Socially Conscious Capitalism is the Future for Non-Profits

   We’ve been saying it for years, but programs like The Homeless Grapevine are the wave of the future.  The non-profit sector is undergoing an interesting Darwinian struggle, and, like our for-profit counterparts, adaptation and innovation are the keys to survival.  Despite the generosity of the American people, many non-profits, especially those that work with homeless people, are increasingly being squeezed.

   We have a government that is demanding more results with fewer resources, and yet continues to abdicate more of its responsibilities to our sector.  We also face a funding public that is growing increasingly tired of paying to fix problems that never seem to find solutions.  The programs that do the most good are often the ones who get the least attention and funding. 

   Our recent interviews with Mayor Frank Jackson and the DC Central Kitchen’s Robert Egger (see our front page story) indicate that the non-profit sector may be moving toward a period in which they embrace programs modeled on the idea of socially conscious capitalism.  The success of Fair Trade Coffee, clothing, etc. and organic foods is a testament to the fact that customers are concerned about the social and environmental effects of how they spend their limited dollars.

   In Cleveland, this idea is still getting off to a rocky start.  Programs like The Homeless Grapevine and the Community Hiring Hall have had some trouble finding the support we need from the community and partners in our sector.  The notion that homeless people are adults and are in need of living wage jobs to support themselves and their families, just like everyone else, seems to elude many providers and the public at large. 

   The misconception that homeless people don’t want to work has somehow become gospel, but the truth is that most homeless people have jobs and still don’t make enough to survive. 

   We as a sector have taken the path of pity too far in trying to fund our efforts to “help” homeless and impoverished individuals.  We have developed paternalistic attitudes that rob individuals of the ability to decide their own fates, and give them very little stake in their own future.  We encourage them to sign up for more services, make them endure bureaucratic nightmares just to get on waiting lists, and often treat them like inmates in our shelters.  They endure this because they are usually forced to by circumstance.  If given the choice between a living-wage job or staying in shelter, most homeless people would eagerly take the job.  Where we have failed as a sector is in truly fighting to give them that choice. 

   We need to do better as a sector to work together for sustainable solutions to the problems we fight.  Since we cannot give free housing to everyone, we must equip and empower the individuals we serve to obtain it themselves.  We cannot necessarily force the business community to pay livable wages, but we can lead by example and structure our own programs to do so.

   Revenue-generating non-profits offer the opportunity to employ individuals who need work, provide services and materials to the public in a socially conscious way, and sustain themselves if managed properly.  They also offer the chance for far fewer whiny pledge drives, much happier and fulfilled clients, and a better-served public.  Obviously, it doesn’t make sense for every non-profit to operate in this fashion; but we should all be more concerned about the ways we manage our resources.  If we continue to let government force us to “fight each other for scraps,” we will only let homeless people and our organizations become more marginalized. 

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 78 October 2006

November Voting Nightmare and Ohio Poverty Cited As Big Concerns at September Housing Meeting

by Sarah Valek

   The Cuyahoga Housing Alliance (CAHA) held its annual forum on housing issues amidst an array of depressing facts and figures. The key speaker, Bill Faith, the Executive Director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio (COHHIO), presented some troubling statistics.

   According to Faith, Cuyahoga County, besides being home to the claimed “Poorest City in America,” has a rate of foreclosures three times higher than the national average. But it’s not just us—the rest of Ohio is looking pretty bleak these days, with the whole state being number one in the nation for foreclosures. Less than 50% (650,000) of Ohioans live in “deep poverty,” which consists of a family that makes less than $10,000/year.

   This is a direct call for more affordable hosing, according to Faith. The goal for COHHIO over the next few years is to find more comprehensive solutions to our statewide problems of foreclosures and lack of housing.

   Faith presented many possible solutions to explore, one of them being a local Housing Trust Fund in Cuyahoga County. Every county in the state has a real estate transfer fee that could be used for such a fund. Money raised by the fee goes into a general fund, which is administrated by the County Commissioners. Faith suggests that a portion of these fees could be earmarked for specific causes—mainly, for affordable housing.

   One of the most important and timely concerns is getting lower-income people to vote. According to Faith, housing alone will not solve our problems. Faith believes that current government policy is not addressing poverty.  He wants to challenge all those running for office to put forward a strategy to reduce homelessness and create more housing.    Ohio Votes is trying to do just that—getting Ohioans to vote and making sure each vote will count.

   In Cuyahoga County there’s an issue about showing identification at the polling place. If you have moved and haven’t updated your driver’s license, you may have to vote with a provisional ballot when you go to the polls, and there is concern about whether your vote will be counted. A legal case is underway to challenge these rules. Meanwhile everyone is encouraged to vote by mail to avoid problems at the polls.

   While it’s easy to feel down in Ohio, Faith brings a message that he and others are working everyday to make positive changes.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 78 October 2006

National News: Homeless Still Endangered Across America

Group skirts homeless feeding ban

ORLANDO, FL. - A charity skirted Orlando's new ordinance against feeding homeless people in downtown public parks by serving food out of a van on a nearby street, according to an article in the Associated Press.

   Joined by a local American Civil Liberties Union representative, Food Not Bombs distributed vegetarian meals to the homeless just as it has for more than a year.  But this time, with police officers there to monitor, volunteers scooped the items from containers in a parked van nearby. That could be a loophole in an ordinance passed recently that prevents serving large groups in parks and other public property within 2 miles of City Hall. Such feedings would be legal only with a one-time use permit.

   The ACLU, said in the article that  it intended to sue the city, and is also exploring other options.  Police were there with a one-time permit already made out for the group, which would have made the feeding, but not future ones, legal.

   Orlando, FL, and Las Vegas, NV have both recently passed bans on feeding homeless people, and both have been challenged by homeless advocates.

Homeless man found shot under bridge

NEW ORLEANS, LA- The body of a 53 year old transient was found beside the Crescent City  Connection.  The man was shot once in the head and left by a support column at the uptown end of the bridge.

Teens sought in stabbing of homeless man

FT. LAUDERDALE, FL- Detectives in Ft. Lauderdale are searching for four teen boys between the ages of 12 and 15 in connection with an attack on William Peters, 44.  Peters, a homeless man, was sitting on a bench when the boys approached him, and attacked.  He was admitted to Broward County Medical Center, and is listed in fair condition.  This is another in a rash of attacks on holes people in the Ft. Lauderdale area.

Homeless man killed in altercation with police

SAN MATEO, CA - 49 year old Stanley Wong was shot and killed by a police officer responding to an emergency call regarding a man picking fights with customers a local market.  Police say the Wong had a knife and continued to menace the officer after being stunned with a TASER. The officer is on administrative leave pending investigation by San Mateo County District Attorney’s Office.

Neighbors protest homeless housing program

CAMBRIDGE, MA - Angry East Cambridge residents confronted the Cambridge Housing Authority and Shelter Inc. at a neighborhood meeting, airing concerns about future homeless housing planned for Lopez Avenue.     Shelter Inc., a Cambridge nonprofit that works to end homelessness, is slated to run the program for the CHA at 22 Lopez Ave.    

    Hurley Street resident Nicole Burton and other residents raised the possibility that homeless tenants at the Lopez Avenue building could increase crime and drug use in the area.

     Tom Lorello, executive director of Shelter Inc., said in the article in The Cambridge Chronicle that the program is restricted to people who have clean criminal records in Massachusetts and have demonstrated a clean and sober lifestyle for at least one year.     The CHA paid $250,500 per unit at the eight-unit home, a figure that angered residents who said the property was headed for foreclosure anyway.  Currently, there is not a sale closing date for 22 Lopez Ave., according to the article.

Olympia considering panhandling restrictions.

OLYMPIA, WA- Responding to public complaints about aggressive and intimidating panhandlers, Olympia city council is considering legislative measures including no-begging zones, and anti car-camping laws.  The city is debating banning panhandling near automated teller machines, and in areas that block pedestrian traffic.  These measures would also facilitate the removal of unregistered vehicles and cars with multiple parking tickets.

 Jury Deliberates in Death of Homeless Woman

OAKLAND, CA- Jurors began deliberating yesterday on the case of two men accused of killing a Berkeley homeless woman last year.

   Berkeley resident Derrell Morgan, 19, and San Leandro resident Jarell Johnson, 19, are charged with homicide in connection with the beating death of 45-year-old Maria King in February 2005.

   King was found by police with severe head trauma and died 12 days later in Highland General Hospital in Oakland.

   Morgan’s defense attorney Walter Pyle made his closing arguments yesterday morning, arguing that the evidence against Morgan was spotty and inconclusive.

   Pyle added in the article that the Berkeley Police Department failed to take thorough notes throughout interviews with informants and did not pursue the case in a timely and aggressive fashion.

   According to a report by the Bay City News, Johnson’s attorney, Alameda County Deputy Public Defender Ray Plumhoff, admitted in his closing arguments Monday that Johnson had participated in King’s death.

   He asked the jury to convict Johnson of involuntary manslaughter rather than murder because he was intoxicated. Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Ben Beltramo said in closing arguments yesterday that the nature of the beatings showed clear malice and intent to kill.

   There was no evidence of either man being intoxicated when found by police, ruling out involuntary manslaughter as a possible sentence for either defendant, he said.

   It is unknown when the jury will finish deliberation.

3 teens held in beating of Astoria homeless man

ASTORIA, OR- Three teens were arrested in connection with the robbery and beating of a homeless man in Astoria as he slept, according to an article in The Associated Press.

   The teens, Robert Ellis, 19, David Diaz, 17, and Christopher Williams, 18, are accused of attacking the man while he slept in front of an apartment in Astoria at about 5:30 a.m.. The three teens allegedly broke a metal cane over the victim, threw paint, metal chairs, bottles and a metal cart at the victim, then took his money and attempted to run from the scene, the Astoria DA’s office said in the article. The victim suffered lacerations to face, nose, lip and body and pain to his back. The alleged attackers were arraigned on charges of first and second degree robbery and criminal possession of a weapon, and face up to 25 years in prison if convicted.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 78 October 2006

Local News: Cleveland #1 in Poverty Again

Homeless Evicted from Airport

   As of September 1, 2006, homeless people were told that they can no longer sleep at the airport.  The City of Cleveland Police and other officials met with social service providers in August to set a date at which time homeless people would have to leave.  The City officials cited security and the horrible mess being created by homeless people as the reason for the eviction from the airport.  Using graphic photos and testimony from a Continental Airline official, the police said that they would give warnings up until September 15, but after that date they would have to arrest those found sleeping at the airport.

   The Coalition received three complaints from homeless people questioning this policy, but they have each found other places to live.  Mental Health Service worked with the individuals to find them permanent housing or more appropriate shelter.  There were no reports of arrest to the Coalition. 

City Opens Discussion about Bird Flu

   The City of Cleveland Health Department held a conference on a possible flu pandemic and the level of preparedness for hospitals, emergency services, and businesses.  Coalition staff attended the forum, and raised the issue of what happens to the shelters in a Bird Flu outbreak?  There is no current plan in place for protection of the shelters from a highly infectious disease.  The Health officials painted a bleak picture based on the previous two flu outbreaks and the potential for rapid spread of the virus.  The models from Army barracks show that an enclosed environment with dormitory style sleeping pose a huge risk with 75% of the residents infected within 3 days.  This is especially troubling for Cleveland since we host 3 of the largest facilities for homeless people in the State of Ohio.

Furniture Banks Battle Brewing

   The Plain Dealer has heralded the development of a furniture bank operated by St. Vincent DePaul in a number of stories, but that is only half the story.  The PD did a Sunday feature decrying the lack of leadership in Cleveland for allowing the local furniture bank to disappear.  Currently, there are only small efforts to collect donated furniture and deliver household items and housing starter kits to those entering housing.  St. Vincent DePaul stepped up to the plate after a year of starting and stopping a furniture bank.   

   They introduced their new service called Cleveland Furniture Bank in July.  This was done in spite of a call by Cleveland Bridge Builders/Leadership Cleveland for the City to go in a different direction, and take time to prepare a solid plan for an agency that will survive over the long haul.  CBB/Leadership Cleveland are young executives who work for eight months on developing leadership skills and in the process adopt one project to oversee.  The problem of the furniture bank was selected for the group to focus on last year and a plan was issued with the support of the homeless service providers.  Unfortunately, St. Vincent DePaul rejected the plans and went on their own to start the project. 

   The big issue is the selling of the items collected, and keeping the fees low for homeless people and homeless service providers.  The concern was that the good items would be sold in the St. Vincent store, and the “crappy items” would be delivered to homeless people. At this time, the St. Vincent furniture bank is operational, and the other advocates are creating a board and fund raising for an alternate furniture bank.   Cleveland is divided by a river and divided in how they serve those living in poverty.

Cleveland Poorest City Again

   Only eleven more months until the new poverty standings are released.  The big question is whether our population will reduce below the 250,000 mark.  This is the minimum size for the American Cities Survey to get off the list before we move out of the top 10 through job growth and an improved economy.  How does a City that has dug itself into a huge hole and is ignored by its state and federal government increase personal wealth to get off the poorest city list? With huge population losses and 10 years of job losses, Cleveland faces huge obstacles to move off the poorest city list.

Homeless Coalition Back at the Community Women’s Shelter

   After two years of not being allowed to organize residents at the Community Women’s Shelter, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless have begun meeting again at the shelter.  NEOCH staff held one meeting at the shelter to talk about problems facing homeless women in the community and will host a Housing 101 meeting there as well.  NEOCH staff are also helping the women to complete the application for vouchers through the Housing Choice Voucher program.

Cuyahoga Elections Board Misinterprets Law

   In a public forum hosted by the Greater Cleveland Voting Coalition, Francis Lally of the Cuyahoga Board of Elections said in August that those who have identification not matching their address listed at the polling place will be given a provisional ballot to vote.  This is contrary to the advice provided by the Secretary of State and the interpretation of lawyers and professors who specialize in election law.  Tom Hayes, who was hired to consult with the Board on the upcoming election, was present and did not contradict Lally. 

   This will certainly disenfranchise many homeless people who do not bother to update their identification every time they relocate.  They do not have the utility bills and other forms of identification that are tied to an address. Most shelters in Cuyahoga County are advising their clients to vote by mail by completing an absentee ballot request.  NEOCH has asked the County Commissioners to correct the Board of Elections misinterpretation of the new ID law.  

Second Homeless Congress Convened

   Six shelters were represented at the second gathering of the Homeless Congress with 32 people attending.  They set two agenda items as their highest priority for advocacy locally and at the state level.  One includes the development of a local pool of money to create and preserve affordable housing.  The other of the highest priorities is to create public works jobs that pay a living wage and could help rebuild some of the abandoned housing.  The group wants to meet with County and State officials to solicit help in accomplishing their goals.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 78 October 2006

Grapevine Vendor’s Family Still Struggles With Cancer

Vendor Profile by Bernadette Janes 

   It is certain that many of the people buying The Homeless Grapevine from a bearded elderly man outside of the West Side Market regard themselves not merely as his customers, but have also become his friends over the years. Yet few of those surrounding him may know that his engaging and forward-looking attitude stems from a history rife with great personal victories, victories won against towering misfortunes encountered  throughout the deeply humble and difficult years of his youth.

    Arthur Price started life on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio in 1927, in a family of three sisters and two brothers. A sad truth unknown to him and his siblings in those early years of their lives was that in the future the family would prove to be stalked again and again by deadly intergenerational bouts of cancer. Arthur’s mother, a hardworking full-blooded Cherokee woman, whom he loved deeply, was the first in the family to die of cancer in 1942. 

   Her death tragically ended forever the tranquillity of her family’s life, for Arthur’s father soon found himself unequal to the responsibilities of lone fatherhood. He announced to the children that he would no longer care for them, and directly put them out of the house. The youngest ones, including Arthur, were sent to a public Children’s’ Home, while the older ones were abruptly forced to set out and find their own way, without shelter, provisions or funds, in a cold and uncaring world. At the Children’s’ Home, Arthur and his sisters were ill treated and hardly fed enough to help them grow.

   After two years, Arthur, then in his teens, left the Children’s’ Home and, together with a long-lost brother, sold newspapers on the street, barely earning enough to keep themselves alive. Eventually, Arthur’s brother sought better-paying work, leaving Arthur to sell the papers alone. By working long hours, and through sheer strength of will, he survived and continued with the papers for another year. It may have been during that hard period that something began developing within him, which slowly matured and ultimately became the optimistic outlook, which still marks his character today. His one regret was that while others of his age were attending high school and college, Arthur could not afford the luxury of formal education. Homeless at times, he had no choice but to work every day to pay for food and whatever lodging he could find.

   However, he had a very good mind, and as he grew into his twenties, he learned other trades that offered more comfortable ways of living. For several years, he worked installing fire hydrants for the city of Columbus, and was later hired for work at the rough and busy loading docks. Always a conscientious worker, he prospered, married, and started his own family. One thing Arthur is most proud of is his 51-year marriage to Clarabelle, the wife he refers to as “my angel.” When he speaks of Clarabelle, the expression in his blue eyes seems to soften, and one immediately senses the love between these two who have been through so much together. Arthur and Clarabelle still own the home in which they raised their three daughters (two were twins) and their two sons, one of whom still lives there with them. 

   Sadly, however, the family’s deadly cancer genes recently rose up again and took the life of one of their daughters. Still mourning her death, Clarabelle often whimpers in her sleep at night as the daughter returns to her in dreams. Arthur wakes to comfort her and quiet her back to sleep, but before his own slumber returns, he resolves once again, as he does every day, to continue saving up money from his Grapevine sales to buy the largest and most elegant stone he can find, to place as a tribute on his daughter’s simple grave. “If it is the last duty of my life!” he exclaims, with his fist pounding the table in the earnestness of his determination.

   Even though, as time passed, Arthur’s own way of life improved, he never lost his sympathy for the poor, the racially mistreated or the downtrodden, with whom, throughout his early years, he had shared the struggles that define their lives. He joined the Volunteers Of America, contributing and doing whatever he could to brighten their situations. For eight years, he also entertained as Santa Claus for poor children at the site of the old May Co. Dept. Store, a function he enjoyed as much as the children did.

   Yet, just a few years ago, another of life’s crushing misfortunes descended upon Arthur. Once again, cancer appeared in his family, but this time, Arthur himself was to be the victim. By the time it was discovered, it was too far along for treatments to be effective. The only remedy would be drastic surgery to completely remove his bladder. True to his habit of facing reality unblinkingly, Arthur went through the surgery in his usual no-nonsense way, and now wears a bag strapped to his body. He doesn’t complain about the inconvenience, just goes about his activities as he always has, thankful to be alive and still able to work. 

   Now 79 years old, Arthur does his best to keep the Homeless Grapevine going, not only because of the money he earns, but more importantly, because he believes in it and recognizes its importance in the lives of homeless people in our city. His enthusiasm for it is contagious. Working faithfully at it for three shifts a week, his presence is a great encouragement to others. It proves that one’s difficulties and even one’s tragedies in life can be dealt with and temporarily put aside, providing breathing space to emerge from the darkness and do something to benefit not just oneself, but others, and possibly a whole community.

   Arthur’s way of always looking at the bright side of life is reflected in everything he does. Clarabelle rarely complains about anything, but on the few occasions when she wishes things were different, Arthur reminds her of how fortunate they really are. “Look,” he says,” we are in our own home, we’re not out in the cold and wind, we’re not out getting wet in the rain, and to top it all, we’re still happily married after 51 years!”

   As he speaks, she begins to smile, for she knows her husband is a man to be utterly proud of, a man who has overcome, by sheer grit and spirit, every obstacle placed before him, including a life-killing cancer, a man whose philosophy of life, even if he doesn’t articulate it, is expressed in his actions every day. If he were to explain it, it would not be in high-sounding language. It would be, simply, respect for life, respect for himself and for all people, love for his family, his community and his nation. These elemental values take on a lofty eloquence when enunciated in such down-to-earth terms by a man like Arthur, a hard-working, unassuming individual, and by any and every measure, a truly extraordinary man.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 78 October 2006

DC Central Kitchen’s Robert Egger Shares His Philosophy

An Interview by Kevin E. Cleary

   Robert Egger is the Founder and President of the DC Central Kitchen in Washington, DC.  The Kitchen takes donated food from regional food service businesses and prepares it for distribution to homeless people in the DC area.  The Kitchen also provides culinary training for homeless individuals, and its graduates have received jobs in the sector, as well as in the DC Central Kitchen’s Fresh Start Catering Program, where graduates cater events all over the area and earn a starting salary of $10 an hour, plus benefits. 

   Egger served as the interim director of United Way, and has written a book titled “Begging for Change” that discusses his practical experience in the non-profit sector and delivers the message that non-profits must “adapt or die.”  Additionally, Egger is the co-convener of the upcoming Non-Profit Congress, which will be held in Washington, DC on October 15-18th.

   He was also recently cited as one of “The Real Sexiest Men Alive” in Oprah Magazine for his years of work empowering others.  The Homeless Grapevine sat down with Mr. Egger in June, before a speaking engagement for the Community Care Network.

The Homeless Grapevine: Could you please tell us a little about how you came up with the idea for the DC Central Kitchen? 

Egger: Yeah, in the 1980s people were just like, “Wow, I know there’s issues in America, but who are these people, where do they come from?  And, like, what’s going on?”  I think particularly for those people who live in Washington, but imagine the visitors who came to DC to see the nation’s capital; and all of a sudden there’s homeless people out in front of the Washington monument, or the Lincoln memorial.  It’s pretty wiggy.  And like a lot of people, I was like,  “I feel sorry for them,” but I didn’t know what I could do. 

   And I ended up getting pulled out on this truck to volunteer one night.  And a bunch of things happened.   I didn’t look in the eyes of a homeless person and think, “Oh, I have to change my life,” as much as it was, “you all buy this food at every night?”  At the Safeway in Georgetown, which is the most expensive store on the planet.   

   And [I thought] “Whoa!  That’s crazy!  All the restaurants I work in, they love food and they hate throwing it away, but I bet if you could find a safe way to get it... There’s a mountain of food from restaurants, hotels, hospitals, caterers.” 

   But we pulled out in between George Washington University and the State Department on Virginia Avenue.  We made a U-turn off Virginia and pulled back around.  As we made this U-turn, I was in the back of this truck, and you could see out in the rain.  It was a drizzly night, and you could see this long line of people outside.  And we pulled up, and we were serving food.  On one level, it was totally different than I thought it would be.  The people were really nice, it was organized, you know, instead of the fear factor... which was there for me.  I was, like, you know, “What is it going to be like?”   

   But, it was so bizarre, because here we are, up in the safety and warmth of this van, doing the right thing, but I just felt that somehow, it had gotten off-track.  That somehow, we were the ones being served.  We were the ones feeling good at the end of the night because we had done a good deed, yet it was almost as if we somehow required those people to be outside in the rain in order for us to get that feeling of doing a good deed.  I just felt that somehow, this beautiful ideal had become twisted.   

   Let’s step back.  I was confused also because there were people also who looked like they were able to work.  In fact, at one point, I made somewhat of a disparaging remark to my wife, who was with me in the back [of the van] about this guy with a briefcase.  I said to my wife, “Look at that guy.  That’s just criminal, man.  There’s people out here who are really outside on the street, and this guy’s just trying to get some free food.”

   And my wife [said], ”Man, shut up!  Who are you to judge this guy?  You have no idea what this guy’s life is, and you know, what brought him here.  Shut up!”  And an interesting sidebar, about three years ago, I wrote about this guy in my book, and this first night.  And this woman called [me] up and said, “That’s my brother.”  And he was mentally ill, and he was on the street, and that was his schtick.  He had this briefcase, and he walked around DC with this briefcase, looking important.  It was totally wild.

   But [anyway], on the way back I’m thinking, “Man, if you could just somehow get all this food from the restaurants and hotels and bring it back to a central kitchen... you could split it up, divide it, cook it, and feed twice as many people better food for less money.  But you could also offer men and women a chance to get out of the line and learn a skill, and, in effect, decrease demand by the way you served the line.”  So it seemed logical.

   And, over the course of the next few weeks, I went to all these churches saying, ‘Hey, I’ve got this great idea!”  But what I found was, with love in their hearts, these men and women had become so comfortable in their routine that they didn’t want to change their routine.  Even if [changing] that routine could liberate people.  That’s when it was [really frustrating].  People were coming up with all these different reasons that they couldn’t do it. 

   [They’d say something like] “Well, the Health Department won’t let you.”

    [And I’d say] “Yeah, yeah they will.  In fact, here’s a copy of this law.  There’s a law [like this] in every state.  In fact, every state’s got one [a Good Samaritan law for donated food].”

   “Well, restaurants won’t do it.”

   “Yeah, I’ve got 30 signed up.  Are you kidding?  Restaurants would love to do it.  It’s great for them!” 

   We had a bunch of people then in DC...  It was the first wave of the Sanctuary Movement.  You had a lot of people coming from El Salvador and Nicaragua, Honduras, and here they were in hotels throwing away more food than their village might have seen in a month in one night.  So there were morale issues for staff, there was the tax deductions... There were all these different ways that it made sense; it was good business.

   But when I kept trying to push [for this idea], there were all these people who said, “We know you mean well... and you’re a nice guy, but you really can’t train the homeless.”

   And I’m like, “Man, did you just hear yourself?  Is that how far you’re willing to go to hold on to your routine?  That you’re willing to basically say that the only thing these men and women can do is stand outside in the rain and wait for ‘us good Christians’ to come and serve them food?” 

   It’s very encouraging for me to travel around and meet groups like this group here, Community Care Network.  Here’s groups that came together that deal with domestic violence, foster care, mental illness, that came together to share.  I mean, just Business Model 101... by sharing their back room stuff they save their money, which enables them to [better] use the money they do get, which you probably know is decreasing every year.  Because a lot of these groups, particularly with mental illness, dealt with federal money.

Grapevine: You’re saying the government seems to be asking for more results with less resources?

Egger: Totally, and it ain’t gonna get any different, man.  Unless we get totally, really serious about what we do.  And that’s kind of half of my message.  If you took the American non-profit, picked it up and moved it over and put it down... Now, of course, non-profits in America are universities, art galleries, hospitals, synagogues, mosques, DC Central Kitchen, your newspaper...  Nonetheless, if you took them out and put them separate, it would be the 7th biggest economy in the world.  It’s like, right after China.  Just the non-profit sector in America.  Yet, we have no say in the budget process in any town in America.  We have no newspaper, that’s dedicated really, even on the business page, dedicated to the in-depth analysis of what we do as an industry.  Ergo, you have the public giving billions of dollars, it’s usually about $250-260 billion a year, without really any access to information to enable them to determine who’s doing charity and who’s making [positive social] change.      

   And, to a certain extent, we don’t exercise, we don’t own our power.  We should be a potent political force in this country, in every town, in every state.  Yet, we fight each other for scraps, and that’s what keeps us, and the people we serve marginalized.

Grapevine: Do you think the generations that followed the Boomers have done a lot of wandering as well?

Egger: Well, you know.  Nobody wants to conform.  That sounds really great, but in a sense, that keeps us from unifying.  That sense of, well, we all have to be individuals.  But the reality of it is, Dr. King and Robert Kennedy died talking to us about unity.  Imagine where we could be if we [had come] together.  And all we’ve done since then is grow further apart.  We’ve got 2 million non-profits, and that’s not a bad thing, but you’ve got 2 million out there each doing their own thing, out there alone.

   I’ll give you a good example of how weird this has gotten.  The word “homeless” itself.  I don’t know who thought up that crazy word.  But it’s like “homeless” is almost a fuzzy, safe, word that keeps the public from a discussion about mental illness, domestic violence, wage, housing prices, prison, addiction.  Each one of these are big-ass issues that are not going to just go away.  You know, they demand real, sober, reflective conversation at a community level.  And to a certain extent, I worry that the non-profit sector, particularly those who work with homeless people, instead of saying, in effect, “Whoa whoa, time out!  That word doesn’t apply.  We don’t even respect it, we don’t acknowledge it,” we use it to raise money. 

   It’s weird that we need these things.  We become part of the problem sometimes. Instead of fighting for something better, we’re almost participating in this kind of almost, kind of culture lie.  This kind of “La la la, I don’t hear it, I don’t hear it.  They’ll go away if I just ignore it, [or write a check].” 

  One of the things that I try to do, is kind of get inside the heads of the opposition, and think, why do they think that way, or why do they say that?  It’s funny, because my Dad’s actually from around here, he’s from Ashtabula, and he said, “You know, I don’t remember homeless people.  We didn’t have homeless people in Ashtabula.”

   And I said, “Well Dad, actually you did.  What you had was a Sheriff that basically was empowered to take anyone to the county line and say, ‘Don’t come back.’”  And if that person did come back, he’d take him down to his friend, the judge’s house, and they went to the work farm for 30 days or 60 days, or however long.  But the point is, people empowered the Sheriff to make these things disappear, and a keep a society somewhat homogenous. 

   So it’s just interesting, that generation’s attitude.  They think, when they see someone on the street, they oftentimes just think “lazy.”  In fact, one of the things that I talk about when I speak around the country is just issues of hunger.  The reality is, that Americans don’t want to think that there’s hunger in America.  It’s easier, it’s safer to think that if you’re hungry, it’s your fault.  You’re lazy, you’re shiftless, you’re a bum.  It’s harder to even begin to think that there’s larger issues to deal with. 

   So they go to that safe place.  And that’s not right or wrong, good or bad, it’s just human nature to find a safe spot, you know, and protect it.  So the question is, how do you get in to that little fortress?

   I oftentimes challenge my colleagues to let go of these tactics they’ve tried for 40 years, whether it’s statistics, or wagging a moral finger, or whatever.  And just recognize that whatever it is isn’t working.  And it’s just like, that’s cool, let’s try something new.  Look, we’ve got to get in the gates. 

   I use the analogy of the Trojan Horse quite often.  You know, there’s this sense of, “the public is safe within their fortress,” and we’re outside.  We’re like the Greeks.  If you get down to brass tacks, the Greeks were right in that Paris came in the middle of the night, had dinner, and took another man’s wife with him in the middle of the night – gone.  So the Greeks were the aggrieved party, and they were right, but they were “right” outside the gates of Troy for 10 years.  It was a 10 year siege, and I’m really intrigued by that.  Because you can be right, but at the end of the day that doesn’t mean anything. 

   I think that we’ve become smug in our [constant] self-awareness about being right.  It’s like, I don’t care if we’re right.  I want change.  It doesn’t mean pandering, and it doesn’t necessarily mean subterfuge, but just recognizing that whatever we’re doing hasn’t gotten us into the larger public debate.  Without that, we’re outside the gate.  We are marginalized, and the people we serve stay down. 

Grapevine: Your webiste says your Culinary Job program has a 74% retention rate after 6 months.  Do any of your clients contact you after that and say, “Hey! I just made manager!” or anything like that?

Egger: Oh yeah.  In fact, you know the cool thing about it?  The times when I am probably at my lowest, when I’m just sitting in my office with my head down saying, “You know man, fuck this.”  Then I turn around, and somebody who I thought had disappeared, you know somebody who had gotten a job, and then, like 3 paychecks later, they were gone.  You know, and the boss is calling up saying “That person sucked!  I’m never gonna work with you again!” 

   And then, a year later, 2 years later, this guy shows up.  And it’s like, “Well, you know I really messed up.  In fact, I really went down.  I ended up back in prison, again.  But, you know what?   I made it through the program, and I knew I could do it.  I got myself straight in prison, and I’ve been working.  I just got my first apartment, my wife’s back...”  Shit like that, you know, it always happens when you need it the most.  It’s amazing how it happens. 

   But the Kitchen is a cool place, because people come back all the time.  DC’s a small town.  It’s not that big.  It’s very easy for people to drop in.  So we get a lot of graduates coming back who’ve got a new car they want to show off, or they got a raise, stuff like that.  

   I wouldn’t ever want to project the Kitchen as some kind of miracle program.  Frankly, a lot of it is, a lot of people don’t want to stay in food service.  But the important thing is that they keep moving on in some kind of direction.  That’s really what’s important.

Grapevine: Would you say there are elements of management training in your program?  For instance, when the chef is ordering food in the Fresh Start Catering program, does he or she involve the clients in the managerial duties?

Egger: Totally.  In fact, we have graduates on our Board of Directors.  Most of our staff, about 80% of our staff is [comprised of] graduates of our program.  So everywhere people turn they’re seeing other men and women [that they know] from the streets, or before they were on the streets, or from prison.  There’s a lot of peer [mentoring].  I’m really into that.  I’m fascinated by incentives.  You know, what’s an incentive for a person who’s been down [on their luck] to stand up?  What’s an incentive for a City Council person to vote against a draconian law?  What are incentives to move people?  How do we play to people’s better angels?

   I realized long ago, that the idea of me being another social worker who is “disappointed in someone” isn’t going to be the deciding factor for whether somebody stays or goes.  But if there was a sense of peer pressure, but also encouragement...  For example, we have a catering program, that employs all graduates, and is managed by a graduate.  I think for a lot of the men and women who are in Week 1 or 2, and it’s a 12 week program... I think a lot of them are thinking, “am I really going to be able to do this?”  I think that, not only can they see, because it’s in the same facility as Fresh Start, but the men and women of Fresh Start really go out and fish for them also.  You probably know a lot of people who go through Recovery find a great sense of motivation helping other people.

   That’s what I dig about the street newspapers also, there’s the same basic thing at work. 

Grapevine: Do you recruit vendors for Street Sense?  I know you’re on their Board.  Do you recruit vendors for them within your facilities? 

Egger: The gentleman who does the recruiting for us partners up with Street Sense and they go together.  So they do both at the same time.  By the way, another interesting thing about Street Sense... when they started, they didn’t do any ads.  So, we bought the first ad, and I got a bunch of my restaurant friends to buy ads.  But for the clients, the vendors, for them to become ad salesmen...

Grapevine: It gives them another opportunity, an echelon beyond just selling the paper?

Egger: Exactly.  And it gives them another incentive.  You and I both know that some people who sell the paper might sell a couple papers and then go and get high, but this might give them an incentive to come back.  If you’ve got different levels, it invites them to come back and try ad sales, or [being a] writer, or a variety of other different things.  But the ad sales can also help make the paper much more solvent.

But I’m also intrigued by it.  Because I think the vendors keep 70% of whatever they sell. 

Grapevine: Does Fresh Start Catering pay a living wage?

Egger: Everybody starts at $10 an hour.  Ten and benefits, to start.  So, most of the people at the catering end make about $11.50.  The thing about non-profits is that we have to practice what we preach.  Everybody starts at 10.  The drivers, maintenance, everybody. 

Grapevine: There are probably a lot of people working in shelters across the country who don’t make that.

Egger: I guarantee it, and that’s one of the reasons that shelters are fucked up.  You know, these people get paid maybe $7.50, and they’re oftentimes clients who got picked up.  They’re not prepared, emotionally or whatever, to deal with what they have to for the money.  And what you get is prison.  You get violence and intimidation and all that, not to mention shake-downs and all that other stuff that goes on.       

   Yeah, shelters are such a drag.  Even though I work closely with my colleagues in the National Alliance to End Homelessness on this, you know, getting everybody a home.  I mean, I like that idea, but I worry sometimes that giving someone who’s deep in addiction or psychosis their own apartment is just going to end up alienating landlords, neighbors, and just end up making their problems worse.  It’s an interesting debate though.

Grapevine: Your website says that your First Help Outreach program involves intake sessions.  Are those intake sessions occurring on the street, with trained social workers, or do they occur more privately?  Is it something along the lines of giving them a card and telling them to come by on Tuesday?

Egger: All of the above.  In other words, we go out with trucks, with food.  It’s similar to what I did the first time I went out, only we have trained social workers who go out with the truck.  The idea is, the incentive for men and women to come out is the breakfast, and then maybe [they] do an intake. 

Grapevine: A lot of non-profits struggle with “mission creep.”  Many non-profits end up diluting their missions in order to get the dollars to do their mission.  Is this what you’re talking about in terms of HUD (Housing and Urban Development) driving how services for individuals are structured?

Egger: Right.  Most towns, the federal government says, “you need a 10 year plan to end homelessness.”  So most towns say, “Okay, great, let’s do our 10 year plan.”  And they put together these things.  Like, in DC, we’re gonna build 6,000 units of housing for the homeless.  And it’s like, dude, where?   It sounds good, it looks good on paper, but there’s no intent to do it.  It’s just, “Well, that’s what the Fed wants, so that’s what we’ll do.”

   But my point is, if we’re going to write it... and I was on the Mayor’s Housing Task Force, and we wrote this thing saying we support the Mayor’s 10 year plan, etc.  But the reality is, particularly in DC, and particularly [with] the shelter providers:  It’s like, do you think somebody’s going to just ride into DC and just say “I’ll build 6,000 units?!” 

   We need to start thinking about our business differently.  If we’ve provided shelter for the past 20 years, maybe now is the time to potentially sell your shelter and start to build housing.  Maybe now you go into the housing business.

    For example, I could yell and scream all day because restaurants won’t hire felons.  Or, I could just say, well look.  While I work just as aggressively to get them [employers] to see the wisdom of hiring felons vs. waiting for them to conk someone in the head and go back to prison where it’s going to cost us $40,000 a year, I [also] just hire felons.  Then all I have to do is say, “Look at Fresh Start Catering.”  See, if I can hire felons, and I can pay a living wage, and I can make money, then look, you can too.  It’s not easy.  These are not “misunderstood angels.”  There’s real issues here, but it’s smart business, you know.  Let’s figure it out.

   There’s a great new saying, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”  I’m sure it may be an old saying, but I really dig it.  Because it’s saying, in effect, politicians aren’t separate from us.  We need to run for office, we need to organize politically.  We need to politicize our volunteers.  We need to say when people come into the Kitchen, “You know, this is great, thank you so much.  And volunteerism is great, and so is philanthropy.  But that will not solve the crises.”

Grapevine: Going back to the model for the DC Central Kitchen, do you feel it’s best used for establishing food service programs, catering programs, etc. when it’s being replicated, or do you think it can be used for retail models or other service models?

Egger: You know, it’s interesting.  Food service was just what I knew, so I just applied what I knew.  In theory, Goodwill has been doing this model for years by getting old stock, refurbishing it, and selling it.  But what I’m after with the Kitchen... it’s really cool, about 60 other cities do it, or some variation of it.  And we have this new thing called Campus Kitchens, which operates out of university and high-school level cafeterias.  But, we have tried to create a model that is truly replicable, in that, it doesn’t cost any money.   

   My thing is, sometimes you go to cities, and they’re like, “Look at our program, we want to get everybody in the country to do it.”  But then, it’s like, dude, this would cost millions of dollars to run, and you’re super lucky and you’ve got 8 foundations [supporting you].  This is you, you can’t replace this, you can’t move this.

   [But the other thing is that, in DC] we have a huge amount of other people’s money being spent, so there’s a lot of catering and food.  Nonetheless, everything that the Kitchen exists in, every town has.  What we’ve tried to do is only use things that exist everywhere.  You know: a kitchen that’s underutilized, men and women who want jobs, chefs who have jobs that will help teach, food that’s left over, volunteers who want to make things happen.  All this stuff exists everywhere.  So, all we’ve done is take things that usually you can find anywhere and rearrange them. 

   So, from the function of a non-profit, we’ve tried to create something that’s easy to duplicate.  But, at the next level up, we’re trying to say to society, “Hey look, you all really dig this,” and I discovered very early on that what we did touch a very interesting nerve.  I didn’t really think about it, we just made it up, but everywhere we went, people were [saying], “Oh my God!  That’s so cool, you’re taking food that was thrown away, and you’re teaching people!”  People really dug it. 

   If we can do this with leftover food, and people our society undervalues, what can we do with the amount of money we’re spending?  What can we do with your generation?  My generation is compelling yours to do community service in high school.  91% of college freshmen have done community service.  Man, what could we do with those brains?  What can we do with the Boomers?  They’re retiring, man, and they’re one of the most educated generations on the history of the planet. 

Grapevine: There are articles that have said that the Boomer generation will be the most active retirees in history.  From what I’ve read, they’re going to make the current AARP look like a bridge club. 

Egger: Right, and is the non-profit sector ready for it?  Is the non-profit sector, based on the current way it does its business, ready to adapt to meet the hours the Boomers will throw at them?

   And that’s my point, the world’s changing fast here.  I mean, look, you’ve got a bunch of people who are aging out who are not going to be happy chopping vegetables for five years.  They’re going to want something more. 

   You’ve got a generation of young people who are not going to give money the same way that their parents did.  With your generation, your time is your philanthropy.  You want your life and your work to be kind of wrapped together. 

   My generation [was more compartmentalized].  We worked here, we prayed here, we did our non-profit work.  We sent checks “over there,” you know.  Your generation isn’t going to do it that way.  

   Our economy’s going global.  This town [Cleveland] watched blue collar jobs fly away.  We’re about to watch white collar jobs split.  The world’s really changing in a big way. 

   So I think in the non-profit world, we’re kind of intellectually lazy.  We kind of think it’s always been this way, that it’s charity, that there will always be United Ways, there’ll always be food banks.  We need to recognize that the world’s changing fast, and we need to adapt with it. Because Boomers will not want to just come down, Monday through Friday, 9-5.  They’re going to have a very different lifestyle.  So, I’m hoping that I can convey, to a lot of the non-profits I meet, that you change or you die.       

Grapevine: Are there any plans for future programs along the same model, but directed towards computer repair, or other skilled labor like cosmetology, etc. 

Egger: You know, I’m really into revenue-generating non-profits.  I think social entrepreneurship is cool.  Because on one level, it does make you independent, to a certain extent.  Plus, you employ people, and that’s all good. 

   But there are two things that really fascinate me.  Every time someone buys our catering, at the end of the night, when the host or hostess says, “Guess what?  The men and women who just served you are from the DC Central Kitchen Fresh Start Catering [program].  Wasn’t it great?”  People are like, “You’re kidding me.  That was a felon, that was a mentally ill person, that was an addict?  I didn’t know.” 

   It’s like, Boo-ya!  Gotcha!  That’s what I’m after.  What I’m really after is that sense that you just had a great dinner, and great service, and that person got paid $11 bucks an hour, plus benefits!  That’s so great.  Yes, that’s Capitalism 2.0, that’s the future. 

   It’s that sense of, well, you could say “This is how capitalism is supposed to work.”  When the consumer drives the system, not the system driving the consumer.  Gandhi, King, Cesar Chavez... Their brush with genius was saying to poor people, “If you don’t buy salt, if you don’t ride the bus, if you don’t buy grapes, their system stops.  Their power is an illusion.  It’s the way you spend your pennies.”

   And it’s fascinating because, if I may, all three men were devout men.  All three were eloquent speakers about non-violence.  Yet, at the end of the day, they used the boycott, economic violence, if you will.  A punishing act to make their point. 

   But I was intrigued by the notion of, once they showed people the power of dimes, pennies, rupees, if they could turn that.  If they could say, in effect, “Okay, now that you know...  Instead of a boycott, we’re going to now go with a buy-cott.  We’re going to now create a rewarding power.  We’re going to drive and say, ‘you want my pennies?  I want good food, I want good service, I want you to pay people [well].  And if you don’t, that’s cool, it’s capitalism, but I’m not going to give you a dime.’”

   Ultimately what we’ve spent is 40 years, in which, at the end of the year, you write a little extra check, and try to offset the damage that our society does.  It doesn’t work that way.  It will never work.  That’s been philanthropy, the whole Carnegie model.  If I made a bunch of money in my life, at the end of my life, I give it back and try to offset the damage that I did making a bunch of money in my life.  It’ll never work.  So the question then becomes, how can you make philanthropy the way you spend your money every single day?  That’s what I hope is the power of these revenue-generators. 

Grapevine: Instead of one drop in a bucket a year, many drops?

Egger: Right.  The answer is right in front of us.  It’s the way you spend your money every day.          

   But, I want to go back to this other thing you said.  Because there’s an amazing program in Eugene, OR.  I think it’s at the St. Vincent de Paul Center there.  The guy who runs it is turning trash into gold.  The American trash system is staggering.  It’s like, it’s cheaper to buy a new one of these (points to recorder), than it is to get it repaired.  So people throw it away.  But there might be one little thing in there, that at a light industries place, somebody in prison, whatever, could open it up, take it out, and sell it back to Motorola. 

   This guy does stuff like buying old beds from hospitals, he refurbishes them, and then sells them in Pakistan and India.  This guy is just a madman for, basically, light industry.  People come into the Kitchen and tell me they want to open a catering business.  And I tell them that they really don’t.  It’s a hard business.  It’s what I’ve done all my life, I know how to do it.  But [I tell them] there’s other ways in which you can make money and in which you can employ people. 

Grapevine: You spoke about people power before.  What about using this model to operate lower-cost housing, or even a hotel for tourists in DC?                             

Egger: Yeah.  The sky’s the limit.  Why not do anything?  For example, I’m a real proponent, and it doesn’t make me popular in DC, but the big shelter that we work in is run by the residents, and I just think that model isn’t delivering at the level it should.  I proposed many  ways that we could create a different kind of model.  And I’ve also suggested, sell this piece of junk building, and reinvest in kind of a campus setting in a different neighborhood. 

   But one of the things we talked about is, you oftentimes think of shelter, and you think- front door on the street.  But what if you had an eight-story building, and the first two stories were retail that served the neighborhood?  What if you employed men and women, and generated revenue for the business?  That way, the locals who [say] “I don’t want a shelter,” can be [answered with] “Yeah, but do you want a dry cleaner?  Do you want carry-out?  Do you want fresh fruits and vegetables?  Do you want day care?  We’ll provide all that, and we’ll give people an opportunity to work and we’ll generate revenue.”  Then it becomes that you’re almost a partner with the neighborhood.    

   What I hope I can be part of is this sort of Renaissance of young people coming in and saying, “Well, I went to business school, I went to medical school, or I went to journalism school, and I’ve got a crazy new idea.  I’ve never seen it before, but why don’t we do a housing development and....?”’ 

   I also want to say to them, “In your organization and your community, are you really open to the younger people who are on your staff?  Are you listening to them?  Are you giving them a shot to try something new, or are you, like the people that I met when I first went out to volunteer, are you still locked into your way of thinking?  Are you seeing new ideas when they’re right in front of you?” 

   I mean, I never would have done this.  I would have opened the greatest nightclub in the world.  That was my great dream.  I wouldn’t have done this, had those men and women not said, “no.”  All I wanted to do was pass on an idea, and they wouldn’t do it.  And that rigidity, that just pissed me off so much, that I’d hate to see it happen again.  It’s been an interesting journey, [though], a really wild journey [of] 17 years.

   I think its important to say to the sector, “Look unless something changes, I’ll run the Kitchen the rest of my life.”  Now, I don’t mind that.  I like what I do, but I’m not going to go down without a fight.  There’s an equal chance that if we get our act together, we can decrease the demand for programs like the Kitchen.  That’s the only place I want to be.

Grapevine:   What is the Non-Profit Congress?  Who’s eligible to participate, and what will its impact be?

Egger: Well, [there’s a website:] nonprofitcongress.org [for more information.] But, the idea is, we’re bringing delegates from all 50 states to Washington, and it’s representative of all levels of the non-profits.  But, if I may, there’s a keen interest to bring in the 80% of the sector that is just Mom-and-Pops, under $500,000 a year budgets. [They have] no voice, no say, they’re out there on their own, barely making it. 

Grapevine: Is this what you’re talking about with consolidating, in terms of the non-profit sector being more powerful than it realizes?  Are you trying to get everyone together on the same page, to come together for common cause?

Egger: This is the first stage.  It almost kicks open the door of saying, “If you’re ready to go there, I am too.  Because whatever we’re doing now, I love it.  It’s a glorious expression of who we are as a country, a culture, and it is beyond measure how generous the American public is.”  But, I personally think that unless something changes in a big way, the American public is going to get frustrated, the government’s going to abdicate more of its responsibility, we’re only going to become weaker, and the people we serve more marginalized.  That’s a no-go for me.

   So, my thing is, come on, let’s try something really new.  Let’s try a new name.  Let’s ditch “non-profit”  I mean, what a suck-ass name.  I mean, [the Kitchen] produces great profit.  I love the profit I produce.  Our sector makes every city totally livable.  We’re the faith community, we’re the arts, we care for people at the end of their life and at the beginning of their life.  Anything good, we do.  We should be crazy proud of what we do.

   And my thing is, we have a lot of things in common.  One of the most important things that all non-profits have in common now, is Senator Charles Grassley.  He’s on the Senate Finance Committee, and he regulates us without our say; and that’s wrong.  We need to be organized, and we need to march down to every newspaper in town, including the Plain Dealer. [We need to] say to the new publisher, “Dude, the non-profit sector is 1/10 of the local economy in Cleveland.  It’s 1/10th of the workforce.” 

   Right now, most states have a state association of non-profits.  But most of those state associations speak about the non-profit sector, not for it.  I’m hoping what this will do is usher in an age in which these state associations become a little more aggressive, and become [better] advocates for the non-profits in the state. 

   We should have a say in the budget process in every city and every state.  We should be actively involved in that.  Should we be forwarding candidates for office?  Why not?  Should we be running ourselves?  Damn straight.

   So, I’m hoping the Non Profit Congress will begin that conversation.  But for me, one of the biggest prizes is the 2008 election.  It’s the first election in 50 some years where there’s no incumbent Vice President or President running.  It’s totally a buyer’s market.  My big goal is that we have non-profit primary debates on C-Span, where the non-profit sector says to the candidates, “There’s 2 million of us.  Give us a vision.  What’s the role of government?”

   I’m hoping a smart candidate will look at that sector and say, “Whoa.  I’ve got 80 million Baby Boomers who better damn well produce something, because we, our economy, can’t afford them just consuming.  They have to produce something.  But if I can get 80 million Boomers to plan to use their retirement to serve, somehow...  We’ve got a generation of university students who are surging in their desires to make the world a better place.  We’re spending 1/10th of our income with 2 million groups out there.  Wow, that’s a lot to work with.  That’s a lot of power.”

   Just as John Kennedy looked out and said, “Ask not...”   I think a smart candidate would be really wise to say to the American people, “Wow, let’s do this.  It’s amazing what we have to work with, and here’s my vision.”  A smart candidate who looked at the sector and said, “Join me” would find a tremendous asset.  They would have a tremendous force behind him or her. 

   That’s what I want the sector to see [in itself], and for a candidate to recognize.  I think this is Big League ball.  It’s your future, it’s mine.  Unless Americans start getting their act together really quick, and start working together, we’re going to wake up and see the world has moved to China or Brazil, or wherever.  We’re going to be has-beens.

   I don’t want to end the interview on this kind of jingoistic note, but we have this attitude in this country that “Well, we’re Americans, it’ll always be this way.”  It won’t. 

   I think that we are already an amazing force in this world, but I think we could really be [so much more.] The way we treat our elderly, the way we treat our kids, the way we treat our mentally ill, there’s just a million ways that we could be an amazing force for good in this world.  We’ll see what happens, but that’s my bag, and that’s why I’m doing all this.  So, thank you very much for listening.

Grapevine: Thank you very much for speaking with us.  

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 78 October 2006

CWS Play “Misconceptions” Debunks Stereotypes About Homeless People

Review by Iyesha S. Jenkins

   “Misconceptions” was performance of a compilation of stories told by three young women of the Community Women’s Shelter.  The cast consisted of Angels S. (a songwriter), Carlotta P. (a singer and poet), and Charlotte P. (a cancer victim).  The audience was a diverse crowd of about forty-five people, who seemed to enjoy the play.

   The performance started off with the three young ladies shouting out common “misconceptions” of homeless people.  Words like “crack head,” “lazy,” “hoe,” “uneducated,” “stupid” and “lifeless” introduced the play.  Angela S. began to tell her story about having two children, and a husband with whom she had recently separated.  Angela became unemployed because America “has been taken over by computers.”  She began to sing very powerful hymns that she wrote herself.  She spoke about her children being taken away from her due to the fact she couldn’t provide for them the things they needed.  Soon after her children were taken away, she was diagnosed with diabetes and became very ill.  She now relies on her faith to get her through each day.

   Carlotta P., the eldest of the three women, spoke of being the tenth of eleven children in her family.  She spoke of having very low self-esteem and being very depressed growing up.  When she became of age, she was able to hide her depression by slipping into drugs and alcohol, to which she became severely addicted.  She had a lucrative job, but slowly, because of her addictions, became unemployed.  She began to recite two of her poems, Homeless, and Blessings and Joy.  She also provided the harmony to Angela’s hymns.

   Charlotte V., a woman near the end of her road of homelessness, spoke of living in another state and moving to Cleveland to be with her boyfriend.  She said that he moved her here under false pretenses and the two shortly became homeless.  During her relationship she found out that she has cancer.  She spoke of how she became homeless so quickly away from her family or friends who could have helped.  She also, like the other women, solely relies on faith to get her through the day.  She is now getting an apartment and starting to get her life together.

   The performance lasted forty-five minutes, but the message stays with me to this day.  There are so many misconceptions about homeless people.  Whether it’s how they got there, or why they are there now.  Part of their message was not to question why people are homeless, but to question how you can help.  Always remember that we all are a paycheck, a natural disaster, a fire, a severe illness, a breath away from being homeless.  I end this with a poem written by one of the performers.

HOMELESS

by Carlotta P.

I always thought that homeless was without shelter.

I always thought that homeless was without having clothing.

I always thought that homeless was without having food to eat each day.

But to be truly homeless, is not to have

   love in your heart,

   hope in your soul, and

   God in your complete being.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 78 October 2006

 

County Policy Breaking Up Families

Commentary by Brian Davis 

   Columnists decry the break up of the family in the daily newspaper on a regular basis.  Journalists cite studies that show that single-parent households are a big contributor to making Cleveland the poorest city in the United States.  Radio hate peddlers condemn single headed households as the cause of all our problems in America, including the high cost of Medicare, escalating federal and state budgets, and the poor state of the public education system.  But in Cuyahoga County is the homeless and public assistance program leading to a break-up of the family? 

   Of all the emergency shelters in Cuyahoga County only two accept families with both Moms and Dads or households with a Dad and a few kids.  The Interfaith Hospitality Network, which is privately funded, and the publicly funded Zelma George Shelter that is operated by the Salvation Army are the only two shelters that will accept an “intact” family (Mom and Dad and children) or a family with a single man and his children.  The entry shelter absolutely refuses any man entry. 

   County statistics released this month show that in the first six months of 2006 there were only three men who entered the family shelters in Cuyahoga County.  Of the hundreds of families that became homeless only three had a man.  All three of those men used the Interfaith Hospitality Network, which can only serve 6 to 8 families at a time depending on the size of the families.  The much larger family shelter, Zelma George, which can serve 72 families did not serve any men in the first six months. 

   The main reason that Zelma George does not serve men is that they require proof of a marriage or they will not admit.  I can say that the last thing in the world that a family remembers before they become homeless is to put their hand on their marriage license.  The real Zelma George was an east side activist, and she would be very upset if the shelter named in her honor was forcing families to break up.  There are many other policies of this 100 year old church/social service organization (Salvation Army) that would anger the real Ms. George if she was still around.

   A family facing homelessness must make a decision to split up in order to get a shelter bed or stay together and risk the wrath of Children and Family Services.  The County does not look kindly on children living on the street or living in cars, which is understandable.  County workers will not accept the excuse, “But only one of the shelters will accept my husband without proof that he is in fact my husband.”  The County is very quick to take children who are homeless with their family into custody and then they place the kids of homeless families into foster care.

   The shelters are in a difficult position since most deal with large numbers of victims of domestic violence.  As we have talked about in these pages in the past few issues, there are not enough beds for those fleeing an abuser in Cuyahoga County.  It would be traumatic for a woman who was recently beaten by a man and had to flee her house to show up seeking help and end up sleeping next door to a man with his children.

   It is very difficult to rebuild the family after a period of independence and separation.  Before 2003, the family shelters were regularly preventing boys over 12 years old from entering, so the family would have to further divide.  The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless pushed the State of Ohio to stop shelters from denying entrance based on a child’s sex.  The State began demanding that the shelters accept boys of all ages, and we only hear of sporadic violations by new or misguided staff in the last year.  This is not to say that family shelters should be forced to accept men, but that the County and City leaders need to figure out a way to serve families without forcing a breakup. 

   It should never be the case that government policy or government-funded policy encourages or expedites the dissolving of families. It is amazing that a “church” has actually created policy that prevents families from living as husband and wife.  It is also difficult to understand how churches, especially fundamentalist churches do not rise up and object to these policies.  We need some alternative policies to keep families together. 

   I would recommend a policy of hotel vouchers to keep families together or a place that families can pay in order to live a small fee that offers some privacy.  All those people who voted to “protect” marriage in Ohio with that offensive Issue 1 in 2004 should be standing up to defend marriage against Cuyahoga County shelter policy.  We need to make every effort to make sure that families stay together when they face homelessness.  At a time when a family is removed from their housing and their entire life is up in the air is not the time to force a separation of the family.  Add this to the long list of problems that come up because we allow people to become homeless in Cleveland.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 78 October 2006