Where Do Homeless People Legally Drink Alcohol?


By Bridget Reilly

 I recently saw a pamphlet about Ballot Initiative 76, regarding a new proposal to privatize the liquor industry in Oregon.  Mothers against Drunken Driving (MADD OREGON) put out this pamphlet, which is totally opposed to the measure in the belief that it will increase the drunk driving accidents.  A quote from Jean Canfield, President of MADD Oregon, reads as follows:

“MADD Oregon is against privatization due to the following concerns: Availability of hard liquor to youth in retail packing stores and convenience stores.  The increased convenience and easy assess to liquor will promote drunk driving incidences, resulting in more injury and death.”

As in New Hampshire and perhaps—other states, the liquor stores in Oregon—that is, the ones that sell hard liquor- are state owned.  Beer and wine are sold only in grocery stores.  But all such stores, and also the bars, are beholden to a very unpleasant creature known as the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC).

            Now, as an Oregon resident I am concerned as anyone about drunk driving.  My husband regularly travels on particularly hazardous stretch of road known as “Blood Alley”, the section of highway 58 that connects Oakridge to Eugene.  He is very careful driver himself, with extensive practice at negotiating that road, but the other drivers he encounters are not similarly careful and practiced, and if any of them are drunk it could spell disaster for themselves and anyone they happen to pass.

MADD is rightly concerned about the dangers of drunk driving.  However, there is a need to take a closer look at their assumptions regarding Initiative 76 and their perception that it automatically carries an increased threat of drunk driving tragedies.  Their total support of what they call “our current well run system” of controlling liquor consumption suggests that their experience with the OLCC’s policies and methods has been very different from mine, to put it nicely.

The pamphlet contained numerous statistics about alcohol related accidents and such, but gives no actual evidence that Oregon’s system is superior to those of other states for the purpose of protecting people from such accidents.  It sounds to me as if they’re merely feeding into a collective fear of the unknown that is akin to NIMBY’ism.  They evoke “What if?…” scenarios such as this:

“Initiative 76 would…Allow easier access to hard liquor with expanded hours during the day, even into early morning hours—maybe even 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at neighborhood convenience stores ad most supermarkets…Do we really need or want hard liquor for sale next to the beer and wine in grocery and convenience stores?…”

This suggests to me that they are perhaps ignorant of the privatized systems in some other states that don’t necessary involve such extreme conditions.  In Massachusetts, for example, beer and wine are sold in liquor stores along with the hard liquor.  They are not sold in grocery stores at all, at least not in chain supermarkets in Boston that I was most familiar with when I lived there.  All liquor stores are closed on Sundays, and are open only until 11:000pm Monday thru Saturday, if I recall correctly.  This shows that a privatized system does not have to mean a total absence of all restrictions on liquor sales. 

Since that also happens to be the system I was most familiar with before moving to Oregon, you can perhaps imagine my surprise and displeasure when I moved back here with Rick in 19991 and discovered the very different system they have here. 

One day I innocently walked into a Portland liquor store, looking for a cheap quart of beer.  I looked and looked, and was puzzled to find only hard liquor on shelf after shelf.  I finally had to ask, “Do you have quarts of beer?” The proprietor knew then that I was from out-of-state, and patiently explained that all the liquor stores in Oregon were state owned, and that they only sold hard liquor.  To but beer or wine I would have to go to a grocery store.  I also noticed that this place was only open till 8:00pm, which seemed mighty odd.  So that was the first lesson.

Next, I went into a grocery store in the Old Town District and found a 40oz bottle of Magnum.  I plunked it down on the counter, all ready to pay for it like I’d done thousand times in Boston; then the cashier asked me, “Where are you going to drink it?” When I hesitated to answer because I couldn’t believe he was for real in asking me such a question, he proceeded to explain that every one wanting to buy beer in that store had to present an Oregon ID, a rent receipt and room key to prove they have a residence in the neighborhood, that this was part off an effort to stop the “bums” from drinking in a nearby park.

I explained to him that we don’t live in the neighborhood, that we were traveling in our car and going to drive somewhere else and drink it.  He said “Well I’ll tell you what: if you drive the car around to the door so I can see it, I’II sell you the beer.”  I couldn’t do this because I’m not the licensed driver, and Rick was away at the explain that the OLCC watches all the stores in that area like a hawk and forces them to put all these ridiculous restrictions on who can buy their cheap beer, on pain of losing their license.   I said, “That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!”  He admitted that he didn’t like it either, as they lose a lot of business that way.  He even offered to give me the phone number of the OLCC so I could call them and complain.  But he would not sell me the beer. 

At other times when Rick had brought the beer at the Plaid Pantry convenience store on east Burnside adjacent to the Recovery Inn (a shelter and homeless resource center), he was surprised that they checked his ID, along with the fact that the beer coolers were locked.  He soon realized that this had nothing to do with his looking young (you’d have to be blind not to see that he was well past 21), but that it was part of the OLCC’s effort to prevent alcohol street people from buying alcohol, as most of them didn’t have ID’s and this particular store, as well as the ones in Old Town, were near where a lot of homeless people hang out.   Sometimes even his driver’s license wasn’t enough either, as it was an out-of-state license.  And one clerk doubted it was even valid, saying, “But you don’t have a Boston accent.”

They eventually admitted to him that the only reason they sold him beer at all was because they saw him drive up in a car, rather than just walking in off the street.  He had not bought beer in several other Plaid Pantries and other stores in the Portland area that were not homeless hangouts and was not carded in any of them, nor were any of their beer coolers ever locked.  So the pattern of discrimination was all too graphically clear.

The Plaid Pantry on east Burnside was also the one where we got our coffee every morning, so we had gotten acquainted with a number of the employees there and found that they were not the least bit happy with those stupid policies the OLCC forced on them either.  One of them said it didn’t even stop at beer sales: OLCC people had actually come into the store and told them not to sell food to street people, as that only encouraged them to hang out in the neighborhood!

Two years after the aforementioned incidents, I happened to see a story in the Oregonian by Lee Perlman, dated Dec. 23,1993, entitled “Store manager rips Peidmont group at OLCC hearing.”  It seems that the Handy Food Mart in North Portland (a predominantly black neighborhood) was being threatened with loss of their liquor license because the Peidmont Neighborhood Assoication (which was predominantly white) had made claims of a “proven connection between liquor consumption and youth  gang activity” in the neighborhood.  They were vigorously backed by the OLCC, the Portland City Council and the Bureau of Licenses in their recommendation that this stores liquor license be yanked.  The store managers however, had a very sharp lawyer who questioned representatives of these hostile groups at the hearing on a license refused to crease selling malt liquor in 40oz containers, but did agree not to encourage their sale through pricing “specials”.  He agreed to monitor loitering and illegal activity, but only if it could be seen easily from his store   window.  He agreed to file complaints against people shoplifting liquor.  He refused to place an identifying stamp on liquor containers so that problems related to liquor sales could be monitored.” 

In other words, he agreed to the conditioned that could reasonably be expected of a store in any neighborhood.  But that was not good enough for those city agencies, whose racist paranoia dictated that he follow every one of those commands to the letter.

It is quite obvious to me, from all that I’ve seen since I moved to Oregon, that the OLCC’s policies are largely based on classiest and racist attitudes which have very little to do with the real issues and dangers of alcohol abuse.  They are not really addressing these issues at all, but are merely discriminating against the peaceful, responsible adult drinkers who happen to be homeless, black, Hispanic, or residents of poor neighborhoods.  I’m not saying that I agree or disagree with Initiative 76 itself.  I think it’s really “six of one, half dozen of the other” whether they privatize the liquor industry here or not, and it’s anyone’s guess whether this would have any impact on the number of traffic fatalities.  But I do not know that the current system reeks with class and race bias, and that   the OLCC is much more interested in meddling with the lives of the poor and minority drinkers than in protecting them from drunk drivers.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.  

 Editor’s Note:  Bridget is a long time writer for the Grapevine from Eugene, Oregon.  She previously published a newspaper called the Houseless Journal.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle May-June 2002 Cleveland, Ohio


Staff at Disabled Shelter Need to Focus More Attention on Housing

Commentary by Pete Domanovic

What goes on at the places designated for the handicapped especially the mentally handicapped in Cleveland area?  The one person that stands out the most would be a staff member we will call Beth.  This woman it seems does just about everything that needs to be done at the shelters.  I guess you could say that she is surrogate mom to between 50 to 65 homeless men, mostly handicapped in one way or another.  She does just about all the paper work that’s required, gives as much helpful advise, mitigates conflicts, and lets not forget the kitchen work. 

            Then there is a person we will call Bradley who is a security guard.  He has always been a helpful and friendly face in the midst of misery.  I also remember two other security guards that were what I would consider to be very good people.  They always speak to you in a way that would let you keep your dignity, whether you were right or wrong.  These are people that could be counted on to do what needed to be done, when they need to be done.

            Now then, what about the other 30 or so people that draw paychecks from shelter for the mentally Ill?  All I can really say about them is, I don’t know.  There is one older woman there that is the head of something or another.  She is probably on e of the rudest people that I’ve ever come across in my entire life, which I have been homeless, more than housed.   It is probably best for her that she doesn’t come in contact with too many people there, for her own safety.  There is also a councilor for veterans there that comes out and says things once in a while, but does not seem to help much.  The man in charge is a psychiatrist that in my opinion does very little for the population.  I do not understand about these staff that seem to do nothing about housing or anything that might move people into stability.  I’m talking about nothing.   When you think about it, these staff comes in constant contact with homeless people. 

            I am concerned about the number of staff behind the scenes who do not seem to be doing anything.  It seems only a small number of people do any work to help the mentally ill with housing.  I think that anyone could go over to the shelter to talk to people utilizing the shelter and find residents dissatisfied with staff.  I submit that they will say that there are some very good things about the people who are out front everyday.  In asking the shelter residents about the other shelters, the response will probably be, “what others?”

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle May-June 2002 Cleveland, Ohio

Jones Promises Stay in Shelter

By Alex Grabtree

            Two newsworthy items occurred at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless Annual Meeting in April.  Cuyahoga County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones, the evening’s keynote speaker, announced his commitment to sleep at one of the County supported shelters for the nights and to match the $1 million for supportive housing made by the City of Cleveland (see page 1 Supportive Housing).

            NEOCH stages a meeting once a year for advocates, members, and homeless people to meet to discuss the accomplishments and plans for the upcoming year.  There were speeches by the NEOCH Board president, the NEOCH director of operations, and the Executive Director.

            This year the Coalition also gave out here awards for outstanding advocates that assisted the homeless community. Toni Johnson was recognized as Advocate of the Year, for the years of dedicated work in service to homeless people.  She was a board member of the NEOCH for six years and has made her life’s work assisting individuals into stable housing as well as working on system changes to stop homelessness. 

            Lisa Chamberlain was awarded the Media Person of the Year award for her work as editor of the Cleveland Free Times.  She regularly published progressive editorials and commentaries about poverty and homelessness.    Under her direction, the Free Times featured stories about temporary workers, plasma centers, welfare, flop house residents, and the struggles within social service organizations.  She distinguished herself as a leader in forwarding the progressive ideas for public debate and always remained committed to her principals.

            Commissioner Jones spoke about the many years of contact with housing and homeless advocacy organizations while in the state legislature.  He talked about his goals while he serves as County Commissioner including the abolition of homelessness in Cleveland.  He spoke of his desire to visit all the County offices that serve homeless people.  He also said that he wanted to sleep in one of the County funded shelters.  The men who sleep at 2100 Lakeside shelter attending the annual meeting and diner said in unison, “No you don’t (want to sleep at the shelter),” reflecting the dissatisfaction with the conditions at the shelters.  One member of the 2100 shelter community spoke to the crowd about the demoralizing conditions at the shelter.

            With the City of Cleveland Council recently passing a community development budget, that included $1 million to develop a supportive housing project in Cleveland.  Commissioner Jones said that he did not want to be outdone by the City of Cleveland, and promised to find away to match the city’s $1 million dollars.

            Volunteers from the Founder’s Path provided a meal for the 60 people who attend.  Currently and former homeless people attended the meeting and assisted with the preparations.

Copyright Cleveland Street Chroncile May-June 2002 Cleveland, Ohio

City Mission Objects to Grapevine Comments

 By Rev. Robert Sandham

The three articles in the Homeless Grapevine Issue #52 understandably caught our attention. (Actually, one letter, one editorial, and one commentary.)  We were intrigued by several aspects of the writer’s perception of our ministry, for the homeless we serve at The City Mission.  First, we paid careful attention to the negative critiques of our services, and we will take them seriously.  We are always doing self-evaluation at The City Mission, looking to improve our care for the hurting people we serve, so any   new ideas or challenges to our present way of doing things are always welcome.  We will review the criticisms, and change where we deem necessary.

            Second, we were saddened by the numerous, gross inaccuracies relating to our services reported in the articles.  For example, one writer states we only   help drug addicts and alcoholics.  The truth is we serve a broad spectrum of people’s needs, and we do so in a way that preserves each person’s dignity: homeless men, men who desire recovery programs, women in crisis along with their children, women who lead families and need clothing and fellowship, children who want to grow academically and spiritually, and those in the justice system, both at the county and state levels.  The articles also claim we use our clients to do work of the City Mission.  The truth is we have wonderful and highly qualified staff, and choose to enter our long-term resident recovery program understand they will have work responsibilities as one component of the program.  The work opportunities help them build self-esteem, learn teamwork, and develop an honest work ethic that employers value highly.  The articles additional suggest we force Christian organization, and everything we do has its origin in biblical and Christian principles, which have always been the foundation of all we do at The City Mission.  We serve people regardless of their religious beliefs or lack of them, without any discriminations of any kind.  A simple phone call could have clarified these other reported misperceptions in the articles, but it is apparent to us that no interviews with City Mission representatives or research was done to prepare the articles, thus many inaccuracies were passed off a truth. 

            Third, the total distortion of our Christian faith and its important to all of our programming saddened us the most.  We want to be clear: for all of our ninety-two year history we have served the poor of Cleveland because we believe God has called us to do so.  We have depended on God to provide all the resources we need to serve those who are precious in His sight, and His providence has sustained us.  Jesus commands us to care for the needy and the poor, for their physical and emotional and spiritual needs.  It is option; we must do it.  Jesus also urges every   person to believe in His Father, and also in Him, therefore we encourage people to believe.  So we do both, we give people food along with the Bread of Life.  We fulfill their earthly thirst, and at the same time we give them the Living Water.  We give coats and clothing to those who have need, and share the good news of Jesus so they can clothe themselves with Christ.  The physical life and the spiritual life can never be separated.  God wants us to care for the whole person all the time, and so we do.  We will always be faithful to this calling of Jesus: to care for the needy, the poor, and those who feel they have no hope.  We will always do all we can for their important earthly needs, but we will never neglect their even more important spiritual needs.  To do so would be disobedience to our Father in Heaven, who loves and cares for us all. 

Director of Ministry Programs The City Mission

Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle May-June 2002 Cleveland, Ohio

Washington Still Reeling from Terrorist Attack

by Brian Davis

     What have you done to that lovely lady by the Potomac? Henry James identified the District of Columbia as a majestic city which is now pock marked and full of concrete barriers.

     My heart was broken by the events of September 11, but the transformation of our nation’s capital is just as sad if not also angering. The barricading of Washington is an assault on our democracy. We never voted if it was wise to close down the White House or the Capitol and increase security forces to unprecedented levels. If our democracy is so fragile that it would falter because of a terrorist act then it is not worth preserving.

     Just a quick walk down those nobly named streets of Constitution or Independence Avenues, we see police on every street corner. Standing at the Capital, I was watched, I was repeatedly passed by Capital police, and the security shined their flashlight in my face at night. I was deemed a threat for walking the same paths traveled by the Kennedys, Barbara Jordon, Howard Metzenbaum, and Lowell Weiker as they defended personal liberty.

     It seems that the cradle of democracy is operating in a state of fear. We are all terrorist suspects. Anyone could be the next home grown terrorist, the next Ted Kazinski, the next Timothy McVeigh. There are cameras, private security, police, and even federal military now involved in protecting buildings, monuments and our nation’s elite. We have actually created an elite class of elected officials who are the subject of extra-ordinary security measures. A far cry from the members of the first five Congressional delegations who only worked part time as legislator and most were full time farmers.

     Our forefathers fought to throw off empirical rule but a quick trip to the White House shows a different story. The building is absolutely secure similar to those of the castles that dot the European landscape. Our empirical president is so distant from the population and no longer "the steward of the people" or "the president of all people" but instead a term limited monarch.

     Even that symbol for democracy around the world—the nation’s Capital building is a bunker sealing out its citizens. We cannot walk those wonderful steps up the front of the building to the places where great Americans like Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Dwight Eisenhower took their oaths of office to lead this country. Even Armed Freedom on the Capital dome seems to be depressed that she looks out over this hypocrisy of a democratic society.

     Real security would be the elimination of poverty. If a terrorist wants to strike a blow to democracy or freedom they will do it. No matter how many security guards, how many cameras or military officers, as a society we are vulnerable. The security state of Rome was undermined on a routine basis by rebellion. Totalitarian states have traditionally seen attacks by their own disenfranchised populations. For every stripping of people’s rights breeds contempt, anger, and terrorists, or as we used to call them patriots. It is ironic that the groups planning the American Revolution would be subject to surveillance and increased security with the passage of the 2001 Patriot Act.

     The state of New Hampshire pays homage to the terrorists on their license plates with the phrase "Live Free or Die." The Boston Tea party and the rebellions that led up to the Revolution would certainly be considered terrorism in today’s environment. John Brown certainly would be a friend of the nation of Palestine. The point is that terrorism is a part of the American historical landscape. After all, the capturing and enslaving of an entire population with a different color skin seems to be an expression of terrorism. The extermination of a pre-existing group of nations from land that we currently occupy certainly goes way beyond the genocide in Bosnia or Somalia of the last decade.

     Security would be enhanced by housing our entire population providing them a living income so that they can maintain decent housing, providing universal health care, and iron clad civil liberties protecting all of our rights and freedoms. In the cradle of democracy in our nation’s capital, it is an embarrassment that we have homeless people sleeping everywhere. President Bush’s closest neighbor is a homeless man who sleeps in Lafayette Park and actually was the neighbor of the last seven presidents.

     I saw men first in line sleeping outside the Bank of America waiting for their piece of the pie. I saw men laboring to survive in front of the National Labor Relations Board. I did not understand why the workers at Metropolitan Optical did not see the inhumanity in front of them with guys sleeping on their door. The Federal Trade Commission housed a man waiting to be traded to a country that cares. At least one man was waiting for justice as he slept in front of the Department of Justice.

     A walk down Pennsylvania Ave then to the mall and onto the Capital demonstrates how out of touch our elected officials are in this country. There were parties full of lobbyists where our leaders were led to the table and gorged with money, fine food, alcohol, and slaps on the back. While a huge population exists on the streets forever looking in and never having their voices heard when discussions are made about education, healthcare, justice, welfare reform, and housing policy or appropriation decisions are made. How do they not see the inhumanity that they walk over everyday?

Copyright NEOCH published May 2002 Cleveland Ohio for Issue 54

Veteran Struggles with Chronic Health Problems

by San Seviera Marshall

     Many of us believe the homeless epidemic that plagues the nation is spearheaded by the homeless themselves. Individuals who are believed to be derelicts of society, with little to no work ethic, who have contributed very little to society at large. In short, they are considered opportunists looking for a hand out. But as Rich would say the Homeless Grapevine vendors "aren’t looking for a hand out they are looking for a hand up." This is the very premise that this country was built upon.

     Rich is a 46-year old Polish immigrant who came to the United States in 1964 at the age of 8. And virtually since his arrival to this country he has demonstrated high self-motivation, a very good work ethic and contributed to society at various stages of his life prior to becoming homeless and even during the past 20 months that he has been homeless.

     Rich began life here in the U.S. in Chicago, IL and as the oldest boy and the second oldest of 10 children he felt compelled to be a role model for his siblings and to help alleviate the financial pressures his parents were under. As such, Rich was an honor roll student and a child athlete who excelled in football and baseball, all while maintaining a part time job after school and on the weekends. Rich gave most of the money he earned to his parents to contribute to the household and help his family financially.

     When Rich advanced to high school he added the ROTC to his already busy schedule and managed to maintain his honor roll status and continued to excel at sports. Rich believes that the discipline and focus he learned in ROTC prepared him for his tour of duty in the Airforce. When Rich was drafted, as an alien with permanent green card status, he was glad to serve his "country." Rich used his time in the military wisely, earning an associate’s degree in child psychology and a bachelor’s degree in business.

     When his tour of duty was up, Rich found himself in Texas and decided to make Houston his home, where he put his business degree to work and established a very successful floor laying business for single family homes. Rich is a very savvy businessman, he very eloquently explained how he subcontracted his workers and leased his equipment, and was able to generate a gross profit of $80K, and bought a home for approximately $65,000, all at he age of 24. The structure of his business also enabled him to unwind his operation rather quickly when the ‘80s Oil Crisis hit Texas and the housing market dried up.

     When this happened, Rich went back to Chicago for several years to regroup. After several different managerial and sales jobs, Rich landed a position as a retail manager for new and used Lexus vehicles. It was here that he was approached with a business opportunity that he couldn’t pass up. Rich became an independent franchisee selling upscale men’s clothing. For all practical purposes, Rich became a traveling salesman on the road for months at a time selling imported Italian suits, silk ties and dress shirts to lawyers, car salesmen, insurance agents and time share reps in states east of the Mississippi. Again, Rich became very successful at this business and netted over $100K annually. Rich ran this business from ’92 up until the time he became homeless in June of 2000.

     Rich became very ill and was admitted to a local hospital here in Cleveland, where he had been living at the time, on June 15, 2000 for about 10 days. Despite having paid his rent through the end of June, Rich returned to his apartment only to find that his landlord had discarded his belongings and leased his apartment to someone else. And like most Americans who live outside of their means and are one paycheck away from being homeless (keeping up with the Jones’); with no income for the second half of June, Rich found himself homeless inside of 30 days.

     Being homeless to Rich has been both a curse and a blessing. The loss of his material possessions and social status coupled with the hardship of trying to make it on his own living on the streets has been a very humbling experience. Rich has slept in almost every local shelter at one time or another, lived in various camps in the forest and has been robbed and/or beaten at least six times since he became homeless. We often times take for granted having food and shelter, but being able to get a hot meal, a shower and a place to sleep are always at the forefront of Rich’s mind. As a Grapevine vendor in Ohio City, Rich has come face to face with the true character of a man and often times it has been unpleasant. Most people understand that "you can’t judge people on your [own] circumstance, because [most] people aren’t homeless by their own choice but by life circumstances."

     Despite the negative people Rich has encountered and the bad experiences, Rich has been blessed to feel the loving and supportive side of mankind through the people at the Grapevine and the philanthropy of the local shop owners in Ohio City (like Talkies and the Great Brewery). The local shop owners are very kind to Rich, sometimes offering him food and coffee and allowing him to come into their establishments to sit down and watch TV, even if he doesn’t buy anything. Rich is very pleased that through very engaging conversations, these individuals have taken time to really get to know him as a person and not just the homeless guy on the corner selling newspapers. Rich recounted a very special moment last June 1st on his birthday when he had fallen asleep near a shop entrance and awoke to find a warm Whopper sitting in his lap with a $5 bill inside. He treasures this memory, because it is moments like that one that renews his faith in the goodness of human kind.

     Prior to becoming homeless, Rich was on top of the world. He thought he was "invincible" and immune to such hardship, disappointment and failure. Although Rich is not embarrassed by his situation, he is very disappointed in himself and feels like he failed himself. As a Roman Catholic, Rich believes that his homelessness is a test from God, a test of his faith, his strength, his resolve and his resilience. Rich believes that everyone at some point in their lives should experience homelessness for a few months for their own personal growth. Rich has experienced minor set backs prior to be becoming homeless, but has always managed to regroup and use his intellect and his instinct to redirect his efforts and become successful at a new project in a very short period of time.

     Being a Grapevine vendor allows Rich to do what he does best and what comes natural to him, be an entrepreneur and interact with people. Selling the Grapevine is a stepping-stone for Rich to re-establish himself and rebuild his men’s clothing business which he hopes to have reopened by the summer. I don’t doubt for one second that this very intelligent, insightful, articulate, hardworking man will again one day soon, pursue the American Dream, reopen his business and prosper and prosper and flourish once again. If Rich has learned nothing else from this experience, he now knows that life can change in an instant. Rich’s life has been forever changed.

Copyright NEOCH published in May 2002 in Cleveland Ohio Issue 54

Supportive Housing Initiative Pushed By New Cleveland Mayor

by Brian Davis

     Creating additional supportive housing is a rallying call that is sweeping the country, and that campaign is coming to Cleveland. An initiative called "Housing First" has brought partners from government, business, social service and advocates to work on developing housing that features social workers and case workers on site to help with stability issues.

     The effort is led locally by the Enterprise Foundation, the Cuyahoga County Office of Homeless Services, and the Sisters of Charity Foundation. The Housing First collaboration held a forum in April 2002 to prove the need for permanent supportive housing in Cleveland. The forum was intended to give an overview of the project and give models that exist in other communities. Bill Flaherty, Columbus director, and Steve Thomas, the national Chief Operating Officer, both of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, spoke about the value of adding supportive housing to the menu of services available to solve homelessness for cities.

     The Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University researchers Kathy Hexter and Susan Burkholder studied the need for supportive housing, future trends, and the funding requirements. The approximately 150 people who attended the conference were charged with leaving to make supportive housing a reality in Cleveland.

     A group presented examples of supportive housing in other communities and their successes. Anthony Penn of the Community Housing Network in Columbus, Ohio described their efforts in developing over 700 apartment units as well as their rent subsidy program. Nikki Delgado of the Columbus Corporation for Supportive Housing described the Rebuilding Lives initiative in Columbus to develop 800 units of supportive housing in five years. She described the obstacles that they have come up against and their successes.

     Kitty Cole, Senior Vice President of Lakefront SRO in Chicago, talked about the supportive housing initiative in Illinois. In a strategic planning process ordered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Lakefront SRO developed a model for property management and providing on-site supportive housing. The group has developed eight buildings with many of the population serving homeless people with a long history of living in unstable housing.

     Two local examples of existing supportive housing programs include Eden’s Safe Havens and mental health housing and the AIDS Task Force’s Carey housing projects. Both Kathy Kazol of Eden and Earl Pike of the AIDS Task Force described the community opposition that often surround developing housing for people with AIDS. Pike talked about the demographic changes that have taken place within the AIDS community. In the beginning of the AIDS crisis, the housing centered on hospice care because life expectancy was short. Supportive housing has become critical to the AIDS community with the introduction of the daily prescription cocktail.

     In a Franklin County study, the Community Shelter Board found the cost of supportive housing at less than $100 for a bed per day, while jail had a similar cost. The detox beds are quoted at $200 per day and a hospital stay was well over $1,000 per day. This study showed the positive economics of constructing a supportive housing program. The Levin College identified 900 people on the streets per night in need of supportive housing.

     Funding a supportive housing program in Cuyahoga County will be difficult. The Levin College study says, "With few new sources of funding likely to be made available in Cuyahoga County, it will be necessary to redirect existing dollars. One way to do this is to move to an outcome-based system of funding in which housing stability becomes the measure of success for shelter, housing, and service providers who assist poor people."

     Linda Hudecek, Community Development Director for the City of Cleveland, spoke on behalf of Mayor Jane Campbell and announced the passage by City Council of a $1 million to jump start an affordable permanent housing program in Cleveland. The goal is to get a match from other government entities as well as private sources. The initiative will target disabled homeless people or those with a long history of housing instability. These supportive housing programs will focus on people with substance abuse problems, mental illness, chronic health conditions, and/or those with HIV/AIDS.

    It is anticipated that a request for proposals will be issued in the spring or summer to solicit projects to develop supportive housing in Cleveland.

Copyright NEOCH published in May2002 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 54

Lakeside Shelter Conditions Debated

by Brian Davis

There continues to be growing frustration with the largest shelter in Ohio at 2100 Lakeside Ave. In March a group of homeless men met with Councilwoman Fannie Lewis to talk about conditions at the shelter. There were charges of retaliation and more controversy involving staff mistreatment, and a lack of concern by the Salvation Army administration.

Raymond Robinson took a group of men who stay at 2100 Lakeside to get their issues addressed. Among the many issues raised include the standing outside in the cold and rain for two hours and not being allowed to go inside to go to the bathroom. There were concerns about the unsafe conditions within the shelter, and the lack of training and understanding by the staff. The lack of the security and the large amount of theft as well as the lack of concern by the administrative staff were all listed by the men as areas of concern. The men were asking for helping in changing "these inhumane" and "degrading" conditions.

Robinson was told by Councilwoman Lewis to go and get a petition signed by as many men as possible. Despite being directed by a City Council person who is one of the main funders of the shelter, to do so Robinson was told that he was not allowed to collect signatures inside the shelter. He went to the local meal site early in the morning and found 80 men who signed the document. Robinson went to the Community Development City Council hearing, and was allowed time to talk to him about the problems at the shelter. Both Chair person Merle Gordon and Community Development Director Linda Hudecek both sat down with Robinson to discuss the situation. Both City officials expressed concern and asked the Coalition for the Homeless and the Office of Homeless Services for advice.

When Robinson got back to the shelter after talking to the City Council, he was denied a bed and told that he had to sleep on a mattress on the floor because he was belligerent. Robinson was belligerent because he was told that he could not get his petition signed at the shelter as he was instructed. After two months of being in a bed, he was told that despite being fifth in line he would have to sleep on the floor. He refused, citing his State of Ohio verified disability he could not sleep on the floor. He refused and was sent to another shelter.

The next night the same scenario took place in which Robinson was extended a mattress on the floor. At first, Robinson could not get anyone explain why he was denied a bed. The staff claimed that they did not have to give a reason. Again, he refused because of a physical handicap. There was a confrontation and eventually shelter staff relented.

The following day in a discussion about the complaints with City and County officials, John Ansbro, director of 2100 shelter, had an angry outburst centered on the perceived interference by representatives of the Coalition for the Homeless with regard to 2100 Lakeside. NEOCH staff expressed concern over retaliation and the treatment of homeless people at 2100 Lakeside in a written letter asking for a response from Salvation Army officials. To date, the Salvation Army has not responded to the issues raised by Robinson or the retaliation that he faced.

Two weeks later, the Coalition and the 2100 Resident Advisory Committee held a meeting to discuss the services. The issues raised included the problems with the physical conditions of the shelter and the lack of use of the kitchen. The threats and intimidation by the staff were a concern as was the overcrowded conditions. Other problems that came up included the turning people away from the shelter and the need for accountability. The "bad attitude" of shelter staff and some standards posted at the shelter. There were many issues that surfaced including the lack of staff training, the lack of a grievance procedure, and the huge lines before the shelter opens.

Salvation Army officials presented their view of the shelter and talked about the need to engage other social service providers. They talked about being hampered because of the overcrowded conditions, but the progress that they have made over the last six months. Ansbro said that he intends to establish and publish guidelines and rules for the behavior at the shelter. He also said that they were moving to limiting the number entering to 360 people with the eventual goal of 350 people. They did say that they want to address the situation with the line out front and may give out beds in the morning so people would not have to wait in line. In response to a question about the services at the shelter, Ansbro said, "$1.65 million is not nearly enough to shelter all these people."

The facility has averaged 410 people per night this year and 424 per night in 2001. There is no current plan for where the 40 to 60 and as many as 100 men over the 360 spaces available will sleep.

The Office of Homeless Services and the City of Cleveland have met with the Salvation Army officials to address some of these issues. There is growing pressure to convene a community discussion about the deteriorating situation at 2100 Lakeside.

In one positive development from the perspective of client rights at 2100 Lakeside shelter, the administrators of the facility implemented rules that restrict police, parole officers and bounty hunters from entering the shelter without a written warrant. The resident advisory committee and Coalition for the Homeless staff talked about the violations of trust and safety concerns raised by an armed officer in the building at night. Despite some alleged retaliation by the police the Salvation Army has stood firm on their policy.

Copyright NEOCH published in May 2002 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 54

Dogs Get Better Treatment than Homeless People


     The Cuyahoga County kennel is a clean facility staffed by trained professionals with a deep concern for animals. San Francisco is constructing an apartment building for their homeless dogs and cats. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has a large advertising budget with a huge network of volunteers, some of whom are willing to go to the extreme for animal rights. Recently, thousands of dollars were used and lives were put at risk to rescue a dog from an abandoned ocean vessel.

     The overflow shelters for homeless men and women are inadequate facilities staffed by untrained, overworked staff, some of whom are just punching the clock and have no concern for the people that they serve. San Francisco has an extremely large homeless population approaching 10,000 people per night with a severe shortage of housing. There is no national advertising campaign to house homeless families. While there are millions of volunteers that serve food or help in shelters there are very few volunteers working on the right to housing for all Americans. Recently in Cleveland, Adam Jones, a World War II veteran died a quiet death after spending years on the streets of Cleveland.

     Why are we addressing the ethical treatment of animals when we threat our fellow citizens so unethically? Why are we as a society spending money doing fundraising campaigns and spending valuable resources to house homeless animals while millions of our taxpaying citizens sleep on the streets or on mats in a shelter? Why not prioritize solving human homelessness before we work on the needs of homeless puppies?

I do not hate animals. I understand dogs and cats are easy to serve without all the baggage homeless people carry (literally and figuratively.) Since when did Americans shrink from a challenge or take the easy road? When did we turn away from serving the least fortunate? I do not understand when our elected officials lost the shame of running a state, city, county or country with a huge number of homeless people. When did homelessness become a part of our urban landscape and not an emergency that needs immediate attention?

     Every jurisdiction has a dog warden, but very few municipal or county governments have a homeless liaison. Neither the City of Cleveland nor even one suburban government have a position working exclusively on homeless issues. None of the individual communities within Cuyahoga County contribute funds to address homelessness while 20-30% of the Cleveland homeless population were most recently living in a suburban community.

     As we have said hundreds of times in these pages, homelessness is a solvable problem. It is fundamentally a lack of affordable housing, which has a solution. There was a time in America we did not have nearly as many people on the streets. There were poor people and alcohol addicted people and those with a mental illness, but they did not live on the streets. What we do not have is the political will and pressure on politicians to think about the People for the Ethical Treatment of People.

We need a huge increase in affordable housing. We need a major increase in the production of housing, in the development of vouchers, and in major increases in supportive housing. We need to transition the thinking of social service community from working with the easiest to serve in order to show good outcomes to serving everyone in order to reduce harm. We need a philosophy of universal housing with shelters as temporary short term emergency services.

     The harm reduction model follows the strategy similar to the needle exchange programs with the philosophy that society needs to place people in stable living situations first and then work on the other issues. This is what we hear from homeless people. This is the basis for a discussion of solutions. We regularly hear from homeless people that they are adults and do not want to be told what to do. We should not make shelter conditional on accepting and abiding by a treatment plan. As we have also said in these pages, it does not make sense to require a person to treat themselves before treatment is offered.

     So we need a re-evaluation of our priorities and work on ending the suffering that exists on the streets. We need to rebuild people so they have the confidence to live free of chemicals in a home. Sure they are not as cute as puppies or kittens, but we have a fundamental responsibility to justice for our citizens. No more animal rights marches until the rights of people to stay inside is respected.

Copyright NEOCH published in May 2002 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 54

Cincinnati Readers Rally Support for Paper

Thousands show support for Streetvibes

2,000 Cincinnatians Tell Mayor Luken they Value Newspaper

by John Halpin

     Had Mayor Charlie Luken known the number of Cincinnatians who support the Streetvibes newspaper and the vendors who sell it, he likely wouldn’t have attacked it at a December meeting of City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee. Many Cincinnatians were outraged by his comments that vendors were "panhandlers armed with newspapers" and that they were destroying downtown.

     Some of those outraged citizens decided to organize to show Luken that Streetvibes is a valuable asset to the community and an important program to the vendors who earn a living selling the monthly paper. They formed Friends of the Homeless, which began meeting in early January.

     Their goal: show Luken how many Cincinnatians support Streetvibes so that he wouldn’t pursue legislation to harm the paper.

     The result according to participants was a success. A postcard campaign was launched and two thousand Cincinnatians signed them, asserting their support for the vendors and their newspaper. The cards, addressed to Luken read: "I come downtown to experience diversity and community with my fellow Cincinnatians. Streetvibes is part of that experience. More importantly, Streetvibes provides the opportunity for the vendors that sell the paper to also be part of our great city…." The card ended with a request for Luken to support opportunity and to forgo policy that would damage the program.

     The campaign culminated in a rally outside City Hall. Nearly 50 supporters turned out, grouping around a giant cardboard house covered in several hundred of the signed postcards. Speakers shared their thoughts on the importance of the paper to the Greater Cincinnati community, and after the rally, everyone took a stack of the signed cards and personally delivered them to the Mayor’s staff.

     "The community sent a clear message to Mayor Luken and Streetvibes vendors that vendors are supported valuable to the city of Cincinnati and that attacks on Streetvibes won’t be tolerated," said Susan Knight, one of the organizers of the campaign.

     "I saw a lot of new faces," said Andy Robie, another event organizer. "This, coupled with the more than 2000 postcards we collected, tells me that this community really supports Streetvibes and views it as an asset. Hopefully Mayor Luken has gotten the message."

     When Council proposed legislation for a new anti-panhandling law, Streetvibes, which Luken equated with panhandling, was left alone. Friends of the Homeless is confident that the outpouring of support from the community played a part in that. They hope to continue raising awareness about homeless issues in Cincinnati. For anyone interested in getting involved, the group meets each Wednesday at 7PM at the Drop Inn Center.

     Anyway, despite the cold weather and the fact that the original rally was rescheduled, the turnout for the Streetvibes rally was spectacular.

Copyright NEOCH published in May 2002 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 54