On February 13, 2005, the Cleveland Plain Dealer published a story entitled “Fall from Grace” in its Sunday Magazine that chronicled the work of Bill Hahn. The article detailed a new organization called For thy Bounty Inc., which distributes food and supplies to those who sleep on the streets and in abandoned sections of Cleveland. The article, written by Christopher Evans and Sarah Crump, traced Hahn’s background and his efforts to distribute donations on the downtown and West Side streets.
The story was an intimate portrayal of Hahn’s background, his family issues, and his recent run in with the law. The Plain Dealer reporters and many experts in the community had serious issues with Hahn’s statistics and theories about the extent of mental illness on the streets. According to the article, For Thy Bounty began when Hahn had an epiphany after his son was diagnosed with a mental illness. Through contacts at his church and working with the local social service providers, Hahn started borrowing a van and taking supplies to mentally ill people on the streets.
Eventually, he was able to convince Catholic Charities to purchase a truck for him to use, and St. Paul’s Shrine allowed him to park in their lot and prepare food in their kitchen. He began traveling around Cleveland with a big Catholic Charities logo on the side of his truck giving food and clothing to those who stay outside or in abandoned buildings. The reporters went with Hahn on his tour and met many of those served by For Thy Bounty. The big issues in the story were Bill Hahn’s harsh criticism of other social service providers and his “problems” with the system serving homeless people. He also often championed that he was the person keeping many of the people who live on the streets alive, which is patently not true with an extensive outreach network available in Cleveland.
Hahn started making contacts with the movers and shakers in Cleveland including Bishop Pilla, Jack Kahl of Manco Duct Tape Company, Sam Miller of Forest City, and Anthony Rego, the grocery store owner. Most of these individuals went on the Hahn tour to view the impact of untreated mental illness on society. After the tour to view the depths of human suffering with extended commentary from Hahn, people were sold on For thy Bounty. The article said, “The truck became Hahn’s greatest recruitment tool.” The individuals who took the tour provided money or influence to Hahn and his attempts to assist those with a mental illness.
Hahn gathered Anne Goodman of the Cleveland Foodbank, Linda Somers of Care Alliance, Reverend Marvin McMickle of Antioch Baptist Church, Alex Machaskee of The Plain Dealer, a few elected officials, and most surprisingly Steve Friedman of Mental Health Services and William Dennihan of the Mental Health Board despite Hahn’s bad mouthing of the Mental Health Agencies in Cleveland. There was a large fundraiser held for the agency that raised in excess of $100,000 according to The Plain Dealer.
The Plain Dealer also included a one-page advertisement that ran in the paper on Christmas 2003. There was a controversy over the advertisement’s content with the Mental Health community who were upset over the inaccurate stereotypes. For full disclosure, Hahn wrote a two-page commentary for the Homeless Grapevine in 2002, and he asked Grapevine Editor and Coalition Director Brian Davis to be on the For Thy Bounty “Advisory Board.” Davis declined the invitation because he felt that it may have compromised the advocacy of the Coalition, and the “Board’s” sole purpose appeared to be raising money.
The Plain Dealer detailed a splintering of the “Advisory Board” with concerns over the finances of the organization. Hahn had a private printing business, and donations began to co-mingle with his business and housing. Many quoted in the story claimed Hahn did not operate as a transparent organization while waiting for his non-profit charitable status. According to the Plain Dealer reporters, he rejected attempts for “advisory board” members to see his finances. Many distanced themselves from the organization, and Hahn bad-mouthed some of the former allies. All this occurred while he railed against nearly every non-profit organization in the community that served homeless people.
The “Fall from Grace” article mentioned a great deal of personal trauma that Hahn went through with his child and his failing marriage. The authors of the story talked to Hahn’s ex-wife who complained about the sporadic care for their disabled son who Hahn claimed to be the inspiration for his work with homeless people. Finally, the biggest threat to his credibility was the discovery that he was in possession of the Helen Keller sculpture stolen from the Rockefeller Greenhouse.
In the last three months, according to The Plain Dealer nearly the entire “advisory board” resigned with only a few members remaining loyal. Many homeless people appreciate the gifts offered by Hahn and his group of volunteers, as they appreciate the hundreds of churches that also deliver food and clothing. There are many mentally ill people out on the streets, but not everyone is “insane,” as characterized by Hahn. There are many people who choose not to go into shelter because they make the rational decision that they cannot take all the rules or do not like to live with scores or even of hundreds of other people or they do not like being treated as a child with a curfew, etc. Sometimes it is a very sane decision not to go into the shelters.
Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #69, March 2005. All rights reserved.