2001 Year in Review

by Brian Davis

     For every 2001 year in review this obligatory statement must be included: "2001 can be divided into those events before September 11 which are a blur of triviality and those after the terrorist attack which are still in sharp focus." I bring this up only to say that the hope that sprang from September 11 is slipping away. The opportunities that were created are mired in debate over how the Red Cross can use the money collected and what exactly is a stimulus package.

     The world of homeless people in Cleveland after September 11 is a little more dreary than the world before the event. People are even more suspicious of others as we close the year. We had this huge outpouring of compassion to the victims of the hijacking and kamikaze attacks immediately following the fateful September day. Those fighting poverty had hope that people would begin to see the thousands everyday who suffer because of the skewed priorities that exist in our country. We hoped that there would be a new pride in the country to address the suffering that takes place on our streets everyday.

There were initial hopes that we could heal our grief with billions of dollars directed at correcting this wrong. With our money, we saved the airline industry. We kept families from losing their housing or lives even though they did not have official death certificates. And we rekindled our faith in the ability of government to solve problems. It was only a short jump to apply those same principals to addressing institutional poverty and the housing crisis. Unfortunately, the time to make that leap of faith is evaporating. We are losing that small window of opportunity for another generation or more.

     Not since Kennedy’s assassination did we have the bravado to set lofty goals for our government and actually make a stab at meeting those goals. We said that we would be on the moon in ten years, we would address poverty especially rural poverty, and we would deal with the 100 years of discrimination. It was almost as if Kennedy was martyred in order to move the country forward. We had that same window on the days after September 11, 2001, but that is slipping from our reach.

     We could put all of our veterans in housing. We could provide universal health care for our citizens and fund a massive building boom in this country to energize the economy and bring all of our citizens out of the cold and into a safe, decent, stable place to live. It is reasonable to set a goal of cutting by two thirds the number of people incarcerated or providing mental health assistance to three times as many people. Without leaders to speak these bold visions, the United States will never move forward.

     This is not to say that the events of September 11 did not have a profound impact on homeless people even in Cleveland because they did. Every American was rocked to their core in seeing the disaster played out in high definition and in our living spaces. There is a certain sadness and anger over the huge number of people who lost their lives when the Age of Innocence in America ended.

     In Cleveland, we review the other events that had some impact on homeless people.

Housing:

     The Section 8 Housing Voucher program briefly opened its waiting list in 2001 and 35,000 individuals or families applied. 10,000 of those applicants were placed on a waiting list and given a lottery number to be drawn over the next three to four years. The others can apply again in 2004 or 2005 if they are still in need of housing and are not dead, in jail or left the area. The HUD subsidized buildings that exist did not disappear as rapidly as previous years. There were a couple of buildings that the owners opted out of the program or were thrown out. Places like Longwood, which features over 700 affordable units, were showing renewed signs of life with a bold renovation plan. Currently there are over 30 buildings that HUD has deemed are troubled and are on the watch list for this year.

     The public housing program managed by CMHA got a little smaller for homeless and disabled people when one-fifth of the total inventory over 2,200 units were classified as "senior only." This meant that only people 60 or 55 and over could secure a lease in those buildings. CMHA is the 10th largest Public Housing Authority in the County, but now has the fourth highest number of designated units in the country. This in combination to the 1,000 units that are currently not on-line makes it very difficult to find housing locally.

     Evictions increased by 17% in Cleveland in 2001 when compared to 2000. Cuyahoga County had put in place an eviction diversion plan to attempt to prevent families who were in danger of losing their housing from being forced on the street or into the shelters. This program provided short term rental assistance for 6,000 families before it came to an end with State budget cuts. Homelessness increased 15% in 2001. There is no telling how much more homelessness would have increased especially family homelessness without this rental assistance.

     Cleveland passed the local landlord tenant law, which provided some teeth to the state law. It mandated security if the residents and the City of Cleveland agreed there was a need. It also provides monetary penalties to landlords that violate the law. It is a tool to prevent landlords from illegally evicting a tenant.

     The housing wage increased by over $1 per hour in Cleveland. The housing wage is the amount of money that an individual needs to make in order to afford the fair market rent. The Cleveland housing wage is now $11.29 per hour or a job at minimum wage for 88 hours a week in order to afford housing.

Economic Justice:

     The temporary day labor workers became a force in Cleveland when they organized a hearing before City Council to reveal the exploitation that exists within the downtown companies. The post-Labor Day hearing was shaped by doctoral student, Dan Kerr, who also prepared a report on the exploitation based on 100 interviews. The day laborers are collaborating on the creation of a Community Hiring Hall and possible legal avenues for relief including the eventual introduction of legislation restricting excessive fees and sending people to unsafe working conditions.

     A large number of families lost their benefits in Cuyahoga County, with 200-400 families a month reaching their three year time limit in Ohio. CWRU studies also found that 64% of the families that leave welfare live below poverty after they stop receiving cash assistance. They also found that the single greatest obstacle that families leaving welfare have to overcome is maintaining housing.

     Payday lenders and predatory mortgage lenders increased their market in the City of Cleveland. These two poverty institutions suck money out of a community and cause huge debts that eventually lead to bankruptcy, evictions, and the loss of homes.

Emergency Services:

     The Grapevine investigated the federal funding system for distributing grants to transitional and supportive housing programs in Cleveland. Both the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County responded to this criticism. The 2001 funding process still did not address the impact these programs have on the community and a cost/benefit analysis. Homeless people released a report on the local shelters, which detailed their comments about the shelter system. A few of the facilities came out looking good, but many had problems. One of the most seriously flawed shelters or services was 2100 Lakeside shelter, according to the report. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless helped to organize a resident committee, which is currently attempting to address the situation at the shelter.

     In an article in the last Grapevine, there was a discussion of bringing housing leases to the transitional shelters and providing greater due process within all the shelters. These attempts are in their infancy, but will be apart of the news coverage in 2002.

     Care Alliance closed two buildings in July of 2001 closing four programs in the process. Government officials (both local and federal) were slow to react allowing the clients to be cast to the wind. Many of the mentally ill women were forced to seek shelter in the Catholic Charities shelter, which has made the shelter a volatile place with a dangerously large population. HUD eventually did respond with a demand of the agency to repay over $500,000. The shelter for mentally ill men was reopened in October under new management. The resolution of the fine and the final disposition of the buildings should be addressed in 2002.

Health Care

     There was a scabies outbreak at the largest shelter in Cleveland. This rapidly spreading skin disease was contained by the quick actions of the Salvation Army shelter staff, Cuyahoga County, Care Alliance, and the City Health Department.

     MetroHealth hospital, which operated the local neighborhood health clinics, was threatened with eviction. MetroHealth Systems are where most homeless people find access to health care. The closing or disruption in services would have had a tremendous impact on the homeless community. At the last minute, a compromise was struck between the City of Cleveland and MetroHealth hospital.

     Both Alcohol and Drug and Mental Health services became more difficult to access in 2001 for homeless people. The Alcohol and Drug system lost treatment beds to the Criminal Justice system, making it more difficult to find sober living in the city. The Mental Health system lost funding locally. This will make resources scarce in 2002. The first anticipated cut will most likely take place in supportive services and access to mental health housing.

Civil Rights

     There were rumblings of the creation of a Mental Health Court locally, but efforts dissolved because of disputes among the partners. This drive for a Mental Health Court will most likely be renewed in 2002. The Grapevine featured information and commentaries both pro and con regarding mental health courts.

     Hate crimes increased in 2001 with attacks on homeless people by citizens seen during the beginning and end of the year. From fire bombs thrown in Tremont to a series of unsolved murders of homeless people over the last five months of the year. One man was stabbed near the railroad tracks and a former resident of Camelot was beat up and died in a warehouse. Another man was beat to death on the West Side of Cleveland.

     Activists took over a building in Glenville neighborhood and found a huge hidden homeless population of people sleeping in abandoned houses. This population is impossible to count, but their presence is felt in almost every neighborhood of Cleveland. The house, occupied to call attention to the affordable housing crisis locally, was used by a man who had been homeless for three decades. The action drew a smattering of attention in the local media.

     In 2000, Mayor White of Cleveland signed an agreement to not send the police out to arrest or threaten with arrest homeless people for purely innocent behavior. The Coalition for the Homeless sent volunteers out during the Thanksgiving holiday to test the continued enforcement of this agreement. The legal observers did not witness any contact between homeless people and the police and those who seek refuge on the streets reported a quiet weekend.

Other Items in the news for 2001:

     There was a dispute over the release of the 2000 Census count of homeless people. Local Congressman Dennis Kucinich wanted the numbers released. The National Coalition for the Homeless did not want the numbers released fearing a vast undercount. The Kucinich bill lost in Congress, but the Census released later in the year the shelter count only. There was in fact a huge undercount even in people using the shelters across the country. In Cleveland, the numbers were actually fairly accurate, and showed the fact that the shelters were operating at 130% capacity.

     Cleveland citizens voted for a new Mayor, and the homeless community hoped for a more cordial relationship with the new city administration. Mayor Jane Campbell pledged to develop a plan for the affordable housing crisis and promised to broaden the discussion to include the suburbs.

     In the news from the Grapevine vendors for 2001, Marsha Rizzo Swanson was chosen locally to attend the North American Street Newspaper conference in San Francisco. During the conference, there was a competition among the vendors to see which vendor could sell the most papers on the streets. At the second annual street sales contest, Swanson beat vendors from Boston, Cincinnati, the host city, and the defending champion from Edmonton. She will be given airfare and lodging in Boston at the 2002 NASNA conference.

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52