Marching, Remembering, Demanding
Homeless Awareness Week in Cincinnati
By Carly Tamborski
Citizens marched Oct. 16 through downtown Cincinnati and Over-the-Rhine to demand an end to homelessness, a positive resolution for gentrification and reasonable wages.
The march, part of Homeless Awareness Week, Oct. 15-23, kicked off from Buddy’s Place on Vine Street, where marchers rallied.
The marchers stopped at points highlighting places where, homeless advocates say, unjust acts against homeless people occurred, including places where the Cincinnati Center City Development Corp. (3CDC) and the city have displaced people from low-income housing and public spaces.
“This march is for justice, Joanne Burton, public-controlled government, living wages, the end of home-stealing, low-income affordable housing and people power,” said Josh Spring, executive director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. “We want more than just awareness. We demand change. This march gives the opportunity to demand change and others the opportunity to learn why we need change.”
Burton, who was homeless, died after a police cruiser ran over her as she lay in the grass in Washington Park. No charges were filed against the officer who killed her.
Each night in Cincinnati 1,200 to 1,500 people are homeless or staying in emergency shelters, according to Spring, who estimates that at least 25,000 sleep in homeless shelters in Cincinnati every year.
The 150 marchers included low-income families, high-income families, suburban residents, Over-the-Rhine residents, college students, disabled young adults, able-bodied elders and people from several ethnic backgrounds. Handmade signs, T-shirts and sheets carried messages such as, “Stop the war on the poor,” “End the 3CDC occupation,” “Living wage jobs,” “Gentrification is a crime,” “Homes not hotels” and “I’m homeless. If I sleep on the grass, will you kill me, too?”
Rebecca Davis, who works at the temporary service CFA, brought her daughter and granddaughter to the march.
“I’m not homeless, but I’m like one paycheck away from being homeless,” she said. “I’m marching today because I believe that homeless people don’t have a chance. I don’t want my daughter or granddaughter to grow up and be homeless. It’s that I actually see the homeless people sleeping outside. I wake up at 3:30 in the morning, the bus picks me up and people are just sleeping outside at the Shell station.”
‘Whatever you can do’
Buddy’s Place, the starting line, provides permanent supportive housing for 20 people who are coming out of homelessness. The second stop was 1428 Republic St., an apartment building offering affordable housing, where tenants recently received notice to move out for the building’s renovation. Ironically, this building is across the street from the future Gateway Quarter office. Gateway Quarter is the new name for the “revitalized” parts of Over-the-Rhine, the Fountain Square District and the central business district that feature new or renovated storefronts, condos or lofts.
Spectators and passersby reacted to the march with cheers, claps and whistles. Shop owners went onto the sidewalks to shout words of encouragement.
The third stop, the future 3CDC headquarters at 1400 Race St., brought attention to the company that many believe is behind the gentrification of Over-the-Rhine.
The fourth stop on the march, Washington Park, might just be the most affordable “housing” in the city. With shady trees and benches aplenty, the park is a commonplace for homeless people to socialize and sleep. 3CDC is renovating the park at a cost of $47 million. The overhaul disregards the wishes of the neighborhood and will make the park inhospitable to homeless people, according to the Homeless Coalition.
Clark, a homeless man who declined to give his last name, sat on the steps of the gazebo, which was being used as a makeshift clothes line, and watched the marchers move through the park. He declined to go into detail about the cause of his homelessness.
“I’ve been homeless for about 16 years now,” he said. “The only history I got is a criminal history. Why are these people acting like homelessness has just become an issue? The same thing they’re fighting for now we fought for 16 years ago, but now that they’re moving people out of the park and Over-the-Rhine, it’s like it’s only just become important now. …
“To get by, some people cell cigs for a quarter. There are only two ways of getting paid in this world: the legal way and the illegal way, but Washington Park is still harmony; it’s the only place in the city you can come that won’t make you feel bad for having nothing. You steal, rob, whatever you can do to survive or make a livin’. ”
Other stops included the Drop Inn Center; the former site of the Milner Hotel, 151 W. Seventh St., an affordable housing complex that once provided overflow for public shelters, now the location of upscale condos; and the Dennison Hotel, which has 150 units of single-room occupancy. Model Management, which recently purchased the building, plans to remove all the tenants and convert the building into 60 units of permanent supportive housing. That kind of housing is beneficial, but 90 units of affordable housing will be lost, Spring said. Why couldn’t Model Management develop these 60 units in one of the many buildings already vacant downtown?
The march then proceeded to the Metropole Apartments, notable for two reasons. 3CDC has purchased the Metropole and is forcing out residents of the federally subsidized apartments in order to build a boutique hotel (see “3CDC Accused of Racial Conspiracy,” issue of Sept. 1-14). In addition, just steps from the Metropole entrance, Robert Meehan was beaten so badly that doctors had to place him in a medically induced coma – one of a series of hate crimes against homeless people in Cincinnati in the past year.
‘All I got’
As the march moved toward Fountain Square, reactions from onlookers changed from cheers to stares. Outdoor diners were curious about the approaching mass, and stood up to read the signs. At Cadillac Ranch, a man read the signs aloud to a young boy, who asked what was going on.
Organizers of the march hoped their actions might provoke a reaction from 3CDC, Gateway Quarter and other downtown interests, but they seemed to ignore the event, unresponsive to the demonstration and phone calls.
At Fountain Square, Spring asked for volunteers to distribute copies of Streetvibes, risking arrest in an act of non-violent civil disobedience. A city ordinance and rules established by 3CDC, which has the management contract for Fountain Square, forbid regular distribution of the newspaper there.
About three dozen volunteers distributed copies of Streetvibes. No police officers or 3CDC security personnel were on the square, even though – or because – 3CDC had been informed of the plan in advance.
“We intend to continue challenging the unjust laws and rules that prevent our vendors from distributing Streetvibes on Fountain Square,” said Gregory Flannery, editor of the paper and a participant in the march.
The only people who seemed to mind the stunt on Fountain Square were a wedding party that arrived at the same time for photos. Kenny Bussell said he hopes this is the first step in eliminating the ban.
Bussell now stays at his brother’s house. He became a Streetvibes vendor about a year ago, when he was homeless.
“It helps me every day, gives me a few bucks so I don’t have to ask for something to eat,” he said.
Bussell, who turned 50 on Oct. 25, distributes Streetvibes for four to five hours a day. From 8-10 a.m. he is usually be spotted outside the Kenton County Courthouse in Covington, then stands by the Walgreens store on Madison Avenue for a couple hours. He rode his bike throughout the march.
“I try to take care of my myself on my own, without friends or family,” Bussell said. “I raise tomatoes, and they are $2 a pound. My tomatoes ran out about three weeks ago, and people even started stealing them, so Streetvibes is really all I got right now.”
3CDC, Model Management and the people behind Gateway Quarter do have imaginative ideas to bring money to downtown, and they create beautiful structures. But should a city reflect what one company wants?
What type of people will make up the “new” downtown? Clark, the homeless man in the park, thinks he knows.
“The future people of downtown are the ones with money,” he said. “You got to have money. The schools, buildings, shops – all that stuff is multi-million dollar things in the works. You gotta have money in the park now.”