Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Sunday, February 22, 2009
The SPD blog acknowledged that criticism but wanted to make sure the public knew that the officer involved tried to assist the woman in phoning friends to help her move her belongings.
The sentiments of readers who called to complain about the towing of Van Slate’s car are understandable. However, we doubt that anyone would want to find themselves in a collision with an uninsured motorist. The Sacramento Bee’s own recent article on February 6 (Road hazard: uninsured driver rates climb), stated that the numbers of uninsured motorists are rising nationwide. This also means that the frustration and expense incurred by insured motorists who find themselves in accidents with the uninsured can also be expected to rise.The blog also calls attention to the larger societal issue of homelessness, and says society's efforts would be better spent solving that problem than blaming officers for enforcing the law.
According to the Insurance Research Council cited in the article, rising unemployment rates correlate to the rise in uninsured motorists (3 million more uninsured motorists than five years ago). More insured motorists in collisions with uninsured will be picking up the tab for auto repair, injuries and court costs after accidents. This also means police officers everywhere are going to increasingly be faced with difficult situations like the one on Friday, and will have to wrestle with the aftermath of negative public opinion in order to protect all of the drivers on the road.
These are all fair points. So what is it that homeless people really want and need from law enforcement.
First, they want to be treated with dignity. The police departments in various cities tend to reflect the attitudes toward homeless people that are held by their superiors and by the city's elected officials. When Edward Flynn was hired as police commissioner in Springfield, Massachusetts, my home city, his focus on "quality of life" issues led to officers being told to photograph homeless people, with or without their consent, ostensibly so they could be identified if found dead. Homeless people were frequently rousted and told to move on. Sometimes their tents were destroyed.Homeless complaints about the police have declined (thought not disappeared) under the new police commissioner William Fitchet, who is focusing, with some success, on reducing serious crime.
Second, homeless people want the police to use their discretion humanely when homeless people are technically violating laws which are rarely if ever enforced for other populations-- jaywalking, loitering, vagrancy-- as long as they are otherwise behaving.
Last but scarcely least, homeless people want the police to help keep them safe. When Steve Donohue, a homeless man, was murdered by another homeless man last summer, the Springfield police comforted his friends and moved swiftly to apprehend the killer. Those actions went a long way in closing the trust gap between the homeless community and the police. With the terrible increase of violence against homeless people, the homeless community needs the police as much if not more than the community at large.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
"In order to qualify for a loan of that size, an applicant normally must demonstrate significant financial holdings, have an impeccable credit score, and fill out a number of contracts," First National loan officer Robert Lewiston said. "But when I met Mr. Creamsby and listened to his pitiful story about how he'd worked all his life at an office-chair factory to save up for his dream—his dream to have a little shop where people could buy thank-you notes and maybe pick up some fountain-pen ink every now and then—well, I blurted out the first number that came to mind just to make him stop."
Read more at The Onion.
Wolf Blitzer: President Obama is ordering an additional 17,000 more forces to
Photo from Reuters/Omar Subhani
The lovely little chick with her foot in the air, ready to dance, is a Tawny Frogmouth, native to Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. She was born at Seaworld but I found her at Zooborns.
The second, fearful-looking bird in the hand is a Worcester's buttonquail, shown moments before she was sold to be eaten in a market in Luzon, Philippines. Her species was believed to be extinct and, according to the National Geographic, known to ornithologists only through drawing made more than thirty years ago.
It is hoped that this modest species survives elsewhere in Luzon, the only place where it was ever found.
What's life like in the Philippines? According to the Philippine blog Spirituality Page,
The National Statistical and Coordination Board (NSCB) identified the following indicators of the said goal, accompanied by 2003 figures: people living below the poverty line – 30.4%; the poverty gap ratio – 8.4; the share of the poorest quintile in national consumption – 4.7% income and 5.8% expenditure; the number of undernourished children under age 5 – 24.6%; and people whose dietary intake is lower than the required 100% – 56.9%.
Independent surveys in 2008, however, revealed alarming figures. The Social Weather Stations (SWS) reported that in the last quarter, 23.7% or about 4.3 million Filipino households experienced involuntary hunger, the highest record of 11 points in a 10-year average of 12.6%. There are an estimated 9.4 million households or 52% who are ‘self-rated poor’ and 42% or an estimated 7.7 million households who are ‘food poor.’
Friday, February 20, 2009
Well, duh! I guess I'd just never noticed you could do that... and how many years have I been using a computer? So if I ever want to do this kind of puzzle again, I must remember to rename the photo before putting it up.
While we're on the subject of photos, how is it that Stumble Upon has come to learn that a stunning or unusual photo is likely to win my approval? Maybe that one's not too hard to answer, but what are the algorithms for deciding why I've faved a vivid, well-designed website on weather? The design or the subject? Content or form?
Photo of Katie from SRivera's photostream at Flickr's Creative Commons.
PS: I love finding the right photo for a post-- sometimes takes me longer than the actual writing-- and I try to give accurate credit. Why doesn't this seem important to many other bloggers?
Thursday, February 19, 2009
- Wait while I remove these leeches.
- I have been bitten by sand flies.
- There are too many rats.
- There are a lot of mosquitoes here.
- The cockroaches have eaten my shirt.
- Is this poisonous?
- What made that noise?
- Is Sibu Laut in a swamp?
- Is there a taboo on your house?
- Is the burning finished?
- Where can I defecate?
- Is that fish dangerous?
- This floor is not safe.
- The roof is leaking.
- There is no room in this boat.
- We must keep dry.
- I can't come for a time because the monsoon will soon start.
- She has a bad pain/snakebite/gunshot wound.
- Tear some clean cloth into strips.
- Keep him warm.
- Go quickly for help.
- This vomiting needs urgent treatment.
- I do not know what is wrong. You must take her to the clinic.
- Your eyes need treatment, or you will become blind.
|Radday, M, WWF Germany. 2007. 'Borneo Maps'. January 24, 2007, personal e-mail (January 24, 2007)|
|Hugo Ahlenius, UNEP/GRID-Arendal|
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
I'm not much for ranking oppressions but you have to admit that children and mentally disabled adults don't have much institutional power. Those two groups did, however, prove to be quite profitable for two juvenile court judges in Pennsylvania and-- allegedly-- the Texas-based Henry’s Turkey Service.
Until someone used an anonymous hotline to tip off the state of Iowa, 21 mentally disabled men lived in a 106 year old building-- a bunkhouse, you might call it-- that depended on space heaters for heat. During the day they worked at a meatpacking plant for Henry's Turkey Service for the princely sum of about 44 cents an hour the rest going to Henry's Turkey. Their disability checks also went straight to Henry's Turkey, which returned about $60 a month to the men. That means, according to the Houston Chronicle, the men paid $1,124 a month for room and board.
Now it turns out that at least some family members had made complaints to the Dept. of Social Services, although the agency has no record of complaints. In the town of Atalissa, Iowa, with a population of fewer than 300 people and where the men lived and work, people are doing a little soul-searching.
"Maybe we should have looked a little harder," said (City Councilor) Hepker. "We depended on their caretakers. Des Moines Register.
The men, whom one imagines have developed quite a bit of camaraderie, have been placed in a group home.
For three years, Luzerne County Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan moved children through their courtrooms and got rich in the process. The scheme was simple: the judges would sentence the young to a for-profit lockup owned by PA Child Care LLC, and PA Child Care LLC would pay them-- more than $2.6 million.
Among the offenders were teenagers who were locked up for months for stealing loose change from cars, writing a prank note and possessing drug paraphernalia. Many had never been in trouble before. Some were imprisoned even after probation officers recommended against it.
Many appeared without lawyers, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1967 ruling that children have a constitutional right to counsel. AP.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is considering expunging hundreds, maybe thousands of juvenile records. The judges will be sentenced to seven years in prison. The young people get a little justice and lifelong memories of their experience.
Photo from the National Juvenile Justice Network.
Monday, February 16, 2009
I don't often write about the paid work I do for the Mass. Senior Action Council, because I am not the spokesperson, I am the organizer. In this case, however, the situation is so urgent that I want to get the word out anyway I can-- and my own organization, Arise for Social Justice, was the one that tipped me off first to the threatened closing of the Holyoke Geriatric Authority.
The Holyoke Geriatric Authority may have other financial problems-- in this day and age, what agency doesn't?-- but what prompts the Authority into asking permission to close its doors is the failure of Gov. Patrick to release a million dollar bond he promised them last August. It's all too easy to make cuts in programs where the recipients of the services are presumed to have the least political power to protest. Let's make sure that's not true in this case.
Here are two links to MassLive stories about the closing, and here is the press release we've sent out.
Please join us on Wednesday, February 18 at 12:30 pm. in front of the Governor's Western Mass office, Springfield, MA on Dwight St. Here's a link to a Google map to the site.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE FEBRUARY 15, 2009
COMMUNITY GROUPS TO PROTEST CLOSING OF
Community organizations and members will be holding a protest over the closing on the Holyoke Geriatric Authority this Wednesday, February 18, at 12:30 p.m. in front of Governor Patrick’s Western Mass. Office,
Because the state has failed to release a $1,000,000 bond it promised the Holyoke Geriatric Authority in August, 2008, the Authority administration says it has no choice but to close its doors and relocate its 65 residents. The facility also provides off-site services to an additional 65 elderly community members.
John W, Bennett. President of Mass. Senior Action Council said, “I was born and brought up in
“We must also consider the impact on the facility’s workers and the
Arise for Social Justice President Don James says his organization condemns the failure of Gov. Patrick to release the bond which will result in the sudden closing of the Holyoke Geriatric Authority.
Found another widget...for a March on the Pentagon on the 6th Anniversary of the war, March 21 sponsored by ANSWER. Went to the United for Peace and Justice website, and they are calling for LOCAL actions on March 19-- anything to avoid working with ANSWER. MoveOn.org barely makes a mention of Iraq on its front page, although on another page withdrawal from Iraq is listed as Number 4 of four priorities as voted on by its members. (And if members had voted on the exploration of Mars, would MoveOn be promoting it?) The International Action Center is calling for an April March on Wall St. called Bail Out the People, Not the Banks.
Unity between factions in the anti-war movement has been achieved only sporadically in the last six years.
Sunday, February 15, 2009
Neely has now come forward in this final year of the U.S. Navy base." Read the rest of Mike Malia's AP story here. Photo from (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)'s existence, saying he wants to publicly air his feelings of guilt and shame about how some soldiers behaved as the military scrambled to handle the first alleged al-Qaida and Taliban members arriving at the isolated
I'd bookmarked the following photos from Abu Ghriab in Iraq some time ago and found them again for this post. I found that the passage of time made them harder, not easier, for me to look at-- as if these nightmare images when seen in the middle of a nightmare are less shocking than when seen in the cold light of day. Anti-War.com.
The next day you go down to the Amherst Police Station to file charges against the guys. Instead, you're arrested and charged with attempted murder!
That's what happened to Jason Vassell on February 8, 2008. While the two white guys admitted to be drinking that night, one was charged with a misdemeanor and the other not charged at all.
Robert Thrasher, the on-call police lieutenant of the UMass campus police, appears to believe the event was a drug deal gone bad. (Vassell, being black, had to be a drug drealer, right?) This was true even though, according to the Valley Advocate and Vassell's attorneys,
Thrasher was in possession of police records that described numerous incidents involving Bowes; in at least one case he was charged with a civil rights violation for attacking a black man. Bosse’s rap sheet is similarly lengthy, and includes two incidents in which he became physical with the police. Once—nine days before the incident at UMass, according to court documents—he attacked an off-duty Hispanic police officer and an Asian fireman; in another incident 25 days after his encounter with Vassell, the record shows, Bosse attacked a mounted officer and his horse. It’s since been alleged that the two run in a gang-like group who call themselves the “East Milton Mafia.”Jason was told by the UMass administration that he needed either to withdraw from school or face expulsion. Jason, who still hopes to become a doctor, chose to withdraw rather than have an expulsion on his record.
Much of the UMass student body and a number of professors feel the whole process has been tainted with racism and have formed the Justice for Jason Coalition along with many community organizations. They've mobilized to be in court for every hearing for Jason, who is now living at home with his parents in Mattapan.
On January 15th Northwestern Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Dunphy Farris asked the judge to move Jason Vassell’s case out of Hampshire County, claiming that Jason’s supporters and defense had distributed sensitive information about the case to the media to infect the jury pool. The Judge promptly informed Ms. Farris that all documents, including the Motion to Dismiss, are in fact public court documents.In spite of the substantial community support Jason Vassell is receiving, the outcome is far from certain.
The Committee for Justice for Jason Responded to the request by releasing the following:
“At this hearing the Deputy First Assistant District Attorney now in charge of prosecuting Jason, Elizabeth Dunphy Farris, was clearly concerned by the support that the Committee for Justice for Jason has continued to mobilize for almost a year now. The fact that the prosecutor and the DA’s office are getting uncomfortable, frustrated, and accusatory is due largely to the success of the Justice for Jason campaign in shining a spotlight on this case. District Attorney offices and police departments around the country rely on the lack of transparency with most court cases. They thrive on the secrecy. But now this DA office is scared…scared of having to be accountable to a public that they have, until now, kept in the dark. The DA is elected by her constituency and must therefore be accountable to that constituency. It is clear that DA Scheibel does not want to be accountable. This case and the DA’s racist choices therein highlight the need for an open and transparent criminal justice system–both here in the Northwestern District and in the country at large.” Justice for Jason.
Three events are coming up to assist with Jason's defense and to show widening community support.
On Wednesday, February 18, at the Hampshire Superior Court in Northampton, MA, the judge will be hearing a Motion to Dismiss filed by Jason's lawyers “on the grounds that the defendant has been selectively prosecuted because of his race, in violation of the rights guaranteed him by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Articles I and XII of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.”
On February 21, a Silent Auction will be held to raise funds for Jason's defense because although Jason's attorneys, David P. Hoose and Luke Ryan of Amherst and John Reinstein from the Massachusetts ACLU are working pro bono, there are a number of other costs. The Justice for Jason Coalition is still seeking donations of goods and services.
Then, on March 7, if the Motion to Dismiss has been denied, organizers are calling for a national march in support of Jason Vassell. Organizers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If there's anyone out there who believes that racism automatically came to an end on the day we elected a Black man as president, Jason's case reminds us how far we still have to go.
But the three-person electoral board has decided that Mr. Fore has no right to run and will be kept off the ballot. The reason? Mr. Fore is homeless. Although he has a post office box in Oak Park, and says that is where he lives, there is no "proof" he actually lives there, the electoral board decided.
The one dissenting vote on the electoral board, Village President Daniel Pope, who thinks Mr. Fore should be allowed to run, admits it would be difficult for another resident to challenge Mr. Fore's residency. State law requires a candidate's nominating petitions to include their place of residence with "the street and number thereof, if any."
Mr. Fore has lawyers who will assist him in filing with the state court on the grounds that the phrase "if any" would allow a homeless person to run for office.
Voting rights for homeless people have become better-established over the last twenty years, with people living in shelters allowed to register and vote in 49 states (data for North Dakota not available). People living on the streets have the same right to vote in all but two states. Only ten states, however, have enacted legislation giving voting rights to the homeless.
The National Coalition for the Homeless has a wealth of materials on homeless rights and registration. As more and more people become homeless, attempt of homeless people to run for
office is bound to become more common.
Photo from the Chicago Tribune.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
1. A recent study held by two Scottish universities showed that even a little bit of greenery near our homes improves our health. Green space reduces health inequities between rich and poor, maybe by encouraging exercise or reducing stress. This is especially true for heart disease and stroke, two conditions much higher among the poor.
A Columbia University study found that asthma rates among four and five year olds fell by 25% for every 343 trees per square kilometer! Given that asthma rates have gone up 50% in the last 20 years, and no one knows why for sure, this astoundingly simple preventative needs to built into urban planning. Again, the researchers aren't sure if the effect is because trees clean the air of pollution, or because trees encourage children to go outside, where they are exposed to the microbes necessary to build their immune system.
2. Not all greenery is created equal, however-- when it comes to the vegetables we eat, your mother's cauliflower is not the same as the cauliflower you eat-- it has 40% less vitamin C than it did in 1975, broccoli has 50% less calcium and watercress has lost 88% of its iron-- and this is as was measured in 2001. You can read about the discovery in the 2001 Le Magazine. And the larger the vegetable, the lower the nutritional value overall. A 2007 Organic Center report shows that
Vegetables pumped full of water from fertilizers and then grown in nutritionally depleted soil are nowhere near as good for you as vegetables grown in your backyard in a raised bed filled with your own compost from backyard greenery.
3. Finally, while we are all becoming more familiar with the necessity of greenery for the survival of the planet in terms of global warming, consider the number of wars caused by scarcity of resources, in particular water and food. Geoff Lawton at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia has been developing permaculture projects across the globe. This short video will give you a sense of what's possible if we are wiling.
Image from Inspired Economies.
Friday, February 13, 2009
I have noticed that it's taken a while for really poor people to feel the effects of the economic downturn. And why is that? Because we've got so little to lose! We don't own homes so we have no homes to lose. We don't have pension funds so the Bernie Madoffs of this world have nothing to steal from us. And for those of us who work at Taco Bell and Dunkin Donuts, it's only as working class and other poor people tighten their belts and eliminate their morning coffee and their lunches that our jobs become at risk.
But it's bad, it's bad. Not to complain, but I didn't put oil in my tank until January and when that hundred gallons is gone, it's gone. This past week I've been cutting a dose of a medicine I need in half so it will last me to payday today. I also found out that my fulltime hours will be cut in half in April, so if you hear of any jobs in the Greater Springfield, MA area, let me know. I'm very happy I'm done raising my family so I don't have to make these tough choices for three instead of one.
Middle and working class people are wondering how Barack Obama's stimulus plan is going to help them; poor people are organizing because we can't wait much longer. My organization, Arise for Social Justice, is a proud member of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, a national organizing effort to bring poor people together to fight for our rights. July is the next big convening. Below is information about a conference in Kentucky this July and a call for participation. If you're poor and you can get there, do it. If you're an ally, maybe you can help someone else get there. More details to come.
A National Conference to Abolish Poverty"
|Organized by the Social Welfare Action Alliance (SWAA) and the Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC)|
This conference is being organized to provide a forum for people to share ideas, inspire, and motivate each other. We will strive for collective actions based in sound analyses - actions that can be taken locally, regionally, and nationally when we leave this gathering. Abolish poverty in these times of increasing joblessness, homelessness, hunger, and unemployment? We say "yes" and turn to the wisdoms of Martin Luther King, who envisioned an organized "unsettling force" built across racial lines that would spark a "revolution of values" to reorganize our society.
Community activists and organizers, social workers, human service workers, students, faculty and all who are concerned with meeting human need and claiming economic human rights are encouraged to propose workshops, roundtables, panel discussions, presentations, papers, skill-building sessions, and more. Participatory formats are especially encouraged. We also seek proposals for cultural contributions in the form of music, poetry, art, drama, and multimedia presentations. We invite you to submit your proposal by fax to 216-651-2633 or e-mail to email@example.com. Please include the following:
• A cover page indicating title of the proposal and the names, addresses, and affiliations of all
• A 200 word proposal linked to the conference theme.
• Proposed format & amount of time desired
Note: No presentations on Thursday. We may contact you for approval to combine presentations.
Updates at www.socialwelfareactionalliance.org. For questions or assistance, contact Manoj Pardasani (SWAA), 212-636-6622 firstname.lastname@example.org or Larry Bresler (PPEHRC), 216-651-2606, email@example.com.
Thursday, February 12, 2009
Every year in January communities across the country participate in "Point in Time" counts of homeless people, an initiative of the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD). It's not as easy as just calling up shelter directors and asking for their census; volunteers take flashlight and sometimes warm coffee and hit the alleys, abandoned buildings and riverbanks to find the unsheltered homeless. I've always wondered why this count doesn't take place in May, where the unsheltered homeless are a bit easier to spot, but it is what it is.
Officials from my home city Springfield, Massachusetts are having a press conference today to announce that the number of homeless single people has gone down but the number for homeless families has risen, leading to an overall increase in homelessness. A random sampling of cities doesn't look good. Elizabeth City, North Carolina found one less person homeless than from the previous year's census, but McHenry County, Illinois found a 36% increase. Billings, Montana found 10% more homeless people than last year. Nineteen of twenty-five cities polled by the U.S. Conference of Mayors reported an average 12% more homeless people in their cities over last year. I can't imagine that figures are going to improve for the year ahead.
Foreclosures are driving up family homelessness in a big way, and it's not just the individual homeowners who are suffering. Many renters keep paying their rent, unaware of the fact that owners are in default. I've known a number of people who moved into an apartment one month, only to be evicted by a bank the very next month! Yes, sadly, there are property owners that unscrupulous.
Children pay the highest price of homelessness. Their nutrition is likely to suffer, especially if they're temporarily housed in motels, the way 673 Massachusetts families are right this moment-- can't cook in a motel room. Homeless kids miss more school days, even though many counties try very hard to help kids get to school. But the problem is outpacing school systems' ability to cope. The largest school district in Arizona has 28% more homeless kids this year than last.
The blog Invisible Homeless Kids is helping to promote a new campaign to pass the H.R. 29, the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2009, which will make sure that homeless children and also homeless teens not with their families are counted as homeless-- believe it or not, they're often excluded from the count, skewing the number of actual homeless. You can get more information about the bill at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth. Then take action.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
My favorite and most mind-blowing coincidence, though, came about twenty years ago when my friend Patti and I were making collages in her living room. The television was on in the background.
I had hundreds-- maybe thousands-- of pictures I'd cut out from a variety of sources over many years, including a stack of old Life magazines I'd found in a farmhouse in Maine.
One of the pictures I remembered had come from Life was of actress Joanne Dru in a checkered dress pointing a revolver at someone. I held it up for Patti to see. At that moment, I glanced at the TV and there was Joanne Dru, in the same dress holding the same gun in the same pose as in my photo! The movie was She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, with John Wayne.
That particular scene must have become a stock photo, because when I typed "Joanne Dru" into Google images just now, up popped the very same image.
So here she is, for your perusal.
Here's what Sheriff Ashe isn't talking about as he bewails job losses: more than half of the 1,900 inmates in the jails are there pre-trial-- not convicted of anything but unable to pay the excessive bail that a few area judges have been imposing. Every incarcerated inmate COSTS MONEY.
Now, we're not talking about your accused rapists, murderers and armed robbers, here, or even your Bernie Madoffs. We're talking about offenders whose maximum sentence is likely to be two years and under. Many of them will serve their entire "sentence" without ever being sentenced, because they can't afford bail.
Keep in mind that an unknown number of people awaiting trial and serving sentences are actually not guilty of any crime. Earlier this week the New York Times reported on new efforts to exonerate imprisoned people where there is no DNA evidence to go on.
“All these hundreds of DNA exonerations across the country have demonstrated to anyone who’s paying attention that there are far more innocent people in prison than anybody could imagine,” said James McCloskey, the founder of Centurion Ministries, an innocence project based in New Jersey.
Unfortunately, no one is likely to take extraordinary effort to prove the innocence of someone who will "only" lose two years of his or her life.
Both the men's and the women's correctional facilities are very overcrowded. Many educational and recreational programs can't take place because there's simply no room. The sheriff doesn't like this, either. He has a national reputation as an innovator to maintain and recent jail conditions have put a crimp in his plans.
One of my early posts on this blog was about the day the new women's jail opened. My organization, Arise for Social Justice, was operating by the principle, "If you build it, they will come"-- and how true that's proved to be! Especially now, when money is so tight, there has to be a better way to deal with people accused of low-level offenses.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
You can get a list of your legislators by town here. You can find your legislators' phone numbers here.
For more information, contact Mass. Coalition for the Homeless, 781-595-7570.
SAVE ACCESS TO EMERGENCY SHELTER FOR HOMELESS FAMILIES
The Patrick Administration has proposed to restrict access to emergency shelter for children and
families experiencing homelessness, beginning on April 1. Please take all steps possible to ensure
that these restrictions do not take effect, including calling the Governor and asking him to withdraw
the proposed restrictions and supporting supplemental funding for family shelter (item 4403-2120).
The proposals to restrict shelter access for homeless children are based on a projected budget deficit
of less than $3.4 million in the family shelter account for the current fiscal year. This deficit is directly
related to the skyrocketing number of families facing homelessness due to the poor national economy.
These families are in desperate need for help, and restricting access to shelter in these precarious
times is not the answer. And these punitive proposals wouldn’t even resolve the deficit, since they
would “save” the state less than $520,000 this fiscal year.
The restrictions on access to shelter are unnecessary to close the projected deficit. The state is
expected to receive from the Federal Economic Recovery bill more than $17 million this fiscal year
and another $23 million next year in emergency TANF funds that are specifically intended to help the
state meet the costs of serving more low-income families in need. These funds can be used to
cover the shelter deficit and avoid harm to homeless children. In addition, the Federal Economic
Recovery package is expected to include additional Emergency Shelter Grant funding that can be
used to prevent homelessness in the longer run. Also, the regional coordinating entities established
through the work of the Commission to End Homelessness -- whose mission is to pilot and study
creative ways to prevent homelessness -- are not yet operating but are scheduled to begin operations
in the next few weeks. We should allow the regional entities to do their work, as their efforts should
render these new restrictions unnecessary.
The eight proposed restrictions on shelter access (see over) include denying eligibility for shelter
and services to children and families who have been evicted or voluntarily left subsidized or
public housing in the past three years. This proposal is particularly unfair and unwise because:
• Emergency shelter was created to protect children who have no control over their parents’
conduct. Denying them shelter will punish kids unfairly. Moreover, many families are evicted
from subsidized housing due to issues beyond their control, such as those related to disability,
domestic violence, limited English proficiency, or conduct by someone who is no longer a part
of the household seeking shelter. In some cases, families are evicted from housing because
they never even got the court papers telling them when their eviction hearing was.
• There are inadequate systems in place to prevent evictions. Few public housing authorities
have eviction mediation systems and most tenants in eviction proceedings do not have legal
counsel to represent them (in 2005, only 6% of tenants but 66% of landlords were
represented). Denying emergency shelter to families evicted from subsidized housing will
reduce the incentive the state has to create better eviction prevention systems, and therefore
will not further the Commission's goal of preventing homelessness.
• Without shelter and housing search services, these families will have no safe places to go and
their children may have to enter state custody, causing greater trauma to the children and
greater expenses for the state over time.
ACT NOW TO PROTECT FAMILIES EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS!
For more information, please contact Mass. Law Reform Institute 617-357-0700 (Ruth Bourquin x333,
firstname.lastname@example.org or Deborah Silva x340 email@example.com), Mass. Coalition for the Homeless 781-595-7570 (Leslie
Lawrence x16, firstname.lastname@example.org or Kelly Turley x17, email@example.com), Greater Boston Legal Services
(Steve Valero 617-603-1654 firstname.lastname@example.org), South Coastal County Legal Services (Rick McIntosh 508-775-7020
x114 email@example.com), Legal Assistance Corporation of Central Mass. (Faye Rachlin 508-752-3718
firstname.lastname@example.org), Western Mass. Legal Services (Marion Hohn 413-686-9015 email@example.com), Neighborhood
Legal Services (Emily Herzig 781-244-1405 firstname.lastname@example.org), Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services (Ellen
Shachter 617-603-2731 email@example.com).
General Description of Proposed Restrictions on Family Shelter Access
(Note: As of February 3, 2009, the Administration has not yet made available to the Legislature
or the public a copy of the actual language of the proposed regulations.)
The Patrick Administration is proposing to:
1. Deny access to shelter to any family who has been evicted or who has voluntarily departed
public or subsidized housing in the past 3 years without good cause. See discussion on page 1.
• No details currently available about what will constitute good cause.
• Existing rules already bar families whose current homelessness is caused by eviction for
criminal activity, destruction of property or nonpayment of rent.
2. Impose a 30-hour per week work requirement on families in shelter and kick them out of
shelter if they cannot comply.
• While details are currently lacking, the requirement reportedly will be imposed even though
there are few jobs and training opportunities in the current economy, without regard to the
age of the youngest child, with no exemptions for families with disability-related barriers
(although DTA has indicated that individualized reasonable modifications will be available).
• In 2004, the Legislature said families in shelter should not be subject to other work
requirements because they need to prioritize housing search obligations.
3. Reduce the period that families who go over the income limit can stay in shelter and try to
find housing from the 6 months set by the Legislature to only 3 months.
• Given the economy and lack of housing subsidies, 3 months is not much time for families
to secure safe, permanent housing; families who run out of time could be forced into
unsustainable housing arrangements.
• The Administration says it believes it can find these families housing within 3 months. If
that is the case, there is no need for the change in the rule.
4. Deny continued access to shelter to families who are absent from a shelter placement for 2
or more consecutive nights or for 1 night on repeated occasions without advance approval.
• No details currently available as to how onerous the requirements for getting approval will
be or whether this will prevent families from temporarily staying with relatives or attending
to crises, even if they have given DTA or their shelter provider advance notice.
5. Deny continued access to shelter for families who reject just one offer of housing.
• No details currently available as to any exceptions that might be allowed or whether the
housing offer must be in a place close to jobs, schools, medical providers, etc.
6. Deny access to shelter to families in which the only child is between the ages of 19 and 21
unless the child is disabled or in high school and expected to graduate by age 19.
• Under this plan, most families with dependents aged 19-21 would be sent to already overburdened
individual shelters, where access is not guaranteed and family members may be
separated from one another.
7. Deny access to shelter to children whose parents have outstanding default or arrest warrants.
• Children would be kept out of shelter even though state statute authorizes denial of
benefits only to the person with the outstanding warrant.
8. Require all families in shelters (but not including motels) to “save” 30% of their income as a
condition of continued eligibility for shelter.
Thanks also to Bill Newman of the ACLU, who also recently stood up against a Springfield City Council proposal which would have recriminalized possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
Mayor Claire Higgins said that the community had become so polarized over the ordinance that it was impossible to move ahead. Efforts by the Business Improvement District to improve business conditions had also become inextricably linked to the anti-panhandling ordinance. You can read Fred Contrada's Springfield republican article here.
The new blog The Invisible People has collected some examples of panhandling ordinances, both passed and proposed. Check it out.
Photo from DTE People's photostream at Flickr.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
After that the woman said, "Pick up my pocketbook, boy, and give it here." She still held him. But she bent down enough to permit him to stoop and pick up her purse. Then she said, "Now ain't you ashamed of yourself?"
Read the rest of this very short Langston Hughes story at American Literature.
"What's in your backpack?" the officer asked.
"Four cans of Nos," Josh answered.
Well, the officer didn't know what that was and called for backup! Three cruisers turned up. They checked his backpack and of course what they found was for cans of the energy drink Nos.
"Sorry," the officer said, "you can go."
So Josh went home.
Must be one of those "quality of life" issues.
Wednesday: lead a minke whale back to sea.
Just another day in Wellfleet?
This summer I'm going to have to shake the hand of Wellfleet Harbormaster Michael Flanagan, who gently guided back to sea a minke whale who'd come too close to shore and was in danger of being stranded by the approaching low tide. According to the Boston Globe's Green Blog, Flanagan has quite a bit of experience with strandings, which are all too common in the Cape Cod winter.
On Tuesday, the International Fund for Animal Welfare rounded up thirty volunteers and help capture and rescue four dolphins who were stranded in Duck Creek and Chipman's Cove in Wellfleet Harbor. The animals' body temperature had fallen so low that the rescuers had to warm them up in a trailer before driving them to Herring Cove in Provincetown. All seemed to be well as they swam away.
Photo by Eric Williams, Cape Cod Times. video taken by Cape Cod Times.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
The number of people receiving food stamps, however, went up in every single state, sometimes dramatically-- Florida's rate went up 16%.
So why the difference?
Since the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act passed in 1996, public assistance, although partially funded by the federal government, is administered by each state with a great deal of latitude. The Food Stamp program, however, or SNAP as it is now called, is a straightforward federal program with a simple application form, and it doesn't cost the states a penny.
Therefore states have no reason to hide how many people are on the SNAP program, while much of public assistance, with its poor cousin homelessness, come directly from cash-poor state coffers.
Here in Massachusetts, public assistance administrators have a long history of keeping the family homeless rolls down by by creating regulations that disqualify families from shelter. If a family is not in a homeless shelter, that family can't be counted in the statistics.
This year, the line item that provides shelter for homeless families is facing a $3.36 million deficit. The Executive Office of Health and Human Services has figured out a way to reduce that deficit by $517,375 by instituting eight new regulations.
The advocacy organization Mass. Coalition for the Homeless has analyzed the impact of one of these regulations:
1. Denying eligibility to families who have been evicted or voluntarily left public or subsidized housing without good cause in the past three years. This represents a significant expansion of grounds for denial. Under current regulations, a family can be denied access to shelter if they have been evicted from public or subsidized housing for non-payment of rent, criminal activity, or destruction of property and that eviction is directly connected to the family’s current need for shelter.
Currently, this bar from shelter usually is in effect for no more than 12 months. It is unclear how broadly DTA will define good cause. In one estimate from DTA, this change would affect 20 families per month, although the actual number of children and families left without shelter may be much higher. In describing this change, DTA has said, “Families in this situation have already been granted and lost one of the most generous public benefits due to their own actions…Besides saving scarce EA resources for those who have not had this opportunity, this policy shift will be an incentive to those with subsidies to keep them.”
The Coalition does not believe that households purposely make themselves homeless knowing that they can obtain shelter or that housing authorities will change their behavior and work more closely with tenants to address problems before eviction because the family will be ineligible for this assistance. No child should be condemned to homelessness, and denied a basic safety net, for even a day, let alone three years.
During the Bush years, when the leaks in our economy had not yet become visible, there was no room for poor people to make a decent living. Now, when even the middle class is suffering, poor people are just supposed to suck it up-- times are tough for everyone, right?
I will be curious to see if the new stimulus plans will reach deeply enough to to offer hope for those at the economic bottom. But based on past history, I'm not holding my breath.
First, Councilor James Ferrara's attempt to circumvent new state law by making marijuana an arrestable offense-- as well as increasing the fine by $300-- was sent back to committee Monday night after possibly more opposition than expected.
Ferrara said he's heard that Chicopee, a neighboring city, was planning to increase fines for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, and he didn't want Springfield to become a haven for pot smokers. Yup, that's right, all the area pot smokers, whether they reside in Springfield, Chicopee or not, are going to say, Hmmm...$300 fine in Chicopee, $100 fine in Springfield.....Let's all head to Springfield to smoke a joint. Yes, indeed, Springfield is a haven for pot smokers.....
The ACLU's Bill Newman said increasing the fine would likely clog the court system, as a $100 fine is payable but a $400 fine might go unpaid. Newman was representing a group I'd never heard of, the Liberty Preservation Association of Massachusetts, Inc., which seems to be Libertarian, and about a dozen of whose members also came to the City Council hearing.
A considerably more controversial event came about after Judge Cornelius J. Moriarty II threw out evidence against a suspected drug trafficker, saying that he did not believe the testimony of two of the arresting officers. That's the third time in recent months that a Hampden Superior Court judge has refused to believe evidence presented by officers, and the second time for Moriarty. Unfortunately, in the first case, the man who was set free then went on to kill another man at Springfield's Mardi Gras strip club this past January. I'm sure that case was on Moriarty's mind when he made his ruling on Monday; he knew he'd be wide open to criticism, but still he did what he thought was the right thing. the Springfield Republican reported on police reaction and anger here.
Debate on the local forums has been pretty one-sided, with most people saying the judge was clearly on the side of the criminals, and only a few pointing out that no, the judge was on the side of the law. Moral of the story: if you want to arrest someone and have the charges stick, you've got to do it the right way.
You know that moment in life where something you've always believed is overturned by personal experience? My own very minor experience of an arrest for possession of marijuana became one of those "Aha!" moments.
Forty years ago, when it really did seem like a revolution was around the corner two friends and I were sitting in a parked car in Cambridge, MA and we had just finished smoking a joint. We had about another quarter ounce in the glove box, but otherwise, no marijuana was visible.
Suddenly a police officer knocked on the window of the car, and as we rolled down the window, I imagine he was hit with a strong whiff of an illegal substance. He told us that he was going to arrest all three of us then and there, but that it would go easier on us in court if we just turned over anything we had rather than making him search, and like idiots, we did.
Flash forward to our day in court, where we had a public defender and a little better sense of our rights but were still basically naive-- 3 eighteen year old white kids.
The officer was called to testify, and the ADA asked him the circumstances of our arrests.
"I was walking by the car and could smell marijuana. I looked in the window of the car," he said, "and I could see a bag of marijuana right there on the seat."
Well, we were so astounded at his lie that we let out three very audible gasps. The judge let the case finish up and then found us not guilty, clearly not believing the testimony of the arresting officer. What a relief.
That was the end of my belief that all police officers always tell the truth. I have not replaced it with a belief that all police officers always lie, but through the years I've personally been aware of at least thirty similar situations, not counting those I've learned about through the media.
I have a flare and a fondness for the law which probably started when I was a kid reading about Clarence Darrow's great labor and criminal cases. I do believe unjust laws are made to be broken and I know that sentiment is not limited to my generation. But I respect the intent of the law, which, at its best, is simply a set of rules defined collectively about how we live in a fair and safe society.
My message to the criminal justice system is simple: If you want to enforce the law, do it by following the law.
Monday, February 2, 2009
OK, so everybody knows about this by now, but I have to comment because by tomorrow, the story will be gone.
A homeless man is struck by two others, hits his head, falls unconscious, and dies shortly afterwards. He lays in the middle of the sidewalk in Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C., for twenty minutes before someone calls an ambulance.
That's what happened to 31-year-old Jose Sanchez last Tuesday. People in the neighborhood said they're used to seeing people passed out drunk in the neighborhood, and put Mr. Sanchez in that category.
Sorry, though-- Mr. Sanchez was in the middle of the sidewalk, NOT where people choose to pass out. People stepped around this guy, for God's sake.
But actually, who cares where he was laying.
I have never passed by someone on the street who was not conscious without at least stopping and making a judgment about his or her well-being. Sometimes I speak to the person. Sometimes I tell a cop, or call an ambulance, and sometimes I pass on-- but never without thought.
I think many people are like me, and I think there are many more who would take some kind of action if they had any idea how to do it. But they don't know the protocol, don't know what's polite or impolite, don't know what to do.
So I ask everyone to take a moment, right now, and think about what you would do if you saw a person unconscious on the sidewalk. A little mental practice will make it easier to act.