Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Better Buy A Tent
Where do I start?
Maybe with the ending:
As of June 30, best case scenario, there will be from 50 to 70 men and women without any shelter.
From today's Emergency Shelter meeting: The city has refused to extend the Warming Place shelter's occupancy of the old York St. jail. Somehow, this jail has become symbolic with Springfield's blight and has taken on magical powers-- along the line of, "Tear it down, and they will come (and all the homeless will go)." I would say there is no getting the city to change its mind on this one. About 90 people a night stay overnight at the Warming Place.
Taylor St. shelter, run by the Springfield Rescue Mission (36 men), is due to close May 31, although I will call the director tomorrow to see if on the offchance his organization has come into a sudden windfall and can keep the shelter open.
If the Warming Place closes, and Friends of the Homeless' shelter on Worthington St. is funded by by the state instead, it will only mean 50 new shelter beds, because they will use the rest of the contract to cover the costs of beds they already provide.
Just writing this, I'm thinking, no wonder so many people think homelessness is an industry! It's really a competition-- the feds and the state only give enough to get 50% of the job done, leaving the shelter providers to fight over the crumbs.
A major part of the city's plan to "end chronic homelessness" is the Housing First strategy. To that end, the city is counting on 144 housing vouchers to place people into housing with supportive services. Problem is, landlords are not beating down the doors to participate in this program. It's slow going. Well, so be it. It's still a solid (if not sole) piece of strategy.
But what happens in the meantime?
It is incredibly difficult to get a straight answer out of Gerry McCafferty, the city's Homeless and Special Needs Housing Coordinator, about how many people will be in their own apartment by June 30, probably because she doesn't know herself. Supposedly 36 people have already been placed, but the shelter population remains the same.
When I asked her what was supposed to happen to people without shelter after June 30, she switched to talking about the responsibility of other communities, like Ludlow, Chicopee, West Springfield, and Holyoke, to house their own homeless people. (Actually Holyoke houses a huge amount of family shelter.) In other words, homeless people will be used as pawns to pressure surrounding communities. But nothing will happen quickly enough (if at all) to prevent people from being without shelter. She said that the city felt that if there was any vacancy at all in Springfield's shelters, that it would bring in homeless people from outside Springfield.
When I asked her who had made this decision, she said the mayor and the Control Board.
At one point I asked for a show of hands of the other eight people at the meeting: how many had been born in Springfield? Four of us put up our hands. How many lived in Springfield now? Four. My point was not that other opinions were illegitimate, but that population is fluid. Do none of us have the right to move and call another city or town home?
I was suddenly hit with a sense of how really far away poor people, maybe most people, are from the source of real power. When I think of the Control Board, its members seem as inaccessible as the president or a king.
Right now my thoughts are turning to how to get the word out to people in the shelters about what's going to be happening. Of course they are always the last to know. Unity among the homeless is not high right now, because they all know about the housing vouchers, and everybody wants one-- but of course there are more homeless people than vouchers. And the vouchers are for the "chronically homeless," so many will not be eligible.
If you are labeled mentally ill, have a substance abuse problem, or have spent a long time bouncing from shelter to shelter (usually because of mental illness or substance abuse, you've got a shot. If you are eighteen years old and just aging out of foster care, lost a place to live when you got divorced, lost a job because of an illness or are just down on your luck, you can forget about it.
All right, it's tired and I'm getting late, more tomorrow.