Candlelight Vigil Successful

In 1990 the National Coalition for the Homeless declared the 21st day of December (the first day of winter) Homeless Memorial Day.  The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless joined with organizations in more than 30 cities across the country to observe this day by hosting a candlelight vigil.  Our Coalition for the Homeless joined with organizations in more than 30 cities across the country to observe

this day by hosting a candlelight vigil.  Our was on Public Square, right in front of Terminal Tower.  It was NEOCH’s seventh annual candlelight vigil to highlight the plight of homeless people.

            We couldn’t have asked for better weather!  The sudden change from a few chills to a real snowstorm overnight was appropriately recognized as elected officials, homeless people and NEOCH members tried to inform the crowd and the public at large about the injustice of homelessness.

            Highlights of the event included the recognition of homeless youth, a discussion of the effects of the proposed health care reforms on homeless people and a remembrance of those homeless people who had died, paying the ultimate price for our nation’s failure to address this issue.

            As a way of including homeless youth in this year’s vigil, both West Haven and Safe Space (the two area runaway shelters) agreed to coordinate a youth activity of creating a star that was used a visual symbol on the stage.  In addition to reminding folks of the talent and imagination of teenagers, it served as a vision of hope to all individuals and employees of agencies who make a conscious effort to continue the fight against homelessness. 

            Lynn Bryan Norsetter, program director at Safe Space Station, boldly challenged the audience and the public to face the fact that there are teenagers who have nowhere to go.  Funding for Safe Space and West Haven in slowly diminishing, and Lynn claimed that ‘some of our leaders are giving up on teenagers.”

            On the same day, the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Health Care for the Homeless Council jointly released a report addressing the impact of national health care proposals on the homeless population.  Thus, John McKinney, director of Cleveland Health Care for the Homeless, was present to reiterate those findings and underscore the fact that health care reform his life-or-death consequences for homeless people.

            County Commissioner James Petro and City Council President Jay Westbrook participated, and each said a few words to represent county and city support in addressing homelessness issues.

            Other special guests included Beverly Murray and Gino Harris from the VA MedicalCenter Domiciliary and Debra Jones-Benn from Family transitional Housing, who told their personal experience of homelessness.  They encouraged the thought of success; they said that is possible to get out of a homeless situation and offered a vision of hope to homeless people and homeless service providers.  Their words were greatly appreciated, especially since they took the time on a cold, snowy night to share of themselves.

            NEOCH Executive Bryan Gillooly offered a reflection on the lives of homeless people involved in the Coalition who had died on the Cleveland streets in the past year.

            Following the vigil was an open reception at the Old Stone Church downtown.  Esteem, Inc., organized a chorus men from St. Herman’s House of Hospitality to provide entertainment.  Joe Lehner from the Catholic Worker recruited the volunteers and supplied outstanding homemade turkey soup.

            NEOCH wished to thank everyone else who was part of the speaking program, including Rabbi Bruce Abrahms, the Reverend Mark Keinig and the emcee, Jean Andolsen.  Thanks also tp the Candlelight Vigil Committee:  Anita Bertrand, Donna Hawk, Mary Frances Harrington, Cathy Lowe, Terry Washam and Barbara Williams.  Special thanks to Amy Barto of  West Haven Youth Shelter, who organized and supervised the youth project.

            Great job, everyone! With some hard work and some justice in federal legislative decision making, we won’t need a vigil next year! 

Copyright the Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 5, Cleveland Ohio February 1994

Cleveland Joins National Efforts

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, the City/County Office of Homeless Services and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center will be co-sponsoring a project similar to what veterans organizations call a Stand Down. A Stand Down which takes its name from a military term for a respite from combat is a three-day encampment of services during which homeless veterans and their families are given a safe haven from the streets. Included in these services are food, shelter, clothing, medical treatment, employment assistance and help with alcohol and drug abuse, to name a few.

   A Stand Down has taken place annually in San Diego since 1988 and in various other cities across the country, including Long Beach, California; Portland, Oregon; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Rocky Hill, Connecticut and Cincinnati, Ohio. The Stand Down has caught the attention of the media and has been given positive support and coverage.

 Cleveland is joining this nationwide effort in the fight against homelessness, but the plan here extends the Stand Down idea a bit further.

   Statistics show that veterans make up approximately one-thirds of the homeless populations. Our efforts will reach to include the other two-thirds of the homeless who are non-veterans. Therefore, our project will be a joint effort of the local veterans organization, the local government homeless services and local private offices, all of which homeless people. 

   The goal is to give any homeless person the chance to access the resources he or she may need to help in their effort of self-sufficiency. We intend not only to make referrals but to provide on-the-spot services in these two days of activity, as well as develop a follow-up program.

    The event will take place Friday and Saturday, August 19-20, 1994. Location is yet to be determined. We will need lots of volunteers. Call the coalition office at (216) 241-1104 if you are interested. This is an extremely worthwhile project for our community in addressing the problem of homelessness. Watch for more information in the months to come!   

Copyright the Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 5, Cleveland Ohio February 1994

Code of Conduct for Distributing the Homeless Grapevine

Every vendor for the Homeless Grapevine registers with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and affirms the paper by signing this code of conduct. We hope you will find every vendor courteous and professional when distributing this paper.

1.      The Homeless Grapevine will be distributed for a $1 donation. I agree not to ask for donations more than $1. I also understand that I will be able to keep 90cents of each dollar collected, as future issues of the Grapevine will be purchased from NEOCH for 10 cents.

2.      I agree that I will never distribute the Homeless Grapevine while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

3.      I agree that I will not ask for donations after 10:00 p.m.

4.      I agree to treat others with respect. I will not use abusive language or force someone to give a donation. I will not give a “hard sell” or make someone feel threatened.

5.      I agree that I will not supply copies of the Homeless Grapevine to persons who are not registered distributors.

6.      I agree that I will not contest territories with other distributors.

7.      I understand that the Homeless Grapevine strives to be a self-supporting paper created by people who are homeless or formerly homeless. To help in this effort I agree to volunteer as needed toward the creation of future issues. I will also try to attend all Grapevine meetings.

8.      I understand that the failure to comply with any of the above statements will result in me no longer being able to distribute the Homeless Grapevine.

Copyright the Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 5, Cleveland Ohio February 1994

George Hrbek: Department of Employment Services

By Connie Davis

            “Let me tell you,” Says George Hrbek, the director of Employment Services of Cuyahoga County, measuring his words carefully, reflecting his frustration and concern, “we have minimal resources that enable us to target the single male and female.  If you look at the Project Heat population, we have few resources to work with those people in terms of employment.  They don’t qualify.”

            Unfortunately for all of us, Hrbek doesn’t make the rules.  If he did, some outdated bureaucratic procedures and inflexible government regulations would be liberalized to encompass his vision and humanity.  Hrbek believes that representatives from all areas of society – the government, academia, organized labor, industry and individuals – need to sit down together.  We need to redefine what it means to earn a living, what it will take to protect the nuclear family and how we’re going to have to change as a society to adapt to the drastic changes in the economy as we head into a new millennium.

            Hrbek had made a career out of working creatively within the system to effect change.  Fifteen years ago he and Sister Donna Hawk started a food center at St. Patrick’s Church on the west side.  At first it served about 150 to 200 families per month.  “Now,” Hrbek says, “Who Know? That food center is probably serving close to 1500 families per month.”  What started out as a temporary service has now become an economic necessity for far too many people who would go hungry without it?

            Recently, Hrbek was instrumental in reshaping the huge bureaucracy at the Department of Human Services.  A year ago it was broken up into five smaller, more manageable departments.

            “I was the head of the whole thing and I helped to facilitate the restructuring.

Now I’m head of this one piece of it.”  His piece is the Department of Employment Services, which provides job-and training – related services to over 10, 000 people receiving various forms of social assistance.  He estimates that there are as many as 70,000 additional people within Cuyahoga County who want to walk but who need employment counseling, retraining programs and other job-related advice.  He simply doesn’t have funds available to help them.

Two years ago, general assistance (GA) was cut from $148 per month, plus food stamps and medical coverage for 12 months per year, to $100 per month plus food stamps and medical coverage for only 6 months per year.  The other 6 months recipients get only food stamps, no money and no medical coverage.  Because of these cutbacks, Hrbek reinstituted a form of Work Preparation Alternative program, with money received from the Board of County Commissioners, to provide some assistance to these people.  “It’s simply an opportunity for the folks who had been cut off GA to become involved as a volunteer in a not-for-profit or public agency making a contribution.  In return for volunteering one day per week, four times per month, they could receive a $30 per day stipend, not a salary.”

            There are over 800 people in the program right now, but Hrbek predicts a large increase in April when more people are cut off GA.  In spite of the nominal payment, Hrbek says, “Some of the people come every day, which works out to a salary of $30 per week.”  Occasionally, their efforts are rewarded with full-time employment.

            “The old methods, the old assumptions, just don’t hold anymore,” Hrbek says.  “Everyone’s talking about family preservation.  We’ve got to do something about strengthening the family.  And we’re not targeting the single men, who now can’t support their families even if they wanted to, with resources.  No one is doinganything very creative with that population.”

            What’s needed?  Imagination.  Innovation.  Entrepreneurial ideas.  And, of course, money.  We all have to get busy.  George Hrbek can’t do it alone.

Copyright the Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 5, Cleveland Ohio Winter 1994



The Hidden Homeless

by Ted Schwartz

 The trouble with understanding homelessness in greater Cleveland is that the majority of the people afflicted are invisible. Most of us think we know the homeless. We have an image of the gap-toothed wino with the alcohol breath and a paper cup. Or the street hustler who needs a couple of dollars for gas, the bus, to feed his wife and six children who are vaguely “over there” or some other story which, if he is watched long enough, is obviously false. Or the schizophrenic having animated conversations with the voices in his or her head. They are the in you “in your face” homeless of our city, men and women who made bad choices, had bad genetics or lost the cosmic crapshoot for sanity. They are also in the minority among the homeless.

 Evelyn is homeless. She is 40, attractive, a former small business owner whose income often exceeded six figures. Before the divorce. Before the cross-country move, the days spent looking for new opportunities and the final failure, a business she started with what was left of her money and the promises of a backer who failed to deliver his share of financial support. By the time she realized she could not get adequate capital and closed her doors, she had $117 in a savings account, a $350 apartment rent bill $25 due on her telephone bill and other utility payment s to be made. Emotionally shattered, she spent time wandering shopping malls and reading in the library, trying to understand what happened, to consider what to do next.

It took 60 days to be evicted and a week in a shelter, her few possessions stored in a locker, before she admitted her problem to her minister. He arranged for her to act as the companion for the elderly parent of parishioner in exchange for what they were told would be a “guest apartment.” That turned out to be a small room she had to share with several potted plants, the litter box for the woman’s three cats and several cartoons of family memorabilia no one else wanted to keep. Although earning a small stipend, she does not have adequate time off to look for work, nor is she able to accumulate enough money for her own apartment. She is depressed and worried about the approaching time when the woman will need to be in a nursing facility and she will still have inadequate resources.

Bill is homeless, drifting among the Shaker Heights apartments of several friends who have made clear that his welcome is wearing thin. He has several advanced engineering degrees, but the company for which he worked restructured, eliminating his department. He taught for a while, then realized he lacked the temperament for teaching about the same time the university came to the same conclusion. His contract was not renewed and he began looking for work in earnest. “Nothing under $50,000 a year. A man with my education had standards. It was better to turn down job offers, ‘knowing’ they would be increased if I held my ground, then to sell my services too cheaply,” he explained. “That was eventually how I justified staying at home, sleeping late, sending out resumes to companies too far away for me to do adequate follow up. Then I began going to the science library, reading to keep abreast of my field when I was too scared to face reality. Finally my wife had enough. She didn’t care if I worked at McDonalds. She was the type who would do anything to hold body and soul together, even if it was outside her educational background. She just wanted me to be productive, and I wasn't.”

Divorce brought more depression. Denial resulted in Bill’s spending too much for rent, eating out in low priced restaurants, such as Denny’s, where the cost was still greater than cooking for himself, and gradually selling his possessions. Eventually there was no more money, no more “things” of real value and no job. While he now has the maturity to seek work whenever he can get it, he knows that even after he has a job it will be several weeks before he can accumulate the first and last month’s rent, plus security deposit, demanded by landlords. Until then he is hoping his friends patience won't wear out.

 The majority of the hidden homeless interviewed had one of several common factors. The first was excess pride. They were accustomed to being in control, to taking care of themselves, that they did not admit they needed help until after they had lost everything.

 The second problem was denial. Cleveland-area newly unemployed executives often followed a pattern common among all such individuals throughout the United States. Before they could bring themselves to tell friends and loved ones, they could “go to work” each day, though unemployed. In nice weather, they might go to a park. In the cold, the main library was popular. If they routinely had weekly evening meetings, they would avoid going home until the meeting would be over.

 Eventually the resources that might have kept the family afloat were gone, and the person had not started to look for work. Sometimes the family moved into a cheap motel. Other times they lived out of a car. (One school principal told me that she knew of a once financially comfortable family living in their station wagon, cleaning themselves in public restrooms and keeping their children in school. It was three months before the school learned they were homeless.) And still other times they moved in with friends or family, overcrowding the living space and increasing tension among everyone concerned.

 Short-term illness serious enough to last longer than sick leave, accumulated vacation time and other safeguards can create a crisis. By the time the person is well enough to work, savings are depleted and the former job has been filled.

 The needs of the hidden homeless are as great as those of the more obvious people on the street. Counseling to handle the depression and the fear, a permanent address for mail, a telephone for messages and some degree of job retraining and a refresher course in how to apply for jobs are among the common concerns.

But the hidden homeless have an even greater problem. How do they account for long-term employment gaps? Some create “consulting companies”, perhaps going so far as to have inexpensive business cards printed. Others say they are self-employed. The truth, though no fault of their own, would diminish the respect they receive. The unspoken perception by others often is that if someone is any good, he or she would be hired away from the downsizing, relocating or closing company before his or her previous job officially ended. And if not, certainly there would be headhunters, CEOs and others lining up with job offers immediately after the end occurred. Anyone without a job for more than a few weeks has great difficulty competing with less-qualified individuals who are switching where they work while still employed.

One couple, now employed, told of their crisis after GE released them following the sale of the company. Each told prospective employers that their spouse was working while he or she looked after the children for a while. “I wanted to try the ‘Mom Trick’, I’d tell them, always adding that I found I hated it and wanted to return to corporate America,” the wife explained. “My husband said he wanted to be ‘Mr. Mom’ for a while during which time I supported the family. Thank God they believed our lies, because it let us be honest about our resumes.”

Even worse is the difficulty of someone who takes interim wok in a lower-paying, unrelated field in order to earn enough money to at least rent an apartment. A communication specialist with a major corporation obtained a job as a checker with a Finest job (she was over qualified). She has to lie about her when seeking to get back into her profession, claiming that she has been freelancing. Yet when someone asks to see samples of her freelance work, she knows she is in trouble

.There are other issues for the hidden homeless. Finding day care for small children can be a nightmare. In one case, a single parent moved in with a working friend, also a single parent. Both had preschool children, but the homeless woman discovered that her friend viewed her as a godsend. She would be the in-house sitter in exchange for room and board. Yet that also meant that it was impossible for her to look for employment between 8:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. each weekday, when her friend was out the house.

The needs of the hidden homeless often parallel those of the people living long-term in shelters and vacant buildings. They need counseling, a consistent mailing address a telephone message service, day care for preschoolers, after-school programs for latch-key children and personnel directors willing to look at an applicants abilities, not the current living status. Until that occurs, the unseen nightmare will continue while too many of the employed think they are helping by dropping a quarter into a Styrofoam cup shoved into their face as they enter Tower City.

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 5, Cleveland Ohio February 1994


Myths About Homelessness and Jobs

by Bob Olander

MYTH: Why don't homeless people just get a job? They're either lazy or don't want to work.

The vast majority of homeless people are not homeless by choice. According to NEOCH, only about 5 percent say they are homeless because they “like to move around”. More than half cite economic reasons, such as a job loss or a rent increase, for their homelessness. Ninety percent of homeless people have an employment history, and about one-third have worked in the past month. At some shelters, almost one-fourth of the homeless people are currently working.

Most of these jobs, however, are part-time, temporary, or for minimum wage. Affording even a modest one-bedroom apartment requires a full-time job at almost double the minimum wage.

The problem is not laziness. The problem is a lack of affordable housing, too few jobs and, in some cases, inadequate education or training.


MYTH: Even if they got a job, most homeless people couldn’t keep it. They’re either drunks, drug abusers or mentally ill,

About one-third of homeless people suffer from a serious mental illness. State and Federal studies place the number of alcohol and drug abusers at between 20 and 40 percent. These two groups, the mentally ill and substance abusers, overlap significantly. For such homeless people, holding a job is indeed difficult or impossible.

But an even greater problem is the lack of a network of family or friends. NEOCH reports that more than 60 percent of homeless people say they do not have any relatives or friends they can count on for help.

Most homeless people are able to and willing to work. They just need a friend, or a friendly stranger, to give them a chance.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 5, Cleveland Ohio February 1994


The Labor Pool: Helping People with Employment

by Connie Davis

“We’re looking for a hand up, not a handout,” says Ernest Marshall firmly, holding out his hand to shake mine. “We’ve got over 800 people on file here, 400 with resumes, some with bachelor and master’s degree. We’ve got carpenters, electricians, gardeners—you name it! If you’ve got a job that needs doing, we’ve got someone who can do it. All we’re asking for is a chance, an opportunity to become taxpayers again. We’re selling self-esteem and pride here".

Welcome to the Labor Pool at 4311 Lorain Avenue on Cleveland’s West Side. A former two-lane bowling alley now serves as office, meeting place, and drop-in center for the organization, which was started by an eclectic group of strong characters whose belief in each other blossomed during the march to Columbus in 1991. Forty-seven Clevelanders walked from Public Square to the Ohio State Capitol to protest cutbacks in General Assistance payments. During the six days it took for them to get there, the group developed the kind of intense and loyal bonds it usually takes a lifetime to build.

Against all odds, they have survived the blows of a whimsical economy that declared them redundant and put them on the street. With nowhere to go, they turned to each other and the local churches as a source of strength. The result of this collaboration of spirit and grace is the Labor Pool, a cooperative employment agency staffed by a handful of devoted volunteers that specializes in finding jobs for the homeless.

Marion Roesch was losing hope before she met Ernest Marshall. Now the grandmother of three is resolutely updating her secretarial skills while running the office, answering the phone and searching through her files for the right candidate for prospective employers. “ I’ve learned so much just being around Ernest,” she says.

Marshall is a veteran of the Korean War. “I saw unspeakable things in those rice paddies. When I came home, I tried to regain my sanity, my health. I saved my money and worked hard. I certainly didn’t work towards the ultimate goal of being homeless.”

He is a beautician and hair stylist by trade, placing fourth in an international competition in 1972. He has also worked as a meat cutter, a construction worker, a typist and an insurance salesperson. Now he mans the phones, sometimes for 12 hours a day, matching potential employers with hopeful employees.

Marshall has little time or patience for government-run agencies of any kind. “The staff makes money off the homeless and we don’t see any of it,” he says, preferring to appeal directly to the business community. “We’re doing everything we can to make corporate Cleveland aware of us. Every time we’re mentioned, job offers increase.”

“We’ve also done basic marketing,” adds Bob Matthews, another member of the Labor Pool team who also participated in the walk to Columbus in 1991. “I had no skills in marketing, but I’ve learned how to go to places and put on presentations to show people what we’re all about here. We’ve approached various restaurants, factories and small businesses. For the most part, the response has been very successful.”

The Labor Pool, which is open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 pm. Monday through Saturday, charges $5 per day, per employee, for the first 30 days. After that, the employer is free to deal directly with the employee without any further financial obligation to the Labor Pool. These nominal fees, along with grants from local churches and individual contributions, help to defray the rent and operating expenses.

Wolfgang Alexander is an independent contractor who hires all his crews through the labor pool. A recent job called for a basement to be turned into a sleek, upscale fitness center. The employer estimated that the work would take three weeks.

Alexander and his Labor Pool crew completed the assignment in just four days. Hey, Mayor White! Are you listening?

“I have a great feeling what money can’t buy when I get a chance to be involved in a person reconstructing his or her life,” Marshall says.

It’s a feeling you can share. If you’ve got a job—big or small, temporary or permanent—give the Labor Pool a call at 651-2313. They’ll find you a suitable candidate. Or just drop in at 4311 Lorain and meet Earnest, Bob and Marion in person. Give them a hand up. They’ve certainly earned it.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 5, Cleveland Ohio February 1994


Commentary on Looking for a Job and Housing

by Bob Boclear

I was born in Granada, Mississippi, in 1951. I moved to Cleveland in 1960. I completed the twelfth grade through GED. My occupation is a tractor-trailer driver. I was married, had children and now have grandchildren. I was divorced after 20 years of marriage.

 I lived what’s considered to be a normal, decent life. You know: job, family, community involvement. For many years, things were good. Then, things began to change.

 My marriage started going bad, and my job moved out of state. I began drinking more and started doing drugs. Divorce occurred, and my children left. I really began not to care. I lost my respect, self-esteem and whatever else you can lose when you’re failing. Anyway, I became homeless and for a good while I wallowed in my sorrow and pity. There were times when I asked for food, and what was said to me was, “Get a job you damn bum!” More often than not, we are treated as the worst.

 Further down the road, I met people who cared and were concerned. I gave me hope and a desire to help myself. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not easy coming up and I’m not out of this yet. But at least now I’m giving myself the chance.

 Before I end my article, I would like to thank NEOCH and its staff for what I call CURE: caring, understanding, respect and encouragement. Thank you NEOCH, and may God bless you.

 Copyright Homeless Grapevine and NEOCH, Issue 5, Cleveland Ohio February 1994