Reflections on the New Homeless Grapevine

   by A.C. Hall

So we want to have a newsletter in this city of Cleveland? And it will be named The Homeless Grapevine! We already know what the Grapevine is… or do we? Let’s talk about the title of this newsletter, The Homeless Grapevine. I can understand the homeless in the title because I was homeless.

    I came to Cleveland in November 1991. In my mental state of being I had no where to go. I did not know anyone in the city. At night I had no where to go, no home to go to. I was middle aged, able to work, and hang with the best. But I was homeless. My body was exposed to the elements: the sun , the rain, and the snow. This also left me physical state of being homeless. I went to a shelter. At first I listened to everything and everybody. This grew old fast. Soon I found out about food and clothing at St. Augustine’s, I found this by way of what the brothers were talking about—so the Grapevine was all the brothers talking.

    We already know is homeless and why…or do we? We used to think of a homeless man as being a drunk—that would be if this was 1965. But it’s not. It’s the 90’s and homeless is on the rise!! We could all feel that this is just the effect of Reaganomics and the trickle down effect…not to put any main emphasis on what got out being homeless. My goal was to get out of being homeless. I had to ask myself how could I get out of this unpleasant situation. I also tried not to get into anything I could not control. While being homeless some of us would find ways to get around some of the barriers. For example, when you are homeless you cannot register at the Ohio Bureau of Employment because of the lack of an address. This may discourage some, but in these times of need we have to be headstrong and fill-in our blanks areas,

     So again, we want to have a newsletter? Sure, because we can use the Grapevine to put into writing who we are and how we can help others and ourselves.      

Copyright NEOCH Homeless Grapevine Spring 1993 Issue


CHN Family Development Program

    Sometimes a roof over your head isn’t enough. Getting a home doesn’t always solve the causes of homeless.

     That’s why, in 1990, Cleveland Housing Network, the city’s second largest landlord, created its Family Development Program.

     F D P’s five counselors each work with fifteen ADC families who are renting or leasing one of the hundreds of homes purchased and renovated by Cleveland Housing Network in cooperation with community development corporations in twelve Cleveland neighborhoods.

     These counselors form relationship with families which continue for up to three years. They help families develop long term plans for such basics employment, education, healthcare, and childcare. They also connect the families with appropriate social service agencies.

      The goals of this counseling are empowerment and independence. The families become free from the 30-day cycle and the crisis-oriented lifestyle which often fostered by public assistance. Some typical results: A mother unemployed for nine years enters a training program, finds day treatment for her disabled child, and obtains a union job.

       A mother of three with a two-year college degree used to hold temporary factory jobs at $ 4.50 an hour. The Family Development Program helped her locate chilcare, write a resume, obtain a hearing aid, and find full time employment.

        According to Cathy Pennington, FDP Director, ”We’re getting at some of the underlying reasons why people are poor.”

         Under CHN programs, moderate income families can purchase homes, while low income families can either rent or lease to own. In 1992 CHN purchased 100 houses and sold 60. Currently, some 700 units are rented.

         About 100 new units were leased to low income families for ownership after fifteen years. Average time on a waiting list is about one year.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine Spring 1993 Issue

East Side Catholic Shelter at 17 Years Old

      Since it was founded seven years ago, the East Side Catholic Shelter has housed almost 4,500 homeless people and served them 170,000 meals.

       But it all may end, according to Director Juanita McPherson, unless the Federal Emergency Shelter Grants and Federal Emergency Management Agency funds are renewed.

      The shelter is dependent for eighty per cent of it funds on government agencies. A staff of fifteen operates the trim 32-bed shelter, located in a house on the Cleveland’s southeast side. The residents do housekeeping, helping “to give something back,” McPherson explains “People won’t make good decisions something about their lives,” she adds, “unless they are in a clean pleasant place.”

       Services provided at the shelter include referrals, counseling, tutoring, childcare and even bus tickets.

       Since the shelter opened, drugs have become an increasing problem. Addiction itself causes homeless and the breakup of families, McPherson says.

       This crisis has prompted the plans for IWO SAN (Nigerian for “house of healing”), a treatment facility for chemically dependent women and a drug prevention program for their children.

       Bishop Anthony M. Pilla of the Cleveland Catholic Diocese has made available the former Holy Family Convent on Chapleside Rd. Until necessary permits are obtained, the state certified IWO program will continue to be housed in a separate building near the shelter, where it is run by a staff of nine.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine Spring 1993 Issue


CHAS Holds the Key to Affordable Housing

    One challenge facing advocates for the homeless, is to helping simplify our community’s ability to solve homeless and build affordable housing.

     Anyone who has ever thought about it knows the simple problem and solution to homeless: “Some people have no place to live, so let’s build more homes.” On the other hand, any housing developer understands the complexities of financing, such as tax credits and tax abatement; land use strategies like zoning; and varying municipal building, housing, health, and safety codes.

     When Ohioans passed the Affordable Housing Amendment in 1990 and America legislated the National Affordable Housing Amendment in 1991, we strengthened the voice of the local community in the decision making by establishing CHAS.

      CHAS, the Comprehensive Housing Affordability Strategy, is a requirement for any political jurisdiction receiving HUD funding. In Cuyahoga County, six entilement jurisdiction are required to produce a CHAS report at the end of the year. These jurisdictions are: Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, Cleveland Heights, East Cleveland, Lakewood and Parma. 1992 will be the first year with reports based on the most recent (1990) census data.

       This housing strategy requires public hearing and representative community involvement in the decision making around local use of HUD funds, Cuyahoga County utilizes a number of HUD funds impacted by the CHAS to assist the homeless. These resources include Emergency Shelter Grants, Transitional Housing Programs, Shelter Plus Care, Supplemental Assistance for Facilities to Assist the Homeless (SAFAH), HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), to name a few.

        We ask that you become involved in the community-wide efforts to impact the CHAS and make housing more affordable to people who are homeless.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine Spring 1993 Issue



Empowering The Homeless: Homeless Advocate Shares Experiences

Dave Pacetti, formerly homeless, is an advocate for the homeless and the mentally ill. He serves as treasurer for The Homeless Organization in Akron. The following is an interview conducted between Dave and the Homeless Grapevine.

The Homeless Grapevine: Tell me a little bit about how you began to organize.

Dave: Following the closing of the Okasek Project last year we began to meet with the homeless in Grace park every afternoon and also met regularly in the courtyard of the public library in downtown Akron. [The Okasek Project is a seasonal overflow shelter in Akron. It operates from October-April in the parking garage of the Oliver Okasek State Building. The homeless are provided mats. The project has seen a high of 120 persons this winter.]

HG: Who do you mean by “we”, who was doing this organizing?

Dave: A group of shelter workers and advocates concerned about the closing of the Okasek project began to educate the homeless and ourselves around GA cuts [in May Ohio General Assistance was cut back from $100/mo for 12 months to only 6 months/year] and lack of affordable housing.

HG: Then what?

Dave: We began to organize high impact activities in the community. We staged an all day event called HOPE (the Homeless Organization Picnic Event) across from city hall, we also organized a softball game where 70 homeless people came. We got a lot of community support for this event, the American Red Cross came and served meals and the Akron Public transit provided transportation for the homeless...the bus driver even ended up being the Umpire for the game. But there was still lots of denial in the community about homelessness, and a lack of dialogue with government officials. So we engaged in a nontraditional form of empowerment and took over a park operated by the City of Akron called Grace Park. We did this illegally. The city government finally began to listen to our concerns because of the illegal occupation of a city park or The Grace Park Tent City as we called it.

HG: How many people ended up occupying the park?

Dave: We had a census of 70 homeless people staying in park for the entire 12 days. We had 30 tents and other temporary structures.

HG: What were you hoping to accomplish by taking over the Park?

Dave: We wanted to communicate to the community about the plight of the homeless and demand that the government officials see that they weren’t doing what they were supposed to be doing. We wanted to get attention and dramatize the problem of homelessness in our community. At one point we thought we might keep Grace Park Tent City as a permanent structure for the homeless within the community...but the government wouldn’t let that happen.

HG: So how did the government keep you from staying in Grace Park?

Dave: On the 12th day the mayor moved the police in, and 10 of us were arrested. We achieved significant media coverage especially the night we were evicted from Grace Park. We also got tremendous support which we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, especially from the faith community.

HG: What happened after the ten of you were arrested?

Dave: The charges of criminal trespassing were reduced to a misdemeanor of violating the park curfew and we were released. I’m still upset that the women arrested with us were subjected to body cavity searches. I feel that as advocates we need to have a passion for what we’re doing and I feel we have to take these risks. We’re fooling ourselves if we think we can make changes by being nice and playing the game of diplomacy. I believe the Rev. Martin Luther King when he said ‘a person who has not yet found something he is willing to die for, cannot justify his own existence.’ I believe we have to have this passion. As people are dying in the streets, advocates for the homeless can no longer afford to play it safe.

HG: What happened next, after the arrest and being released?

Dave: We moved ourselves and our belongings into a building furnished as a shelter for the homeless...a furnished shelter that was empty.

HG: Where did that building come from?

Dave: It was furnished by the wife of a prominent Akron minister. We acquired the building and are now leasing it to provide transitional/progressive housing for 12-18 men at this time.

HG: Was she planning on opening a shelter?

Dave: Yes, but she offered to lease it to us, and the homeless now operate it. The homeless make their own meals. There are no compulsory programs that they are required to attend. The goal of the Homeless Organization and its project, Unity House, is to empower the homeless as much as possible. We empower by removing them from their day to day survival needs. We are developing them so that they can become a political entity, so that they can speak in a unified voice to address the community and the indifferent power structure.

HG: Explain how The Homeless Organization was formed. Did it come directly out of the Grace Park occupation?

Dave: We formed Unity House and The Homeless Organization the day after Grace Park.

HG: So how did you get involved as an advocate for the homeless?

Dave: I became involved as an advocate for the mentally ill in 1988. I see many parallels in advocacy for the mentally ill as in the homeless movement. It is a real challenge to organize both of these populations because both are absorbed the real day to day struggle for survival. Especially among the mentally ill there is a barrier of silence. There is such a stigma to having a psychiatric label. I see this also with the homeless. Many homeless are ashamed of their socio-economic state.

HG: What happened in 1988 that made you become an advocate?

Dave: I myself suffered a breakdown several years prior to 1988. While in a public hospital setting I saw that something was wrong. I saw that mental patients don’t receive flowers, cards, don’t get back rubs. They are treated like crap by the public and health professionals. I felt the need to speak out for them. I feel people who have a psychiatric label who can articulate their cause have a responsibility to do so. And I also feel that the homeless and formerly homeless who are able to engage in the struggle have a moral imperative to do so.

HG: Tell me more about the opening and running of Unity House. How are you able to pay for the operating costs of the House?

Dave: We have always relied on private funding from individuals and the faith community. We recently received funding from FEMA. [Federal Emergency Management Association - federal dollars made available through the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act.] That represents our first public funding. We still haven’t received our 501 C(3) non-profit status and this makes it difficult for us to receive additional public funding. It is a struggle to pay our monthly expenses, we pay $600 in rent, $100 for insurance, and $350 for the utilities. Our food is donated or residents purchase food with their foodstamps. Once we get our 501 C(3) status we can start using the food bank as well.

HG: Why haven’t you gotten your 501 C(3) status, is something holding it up?

Dave: We are still organizing ourselves and Unity House. We have no paid staff. We rely entirely on volunteer service. If we had paid staff things like that would get expedited much quicker but we have to use the resources that are available. No one is making a living off of Unity House.

HG: So what’s next for the Homeless Organization?

Dave: We are aiming to get back to the streets to work for the homeless to organize into an effective political entity. This won’t happen overnight. Sometimes we get so absorbed with paying the bills at Unity House that we forget our real mission which is to empower the homeless...and start a revolution of consciousness in our society regarding those who are disenfranchised and removed from participating in the “American Dream”.

HG: Besides homeless people doing their own cooking and not having set programmatic requirements, what makes Unity House different from other shelters?

Dave: It’s not a shelter, it is a home. When our employed residents get off of work they say that they are going home. Unity House is their responsibility, not someone else’s responsibility. That makes it very unique. It is an alternative to other shelters...Unity House is not a shelter. The homeless are often mistreated and exploited by many traditional shelters especially by those with a religious agenda...and we feel that the best way to effect this situation is to make Unity House a success and make more progressive housing that is operated by the homeless themselves.

HG: Is there anything else you want to tell me?

Dave: One of the problems I see is that in the process of obtaining funding for many agencies and advocacy groups they have to compromise their vision and many of them get co-opted. I see this as one of the dangers but it is a calculated risk that I am aware of. Where do we go from here? I feel that advocates for the homeless need to see themselves as part of a broader social mission. In our coalition forming we should look at other groups that are also involved in social and economic justice.

HG: Have you ever been homeless?

Dave: Yes.

HG: At the time of your breakdown?

Dave: No, but as a person who suffers from psychiatric illness I am aware of the vulnerability I face to becoming homeless. When we struggle for justice for the homeless we are struggling for justice for everyone. I believe that there are a lot of myths about the homeless and a lot are even reinforced by the advocates themselves. The myths say that people are homeless because of a moral deficiency or because of drug addiction. This isn’t the case. But I feel that even decent people can wind up doing activities that are criminal in nature in order just to survive. Advocates need to challenge these myths in the community. There is no reason, no excuse for homelessness in America, there is plenty of money, resources, real estate to end homelessness today. We have homelessness in America today because we have not made ending homelessness a priority.

 For more information about Unity House or The Homeless Organization feel free to contact Dave Pacetti at: PO Box 3, Munroe Falls, OH 44262.

Copyright Homeless Grapevine and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless in 1993

Welcome to the New Homeless Grapevine

      The New Homeless Grapevine is a newspaper written by homeless individuals, formerly homeless people, and those working with the homeless in Northeast Ohio. The newspaper was first created by residents of Project: HEAT Shelter "Site E", formerly located in a temporary class building of Cleveland State University.

      The New Grapevine follows in the tradition of newspapers sold by homeless persons throughout the country. These newspapers have been an important medium for people who are homeless to have a voice in their community and to offer a product for which they can request donations.

      The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) is actively helping to coordinate the production of the New Grapevine. It is NEOCH’s goal to have the paper self -supporting and run entirely by people who are homeless or formerly homeless.

      The purpose of the New Homeless Grapevine is to:

  1.       Provide a forum for homeless people to share their opinions and ideas on issues   that may or may not be specific to being homeless.
  2.       Share information for the homeless - about homeless rights, housing, legislative issues, maybe jobs, support services, etc.
  3.       Provide those not homeless with greater understanding about what homelessness means...and what it cost.
  4.       Provide income and foster responsibility to those selling the paper.
  5.       Provide a medium for those in need of skills training to have hands on experience in the production of a newspaper.
  6.       Empower the dispossessed: homeless and housed.

      As many of the proceeds as possible will go to the individual who distributes the paper. A small percentage (approximately 20%) of what she or he receives will go into the Homeless Grapevine Fund at NEOCH to support the further production of the paper. Production costs will remain low, limited at this time to the costs of printing the paper and to paying the homeless writers for their articles, stories, essays, and poems.

      NEOCH provides technical assistance, office space, and use of equipment as part of NEOCH's mission to educate the public and empower the homeless.

            The New Homeless Grapevine is still in its initial organizational stages. The way it is fiscally managed as well as the way it is distributed may change as the homeless involved with the paper make modifications.

Copyright 1993 Homeless Grapevine and the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless