Victims of Hurricane NAFTA Need Housing Just as Badly

Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless applauds the effort by the City of Cleveland to find long term emergency housing for those displaced from Hurricane Katrina. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should lend a helping hand to the gulf region. We owe our brothers and sisters from New Orleans and the surrounding area at minimum a stable place to live within a welcoming community.

We would just like to respectfully ask that we adopt some of the same urgency in housing Cleveland’s homeless as we are New Orleans’ homeless. Make no mistake that we are not criticizing the current effort, but there are 2,000 people who sleep in shelters every single night in Cleveland. All we would ask is that we put the same kind of urgency into finding 1,100 units of housing that our current homeless population can afford. Since City leaders were able to find 1,100 units of housing for families displaced by Hurricane Katrina in just two days, how about identifying the same number of units that are affordable to our current “refugees of our own Hurricane NAFTA” over the next week?

We can solve the problems in the Gulf with the proper leadership, just as we can the problems of homelessness in our own community with the proper leadership. If we put our minds to solving the problem of homelessness in the Gulf region, we can take the same skills and move the thousands using our shelters into housing. Please, let us return to the time when government responded to the lack of housing for a family with the utmost urgency.

For those who are angry that Cleveland’s homeless population is going to the end of the line again, we certainly understand that anger but we need to consider some other information. First, Cleveland has a 10% vacancy rate. We do not have a lack of supply of available housing like other communities, but the homeless population by and large cannot afford or they have problems in their background that makes it difficult to engage in a lease. Also, the victims of Hurricane Katrina are bringing resources that our homeless population does not have to bring to a landlord. FEMA is offering housing assistance that it does not offer to non-disaster related populations. In an environment in which housing is not a right then we must expect that market forces dictate who gets into housing.

Please also remember that the victims of Hurricane Katrina had to go through a horrendous disaster never before seen in the history of the United States, and now find themselves in need. They had to relocate thousands of miles in order to find help with housing. We have never seen a city as large as New Orleans evacuated and destroyed at the same time we deal with the other communities along the Gulf Coast that suffered near total destruction. This type of devastation demands an extraordinary response. While federal officials dragged their feet, we cannot drag our feet locally and hold off on assisting these people while we debate the merits of helping our friends from Louisiana and Mississippi.

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