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April 17, 2003 A Laboratory Newspaper at Cleveland State University Vol. 4 No. 16

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Photo of homeless person

Photos by William Rieter, courtesy of Center for Poverty Studies
Dr. June Hart Romeo, went to New York City as a homeless person to get a better idea of what it was like. Just like the homeless person above, 13.5 % of people in Cuyahoga County have income below the poverty threshold. Also in Cuyahoga County, 22.7 % of children are living below the poverty line and 11.2% of people living in Ohio have no medical insurance.

Romeo’s Hart for the homeless

Hopefully, most people will never have to experience living under a bridge, not being able to shower, having barely enough to eat and having minimal access to healthcare.

Today, more than 10,000 people in Cuyahoga County alone, live with those circumstances if not worse.

Dr. June Hart Romeo, director of research for the Center of Poverty Studies at Cleveland State University, placed herself in the shoes of a homeless person to get a better understanding of what it was like.

Romeo said she chose to go to New York City for her research as a homeless person because it was a place with a high poverty level. She has gone four times, twice in the summer and twice in the winter since 2000.

“I would base myself in a hotel, and then go on as a homeless person for four, five, six days,” Dr. Romeo said.

Romeo would wear beat-up clothing, have old glasses with tape on the sides and placed her money, keys and ID in her socks to pass-off as a homeless person.

“What I focused on the first few times was going to some of the clinics that were set-up to provide free care for homeless, disenfranchised and poor people,” Romeo said.

A cab would not stop for her on the way to the clinic.

She also noticed when walking on the streets people would make a wide berth around her.

“I even had trouble getting back in the hotel,” Romeo said. “The doorman wouldn’t let me in, and when I went to pull off my sock to show my ID, he told that I couldn’t undress here.”

The treatment Romeo received at some of the free clinics she went to was no better than at her hotel.

Romeo decided to visit a free clinic complaining of headaches that made her vision blurred; deciding it would be a medical problem that wouldn’t use a lot of resources like x-rays or medications.

“[The free clinic] had cracked plastic chairs, no pictures on the wall, just this huge poster in day-glow orange saying ‘You to can get AIDS, use condoms,” Romeo said.

The receptionists were rude and made her wait. When Romeo told them she suffered of headaches, the receptionist turned back and told the other one, “she probably fell down when she was drunk.”

When Romeo finally saw the nurse the hospitality wasn’t any better.

“She asked me to roll up my sleeve and I asked why,” Romeo said. “The nurse replied with ‘Just roll up your sleeve.’ She left me and then came back with a paper cup with two little pills and said I was done.”

Romeo said she asked what the nurse was giving her and the nurse replied rudely again with “Take them and you might feel better.”

They even asked her about payment, even though it was a free clinic.

Romeo said she wonder if this is what homeless people would always go through.

“In the clinics I work, the free clinics and stuff,” Romeo said, ‘I would never treat my patients like that.”

Romeo also noticed during her time at shelters and acting homeless around streets and Central Park that most homeless don’t talk.

“The homeless hang-out together but don’t really socialize,” Romeo said. “They very silent and have nobody to talk to.”

Many people also believe a lot of myths about the homeless. Romeo said people think why can’t someone just go out and get a job at McDonald’s, that they are always hiring.

She continued, “But when you don’t have an address or a phone number, where can they reach you? Or when you don’t have access to a shower or have clean clothing, how can you make a favorable impression?”

Romeo also did other studies in New York with nurse practitioners that provide primary care.

She conducted a survey that used two case studies to see if they used poverty as an independent factor in how to treat patients.

Romeo’s main interest since she has arrived on campus has been poverty, diseases related to poverty and poverty medicine.

She met up with Dr. Rosanne Higgins, director of development and education, to co-found the Center for Poverty Studies in the fall 1999 in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Romeo said that the center’s main focus is health and poverty along with other issues related to poverty.

For more information on the Center for Poverty Studies, call (216) 875-9744 or visit

The Cleveland Stater is a laboratory newspaper put out by students enrolled in classes in the Department of Communication at Cleveland State University.
Editor: Sarah Thomas
On line Editor: Stacy Pendleton
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