DISPLACEMENT: THE HIDDEN COST OF THE IRISHTOWN BEND PROJECT

By Chris Knestrick

 There is a lot of celebration for the proposed construction of Ohio City’s Irishtown Bend project. There have been radio interviews, newspaper articles, and community forums, although with very few public details about this new park. Despite all of this publicity, nothing has been mentioned of the 20 to 35 people who are experiencing homelessness who live on the riverbed, some for upwards of 20 years until NEOCH began advocating for their rights.

The 17-acre proposed park would cover most of the riverbed of West 25th Street from Detroit Ave to Columbus Road. The first phase of the project is a massive stabilization of the land, which will cost $49 million. The second phase, the actual construction of the park has no public price tag yet. Despite money flowing in from many agencies and foundations, the cost of relocating the Irishtown Bend residents - which NEOCH estimates would cost around $18,000 – was not a part of their original budget.

NEOCH is appalled by the fact that the human cost of this massive project was not a top priority. We believe that the project organizers have both an ethical and legal obligation to relocate these residents. So we began an advocacy campaign that utilized media attention, direct action and dialogue.

NEOCH’s involvement started on July 31st, 2017 in a meeting between NEOCH and Ohio City Inc., NEOCH was told that there was no money available in the current funding for relocations but that they would try to find some.  Did none of the funders or grant seekers consider that these residents would need a new place to sleep at night? Do they not consider these residents to be valuable neighborhood constituents?

Recognizing the problematic lack of planning, NEOCH began an advocacy campaign to make sure that there would be individualized relocation plans that would respect the agency and dignity of the residents on the river bed. The local media picked up the stories and people began to become concerned.  

Part of the campaign was focused on a nonviolent direct action at the community meeting hosted by Ohio City Inc. The meeting was to present the design plan for the Irishtown Bend Project. On August 31st, around 25 NEOCH members and supporters showed up at the meeting to demand relocation for the residents that live on Riverbed Road. Our signs read, “No Displacement! Relocation for the Riverbed Road Residents!” Because of our presence, there was a questions and answer session at the end of the presentation. Many community members stated their concern over the lack of consideration for the residents that will be impacted by the project. Because of our presence, the Executive Director of Ohio City Inc. publically promised to find the money to relocate people.

After hearing about the lack of planned relocations by those involved in the project that will take place in her district, Representative Nickie Antonio called together a meeting between all the stakeholders in the project. Those present were The City of Cleveland, Councilman McCormack, The Port Authority, The Office of Homeless services, the Metro parks along with the service providers that work with the residents on the River bed; Care Alliance, Frontline, Metanoia, and NEOCH. This meeting was held at St. Malachi, which enabled some of the impacted residents to attend.

There were three important topics discussed in the meeting. First, we discussed the timeline for the project. There have been different dates given to the community, which makes the residents nervous. Currently, the project will begin in the spring/summer of 2018. We will keep the residents up-to-date on any changes in the construction start time.

Secondly, we discussed the legal obligations for relocation. Under the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act of 1970, if federal money is used in a project, there is a legal responsibility to offer relocation money to those affected. In the meeting, the Metroparks and the port authority said they are receiving federal money. However, according to them, the Request for the money does not include any time of legal obligation to relocate the residents.  NEOCH believes that there is a legal responsibility and is currently investigating these claims. We hope that the relocation money that has been promised by Ohio City will be offered for the moral reasons and these investigations will become unnecessary.

Finally, during the course of the meeting, the residents of Riverbed Rd, who were present, asked the group to have NEOCH facilitate the relocation.  It was stated that "We trust NEOCH more than any other service provider and want them to be the ones facilitating the relocation plan."  We are honored by this comment and would be willing to facilitate the relocation of the residents as long as there are funds available to develop a dignified relocation that allows for the residents to have agency in the relocation options available to them.  NEOCH is prepared to offer our assistance in these efforts. We have coordinated the main homeless outreach collaborative in the city for years. In so many ways, we are the most experienced and equipped to support such efforts. We have strong relationships with the residents of Irishtown Bend.

The residents of Riverbed Road each have their own human story. There is no one uniform reason why they have chosen to make a home in this location. One couple has chosen to remain together as they try to make their way back down south to where they are from. The shelter system does not have an option for couples to remain together as they attempt to overcome homelessness. They would be forced to separate.  Another man does not want to lose his dog. He has already lost everything he had through homelessness but remains committed to his companion. If he would enter the shelter system, he would be required to separate from his best friend.

 We at NEOCH are prepared to defend the legal right of those who live in this location. We voiced our concern because the residents continued to ask our outreach workers about what they should do. We know that they have very few options available to them for housing and fear being forcefully displaced and having their property destroyed.

Rather than zip lines and boulder scrambles, the funders of this project need to continue to center their work on the individuals who live there. Just as Irishtown Bend offered refuge to Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine of the 1800s, this location continues to be a refuge for those who have no place to call home.  We hope that the stockholders in the project, such as Ohio City Inc. remain true to their words and either find the money to relocate people or write a check themselves. 

CAREGIVING

By Michael Boyd

Being a caregiver is not new to me. For many years, at different times in my life, I have been the caregiver for three women – my great-great grandmother, my mother, and my wife.

The first person I was a caregiver for was my great-great grandmother. She had custody of me after I was born. When I turned six, she became very ill with cirrhosis of the liver. She was not a person who would go to the hospital, she passed about a year after her diagnosis. At the age of 7, I had to learn to cook, clean and deal with her mood changes. She was a very physical lady, would knock the sense out of you if things were not done to her liking, like preparing her food the way she wanted. I also had to help keep her clean for about two years.

When she became too sick to stay at home, and had to go to a nursing home, I was reunited with my family of many siblings and mom and dad. I had no idea that my parents and siblings were not my cousins. I didn’t know which was harder –caring for my great-great grandmother, or having to live with my immediate family. Although it was traumatic going from being an “only child” to having six other siblings, I had a reprieve from my caregiver duties.

My next time as a caregiver happened when I was about seventeen years old.  I was in the process of leaving home at the age of 16, when my mother told that she was sick with cancer. She told to not tell my siblings, who happened to be older than me. I returned home at the age of 19. I had two jobs and was about to go to culinary school, but I found out that mom had Stage IV. I had to wash her sheets and clean her private parts. I had to smile and act like everything was okay, even though we both knew she was dying. After about two years, she passed at the age of 38. I am now 50, 12 years older than she was when she passed.

Many years later, at the age of 32, my fiancée became ill with cancer. The hardest part of caring for her was seeing her sick. I had to read up on cancer and learn what to do to help her - what kind of food she needed to eat, everything had to have a lot of protein and a lot of flavor because her taste buds seemed to have died. At one point, the chemo killed her. She was “dead” for about 15-20 seconds. They stopped the chemo, and just had her do radiation.

She didn’t want to go to radiation, but two times a week, we went together. The radiation would ‘cook’ her so badly, she would lay on the linoleum floor because the floor was cool. She is currently cancer free after dealing with that situation for five years. I am still her caregiver.

No one can stop what God has in store for us. I am very thankful that God has been there for us.

P.S.  Thank you also, Anna & Valerie & Donna.

ABOUT ME

By Elerine Sanders

My name is Elerine Sanders. I am one of nine children.  My mother and father are deceased. I have a brother who had become homeless.  He was doing so good but he relapsed and got back on drugs.  I would not let him stay with me. I felt bad, but could deal with his irrational ways.  I am always one step away from being homeless myself.

I am a Baptist. I believe in God. I thank God for Mature Services. Mature Services has given me a chance to gain skills. I want to learn as much as I can at NEOCH. I plan to find permanent work and return to school.