Sunday, June 17, 2007

Who will host a Tent City/shelter the homeless in Springfield this summer?

Now that we have a better sense of how many people will be unsheltered in Springfield after June 30, I want to ask: is there an area church, synagogue or mosque willing to host a tent city for homeless people?

We will certainly have a need for shelter through the summer, and now that we know the Warming Place's contract with the state's Department of Transitional Assistance has been awarded to the Friends of the Homeless, which cannot take on the full numbers of homeless people that were at the Warming Place, looks like the winter is going to be a big problem, too.

Yes, yes, I know there are supposed to be 43 housing vouchers for the chronically homeless-- 13 in July and the remainder around September.

Houses of worship that want to become part of the solution but are worried about the legal ramifications have a pretty good leg to stand on-- the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. A statement by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy when the bill was introduced is posted on the ACLU website. A legal defense of several key aspects of the law is posted at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

I know there was a church willing to let the Warming Place relocate there temporarily, but no contract means no staff-- how would such a program run?

Tent cities have run the gamut from extremely informal to highly structured. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about one tent city in Seattle:

Tent City 4 governance consists of an Advisor similar to an executive, and a rotating Executive Committee elected by the community in a one person, one vote structure. Tent City 4 has differentiated itself from other temporary encampments since 2004 due to its standard of requiring a signed "Code of Conduct" and performing warrant checks and sex offender checks on all potential residents. By signing the "Code of Conduct" the residents agree to abstain from drugs and alcohol while at the camp and share responsibility for site security and maintenance.
Unity among homeless people hasn't manifested itself particularly in recent months-- everybody wants a voucher, or knows they won't get one; everyone has been in it for themselves. Can that change in the face of our current reality?

1 comment:

Jeannie said...

Hello Michaelann,

Here it is - 2007 and the problem of homelessness, the lack of decent, affordable housing, the lack of vital services to assist the homeless, many of whom are mentally ill - has not improved - if anything, it has worsened, due to the horrific cuts in social service programs by this administration - from the bottom to the top and the lack of care about people who are often viewed as human garbage. Families sleep in cars or worse; the frigid cold of the winter months often brings death from a lack of shelter - there is never enough space to accommodate all those in need - it's a horrible situation and it shows what our country has come to. How we treat the most vunerable of our people, is how we show ourselves to be as a nation of people. It is shameful.

In the 1980's, I worked with the homeless, headed up a HUD-based Community Housing Resource Board to combat housing discrimination and to provide equal housing opportunities as well as to try to find housing opportunties for homeless people through the local housing authority in New Bedford, MA. New Bedford, at that time, was the second largest housing authority in the state.

A dear friend of mine, who has since passed on, worked tirelessly for the homeless - her name was Lucille Houtman and she originally came from Springfield, where I believe she was born and raised. Day after day, Lucille worked so hard to find shelter for people, she worked with landlords - she worked with others to find furnishings when we were lucky enough to find shelter for a family - so many dedicated people to this cause and yet, it's 2007 and what - how much have we all accomplished?

It is so frustrating because people who truly care, won't give up, but the toll on their own lives is not known, or appreciated by those who have no idea and will not even take the time to look at this serious problem not only in Springfield and New Bedford, but all over this country.

In America, we have more than our fair share of third world countries. But it's hidden. The mainstream press more often than not, never reports on this truth or the conditions people are forced to live under, simply because they are poor - oh we hear the same old song all the time, they're lazy, they don't want to work, they are drunks or druggies, and so forth - well, whether most people realize it or not, every single one of us is one paycheck away from tragedy and homelessness.

One day, we are alright, the next, a major illness strikes, or some other catastrophe and even though the person may have savings, it doesn't take long to go through that - anyone can end up homeless - we did and never in a million years did I think I would ever end up without a home to call my own. This happened to us in the early 1980's and thankfully, we got back on our feet and that was a long time ago. But we were one of the lucky ones - we were able to get into public housing - and I never thought I'd say I'm grateful for public housing - living in the largest development in New Bedford, Brickenwood for 5 years. But we were grateful. We had resources that many other people didn't have to be able to get ourselves up and out in 5 years. We were educated and I worked because at that time, my husband was disabled and unable to work. But after 7 years, he did return to work and that helped us to get back on our feet, purchase a home again and we are blessed that we were able to do this.

Day in and day out, worrying about how you are going to feed the kids, pay the rent, phone, and all the other things we take for granted when we are not stuck in the depths of deep poverty - how long can a spirit continue to fight that or to have hope that it will get better? We live in a Me society, and we don't help one another out like we should.

I applaud what you are doing and more than anything, I want to see a day where every family and every person has a place to call home. A safe place, where they can go and know it's their little home, even if it's just a 1 bedroom. But our streets continue to be filled with the sights of inhumanity against our fellow brothers and sisters - our spiritual relations - and there is so much more besides the tragedy of homelessness.

People forget that the state of MA and other states decided to deinstitulize in the 1970's - sending the mentally ill and mentally challenged out into the communities, without any support set in place for their return to living in society. For years they were hidden, locked up - but someone finally realized they had a right to live their lives too in the same world we all do. But because they did not prepare supportive services for the people, many ended up on the streets and have remained there. They are not just drunks and druggies, but many of them are self-medicating themselves and too many people don't understand this, or want to believe it, because they believe they are better than those "street people." Like I said earlier, it can happen to anyone - it can happen so quickly - no one is immune from it.

It breaks my heart to see little or no progress in all these years in spite of the hard work by so many dedicated and caring people. But I can't give up hope and I know you haven't.

That man you wrote about? The one who died alone on a park bench? Well, he wasn't alone, I'm sure of that - but that man was someone's son, brother, uncle, father, friend. His life WAS valuable but he is in a better place now - in the spirit world where he feels no pain and knows only joy and acceptance - but even that does not cure the deep sadness of knowing that to too many people, he was just another piece of human garbage.

Keep up the good work - many blessings to you.