By Alex Grabtree
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the NAACP collaborated for the first time on a City Hall celebration February 10, 2000 at the Free Stamp. Rev. Al Sharpton of New York City and the National Action Network joined Cleveland activists to call attention to the criminalization of homelessness nationally, and he called for better treatment of homeless people. In a horrible rainy cold day on the lake, Sharpton spoke to a small gathering of supporters. He said he joined in a multiracial struggle to protect homeless people from oppression.
Mayor Michael White instituted a policy modeled after a New York City initiative to force homeless people into shelter. White forced police to roust homeless people for blocking the sidewalk and disorderly conduct to force them off of the streets. Thomas Jackson, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, spoke and characterized White’s policy as an “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” philosophy for solving homelessness. Modeled after the New York City and Rudy Guiliani policy of criminalizing poverty, Sharpton was critical of the Guiliani and White policy to poor people.
The Free Stamp provided a break to the cold wind and a symbol of the freedom regained by homeless people with the consent decree worked out on February 2. The consent decree allows the court to maintain jurisdiction, and the Coalition for the Homeless will continue to monitor any infractions of the agreement.
Sharpton spoke before an overflow crowd at the NAACP Millennium 2000 lecture series at the Cleveland Playhouse earlier in the day. He said that Mayor White was a sad characterization of the great African Americans from Cleveland like Carl Stokes. He talked about how many in the black community had forgotten the struggle and left behind their roots. He highlighted some of the major issues that confront the African American community, and the need for continued agitation. Using language that has not been heard since the Civil Rights movement, Sharpton energized the crowd to reinvest in the community and stop accepting false leaders.
Staci Santa, associate director of NEOCH, reported only one violation of the consent decree to date. She said, “Sharpton was able to drive home the point that this is a national trend. If we do not stop the government from criminalizing homelessness, we are going to see more hate crimes directed at homeless people.”
Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine Issue #41, March-April 2000