Friday, June 29, 2007

Shelter seeks injunction against city to prevent closure.

GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES: This Sunday morning, which was to be the Warming Place shelter's last morning, friends are invited to come and join in a prayer vigil at 8:30 am. All friends are welcome

This Friday, Open Pantry Community Services, which runs the shelter, is taking the City of Springfield, MA to court, seeking an injunction which will stop the forced closing of the shelter.

The city has put the squeeze on the Open Pantry and homeless people for some time.
First Church, Court Square, had offered to let the Warming Place stay in their basement for a few weeks. This is not acceptable to the city. A few days ago, Gerry McCafferty, head of the city's Office of Homeless and Special Needs Housing, told OP's director Kevin Noonan that Mayor Ryan would consider it an act of political protest if the shelter moved to the church.

Political protest is about all that's worked when it comes to getting the city's attention focused on solving homelessness! It took two homeless men freezing to death and a tent city that lasted six months and housed 400 different people before a real planning process began.

Now that there is some progress to show, seems like those who've been on the front lines defending the homeless, as well as the homeless themselves, will now pay the price. But the Open Pantry, at least, is not going quietly. I can't resist putting in the entire text of the injunction.

Open Pantry Community Services vs. City of Springfield, MA Acting By and Through its Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services.

The plaintiff is the provider of essential food, shelter and emergency housing services to those otherwise homeless residents of the City of Springfield, Massachusetts who are poor or homeless.

The plaintiff has been providing its services to 90 to 102 persons a night under funding provided by both the City and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts pursuant to certain Community Development Block Grants (the “CDBG Funds) and private donations since September 2005 through March 2006. In March 2006 Open Pantry was awarded a contract for $400,800 in Emergency Assistance (EA “funds”) funds through the State Department of Transition Assistance (the “DTA”).

In the providing of its services Open Pantry had been utilizing the City’s facility located on West Columbus Avenue, more commonly known as the former York Street Jail.

Since March 2006, as a requirement of the Department of Transitional Assistance, the City issued temporary occupancy permits to the plaintiff which it permitted to operate and provide its homeless housing services.

Since the issuance of the first temporary occupancy permit, the City has intentionally issued subsequent temporary occupancy permits which allow fewer and fewer persons to be sheltered at the facility when the actual number of such persons has remained constant or been increasing.

The current temporary occupancy permit expires on June 30, 2007 after which there will no longer be shelter beds available at the former York Street jail.

Upon information and belief, the City has engaged in a specific plan and scheme to reduce the number of available beds and to remove or reduce the shelter facilities which provides spaces to those persons who are at great risk and in need.

The City has failed to provide reasonable alternative shelters and/or housing for those persons presently being cared for at the former York Street Jail.

One alternative shelter facility proposed by the City is religious and sectarian in nature, discriminates against women, and has a requirement that all occupants be “well behaved.”

The City claims that the plaintiff may no longer use the former York Street Jail; and that it must be closed in order for certain asbestos abatement work to commence.

Any purported asbestos abatement work is in a separate building (connected by a corridor with sealing doors at each end) pof the former York Street jail.

Upon information and belief, no contract has been awarded by the City and/or no asbestos abatement work has been scheduled at the former York Street Jail.

The allegations of the City regarding asbestos abatement work and the need to close the facility are but a mere pretext for the underlying purpose of reducing and limiting the number of available shelter beds within the City of Springfield.

The City, by refusing to extend the temporary occupancy permit, caused the plaintiff to lose its eligibility for State Department of Transitional Assistance and ESG funding.

On or about June 18, the City assured the plaintiff that it would fund and provide a site in which to operate through the fall of 2007.

The plaintiff attempted to resolve the problem with the City by engaging in numerous meetings and discussions after which the City ultimately regeged on its promises and assurances.

There is a great likelihood of immediate and irreparable harm to the plaintiff, its staff and to those vulnerable people in whose care the plaintiff is charged and responsible unless the requested relief is granted.

Maintaining the status quo will not be more burdensome or detrimental to the defendant than to the plaintiff as the defendant has failed to demonstrate its ability to provide care and facilities for the homeless persons at the York Street Jail.

THEREFORE, the plaintiff respectfully requests:

the Court maintain the status quo by enjoining the eviction or relocation of the current occupants being cared for by the plaintiff at the former York Street Jail.

the Court order the City to issue a temporary occupancy permit for the former York Street Jail for 100 persons a night from May 17, 2007 through December 31, 2007 or until further order of the Court.

the Court enjoin the City from interfering with the plaintiff’s application process requesting State Emergency Shelter Grant funds.

the Court order the City to cause to be issued to the plaintiff its Federal Emergency Shelter Grant funds in the amount of $60,000 from the federally funded state funds and $20,000 from the City’s existing funds.

For such other relief as is just and proper. By Norman C. Michaels, Esquire

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