Award winning photo by Pleasure Simmons of Downtown Cleveland from the 2008 NEOCH Photo project.
Every year since 2000, volunteers have gone outside to count the number of people who sleep downtown. This was in response to the lawsuits in the 1990s challenging the City of Cleveland repeated arrests of homeless people for sleeping outside. We eventually settled with the City and then every November, we go out to make sure that homeless people are not being harassed. This year we saw a decline to only 14 people staying in the downtown. This is really good news for the Downtown Cleveland Alliance and the folks at Block by Block who act as ambassadors to keep people visiting downtown. This is the first serious decline in five years. With the horrible economy and the lack of jobs, I thought for sure that we would see an increase. This is also good news for the City and County that have done all they can over the last few years to keep the shelter doors open. Finally, we have to recognize the most important reason that we have such a small number: the fantastic outreach teams in Cleveland.
We really have an exceptional group from Mental Health Services, Care Alliance, Volunteers of America, Helena from Downtown Cleveland Alliance and the Veterans Administration who are on the streets every day. We have support from 2100 Lakeside, St. Pauls outreach, the Salvation Army, as well as the John Carroll, Case Western Reserve and St. Ignatius Labre Projects to serve the population. All of these men and women who go out in the cold and rain to assist those resistant to shelter deserve a ton of credit. They are working to build a relationship with the men and women living outside to try to move them back to stable housing. They are out on the street protecting people from freezing temperatures and from the health effects of the elements.
The Thanksgiving week is typically the low point for the winter, because many family take their loved ones in for the weekend. So, this is the smallest number who will be outside for the entire winter, but it is a good number. We have a graph on the blog measuring the last 10 years to give some idea of the history of downtown homeless. We had over 60 people sleeping in the immediate downtown in the late 1990s and today we are down to 14. That is pretty impressive.
There are many that complain about panhandling and homelessness, but compared to nearly every other American city, we really don't have a big problem. There are not people sleeping on every corner like in Washington DC. There are not people trying to wash your windshield at every traffic light like San Francisco. There are not massive encampments of homeless people like in Columbus. There are not the hundreds turned away from shelter every night like in Cincinnati. We have a lot to be proud of in Cleveland with regard to keeping the number of people sleeping outside down to a small number.
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