Ten Years Ago on the Pages of the Grapevine

By Everett Brown

Wow! History has been made. Who would have thought 10 years ago, that we as Clevelanders would see our first minority president? So what was happening to the homeless 10 years ago? One thing for sure, we know homeless people existed. But what issues and concerns were addressed back then? Did the situation of homelessness get better or worse? Well, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

Did you know that our mayor, Frank Jackson, was previously the councilman of ward 5? On November 21, 1998, he held a meeting at Pop’s Soul Food restaurant with those who stay on the streets. Unlike most of the old school joints here in Cleveland, Pop’s will always be remembered. Over a 120 people showed up at this gathering. Jackson stated that there was $400,000 available for an emergency shelter, but he was not supporting the Project Heat shelters moving into his ward. I guess he had his reasons. However, Jackson did appoint the North East Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) to work with smaller groups to refine and develop new ideas based on homeless needs.

What about welfare reform? Around this time in 1998, Ohio had marked its one-year anniversary in which 25 percent of the total population had stopped receiving benefits. Surveys showed that families who were sanctioned endured extreme hardship and stress.  It also indicated that 17 percent of these people were terminated due to caseworkers’ errors.

In their defense, their caseload was extremely high and they received very little support from the administrative staff.  It has been over 10 years now since this reform has been implemented.  This move was supposed to save the government money. All I want to know is WHERE’S THE MONEY?  The welfare policies have been reformed, and it seems that people are still struggling. Not only are low income families having major hardships now, but middle class families are being affected by the bad economy and are finding themselves in need of services even more.

One of the most disturbing news stories printed in the Grapevine reported the lack of judgment, medical assistance, and respect a homeless man had to endure. Ten years ago a young man showed up at a shelter door with burns over 75 percent of his body. A few days earlier “Ray” had tried to commit suicide by lighting himself on fire. He spent 24 hours in the psychiatric ward. He was given a few pills, and then was dumped off at Volunteers of America (VOA). Even though VOA was not equipped to provide the proper care that Ray needed, they did not close the door on the young man. Hats off to the VOA.

On a good note, back in 1999, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget was the best that it had been in 10 years. There were increases in the Section 8 program, the homeless assistance McKinney programs, and a public housing bill was created. Cleveland had received an additional 150-to-200 vouchers through the Section 8 program alone. The Clinton Administration really deserved some credit for maintaining such a healthy budget.

Looking back to the streets of 10 years ago gives me a new perspective on homelessness and what the Grapevine stands for. It’s real. The people are real, and the streets have so many stories. Even though we, as a society, haven’t eliminated homelessness, the message is still being printed 10 years later. There are many different cries of the streets. Some them are joyful, the rest are of misery and pain. All you have to do is listen closely.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine Issue #87 in July 2009 in Cleveland Ohio.