Protesters call on political leaders to tackle poverty
by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, November 2006) About forty people from member groups of the Northeast Ohio Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign rallied on the steps of Cleveland City Hall on October 17th to call on the Mayor and the County Commissioners to form a Regional Poverty Action Commission to address the concerns of Cleveland area residents living in poverty. While many of those at the protest held up signs supporting a statewide issue to raise the minimum wage, speakers raised a number of issues they would like to see addressed.
Diana King, co-chair of United Clevelanders Against Poverty, spoke of the importance of poor people have a strong representation on any commission set up to address poverty noting that for the second time in three years Cleveland was named the poorest big city in the nation.
Cleveland Heights resident Stewart Robinson also called for representation for poor people on a Poverty Action Commission. He said low-income people should make up one third of the members of such a commission. Robinson also spoke of the need for Ohio to extend welfare benefits from 3 years to the maximum of five years allowed by the federal government; called for Ohio to fix its unconstitutional school funding system, pass a livable wage law and create a single payer public health care system. Robinson said the city of Cleveland had put a freeze on raising its living wage and Cuyahoga County has not passed a living wage law. He said businesses doing business with Cleveland should be paying a living wage. “If you want to get rid of poverty. You have to give people who are poor more money,” he said.
A representative from Jobs with Justice spoke for raising the minimum wage saying, “It is not right to have full time working people living in poverty.” Calling for a society that would respect human rights to affordable health care, living wage jobs, education, food for self and family and a decent place to live, she quoted Martin Luther King Jr. saying “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is we now have the means to do something about it.”
Julie Smith of ACORN said simply raising the minimum wage was not enough. She called for a public works program that would employ Clevelanders to rehab abandoned houses to provide affordable housing to working low income families instead of the current housing program which she says offers tax abatements to people who can already afford housing. Smith said there should be a union representative on the Poverty Commission to fight for creation of jobs with decent wages and benefits.
A representative of the Deaf and Deaf Blind Commission on Human Rights called for increasing employment opportunities for members of the deaf and deaf blind community and increasing the amount of income one could make and still qualify for Medicaid coverage.
Tim Walters, chair of the Community Partners for Affordable Accessible Health Care talked of the hardships experienced by those without health care and called for affordable health care for all.
Luther Smith of the Empowerment Center of Greater Cleveland called for creating positive outcomes for low-income people by addressing the human rights needs of individuals and families. He called for the poverty commission to create an action plan to help families and individuals in need to access the resources they need.
Art McCoy of Black on Black Crime called on those present to join CMHA workers in a protest for better wages and benefits.
Brian Davis of the North East Ohio Coalition for the Homeless said a model for the Regional Poverty Action Commission already exists in the Homeless Congress that meets every two weeks at the Bishop Cosgrove Center. Davis called on the city and county to create public works jobs that pay a living wage, create jobs rebuilding vacant housing, and create a trust fund for housing. He also urged leaders in the region to come to an agreement so surrounding communities would agree to stop sending their poor people to Cleveland.
A member of the Columbia Parks Homeowners Association in Olmsted Township talked of the hardship created for senior citizens on fixed income living in the trailer park where the landlord is raising the rent. He said CMHA has not responded to pleas by the homeowners association asking the housing authority to take over the land by eminent domain to assure the residents would have an affordable place to live. He said seniors living in the park are losing hope.
Jim Lardie of For the Children spoke of the shame of so many people living in poverty in the richest nation in the history of the planet. He called for the formation of a commission that included poor people, corporate and political leaders, and representatives of non profit organizations committed to working on poverty issues to come together and get the job done. “We want a solution now, “ he said.
George Zeller, a researcher for the Center for Community Solutions said the problem is not only in Cleveland, noting that income fell in all communities in Cuyahoga County last year. Ohio is also in trouble, said Zeller noting that for the first time in the history of the state, the state experienced lower growth than that of the rest of the nation for 125 months in a row.
Mike Piepsny, Director of the Cleveland Tenants Organization, urged city and county political leaders not to feel defensive about the need to fix poverty. He said the anti poverty coalition wasn’t assembled to attack them. “We need their help,” he said.
Co-sponsors of the Northeast Ohio Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign rally include Organize! Ohio, the Deaf and Deaf-Blind Committee on Human Rights, Merrick House, Cleveland Tenants Organization, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, United Clevelanders Against Poverty, Community Partners for Affordable Accessible Health Care, ACORN, May Dugan Center, Cleveland Jobs With Justice, Columbia Park Homeowners & Tenant’s Association, The Empowerment Center of Greater Cleveland, Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor, C-Space, For the Children, God’s Agape Love Ministry for the Homeless, and Slavic Village Development Corporation.
For more information about future meetings of the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign call Larry Bresler of Organize Ohio at 440-801-1988 (V) or reach him by email at Lbresler@organizeohio.org or call Heather West at 440-801-1998 (V), 440-801-1948 (VP.TTY) or WeR4HumanRights@cs.com
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