Y-Haven Finds "Buried" Success

By Pamela Vincent

             A group of men at Y-Haven transitional housing have collaborated on an original play titled Buried. The play, with a cast of six, was the idea of James Levin, artistic director at the Cleveland Public Theatre, who also directed it.  The story line is about people searching for their identity with one of the characters digging in the ground to find hidden parts of himself that was buried deep. It was written and performed by men who reside at Y-Haven transitional shelter.

            The play also unearths unpleasant part of life that people who have trouble coping tend to keep hidden so they don’t have to face them.  Eventually, though, the characters face their fears and in doing so find themselves.

            Buried tells the story of a man who returns to a place from his distant past to uncover a buried secret.  CPT resident director Raymond Bobgan, and John Guerra of CPT education staff, worked with the men at Y-Haven to develop the play.

            The group performed the play at the Cleveland Public Theater to great acclaim and also to groups of teens at both the Lake and Cuyahoga County detention centers.  Chip Joseph of Y-Haven said, ‘the teens loved it, they could both relate to and enjoy the performance!”

            The Y-Haven group will soon be writing another play with some of the original cast and a few new members.  The play is available on video, and if you are interested in either viewing or obtaining a copy please call (216) 631-2727 for details.

            This comes in response to last season’s collaboration between CPT and Y-Haven called Reconstruction of a Man, which toured in hospitals, recovery programs and churches.

 Copyright NEOCH published 2001 Issue 51

Where Do We Go From Here?

Commentary By Pete Domanovic

These are a series of three columns written over the last month by Pete Domanovic.  We welcome your feedback on these topics around homelessness and employment.

 THE AMERICAN DISPLACED WORKER

            It’s now apparent that there is a recession going on.  Shelters are filling way above capacity and having to turn people away on a daily basis.  You can drive or walk down any main street in the city of Cleveland, and you will see nothing but empty space.  Storefronts and apartment space just goes on for miles, without any type plan or upkeep.

            Even during this recession, there are thousands of people working for temporary labor agencies just in the downtown.  My experience is that out of thousands about 80% are either homeless or about to become homeless as the economy and jobs decrease.  What is really strange about this situation is that new people are coming to Cleveland:  Russian, Polish, Asian, Hindu, and Muslin and are not having any trouble being placed into jobs.  I believe that these jobs should be going to Clevelanders already here who are struggling.  Are the Clevelanders who have been here being chewed up and discarded not that there are replacement workers here?

            Businesses often complained about having to replace people who didn’t work out.

These people were theoretically sent back for retaining, (residing in shelters, and taking classes in training schools).  The problem was that the trainers couldn’t train.  Shelter staff is so wrapped up in their own problems and prejudices; there is nothing that they can accomplish.  What we have then is training that leads nowhere fast.  Training schools have condensed training times from one year to six - week courses.  Training staff in my experience is usually people who couldn’t make it in the business side of that trade, but can teach the theories.

            Replace the trainers.  That is the only thing that will work if you look at the situation from a business point of view.

            From the shelter side of the equation, it seems here in Cleveland people with degrees in social work got a secure and cushy job and the people who serve be damned.

            Not only have they left the working poor with nowhere to go, they are backing them into a corner. Where do we go from here?

 DOMESTIC TERRORISM:  Stripping Away Civil Liberties

             Now that we must fight terrorism, our rights must be curtailed, at least according to our President, George W. Bush.  What about the rights we lost during the Reagan years?  Our great President at that time decided that because 40% of the mentally ill preferred to live on the street, they had that right.  Duh, what does mentally ill mean to you?  Our great president also decided that beer, wine, and cigarette industries no longer need to be regulated, literally allowing the industry to use any legally addictive chemical they chose to use. 

            I thought we had regulations to protect the public from harm.  (Before this deregulation, they could only find that 3 out of 7 people with lung cancer were smokers, that has changes since those cancer causing agents are put in the manufacturing of cigarettes).  The beer and wine industry has it going on, because they can also put any leally addictive compounds into their drinks, hence, a great increase in alcoholism.  Even though their product taste like Kerosene, they have a great market.

            Another of his great accomplishments was to endorse temporary labor agencies.  If you look around you and still see massive buildings housing the state agency that used to send you to companies that were looking to hire someone, they no longer do that.  What they do is not apparent, but they have nothing to do with getting you a job.  Just pay their salaries and shut up.  I’m still waiting for his trickle down theory to catch up to the bottom rung of the ladder.  President G.W. Bush also believes in the trickle down theory with his tax breaks for the richest, but shouldn’t he wait for the first one to work?

            Lets think about what could go on in the next few months with President Bush’s fight on domestic terrorism.  The perfect target in the minds of some is the American Black Muslims.  Not exactly known for being a conforming lot, we have set about to eliminate their basic legal rights.  On the international front, we have made Muslim’s a legal target, but also a military target.  Who can tell what goes on in the mind of a person like G.W. Bush who took the position of the most powerful person in the world by deception?

            Of course, there is the most vulnerable, easiest target, which we call the homeless.  President Reagan already took their legal recourse away when his policies told America that the definition of freedom varies depending on what you can afford to pay for.  Now shoppers look with suspicion on the homeless people lurking.  How could some among us possible claim terrorism by the poorest population?  I thing that it is pretty inconceivable, but so was stealing the American Presidency.  Where do we go from here?

 LONG OVERDUE:

Living Wages/Job Stability

            The first thing you have to ask yourself is; how could anyone be against a living wage for another person that is doing a job that is useful and necessary to the community?  Let’s take for an example Cleveland’s sport arenas.  The sports arenas take in millions of dollars per function and pay out a hefty sum for that function to exist.  When you get to the lowest on the food chain, which are the people cleaning up, what justifies them leaving with approximately $25.00 for the day’s work?  They didn’t ask for school children to clean up, or college students to make some extra cash.  They requested full-grown men who at one time had dreams of family, friends, homes, and cars.

            Here is how it happens.  Someone else negotiated the contract for that employee takes about 40% of what that job is worth.  They you have those particular job overseers.  They started driving the workers harder to get the job done sooner, that in turn reduced the number of hours worked, which in turn reduces the pay, hence the term slave labor.  Now e have people who have nowhere to go for jobs or housing, they can’t take baths, and have to eat at free meal sites.  When they try to better themselves, consider all the other obstacles placed in their way.

            Though I am using the city as an example, there are so many different ways that people are being exploited; public service industrial, food service, all guilty of not caring about the person.  The way the economy is now, the Minuteman’s temporary labor company’s own numbers, there are only six hundred instead of 3000 people-working daily for them.  The daily newspaper’s want ads have been reduced to half page.  Most large stores in the Cleveland area aren’t excepting applications for the Christmas season.

            Please don’t assume that the people you see on the park bench or standing in front of the Terminal Tower is a tramp or a bum.  They’re most likely employees of the places you utilize everyday, or occasionally.  They are people who have been driven down by company’s bottom line for the dollar, not by something that happened overnight.  You could always ask yourself; when will the place I work for decide I’m not needed?  Where do we go from here?

Copyright NEOCH published December 2001 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 51

Editorial: Stop the Homeless Death Penalty

            The homeless death penalty is imposed almost every night in Cleveland.  The most extreme punishment possible within the criminal justice system is the death penalty.  It is the forfeiture of an individual’s life as punishment for an especially heinous crime.  In the shelter system, the most extreme punishment possible is to be kicked out of the shelter and on the streets.  This could result in death from the elements or by a criminal act.  Unfortunately, we impose the death penalty of punishments on homeless people nearly every night.

            Shelter workers routinely march through the facilities telling clients that if they do not shape up they will kick them out onto the streets.  This punishment is taken too lightly with little regard for the consequences.  In the past year, we have seen an individual crushed to death after falling asleep in a dumpster in order to stay warm.  We saw a homeless man who was beat up who then picked himself up struggling into an abandon building only to die later that night.  We have seen a homeless man murdered by the railroad only a couple yards away from the shelter.  Finally, many have died because their body shut down from alcohol abuse while staying on the streets.

            If shelters were constructed with a primary mission of keeping people from dying on the streets they need to renew this commitment.  There is no place to prevent people from being exile from the shelters.  There is a significant lack of coordination to address this growing problem.  There is a significant lack of coordination to address this growing problem.  Unless there is a criminal matter (in which case the police would provide temporary housing in jail), there should not be a thought of sending someone to sleep on the streets.

            In discussing these issues with some of the residents of various shelters they came up with the guidelines that need to be adopted locally.  There must be universal rules regarding banning and termination of an individual that cannot involve solely in house staff.  Before a person is banned or terminated a supervisory staff person not involved in the altercation should be consulted.  Staff that threaten homelessness, as a punishment should be disciplined.  If an individual is terminated from a program they should be given a written copy of the reason for the termination and on the back of the sheet the grievance procedure including outside agencies that could help.  Without fail, the shelter should make every effort to transfer the person so that they are not stuck sleeping outside like an animal that had an accident on a new rug.

            Homeless people have said that if all else fails or the staff feels it is necessary that a person must leave the facility for the safety of other clients or staff.  There should be a system wide protocol for dealing with transfers to other facilities.  The client should be first isolated from the rest of the population, and they arrangements made to go to another facility that may be better suited or may be better able to handle the individual.  This will require greater cooperation among all the facilities.  It is our experience that most people leave of their own wishes, but for those that do not, a plan must be in place.  This must apply system wide across the board of all types of shelters.

            There is a significant due process problem with shelters kicking homeless people to the streets.  There are many mentally ill people who are suspended or banned from shelters. These cases raise the issue of whether their banning had anything to do with their disability.  Were they unfairly punished for a personality disorder manifesting itself due to a mental illness?  Since very few shelters monitors have the ability to make these type of diagnosis, it would seem only proper to keep people in shelter.  These facilities and the City of Cleveland as well as Cuyahoga County bear some responsibility for not developing a cold weather plan if someone dies on the streets this winter.

            Those social service providers that offer transitional shelter or support services for people and families that are allowed to stay in the facility for up to two years need to separate the housing that they offer from the social services.  We all champion housing as a human right, but it is hypocritical to exempt homeless people from the right because they are n transitional housing.  Many of the transitional providers ask the men or women who go into the program to pay a service fee or pay rent but do not extend the right to a housing lease to those individuals.  Those who offer the housing free of charge still must respond to the homeless population better than landlords who are quick to evict people.  These social services are providing a service because our government has privatized shelter and should act in the best interest of the community, which is to keep people from becoming homeless as soon as possible. Currently, the transitional shelters will evict a person that very same night the person comes back drunk.  Many if not most of the transitional programs give them no chance to get their stuff together and move on, but will kick the individual to the street that very night.  This is certainly a violation of the landlord tenant law and violation of the homeless individual’s human rights.  We have experience with transitional housing providers that they have terminated an individual or a family for non-alcoholic or drug related problems and given the household no notice.

In Cleveland, we converted public housing units into transitional housing.  Those vary same apartments only a few years ago offered the individuals the protection of the law against immediate eviction and with a different name on the front door now do not extend any protection to the tenants.  At this time, a smart landlord that wanted to save money on complying with the law could just call his building transitional housing and get out of the hard fought landlord tenant laws in Ohio.

            We hear the argument that if you allow one person to contaminate the transitional shelter all the tenants will be at risk.  At the same time, we hear that relapse in part of the disease.  We hear from alcohol and drug addicts will slip on their path to recovery.  So if we are to believe the science, why do we punish this behavior with complete separation from the program?  There are no other medical conditions that if the individual relapses we cut them off the treatment.  When a mentally ill individual goes off their treatment plan they are not evicted for non-compliance.  These social service agencies have to come up with a better way to deal with homeless people that relapse then immediate eviction.  The number of people that cycle through the transitional shelters without succeeding is staggering.  A look at the transitional shelters last year that were submitting applications for renewal funding found that on average only 31% of those entering the facility found stable housing.

              These social service providers need to come together to develop a better system to move people into stability.  They need to treat their clients with more respect, and provide them the same tights that other citizens are provided.  There are far more effective ways to deal with relapse then jeopardizing a person’s life by placing them on the streets.  The Grapevine is asking for a homeless death penalty moratorium for the winter while these issues are debated and addressed.

 Copyright NEOCH published December 2001Cleveland Ohio for Issue 51

Public Housing Elderly Only Policy Implications on the United States

By Ann O’Hara, Emily Miller, and Maura Collins Versluys

Reprinted from the Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc. and the Consortium for Citizen’s with Disabilities newsletter called Opening DoorsFor more information on organizationwww.tacinc.org.

              Beginning in 1992, the federal government enacted sweeping changes to federal housing laws, which made it legal to restrict or exclude non-elderly people with disabilities from certain affordable rental housing.  Specifically, these “elderly only” laws allowed owners of federally subsidized housing to restrict or exclude non-elderly people with disabilities (defined as adults under age 62) from moving into public and assisted housing funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

            Using date from HUD and two federal studies, the Technical Assistance (TAC) and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task updated our assessment of the impact of elderly only laws on the supply of federally subsidized housing available for people with disabilities.  The analysis shows that hundreds of thousands of studio and one bedroom federally subsidized housing units are not legally “off-limits” to people with disabilities looking for affordable housing.

            Specifically, these data and reports indicate that between 268,500 and 293,500 units of federally subsidized housing are currently designated elderly only. This estimate is on target with TAC’s original estimate of 273,000 units made in 1996 and published in the May 1997 issue of Opening Doors.  The data also suggest that more subsidized housing owners will designate additional units of housing as elderly only in the months and years to come.

            In a cruel irony, these restrictive federal housing laws took effect shortly after other important federal laws- specifically the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1998 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 – were inacted to promote community integration, increase access by people with disabilities to subsidized housing, and end housing discrimination.  These civil rights laws, along with improvements in community based support strategies, prompted a substantial increase in the number of people with disabilities seeking housing assistance in the late 1980’s and early 1990s.

            Given this increase in demand, the legalization of elderly only housing policies potentially spelled disaster for non-elderly people with disabilities – unless they could be mitigated by a substantial increase in other HUD funding targeted to people with disabilities.  Civil rights attorneys and disability advocates were also concerned about the incredible complexity of elderly only laws and policies.  It was feared that the owners of these buildings lack the capacity to implement these laws properly and that an increase in housing discrimination directed towards people with disabilities and inevitable.

            It has been almost a decade since federal elderly only housing policies were legalized.  Since that time, TAC and the CCD Housing Task Force have monitored the implementation of elderly only housing laws and their effect on people with disabilities.  Several federal studies have also examined elderly only housing practices.  This issue of Opening Doors summarizes current HUD data and these various studies which – taken as a whole – provide a clear picture of the negative consequences that federal elderly only housing policies are having on people with disabilities who need federal housing assistance.

 Copyright maintained by the Technical Assistance Collaborative, Inc. published December 2001 in Cleveland, Ohio for Issue 51 of the Homeless Grapevine

News Briefs: Sleeping Around the Country Tent City

Eugene, Oregon:

       People who live in a vehicle have a sanctuary in Eugene Oregon becoming one of the first communities in the country to allow the St. Vincent De Paul Society to establish 15 sites throughout the city in which homeless people can park their vehicles and stay for up to 90 days.  Another 60 sites were offered by non-profit organizations, churches, and local area businesses.  The Homeless Grapevine had in the past had regular submissions from Bridgett Reilly one of those who slept in her camper and fought in court for the right to be left alone.

            Each site has a trashcan; a portable toilet and can have no more than three non-abandoned vehicles.  Eugene claims nearly 2,000 people homeless every night, and cannot meet that demand with shelters or even with the parking program.  Representative of St. Vincent DePaul estimate over 100 people participate in the vehicle parking program while other find illegal places to park.

Santa Cruz, California

            The Santa Cruz City Council voted to return to enforcing a “no camping” ordinance within the city limits, Camp Paradise had sprung up near the San Lorenzo River fear that they will be ticketed.  Church and community activists have staged vigils at the camp to act as legal observers.  There are other proposals to rotate the camps in various parks or require community service in exchange for campsites.  Currently City Council is studying those other options.

Oakland, CA homeless go underground

            Oakland police are attempting to discourage the underground encampment that has sprung up in the Downtown area.  The group bootlegged power and made a home with appliances in an attempt to making a home.  City officials estimate 9,000 homeless people and no where near that number of beds.  Alameda county opens overflow shelters during the winter for Oakland’s homeless population.  The Oakland police consider the conditions in the underground encampment so deplorable that they are restricting access and arresting anyone that attempts to return to the camp.

 Copyright NEOCH published December 2001 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 51

National Homeless News Briefs

San Francisco Battles to Save the Pay Toilets

            San Francisco is one of the few United States cities featuring pay public toilets, and they have become a haven for homeless people, drug addicts and prostitutes.  Seems that toilets equipped with a 20-minute time limit frequently break or are jammed open at night.  With a 35% increase in homelessness over the last year in San Francisco, some have sought refuge in the pay metal self-cleaning toilets.  Police have asked that the toilets be locked at night, and are asking for legislation which allow them to fine people who linger inside the toilets ranging from $100 to $500.  The Board of Supervisors put the problems with the 25 pay toilets on their agenda, never getting around to the discussion of the 7,500 homeless people in the City every night.

 Washington D.C. Will Not Tolerate Hypothermia

          Last winter six homeless men died of hypothermia in the 2000-2001 winter; most were alcoholics.  Mayor Anthony Williams will not tolerate this embarrassment of people needlessly dying in the nation’s capital with its extensive outreach system in place.  In order to protect the city’s image and prevent further deaths, Mayor Williams has resurrected a 1940’s ordinance, which allows the city to remove intoxicated or mentally ill people from the streets.  Williams is also asking for an anti-loitering ordinance that could withstand constitutional challenges.  There was no increase in detox beds or shelters for the mentally ill in the plan.  The people forced off of the streets will be placed in overflow shelters that will be staffed when the temperature falls below freezing.  District officials estimate that 900 people live on the streets.

Cincinnati Conducts Street Census

            The United States Census found 550 people sleeping in shelters last March in Cincinnati.  Activists counted 15,688 people living in the shelters or in the streets “between” March 2000 to March 2002 with 1,333 on one evening.  The study found that 58% of the homeless population was women and children.  The study found that 60% of the homeless men and 45 percent of the women who are homeless in Cincinnati work full or part time.  Sixty eight percent of the homeless population was African American, which is significantly higher than the 39% they found in their first census in 1986.

Chicago Stops Enforcement of Anti-Panhandling Law

            Chicago officials have decided they have a panhandling problem, and have begun rigorous enforcement of a broad disorderly conduct statue.  The law allows police to cite people on the public streets for drunkenness, lewdness and panhandling.  They can face fines up to $500.  Courts have traditionally found that panhandling is legally protected speech.  City attorneys have asked for 30 days to review the ordinance while it is studied.  A local Chicago attorney has filed suit on behalf of three panhandlers.  The ordinance makes it illegal to ask for money, which is separate from aggressive solicitation, which is covered under other ordinances.

 Washington State Stops the Welfare Check

          Governor Gary Locke came out with an election day-gift for people counting down until time runs out for Washington’s welfare recipients:  He stopped the clock for those with significant barriers to finding a job.  In addition, he announced that people looking for work could keep receiving state assistance until their first paycheck arrives.            Locke’s move has a direct effect on about 3,200 families who were scheduled to hit their five-year lifetime limit next August.  The Governor’s office says that three-quarters of those recipients are “playing by the rules” – working, looking for work or getting vocational training.  Another 550 or so are physically or mentally disabled and cannot be reasonably expected to participate in WorkFi9rst.

            As Locke announced this amnesty for the majority of Work First Participants, he didn’t let up on an uncooperative minority.  The 120 Washington families that have resisted participation in Work First have been put under sanction, and their monthly payments gradually reduced.  Governor Locke introduced the Child Safety Net Payment System for the children of these families.  Under the system, a third party money manager will get a families monthly benefit check, and use it to pay for rent, utilities, food or other items deemed necessary for the children’s will being.

            “Even though some parents refuse to cooperate with Work First, their children should not suffer because of it,” the governor said in a statement.

            Locke prepared his statement in response to a petition filed by child and family advocates September 5.  It asked for prompt clarification of which families might be eligible for extension beyond their lifetime limits.

            A state survey conducted earlier this year showed that half of the families leaving Washington’s welfare rolls are making less than 1,100 a month – below the federal poverty line.  The study also showed an increase in the number of families going back to welfare after leaving a job.  Many of them said that they relied on food banks and sometimes skipped meals.

 Copyright NEOCH published December 2001 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 51

Local Homeless News Briefs

 Grapevine Founder Terminated by Salvation Army Shelter

          Angelo Anderson was terminated from the Salvation Army 2100 Lakeside Shelter.  His story was detailed in Grapevine #46 on the web www.neoch.org under programs.  The story of his departure from the Army was featured in the local alternative newspaper the Free Times which can also be found on the web in the November 7 edition.  Anderson was one of the founders of the Homeless Grapevine and sold the paper until the year 2000.  He was a fixture in Coventry and was the subject of Mayor Michael Rd. White’s last inaugural speech.  White is not retiring and Anderson was forced to retire prematurely.  Word on the street is that they are starting a gardening club together and will resurface as a team next year at the Cuyahoga County Fair in the pickling competition.

 Holiday Observers Bring Peace to the Streets

          During previous holiday seasons in Cleveland, the police, under Mayor Michael White’s administration, have conducted broad “sweeps” to get the homeless people off the streets.  This has included kidnapping homeless people and dropping them off on the outskirts of town, arresting them, and harassing them.  Volunteers for the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless were concerned that these aggressive tactics would occur again during the 2001 Thanksgiving weekend.  This past Thanksgiving was May White’s last holiday in office.

            Volunteers signed up for 3-4 hour shifts to walk around downtown to simple pose as “human rights observers.”  NEOCH sent groups of people out to observe police and city official’s interaction with homeless people.  The intention was to immediately go to court if volunteers viewed any infraction of the 2000 agreement signed with the City of Cleveland.

            The Coalition was happy to report that there were no infractions of the agreement.  In fact, there was little involvement of the police and those who choose not to find themselves on the streets.  According to staff at the Coalition all was quiet, and there were no incidents.

 Care Alliance Update

            The shelter for the mentally ill reopened under the direction Mental Health Service in October.  They should expand their services to also include outreach to the other large shelters in Cleveland in the near future.  Care Alliance is still in negotiations with Cuyahoga County to save their buildings.  The department of Housing and Urban Development is still insisting on repayment of all HUD money spent to renovate the two buildings.

            Questions are surfacing around town about the services extended to those with AIDS in the community.  Care Alliance receives a sizable grant from the Department of Health and Human Services under the Ryan White Act to serve low-income people with AIDS.  Despite the reality that AIDS has increased dramatically in Cuyahoga County over the last year, experts in the community are questioning whether this moving is being spent wisely by Care Alliance.  There is a lack of information and contact between Care Alliance and the other Ryan White funded organizations.  In addition, the doctor hired by care Alliance does not have a background in infectious diseases.

 Copyright NEOCH published December 2001 in Cleveland, Ohio for Issue 51

Homeless Turn to Tents

By Brian Davis

             The shelters are full in Cleveland, and budgets are being cut back with a growing recession.  There are outreach efforts from religious organizations that come downtown every night to feed those who do not feel save in the shelters or who choose not to go inside.  In other cities these religious organizations have taken it upon themselves to bring more than food and God downtown.  They have organized tent cities to provide a safe, sober, and secure place to exist. Lori in Cleveland has taken up residence under the West 14th St. Bridge.  She will not go into the shelter because she feels they treat her like a child and are not safe.  She said, “Being outside doesn’t bother me.  I sleep peacefully.”

            “Most homeless people that are sleeping outside are men and women.  They want to be together.  We cannot be together in shelters.  They should have a community in these abandoned warehouses.  It could be a community for people where everybody has a job and they have to do that job in order to stay in that place, according to Lori.

            She would like to see the use of abandoned buildings instead of tent cities.  She is also concerned about the efforts to make homelessness illegal and having to go to jail for sleeping outside.  Lori spent all winter in a tent last year.

            In Portland and Seattle, religious organizations have assisted homeless people to set up a large number of tents.  They have often used church packing lots and volunteers.  They have set up conduct rules and have existed largely without the support of the municipal government.  The tent cities are safe and provide a unique opportunity for the social service community to meet the needs of non-sheltered homeless population without having to travel to all corners of the city.  A tent city provides the community with some degree of privacy that is often lacking in a shelter.  The tent cities also extend a degree of safety to the residents who are often targets of gangs of youths in many cities.  The other benefit for this type of congregate living is that medical professionals can address the health needs of the community and the congregant tents reduce the chance of homeless people unnecessarily dying in isolation.

            Neighbors rise up when a large contingent of tents sprouts in their community.  There are sanitation problems and there is the fear that the property values will drop.  In both Portland and Seattle, the municipality refused to provide a license for the tent cities.  Activists went to work to protect the rights of the tent cities and spent as many as three years to protect the rights of those who sought refuge from the elements.  This took away time from other housing activities.  One representation from a local foundation said that she would not support a tent city because it is temporary fix to a long-term problem. 

            One individual who stayed in a camp years ago was Ron Reinhart, current Vice President from the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.  His concern was the variable nature of the camps, and the problems with safety.  “We shared alcohol, drugs, food, but at the next moment those same things to get things from those (who wouldn’t share).  One day some would share, the next sell you something from drugs to socks or salt or pepper.  You never knew what to expect.  In my opinion, no matter what you do to organize or bring services to or believe there is safety in numbers you cannot know what to expect.  Some homeless people will tell you one thing and they prey on the weak ones.  I do know that we should all expect more of ourselves as a community to find a better alternative.”

            Another individual who has spent time on the streets of New York in abandoned buildings, Dan Kerr, of Not Bombs felt that the decision to congregate tents together should come from the people.  “I think efforts to evict or remove these tent cities should be fought against because I do not think that should be the approach for public policy to deal with our housing problems,” Kerr said, “I think in Cleveland that we see it as a zero sum game, where you can protect he tents or fight for affordable housing.  I do think that there needs to be more individuals involved in the struggle to build a movement.”

            There were a number of homeless people in shelters who said that they would not want to live in tent and advocacy organizations should not concentrate resources on such an effort.  The Grapevine asked government leaders, city councilpersons, and front line staff who work to serve homeless people and all refused to comment.

            Lori wondered, “Where is all that money going to?  They say donate to the Red Cross or donate to this and donate to that.  Why can’t they take that money and build shelters for people.  Why do we go to jail for being homeless?”

            In Santa Cruz, there was an effort to pilot a tent city and residents rose up in opposition.  Recently, the City Council voted to ask police to begin to enforce a non-camping ordinance.  The local municipality also attacked Tent Cities northern California.  In the small city of Petaluma California, the destruction of camps of homeless people has raised awareness of the need for a homeless shelter in the community.

            Tents exist throughout the City of Cleveland.  Most residents live in peace.  Some are afraid to go into shelter.  Others cannot abide by the rules in shelter or are living the life of a hobo.  There are those that live in tents who want their privacy or want to feed their addiction in private.  There are men who are killed while sleeping in encampments or are targeted by gangs of youth for harassment.  This all currently exists in Cleveland.  With the dramatic increases in eviction and the burgeoning shelter population are tent cities on the landscape locally? 

            Dan Kerr said, “If we make housing for single individuals affordable, people would not have to chose to live in a tent.”

 Copyright NEOCH published December 2001 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 51

Five Years After The Day We Lost Buddy Gray

By Jimmy Heath

            On the morning of Friday November 15th, Cincinnati police officers rushed to the drop Inn Center Shelter House after receiving an emergency call to 911.  At the drop Inn Center in Over-the-Rhine they found Wilbur Worthen sitting next to the bleeding body of buddy gray, the smell of gunpowder still in the air.  The gun was on a table nearby.  Worthen had fired six shots from .357 magnum revolver, three of them striking and killing buddy.  According to arriving Officer Keith Fangman, Worthen told him that Buddy was “pumping nerve gas into my into my apartment.  If you go there it will kill you, too.”

            Drop Inn Center staff later testified that Worthen came into the center shortly after 9 a.m., and pushed his way into a rear office while Buddy and other staff members were conducting a job interview.  Worthen was charged with aggravated murder for the killing of buddy gray, but was later found not guilty by reason of insanity.

            “Something clicked or disconnected in (Worthen’s) mind,” said Wilbur Worthen’s attorney, Peter Pandilidis.  “He got his gun.”

            Prosecutors had sought a murder conviction, but court appointed psychiatrists testified that Worthen suffered from a severe mental disease when he walked into the Drop Inn Center and shot Buddy that day in November of 1996.

            “He believed he had been betrayed,” said Dr. James Hawkins, one of the psychiatrists who examined Worthern.  “As a result of his delusional thought, he believed he needed to correct that betrayal.”

            Ten months later, Judge Richard Neihaus found Worthen not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered him held in a state mental health facility.

            Worthen, 57, lived in the same apartment building on Race Street as buddy.  They had worked side-by-side for many years at the Drop Inn Center, ReSTOC, and on many other Over-the-Rhine community issues.  Buddy had befriended and helped the mentally ill formerly homeless man for over the years.

            Since the death, the work of Buddy Gray has continued without him.  The shooting stopped a man who fought for 25 years to restore and protect the dignity of the down and out in Cincinnati. “It was a devastating blow to our efforts to lose Buddy, but this was never a one-person movement,” said Bonnie Neumeier, after buddy was killed.

            Buddy gray ReSTOCK and scores of volunteers struggled for years to save and restore vacant buildings in Over-the-Rhine for low-income housing.  Buddy founded the Drop Inn Center nearly three decades ago in a Vine Street Storefront.  He also was a founding member of the National Coalition for the Homeless and was known around the country for his efforts to serve the underserved.  He understood that in order to address the needs of the poor and homeless there needed to be systemic changes in society.

            Detractors of buddy and his efforts described him as uncompromising and difficult to work with, but they all respected his determination.  Buddy battled city officials and urban planners that he and his supporters saw as opportunists intent on pushing poor people out of Over-the-Rhine.

            For several weeks before Buddy’s death, stickers appeared around Over-the-Rhine with the words “No Way Buddy Gray” along with telephone numbers to call for a recorded tirade against him.  Buddy’s friends and co-workers wondered what role the stickers might have played in driving Wilbur Worthen over the edge.  Some of buddy’s supporters believe they know who was behind the hate campaign and remain bitter about it.           

            When people ask about Buddy some remember him as the man who was shot to death by a mentally ill, formerly homeless man.

            But five years after the death the work of the Drop Inn Center and the other organizations that he helped state continue to serve the less fortunate of the city’s residents.

            Ironically, buddy gray felt that the work he was doing was to help troubled men like his friend Wilbur Worthen.

Editor's Note:  Buddy gray preferred that his name be lower case and not capitalized.

Copyright NEOCH published December 2001 in Cleveland for Issue 51

Due Process Overdue in Shelters According to Homeless Coalition

By Pamela Vincent

     Earlier this year the Office of Homeless Services asked the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) to conduct meetings with homeless people in an effort to solicit their comments about programs they utilized.  These programs are under consideration for funding renewal with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  NEOCH recently completed a report based off of surveys and comments collected at those meetings that describes the concern of 130 homeless people with regard to the shelters and social services (To see the full report visit the NEOCH website at www.neoch.org under resources.)

            The surveys were distributed during the meetings held at 5 shelter locations, which were moderated by Dan Kerr, a doctoral student at Case Western Reserve University.  Kerr was hired by NEOCH to facilitate the meetings as an unbiased but compassionate participant in the plight of the homeless.  Kerr is the founder of the local chapter of Food Not Bombs and is working with men from the shelters to form an independent union of temporary laborers.  He is not currently affiliated with any social service organizations.

            The results of the information clearly show that homeless people are not happy with the current system and the shelters and social service programs are not achieving the success or meeting the goals they originally intended to accomplish.  The percentage of homeless people being linked to permanent housing system wide is only 31%.  Studies nationally have found that without any transitional or supportive services 33% of the homeless people find their way off the streets and find permanent housing.  Transitional housing is defined as housing with supportive services that extends from 4 months to 2 years.

            To address some of these concerns the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless proposed a mandatory arbitration system to address grievances and bring homeless people into the decision making process.  These arbitration boards would allow residents to discuss with management the operation of the facility and some of the rules that prevent stability.

            The Office of Homeless Services advisory Board voted against mandating arbitration within the shelter system.  The City of Cleveland has a space on the Advisory Board, but had no comment for this article and staff of the Office of the Homeless Services also refused to comment.

            In addition, according to NEOCH, homeless people are being terminated from the transitional housing programs with little or no warning and without the due process that would enable them to either protest the charges against them or make other safe housing arrangements.  The transitional housing units enforce zero tolerance towards drugs and alcohol and will immediately terminate any violators and place them back out on the streets where they receive no assistance for their addictions.  Often an entire family is displaced from transitional housing because one member violated the rules of the program.  Is it fair to penalize an entire family and put them out on the street?  Many of the shelters close their doors after 7 or 8 p.m. or are full by the time and cannot take these displaced individuals in for the night.  In addition to an arbitration board, NEOCH is asking that transitional housing providers give a lease to homeless people who enter transitional housing separate from the social service contract that each individual signs upon entering the program.

            Chip Joseph of Y-Haven, states that “transitional housing is a therapeutic community for people that want to change, and that using drugs or alcohol are grounds

For immediate dismissal from the Y-Haven program.” He also asked, “how can you offer a lease for no rent?”  Many of the programs offered by these agencies have reduced or free rent but the residents receive none of the rights of renter and are held to a higher standard then those with a lease.  Renters are protected under the Ohio Landlord Tenant Laws.

            NEOCH staff asked shouldn’t a therapeutic community provide assistance to members who relapse?  In an interview, Brian Davis, NEOCH director, asked “Doctors take a Hippocratic oath to “first do no harm” when treading patients.  Shouldn’t all caregivers abide by the same philosophy? “How is sending someone out on the streets in the dead of winter providing care or helping that individual?  We all know that rules are necessary for the housing units to function orderly but steps should be put in place to protect the individuals from further harm and relapse.  After all recovery is not instantaneous but rather a daily process and an ongoing struggle for many of the homeless.  One setback can put them back at zero and leave them without the will to start all over again through the long, arduous process, “ Davis said.

            The Salvation Army PASS program, and Family Transitional Housing had “no comment” when asked about leases.  Transitional had “no comment” when asked about leases.  Transitional Housing for women said that they would be willing to discuss the issues.  Another transitional provider who did not want to be named said, “the residents sign an agreement to be clean, for as long as they’re here and if they’re not we move them to another facility or shelter…. no one relapses in recovery or you’re not in recovery. “  This individual worries that that if the residents have a lease and violate the terms they don’t know how long it will take to get them evicted.

            NEOCH’s position as outlined in a position paper that due process should be put in place at all agencies and that staff should never threaten homelessness as a punishment.  Those that do should be punished and if an individual is terminated from a program they should be given a written copy of the reason for the termination with the grievance procedure on the back of the sheet including outside agencies that could help.  There must be universal rules regarding banning and termination of an individual that cannot solely involve in-house staff.

            Chance butts, a former resident of transitional housing, talked to us about his experience with the system.  Chance left the program of his own accord and is currently attending college full time.  He claims the rules he experienced at the Volunteers of America Transitional Place (TLP) worked against the residents going through the program.  “Residents are asked to pay a $200.00 donation per month to live there.  They call it a donation but it’s really rent.  You can stay there from 2 months to 2 years but, no one I know has gotten help to obtain permanent housing.”

            Butts went on to say, “Every time they got an employee or counselor working there that can help the residents fully utilize all the agencies and get back on their feet, they got fired for being too helpful.  It’s like they just want their money and the agencies don’t communicate with each other so the system is not as effective as it could be.  The residents at TLP are kept on a rigorous schedule, which can be overwhelming, to them.  Aside from their jobs they have 7 meetings per week for counseling, house chores, weekly house meetings and they do their own laundry. 

            He claims that the staff unfairly treats some of the residents better than others and that most of the staff are not trained properly to do their jobs.  This complaint is among homeless people that utilize the shelters.

            NEOCH has listened to the grievances of the homeless and is proposing solutions to their problems.  They compiled a list of the following requirements:

  1. Mandatory Arbitration Boards- They are urging OHS and the City of Cleveland to mandate that all agencies receiving public money quickly phase in a plan for arbitration boards within the shelters.
  2. Due Process in the Transitional Shelters – All transitional facilities must sign a lease with their tenants that have a firewall between services and housing.  Homeless people with medical problems such as an addiction should not be treated as criminals and expelled from their housing.  The system should not make more people homeless than they provide housing to in one year.
  3. Due Process in all Shelters- No o ne should be exiled to the streets to possibly freeze to death or die in a dumpster or abandoned building.  Shelters should not send people out to the streets without a plan for relocation to a safe environment unless there is a criminal matter (in which case the police would provide housing in jail.)
  4. There should be a Transfer Plan in Place –

If all else fails or the shelter staff feels it necessary for a person to leave the facility for the safety of other clients or staff, there should be a system wide protocol for dealing with transfers to other facilities.

            In addition to proposed changes within the shelters, NEOCH is asking for changes from the organization designed as the oversight body in the community – the office of Homeless Services.  OHS must take responsibility with grand visions of coordinating services and ‘ending homelessness.’  What has happened is the opposite with homelessness at an increase.  OHS needs to take some simple actions some of which include:

a.  Extensive training of all staff to include referral information, handling grievances, conflict management, disability services.

b.  Coordinate meetings with the Executive Directors on a regular basis to talk about policy and build strength, unity and collaboration within the system.

c.  Homeless Accountability sessions should be held monthly by the staff so they can hear from homeless people and listen to their problems and find ways to address them.

d.  Tie funding to the impact the service is having on the community and the integration of services within the system.

e.  Make demands on the other government agencies to stop the flow into the homeless system (prison, welfare, hospitals, mental institutions, and alcohol treatment facilities).

f.    Streamline paperwork.  Shelters and services should provide one reporting tool to all funders including foundations, all government agencies.  They can no longer tie staff to reports instead of moving people into housing.  These could be make available on-line.

The document circulated by NEOCXH stated, “The consequences of not making the improvements are that more and more homeless people will stop

trusting and using the system that was put in place to help them.  Also, both the City and the County would be exposed to serious negative publicity in opposing the empowerment of homeless people.  Tragically, countless homeless people will die on the streets this winter because they are unable to access the sanctuary of our publicly funded shelters.  If the OHS advisory board rejects this plan they must have an alternate plan to address the needs and avoid the consequences mentioned here.”  NEOCH feels this is a long overdue discussion that must be resolved quickly.”

   Copyright NEOCH published December 2001 in Cleveland for Issue 51 

Community Development: More than Housing

“Waking up after sleeping in a crack house feels the same whether you have used or not.”

Commentary by Brian Davis

            A group of activists met in the Glenville neighborhood to take over an abandoned building as part of the National Housing Awareness Day.  Volunteers from Oberlin, Ohio Policy Matters, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Food Not Bombs, and local shelters came to the house on E. 107th behind the Glenville Development Company.  The three bedrooms, two story red houses were completely stripped of everything of value.  The carpeting was still intact and the walls were nicely painted.  The house has two years of use by local people looking to crash and feed their drug habits.  One of the neighbors who actually grey up in the house she said that some drug dealers was using the house as a boarding house for drug users.  They would charge I nightly rent for people to use a room in the house for lighting up.

            This blight on the community seemed to be structurally sound, but needed some extensive renovations.  This house was one of three abandoned on the street.  The one regular tenant of the red abandoned house, Sweeney, said all of the abandon houses on the street were occupied.  He was the subject of repeated calls to the police and the source of a great deal of frustration by his neighbors.  The next-door neighbor and that she calls every week and the police have stopped coming to the house.

            The local development company has attempted to get rid of this blighted house for two years.  One member of the development company came out and was not happy to see housing activists taking over this building.  She was offended by outsiders coming into “her” neighborhood, and doing an action in this particular house offended her.  There seemed to be an effort in the in the neighborhood to take this building down in order to deal with the blight.  There was never a thought of addressing this individual with social services, but instead with social services, but instead with the criminal justice system.

            The purpose of this action was to get public attention was to get public attention to the affordable housing crisis that exists in Cleveland.  The activists gathered to ask community leaders to support the National Housing Trust fund proposal, which is currently making its way through Congress.  Finally, the goal was to say that shelter is not the answer to homelessness, and destroying these buildings will only exacerbate the housing crisis in our community.  Sweeney, the lone tenant of this building will still be homeless in the neighborhood if he is arrested or if the red house is destroyed.  There is a lack of leadership in our community to address this crisis.

            Two problems that exist with regard to this house!  The ownership was still in question and there were current squatters in the building.  The man who used this house as his residence had been homeless for over 30 years in the neighborhood.  He had wandered around from one abandoned building to another venturing only blocks away from his mom who lived on an adjoining street. He was never linked with the appropriate social services.  In fact, the neighbors and the development company seemed unaware that there were any social services that could help.  Instead, neighbors and community leaders had attempted to use law enforcement tactics to address Mr. Sweeney’s homelessness. 

            The story in the neighborhood with regard to the house was that the original owner died, and the property was sold for a small amount; around $15,000, according to a woman who grew up in the house and now lived down the street.  The new owner took out a second mortgage on the house for a sizable amount of money.  They slapped some paint on the building and abandoned it.  They sucked the equity out of the property and left it for scrap. There are liens on the property and bank notes that make final disposition of the house complicated and will probably involve court challenges.

            While all these games with the house played out over the last two years and the boards went up, Cleveland watched as the shelter for men opened and operated at nearly 150% capacity on a regular basis.  There were many homeless people over the last few years that had died on the streets, while this building was left to rot.  There were a number of shelters shut down in Cleveland, moving mentally ill women into inappropriate facilities while this little red house became a hang out for drug activities.  Alcohol and drug treatment beds were transferred in our community to the criminal justice system, while neighbors in Glenville attempted to destroy the house.

            In November, activists gathered to remove the boards from this little red house.  They congregated to ask that the new Mayor of Cleveland to address the affordable housing crisis as a top priority and to urge Senators Voinovich and DeWine to pass legislation to create a federal funding stream that could renovate abandoned properties.

            Sweeney is still sleeping in this cold dark house sealed behind plywood that was reapplied to the building.  The neighbors are still fed up with the city dragging its feet with regard to destroying or renovating the little red house.  Everyday, more and more homeless people are turned away or leave the shelters for safety reasons and take up residence in abandoned buildings and houses in Cleveland.  The development community has no concept of social services and the social services toil in isolation.  Never do the two entities meet at the same table.  They both attempt to address poverty: one building structures, the other building up people and yet neither are creating communities.

  Copyright NEOCH published December 2001 in Cleveland, Ohio for Issue 51

Clevelanders Do Choose A Tent Over Shelters Tent City

          Bobby Mulcham has spent some limited time in shelter, and has years of scraping by in housing.  He has some prosperous times as a truck driver when he had a permanent address, but has an extensive career with manual labor jobs and pay everyday jobs.  He currently resides in a tent in Downtown Cleveland.  Bobby has a battery-operated television, some way to heat the tent and the kindness of others who assist with food and supplies.  Most recently he acquired a couch and has build a good existence although somewhat temporary.  A reporter for the Grapevine sat down to talk to him about living in a tent and the establishment of a tent city in Cleveland.

            “What choice do we have,” but to live in a tent Bobby maintains.   “There is nothing really wrong with living in a tent as far as if you are capable of doing it and have the common sense to do it.  I mean that there is a lot of difficulty with it, but then there are a lot of good things about it to.  I mean you have privacy.  You have no privacy in the shelters.  None.  In here (in the tent), I have my privacy.  I got my own little home more or less.  I have got my bookstands in there.  My clothes are folded up nice and neat.  I got Carpet(ing).  I have got a very comfortable bed to lie on.  I have heat.  I have lighting.  I have a light that I can turn it off and on.  I buy batteries at Malachi Mart.  I just acquired a color TV that runs off 4AAA batteries.  A guy sold it to me for $10. So now I have got TV.

            On the downside, the only thing that you really got to worry about out here is where you are going to go to the bathroom at.  Because a lot of people don’t want you to do it out in public.  And I am lucky enough because I am next to the parking lot so I got a port-a-potty out there.  And the heat! I mean I use a propane heater right now until I get my kerosene one.  And propane puts out carbon dioxide so I really have to watch what you are doing.  As you see, I got these big things on my tent.  So I can bring it down like 4 inches to where there is enough air circulating so you can keep the carbon dioxide out.  But once I get the kerosene heater in there it will be all right.  And you got to worry about fire tool.  I am by myself so that I do not worry too much.  If you got a lot of people in the tent you got to worry about people knocking it over the propane and possible blowing it up.  Or if it is the kerosene heater you should have one that has the automatic shut off on it so that if it gets knocked it automatically shuts down.  As far as where I am at I am in good shape as far as safety.

            If there was a spot where there were a lot of tents, I think that you would be all right, because everybody would watch out for one another more or less.  That’s the big thing.  I think that people would watch out because they don’t want their stuff gotten into.  It just goes on like that right on the line.  You watch my back and I will watch yours.  Me, I don’t have a problem with it because I am the only one that is over on this side.”

            When asked abut the possibility of tents being set up by church groups that would be a sober living environment for the participants, Bobby said, “That would be fine you know.  There are a lot of people out here that wouldn’t go because it is a sober environment, but there are a lot of people out here that would.  I drink occasionally, but I don’t drink normally in my tent.  I normally go if I want to drink I go to the bar or something and have a couple drinks you know.  But yeah that would be the best way cause then you don’t have high tensions with people who are drinking and doing drugs.  I mean most people that are drinking and doing drugs are not going to have anything anyhow.  They are not going to want to stay in a tent.  And there is a possibility of them causing trouble. It varies.  It depends on the person and how they react.  I am not sure how I would to about on that as far as here in Cleveland. Cleveland is a drinking town.  I mean I have never been to Seattle and them as far as how they are working (their tent cities),.  I am sure that they got situation there, which they are moderating it.  I guess that would be the word.  Where they are locking at it and seeing how things are working out.”

            The tough questions raised by many who oppose tent cities is the viability of spending of resources on protection or construction tent cities that could be spent instead of creating solutions to homelessness like developing housing.  With constant harassment by the municipality it takes a great deal of energy to protect tent cities.  Bobby said, “If they look into it and see that it is feasible…If you had a place that was up and fenced in, I don’t think that the police would give you a hard time about it.  I mean, as long as the property was owned by somebody that said, ‘yeah you can put it there.’ Developing of housing…I mean there is none here.

            The development of housing that we have everything that the tear down, they put up something that no one in our income bracket could ever live in.  I mean they build all these new places in Tremont, over here behind the high school over there.  There isn’t anybody out here who can afford that.  I mean, we are making $225. a week, tops.  I mean that’s tops and that is someone who is making good money.  By the time they got done paying taxes and everything else they are bringing home $185-$190.  And they want $450 - $500 for that place and that is without gas, electric, water and all that.  Not counting even eating.

            Their idea of affordable housing and people who are making $5.15’s idea of affordable housing is two different things.  You actually have to work two jobs or have two parent family where both of you are working to be able to afford the places that they are putting up.  So I would have to say I would go with putting more resources into fighting for tent city.  Because what the City of Cleveland considers affordable housing is not affordable to anybody unless they are making $8, $9, and $10 per hour or like I said they are a two - parent family where they are both working.  Most people I know are making anywhere from $5.15 to $6.25 per hour that’s tops.

            But most people I know are working through the temporary services and that is pretty much the average wage there unless you are doing something really spectacular or you have been there a really long time.”

            When asked about the choice between an agency fighting for a tent city, Bobby chose an agency fighting for a tent city.  He said, “I think that I would go with the tent city, because I don’t see Cleveland going with a (rent) cap, because they are just doing too much building right now.  And they are not going to want to stop now.  They are trying to build up downtown, which I can understand.  They are trying to get people to coming in and stuff more people in the downtown area.  But they are not thinking of the people that they are pushing out onto the streets either.  I would go with the tent city.

            This is not the best, but I am comfortable, I am warm.  I can eat good all the time.  I have stoves and you can see grills out there.  I keep a fire extinguisher. No yard at all, but I try to keep it clean that’ s the main thing.  I have cats, which helps out a lot out here.  That is another thing about tent city you need a good waste disposal system.  You have to have good waste pick up.  I am lucky the parking lot is there.  I have two trashcans, which I take down and dump.  I am pretty well set.

            A lot of people would be comfortable with this compared to what they are living with now.  A lot of guys are out there with only a sleeping bag and a couple of blankets and that is it.  They keep the clothes on their back and that is all they have.  If they saw this they would be amazed.  Most people don’t even know that I am here.”

 Copyright NEOCH published December 2001 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 51 

Austin Makes Sitting Illegal

By Richard Troxell

             Members of House the Homeless, Inc. vow to fight back against all repressive laws targeting homeless citizens!  Following a 4-3 City Council vote, five months of debate and numerous protests, House the Homeless have armed its members in the next level of fight in the on going street wars of the “haves” and “have not’s.”

            House the Homeless members contends that the “No Sitting/No Lying Down” Ordinance is a thinly veiled attempt to make an end run around Magistrate Jim Coronado’s and other judges rulings that sleeping and making preparations to sleep are constitutionally protected life sustaining acts.

            Magistrate Jim Coronado had deflated the “No Camping” ordinance when he wrote, “…the petitioners have shown on behalf of their class of homeless that the portion of the ordinance which relates to sleeping in public or making preparations to sleep is a violation of due process.” We believe that “making preparations to sleep include first sitting down and then lying down.

            We know that one of the major reasons we are sleeping (sitting and lying down) on the streets is because there are not adequate alternatives and because the business community uses our labor but won’t pay us a fair wage for our work that would afford us alternatives.  They hide behind the federal minimum of $5.15 per hour and everyone know you can’t get basic housing in Austin or any other city in America at that pay level.  Everyone knows that $5.15 per hour is slave wages and a theft of our labor.

            It’s clear to House the Homeless that this is just one more mean spirited effort to rid the streets of Austin of visibility Homeless.  But House the Homeless observes that the ordinance excluded anyone involved in a “Demonstration.”  So House the Homeless has launched a petition drive, a national campaign and an on-going “Demonstration” to protest these low wages not just in Austin but nationwide.  House the Homeless is arming all homeless citizens with a plastic card that reads: “This is a constitutionally protected First Amendment, free speech demonstration whereby I am preparing to sleep.  I will continue in this expression of free speech/demonstration until all employers pay all minimum wage employees a Universal Living Wage which will allow me to afford basic living facilities of my own choosing.” 

            When confronted by a police officer about sitting or lying down, homeless citizens will have the opportunity to express the First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution and explain that they are “demonstrating for a Universal Living Wage.

            The University of Texas Criminal Defense Clinic has agreed to defend these tickets on constitutional grounds.  The UT Criminal Defense Clinic has agreed to waive the $30.00 defense clinic fee for all members of House the Homeless.

 Copyright NEOCH published Decmeber 2001 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 51