Editorial: Solve Homelessness—Shut Down the Shelters?

     Sometimes I think that it is time to shut down all the shelters and force the community to make some real decisions. The strong will survive and find a place to stay. After all, when sick people, children, and mentally ill people started dying on the streets America would make housing a right. Until there is a tragedy in the richest country in the world, nothing really happens. The women’s shelter is and remains deplorable. Not until the media showed the mildew on the walls with a child sleeping next to the bleach and mildew did the community respond.

     It took children disappearing in the custody of the state of Florida before something was done. Until the men testified publicly that 2100 Lakeside was nearing a riotous situation the County did not intervene. But every day these men endure the deplorable conditions of sleeping in a chair in the cafeteria. It is so common to be told to move along by the police that no homeless person blinks an eye. Demeaning, distrustful, and disgraceful treatment at the hands of staff are all part of a day’s struggle to survive for shelter residents. We cannot blame shelter workers entirely for their behavior. They are overworked, untrained, underpaid people with a big heart but little ability to address the needs of the people they see everyday. Setting aside the depression of seeing hundreds of people cast away by society, they must deal with every single problem facing our society with only the resources to provide a band-aid to their clients.

     It is shameful to recommend that people must die before something is done, but do we have any choices? In the early 1990s, it took a man dying outside of HUD before any money went from the federal government to address this crisis. They threw a few table scraps to the community and made the benches in most cities impossible for people to sleep on to avoid public deaths. America has an acceptance of slow death (smoking, alcohol abuse, sleeping outside) but fusses if the privileged class has to walk past death.

     The Governor told us that it was a tough budget this year, and so he was going to fund only the state’s priorities. I guess providing people food and shelter are not a priority in this state since the Governor completely eliminated funding to the food banks and emergency shelters for the next two years. I guarantee you that if a couple of homeless children or men with a mental illness died in the lily white suburb of Bexley, Ohio, where the Governor lives, those line items would be restored and more.

     We no longer have leaders in government, but a ruling class of money and ego serving out their terms in positions of power. It is almost a community service for the rich to figure out ways to lower their own taxes and eliminate barriers for capitalism. Our elected officials (and unelected officials in the case of the officeholder at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.) have little contact with homeless people except on Thanksgiving for a photo opportunity. They manage our problems for their term of office hoping the crisis does not occur on their watch. Our social service providers allow elected officials to get the photo op. as long as they are provided just enough money to keep their program alive but not enough to make any changes.

     There is no original thinking in government. They keep the same programs in business because those are the ones that do not make waves. If these programs were real services they would be leading the charge in the overthrow of the current government. Social workers true to their license would renounce the existing structure and file a claim with the United Nations over the mistreatment of the poor within our borders. The social services would demand the same amount of money spent on tax breaks for property owners going to the poor who rent or live in shelters in a just society. Shelter directors would shut down the cities until the media did stories about the suffering in our neighborhoods and thus end the media conglomerate’s fetish with sex, scandal, and blood masquerading as news. No one would disagree that those working with homeless people are full of compassion, but where are the people of conscience today?

     If we really want a strong terror proof country, end poverty in the world. Start with the United States and provide a decent education for every American, guarantee them a livable income, free health care, and appropriate housing. This would be a truly free society above fear with a rock solid healthy citizenry immune to the shallow hate mongering, racist philosophy we find staring down the dawn of the 21st century. We would no longer need to demonize poor people or be grudge them the spare change we currently offer in programs called Medicaid, TANF, or Public Housing.

     So I will continue to fight to assure that homeless people do not die in the streets. I will assist in the best management of the problem while trying to get people to think of solutions. I will be the lone voice in calling for an end to the madness of permanently sheltering people in our urban cities. I will raise an indignant voice at the sight of low-income security guards and law enforcement mistreating low-income wanderers. And I will express the constant frustration heard within the shelters among homeless people that housing is out of reach while stadiums are a necessity.

Copyright The Homeless Grapevine Issue 59, February-March 2003, Cleveland, Ohio

Praise and Scorn

Commentary

by Pete Domanovic

Regular Columnist Pete Domanovic takes on the Service Providers in Cleveland.  The comments do not reflect the opinion of those who publish or edit the paper.

Salvation Army: 2100 Lakeside

     I have previously written about the waste within the City of Cleveland. I want to call attention to the Salvation Army employee’s drawing paychecks, and do absolutely nothing about what they are supposed to be doing. It is pretty sad that a so-called Christian association can oppress people the way that Salvation Army does. You have to imagine this as their plan. Possibly someone else calling the shots would be helpful.

     The amount of public money that they have received, $1,700,000 a year, has been a complete waste. And that has been every year. For that amount, you could pay the rent for the entire year for four hundred people. That would be more than $400 per month per person. (Right now the Salvation Army is receiving double their monthly allocation, because they are great contract negotiators). The citizens of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are paying huge sums to the Salvation Army to warehouse people all over the city. They are just giving over money to greedy incompetent people. Duh? The people who receive disability checks should have already been placed into some type of housing. Duh!

     None of this counts the donations the Army takes in, which I have seen to sometimes reach thousands of dollars. I said it once, and I will say it again, if the Salvation Army officials disagree, I ask that you open your books and I will just shut up. No way will they do that.

     To some it may sound that I have a personal grudge against the Salvation Army. Well, here it my history with the Army. In 1989, I became the glorified janitor at the Harbor Light complex. In the two weeks I worked there, I fixed the plumbing in the woman’s section; the drains never did work right because I had to chip out the old concrete type stuff that held the plumbing together from that time period.

     I fixed the toilet in the doctor’s offices, pulled out a rock the size of my fist from the drainpipe. The lady that hired me, (forgot her name), wanted carpet put into her office. I cut the carpet, and told her I would need the carpet tack strips for the wall edges and doorways. It seemed that because I didn’t run out and buy them myself, I could not do the job.

     Several years later, I needed the ten days they offered the homeless people at that time. The person in charge talked to me about the work I had done in the building, and wanted me to do more. Not a job, just do the work. At that time I was trying to find a real job in a machine shop, and declined. The next time I needed them, I found out I was permanently banned from the Harbor Light complex. Yes, I have a grudge. Oh, by the way, the Harbor Light does not accept homeless people off the streets. Everything they do now there is paid for by one of their other programs. A person cannot walk in and get a place to sleep.

     We still need to kill their cash cow!

Father John Henry at Saint Herman’s

     Saint Herman’s House Of Hospitality seems to be a last resort for the homeless in the City of Cleveland. When someone goes there to get out of the cold, or is hungry, they complain that they have to be around the dogs, or have to do chores that seem unnecessary.

     What they fail to realize is that they are just a guest in someone else’s home. The dogs are there to generate income, left by the sick and the dying who just want to make sure their pet is taken care of. St. Herman’s is a kind of pet orphanage. They also don’t realize that Father John Henry never intended to have a full blown shelter. I believe his goal was to help the homeless who happened to be handicapped.

     Yes, his program does discourage the working homeless. This is a man who has been overwhelmed by the homeless, and not once has ever turned anyone away that I am aware of. The small chores and being present at 4:00 is not a problem for disabled people. We all should just say thank you to this man, and never do anything to discourage him, actually, we should encourage him. I thank him.

St. Augustine Meal Program

     When you’re down and out in Cleveland, there isn’t a lot of things you can do to show gratitude for the things that people do for you. Usually the only thing you can do is bow your head and walk away. You can offer to do a little work, or ask if there is anything you can do for them.

     When you’re at St. Augustine’s church on West 14th St. there is no work for the homeless to do unless you are persistent and really need something. That’s because there are people there who just come and do the work for you. Like in January, a very large church group from St. Martin of Tours in Maple Heights, served lunch to the homeless people gathered.

     The group’s leader, Bob, was standing back behind the serving line doing his visual monitoring to make sure everything was going smooth. A very nice lady named MaryAnn, served the food, and then walked around to make sure everyone had enough to eat. Everyone just sat at their table and was served their meal with an all you can eat attitude.

     What makes this special is that everyone there volunteering, including about twenty children with an age range from 10 to 18 years old, were there because they wanted to be there. They weren’t there because they needed their pay check. They weren’t denying anyone anything because they were just lazy or stealing for themselves. They weren’t there on there own agenda. They were there because it was what they wanted to do. These volunteers came to help, because it was in their heart to do that.

     There are always people who don’t understand, and the ones that won’t understand. There are people who just want their check and go home, so damn the homeless. All the professionals feel a great need to tell the volunteers how and what to do, but checking their record, they aren’t very good at it. When the volunteers do things, it is usually, mission accomplished. But no one can take anything away from the people who do things just for love.

Copyright The Homeless Grapevine Issue 59, February-March 2003, Cleveland, Ohio

No Jobs for Homeless People

First Person Account: One Stop Center Routinely Ignores Homeless People

by Pete Domanovic

     I would like to express my gratitude to the Homeless Grapevine for bringing to light the problems within the homeless system. My concern is with the One Stop Career Center, at East 13th & Payne. One issue that needs further examination is how the One Stop Center that helps people find jobs but refuses to work with homeless people. I stay in a shelter and here is my experience with the One Stop Center.

     After I had first applied, I was pretty much refused because I was homeless. Missing my first opportunity to go to school, I finally made it into the training in December 2001. The system was going to pay me a small amount for expenses, ($6.50 per school day) every two weeks. I didn’t get a check for two months. They started giving me larger checks to catch up on the ones I had not received.

     The school I had chosen was probably one of the best in the field and lasted for seventeen weeks. It was only a couple of days after I had graduated that they put me in a job that paid $10.00 an hour. All I needed now were some necessary and accurate tools. I faxed my tool list ($281.00). They didn’t get it. For five weeks, the company faxed the tool list. I faxed the tool list to the One Stop Center, but staff at the Center kept saying they never got it.

     I finally took off from work to take the list to them. My counselor wasn’t there, so I left it at the front desk and they said she would get it. She said she never did get it. Finally, my employer told me that it was my last day at work unless I had my tools. I took the tool list again, and this time waited for her to get to the office. I put the list in her hand. She filled out the paper work and I was off to Catholic Charities to get the voucher.

     Then it turned out that the allowance check was screwed-up. It seems that I had been overpaid $26.00. Therefore, I could not have the tools until that was repaid. Well, that was my last day on the job. (I paid the $26.00 two days later).

     After working the temp agency for about a month, I went back to see what else I could do. They showed a lot of concern and took me around to different offices to tell my story. They made me an appointment for about three weeks later with another councilor. After telling him what had happened, he informed me that they had lost my records, and referred me to the state employment agency, which has not once returned a call.

     If you don’t know anything about beating dead horses, they will not get up and do what needs to be done. After writing this article, they enticed me with bus tickets to come to their office and discuss what could be done. They offered me the normal resources that should have been offered from the start. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to trust more of my time to this agency that just erased me at their whim. I told them I would think about it, and they were nice enough to give me two bus tickets. The final insult was that the bus tickets were expired.

     I lost a good job over $26.00 and inept or poor staff at the One Stop Center. I bet that I am not the only one who has had this experience at the One Stop. Many homeless people that I talked to had similar problems.

Copyright The Homeless Grapevine Issue 59, February-March 2003, Cleveland, Ohio

Jack Quietly Becomes an Expert on Homelessness

by Christopher Butler

     The temperature on the day when I meet Jack Taylor is 17 degrees with wind chills gusting to single digits depending on where you stand. In the buildings and store porticos, where many people stand huddled together sharing a cigarette and small talk, you can avoid the wind. But on the sidewalks outside the Grapevine offices—as Jack and I make a quick walk to a nearby coffee shop—the wind blows right through you and you imagine the wind chill to be around zero.

     Jack admits that he’s been reluctant to speak with me since I tried to make contact nearly two weeks ago. He doesn’t know why, but he assures me that he gives only straight answers, even if his responses aren’t popular. And quickly he backs up his assertion. He tells me a story about confronting a police officer that had stopped to harass two homeless people sitting on a park bench. “These same guys drive by 15 drug dealers standing on Detroit Avenue and then they stop to pick on a couple homeless people who aren’t bothering anybody. I don’t get it.”

     As we walk along, the wind seeps through my clothes and I cringe until the gust passes. I’m dressed like Jack—a long-sleeve shirt, a sweatshirt and a medium-thick jacket—but he doesn’t appear to mind the cold like I do. In fact, he doesn’t think it’s cold at all when I ask him. Its just part of the life he’s grown accustomed to. When we’re finally inside, he says he’s been outside in much colder weather, like the time when he and three other homeless friends built a camp in the woods near West 14th and the highway. Out there, having built shelter with stray wood and boxes, they survived nights with sub-zero temperatures and wind chills falling to depths that sound unreal, except for knowing that they did occur when you read about it in the newspaper, most likely while you were cozily nestled in a firm, reliable structure of your own.

     We sit down and Jack moves his chair back away from the table far enough to stretch out his left leg. He rubs his knee thoughtfully as we start to talk. Many of Jack’s troubles (although he’d never call them that) could be traced back to his left leg.

     Twenty-five years ago, Jack smashed the lower part of his left leg in a car accident—he was driving—when he hit a phone pole near the intersection of West 130th and State Route 82 in North Royalton. He crushed the ankle, 13 breaks and fractures that rendered the joint nearly unreadable through x-rays. When Jack visited a doctor three years ago, the doctor was incredulous. “How in the world do you walk on that thing?” he asked. Now 40 years old, the leg suffers from osteoporosis (due to inadequate diet) and arthritis, and the pain in the ankle has moved up Jack’s leg to his lower back. He says its just part of the life he’s grown accustomed to. Next month, Jack’s having a third operation on the ankle, a total fusion that will prevent any kind of flex in the joint.

     The life that Jack’s “grown accustomed to” has taken him to some unique locales, spending part of his youth on Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles where his father operated the island’s only radio station, KBIG. In those days, residence on the island was exclusive and his family had neighbors such as the Wrigleys (of chewing gum fame) and the Lamases (Fernando and son Lorenzo). The island was tight-knit, and Jack remembers it fondly. Cruise ships would often stop for day tours and the passengers threw coins off the bow and watched as the children dived into the cool water looking for spending money. “We would come home with cans full of coins,” Jack explains.

     Through the years, living in Arizona and Ohio, he married and had three children (but is now divorced). Jack stayed busy and employed, brandishing skills in concrete, sewer construction, truck driving and heavy equipment operation. The money was good and he loved the hard work, but all the trappings of domestic life were difficult—the emphasis on things and the accumulation of more and more things—it was stressful, too stressful. So eight years ago he left home without notice.

     He went to a place beneath a bridge near Train Avenue where other homeless folk had built a small community, pooling resources to make ends meet. When Jack saw police, they would tell him there was a missing person’s report filed in his name. Jack ignored them. He was embarrassed about his situation and yet did know how to fix it. Or know if he wanted to fix it. He stayed near Train Avenue for nearly two years until an assault in a nearby neighborhood enraged residents there. They blamed homeless people and police flushed the area, pushing Jack and his friends out into the cold again.

     That’s when Jack and his friends formed a camp near West 14th and the interstate. In this area they were far away from homes. Jack made ends meet by walking the neighborhood looking for work, shoveling snow, raking leaves, all while standing on a deteriorating ankle. After five years, a neighbor started harassing Jack and his friends. He was trying to sell his house and claimed their camp was hurting his real estate value. “You couldn’t even see us from his house. No one would even know we were there,” Jack explained. The neighbor took matters into his own hands, throwing Molotov cocktails at their shelter and making false complaints to police. After a while, Jack and his friends gave up and moved away again.

     As the conversation moves along, I keep asking Jack about times and dates and he has trouble remembering. To me it’s confusing but to Jack it’s another symptom of homelessness—the lack of structure and calendar to guide your activity. “You lose all concept of time when you’re on the streets because you don’t have any days to look forward to. You don’t pay this bill on this day. Just another day goes by.”

     Jack values the services provided by agencies in Cleveland, but he thinks some of the work is misdirected or too often beset by poor supervision. He says affordable housing would be the best cure for homelessness, but any attempt to do this should also have adequate services nearby to insure that people get the treatment they need, whether its substance abuse or mental training. While Jack appreciates these agencies, he also carries a healthy sense of skepticism of the how these groups are run. “If we’re paying some guy 75-thousand to run a non-profit... well, that sounds like a lot of profit to me. I don’t think that’s right.” And it’s not just on the home front that we misuse money, according to Jack. “We spend a billion dollars to drop peanut butter half way around the world and we can’t even provide someone here with money for a bus ticket.” It’s tough to argue with Jack.

     Today, Jack has a small apartment which he funds through odd jobs and subsidy checks. He sells the Grapevine, but typically gives his profits to other vendors. Jack says he doesn’t need to money but he likes to be out there with his friends. He takes pride in being someone who can be relied on for help. He likes the fellowship it brings. He says Grapevine is a helpful project, but the way the vendors are treated makes him angry. Jack says you can tell when someone in the street doesn’t even regard you as a normal person. “You can just tell. They think were all drug addicts or lazy. The worst is when they act like they don’t even see you.” As upsetting as it might be, it doesn’t deter Jack. As we part ways, he goes in search of his friend Tony who’s getting ready to hit the streets with a stack of Grapevines in hand.

Copyright The Homeless Grapevine Issue 59, February-March 2003, Cleveland, Ohio

Housing Summit by City Council Sets Goal to End Homelessness

by Lisa Etling

Editor’s Note: On pages 6-7 are two different perspectives on the City Council Hearings on Housing and Homelessness in January.

     On January 9th, City Council called together homeless individuals, service providers, and housing advocates to begin formulating a plan to eradicate homelessness and increase affordable housing in the Cleveland community. Council members Merle Gordon, Joe Cimperman, Frank Jackson and Kevin Conwell convened the forum at 9AM during which nearly 30 speakers gave testimonials over a 3-hr. period answering the three questions posed by City Council: What does your agency do to address the issue of homelessness? What do you see as the flaws in the system to provide necessary services to end homelessness? What do you believe are the solutions to ending homelessness?

     The forum brought an audience of about 150, with a surprising lack of media present- only one photographer and one cameraperson from the city access station but a number of print reporters.

     Points repeatedly addressed include the need for affordable housing, supportive services, homeless prevention/intervention programs, rental assistance, and more funding from state and federal governments. Suggested reasons for the continued 18-year increase in homelessness included welfare reform, the current recession, and loss of affordable housing with a decrease in “real” income.

   Ron Reinhart of Founder’s Path, formerly homeless himself, stressed the need for more direct input from the homeless community, support for the Housing First Initiative, and the need for diverse solutions for a diverse homeless population. And those diverse voices were heard.

     Willis Thomas of 2100 Lakeside quietly asked that officials listen to homeless people an provide more than just a roof over their heads; “the public thinks sitting off the curb and inside is good enough.”

     As Charles A. Williams Jr. of 2100 Lakeside later stated, “I am a working man and I am homeless…I have no problem with working hard.” He lamented over the public view that all homeless people are alcoholics or drug addicts. He reiterated the need for housing for the working poor, as was also mentioned by Pete Domanovic, who posited the idea of a working man’s shelter, subsidized by government funds, but mostly self-sufficient.

     In fact, the long-term homeless only make up about 25% of the entire homeless population. However, they use 60%-70% of the resources set aside for homeless services according to national studies. The solution many advocates and providers forward for this part of the population is permanent supportive housing. This arrangement allows a stable apartment for individuals with the services they need in-house, while also freeing up that money for the other 25,000 people in Cleveland every year who find themselves homeless for a shorter period of time. As of 2002, agencies in Cuyahoga County provided permanent supportive housing for about 900 people. However, only 50 of those units are “contractually restricted” to homeless people.

    Some speakers mentioned the individual barriers to housing, namely that of a criminal record or past eviction, especially when it comes to a private landlord reviewing a tenant. Not only that, but discharges from prison account for a high number of homeless in Cleveland, significantly more so than in other U.S. cities. Mike Foley of the Cleveland Tenants Organization also pointed to the record number of evictions in 2001, commenting that our society is creating “a population of urban nomads.”

     Many speakers, especially providers, pointed to a need for more funding in particular areas or a redirecting of those funds. For example, Gail Long of Merrick House stressed the need for more Section 8 vouchers, noting that when the program was last opened in 2000, 35,000 people applied for the 6,000 available vouchers. She also called for a moratorium on the destruction of any rental units without an equal number of replacement units developed. Gail asked for a moratorium on all homeownership programs, which generally result in the loss of funds directed at affordable housing.

    With all the finger pointing toward state and national cuts in housing and social services, Mike Foley of CTO also kept local officials in check, stating that promoting a state and national Housing Trust Fund “shouldn’t be an excuse” for not raising resources at the local level.

    Furthermore, Meg Slifcak of West Side Collaborative pointed out that not all the flaws in this system are financial, stating the need (especially with impending cuts to housing and social services) for efficient use of current funds and taking care not to duplicate services of other providers while other areas lack. Hers was an especially good point, given that there is no oversight committee or audit of providers and programs that receive the majority of their funding from the county and city.

     This lack of oversight is a point mentioned repeatedly by homeless individuals and later noted by Brian Davis of NEOCH. He also pointed out, in regards to outpatient drug and mental health programs, “It is a waste of time to work on other problems if the person does not have stable housing.” Success rates plummet when an individual must return to the previous harmful environment, whether an emergency shelter or the streets.

     At the end, Dan Kerr had a variety of points for the remainder of the audience, drawn from countless interviews with homeless individuals. He began his testimonial with a quote from one of these interviews: “We go on marches and we go to rallies, but no one listens. You know why they don’t listen? Because there is too much money to be made on homelessness as it exists today.” He went on to describe the exploitation of homeless workers by the day labor agencies.

    The sum of the forum appeared to be that there is not one simple solution; we will have to work at this issue from many different angles to serve the varying populations within the homeless community, but still in a well-orchestrated effort. Nevertheless, the overwhelming opinion from a majority of the speakers was that Housing First was a necessary starting point on the road to ending homelessness in our county.

Copyright The Homeless Grapevine Issue 59, February-March 2003, Cleveland, Ohio

Cleveland City Council Hearing Attempts to End Homelessness

Commentary by Daniel Kerr

     It is clear by all indications that we are in the midst of an economic crisis as the recession deepens. And it is also true that within every crisis there is an opportunity. Several city officials have taken the opportunity presented by our current calamity to discuss how we can resolve the intransigent problem of homelessness. While this is certainly a noble effort, it will only bear fruit if we unflinchingly look back and come to grips with the stark reality that homelessness is not only a phenomenon of recession, but is a social problem that escalated during the so called “boom times” of the 1990s. We must use this current opportunity to restructure the social landscape in a way that addresses the factors that lead to homelessness not only in the worst of times but also the best of times.

     Puzzled by the persistence of homelessness in the mid-1990s, I began examining the phenomenon from the bottom up. In the public parks, under the bridges, on the sidewalks, and in the shelters of this city, I began asking the homeless how and why homelessness developed and persisted as a social problem. Early on, I was presented by a paradox and a challenge by John Appling:

     It takes the efforts, man, of all of us homeless people to get together and try and come up with solutions. But they don’t want to hear our ideas. We go on homeless marches. We go on homeless outings. And we tell them what’s the problem. We know what the problem is. But they don’t listen to us. You know why? Because there’s big dollars involved now.

     The problem cannot be addressed by simply knowing causes and solutions; it can only be addressed by challenging significant economic interests invested in the status quo. But how could anyone be profiting off of homelessness? Isn’t homelessness a condition of severe poverty? The answer to this paradox has been consistently hammered home to me in hundreds of interviews with homeless people in the city of Cleveland. The challenge to address this oppression is one for all of us to take up.

     The nexus of homelessness has been broken down to me as having five interlocking aspects. The first has to do with the establishment of a downtown playground for the rich. While the city has paid hundreds of millions of dollars for new stadium complexes designed for the super rich, the basic needs of the residents of the city have languished. Many of these projects, such as the Gateway complex and the Cleveland State Convocation Center, have been built over districts that used to contain the city’s working-class hotels where poor people could obtain rooms for a few dollars a night. Ironically the projects that have undermined the survival base of working class Clevelanders have been funded by one of the most regressive forms of taxation – “sin” taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

    Secondly, the massive expansion of the prison industrial complex, based on the so-called war on drugs, has ensnared a growing number of non-violent offenders who come from economically devastated neighborhoods. Not only does the criminal justice system disproportionately warehouse working-class people of color, when ex-offenders finish serving their time they face major barriers in finding housing and jobs because of their criminal records. As a result many ex-offenders are pushed into the ranks of an emerging “untouchable class” and forced to depend on the shelter system and temporary day labor agencies.

     Contrary to popular stereotypes, the substantial majority of homeless people in the city of Cleveland have family, friends and roots in the city. When asked where they grew up, most of the homeless in the city’s emergency shelters can name the streets and neighborhoods where their family owned homes or rented apartments – frequently located on Cleveland’s eastside or near west side. On many of the same plots of land that the current homeless used to live, one can now find $300,000 single-family homes. Many of these homes have been significantly subsidized by the city through tax abatements, land giveaways and demolition costs. The “revitalization” or more aptly the “gentrification” projects have caused severe housing shortages that have caused overcrowding in the remaining working-class districts. Displaced residents have either fled to deteriorating inner ring suburbs, been “housed” in the state’s prisons, or have found their way to the downtown shelters.

     While housing is no longer in the reach of many working-class Clevelanders, they have also seen a significant deterioration in their working conditions in the past thirty years as a result of massive economic restructuring. Businesses have sought to cut their costs through a series of management strategies based on flexible or just-in time production tactics. Rather than building loyalty and providing economic security to a large base of permanent workers, these companies have become dependent on a temporary labor pool that they can let go at a moment’s notice without worrying about benefit packages, workers compensation or unemployment insurance premiums. A large portion of the companies’ risks has essentially been displaced onto the workers. As a result the temporary labor industry has skyrocketed in the past thirty years and engaged in some of the most unscrupulous labor practices. Homeless day laborers spend fourteen hours a day waiting, traveling and working and come back to the shelter with 27-30 dollars in their pocket after agency fees have been subtracted. These are the workers who, with minimal safety protection and training, do the region’s dirtiest, hottest, most labor intensive and dangerous jobs.

    To meet the most basic housing needs of this growing population of displaced working-class Clevelanders, the city has developed a series of homeless shelters and services that are concentrated in the warehouse district just east of the city – a homeless segregated district for Cleveland’s untouchable citizens. These shelters provide just enough to keep the homeless alive and mollified so that they can go back to work another day. They are run by non-profit agencies which angle for government contracts and consistently refuse to allow shelter residents to have any control over their living situation. While on one hand politicians rave about the value of deconcentrating the poor, usually while they are giving away land and subsidies to the rich, these same politicians do not dare allow housing for the homeless in their wards. Ironically they have created with the establishment of the emergency shelters a hyper-concentration or institutionalization of the poor. It is no wonder that many homeless term the shelters “open penitentiaries.”

     While non-profit service agencies benefit from government contracts to operate shelters, downtown and neighborhood developers cash in from the displacement of working-class Clevelanders, higher up drug dealers, police, prison guards and contractors benefit from the rise of the prison industrial complex, and area businesses and labor agencies profit from the exploitation of their workers, an entrenched system of homelessness continues.

     The matrix of oppression looks bleak. The traditional means of dealing with poverty in the twentieth century are not available to us today. Requests for assistance from the Republican controlled federal government and the Republican dominated state legislature are unlikely to bear fruit. Many of the social service providers who have been managing the homeless have little interest in seeing things change. While an analysis of homelessness from the bottom-up provides a cogent understanding for why so little has changed in our efforts to address homelessness in the past twenty years, this analysis also provides a glimmer of hope. To see this glimmer, we need to look another direction.

     If the city is serious about using this present crisis as a time to establish systemic change that can do away with institutionalized homelessness and provide the means for people to live their lives with dignity and respect, it will have to tap into our most substantial resource: the homeless themselves. First the city and county will have to guarantee the right of the homeless to organize within the shelters that they pay for and so that the homeless residents can have some control over their present living conditions. Supporting the day laborers initiative to set up an alternative non-profit hiring hall as an alternative to the abusive day labor agencies would provide a substantial second step. These two initiatives could be linked up into a broader strategy to develop sustainable housing for the homeless through a city sponsored homesteading program.

     Ironically, while thousands of Clevelanders are homeless, the city has a surplus of vacant and abandoned housing that could provide the basis for a solution to the homeless crisis. By designing training programs through the community hiring hall in conjunction with the building trades and linking these programs to city sponsored tool lending libraries, the homeless could provide the skills and labor necessary to construct and rehab their own homes. Support services evaluated and approved by the homeless could be tied into these networks. Facilities rehabbed by the homeless could provide a base for social services, cultural facilities and organizing in the surrounding neighborhoods.

     At the root of our hope is the basic fact that all the issues important to the homeless are issues that impact the broader community. Organizing around these issues potentially draws into a movement large segments of the working class in the region. It is our challenge and opportunity in this current moment to build a grassroots movement that can mobilize this base and transform the city’s social and economic landscape.

Copyright The Homeless Grapevine Issue 59, February-March 2003, Cleveland, Ohio

 

 

Commentary on Throwing Good Money After Bad to End Homelessness

Commentary by Pete Domanovic

     On Thursday January 9, 2003, the City Council held a hearing on affordable housing and ending homelessness in the city of Cleveland. Well, good luck. All the service providers needed more money to slam us into decency, and all we want is a little help. I think that half of them just realized that a lot of the homeless are not chemically dependant, or mentally ill (42%).

     The question now comes, why is it that low wage earners need to go to chemical dependence classes, learn again how to fill out applications, take budgeting classes, when the only real problem would be, they don’t earn enough money? I have even been made to quit a job to learn how to fill out an application.

     Is it our fault that employers don’t pay enough? They try to convince us that it is strictly our fault, and we need what they offer, and sometimes we go to hell because we have less than others. They tell us not to accept jobs that don’t pay enough, but not that only 3 of us are going to get livable wage jobs this year. We are failures because we don’t make enough. Must’ve been the extra candy bar I bought that ruined me, huh?

     Food, shelter, and security. That would be the basic needs of any homeless person, or any person for that matter. When someone enters a shelter because of strictly economic reasons, that is pretty much all they are looking for. In one shelter in Cleveland, you can only stay one night. After that you have to join the program. If you do not fit the category that they get money for, you cannot stay, and you will sleep in the snow. The only compassion you will find, would be in the fundraisers voice, and they don’t talk to us.

     If we counted all the money wasted on the homeless providers, you would see that every person in every shelter could be put into a moderately priced hotel for the entire year, and you would still have a surplus of cash. They have the same philosophy that they had in the 1940’s. When you’re stuck on stupid, that’s one thing, but this is intentional interference to keep alive the cash cow.

Copyright The Homeless Grapevine Issue 59, February-March 2003, Cleveland, Ohio

Care Alliance Attempts to Renew Mission toward Those without Medical Coverage

by Kylene Golubski

     Care Alliance is starting the new year with new CEO Linda Somers, and a renewed focus on its mission to provide free, high quality healthcare and related services to the homeless and low-income of greater Cleveland. Somers has served as interim CEO since October when John J. McKinney resigned, and was asked in early January to assume the position permanently.

     “I am emotionally involved with this agency and committed to reaching more of the needy in our community by providing easier, more convenient access to our services,” stated Somers. “We want to expand the number of locations we provide service from, primarily through strengthened partnerships with other providers in the homeless arena.” Care Alliance’s long list of partnerships includes The Cleveland Catholic Charities, The Salvation Army, and The Cleveland Clinic.

     Care Alliance is still tabulating the numbers for 2002, but estimates it serviced 3,300 individuals during 2001. Somers expects this number to increase in 2003 because of both an increase in need, and the organization’s increased ability to service the outlying counties.

     “Key to achieving our goals is finding more people willing to donate their time and volunteer,” stated Somers. “This agency has done a fantastic job with limited resources, but we’ll need more doctors, nurses and clerical support to fuel our expansion.”

     Securing additional funding will be another challenge. Care Alliance’s current funding sources include The Department of Health and Human Services’ Bureau of Primary Care, the United Way, and a handful of private donors.

     “We will be exploring additional grants that the agency may be eligible for and I’d like to get more private donors on board as well,” stated Somers.

     Additional recent personnel changes within the agency include the departure of Jay Gardner Director of Development, and Art Wicinski, part-time CFO. Brian Merlini is the current Finance Director and the Director of Development is not immediately being filled.

     Somers posseses extensive experience in both healthcare administration and non-profit agency management. Her list of credentials includes serving as senior vice president of Holy Cross Hospital and management positions with Kaiser, Prudential and Anthem. She recently completed two years of charity work with the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic before returning to Cleveland.

     “I wanted to get back closer to the people, to have direct interaction and impact,” stated Somers when  asked why she accepted the CEO position permanently.

     Those in need of medical treatment can currently go to one of the following Cleveland locations: The Riverview Towers at 1795 West 25th, The King Kennedy Estates at 6001 Woodland Avenue, the City Mission at 2100 Lakeside, or the Care Alliance Homeless Person’s Health Center at 2227 Payne Avenue.

Copyright The Homeless Grapevine Issue 59, February-March 2003, Cleveland, Ohio

Blanket Distribution Starts with Trip to the Ballet at Christmas

by John Cartwright

     A snowy Christmas Eve, a Cleveland Playhouse rendition of The Nutcracker, and one very young and naive child and his mother enjoy the show. This seems like the beginning of an innocent and pleasurable night on the town for a young child and his mother. The child, Joey Bucci, found suffering this night amid all the fancy clothes and aloof, fancy people. What he saw changed him forever.

     He was only a child of six when his mother took him to a showing of the Nutcracker in Downtown Cleveland, Ohio. But what he saw was more than just a ballet. What he saw changed his outlook on his all too young life forever. For Joey Bucci , after attending this ballet in the middle of the Christmas season seven years ago, asked his mother why these people were pushing carts and carrying luggage around the City of Cleveland at night in the middle of winter.

     He was so concerned, in his youthful way, that he asked his mother if she could go home and get some of the blankets that they had at their home and bring them back to the unfortunate people he saw that night.

     Thus began a seven-year-long campaign by Joey and his family to help alleviate the suffering of some of the homeless people in the Greater Cleveland, Ohio and Geauga County areas.

     For this child of six years of age saw a problem and was not afraid to say that he knew that he could do something to help. So with the help of his family, he has been attempting to alleviate the suffering.

     Here is a child who saw poverty and suffering first hand. Here is a child who—unlike others—was so saddened by that very poverty, which he saw that night that it awakened a concern unlike any other in him. He was compelled to do something about what he saw in this glamorous and prosperous urban center.

     I decided to ask the people around Joey where he gets his inspiration. I called the Munson, Ohio Fire Department and spoke with the Fire Department Chief Bernie Harchar. He told me that Joey Bucci started this when he was seven years of age. His family got involved from the beginning by sending out flyers and that he wanted to use the fire department as a drop-off center for this campaign.

“The amount of things that he has collected and stored here has filled up the place since he started doing this. He also has a lot of other things stored in other places, also. I was impressed with the response from the community,” said the chief. “People are bringing in new items with the price tags still on them. I think that he is showing the people of Munson Township that if they chip in and help, that they can make a difference. It is amazing to see the number of blankets that are still in their packages, gloves and hats with the price tags still on them and other items that people are bringing in,” said Chief Harchar.

     “He has a heart of gold and cares an awful lot about people for a young man of his age. I understand that this all started when his parents took him downtown and saw a bunch of people pushing carts and carrying bags and his parents explained what homeless people were. I think that this was the inspirational point in his life,” said Chief Harchar.

     “I hope that the readers of this newspaper understand that this is a thirteen-year-old boy who has been doing this for seven years and will be probably be doing this for some time to come. The reason for this is because they are planning to do this again next year as I understand it,” said Chief Harchar.

     Susan Bucci, Joey’s mother said, “I think that he is becoming an activist in this matter and he wants to do it every year. People start calling to find out if we are going to collect stuff at the fire station every year. This has become a tradition in the township every year around Christmas. The family collects stuff from the Cleveland Carpenter’s union and local Geauga County churches and stores. We send out flyers about the ‘Warm a Heart Blanket Collection’ as it has become to be known in the Munson Township area. This is what Joey has called it since the beginning of it all.”

     Here’s to you, young Joey Bucci. You are making a difference in the lives of those around you. Not only are homeless people, who you are helping, grateful, but the people who contribute can help to change the world one blanket at a time. The people of greater Cleveland, and the citizens of Munson Township have all been affected in a positive way these small acts of kindness. While the ballet has closed up shop, homelessness has only increased. We need many more Joey Bucci’s delivering blankets to those who do not go into shelters.

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine Issue 59, February-March 2003, Cleveland, Ohio