Thursday, October 04, 2007

Public Square "Cleaned"

Feeding Groups Have No Where to Minister

October 2 was the beginning of the enforcement of the curfew and (2) tickets were issued for sleeping on Public Square after 10 p.m.. NEOCH has worked this entire summer on getting all the churches, synagogues and Food Not Bombs to coordinate services (while struggling to stay in business). We eventually want all the groups to move inside so that homeless people can enjoy a meal in the same manner as the rest of us in a clean safe environment without rain or wind to contend with. We need a place with a bathroom and running water, and plenty of trash receptacles. After three months, we were real close to a breakthrough. We had a great meeting last week and all the groups were working on the same page to find an indoor location.

As part of the curfew, there was a clean up of Public Square with a washing and inspection. The Department of Health found 24 rats nests, and ordered an immediate response to this health crisis. They ordered massive extermination efforts, and in doing so do not want any groups to give out food on Public Square. The Health Department is going to start enforcing their permitting requirements to serve food. At this point, no group has a permit. The city does not want the food distribution groups to use the other parks for fear that it will just transfer the problem. The City has suggested the lot on Davenport as an alternative site for now. Davenport is north of Lakeside around East 18th. It is far from the Square, and it is a parking lot with no places to sit down. I am sure that the churches are going to be angry about this situation after all the meetings this summer. This all came down on Wednesday October 3 at around noon when the Chief of Police and the entire command staff stopped a group from unloading their food on the Square. Then they tried to move to another park and that did not work because law enforcement stopped them. The group was told that if they unload that they would be arrested.

All of this came down less then a week after our great meeting with all the groups that are caring for homeless people on the Square. The timing is unfortunate, and could put a rift between the City and the food groups. NEOCH sent the following letter to the City.

Ms. Natoya Walker:

After a sleepless night, I would like to ask that you reexamine the Public Square decision. I feel that NEOCH is partially responsible for the actions taken yesterday, and we request that you talk to the Mayor about a better interim solution then the Davenport site. NEOCH was the one that brought the outreach workers to the discussion, and they reported the rats. We were so close to some compromise, and this decision will only alienate all the people that we have tried to work with over this last summer. We have broken the trust built up with the religious congregations, Food Not Bombs, and we have harmed our own clients. I am sure that it was not the intention of any of the outreach workers to close off Public Square, when they brought the problem of rats to the attention of the City. It will make them leery of talking to the City about issues if they are afraid that the City will take action to further alienate the homeless population.

Everyone that I talked to felt the meeting last week was great, but this action puts into question everything that we have done. We need some bold and creative ideas right now. What has happened because of this decision is that everything these groups feared when sitting down to talk about this problem of feeding outside is now taking place. We have moved homeless people out of sight behind a building far from Public Square. Christian groups have provided the loaves and fishes to groups for over 2,000 years, and we cannot just end the practice in one day. We were so close to reaching a solution, but I fear that this latest action will force these groups to respond in the judicial system.

I would ask that the best and brightest minds within the administration get together and come up with an interim step between Public Square and an indoor location. Might I suggest putting a dumpster out of sight near one of the following parks as the Square is cleaned up:

  • Jesse Owens Park across from the Justice Center.
  • Malls A, B, or C
  • Chester Commons
  • Or ask the County for use of that green space in between the County Administration building and the road with two hour meters next to Mall B.

All of these places have benches or a place to sit down, and are close to the Square. We could even accept if you set a time limit of Thanksgiving for use of these spaces to have an indoor location ready. The Davenport site is just not going to work. I am sure that the groups will volunteer to clean up the park and stay around until the last person is gone. I would hate to see the City get into a confrontational relationship with groups that feel it is part of their mission and their faith to minister to the stomachs, hearts and minds of those living outside. Please talk to the Mayor and reconsider this ban on the use of public parks for food.


Brian Davis

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.


Anonymous said...

What about Edgewater Park? What about the many empty warehouses that are not in use?

Anonymous said...

What about opening Cosgrove for longer hours, or making it the drop-in center? Don't they have showers and such there as well?

Clevehomeless said...

I know that the Church groups are working on some of the abandoned office and warehouse space to serve homeless people. I know that the City has begun discussions about a night time drop in center in the neighborhood. And yes, Cosgrove does have showers.