Where have all the Homeless People Gone?

I am just amazed by the small number of people sleeping downtown these days.  Only a dozen years ago there were 40 people at the Welfare building. Public Square had at least a dozen people sleeping, and Superior Ave always had people at East 9th because of the heated sidewalks.    They are all gone.  No one sleeps at the Welfare building and there are rarely people on Public Square.   Where have all the homeless people gone in Cleveland?  

On the Friday after Thanksgiving since 2000, we have gone downtown to count the number of homeless people sleeping outside.  In the past, we had 15 people to cover the downtown because there were so many people sleeping outside.  We wanted to talk to them to make sure that the police were not harassing them to test our lawsuit settlement from 1999.   Today with the small number of people sleeping outside it only takes one person to talk to these individuals.  This year we only found three people downtown between Old River Road and East 20th and the lake and Carnegie Ave.   This is the same number as we found last year.  We have stats on our statistics page here on the Downtown homeless number.

It has to be said that this is not a measurement of how many are outside since there are many who sleep on the West Side of Cleveland, across the river or on the East side in Midtown or St. Clair/Superior.   This is also not representative of the population living rough in the downtown.  Since it is a holiday weekend, it is probably one of the smallest number of people sleeping downtown for the year.  We use this as a baseline to compare to previous years since we have counted on the same day of the year for 14 years.   It is not a count of anything but the number of people sleeping downtown on the day after Thanksgiving.   The only big picture that we can say is that the trend of people sleeping downtown is way down compared to 15 years ago.  Why? There are a number of reasons we see so few people living outside in the downtown:

  • Guaranteed access to shelter in Cleveland.  We do not turn people away and the shelters are way better than they were in the 1990s. 
  • A well developed coordinated outreach program with trained professionals regularly building relationships with people who sleep outside. 
  • The introduction of the Metanoia project three years ago for the winter.  They focus on serving those who are resistant to shelter.  They are a drop in center and not a shelter.   They try to encourage people to come inside instead of sleeping outside on the weekends and holidays in the winter.
  • The clean up ambassadors from Downtown Cleveland Alliance are visible and regular presence downtown and they have a social worker who is on the streets interacting with homeless people. It is hard to sleep on the sidewalks if a big vacuum comes down the sidewalk at 6 a.m.
  • Permanent supportive housing have targeted people who have been homeless for long periods of time.  They have housed 500 people over the last six years and try to get people recommended by outreach workers who will never get into housing without the assistance of the PSH.
  • The move of the religious groups away from serving downtown and providing food in a random fashion whenever they had the volunteers.  This often kept people on Public Square, because they had no idea when a church would show up to provide food or clothing. 
  • There are so many more private places to live with the number of abandoned structures in our community.   Why stay outside on a sidewalk when there are 18,000 structures in Cuyahoga County that are sitting empty?

Brian Davis

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