Sunday, December 12, 1999
Cleveland tells homeless to keep off sidewalk
As in New York, activists blast mayor
BY JOHN AFFLECK
The Associated Press
CLEVELAND — Citing public safety, the mayor orders police to move along panhandlers and people sleeping on sidewalks and arrest those who don't cooperate.
The homeless and their advocates slam the mayor and say the city is criminalizing the plight of street people and making their lives harder.
No, this saga isn't playing out against a New York City backdrop with Rudolph Giuliani as its hero and villain.
This is Cleveland, where Democratic Mayor Michael R. White has come under the same criticism as his Republican counterpart in New York for trying to clear homeless off the sidewalks.
Robert “Ron” Igoe, who has been homeless off and on for six years, thinks police from both cities coordinated what he called an anti-homeless campaign.
There are some differences between the Cuyahoga River and Hudson River versions of the story.
New York has an estimated 23,000 homeless. Cleveland has about 3,000. About 100 people have been jailed in New York's crackdown, compared with two arrests in Cleveland.
And Mr. White says Cleveland's program, which started Nov. 26, wasn't influenced by Mr. Giuliani. Still, many of the objections are similar to those heard in New York.
“The intent of the policy is to move poverty out of sight so they will have a peaceful shopping season,” said Brian Davis, executive director of the nonprofit Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless. “The effect is homeless people are further alienated from the community.”
Mr. White announced the policy on the day after Thanksgiving.
“As we move forward with plans for the millennium celebration and upcoming holidays, we want to ensure that everyone knows our intention to keep our streets safe for our citizens,” Mr. White said at the time. “This year is like no other.”
Mr. White said he was trying to balance the rights of the homeless with the rights of citizens walking down the street. Cleveland, like New York, has an ordinance that prohibits people from blocking the sidewalk.
Mr. White, who declined a request for an interview about the policy last week, also ordered police to hand out information cards telling the homeless where to find shelter.
But that does little good, the homeless and their advocates say.
Cleveland has only about 1,000 emergency shelter beds, so on any given night 2,000 people have no choice but the street, Mr. Davis said.
And if homeless people don't make it into a shelter by about 9:30 p.m., the shelter won't let them in.
Mr. Igoe, 31, said if someone is sleeping on a warm steam grate late at night and gets rousted, all that person can do is walk the streets or find someplace to sleep out of sight: an alley, an abandoned building or under a bridge.
Ron Reinhart, director of a Salvation Army program for chronically homeless men, said the policy has resulted in homeless people retreating “farther back into the shadows, where they are much more difficult to find” and help.
So far, advocates for the homeless have had only limited success bringing attention to the city's policy.
About 40 street people and activists protested the program at a City Council meeting last week, but the council did not discuss the matter.
© All content copyright Johnny Philko. 2003