Homeless People who Sleep Downtown

Homeless People Sleeping Downtown



These are the number of homeless people sleeping outside during our annual Thanksgiving weekend count.  We survey everyone sleeping outside between West 6th St. and East 20th St. between the Lake and Carnegie Ave. We estimate that this is a good baseline number as the smallest number over the coming year.  We began measuring the number sleeping outside as a result of the Michael R. White Administration yearly attacks on homeless people during the start of the holiday shopping season.  This does not define the number sleeping outside, but is a good indicator of the trends. 

Prepared by the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless
























2008 we saw a similar number as we saw in 2007.  We again went back out a second day to confirm the number.   This represents the holiday weekend in which we believe is the smallest number we will see for the year.  It assists with setting trends for the next year.

Downtown Homeless in 2008

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, volunteers from the Coalition for the Homeless were only able to find 19 homeless people sleeping downtown. This is similar to the 2007 figure, but a huge decline from the 40 in 2006.  We verified the numbers. Here are some possible reasons for the relatively low number compared to 2006.  There is no single issue like in 2000 with the opening of the shelter causing this decline, but here are my thoughts on some of the reasons:

  • The clean up crews are now firmly established. The Downtown Cleveland Alliance funded clean up crews with their yellow and blue outfits have taken control of the downtown. They make it very uncomfortable for homeless people who want to be left alone, but for their own safety do not want to be invisible. It is hard to exist on the heated sidewalks with those huge blowers and cleaners running in the morning.  The clean up crews have now worked the sidewalks for three years.
  • The City of Cleveland has recently disrupted the food program downtown. The groups have moved around and been made to feel unwelcome by City officials. Some have stopped feeding. Others have moved to East 18th and Payne Ave. This has caused homeless people to relocate closer to where there are churches or meal program operating.  We have seen a large increase in the number of people sleeping on the Near West Side of Cleveland. 
  • Aviation High School Closed. We created a large number of new spaces for homeless people in Cuyahoga County over the last two years.  We have developed permanent supportive housing, North Point Transitional, and a few new treatment options. Only in the last few weeks of 2008, have we started to see increases in the need for overflow spaces.  This will eventually translate to more people on the streets, but that has not happened yet.
  • The foreclosure crisis has made available an incredible number of vacant properties in neighborhoods. Often these properties are abandoned, some still have furniture, and some have heat or electricity. Many homeless people see the foreclosure crisis as an opportunity to find low cost housing (FREE!) with some privacy.  We have begun to hear complaints from neighbors who struggle with what to do about neighbors who are squatting in an abandoned house.  There are so many units now (10,000 to 14,000 buildings) that it is far too many to monitor.
  • The outreach teams are now coordinating their work. The Coalition has begun hosting monthly meetings to get all the professional outreach teams on the same page. This has resulted in the teams mapping out the city, and they each talk to the men and women sleeping out on a regular schedule and try to convince those resistant to shelter to come inside. They all carry the same message, and they regularly talk to each other. 
  • The curfew on Public Square was passed by Cleveland City Council over the two years During the 2006 walk, there were between 15 to 17 sleeping around the Square. In 2008, there was only two people on Public Square.
  • Cameras were put into service in November 2008.  The City of Cleveland began monitoring cameras that were placed around Public Square.  Being under the watchful eye of police is not attractive to a homeless person.  There are so many other spaces available in the community.

I am not sure that this means that there are fewer homeless people, because the numbers at 2100 Lakeside have not decreased at all. In fact, Lakeside has sent 35 people per night to the overflow at VOA over the last two weeks. It seems as though, we are at the beginning of a new wave of people sleeping outside.  We are not creating new shelters, and yet more and more people are struggling with homelessness.  In 2007, there was a strong effort to create new opportunities for homeless people to sleep inside with the closing of Aviation.  After North Point opened in early 2008, we have not opened any other facility.  The economy has continued to deteriorate, and every one of the new spaces created in 2007 is full.  The foreclosure crisis to expand and the evictions have remained steady. 

Overall, Downtown is looking good with the Healthline bus line opening and much of the construction over. The clean up crews are visible and doing a good job. All of the coordination, attention, and focus on the downtown was successful in reducing the numbers.  We need the County and City to continue to look at the problem in light of one more year of recession and continued job loss.  If we do not work to create new spaces for people inside, we will see a dramatic increase in people sleeping outside in 2009.  We have proven twice over the last decade that we can reduce the number of people sleeping outside.  We are slipping back to larger numbers outside.  Now is the time to address this situation while the numbers are manageable.