Successful Squatting in Cleveland Requires Strategy

Commentary by John Q. Squatter

    This is not legal advice since I am not a lawyer and should not be considered advice to be used in court.  This advice is based on public opinion and what has worked in the past with people who set up a community. 

    1.  I do not believe that a freeway underpasses or the parking lot at the Brown’s stadium are defensible positions.  Brown’s stadium was used during special events for a legitimate purpose. The freeway underpass is either ODOT or County space and not zoned for private use.  There is a legitimate safety concern that makes the underpass indefensible in the court of public opinion.

    2.  Are sports are more important then people in this town?  By relocating twice from an area near a sports team, those sleeping in tents can make the case that they keep getting pushed around because our society values sports over people. There are three giant monuments to sports teams, while our public housing and affordable housing in our community deteriorates.

What has worked in other cities?

    1.  The other tent cities have survived because churches have allowed homeless people to use their space, and the City cannot tell a church how to use their property.  So in other cities they use parking lots for a month or a couple of months then relocate to a new church parking lot.

    2.  The other tent cities have survived because they have set up a governing structure.  They have strict rules against any illegal activity on the property.  They have won sympathy from the public because they keep the place clean and have strict rules for conduct.

    3.  One group of homeless in one city used the tent city as a form of political protest so they had some protections under the law.

    4.  Once you find a good space that you can defend get the media involved early on.  Get television, Plain Dealer and Free Times to interview the residents about your efforts early so that it will be harder for the police to bust up the encampment.  My suggestion is one of two messages for the media:

    A.  All the City offers is shelter or nothing.  There are no standards in the shelters and so we found a better option.

    B.  Housing is out of reach in this city yet there are so many abandoned buildings.  It is a crime to have all these vacant units teasing us, but we have to wait 3 to 5 years for housing that we can afford.

Other options:

    1.  Take over a private property that has back property taxes and make improvements either a lot or a building.  Cut the grass, clean up the property, paint it or make it look better.  This would generate positive publicity in the media and you would get a lot of support from many different groups, and it would be hard for the owner to object because they are behind on their taxes.  If the owner objects, there is a provision in the landlord tenant law about squatting and so they would most likely have to go through the eviction process to have squatters removed.  You could make improvements in the property (clean up and such) in lieu of paying the taxes.  So you could argue in the media that that you are cleaning up blight and eyesores, and doing more than the owner is doing for the neighborhood.  The police would not have a hard time removing you unless the owner filed an objection.  This would give at a minimum 45 days to relocate plus the fight in court and in the media attention would be good.

    2.  Find property that the City has taken into its land bank for redevelopment.  This was the case for the Camelot fight at East 45th and Chester Ave.  So, you could make a case that this is public property for residential use and you are in need of a place to live so you are fulfilling that purpose.  Landbank property is taken by eminent domain and then turned over to a developer after the property is demolished.  Again, you would have time to fight this out in court before they could remove you.

    3.  If you want to find a place for your tents then it would be better to go to a residential space or work-live space like around Superior Ave. This way the city could not say that it is not safe to live so close to the freeway, which is what they said during the recent controversy over the so-called “Freeway Hilton.”

    Also, figure out an answer for their questions about waste disposal both human and garbage waste that you can put the public at ease about when the fight comes.  You will have the most luck with space that is not being used and is actually falling into disrepair.  So, you will be able to tell media, “we found this space and cleaned it up.  We have solved the waste issue.  We are not bothering anyone and are making things better so just leave us alone.”

    You need to set up a democratic process within the community that you set up.  You must elect a spokesperson and leadership structure.  Reduce the amount of illegal things going on around the camp. (Don’t litter, don’t have open containers of alcohol, etc.).  This is entire struggle is a rough fight, because the State is very friendly to landowners.  To acquire property through squatting takes 21 years, but using public opinion you can get a lot of sympathy.  Organizations may be hesitant to get involved because a lot of these discussions involve illegal activities, but individuals might be willing to help.  In addition, organizations might want to help move into housing, but would not be willing to help with tents.  The problem is that most organizations feel like in the richest country in the world everyone should be in housing so fighting over less then that is a waste of resources.  This is why groups may be unwilling to help locate appropriate spaces.  Once you find the space that you want to defend there are groups of lawyers or activists and others who will be willing to help you defend your space with media and legal work.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 82 October 2007

New Furniture Bank Policy a Burden on Case Workers

by Brian Davis 

    The St. Vincent DePaul Cleveland Furniture Bank after a little over one year have changed their policies for receiving help.  The furniture bank was created after a series of newspaper articles and the closing of First Step Alliance as well as a Leadership Cleveland study outlining the needs.  St. Vincent DePaul jumped into the gap created by the loss of First Step Alliance and after a series of starts and stops, they began providing furniture to those moving into housing. 

    The concept of a furniture bank is similar to that of a Food Bank in collecting surplus or used furniture and redistributing the items collected to lower income people moving back into housing.  This usually involves picking up the furniture with a fleet of trucks and delivering it to coming out of the shelters or other temporary living situations.

    The furniture bank has advertised a new policy that will require all those who want a donation of furniture they must bring a case worker with them for the initial intake screening.  According to the Cleveland Furniture Bank release, “The number of clients…has grown to over 500 being referred each month.  These increases have challenged our limited operational resources.”

     “I don’t think that is fair, because not everyone has or needs a case worker,” said Tyrone Jones who is a member of the Homeless Congress and moved into housing late last year. According to the Furniture Bank release, 40% of the people who make appointments at their Biddulph Road site actually show up, which is the reason for the change in policy. 

    Most case workers have hundreds of clients, and will have a difficult time meeting this requirement of accompanying their clients to an appointment. 

    A number of staff at various social service agencies felt that this reduces access to furniture by homeless people especially from agencies with high case loads.

    “That would be such a great demand... I couldn’t possibly go out there every time someone wanted furniture... I have such a big caseload,” said Cathy Walker, housing placement coordinator for Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry at 2100 Lakeside, the area’s largest men’s shelter.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 82 October 2007

 

NCH Invites Presidential Candidates to Be Homeless

An Open Letter to the 2008 Presidential Candidates from the National Coalition for the Homeless

    Congratulations on your candidacy for public office. Between now and the 2008 elections, your run for national office will have you traveling thousands of miles at the mercy of the weather, eating all kinds of bizarre foods, kissing uncounted babies, shaking innumerable hands, and sleeping away from home in unfamiliar surroundings for weeks on-end. Much of this activity is essentially meaningless, but is deemed necessary if you are to succeed in your quest. Both you and I know that. So I want you to consider a campaign activity that is, in fact, full of meaning and significance. Minus the kissing babies and shaking hands, you might even say it’s not a lot different from what you are already doing.  Let me explain:

    A couple of months ago, the mayoral candidates in Nashville, Tennessee, made history. After participating in a Homelessness and Housing Mayoral Candidate Forum, organized by the Nashville Homeless Power Project, all six agreed to “take the plunge.” In this case, that means The Urban Plunge, a program devised by the National Coalition for the Homeless more than 20 years ago, to give economically privileged people the chance to dress down, do without showers or baths for a few days, empty their wallets, and try their hand living on the streets overnight. Although many thousands of people from nearly all walks of life have participated in Urban Plunges since the 1980s, politicians running for office had not been among them. Until Nashville.

    In Nashville, the purpose was to provide all the candidates with a firsthand experience of homelessness, so they could more-fully understand the impact of public policy decisions on those who live in the streets. They all committed to spending ten hours on the streets of Nashville. That’s not the 48 hours the Plunge normally entails. But, it’s a start. In their short stints as faceless indigents, the candidates had a few simple goals, including … 

• Find a legal place to sleep outdoors

• Sleep on a bench in a public place for 20 minutes or more

• Enter a restaurant and ask if they could sweep the sidewalk or do some other menial work in exchange for food

• Find a place to eat breakfast

• Ask for money (“panhandle”) in a place where they would be least-likely to be recognized

• Find a place where they can go to the bathroom when necessary…

    One of our supporters has suggested that we invite—or challenge—all candidates running for national or statewide office in 2008, to take the same bold step as the mayoral hopefuls in Nashville. So here’s your invitation/challenge: Take this chance to show your commitment to a population that really needs your commitment. Take the opportunity to show your supporters—or even your opponents—that you really care about the downtrodden and want to help. Take the time to learn what life is like when the safety net of friends, family and community that most of us take for granted, has holes big enough to walk through.

    I promise you an experience you won’t soon forget.  And, unlike those who are living there already, your sojourn will be completely safe. You will be accompanied the whole time by an experienced homeless person, serving as your guide, whom we will provide for your stint on the streets. I can send you the stories of hundreds of people whose lives have been enriched and ennobled by seeing what life is like without money, food, showers, or shelter. Yours will be too. And think of the power that will flow from your post-Plunge press conference.

    I sincerely hope that all the candidates we contact—and we are writing to them all—will take us up on this offer. But why don’t you be the first? Please contact me at your earliest convenience, so I can send you more details and information on the program, and reserve a place for you at a Plunge location in your home state, or here in our nation’s capital. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

 

Sincerely,

Michael Stoops

Acting Executive Director,

National Coalition for the Homeless

2201 P Street, NW

Washington, DC 20037-1033

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 82 October 2007

Homeless Still Endangered Across America

Chicago Accused of Underreporting Homeless Count

CHICAGO – A city census counted only 24 homeless people living on downtown Chicago streets and drew criticism from homeless advocates, according to an article in the Chicago Sun Times.

    The count was released the same day Mayor Daley announced homelessness in the city was down 12 percent.

    The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless ridiculed the census, saying it was an attempt by Mayor Daley to spruce up the city’s image in hopes of hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics.

    It was later released that the count was confined to a 12-block area of the city. A separate census on a wider scale of the city turned up 995 homeless people. Of that number, 352 people were living on the street and the remaining 643 people were staying in shelters.

Three Homeless People Jailed for Witnessing Crime

MEDFORD, Ore. – Three people who witnessed a fight at a homeless encampment that left a man dead in early June have been jailed as material witnesses, according to an article in the Mail Tribune.

    They have been locked in Jackson County Jail, not because they committed a crime, but because officials worry these witnesses will flee without testifying in court. The witnesses earn $7.50 a day.

    Attorneys representing Carl Bogenschneider, 51, Lynn Bogenschneider, 46, and Timothy Williams, 39, argued that the three witnesses should be allowed to record their testimony and regain their freedom.

    Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Ron Grensky said these witnesses are the only people who can testify about what happened at a fight that resulted in one death. Grensky has found that the three witnesses were a flight risk.

Police Targeting Homeless People in Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS – Police are cracking down on homeless people living Downtown in hopes of pushing them off the streets, away from the city, and perhaps into jail, according to an article in the Indianapolis Star Tribune.

    Police leaders and probation officials are discussing ways to arrest homeless people who are wanted for skipping court hearings, violating probation or committing crimes.

    Homeless men and women have noticed an increased police presence in the past weeks and said police will stop them for no reason and demand identification.

    Homeless advocates said the police tactics are heavy-handed and possibly illegal.

    Police officials said homeless people are free to file a complaint against an officer. Advocates, however, note that homeless people often distrust law enforcement and may not complain through official department channels.

    A merger of the city’s largest shelters may be responsible for landing more homeless people on the street. 

Organic Farm Provides Job Opportunities, Fresh Produce

BOSTON – Both soup kitchens and upscale restaurants are serving fresh, organic produce that’s planted and harvested by homeless trainees in a program run by the Boston Public Health Commission, according to an article in the Boston Herald.

    Workers at the Farm live just yards away from the 2-acre farm and are paid a minimum wage salary provided by a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

    The Farm, the city’s only certified organic farm, generates 25,000 to 35,000 pounds of produce for distribution at three city-run shelters, two farmers markets and fine restaurants. Seventy percent of the harvest goes to city shelter kitchens. 

Homeless Camp Out to Protest Sleeping Ban

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. – Police booted as many as 35 homeless people who set up camp in front of City Hall to protest a long-standing ban on sleeping outdoors, according to an article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

    Police broke up the protest after city employees complained about vandalism, lewd behavior and drug use.  According to the city ordinance, no one is allowed to sleep outdoors from 11 p.m. to 8:30 a.m. Those caught with blankets, tents or other camping gear can be fined $97-$397.

    The campers planned to hold their ground until city officials gave them another place to pitch their tents. Officials said the community already provides a number of services to homeless individuals.  Prior to the group’s expulsion, a police sergeant had even brought the group coffee and doughnuts.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 82 October 2007

Local News: Aviation Shelter “Plan B” Promised

Curfew Issued on Public Square

    During the summer session of City Council and without a public hearing, Cleveland officials passed a curfew on Public Square.  On August 8, in a bill offered by Councilman Joe Cimperman at the request of the administration, defended a bill first introduced in July that would put a curfew of 10 p.m. until 5 a.m. on three of the four quadrants of Public Square.  The Cleveland safety forces offered statistics about a rise in criminal behavior and the perception by area residents that the Square is a dangerous place, and offered the curfew as a tool that police could use to reduce crime. 

    Those who sleep on Public Square came up repeatedly in the discussion, but the Chief of Police insisted that this law was not directed at homeless people. Megan Wilson of the Catholic Worker community was the only member of the community to speak up in opposition to the ordinance.  She said later that she was concerned that this ordinance does not address the criminal element who loiter around the bus stops, and asked for stepped-up police patrols.  Wilson was concerned that this law criminalizes purely innocent behavior of sleeping and gives the perception that homeless people are behind the crimes that take place on Public Square.

Aviation Set to Close on Halloween

    Aviation High School currently acts as the overflow shelter for men in Cleveland, but will close on Halloween 2007.  Federal officials are worried about the security at Burke Airport, and have demanded the closure of the shelter.  County officials have worked to open up new beds in the shelter system, and the City of Cleveland has taken possession of North Point Motel on Superior Ave.  In the next two months, North Point will open as a transitional shelter operated by Mental Health Services for homeless people who have reached some level of sobriety at 2100 Lakeside shelter.  City officials have guaranteed a “Plan B” if 2100 Lakeside shelter becomes full this winter.  

US Social Forum Held in Atlanta

    The first United States Social Forum took place in Atlanta, Georgia at the end of June.  The Social Forum is part of the World Social Forum and was one of the largest gathering of activists to exchange information and resources.  There was a large demonstration, during which 10,000 people marched through the City of Atlanta. 

    Nearly every progressive cause was represented, and there were workshops throughout all three days on a wide variety of topics -- everything from women’s rights to organizing indigenous populations.

    There were small groups like Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor from Cleveland and large groups like the Poor People’s Economic group from Philadelphia and Code Pink for Women.  It seemed that there were hundreds of opinions and issues presented in Atlanta with agreement on two things:  Georgia is hot in June and the war in Iraq was a big mistake. 

NEOCH Update

    The publisher of The Homeless Grapevine, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, nearly went out of business in July of 2007.  The Coalition was able to find stable support through the end of 2007, but will need to downsize the organization.  The only way for NEOCH to survive until homelessness is solved is to reduce the number of programs that NEOCH administers.  The goal is to move some of the programs to other agencies and protect the services that each program provides.  The NEOCH Board will present a plan to the community about the long-term future of the organization in October of 2007

Tent City Now at Jacobs Field

    The sports lovers living in tents in Downtown Cleveland have moved from the winter sports facility of Browns stadium over to the summer sports facility at Jacobs Field.  They have set up an encampment under the I-90 overpass near the Broadway and Orange Avenue exit closer to the front gate of the Indians baseball than most spectators are able to park.  Baseball fans approaching from the south or anyone entering downtown from I-77 see a group of six tents and a regular barbeque going.  The encampment was threatened by police and radio personalities, but has survived.  Anthony, the leader of the group, has pledged to stay and fight.  He has stated that the group will not be moved again.

Rep. Barney Frank Introduces Affordable Housing Law

    The National Housing Trust was introduced this summer.  For over 10 years in Cleveland, we have not developed any new affordable housing that was not targeted at seniors or the disabled.  There is a state housing trust, but the federal government has moved away from developing new affordable housing units.   The legislation introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (HR 2895), would not increase taxes, but would construct a pool of resources for the development of affordable housing in local communities.  If this legislation were passed most of the funds in the first year would go to help with Gulf Coast relief to reconstruct some of the housing lost in 2005 after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 82 October 2007

How the President Ended Poverty: A True Story of the Future

Special Submission by Michael Stoops, National Coalition for the Homeless

    On Inauguration Day, I, President (fill in the blank), hereby proclaim that I will no longer accept homelessness and poverty in this rich country.

    I, like Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson before me, declare poverty to be one of the biggest issues facing America. One in eight Americans lives in poverty and the numbers are rising. Let’s call it an adjustment of American priorities that will take place not in 10 years, but in my first term in office.

    We will end our legacy of imperialism and use the money to address our new priority of eliminating poverty at home.

 The First 24 Hours of My Presidency

    After finishing my rather long Inaugural speech, I will return to the White House lawn where I will pitch a tent and live outside until we achieve the goal of ending poverty in America.

    I’ll take along my cell phone and a laptop, so I can conduct the country’s business. The First Spouse will join me as well.

The First 100 Days of My Presidency

    I will forego my $400,000 annual salary and instead will work as your president at minimum wage.

    In other words, I will be making $7 an hour, as per the established federal minimum wage regulations. If I work at least 40 hours a week for 52 weeks, I will earn about $379,616 less than my predecessor.

    I will not move back inside until every American is permanently housed. I will then start to pay rent like any other American, 30% of my minimum-wage salary.

    I will invite my closest neighbors, the homeless people living across the street in Lafayette Park, to stay in the various unused bedrooms in the White House in what can only be called the “best public housing in the country.”

 Emergency Measures

    I will order every government building to stay open at night so it can function as an emergency night shelter. I will ask churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques to do the same.

    Homeless emergency shelters will function like the emergency rooms of hospitals where you can stay as long as you need.

    Children, who make up 25% of the total homeless population, will be the first ones to get help so they do not become the homeless adults of the future.

    All local, state and federal elected officials will be required to spend a week living on the streets in the largest city of their respective home states until every American is housed. They will receive food stamps and the same health care benefits as the poorest among us.

    We will ask Congress to reduce the salary of every federal elected official and every executive branch official to the same monthly amount received by those on Social Security disability. This will keep the officeholders in touch with the almost 40 million Americans who live below the poverty line.

    I will ask Congress to pass legislation making it illegal for cities to adopt laws targeting homeless people for acts such as sleeping, camping, sitting or panhandling.

    All homeless persons who so desire will receive a donated laptop computer so they can connect with the rest of the world and use the Internet to help them get out of their homelessness and low-income status.

Long-Term Solutions

    I will restore the federal low-income housing budget to what it was back in 1979 – $83 billion compared to $33.6 billion today.

    I will work with the mayors of American cities to create a federal housing policy.

    The countless abandoned buildings that plague our inner cities will be turned over to nonprofits or municipalities, which will provide resources and training for homeless or low-income people to repair these homes. This will be a 21st-century version of the Homestead Act of 1860.

    People released from prison or mental health and alcohol treatment centers will be guaranteed admission to halfway houses with employment, case management and counseling services. This will end the established practice of releasing them to the streets without support, setting them up for failure.

    I will come up with a 21st-century version of President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps programs. My inspiration for this approach comes from the late President Ronald Reagan, who said, “I think the best possible social program is a job.”

    The minimum wage will henceforth be replaced by a universal living wage. At that time, I will make my salary the living wage.

    Health insurance will be free or low-cost if you are homeless or low-income and expensive if you happen to be rich.

    For homeless and low-income people with disabilities, I declare these citizens are entitled to treatment on demand for mental health and substance abuse issues.

    State and federal voting laws will be liberalized, making it easier for homeless and low-income people to vote. No photo ID or mailing address may be required.

    As commander in chief, I make a commitment that no persons who serve their country in our armed forces shall be allowed to become homeless.

    Victims of domestic violence, a leading cause of homelessness among women, will no longer be forced to flee their homes and wind up on the streets or in shelters. Rather, the victims will stay put and the batterers will be sent to jail or to shelters designed for them.

Eliminating Root Causes

    I will ask Congress to adopt the right to housing and health care for all our citizens, even if they cannot afford it, like in many other countries around the world.

    I will make two- or four-year college education free to young people in exchange for national service. An education is the best way to break out of poverty.

    I will build a “Museum on Poverty” on the Mall in the nation’s capital to remind Americans how poverty remained unchecked in the last century and for the first 10 years of this new one.

    Poverty will be something of our past, not of the present, or our future. 

The inspiration for this pledge to end poverty in 21st-century America comes from Upton Sinclair’s “I, Governor of California and How I Ended Poverty, A True Story of the Future, 1934.” Part I of this story was published in June 2007.

Michael Stoops is the acting executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Coalition for the Homeless.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 82 October 2007

Homeless Congress Opposes Public Square Curfew

 

Special Submission from the Homeless Congress

   The Homeless Congress has voted to take a stand opposed to the proposed curfew for Public Square.  We believe that this policy raises many questions that need to be answered:

   Where do those who cannot or will not use the shelters live?  Homeless people were recently kicked out of the Convention Center, Brown’s Stadium, and the airport and now they’re being told not to stay in Public Square. Where do they go?

   Why are there no alternatives? If the City wants to address homeless people, they need to provide homeless people who refuse shelters with an alternative place to stay. The City should provide funding for the proposed Evening Engagement Center or 24 hour drop-in center to allow homeless people a place to exist inside and not be arrested.

    What about all the problems with young people attacking homeless people?  Many feel that the lights and the activity on Public Square make it a safe place to sleep.  The City needs to spend more resources on protecting the safety of homeless people from attackers instead of making it illegal to be homeless.

    Why do so many people choose not to use the shelters?  Many homeless people fall through the cracks in the behavioral health systems, and this forces people to sleep on the street. The City needs to spend more time on reviewing prevention strategies instead of on criminalization efforts.

    We, the members of the Homeless Congress are tired of homeless people being moved all over the City.  We want city leaders to address the root causes of homelessness and develop some real solutions to homelessness. 

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 82 October 2007

Homeless Coalition Survives to Fight Another Day

An Open Letter to the Homeless

Advocates of Northeast Ohio 

    The Board of Trustees of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) would like to thank all those readers of the Homeless Grapevine for your outpouring of support.   NEOCH has experienced an extremely rough summer, and were very close to going out of business.  We wanted to keep the readers of the Grapevine up to date about our progress toward finding stable funding since this could result in changes to the 14 year old street newspaper.

    We were overwhelmed with the response from elected officials, formerly homeless people, members, and the media to our financial issues announced in June 2007.  The response to our call for help has allowed us a few months to reorganize in order to become a smaller organization.   The NEOCH Board has addressed our immediate needs, and we are committed to never finding ourselves in this position again.

    We need to thank the many individual donors who stepped forward to help as well as the Gund Foundation and the City of Cleveland.  Never in our history has NEOCH had a contract with the City of Cleveland, but on Wednesday July 11, the City of Cleveland approved a $50,000 contract with the Homeless Coalition. We also must thank Ohio Representative Michael Foley, attorney Subodh Chandra, First Call for Help and Treasurer Jim Rokakis for their creative thinking in helping work through some of our financial issues. Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s office and specifically Laurie Rokakis did a great deal of work to move the federal Housing Department to release funds that we have waited for since March 2007. Finally, all of the major foundations in the community were helpful in focusing on our priorities and reinforcing the importance of the Coalition to the Cleveland community.  We have to specifically thank the Gund Foundation, Cleveland Foundation and the Deaconess Community Foundation for their help.

    We realize that the only way to assure that we never are faced with the possibility of closing our doors until every homeless person has their own door to close we must streamline our operation.  To this end, the NEOCH Board of Trustees will be working over the next two months on a plan for increasing support for our core operations while attempting to find consistent and viable funding for all of our programs.  This may result in changing our relationship with programs like Bridging the Gap, Cleveland Community Voice Mail, Homeless Legal Assistance or the Homeless Grapevine or even moving those to the umbrella of another non-profit.   The NEOCH Board strongly believes in the value of each of the programs and the thousands of the people that they help.  At the same time, we also realize that we need to move back to be an incubator of new programs that are then adopted by the larger community. 

    NEOCH Board members are committed to the core mission of the organization of advocacy and public education. We will continue to push solutions forward to end homelessness, and to work for the prevention of homelessness for every individual or family struggling with housing stability. We believe that reducing the number of programs that we oversee will strengthen our core mission by continuing to advocate against policies that target homeless people. The NEOCH Board and staff are committed to working with homeless people on creating housing and programs that lead to a reduction in homelessness. 

    The Board is working on moving a few of the programs, but not damaging the mission and the operations of those programs.  We do not want to see the dedicated staff serving homeless people lost or the programs to be forced to change, and there is no talk of termination of any of the programs.  The NEOCH Board is looking for homes for the programs, which will benefit homeless people, and we hope will lead to an expansion of services or opportunities.

    We are actively working to find additional board members as well as volunteers to help with our fund raising efforts.  Please give the office a call if you are or you know of talented individuals who have a passion for solving homelessness locally.

 Sincerely, 

The NEOCH Board of Trustees

Publisher of the Homeless Grapevine newspaper

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 82 October 2007

Covering Cleveland Provides Blankets and Hugs

Interview by Ariela Alpert

    In the last issue of The Homeless Grapevine, Managing Editor Kevin Cleary wrote a commentary discussing the volunteering spirit of America’s youth, and contrasted this with the public perception of a “useless and selfish” generation. 

    Erin Huber, the young founder of local non-profit organization Covering Cleveland, is another example of this volunteering spirit.  Started in 2000, when she was only 18, Huber’s organization seeks to provide warmth in the form of blankets, jackets, hugs, and more to homeless people in and around Cleveland.  Huber recently sat down with the Grapevine to talk about her work.

Homeless Grapevine: Have you always been interested in helping others or was there a particular incident that spurred your interest?

Huber: I think I had a really great upbringing, which is the main reason that I feel we must all help each other.  My mother has always taught me to be kind and my father, who is now deceased, taught me to always love one another.

    When I was about 15, I went to my first soup kitchen (by myself), and I was hooked really.  After that, I joined Big Brothers Big Sisters, began volunteering for Habitat for Humanity, and then moved on to my current project, Covering Cleveland.

Grapevine: How did you start Covering Cleveland and how did it develop?

Huber: The story is posted on the website for greater detail if needed, [but,] in short, have you ever felt like you wanted to do more, but didn’t know how?  Or maybe something you wanted was just a few inches from your reach -- you weren’t satisfied with what you were doing?

  Well, I think that’s how I felt before starting Covering Cleveland.

  I just wanted to do more and after experiencing (the story on the website), I just started with a few blankets and my car, covering people up on the streets, and it developed from there, with more people wanting to help.  (Editor’s Note: The “story on the website”to which Huber is referring involved a trip to downtown Cleveland at the age of 16, in which she saw someone sleeping on the street and felt compelled to grab a blanket from her car.)

Grapevine: Have you heard any interesting stories from you interactions with the homeless community that you would like to share?

Huber: Some of [them] I don’t think I should share, but I will say that the homeless are commonly discriminated against and some have been harmed on many a night by people who should be protecting them, which is sad.

    Also, there is one issue I would like to address here and that is: Many of us are only a paycheck away from being homeless.  There are many reasons for homelessness, and I think the saddest story is that of a close friend who I won’t name. 

    He and his wife had a happy marriage and a son in Cleveland 10 years ago.  One day, someone took his son’s life for no reason.  His marriage was torn apart from anger and depression.  The man who killed his son was just released from jail this year, but he, the father, has been on the streets for about 9 years mourning his son’s death, dealing with depression, the loss of his son and marriage.  The point is that we never know what life is going to hand us or how we will react to it, and not everyone has solid family and friends.  It is not hard to become homeless.  Many of the men I meet have high school diplomas, some college, long, solid working careers, etc.  So, when you see a homeless person on the street (not a panhandler), please treat them as a person with respect.  You have no idea how close to home their story may be.

Grapevine: What else do you think would help homeless people in Cleveland?

Huber: I really feel that the city can get more involved.  They have shown their support for what Covering Cleveland does by giving us a Resolution of Recognition in November, but I am speaking of making central centers to solve these [many] issues of homelessness.  Lutheran Metro Ministries, which I am most familiar with, runs the [biggest] men’s shelter in the city and does a very good job.  The problem is that they can only fit so many people into their programs.

    If we could have a centralized space where all of the local organizations that deal with homelessness [could] meet, exchange ideas, program information, and maybe work together on more projects (with and without the city), I think this could be beneficial in moving people through and out of homelessness more quickly.  I do [also] want to mention that I understand money is always an issue and that these are just my personal ideas. 

Grapevine: Do you have any future plans for Covering Cleveland?

Huber: Honestly, no.  Things are manageable for me the way they are and we are very happy with the amount of people we help. All of my volunteers, [including] myself, work full-time jobs, have families and other obligations like school.  So I am very thankful for all of our achievements and the organization is exactly where we need it to be.  But, there is always [room] for fine-tuning things and becoming more effective and efficient)

Grapevine: What do you think is the best way to reach out and make others aware of the problems in Cleveland?

Huber: [There are a lot of ways, like] flyers, emails, sleeping on the street in the snow for a night (like Blaire Winner and I did last January), speaking to youth groups (with and without their parents), community service at soup kitchens, etc.  There are so many ways to educate people about the homeless and how to help.  Covering Cleveland tries to reach all of the bases regularly.

Grapevine: What has been your favorite part of the project?

Huber: To be selfish, knowing that because of us, someone may not freeze [while] sleeping on the street or that we gave someone a hug who may not have had one in months or years!  Also, I love driving around at night and talking with people on the streets.  My volunteers and I have learned quite a bit about life [this way].

Grapevine: What are your hopes for the future? 

Huber: [We hope] to have a few leaders in the organization, to stay purely volunteer, and I hope that our young generations will appreciate their family, friends, and all of the things that we take for granted.  But, most importantly, that people will always have a hand reaching for those who may have fallen, because we are all in this together. 

Copyright Homeless Grapevine, Cleveland Ohio Issue 82 October 2007