Tale of two cities: Battle of Public Square is one of privilege vs. homelessness

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Tue, 06/27/2006 - 02:57.

 

 

People's treatment of other people suffering in our society is a great measure of our society and the people who lead and follow in it. When a man, woman or child is clearly without shelter, suffering, hungry, depressed, or perhaps mentally disturbed, how do we as individuals and society treat them? When we think of progress in our community, is it to solve the problems of the most troubled, or the most privileged? In Northeast Ohio, it is safe to say, our leadership and the society they lead is most focused on the needs of the privileged - the most advantaged - in general disregard and often open contempt for those with the least privilege, never recognizing their success is the core to our region's success. Regarding the homeless, so often here we hear, "don't give that bum a dime - he'll just buy drugs" - "that guy begs for a living - he probably has a nice apartment somewhere" - "they need to get all these bums out of Public Square - it's bad for business", and the like. These are the sick thoughts of the hopeless and the truly unwashed privileged who are void of vision into the human condition much less the value of a man, and that is the condition of our sick society in Northeast Ohio, at the very top, which is pathetic.

When I read some privileged writers and editors in the Plain Dealer puff about the value of land-grabs for and around Public Square, the symbolic and real home of NEO homelessness, without any real consideration for the residents' very human conditions, much less their futures, I can only say such evil forces for privilege are to blame for our pathetic NEO economy - for the lack of successful arts and culture and entrepreneurship and innovation here - as all those things require sophisticated appreciation for the diversity of man, and the human condition, and compassion lacking in this inhuman sprawl of mediocrity.

Being an entrepreneur, I've spent many years literally homeless - largely sleeping in my offices, or my car on the road, wherever I may need to be, from the Flats to San Francisco... the life of an entrepreneur is always potentially one of homelessness - you often must move your company to find partners, or complete deals, or access resources - as your home and economic conditions are always uncertain and depend on where your work takes you. As Tim Williams, an owner of the entrepreneurial Hot Sauce Williams company recently told me, his life has largely been hard on his health and his family, and the sad look on his weathered face when he said he lost ten years of his life showed he knew that from deep in his heart. I've lost ten years as well, and I'm just in my 40s. But, some of us are entrepreneurs, and we make the art and change the world for the better, and we are also the homeless, and we live life together on a different Earth than those who live for privilege, with their contempt.

Having seen the dark side of humanity here, and around the country, and in over 50 other countries, I understand the human condition and I always care for the other homeless here - give them what I can, from change to a smoke - and I've learned much from them in return. The one I got to know best was a Nigerian mathematician who had come here to study but had lost his funding and then his visa status and was trapped in America, unable to work or afford to return home. I was sleeping in my office on the second floor of an old Superior Viaduct building at the time and I'd let him in to use the restroom to wash up, and I'd feed him dinner, and we were friends. When the building owner found out I was letting him into the vestibule to sleep at night - a safe, lockable place for a change for my Nigerian friend - the owner started making sure the man was locked out - and he locked my out not much later - and I never saw my Nigerian friend again... perhaps he's still wandering around the Flats - perhaps he got back to Nigeria - perhaps he was beaten to death. I moved to a friend's couch for a few months and then left for California and I wish he could have joined me. There, life is good for the entrepreneurial and the homes, as more people there have good hearts and souls.

I share all this because I despise those who insult the homeless here without seeking immediate help and life-long solutions for those so misunderstood. In San Francisco, just as society and the people there work hard en mass to make entrepreneurs successful, they work hard to make the homeless successful. The mayor of San Francisco, young Gavin Newsome, has made a commitment to end homelessness in SFCA by 2014, and his "Care not Cash" program shows important progress, has brought a higher social consciousness to the challenge and "which has housed 690 people since last spring; the city's model Direct Access to Housing program, which put 190 homeless people into residences with intensive counseling; and vigorous outreach efforts by city social workers, who are joined one day a month by hundreds of volunteers in the mayor's Project Homeless Connect program." 100s of other cities are looking to this approach for solutions in their communities, although I've seen no indication we look to such initiative. Another SFCA-based first in confronting the homeless challenge is a church offering "Sacred Sleep". "More than 100 homeless wanderers find slumbering solace every day at St. Boniface, a pink-and-yellow-walled fortress of spirituality amid the hardscrabble street scene on Golden Gate Avenue near Leavenworth Street. It is believed to be the only place in America where this happens. Many churches let themselves be used as nighttime shelters, but no other lets the homeless sleep in its pews while its daytime functions go on all around, according to both the National Coalition on Homelessness and national Catholic officials." Such a program could be provided in the hallowed, hollow Ol' Stone Church that seems to always sit idle, like the homeless locked right outside, on Public Square.

As NEO now plans to upgrade the life of a few of its privileged by WalMarting, condoing, casinoing and generally 'burbifying our core downtown neighborhoods, it seems the plan for the homeless is for the Downtown Business Alliance to sweep the bodies away in their big yellow trash-cans. Clearly, that offers no solutions, other than to waste jailers' time. Now, as we assess what is wrong with the downtown core and our economy, and our plans for the future, we must plan for a community that serves all the homeless in unique ways, like is being developed in SFCA. As we spend $100s millions on developing technology and bioscience clusters in mid-town, and $ billions on development downtown and at University Circle, we need to spend $ millions on "residences with intensive counseling; and vigorous outreach efforts by city social workers, who are joined one day a month by hundreds of volunteers in the mayor's Project Homeless Connect program", and the faith-based community must provide "Sacred Sleep" and more - we all can do more. To see how much more, consider that a program in SFCA's Tenderloin District has provided 100s of low cost housing units for "homeless children and their families", with design and architecture that blows away anything Wolstein could image. I would much rather see that 1,000 small, well designed units of ultra-affordable housing for the struggling and disadvantaged masses be built down there by our great river and the Rapid Transit, and in the parking lots around Public Square, than allow 300 luxury condos and big box sprawl there for the privileged few.

Knowing that among those homeless masses are mathematicians from Nigeria, and Iraq War vets, great cooks and quality chemists, I see great competitive advantage in Cleveland becoming the best place in the world for people who are lost or off the grid to find their way forward in life with hope and satisfaction - and much help from every imaginable direction. Some are entrepreneurs - some are hermits - all are human and worthy of love and compassion. If we can provide that to the homeless, we will be a desirable place for all people, of all walks of life, including entrepreneurs like me, who will love being here surrounded by comfort and joy. To embrace how far we have to go, visit a very interesting write-up on the homeless experience on a blog called "Creative Ink", by Wendy Hoke, which ends with 11 recommendations from the Director of the North East Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) to Mayor Frank Jackson. Add to these recommendations the ideas pulled from SFCA above, and more innovative best practices from anywhere on Earth... all funded with bonds from the Port Authority... and the region will be prepared to do good for a change:

NEOCH’s Brian Davis has sent a list of 11 recommendations to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, as he’s done to other mayors, in an attempt to alleviate the problems in shelters. Here’s a rough outline of his points. See the site for more details:

1. We need someone who will take the lead to solve this problem locally.
2. Cleveland needs a 24 hour drop in center downtown in which homeless people could get a warm meal, a place out of the cold or heat, and a place for the hundreds of churches to coordinate their help.
3. We need to pass local legislation to set standards for the shelters.
4. Shelters need to focus more attention on outcomes.
5. There should be no discharges from one shelter to another, and there should be incentives for moving people with multiple barriers into housing.
6. We need help in pushing the state to provide counseling to all homeless people in order to work through the trauma of homelessness or abuse or war in their background.
7. We hope that you will push the State to recognize that it is raining in Cleveland, and we need those funds.
8. We need to follow the lead of Franklin and Montgomery County and create a County-wide affordable housing trust fund.
9. Help us forgive and forget (to accommodate those leaving judicial system).
10. Can we work on planning for problems within our system before they become crises?
11. Please let the panhandling ordinance die a quiet death.

 

AttachmentSize
PublicSquareHopeless.jpg94.07 KB

the great divide

You and Wendy Hoke have nailed it. After reading your post while walking my dogs, I thought about my recent dilemma. I have spent 25 years working in the arts here in Cleveland. The arts I worked in were not the elitist moneyed sort, but rather those performing arts on the vanguard. My company pioneered in Cleveland Schools on the forefront of arts integrated curriculum programs; we danced for and with low income seniors in their residences. I did and do however spend some time with the well-to-do, the arty crowd whose residences grace the boulevards of Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and what I refer to as More Land Hills (we have more land than you) - the eastern suburbs.

But in the last few years since my departure from that work, I have thought increasingly about the great divide. This is probably what led me to say that if Beethoven died from lead poisoning, the Cleveland Orchestra should do a benefit concert-- an all Beethoven program to bring awareness and money to the issue.

 

My husband leads the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, so I have had an even closer look at the poverty our city faces in the last few years. I think it is time to resurrect Jeff Buster's idea http://realneo.us/blog/jeff-buster/on-demand-work-corps.

 

I had another thought. A few years ago a friend’s daughter had her bat mitzvah. Instead of bringing gifts (usually a check), we were asked to bring two grocery bags of non-perishable food to the party. After the party, the father and daughter loaded several cars and vans with the food collected and took it to the Foodbank. Likewise, when a friend was married a few years ago, gifts were to be directed to 4 local nonprofits that provide food and shelter in Northeast Ohio. Perhaps this is an idea the formalization of whose time has come. A directory of local nonprofits whose missions are to help those less fortunate could be printed in Currents, the Cleveland Blue Book and in other publications read by the well-to-do so that registries for those graduating, passing into adulthood, having birthdays, being wed could offer their online registries to their invited guests. To the families, no more greatly appreciated but unwanted gifts. To the community, many small gifts that add up for nonprofit orgs who offer services.  These organizations are in dire need of funding and assistance. When I think of the money spent on birthday and wedding gifts and know that for the well off selecting a charity is just one more thing to do, I think perhaps a nonprofit registry is in order. Does someone know of such a registry for Northeast Ohio? Instead of United Way or Community Shares workplace giving, it would be an event place giving option. In fact maybe Community Shares would even consider it as an off shoot to workplace giving.

 

Like you so eloquently point out, the homeless and impoverished are not lazy drug users as many would like to think. But they are the black market of joblessness – the ones the census does not see – they have no homes to visit.

How else can we cross the great divide, offer a hand up reach out to our fellow man? I will be checking back for ideas here.

 

Kudos to you and Wendy for raising this issue again. It needs to resurface regularly. Come to Cleveland Jeff and start the ON DEMAND WORK CORPS!

 

 

Much appreciated consciousness raising on BFD

I was pleased to see healthy traffic to my posting this morning on REALNEO about homelessness, meaning it was probably picked up on the mother of NEO blogs, George Nemeth's Brewed Fresh Daily, as it was. Thanks to George for expanding dialog and inclusion regarding this important issue - I encourage you to visit Brewed Fresh Daily to comment there, and comment here and everywhere, for the more we explore such problems and solutions the better for our community and society, and as Tom Johnson wrote at the conclusion to his forward to his autobiography,  "My Story", "The influences which operated to arouse my interest in the struggle of the people against Privilege are significant only as they show one of the many ways in which our minds are made to meet and grasp these great problems, for, while really sincere investigators arrive at last at the same conclusion, nearly all of us travel different roads to get there." To connect two different roads well traveled in NEO, take a look at the string I posted from BFD below, and add your insight on this issue there as well as here:

 

Norm Roulet on homelessness

Filed under: BFD — George @ 7:24 am

This is just a brief excerpt. It’s really worth clicking thru and reading the whole thing:

People’s treatment of other people suffering in our society is a great measure of our society and the people who lead and follow in it. When a man, woman or child is clearly without shelter, suffering, hungry, depressed, or perhaps mentally disturbed, how do we as individuals and society treat them? When we think of progress in our community, is it to solve the problems of the most troubled, or the most privileged? In Northeast Ohio, it is safe to say, our leadership and the society they lead is most focused on the needs of the privileged - the most advantaged - in general disregard and often open contempt for those with the least privilege, never recognizing their success is the core to our region’s success…

Something’s lit a fire under Norm.

REALNEO for all - Regional Economics Action Links North East Ohio: Tale of two cities: Battle of Public Square is one of privilege vs. homelessness

  1. Noble thoughts, well intentioned and well articulated, but partially wrong-headed. Norm has extrapolated from his personal experience to a large population, when the reverse direction would provide a different perspective.

    Homelessness may well be an intractable problem. Study after study has shown that the majority of homeless are mentally ill, substance abusers, or both. Norm and his Nigerian friend (I think the media would call him an “illegal alien”) are probably more exceptions to, than representative of, the homeless population. The media will often use exceptions–a women and her children made homeless by the irresponsibility of her mate and the children’s father(s)–to arouse sympathy, as Norm has done here. But actually solving the problem of the core mentally ill homeless is tough.

    In bygone eras, the mentally ill would have been institutionalized, but 1970’s social action resulted in court orders closing such institutions (probably a good thing) without an alternative (there was no consensus about funding a massive federal program to provide community care for the homeless). Mentally ill people can generally be involuntarily institutionalized today only if they are a physical danger to themselves or others, so they wander the streets.

    Despite what Norm claims, the San Francisco solution is not working. San Francisco is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It is full of expensive, well-designed public squares, parks, and other spaces. Each is filled to overflowing with smelly, dirty, often mentally ill and drug abusing homeless people who make public spaces uncomfortable and potentially unsafe. This is because the soft-headed liberals who run San Francisco, with their good intentions, generous handouts, and tolerance for immorality, have attracted the homeless from around the country to their fair city.

    Solving this problem has nothing to do with our regional competitiveness. The mentally ill seldom contribute to the economy, and are usually net users of resources provided by others. In fact, we won’t have an attractive downtown until we solve the homeless problem around Public Square.

    Comment by Jonathan — June 27, 2006 @ 11:23 am

  2. Norm makes some good points in his tirade, something does have to be done about the homeless problem. I love the fact that not only does he state something needs to be done, but he gives ideas about what should be done. I can respect his points even if I disagree with some of them.

    I disagree with his name calling about Landgrabs and walmartification and suburbinization of Downtown. Downtown needs to attract jobs. Homeless people bugging suburban working moms on their lunch hours does not bode well for companies who might consider moving downtown.

    Face it, a large part of the people who will work in those buildings live in the suburbs. When a company can choose between, Independence, Beachwood, or Westlake and pay similar or a bit more, when they ask their employees, they will overwhelmingly vote for the burbs. Rightly or wrongly it is perceived as safer, there is shopping and things to do at lunch. Lastly, there won’t be gang fights around the public transportation and you won’t get hassled for cash every time you cross a street. You won’t have to pay for Parking and if the Indians have a day game traffic won’t suck.

    My point is, downtown needs to 1. dress itself up. 2. become safer. 3. Get more people down there and 4. provide places like Walmart for the people who need to run out on their lunch hour to get the things they need.

    I honestly have no idea how to solve the homeless problem. I do think the homeless are humans and need to be treated with dignity. However, I’m not for spending a lot of tax dollars on the issue. There are a ton of empty warehouses on the east and near west side, can’t those be bought with the land grab the city is doing and be used as a shelter? Just and idea.

    Comment by tadvent — June 27, 2006 @ 11:26 am

  3. Great discussion developing around these issue - thanks for raising consciousness before BFD readers, George. Sorry if I seem wrong-header or name-call – and that is far from a tirade by my standards - I do tend to call Hummer-drivers “dumb”, and suburban-dwellers “burbillies”, which is rude… I need to work on maintaining a more civil tone. As such, Tom Johnson apparently referenced a set of principles on leadership he followed, which I will embrace:

    “The man who is worthy of being a leader of men will never complain of the stupidity of his helpers, of the ingratitude of mankind, nor the inappreciation of the public.”

    “These things are all a part of the great game of life, and to meet them and not go down under them in discouragement and defeat is the final proof of power.”

    With points well taken from your readers and Mayor Johnson, I’ll try to be more appreciative of these rules of the game of life.

    That said, and as quoted in the SFGate article I reference, there is much debate on absolute effectiveness of the programs Newsom is implementing in San Francisco, but little doubt they have some positive impact - keep in mind these programs are called “Care not Cash” and “began in May 2004, cutting the welfare checks to homeless people from a high of $410 a month to $59 a month, giving them either a shelter bed or a permanent room instead. The number of homeless people on welfare since then has dropped 72 percent, from 2,497 to 693 today.” “San Francisco’s new figures are based on a one-night homeless count, taken between 8 p.m. Jan. 26 (2005) and about 8 a.m. the next morning. It showed the city now has 6,248 homeless people living on the streets or in jails, shelters, rehabilitation centers or other emergency facilities — a 28 percent decline compared to 8,640 in October 2002, the last time such a count was conducted.” “Of the good news reported by the Newsom administration Monday, perhaps most significant is the number of homeless people who were actually on the streets — 2,655, which is a 41 percent drop from the 4,535 counted in 2002.” “Newsom overall attributed the drop to the Care Not Cash program, which has housed 690 people since last spring (2004-2005); the city’s model Direct Access to Housing program, which put 190 homeless people into residences with intensive counseling; and vigorous outreach efforts by city social workers, who are joined one day a month by hundreds of volunteers in the mayor’s Project Homeless Connect program.” “Newsom said he believes the new statistics show that his goal of ending chronic homelessness in San Francisco by 2014 — as called for in his recently adopted 10-Year Plan to Abolish Chronic Homelessness — is not unreasonable.” The article I’m quoting, found at http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/02/15/MNGTKBB73I1.DTL concludes “On Market Street, the nerve center of panhandling during the day, the effect is now visible. “I don’t know why it went down, I’ve just seen it,” said Ben Dorries, clerk at the Pearl Arts and Crafts store. “It makes it easier to work.”"

    Having live on and off in the Bay-area, over the past two decades, I can say the improvements are real. Living in NEO most of my life, I don’t see our efforts as so effective.

    I don’t know whether most of the homeless are mentally ill - I’m not an expert, but I’m sure there is decent data available for the region and that should be brought into light, as that impacts the mix of solutions required. But I do know that up to 20% of the children in Cleveland (and an equally high or higher %age of adults) are lead poisoned, that alone meaning they are mentally ill, and many of them are or will end up homeless, or in jail, and I work with the 1,000s of people involved with the Greater Cleveland Lead Advisor Council (GCLAC) and Concerned Citizens Organized Against Lead (CCOAL) to solve that problem, so I know we are doing some good work to address chronic mental health problems impacting the region, and I believe in root cause analysis and long term problem solving - our target for lead eradication for the 500,000 suspect properties in Cuyahoga County is 2010, making Newsom’s 2014 target for homelessness eradication seem reasonable to me.

    It seems 100s of cities are looking to the work being done in San Francisco as steps toward solving their local problems, and I am confident Cleveland should as well. I also endorse the 11 steps recommended by Coalition for the Homeless NEOCH’s Brian Davis has sent to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, as he’s done to other mayors, in an attempt to alleviate the problems in shelters. Here’s a rough outline of his points. See the site for more details:

    1. We need someone who will take the lead to solve this problem locally.
    2. Cleveland needs a 24 hour drop in center downtown in which homeless people could get a warm meal, a place out of the cold or heat, and a place for the hundreds of churches to coordinate their help.
    3. We need to pass local legislation to set standards for the shelters.
    4. Shelters need to focus more attention on outcomes.
    5. There should be no discharges from one shelter to another, and there should be incentives for moving people with multiple barriers into housing.
    6. We need help in pushing the state to provide counseling to all homeless people in order to work through the trauma of homelessness or abuse or war in their background.
    7. We hope that you will push the State to recognize that it is raining in Cleveland, and we need those funds.
    8. We need to follow the lead of Franklin and Montgomery County and create a County-wide affordable housing trust fund.
    9. Help us forgive and forget (to accommodate those leaving judicial system).
    10. Can we work on planning for problems within our system before they become crises?
    11. Please let the panhandling ordinance die a quiet death.

    Perhaps most important is 1. We need someone who will take the lead to solve this problem locally. In SFCA that person who stepped up was Mayor Newsom so it is reasonable to expect Mayor Jackson to do the same and as much for Cleveland, as we elected him to do that job along with all his others.

    As a last clarification, in my most civil tongue, I do hate all things WalMart, big box, polluting and sprawl and see the future of Cleveland riding on better environmental policy and code enforcement, to revolutionize public health and so education, which altogether will ultimately help address root causes of crime, violence, and poverty and all told and combined with our great natural resources, arts, culture and world-class higher education and intellectual power and diversity will make Cleveland one of the most desirable communities in the world, benefiting the suburbs rather than remotely emulating or succumbing to them or those who choose to live in that very different environment remote from but leveraging our strong and beautiful urban core.

    Comment by Norm Roulet — June 27, 2006 @ 3:50 pm

-->

Susan, Norm, Panhandlers ?

 

How has the Greater Cleveland Partnership dealt with panhandlers?  How does JOe  Roman suggest they be handled?  and the other foundations and philanthropies?

<!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> <!--[endif]-->

Roldo, you wrote a few months back that while everyone was talking about the bridge, what was really urgent were the unemployed. 

<!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> <!--[endif]-->

http://www.coolcleveland.com/index.php?n=Main.RoldoLink

<!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> <!--[endif]-->

You suggested that we needed to put our minds to practical ways to improve the inhabitants, not the bridges. 

<!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> <!--[endif]-->

I agree and appreciate your dynamic view.

<!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> <!--[endif]-->

What is the practical employment answer here?

<!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> <!--[endif]-->

Best,

<!--[if !supportEmptyParas]--> <!--[endif]-->

jeff

Give the mentally ill the brain-killing jobs and homes

One of the readers on BFD posted about my homelessness "tirade" that most homeless are mentally ill and so hopeless and worthless burdens to society. While I don't know about that, I do know society has created a huge population who have been contaminated by toxins like lead in the environment (me and like 20% of our urban-area population) and so brain poisoned (what is mentally ill?). Fundamentally, brain-wise, these victims are less employable, by "innovation economy" standards (normal IQ based work), than people not brain damaged, so they need different types of workforce development and work or they will be burdens to society – disruptive students, drop-outs, violent, poor, homeless, imprisoned, and long-suffering-to-death.  While we do little in society to try and address root environmental workforce issues, they are certainly easily understood along the lines of cause and effect for specific classes of toxic brain damage.

Along the same line of reasoning, in discussing workforce development and certifying painters to deal with lead hazards, a group of us with Concerned Citizens Organizing Against Lead (CCOAL) were considering that, even with proper precautions, professional painters are going to be killing their braincells and themselves in their work, so it makes sense to target those already lead-afflicted for populating this critical line of work and so related workforce development - both to address the lead poison victim's needs for work and because it seems to make more sense further poisoning the already poisoned than to poison the untainted, as harsh and sick a reality as that may be.

So, the brain damaged should be given jobs that damage brains - welding, painting, toxic remediation, hazardous waste cleanup, making steel, working anywhere near GEM, fighting in the army... and they should be given the toxin-contaminated housing near the toxic hazards - in lead poisoned areas, near toxic polluters - and they should receive counseling and health care suited to their ongoing afflictions and their worse end-of-life circumstances certain to come - and society would be well served by containing all aspects of the crises surrounding all these realities... such pragmatic hazardous lifestyle and workforce solutions are far better for all parties and society than, in NEO alone, allowing 10,000s of children a year to suffer environmental brain damage, allowing those brain damaged to fail in life, while simultaneously allowing 100,000s more children to be brain damaged in coming years, all while creating a separate workforce of untainted workers that is brain damaged in work .

As harsh as that may be, it is less harsh than to allow fresh minds to be destroyed in toxic places, by toxic work - and, rather than tearing down toxic but otherwise livable properties in toxic neighborhoods, or spending the $10,000s per housing unit for ineffective remediation that society does not want to address or fund, we may do simple livable upgrades to housing units where remediation isn't justified and make this high quality free housing for hazardous condition workers - this strategy is an improvement over society currently allowing untainted children to live in toxic conditions. These seem to be practical solutions to many problems of a sick environment and society, so I will develop these concepts to solutions further in my work with CCOAL and the Greater Cleveland Lead Advisory Counsel.