Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Shelters, motels bulging at the seams with no end in sight

Today was just incredibly hectic at Arise (not that this is unusual). We talked with four currently homeless families, all calling from the Springfield or Holyoke welfare offices, and all being told they're not eligible for shelter, and one homeless woman with two kids who is placed at the Econolodge in Chicopee in a room that has bedbugs.

  • One quite pregnant 18 year old was told she needed proof of pregnancy.  Liz took care of her by providing a list of places that would do same-day pregnancy tests.  You'd think the Dept. of Housing and Community Development (the actual providers of shelter in Massachusetts, but housed at the Dept. of  Transitional Assistance offices)
  • I talked to a man who has custody of his 16 month old son but he was being denied shelter because he and the child's mother were in a homeless shelter for the month of January.  We got Community Legal Aid and Mass Justice Project involved in his case, but it doesn't look good.
  • Another woman and her one child left North Carolina (she had friends up here) after three incidents of being battered by her husband and having the police called made management decide not to renew her lease.  Doesn't look good for her, either-- she should have stayed in her apartment post-lease and forced her landlord to evict her, so she wouldn't fall in the category of having "abandoned" her housing, but how was she to know?  She's coming to the office tomorrow so she can have police reports faxed to Arise.
  • The one I feel worst about (at the moment) is a woman with three kids who probably is eligible for shelter, but the documentation DHCD is asking for is lengthy, and hard to gather when you have 3 kids, no car, and four suitcases to lug around.  I was going to tell her to ask for "presumptive placement" but didn't write down her phone number because by that point I was too utterly disorganized.  She didn't call me back. 
Why was I disorganized?  It shouldn't have happened but our senior aide was out today so when the phone rang, I just answered it.  I could have called one of the three very kind members/volunteer advocates or asked Jackie, Terrette or Tina,  who were trained by us a few weeks ago to do intakes and who were working on collating our next homeless newsletter, but I forgot!  And of course as it gets later in the afternoon, the window is closing on being able to get folks into shelter for that night, so you just tend to try to act fast.  I'll do better tomorrow.

The rest of my day, and much of Liz's day,  was taken up with figuring out if we were going to have a demonstration tomorrow at the Econolodge and in trying to reach the "policy people" who can answer some essential questions if they would only choose to do so.  More on that part later.

Last week a woman called me from the Econolodge, one of DHCD's motels for homeless families, saying she was overrun with mice in her room.  I told her to call the Chicopee Board of Health, which she did ; the BOH contacted the motel, and they moved her into another room-- but this morning she and her daughter had numerous "bites" which she could only assume were bedbugs. 

I told her maybe it was time for us to go picket the Econolodge (if that was OK with her) but that we needed to do some research first and I'd call her back.  So Liz called the Chicopee Board of Health and I called MJP to doublecheck on the number of "noncompliances" a motel resident can have before being terminated-- it's one, with termination on the second (you get one more chance in a shelter) and to make sure that participating in a First Amendment activity wouldn't count as noncompliance for motel residents (should be OK). The Board of Health had some interesting things to say.  Apparently they act quickly on complaints and ask for written proof the complaint has been resolved.  Seems like the Econolodge is certainly no worse than many other "welfare motels" and is better than some.

I talked to my contact at the motel again and she mentioned how Econolodge employees provide a shuttle van a few times a day which drops people at the Springfield bus terminal so they can look for work!  This is NOT required by its contract with DHCD as far as I know.  (This doesn't help my friend; one child leaves for school at 9 am, another at 1 pm, and then the first one gets home from school at 3 pm, so she has exactly a two hour window to be out looking for work.  Motel and shelter residents are not allowed to babysit for each other.)

"Look," I told her, "in this case, the problem is not the motel-- the problem is that there's not enough shelter and not enough affordable housing.  We can still come picket, but let's make DHCD the target."

So looks like we'll be doing this on Thursday..  I'll post on Facebook and email the time.

As of Monday night, there were 2,122 families in Massachusetts being sheltered in motels.  Add the number of families actually in shelter, and we're over 4,000 homeless families being sheltered.

I wonder if religious communities in each town where families are in motels could mobilize to help them meet some of their basic needs?  I wish I could say Arise has the resources to organize this.

Meanwhile, homeless single people are also much on our minds.

We've been worrying about Carl, a homeless STCC student who has been sheltering himself under a bridge.  Haven't seen him in a week.  And we're worried about Lisa, who was sexually assaulted on the streets last year, and who we haven't seen since last Wednesday.  I know she was trying to get to Westfield, and last Friday, a news article said a woman had been sexually assaulted by a man who had offered her a ride home.  Was it her?

I have been trying to get a list of people both permanently banned and banned for a year from Worthington St. Shelter for the last three weeks.  I asked the director, Bill Miller, to let me know the numbers (not the names) so we could get a sense of who's out in the community and unsheltered.  But apparently he has no intention of doing so.  I asked two of his board members if they could get the numbers, and Bill said he would provide them, but he still hasn't done so.  (I did hear that he will provide names of banned people to Gerry McCafferty, Office for Housing, so they can be prioritized  for Housing First-- and I know that wouldn't have happened without our badgering.) 

This is no academic exercise.  We hear that Juan Rivera, who was crushed to death last month while sleeping in a dumpster, was on the list of banned individuals.  How many people are sleeping out on the street?  While the "banned" numbers will not exactly correlate with street homelessness, it gives us a ballpark.  And seeing as we know of two rooming houses, housing more than 100 people, were recently closed in Springfield, we know that the availability of affordable housing in Springfield is NOT increasing.

I've been calling Rose Evans, Associate Director for the Division of Housing Stabilization at DHCD, twice a day for the last seven business days.  She can get this information for us if she ever chooses to return my call.  (UPDATE: I decided to call her before 9 am just now, and she actually picked up the phone.  She says she will get back to me by the end of the day.)

Just what are we to do about this insane situation? Unless you're in the low-income community, you just have no idea who unstable our whole community has become.

I want to thank those people who said they'd be willing to assist with a building takeover (I'll get back to you all personally later today).  But we're definitely looking for the right place!  I've been talking to Catholic Charities about church-owned property that is vacant-- there's a LOT of it!  WHY isn't it being pressed into service for homeless people.

Christina has been holding homeless committee meetings at the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen, 35 Chestnut St.  The next meeting is tomorrow at 1 pm, and the meeting after that is Wednesday, November 20.  But you don't have to wait that long to get involved.  Call Arise at 734-4948.

Community response for families in motels?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Free baby-- 1 1/2 yr old little girl-- any takers? and other tales from Arise

We've started monitoring DHCD at the Liberty St.welfare office in Springfield (and as the word is spreading, we're also hearing from families in Holyoke) and let me tell you-- if I had to put up with what many of these families are dealing with, I'd either be homicidal or suicidal.

We've been trying to help a single dad with eleven year old twins.  They've been living in a pop-up camper in a friend's back yard-- no running water, no electricity.  The first time the father went to DHCD, he was not given an application for shelter; he was told he was keeping his children in unsafe conditions and they were going to call the Dept. of Children and Families  and report him.  Of course he left, furious and terrified.  We told him to go back to DHCD the next day and insist on filling out an application.  I also called DCF in Boston to ask if they thought it was appropriate to be used as a threat against homeless families.  The father now has an appointment for Friday, but DHCD still had to include another threat, telling him he was just a heartbeat away from having a 51A (abuse and neglect) filed on him.

We finally got a mom and her three grandkids into shelter today, on the very day the sheriff was to physically remove them from their apartment. (I wrote about her in "The only thing we can do for you is walk you to the door." She and her grandkids, aged 2, 4 and 12, had gone back and forth between DHCD and the School Department four times, with DHCD insisting on a particular form they said the School Department had, and the School Dept. insisting they had no such form.  Finally, a call to the homeless liaison at the school dept. generated a screenshot of the child's enrollment which DHCD was willing to accept-- temporarily, until the grandmother proves she has legal custody. (Her daughter is incarcerated, and the notarized letter she'd given her mother had been good enough for the family to receive TAFDC benefits.)  When I asked my DHCD contact why the runaround, she said that without such strictness, anybody could walk into the welfare office and claim children as theirs when they really weren't.

"Yeah," I said, "but how often does that actually happen? Sounds like the kind of reasons used for tightening voter eligibility-- voter fraud-- when it scarcely exists."  She didn't disagree and gave me no examples that this kind of welfare fraud really happens..

Yesterday and today we've been hearing about-- and acting on behalf of-- a 26 year old mother and her four year old daughter who were found wandering in the middle of the night by the Holyoke Police.  The police were kind enough to let them stay at the station until morning, when they could drop her off at the Holyoke welfare office, where she was told by a worker,  "There are no shelters anymore."  She found her way to an ally (who shall remain nameless) and from there to the Mass Justice Dept.  They told her to go back to the office and ask for an application for shelter; she did, but DHCD refused to give her one.  So she was going to be sent back to the office once again, but now it was too late in the day and none of the advocates knew how to help her in time for tonight, so they suggested she spend the night in the Holyoke Hospital emergency room, and come back in the morning.  It was at that point that I put out a plea on our Facebook page, asking for mattresses and bedding.

I must say that everyone of these advocacies  has involved intense collaboration with the Mass Law Reform Institute, Mass Coalition for the Homeless and the Mass Justice Project.

Now to the free baby: yesterday was a long day but I was full of energy again after a meeting of our newest, two-month old committee, VOCAL-- Voicing Our Community Awareness Level.  We're dealing with criminal justice issues and the core group is fervent and strong.  However, I was definitely ready to go home when a friend of Arise, we'll call her Dorothy, stopped into the office.

Dorothy is not quite a member of Arise, because she is too busy completing her education in Early Childhood Education to take on the work, but we see her frequently during the school year, when she stops in to visit until it's time for her bus.

Dorothy is one of the sweetest, kindest people I know.  Two months ago, she and her high school aged daughter  opened their home to an elderly man who became homeless after his apartment building was condemned.  It was going to be a temporary arrangement, but he fits in well, and contributes to the rent (which the landlord raised because there was an extra adult living in the apartment), so there's now a tinge of permanency in Dorothy's voice when she talks about him.

"I've got some new people at my house," she said.

"Really?  Who are they?"

"This 26 year old girl and her year and a half old baby-- a girl."

"Where did you find them?"

"I was in the bathroom at the bus station and the girl was in there-- she was crying hard-- and the baby was balanced on the edge of the sink, and I was worried about her, because her mother was crying so hard, and not paying attention, so we got talking, and she had nowhere to go, so I took them home."

"Wow, Dorothy, can I help?-- try to get her into shelter?"

"I don't know," she said.  "The girl may not stay-- she has a boyfriend in Alabama and she texts him all day.  But she might leave the baby behind with me...but I don't know how to take him and still finish school..." Her voice trails off.

"How did that come about?"

"The girl just said to me, 'Please take my baby.  Please.  I just can't take care of her anymore.'  We went down to court last week for me to get temporary custody and we have a court date in September....My school has daycare but she's too young."

"Maybe you can be his foster mother, get some financial help, pay for daycare; they do exist for chilrden that young."

"I took her-- the baby-- to church last week, just to see how she'd be, and she was good, quiet, and she waved at the other people and she waved at me....she's a sweet baby....my daughter says she'd like to have a sister..."

"You've fallen in love with the baby," I said.

"Yes.  I've fallen in love."

She told me more about the girl-- the mother-- which I won't write here, except to say that the girl has a dream that she will marry her boyfriend, and they will get a little house, and everything will be all right, and then she can come back for her baby.  (Want to count the broken hearts in this dream?) What I heard of her story answers at least part of this question: What could possibly make a woman so desperate that she would plead, to a person she scarcely knows, "Please take my baby.  I can't take care of her anymore?"

I haven't been able to get them out of my mind all day.  I left a message on Dorothy's phone tonight.

"Listen, I really want to talk to you about the girl and her baby.  Let me help.  Maybe we can all meet together.  Maybe there's something we can figure out.  Call me."


We had a training today for people willing to put in some time to monitor the DHCD offices.  We have another one scheduled for this Thursday at 5 pm. at our office, and will be scheduling more for next week.  We need more help if we and our communities are not to allow men, women and children to wander the streets.  Please call Arise at 413-734-4948 if you can give even an hour a week.  Thanks.

 Photo of Gari Melchers' Mother and Child from Who Wants to Know's photostream at Flickr.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Death by plastic

MIDWAY : trailer : a film by Chris Jordan from Midway on Vimeo.

I'd like to think that most of us now know about this particular effect of plastics pollution.  Yet the infuriating truth is how little control we have, individually, over plastics pollution.  We can use cloth shopping bags, store food in glass rather than plastic, prioritize the purchase of items with the least packaging, all of which we should do-- in fact, you can take the Plastics Promise here at 5Gyres-- but without pressure on plastics manufacturers, we'll barely make a dent.  Greenpeace has some other actions we can take at the Trash Vortex.  

Of course, the effects of plastics pollution goes far beyond seabirds.  This Discover article gives a good overview of the human threats.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Rescued baby walrus

Skip the lousy soundtrack and just watch.  Thanks, Care2!

Friday, August 17, 2012

New biomass rules take effect Friday!

Hey, biomass developers! If you can't meet at least 50% efficiency, then you won't be considered green and renewable, meaning you will not be eligible for subsidies from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Mass. Dept. of Energy has announced.

In the last three years, both pro and anti-biomass activists have spent many hours in hearings and many hours researching and submitting testimony and evidence.  Yes, we would have liked the new rules to be even stronger.  But even as they are, not a single one of the biomass plants currently operating in New England can meet the new standards-- this according to the president of the pro-bio trade group, the Biomass Power Association.

Most biomass plants operate at less than 25% efficiency.  (Can you imagine if only  25% of the gas you put in your car's tank actually took you somewhere?) Burning trees and waste wood is no more "green and renewable" than coal or oil.

Let's be clear: these new rules do not prohibit the construction of biomass plants in Massachusetts; they simply mean those plants won't qualify for Renewable Energy Credits.  The developers of the proposed biomass plant in Springfield, Palmer Renewable Energy, has said it doesn't need the RECs to operate profitably. But I can't imagine they're thrilled with the new rules.

Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, Arise, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Toxics Action Center have accomplished a lot this year to keep PRE from moving forward in Springfield.  The city council revoked the company's special permit that a previous, all at-large version had approved, and when the building commissioner gave PRE a building permit anyway, we and the city council successfully appealed to the zoning board.  We appealed the plant's air permit to the Dept. of Environmental Protection, and the final decision is still pending.  PRE is appealing the building permit revocation to the Massachusetts Land Court, so our fight is not over.  But Springfield residents have had three years (so far!) where our already sick air has not been made sicker by spewing pollutants and greenhouse gases into our air.

Now we get to save our RECs for energy production for those sources that deserve it.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

'The only thing I can do for you is walk you to the door."

The last people I saw at Arise today were a woman and her adult nephew. 

For the last five years, she and her three children have been living with her father and taking care of him as he was dying, which, last month, he did..  She was never on his lease.  The landlord is evicting her, and Housing Court gave her ten days to leave.  Those ten days are now up, and she is waiting for the 48 hour notice from the sheriff.

Two weeks ago she went down to the Liberty St. welfare office and filled out an application for Emergency Assistance with the Dept. of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).  She went back to DHCD on Wednesday and a DHCD worker told her there was nothing they could do to help her.

"The only thing I can do for you," she said, "is walk you to the door."

Well, we're going to do what we can for her.  But here's what YOU can do: we're not done pressuring the Governor's office, our  legislators, or DHCD.  Please call BOTH the Boston and the local Governor's office: 617- 725-4005 or 784-1200.  Call your state senator and representative through the State House switchboard.  Ask them: is this what they intended when they voted these new rules through?  And call DHCD at 627-788-3610 and ask him to have some compassion in how his agency applies the new rules.

MORE YOU CAN DO: Help us monitor the DHCD office in Springfield (and Holyoke, if we can get enough people!) for homeless families being turned away from shelter.  We have two trainings scheduled: Monday, August 20, 11 am., and Wednesday, August 22, 5 pm.  It's not necessary to take the training to do the monitoring, but it's helpful. 

Here are some of the situations that our colleagues in Boston are reporting. I'll be very surprised if you aren't  gnashing your teeth by the end of this post.

In the past week, one very young mom with a 1-year old baby was denied shelter after exhausting her last double-up. She and her child slept for 2 nights in South Station. The first night a man approached them and offered them food. The next night he returned and said he was worried about them and would let them stay in his apartment. He then raped the young mother while the baby slept nearby. Even after the mother returned to DHCD with the rape kit results and proof of why she had good cause for losing a prior job (she had no child care and nowhere to stay), DHCD refused to look at the evidence, denied her shelter again, and told her that they would report her to DCF for neglecting her child by sleeping in South Station. In fact, we now know that DHCD actually did file a 51A on this poor woman. And even after Traveler’s Aid put her up for a few nights and contacted DHCD on her behalf, a high ranking DHCD official refused to place her and said: “she can appeal the denial and get a decision in 45 days.” Ongoing efforts are being made to force DHCD to place this family (which may or may not happen today), but whatever happens to this family now, the harm is done and there can be no denying that this is a predictable consequence of the policy that is being applied.

Other families are being approached outside DHCD offices by strangers who see them crying or distraught and offering to take them home. We are very concerned about the quid pro quos that may be imposed. In one double up, the mom was told she would have to “strip to stay.”

In another case, a woman who is 8 months pregnant and her baby’s father had no where to sleep but an old car of some friends that was parked on the street. The car recently was towed away, leaving them with nowhere to go. They applied for shelter and were told they would not be eligible until they brought in a ream of verifications, including the registration for the car that was towed (which of course is relevant to nothing and was in the car that was towed which no one had resources to retrieve). The pregnant woman in the late stages of her pregnancy has now been forced to sleep on the hard floor of an acquaintance’s house with no mattress and cannot stay there for long. She has given DHCD verification from medical providers that her pregnancy is high risk to which DHCD has responded: "they aren't my boss."

In addition to the fact of the denials and reflected in the above examples and others, families are systematically being treated horribly by DHCD. Families cry to us: “Do I really have to go back there to get shelter? Please don’t say I have to go back there.” They are forced to go to the office day after day, given long lists of verifications to bring back (some of which are not even relevant and many of which should not be required before placement), and then when they do bring them in are told DHCD is too busy to see them that day.

One woman who is a natural born U.S. Citizen and has never been in the Dominican Republic in her life was told by a DHCD worker: “Just go back to the Dominican Republic where you belong.”

One mother with several children who is hearing impaired and has just been diagnosed with cancer is another example. Based on reports from the City of Boston, she and her children have been staying temporarily with her mother in subsidized housing who has now been served with eviction papers, at least in part because their staying there violates the lease. She has spent multiple days at DHCD with her children without being served. She noticed many families who came in later than her being processed in front of her and so repeatedly went to the reception desk to ask if she had missed hearing her name called -- due to her hearing impairment. She was rudely told that if she came back to the desk again she would be forced to leave. Then she was told they did not have time to see her and she should come back yet another day. She begged them to place her because she could not go back to her mother’s because of the pending eviction and did not know where her children would sleep. She was told that it was her problem where her children were going to sleep and told in front of one of her children that DHCD would file a 51A against her to have DCF take her children if she did not return to her mother’s last night.  Traveler’s Aid ended up putting them up last night but obviously does not have the resources to replace the EA system for all these families.

In addition, Traveler’s Aid contacted DHCD counsel about the mother’s pending eviction, based on the understanding that DHCD had promised lawmakers that it would take steps to ensure that hosts in subsidized housing would not be evicted for taking in homeless families. But DHCD counsel informed Traveler’s Aid that no action would be taken to prevent eviction in individual cases.

Homeless 18 yr old girl -- any ideas?

Just got off the phone with an 18 year old girl who is homeless.  She called Worthington St. Shelter for Women, where she has stayed before, but was told there were no beds available.  Now, this is interesting, because the official policy of Friends of the Homeless, who administers both the men's and the women's shelter, is to never turn anyone away.  So I called Worthington St., and sure enough, it's true she was denied because the shelter is full.  The very nice woman I spoke with, when I mentioned that I thought there was a no turn-away policy, said that that policy needs to change.

"We're seeing the same kind of numbers," she said, "that we usually see in the winter."  We commiserated with each other a bit.  I chose to wait to insist they shelter this girl until I tried some other options.

I have a call into the homeless coordinator at the Springfield School Department, because the girl is still in high school.  I also have a call into Sr. Sanga, who runs Annie's House, although she never has an opening.  Last time I talked to her, she told me that the women just weren't turning over, because they couldn't fuind housing they could afford.

I called my girl back to tell her what I was trying, and to ask her a little more about how she became homeless.

"I've been in a foster home since I was 14, and when I was 18, I was stubborn and signed myself out of DCF custody," she said.  "Then I stayed at the Worthington Shelter for six weeks.  Then I went to stay with a friend in Worcester, but it wasn't safe-- the people in his house do drugs and I don't, it was pretty crazy there."

I suggested she try to sign herself back into DCF-- not easy, but not impossible.

Anyone have other ideas?

With what we know is happening to homeless families, all I can do is echo my girl and say, It's pretty crazy out there.

UPDATE: REALLY, REALLY BAD NEWS!  Friends of the Homeless has a NEW policy-- if you've been staying at one of their shelters and leave for what is considered to be a "housed" situation, you are not eligible for shelter for a year!   My girl is technically in that situation, but I spoke to the director, Bill Miller, who is going to call her and who might be willing to make an exception.

But more bad news: Bill says that those in the overnight shelter are going to have to come up with a housing plan, and if the "guests" are considered to be "noncompliant"(a pretty subjective term),  they will have to leave.  He says there are no time limits on shelter-- yet.

You would think the provider world would be more aware of what happens when you put people in a corner and give them no way out.

Expendable-2 kills endangered bats

My older daughter sent me a link yesterday about how the producers of the movie The Expendables - 2 had destroyed the habitat of bats in Bulgaria.  Bats are not on my daughter's list of cute animals, but she knows they are essential to our world.

Bats are already being decimated in the country by white-nose syndrome, which keeps bats awake during what should be their hibernation, Thus they die from exhaustion and malnutrition.  In New York's Hudson Valley region, more than a million bats have been lost since 2006.

Why save bats?  Check out what Bat World has to say:

Bats  are clean, gentle and intelligent, they are vital to the ecosystem, and they enhance our lives in many ways. Fruit and nectar bats bring us approximately 450 commercial products and over 80 different medicines through seed dispersal and pollination. Up to 98% of all rainforest regrowth comes from seeds that have been spread by fruit bats. Insect-eating bats are literal vacuum cleaners of the night skies, eating millions upon millions of harmful bugs. They protect us by eating insect-pests that destroy crops as well as insects that cause human disease.
So go ahead and sign the petition at Bat World, and let the producers know you'll be boycotting their movie.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Solutions everywhere: Maine will have tidal power project

Washington County, Maine, is about to have its own tidal energy plant.  The project will start with 138 kilowatts and increase as the strength of its equipment is increased.  The project is being developed by Ocean Renewable Power Company.  

Tidal power is scarcely a new idea.  People in the Middle Ages who lived by the sea sometimes used tidal power to turn water wheels, which ground grain into flour. 

According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, "It doesn't cost much to operate tidal power plants, but their construction costs are high and lengthen payback periods. As a result, the cost per kilowatt-hour of tidal power is not competitive with conventional fossil fuel power."

Guess it all depends on what you consider the "cost" of fossil fuel.

Photo from Peter Kaminski's photostream at Flickr.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Wyoming wolves could be gone before the snow is gone

We all have animals to whom we relate, and while I tend toward the small-- bees, birds, bats, frogs-- wolves deserve our attention.

From the Center for Biological Diversity: 

The feds are poised to remove all Endangered Species Act protections from gray wolves in Wyoming, leaving them under the power of state officials intent on slaughtering most of them to appease livestock interests. 

Wyoming law has already made 83 percent of the state -- home to at least five wolf families -- a "no-wolf zone," where anyone can shoot wolves and their pups on sight. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service predicts that, after federal protection is gone, no wolf packs will survive in this zone within a year.

Wolves would remain fully protected only within Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks -- around 4 percent of Wyoming. In the remaining 14 percent of the state, they would be hunted, trapped and snared, with the goal of reducing roughly 29 packs to around 10. 

Your urgent help is needed:
Tell the White House to uphold protections for Wyoming's wolves until the state replaces its bloodlust with proper wolf management and respect.

Click here to find out more and take action.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The end of large scale biomass? New regulations put on the brakes

I suspect the residents of Springfield think biomass is a dead issue, but we-- Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield--  continue to take whatever steps  necessary to keep Palmer Renewable Energy from constructing s biomass incinerator in Springfield.  

We're appealing the Dept. of Environmental Protection's air permit (along with the Toxics Action Center and the Conservation Law Foundation) and preparing a defense in Land Court as a result of the Zoning Board removing the building permit issued to PRE.

But always, in the back of our minds, we've been waiting for the Dept. of Energy Resources to release its new regulations about biomass, and whether the plants proposed in Greenfield, Russell and Springfield will be eligible for the state's subsidy program, the Renewable Energy Credits.

Well, finally!  Here's a summary: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/doer/renewables/biomass/summary-of-rps-proposed-final-regulation.pdf.  

DOER is going to require 50% efficiency to be eligible for RECs, while the proposed plants are struggling to reach even 25% efficiency-- just one of the reasons we oppose these plants.

Keep in mind, however, that Palmer Renewable Energy has said that it doesn't need RECs to operate profitably-- although I'm sure PRE wouldn't turn down the money if eligible.  So we can't let our guard down.

Greenfield recorder; By RICHIE DAVIS

Recorder Staff

The state Department of Energy Resources on Friday released revisions to its regulations for how Renewable Portfolio Standards would apply to biomass generating plants.

This set of revisions, which comes almost exactly a year after draft regulations that were severely criticized as too rigid by developers of the wood-fired generators, incorporates recommendations made last June by the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

Mary Booth, a major critic of large-scale biomass plants, said with the new rules, the state “sorted out fact from fiction (and) sided with science, and with the people of Massachusetts.”

The proposal would apply to pending projects, including a 47-megawatt wood-fired plant planned for Greenfield by Madera Energy Inc. of Cambridge. His plant would be built in the I-91 Industrial Park.

Madera Principal Matthew Wolfe declined to comment on the latest proposal Friday, saying he was a “just sifting through” the new document. The project, he said, has been in limbo for two years pending the new rules, which set the standards for projects that are eligible for receiving green energy tax credits to help make them economically feasible.

“We’re waiting on a resolution to these regs,” said Wolfe, pointing to a public comment period that extends to June 18.

The proposed regulations come after harsh public criticism from environmental groups and a 2010 state-sponsored study by Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences that concluded the wood-fired generating plants release more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per unit of energy than oil, coal, or natural gas — and that the greenhouse gases take a long time for forests to absorb.

The proposed regulations would require that wood-fired generating plants be 50 percent efficient to be eligible for one-half renewable energy credit per megawatt-hour, — slightly better than a stateof- the-art coal-fired power plant. They allow one credit per megawatt-hour for generators achieving 60 percent efficiency and include harvesting standards designed to protect forest soils.

Facilities must also have 20-year lifecycle and carbon dioxide emissions that are no greater than 50 percent the emissions from a natural gas facility.

Janet Sinclair of Buckland, who leads an antibiomass group based in Greenfield called Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, said Friday “We think burning trees for electricity is a bad idea. And I find it to be terrible public policy to reward biomass with the public’s money at 50 percent efficiency. A wood stove does better than that. Energy efficiency costs a third as much as biomass for electricity. We should put our money where it will do the most good.

“We will be reviewing the regulations carefully and commenting during the 30 day comment period.

Booth, director of the Partnership for Public Integrity, said “Massachusetts made history today,” calling the proposal “the first science-based policy in the country” and one “recognizing that high-emissions biomass power doesn’t belong in a renewable energy portfolio alongside no-emissions technologies like wind and solar power.”

All written comments on this proposed final regulation should be submitted electronically in PDF format by June 18 at 5 p.m. to

The state expects to have a final regulation in place this summer.

Meg Sheehan, chairwoman of the Massachusettsbased Stop Spewing Carbon campaign, called the proposal “an important step to ensuring that when trees are burned for energy, it is done in the most efficient way that also preserves our forests.”

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 Ext. 269

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Biomass blaze highlights bizarre nature of 'renewable' energy

At least somebody in Great Britain gets it....

On February 27, 120 firemen were rushed to deal with a major incident at Tilbury, east of London, where 6,000 tons of wood pellets had caught fire at what is now ''the world's largest biomass power station''. Until recently Tilbury was one of England's 14 remaining coal-fired power plants. But, attracted by the 100 per cent-plus subsidies we pay to help meet the EU target whereby within eight years, 32 per cent of our electricity must come from ''renewables'', the plant's German owners, RWE, have converted it to burning more than half a million tons of pellets a year, imported from Georgia, US, where the wood is grown and processed.
One problem is that large quantities of green wood are liable to combust, the most likely cause of this fire (the second such in Britain in recent months). Another is that wood generates energy so much less efficiently than coal that the plant's output has fallen from 1,100 megawatts to only 750MW. (However, this is still two-thirds of the power generated on average by all our 3,500 wind turbines combined.)
Rather more serious, though, since the claimed purpose of ''biomass'' is to help reduce Britain's emissions of carbon dioxide, is that the wood actually emits more CO2 for each unit of electricity it produces than the coal it replaced (not to mention all the additional CO2 emitted by processing and shipping it across the Atlantic). This recently led that bizarre body, the Committee on Climate Change, set up to advise the Government under the Climate Change Act, to recommend that biomass power stations should only be permitted to operate if they are fitted with ''carbon capture and storage'', designed to pipe away and bury all the CO2 they emit.
So, in order to reduce our CO2 emissions, we subsidise power companies to burn wood which ends up emitting much more CO2 than the fossil fuels it replaces, so that the Government is now told that this should only be allowed if the firms then remove that CO2 by a process so CO2 intensive that it doubles the cost of the electricity, in order to bury it under the sea using technology not yet commercially developed and which, according to various scientific studies, will never work anyway. Yet according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change, ''biomass'' is going to be as important to meeting our EU targets as those useless windmills. Thus in every direction do the ''green dreams'' of those who rule us in London and Brussels collide with reality.

Copyright 2012 Telegraph Media Group Limited
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stop criminalizing poor people! Rally April 2

End the Criminalization of Homelessness & Poverty!  Join Us!
 Monday,  April 2, 2012
In Solidarity with the
National Day of Action for the Right to Exist
 Court Square, Springfield
Noon: Gather; 12:30: Music, speakers, then MARCH to Governor’s Office, 436 Dwight St. & Mayor’s Office
Why are the shelters full, when everywhere we see empty homes and buildings?
Why is the City of Springfield ignoring the housing needs of half of its people?
City: Replace the housing lost in the tornado!
State: Make shelters available to all in need!
Feds: Fund housing, not wars!
For more info, contact: Arise for Social Justice (413)734-4948
Cosponsors so far: Alliance for Peace and Justice, Anti-Racism Ministry Team of the First Congregational Church in Amherst, UCCWM American Friends Service Committee, PV Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Charles Hamilton Houston Inst. For Race & Justice , Community Labor Rebuilding Coalition, Craig’s Place, Fund Our Communities Not War, Grace Church Peace Fellowship, International Alliance of Inhabitants, Mass Alliance of HUD Tenants, Mass Coalition for the Homeless, Mass Law Reform Institute, Move On, Occupy Amherst, Occupy Western MA General Assembly, Out Now, Peace Pagoda, Picture the Homeless, Pioneer Valley Chapter of the Green/Rainbow Party, Springfield Bank Tenants Association, Springfield No One Leaves,Survivors Incorporated, UAW Local 2322, Unitarian Universalist Society of Amherst Social Justice Committee, Western Mass Jobs with Justice, WRAP

¡Poner fin a la penalización por falta de vivienda y por pobreza!
Día Nacional de Acción por el Derecho a Existir:
Lunes, 2 de abril en Court Square, Springfield
(fecha en caso de lluvia: 4 de abril)
Mediodía:      inicio de la recolección
12:30:   música, altavoces
Marchar a la Oficina del Gobernador
Marchar a la Oficina del Alcalde
¡Sin vivienda, todos vamos a ser criminales!
Por qué están llenos los refugios para desamparados, cuando en toda parte hay casas y edificios vacíos?
Por qué ignora la ciudade de Springfield las necesidades de la mitad de sus habitantes?
Nuestros exigencias:
La ciudad: Reponga las viviendas perdidas en el tornado!
El estado: Haga que los refugios para desamparados sean disponibles a todos los necesitados!
El gobierno federal: Financie las viviendas, no las guerras!
Contactar Arise for Social Justice (Levántate por la Justicia Social), 413-734-4948

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Protest against Scott Lively goes national: join us Wednesday!

In December of 2010, WMA Jobs with Justice coordinator Jon Weissman sent an email to the Arise list-- did we know that the person who had opened a storefront church only a few doors from Arise was the notorious homophobe and hatemonger Scott Lively?  he has never been far from our minds since then, and we continue to organize against his messages of hate. 

“Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition” Organizes Nationwide Protest Calling for an End to Scott Lively’s Promotion of Hate against the Gay Community Worldwide

What:     Action/Rally

When:    March 14, 2012pm at 1:30pm

Where:   In front of the Federal Building, 300 State Street, Springfield

In early February 2012 the Ugandan government reintroduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (AHB), a.k.a the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill, legislating draconian measures against its gay community, which continues to include the death penalty for homosexual acts.  One week following the reintroduction of this legislation the Ugandan government raided a peaceful gay rights conference causing the sponsor’s leader to go into hiding.  The LGBT community of Uganda is under increasing threats of violence, imprisonment and stigma.  American evangelical Christians played a role in stirring the anti-homosexual sentiment that culminated in the initial AHB legislation in Uganda and continues to heightened homophobia in that country today.

Scott Lively was one of three evangelical leaders who presented at a 2009 conference in Kampala, Uganda which resulted in the original Anti-Homosexuality Bill’s introduction just one month later.  Scott Lively likened his appearance to “a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda.”  From his home base at the Abiding Truth Ministries housed in the Holy Grounds Coffee Shop at 455 State Street in Springfield MA, Scott Lively’s anti-gay message filled with lies, propaganda and pray-away-the-gay quack science fuels anti-homosexual sentiment worldwide.

The Stop The Hate & Homophobia Coalition had an action against Scott Lively on November 18, 2011 to help educate the people of Springfield, MA about just who Scott lively is.  The protest on March 14th is a continuation of that action.  National solidarity actions also are scheduled for Kansas City, Washington DC, and Sacramento.  We will continue to advocate against the hate and homophobia Scott Lively and others promote until they stop.

The Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition was formed in January 2011 upon learning that Scott Lively was living and ministering in Springfield.  Lively is president of the Abiding Truth Ministries, which has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and he has been running the Holy Grounds Coffee House on State Street, right near Commerce High School.  The coalition deplores hateful messages and actions, and calls for community education about the impact of homophobia on our communities, as well as calling for community leaders, neighbors, co-workers, family members, etc. to speak out against homophobia whenever it is perpetrated.  The coalition involves a number of community-based organizations, local college professors and students, members of the faith community and individual community members