Editorial: Sleeping in Cleveland’s Public Space Dramatically Increasing

            With the attacks on Public Square, community attention has focused on those that sleep outside. Police, outreach workers, and homeless people report a sharp increase in the number of people that sleep outside Downtown. It is important to keep in mind that from 2000-2002, Cleveland saw a much smaller number of people sleeping outside downtown for more than two years. The strategies of providing spaces and services for people outside worked. The strategy of police arrests Mayor Michael White Administration from the 1990s had not worked, but after the dust settled from the many lawsuits, the community began to turn things around. Cleveland and Cuyahoga County officials had put in place the proper shelters, drop in services, showers, and meals to attract people indoors. What has changed over the last year??

            Businesses are concerned about the image of an unsafe environment with so many people sleeping outside. The police are worried about the inability to address the crime that takes places downtown some of it has to do with the fact that many do not have private space to do common bodily functions. There is also the problem of feeding addictions in public or self-medicating to cure a mental disorder. Finally, we cannot ignore the criminal element that hides within the homeless community. Convention boosters and hotels hate the number of visibly homeless people downtown. They do not care enough to open up their large number of vacant rooms to people in need so that they do not have to sleep outside, but that is beside the point.

            Politicians avoid the subject or feel overwhelmed by the scope of the problem, and homeless people hate having to be exposed to the elements and to predators outside. Most of the people who sleep outside hate the other option of shelter, which take away an individual’s self worth and dignity even worse than the prospect of sleeping outside. They cannot accept all the rules, the corrections environment and the overcrowded conditions of shelters, and would rather risk a stay on the streets.

            We at the Grapevine feel that it is a disgrace to have people sleeping outside in the richest country in the history of the world. We think that it is unbelievable that in most American cities that features towering skyscrapers symbolizing man’s ability to overcome nature and demonstrate our dominance over every other nation in the world, we have shivering addicts, refugees, and the unemployed waiting for a brighter day. We have put together our suggestions for how to turn this situation around. These are the steps necessary in order to significantly reduce the number of people sleeping outside in Cleveland.

            1. The limiting of the meal site/drop in center at the Bishop Cosgrove Center at East 18th and Superior has forced many men onto the streets during the day. This was a valuable service in the community that was forced to limit access by men when the women’s shelter moved into the facility. This displaced the men and they “hang out” until the shelter opens in the late afternoon.

            Solution: Return the Drop In Services to the Cosgrove: After the women move out of the Bishop Cosgrove, Center, the drop in services needs to be restored. This will only happen with support from the community. It costs just over $400,000 to operate a daytime facility that allow 200 people to stay inside and out of the elements. The community needs to come together and support the effort to re-create and sustain a daytime drop in center.

            2. We have a compassionate and broad range of groups that want to help homeless people downtown. Couple this with the fact that the trained outreach workers are very good at what they do, and it is very easy to survive on the streets. This is not to say that the existence is not tough, but getting food, clothing and a blanket is not that difficult. This makes it easier to choose to stay outside.

            Solution: There is nothing we can do about the distribution of food: Other cities have unsuccessfully tried to limit distribution of food with little success. They have also had to engage in high legal expenses when trying to ban feeding programs. Religious people will try to serve others down on their luck by providing food and other items on the street no matter what laws exist.

            3. The shelters in Cleveland are too strict. For many, the shelters have too many rules for an adult, and they choose to live with the relative freedom of the outdoors. No matter how unsafe it is or how bad the weather, they will choose to be outside. The reality is that in the shelters the individual has to fight for a bed, shower, clothing, and food, while sleeping outside the individual is sought out by church groups and people who want to give stuff to those who are outside. By creating a less restrictive environment, we could convince many to come inside.

            Solution: The City needs to reassert authority: We need to urge the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to re-establish control over the shelters. They need to become very active in the management and oversight of the men’s shelters, especially the one at 2100 Lakeside. The shelters need to return to their roots of serving those in need out of mission and not just based on funding. Start utilizing volunteers, community teams of support, and work together on solutions. The shelters need to maximize the use of the resources and space that they have available. We need a massive infusion of volunteers to help the shelters.

            4. The changes in weather cause an increase in the number of people outside. There are always more people outside in nicer weather because the shelters have so many rules. Since 2000, we have not seen nearly this number of people outside and downtown as we see today. We will always see an increase in the summer, but nowhere near what we have seen this last year.

            Solution: We cannot do anything about the weather, but that will not stop some cities from trying.

            5. The main shelter has changed to limit the numbers that enter. We have lost the shelter that opens its door to whomever needs assistance for men. This was one of the unique features of Cleveland that you could always get shelter if you wanted it for the last twelve years. Now there are barriers that we have created because of budget issues, which mean that if a homeless person finds their way to the shelter they may or may not get a space. There were also other subtle changes made in an effort to manage the huge numbers. Many of the guys got the message that the shelter was beginning to have the atmosphere of a corrections facility and did not like this trend. Others found that they had to wait for a bed, and left. The result is that many chose to sleep outside instead of in the shelter.

            Solution: 2100 Lakeside should accept anyone coming to the door. The main shelter needs to go back to its roots and accept everyone who comes to the door. If the provider will not do this, then I suggest getting a new provider. There are at least two other providers that are willing to accept whomever comes to the door. With better coordination and a demand that the rest of the shelter fully utilize their space, 2100 Lakeside could serve a more manageable number of guests.

            6. The overflow shelters are closed or are closing. The three overflow shelters that were supposed to accommodate the more than 100 men above the capacity of 2100 Lakeside Shelter who had previously slept on mats on the floors are now closing. The County had opened temporary shelters for the approximately 100 extra men per night so that they did not turn anyone away. Two of the three overflow shelters have closed, and 2100 Lakeside Shelter will only allow 400 people inside at a time. This has forced people to wait on the loading dock of the shelter at night until a bed opens up. For many it is not worth waiting, and they leave. It is no wonder that we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of people sleeping on Public Square and downtown.

            Solution: Open an overnight drop in center: Reopen a nighttime drop in service in one of the many abandoned buildings in the industrial areas of town. This space could be a safe place for people to go or sleep or get coffee or just a place to sit. We believe that homeless people could be trusted to manage the facility themselves so that we would not need to pay an agency or church to manage it. After all, in the 10 plus years of homeless people sleeping on mats on the floors at Project Heat there were no serious injuries.

            There are plenty of organizations that would be willing to donate assistance in setting this up. We have to believe that downtown businesses would be willing to pay a security guard to be stationed at the facility in order to assure it would be a safe place. It seems that the local business community would be willing to pay for a security guard, if it meant that people did not sleep on Public Square.

            If the City convened a meeting of every church group that feeds outside, City officials could attempt to redirect those energies toward feeding the people at this nighttime drop in center.
We believe that this would result in 50 fewer people sleeping on Public Square on a daily basis. It will take the City of Cleveland to convene this community response.

            Solution: We need to build trust with the men who sleep outside. My suggestions is to approach the Growth Association or Downtown Partners, and ask them to pay for the fixing of the drinking fountain on Public Square and to provide a couple of Port-o-Johns (placed out of the way) available to homeless people. In exchange for these conveniences, ask that the guys refrain from publicly drinking alcohol and take on nightly clean-up duties to keep the space clean. This would be a first step to re-integrating them back into society, and this could happen immediately. I think that if you made this deal with the men and tested it after 3 months, we would all see a noticeable improvement downtown.

            Solution: Construct a Pay to Stay Facility: There are as many as 40% of the men’s shelter population that work or have some income. Unfortunately, in Cleveland we only have the Jay Hotel available to people who have problems signing a lease, but can afford to pay rent. We propose starting a not for profit Pay to Stay that could respond to the emergency housing needs of homeless people. While there would be costs associated with starting a Pay to stay, it would be much cheaper than a shelter and would be self-sustaining after the renovation and startup costs.

            Solution: Address the Alcohol and Drug Problems in Our Community: Sometime, we are going to have to address the alcohol problems that exist in our community. We can give out tickets for public intoxication or open container, but that will not solve the problem. I see only three options to address this problem:

            a. File a lawsuit against the makers and distributors of alcohol, and force them to pay for residential treatment. This would be similar to the tobacco lawsuit, in that they produce and market an addictive substance that, used as directed, causes some to over indulge. Take what we learned from the tobacco case, and use it to get public health dollars into the city for substance abuse. At this time, we are almost to the point that the only residential treatment that is available in the community is through the courts.

            b. Demand the state of Ohio funded Alcohol and Drug Board to provide residential treatment to all of the people in need. They have failed miserably to address the problems of homeless people with addiction problems.

            c. Turn over space in the community for alcoholics who are without housing to drink without being harassed. (Whiskey Island is the appropriately named space.) I am kidding about Whiskey Island, but alcoholism exists, and we will not stop addiction by giving out open container tickets. Let us find a safe space to address this problem.

            The Grapevine editors realize that these are sometimes counter intuitive suggestions, but we are sure that this would reduce the number of people downtown to nearly unnoticeable numbers. We feel that this will have a significant impact on panhandling and the image of the City. We all agree that something needs to be done, and we have seen what can be done successfully in Cleveland. We have also seen cities fail in their strategies to deal with homeless people including San Francisco and Cincinnati. The Grapevine proposals are not very expensive, and we believe would have a huge impact on the problems downtown. The strategies that most cities have taken are expensive and have failed; it is our hope that we can choose the better path.

Copyright to the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio in September 2003 in Issue 62.

OHS Marks 11 Years of Raising Homeless Money

by Tammy Antonille

            The City and County funded Office of Homeless Services has passed the milestone of ten years in existence, and champions the funding generated by the office as its greatest accomplishment. Activists in the community claim that Office has significant challenges, but very few successes after 10 years in operation.

            It was difficult to get information from Cuyahoga County and specifically OHS staff about the tenth anniversary of this office. Cuyahoga County Commissioner Tim McCormack promised an interview, which never materialized, and director Ruth Anne Gillett only sent formal documents that did not directly answer the questions that were asked. But through other interviews and available statistics, from the information collected the Office has coordinated a large amount of public funding to address the problem of homelessness. In the last eight years over $81.1 million has been received because of the work of the staff of OHS. Of that total $77.4 million was received through competitive contracts, but according to Brian Davis of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless a great deal of these federal funds are divided up among the urban communities and the states within the United States.

            Davis, executive director of NEOCH, said, “The reality is that the federal funds are there for Cleveland and Cuyahoga County to take. If we horribly mess up on the application then we would loose the money, but otherwise the $14 million per year is reserved for Greater Cleveland. There is a complicated formula which determines how much goes to each city if they complete the application to the satisfaction of officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.”

            Ruth Gillett, the current Director of the Office of Homeless Services, was contacted by phone several times. Eventually an e-mail was sent asking her to respond to a specific set of questions. In return we received a fact sheet on the office and the goals and mission of the Office of Homeless Services Advisory Board which is supposed to provide community input and oversight to OHS activities. This board meets only four times a year and is mandated to accomplish a list of seven goals (see insert). The goals, including facilitating interagency and intergovernmental cooperation to assure private sector collaboration and participation as well as clarifying and prioritizing the goals of the body that created the Office of Homeless Services.

            Any board that is mandated to meet a minimum of four times per year would have difficult time advising on these important issues according to Davis. Donna Hawk, the Chair of the OHS Advisory Board, stated that the OHS could improve and accomplish much more but are seriously understaffed. When she was asked about the goals and mission of the OHS she went immediately to describing how good the OHS office was at attaining funds. She stated that OHS was originally set up to be the central place for proposal development for federal funds to benefit the county and city in order to maximize the local funding received. She acknowledged that the goals have shifted and broadened, but was clear on the fact that OHS was good at attaining funding.

            Davis has presented a list of goals for the office that are important to homeless people, and feels that the OHS has become “captured” by social service providers to the exclusion of homeless people. “I think that the Office is too friendly toward the major service provider empires that has matured over the last 10 years. The staff and advisory board has no relationship with homeless people, which is a serious barrier to solving the problems of homeless people. They do not even have a legitimate mechanism to hear grievances from homeless people who stay in County or City funded shelters in our community,” said Davis.

            What was missing from the documents Ruth Gillett sent from her office was clear sense of the mission of the OHS. One bullet from the fact sheet states that the purpose of OHS is to develop a Continuum of Care for the Homeless Services, coordinate services, assist in planning and increase resources. Clearly the office acknowledges that they are responsible for making sure the funds are distributed to the organizations that are making progress towards the goal of ending homelessness, and to organizations that have the most impact on the problem. But, except for the fact that funds were attained by the office, there is no other positive news to share.

            In fact, the impact of some of the organizations that received funding is questionable at best. Homelessness has increased in Cleveland for the last 18 years according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. This is certainly not caused by OHS especially in the current climate of unemployment and the state of the economy, but staff and advisory board has not forwarded any real solutions to address this rising affordable housing crisis, perpetual low wages, or lack of health care in the area. It could be that they are understaffed as Donna Hawk, current director of Transitional Housing Inc., suggests. However, there are no notes from the Advisory Board minutes, which indicate that any member has ever suggested that the Office is understaffed or suggested a remedy that would involve an increase in staff. OHS has four current staff and has one additional staff in development, which is expected to be filled in the next two months. NEOCH also has four full time staff, but relies on a large national service contingent and volunteers to complete the huge workload.

            Bill Resseger is the City’s liaison to the OHS. His role is to interact with the OHS on the issues, problems and ideas concerning homelessness. Resseger was also complementary of the ability of the office to raise funds, but he clearly stated what he felt the mission of the OHS should be. He suggested that they should address the needs of the homeless, including shelter and services but also have the goal to support a plan to move the homeless community back into permanent housing. He states that the biggest challenge of the office is understanding and changing the social and economic dynamics that create the problem. He also states that an array of powers and interests have to come together to address the problem.

            Resseger has a long history in working with homelessness and those with housing problems. Resseger, Davis and Hawk all agree that community leaders have got to make solving the problems associated with homelessness a high priority. Community leaders include owners of companies, media, City Council, religious leaders, and regional elected officials, and all those interviewed agreed that for the most part homelessness does not have the same energy directed at finding solutions as it did ten years ago.

            In order for the funds to be distributed properly, in order for shelters to be built, maintained and supported in the community, in order for the city of Cleveland to make progress towards ending homelessness, we need to come together as a community and understand our strengths and weaknesses according to Sr. Donna Hawk who was part of the body that recommended the creation of the Office.

            Recently, the Board voted to look at the goals of the Office of Homeless Services in order to re-evaluate its operation and set priorities. There are many concerns over planning, funding, viability of the existing programs, and effectiveness of the OHS to coordinate this diverse group of programs that should be addressed over the next six months. There are some broader community concerns like why is the business community not involved, has Cleveland fallen behind other cities in addressing homelessness, and are we getting the outcomes from the huge expense spent by the community that need to be answered by elected officials.

            Securing federal and state funds in order to support programs for the homeless is undeniably important. Coordinating this funding and completing the application is critically important in the community. But according to NEOCH and other leaders in the community that may be all the OHS has successfully accomplished over the last 10 years.

            It certainly raises a red flag for a journalist when there is such hesitancy, secrecy, and unwillingness to communicate to the media on all that was done over the last 10 years. Normally, agencies are overwhelmed to talk about the great work that they do, and shine a light on their accomplishments. “OHS staff and County officials are understandably hesitant to talk about the role of OHS in addressing this homeless crisis, because there are so many shortfalls in the grand plans of the early 1990s,” said Davis.

Copyright the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio September 2003 in Issue 62.

 

National Homeless News

San Francisco War Continues

            For the past two decades, homelessness is the dividing line in San Francisco mayoral politics. That tradition continues with an assault on panhandlers and the defeat of the Care Not Cash ballot issue. Supervisors in San Francisco voted down an initiative passed by voters in 2002 to remove cash assistance from homeless people and instead provide additional services. The courts in San Francisco ruled much of the initiative to be illegally passed. The judge ruled that welfare policy must be voted and passed by the Board of Supervisors, and not by ballot issue. While Care Not Cash fell, supervisor were working on placing a new ballot issue that would severely limit the ability for people to ask for money on the streets of San Francisco.

            A new medical examiner’s study was released in August that shows a dramatic increase in the number of homeless people who died in San Francisco. The study found that 169 homeless people died between July 2002 through June 2003. The medical examiner had found 71 had died in the year that began in 2001 and 135 homeless people had died in the year that began in 2000. The figures from the medical examiners office do not handle every death in the city, and so is not a comprehensive study of homeless deaths.

            In a small bit of good news in San Francisco, rental rates have dropped significantly over the last two years after the collapse of the tech stocks. During the height of the “dot com” businesses flying high on wall street it was difficult to find housing or even to find a landlord that was willing to accept a housing voucher backed by the Federal government. Since 2000, rents have dropped by 40%. Before 2000 only 150 landlords listed their properties with the Housing Authority as accepting a voucher, while in 2003 there are 4,000 landlords listed according to the Los Angeles Times. The National Low Income Housing Coalition still lists San Francisco as one of the most expensive rental market in the United States with a one bedroom apartment averaging $1,482 per month or a family seeking a two bedroom apartment must earn $34.13 per hour in order to afford the fair market rent.

Cincinnati Escalating its War on Homeless People

            The Cincinnati City Council Passed a resolution to put signs under all the freeway underpasses declaring “No Trespassing.” This all but kills the settlement talks between the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless and the City of Cincinnati over the sweeps of homeless people. City Council passed voted 5-4 to post the signs and begin to clear away the camps 72 hours after the sign goes up. The effort was led by Council member Chris Monzel, who complained that he and his family witnessed a homeless person performing natural bodily functions in public under an overpass.

            There were protests at the Council meeting, which had recently passed an anti-panhandling ordinance. The National Coalition for the Homeless had listed Cincinnati as the sixth meanest city toward homeless people in the United States.

San Antonio Women Denied Shelter Over Religious Beliefs

            A Muslim women and her children were reportedly denied shelter by the San Antonio Salvation Army shelter. She told a San Antonio television station that officials from the Salvation Army told everyone after a meal that they needed to join a Bible study class. Nadia Auxila informed the staff that she was Muslim and could not attend the Bible class, and the staff at the Salvation Army said that the family would have to leave. The family packed their clothing and left the shelter. Officials at the Salvation Army are investigating, and claimed that Bible class was not required for stay at the emergency shelter.

Chicago Teens Video Tape Beatings of Homeless People

            A week after the stun gun attack in Cleveland, Chicago teens were apprehended kicking and beating homeless people in Downtown Chicago. The Chicago teens also videotaped their activities for a documentary that they were making. The teens were charged with mob action and assault. Two adults and one juvenile were arrested after a routine traffic stop raised questions about the videotape.

Massachusetts Cuts Funds for Mentally Ill Homeless

            On the heals of release of national study on the poor care toward mentally ill people in the United States, another state is cutting the budget to assist homeless people with severe mentally ill. The state is cutting $1.5 million, which will also result in the loss of $3.5 million in federal matching dollars to the beleaguered state agency. The anticipated effect of this budget cut is 80 to 100 people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder who will discharged from group homes and other housing units.

Glendale Bans “Camping” Among Homeless People

            It sounds so innocent and has this connotation of very American past time of “camping.” In reality, the City of Glendale Arizona has not outlawed the great American past time of camping, but has outlawed people without homes sleeping outside in public spaces. Many are priced out of the private housing market, and in Glendale, Arizona are prevented from using the public space. Police will be patrolling parks looking for people with bedding, tarps, extra clothing and other sleeping items to issue tickets.

More African Americans Will Enter Prison

            One in six, African American men were current or formerly incarcerated by the state according to a 2001 study by the United States Justice Department. According to the report, Black men born after 2001 will have a 32.2 percent chance of going to prison in their life time, while Hispanics have a 17.2 percent of going to prison, while Whites only have a 5.9 percent chance of going to prison. The number of incarcerated African American males in 2001 were 818,900 while only 600,000 African American’s were in college in 2001.

Sequel to “Bumfights” Video Goes on Sale.

            In previous issues of the Grapevine, there were details of criminal prosecution of a group of young aspiring movie makers who paid homeless people to fight and hurt themselves. A new sequel to that video, Bumfights 2, which reportedly features outtakes from the original went on sale in September. The original producers were brought up on criminal charges, but those were reduced to what activists have called “slaps on the wrists”. There is still a civil lawsuit proceeding in San Diego, California. The video is being sold by the same company as the original for $20 per copy. The civil lawsuit seeks damages for exploiting vulnerable populations and paying people food and a small amount of money to fight and hurt others.

Copyright of the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio September 2003 Issue 62.

 

Local Homeless News August 2003

            Cleveland Women’s Shelter: The current proposal that the County is working on is to relocate the women’s shelter to the two buildings previously owned by Care Alliance on Payne Ave. Grapevine readers will remember that these buildings were the subject of some dispute two years ago when the programs were abruptly closed and the residents discharged. Eventually, the Department of Housing and Urban Development intervened and forced Care Alliance to either give up the buildings or pay a substantial fine to the Federal government. HUD gave Cuyahoga County the responsibility to recommend a final disposition of the two buildings.

            2219 Payne Avenue had housed a temporary overflow shelter for men. In the beginning of 2003, there were as many as 60 men using the facility every night. The original plan was to use the facility to house a small safe haven for women. Eventually, it was decided to avoid the neighborhood opposition and the problems associated with relocating a shelter, the County decided to utilize these buildings as a replacement for the Catholic Charities shelter at the Bishop Cosgrove Center. This will involve the relocation of the health and dental clinic.

            There is some community opposition to the existing provider selected by the County (see page 5), and there were a few providers who wanted the building to be used for other purposes. Activists are pressing for a meeting with the women who use the shelter to resolve the issues.

            CMHA Annual Plan: The Public Housing waiting list has grown over the last six months to 9,000 people, and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority proposed ending the preference for homeless people to alleviate some of the strain on the system. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless asked supporters, shelters, and elected officials to condemn this idea. The City of Cleveland sent a letter saying that this proposal violated their planning efforts. At the public hearing, CMHA said that they had changed the plan to include homeless people again, because of the number of calls they received in opposition to this plan. The Plan for 2004 will include homeless people. There were a significant number of changes in the housing authorities in the plan for 2004. The changes can be viewed at the CMHA website www.cmha.net.

            Bring America Home Conference: There are 25 homeless people from Cleveland taking a bus to the conference in Washington D.C. convened by the National Coalition for the Homeless. A group of activists who serve a meal on Public Square went around to the shelters and drop in centers and encouraged homeless people to sign up to attend the conference. Twenty five were selected from Cleveland to attend the conference. There will be information on planning a shelter, domestic violence, health care, day laborers and jobs as well as the Bring America Home Act (HR2896). There will be a story in the next issue of the Grapevine about the conference.

Copyright of the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio September 2003 Issue 62.

 

Lending a Hand Up to Those on the Reservation

Photos and Story by Scott Smith

            In May of this year, I had the pleasure of being invited to go on a trip to a Native American reservation in South Dakota. The reason was to meet up with people from an organization called Mission of Love, out of Youngstown, Ohio. I first went to Ravenna to load the last of the donated items that were being transported to the site out there where all of the volunteers were to build a Hospice for terminally ill people on the reservation. It was to be run by the people for the people, and to include a full staff and administration. All the volunteers were some kind of construction gurus. I have done dry wall amongst other tasks. This time, though, I ran lights. Boxes and wire with an electrical engineer that came along with the group I rode out with. They had volunteers who cooked and mended and dealt with anxiety and frustration. As far as accommodations, we slept in tents we brought and there was also a tee pee if we wanted to use it. We stayed on the site. We ate in this hall that belonged to a church. We also showered there and made friends, new and old.

            We laughed, we cried, and we swapped stories from near and far. We shared photos, and we took new ones, with permission. The people of the reservation are still not over what has been done to them over the years and in the present, and may not trust a lot of the people who show up out there trying to be a do gooder. So you ask out of respect for them and the elders if it would be all right to take a picture with them. People are still disappearing out there and they know that the government is behind it and the BIA is in on it too! Why is it necessary to make people vanish? Just to prove they can? It usually happens because someone is going along with the American Indian Movement and trying to keep their heritage alive without government supervision. From what I see they are just regular people, trying to live their lives and looking for a better way for them and their children, just like anyone else. So why all the hardship for them? Why do people who have a terminal disease have to die on the land because of poverty? They don’t, thanks to a lady named Kathy Price and Mission of Love, along with every volunteer who puts a nail in a board or puts a smile on a child’s face. This is why the hospice is being erected and also why the Mission has built and will continue to build homes for those in need of one. People here in the city of Cleveland think that they have been done wrong. In some ways I must agree. Some of the homeless have gotten the shaft from a lot of people and organizations.

            Either way, there is a percentage that just doesn’t care what happens to them, and they do what they have to do to get by. It is the same on the Reservation. For example, a house was built last year for a guy and his family and of this year he still has no running water, no electricity and really no home. All that was given to him and because of the life he lives, or lived, he has taken no interest in this great project. Some one there would probably kill for that opportunity. So, I was told that this was the first hospice ever erected on a reservation in the U.S. or Canada and they were making a documentary on it, I believe.

             It’s just amazing what people can do when they get together and put love and caring into something and put prejudice aside, even though there are still one or two people who make Native jokes and smart remarks or just racist remarks about them but they were doing this job on this big project for the same people they were cutting down. I ask myself why? Is it for self-gratification? Are they hoping to get recognized in some way, shape, or form that may benefit them, or is it that they just have nothing better to do with their lives other than cut down others to make themselves feel superior?

            While I was there we had a giveaway and a lot of people came, even from as far as 30 miles away, just to get clothes, household items, food, and many other things we had sent from Ohio. We were invited to the high school for breakfast and lunch. The school was directly across from the church and the hospice site. I believe that the school has some sort of meal program that includes your family. A number of families were there enjoying lunch.

            We saw that there was a big dedication for a girl who was getting an award for a track record in the state or maybe even better. The one person who stands out though is a girl by the name of Sue Ann Big Crow. She won numerous awards for sports, especially basketball. They say that the only person to come close to her accomplishment in high school basketball is LeBron James. Because of this, the people of Pine Ridge hold Sue Ann Big Crow close to their hearts. She was killed in a car accident in 1996. They built a Boys and Girls Club after her for kids to stay out of trouble, and we visited it. It is a great place, and Sue Ann Big Crow’s mom is the Head Administrator. She is a beautiful spirit, and thanks to her, her daughter’s spirit lives on.

            The Reservation is beautiful and then again it can be very depressing. People in need, pets in need, everyone in need. I myself have nothing but I tried to give what I could. I felt like the richest man in the world being there from Cleveland, Ohio. I plan to go back as soon as it is financially possible for me to do so. I want to give another helping hand to the founding natives of this great land, even though sometimes I look around and wonder, what’s so great about all this, the noise, the pollution, the crime, the death. Why does it have to be like this? I guess it’s just the cycle of life; the way the Creator wanted it to be.

Copyright of the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio September 2003 in Issue 62.

Housing Grows “Out of Reach” in Most Cities

            According to a report released by the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), in conjunction with the National Low Income Housing Coalition, low-income workers in the greater Cleveland area must earn nearly three times the federal minimum wage or $14.46 per hour, if they are to afford rent for the average two-bedroom apartment. The report, entitled Out of Reach 2003: America’s Housing Wage Climbs, takes a detailed and much needed look at the ever-growing disparity between rental housing costs and the minimum wage.

            “Out of Reach shows all too well, that the affordable housing crisis in this state continues to worsen,” said Bill Faith, Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio. “As the economy tries to rebound from a slump not seen since the early 1990s, the gap between what people can afford to pay and the real costs of housing continues to widen at an unprecedented pace. Since 1997, the housing wage (the amount one must earn per hour for a 40 hour work week if they are to afford the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment) for the State of Ohio has jumped by more than 25 percentage points. To put this into context, the housing wage is nearly two-and-a-half times the minimum wage.”

            Faith continued, “The housing situation for people with incomes at the lower end of the spectrum in Ohio is even worse than it was last year. The bottom line is that people just don’t earn enough to be able to afford even modest rental housing,” said Faith. “It is unconscionable that people in this state who work full time still cannot afford a decent place to live. It is time to make the affordable housing crisis a priority in the State of Ohio and solve this problem once and for all. The state took a significant step in the right direction earlier this year, when it secured permanent and dedicated funding for the Ohio Housing Trust Fund, but more could be done to narrow the housing affordability gap. Ensuring that all the money generated by an increase in the county recordation fee goes to affordable housing efforts is one concrete step the state could take to narrow this gap,” said Faith.

According to the report:

• The housing wage (the amount one must earn) for a one-bedroom apartment in the Cleveland area is $11.65 per hour (or 226% of the minimum wage), the housing wage for a two-bedroom apartment is $14.46 per hour (or 281% of the minimum wage), and the housing wage for a three-bedroom apartment is $18.38 per hour (or 357% of the minimum wage).

•Minimum wage workers in the Cleveland area must work at least 91 hours per week to afford rent for a one-bedroom apartment, 112 hours per week to afford rent for a two-bedroom apartment, and 143 hours per week to afford rent for a three-bedroom apartment.

            Things are getting worse. Across the board within the state’s 88 counties, the amount one must earn to afford an apartment increased from 2002. Since 2000, the housing wage for the state has increased by more than 15 percentage points, while the inflation rate for the past three years has remained around two percent..

            More data for all of Ohio’s counties and Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA’s) are available at the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) website: www.nlihc.org. Click on Out of Reach 2003.

            The Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO) is a state-wide coalition of organizations and individuals committed to ending homelessness and to promoting safe, decent, and affordable housing for all, with an emphasis on assisting low-income persons and those with special needs. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless is the local lobbyist for homeless people in Cleveland. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) is the only national organization dedicated solely to ending America’s affordable housing crisis.

Copyright of the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio September 2003 Issue 62.

Commentary: Homeless People a Valuable Untapped Resource for Cleveland

By Peter Domanovic

The Community Hiring Hall:           

            The community hiring hall is not what anybody had in mind. When day laborers went to City Hall looking for some kind of help in trying to get a fair living wage, we expected the outcome to be for day laborers. I have yet to speak to one person who works at a day labor agency to say that he has ever heard of the Community Hiring Hall or the Day Laborer’s Organizing Committee. Not one! The employment specialists at the shelters that I have spoken to believed it was something that fell by the wayside. Editors Note: [The Hiring Hall started this summer with a small pilot program.]

            Day laborers get paid by the day. Community Hiring Hall pay’s weekly. [The Day Laborers now get paid by the day] Day laborer’s work when they need to, or can, Community Hiring Hall tries to place people directly into companies, and I heard that three have already been released for not passing a background check.

            After going to City Hall and pleading for something like my version of a hiring hall, which pretty much needed to be self supporting, I was pretty much pushed out the door. But still, no way did I believe that the organizers of the hiring hall were only trying to build their resumes on the backs of the poorest workers in the city. It was explained to me that that is what was going on by a person I have a lot of respect for. The person explaining this to me has done more for homeless people on one typical night than most people do in a lifetime. Exploitation comes many different ways.

            No way would I place any blame on the individuals working to try to make something from this mess, after all, they seem to believe the Hiring Hall came about a couple of months ago when the United Labor Agency (unions) dumped some money on them. The first meeting I attended with Union King John Ryan (AFLCIO), we were told by him not to trust anyone, including him. At the time, I thought we were there to ensure the unions that we were not trying to imitate them or steal jobs.

            Right now it seems that the only jobs they are allowed to get are the ones approved by the unions. I signed up with the Hiring Hall as part of their first 25 people, but they only have about ten jobs. And the way it looks now, that is all they are going to get. All for some one to pad their resume. How will we be exploited next? When I spoke to Day Labor’s representative last, he was a little heated about something I had written, and said to me “well all you wanted was a job”. Well, duh.

  Cleveland One Stop Career Center

            I finally returned to the One Stop Center, and found an entirely different atmosphere. There seems to be a lot more organization, and genuine concern for the clients now. I also learned about a lot of the problems they face with the homeless people. They constantly have the pan-handler group coming through, which I am not totally against, but they manage to get themselves involved deeper than they should. When the place winds up paying for an education that isn’t going to be used, that is a complete waste. While 40% of homeless are working people, the ones showing their face everyday are what we are judged by.

            There are a lot of homeless people who could benefit from training courses that are offered by The One Stop, but in trying to set some type of criteria, they get no cooperation from the shelter’s Transitional Living Programs (except Y-Haven). I had to leave one to get training. Though they have programs that claim to help them towards a future, it would seem some type of training would be essential, the shelter’s transitional programs have that blocked.

            Now there are still a lot of working people who cannot afford rent and have no one to share. That is a definite tragedy, and continues to send Cleveland into the third world. Just by showing a little cooperation within it’s own organization, The One Stop Center has turned 180 degrees to the better side. If only other organizations learned that working together makes better things. It means that your own prejudices must go on the back burner, and treat everyone equally. To a lot of you, that would be like burning your own hand, but at one point we are going to stop taking the misery you want to dole out, and return it to you.

Stench of Cleveland:

            As I sit and read my newspaper, reading the articles about how we really need a new convention center, a smell hits my face like a brick. I shouldn’t be too surprised because where I’m sitting is all broken brick and concrete. I also waded through a mud puddle to where I am sitting. The smell came from a trashcan that had just been emptied. I don’t believe it has ever seen soap or water. The place I am talking about is the first thing that visitors see coming into our third world city. The one city block directly across from Tower City.

            It makes me think of a saying from the old day, proud to be union. Nowadays, union means I will do it if I want, and not do if I don’t want, and you will give me my check. It’s not a big deal that corruption goes on wherever you are, but at least do the minimal things that count. Even our new Mayor seems to be looking for her pot of gold. Her idea of helping Cleveland is to build another park at the end of one of the most beautiful parks in the country—MLK Drive, or to put all of our money into biomedical research, so maybe a Clevelander can get the janitors job.

            Did it ever occur to you, Mayor Jane, to give something back to the people. I know that the status quo here means to give nothing back. When I say third world, I ask that you stand on Public Square without a lot of people around you and open your eyes and nose. This is what people see and smell when they arrive at Tower City and want to see what Cleveland is about. You can’t blame the dirt on the people, when things are just never cleaned.

            Our leaders can do something that several cities around the country are trying, and that is to employ people to do something that really helps the City. And you can help the severely poor at the same time. You could contract with the shelters to employ their clients to clean the City. I personally will give you the help in setting this up and not collect one dime in pay. Like Marie Antoinette, you need to know the differences between Shaker Hts. and Cleveland. There is no bread on a lot of tables, and no there is no cake either.

Copyright of the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio September 2003 in Issue 62.

Founder Discusses Starting Grapevine

By Angelo Anderson

     “Damn, this place is supper funky does any body bathe in here? Maybe not--since there are only two sinks and one toilet, with one sink is stopped up.” It's 9:30 at night and for the fourth time in my life I'm sleeping in a homeless shelter for men. I don't sleep here every night but some nights I have to and I hate it, there has to be a way to get off this floor and off these streets. Ten years ago, I had these thoughts and others running around in my head and I wasn't alone, sleeping on mats. Next to me were three men who felt the same way and we began to talk. That conversation lead to the birth of a street newspaper here in Cleveland, that paper The Homeless Grapevine became my way out of homelessness. It started me working as an advocate on homeless issues and awakened in me a desire to help other people in a position that I was once in.

     Living in the richest nation on earth, I find it appalling that so many men, women, and children are homeless. Our nation finds billions of dollars each year to fund major businesses, support space exploration, fight wars, and rebuild foreign governments, while meanwhile, back on the farm, laws are being passed that criminalize homelessness. Local, state and federal governments have made it a crime to be homeless by enacting laws that effectively prohibit activities such as sleeping or camping in public, even when there are no shelter beds available.

     Enabling, now a catchword used by many social service and government agencies, is bandied about like a new wonder drug, providing an easy way to withdraw services under the guise of not coddling the individual. Often, the decisions that go into enabling a person have nothing to do with a case plan as much as they do a funding decision.

     Is it enabling to provide a warm, safe, and clean environment in which to sleep and eat to our own citizens in need? If this nation can help emerging and re-emerging countries find ways to join the 21st century, surely it can find the monies needed to create programs that will help Americans do the same.

     With massive layoffs across the nation, thousands now face homelessness in the coming months. How much more does the gap between the have and the have-not's have to grow before this nation experiences riots in the streets? At what point does America's poor and downtrodden stand up demanding affordable housing for all, with a livable wage that will enable all of its citizens to have a chance to achieve the American dream. If this nation continues to allow programs to serve only the easiest, excluding more people than they serve, then the line between social service and social responsibility becomes blurred.

     America has taken on the role of world leader, offering aid and support to many of the third world countries throughout the globe. But if this is truly to be a great nation then charity needs to start at home. If I am my brother's keeper, then the doors of opportunity need to be held opened for all.

Copyright of the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Sepember 2003 in  Issue 62.

Face To Face Opens to Warm Reception

            Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, (NEOCH) in conjunction with Creative Impetus Gallery (CIG) and AT&T Wireless, presented Face to Face: Portraits of Homeless People in Cleveland, an exhibition of photographs by Cleveland-based photographer David Hagen. Unlike many pictures of homeless people that capture the dark desolation of their plight, Face to Face presents a collection of portraits of homeless people taken in the warm light of the studio that features the full of life and color of the models.

            Hagen’s talent for engaging and getting to know each subject before shooting exposes the real person under layers of protective armor. Each deeply moving portrait challenges our comfortable assumption that homeless people are somehow different than “us” or that their homeless condition is due to their own shortcomings, not a failure in the societal safety net. But as you look into the eyes of the men, women and children in Hagen’s portraits, you see the essence of each person. Hagen’s work provides the viewer with a unique opportunity to truly see homelessness, face to face.

            “I wanted to photograph the homeless population in a way that might make them look just like you, your father, mother, brother, sister, friend or neighbor,” says Hagen. “These are complex people in a challenging world, struggling to find happiness.”

            Hagen’s work is a new and significant voice in the dialogue surrounding homelessness in Cleveland, that forces us to see that homeless people are as diverse, interesting and beautiful as the rest of us.

            The gallery exhibit opened with a reception on Friday, June 27. CIG Gallery is located at on Church Street near West 25th St. across the street from the CMHA application’s office. The people who are the subject of David Hagen’s portraits were present to share their stories and their smiles.

            The exhibit will travel around to the sanctuaries of various religious organizations over the next year to educate the public about homelessness. For a copy of the Face to Face booklet call or e-mail NEOCH at 216/432-0540 or neoch@neoch.org .

Copyright of the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio in September 2003 Issue 62.

Communities Mobilize Nationwide to End Homelessness

           On June 16, 2003, members of Lakewood City Council passed a resolution urging Congress to pass the Bring America Home Act (HR 2896) which would go along way to ending homelessness. This is part of a national day of housing action to Bring America Home. 38 cities are holding similar actions across the nation to bring national attention to the issues of affordable housing, health care, and homelessness in their communities. NEOCH is also asking its members to urge Congresswomen Stephanie Tubbs Jones and Sherrod Brown to endorse this legislation. Congressman Dennis Kucinich has already signed on as a co-sponsor.

            In the United States, 3.5 million people – almost 40 percent of them children – experience homelessness each year. There are 25,000 people homeless every year in Cleveland and 3,800 people on the streets every night. Many of these individuals work, but due to high rents, tight rental markets, and low paying jobs, they have found themselves living on the streets, in cars, in shelters, in abandoned buildings, in motels, or in over-crowded, temporary accommodations with others.

            Councilman Dennis Dunn of Lakewood introduced the legislation at the June 16, 2003 Lakewood City Council meeting, and it was passed unanimously. Activists from Lakewood and Cleveland were on hand to speak in support of the legislation.

            The current economic downturn puts even more Americans one paycheck, one illness, or one rent hike away from homelessness. Today, a worker making minimum wage cannot afford housing at a fair market rate anywhere in the United States. In fact, in Cuyahoga County, a worker must make $11.29 per hour to afford a one-bedroom apartment at a fair market rate.

            The Bringing Home America Campaign is national, broad-based initiative dedicated to the goal of ending homelessness. The Campaign is founded on the principles that people need affordable housing, livable incomes, health care, education, and protection of their civil rights. It is composed of a variety of efforts that address these causes of homelessness, including the Bringing America Home Act.

            “This Campaign is crucial to assisting people who are homeless or near homelessness,” said Donald Whitehead, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. “It would end the disgrace of the worst form of poverty in the richest nation in the world. It’s time for Americans to take a stand to help our most vulnerable citizens. It’s time to Bring American Home.”

Copyright of the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio in September 2003. For publication exclusively by the North American Street Newspaper Association and its member papers. No other newspaper including INSP papers may publish stories from the Homeless Grapevine—Cleveland Ohio

Cities Still Attempting to Outlaw Homelessness

            WASHINGTON, DC- In Milwaukee, a church has been declared a public nuisance for feeding homeless people and allowing them to sleep there. In Gainesville, police threatened University of Florida students with arrest if they did not stop serving meals to homeless people in a public park. In Santa Barbara, it is illegal to lean against the front of a building or store, and no one can park a motor home on the street in one place for more than two hours.

            These ordinances and activities demonstrate the increasingly hostile attitude in the United States toward people who are homeless, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless that was released in August. This report examines occurrences since January 2002 and documents civil rights violations perpetrated against people experiencing homelessness.

            With the highest unemployment rates in almost a decade, more people are becoming homeless, and as the economy continues to tighten, it is causing financial crises for shelters and service-providing agencies. Though nearly all cities still lack sufficient shelter beds and social services, many continue to pass laws prohibiting people experiencing homelessness from sleeping outside.

            Almost 70% of the cities surveyed in the first report have passed at least one or more new laws specifically targeting homeless people since January 2002, making it increasingly difficult to survive on the streets. Cities are attempting to make it illegal to perform life-sustaining activities in public, while at the same time refusing to allocate sufficient funds to address the causes of homelessness.

            This 2003 report finds Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, and Atlanta to be the top five “meanest” cities in the United States for poor and homeless people to live in; California is the “meanest” state, followed by Florida as the second “meanest.”

            The National Homeless Civil Rights Organizing Project (NHCROP) — a project of the National Coalition for the Homeless comprised of local advocates in communities across the country — has compiled quantitative and qualitative data samplings from 147 communities in 42 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. These cities represent rural, urban, and suburban areas in all geographic and demographic varieties across the United States.

            “Instead of the compassionate responses that communities have used to save lives in the past two decades, the common response to homelessness is to criminalize the victims through laws and ordinances that make illegal life-sustaining activities that people experiencing homelessness are forced to do in public,” said Donald Whitehead, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, who is himself formerly homeless.

            As it becomes increasingly difficult to afford housing, this country is turning to jails instead of creating affordable housing by enacting the Bringing America Home Act and service providers to deal with people experiencing homelessness. These individuals and families are arrested for committing such illegal acts as sitting or standing on sidewalks and napping in parks. Whitehead stated, “At the national level, we see a relationship between municipalities efforts to make homelessness a crime and the increases in hate crimes and violent acts directed at homeless people in those cities.”

            Brian Davis, Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, said, “Imagine the loneliness and feeling of helplessness, when every shelter is full and then the city’s police force adds insult to injury by confiscating all your belongings or issues a ticket for sleeping in a park. It takes a special person to be able to cope with the daily struggle to survive while the city government throws added barriers into your path toward stability.”

Copyright of the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio in September 2003 Issue 62.

American Street Newspaper Association Showing Signs of Strain in Movement

Commentary by Brian Davis

            Things are starting to splinter within the North American Street Newspaper Association in its eighth year. Many prominent papers in North America are no longer members including the largest papers, in San Francisco and Chicago; as well as some of the journalistically superior papers from Berkeley and one of the first papers from New York City. This year was the smallest gathering of street newspapers in its history. There are growing splits over which papers can be members and a number of papers have run into financial problems. The 2004 NASNA conference was cancelled. Many gathered were frustrated that NASNA, the street newspapers trade association, was not providing many benefits to its members.

            The women and men who publish, edit, write, find advertising, and vend street newspapers traveled to Quebec, Canada to review the last year and lay out a plan for the coming year. For Cleveland, the Homeless Grapevine was represented by editor Brian Davis and vendor Marsha Rizzo Swanson. Swanson decided to compete in the vend off, but was disqualified because of perceived violations of the rules. Swanson denies that she did not abide by the rules and appealed her disqualification.

            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. La Quete newspaper was the host newspapers this year and graciously opened their arms to the 28 other street newspapers in North America. This year’s conference featured a great deal of uncertainty about the future of the movement. Papers in Dallas and Raleigh went out of business over the past year. The large paper in Montreal reorganized, and the 2004 conference was cancelled. One member who wished to remain unnamed said, “We need to see some real progress on goals or what is the point in joining [NASNA]?”

            The executive committee remained largely in tact from last year. Tim Harris of Seattle’s Real Change was re-elected as chairperson. The Quebec City representative Bernard Helie was again elected as a vice chair, and founding member Michael Stoops remained as Treasurer. The new executive committee has an aggressive set of goals to accomplish this year. Goals include finally obtaining non-profit status, constructing a communication system among the papers, joining the International Street paper and NASNA street news service so that all street papers can exchange stories, and supporting existing papers better. They have two years to work out this agenda since there will be no time diverted to having to plan a conference.

            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, Quebec, was about a decade behind most American cities in its treatment of homeless people. At this time there are not the visible people sleeping outside. There is not a massive emergency network of services, and there is not the crisis in affordable housing that we have in America. Canada is doing everything it can to move closer to the mistakes of the United States.

            Canadian elected officials are rolling back the gains made in universal access to health care. There are dramatic plans to cut housing availability to people with very low incomes. There is an attempt to overhaul the welfare system, and a number of cities in Canada are criminalizing homeless people by passing anti-panhandling, anti camping, and strict interpretations of quality of life violations. So Quebec at this time has a wonderful system for assisting homeless people back to stability, but many of the provinces and federal government are trying as hard as they can to address homelessness in as poor a manner as its neighbors to the south.

            The Mayor of Quebec spoke to those gathered for the conference. He spoke highly of the Quebec street newspaper and complimented the street newspaper movement. He said that he valued the work of La Quete, and realized its importance in the larger social change movement.

            NASNA did award the Montreal paper L’Itineraire the first Joel Alfassa award in commentary or editorial opinion. Joel Alfassa was a writer from Chicago who attended many NASNA conferences and who died in 2003 after a long illness. Joel was published in many papers throughout the United States and Canada including the Grapevine. His family presented the award.

Copyright to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio 2003. For publication exclusively by the North American Street Newspaper Association and its member papers. No other newspaper including INSP papers may publish stories from the Homeless Grapevine—Cleveland Ohio