Thursday, April 12, 2007

Making 100+ people disappear

REJECTED: I found out today that the City of Springfield has rejected a proposal from a board that I’m a member of (32 Byers, Inc.) to turn the long-empty Spruce Manor Nursing Home on Central St.(which the city now owns) into 40 one and two-bedroom apartments for people who want to get out of homelessness.

Instead, the nursing home will be torn down and HAP will build two or three houses as part of its home ownership push. Very nice, very nice. Too bad most of the people I know don’t own and will never be able to own a home.

I did talk to HAP Executive Director Peter Gagliardi a few months ago, and asked him (quite nervy of me, I suppose) to withdraw his proposal so that ours had a better chance of succeeding. After all, HAP has done 70 one and two-bedroom homes in the recent past, and Spruce Manor Nursing Home is the only property in the city’s portfolio large enough to be rehabbed into more than eight units. Except for one eight-unit apartment building, everything else is lots or houses. In other words, plenty of room for HAP almost anywhere else. But NO room anywhere else for a project like ours.

Peter listened politely and said he’d let me know and a few weeks later when he called saying HAP was going to go ahead, I wasn’t surprised.

Arise has a little history with Spruce Manor. It’s only a few blocks from our office on Rifle St. In late 2003 we had been collecting signatures asking the Mayor to give homeless people a building to fix up as a place to live. Spruce Manor looked good, and we thought a clean-up would help to show that we really were willing to work hard to make our dream come true. Six weeks before Sanctuary City was born—before we even knew there was going to be a Sanctuary City— Arise, homeless people, and students did a clean-up at the building. We trimmed brush, picked up trash, and spraypainted over graffiti. We talked to a lot of neighbors. Most wanted to see Spruce Manor be converted to housing.

We gave the mayor a couple of thousand signatures, but nothing came of it—Kathleen Lingenberg, Director of Housing, told me the building was structurally unsound and would be torn down. And before we knew it, the Warming Place ran out of money and shut its doors; 60 people were unsheltered, and the need for Sanctuary City was upon us. We thought briefly about occupying the building, but we thought the city would be pretty merciless about evicting and arresting, and the building was full of mold. We didn’t want to put people’s health at risk.

Jump ahead three years. The city is now in the first stages of its ten year planning process to end homelessness. The first quantifiable target is to place 140 “chronically homeless” into subsidized apartments with case management. Of course this is all existing housing—tightening up the market for people who need affordable housing, and who very well may be homeless without it.

Under these circumstances, doesn’t it just make too much sense to create 40 affordable apartments as opposed to two or three single family homes?

The city seems to think that there is a finite and static number of “chronically homeless” people, and if only those people could be “placed into housing,” we could pretty much end—or at least control—our homeless population. I have yet to hear, at any of the many meetings on homelessness I’ve been in, any serious effort to look at underlying causes of homelessness—poverty, lack of health care, lack of housing, to name the big ones. There’s a fair amount of recognition of the special needs of “chronically homeless” people, and some good tactics for dealing with people one on one. But unless the city starts connecting the dots, people will continue to fall into homelessness.

For a good critique of the Chronic Homeless Initiative, see a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless.

Meanwhile, the Warming Place shelter, run by Open Pantry Community Services, is reporting about 100 men and women stay over each night. The WP is housed in the old Hampden County jail on York St. The city has given the shelter a June 30th eviction date. The jail will be torn down to make way for riverfront development.

Is it magical thinking on the city’s part that they can place 140 people by June 30th and thereby (at least in the city’s way of thinking) making the Warming Place unnecessary? The city’s plan is already behind schedule.

Is the city going to make another Sanctuary City inevitable?


emma said...

so sad, but so predictable. is there some way to influence the city to seriously consider the need for various strategies to provide affordable SRO-like housing to folks who need it?

Bill Dusty said...

They're going to tear down that former nursing home, build three new houses, give them to single mothers on welfare (at the taxpayers expense), and then two years from now the poor moms are going to bail out of the houses they could never afford after such expenses as electric, lawn care, and real estate taxes get laid on them. Either that or the houses will be neglected (for lack of money to upkeep). In any event, eventually absentee landlords will purchase them for a steal and they'll be trashed and/or turned into crack houses.

The City's obsession with building houses people can't afford to live in is obscene.