Thursday, November 29, 2007

Downtown Shows Marked Decline in Homeless

Every year since homeless people started being harassed in Downtown Cleveland, NEOCH staff and volunteers have gone downtown over the Thanksgiving weekend to see how many people are sleeping outside. For the last 10 years, we have tried to count and talk to everyone (if they are not sleeping) in the area between West 6th St. and East 20th St. then between the Lake and Carnegie Ave. We believe that this is a good baseline for the lowest number of people sleeping outside for the year in Cleveland. During the holidays, families take their relatives inside so they don't have to sleep outside or in the shelters. This count does not define the number of people sleeping outside, but it is a good indicator of the trends. The decline in 2000 was the first year that 2100 Lakeside Shelter opened.

Where Have All the Homeless (People) Gone???

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, volunteers from the Coalition for the Homeless were only able to find 17 homeless people sleeping downtown. This was a huge decline from the 40 in 2006, so we went back the next day to make sure. We verified the numbers. I cannot explain the reason for the decline, but can give you some observations on what changed in the last year. There is no single issue like in 2000 with the opening of the shelter causing this decline, but here are my thoughts on some of the reasons:

  • The clean up crews are now firmly established. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance funded clean up crews with their yellow and blue outfits have taken control of the downtown. They make it very uncomfortable for homeless people who want to be left alone, but for their own safety do not want to be invisible. It is hard to exist on the heated sidewalks with those huge blowers and cleaners running in the morning.
  • The City of Cleveland has recently disrupted the food program downtown. The groups have moved around and been made to feel unwelcome by City officials. Some have stopped feeding. Others have moved outside the Downtown area. This has caused homeless people to relocate closer to where there are churches or meal program operating.
  • With the anticipated closure of Aviation High School, the County has made a huge effort to open up housing for homeless people. From Stella Maris, Emerald Commons, Oriana House and additional housing vouchers, over the last three months there has been an unprecedented opportunity for people with disabilities to move out of the shelters.
  • The foreclosure crisis has made available an incredible number of vacant properties in neighborhoods. Often these properties are abandoned, some still have furniture, and many have heat. Many homeless people see the foreclosure crisis as an opportunity to find low cost housing (FREE!) with some privacy.
  • The outreach teams are now coordinating their work. The Coalition has begun hosting monthly meetings to get all the professional outreach teams on the same page. This has resulted in the teams mapping out the city (on Google maps), and they each talk to the men and women sleeping out on a regular schedule and try to convince those resistant to shelter to come inside. They all carry the same message, and they regularly talk to each other.
  • The tent city was displaced. Last year, there was a growing group sleeping in tents near the Brown's stadium. This group was forced to relocate out of the Downtown area.
  • The curfew on Public Square was passed by Cleveland City Council over the last year. During the 2006 walk, there were between 15 to 17 sleeping around the Square. This year there were three.
I am not sure that this means that there are fewer homeless people, because the numbers at 2100 Lakeside have not decreased at all. In fact, they have had near record nights six times in this last month and two near record nights in October. I also do not think that people moved just outside of the downtown clean up area. I feared that maybe this was the case, but I drove all around the Flats and in the St. Clair/Superior neighborhood and did not find any large groups. There were some places that homeless people have lived for years on sidewalks and out of the way areas that are no longer sites for homeless people in 2007. This is good news.

Overall, I was impressed with how much better the buildings and streets look downtown. I was sad that there were so few if any people walking around and now there were not even any homeless people, but the Downtown looked good. If our goal in the community is to get homeless people off the streets, we have done a great job. We have unfortunately done that at the expense of the thousands of former home owners who had to endure the foreclosure nightmare. If the goal is to get these men and women into stable, decent, affordable places to live, then we have a long way to go.

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

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