Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Easily Offended??

Zero Eviction Day Angers City Leaders

On Monday, advocates gathered at an abandoned house owned by a mortgage company which has other eyesores on their books. The Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, NEOCH and the Homeless Congress were asking City/County leaders to take bold action to turn some of these buildings over to all the people sleeping in shelters. This seemed low key and entirely sensible. It seemed like a common sense request that no one would oppose--similar to the clean water act or the clean air act. How does anyone oppose "clean air" or "zero evictions?" Turns out that linking the City of Cleveland or any government with the foreclosure crisis or the assertion that the City may be allowing property to deteriorate is a mortal sin. Don't do it or face the wrath of city leaders.

Everyone understands that the City did all the could in suing the mortgage companies, passing a law to protect home owners, and yelling about this issue in Columbus and to the national media. The concern of almost every homeless person in Cleveland is, "Why there are so many vacant houses and at the same time the shelters are full?" They long for a bold Mayor like Kucinich or Stokes who will create an urban homesteading program to turn these eyesores over to homeless people. They just want to hear from City leadership that they recognize this paradox and are trying to do something about it. They want an FDR or Teddy Roosevelt to move mountains to create a program to close down the shelters while moving people into the millions of houses that sit vacant. The men sitting on their bunks at 2100 Lakeside want the City and County to use the new County Land Bank to take over property and turn it over to able bodied skilled workers who can take off the boards and cut the grass and bushes on these houses. City leaders did not see this demonstration as a cry in the wilderness for bold ideas. They took it as a criticism of the cities response to the foreclosure crisis.

We got spanked for even hinting that the City was not doing all they could. We were taken to task for not recognizing all that the City has done to help homeless people and stem the tide of foreclosures. And they shook their finger at us for our "astonishingly ignorant" message. It would seem that government would want people out in the streets angry about what the banks did to this city. I have found that people and especially elected officials are today hyper sensitive to any criticism. They hear a whiff of anger or second guessing their decisions, and they shut down. It is difficult to be a social justice advocate when city leaders bristle and run away from an issue.

So, for all the city leaders out there: "We respect all that you have done to make sure shelters do not turn people away at night, but that does not mean you could not put in writing a plan to close all the shelters and get all those people into housing in the next four years. We appreciate the leap of faith in your vote of confidence in the Permanent Supportive Housing projects, but we will not let you off the hook for preserving and expanding other housing opportunities in the community. We love and thank you everyday for the rich diversity of non-profits that you fund, but that does not mean we will not push you to force these groups to deliver a minimum level of care and work together on a coordinated plan to eliminate duplication of services. We expect the ethical stewardship of public money, but will praise you for any attempt to provide health care, housing, income, and civil rights to fragile populations. We acknowledge all that you did to stop the foreclosures, but you need to do more to help those who were forced out of their housing to get them quickly back into some kind of housing.

by Brian Davis
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