Friday, August 13, 2010

The People Who Make Things Work 3

Pat Clifford during happier times as the Drop Inn Center Marked 30 Years of service in 2008.

Pat Clifford Cincinnati Homeless Advocate
Unlike Earl Pike who seems to have parted amicably with the AIDS Task Force, we know that Pat Clifford was unceremoniously dumped by the Drop Inn Center in Cincinnati. This is the shelter that buddy gray started by taking over a building after years of fighting with the City to do something about the rising number of homeless people. Clifford was again another of the deep thinkers in our society who make our government work. As we have demonstrated many times in this blog, Cincinnati is one of the most messed up cities when it comes to homeless policies. They never have ended the war between public officials and homeless people. They are still fighting over space, viability, and NIMBY issues going on 40 years now. These problems date back to the founding of the shelter and the protests that buddy raised. I talked to officials from the Cincinnati Coalition and they see this as a new attempt to sweep out "the old guard" and finally get the shelter to relocate.

buddy's shelter is one of the few large shelters in the United States that serves both men and women at night. They have struggled with all the problems that all of America's homeless facilities have to face. Just a month ago a woman overdosed in the bathroom at the shelter. They fought with the City over the winter to be able to house a homeless man who was dying of pneumonia, but was a sexually based offender and could not find housing anywhere in the city. Also, last month in Cincinnati a police officer recklessly drove off the path in a public park and killed a homeless woman sleeping under her blankets by driving over her while she was sleeping during the day. The only reason to drive over someone's belongings is to show homeless people that the police are in charge of the park. This typifies the on-going battle taking place in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood between developers/police and low income people and their advocates.

Pat was a protege of buddy. He was the director of the Cincinnati Coalition when buddy was shot and killed in the shelter in 1996. Clifford studied homelessness and the best way to house those struggling with poverty. He looked at shelter models throughout the country. He tried to make the housing of last resort the best it could be for everyone coming to their doors at night. Clifford was the Obama of the Cincinnati homeless population. He worked closely with homeless people for years and was their advocate and then was thrust into the job of director of the largest social service provider serving homeless people. He had to make nice with the City, the United Way, funders, and sometimes he had to hold his tongue when he saw how the city policies that harmed homeless people. Clifford, as director or landlord to homeless people, was criticized by some advocates for what was perceived as harsh policies toward homeless people in much the same way as Obama is criticized by the liberals for compromising. Clifford never compromised when it came to attacks on the shelter; acting as caretaker to the buddy gray legacy. He balked at teaching homeless people about the dangers of the legal activity of panhandling as part of the yearly shelter allocation of funds. He was unwilling to relocate the facility to some far away hidden location without new money on the table in order to please the powers in Cincinnati who have rediscovered the 40 year neglected Over The Rhine neighborhood.

It is rough running a shelter, and it is difficult to keep the idealism that inspires young people to want to solve the problem of homelessness when working in a shelter. There are some homeless people who, in order to feel safe, want to strip searches of everyone that walks in the door--civil liberties be damned. There are some homeless people who because of their mental condition make life impossible for everyone around them, and the shelter director has to figure out a way to love everyone looking for help. There are some who are unwilling to take advice from anyone, and give up good housing options to live in the shelters. The majority of homeless people just want to leave as fast as possible, but they are often lost because of the sheer numbers looking for help each with their own crisis or multiple layers of problems that caused them to lose their housing.

On the first day of working in a shelter it is often the case that you are the leading advocate for privacy rights, decriminalization of quality of life ordinances, and a strong belief in government. Most get into the job because they want to provide a hand up to those who struggling in our society, and they can see that they are making a difference for people. Every single day of seeing people destroying themselves with drugs and alcohol and making horrible decisions for themselves a shelter worker must check themselves and recommit to core beliefs or they get lost. It is so easy to become bitter and angry with the population, and disgusted with government to the point that you become part of the problem. I met with Pat in March, and he did not seem burnt out or frustrated with his constituency. In my opinion, Clifford was able to walk this tight rope of providing a home to people struggling without becoming the Mayor of a homeless ghetto or the warden of a homeless prison.

I was told that Clifford went on vacation and then when he came back the board fired him. The Drop Inn Center has a relatively small board, and so it is easy to get a few development minded people to convince the others that it is time for a change. Josh Springs of the Cincinnati Coalition has been all over the news complaining that the local development company that wants to renovate the park and move the shelter was behind Clifford's firing...And the war goes on in Cincinnati with homeless people caught in the crossfire. I am sure that Clifford will land on his feet. I just hope that he is not so disgusted with the politics of homelessness that he decides to move to some other human service or civil rights project.

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