True Survivors Exist on the Streets Everyday

Commentary by Pamela Vincent

             I was intrigued with the concept of the TV series “Survivor.”  You know the one where the groups of people from various walks of life are thrown together on a desert island.  For several months the group lives with the bare minimum necessities and lots of daily challenges.  They have to deal with whatever comes their way without tools, or the safety and comforts of home.  Be it dealing with the Island’s environment, weather conditions, the attitudes of their fellow islander’s or learning how to forage for their next meal.  They are there to meet the challenge and hopefully win the $1,000,000.00 prize for being the best survivor.

             It strikes me as ironic that this reality show was staged for TV when all the producers of the show needed to do was look to the streets of any metropolitan city to find of thousands of real life survival stories – homeless people.  For our homeless population the only prize is another day of more of the same.

             Consider this, a homeless person’s entire day is spent trying to meet their most basic needs.  Theorist Abraham Maslow described man’s basic needs in terms of a hierarchy, where the first need has to be fulfilled before evolving to the next.  The first level being physiological comfort followed by the need for safety.  When you think about it these are pretty basic needs and ones most of us take for granted or don’t think a lot abut unless reminded.

             For example if we’re hungry we go to the cupboard, refrigerator, or grocery store for food.  None of these examples are options for them.  If we’re cold we turn on the heat or put on warmer clothes.  A Homeless person’s entire day is spent trying to fulfill the very first need, to be fed, warm, and comfortable.  The need to lie down and sloop in a safe place relieve themselves privately when necessary, or even to get a drink of water when they’re thirsty.

             Consider the second need of safety.  How safe would you feel if you had to sleep in an alley next to a garbage dumpster or in a cardboard box under a bridge?  I doubt that any of us would be able to sleep under those grave conditions for fear of the unknown.  The homeless person also carries their few precious belongings with them wherever they go.  It is al they own so they cling to those items.  They are constantly on the move everyday searching for comfort, a handout, a warm meal, and a place to rest where they can be left alone and not told to “move along.”

             My question is “what is being done to help the homeless?”  They are a part of our community; they are “our” homeless people, yours and mine.  Each one has their own sad reason for being where they are now.  Some of them may be mentally ill and unable to care for themselves.  Some may have experienced dire straights or unexpected hardships that life tends to throw all of us from time to time.  Some of us recover and get back on our feet.  Some of us end up homeless.  How close are some of us to being homeless ourselves?  One paycheck, maybe two, away from living on the streets?  How well can some of us prepare for the unexpected?

             The thought of it makes us uncomfortable.  Homeless people make us uncomfortable.  We look away, we try not to think “what if” that happened to me?  What would we do, where would we turn for help?  Would you want someone to reach out to you, to not forget you?  Or would you be too proud to ask for help, as I’m sure many homeless are?

             I wonder why as a community we’re not doing more to help our homeless?  I don’t know of any city that doesn’t have a vacant building that could be made into a shelter.  Why is there a shortage of shelters and beds or even affordable housing for those trying to bet back on their feet?  Shouldn’t this be as much of a priority as building new stadium’s or hotels downtown?  Could you be the one to turn a homeless family away from an overcrowded shelter when it’s below zero outside?”  Why are we not taking care of and helping our own?

             I am taking this moment to challenge everyone, myself, the mayor, all the residents of this city, or anyone who reads this article, to do more, to give something back to help the homeless community.  Be it a small gesture or large, the gift of time, money, or self.  The rewards will come back in blessings and God’s grace.  Let us not forget these true survivors.

             Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #47 -2001

The Poor, They Will Always Be With Us?

Review of The Tunnel – Photographic exhibit at the Cleveland for Contemporary Art

By Alex Grabtree

             I throw up my hands and give up.  Why are we doing this, because there are always going to be homeless people?  We see men sleeping on Superior Ave. in tents right across from the Police station in fact.  Until the police took action to protect the public, we saw many people sleeping in the old Ward Bakery.  There are hundreds of other abandoned buildings in Cleveland and East Cleveland that are the home to our friends and family members.  There are people sleeping in tunnels in the Broadway neighborhood in Cleveland, and we have heard stories of mentally ill people and hobos for centuries.  We have shantytowns that spring up throughout the decades.  Homelessness, specifically homeless people that sleep outside, are a part of the fabric of our society, and are we wasting time trying to change this situation?

            I visited a town from the 1800s in Edmonton that featured a display of a homeless man who lived in a tent and sold items to those who passed by right next to the Penny Arcade and down the street from the Masonic Temple and antique fire station.  Homelessness as part of a tourist attraction – who would have imagined?  In Cleveland, there is a new photographic exhibit called “The Tunnel” from New York artist Margaret Morton.  The story features images of homeless people who live in the dark underbelly of a subway tunnel.

            I was struck by the distance in these images.  The people featured in the photographs seemed to have a dark distant outlook.  The housing that they had chosen was expansive with no walls unlimited space – a dark industrial prairie.  They had fashioned tables and kitchens and the domestic life under the City without paying taxes and without locks.  They have a place for their stuff and are relatively unencumbered by the outside world, but why are they living in a tunnel?

            Some, or probably most have a mental illness, and they do not want to go into a shelter. They do not see group quarters as a place for them to get help for their paranoia, depression or their bipolar disorders.  Some see the abuse, exploitation and violence that exist in society and withdraw.  Others see daily struggles with materialism insane and withdraw to their own world.  While many see what none of the rest of us see and make up a world of their own.  So is there a solution?

            In the last issue of the Grapevine (see issue 46 at www.neoch.org), Bill Hahn suggested “all you need is love” to turn things around.  Others argue that we just don’t have enough money thrown at this problem.  I am not convinced of either argument.  I think that it might involve both reasons, but most importantly the societal will to do whatever to get our friends to come in from the tunnels.  In this time of massive tax cuts where we cannot find anything to spend our money on so we selfishly return it to the populous to buy votes for the next election, can’t we resolve this problem?  Can’t we do whatever it takes to bring our cousins, friends and family in from the cold dark regions of isolation and despair?

            How about accepting mentally ill people on their own terms and providing them supportive housing at massive level?  We have seen these programs work on a small scale in many cities.  How about bringing these tunnel people back into our lives so they can contribute to the greater good?  Everyone who withdraws into abandoned railroad tunnels or under bridges is a loss for our society.  We have to recognize that all we have done to date has not worked.  If we do not make a change in the way we deal with our hardest to serve population, we will continue to lose more and more people.

 

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine  Issue 47 May-June 2001

Scarcity of Resources Often Send Women Back to Abuser

 By Angela Joyce

            A few weeks ago, I did a presentation on homelessness at a local high school.  I always begin my presentations by asking students to tell me what type of person they think of when they think of the homeless; the response is always the same – male, African American, older, mentally ill, or addicted to drugs and alcohol.  Women and children never enter the average person’s mind when they think of the homeless; however, women and children are among the fastest growing populations that are becoming homeless.

             According to the U.S. conference of Mayors, single women make up 14% of the homeless population and a 1998 U.S. Conference of Mayors survey of 30 American cities found that families comprise 38 percent of the homeless population.  The figures hold true in our own city of Cleveland.  A 1999 study by the Coalition of Homelessness and Housing in Ohio estimates that there are approximately 431 single women, 1,170 persons in families, and 826 persons in single parent families who are homeless each night in Cleveland.

             Women become homeless for the same variety of reasons that men do: drugs and alcohol, mental illness low-income jobs, failing health, lack of affordable housing etc.  There is never any one reason why people become homeless. However, one of the unique causes of homelessness for women is domestic violence.  When a woman decides to leave an abusive relationship, she usually has nowhere to go.  Lack of affordable housing and constantly full shelters often force women and their children to choose between living with an abuser or on the streets.  Twenty-one percent of Cleveland’s homeless population are fleeing a domestic violence situation.

             I wanted to know first hand what it was like to be a homeless woman in Cleveland, so I spoke with three formerly homeless women about their experiences in trying to find shelter and housing.  All three women who I spoke with became homeless because they fled a domestic violence situation.  Each of the three women June, Marie, and Crystal told me why she became homeless and what she went through to get housing.

             June’s problem began with her husband’s drinking and drug use.  She finally decided that she could no longer live with his addictions and left.  She was not prepared to leave, she had nowhere to go, but she’s had enough.  June has family, but she didn’t want to be a burden on them, so she tried her luck on her own.  June has horror stories of trying to find shelter: “Every place will tell you they’re currently full and you need to try calling back in a couple of days.”  You have to be persistent and patient to get into shelter.

             The shelters are always full, and even when you can get in you can only stay there for a limited time.  June spent many nights sleeping in hospital waiting rooms, or bus stations.  She commented: “As long as you don’t look homeless you can get away with it, but the moment your appearance begins to slip, they’ll kick you out.”  June finally got into the Displaced Homemakers program and later into a housing program.  She is currently enrolled in college, continues with therapy, and is involved with numerous volunteer programs that help the homeless and victims of domestic violence. Marie also became homeless when she decided to leave her abusive husband.  She first spent two days on the telephone talking with counselors and figuring out her options.  Fortunately, they were able to get her a bed at Angeline Christian Home within three days.  At that time, she was not only distraught from her home situation but she was also very ill and was in desperate need of surgery.

             She stayed a week and a half at the shelter and luckily the staff pulled some strings and was able to get her into transitional housing. “There would have been no where for me to go had they not pulled strings for me.  I hate to say it, but had I not got into transitional housing, I would have gone back to my husband.”  It was still a hard struggle after Marie was placed into transitional housing.  She stayed for fourteen month and she suffered from severe depression and was also recovering from surgery.  “It was a hard struggle, but I gradually got better.  Now I live in public housing, I’m attending Bible College, and I have a job.”

             June and Marie were both lucky to find a spot in transitional housing, but the majority of women do not make it in.  Crystal is an example.  Crystal also fled a domestic violence situation and had no place to go.  She wasn’t able to find a shelter, so she began working at the temporary labor agencies.  Crystal was only qualified for a minimum wage jobs, so by the time taxes were taken out and fees accrued she would make about $30.00 a day.  She would have to eat at a restaurant and get a cheep motel for the night.

             After this she had five dollars left each day, which was just enough to buy her bus fare for the next day so she could get up and do it all over again.  “I would have to be at the temp agency by 5:00 a.m., otherwise you would risk not being sent out that day.  It was this endless cycle and I was never even ten dollars ahead.”  Crystal eventually caught pneumonia and was hospitalized.  She was released from the hospital after only two days.  After being sick she tried living with friends and even other men, but it never worked out.  She is currently living with her family and slowly getting back on her feet. 

             It is not uncommon for women and especially women with children to have difficulty-finding shelter no matter what their reasons for being homeless.  The lack of shelter space women and their children is a nationwide problem.   The U.S. Conference of Mayors estimated that 32 percent of requests for shelter by homeless families were denied in 1998 due to lack of resources.  In Cleveland 50 spaces for overflow/drop-in shelter, 288 spaces available for emergency shelter (the length of stay is 30 – 90 days), and 252 units of transitional shelter (length of stay is four months to two years).  This makes a total of 590 shelter spaces available for over 2000 people per night.

   Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #47 -May 2001 

Low Wage Workers Organize to Stop Exploitation

By Dan Kerr

            I have been a long time activist on homeless issues (since 1993) and was homeless myself from 1993-1995.  In 1995 I came to Cleveland, and in 1996 I entered a doctoral program in history at CWRU and co-funded the local chapter of Food Not Bombs.  Given my own recent homelessness, I decided that I wanted my own research to revolve around the oral histories that I began collecting from people who were/are homeless in Cleveland.  Right from the start it became clear to me that the temp agencies played a major role in the organization of homelessness.  However, it wasn’t until the fall of 1999 and spring of 2000 that I began to bring together groups of temp workers to discuss the situation collectively.

            Early on in 2000, we discussed whether the homeless temp workers wanted to make a concerted effort to support the Living Wage ordinance sponsored by Jobs With Justice.  Although it was clear from the start that the Living Wage ordinance would not directly affect the majority of homeless workers, it was believed that it may impact some of them and benefit the rest by laying the foundation for a larger struggle to get a living wage for all workers.  As a result of our decision to support the campaign, we gathered several hundred cards in support of the ordinance that were sent to City Council, produced our own pamphlet (“Why Cleveland Needs a Living Wage: Vices of the Homeless”), and showed up in numbers to several rallies and hearings at City Hall.  Eventually the ordinance was passed and it soon became clear that the ordinance would not have any direct effect on the workers I had been meeting with.

            During our involvement in the campaign, I met with HERE labor organizers and the folks at JWJ to talk about the issues of homeless workers.  Neither were prepared to address the issue for understandable reasons.  HERE was committed to other campaigns and JEJ was overwhelmed with its activities.  Steve Cagan at JWJ said the first step for the homeless workers was to begin organizing themselves.

            As a side note, all of the temps who work at the IX Center have had to first go and sign up and pay dues at the Teamsters Hall.  However, of all the workers I have talked to who have worked at the IX Center as Teamsters, none of them were paid better or received any more benefits than when they are sent out to other non-union shops.  There are no benefits at all from being a temporary Teamster.  The Teamsters, in this case, are generally perceived by day laborers as one more pimp.

            We decided that we would form an organization that would directly address the issues of homeless temp workers.  Following the advice of the JWJ, we decided to organize ourselves and form our own democratic group to represent the interests of these workers.  Again, we had a series of weekly meetings, and pieced together a list of grievances and a platform to address these grievances.  After extensive dialogue, we came up with a name for ourselves. – The Low Wage Workers’ Union.

            The reason this name was chosen was principally because the homeless workers wanted to develop connections with the non-homeless workers who depended on the same agencies they did during the day.  Many worker themselves became homeless as a result of previously having to depend on the temp agencies for work.  We agreed at that meeting that what all these workers had in common was that they were low wage workers  It was also agreed that the only way they were going to address their situation was if they collectively organized.

            While we had not run across any union that was actively organizing these workers, we decided that we wanted to ally ourselves with the best of what the labor movement as a whole represents to us.  So we democratically decided to call ourselves a union.  The name is a rank and file name that came from the bottom up.  It is a name that homeless workers in Cleveland collectively arrived at. 

            So far we have collected two hundred signatures for a petition that we designed to ban the temp agencies from the Salvation Army.  We developed a code of conduct for labor agents that we are seeking to get enacted in all social service agencies that provide for those in extreme poverty.

            Any gathering of poor people gets the temp agents salivating.  We are now looking to improve the lives of low wage workers by demanding justice from the temp agencies.  We have also gotten the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) to assist with our organization efforts.  (We are a distinct and autonomous organization that is not directly affiliated with NEOCH; however we do work in coalition with NEOCH.) Josh Green of the Free Times weekly newspaper worked with us in writing his grown breaking article on temps.  Green has done some splendid research.

            We have produced our own pamphlets and buttons and after our initial flurry of activity have spent some time more recently developing our own organizational structure so that we can be a truly democratic membership organization.  Currently we are developing a committee of organizers that is going bring together low wage workers in the women’s shelter and other drop in center and food spots in the city.  Our hope is that when members get housing and develop relationships with other workers on the job they can start up other locals in neighborhoods across greater Cleveland.

            Some have suggested that our name is inappropriate.  They feel people may mistakenly believe we advocate low wages.  As of yet, I have never met a person foolish enough to believe that.  Honestly, I don’t think it is likely that we will change our name.  Perhaps in the long run, the organization will decide democratically to change its name (if we are successful we could become the Long Wage Workers Union) or affiliate with another more established union.

            For the time being, we have decided that it is important for low wage workers to set their own agenda and develop their own strategies since they are the noes currently suffering from the trepidations of the neo-liberal or what some term the new-conservative economy.  Our hope, however, is that we can develop a close working relationship with organized labor, community groups, and progressive public officials to address the issues that we feel are important.

 

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine Issue #47 May-June 2001

Homeless People Brace for Senior Only Policy at CMHA

Interview by Pamela Vincent

Editor’s Note: Grapevine reporter Pamela Vincent sat down with Dorothy Noga, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, and Scott Pollock, Executive Assistant, about their new policy with regarding the designation of 14 buildings for senior citizens. This policy was approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development in January 2001. This is the part 1 of the interview.

Grapevine: Please explain the senior only policy that you have recently received approval to undertake.

CMHA: A number of years ago HUD developed a designated housing policy for the elderly so that they could create elderly or senior only buildings. This came after a number of years of discussion with Congress and HUD because the sense "mixed buildings" they had didn’t work very well. And that by "senior" under HUD’s definition of elderly which is 62+, as well as for those that were disabled and handicapped, which could be of any age. This is not just Cleveland, it is housing authorities all over the country that have had issues that were created with having these mixed population buildings to designate buildings, or parts of buildings, for senior only.

Grapevine: There are 14 specific buildings that have been designated as senior only. Is that because there was a need for that many for senior only buildings?

CMHA: I think we looked at our inventory of senior buildings and kind of looked at those that were mostly senior only and then geographically what made sense and we came up with the 14 buildings. The other thing is, and this will be a common thread through the questions because it applies to a lot of them, and that is that we looked at buildings and number of units historically that we have that served the elderly, the older population.

The 14 buildings roughly works out to be half the inventory of "zero" and one bedroom units. It will be a common theme throughout most of these questions that we have housed 2000 elderly, senior only households. The idea of this is that by designating buildings it will attract seniors from other buildings that aren’t designated as such and even some from our family estates that might be interested in moving to a building but, haven’t been because there’s been a concern about mixed populations.

We’re hoping that by creating these senior only buildings that certainly we can concentrate, if that’s the right word, the elderly households we have and as well as by so doing increase the sense, maybe the demand for them once the word gets out that these truly are senior buildings.

Grapevine: So you think that there are Seniors out there that have been waiting for this and there’s just no knowledge of the "Senior" buildings?

CMHA: We think that it has been known, certainly among the senior providers, that the CHMA high rises were mixed and that for seniors, generally speaking, now there’s going to be some that feel otherwise, and those folks will have the option if they want to live somewhere else they will. But, the fact is that most seniors have said that don’t want to live in a building with younger people. Their lifestyle is different than a younger persons lifestyle and so consequently they were folks that would just ignore the CMHA option because they made a choice that wanted to live a more... a quieter lifestyle than they perceived that they would have in a building with a mixed age group.

Grapevine: These 14 buildings, do they have Senior amenities? Do they have the wider doorways for wheel chairs, lower counters, lift bars in the showers...

CMHA: Some have them, some of the units that have been modernized definitely have them.

Grapevine: and access to say the bus lines and shopping, banking, doctors etc.?

CMHA: Yes, and we work with senior services providers to also help with that.

Grapevine: So they won’t have to leave behind a neighborhood that they’re more familiar with and comfortable in?

CMHA: They won’t have to leave behind, I mean, it’s their choice, and we will eventually go out and be talking about site base waiting list so an individual can say "I want to live in senior building and I grew up in a central area building so I want to live at Cedar Extension." "I grew up in the Kamns corner area, so I want to live at Lorain Square." And if there’s not a vacancy at the time they’ll say "hmmn, I still want to live at Lorain Square because, yes, I might be able to live somewhere else soon but, I really want to stay in this neighborhood" so they have the option of staying in that neighborhood.

Grapevine: Will the policy apply to those 50 and over or will you start with those 62 and over and move to 50 and over?

CMHA: The latter. The way we’ve done it is almost by definition. HUD approves our plan and it has to be seniors, which are 62 and over. So the priority is given to those 62 and over. But we’ve stated in our plan, and HUD excepted it, in a sense what we call near elderly which is 50-61 group would also be part of these buildings. Obviously as far as people coming off the waiting list we will give priority to those who are senior only. But when we need to we will drop down to those that are near elderly.

Grapevine: I see, so you’re not going to leave these apartments vacant waiting for seniors. What kind of time frame are you going to have for an apartment to be vacant before you’ll offer it to those below 60?

CMHA: If there’s a vacancy in a building and we have no one who is 62 on the list, and I don’t think that’s ever been the case, then we would offer it to someone in the 50-61 range.

Grapevine: Do you have an idea when this policy will officially start?

CMHA: Since last month (February) I think the applications department started, basically for these buildings, started steering them to seniors.

Grapevine: Do you have a total number of seniors right now who are on the list?

CMHA: I don’t have that number right now.

Grapevine: This policy was proposed as part of the annual plan, why was there such urgency to get this program established? And do you think that the community was given enough input into the impact of this program on the entire community?

CMHA: Actually the program, or the policy has been out in the public since 1999. Because we first talked about it as part of the 2000 annual plan and at that time we requested input from the community. We didn’t implement it last year then it went back onto our plan for 2001 and we’re implementing it this year. There has been an opportunity for the community to respond, they were invited to public hearings and participated in meetings with us. [The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless] NEOCH, in fact recently asked HUD, wrote to HUD, about whether we provided appropriate time and opportunity and HUD said, "yes we did".

Grapevine: What was your score from HUD last year for vacancy rate in the public housing program?

CMHA: Actually as of 2000, HUD changed their assessment system. So we don’t have a vacancy rate in the HUD assessment system. We don’t report a vacancy rate as such.

Grapevine:: So how do you keep track of it?

CMHA: We track it but, HUD doesn’t measure us. It’s no longer one of the HUD measures for at least the management side.

Grapevine: So are you telling me that all the senior buildings are one bedroom units?

CMHA: Yes, well they’re not all one bedroom units but, most...there might be a smattering of 2 bedrooms in a couple of buildings. We don’t house what would be a 2 bedroom family in those. They’re still for the elderly, they were built in a sense in these elderly buildings to allow for care takers or allow for both partners to each have their own bedrooms. Say one of the partners has medical issues and so they sleep separately...husband and wife. No children are allowed in high rise buildings.

Grapevine: Do you find that there’s more stability among the seniors as far as financial stability?

CMHA: Well actually one of the things we noticed just recently, in the past the average income for the senior households was usually higher than that of the families. Now in the last year that’s shifting a little bit. I think that’s because the average income for our families was so low that now more of them are working they’ve now exceeded the seniors. Which just gradually increased basically with the recent increase in social security.

Although the average income of seniors is more stable which is why we want to continue to house them and why everyone else wants them instead of families. It’s not a walk in the park. They (seniors) have their set of problems but, certainly they’re more definable generally and their providers certainly there’s more than enough providers that are able to accommodate them.

One thing that is certainly more efficient for us is if we have 2 high rises, one is designated for seniors, one is designated for everyone else. Versus having 2 high rises with mixed age groups, we can much more efficiently and effectively work with senior providers to provide senior services at one location rather than 2 locations. Similarly, if we can provide services that appeal to younger folks at the one location that would be a younger building. So from a customer service standpoint it makes a lot of sense.

Grapevine: CMHA has received poor scores regarding vacancy rate from HUD, don’t you think that this senior only program will exacerbate this problem? You have designated most of the buildings in your inventory with large vacancies as senior only. How will you fill these vacancies?

CMHA: We don’t think it’s going to be a problem. We think actually it will help.

Grapevine:Because by moving seniors into the senior buildings it will free up spaces in the other building?

CMHA: Well back to something that we’ve already said we believe that by identifying a building as designated as seniors so that everyone in the building will be 50 years old and over it becomes more attractive for seniors and so more seniors will be interested in moving into CMHA senior buildings than perhaps they have been in the past when they were moving into a mixed building. That’s why we don’t think it will exacerbate the problem at all.

Grapevine: OK, what if you end up with buildings that don’t have a lot of seniors or only a handful of people over 50, what will you do then?

CMHA: Well one of the things we should have said up front, no one that’s living on a CMHA property will have to move. So we’re not saying that this building or that building is designated as seniors so if you’re under 50 you have to move out. Absolutely not! All right? We will certainly work with our current residents and if they’re perfectly happy where they are whether they’re seniors in a mixed all age building or if they’re a younger resident in a senior building. If they’re happy there they won’t be required to move. If they would prefer to move they’ll go. If somebody is 30 or 40 and they don’t want to be living with a bunch of old people we will work with them for a transfer as long as they’re in good standing as a resident.

Grapevine: So how does this work, is there a yearly lease they have to apply for these apartments. If their income level changes do they not qualify for the housing anymore?

CMHA: No, basically we have these 14 buildings that we’ve designated and we have all ages everywhere else. At this point we will go through a process where we’ll notify the other seniors that these are now senior only buildings and hopefully generate some interest however, there’s no requirement for them to move unless it’s something that they’re looking for. On the other hand if there’s non seniors in these buildings they won’t be asked to move.

When we said we had implemented this already, basically we’re going down the waiting list and identifying everyone 62 and older and giving them the opportunity to move into the senior buildings first and then the 50-61 will have the opportunity once we’ve exhausted the number over 62. But nobody who’s currently housed will have to move, as long as they pay their rent.

It would not be considered a year to year lease, what our residents do is they sign a lease and every year we re-certify them in other words we do a double check to find out what their income is. Because a resident’s rent is based upon their income we might adjust a rent level up or down. But, it would never be the basis for moving somebody. We’ve always been very conscientious about giving residents choice and avoiding any relocation wherever possible. We have no interest in shuffling people around unless it’s their interest, not us trying to impose something on them.

Grapevine: So have all the residents have been notified or made aware of the changes or are they in the process of being notified of the senior only buildings?

CMHA: No, actually all that we’ve done at this point is started to go through the waiting list we haven’t made any general notices yet, we will be shortly. But, one thing we know the moving process and leasing process takes some time. So we’ll notify all residents several times because it is related to the cycles waiting list option that we’ll be putting into affect, we’ll also notify the public.

Grapevine: So you don’t know when this new policy will start but, "soon?"

CMHA: You know I can’t tell you exactly when, we want to make sure operationally that we’re ready to respond to any internal questions that we get, to figure out the procedures, make sure everything is well planned out so that folks who request a transfer don’t feel as if we’re not responding to them. We want to make sure we’re doing it right. So we just don’t have an actual date when this will start.

Grapevine: Considering that only 10% of your waiting list is made up of those 50 and over, how do you expect to fill these large vacancies?

CMHA: For most of these buildings there aren’t that many vacancies. RiverView basically accounts for most of the vacancies. For the other buildings we’ve looked at the move out rate over time that we experience it looks like we can expect about 300 year. But the size of the waiting list is sufficient to cover that. We’re expecting and designated the 14 figuring we would be able to fill them.

Grapevine: So what you’re saying is you expect to get more seniors than those 10% that are on the waiting list?

CMHA: Oh yes, over time yeah. You could always say that that number stays 10% just because there’s always going to be a waiting list and new people coming onto the waiting list. Even though we’re shuffling and able to move them into our units. Given that we can expect 300 units a year to turn over that we would have to replace, we think that size waiting list is adequate.

Grapevine: Where do you recommend that the large and growing number of homeless and disabled people should look for housing since you are closing off one fifth of your total inventory for seniors only?

CMHA: Well it’s not really closing it off because historically about 20% of our residents were senior households...it’s probably higher. We traditionally house about 2000 senior households so I don’t understand the idea that we’re closing them off? There’s still a large portion of the inventory available to those who’s age falls below the senior level.

Grapevine Issue 48 will have part 2 of this interview. Along with additional comments from the City of Cleveland and others in the community.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #47 -2001

First Night On the Streets

Dear Editor:

            On the same day back in 1991, my beloved dog died, and I was evicted from my home.  It turned out that my roommate was a con man and a thief. The bills didn’t get paid, and he made trouble with the landlord.

            I reacted with shock, and ended up in the psychiatric hospital with a complete mental breakdown.

            My canine best friend, as well as my trust in another human being died the same day.  I was out of work and barely getting by on welfare.  Trusting in God that things would get better.  Suddenly I was homeless.

            Two nights on the street (before I got help from my church), have taught me how fragile our sense of well - being and sanity can be. It was just a matter of time before I would find work again, I thought, and there was a good chance I would get financial aid for school with BVR.  My roommate did con me.  I took him in like a Good Samaritan.  He was down on his luck like I was.  He was friendly and intelligent and we had a lot in common…and he really seemed trustworthy.  My dog as a puppy was found the previous year abandoned on the stairs of my home.

            She became my friend and my child, and she died from a horrible disease called parvo.  I come home grieving, to be greeted by my landlord with an eviction to get out the next day.  After time in the psych hospital, I was discharged onto the street, exhausted, hopeless and despairing.  No job, no home, no one seemed to care.  A garbage bag full of clothes and a couple of dollars was all I possessed and owned.  I was getting hungry and there was nowhere to sit, let alone sleep.  My first night on the street was one of no food, and my stomach ached.  I was surrounded by houses and apartment buildings with no one to turn to for help.

            Finding me resting against a 7-11 store at one in the morning, the police patted me down and searched my bag, ready to arrest me for vagrancy.  I lied and told them I was waiting for a bus and not going to camp on the street.  It was very humiliating.  At 2 a.m. I got diarrhea and had to relieve myself behind the store.  Because store policy did not allow non-employees to use their restroom.  Despite my pleas to the clerk.  NO toilet paper, no wash sink, I sat on milk crates.

            Sleep that night took place next to my dog’s grave on a patch of grass in a parking lot behind an old tavern building.  My second day homeless I stood sweating in the hot summer sun in a line of other homeless men, waiting for a bunk bed and a meal at the old City Mission downtown.  About two hours.  When the doors were opened and line was let in, I was the last person to be let in and I watched as others after me, who had waited as long as me, were turned away.   What if it had been winter, I thought.  The stink of unwashed men, crammed into a room before dinner was great.  Before we could eat, though, we all had to attend the Mission’s church service.  We had to stand and bow on cue for prayer and hymn singing.  It was insulting to me as a Quaker, who worships in stillness and silence.  But I needed to eat, and a bed is better than the street.

            Dinner following the service was very good, and there was enough for seconds.  And I took the time to ask those around me how they got to where I got.  The following, not in any order, were their answers: evictions, loss of job and income, severe mental illness such as schizophrenia, medical bills (doctors and hospitals are not cheap), fire destruction of home, just got out of jail, addiction to alcohol and drugs.  To be down (from the blues to clinical depression), on one’s luck (from the Chinese word meaning heaven) is to experience a loss of paradise, in health, home, income and sanity.  Bedtime was preceded by a mandatory shower. 

            Homeless people stink, because only people with homes have showers.  And being unable to shower and change into clean clothes makes it impossible to be presentable to the public for help.  Who wants to be around someone who stinks?  We put our dirty stinking clothes into plastic tubs for the night, and pulled from a bag a pair of cut off pants and warn shirts to sleep in for the night.  Sleep did not come for two hours.  The homeless had lots to talk about with others.  There was laughing and joking like kids at summer camp, and when I did get to sleep, I dreamed of comic book super heroes.  The next morning we returned our shirts and cutoffs, and put back on our dirty stinking clothes. After a brief breakfast, we had to leave. Another day but no dollar.  My third day homeless I got help and support from my church.  But the person without family, friends, church or community help will be back on the street indefinitely.

Bob Tothman

Cleveland, Ohio

 

            Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine  Issue 47 May-June 2001

Giving a Hand Up After Receiving the Same

By Carol Bevier

             On January 29, 1999 I packed a small bag with several articles of clothing.  The rest of my belongings I packed into boxes and old laundry baskets. The world that I had known as a new bride had come to an end and a new life of uncertainty had begun.  That night, as most of my world sat in the back on my mother’s van, I laid in a shelter, crying myself to sleep.

             From there, I went into transitional living program.  I had a small, but private room of my own.  I went through a divorce, got my life turned around and went back to college.  After fourteen months I was move into my own apartment.  I filled out all the paper work, handed over some money and received my keys.  I was finally home.  It was such a good feeling.  I moved in a bed, pots and pans, curtains, and my large monkey collection.  I spent the next several months going to school and doing homework.  I guess that it was an OK thing to do, but there was emptiness within me.  I wanted to do something for someone else; so that they could have the same secure feeling that I had given.

             A good friend of mine told me about her job at AmeriCorps, and how rewarding it was to house some of the homeless here in Cleveland.  This sounded like something that I would enjoy doing.  I was really excited bout this because “Bridging The Gap” was the same agency that had housed me in my apartment.

             I applied for the job, was interviewed and started working in January.  I worked in the office, answering the phone and talking to our clients all day.  Many of them come into the office to do their paper work.  We have a few who visit on a regular basis, and others who call several times a week.  I love spending time with them.  Katherine came into my office smiling from ear to ear.  She had been hired as an outreach worker.  We talked for a while about her job, and then I asked if I could tag along with her one day.  She set me up with a guy named Bill.  He has been doing outreach here in Cleveland for about 18 months.

             That Thursday evening I climbed into bed and pulled my fuzzy blanket up around my head and cried.  My attitude about life had changed completely in those four hours of outreach.  I no longer saw myself as a person who deserved the things I have, I now saw myself as a person who deserved the things I have, I now saw myself as being truly blessed to be able to live the live I had been given.

             After loading up Bill’s van with clothes and food, we headed out to my neighborhood.  Just a few blocks from where I live, two men share an old pick-up truck bed-cab.  It is about the size of a double bed and about fifteen inches tall.  They must crawl into their home like snakes on their bellies.  We continued our journey to a block just north of my home.  There under another bridge several other men lived.  One had nothing but a mattress.  He had no protection from the wind, rain, sun or snow. Just around the support beam. Was a small shelter that had been put together with old boxes, splinters of boards, and plastic.  None of the men would come out and talk to us, but we left them some packed lunches and headed on down the road.

             Our next stop we saw a man we called J.B.  He lives in a small tent city below a main highway.  We handed him a lunch and he quickly opened it and grabbed the meat out of the sandwich.  With a hungry look on his face, he tore the meat into small pieces and fed all of his cats, before taking a bite for himself.  Bill asked him what else he wanted from us, and he replied, “Just some loving.”  We took turns giving J.B. some big hugs and then headed off to another bridge. 

             Each place we stopped made me realize just how humane each of thee people are.  Under a triple overpass, just down the hill from a major section of town, we saw a board that two brothers had wedged under a bridge to use as a bunk type bed.  There were dirty wet clothes and paper all around they’re sleeping space, but in the middle of all this mess, sat a bottle of laundry soap.  Once again we left some food, clothes, and blankets.  One young lady refused a third article of clothing saying, “There are too many of us for me to be selfish like that.”

             If it had not been for AmeriCorps, I never would have had the experience of outreach. This experience is something that I will never forget.  I plan to make it an ongoing event in my life.  No book ever written could have taught me what it is like beneath the ground that I walk on.

 

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine, Issue #47 -2001