Anti-Sweeps Crusaders Seek Justice

by Alex Grabtree

            On Tuesday March 14, the five Anti-Sweeps Crusaders will have their final pre-trial hearing before a trial for trespassing on a public park. All five pled not guilty and representatives of the Cleveland Bar Association and a couple of private attorneys have volunteered to help represent the protesters. All five, Dave Campbell, Edward Lauriano, Pam Wagner, Elena Tootell, and William Beemer pled not guilty and will be tried together in March before Judge Keogh in Cleveland Municipal Court.

            On Wednesday evening December 22, Food Not Bombs and Rosewater 2000 organized a demonstration on Public Square to alert holiday shoppers of the plight of many of Cleveland’s homeless population. They were arrested by what the protesters characterized as the single largest show of force ever mounted against 15 sleeping citizens. [See related story, “The Day Homeless People Struck Back,” this issue.]

            Food Not Bombs feeds homeless people every Sunday afternoon on Public Square, and were angry over the mayor’s policy to target their friends from the streets.

            Rosewater 2000 is a loosely organized band of homeless people dedicated to locating and liberating abandoned buildings and turning them over to their citizens forced onto the street.

            With the weather turning bitterly cold, they were concerned that homeless people would be exiled from the warm sidewalks and die. With this emergency situation, they took action to prevent any loss of life. They peaceably gathered on the southwest corner of Public Square away from pedestrian traffic to call attention to the criminalization of homeless people taking place.

            Protesters spent ten hours carrying signs, ministering to homeless people, and asking holiday shoppers for support in stopping the sweeps. At 3 a.m., the mayor used his authority to rain down on the sleeping protesters at least 70 police, fire, and city sanitation employees. The police officers told the demonstrators to leave the area immediately or face arrest. The three men and two women chose to go to jail. Within 20 minutes all traces of the protest were swept away.

            Dave Campbell, a spokesperson for Rosewater 200, said, “We were exercising our right to protest and that was stopped by Mayor White as he looked down from his ivory tower in the second floor of the Renaissance Hotel. Thankfully, Mayor White was not the Mayor of Bethlehem 2,000 years ago or the entire history of mankind would be different. Joseph and Mary would have been in jail for sleeping outside.”

            The case has attracted a great deal of media attention, and the mayor has had a keen interest in the protest. White was captured by a Fox 8 television news cameraman leading the arrest of the protestors. The five do not anticipate the City settling this case in light of the mayor having to stay up to 3 a.m. to kill this protest.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #40, February 2000

 

Cleveland Community Voice Mail is Up and Running

by Staci Santa

            After several months of planning, Cleveland Community Voice Mail has arrived. On January 12, 2000 the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) launched Cleveland Community Voice Mail (CVM), a voice mail service that acts like a home answering machine for hundreds of homeless and phoneless people. Commissioner Timothy McCormack and the Cuyahoga County Commissioners Office presented a resolution to welcome Community Voice Mail to the county. Michael Gibbs, Voice Mail program director, felt the event was successful, and was pleased with the turnout.

            The kick-off also hosted social service providers, recipients of the voice mail boxes and Marty Gelfand from Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s office, who left the first voice mail message for James, a client from a local transitional facility. Mr. Gelfand congratulated James on being the first recipient and invited him to contact Congressman Kucinich’s office if they could be of any assistance. James later checked his messages, and the system was officially functioning in greater Cleveland. Following the kick-off many more agencies, such as Salvation Army PASS, Mental Health Services, and Templum House, were trained on how to enroll their clients for CVM. Gibbs will be training all 20 of the service providers and is looking for agencies which serve very low-income and homeless individuals who may need Voice Mail.

            Community Technology Institute has established voice mailbox systems in 31 other cities throughout the United States in the past ten years. Their pattern of success has demonstrated to Cleveland’s community that voice mail will be productive here as well. In order to assure success, NEOCH established agreements with twenty nonprofit agencies to initially allocate voice mailboxes. These agencies are responsible for established criteria to be eligible for a voice mailbox, maintaining contact with their clients and recycling the box to new clients after use. CVM staff will serve as technical assistance and staff consultation.

            A Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Americorps VISTA member began to secure funding for CVM in November 1998. Graciously, grants were awarded for the first two years of Community Voice Mail by several local foundations, including Abington, Cleveland, Gund, Murphy and Thomas White. NEOCH is currently seeking additional funding from government and corporate sources to stabilize CVM’s funding and ensure the program’s sustainability. As the program grows and clients are securing permanent housing and steady employment, Gibbs believes that CVM will guarantee that donors’ contributions are wisely invested.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 40, February 2000

 

Empowerment Center Faces Welfare Deadline

Article 2 of 2. Dr. Goldie Roberts is the Executive Director of the Empowerment Center of Greater Cleveland, formerly Welfare Rights. She is marking her one-year anniversary as the director in February 2000 by staging a forum and a demonstration to call attention to the impact of the changes in the welfare system on Cuyahoga County. The forum will be February 12, 2000 at Trinity Cathedral at 10 a.m. and the demonstration will be at 11:30 a.m. in front of the state office building on Superior Ave. on Valentine’s Day.

Brian Davis: What do you see in the future for the landscape in Cleveland? And what do you see as the future for the Empowerment Center?

Dr. Goldie Roberts: I would like to see growth in the Empowerment Center, where perhaps we are linked with other neighborhood centers, where maybe we have volunteers in each of those centers. Volunteers that we have helped to train and educate so that they can do that in their own neighborhoods. And when it is necessary to galvanize people, that those people are already there with their own group and allegiance there and where we can pull together a group in a moment’s notice.

[I would like to make] sure that our services are provided on the West Side as well as the east. Pretty much now, we are focused on the east, but we do have some linkage with Merrick House, and would like to do more collaborations. But more so doing community education, and educating community people to become leaders in their own rights out there, because that’s what the whole sense of empowerment means.

BD: What do you see as the future of Cleveland in the final 9 months of welfare, and 10,000 families no longer eligible next year?

GR: I’m being optimistic. I’d like to think that with people not having the full three years’ benefit, that there might be reprieves given in the last hour to extend the times. Ethically, you have to know how you are servicing people if you are still training your own folks in how to do this. So I am hoping that something happens in the 11th hour. But barring that, we as an agency will be out there assisting people, making sure they know about other resources, so that they are not just cut off. And we will be making sure that people who will be coming off in October will do what is necessary at that time so that they are not sanctioned.

That is the major thing, making sure that they do what is necessary to make sure those benefits keep coming while we work the other end, to see what can be done about stopping the clock.

BD: Do you feel hamstrung? That if you press too hard about the harm that welfare is causing in the community that your funding will be cut off if you are critical of the structure?

GR: No, I haven’t felt that at all. One of the major things is that the County Welfare [Department] has done a great PR job in giving the impression that anybody who is on welfare can help themselves and get off if they just do 1, 2, 3—the four steps.

But then, when you are in the system, I think the public just does not know how hard it is to access those services. As an administrator I have been in there, and heard “Oh, that is a great program.” Only, when I try to send a client through there, I find out that the program does not run the way I was told it did. So I’m being drawn in too, because it does sound great. But it just doesn’t happen like that. That is what I see as a major problem.

BD: The message that we are delivering now is that working with your child or raising your child is not a job. You need to be earning money outside the house in exchange for monetary support. Doesn’t that lessen the value of nurturing, raising and producing a productive member of our society?

GR: Absolutely. I would like to see, particularly with single parents, that they be allowed to stay home with their children, and that it should be an option. Some people want to work; they really want to work towards a career. But some people don’t have the skills. Maybe we could be more family friendly, where we don’t require so much time outside the houses. This country is founded on the work ethic, so maybe it will take more women in leadership positions to start to institute this.

BD: Some of the more mainstream and even middle-class women’s groups haven’t taken much interest in welfare reform. Do you see that as a problem?

GR: Which groups?

BD: Well, for instance, NOW (National Organization for Women), or other women-oriented groups who haven’t really focused on, that is really an assault on . . .

GR: I think that people are somewhat stymied. They don’t understand the system, welfare reform and all of the changes. I think that they are trying to take it in and get all of the information, because this is only the second year. Some of these groups just don’t understand what is going on, and they are still trying to pull the information together.

We did participate with the League of Women voters for their annual meeting, and we talked about welfare reform.

BD: Do you see churches as leaders in trying to make changes to protect children?

GR: Absolutely, because if you look back to Dr. Martin Luther King, he went to the churches because he felt that was a strong base. You had bodies there that would be committed to moving on. So, historically, churches have been right there in the forefront.

BD: Since a lot of this is moving the safety-net to the private sector, do you think that churches, nonprofits, hunger centers, the traditional places that people turned to for assistance, are being overwhelmed by people and therefore they don’t have time to reflect on the bigger issues like this is hurting our community?

GR: I think that what is at stake here is, of course, the child. But the fact is that welfare reform has been in place for two years, and the first year nothing much was going on. Now this year some things are opening up, such as people getting contracts to do child-care. More church representatives are in on the workshops, and they are trying to gear up.

Because everything is so new, people are not sure exactly where it is going. With the churches that I have been privy to sit with, their people are getting their contracts with the County to help with the day-care piece, and to help with serving families.

I just think that there has not been enough time, and that it really hasn’t settled in.

BD: Do you think that people will change their opinions about welfare reform once mass amounts of people start leaving the rolls?

GR: There is going to be plenty of media coverage once October 1, 2000 comes. I think that once the data that is being collected now about what happens when people leave welfare is made public, it will help.

When we can see that people are drastically hurt when they are sanctioned, and when they are forced off the rolls before they have any visible means of support, and also the number of children that are going to be involved, it is going to take those harsh numbers to make people understand that welfare reform hurts.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #40, February 2000

Homeless Prevail in Federal Court and Stop Sweeps

            Three homeless individuals and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless settled with the City of Cleveland to stop the sweeps of homeless people from the sidewalks. This means that City officials cannot use disorderly conduct statutes against homeless people who are sleeping, eating, walking, or sitting on the sidewalk.

            Three individuals came forward to assure that others would not be threatened with arrest for being homeless. Cornell Carter, Law Director for the City of Cleveland, said in a December 23, 1999 press conference, “It is clear that the city’s enforcement effort is not only legal, it is humanitarian.” The three individuals and the many other affidavits that the Coalition for the Homeless took show a more inhumane treatment of people who look transient. One individual was put in custody for accepting food on the sidewalk. Another was told by police that he could not be walking on the sidewalk after 9 p.m. and had to get into shelter.

            One individual, Ronald Russell, was told to move along 12 times as he greeted people in the morning at the welfare building with a friendly “good morning.” The police officer told him that he was no longer welcome in the area. Another individual, Jason Maiden, was told he had to keep moving or he would be arrested. The suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Coalition for the Homeless is aimed at stopping the threat of arrest by City officials for the crime of using the sidewalk while homeless.

            The City of Cleveland settled the suit to prevent the case from going to trial in federal court. The mayor claimed that they are just enforcing existing laws and attempting to help homeless people in a press conference at First Church. A federal judge had extended a temporary restraining order through the trial date, which exempted the downtown area. The settlement does not include any exempted areas.

            Affidavits from experts in the community show a lack of adequate housing in the city and a lack of an adequate safety net. Jim Schlect, outreach worker of Care Alliance, said in his affidavit that he was concerned about people being pushed off of the public sidewalks and disappearing. It is dangerous for a person with chronic health problems to be out of more public areas. If an emergency happens and no one is around to call for an emergency vehicle, that individual may die under a bridge.

            The other concern is that homeless people who sleep off of the public areas will be targeted, as has happened in Toledo. Six older homeless people were killed over the last four months who stay under bridges.           

            The mayor had rejected a similar settlement in December. The American Civil Liberties Union was scheduled to begin depositions of police and city officials 24 hours before the settlement was announced. Plaintiffs expected the police to verify all of the facts put forward by the ACLU in the lawsuit. It was anticipated that the police would confirm that the genesis of the policy was in City Hall, and that it was a stretch to tie the policy to existing laws in the City Code.

            The Coalition for the Homeless and the NAACP of Cleveland are bringing Rev. Al Sharpton of New York into Cleveland for a celebration of the victory over the City of Cleveland, according to Staci Santa, Associate Director of NEOCH. On February 10 at the Cleveland Free Stamp, next to City Hall, homeless people will gather to highlight the victory in federal court.

            Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 40, February 2000

Street Papers Mark World Poverty Day

 

            October 17, 1998 was the United Nations “Overcoming Human Poverty” commemoration day, and street newspapers from around the world remembered the day by placing the same image on the front page of their papers. The Grapevine joined other street papers from across North America and the world by printing the accompanying “Stop Misery” image.

            From a report published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) it is estimated that 1.5 billion people earn less than one dollar a day. Only 30 percent of the countries that have formulated plans for reducing poverty have set time-bound goals to overcome it. The report calls for more determined and focused efforts, backed by adequate local resources.

            Overcoming Human Poverty report shows that overseas development assistance is at an all time low. One of the main messages of the report is that the rich cannot assume that they know what is best for poor people. It notes that the poor “have the strongest motivation and the greatest stake,” in the outcome of national and international efforts to improve their situation. The report goes on to say, “Systems of government need to be sufficiently decentralized, open and transparent so that they can respond to their priorities.”

            The UN Development program has goals to halve the percentage of the population who are income poor by 2015; reduce by three-fourths the percentage of children who are malnourished; and reduce by three-quarters the percentage of young adults who are illiterate. The UNDP affirms that “freedom from poverty is an inalienable human right.”

Copyright and the Homeless Grapevine NEOCH February 2000 Issue 40

The Day Homeless People Struck Back

by Brian Davis

            In early 1990, homeless men banded together to sleep outside of City Hall until a better shelter system was established in Cleveland. They were pacified, but their demands were not met. There was a leadership vacuum for years and an unwillingness to stand up to the system.

            During the week of Thanksgiving 1999, Mayor Michael White formulated a policy to get rid of visible poverty in the downtown area for the holidays and beyond. While he had attempted a similar policy in 1994 and was stopped by the courts, he took a cue from Mayor Giuliani in New York City. In 1994, White directed the police to kidnap and dump homeless people in the outlying areas of Cleveland. After being beaten in the courts and having to pay homeless people because of the policy, White learned a lot in five years.

            He developed an unwritten policy to target poor people who stayed on the streets and sweep them under bridges. White ordered police to move homeless people off the sidewalks after the holiday parade on November 27 (Merry Christmas, now get out of here!). The press release issued by the city of Cleveland emphasized the safety of the downtown for shoppers and talked about the stepped up enforcement against pan handlers and people who sleep on the streets. It is harder to imagine a colder, more callous, and business ordered approach to the holidays and homelessness than endangering the lives of homeless people to increase foot traffic at Dillard’s.

            The American Civil Liberties Union teamed with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless to fight this order. On December 22, the ACLU issued an ultimatum to the City demanding an immediate end to the sweeping policy. Attorneys from the ACLU said in the letter that the City had until 10 a.m. on December 23 to stop the policy.

            A group of college-age activists known as Food Not Bombs and a larger contingent of homeless people decided to stage a protest on Public Square in the midst of all the Christmas decoration. They demanded an end to the sweeping policy. They sought donations from pedestrians and concerned citizens. They preached, protested, and most importantly, offered comfort and warmth to homeless people who passed. Food Not Bombs feeds every Sunday on Public Square and sponsors engaging conversation. Most recently, they have begun documenting the events from the previous week in the homeless community.

            I went over to the demonstration and read the demand letter from the ACLU to the protestors. They were happy to hear about the support from the legal community, but went about ministering and distributing donations and friendship. Word came to the group that the Mayor would like to meet with protestors to attempt to mediate a compromise. Throughout the evening, marked and unmarked police cars gathered on the Square.

            Eventually, a meeting was organized between representatives of Food Not Bombs, homeless activists, City officials and members of the Downtown Coordinators development companies. The protestors stated absolutely that they were not going to move until the policy was changed. It was an amicable meeting, but there was no threat of arrest or any ultimatum from City officials.

            The Mayor set up a command post on the second floor of the Renaissance Hotel to resolve the demonstration. He had waiters serving his staff and advisors in a party-like atmosphere while protestors shivered in the cold down below. The Mayor sought help in the community to end the protest, but the demonstrators were resolute in spending the night on Public Square. It became clear that there was no resolution of the situation, and a meeting was held with law enforcement to work out a strategy.

            At 3 a.m., by chance, I was travelling to my office to work on the case. A television news crew also happened to be on Public Square at 3 a.m. I saw the most amazing collection of police and city vehicles that I have ever seen. I was going to stop and check in with the protestors, but found police, fire, and city vehicles stretching from in front of Terminal Tower all the way around Public Square to the justice center. This was a well-planned, carefully conceived crackdown on the protestors.

            When the police entered the tent which Food Not Bombs volunteers had constructed, they did not give the five arrested a chance to leave. They allowed ten Food Not Bombs volunteers and some of the homeless people to leave without arrest, but immediately took Edward, Dave, Elena, Pam, and Willard into custody. City clean-up crews came in and removed all the signs and the tent, and within twenty minutes there was no sign of the demonstration. [See related story, “Anti-Sweeps Crusaders Seek Justice,” this issue.]

            The television cameraman captured the entire event, including General White in his Renaissance Hotel bunker directing the operation. Dave, the President of the Homeless, was released from police custody quickly. Elena and Pam were released later on Thursday, December 23. Edward had to spend all of December 23 in jail, but with the assistance of the Cleveland Bar Association Homeless Committee attorney Rob Anderle, was released on Christmas Eve. Willard spent the entire weekend in jail, thus spending Christmas behind bars. Christmas in jail because he was demonstrating against his government. All were charged with trespassing on a public park, a bizarre concept.

            Throughout the day, media outlets hovered outside the ACLU offices to get word that we were, in fact, filing suit. There was a midday meeting with City of Cleveland attorneys. Actually, one attorney was employed by the City of Cleveland and the other was an attorney from a private law firm who knew very little about homelessness. It was obvious that there was not going to be a settlement, but the City left saying they would fax back a response.

            They held a press conference later in the day commenting on the demonstration and the sweeping policy. They characterized the sweeping policy as humanitarian and said that they would continue the enforcement throughout the holidays and beyond. With the bitter cold weather and the danger of death for people under bridges, the ACLU prepared to go to court.

            On Thursday evening at 8 p.m. in an office of a Federal Court the ACLU argued their case for a temporary restraining order to stop the enforcement of disorderly conduct laws against homeless people for using the sidewalks. In a darkened courthouse on Thursday evening, the Chief Judge Paul Matia skipped an episode of Friends and a quiet night with family to hear the arguments for and against the restraining order.

            He issued an order preventing the City from enforcing this policy outside of an area downtown from E. 12th to W. 10th to the lake to Public Square. This was to accommodate the City’s plans for the Millennium celebration and their complaints from businesses at Eaton Center, Radisson Hotel, and East Ohio Gas Company. This excluded the sleeping spaces of many homeless people, but prevented enforcement around the welfare building, which was the area targeted for heaviest enforcement.

            The judge issued an order to restrain the City, which is certainly what we were looking to accomplish. On Christmas Day, Mayor White in a one-sided article in the Plain Dealer, declared victory. In the ultimate display of “spin” the Mayor has changed a federal judge’s emergency order restraining the City of Cleveland from further implementation of his honor’s edict from a setback to a “win.” I can only wonder, why didn’t the City restrain itself from using the judicial system to attack homeless people in the first place?

            By looking at the facts in this case, there is no way to conclude that this is anything but an inhumane response to a growing problem in our city. The Mayor believes a restraining order is a victory, sleeping is disorderly conduct, intimidating those without homes is humanitarian, Cleveland has just enough shelter space to meet demand, and jail is a better alternative than freedom. George Orwell couldn’t develop better doublethink for 1984 than those of the Mayor’s press office over the past four weeks. “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” Cleveland is a comeback city.

            This is only the beginning. I can only hope that now that homeless people see the power they hold, they will organize for a better treatment of all citizens of Cleveland. If we can keep the Mayor up all night because 20 people decided to sleep on Public Square, what would happen if the 500 people who sleep on the streets showed up for a warm space at the People’s Hall (614 Lakeside Ave. NW)?

            Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue 40, February 2000