Commentary by Pete Domanovic
When we last heard from Pete Domanovic, in Issue 80, he had taken a bus “straight into hell,” also known as Columbus, OH. In this issue, his dispatches describe his difficulties in Columbus, particularly with the Faith Mission, and the Columbus Shelter Board.
The subject of where donations go never comes up here in Columbus. It would seem like the people of this area are completely greedy. But, just by spending Christmas here, I know better. There are some very generous people here. Someone needs to check the books. If some agency doesn’t want you checking their books, it’s usually because they don’t want you to see something, or they’re doing something illegal.
Barbara Poppe (Editor’s Note: Barbara Poppe is the director of the Community Shelter Board in Columbus.) has posters on the busses telling people not to give to panhandlers, but to give to her mob instead. Come look at the conditions at the Faith Mission [one of the main shelters in Columbus], and see for yourself the conditions people have to endure on a daily basis. The conditions here certainly make me question if her mob is more responsible with money than panhandlers.
Even since I started writing this article, things have gotten worse here in Columbus. They recently started enforcing rules that they never bothered with before. It is creating chaos in the shelter, simply because they have never had any other way. Faith Mission owns a building that is completely unused across the street. But it is easier to ask for money when the shelter is standing room only, and they don’t mind adding some cruelty to that mix, either.
Once again I was told that it wasn’t my place to write about the things I do, and why would I listen to these people anyway? Well, it was the “drunks and the winos” that kept me alive when I lived on the street at the age of twelve, not the government, or the Salvation Army or the shelters. These “drunks and winos” also have a lot of good in them. Many were systematically abused, maybe because they complained about the wrong thing, or didn’t have the mental capacity, or the friends and family to keep them out of the shelter system. The shelter system needs to be completely overhauled here in Columbus, even if it is bringing in big money.
Well, my stay at the motel lasted only one night. (Editor’s Note: Columbus has an overflow shelter system that utilizes motel vouchers. On the days the shelters are full, some people receive vouchers to sleep in a motel for the night.) It was really close to my new job, and was really comfortable there for a minute. The very next day they told me I wasn’t on the list. Oh well. They replaced three of us that next night. No explanation, nothing. I noticed that the people picked the next night to stay in a motel drove a Cadillac, a Mercedez Benz, and a brand new 2007 Dodge Charger. Go figure.
My new job? I am working for a company that raises money for disabled Veterans. I actually do take pride in the job, even if some days I only make $8.00. The thing about it that really throws me is when I call a business or corporation. They scold me and say, “Do you know you are calling me a business phone?!” Soldiers didn’t get paralyzed fighting for me to continue my homeless way of life. It was for “the capitalist way.” Let’s think about that one.
The Faith Mission here in Columbus has brought in a security company, but they seem pretty useless. They have a security guard that hangs out in the penthouse suite on the third floor, but 90% of the problems are in the dungeon on the second floor. Sometimes the night starts out with as many as 3 security guards, but they never seem to visit the second floor.
It seems to me that a dictatorial shelter board is the only form of control the people in charge seem to want in Columbus, and their dictates never seem to benefit homeless people in any way, shape, or form. They are either completely unaware of the awful conditions at these shelters, meaning they’re incompetent, or it’s on purpose. This management team at the Columbus shelter board is extremely successful at keeping their money close. They were successful in running the main homeless source of income, (temporary labor companies), away from the downtown area. The shelter board was successful in getting people to give to them directly, instead of some panhandler who suffers on the street. The Columbus shelter board has not succeeded in helping anyone who is actually homeless, and they are mute when homeless people are exploited.
In my opinion, there is absolutely no chance of solving homelessness with Barb Poppe in charge. Every campaign she gets on actually hurts homeless people, and she doesn’t seem to hire homeless people either. It has actually been this way here in Columbus for quite some time. People are glad to occasionally make $20 after three full days of work, and they believe that’s the way it is. No one can get to the labor pools, even the mail doesn’t come half the time. What is really bad is that the Columbus Shelter Board knows how rotten they make things, and they still do it anyway.
I have a pay stub from one of the shelters that I worked for here in Columbus. If you know anything about deductions and the like, then this place just stole my money. After showing it to my “advocate,” she told me that if I complained about it, I probably wouldn’t get housing. Well, thanks for the help and advice. I can no longer communicate with my “advocate” anyway, because of the hours I work. Faith Mission has a new system in place where people have to make appointments to see them. Not surprisingly, I don’t fit anywhere in their available time frame. There is also no communication other than face-to-face.
Working people and disabled people are forced to stay in the same shelter here. They set up their programs to accommodate the disabled, meaning that everything’s done during normal business hours. Working people are trying to devote those hours to making money. This makes working counter-productive, because you can only talk to the shelter workers and get the shelter’s services during regular business hours. I don’t believe for a second that they don’t know what they are doing. They need this captive audience to get grant money.
After only a couple of weeks, the security guards have been replaced by the Columbus police department. The guards weren’t effective, and neither are the Columbus police. I guess the staff here trains them to sit at the front desk and drink coffee. One night the police came in at about two in the morning screaming something about how it’s illegal to smoke marijuana, and that they would not hesitate to arrest somebody. Then they went back to where ever. Now the entire mission is off of drugs and we no longer have to live in fear.
Several big-wigs were in today. I was taking a day off to try to get bagged lunches for work from my “advocate.” The little money that I was making went to feed myself and take the bus. One big-wig assured me that I would have bus passes and a lunch and still be to work on time. He even wrote my name in his little notebook. One hour past the time I was supposed to be at work, I got a lunch.
I believe all the security will disappear really soon. That was just a front, and a hurried cleanup for another one of Barbara Poppe’s public relations/fund raising shows. If you can imagine having to bring in the Columbus police for temporary cleanups, then you can begin to imagine what it’s like when the police aren’t here.
Today is another Sunday at the Faith Mission in Columbus. What a hustle I saw when they came through looking for their next grant. They must feel like they got it, because they haven’t been doing anything special lately. The police presence has pretty much gone. I’ve seen it happen once before. The police are told they are ineffective, so they volunteer a few hours to say “Yes we are!” and then they are gone. The staff seems to hate homeless people now more than ever.
I feel my time at the mission is coming to an end, and I’ll be needing to go somewhere else soon. I’m pretty good at finding jobs and making the money I spend, but it’s not possible to do that here in Columbus. I can’t even afford to get myself a haircut. When I look back, it seems to me that these conditions were made this way on purpose. Talk about exploitation. After meeting a couple of the directors at the Mission, the first thing that came to mind was the old confidence men. I don’t think they give a damn about us.
I just left the homeless coalition meeting here in Columbus after I got there a little late. There seemed to be very little discussion about homeless shelters or poor people. They were all signing a piece of paper about Mother’s Day. They actually didn’t like it very much when I brought up homeless conditions at the shelter. A number of people there acted as if I were intruding. Even a man named Bill, who I knew from the Coalition in Cleveland, informed me that my attitude wasn’t very good. But, I was making a point that I believe is truthful, and whatever my attitude, people shouldn’t dismiss what I’m saying out of hand. They especially didn’t like it when I said that the $10,000 grant they received should be used for hiring a strong grant writer, in order to start disassociating themselves from the shelter board. I brought up a few other issues I had about Columbus, and I feel like I am a hated man. If you bring up questions about where money went, you sure make yourself an outcast. I am afraid this homeless coalition will just turn out to be the stepchild of the Columbus shelter board.
I have been gone from Columbus about a month and a half. I am actually in Dayton now. Dayton’s attitude toward helping clients seems to be a 180-degree turn-around from Columbus. The Saint Vincent Shelter in Dayton is the place I wish I had come to from the beginning. I’ll tell you all about it, but right now there is still more about Columbus.
I was really disgusted when the Faith Mission threw people out around March 15; one full month before the end of winter emergency shelter. After questioning John Hardiman at the Shelter Board, he assured me that those expelled were the problem people at the shelter. He’s wrong. I was there when they made the announcement that the people who did not have beds couldn’t stay there anymore. Some had only been there a few days, and for some, was their first day. Those people in Columbus really do not have a clue as to what is going on, and really don’t care.
Faith Mission also claims to do an evaluation of people who come into the shelter system. But, there wasn’t one person there I would trust to do a wake-up call, let alone evaluate me (wake up calls there are about a 50-50 chance). Then again, anyone who doesn’t believe all of this should just go see for themselves. People I’ve told about how bad things are in Columbus have questioned my “attitude,” but they haven’t stayed at the Mission.
Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 81 June-July 2007