Vendor Enjoys Speech by Mayor

North American Street Newspaper Conference Summary from a Vendor’s Perspective

 by Marsha Rizzo Swanson

        The street newspaper movement now encircles the world. Once again I brought victory to the Grapevine street paper out here in Cleveland Ohio by winning the international vend off in Boston this year. I am proud to be part of the Grapevine paper. I am a vendor and I love to go to the North American Street Newspaper Association conference. I enjoy and learn a lot at the workshops at the conference every time.

        I have had the opportunity to attend these conferences. It gave me the chance to learn about the different ideas, and how we can make a difference in the lives of the homeless people with strong papers. The reason I also like going to the annual NASNA conference is because something needs to be done now. I always feel that going to the NASNA Conference gives me incentives to continue. When I realize that we have this association that is together working to get homeless out of the streets, I feel that this is the way to build a new movement.

        I got to go to many different workshops like getting the word out, lessons from the homeless marathon, street newspaper vending sales techniques, research, reporting and news writing, and recruiting vendors. These were great workshops that I was able to attend.

        This was NASNA’s third annual vend-off, and I won for the second year in a row. I am proud to be able to bring this news to the Cleveland area. This provides a ray for the Homeless Grapevine paper and helps me as a vendor of the paper. I brought the title here again. I dressed as a duck for the vend-off, and it was a quacking good time. So when you are a duck. Don’t press your luck. Just be the duck. Ha ha. We also went on a duck ride, and that was the reason why I dressed as a duck. Boston is a duck town.

        This was the seventh annual conference of NASNA, and I never thought that I would ever be here. The Mayor of Boston came to the conference and told us of his concern for homeless people. Well we live in a world of greed, and when I saw the Mayor of Boston speak to the problem of homelessness, I was amazed. I have never heard our Mayor of Cleveland say these things about homelessness. I think that Mayor Jane Campbell needs to get to know what is needed to be done here in Cleveland to reduce the number of homeless people. I don’t think our Mayor of Cleveland is aware what is going on here on the streets.

        I want the Mayor to have a meeting with the vendors and the homeless people in Cleveland to follow the example of the Mayor of Boston. We will tell the Mayor what is needed. So, if you the Mayor reads this article then please get a hold of Brian Davis at NEOCH at (216)241-1104 or e-mail him at neoch@bbs2.rmrc.net. Thanks in advance to Mayor Jane Campbell.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio August 2002 Issue 56

Sell Cleveland to Settle Ohio’s $4 Billion Deficit

Commentary by Brian Davis

        Ohioans have heard the projections for a $4 billion deficit by the end of the fiscal year next year, and we have not heard very many credible solutions. The Homeless Grapevine newspaper as a public service has come up with a solution: Sell Cuyahoga and surrounding counties to Michigan for $5 billion. We have recently sent a letter to the Michigan governor John Engler asking what steps we would need to take to initiate this change in the political boundaries.

        The reality is that we face declining tax revenue in Ohio because of years that the Ohio legislature gave money back in times of surplus instead of building the capital and infrastructure needed. The Ohio legislature is terrified of the word tax increase, and has a court mandated “I Owe You” to the schools. In 2002, Ohio solved the problem of a deficit by raiding one-time only pools of funds (tobacco settlement, rainy day fund, welfare surplus, etc.) This year when they go to the cupboard they will find it bare. We anticipate homeless people and all poor people will face greater hardship, with the state budget balanced on the backs of poor people.

        The truth is that those of us in Northeast Ohio have more in common with Michigan than we do with Ohio. We are much more socially responsible than our strip-mining friends of Southern Ohio. We are a union friendly environment, as is Michigan. We do not understand how the state house was hijacked by rural farmers and used car salesmen who don’t give a crap about poverty.

        We would move to a state that does not have the death penalty, treats its welfare recipients with a little more respect, and does not have the problem of routinely allowing federal dollars to bypass the state. We are proposing Lake, Geauga, Cuyahoga, and Medina County become the lower peninsula of Michigan.

Michigan is the best state to buy Northeast Ohio because they are familiar with having a non-contiguous geography. Lake County has a couple of fine lighthouses, and Michigan is the state with the largest number of lighthouses. Michigan has the longest freshwater shoreline in the world and would only be augmented by Cuyahoga and Lake Counties. Michigan has some wonderful city names including Bad Axe, Eden, Hell, Paradise, Podunk, and Slap neck. Michigan has the first paved road, but best of all, it is illegal in Michigan to kill a dog using a decompression chamber.

        Ohio has a larger population, but only 68% of the population own a home while Michigan has a 73% homeownership rate. There is more space in Michigan for our homeless population with only 175 people per square mile while the overcrowded Ohio has 277 people per square mile. Michigan had more housing starts in 2000 compared to Ohio despite their smaller population, again benefiting our homeless population. Michigan is also more diverse than Ohio with a 14% African American population and 80% white population. Ohio is 85% white and only 11% African American according to the U.S. Census.

        We anticipate beginning a petition drive in September to put this on the ballot in March before the end of the Ohio fiscal year. The Ohio legislators tell us that we need to treat the Ohio budget more like our personal budgets and cut when times are tough. This is actually not how the real world works. When times are tough we not only cut our expenses, but we get second jobs and have a garage sale. Since it is unlikely our legislators will get second jobs to raise $4 billion, we will need to stage the largest garage sale in history—sell Cleveland.

        With the plan of selling four counties in Northeast Ohio, the state would finish the year with a surplus of $1 billion dollars that could build more housing, rebuild the schools, or construct a real economic stimulus plan to develop a high tech sector. For an extra billion, Ohio could throw Summit County into the deal.

Published in the August 2002 Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio.

Interview with Building and Housing Director

by Pamela Vincent

Jimmie Williams has years of experience working in housing with Famicos Foundation, and was recently appointed the commissioner of building and housing. Some of his goals as the Director are the speedy processing of permits to build more housing, addressing the problems with elevators in Cleveland, and most importantly being respectful of tenants in buildings with condemnation orders. Jim realizes that the inspectors working for him have great power over the lives of people and he stresses that they use discretion.

        Another issue for the Building and Housing Department is the proposal that Cleveland City Council will soon be debating to make it a cabinet level position instead of a division of the Community Development Department. According to Williams and the Campbell administration, this would be a good thing for the City as it allows easier access to the Mayor and other Directors.

        I spoke with Jim, in his City Hall office about all these topics covered in a speech he gave to the Cuyahoga Affordable Housing Alliance group at the Department of Housing and Urban Development where he also discussed bringing humanity back to the Building and Housing.

 P. Vincent: Congratulations on your appointment. When did it officially begin?

Jimmie Williams:“April 1st, 2002.”

PV: “I was told you gave a speech before the CAHA at HUD where you spoke about bringing humanity back to the Building and Housing Department. Can you elaborate on that?”

JW: ”Not bringing it back, but rather increasing humanity...increasing the sensitivity of the inspectors so that they realize that they are dealing with people and buildings.”

PV: “What about the situation with the inspectors, were there issues in the past where they had been less sensitive to the people?”

JW: “There weren’t any issues with them, we just wanted to increase their level of sensitivity. The way the times are now we have less housing; we want to make sure the families needs are considered when we’re making decisions about their housing in the city.”

PV: “What happens when a house is condemned, or a residence is condemned? Once notice is given...is there a time limit for them to vacate and do the residents receive help or assistance in finding other housing?”
JW: “There’s a time limit given and what we do now is we make sure the proper agencies are involved so they can find decent housing. Our primary goal is to insure that people are living in safe housing.”

PV: “What are some of the big changes or goals you have this year that you want to accomplish?”
JW: “Expanding training and careers, enhancing opportunities for staff, we want to have better interaction between Building and Housing personnel, we want to move inspectors into the community, we want to reduce the number of court cases especially where owner occupants are involved. We want to be able to use information technology...”

PV: “Is that to help track everything that’s in process with the houses?”

JW: “That’s right, and we want to reduce the number of condemnations with properties and reduce the number and size of inventory of condemned homes.”

PV: ”So there will be houses that are raised and more being built to replace them?”

JW: “Not necessarily, just because a house is condemned doesn’t mean you raise it, you condemn a house because it’s unsafe.”

PV: “Are there financially opportunities for them to utilize to improve their homes like low interest loans”?
JW: “There are several low interest loans available to them, the City of Cleveland has two programs: Repair-A-Home (RAH), and (SHAP) Senior Housing Assistance Program for the elderly people to contact. The County has a program called HELP, which provides low interest loans, administered through the banks.

PV: “I understand one of the things you also mentioned in your speech was speeding up the process for the permits?”

JW: “Yes.”

PV: “Does that tie in with your technology improvements and the training for staff?”
JW: “Yes, training, technology, establishing and monitoring performance standards, [and] having an open door policy for interaction for working with the builders and developers.”

PV: “Do you have a goal in mind as far as the turn around time for permits or is that something that will happen down the road?”

JW: “The State requirement for permits is 30 days, we try to do the best we can to keep to that number.”
PV: “Will these changes require that you have additional staff to help and be out there with the inspectors?
JW: “We need additional staff but I know the budget will not allow for additional staff.”

PV: “So do you think that in the coming years you’ll be able to expand your staff once money is in the budget, because you really seem to need them.”

JW: “Yes, there’s a need for additional staff, so hopefully we’ll be able to expand in that area.”

PV: “In your speech you also talked about the problems with the elevators in Cleveland, do you remember what that was about?”

JW: “The Division of Building and Housing is responsible for elevator inspections, we try to mandate to make inspections on a routine basis and we generally do that and write up certificates for inspections.”

PV: “Is there a lag time because I’ve heard it takes a while to receive the certificates?”

JW: “We’re behind on the certificates, and we’re trying our best to catch up working overtime to catch up on the issuing of certificates and permits. We issue twenty-thousand building permits a year, and I’m not sure of the exact number of certificates of occupancy we issue each year, I know we’re 200 behind so it’s got to be quite a few.

PV: “You mention that you wanted to get your inspectors out into the community, are there stations set up for them to work in at different sides of town?”

JW: “They’ll be working through CDC offices, (Community Development Corporation) and at public facilities such as recreation centers.”

PV: “This is going to happen this year?”
JW: “Some of them are in place working right now so we’ll be improving on that.”
PV: ”How is the public made aware of these new stations?”

JW: “Right now the way we’re using them as a point for them (the inspectors) to do their paperwork every day. It saves them a one-hour travel to come here to use a desk. We hope to eventually have, sometime in the far future, satellite offices or places where they can be for them to check on the status of the plans. In fact we are going to be doing that online. We working right now to put the application for the building permits online, the status of the permits applications and plan reviews online and also information on inspections...housing inspections, building inspections, board ups...we’re working to put all of that online so that the public can access it and find out what the status of the permit is.”

 PV: “What about having access to print out their certificate online? That could save mail time and postage fees.”

JW: “We’ll probably be doing that. I’m pretty sure we will, we already have permit applications online that can be downloaded they don’t have to come down here to fill out an application. We want them to be able to do the entire process online and that’s our goal. We also want to establish a road map where by people coming to the city to visit Building and Housing will have the staff there to tell them what stations to go to and what’s expected, what there needs are, we’re working on that as an all City Hall practice particularly through Building and Housing. Putting out more information, brochures, and online how to complete a building application permit and we’ll be adding to that.”

PV: “The inspectors would be able to help the homeowners or builders etc....filling out the forms for permits or repairs, or financial assistance. Sometimes people have trouble filling out the forms or understanding the process.”

 JW: “That what’s we expect to fall under the realm of the Community Development Corporation. They generally have people available to assist and work with the residents to fill out forms. The inspectors can do a lot of explaining as to what takes place and why things take place as well as having a lot of written information. We seem to have a lot of fence applications so we’ll have instructions online for filling out fence applications or other specific applications.”

PV: “For specific home improvements that are pretty common like roofs...?”

JW: “Yes, that’s one we do that’ll we’ll have instructions for and things like weather insulation and things like that.”

 PV: “Do you think that eventually the City of Cleveland will go around and do random inspections on the houses needing repair so that they don’t get to the point where they need to be condemned? ”I know other Cities have programs in place and are pretty strict about keeping the repairs up on the homes.”

JW: “That’s part of our plan to have an organized assessment of residential houses. We currently do commercial sweeps but we want to be more organized for residential and over a period of time all the houses will have some type of inspection especially the interiors, right now just the exteriors are done.”

PV: “That’s seems like such a huge undertaking...”
JW: “Well they did it...in 98'...they did drive by assessments.”

PV: “Oh really...but, not the internal ones?”

JW: “Well the internal inspections are much more difficult to do now because you have to have a search warrant and if they don’t invite you in you have to obtain a search warrant.”

PV: “When I first talked to you over the phone we discussed your position becoming a cabinet position. When do you think that might happen?”

JW: “Well hopefully between now and the first of the year.”

PV: “What has to happen for that to go through?”
JW: “City Council has to approve it. We have a reorganization committee now that will come up with a process for establishing the Building and Housing Department as a Cabinet level department...they’re scheduling meetings now for the council to review.

City Council will review and hopefully rule on it before the end of the year.”

PV: “Is there anything else from your speech that you want to address?”

JW: “Not, really just that we want to be consumer friendly, we want to be able to make it easier for people to solve their B&H issues, through the neighborhood committee and inspections. We want to improve the quality of our housing stock, and we want to be able to do this by bringing in all the relevant agencies to help.”

PV: “OK, well I think that’s it. Thank you I appreciate your time.

JW: “You’re welcome.”

        Jimmie Williams dedication to his job is evident in the long hours he keeps. It was well after 6 when we finished talking and as he went in search of a snack it was clear his day was not over yet. Before I left I asked him if he usually worked long hours and he smiled and said, “I try not to.”

        As he walked me out of his office Jimmie Williams continued to speak about the programs available particularly to assist the elderly with fixing up their homes. He mentioned the (NPI) Neighborhood Progress Incorporated who arranges grants through the City Council representatives. For more information on some of these programs please call the following numbers: RAH (Repair-A-Home) 216-664-2045; (SHAP) Senior Housing Assistance Program 216-664-2833.; (CASH) Cleveland Action to Support Housing 216-621-7350; (HWAP) Home Weatherization Assistance Program 216-664-4116; Paint Refund Program 216-664-4053; and (AAH) Afford-A-Home216-664-4218.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio August 2002 Issue 56

Poem: On My Way Home

By Michael Gibbs

& Annalie Maizel

 Today

I lay

On steps of stone

My cheeks wind bitten

Winter blankets my bones

My memory frosty

Each direction it roams

I can’t seem to remember

How I lost my way home

It’s here

I fear

Will be my demise

Beneath this old bridge

And the night’s twinkling eyes

My bottle is comfort

On nights such as these

But she’s almost empty

So if someone could please…

 This season

I reason

That I’ll find some work

And get out of the alleys

That I used to lurk

Find me a place

With a bed and a throne

It sure feels good

To be on my way home

 To date

I wait

For that voicemail call

For that janitor’s job

Up there at the mall

Night air is getting cold

Why won’t they just phone?

Can’t they see that I’m ready?

To be on my way home

 Tomorrow

I sorrow

For winter’s begun

My shoes are quite tattered

And a hat, I’ve not one

I pack up my duffel, and

Alone I will roam

Just winter and I

On these streets I call home

 This poem won honorable mention at the 2002 NASNA Annual Awards presented at the NASNA conference. It originally appeared in the January 2001 of the Homeless Grapevine.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Issue 56 August - September 2002

North American Street Papers Gather in Boston

         The women and men who publish, edit, write, find advertising, and vend street newspapers traveled to Boston to celebrate previous victories and layout a plan for the coming year. For Cleveland, the Homeless Grapevine was represented by editor Brian Davis and vendor Marsha Rizzo Swanson. Once again this year Swanson won the North American vend off by dressing up as a duck and selling nearly 50 papers in one hour.

        The North American Street Newspaper Association meets on an annual basis in various cities in Canada and the United States to rekindle bonds and refocus the movement. Spare Change and Whats Up Boston were the host newspapers this year and graciously opened their arms to the 43 other street newspapers in North America and even representatives from the international street news papers. This year’s conference featured a rich, diverse and informative group of workshops to educate the membership on vending strategies for recruitment, fundraising and updates on social justice movements.

        This year the hosts planned many events outside of the conference, which allowed the members to interact in an informal setting. Spare Change celebrated its tenth anniversary of continuous publishing during the conference with a celebration dinner. There was a nice mix of homeless people, vendors, volunteers, and staff. The organizers provided the members a chance to go on the famous amphibious duck tour of Boston and a traditional Boston clam bake.

        A new executive committee was constructed with former chairperson Tim Harris of Seattle’s Real Change. Next year’s host city Quebec City representative Bernard Helie has a seat as a vice chair. The new executive committee has an aggressive set of goals to accomplish this year. Goals include finally obtaining non-profit status, capacity building for existing papers, and effectively communicating the work of the street papers to the broader community.

        Cleveland’s own Homeless Grapevine vendor, Marsha Rizzo Swanson successfully defended her title as champion sales person. In the spirit of the Duck Tour of Boston, Marsha spent days making a duck costume to boost her sales during the vend off. Marsha was able to sell nearly 50 papers in one hour. Her continued dominance of the vend off contest did create some controversy with the other vendors. Marsha was the only vendor dressed in a costume and was very aggressive in talking to as many pedestrians as possible. NASNA members agreed to establish a rigorous written set of rules and judges for next year.

        Marsha is undecided if she will defend her title in Quebec or will take a one year break and compete in the 2004 conference which will take place in Fort Lauderdale Florida.

        Every year in the recap of the NASNA conference, we look at the host city and their treatment of homeless people. This year’s host, Boston, has made national news in their attempts to deal with the number of homeless people. Mayor Tom Menino addressed the NASNA conference and was thanked for putting housing at the top of the agenda of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which he chaired this last year. While touring Boston and its famous freedom trail, we did see a number of homeless people who were expressing that freedom by sleeping outside.

        Boston did not have the huge pan handling problem of Seattle or Chicago. There are also not the large number of homeless people sleeping outside that face Washington D.C. or San Francisco. There is a great amount of hype associated with Boston’s strides in serving the homeless population. There are not the stories of Boston conducting massive criminalization efforts that other cities have embraced. The man tapped by George W. Bush to head the InterAgency Task Force on Homelessness, Phil Mangano, hails from Boston. For all the hype, Boston seems to have found some ability to move homeless people into stability despite the high cost of rent.

        Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio August 2002 Issue 56

 

Local Homeless News Briefs

Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio August 2002

 Homeless Man Dies on Near West Side

        Rodney Lucas, 43, died August 13 on the near west side as he struggled with disease on the streets of Cleveland. West Side Catholic Center and St. Malachi coordinated a memorial for Lucas who was a day laborer for years. As a veteran, he had lived in Texas, Georgia and Ohio. 50 people attended his memorial to remember a friend who many who spoke at the remembrance said was a “quiet and thoughtful” man.

 Resident Committee Victory at 2100 Lakeside:

        Since the publication of the last Grapevine a great deal has changed at 2100 Lakeside men’s shelter. The tension level has certainly decreased. A new director and program director were hired. Many of the worst staff were fired and or transferred. The two organizers of the petition drive were allowed to return to the shelter. And the biggest victory according to the Resident Committee members was that the County heeded the desires of 350 men who signed the petition asking for the issuance of a new scope of services, and the County will soon issue a request for qualifications. This RFQ could lead to a new social service provider operating the shelter in early 2003.

        The men are now allowed into the facility at 4 p.m. They are allowed in the patio area during the day after they leave the Cosgrove Center at 1 p.m. and they can use the restrooms during the day. The patio will be a cold place to stay this winter. The facility is still closed all day, but these changes have made the facility tolerable according to a number of the men who stay at the shelter at night interviewed in early August.

        Duane Drotar, who previously worked at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Volunteers of America was hired at the Director of 2100 Lakeside. He has a grand plan to change the shelter, but there is still a question whether he can negotiate the complicated Salvation Army bureaucracy. Ron Reinhart, formerly Director of the Salvation Army PASS program, was moved over to 2100 Lakeside to oversee day to day operations.

        Raymond Robinson appealed his termination from the shelter, and was informed that he could return to the shelter. Unfortunately, Robinson moved to Florida before the decision was made. Robinson had organized the petition drive and the involvement of the City Council in attempting to improve the shelter. After some tension at his hearing in which the Army staff tried to exclude Brian Davis of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless from attending the hearing, the shelter staff finally relented.

        Much of the early summer was spent negotiating between the Resident Committee and the Salvation Army facilitated by Councilman Joe Cimperman to lower the tension at the shelter. Councilman Cimperman and Ruth Gillett of the Office of Homeless Services held a meeting in August to hear from the men what they would like to see in a scope of service. These comments along with others will be the basis for the release of a Request for Qualifications.

        The Grapevine received a copy of a letter the Salvation Army sent to the County claiming that they would not respond to the draft Request for Qualifications and reminding the County that they hold the lease on the shelter at 2100 Lakeside. It is unclear what would happen if the Salvation Army chose not to respond to the Request for Qualifications or if this letter was just stating that the Army staff would not provide input on the draft. It seems that if one qualified organization responds it would be difficult for the County to side step the bidding process and give the contract to the Salvation Army.

 Salvation Army Moves PASS

        Over the objections of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and many of the residents, the Salvation Army moved the PASS program from a free standing building into the Harbor Light building. Harbor Light contains emergency shelters and a corrections pre-release center. Many feared that this would change the family atmosphere of the transitional housing shelter.

        Cuyahoga County and the Department of Housing and Urban Development approved the move over the objections of NEOCH and many residents. An alum of the program who visited the shelter now that it is in Harbor Light said that the atmosphere is much different. Staff have said that many of their benefits were changed and the Salvation Army is attempting to alter programming offered.

 Triumph House News:

        The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority operated a transitional housing program called Triumph House in the Carl B. Stokes mall. The facilities housed mothers and their young children who found themselves homeless, and was operated by a sub-contractor under the name of Triumph House. The shelter abruptly closed in June after a negative review by Cuyahoga County. Many of the families were transferred to another facility by early August only 5 to 6 families remained. The program is currently being sustained by volunteers.

        CMHA is going to issue a request for a new social service provider to operate the facility.

 What to do about the growing number of homeless people around East 18th St.?

        In early 2000, the number of men that sleep outside or exist on the sidewalks dramatically fell. With the opening of the new shelter at 2100 Lakeside which did not exclude people, and the dinner offered at the Bishop Cosgrove Center, there was always a place to go inside. There were very few who chose to stay outside in the harsh winters or the brutal summers in the last two years. In fact, when the Coalition for the Homeless spent a November weekend walking the Downtown neighborhood, they found only seven people staying outside. In November of 1999, there were 35-40 people sleeping in the neighborhood.

        In early 2002, the shelter at Lakeside began turning people away and began phasing out their day services. The Bishop Cosgrove Center phased out their night meal in 2001, and in the late afternoon the women in the Women’s Shelter have no where to go. This has caused much anxiety by the neighbors, the police, and pedestrians in the neighborhood who have reported defecation outside, blocking the sidewalk, and aggressive solicitation.

        The 400 men at the day shelter are released at around the same time in the morning. They then walk either to the Cosgrove Center or to the temporary labor companies. Then at 1 p.m. the men are released to the streets to wait for the shelter to open at 4 p.m. This fractured service to the population is at the root of the problems in the neighborhood. Concern is growing that we will return to the years of past when hundreds of people were in the neighborhood with no where to go.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio August 2002 Issue 56

Homeless Man Killed After He Was Set on Fire in Springfield

By John Cartwright

        Dennis R. Wade, 47, suffered severe 3rd degree burns over 80 percent of his body as he slept on the front porch of an abandoned house on the 13 of August 2002, according to Springfield Police Chief David Walters. After eight days in the hospital, Wade died from his injuries.

        Walters said that he believed that Dennis Wade was doused with gasoline or lighter fluid and then set afire by person or persons unknown at that time. The flames on Wade were extinguished before the Springfield, Ohio Fire Department arrived on the scene. Careflight took him to Miami Valley Hospital.

        Reportedly, Dennis Wade told paramedics at the scene, “I can’t believe they set me on fire.” His brother, Johnny Wade, told the Springfield News-Sun newspaper immediately after the incident that he didn’t expect his brother to survive the third-degree burns over 80 percent of his body.

        Wade’s brother held out little hope that his brother would survive, and Dennis Wade died on August 21. “He has no skin. The damage is done. He is not going to make it,” Johnny Wade said on August 14. Johnny said that he had been asked to sign a do-not-resuscitate order by the staff at Miami Valley Hospital. “That is the choice they are giving me.” He told the reporter.” I don’t want to lose him. I can’t bury him. I can’t afford it. I’ll figure something out.”

        Dennis Wade was reportedly sleeping on the porch of an abandoned house in Springfield because he had nowhere else to go. Springfield Police Chief Walters said that the incident is being treated as a homicide, and are investigating the circumstance to see if it is connected to another suspicious fire on August 3, 2002.

        “I can see people doing a lot of things to people, but this … burn is misery.” Johnny Wade said to the Springfield paper. “This burn is not trying to kill you, it’s putting you in misery.” Wade’s family is trying to find a way to bury Dennis who was indigent.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine August 2002, Cleveland Ohio. John Cartwright is a former volunteer with the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless who moved in 2001 to Springfield.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio August 2002 Issue 56

Grapevine Declines; Message Always Critical of Providers

Dear Editor:

        Over the years I have read the Grapevine and found it an informational resource regarding the homeless in Cleveland. Unfortunately that has changed. The issues are briefly touched on but the core of those issues is ignored. Any response contrary to the Editor is bashed at a later date as wrong. Agencies that provide for the homeless are attacked instead of finding a way to come together. Believe it or not, some Service Providers do advocate for the homeless perhaps it is not to find a “legal” place to drink alcohol but they do advocate for services and, yes, even for the housing for the homeless.

        I have heard that in some cities the Coalition for the Homeless actually works with providers to provide for the homeless. One can only wonder what an amazing experience that would be in Cleveland. Perhaps NEOCH ought to take a few courses in mediation so that they might be able to at least attempt to see both sides of a situation.

 Vickie L. Smith

Cleveland, OH

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio August 2002 Issue 56

Correcting Misguided Notion of Purpose of the Grapevine

Commentary

by Brian Davis

 The Role of the Homeless Grapevine

        The Grapevine has nine years of publishing history and I have edited the paper for eight years. My opinion concerning editorial content has not changed. I still believe that it is important to allow homeless people to say what is on their mind. The opinions of homeless people are as varied as the population. I know a conservative Republican homeless street newspaper editor in Arizona, and in the past the street newspaper in Toronto was bordering on fascism.

        We have featured very critical reviews of shelters, in depth discussions of trends in the homeless community and ideas for useful programs that should be created. My opinion of social service providers is shaped by the hundreds of homeless people who I talk to every couple of weeks. The Homeless Grapevine is a newspaper first and foremost that covers issues ignored by other media in the community.

        It is not the mission of the homeless street newspaper in Cleveland (or for that matter any other city in North America that I know of) to bring homeless service providers together. We have a certain bias in favor of homeless people, but we are still a member of the fourth estate. Similar to the pro-business bias of Crain’s publication in Cleveland or the Call and Post or Cleveland Life attempting to keep the issues of African American Clevelanders in the news. The Homeless Grapevine acts as a watchdog for the public against the potential tyranny of government and publicly supported social services.

 The Role of the Homeless Coalition:

        The Homeless Grapevine is published by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, but there is a clear separation in the operation of the two entities. The vendors and volunteers of the paper have oversight of the Grapevine, but since there are so many different voices there is no clear agenda forwarded by the Grapevine. The articles that appear with the word “editorial” are the opinions of the three editors, usually written by one but supported by the other two. Commentaries are the opinions of the writer and no one else.

        NEOCH does have a specific agenda, and speaks as one voice. We have an advocacy agenda developed by our constituency—homeless people. We focus our attention on four areas of concern—housing, economic justice, health care, and civil rights. Under civil rights we include the rights homeless people have upon entering a social service provider. We hear a great deal of anger from our constituents and we have to reflect that in our advocacy to accurately represent homeless people. After all, in a country of such opulence, no one should be homeless, and those who become homeless are angry and puzzled how this could happen in the richest county on the face of the earth.

 Homeless Coalitions as Facilitators

        It is true that in some cities the homeless coalition acts as a coordinator or at least a collaborator of homeless service providers. Columbus and Jacksonville Florida are good examples of the coalitions as facilitators. The problem is that the voices of homeless people usually get drowned out and are eventually lost in these types of Coalitions. It is so difficult to amplify the voices of a population that is hard to get in touch with, and migrates frequently. It is easy to stay in touch with the shelters or meal sites that rarely move. Also, shelters don’t always like to sit down at the same table with homeless people who only yesterday publicly complained about the shelter operation or staff. Even though both shelters and homeless people have the same end goal—universal housing—they take much different paths.

        Shelters have to be concerned about funding and keeping their doors open so are in competition with other facilities for scarce dollars. Negative publicity of a shelter can be an assault on the social service provider’s ability to fund raise. The bottom line is that juggling the desires of a diverse homeless population with the needs of social service providers is nearly impossible. In the end shelter driven homeless coalitions usually mute the voices of homeless people and confine the discussion to services instead of solutions.

        This is not to say that there is not a need in Cleveland for shelter directors and staff to meet on a regular basis and collaborate.         This is a vital function that is not currently being met. This also does not rule out some collaboration between NEOCH and homeless social service providers. In my opinion, the Homeless Service Network started by Care Alliance and City Mission does not serve this mission because it is an exclusive club with its primary purpose to undermine both NEOCH and the Office of Homeless Services. It is a divisive organization, and is not an open organization that attempts to figure out ways to better collaborate or move people faster into stability.

 Homeless People Distrust

        The Coalition for the Homeless made a decision six years ago to allow the editorial content of the paper to be uncensored and free of outside oversight thanks to free speech attorneys who were on the board at the time. NEOCH also made the decision to focus our attention on amplifying the voice of homeless people. Social service providers in Cleveland and around the country have not done a good job building trust among homeless people. With the strict rules and the lack of an empowering atmosphere at the shelters and services, NEOCH has struggled to involve homeless service providers in their advocacy campaigns.

        Shelters and services have often taken a more paternalistic approach as opposed to an attitude of “homeless people know what they need how do we best serve them?” An example is when cities take a criminalization approach to homelessness with sweeps and arrests, homeless service providers should be outraged and should take swift action. When cities like New York arrested 200 homeless people in a two-week period, the shelters should demand a more humane policy for those they serve with direct action. It is time to “storm the gates” when the police classify the homeless individual as a criminal because they sleep on the sidewalk. Unfortunately, around the United States this rarely happens. In fact, often the shelters assist with the sweeping policy. They sell out the people that provide them employment in order to keep the money flowing from the municipality.

        Homeless people want power over their lives, but homeless social service providers are not usually willing to give up their power they currently maintain. An example is the importance homeless people place on transportation and ending the exploitation at the temporary labor companies. These and many other problems are not even on the radar of most homeless service providers because they have no impact on the shelter directors with cars and a guaranteed job as long as we keep increasing the number of homeless people.

        There is an implicit contract between “client” and service provider that is too often broken. This is alluded to in the licensing of social workers who have an obligation to not harm their “client.” Homelessness is harmful to a person, and every social service provider has an obligation to move that individual into stability as soon as possible. A shelter is not stability either. It would be like if a doctor swept through the emergency room gave everyone something to remove the pain for the night and then sent them on their way. Wait a minute, that is what happens in our HMO driven health care system. Strike that example. It would be like if a lawyer filed the civil case for the victim of a drunk driver, and then said, “Okay you are on your own from here,” and the victim had to argue the case in court. The lawyer would be prosecuted for malpractice.

 Separate Paths Taken

        Gone are the days when this homeless crisis started and social service providers were the best partners in the fight. We have institutionalized homelessness to the point that we are merely managing a triage center never having an impact on the solution. Many of the strongest allies at the beginning of this fight are now the targets of complicity. When homelessness exploded in the 1980s, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, and mental health community in many cities provided the transportation, supplies and bodies for demonstrations and direct actions. I have noticed that most of the time social service providers only show up to demonstrations to protest funding cuts. There are rare exceptions, but I have seen the only thing that angers most providers is cuts to their budgets.

        Money was expended to solve the problem of homelessness, but it only got worse. The task of ending a person’s poverty became too daunting, too expensive, and too complicated and so the provider community began concentrating on keeping people alive instead of ending poverty. There was no time for advocacy because there was one emergency after another or they spent their time finding the money to keep the doors open. We lost that fire and urgency and saw 10 years of men and women sleeping on floors like dogs.

        Many accepted our fate that homelessness would always be with us, and so very few spoke up when homeless people were attacked in the media as the source of all the problems in America. Then providers including religious officials started blaming homeless people for their fate, and the homeless population grew. Now we are facing this vicious cycle of more services needed and more homeless people, and service providers wonder why they are not trusted and sometimes even viewed as the enemy. Homeless people still have their eyes on the prize even though most of the rest of us are lost in some political, fundraising, outcome measurement fog.

        We will pass along your comments to the NEOCH board about your recommendations for NEOCH learning mediation skills. I would pass it back to you and other social service providers to learn how to repair the bridges with the homeless community. Give up some of your grip on the power and money by allowing homeless people to drive the agenda and set the rules for participation. The homeless social service providers would have a better relationship with the homeless community if they did not have evictions without notice from transitional housing, discharge from the shelters to the streets, and if they stopped blaming the poor for the problems associated with poverty.

        Note: This is what I will hear after this is published, “Brian is only critical of the social services and never compliments the tough job that we do.” I have to say that reading all the newsletters that I get from all the social service providers and those stories in the December Plain Dealer, I could only conclude that we have the best safety net in the history of man. I never hear any self-criticism or public comment about the shameful job we have all done. The Grapevine is one of the few places to counter all the good thoughts being sent to donors and government funders. The bottom line is that the year that Cleveland sees a decrease in the number of people seeking shelter is the day we make a step forward. To date, all of us, including NEOCH, have nothing to celebrate and must resolve to work harder on solutions and not just managing an emergency.

Published in the Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio August 2002 Issue 56