One Paycheck Away From Homelessness

Commentary by Marsha Rizzo Swanson

People who live in shelters should not have to put up with the junk the staff dishes out. I myself have gotten terrible treatment from one staff member at the Women’s Shelter who thinks she can single people out for punishment and blame them for wrongdoing like she is God. She’s blaming homeless people for wrongdoing of the staff. The things homeless people do are minor compared to what the staff does. It is wrong to treat homeless people this way. The staff gets a paycheck because there are homeless people staying there. When they treat homeless people poorly, think that it could be one of your family members who could be facing life on the streets.

Shelter staffs are paid to take care of homeless people. If there weren’t any homeless people they would not be happy because they would not have no one to pick on, or to hide their own insecurities. The staff at the Women’s Shelter act like homeless people are the only ones with issues, but the staff does not belong there working with homeless people because their issues get taken out on the people they’re supposed to serve. They need to have tolerance when working with homeless people.

We are their paychecks. The Woman’s Shelter makes three times as much as 2100 Lakeside per bed because they “treat” mental health clients, but the staff treats us like prisoners. They should realize that if they louse up their paychecks they could become homeless and get the same treatment we receive. If it were your family member what would you do? The staff is so inhumane, this is why many homeless people don’t like to be in a shelter. Busses break down and people have to be rerouted to other busses all the time. This causes people to be late to their jobs, or to their homes. It is the same for homeless people, but if we’re five minutes late to the shelter we have to sleep upward in a chair all night as punishment. Would you want your family member treated this way?

You probably wouldn’t give your family member a ridiculous curfew like a small child. We have to be back at 9:30 or we face punishment like a little child. We’re not treated like adults, and it makes you feel like you are in prison. The word “shelter” is supposed to mean a safe haven for homeless people. Men also go through this at their shelters. There are people who have frozen to death rather than stay in a homeless shelter.

People tell me that homelessness isn’t that bad because there are shelters, and that no one has to live in the streets but people don’t know what those who are homeless have to go through with the staff who work in the shelters. If a reader of The Homeless Grapevine would visit the shelters (NEOCH has Teach-Ins that tour homeless shelters), they would see what we go through.

Homelessness is a big issue in Cleveland and all around the U.S. It is very sad this is an issue where almost nothing is being done because some people think that most people are homeless because they’re uneducated or on drugs. This is wrong, there are homeless people who are well educated but got sick or had a bad car accident and ruined their careers and lost their jobs and homes. It could happen to anyone. Homeless people are just like everyone else and shouldn’t be judged. Most people are only a paycheck away themselves.

I am there myself now and I know what I have seen. That’s why I writing this, to let you all know the facts of real homelessness. We don’t have enough subsidized housing for people that make only minimum wage. Welfare has almost stopped, but poverty and homelessness haven’t gone away. We work and that’s one reason homelessness isn’t going away. We have talents and skills to be paid a higher wage, but the jobs available don’t pay enough.

Homelessness will go on until we all get an understanding, especially by our government that people need to be paid enough money to live on. If our Senators would live in a shelter, they wouldn’t stay five minutes after putting up with the staff’s garbage and abusive treatment. When people vote for government officials, they should make sure that the officials are aware of the God-forsaken shelters that I would not put a pig into.

When you have to pay huge rent prices and pay for food and clothing and you work for $5.15 an hour, you will never get out of poverty. But you should at least expect to be treated like a human being.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine in Cleveland, Ohio-October/November 2005 in Issue 73