There's no chatting over backyard fences or kids setting up lemonade stands, but downtown Cleveland is a neighborhood, now that about 9,000 people actually live there. But the new residents are very different from the old ones in age, income, and lifestyles. In this next segment of our series "Here Goes the Neighborhood", we look at the contrasting social service needs of downtown's new neighbors.
But that's downtown Cleveland, a neighborhood of contrasts:
"We have people living in the thousand dollar a month loft apartments in the warehouse district and then just a couple of blocks later we have a guy living in a doorway."
Lyle Draper runs the Volunteers of America homeless shelter on Walton Avenue:
"Jesus said help your neighbor, and that's what I'm gonna do."
Thanks to Draper, 51-year old Ken Harris doesn't have to keep sleeping on the sidewalk:
"The concrete is hard. It wears your body.People walking by that you know recognize you.Make you feel that real deep down shame. The street is a hard life."
1200 people lead that life on the streets of downtown Cleveland.
If you try, you can avoid seeing them.
What you can't miss, though, on the sidewalk this morning in the milky sunlight is a huge machine, like something a space alien would tool around in:
"This is called the green machine. It's a 4014-S . It's from applied sweepers."
Mike Conwell and his crew are with the Downtown Cleveland Alliance's Safe and Clean program. Downtown business owners voluntarily taxed themselves to fund the program.
That makes the downtown Councilman happy because it serves his diverse constituency.
Joe Cimperman sips a cappuccino at the BP building starbucks. Outside the window a homeless man shakes a nearly empty cup at someone walking briskly by. In the poorest city in the nation, Cimperman's constituents include the poorest of the poor.
"You've got elderly people living in subsidized housing. You've got people who are homeless who are trying to make their way as well"
But those traditional residents of downtown now have very different neighbors. Downtown is changing, due to a post-Gateway building boom and new interest in the urban lifestyle. It now attracts empty nesters to penthouses with whirlpool tubs, and yuppies to trendy lofts with hardwood floors.
"I like noise. I don't know if I could stand it in the country."
With the windows open her spacious apartment is filled with white noise.
Jody Brinkman is a 29 year-old actress from Buffalo, now happily residing in an 800 dollar per month loft on the 9th floor of the National Terminal Warehouse Apartments. It's just south of the RTA train tracks from the east side of the flats. Constructed in 1916 , the historic industrial building was converted into apartments about ten years ago.
Jody gives us a tour of decorative brick walls, enormous steel sash windows and dramatic columns. She gleefully opens the bedroom closet:
" This is a New York apartment. Our closet is the size of a New York studio. It's about a hundred square feet"
"Is that one of the things you like about this, the space? "
"Yes, this is about 1200 square feet and I love it. I love it."
So does her 25 year old partner, Justin Tatem of Louisville, also an actor.
It's a short elevator ride to the rooftop patio:
"Y'know the fireworks were amazing up up here. "
But not all of Justin and Jody's needs are met:
"Because there's no grocery stores and there's no retail. There's not a lot of retail. You know there's a cute... there's a couple little boutiques and stuff. There's...they need more of that. They need a bookstore.They need a grocery store. You know they need a houseware store. They need everything."
Jody and Justin aren't sure they'll stay downtown. They say they wouldn't raise kids there because there's not enough open space or playgrounds, not to mention the state of the public schools.
But they have no complaints about cleanliness, traffic ,parking, or safety and generally don't seem to want much from city government or other social service providers.
But their homeless neighbor, downtown's Ken Harris has an unmet need .... to stay off the streets:
"Yeah they could build a great big old project for everybody."
"Yeah, that's what I mean. Just create one big one and put everybody there. You know they gonna spend two three million dollars for a parking lot but they won't spend two or three million dollars to put the homeless in a home. And I find that kind of crazy."
Tall, stooped over, and painfully thin, with clouded, darting eyes, Harris finds it hard to sit still as he tells his story. He says he had a happy childhood in a two parent home and even attended college for a while . Then he went to prison. He says his biggest mistake was using drugs:
" And that's when it all started downhill. But I'm trying to get it together now. Trying to stay clean. I'm having some troubles with it but it's getting better each day. So I'm on the road to recovery."
"We need more drug treatment beds. We need more alcohol detox beds.We need more services for people on the street, period."
Brian Davis of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless couldn't agree more with Councilman Cimperman. He says the homeless especially need some place safe to go during the day when the shelters are closed:
"So that people don't sleep on the street. And so that churches could come to an indoor location and deliver food instead of doing it on Public Square. "
This is where the needs of the homeless and those of downtown's new well-heeled neighbors are in conflict. Developers and other business and civic leaders worry that a 24 hour shelter would draw even more homeless to downtown and endanger it's revival as a residential neighborhood . Looks are important, and antique street lamps and hanging flower baskets can't cover-up the ugliness of poverty. Downtown Councilman Joe Cimperman is opposed to a new 24-hour drop-in shelter, but with 20 straight increases in homelessness the Councilman knows that more has to be done:
"It's a matter of the private sector working with the public sector, and everybody working together to figure out how we could make downtown not only clean and safe but also compassionate."
It could work, according to the city's champion of the homeless, Brian Davis, if downtown's economic revival lifts all boats, including the leaky rafts of the homeless:
"With more revenue and more tax to try and improve the social services in our community, services are more accessible, jobs are more accessible and we don't see as many people who are struggling and who have chemical addiction and mental health problems. "
"I don't think there's any tables outside. So."
Justin and Jody's only problem this morning is the outdoor tables are all taken at the Waterfront Grill.
As they wait to be served brunch, the urban pioneers say they're glad they moved downtown:
"We get to be more immersed. More immersed in what the city's doing. What we can help out with it to do. "
"For now we're here. But only time will tell, yeah what happens, so. "
Their neighbor, Ken Harris, is waiting to see what happens, too. Waiting for a job and a permanent roof over his head. In the meantime , he thinks downtown's neighbors, rich and poor, can get along:
"Just 'cause they have two different lifestyles don't mean that they don't have to show love for one another. If I remember correctly it says something about the strong take care of the weak. Okay, well the rich should take care of the poor. And that could make it work."
I'm Vivian Goodman, WKSU News
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