Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Officers have visited at least two encampments in the city, asking residents to be on the lookout for outsiders.
Law-enforcement officers in Cleveland are casting a wide net for security threats ahead of next week’s Republican National Convention—including within the city’s homeless populations.
On Tuesday night, police visited at least two encampments in the city, asking homeless people to be on the lookout for outsiders who may be pretending to be homeless, according to Brian Davis, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.
“Police have been visiting some of the sites on the outskirts of the event zone to ask them to be on the lookout for people who may look like they’re homeless, but [are] not, in fact, homeless,” Davis says. Police are also “asking existing homeless populations to report any suspicious behavior,” he adds, noting that police do not normally visit the encampments.
A representative for the Cleveland Police Department would not provide any information about those visits, saying, “Suffice it to say that we have many security measures in place and will utilize our intelligence resources during the course of the convention.”
Law-enforcement concerns may be warranted. The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless itself has distributed flyers to homeless people that warn that “dangerous agitators” from out of town may try to blend into homeless camps and communities. The organization is further concerned that demonstrators may try to take up beds within homeless shelters.
“The shelters are completely full, which is unusual, for the men’s system to be completely full in July,” Davis says. “Normally there is a smaller number of people. In light of that, shelters are doing extensive intake to prevent tourists from using a shelter bed. So going back into, ‘Are you really homeless? When was the last time you stayed?’ and being very rigorous about intake.”
The security concerns are just one example of the mounting inconveniences that the convention represents for people experiencing homelessness in Cleveland. Davis’s organization has relocated several people who were living within the so-called “event zone,” a 1.7-square-mile area of downtown with increased security restrictions. One of the largest drop-in facilities in the city will be closed for the duration because its security officials were called to serve for the RNC. Other drop-in facilities located on the city’s west side will open for longer, staggered hours, so that no one is forced to be outside. And the city’s shelters, which typically close during the day, will be open around the clock.
“It has been extremely disruptive,” Davis says. “No additional funding, but we had to rearrange a ton of things.”
Late in June, the city of Cleveland approved a number of revised security regulations in response to a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio. Those revisions include the recognition of homeless people within the event zone as residents, no different from any other downtown Cleveland residents.
Homeless people in Cleveland may nevertheless experience displacement. Tents, sleeping bags, pads or mattresses, and over-sized backpacks are all prohibited within the event zone, as are non-plastic containers, bottles, cans, and canned goods. This makes life harder for the homeless in downtown Cleveland, and at a time when shelters are running at capacity.
“This is a very unusual situation for us, to have the men’s shelter system so full in July,” Davis says. “I’m not sure if it’s because all of the security that’s present, or if it’s because there’s protesters or others who are using the shelters and they’re not really homeless.”