Cleveland's RNC convention pushes homeless out of city

A demonstrator takes a picture of the police line during the Shut Down Trump & the RNC protest on July 17, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

The speeches, political punditry and late-night parties related to the Republican National Convention doesn't matter much to William Beehler, who makes his home on Cleveland's streets.

"I'll be better when it's over," Beehler said after sipping hot coffee from a foam cup at the Back Door Ministry at St. Malachi Parish, located at the west end of the Detroit-Superior Bridge across from downtown Cleveland.

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Better, Beehler explained, because he won't have to worry about the police warning him to keep moving—which he translated as leave downtown—as they did in the days before Republican officials began arriving to officially nominate billionaire Donald Trump as the party's presidential candidate.

"When you're carrying a bag of clothes, they look at us like we're nobody," said Beehler, 55, who sports long gray hair and a bushy beard. "There's a lot of harassment that the homeless man doesn't need."

Beehler has learned not to depend on family to help. All he wants, he said, is a job.

"What I want is my own doorknob, my own key to put in the doorknob, my bed to lay in, a television to put on so I can sit back like everybody else."

Beehler was one of about three dozen people who visited St. Malachi during a 45-minute stretch the morning the convention opened on July 18 who expressed similar concerns. The ministry provides a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich or a pastry and a cup of coffee or juice for anyone who visits. Most people are homeless though or cannot afford a bite to eat.

Many of the people said they have not given the convention much thought because they doubt the people attending it are giving the city's poor and homeless community much thought.

"It's strange. I don't know why they spend all that money downtown and forget the West Side," said Joe, 34, who lives in public housing a few blocks north of St. Malachi and declined to give his last name.

"What I don't like is they got all these jobs, but none are for (people convicted of) felonies," Joe continued. "A man trying to make a change out here can't get a job.

"You guys vote for Trump and you'll all be in the shape we're in. If Trump becomes president it's bye, bye Social Security, bye, bye welfare. It'll be 'Look at those bums.'"

He said he supported Hillary Rodham Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, but doubted there would be much change in his life either way.

Another man, who said his name was "Mr. Smith," criticized the city for sweeping homeless people out of downtown in the days before the convention. "Where are they going to go?" he asked.

In response, St. Malachi opened its old school building to people in need of a place to stay for a few days while the convention was going on. Guy Biasiotta, kitchen manager at the parish, said the shelter, which can accept up to 200 people, is normally open only in winter."

"We opened for the convention," he said. "We felt it was needed."

For about 45 minutes, the flow of people at St. Malachi's back door was almost constant. All of the people who spoke with Catholic News Service echoed Beehler and Joe, saying they don't expect anything to change after the Nov. 8 election unless decision-makers pay attention to what they have to say.

"This city is a rough city," said Tony Winston, 54, eschewing news about Cleveland's recovery from decades of economic decline. Winston is not homeless, but often rides the bus to St. Malachi for breakfast to help make his meager income stretch.

"I've never seen the city like this before. I think it's the end of the world coming," he said.

He had a warning for the decision-makers.

"Some people are too slick for the world," Winston said. "They're going to be caught in the next world. God sees everything going on around here."

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