is a step in the right direction.  However, it should allow for additional years of college and study time to count as the work requirement.  This would allow a recipient to concentrate on her studies and successfully complete a four - year degree.  College is work and it should be counted as work time with a farsighted thought of its importance in moving families off of welfare (but not thrown off) and out of poverty.

             The following story from Jennifer of Findlay, Ohio is a story of a woman who has a bright future because of getting her degree.  “I am currently receiving public assistance through a local welfare department.  I began receiving assistance about six years ago shortly following a divorce.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that one day I would become a single mother of three children.  Then the unthinkable happened.  My husband quit his job and moved out of state.  He has not seen our children since that time, nor has he paid any child support.

             After the initial shock of this dilemma wore off, I started working minimum wage jobs while still obtaining welfare benefits.  I was hoping at the time that the extra money from work would help feed my family.  However, another disappointment came my way as I discovered that my benefits had decreased since I was earning an income.  It seemed the more I made, the further behind I became.  I knew there had to be a way out of poverty somehow, but didn’t know what steps I would need to take.

             Finally, after two years of working low-paying jobs, I decided to attend college.  I was scared at first, since nobody in my family had gotten a four-year degree.  In any case, through higher education I was able to face those fears and continue on with my studies.  It was a very difficult road since I was attending college full-time, working part-time, and raising three children alone.  The truth is I didn’t think I’d make it.  Many times I went without food and/or sleep in my quest to get off of the public assistance program.

             I officially graduated from school last week with a bachelor’s degree in social work.  I am currently looking for employment in my field, but will be free from public assistance very soon.  It is a very rewarding feeling to know that I will always be able to raise my children without assistance from the state.  I am very grateful for all the help that I received, but consider myself one of the lucky welfare recipients.  I as able to rise above my circumstances in hopes of creating a better life for my family.  However, many other welfare recipients may not fare as well.  I began receiving benefits before the state enacted the five-year limit on assistance.  Therefore, I had time to go to college.  Many other people will not.

             My biggest fear concerning the current welfare reform legislation is that too many people will be forced to obtain minimum wage jobs that will serve to keep them in their impoverished state.  I believe it’s time to find long-term solutions to this problem.  I believe that every welfare recipient should be afforded the opportunity for long-term solutions to this problem.  I believe that every welfare recipient should be afforded the opportunity for long-term education and, in some cases, this should be mandated.  What some people in the general public and political arena forget is that the new welfare reform laws impact children in a very negative manner.  Rather than teaching them and their parents the appropriate way of obtaining long-term self-sufficiency, these laws push fo immediate employment.  It is common knowledge that without a high school diploma and/or college degree, the chances of finding a job that pays over $5.50 an our decreases dramatically.  This leaves a person like me to wonder what is going to happen in another five years, when the recipients are booted off the program.  Will their children starve to death?  Will they be able to afford even basic necessities?  What will be society’s responsibility if these things happen? 

             As for myself and my family, we will continue to advocate for the rights of poor people and the need for continued public assistance for those people who simply may not be capable of helping themselves.

   Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 36  July - August 1999