Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Amendment I Congress Shall Make No Law. . .

Yet another complaint about our staunch support of free speech has been lodged. Reminiscient of Charlton Heston's classic line, "You'll take them from me when you pry them from my cold, dead hands," Editor in Chief Brian Davis could be heard muttering "When you get the smut out of the back of
Scene magazine, we'll talk about 'cleaning up' the language in The Grapevine."

As Operations Manager for one of the few remaining media outlets in which homeless people can express their real opinions, I must confess I am surprised by the controversy this poem, "Fuck the World" has caused. Granted, I could have chosen to "hide" the poem next to the ad congratulating The Homeless Grapevine for winning this year's Community Shares Award for Social Justice Reporting. But doing so wouldn't serve our mission, and it would have been a disservice to the poet himself. I take full responsibility for placing the poem so conspicuously on page 3, so long as it is also known that I was not intending to set ablaze a firestorm of controversy. I was merely doing my duty to protect another American citizen's right to free speech.

What puzzles me the most is how the real issues we bring forward are often ignored, but a word people use every day is getting so much attention. If I had known that using the f-word was such an effective way to bring attention to homelessness and poverty, I would have worked every possible derivation of the word into every headline of our fine paper. To be quite frank, the headline "Cleveland Still F---ing Poor" is a very versatile headline.

On a side note, I want to personally say that I am proud to work for an organization that stands firm on its principles and gives those who are materially disenfranchised a bullhorn to voice their concerns. Our vendors sell their words for their livelihood, in the proud tradition of Thomas Paine and our nation's Founding Fathers. I am honored to be a part of such an endeavor and will defend the right to free expression for all until my dying breath. . . even those who raise their voices to condemn us and tell us, in the words of Vice-President Dick Cheney, to "Go fuck yourself."

Kevin E. Cleary
Operations Manager
The Homeless Grapevine

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Controversy Over "Offensive" Language in the Grapevine

The recent edition of the Homeless Grapevine (Issue 73) currently on the streets has a poem that some readers have found offensive. The poem is by a homeless person and is called (divert your eyes if easily offended) "Fuck the World." The poem is certainly not going to rival Allen Ginsberg, but it is not a bad poem. We have received two complaints so far about this poem. It is prominently displayed on page 3 in bold type, and certainly catches the eye. One of the callers claimed to be a fruit vendor at the West Side Market where most of our papers are sold, and he was very angry. The caller threatened to tattle on us with the other media and start a petition to prevent our vendors from selling at the Market.

We do not understand the fear of a few words. They do not harm anyone. They are not a weapon of mass destruction; words are not violent or hostile. Words do not cause crime or war or send jobs to China. Profane words do not undermine democracy or cause homelessness. Words do not increase inflation or lead to unsightly yellowing of the teeth. Why are so many afraid of some words in the English language?

There is the fear over children seeing the words, which I also do not understand. It is the ultimate in naivete' to think that kids do not hear these words on a regular basis, but what is the harm? As long as the kids don't start using the words in polite company what is the problem? Besides, the paper has a monetary value of $1. How many kids are saving up their bucks to read a couple of swear words contained in the most depressing newspaper in the state?

Finally, the free papers that are easily available in the front and back of the Market feature a pile of adult advertisements with extremely adult concepts like S and M, cross gendered relations, and "escorts" that do more then escort. These are availalbe for free to any kid that walks by the box. Is seems to me that it easier to explain a poem by an angry homeless guy or a 1-976 number for Gay or Straight Escort Services specializing in "Mature" relationships or perverted activities?

The bottom line is that poem was well written and was by a homeless individual. It is our mission to amplify the voice of homeless people. We do not censor our constituency in a paper that was started by homeless people. It might be rough, but it is the language of the streets. It is real, and honest. We are a newspaper and have an obligation to be honest to the readers. We cherish our freedom of speech, and ask that our readers please do not be afraid of words.

Brian Davis

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Homeless Grapevine 73 Storms Cleveland

The Homeless

3631 Perkins Ave #3A-3
Cleveland, OH 44114

Press release
For immediate release: October 22, 2005

For more information, call 216-432-0540, or email

Moving for social change with the speed and intensity of an F5 hurricane, the latest issue of The Homeless Grapevine has just made landfall in Cleveland! Our front page features an in-depth article detailing how Cleveland has gone out of its way to welcome roughly 660 new residents evacuated in the aftermath of the Gulf Coast hurricanes. The article describes how social service agencies, outreach programs and more opened their arms to greet the victims of the largest natural disaster in US history, but strikes a poignant balance by asking why such compassion is lacking for people in Cleveland who were already homeless.

Our front page also examines the issues of sexually-based offenders and addresses the reality that the burden of care for such individuals is unfortunately falling on homeless shelters. The Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Office registry of sexually-based offenders shows that nearly 100 such individuals list 2100 Lakeside as their primary address. Homeless shelters such as 2100 Lakeside bear the brunt of juggling the concerns of society and serving their mission to care for individuals in need.

Inside, readers will find continuing coverage of the conditions at the Community Women’s Shelter from an inside perspective, with the second installment of our exclusive series, “A Fly on the Wall.” This article examines the flaring tempers resulting from crowded conditions and hostility or misunderstanding from some members of the shelter’s staff. Readers will also be moved by the tale of a man who lived outside the shelter system and attributes his salvation to the caring individuals he encountered at Trinity Cathedral, Care Alliance, Joseph’s Home, Rosary Hall, and more.

Issue 73 also invites our readership to participate and provide feedback with our 2005 Reader’s Survey. One area that will undoubtedly receive positive feedback is our latest Editorial. The Editorial details the lessons of Hurricane Katrina and describes the catastrophic failures of government in emergency management, and in addressing the myriad issues and realities of poverty in the United States.

As always, Northeast Ohio’s street newspaper has much more to offer, including state and local updates, insightful original commentaries, poetry, photography, and more. One poem, titled “Fuck the World,” has already sparked controversy. The food vendors at the West Side Market have objected to the paper being sold behind the Market over concern about the poem and its bold title.

Grapevine Editor Brian Davis said, “A homeless individual wrote a poem expressing his anger with the world and we give great leeway to the freedom of expression and thought in our paper. It is only a word, and that word has never invaded a country, undermined democracy, or caused anyone to become homeless. Other papers that are free at the West Side Market feature pages of scantily-clad women promoting questionable morality.”
Check out Cleveland’s voice for social justice and free speech! The Homeless Grapevine is always available at the West Side Market, from a local licensed vendor, or at the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless offices.