Well-- a straight-sounding headline-- but I hardly feel objective about what happened in Housing Court today.
Ali Mohammed, a guest at the Warming Place shelter for the last few months, did his best to speak up for homeless people and explain to Judge Fein why it was important to them that the Warming Place stay open.
He was there to request an injunction prohibiting the city from closing the Warming Place. Sue Venne, another Warming Place guest, was added last minute as a plaintiff, but really every one of the twenty homeless people in the courtroom was a plaintiff.
I didn't expect him to prevail. The Open Pantry, which runs the Warming Place, lost a similar attempt last Thursday. This time, however, the shelter was a defendant along with the city, and I'm sure Kevin Noonan, OP director, had a few odd feelings in the city's company.
Everybody was there-- Gerry McCafferty, head of the Homeless and Special Needs Housing, two attorneys for the city, the head of the building department, Bill Miller, director of the Friends of the Homeless, one of the two shelters remaining in the city, the president of F.O.H.'s board of Directors, Bob Carroll-- some others I don't remember-- all on one side-- the city's.
On the other side were twenty Warming Place residents, Warming Place staff and a few advocates.
Ali told a simple story, with three main points: the Friends of the Homeless shelter was unsafe and would be overcrowded, some people had been banned from the Friends previously and had nowhere to go, and the Warming Place residents and staff were like a family and needed more time to transition to the other shelters.
Four other WP guests testified, all telling similar stories. One man got a bit emotional when talking about his friend who had recently been found dead on a park bench.
Coincidentally, the Friends' shelter's basement had flooded the night before in a heavy rain, and their shelter's guests had had to be moved upstairs. Leaks at the shelter are old news and a problem that's never been successfully resolved, although I'm sure the shelter is working on it.
That flood was not enough, however, to convince the judge. She asked the people who testified how long it had been since they'd stayed at the Friends' shelter, and felt no one had recent enough experience to judge the shelter now.
The city defended itself, saying all the right things, all very credible.
The judge excused herself for deliberation.
Then came that moment when people started to believe, as improbable as it was, that the truth might speake louder than the evidence and that justice would prevail.
But that was not to be.
Sometime just before the judge came back to deliver her decision, I looked around and saw that the security guards in the courtroom had increased from two to five. I was not the only one who noticed, either. I thought it was an insult to the homeless people who were present, who had come to court clean and well-dressed and who had behaved with complete appropriateness.
Judge Fein came back and denied the injunction. I saw shoulders fall throughout the room. The judge suggested that the Warming Place folks meet with Gerry McCafferty to find out about availability of housing subsidies, and offered her courtroom for the remainder of the afternoon. The Bailiff said "All rise" and we all rose. The judge left the bench and it was over.
Gerry called out that people could come and talk to her, but as far as I could tell, no one did. It was the wrong moment. People needed the dignity of their defeat.
The homeless people who spoke up today were very brave. Many of them know they will wind up having to stay at the very shelter they criticized. I could see some people's thoughts turning to where they were going to stay that night.
I continue to be saddened by how people with power silence the voices of the homeless and devalue and dismiss homeless people's loyalty to each other. Yeah, sometimes they'll stab each other in the back but they're more likely to be watching each other's back, as best as they can. And that's what I felt today.
I want to close this by remembering that no matter how sad I am, no matter how bad I feel, tonight I get to be at home, typing these words.