I was in a position to see a street girl killed in Houston, Texas, and was almost killed by the same person who killed her. I saw a homeless man eat a raw pigeon that had been hit by a car, and the bird was still alive when he was biting down. I saw countless people spend their last pennies on drugs and alcohol and then go to sleep in cardboard boxes. I knew numerous people who kept pictures of loved ones wrapped in baggies in their coat pockets...coats falling off their backs. I saw people eat out of and then sleep in dumpsters. I saw well-off college students drive by homeless sites at night and throw water balloons and coins at homeless people just for the hell of it.
To say I always had hope would be a lie. To say I was willing to make necessary changes in my life would also be a lie. I reinvented myself into order to survive, to become "more"...more brutal, more street-wise, more heartless, more likely to hurt someone than to be hurt by someone, more unforgiving, more thoughtless, more cruel; more ashamed and embarrassed than anything else, even if I could never say it out loud. So being homeless for me was a nightmare because it also turned me into one.
Now I'm employed and I help those who are still homeless. It's like Haiti after the earthquake, where I'm pulling people up out of the rubble. I don't stop and judge who they are. I only know there's a live person down there, and it's intensely important I get them out of the rubble soon.
— Anonymous, from Portraits of Homelessness***
Michael Sering probably hasn't been really all that happy about the few times 2100 has made its way into local headlines. He's the director of housing and shelter at Lutheran Metropolitan Ministries, which took over 2100 with a faith-based perspective nearly a decade ago when the Salvation Army pulled out. The thing is, this shelter nabs news media real estate most typically when it comes up in police reports. There was that 2100 resident whose face was stabbed one night earlier this year. The Cleveland Police Department still hasn't solved that one. But the neon-blazed qualifier — this guy lived at 2100 — can't help but toss the shelter into a bad light.
"My sense of it is that 99 percent of the guys at the shelter want the shelter to be clean and safe," he says. "And they help us do that. They monitor everything. Like any group of people, you have some outliers that can give you a bad name. But overwhelmingly, they're good guys who hit a snag or a bad break or had some issue that they're addressing."
But not for nothing after all that, the place has a weird connotation on the streets and in the minds of even the non-homeless.
"There's the idea that is could be dangerous," Glenn Johnson says. The 55-year-old Air Force vet is an acquaintance of Two Braids. They often take to the road in support of Lydia's work. She's been captivated by their stories with equal parts fervor and curiosity. He says he was a might bit scared when first approaching the prospect that he might have to come here. "You don't know what the outcome could be. You could be stuck here forever. You could get into a situation where you can go back to where you came from. You just don't know. That's probably the initial thought: uncertainty." There are lots of men who tend to use 2100 as a flophouse of sorts (though it's not, Lydia cautions).
That second route in — the opportunity to crash in the emergency services bay ("E") and skip formal registration — entices those who aren't committed to 2100's desire to provide services and more permanent housing. Some guys just aren't yet on that path, Two Braids says.
But that opportunity for a bed in E — a long room that looks exactly as it sounds, bunk beds, far as the eye can see — is a sweet one. For better or worse, the prospect has invited trouble to some degree over the years.
In 2010, The Plain Dealer reported that, for instance, sexual offenders had been listing 2100 Lakeside Avenue as their address (those people, of course, being required to register an address quarterly or so). E offers a type of loose address for men trying to stay off governmental grid. These types, whom local law enforcement frequently had trouble tracking down, usually didn't even live at 2100 or had never set foot there. It's a near-unavoidable fact for a homeless shelter of this size and approach in the city.
Sering says that the PD story "was fairly complete and seemed to represent the issues and various perspectives. We did not have any response to it." Several state bills that would have ordered sexual offenders to wear a GPS device until they reported a permanent address died in the House's Criminal Justice Committee over the past few years.
"We have a good relationship and regular communication with law enforcement for guys that are actually appropriately at the shelter and can document via our census data who is here and who is not," Sering adds.
The shelter deals with what it can. And by that, more often than not, it's the men themselves who deal with it.
"The guys here are the biggest self-advocates," Sering says. "They did 168,000 hours of service last year. These guys are giving back when most people would think that they wouldn't have anything to give. I think that goes a long way to how people think about people who are homeless."***