Militant Journalism

Lead poisoning response in Cleveland provides funds to landlords, but none for victims

On Jan. 13, Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, members of city council and the CEO of Cleveland Clinic announced $67 million in contributions to the Lead Safe Home Fund. This fund, now totaling $115 million, “provides landlords with loans, grants, and incentives to make properties lead safe and assist in getting their needed certificates,” the Cleveland Clinic announced.

While lead-safe housing is necessary, funds have not been made available for the victims to assist them with costs of lead poisoning. Cleveland elites have neglected the immediate needs of victims. This has forced families and grassroots organizers to find solutions to the problems elites have neglected.

Lead poisoning is a widespread crisis in Cleveland. Almost 94% of kindergarteners screened for lead have had detectable traces in their blood, which can cause life-long debilitating symptoms such as learning difficulties and neurological damage. Of these screenings, more than a quarter showed blood lead levels high enough to warrant a public health response according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

This mass poisoning of Cleveland youth has immediate consequences that must be addressed. Child care for children with lead poisoning can be more difficult, as parents and care-takers may need to care for various adverse symptoms. Developmental delays caused by lead poisoning may lead to children falling behind in school and requiring more resources in the classroom to receive an adequate education. As victims enter the workforce, it may be more difficult for them to find work to support themselves.

All these costs are placed onto families, teachers and other support networks that are not provided the necessary resources to support children with lead poisoning.

Experiences of a family with lead poisoning

“It’s really stressful being a single parent, a mother to raise a four-year-old, [when] he’s only four but can act like there’s five of him in one,” said Chartela, a Cleveland mother of three whose middle and youngest children, Carlos Jr. and Carlee, have shown signs of lead poisoning.

“I don’t know how many times I had to go back and forth to the hospital because [Carlos Jr.’s] lead level was too high. Every other week I was literally in the hospital back to back because his lead was so high.”

Her son has experienced a wide range of symptoms that stem from lead poisoning, such as ADHD, hyper-activity, loss of coordination, fluctuating body weight and night terrors.

“My son used to cry in his sleep. I looked that up too, it was per lead. He used to cry and my daughter used to do it too when she was at the beginning of her stage … I had to take my son to the emergency room three times. Three times because he was not responding.”

Chartela showing the boarded-up window of a "lead-free apartment" in her price range. Liberation photo
Chartela showing the boarded-up window of a “lead-free apartment” in her price range. Liberation photo

Frequent trips to emergency rooms, chasing after a hyperactive child and constantly monitoring the house for potential lead contaminants — all of these add to the time and effort required to raise three kids. And yet, Chartela currently receives no compensation or support for being on the frontline of the lead poisoning crisis.

As a single mother who must watch her kids full time, she is not in a position to find a job that can financially support her family. In order to begin finding a job she would need daycare for her children. Additionally, she would need to be able to afford a car and the upkeep.

These hurdles could easily be overcome if the elites of Cleveland allocated their vast resources towards supporting the immediate needs of victims of lead poisoning. However, they are primarily interested in allocating resources towards profitable investments rather than the needs of the people.

Grassroots organizers take action

Grassroots organizers have begun filling the gaps left by the government and elites in Cleveland. Undivided Cleveland, a lead advocacy group focused on lead poisoning victims, has been working with Chartela and helping her family get the resources needed to have a stable living situation.

“We want everybody tuned in with Chartela, to see what can be done,” said Tanis Quach, an organizer with Undivided Cleveland. “There are countless people living with lead poisoning here. We want to create a system to help family after family … There are masses of people who want to get involved, who just are not aware.”

The Party for Socialism and Liberation and Undivided Cleveland are working together to build this system of support locally. This month, they will be hosting a fundraiser with live music and art to bring the community together to support victims of lead poisoning. They have also set up a GoFundMe for supporters who live outside Northeast Ohio. All funds raised will go to support Chartela’s family in their transition to a lead-free environment.

Undivided Cleveland and the Party for Socialism and Liberation are hosting a fundraiser to support victims of lead poisoning.
Undivided Cleveland and the Party for Socialism and Liberation are hosting a fundraiser to support victims of lead poisoning.

Lead poisoning is a crisis that the existing state will not take the necessary steps to resolve. Funds are provided to abate houses because that increases the value of property. It is a profitable investment for the elites. But when it comes to directly supporting the needs of victims, supporting people over profit, their pockets are empty.

The lead crisis will only be solved when poor and working people dictate how resources are allocated in society. As we build towards this reality, it is necessary to focus on the immediate needs of our community. We must find practical solutions to the problems which exist.

To support Chartela’s family, please consider attending this event on April 23 at Somethin Good Cafe (12210 Larchmere Blvd, Cleveland, OH) or making a contribution to the GoFundMe.

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