Commentary: Honor of the Homeless

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.

HONOR OF THE HOMELESS

I CAN WALK UPRIGHT, TALL AND PROUD

EVERY PART OF MY ANATOMY IS IN THE RIGHT PLACE

SOME ACTUALLY THINK THAT’S IN STYLE.

MY GOODNESS ME, I’VE HAD SUCH A LONG DAY

THINK I’LL STOP AND SIT HERE FOR A WHILE.

AS I CHANCE TO LOOK UP, I SEE YOU STARING AT ME

YOUR EXPRESSION’S FULL OF ANIMATED CONCERN

I SILENTLY ENDURE YOUR HYPOCRISY

‘CAUSE YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN IT’LL BE YOUR TURN.

IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE YOU COULD HAVE NOTHING

AND I COULD BE WHERE YOU STAND

YOU’D WALLOW IN SELF-PITY; POUTING AND PUFFING

WHILE I’D EXTEND A HELPING HAND.

 

S. C. STEELE

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 May 1994 Issue 6

 

Commentary: Taking Care of Our Own

Thoughts and Opinions…from Our Readers

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.

Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio May 1994 Issue 6

Vendors Thank Those Who Buy the Paper

Thank You from our Vendors

By Angelo Anderson

I’d like to start by saying thank you to all the merchants and businesspeople out there who help support the GRAPEVINE. I’d also like to thank all those people who called our voice mailbox and offered support. And I’d like to say to those who didn’t call: give us a try, some of us really want to work. Some of us are actually out there looking for work.

I’d also like to say to some of those brothers who said to me this month that I shouldn’t be selling the GRAPEVINE because I’m no longer homeless. Well, they made a point there. I am no longer homeless.

But I can’t see being homeless for three, four or five years. But then again I guess I can, “cuz it’s kind of easy to get caught up in that “free” state of mind. You know what I mean by that –free food, free bed, free clothes, free money doing nothing. Some time we ought to stop and take a look at that.

Sometimes I say, “if you free your ass your mind will follow.” You know what I’m sayin’? So if you try to sell the GRAPEVINE, you get out there and you get busy. Maybe you won’t be homeless anymore.

I’m still out there looking for a job guys, so give me a call. When you see me on the street, let me know what’s happening. Thank You.

 By Bob Boclear

I was in the last edition of the Homeless Grapevine and one of the first to participate in the voice mail program. I would just like to say that it works and I believe in it. Like most things new, it takes time to be noticed, understood and accepted, and I say once again I feel and believe that the voice mail program is a super, worthwhile program. It helped me a lot. I’ve gotten temporary work because of it. Nothing permanent yet, but I’m sure something will come up. Well, that’s about it, except I would like to thank NEOCH and the voice mail program for considering me for a pilot candidate and working with me. Thanks to every one of you and God bless you all.

 By Andre Brannon

Thanks to a very generous Homeless Grapevine reader, Rich Aronson, Andre Brannon (a vendor featured in issue 5, “Elevator Mechanic Looks to Move Up”) has received a much needed hand in his effort to “move up”. In fact, he will be moving “down” – down South to Florida that is, where he is originally from. Rich and some friends gathered enough funds to purchase a bus ticket for Andre to get back to Orlando as well as help with paying his back union dues. We wish him well and send a very special thank you to Rich for his patience, compassion and generosity. You make a real difference in someone’s life.

Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio May 1994 Issue 6

 

Commentary: Teach a Person to Fish...

By Barb Mascio

       “My mother is remarried and has her own live; I never knew my father,” Janine replied when asked about her support system.  I was trying to figure out why this lovely young woman, along with 250-plus individuals eating breakfast one Saturday at Trinity Church on 22nd and Euclid, was there in the first place.

        What about your brothers or sisters, aunts or uncles, grandparents?  She smiled kindly at my naiveté and just shook her head.

         Consider how the family unit as well as the community support system have changed over the years.  Through most of human history, families and groups of families understood the absolute necessity of standing together:  heads of households, helpmates, children, grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on.  They supported one another, making use of each individual’s strengths and together helping to strengthen their weaknesses.  Each member fully understood and fulfilled the responsibilities life asked of him or her.

       Those days are gone.  Many youths turn to gangs.  Fathers fail to feel responsible for the children they have helped to bring into our world. Grandparents are ignored and abandoned.  Aunts and uncles are scattered and uninterested.  Mothers have little in the way of mortal support, let alone financial support from anyone in the family.  Every child who grows up and then leaves a family unit such as this will most likely continue along the same lines.  Having no adults as living examples of how to live, how to manage difficulties, how to love, the family suffers the ultimate disaster: it no longer exists.

        Is it any wonder we have homeless mothers, fathers, children and grandparents?  In our city of Cleveland on any given night, we have 1,700 homeless persons seeking shelter.  Of this number, 31 percent are men and 69 percent are women or children.

        By losing the family unit as it once was, we’ve lost a valuable part of our society.  We’ve lost the mentors, the teachers, the helping hands, the encouragement, the unconditional love.

            One of my favorite rock groups, Arrested Development, wrote a song entitled “Give a Man a Fish.”  The lyrics state, “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for the day.  If you teach him how to fish, he’ll eat forever.

          As a society, we have perfected the art of giving fishes. We have welfare, shelters, food banks, hunger centers and so forth, all designed to aid temporarily.  These programs have become the only way to survive.  We’ve lost the mentors , the teachers – we’ve lost the desire or the ability to teach how to fish.

         Being homeless is frightening.  Being homeless is degrading.  It’s also all encompassing.  It is being house-less, job-less, friend-less, family-less.  It is about being cold, tired, hungry.  It is about dependency on strangers, strangers who often are not all that tolerant of the struggle.

        There is no magic answer.  There is no one solution.  I for one refuse to believe that we as a community of families and churches of God will fail to overcome whatever obstacles there are to aid our homeless neighbors and prevent others from ever becoming homeless.  I do know that more fish won’t fix anything.  We need teachers.  We need people like you and me to reach out and get involved.

        When asked what he felt about the German race after his liberation from the Auschwitz concentration camp, Dr. Victor Frankl replied, “There consists in the world only two races.  The race of the indecent man.”  If you believe yourself to be a part of the decent race, I challenge you to act on your belief.  At the very least, I hope that the next time you pass by a homeless person you will open yourself up long enough to see the human being in front of you.

Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio May 1994 Issue 6

 

Commentary: Do Not Give to Panhandlers

Panhandlers

by Fred L. Buford

The word panhandler, as Mr. Noah Webster describes it, is slang for one who begs in the streets. If Mr. Webster were alive today, I believe he would have to add another definition or two, at least to cover those who beg in the church.

Men and women come off the streets working the church daily, most times interrupting some service with a heartfelt cry: my lights and gas are off.  I have six babies at home, my babies, they drink Similac.  I’m from Pennsylvania; I got stranded here last night and need just enough money to get back home.  I got robbed early this morning of all my money and food stamps and my coat.  If I could just get enough money to buy some food for my family; my baby girl needs some medication. I left the prescription at home.

There are thousands of stories given across this city; these are only a few. When I think I’ve heard every story in the book, someone tells another one. I encourage church leaders not to become enablers. Don’t take the easy way out by giving money or anything of value to everyone who comes with a hand stretched out—these things can be converted into a rock or a bottle. Break those stories down to their lowest common denominators.

I was delivered from a crack and alcohol addiction five years ago. I did whatever necessary to get my fix, but thank God I didn’t have the heart to work the church.

I’m not implying that no one comes with a legitimate need, only that the majority are crack addicts trying to get enough money for a quick fix.

God’s word commands us to work—see Gen. 3:19. In Psalms 37:25 we read, “David said I have been young and now am old, / yet have I not seen The Righteous Forsaken, / Nor his seed begging bread.” And 2 Thes. 3:10 says, “For we commanded you, even when we were with you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio May 1994 Issue 6

Commentary: What to Do About Panhandlers?

by Julie Pierson

After reading the article by Fred L. Buford urging caution when giving money to homeless persons, I feel moved to respond.

I agree that there may be people who are liars about their economic plights and people who rip off innocent and well-meaning folks like those of us who even contemplate helping people in this way. But I prefer to approach the matter differently than Mr. Buford.

As a social worker and churchgoer, I have spoken with clergy on several occasions about the problem described by Mr. Buford. From them I have learned a more respectful, non-enabling, approach: offer noncash assistance rather than outright rejection. For example, offer to write a check to the landlady (if rent is requested), buy a bus ticket (if transportation is needed) or offer a sandwich and a cup of coffee. The person is free to refuse these offers, of course, but he or she will not have been dubbed a liar or a fraud by a donor who makes unexamined assumptions about his or her character.

In another scenario, my daughter, who lives in New York City, puts ten dollars in her pocket each week, which she distributes in small portions to whomever requests help in her daily movements around Manhattan. She decides ahead of time on the extent of her charity, then gives freely though moderately until her cash is gone. The only time she declines to give is when she feels accosted or threatened in some way. She makes no other judgments about the “truly needy” versus the “truly greedy.”

Whose judgment is it to make, anyhow? I sometimes wonder if we “givers” aren’t the truly greedy when judgmentally deciding to whom to extend and from whom to withhold our largesse.

Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio May 1994 Issue 6

 

Commentary: Homelessness Everyone's Shame

By Tammy Ray

     The ignorant, selfish ones say that the homeless are failure 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 down 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 in 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 every felt despair, felt grief that crushes your very being?  If so, 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.

         We all need prayer and understanding, so please open your eyes and see that today’s world is cruel, and only we can turn the heartless shame into a worldwide search for the answers.  A worldwide search for love.  Love and faith are the only ways to reassure any of God’s children a tomorrow.  We are His Soul, His children.  It is time we all act like it!

         If these few words have touched your heart and you would like to know more or if you want to help, please get in touch with the following organizations:  Community for Creative Non-Violence, 425 Second Street N.W. Washington, DC 2001; Comic relief, P.O. Box 2208, Los Angeles , CA, 90040; and Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, 1468 West 25th Street, Cleveland, Oh, 44113.

 Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio May 1994 Issue 6

Commentary: Give Me a Home

by Bryan Gillooly

Housing homeless people is a high priority for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA), yet the process these government offices set up to distribute Section 8 vouchers and certificates in greater Cleveland virtually eliminates the possibility that local homeless people will benefit.

For the past five years, homeless people applying for a Section 8 housing subsidy were told the list was closed to newcomers. In the winter of 1993-1994, it was announced that the old Section 8 list was exhausted, and the opportunity to apply was near.

At the same time, federal housing officials came to Ohio and professed that housing homeless people is high priority. These were the top people, Mr. Henry Cisneros, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and Mr. Andrew Cuomo, the assistant secretary.

The Problem

The market forces of supply and demand do not provide safe, decent and affordable housing for people with low or very low income. There are thousands upon thousands of people in greater Cleveland in need of housing, and tens of thousands more whose housing needs improvement. In Cuyahoga County, it is estimated that 10,000 people go homeless over the course of each year.

Government housing subsidies help house poor people living in existing apartments or houses charging a fair market rent. Our country, however, can only afford so much in housing subsidies. As a result, the local housing authority has less than 1,000 Section 8 subsidies to distribute in 1994.

The Section 8 Housing Subsidy

In general, the Section 8 Program allows low-income people to pay only an affordable portion of their income (usually 33 percent) toward their rent, and HUD pays the difference between that portion and the total rental cost to the landlord. These subsidies are often granted for two- and five-year periods. Each year, HUD grants funds for CMHA to distribute a limited number of new Section 8 subsidies. HUD requires five populations to be given special consideration in the 1994 distribution of Section 8 subsidies. These federal preferences are:

  • Persons living in substandard housing
  • Homeless persons
  • Persons being involuntarily displaced (flood, fire, etc.)
  • Victims of (in-home) domestic violence
  • Persons paying more than half of the total household income for rent and utilities.

The Message from the White House

 As a part of the proposed 1995 budget, the Clinton administration suggested to Congress that HUD should issue 70,000 new Section 8 subsidies. Of these 70,000 new subsidies, the President recommends that 15,000 be set aside especially for homeless people. This concept of a “set-aside” adds teeth to HUD’s federal preference by suggesting that in this program, 20 percent of our housing resources should be specially directed to house homeless people.

CMHA’s Response

Like public housing authorities in many large cities across the country, CMHA set up a Section 8 pre-application lottery. This is an all-American approach, consistent with drawing straws. Who can argue? The idea is to give everyone the same chance at a limited number of resources.

CMHA recently contracted with a company to organize the local pre-application process for Section 8, where potential clients are expected to read about the availability of these important housing subsidies in the newspaper, and then telephone CMHA to express their interest in being considered as an applicant. CMHA will then review the huge pool of applicants, randomly select 5,000 names, and mail a notice to those people selected, giving them an appointment date to come to the CMHA office and apply for Section 8 assistance.

The Same Old Problem

Living a day-to-day existence does not allow for people to buy and read a paper, use the telephone or even wait for help. Homeless people need immediate help, and that is something both CMHA and HUD should already realize.

Unlike their superiors, it appears the housing officials at the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority do not appreciate the crisis of homelessness enough to coordinate any special outreach efforts or selection process.

The second day the pre-application phone bank was open, city and county officials met with CMHA. Among the issues they discussed was the phone bank. It was only after they suggested that homeless people be able to walk in their applications did CMHA permit it.

Walking in a pre-application, however, does not resolve the problem of notification. Most people living on the street do not have a mailing address that they can consistently use for a full year. It is unlikely that a homeless person could receive and respond in ten days time to a phone or mail message from CMHA to come and apply for Section 8.

            The phone lines at CMHA are able to accommodate over 1,000 people per day for 15 days. A modest estimate is that 20,000 people will pre-apply. From those 20,000, only 5,000 will be selected, which leaves 15,000 disappointed people. If any are selected to pre-apply, CMHA will lose contact with many homeless people. Homeless or not, CMHA has been awarded less than 1,000 housing subsidies for the 5,000 households they intend to select. This in itself forecasts another five-year waiting list.

A Workable Solution

Since January, NEOCH members and community leaders have suggested to CMHA in writing that a fair portion of Section 8 certificates be set aside to be specially distributed. Homeless shelters and transitional housing providers could arrange to complete the applications while the homeless person is staying in that location. Additionally, they could only collect applications as long as there are subsidies to distribute. The set-aside would ensure that the housing assistance would actually help homeless people, as the federal priority intends, and prepare CMHA for the President’s set-aside recommendations for 1995.

Published by the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio May 1994 Issue 6