Community Forum addresses concerns related to Imperial Avenue tragedy

(Plain Press, January 2010, Chuck Hoven) In the wake of the eleven murders of women on Imperial Avenue on Cleveland’s East Side, Stockyard Redevelopment Organization and the Women’s Center of Greater Cleveland brought together key representatives of area institutions offering assistance to those afflicted by some of the same tragic circumstances. The resulting Community Forum, held at the Breen Center for Performing Arts at St. Ignatius High School on December 3rd, featured representatives of the Women’s Center of Greater Cleveland, the Domestic Violence Center, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, West Side Ecumenical Ministry and United Way. Stockyard Redevelopment Organization represented area community development organizations and Second District Commander Keith Sulzer offered a law enforcement perspective.

The forum also addressed the related issue of missing persons. The parents of Georgina DeJesus who has been missing since April 2, 2004, were in attendance to talk of their efforts to pass AMINA’s Law, named after Cleveland’s missing children Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus. They believe the law would aid in marshalling public resources toward finding missing children in the hours immediately after their disappearance. A documentary film titled “Where is Gina” by the IVM group is being show to help promote this effort. Details on the documentary and efforts to pass new legislation are available at

Second District Commander Keith Sulzer noted the volume of missing person cases “10,000 in the last three years,” made it difficult for police to follow-up on them all. He said that, “We will investigate when we have reason to investigate.” He urged those concerned about a missing person to “Call me. Communication is the key to the whole thing.”

A woman, who said her daughter disappeared from the Stockyard neighborhood on November 16th, asked Commander Sulzer for advice. He told her she was doing the right thing in getting the word out, passing out fliers and working with family, friends and neighbors to trace word of where her daughter had been since her disappearance. Sulzer also offered the woman the assistance of the Second District Missing Person’s liaison at 623-5218.

The Social Service Agencies present at the forum each gave an idea of the role they play to help women in crisis.

Susan Knope, representing the Women’s Center of Greater Cleveland, said the Women’s Center helps women with their struggles with addiction offering treatment and counseling for the addicted or recovering individuals and their families.

A client of the Women’s Center, a victim of addiction, testified how the center helped her to “get my self-esteem.” She said that since going for help at the Women’s Center she has found work, has improved her relationships with her daughter and granddaughter and is starting to take classes to help further her education. She said of the Women’s Center, which aided her recovery, “It is a beautiful feeling to know people care.”

Neighborhood Family Practice representative Jose Estremera said staff at their clinics “jump through hurdles to help patients.” Dr. Ann Wise of Neighborhood Family Practice said NFP had strong links to other community resource agencies such as the Women’s Center, which allow their staff to make referrals to offer women additional assistance.

Linda Johanek Dooley of the Domestic Violence Center said, “For every woman murdered on Imperial Avenue, there are a 1,000 more out there who are at risk.”  The Domestic Violence Center provides a team of staff that is “working every day with victims of domestic violence,” said Dooley. “You are not alone, is our main message to the community. We are here for you, you and your family,” said Dooley.

The Domestic Violence Center offers a 24 hour hotline at 216-391-HELP (4357). Dooley said 18,000 calls were received on the hotline in 2009. Dooley urged those who know someone in an at risk relationship to say to them “I’m concerned about your safety. Here is a hotline you can call.” In addition to the hotline the Domestic Violence Center provides a number of services including safe shelter to victims of Domestic Violence and their children, support groups, art therapy and a supervised visitation center.

Annette Kent, representing the Rape Crisis Center, said her organization has set up a special hotline at 216-339-9664 for victims of Anthony Sowell, the rapist and killer charged with the Imperial Avenue murders. The Rape Crisis Center has been actively reaching out to women who knew the victims. Kent said the Rape Crisis Center holds a weekly 12-step program for women on Sexual Violence and Addiction at the Women’s Center on Storer Avenue. The Rape Crisis Center offers a whole range of services including a Crisis Hotline at 216-619-6192.

West Side Ecumenical Ministry (WSEM) representative Bill Buck said WSEM works to “empower low income people to live better lives and get out of poverty.” WSEM provides hot meals, groceries, offers head start, job training and counseling. Buck says WSEM staff and volunteers work closely and develop relationships with low-income individuals, which helps staff to learn about their needs and circumstances. He says WSEM partners with the Domestic Violence Center and other agencies to help individuals who are in need of additional help.

Stockyard Redevelopment Organization (SRO) Executive Director Al Brazynetz and SRO Community Organizer Megan Meister said SRO focuses on community engagement and community building. Neighbors getting to know neighbors create better neighborhoods and provide opportunities for SRO and residents to make referrals to social services or call police when neighbors express concerns about neighbors in need of assistance.

Judy Simpson, Vice President of United Way Services, called for greater collaboration of all United Way funded agencies in addressing the issues and providing the resources that will help to prevent future tragedies such as the one on Imperial Avenue.  Simpson said, “Give voice to those people around us who are invisible, who are silent. We are their voices. We need not be silent.”

In addition to calling individual agencies, those in attendance at the forum urged use of the United Way First Call for Help 211 referral number for social services available 24 hours a day. Other resources mentioned were the police radio number at 621-1234 and the Community Guide published each year in the March issue of the Plain Press.

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