Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering September 11, 2001

I was at work early on September 11, 2001, because I had a speech I had to give to a civic organization at lunch.  We heard about the attacks on the radio, and tried to get more information on the internet.  At that time, the office had a dial up service, and the computers locked up because the system was overwhelmed with traffic.  So, we relied on NPR to give us the information about the attacks.  We were in one of the taller buildings at that time on the near West Side of Cleveland, and I remember that there was talk of a couple of planes near Cleveland air traffic control that were suspicious.  We made the decision to send everyone home early around 10 am. I remember hearing from advocates in New York City who were worried that there were a number of homeless people who slept near the World Trade Centers.  I had to stay in the office because I could not get in touch with anyone at the organization where I was supposed to speak. 

Tanya, my wife, went to pick up my kids from school.  They were in elementary school and did not understand anything that was happening.  They did not understand what was going on, but they saw the fear in the eyes of the adults.  Some of the teachers and parents were crying and this unsettled the kids.  It took a long time to get to the east side of Cleveland around 11 a.m. because the downtown was clearing out.  I made it to the suburbs, and the group decided to go forward with the lunch and the talk about homelessness.  I was surprised and had no idea what to say.  There was a moment of silence and a prayer, and then they had me speak.  I have no idea what I said, and I am sure that no one in the room was listening to what I was saying.  All of our minds were somewhere else.

Everyone in our office carried on from that day wounded, hurt and deeply scarred. I made it home, and watched in shock the television coverage all night.  I remember seeing the Delta airplane at the end of the runway in Cleveland waiting to be searched because it had not responded appropriately before landing.  My most vivid memory from that time was about a month later, I had to fly to DC for a board meeting of the National Coalition for the Homeless.  I had visited Washington on a regular basis, but everything was different in October 2001.  The airport was full of heavy security, and I remember being searched coming in and departing the city.  It was a bad idea to wear my lapel pin from the ACLU on my jacket.   Nearly every public building had been fortified with concrete barriers.  There were military personnel at the front entrance in many buildings, and it took well over an hour and a half to get in to see both elected officials and government employees.  There were a large number of police in the Metro stations, and DC was a different city.

This is how I view the legacy of September 11, 2001 with the transformation of our nation's capital.  I always loved walking around DC at night it is a beautiful city.  That weekend, you could not get near the Congress at night and the statue of freedom which sits on top of the dome seemed less confident and somewhat stunned.  It was amazing to me how many armed security were deployed from the Capital Police to the Secret Service to the Park Police all with heavy weapons.  The only benefit to come out of this event was that the thousands of security personnel watching over DC 24 hours a day kept the thousands of homeless people safe in the immediate days after 9/11.

In looking back that was a tough decade for the organization.  The economy in Cleveland has yet to recover, and that has an impact on the health of all non-profit organizations. We have seen many groups close down, and many others see dramatic downsizing.  Homelessness has not been in the top 40 of issues in the mind of the public over the last 10 years.  It gets one or two mentions in the two presidential elections of the last decade.  With terrorism, war, and the financial collapse, we have survived a tough decade.

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