The Face Of Homelessness In Cincinnati

Homelessness is an issue that affects many teens in Cincinnati and the United States.  In this article Kieran Del Vecchio takes a closer look at the issue, and opens with an  anecdote told to her by her father who recently gave “Smarts,” a young homeless man, a ride.  

It was a frigid and rainy day in Cincinnati, the type of rain that cuts diagonally across the sky, so fine that you can hardly differentiate it from snow. On the side of the road stands a man, about 20 years old. clean shaven with pristine teeth, and “fairly presentable clothes”, you wouldn’t of guessed he was homeless. “The guy’s name is Logan, although he informed me that everyone calls him ‘Smarts,’” said Devon DelVecchio, who picked him up off the side of the road, over by Rumpke in Colerain Township.

DelVecchio said he felt called to pick him up, thinking he was just a hitchhiker, judging by his neat appearance. Smarts was an adventure seeker — he hitchhiked his way back and forth across the country, and when DelVecchio picked him up, he was on his way to St. Louis for a djing gig with some friends of his.

When asked about what surprised him most, DelVecchio responded “…that homelessness seemed to be a choice for him… Smarts was pretty smart, he seemed clear-minded, not on any substances, and able-bodied.” DelVecchio said that he indicated wanting to settle down later in life, but for now, enjoying the freedom of not having a home. But homelessness might not have completely been Smarts’ choice DelVecchio noted:

“Relying on his mother or father wasn’t really an option for him.  He had little relationship with his dad and his mom wasn’t a capable mother and didn’t have a stable home of her own. Most of the other people he grew up around in Savannah, Georgia were only marginally getting by or were selling drugs to do so. So for him, homelessness was a means to escape a shaky family and neighborhood.”

This experience opened up my eyes to homelessness, and the amount of people that are forced into it due to mental health, poor childhoods, or serving time in the military.

According to the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Association, 49% of all homeless people are African-American, 29% have severe chronic mental illnesses, 22% are physically disabled and 39% are children. Of those children, 1/4th of them were victims of trafficking, or had to engage in survival sex in order to stay alive. The GHA also states that African-American and LGBT individuals experience homelessness at the highest rate.

In order to get a better idea on homeless children, I interviewed Sarah Laboiteaux, A licensed social worker in Columbus, with five years of experience working with kids at risk of homelessness.

When asked about common misconceptions of homelessness she replied: “Often times pop culture portrays the homeless as lazy. A person may have issues with mental health or delays that have never been diagnosed. Many times people end up homeless end up homeless, not because of something they did, but because the hand they were dealt in life was difficult at no fault of their own. A lot of times the circumstances that they were born into put them at a disadvantage. People do not usually choose to be homeless, and if they do it’s because they are fleeing a situation that they deem unsafe. Children have no rights or say in where they live or with whom they live.”

Laboiteaux also commented on how easy it is for children with a rough past to become homeless: “If a family or individual has no place to go they have to call a hotline phone number. The homeless hotline can keep you on hold anywhere from 2-4 hours and can still reject your stay in a shelter. Imagine not having enough minutes on your prepaid phone, or no phone at all. This would be impossible. When a child is 18 and ages out of the foster care system with no adult willing to adopt themor house them, they are dropped off at homeless shelters. Starting their adult lives with no supports or understanding of how to escape homelessness.”

To conclude my research, I interviewed a counselor in Oxford who had conducted an interview with a client of theirs who had experienced homelessness as a teen. The Tribune has chosen to keep the identities of the counselor and their client anonymous due to confidentiality reasons. The client was born outside of Washington D.C, and wound up homeless after escaping an abusive family when they were 15 years old.

“One night on my way home from work, I was cutting through a back alley and was shot in the back. I have been paralyzed from the waist down ever since. I lost my job because I couldn’t do the work without being able to walk. I had no support and ended up on the streets.”

They finished the interview by talking about the portrayal of homeless people. “I want people to know that just because you are homeless,it doesn’t mean you are lazy, or stupid, or crazy, Some people are born into a life with all sorts of obstacles and challenges that other people never face. Do you deserve a better life because you got a better family? If I had a loving, healthy family, I wouldn’t of ended up on the streets… I wouldn’t have been shot. My life would look so different.”

They closed with a touching statement: “I just want to people to remember that we are all human and we all have a story… If we could learn to help instead of judge, maybe some people could find their way out of poverty and homelessness.”

According to the Greater Cincinnati Homeless Coalition, 800,000 Americans experience homelessness every night and 1.35 million American children will experience homelessness this year. In addition, 3.5 million American men, women, and children will experience homelessness this year. For most, homelessness is not a choice, and there is nothing these people can do about it. It is up to us to make a change for these people, including children, who have no say in the matter.

Like Sarah Laboiteaux said, “Picking yourself up by the bootstraps is nearly impossible when you don’t own a single pair of boots.”

We need to speak for the millions of American children whose voices won’t be heard over the cry of the busy cars above their heads, the howl of the wind against their tents.

Feature photo copyright-free image from Pexel