I will be in Springfield Housing Court tomorrow at 9 am. to support Open Pantry Community Services' effort to halt its shelter's eviction from the old York St. jail by the City of Springfield. If weather permits, we will walk from the Warming Place shelter at 8 am. If you're in the area and want to join us, please do.
I can't say I feel hopeful at tomorrow's outcome but the struggle is a worthy one and I'm proud that the Open Pantry is willing to go as far as it can on behalf of homeless people.
Our local public radio station, WFCR, covered the shelter issue in today's news, interviewing first Kevin Noonan, Open Pantry's executive director, and then Gerry McCafferty, director of the city's Homeless and Special Needs Housing department.
Gerry, responding to a criticism of beds at a different shelter by one of Warming Place's residents, said, " For us to be arguing about what that shelter is like seems to be missing the point. I think there's bigger issues we could be talking about, like affordable housing and not whether these beds are as nice as those beds."
Well, I am more than ready to talk about housing, and I think a lot of people in this city feel the same way.
Last September, the city's "Homes within Reach" plan included supplying 250 new housing units, BUT no construction of new housing.
Can Gerry or the city's new Director of Housing and Neighborhood Services tell me how many new units of affordable housing have been created in the last twenty years? I would venture the answer is close to zero.
And how many units of affordable housing have been lost in the same period?
This year is the 20th anniversary of the Stewart B.McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, which funds many of the city's initiatives.
"The McKinney Act has done some good for some people but it has not significantly reduced homelessness across the country. How could it? A $1.4 billion a year homelessness budget cannot compensate for a $52 billion a year reduction in affordable housing," says Paul Boden in "Homeless pitted against homeless" in Tuesday's San Francisco Chronicle.
For the first time in decades, federal funding for the construction, preservation and rehabilitation of affordable housing might be in the works. The National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act of 2007, H.R. 2895, was recently endorsed by the New York Times. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a major force behind the bill, has a list of bill sponsors and they're looking for more. I notice that Congressman Richard Neal's name is not on it, nor the name of any other Massachusetts congressman. Has anyone in our city government asked Neal to sign on? I certainly intend to do so.
Tonight CNN reported that 20% of Mexico's population lives in poverty and yet millionaires abound! Well, in Springfield more than 25% of our residents live below the poverty line, and I'd venture that 40% of us struggle to meet all our expenses each month. With the percentage of their income that we 40% pay for rental housing, any catastrophe-- lost job, broken car, building fire, funeral expenses-- could put us over the edge into homelessness.