Fresh Ideas for the New Mayor

We have presented suggestions from different constituents for how to deal with the homeless problem in Cleveland. There were a few heard on the streets that could be characterized as somewhat extreme, but we present them in an effort to cover all the bases. These are not the opinion of the Grapevine staff, but merely heard on the streets.

     1. Make all juries consist of homeless people exclusively and always sequester them. Instead of a jury of your peers, the new initiative would be a jury of the down and out. After all, that diverse group that heard the OJ trial was certainly not a group of his peers. This is a fantasy to think society could impanel a jury of a defendant’s peers, so get rid of it. Instead we choose a jury made up of homeless people to hear these cases. That small token amount of money that juries get would be much more appreciated than the doctors and business executives who take off work for jury duty. With homeless jurists, we have the added societal benefit of placing the individuals in hotels for the night and out of the shelters and streets. All jury trials that last more than one day would demand that the jury be sequestered in a hotel for the night. Even for traffic court proceedings, the court would sequester the jury.

     2. Pay homeless people as professional athletes in each city. There are so many sports that we only get to see once every four years in the Olympics. It would be nice for each city to have traveling Curling, Greco-Roman Wrestling, and Judo teams. Our society pays a great deal of money and attention to sports and so therefore by employing homeless people as athletes they could attain some of the respect in the community that they deserve. The skills of many of the sports are precisely the skills learned in attempting to survive on the streets. For example, trying to sweep on an icy surface (curling) is similar to the hours of volunteer mopping of shelter and meal site floors. There are many instances that homeless people must wrestle or fight for their survival, which could be easy channeled into prowess in boxing, judo or wrestling. This suggestion relies on the concept that many people will pay to see a competition if the uniform of the combatants has your hometown on it. This would be a WPA program for the century of sports and entertainment. Imagine: homeless people representing the Cleveland Bubbleheads competing in the World Water Polo Championship in Cape Town, South Africa.

     3. Election Money for Housing, not advertising. Make all elections publicly subsidized with free airtime and use all the money previously used to buy elections to instead buy affordable housing for the very low income. Mayor Campbell spent a record $2 million to become Mayor of a City facing deep recession and the destruction of its manufacturing base without a public cash assistance safety net. That money could have fixed up the 1,000 units of public housing that are currently offline and provided 1,000 homeless people and families an opportunity to live in decent housing. This is a fantasy, but it demonstrates the tremendous waste that exists in our country when we do not even provide the means to survive for a substantial number of our citizens.

     4. Bill the suburbs for their homeless problems. For every homeless person who shows up at the shelters most recently homeless from a suburban city, the City of Cleveland should invoice that particular suburb the cost of shelter. We have all heard George Carlin’s idea about building low cost housing on golf courses. "Golf courses—plenty of good land in nice neighborhoods that is currently being wasted on a meaningless activity…It is time to reclaim the golf courses from the wealthy and turn them over to the homeless." This project would compliment the golf course proposal. Each night the City would collect information from each shelter and then would bill the city of origin for each family or individual that came from outside the City of Cleveland.

These families paid their taxes when they were living in Shaker, Rocky River or Independence, and then when they were down on their luck their community turned away. Shelter is very expensive and the cities might do more to prevent evictions if they started to feel financial pain for responding to homelessness with a bus ticket and a street card.

     5. You want sidewalks, then give us your toilets. Cities provide the infrastructure to get customers to the business’s doors. They provide lighting, sidewalks, clean streets, etc. that make it possible to operate a business. For years the amount of money contributed to government by businesses and corporations has steadily decreased. And now we find that corporations and businesses are waging war against homeless people. Business owners do not allow homeless people to use their bathrooms. They routinely call the police to dislocate panhandlers from their sidewalks and are usually behind government attempts to criminalize homelessness. Homeless people patronize these businesses, and are treated as second-class citizens. In fact, in Downtown Cleveland now that many stores are closing, homeless people are sometimes the only people patronizing these businesses.

The new Mayor of Cleveland should take a more aggressive stance with local businesses. What kind of "tough love" is this, not allowing homeless people to use the bathroom? Do the managers feel that if they do not allow homeless people to do their duty inside they will not want to be homeless? They should be fined if they refuse a homeless person the use of their public restrooms. They should be ticketed for every frivolous call to the police about purely innocent behavior like sleeping or panhandling. Finally, any business that attempts to push criminalization efforts with legislation or suggesting Gestapo executive order will be publicly humiliated as anti-American and subject to additional taxes and additional inspections.

     6. Sue the liquor distributors to get more treatment beds. We have printed this suggestion before, but it is still relevant today. The federal government was successful in suing the tobacco industry to recover the cost of Medicaid for the public costs associated with smoking a legal product. We should use this same tactic to sue the liquor and beer producers and distributors to recover the costs associated with detox and residential treatment. With this added income from any settlement, Cleveland could expand alcohol and drug services to homeless people. For too long the alcohol and drug industry has peddled its medicine and never minded the costs to society. There are a certain percentage of our population who become addicted and cannot afford to find treatment. It is time for the liquor industry to pay up.

     7. If you can’t beat them, join them. Panhandling has been around since the dawn of time. There certainly is no honor among panhandlers, but they are a part of the urban landscape. No matter how illegal, how much enforcement takes place, or how hard a city makes it on panhandlers, it is impossible to prevent people from asking pedestrians for money. Mayor Campbell should take an alternative approach to dealing with panhandling. Raise the bar by offering free classes to panhandlers and pay them to take the classes. Then hold annual awards for the most professional panhandlers, the most clean cut, and the most courteous. Provide substantial prizes to the winners and then publicize their names. This would raise the level of panhandling in our city and could be a model for other cities. Also a tip, the best way to combat panhandling is to encourage expansion of the Grapevine and adding street musicians downtown. Panhandlers hate competition.

     8. Close the shelters to homeless men with children. Again, this is not necessarily the opinion of the Grapevine, but we have heard this on the streets. For too many men it is easier to cut family ties and stay in the shelters. One solution would be to eliminate shelters for men who are not disabled and for those who have children. The only non-disabled men that could enter the shelter would be those men who never had children or those who had custody of their children. This would make men think twice before leaving their family if they could not find a shelter that would take them in. The only way that this would work is if the Child Support Enforcement Office would do a better job of helping men live up to their obligations by speeding the process and making the system fair. It sounds cruel and the charitable organizations would never go for it, but it might work.

     9. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck… Temporary labor companies in the downtown area treat their clients like slaves. They have constructed a modern day plantation in which men and women must come to work at 4 a.m. and are paid an amount that barely can keep them alive. If they annoy the field master or dispatcher they are punished and they are expected to give their entire day to the company. Since we all know that this goes on we should not hide it. Mayor Campbell and City Council should pass a law that says that temporary day labor companies must dress their employees in the slave fashion of the early 1800s and must force them to sing Negro spirituals while they work. Downtown Temporary day labor companies should be referred to as Plantations and the people that work there should be called overseers or Mas’sers and they must wear straw hats and carry shotguns. Finally, the Mayor could codify what already happens in practice by passing the Fugitive Day Labor Law, which would require one temp. company to return a day laborer if he tried to flee to another Day Labor company.

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52