Angelo Anderson Wins Distinquished Service Award

Editor’s Note: Reprinted from the NEOCH Annual Report. Anderson was presented with a distinguished service award by Councilman Joe Cimperman at the NEOCH Annual Meeting on April 19.

Angelo Anderson came to the Coalition eight years ago to solve a problem that would benefit the entire community, he left our employment in early 2000 to solve a problem the community has neglected for ten years. We wish him well, and present him with a distinguished service award at the NEOCH Annual Meeting April 19, 2000.

Anderson teamed up with a college student from Kent State to publish a collection of thought and called it the Homeless Grapevine. He was staying at one of the overflow shelters, and needed something to put money in his pocket. He and a few guys got together to photocopy poems, stories and commentaries about homelessness. This worked for a short period, but soon became unmanageable. There were guys photocopying one page and selling it on the street for a dollar. The "paper" never was new because people kept photocopying the first issue. It was chaos. Angelo approached the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless about publishing the paper using real newsprint and advances in desktop publishing.

Bryan Gillooly, executive director of NEOCH, looked into the idea and found a successful paper in New York and San Francisco. Papers were starting in Montreal, Chicago, and Boston. He received support from Trinity Cathedral to buy software and print the first issue. By the fourth issue the paper was selling out, and Anderson was its top vendor.

Anderson had lost his printing job because of the advances in desktop publishing, but had turned that setback into an opportunity by helping with the creation of the Grapevine. He had lost his job, and his family disintegrated. He got involved in mind enhancing substances and then the natural cycles that go along with chronic homelessness.

Angelo often tells of the last night on the street when he stayed in a Port-o-John on a rainy night near City Hall. He realized that he was going to die if he stayed on the streets. He made a decision to seek more stable housing, and get off the streets. He used the money he made from the Grapevine to pay for housing. At first, all he could afford was a cheap hotel. He saved his money and eventually a family member was willing to take a chance and rent him a room.

In 1997, Anderson spent months volunteering with the Coalition to stage the Homeless Stand Down. It was one of our biggest and best ever. There were workshops, and manual of services available in the community, t-shirts for everyone. Anderson put a great deal of work into staging this event arriving at Cuyahoga Community College at 5 a.m. to finish the set up after being up all night finishing last minute details. We had a large dinner after the event with elected officials that was very successful.

Meanwhile, NEOCH received a grant from the Sisters of Charity in 1997 to provide mentors for homeless people and organize around homeless and housing issues. Angelo was called on in a part time capacity to assist with this project as well. This was an opportunity to meet with homeless people and learn about what they need, and develop a leadership team.

As we began to plan the 1998 Stand Down we hired Anderson to serve as Special Events Manager. He was one of two people on staff at NEOCH, and he worked to pull together another Stand Down. What we found was that Angelo was a master at drawing others into contributing time to make an event successful. He was able to pull churches and schools from all over the County together to do hygiene and clothing drives. The Stand Down was so successful in 1998 that we decided to do two in 1999.

Toward the end of 1998, we won a second grant from the Sisters of Charity to work on housing issues, and we turned to Angelo on a full time basis. This project was an attempt to reconcile the bizarre reality that existed in Cleveland in which we had thousands of people sleeping on the street and hundreds of unoccupied units at Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. Angelo designed a program to put together groups who could forward potential applicants to CMHA, and he would keep in contact with CMHA staff to assure that the applications would not get lost. The providers that fed potential applicants had to agree to one year of aftercare to be in the program, and CMHA agreed to expedited application review.

After a rough six months, all the bugs were worked out and the program started submitting applicants. Anderson struck a deal with the State Coalition to provide Americorp staff to assist with the placement of homeless people. With the energy of the Americorps who camped out at CMHA until they got answers to the high tolerance threshold of Angelo, the program started to place people into housing. After six months in 1999, thirty people were placed in housing and 120 applications were pending.

Only Angelo could have had enough patience to be able to stick with this program. It is a war of attrition in working with a large bureaucracy. He named the program Bridging the Gap although "tearing down the wall" might have been a better name. He was able to keep plugging away with applicants no matter how many barriers were erected. Most people would pull their hair out and throw their arms up and resign. Bridging the Gap is a wonderful legacy that we hope will exist in the community for many years.

Throughout it all he honed his public speaking ability. With the a class offered by Community Shares Angelo became a terrific speaker. He was able to communicate injustice and solitude of homelessness to high school students and elderly audiences. He became a hot commodity by businesses that participate in the Federated giving process who request Angelo to speak to their group every year about the solutions funded by Community Shares.

Angelo Anderson is not done. He recently accepted a position with the Salvation Army to manage 2100 Lakeside Men’s shelter to house 300 men and build a trusting relationship so that they will return to stable independent living. This is one of only three facilities of its size in the country operated almost exclusively by formerly homeless individuals. With the proper support, Angelo will be able to do amazing things at this new facility.

By offering a humane place to enter the shelter system, we should see the length of shelter stay significantly decrease. We need to as a community figure out how to get these men who for ten years forgotten by society into something more stable to open up this facility for the majority of the population those who enter and quickly leave the system. Angelo has all the background and skills to see that this happens. It will take a period of time to figure out how to cut through the many layers of bureaucracy that exist, but he should be able to make this facility one of the best in the country. That is not to say that NEOCH will not be there to push and keep everyone focused on the needs of the customers who use the facility.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Published in Issue # 42 in May of 2000