City of Independence Denies Basic Right to Shelter

OPEN LETTER TO THE MAYOR OF INDEPENDENCE

Over the last several weeks, NEOCH has been made aware of concerning actions taken by the City of Independence in response to a hotel on Rockside Road being used and serviced 24/7 by Lutheran Metropolitan Ministry to house men experiencing homelessness.

Rather than participating in our county’s COVID-19 homelessness response, Independence responded by enacting punitive measures that further criminalize homelessness. NEOCH has been notified that the hotel will no longer be able to temporarily accommodate people experiencing homelessness later this month. After attempting to contact Mayor Gregory Kurtz with no response, NEOCH is publishing an open letter to the mayor in response to the city’s denial of the basic human right to shelter and their decision to use racist, Not-In-My-Backyard tactics.

Gregory Kurtz
Mayor of Independence
6800 Brecksville Road
Independence, OH
44131-5045

Dear Mayor Kurtz,

The last year has brought instability, hardship, and suffering for so many — particularly those experiencing homelessness in our county. Across the U.S., communities have wrapped around our unhoused neighbors by creating alternative, non-congregate locations for people to get inside and stay safe throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Cuyahoga County has set an example in their response to people experiencing a housing crisis. Through these efforts, we saw a 30% decrease in unsheltered homelessness and have subsequently kept people experiencing a housing crisis safe from COVID-19. The pandemic remains a risk for people experiencing homelessness and the long road to recovery is just beginning. Human dignity and love must be our compass through this process. Sadly, through your leadership, the City of Independence chose segregation and exclusion to lead the way by removing the men experiencing homelessness from the Ramada Inn.

As our country and our community continue to struggle to undo the legacy of racism and segregation, your community’s decision to push those staying at the Ramada Inn out of Independence embraces its devastating consequences. Rather than responding to the immediate housing and social service needs of our neighbors, the city chose to install a mobile police surveillance unit near the hotel and to expand the city’s nuisance ordinance to include commercial businesses. These acts of criminalizing homelessness only deepen the trauma and prevent people from finding a safe place to call home.

In the summer of 2020, Cuyahoga County declared racism a public health crisis. We know that the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are felt disproportionately by people of color in our community. But addressing racism as a public health crisis requires us to right the wrongs of history, address the racist legacy of housing in Independence, and take bold, loving actions. Today, zoning laws in Independence prevent any multi-family units anywhere in the city — which means renters, working class, and working poor people can’t live there. It is no coincidence that Independence is 95% white. Local and national research provides strong evidence on how zoning is a tool to further codify racism, classism, and segregation. Decades of racist housing policy (redlining, residential segregation, white flight, etc.) have created this reality and reiterated the ideals of property and profit over human life and dignity.

Cuyahoga County residents without an address are the responsibility of the entire county, and should not be confined to downtown Cleveland. Independence had an opportunity to support our neighbors experiencing homelessness in a time of unprecedented need, but instead chose racism and exclusion, exemplifying the swift and punitive backlash of whiteness. The men staying at the Ramada Inn are experiencing some of the hardest days of their lives and they deserve dignity, respect, hospitality, and love. The response from Independence has been one of harassment and hyper-surveillance that fuels racist stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness. NEOCH realizes that this is not an isolated incident, but rather a deep systemic rot that plagues us all. Your city can do better. It can start by simply apologizing to the men staying at the Ramada Inn, who may no longer have a safe place to lay their head, assist the county in their efforts to find another location, rescind Independence’s nuisance ordinance, and change your zoning laws to make your city more inclusive to the whole of our beautiful county.

Sincerely,

Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH)
3631 Perkins Ave., #3A-3
Cleveland, Ohio 44114
216.432.0540

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