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May 2, 2016; Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH)

Practically every Cleveland citizen’s daily routine will be affected when the Republican National Convention (RNC) descends upon the area in mid-July. However, some of the area’s more vulnerable citizens, such as the homeless and those needing access to addiction and other mental health services, may face larger obstacles than the average person who works downtown. To help those nonprofit organizations strategize on ways to continue providing services during the convention, the United Way of Cleveland hosted a forum on Wednesday, May 4th, titled “The Elephant in the Room: The RNC’s Impact on Cleveland’s Social Service Sector.”

At a United Way partners meeting held on Thursday, April 28th, representatives from the local FBI office urged nonprofit organizations in attendance to be as proactive as possible when planning their operations for the week of the convention. However, this is a challenge, as notification of road closures and detours will not be made official until closer to the opening of the convention. Another challenge to proactively planning is that the convention is spread out geographically. While the main activity will take place in downtown Cleveland, delegates and other entities necessary to put on the convention will be spread from Sandusky, an hour to the west, into the suburbs of Cleveland. While plans to work remotely or to take vacation time can be put in place for employees, taking a week off from mental health counseling or from accessing a meal program is not an option for citizens who rely on those services.

In addition to potential interruption in services for homeless and addicted people, and those dealing with mental health issues, there is another danger facing vulnerable populations: human trafficking. Any large event, like the RNC, means that a lot of temporary workers will be at various locations for event setup and execution. Representatives from the Collaborative Initiative to End Human Trafficking, the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center, and Bellefaire JCB have been meeting since November of 2014 to create a plan to be put in place with the convention arrives. The goal of this group has been to increase awareness of trafficking issues and to train hotel and restaurant workers, who will see an increase in business during the convention, on how to spot the signs of a human trafficking incident. Before the 2012 RNC took place in Tampa, law enforcement officials started watching for an uptick in prostitution in the days leading up to the event. In addition, community groups placed billboards throughout the Tampa area to raise awareness of child sex trafficking.

Despite all of these potential negative implications of the RNC, the Elephant in the Room forum also focused on one positive effect of the convention: a larger audience to whom nonprofit organizations can talk about their respective missions. This may be small comfort in light of the larger issues at play —Kelley Malcolm