Grapevine Vendor Broadens His Horizons

In thinking about material for each issue of the grapevine, we like to include information about any recent events relating to homelessness, especially if homeless people participate in them. Walter Ogletree, a homeless Cleveland man, participated in the Washington DC march in celebration of the 30 year anniversary of the 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. march and in the state –wide  Poor People’s Conference in Columbus OH. He wanted to share his experiences with our readers so I sat down, had a conversation with him, and wrote the following article to help him express his thoughts and ideas on paper.  

Lorna Dilley

1993 March on Washington

Ogletree had quite an experience in Washington DC- more of an experience than he ever expected. Thanks to a local church who chartered several buses, he and twenty or so other homeless people were able travel to Washington DC at no cost.

His whole purpose of going deemed very fruitful. That is, Ogletree truly felt that he took part in a “celebration of something significant in history” .  In looking at the big picture, the event was intended to bring to the attention of the nation that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream is still alive for many people- the dream of bringing unity, power and respect to underprivileged individuals. The march of ’63 no doubt raised awareness of these issues and brought about great social change. Ogletree feels, however, that although the event shaped written progression to move forward, many of the social problems which led the force behind Martin Luther King’s inspirational message are still real and continue today. Ogletree says that he, among many others, is living proof of this, for his basic human rights have been denied. Yet he is able to look at the positive side. He felt the celebration was also designed to “encourage people to educate themselves, be productive, and carry on Martin Luther King’s dream of living together in peace and harmony”.  And that is the message he spreads to all those he encounters.

Probably the most adventurous part of his trip was the following week in DC after he missed the chartered bus back to Cleveland!   Since it was Friday,  Ogletree figured he had to wait until Monday to work out some kind of transportation. Fortunately for him, he was familiar with having to ‘make due’. It wasn’t difficult to locate the nearest shelters- there are homeless people all over the streets of DC. Ogletree said that people in general were very nice to him. He wanted to commend a native Cleveland woman from an organization called So others may Eat (SOME), who was especially helpful to him. That Monday, he talked with travel agent who was able to make contact with the local sponsoring Cleveland church, who graciously provided funds to purchase a Greyhound Bus ticket for Ogletree to get back to Cleveland. In the mean time, the travel agent provided him a place to stay for the night, with clean linens and hot breakfast in the morning! Though that transaction only took a day, Ogletree decided to hang on to his ticket and stay in DC the rest of the week to explore a city with a different scene. He appreciated this chance to explore, but was surprised at how visible and how great in number the homeless people were, as they slept in parks, washed in fountains, ect. After such and adventurous but long vacation, Ogletree was glad to be home! 

Poor People’s Conference

A few weeks later, Ogletree was one of about twenty-five folks from Cleveland to participate in a state- wide Poor People’s Conference , held in Columbus on October 4-5. Ogletree felt the conference was very enlightening and educational. “When times get tough for folks, and they find themselves homeless, it’s hard to get motivated” , says Ogletree. “It was good to see so many people concerned about themselves and their situation”. This conference gave individuals the chance to voice their concerns and opinions as a group in a peaceful, non-violent way. Ogletree thinks that when individuals get together, they can iron out their differences, come to some agreement and make some positive decisions in their lives.

He attended the education, housing and employment workshops. Ogletree found the workshops to be very helpful and was able to apply some of what he learned to his own situation.  The education workshop added to his already strong belief that we (as a state and a nation) need to get children off the street and “show them something different than what they already know”. They are locked in.  We need to show them positive view of society and give them opportunity”. If they are better educated, Ogletree feels, they can add to society, take better care of themselves and in turn, take better care of their children. In addition, Ogletree  personally, feels that he is more educated since attending this conference, especially in understanding where people need to channel their voices legislatively in order to encourage change.

In terms of housing, the workshop helped him understand his rights in dealing with public housing, namely bill 552 in the U.S Housing Code.  He has since written a personal letter to the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority and is waiting for response.

The conference participants came up with a draft document of resolutions to continue working on in their own communities. Ogletree has made copies of that document and distributed them at a few places such as the downtown drop-in center and some churches, in hopes of spreading the word and gathering the interest of homeless people who did not attend the conference.

Ogletree distributes The Homeless Grapevine and lives in motel rooms and site F of project:HEAT, the area overflow shelter.