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.