by Yvonne Bruce
On August 25th, Grapevine vendors and NEOCH staff met with instructor Yvonne Bruce for the last session of “Recording Homelessness,” a biweekly seminar held this summer at the NEOCH offices in which participants read about, wrote about, and discussed aspects of homelessness.
The seminar had its first meeting June 2nd, when the participating vendors were introduced to the book chosen for the course, Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Street, written by formerly homeless author Lars Eighner. Participants were asked to read portions of the book and to prepare to discuss them at meetings, and meetings were devoted to reading aloud relevant sections of the book, comparing vendors’ experiences “on the street” with Eighner’s experiences, and writing in response to discussion.
The chapter from Travels with Lizbeth titled “On Dumpster Diving” proved especially interesting and inspired discussion at several meetings. In this chapter, Eighner provides a how-to guide for living from dumpsters—everything from listing which foods found in dumpsters are safest to eat to where to find the best-stocked dumpsters in town (next to college dormitories). Some NEOCH vendors who had in the past also been forced to use dumpsters for food and necessities agreed with Eighner that dumpsters provide useful items for those with limited resources, and they rued with him the policy some businesses have of locking their dumpsters.
As summer went on, discussion at the seminar moved away from Eighner’s book and toward the experiences participants had had with welfare agencies in the Cleveland area. As a result of this discussion, the vendors compiled a list of suggestions for improving the social services offered to low-income and homeless persons in Cleveland. As the seminar’s final project, vendors crafted these suggestions into a letter submitted to the Plain Dealer; the letter was signed by seminar participants Cathy Brown, Dolores Manley, Frank Novak, Arthur Price, Jr., and Marsha Rizzo-Swanson.
Finally, at the last meeting of the seminar on August 25th, participants recorded their responses to the seminar and gave suggestions for future seminars. While most of the participants enjoyed reading Travels with Lizbeth, they suggested for future seminars that a variety of material about homelessness be brought into the discussion. In addition, participants suggested that seminar discussion be more strongly regulated, either by restricting discussion to the topic at hand or by organizing conversation round-robin style, with each contributor given a time limit in which to make his or her remarks.
“Recording Homelessness” was enlightening for all the participants: it gave NEOCH vendors and staff a forum for their views, it taught the instructor much she didn’t know about homelessness and allowed her to get to know the members of NEOCH, and it resulted in the collaborative writing of a document whose purpose is to educate all the citizens of Cleveland about the difficulties faced and overcome by our city’s homeless and low-income residents.
The letter will be published in Issue 74 of The Homeless Grapevine.
Copyright Homeless Grapevine and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, Cleveland Ohio October 2005, Issue 73.