Thoughts and Opinions…from Our Readers

Taking Care of Our Own

By Chris Staniszewski

In the United States, one of our greatest strengths and greatest weaknesses is our need for independence. We often seek it at the expense of those dearest to us and may, when we are most needy, use it to keep us from those most willing to help---our family and closest friends. Because of this obsession with independence, those of us who have found ourselves homeless may not seek family or friends as a temporary solution to our problems. It is an absolutely unexplainable, illogical phenomenon. But there it is.

It is presumptuous and foolish to say that living with family again, after many years away, is idyllic and heavenly. More likely, it is or can be tinged and tainted with argument and frustration on all sides. Family may expect the younger brother or older sister or the child they used to know, not recognizing nor wanting the person we are now. And because it is their house, it is we who must adapt to their schedules and lifestyle, and thus the tensions multiply. Yet, after all the fights, family, amazingly, is still there and still willing to help.

In many of the world’s cultures, living with extended family units is the acceptable and, in fact, only lifestyle. This brings tremendous obligation to all members, tremendous order and tremendous responsibility---all things that our culture lacks. As the family unit in this country continues to break down, a return to some dependence on family may help build it up again. To humble ourselves and accept our family’s offered support may teach us how important these attachments can be.

Independence is as necessary as air for many of us. This need is good. But we should not push it to a ridiculous extreme. Asking for help when we need it does not make us weak or foolish but logical and practical. No one stands alone, really. Looking to family again, temporarily, may help us stand stronger, taller, and more confident, as family can show us our value by taking us in. A disguised blessing, perhaps.


Homelessness: Everybody’s Shame

By Tammy Ray

The ignorant, selfish ones say that the homeless are failures at life. Worthless and crippled, unwilling to face reality. The homeless are bag ladies and bums, winos and junkies. They are illiterate, and most are insane. The homeless bring a threat, a bizarre shame. They live in our city streets. They drown themselves in cheap wine, and then die in our gutters. They are laid to rest with no name, not even a tear of good-bye.

This article is dedicated to the ignorant, selfish ones who consider the housing problem to be someone else’s problem, those who believe that each homeless person is unlike themselves, in other words, this article is dedicated to all of us. We cannot continue to stereotype people just because we live in a society that has stopped caring.

We all live in this cruel world where love has turned into our own demon, our own greed. Somewhere along the way we stopped showing compassion. We watch children dying, and we have become so cold that tears seldom fall, but we thank god it wasn’t our child who had to suffer. Our fast-paced world has buried our giving souls among the rubble of today’s needs, today’s confusions, today’s streets.

It is so easy to look the other way when we see others in need. We think that if we don’t acknowledge the problem, it will go away. We can blame others when we are forced to admit that we have an epidemic that has already stolen the lives of many Americans. Approximately 13.5 million people in America people like you and me have experienced homelessness at some point in their lives.

Have you ever felt despair, felt grief that crushes your very being? If so, if you have felt life’s poisonous venom, then you might agree that if we look deep within ourselves, there is no separation between them and us. Once life has beaten us breathless, we too become the helpless, the weak. The only separation becomes the walls of our warm homes and the emptiness that chills the night air.

We cannot close our eyes and make it disappear. We can no longer hide behind ignorance and self-centeredness. We cannot save this world alone. We are all to blame. We are all dying, but tears seldom fall.

To Whom it May Concern

By Sherine Steele

My name is Sherine Steele and I try every week to purchase the newspaper that you publish. Some of the stories are so heart wrenching that I often find myself in tears. Others are so frustrating that I want to go out and yell at everyone to “Wake up and get a grip.”

I, at present, am stuck in a dead- end job as a telephone operator and am living, with my two children, at a friend’s house. I am only 22 but I used to OWN my own home and go to school and work while raising my two children with their father. Now, I’m starting over again (for the third time).

You see, before owning my own home, I was discarded, kicked out and pregnant with no place to sleep and nothing to eat. Luckily, long-lost relatives came to my rescue with a place to sleep, but that was it. Eating and buying the necessities and continuing school was all up to me. It was 1989, and it was the first time I had to start over with absolutely nothing.

After losing my baby (stillborn in January of 1990) and right before graduating from high school (in June of 1990, with one of the highest GPAs in my class), I was told that my grandmother was moving and I couldn’t go with her. For the second time, I had no place to go. My boyfriend and I had to stay in abandoned houses until we moved in with his mother (a crack addict). None of my friends ever knew that, for a time, I was homeless. After graduating and fed up with staying with my boyfriend’s mom, my boyfriend and I saved up our money and found an apartment. Shortly thereafter, we managed to put a down payment on our home (in September of 1992).

Now my situation is bad again, but better than it was all those years ago when I was homeless. It’s better because now I let everything that hits me become a life lesson, and through the grace of God these experiences (and others) made me stronger instead of weaker.

My point in allowing you this small glimpse into the dark corners of my existence is to let you know that I’m not someone who has had it easy all her life and now decides that she feels pity and now wants to help all the little people that are less fortunate than herself. Until now, reading your newspaper, I never knew how I could make a difference, even a small one.

My intent is not to minimize anyone else’s anguish by comparing it to my own because I am aware that there are others worse off than me. But there was a time when it didn’t seem that way, a time when (in my mind) I was the worst- case scenario.

I’ve always loved to write, and I have dreams that someday my writing will be known by all. I don’t know if I’m that good, but practice makes perfect. I do know that I have an ability with words to make people see with their mind’s eye. I can make them feel everything that I feel when I’m writing. This is what I want to give to the homeless.
















Some are already strong of mind and body and can handle the sometimes cruel treatment dished out by people who can’t possibly understand the strength that it takes to stand up to the ridicule of others, when all you want is for someone to care. It also takes strength to stop and help someone instead of walking away as if not hearing his or her pleas for help. Some homeless persons are still in the throes of self-pity and self-punishment, while others are feeling defeated, deflated and discarded by society---all because they lack vision. Those who think themselves above and beyond the cries of the weak also lack vision.

Vision is what I want to give to these people through your newspaper. Enclosed is a sample of some of my writing. I hope you see the vision that I do. I also hope that “Honor of the Homeless” is something you would consider publishing in your newspaper. If one person is inspired by reading it, then that’s one more person who might decide it’s time to do his or her part.

I would appreciate any correspondence from you concerning “Honor of the Homeless” and any other suggestions you might have as far as what else I can do to help. Thank you for taking the time to read this. Hope to hear from you soon.

Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland, Ohio Spring 1994

Homeless Outreach a Labre of Love for JCU students

By Yvonne Bruce

It’s five o’clock on a Friday evening at John Carroll University. Classes are over, and students are thinking about dinner and making plans for their evening out. But inside a dinning room in the student union building where about twenty students have gathered to put together a meal, those plans do not include going to a movie or a concert or a club, and the dinner being put together is not themselves.

These students are participating in the Labre Project, a food-and-fellowship gathering that brings a meal and a sympathetic ear to homeless people in Cleveland every Friday night. The Labre volunteers tote sandwiches and drinks wherever the homeless live-under bridges, in abandoned buildings, deep in the scrub that’s taken over empty lots and dead- end streets-and ask how they’re doing , ask after their friends and families, trade stories, tell Browns jokes, and perhaps exchange a few hand-shakes and hugs.

On this Friday in February, one of the coldest nights of the winter, Brendan McLaughlin was coordinating the food preparation at the John Carroll dining hall. Brendan and his friend and fellow freshman Brian Mauk began the Labre Project three years ago, when both were sophomores at St. Ignatius High School (their project is named for St. Labre, patron saint of homelessness). This would be the seventy-first week in a row one of them has made the Friday excursions.

As I bagged cookies and made sandwiches, more people tricked in. Not all of them were students: Chris, a sophomore, had brought his parents and his godmother. Dennis was a John Carroll alumnus. Some of those milling about looked as new as I was; some were clearly old hands. Matt, one of the first-timers, had come for a reason I would hear many times that night: a friend of his had done this, and loved it. The food and hot chocolate were packed up by 5:45, and Brendan called us all together for a brief orientation. He gave us newcomers a short history of the project and reminded everyone that our goal this night was primarily friendship. Food was secondary. I wondered how the homeless we would be visiting felt about these priorities. As we milled in the parking lot, waiting for the vans to pull around and discussing our routes (volunteers choose one of three routes through the city-East Side, Wild, Wild West, or Last Frontier). I asked a longtime Volunteer, James, what kept him coming back every Friday night. He seemed surprised at my question. Finally, he shrugged. “There’s nothing to keep me from not coming. I don’t understand why everybody doesn’t do this.” I took the Wild, Wild West route. The driver was another longtime volunteer, Patrick Prosser, who works in the John Carroll Financial Aid office and is a Board Member of the Coalition for the homeless. He asked us to introduce ourselves. As the volunteers in the back row began, I turned to watch the scenery. We were learning behind the affluent neighborhoods surrounding John Carroll-University Heights, Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights-on our way to the Cleveland city limits. Our first stop was a spot under the freeway near Jacobs Field. One of the Volunteers grabbed a sandwich, cookies, and a jumbo cup of hot chocolate, and we all jumped out. As we neared the protected angle of earth where the underpass meets the ground, the sounds of late rush-hour traffic faded slightly. “Jupiter, Dennis called out.                                           

There was a tiny statue of the Virgin Mary on a ledge of the underpass just above our heads; it marked the entrance to Jupiter’s home. I took a picture of it, feeling like a trespasser. Dennis called again. We saw some of Jupiter’s things and his bike stashed neatly under some brush, but no Jupiter. We left the steaming hot chocolate on another ledge in case Jupiter came back early. It turned out that many of the people we had come out to visit tonight would not be “home.” Dennis said they had likely gone to a shelter because of the cold. Knowing a little something about the many dangers that face the long- term homeless, I hoped Dennis was right. The next part of our route took us through areas of the West Side I had never seen before. At one stop, near a mixed residential area somewhere between the Cuyahoga River and Ohio city, we hiked through a large, brushy field. I-90 angled upward to our left. A few cats, clearly used to the outdoors but not feral, walked with us until we got to an elaborate lean –to built at the bottom of a freeway berm. The cats hurried ahead to rub against the legs of the people who came out of the lean-to to greet us. The residence was ingeniously constructed. A chest-high concrete wall ran parallel to the berm, and it was in between these that the lean-to was constructed and against the wall itself that the fire was burning and reflecting its warmth into the living space. Most of my fellow volunteers brought out the food and drink and renewed their acquaintance with the five people who were sharing these quarters. One of the residents was standing apart, so I introduced myself and mentioned how much I liked cats.

This fellow, Gary, scooped one up. “Oh, yeah, me too,” They nuzzled.” This is Momma Cat. There’s Tinker Cat over there’ and Baby Cat’s around somewhere. Gary and I talked about his past. He was from the south but had lived all over the country. I expressed surprise that he would stay for the Northeast Ohio winters, but he had been involved for years in a relationship with a woman from Cleveland and had many friends and acquaintances in the area. Cleveland, he said, was home. By the time we left Gary, Barbara, Paul, Jim, and Karen, forty-five minutes had gone by and I was starting to feel the single-digit cold. So were the other first-timers. Our next stop was at the side of a pitted and potholed street running through a largely deserted industrial area. Through the bare trees and scrub I saw the glow of a fire. We got out with our food and hot chocolate and walked toward it, Dennis and Pat calling out again. Bruce came down to greet us. He lived here with Jim-Bob and Bosco the cat, a tiny ball of fur I picked up more for warmth than out of friendliness. Bruce and Jim-Bob seemed oblivious to the cold, but we first- timers huddled around the fire while Bruce regaled us with Browns jokes. “How do you keep Browns players out of your yard? Put a goalpost in it.” We laughed through chattering teeth. Matt, the first-time volunteer who was crowding me out of my toasty spot by the fire, hadn’t brought a hat or gloves. I kept shifting my weight from foot to foot, trying to keep the freezing ground away from my thin-soled boots. By this time, the wind chill was well below zero. Thirty minutes later, just as I though I would have to go back to the van for warmth, we left. Jim-Bob hugged all of us goodbye. I noticed his gloveless hands had grown swollen and hard from constant exposure to the cold.

Our last stop of the night took us down to the banks of the Cuyahoga. We were looking for Charles, but there was no trace of him or his camp, no matter how far into the brush Pat and Dennis searched and called. As we pulled away and headed downtown, I thought with irony that there had been more of the volunteers out tonight than the homeless people we had been looking for. A phone call to the other vans confirmed that they had encountered a lot of absences, too. We agreed to meet early at the usual rendezvous, Public Square. Our van reached the square in a matter of minutes, and we parked at the corner of Daniel Thompson Way. Pat and Dennis told us that there was a group who usually camped down Daniel Thompson, a street the Labre volunteers call simply “The Alley,” so we gathered up more sandwiches and hot chocolate and set off. As we neared the end of the block, three minivans with Metro Church Ministries painted on their sides passed us and turned left. A few more minutes’ walk brought us to a line of homeless individuals camped on the sidewalk in angle formed by two buildings. They were bundled up in sleeping bags and blankets and being approached by a half-dozen Metro Church volunteers. We stopped. “Guess they beat us it,” said Dennis. Back to the square we went. Matt’s ears were bright red and his lips were turning blue, yet he managed to outstrip me on the race to the van. Matt and I and the other first-timers piled in and shivered uncontrollably. The other two vans had pulled in behind us, and I looked through the window at the seasoned volunteers standing outside chatting. I saw Brian Mauk laughing with two men near the Public Square fountain. Chris stood with his parents and godmother talking with another group of tattered and unshaven souls-everyone was smiles and laughter-and I saw that Brendan was right: the homeless individuals I had met tonight and now watched through the van windows did indeed seem hungrier for human contact than for food. At last we were off. As we headed back to John Carroll, we raided the leftover sandwiches and cookies and talked about whom we’d met and what we had seen. The conversation drifted away to classes and majors and hobbies and television shows, and I felt a part of the camaraderie that brought so many of these students back Friday after Friday. It was after ten o’clock when we pulled up to school and unloaded the van. I was dead tired, but the other volunteers, pumped up by their experience, seemed, ready to go out again. As I made my goodbyes and headed toward my car, Brendan left me with a final reminder:

“We’re here every Friday. Come see us again.”

The Labre Project welcomes donations. For more information, email Brian Mauk at

Copyright NEOCH for the Homeless Grapevine Sept – Dec. 1994  Issue 7

Slum landlords overcharge by counting credit as cash


Being homeless one whole year has been one more opportunity to take what I learned from school and the streets and survive, [this time] doing it straight. Life is what happens when you’re planning something else, but when “it” finally happens to you then you certainly know a lot more about what “it” is all about, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.

That is why you’ll scare the lousy politician and his apathetic constituents.

Caution:  The slum landlord has expanded his territory outside of the inner-city. He no longer checks your credit history for proof you pay your bills in cash on time. Instead, it is your credit report, [which slum landlords check]. If you don’t have a credit card [you have no credit]. No credit card is no, credit, and no credit is bad credit.

He does this only as an excuse to assume he can trust you, [and that you will] buy your groceries with your credit card and not the cash you have for rent.

It is also legal discrimination to deny you housing; [with] the general phrase “you don’t have enough money.” Of course he gets away with it, because you have enough cash for the rent. But never forget: You always have freedom of choice and that includes the landlord you choose not just the landlord who chooses you.


Debra Tress

Debra described her residence address as “another motel room, shelter, church basement” that she is homeless because she was denied a fair and just hearing in Cleveland’s housing court in August of 1993.

Copyright NEOCH for the Homeless Grapevine Sept – Dec. 1994  Issue 7

If Greater Cleveland had $10 million to help end homelessness, how would you recommend the money be spent?"

The Grapevine has asked a relatively diverse cross section of Clevelanders, who were not themselves homeless, the following questions: 1) If Greater Cleveland had $10 million to help end homelessness, how would you recommend the money be spent? And, 2) If a person has no money to offer, what can s/he do to help end homelessness? Although most responses illicited were anonymous, many were from customers of the Food Co-op on Euclid; we would like to thank them along with everyone else who submitted their opinions! If someone left their name, the Grapevine listed the person's name next to their comment.

                “Since there are numerous programs in Greater Cleveland that have been serving the homeless for several years now, they should be evaluated in terms of how effective they have been and how cost effective they are in removing families from their state of homelessness and helping them locate, move into, and stay in permanent affordable housing. The most successful projects should be expanded (if they want to be) or replicated by other service providers, using the staff and administrators of the 'best' projects to train the others in their successful methodologies.


“Greater Cleveland does not possess a sufficient number of SRO [single room occupancy] units with a full complement of necessary supportive services. A developer of SROs should be identified, and support should be given to allow the developer sufficient funds to be used as local match to develop a workable financial package. In addition, minimal salary costs of the developer and a one-half time assistant should be carried for two years so that the project can be completed without interruptions caused by having to seek constant funding renewal sources to maintain the 1.5 staff persons required to bring this project to fruition.”


           “Subsidized housing with mandatory case management” --Jay Gardner, Outreach Coordinator


           Here is an excerpt from suggestions written by a student from Ashland University:

“With $10 million not being a lot of money to make any big changes, I would start by changing things that won’t cost much to implement. First of all, police can be instructed to treat the homeless in a non-hassling manner. Instead of just running them out of parks or out of alleys, provide the police with a list of social service agencies where the homeless can be taken to. You can’t force the homeless person to accept help, but it’s an alternative to arresting the person for vagrancy—at no cost to taxpayers."

          “Provide with this policy a refurbishing of existing shelters. Inspect the existing shelters to assess their condition and make improvements where they can be made and add new shelters in existing buildings not being used. Buildings already owned by the city can be utilized and funds set up to support its operation.

       “Services and agencies could employ college students, with agreements with the universities and colleges throughout and around Cleveland as part of a student’s college credit for sociology and social work requirements. The students can be reimbursed for transportation costs to the work site or can be given a discount on their tuition.

            The students could work with social workers, case workers, and social administrators to expedite a program to go out to the homeless rather than wait for them to come in on their own or to be directed to them from another source. Sort of a social work apprentice.


            “I think it should be used to either build more shelters for the homeless or to remodel older buildings into shelters. It should also be used to purchase food to feed the homeless, and should also be used to employ counselors and people that could help someone get a job and start earning some money in order to get them off the street or out of the shelter and help them start their lives again.

       I also believe that it should be used for medical purposes to help the homeless that have illnesses. I also think that this money should be used to hold seminars all across the country to get other people aware of the homeless situation, and get them involved in trying to solve this problem. I believe that more and more people would get involved if they only knew more about the problem and could see it for themselves.”


       “Build a shelter/halfway house and pay for trained staff to manage it. Institute a training program to re-train the homeless people for new skills to get jobs—a step toward becoming self-sufficient. Feed and clothe homeless people and Institute a program that would reach homeless people that might not know of shelters or training programs.”


            “Three words: Jobs, jobs, jobs; okay, five more words: A decent place to live.”


            “Get homeless people off the streets. Housing, medical care, mental health facilities, job training, government jobs, and foster homes.” This same person replied that s/he had “no sympathy” for homeless persons when asked what else could be done besides giving money!


“Fund the ‘Continuum of Care’ proposal."


“To renovate old closed down apartment buildings to be used to shelter the homeless.”


            Here’s an ambitious project to say the least: “Set up a self contained community where the homeless have to run it as a small city. There would be a budget to be kept and products to be made. Education would be provided to learn new skills which would contribute to the community and used in the real world. By running a city, all skills from accounting to mechanics could be learned.

Also, extensive drug and alcohol treatment programs should be put in place.”


            “Job training with some kind of support behind it while people are being trained!”


       There are a wide variety of projects designed to serve the multi-faceted needs of the homeless.  Also, nearly all of these programs receive some type of government funding that requires either match money of “in kind” match, which is frequently counted as volunteer hours.  These hours are valued by the government at $10/hour volunteered.  Therefore, persons who don’t have money but do have time, could volunteer their time to an existing homeless program and help them deliver their services while helping them make their match requirements at the same time.  “Another thing that we all can do is to re-evaluate our “assumptions” about the phenomenon called homelessness.  If our opinions – good or bad – are simply gut reactions, then we should do a little research and re-form our “opinions” so that they are based on facts.  Once we know the facts, then we can begin to share these facts with others in our sphere of influence – not in a dictorial way, but in a way that is designed to help others learn.  In particular, we should be careful to reach our children the truth about the homeless, the various reasons why some become homeless, and – equally important what they and we in our society are doing and can do in the future to relieve this problem.


          “Participate, and don’t look away”


            “Get to know homelessness, then talk about it to friends, family, strangers on the rapid, etc.” –Jay Gardner.


            Here’s a hands on, proactive approach, this person would, “go through my clothes and other belongings and give the things that are not necessities to me to the homeless.  Go door to door and ask people to donate canned foods or clothing, along with other everyday items.  Advise others to donate [un-needed items] to a group that will give them to the homeless instead of a group that sells them second hand for a profit.  Spare some time, and ask others to spare a little time as well; volunteer at a shelter by helping out with meals and other chores that might be needed.


       Donate clothing; give your time to a shelter; donate food to soup kitchens,  Try to raise awareness concerning homelessness among friends and family members.  And, prayer always helps!”


       “Try to contribute some time as well as understanding”


       This person takes a political approach:  I would, “write to elected officials (congressman/senator) at national and local levels.  The problem is too large for me to solve and I’d be more willing to help out if the right people were in charge.  Positive programs get positive press.”


      “Set up volunteer helpers to counsel the homeless in an effort to raise their self esteem.  Show people who do not have any money how they can make money” (job training.


       “Put up large tents in an open area and provide ‘portapots’ and cots. Pay for food to be brought in from a local restaurant. Bus the homeless from the area to an unused building with shower facilities. [Editor's note: For $10 million, those tents better have showers in them already!] Then bus them to areas that need cleaned up. Incorporate Cleveland Works and CMHA to work on permanent employment and permanent housing.”


     “Set up food and housing quarters, but only to be used for those with the ambition to earn their keep. Perhaps homeless persons could help in nonprofit organizations that also need funding but cannot get enough money.”


     “Job training programs that would lead directly to existing jobs; drug treatment programs, and transitional housing.”


     “Re-education, or initial education and literacy programs” --Jim Cutrone.

     Here’s a back to basics approach: “Tear down every abandoned city block, fill the holes with fertile soil and grow food and trees.”


       “The money would best be spent by undoing the legislation that disallows mental patients from being forced to take their medicine. This certainly wouldn’t eliminate homelessness, but a sizable minority of homeless people have mental problems and cannot function in society without their medication. Also I believe the money should be spent on temporary housing because many homeless people cannot get jobs without an address.”

Copyright NEOCH for the Homeless Grapevine Sept – Dec. 1994  Issue 7

Homeless in Strongsville: This is My Story Letter to the Editor

Dear NEOCH: 

I grew up as an abused child, sheltered in secrecy. I always got good grades and had more material things than most kids my age. Unfortunately, the material things didn’t make up for the abuse I suffered. As I grew up and graduated from high school, I fell in love with my high school sweetheart. Shortly after I turned eighteen, I was thrown out of my parent’s home.         

“My boyfriend and I mostly lived in my car; for weeks---I don’t remember how long. We survived on what money I had till that was gone and then we lived on pocket change. Around this time, my boyfriend had lost his job as well. We were (lucky) enough to have some caring friends, who would let us stay a night, or give us something to eat. There was a fear that was always with me, a voice inside me that asked, “how will we eat on no money again?” Another fear, was having to constantly hide from the police, who seemed to notice us sleeping and living in the car, no matter where we were. I grew to know how it felt to be a homeless person. It was shameful and it was scary. I never thought it would happen to me. 

How many homeless people have said the very same thing? In the end, we got married and shortly afterwards, some friends let us live with them for a while. Surprisingly, my parents let us live with them (until) my husband got a job. We then moved out on our own and I was able to further my education.

“Through this experience of being homeless, I learned some valuable things. To never take (anything) for granted; and to fully appreciate everything that God has given me (just because one is without a roof over their head does not mean he is worthless); and the fact that homelessness isn’t just a “city problem”---people are homeless all over. Fear of someone different than us (different skin color, different predicaments in life—such as being homeless) plants a prejudice in us. (Only) until we open our hearts to these people, do we see in so many ways (that) we are all so much alike.

I hope this story leads you to be more giving towards those that are without a home---after all, who would you have to turn to if one day you found yourself with no place to go? Are you thinking, “It will never happen to me?” A startling question now, isn’t it?


Editors Note (she adds): As a result of an abusive home life, many teens run away and are left homeless. For them, it’s either life on the streets or a runaway shelter. Please help support Cleveland’s small number of shelters for runaways. They desperately need your help. 

Copyright by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue #7 September-December 1994

Health Care, AIDS, Homelessness: A Need For Social Change

by Mark Mueller

When it comes to obtaining basic care, homeless people in the United States experience more difficulty than any other segment of the population. Factors contributing to this difficulty include poverty, lack of housing, and high rates of physical illness and/or debilitating mental conditions. Other barriers to care include negative stereotypes of homeless people; a lack of drug treatment facilities for indigents and bilingual public assistance personnel; shelters that will not admit families or persons with AIDS; an intimidating bureaucracy with an incredibly large amount of paperwork, and personnel that are often perceived as rude and uninformed.

It is believed that as many as 3,000,000 persons in the United States are homeless. They are at much greater risk than the so-called “general” population to suffer from physical and sexual assault, malnutrition, TB, hepatitis, food poisoning, AIDS, and other contagious diseases, any one of which may make it extremely difficult to escape from homelessness. It is also estimated that up to one third of the homeless population may suffer from various forms of extreme mental conditions.

Homeless people in turn, are faced with a highly complex medical care/human service delivery system, infamous for its impersonal, fragmented, and difficult-to-access bureaucracy, in the hope of securing the desperately needed relief to which they are entitled. Indeed, Western medicine in general has been accused of focusing on the disease, but not communicating with the individual, who is subsequently bereft of social and psychological support. Homeless individuals pose unique problems to this system such as a high rate of transience which makes follow-up difficult, and the cyclical concept of time in which daily activities revolve around obtaining food, clothing and shelter, as immediate needs assume primacy over long term care. Injection drug use, the leading risk factor for transmission of HIV among homeless people, is also a problem.

Other problems which contribute to limited access to service include lack of health insurance, money and transportation. According to researchers, “the longer one is homeless, the greater the loss of physical and mental health. Resocialization is as necessary as physical and mental rehabilitation.” The problems mentioned above may also act synergetic ally to promote a deep distrust, contempt and suspicion of what is seen as an inflexible, arrogant and unaccommodating system.

The high prevalence and continually rising incidence of AIDS in the homeless population serves as an ominous reminder of the urgency of facilitating access to this nation’s health care/service delivery system. Researchers have stated that although practice of risk behavior required for HIV transmission is “. . .not restricted to any particular group,” homeless people comprise a more demographically susceptible group with regard to practicing risky behavior—sometimes out of necessity (sex in exchange for protection, for example)—as compared with the “general” population. It is thought that as many as 20% of the homeless population may be infected with HIV, and that as many as 50% of all persons with AIDS may be homeless. Given the negative stereotypes associated with homelessness, and the stigma attached to AIDS, homeless people with AIDS are often considered the pariahs of society.

There is currently no cure for AIDS, and as mentioned earlier, incidence/prevalence of HIV/AIDS among the homeless is continually rising. Furthermore, since the causes of homelessness are deeply rooted in socioeconomic and political economy, this is a problem that we must plan on dealing with for the long term.

According to one researcher, one of the problems with AIDS in the United States is that leadership has had to come from the bottom up. It is probably safe to say the same thing about homelessness as well. With regard to AIDS among persons who are homeless, designation of the task is obvious: Stop the transmission of HIV; stop the dying. But behavior must be changed. In order to change behavior, the socioeconomic atmosphere which leaves so many people with no choice but to withdraw from society, must be changed. Housing and jobs are needed, along with at least initial support for the maintenance of each, in order to keep people off the streets. The question on the NEOCH pin is perhaps quite relevant here: “Excuse me, could you spare a little Social Change?”

Furthermore, it seems that the American public is itself in need of therapy if people with AIDS are to be de-stigmatized in our society. The community and national leaders must step forward and make the statement that “there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, ‘acceptable’ or ‘unacceptable’ way to contract HIV. As human beings we need each others’ support in order to survive; let us get on with the business of caring right NOW--today.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine Sept – Dec. 1994  Issue 7

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Homeless people who distribute the Homeless Grapevine have received a great deal of attention from the Cleveland Police in the past year. The local media picked up on the injustice over the summer. To this we owe thanks to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who, it seems, does nothing unaccompanied by a press release. The ACLU has defended Homeless Grapevine vendors several times.

Recently, a person was ticketed for vending without a license. Not long after, another vendor was handcuffed, driven out of the Flats where he was distributing this newspaper, and “dumped” or dropped off against his will near a West Side technical school. In November of 1993, a vendor was arrested and jailed for disorderly conduct, an offence that, if proven guilty should only warrant a fine.

These police actions attempt to inhibit the distribution of our paper, and rid downtown Cleveland of homeless people. Conversations with homeless persons reveal that our vendors are not the only ones affected by police “dumping”, but simply the people with which we have the most frequent contact. The attempts to inhibit the Grapevine failed. The distribution of this paper has increased from about 1,600 per month to over 6,000 per month, and has helped homelessness remain a visible issue for the community.

When the Coalition decided to organize this street newspaper project, it heavily considered the fact that newspapers should be excluded from vending policies.

The chapter of the City of Cleveland code of regulations pertaining to vending license states:

Section 675.01 (b) Scope of Chapter

The provisions of this chapter shall not apply…to sales by charitable organizations in conjunction with solicitations for charity.

Section 675.04 Street Sales

Nothing herein shall be construed to prohibit the distribution of non-commercial handbills, cards, leaflets or other literature on the sidewalks.

No one would arrest a paper boy shouting “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” Nor should they arrest homeless people doing essentially the same thing. In fact, police have indicated each time in court that they were not initiating their actions, but responding to a citizen complaint.

Perhaps an old public perception of homeless people is what drives this police action. Indeed many people believe that most homeless people are criminals, and should be suspect. There needs to be a stronger opposition to this negative perception. So we ask that you take action, by cutting out the lower corner of this newspaper (cover page), and mailing it in.


Protect the Freedom of Speech


The Homeless Grapevine is a newspaper. It provides an alternative to panhandling, and gives people down on their luck a chance to help themselves.

It is in the power of your committee to rule that the people who distribute the Homeless Grapevine do not need vending licenses.

Help the Homeless. Take this action, now.


Your name_________________________________

Your address (if applicable)____________________

Your message______________________________

Mail to:

Street Vendors Advisory Committee Members

c/o City of Cleveland

Council President


Copyright by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio Issue # 7 September-December 1994


Disability Benefits: A Second Chance for Some

By Mary Alice Novak

Chicago, Illinois. Maureen Pearson, a native of Waukegan, Illinois, needs a second chance, and she got it in the form of financial help from Social Security and rehabilitative help from the Gateway Foundation. Not many people get a second chance. We all make decisions, good and bad which follow us through our entire life.

Maureen’s life took a wrong turn some 25 years ago, as she stood on the threshold of adulthood. Seduced by Heroin, she fell in love with the drug, and it controlled her life for over two decades. In addition, Maureen abused alcohol.

 By July 1991, Maureen was in serious trouble. A heavy user of drugs and alcohol, she was not enjoying them as she had in the past. In fact, she was miserable. The drugs had taken a physical toll, and she looked nearly 20 years older than her age. Her family, although supportive, was losing patience with her. As is true for many drug users, she had run into difficulties with the law. In addition, the many years of drug abuse had made her unfit for employment.

 At this low point in her life, a friend suggested that Maureen contact the Waukegan Social Security office to file an application for disability benefits. By November, her claim was approved, and her first check arrived.

However, Maureen did not get any of the Social Security money. Social Security decided that it would not be in Maureen’s best interest for her to receive her own checks, and instead paid Maureen’s money to her mother, Olivia Byson. Mrs. Byson made sure the money was used for rent, utilities, food, and rehabilitation---instead of drugs. “At first I resented it that Social Security would not send my own money directly to me, But, in looking back, I’m really glad that the money went to my mother, because I know that I would have definitely spent the money on drugs instead of paying the rent,” Maureen admits.

 After the death of Maureen’s mother in 1992, Social Security appointed Maureen’s aunt, Ellen Hammons, to take over the responsibility of managing Maureen’s Social Security money.

 It was Maureen’s probation Officer, Robin Potts, who referred Maureen to Gateway Foundation for rehabilitation. Maureen tried several short-term drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs in the past, but had always relapsed. She needed the longer and more intensive program that Gateway provided.

 At first, Maureen was reluctant to go to Gateway because of its reputation for strictness. Gateway nearly rejected her for missing her two appointments, but Assistant Director Linard Stroud, gave Maureen a third Chance, and nine months later Maureen successfully completed the program.

 In fact, Mr. Stroud was so impressed with Maureen’s recovery that he hired her to work for Gateway as a client advocate. Maureen loves her new job and looks forward to going to work every morning. Gateway is equally pleased with Maureen’s work.

Maureen’s last Social Security check was June,1994. You see, when a disabled person returns to work, Social Security continues payments for a year. This is a “safety net” to make sure that the disabled person is going to be able to keep working. If a disabled person is still working at the end of a year, the Social Security payments are stopped. However, during the next three years, the disabled person can have his/ her benefits re-instated if the job does not work out, Medicare coverage continues during this three year period.

Today Maureen is happy with her second chance at life. Drug free for the past 2 years, the attractive woman now looks younger than her age. She has a positive outlook for her future. She still takes it “One day at a time” and attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings weekly.

 Maureen feels that she was able to seize her second chance because of her supportive family, the Gateway program, and Social Security benefits. “The financial help from Social Security was crucial to my recovery. It helped me to finance my rehabilitation and enabled me to move away from the lifestyle and the acquaintances that kept me tied to drugs.

 “There is no question that without Social Security’s help during the past two critical years, I’d still be doing drugs. Now that I am working, I no longer need Social Security benefits, but I will always be grateful that t was there for me when I truly needed a second chance.”

Editor’s Note: Social Security’s toll—free number is available on the internet for answers to questions about disability benefits.

Copyright NEOCH for the Homeless Grapevine Sept – Dec. 1994  Issue 7