[Hpn] NO-SHACK Policy defied by advocate in Columbus OH USA fw

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Tue, 21 Nov 2000 20:07:11 -0800 (PST)

FWD  [Ohio, USA] Columbus Dispatch - Monday, November 6, 2000


     Jodi Nirode - Dispatch Staff Reporter

Sam Elam says city workers tore down his camp in late October and he hasn't
been able to get into homeless shelters, which are full. For now, Elam has
settled under an overpass near Miranova, the upscale condominium complex
being built Downtown.

When Harold and Ada Martin founded an organization to help the homeless in
1982, building shacks wasn't part of the plan.

They just wanted to offer simple acts of kindness: A blanket. Some food.
Letting people take a shower at their home.

Their own home, though, wasn't enough.

Over time, the Martins took mortgages on three other homes, offering them
for free to people in need of a place to stay. Tenants needed only to make
progress getting over an addiction to stay, Mr. Martin said.

"Somebody needed to tell them that God loved them, too,'' he said.

But the additional mortgage payments proved too much, as Mrs. Martin
struggled with kidney problems and her husband with heart problems. So the
Martins sold the extra homes in 1997 -- and started building shacks.

Made of plywood walls and with tarps to keep the rain out, the shanties --
with blankets and mattresses inside -- were a labor of love from the
Martins to the homeless.

"We'd bring music. Motown or gospel. Whatever anyone wanted to hear,'' Mr.
Martin said of building them. "We'd fry fish. We'd just have a ball.''

The Martins built 13 shacks. One even had windows and a door that could be

Last week, the city began tearing them down -- including one shack that was
home to nine men and women -- just west of the Short Street overpass for

It was one of the last shelters built before Mrs. Martin died of kidney
failure July 29.

Mr. Martin still is dealing with grief from his wife's death and is worn
out from trying to keep up with work they both used to do, yet he vows to
keep going.

This weekend, he was planning to build another shack, though city officials
have said they need to come down.

"What are they going to do? They will let a dog on the street, but a human,
they won't let them sleep on the street,'' Martin said. "They are not going
to stop me until they come up with a solution for the problem and do
something to help these people.''

Along with the shacks, the city took most everything that their tenants
possessed, Martin said. Gone were blankets, clothing, shoes and food.

Part of the problem is that shelters are full, said Kent Beittel, executive
director of the Open Shelter.

"This is actually the first summer that we've gone through where all four
men's shelters are operating at capacity for the entire season,'' Beittel
said. "There's usually some flexibility.''

Sam Elam knows that all too well.

Since the city tore down his shack in late October, he said he's been
trying to get into shelters.

"I can't get in,'' said Elam, who is in his 30s.

He came with his family to Columbus from Georgia, but three years ago had a
falling out with them, and he's been on the streets since.

For now, he makes do in one of Martin's shacks or a tent in a small wooded
patch southwest of Downtown. The shack provides shelter and comfort. But
Elam's panoramic view includes Miranova, the nearby upscale condominium
complex that he and Martin blame for propelling the city's cleanup of
homeless people's belongings.

"They want us out of here, but we're not causing any trouble,'' Elam said
as he rose to his feet, shaking his finger.

In a letter to city officials dated Oct. 10, a Miranova developer said more
than $3 million in sales were lost "due to the perception that the area
around Main, Mound and Short streets is not safe.''

That complaint, though, had nothing to do with taking down the shacks, city
officials say.

However, the city's cleanup this time was unlike others in the past.

"Historically, we've been notified when these things are coming,'' Beittel
said. "So we're not quite sure what happened this time.''

In the past, a consortium of advocates for the homeless has worked with the
city to provide warnings about changes to come and options for people. The
consortium is made up of representatives from Take It To the Streets, the
Open Shelter, Veterans Affairs, Southeast Recovery and Mental Health Care
Services and Health Care for the Homeless.

Hoping to quell anxiety among the area's homeless on how they will survive
the winter, the consortium is requesting a meeting with city officials this
month, Beittel said.

"We understand the city needs to move forward,'' he said. "But if we can
hammer out a clear, collective communication pattern, that will enhance
everyone's ability to be effective.''

City officials say they agree and hope to put a policy in place that would
require advocates for the homeless be called before shacks are removed,
said Mary Webster, assistant director of the city's Public Service

Until more shelter space or subsidized apartments become available, Martin
said he'll keep his hammer busy.

"I made a promise to (my wife) that I'd carry on, and that's what I intend
to do.''


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