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