"Help for the Hopeless" signs have sprung up across our city intended to generate funds for the City Mission shelter. There are missions throughout the United States that collaborate on regular advertisements on buses, billboards, and print ads in major daily newspapers. The missions throughout the country are religiously based shelters that offer a bed to individuals in exchange for some proselytizing. In Cleveland, they concentrate on alcohol and drug issues by relying on assistance from the Christian God.
They have a beautiful facility in Cleveland, which is rather sterile and reminds the tenants of a corrections type facility with bullet-proof glass and metal detectors in a very secure environment. This has always puzzled me in that men who are full of God should not be a threat and should be the least likely to become violent. Also the employees of these facilities should have an extra close relationship to God and have some spiritual protection against random acts of violence.
This new campaign of providing help to the hopeless is offensive and paternalistic. Homeless people are not hopeless. In fact, who has more hope then a man who wakes up everyday in a smelly shelter with nothing but the clothes on his back but continues on this treacherous path? Most of the people I interact with who happen to be homeless are far from hopeless, and very few have given up.
These men and women hope everyday that they will make it onto the Section 8 voucher list or that they will hear that their name has been called on the Public Housing waiting list. They hope that they will finally get a slot in transitional housing. They wake up at 4 a.m. and go to the temporary labor company hoping to be hired on a full time with health benefits and a livable wage. They raise their voices to speak out against injustice even if that means that they lose their bed or their place in line for a job.
These signs are so offensive and show a total disregard for the population that they serve. It is amazing that a national consultant would advise the City Mission to use such offensive characterizations for homeless people. We need these signs to come down so that we can get the less offensive alcohol and cigarette billboards back. How does an agency minister to a person they view as hopeless? Why give money to hopeless people? Shouldn’t we concentrate our donation dollars on agencies that are helping people who want the help?
I am shocked that an agency that has ministered to homeless people for nearly 100 years would alienate the people they serve with such offensive billboards. It just goes to show that there are some charitable organizations that have been around for years not because they do things right but they may be doing things incorrectly and have yet to learn their lesson. So when you hear charities say, "trust us, we have been around for nearly a century," stop and think that maybe if they had done things right in the first place they would have put themselves out of business years ago. Or it could be that they are just hopeless.
Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52