Tenants Push for Stronger Landlord/Tenant Law

by Brian Davis

            “As a result of [the 1998 Tenants Town Hall Meeting last year we were able to get a lot done. The primary thing that we got done was that we were able to prevent the displacement of 1, 900 families in the City of Cleveland,” according to Ward 5 Councilman Frank Jackson. Tenants gathered again October 23, 1999 at Cuyahoga Community College Metro campus to begin the process of passing a local landlord tenant law in the City of Cleveland as part of Town Hall Meeting II.

            Michael Foley, new director of the Cleveland Tenants Organization, outlined the specifics of the law that had been developed out of the suggestions from last year’s event. Foley characterized these new ordinances as “[Protecting] you in making your complaints about trying to get a better quality of life in your apartment.”

            Joining Foley and Jackson to hear testimony from tenants of subsidized apartments throughout Cleveland included Councilmen and women Pat Britt (Ward 6), Merle Gordon (Ward 15), Joe Cimperman (Ward 13), and Michael Polensek (Ward 11). Also present were Marty Gelfand, staff for Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and representatives from Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Senator George Voinovich’s office. Cleo Busby, president of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants, spoke to the crowd about the importance of organizing and voting after listening to 45 minutes of testimony.

            The Councilpersons gathered said that they realize that it will be a tough battle to pass a local landlord tenant law, but felt it had a good chance. Cimperman said that he had already been lobbied by a couple of landlords. He said that the only way to counter this opposition is to have another 400 people show up at City Hall, as was done last year. Cimperman said, “The 400 who came down to City Council [last year] had what I like to call a religious effect on the power structure.”

            Jackson said, “I think that we can get the number of votes whether it looks like it looks now is another question.” Allan Pintner, president of the local apartment association, who was reached in his office following the town hall meeting, was reluctant to comment on the proposed law, saying that it was too early to comment.

            The most controversial aspect of the law is the provision which requires 24 hour security seven days a week for apartment buildings with over 30 apartments. The other provisions highlighted included an addition of penalties for landlords which violate a tenants rights, including entering an apartment without giving 24 hour notice, adding illegal terms to a lease, illegally evicting a tenant. If passed this new law would require landlords to pay the attorney fees if a landlord loses in one of the above situations.

            One other protection that received a great deal of applause from tenants during the town hall meeting was language preventing retaliation by a landlord against a tenant. This would mean those if a tenant made a formal complaint a landlord could not evict, reduce services, or increase the rent in retaliation. Foley said that this was a problem that they heard repeatedly and was taking place at a senior property in Euclid.

            The law was introduced in City Council in early October, and currently is in administrative review. It is anticipated to go before committees in early 2000. Other provisions include a cap on late fees, larger print for automatically renewing leases, and a clear identification of the utilities a tenant is paying for in the lease.

            Repeatedly during the day, the need for a national agenda on affordable housing to include the preservation of public housing was proposed. Polensek said, “The Federal government has a responsibility to provide safe, clean, adequate housing for the people of the city of Cleveland.” Cleo Busby spoke on the importance of supporting and voicing your concern to the federal representatives who are responsible for oversight and control of HUD.

            The tenants were given the bulk of the town hall meeting to comment on the proposed landlord tenant law, ask questions, and express concern about other problems that were not included in the law. A couple of themes emerged that many tenants face and cannot find relief. A man from an eastside Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Unit expressed concern over carbon monoxide detectors, which was echoed by a number of other tenants. A number of elderly and disabled tenants expressed concern over the conditions of elevators in subsidized housing units.

            Jackson told those gathered, “It is important for you to be here to tell elected officials to continue to work on our behalf.” The spirit of the message delivered to the 200 tenants gathered on this cold day in October was join together, there is strength in numbers, and together tenants can forge a better place to live.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #39, December 1999-January 2000

 

 

Struggling to Recruit and Train Vendors

by Michael Gibbs

            Working with The Homeless Grapevine vendors has been a challenging and rewarding experience. I have a lot of respect for someone who is in a difficult situation and has enough desire to attempt to make their situation better. I work with people who are on the street or that have been or are about to be homeless. This situation can really put someone’s emotional state in a tailspin, so I’m glad that I have the opportunity to be in a position to reach my hand out and give these wonderful people a chance to be part of something. Grapevine vendors go through quite a bit of hassle out there on the street and to see the way they adapt and overcome the challenges that are presented to them makes this job worthwhile.

            Being a vendor for the Grapevine has many rewards other than putting some much needed money in their pockets. This gives people the opportunity to have a voice in their community and allows them to reach out their hands for some much needed help. It also gives them a chance to get active in things that they believe in. To be part of the solution and not the problem is very important to the vendors. They all have the option to come to meetings on a monthly basis to votes on issues that they feel will make their newspaper better. If vendors want they can come into the office on a regular basis and do some volunteer work for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. When they do volunteer work they receive some newspapers for their efforts, and this all fits into the incentive program that we offer to them. Some of the other incentives that we offer are that they can receive papers if they write and article for the paper. One other thing that we offer to them is they can receive papers if they recommend new vendors to sell the paper.

            How do you become a Grapevine vendor, you might ask? Well, most of the time people come in to the office here at the Coalition and request information on how to sell the Grapevine. That’s where I come in and sit down with them to explain what we’re all about. I use a contract that gives them the rules and regulations in terms that they can understand. After we go over the contract, I issue them a temporary badge that must be displayed when they are selling the newspaper. The next step is: I give them ten free papers to get them started. I take them out to an established spot (usually the West Side Market) to train them how to talk to people, establish their own pitch, and build their self esteem. This usually lasts for about an hour, and then they’re on their own. When they sell those ten papers they can come back to the office and purchase more papers for 20 cents a piece. While they have their temporary badge, which is good for 30 days, I ask them to sell 300 papers, which for some of them is no big deal and for some is a really big deal. If someone is having trouble getting this accomplished I will usually take a little more time with them and offer as much help as I can in order for them to reach their goal. After they sell their required amount of papers I issue them a permanent badge that has their picture on it and this makes them an official employee. I say employee because this is a legitimate job and these vendors can always use me as a job reference when they seek more permanent employment.

            So as you can see, it’s not necessarily an easy thing to be a vendor this street newspaper. 90% of the people who I deal with have the motivation to better their lives. I am glad that I have the opportunity to not only be in these people’s lives but to sit back and watch them grow as individuals. So the next time you see one of the Grapevine vendors, spend a second or two to say hello, because these folks are really giving it their all.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #39, December 1999-January 2000

 

 

Roberts Takes Empowerment Center into Uncharted Waters

Interview by Brian Davis

Transcription by Craig Thomas

___________________________________________________________________________________

Brian Davis: How long have you been with the Empowerment Center?

Dr. Goldie Roberts: I came aboard in February of this year (1999).

BD: For those who don’t know, what are the main programs that the Empowerment Center oversees?

GR: We do community outreach; we have a women’s support group called Minnie’s House that meets on the second and fourth Fridays of every month. We’ve been doing the bulk of our outreach doing community forums at various community sites. These have been about welfare reform and the sanctioning piece. We’ve been involved with quite a few of the sanctioning cases that have come along. People call in and they’ve been sanctioned, or they are having a hard time with their social workers. So our workers will actually do interventions, and act as an advocate for the client. They will go in and talk with the caseworker first, and then with the supervisor if need be.

            And we have gone to hearings also. So the bulk of what we’ve been doing has been around welfare reform, education, and advocacy in that area. We are also in collaboration with Merrick House on Project HEAL. And that is a project that looked at how the people involved with HMO’s under welfare were being serviced, and looking at the prose and cons of it.

BD: And when will that project be done?

GR: Project HEAL will be finished in December, and then that information will be made public at that time. Right now we are in the midst of doing focus groups; first there were 250 surveys done on the East and West sides for a total of 500, so the important thing is that a number of people have been surveyed about their experience. And you know, not everybody’s experience has been bad; we weren’t looking to skew it either one way or the other; we were just asking people in general so we would get both sides.

            We wanted to be sure that there was a mix, both racially, and ethnically; that is why we chose both the East and West side, so we would also get a large Hispanic input from the West side. So it was a written survey, and the focus group is in play now, and that should be ending very shortly. And Case Western Reserve was also involved in this project.

BD: How are you funded?

GR: The bulk of our funding is from the United Way, and when we are collaborating with other agencies other funding sources can come into play, like with the Gund Foundation, and so forth.

BD: And what changes have you seen over the last two years with welfare, and what has your agency done in response to these changes?

GR: Well, with the fact that I just came on board in February, I can only go by historical information that I have gathered from the files, but the fact is that I have been actively involved with issues concerning welfare because prior to this I was at Cleveland State for 8 years where I ran a program that assisted welfare recipients with coming into the University and graduating. This was the “Push to Achievement” program.

            And in the 8 years that I ran it we had over 125 graduates, and not to say how many other people have graduated as a direct cause of being in the program, so it was very successful.

BD: Did that program end?

GR: Yes, because when welfare reform first came into being there was this whole issue of whether or not higher education was going to be a part of it. So while that debate was going on there was no funding for the program; so it ended. Because I think at that time the reform piece was looking for job placement and short-term training. And “Push to Achievement” was a program that incorporated the student for 2 years; even though it was a four-year school we felt that if they had two years of intervention we could teach them how to maneuver and get through the rest of it.

            But you were talking about the changes. Well, first of all was the fact that higher education took a backseat to training. And what is sad is that of all of the programs that are made available to welfare recipients, we know that education works. Anything and everything that is printed says that education works, and it directly links to all kinds of social problems. And though it may not cure everything, it certainly helps. In terms of juvenile delinquency, crime rates, poverty levels, so much can be helped just by educating the parent. And the children of educated parents do better in school.

            BD: So you’ve been around since February, and there have been some changes in the past year because of welfare reform: I understand the welfare caseloads have gone down significantly.

            GR: But you know, when we talk about caseloads going down, that is one of the things Case Western Reserve has been hired to do. To find out where these people are. Just because caseloads go down, it doesn’t mean that those families are not in poverty any longer. So you know there is that whole piece that needs to be explored, as to “where are they?”

            BD: So in your outreach that you do, what have seen of the opinions or the impressions of welfare reform, from the people that are or were on welfare?

            GR: For one thing, we see a lack of urgency. Individuals who have been on for the two years and will be coming off next year, in 2000, we don’t seem to sense that there is an urgency there for them, and you don’t know whether it’s a sense of being overwhelmed by the whole system, and just not knowing where to go or what to do. I’ve noticed so many people expressing such frustration with the system. We are aware that the county has placed customer service representatives at each of the neighborhood outreach centers. But we are doing so much interventions, and because we do see the problem side of it, I don’t want to put more emphasis on that piece than necessary. But you know, we are very concerned as we work within the system at our ten workshops in the community that the county puts on to explain the welfare piece, and how to access their services, and then we tell people that have called here and are having problems. We tell them what we say welfare is able to do, and then we talk to the caseworker, and they say that that is not the case. So I’m just really feeling that there is a lot of misinformation being given out by the county, to the agencies that work with their clientele.

            We do see that there is so much to be learned in terms of the regulations, and that sometimes the interpretations are left up the self-sufficiency coaches, and supervisors, but we all should be on the same page. It just doesn’t seem to happen that way. Personally, when I sit in those workshops I ask specific questions and write down what they say. But when I repeat that back to a caseworker or supervisor, they say that that is not the case.

            For example, the PRC [Prevention, Retention, and Contingency fund]: I know that I’ve been in workshops where we were told that if a person were in danger of losing their job because of transportation, such as their car breaking down or something [they can get PRC funds]. And we weren’t told that there was fine print or anything, just that a person had to show need. And then when you send someone for that service, that doesn’t happen.

            Another case in point was that they would help with either security deposit or rent, and if a person was going to be homeless, or didn’t have a place and needed money to get a place. Then PRC money could have been used for this, but we sent people there, and [the caseworker] said “No.” [We have found] the only time PRC money could be used for housing is if they are red-tagged. But I’m thinking that by the time they are red-tagged they are just about on the street, aren’t they? I mean I don’t know of too many landlords that if a person has not paid and they are at the point of being red-tagged, will want to take that person’s money.

            It just makes you wonder, when you talk about this welfare reform, and how it’s supposed to be more customer friendly. I’m at a loss how friendly the county really is towards trying to help people.

            BD: So do you see children better off or worse since 1997, the year welfare reform was enacted in Ohio?

            GR: Absolutely worse off. [The current system] hurts children. You know when you sanction a family, you’re sanctioning the children. But I think there is legislation now, so that everyone in the family won’t lose the benefits, just maybe the person that is being sanctioned.

            BD: So do you see this agency as an advocate for the individual, or for systematic change?

            GR: Both levels, because we work for the change in policy. I’m involved with the Electric Deregulation Network, where we are sitting at the table and trying to be a part of, and have input into the legislation.

            The legislation is a done deal at this point, but in how it’s going to be administered, we have a chance to intervene, and have some input to make sure that the programs that serve low-income people will still be serving them in a manner that is at least as well as it was before, if not better.

            BD: I know that nationally and even in this state that there is a movement to end time limits and stop the clock. Do you see any hope of that happening?

            GR: Well, as an agency we certainly hope that that is the case, but you know the protesters will have to get out. But what’s sad for me is that when I talk to people who are former welfare recipients they are not supportive, and they think that time limits are a good thing.

            I guess I don’t mind so much the time limits, though I think that three years is a little too short. I think that when you do institute some time limit, and you have a good program, and everything would have to be in place, like an ideal welfare system, because I think that when you do use a time limit it gives people hope. They know that they are coming on, and they have this amount of time to get themselves together for a program, but if they are not ready they don’t have to worry about being tossed off. That is what is sad about it, whether you are ready or not you are gone; you’re history.

            With Cuyahoga County, I was right there listening to all of it as welfare reform came about, and following it very closely. The one thing that I do know is that when welfare reform first started two years ago, they were saying that people should be trained. But the training sites were not even in place. And not only that, the Cuyahoga County workers had to be retrained. So they were unaware of what was available, and how to service people. So those people in the first year did not get all of the services that they should have, and regulations were misinterpreted to them. So I don’t think that the first year should even count. Because there was a phase-in for the County administration itself; they were still writing a plan while they were supposed to be servicing people. And I think that is terribly unfair.

            BD: How do you separate the role of the Ombudsman and the role of the empowerment team; how are those different since they represent the interests of the people who are on welfare?

            GR: I think that the roles are probably quite similar, but it is my understanding that, particularly when it comes to the health issue piece, that they were more involved than we were. Because I know that when we receive calls about medical issues, there are some things that we do; for the most part we refer those things to the Ombudsman.

            BD: I understand the Cleveland Welfare Rights Organization, and now the Empowerment Center, was one of the first organizations of its type in the country.

            GR: Yes, we were the catalysts.

            BD: What do you see as changes either in the movement nationally, or how this organization has changed since its inception?

            GR: Well, we changed because the Board of Trustees of the Welfare Rights Organization looked at the scope of the work done, and saw that it was about more than just welfare rights, it was encompassing more. And that is why the mission would be written to reflect that we are not only welfare rights advocates, but deal with issues that pertain to the low-income community. Also just educating the public in general, about welfare issues and low-income issues.

            So in looking at the broad scope of things that we do the Board came up with the Empowerment Center. Because that is what it is supposed to be about. When you look at someone who is moving toward self-sufficiency, you want to look at empowering them with the skills that are necessary to obtain self-sufficiency.

            BD: Do you think that the agency has sort of softened its advocacy, and not pressed the elected officials? You said that there is definite harm to children, and we’re not holding the politicians who enacted this legislation to the fire, and saying this is harming our community. And because some of the former welfare recipients think that this is a good idea. Has there been a softening of the advocacy on a broader policy level?

            GR: I don’t think so much a softening, because I know that we are there at the public forums where commissioners are and so forth. I know one of the outreach workers has constructed a letter to one of the commissioners about some harsh things that were said at a meeting that she had attended. And one of the state officials from the welfare department was there, and she has drafted a letter to that.

            You know funding is a major problem for us, so having the time and the people to pursue so much of that certainly is something that we want to do more of. I think that the agency has been in a transition because I just came on board in February and prior to that they had been without an executive director. There had been two full-time people, not counting the administrative assistant, to do all the work. And one is acting as the executive director, so we just haven’t had the manpower. So we are certainly looking at becoming more proactive.

            Right now so much of our work is being done trying to assist individuals who are having problems, and doing the community education piece, trying to prepare them for the year 2000.

            So I don’t see it as so much of a softening as a having a lack of manpower to press issues in certain directions. We were part of the Ameritech lawsuit that was dealing with the SBC merger, and we were right there in the forefront for that, making sure that we got a program so that low-income people would not be hurt in that merger. And looking at jobs that were involved, so that people would not be harmed.

            You have to pick your battles, and it takes time gathering information. You don’t want to just blow smoke at people; we are definitely facts and figures. So we are gathering our information; we definitely are.

            BD: I look at the group in Cincinnati that regularly hold protests in front of legislators’ houses, and are at the forefront nationally trying to make sure that the time clock gets stopped. And even though that seems like a very futile battle, they are definitely there to try to call attention to the harm that that’s doing. It seems that with Cleveland having one-third of the poor population in the state, and that we have politicians and legislators who are Democrats, and who therefore have some connection with poor people, we’ve let them get off; we’ve let them get off for the implementation of the state’s level of welfare reform. And we haven’t really pressed that we’ve already seen harm in our community; we haven’t really addressed that.

            Do you see that with the United Way funding and with the overwhelming need in the community for advocates on a personal level? That that makes it difficult to do systematic advocacy about welfare reform?

            GR: Since I’ve been here I haven’t seen that, as I said, when I look over the files and see what has been done in the past, and how much impact this agency has had. I think that some of the momentum has been lost because of a lack of funding, and we have bare bones funding. We have a membership group that was very active with helping to stage protests and all, because that’s where the numbers are.

            And we are beefing up our membership, so that we will have volunteers that can help. As I said right now, we are stretched, and it’s not like it is going unnoticed.

            We look at several things, such as the legal side of it. Is there a way to inroad this, and maybe have a test case. I am aware that you can’t sue welfare, but you can call attention to the fact that individuals will not have had three full years of service.

            Basically they have had two years, because the first year was implementation. So as we look at those avenues, we see that there are more ways of fighting this than necessarily in the streets. Not that I am against it, but we do need more manpower, and that is what I am looking for.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #39, December 1999-January 2000

 

Mayor White Calls for Homeless Sweeps of Cleveland Streets

by Brian Davis

            Cleveland Mayor Michael White on November 26, 1999 threw down the welcome mat to shoppers and visitors downtown for the holidays, but this year he also used that same welcome mat to sweep homeless people off of the streets. In a press release White announced an “effort to make Downtown and the Flats safer for the holidays.” The specifics of this plan were outlined in the release saying that the safety patrols will “focus on curtailing the practice of sleeping on sidewalks and aggressive panhandling.” The release also listed favorable statistics showing a decrease in crime downtown.

            This policy went into effect on Saturday, November 27 after the holiday parade in Cleveland. On Saturday afternoon, police were dispatched to locations where homeless people congregate and told those gathered that they had to disperse. Police approached the welfare building on the corner of E. 17th and Superior and told those who sleep on the sidewalk that beginning on Sunday morning no one could stand, sit, or lie anywhere around the building (not one of the high areas for foot traffic).

            According to police officials, the word came down from City Hall that the policy of moving homeless people from the welfare building and other gathering places must be started on Saturday late in the afternoon. The police reluctantly went back out and said that the homeless people would have to disperse immediately.

            On Sunday, there were routine patrols reminding homeless people that they could not sit down near the welfare building. One homeless individual refused to leave, telling the police that he had nowhere to go. On Sunday afternoon in Cleveland, there are no indoor locations available for single men. He was arrested and ticketed for disorderly conduct for sleeping on the sidewalk.

            A number of homeless people confirmed that police also broke up a gathering near a church van that brought food down to feed those on the street. They told the church volunteers that they were blocking the sidewalk and needed to move along.

            Police sources said that a meeting was held at City Hall on Tuesday, November 23, 1999 for the police, which outlined “new national strategies for dealing with homeless people.” These “new strategies” were explained, and the police were told that they were going to implement these strategies locally. During the week of November 22, 150 people were arrested in New York City for sleeping on the sidewalk.

            The National Coalition for the Homeless has begun a Civil Rights project to address this national strategy, which they characterize as “criminalization of homelessness.” The Board of Trustees of the Northeast Coalition for the Homeless is formulating a strategy for confronting this targeting of homeless people during the holidays.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #39, December 1999-January 2000

 

 

Jerry Strothers Speaks to Women for Racial and Economic Equality

by Valerie Robinson

            Jerry Strothers is a critic of the increasing number of family breakups taking place under so-called welfare reform. He brought two mothers to speak of their family tragedies to Women for Racial and Economic Equality at our October meeting in Cleveland. Jerry is a member of Citizens for Good Government and a communications major at Cleveland State University. His mission is to do something to stop the forcible separation of welfare children from their mothers by the Cuyahoga County Department of Children and Family Services (CCDCFS). Here is his message:

  • No more taking kids out of a home with a phone call from Children Services caseworkers to the Juvenile Court instant custody order hotline!
  • All parents and kids deserve a right to have a hearing first! Taking kids without a court order is a violation of the due process clause of the Constitution.
  • Juvenile Judge Gallagher is illegally giving caseworkers the power to be judges, and that is power not vested in him by law.
  • Juvenile Administrative Judge John W. Gallagher’s Kids 2 Go policy is wrong!

            Angela Thompson, a mother who spoke to us, stated: “My kids were kidnapped from me.” Five years ago, a misrepresentation of the facts, concocted with malicious intent by the father, brought the police to her home while she was away. Her five children were taken by the police to Children and Family Services, and she has not been able to get custody of them since. She was told that she had been neglecting the children. This was not true, but no one was interested in her problems. Eventually a case plan was made for her, and although she fulfilled the recommendations, including arranging for housing, she was informed that she had not completed the plan to the satisfaction of Children and Family Services. She had worked to perform all of the obligations and more, taking parenting classes and submitting to humiliating tests, but nothing she does appeases the authorities. She is worried that her oldest daughter feels unwanted and that the children are being bounced from place to place, not getting the proper care. At this time, she has appealed her case, but is discouraged about the five long years she has not been with her children.

            Jerry and concerned mothers have demonstrated for family rights in front of the CCDCFS building, and Jerry created a website (www.JerryDK.com) devoted to the issue. When asked about solutions, Jerry said that one possibility is to “place the children with relatives when a family is in crisis—until things are sorted out.” Jerry speaks of the “genocide of welfare families.” He agrees that with the approaching end of welfare for 25,000 families across Ohio on October 1, 2000, the problem can only become more severe, as families continue to be torn apart because of poverty.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #39, December 1999-January 2000

 

 

Gaining perspective on the Homeless Campers in Eugene

Not in My Back Yard (NIMBY)

By Bridget Reilly

             For the remainder of June the debate raged downtown as to what should be cone with “those homeless campers” in the industrial zones.  There were more meetings in City Hall, which were attended by different combinations of the campers at different ties, who all put their 2 cents in one way or other.

             We know from experience what could happed if we didn’t speak our minds to the city government.  The temporary relaxation of the camping ban had been but a small step forward, and it could be followed by several backward steps if we weren’t careful now.  There was clearly a NIMBY backlash going on in which too many business owners were determined to drive us out of the industrial areas, and preferably out of town altogether.  They were continuing to typecast us as irresponsible lowlifes who were sponging off the system, no matter what we said.  They kept saying how afraid they were to us, seeming to have no conception of the endless fear we lived in because of their attitudes. 

             Actually my partner John and I would have been quite happy to “get out of Eugene” if we could afford someplace to lie legally.  But in lieu of this, John was fond of making frequent retreats to the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) areas southwest of town.  There was also a time limit on how long people could camp there, but it wasn’t too heavily enforced.  John had several campsites that he’d rotate around; if he ever got chased out of one, he always had another to move to.  One sheriff patrolled the entire area regularly, and close tabs were not kept on how long campers remained in one place or how frequently they returned.  As long as campers ere mobile and didn’t trash the campsite or otherwise call undue attention to themselves, there was no trouble.

             After John had given his presentation at the business association meeting, there were no further obligations keeping either of us in own for a while, and he was itching to go to the woods and get away from all the city madness.  I was quite happy to take a break from it myself, so I hastily packed a few essential items into his Toyota Chinook motor home as we prepared to take off for at least a couple of day.  My camper would sit in the cul-de-sac where our neighbors had agreed to keep an eye on it while we were gone.

             The little Chinook was nimble enough that it could negotiate the rough, gravelly roads in the wooded area with relative east.  We pulled into a campsite and began to unload, then build a fire.

             It was glorious being out here.  I could appreciate what John said about being able to hear the birds singing from a mile away.  This wouldn’t be such a bad place to make a new temporary home, so when he started talking about bringing my camper up here also, its sounded like a fine idea:  to have all the comforts of “home” that it provided in this quiet wooded setting.

             After a day or two we decided to check back in town, just to see how things were going at the other camp.  We knew something was up when we saw a police car in the 3rd cul-de-sac.  This cop, it turned out, had already visited the other two cul-de-sacs and had told everybody they’d have to move in 24 hours.  The cop said no, but that he was going into his two-day-off period, during which he would study the anti-camping ordinance, because he didn’t know the specifics of how far people should move and such.  John asked if he would also look at the U.S. Constitution, to which he relied, “I don’t give a damn about the Constitution.  My job is to enforce the city ordinance.”  I pointed out to him that if the ordinance doesn’t agree with the Constitution, then it’s an unconstitutional law.  He said he understood that, but it was still his job to enforce the city ordinance.

             When we reported his conversation to the other campers, they were rather shacked at the part about the Constitution.  It certainly did not bode well that a cop would say such a thing.

             And something about that little exchange had pushed John’s stress buttons to the max.  He recalled the statement about “dead bodies I the street’ made by the businessman who seemed to think he was above the law, and it was quite conceivable that some of those business people might turn vigilante and pull a midnight hit t the camp….            When he voiced this thought to the others, they were doubtful at first, saying, “Come on –you don’t think they would really…” But the more he fleshed out his mental picture, the more alarmed they became.  After all, we were relatively isolated and unprotected out here, with little activity going on at night, and it seemed that these cops who “didn’t give a damn about the “Constitution” were much more interested in harassing us than in protecting us from crime.  With the help of a little bribe they could be persuaded to look the other way, or arrange to be in some other part of town at the time of the hit.

             Now John was fully ready to put into action our exit plan of taking both of our campers out in the woods so at least we would be out of harm’s way should the worst come to pass.  He would first drive my camper up there, then bicycle back to town and get his.  I thought that now was as good a time as any to begin this next phase of our shared life, to nurture our new love away from all the city insanity.

             My camper didn’t have working taillights, nor did I have any insurance, but the truck was in good enough condition to make the trek to the woods, after which it would not have to be driven any great distances for a while.  And in the present circumstances, the risk of keeping it here seemed greater than that of driving it out of town.  After all, that was what the NIMBY’s were trying to get all of us to do.

             So once I had made my camper ready, the neighbors made their farewells and we were off on our new adventure.

             During the time that we absented ourselves from town, the wave of NIMBY hysteria continued to be felt; the pendulum of police sentiment would swing yet further to the right before swinging back the other way.  There were newspaper accounts in which the isolated unruly acts of a few drug-crazed campers were reported in a way that implicated all of us, including the actual murder of one homeless man by another (not in our camp, and not anyone we knew).  And there was one violent fight in the 2nd cul-de-sac, incited by outsiders who were wisely suspected of being plants.

             So John’s premonitions had been partially correct, but no across-the-board massacre ever took place.  There were also meetings at City Hall, which he wanted no part of, feeling that he had done his share and the other campers could have their turn to speak their minds, which they did.  The industrial zone camping provision was extended for another three months, during which the City Council would have to come up with some “final solution.”

             But for now it was better for our mental health to keep a distance from all o of this, tending to our personal lives, practicing at domestic cohabitation against the wooded backdrop until we could find a more permanent home in the country.  We still made daily runs, which included water fetching, food shopping and letter mailing, but chose to do these in the nearby towns of crow and Veneta unless we had other business that necessitated driving into Eugene.

             In the Crow Market was a table that always had the current issue of the Eugene Register-Guard on it, for customers to read at their leisure while sipping coffee, and this was we were kept posted on the camping situation whether we checked back in town or not.  It was different reading about our friends in Eugene from this comfortable vantage point as if we were laid backcountry folk who rarely set foot in the “big city”.

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue 39 December, 1999 – January, 2000