Combatting homelessness a major issue in Cincinnati


Garrett Beltis

Contributing Writer


This past week Lauren “Ki-ki” Heiser and Alyssa Tremblay led a trip to Cincinnati, Ohio while stopping by Philadelphia, PA and Niagara, NY. I for one can tell you that I have never laughed so hard than during this car ride between several states, a total of over thirty hours spent in a Chevrolet Tahoe and a Dodge Grand Caravan.

Eight of my peers and I represented each class between us and an array of majors while on a trip to the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless: Cincinnati Urban Experience.

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After arriving in Philadelphia on Friday evening and spending the night in a less than five star Days Inn, we hopped back in our vehicles and took a short trip to Hershey, PA, where we explored the beautiful city, took some tours and ate some chocolate. I could never have imagined such a beautiful location being the origin of such a nonchalant commodity.

We explored Philadelphia a bit more, spent one more night there and shipped off to Cincinnati, Ohio. Ten hours later the nine of us found ourselves in this large, century old three story home that had clearly seen its fair share of youth and new faces. This is when we first met Jeni Jenkins, director of education at The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. Jenkins has been at the coalition for a few years now and spent the week leading us through a program designed to educate us and experience the homelessness situation in Cincinnati, a reflection of what is going on through the United States.

The week for us began bright and early on Monday when we served breakfast at the City Gospel Mission for 6:30 a.m. This was a humbling experience, but just the beginning of what we were to put ourselves through.

A portion of us later went to serve Lunch at Our Daily Bread while the rest went to Tender Mercies. Tender Mercies is an organization of about five buildings where they provide housing for people who are both suffering from a mental illness and have been documented as homeless.

There we helped in cleaning and learning about the various buildings and its occupants. Rejoining at the top of Carew Tower, a building which had until recently been the tallest in Cincinnati, activist Bonnie Neumeier told us the story behind Over-The-Rhine, the community between Downtown and Clifton Heights where we were staying. Neumeier described the recent history of gentrification in the community. Gentrification is the process by which low cost, physically deteriorated neighborhoods experience renovations or purchase by wealthier people or high-end businesses.

This in turn causes an increase in property values and makes it difficult for original inhabitants to maintain their standard of living. Gentrification has contributed to much of the homelessness in Over-The-Rhine and Cincinnati. 3CDC is one group who plans to renovate the community by constructing condominiums and create a more stable environment while bringing in an upper class of people.

The People’s Movement is fighting 3CDC in trying to make the current, original community stronger without fear of displacement.

We were also taught about Buddy Grey, an honorable man who fought to get the city to fund low-income housing projects in an effort to fight homelessness. Neumeier also told us about how Buddy Grey was shot to death by a homeless Buddy had previously helped. Though Neumeier told us the facts, people through out the week alluded to fowl play and an unsettling remembrance of the man.

Neumieres’ history lesson was interesting but there was still much to learn. Through out the week we continued to serve meals at various religious locations and community run organizations while experiencing first hand what a person of homelessness goes through on a daily basis.

At one point we joined Tommy Thompson and Lee Roy McCoy, two of those afflicted persons, in selling Street Vibes. Street Vibes is a community newsprint that focuses on homelessness and social injustice. People are hired to sell Street Vibes and earn their pay through commission. They buy them for 25 cents a paper and sell them for $1, earning a profit of 75 cents.

This payment might sound modest, especially considering the amount in which they need to put themselves out to sell just one, but for many this is all they’ve got to earn a wage and get themselves back on their feet. I had a chance to sell Street Vibes at one point and went in with confidence. I thought, “I’m young, clean, Caucasian and approachable, I’ll have no time selling these.” But words can’t describe how shattering it was when people wouldn’t even look you in the eye, how disheartening the amount of times you hear “No thank you,” or how foreign it was to find the few who actually aimed to help. One man in a business suit and a terrible toupee realized what I was doing and stopped. He asked me if I was getting by well enough, assuming I was homeless. Intrigued, I played along and said that I was doing what I needed to while surviving.

I thought that he was going to give me money, or hand me some glorious opportunity at his law firm, but instead he asked quietly to buy a urine sample off of me. I told him I can’t, not because it wouldn’t have been clean but because I didn’t need to go to the bathroom at that point.  I was shocked at how shamelessly he hoped to take advantage of my poverty for a mere $10.  A few of my other peers were also grounded in seeing how difficult it was to sell a paper. We gave our earnings to the Thompson and McCoy who showed us around, and then some.

With education from Jeni Jenkins, Bonnie Neumeier, and Executive Director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, Josh Spring, as well as many people who had recently or currently experience homelessness, we learned not only about how easy it was to become homeless and lose everything, despite your age, color or handicap, but also what happens when you are homeless. As many people as there are who were shamelessly disassociated from people who needed help, or even just respect, you can rest a little easier knowing that there is still a portion of good people out there. There are good people who give up their weekly time to work at the services provided in Cincinnati to help feed or house people suffering homelessness, or even people down on their luck. There are also people like Jenkins and Spring who dedicate their careers to not only helping the people on the streets stay alive, but in giving them the means to keep themselves alive and consequently, stopping the causes that force people out onto the streets.

I can’t describe to you everything that we did without belittling the impact it made on us but you can rest assured knowing we have successfully grown in our awareness and perspectives of the populations around us.  Once again we packed up the car, said good-bye to a few of the people we had seen at all the meals we served and headed off to Niagara. Again we arrived late and went straight to bed at a much more pleasant Days Inn. I know I woke up at the crack of noon eager to check out the falls, which, despite several comments about how much better it was from the other side of the river, were astoundingly beautiful. And thus ending one of the most jarring and eye opening weeks of my life.


Garrett Beltis can be contacted at

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