News: Drawing the Line

Drop Inn shelter supporters refuse to budge, citing 'prejudice' that would force them out and prevent relocation

 
Marci Strauss


Former Cincinnati Vice Mayor Peter Strauss told a forum Feb. 11 that moving the Drop Inn Center would be poor city policy, given that the city had invested at least $7 million in the shelter.



The Drop Inn Center shelter will not move — and it shouldn't have to. That was the message given by religious and civic leaders, directors of social services centers and current and former residents of the Drop Inn Center who spoke to a crowd of about 200 people Feb. 11 during a public forum sponsored by the Christ Church Cathedral Outreach Committee.

At issue is a proposal from the Greater Cincinnati Arts and Education Center that calls for closing the Drop Inn Center at 217 W. 12th St. to make room for an arts and music school that would be integrated with Music Hall.

The school, which would replace both the School for the Creative and Performing Arts and Schiel Elementary School, and a rehearsal and performance theater for students would be the first step in creating an arts complex. Supporters argue such a complex would help revitalize Over-the-Rhine.

But supporters of the Drop Inn Center said that the shelter provides much-needed services in Over-the-Rhine, including emergency and transitional housing, drug and alcohol treatment programs, food, medical and mental health care to more than 16,000 people each year.

These services are not easily relocated, speakers said.

Most speakers at the forum said it was unfortunate that two important institutions in the city — Music Hall and the Drop Inn Center — now are pitted against one another. Drop Inn advocates said they were supportive of the arts and of a new school, but not at the expense of the center.

Bill Woods, organizer of the public forum said, "Today is not the day to bash Maestro Kunzel's dream."

But, he added, it was important to remember Buddy Gray's dream.

Gray, an advocate of the homeless who was shot and killed in 1996, was a leader in the creation and development of the Drop Inn Center as well as low-income housing units throughout Over-the-Rhine.

Pat Clifford, general coordinator of the Drop Inn Center, said that the center is the largest emergency shelter not only in Cincinnati but also in Ohio, serving more than 250 people each day.

There are three major reasons, he said, as to why the Drop Inn Center should not be moved:

· It provides a much-needed service.

· It would be wrong to move the Drop Inn Center from the home it had had since the late 1970s.

· The much-publicized $6.5 million offer from arts school planners to move the center was not a real offer.

"The need for our shelter is not in debate," he said.

The need for housing for the homeless has not decreased over the years, and even people with jobs cannot always afford housing, he said.

And instead of wasting their energies on fighting to keep the Drop Inn Center in its present location, advocates should be focusing on, "How do we address homelessness in a positive way?" Clifford said.

He also said that the corner of 12th and Elm streets had been the Drop Inn Center's home since the late 1970s and had expanded over the years as it received grants and was able to do more.

"It's not just about dollars and cents to us," he said. "It's a place where people can access services in a centralized location."

Most importantly, he said, "It's about someone being asked to move out of their home."

As for the proposed $6.5 million to move the Drop Inn Center, Clifford said, "There's no real offer out there."

And, even if it were a real offer, Clifford said they might not be able to find another building.

In a recent letter asking for support to keep the Drop Inn Center in its current location, Clifford and Drop Inn Center Board chairwoman Bonnie Neumeier wrote, "The same prejudice, which is trying to move us out of our own neighborhood, would prevent us from entering other neighborhoods. We would become a homeless, homeless shelter."

Clifford also said that shelters in other cities that had been offered money to relocate were often unable to find another building.

"There's really no practical way to be moved," he said.

Clifford's remarks were echoed by several other speakers.

Bruce Goetzmann a retired architect from the University of Cincinnati who has been working with the center for many years, said the Drop Inn Center building along with adjacent buildings that also provide housing added up to 70,000 square feet.

"Where can we find 70,000 square feet elsewhere?," he said. "We need to stay right where we are."

The Rev. Duane Holm, director of the Metropolitan Area Religious Coalition of Cincinnati, said the proposed arts and education center is a "brilliant and desperately needed concept" because it could save Music Hall, could save Cincinnati Public Schools and would provide a needed tax base to the city.

The total cost for the new school and theater part of the project is $99.2 million, which planners said would be financed with local, state and federal sources as well as private and corporate donations.

Cincinnati Pops Conductor Erich Kunzel, the lead supporter of the arts complex, has been quoted as saying that a new art and music school would open "lots of doors in the community and the world for Cincinnati."

But, Holm said, it was unfortunate that the proposed arts center "seems to be insisting on the relocation of the Drop Inn Center."

He said there were practical problems with relocating the Center, but, "It goes deeper than that. The Drop Inn Center has become a deep and powerful symbol ... for what is good in Cincinnati."

Former Vice Mayor Peter Strauss said the city had invested at least $7 million in capital improvements in the shelter and that it did not make for good city policy to move the shelter because so much had been invested in trying to help it.

David Logan, of Prospect House, said both the shelter and the arts school were important.

"I believe we need both in this city," he said.

And, Logan said, both institutions should be able to coexist in the same neighborhood.

"Real urban life in real cities is characterized by vitality and variety," he said.

He said that trying to keep them separate would be like trying to turn Over-the-Rhine into a suburb, where zoning laws prevent multipurpose use of the same area, an idea Logan compared to a "sensory deprivation experiment."

Another reason why the Drop Inn Center should not be moved was presented by Dorothy Gary, day advocate for the shelter.

Gary said there were other programs and services near and linked to the Drop Inn Center, which also would be disrupted if the center were moved.

"If the Drop Inn Center is moved, all the other help in the neighborhood is going to have to be moved, too," she said.

Some speakers said not only would it be impractical to move the Drop Inn Center, but that it also would be morally wrong.

"This is just about power," Neumeier said. "Who will benefit from this plan, and who will be injured? You're asking the most vulnerable of this society to do something that's not right."

Neumeier also said that arguments to move the center for safety concerns were invalid.

In reality, she said, people outside the Over-the-Rhine community fear the homeless.

Clifford said he and supporters would continue to try to gain public support for saving the center. The arts center board, of which Clifford is a member, is scheduled to meet March 2. Clifford, who was shocked by the board's proposal to move the Drop Inn Center, said he hoped his membership on the board was not in jeopardy. ©

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