How Has The Economic Crisis Affected Homeless Living Outdoors?
Over the Thanksgiving weekend holiday, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless recorded the number of people sleeping outside; an annual project that NEOCH has conducted for the last 12 years. NEOCH attempts to count and talk to everyone (if they are not sleeping) in the area between West 6th St. & East 20th St., then between the Lake & Carnegie Ave. “We believe that this is a good baseline for the lowest number of people sleeping outside for the year in Cleveland since, during the holidays, families take their relatives inside and so fewer people are homeless. This count does not define the number of people sleeping outside, but it is a good indicator of the trends,” said Brian Davis, executive director of NEOCH. This year’s extensive search tallied a number very similar to that in the counts of 2007 and 2008.
Here are the thoughts of the Director of the Coalition, Brian Davis, on the reasons for this trend:
- The sustained high rate of foreclosure has continued to make available a number of vacant properties in neighborhoods. Often these properties are abandoned, some still have furniture, and some even have heat. Many homeless people sleeping outdoors see this as an opportunity to find a good alternative to sleeping outside in the cold exposed to the elements and possible attack.
- The blue-and-yellow Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s clean up crews are patrolling the downtown for the fifth year. Their presence has made it very uncomfortable for homeless people who want to be left alone but, for their own safety, do not want to be invisible. The Downtown ambassadors do make the downtown look nicer, but for some this rigid attention to the sweeping of the sidewalks makes it uncomfortable to live on the streets. There is a noticeable improvement in the how things look Downtown. Without the construction of the Euclid Corridor and with the admirable efforts to keep the streets clean, the City is sparkling and ready for a turnaround. It really looks nice and inviting if not a bit lonely early in the morning.
- For the last two years, the Coalition has hosted monthly meetings to get all professional outreach teams on the same page. By keeping their maps of the city’s homeless updated, teams have been able to continue talking to the men and women who are resistant to shelter. The teams have worked out a schedule to talk to everyone outside in order to convince those resistant to shelter to come inside. Their coordinated efforts have helped stabilize the outdoor count over the past few years, even in the wake of economic downturn.
However, NEOCH staff do not believe that there has actually been an increase in the total number of homeless people. In fact, both major men’s and women’s shelters over this past summer were full or at overflow. Also, the number of homeless schoolchildren has risen steadily in Cleveland, a shocking epidemic that has just begun receiving nationwide attention.
If our goal in the community is to get homeless people off the streets, we have done a good job. We have unfortunately done that at the expense of the thousands of former home owners who have had to endure this foreclosure nightmare. If the goal is to get men and women into stable, decent, affordable places to live, then we still have a long way to go in Cleveland.
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