Dwight Donohoo, the executive director of homeless services, said the Cleveland Emergency Shelter is already offering services aimed at helping people break out of a cycle of homelessness by obtaining public assistance, including job search information for those in need of work. In providing case management for each person, the agency also offers some financial assistance, assisted-living for some, a chance to learn basic skills and the opportunity of re-establishing links with family members.
“We also do homeless prevention activities, which can be short-term assistance for aid,” Donohoo said. “We also have a new program called Rapid Re-housing for the homeless. They have to qualify for the program.”
Located at 745 Wildwood Ave., the Cleveland Emergency Shelter is more than just a home to many homeless people who are victims of unemployment, disability or domestic violence. It has become a ray of hope for improved understanding of the plight of a people victimized by a system that does not cater to the poor and disadvantaged.
In an effort to raise awareness about the type of people becoming homeless in Bradley County, a homeless couple shared their story and some suggestions on what can be done to improve the chances of getting people off the streets and back to work.
John Boyd broke his neck in a motorcycle accident in March and has been disabled since. The Cleveland resident subsequently lost his job and home in the process. Now he is on the streets.
Thanks to the Cleveland Emergency Shelter, Boyd says he has a place to sleep. But when the doors close in the morning, he and everyone in the center must roam the streets until the shelter reopens later in the afternoon.
“We go to the library or to the park downtown,” he said. “Then you have the New Life Community Kitchen where they feed us lunch every day at 1 p.m. Most of the homeless people who come here that don’t have a disability — they usually find a job and move on. But then you have some people who are disabled and it takes a while for them to get anywhere.”
Boyd points to his girlfriend, Marcella Gregory, who he met at the shelter and says, “She and I have been here for four months now. We’ve both got disabilities. It’s hard for us to get employment. We are going through a program with the Tennessee Vocational Rehabilitation center. We catch the bus and walk the rest of the way.”
According to Boyd, public transportation for the average homeless person seeking employment can pose a financial Catch-22, since the challenge of making money is further complicated by the need to have money just to get to work.
“Marcella and I have it a little better than some because we can buy a bus pass, but not everyone can. I was working enough to pay my rent but this accident really messed me up,” Boyd admits. He wears a bone stimulator, often used as a form of nonsurgical treatment to aid healing of broken bones and fractures by using a low-strength pulsed electromagnetic field.
“Transportation and employment for people who are able to work are the main two things,” Boyd said.
Gregory agreed, adding, “That’s better than them turning to the streets and just giving up. We’re asking for an opportunity to get back on our feet. It gets bad when you stay in a home for two or three months and then you get behind on your rent and have to come and stay in the shelter again. I know I can get work again.
“We thank God for this shelter,” Boyd added. “It gets you out of the cold and off the streets. This could happen to anyone. A lot of people are just a paycheck away from being homeless.”
While the homeless couple said they never go hungry, thanks to donations to the emergency shelter, they mentioned the plight of those in Cleveland who are currently living in the woods in homemade tents just to get by.
“I have friends living out there,” Gregory said. “I feel sorry for them. They could really use more sleeping bags. They go to the churches to get blankets to keep them warm at night.”
“Some places won’t let you come on their property when you need to use the restroom and that’s a big problem when you don’t have restroom facilities,” Boyd said.
“The portapotty that they had at Johnston Park was nice, but they took that out,” Gregory said. “Now, most of us just go to the soup kitchen or to the library.”
“They also go to the Courtroom downtown but they’re only open during weekday hours,” Boyd interjected. “On the weekend it gets difficult. You may have to go behind a bus or a tree.”
“I think if they made a restroom facility in Johnston Park — that would be a good idea,” Gregory added. “They have them on the lake so why not put one in town?”
“A lot of homeless children are in such bad shape — in wheelchairs — that they need to be in nursing homes,” Boyd said. “What do you do? I don’t know. It’s a tough situation.”
The homeless couple said they help those less fortunate than they are by pushing the homeless in wheelchairs to where they need to go.
“We do help feed some of them that can’t get up out of a wheelchair,” Gregory said. “Nobody will help them. So we go help them. We have to help them. They also help at New Life Church.”
“Many people feel like we brought this on ourselves, like we got ourselves in this position,” Boyd explained. “They think most of the homeless are alcoholics or drug addicts, which isn’t true. One or two bad apples will spoil the whole bunch. But we found each other. That’s pretty good.”
Donohoo said of shelter facilities, “We’re moving toward a transitional shelter with comprehensive daytime services — sort of a one-stop shop — provided we can get the funding. We also accept donations of canned foods items, linens, towels, wash cloths, hygiene items and toiletries.”
He added if anyone would like to sponsor a breakfast, lunch or dinner for the homeless, it would be appreciated.
A report, The State of Homelessness in America 2012, shows that despite the bad economy, homelessness decreased by 1 percent between 2009 and 2011. The report also points out, “economic and demographic indicators linked to homelessness continue to be troubling.” In the year since the data was collected, there have already been reports that the number of homeless people is increasing.
To learn more about how you can assist the homeless in Cleveland, contact Donohoo at the Cleveland Emergency Shelter at 478-1458 or Demetrius Ramsey, director at Bradley Cleveland Community Services, at 479-4111.