Holidays for the Houseless

By Graig Graziosi

The Mahoning Commons//5th Avenue Bridge connects the West Side and Downtown Youngstown. It also shelters two camps of individuals weathering the winter temperatures with limited supplies and dwindling food. photo by Graig Graziosi/ The Jambar.
The Mahoning Commons//5th Avenue Bridge connects the West Side and Downtown Youngstown. It also shelters two camps of individuals weathering the winter temperatures with limited supplies and dwindling food. photo by Graig Graziosi/ The Jambar.

Living under a bridge during the harsh winter conditions is a reality for some unfortunate individuals in Youngstown. Hoping to combat this, an alliance of local organizations is seeking donations and help for an upcoming cleanup project and item drive.

Green Youngstown Litter Control and Recycling, Friends of the Mahoning River and the Youngstown Inner City Garden led by R. Mason Carratt will be joining forces on Sunday, Dec. 7 to help remove blight under the Mahoning Commons/5th Avenue Bridge.

Two camps of individuals — who Carratt calls ‘houseless’ since they have made themselves a home and only lack a house — are living under the bridge, and the alliance of organizations hopes the clean up, as well as the YICG group’s item drive, will improve conditions for the houseless individuals as the colder winter months approach. The plight of the camps was brought to the city’s attention in a recent Vindicator article.

“I got involved after I read the Vindicator article. I didn’t know there were tent cities in Youngstown … I’ve spent some time riding rail cars and living outside myself, so I wanted to lend a hand,” Carratt said.

To begin his work to provide aid for the camps, Carratt has posted a list of ideal donation items on his Facebook page and has launched a GoFundMe crowdsourcing campaign on the GoFundMe website with a goal of $500. For those wishing to donate items instead of money, Carratt has a list of useful purchases specifically for the individuals under the river.

“They have a ton of vegetables. What they need is canned meat. Tuna, chili, anything. Tents are always good, though I think we’ve already got one coming,” Carratt said.

A complete list of ideal donation items will appear at the bottom of this article.

While the combined efforts of the three groups should provide plenty of bodies to complete the job, Carratt hopes for a strong turnout of volunteers for the Dec. 7 cleanup.

“You know, Facebook is Facebook … people can say anything they want on there, so you can’t really trust the numbers as to how many people are going to show, but I hope we can get a good group,” he said. “I’ll be happy with whatever we can muster up.”

Alongside Carratt and the YICG, the Friends of the Mahoning River will have a presence at the cleanup. Thomas Smith of the FotMR has partnered with Carratt’s group before, and believes the partnership between city wellness groups is necessary for progress.

“We weren’t aware of the groups living under the bridge. When YICG decided to pursue the cleanup, we came on board to help. Normally we stick to the areas immediately by the river, such as the trails by the B&O Station, but the spot where we’ll be cleaning is set back … there is a chance during high tide that the river could pull trash into itself, so we’re hoping to get that fixed at the event,” Smith said.

To aid the volunteer’s efforts, the city of Youngstown’s Green Youngstown Litter Control and Recycling office is providing garbage bags, litter pickers, gloves and bottled water to workers and has agreed to dispose of all collected trash from the bridge area on the following day.

Carratt and Smith are both leaders in relatively new and very active local volunteer organizations. Smith said he hopes the trend of socially aware individuals choosing to volunteer their time locally will continue to grow.

“I would say there’s an uptick in volunteerism in Youngstown. We’re trying to promote more of a socially active stance when it comes to working in the city. Several of our [Friends of the Mahoning River] members are also members over at the YICG, so there are some people who are just very, very active in working for the city,” Smith said.

Carratt, who spends most days either volunteering or working with his own volunteers, hopes that those attending the Dec. 7 cleanup won’t look with judgment on the houseless individuals they are working alongside.

“They are good humans down there. Everyone falls on hard times, and sometimes it takes a long, long time to recover from it,” Carratt said. “Some of the folks down there were pissed about how they were portrayed in the paper, particularly about the woman who was getting sexually harassed. They said that’s not how things are down there … you could tell that everyone looked out for everyone else.”

While Carratt and Smith want volunteers to join them for the river cleanup, Carratt believes people should otherwise leave the camps and the houseless individuals living underneath the bridge alone.

“I think the cops know they’re there, and the fire department helps them out, so apart from organized efforts, people shouldn’t go down there. We don’t want people just going down. … It’s their home, you know? You don’t just swing into someone’s house uninvited,” Carratt said. “We don’t want people going to look at them like monkeys in a zoo.”

Those interested in donating items to the houseless are encouraged to bring:

Water Bottles

Batteries AAA and AA size

Flash Light (with batteries)

Radios (with batteries)

Canned meat

Canned Chili, anything with meat, sardines.

Tarps – Rope

Foam Mattresses

Fire Wood

Dollar General or McDonald’s Gift Cards

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