CLEVELAND - His name is Eddie. He is a veteran of the streets, having lived on them for 30 years. In a vinyl tent which he shares with a woman named Christine, he battled the sub-zero temperatures which surrounded them. When help showed up to encourage the two to give up a troubling existence on the streets, they declined.
"We don't like being with a group of people," said Eddie, declining the offer to enter one of the several shelters which keep the homeless from dying on the frozen streets of Cleveland. Eddie made his opinions known to workers from Frontline Service, an organization which takes help and encouragement to street level.
"The homeless can be hit with hypothermia and frostbite," said William Kelley of Frontline Service. "Those kinds of things can happen pretty easily," he added.
Outside his tent which was pitched on a hillside overlooking the Cleveland Innerbelt highway, Eddie tried to shield his face from the wind which whipped through the city. Inside the tent, he said Christine was sleeping and did not want to be disturbed. Kelley and a couple of others from Frontline Service, including a nurse, know where to go to check on what they call the chronically homeless.
They are people who have been homeless for ten years or more. Eddie said 30 years ago, he used to live in the Cleveland Flats. When the old Powerhouse was developed on the West Bank of the Cuyahoga River, he moved away, preferring to live away from people.
The Frontline Service people bring food, water, clothing, and medical attention to the homeless who are willing to accept it.
"What I need are long johns," said Eddie. "Really, I need four pairs -- two for me and two for Christine," he said.
A few minutes later, Kelley and his co-workers found a wooden shack anchored against a tree. It was built by the two men who lived inside. On the tree, there was a Christmas bow and several other decorations. The shack was made of throw-away pieces of lumber and odds and ends. Inside, the nurse took their blood pressures and asked about their general medical conditions.
One of the men inside said they felt the sub-zero temperatures, but declined to leave from their shack.
"I built this to squeak," said one of the homeless men. "Every time the wind blows, it squeaks like I'm in a ship," he said proudly.
The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless estimates there are 4,000 homeless people in Greater Cleveland. It estimates most of them will find warmth during the extreme cold in shelters throughout the community, but after the freezing wave passes, they will return to the streets.
However, there are several dozen homeless who will put their faces into the wind of below-zero temperatures and try to brave their way through it. They are people like Eddie.
"We're used to being outside, so we're going to take the bitter with the sweet," said Eddie.
Workers from Frontline Service were not surprised. They know Eddie to be among the chronically homeless, those people who refuse to come in from the cold.
When the people who came to help him left his tent after giving him a few items to help him endure the freezing weather, Eddie returned to the inside of his tent. Pitched on the hillside overlooking the highway, Eddie returned to his home where it was as cold inside as it was outside.