Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Whale vs Boar

My car was down yesterday and so I worked at home, which made my cats happy. I had CNN on in the background, trying to catch up on the news.

About once an hour, we'd be given a report on the progress of the mother and baby whale trying to make their way under the Golden Gate bridge and back to the ocean, and whenever that segment aired, the news anchors would express admiration for the whales and concern for their well-being.

Some time during the morning, another segment entered the story rotation-- that of a thousand pound boar who was killed by an eleven year old hunter in Alabama. Each time it aired, the anchors expressed admiration for the killer and treated the whole story as humorous.

What a remarkable creature that boar must have been!-- how intelligent and crafty, to survive so long and grow so big! But his death was treated as a joke. I grew sadder and more furious throughout the day.

Meanwhile, given in about as much time as the boar and whale segments, we learned that another 10 military personnel were killed in Iraq, bringing the total for the month to 118 and for the war to 3,504.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Tent City flyer

text of the flyer that started getting passed out last night:


Here’s what Arise has found out about the city’s “plans” for homeless people. As usual, homeless people are the last to know.

The Mayor and the Control Board have decided that there will be NO extension of the Warming Place at the York St. jail site.






Besides, the program is only for the “chronically homeless”—long-term substance abuse issues, mental illness, or those who have bounced from shelter to shelter for years! If you have aged out of foster care, got kicked out of your house, lost a job, or had just plain bad luck, YOU WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE FOR A SUBSIDY!

All we can tell you right now is if you have any income at all on the first of the month, BETTER BUY A TENT!

Info? Want to organize? Call Arise at 734-4948.

Monday, May 28, 2007

200,000 Veterans Are Homeless Tonight

and 400,000 have been homeless at some point during this last year.

Who are homeless veterans?

The U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) says the nation's homeless veterans are mostly males (4 % are females). The vast majority are single, most come from poor, disadvantaged communities, 45% suffer from mental illness, and half have substance abuse problems. America’s homeless veterans have served in World War II, Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), Operation Iraqi Freedom, or the military’s anti-drug cultivation efforts in South America. Forty-seven percent of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam Era. More than 67% served our country for at least three years and 33% were stationed in a war zone. National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

According to the National Survey of Homeless Assistance Providers and Clients (U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Urban Institute, 1999), veterans account for 23% of all homeless people in America.

Why are veterans homeless?

In addition to the complex set of factors affecting all homelessness -- extreme shortage of affordable housing, livable income, and access to health care -- a large number of displaced and at-risk veterans live with lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and substance abuse, compounded by a lack of family and social support networks.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Better Get A Tent - Part Two

Last night I finished the flyer about the city's "plans" (or lack thereof) for people who become homeless after June 30, and another Arise member will bring it to the Warming Place and Taylor St. Shelter this weekend. I suppose homeless folks at Friends of the Homeless shelter should know, too, because even though they are less at risk of being displaced, they will have to suffer the sardine effect effect of having another 50 people-- in the basement, in the kitchen, etc. If it were really necessary, I'd be applauding Friends of the Homeless' effort to shelter as many as possible. But it's NOT necessary. F.O. H. is the city's little pet, and they are conspiring together to force the closing of the Warming Place.

I don't really know yet what Arise's role will be if homeless people need to set up an encampment. We'll be talking about it at our next board meeting. But I know for sure that if I were homeless right now, and had any money at all, I WOULD BUY A TENT!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Some Homeless News

Tasered Homeless Woman Dies: 35 years old, mentally ill, handcuffed. Houston Chronicle

Tent Cities: A dozen homeless people in Edmonton, Alberta stood up to the police and refused to move from their encampment.. Corus Radio

Meanwhile, the city's plans to disrupt a tent city of about 100 people in Gainseville, Florida were brought to a temporary halt when homelessness advocates protested. There are only about 350 beds available for homeless residents in Alachua County on any given night, out of an estimated 950 homeless people in the county. Offtopicz

Now that a federal judge in Fresno, CA has ruled it is unconstitutional for city police to destroy the belongings of homeless people that they roust from encampments, advocates and city officials have to figure out who will store the belongings and how the belongings can be reuinited with their owners.

Camp Quixote residents have settled in for a stay at the United Church of Olympia, WA. Olympian Online

Who Will Care? We'll Find Out

Today I started mentally composing a list of housed people, houses of worship and organizations that might actually care about what happens to homeless people.

Still can't get it out of my mind: Mayor Ryan KNOWS that people will be out on the street as of June 30, and he has CHOSEN to close the Warming Place because he thinks that the unsheltered will disappear from Springfield if they have no shelter. He fears that if there is even ONE vacancy at any Springfield shelter, we will draw in homeless people from outside the city. (I know writing in caps is gauche but I am THINKING in caps.)

In my spare time (ha!) I am going to find out:
Do cities the size of Westfield and Ludlow, if they are near a major metropolitan area, EVER provide their own shelter?
Is the ratio of Springfield homeless to non-Springfield homeless (about 60%/40% as I recall, with 75% from Hampden County) really that different than in any other city Springfield's size?

I am so tired of the crap and the assumptions.about people who become homeless.

Maybe one reason the idea of a tent city feels not foreign to me is that I've spent a little more than a tenth of my life living in a tent. When I homesteaded in Maine with my husband at the time, we built a shelter by pulling down saplings, tying them together, creating a weave with other small trees, and then covering the whole affair with canvas tarps and with flattened cardboard boxes stuffed inbetween. We built the shelter over a wonderful outcropping of rock that formed a natural fireplace. Smoke drifted up to a hole in the chimney. In the winters we used a tin stove.

Of course, getting wood for the stove was an ongoing affair. I fell into the habit of looking for standing deadwood-- didn't want to cut living trees and deadwood on the ground tended to be too wet. I got pretty good at knowing at a glance, even in the winter without leaves to guide me, which trees were standing up dead, and then mentally marking them for harvesting later. It took years for the habit to die away after I came back to Springfield. It was both a pleasurable activity-- in the sense of some treasure found-- and a habit necessary for survival in the Maine winters.

Now I find myself scanning the city as I drive, looking for vacant lots, hidden yet accessible places where people might camp if they had to. I remember doing this three years ago, after Sanctuary City agreed to find another place to move after six weeks on the lush lawn of St. Michael's. Same skill, different use.

A few of today's small pleasures (I didn't go looking for them, but boy, were they needed):
-- The grackles feeding their babies under the eaves of my work window eat my cracker crumbs.
-- The scent of lilacs drifts into my window.
-- I hear singing and look out my window and a Somalian woman is striding to the bus stop in full song.
Photo by William Cordero

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Better Buy A Tent

Where do I start?
Maybe with the ending:
As of June 30, best case scenario, there will be from 50 to 70 men and women without any shelter.

From today's Emergency Shelter meeting:
The city has refused to extend the Warming Place shelter's occupancy of the old York St. jail. Somehow, this jail has become symbolic with Springfield's blight and has taken on magical powers-- along the line of, "Tear it down, and they will come (and all the homeless will go)." I would say there is no getting the city to change its mind on this one. About 90 people a night stay overnight at the Warming Place.

Taylor St. shelter, run by the Springfield Rescue Mission (36 men), is due to close May 31, although I will call the director tomorrow to see if on the offchance his organization has come into a sudden windfall and can keep the shelter open.

If the Warming Place closes, and Friends of the Homeless' shelter on Worthington St. is funded by by the state instead, it will only mean 50 new shelter beds, because they will use the rest of the contract to cover the costs of beds they already provide.

Just writing this, I'm thinking, no wonder so many people think homelessness is an industry! It's really a competition-- the feds and the state only give enough to get 50% of the job done, leaving the shelter providers to fight over the crumbs.

A major part of the city's plan to "end chronic homelessness" is the Housing First strategy. To that end, the city is counting on 144 housing vouchers to place people into housing with supportive services. Problem is, landlords are not beating down the doors to participate in this program. It's slow going. Well, so be it. It's still a solid (if not sole) piece of strategy.

But what happens in the meantime?

It is incredibly difficult to get a straight answer out of Gerry McCafferty, the city's Homeless and Special Needs Housing Coordinator, about how many people will be in their own apartment by June 30, probably because she doesn't know herself. Supposedly 36 people have already been placed, but the shelter population remains the same.

When I asked her what was supposed to happen to people without shelter after June 30, she switched to talking about the responsibility of other communities, like Ludlow, Chicopee, West Springfield, and Holyoke, to house their own homeless people. (Actually Holyoke houses a
huge amount of family shelter.) In other words, homeless people will be used as pawns to pressure surrounding communities. But nothing will happen quickly enough (if at all) to prevent people from being without shelter. She said that the city felt that if there was any vacancy at all in Springfield's shelters, that it would bring in homeless people from outside Springfield.

When I asked her who had made this decision, she said the mayor and the Control Board.

At one point I asked for a show of hands of the other eight people at the meeting: how many had been born in Springfield? Four of us put up our hands. How many lived in Springfield now? Four. My point was not that other opinions were illegitimate, but that population is fluid. Do none of us have the right to move and call another city or town home?

I was suddenly hit with a sense of how really far away poor people, maybe most people, are from the source of real power. When I think of the Control Board, its members seem as inaccessible as the president or a king.

Right now my thoughts are turning to how to get the word out to people in the shelters about what's going to be happening. Of course they are always the last to know.
Unity among the homeless is not high right now, because they all know about the housing vouchers, and everybody wants one-- but of course there are more homeless people than vouchers. And the vouchers are for the "chronically homeless," so many will not be eligible.

If you are labeled mentally ill, have a substance abuse problem, or have spent a long time bouncing from shelter to shelter (usually because of mental illness or substance abuse, you've got a shot. If you are eighteen years old and just aging out of foster care, lost a place to live when you got divorced, lost a job because of an illness or are just down on your luck, you can forget about it.

All right, it's tired and I'm getting late, more tomorrow.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Taylor St. Shelter Closes in Ten Days

For the second year in a row, Springfield Rescue Mission has run a winter shelter for sober men on Taylor St., but as of June 1, 36 men will be out on the street. The city's eviction of the Open Pantry's Warming Place is still set for June 30. The new "one-stop" shelter planned by the Friends of the Homeless has yet to break ground.

Other than the homeless and service providers themselves, I doubt there are two dozen people in Springfield who understand what's going on and who give a damn.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Could This Help Springfield?

A Las Vegas housing developer is working with the city's mayor and local high school students to convert shipping containers to emergency shelters. Looks like they could make good housing, also! The city has quite a large number of vacant lots in its portfolio...see video at KVBC TV.
For some really upscale use of shipping containers, check out Noticias Arquitectura.

Some Homeless News

ARRESTED FOR SMOKING? Berkeley CA's Mayor Tom Bates is behind a recently-passed ordinance to make it illegal to smoke a cigarette on city streets. He thinks it will help drive away the homeless from the downtown area. Thanks to TalkLeft.

CHURCH SAYS GOODBYE TO TENT CITY: The Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation's turn to host Quixote City has come to an end and Rev. Arthur Vaeni reflects on the blessings and difficulties of the experience. The Olympian Online.

Fresno mayor Alan Autry announced on April 17 that the City of Fresno, in a joint project with the County, will set up a homeless center in the downtown area. The center will provide this communities large homeless population (estimated at over 8,000) with a place to put up a tent, there will be portable toilets, trash bins, and a facility (probably a trailer) where homeless people can get information about social services like job training, employment, etc. Humanity for Homeless.
A guy was beat up outside of Franklin Circle and wound up in the hospital. His attackers targeted him because he was homeless and an "easy" target. Then a couple were attacked when they were sleeping off the beaten path near the Flats. The group that attacked the couple first wanted to buy the couple's dog, when the couple refused they came back and beat up the man and stole the dog. The homeless man sleeping in the Flats broke his collar bone. The worst part of this is that the police were called three times and never came. Then the group came back the next night with a larger crew and again attacked the homeless couple. Coalition for the Homeless.

Winning Hearts and Minds in Afghanistan & Iraq

2,000 Afghanis made homeless by U.S. Special Forces bombing last month, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, as reported by The International News.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre
says there are 132,000 internally displaced persons in Afghanistan, and 1,900,000 who have fled as refugees. In Iraq, almost two million people are displaced and another 2 million are refugees, out of a total population of 26.7 million. That's about one person out of every eight.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

How Much?

Quick, how much more did the federal government spend on the Iraq war last year than it spent to end homelessness?

2x more 20x more 30x more 40x more 50x more.

In 2006, the feds allocated $1.9 billion for programs dedicated to end homelessness (
National Alliance to End Homelessness) and about $100 billion to Iraq (zfacts).

World Without Bees? Amen

Don't know if folks are aware (I wasn't, until recently) that there's a whole industry built around transporting colonies of bees thousands of miles to pollinate cherries, pears, apples, almonds and more. Seeing as life as we know it depends on bees, as I've heard about the massive die-offs, I've wondered: is this true around the world? What about in non-commercial hives? Well, here's part of the answer.

As previously reported in Organic Bytes (Issue #104), beekeepers in 24 states are experiencing record losses of honeybees. Some states have reported up to 70% disappearances of commercial bee populations. Researchers are struggling to find the causes of this mysterious collapse. A crucial element of this story, missing from reports in the mainstream media, is the fact that organic beekeepers across North America are not experiencing colony collapses. The millions of dying bees are hyper-bred varieties whose hives are regularly fumigated with toxic pesticides by conventional beekeepers attempting to ward off mites. In contrast, organic beekeepers avoid pesticides and toxic chemicals and strive to use techniques that closely emulate the ecology of bees in the wild. Researchers are beginning to link the mass deaths of non-organic bees to pesticide exposure, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and the common practice of moving conventional bee hives over long distances.
Learn more:


Friday, May 18, 2007

Touching Tent City Story from Toronto

Missing Tent City

Quacking ducks and sharing warm pots of Beefaroni made it home – better than sleeping on a park bench

Excerpted from Dying For A Home: Homeless Activists Speak Out (Between the Lines Press), by street nurse and Toronto Disaster Relief Committee co-founder Cathy Crowe. Photo by David Maltby

My dad was a truck driver. he did long hauls and was away for long periods. I was the oldest of eight. I only went to grade 7.
My dad drank a lot. When he was home there was usually arguing, fighting, drinking. I ran away all the time. Once I was put in a group home until I went to court for being a runaway.
[When] I was almost 14, I ran off with the man who ended up being my husband. I got pregnant, and we were married just before my 15th birthday.
When I was pregnant, he threw me down three flights of stairs. I left. My baby, a girl was born December 13, 1974, and I lived with my mom. But then I ended up back together with my ex and we had another baby girl two years later, but the marriage didn't last long.
I was pretty much on my own. My mom helped raise my youngest.
My experiences with abuse prepared me to work in a pilot project at Regent Park Community Health Centre. I was an outreach worker for six months. I would meet with women and help them to find shelter or a safe house.
I lost my apartment. I stayed at just about every women's shelter, many times. It was very stressful. I was attacked in a woman's shelter. I know that the woman who attacked me was ill, so rather than have the shelter kick her out, I said I'd leave.
Once in a while I would rent a hotel room for one or two nights at the Gladstone or the Budget just to get out of the shelter system. Lots of people do that, just to get a rest. It used to cost $20 to $25 a night.
Sometimes I slept outside, like on a grate (I still have a steam burn), or sometimes on cardboard laid out on a park bench or in the gazebo at St. James Park. We could stay dry if it rained.
When the police began harassing us, a friend said to me, "There's a place, a vacant lot on the water. You can build a hut there." I went down, and that's where I stayed for five years – Tent City. There were three others already there. I was the first girl.
I felt very comfortable. I stayed in a gutted-out van. It was stripped, no windows, and it had no floor. I installed styrofoam where the empty windows were. I draped sleeping bags over it for insulation.
While I was living outside, I was receiving about $485 – the "living allowance" from ODSP [the Ontario Disability Support Program], because I have some long-term health problems.
But after you buy your heavy clothing, you still need more. So over the years I have nearly always "panned" at Bay and Dundas. I started panning because some food banks didn't want to give us food because we "didn't have an address."
A few more people came, including my friend Marty. Marty and I moved into a camper donated to us by a guy from Calgary. He just showed up one day and asked if anyone would like his old camper on the back of his truck, and we lifted it off.
The camper was a little crowded for two. But we managed. We had extra blankets, and we sealed off and winterized it. We bought glue, duct tape and tarps, and did the windows.
Other people then were living in makeshift shacks or tents. We all kind of pitched in to help each other. We started getting propane and used it to fuel small heaters. One year, Toronto Disaster Relief Committee helped us get a generator that ran on diesel.
We had our routines. The ducks we called Donald and Daisy would quack at us and we would wake up early. Then we would gather kindling for the fire barrel, put the kettle on, make coffee, sit around the fire barrel, collect water, boil it, do dishes and laundry.
We did our laundry by hand in five-gallon pails and hung it on a clothesline. During the day, most people left for errands, appointments, to see friends. In bad weather we would all go up to the drop-ins at All Saints Church.
We all shared stuff down there, even food. Someone would make a big pot of Beefaroni. It was home. Better than a park bench. I felt hopeful, but then the police would warn us we were going to be kicked off. "Don't make yourself comfortable," they'd snarl.
The day of the eviction was pretty discouraging, actually. I was on my way uptown when I ran into my friend Penny, who said, "You'd better get down to Tent City. They're evicting everybody.'' I never got back in. I ended up losing everything. All my clothes. A lot of things I can't replace. Pictures of my kids. But the most precious thing I lost was my freedom.
Then I got into the Tent City rent supplement program. I've got a one-bedroom apartment now. I'm still not used to being on my own, but Marty lives in the same building. I'm on ODSP and get $863 a month. The average rent for a one-bedroom in Toronto is $800. The average waiting list for a subsidized unit is 12 years.
In this program I pay $139 and my rent is topped up by the supplement. Someday I'd like a balcony. After living at Tent City I hate being closed in. the end
Cathy Crowe on Nancy Baker

Nancy Baker has earned just about every line on her face. Perhaps more than anybody else who has witnessed the extent of the deaths over the years, Nancy has really allowed herself to fold into the grief and the loss. She knows most of the names on the Homeless Memorial Board. Yet in her own way, she continues to come out fighting. She is considered feisty on the streets, rebellious at City Hall and she's been fighting on the homeless front for many years.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Wasn't this a Law & Order episode? & other homeless news

LAW & ORDER: Insurance agent Richard James and a co-defendant are on trial for felony murder in NYC for taking out life insurance policies on at least three homeless people and then killing them.

CAN'T SEE THIS HAPPENING HERE: Mayors in Nevada rallied for $20 million in funding for transitional housing for the homeless. Apparently they were inspired to action after lawmakers and homeless advocates spent a snowy night in tents back in February on the lawn of the Nevada Legislature.

ON THE OTHER HAND, THIS SEEMS LIKELY: The Democratic National Convention is coming to Denver next summer, so the city plans to keep its winter-only shelters open through the summer and for 24 hours instead of just overnight. Black Star News

LOS ANGELES - A paraplegic man with a broken colostomy bag was found crawling in the gutter. An elderly woman, wearing only a hospital gown and slippers, was dumped on the street by a taxi called by the hospital.
For years, few people took seriously reports that Los Angeles hospitals were taking sick, confused and homeless patients by ambulance to the city's notorious "Skid Row" and leaving them there.
Today, Los Angeles city officials and a major hospital group announced a deal they hoped marks the beginning of the end to the dumping of vulnerable people in an area thought to have the highest concentration of homeless in the country.
Kaiser Foundation Hospitals, the nation's largest non-profit health-care provider, agreed to find shelter places for all homeless patients it discharges in Los Angeles.
It will also contribute US$500,000 to homeless services on Skid Row including a free legal clinic, a shelter bed database and extra beds for recovering patients. More at New Zealand Herald.

Homeless Countdown

The Springfield Rescue Mission's Taylor St. shelter will be closing in thirteen days.

The Springfield Housing Authority is ready to start taking applications for some of the subsidies to place the "chronically homeless" into apartments-- but the guy who's in charge of taking the applications is on vacation for two weeks!

The wrecking balls hangs over the old York St. jail, where the Warming Place shelter currently operates, and so far there's been no extension of the June 30th deadline to get out.

Meanwhile, Friends of the Homeless has decided to compete with the Open Pantry (who currently has the contract) for the Department of Transitional Assistance funding to shelter 85 people. Seeing as the Friends would use some of that funding to pay for beds they already provide but are not reimbursed for, that would mean a net increase of only 50 beds when about 130 people are soon to be without shelter.

If anyone has extra tents, tarps, sleeping bags, etc., hold on to them, we may need them to get through this summer.

Bracketed between two wars

I went to Jon Weissman’s retirement party at the end of April. Jon was the contract manager for the National Association of Letter Carriers 46 and is now “retiring” to devote more time to Jobs with Justice.

Jon is one of the most idealistic and down-to-earth people I know. After his colleagues, daughter and wife celebrated him, Jon spoke and tried to sum up some of his conclusions about working for social justice for the past 40+ years. I’m still thinking about much that he said, but one of his comments struck me particularly—that in some sense, his life has been bracketed by two wars—Vietnam and Iraq. Of course, that’s true for me and for most people born in the fifteen years following World War Two.

The Vietnam and Iraq wars have a lot of similarities (don’t get me started) but one key difference is that we had a long lead-up to the Iraq war in which we had (we thought) an opportunity to stop the war before it began.

Another difference is that in the Vietnam war, we were spared the mea culpas of elected officials for a good thirty years. (I think Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, one of the war’s most hated policy-makers, started worrying about getting into heaven.)

(By the way, isn’t it interesting that war architect McNamara became president of the World Bank during the Vietnam war, and war architect Wolfowitz during the Iraq war?)

It drives me wild with rage and contempt to hear John Kerry, John Edwards and their Congressional counterparts apologize for their vote to authorize war in Iraq.

“We were deceived!” they whimper, leaving us to decide if they are lying now or were just that stupid then.

I never bought this damn war from before Day One, and personally knew hundreds of people who felt the same way. Through my listserves I knew thousands more, and hundreds of thousands who protested prior to March 20, 2003.

We all knew we were headed to war within hours of the terrorists’ destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11.

We also knew that Iraq was not behind the 9/11 attacks, that the war was a cover for the neo-con agenda, and doubted greatly that there were weapons of mass destruction left in the country.

We knew that the war would alienate international support, that the war would increase, not decrease, terrorism, and that military and civilian casualties would not be reported accurately.

We also knew that the war would be used an excuse to take away our civil liberties, that secret prisons, torture and prisoner abuse were bound to exist, and that war profiteering would reach new heights.

How come WE knew all this, and Congress and the media didn’t?

Well, the answer, of course, is that many of them did know, but kept their mouths shut and their courage locked away for reasons of political expediency.

I am not the kind of populist who thinks that the “wisdom of the common people” is pure and correct—not with the onslaught of propaganda coming across the airwaves and printed in our newspapers.

I have, however, found that many truly poor people were skeptical of the war from the beginning—furious at the attacks against our country, but so used to being lied to on a daily basis that they take nothing at face value.

The older I get, the less doctrinaire I become. I have no definite answer as to how our government can move into the hands of a well-informed citizenry, or even how a well-informed citizenry can be nurtured under the current circumstances. But I will keep trying to play my part. As Gramschi said, “Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”

But today, as our military casualties stand at 3,444, and civilian casualties approach half a million, just for once, I want to say, “We told you so.”

Friday, May 11, 2007

Seattle: Poetry on the Bus

King County Metro Online

Hurst, Burke and Ward Representation

So Joe Burke is being offered another two-year contract as school superindendent—with raises along the way—by the Springfield School Committee. The fact that he so clearly wants out of Springfield (applications all over Florida) and has brought absolutely nothing positive to the Springfield school system didn’t matter when the votes were counted.

Antoinette Pepe, Marjorie Hurst and Mayo Ryan voted against offering Burke a contract.

I wonder if Marge Hurst would like to rethink her opposition to ward representation for the school committee?

During the city council debate about ward representation this past Monday, Councilor Domenic Sarno read a letter from Hurst into the record, where she complained that the school committee had never been asked their opinion about ward representation. This was just a day prior to the school committee’s vote on Burke.

The particular “8 & 5” version of ward representation being promoted by city council is entirely their version, and not the one that a coalition of community groups, including Arise, has been promoting for years.

However, I know that Marjorie Hurst and her husband Fred, two people I admire very much, were invited into our coalition years ago. They stayed true to their conservative philosophy, however, and declined.

Compare the Hursts’ opposition to ward representation to Bud Williams. I am still flabbergasted that Williams dared to say that ward rep was a good idea fifteen years ago, but not now. Then why did he oppose that good idea fifteen years ago?

Williams is now saying that, based on sheer numbers in the population, people of colors’ day has finally come, and that ward representation is no longer needed to get people of color elected to city council and school committee.

If his theory is true, then based on the numbers, women should have been holding fifty percent of the elected seats just about forever ago. Being the majority—or close to it—has not been enough to overcome institutionalized sexism and racism, or we’d be seeing the effects in who holds elected office.

Williams and Hurst should check out this morning’s Boston Globe, where McCormack Graduate School of Policy Studies report gives the dismal numbers for people of colors’ presence on boards of directors.

“At corporations, 95 percent of board members are white, and 87 percent are men. At hospitals, boards of directors are 94 percent white, and 75 percent are men; in higher education, boards are 86 percent white, and 64 percent are men. Boards at cultural institutions are 79 percent white and 50 percent male.”

BTW, I sat in a meeting with Burke not long after he was hired; the guy talked for fifteen minutes and said absolutely nothing!—quite a skill.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Is the “Housing First” model being used to clear out the homeless?

From around the country:
New York City is finishing “cleaning up” 70 sites where homeless people are encamped. Of 300 people, 68 were placed in temporary housing; the rest have moved on, possibly to living underground in the subways.
Birmingham, Ala is also “clearing out”: the homeless from area encampments, at the same time as the city is trying to figure out how to give the homeless a “virtual” address and phone number to help them look for work.
“Quite honestly, we've taken them from one spot to the next, and we realize that. We've gotten some off the street. We've been successful in some cases. We've offered services to every one of them,” said Don Lupo of the City of Birmingham.
In Tacoma, Washington, 42 people out of an unknown number have been placed in permanent housing after the city used some of its “Housing First” money to clear out 13 homeless encampments.
On the other hand: In Oakland, CA, city officials plan to open a temporary encampment and step up outreach to the more than 60 semi-permanent camps across the city, currently sheltering 600 to 900 people. They want to place 20 people a month from the temporary encampments into stable housing. About 6,000 people in Oakland are homeless at any given point in time.
Oakland has a fifteen-year plan to provide 7,380 affordable housing units with supportive services by 2020.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Two homeless people I couldn’t do much for: A 17 yr old girl I’ve known for three years and who has been homeless for most of them called me…she’s homeless again but not eligible for shelter because she’s under eighteen, even though her mom and dad are in a shelter right now. So far she’s managed to avoid addiction, disease and pregnancy. Last night, I got a phone call from a guy who described himself as “62 and unexpectedly homeless.” When he became homeless he had two dogs; one was quite elderly and he had her put down earlier this week. He has his small dog still with him, but shelters don’t accept animals. He’s been sleeping in his car….

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Ward Representation and Bud Williams— Forget what I did before…just buy what I’m saying now….

Last night City Council approved a small change in the ward representation legislation it sent to the Legislature in October so that the question of “8 wards, 5 at-large” can be on the ballot this November.

Of course, ward rep opponents on the council took the opportunity to reiterate reasons against changing the current system. None of them mentioned one driving force behind their opposition: they might not be able to be re-elected under a mixed, ward and at-large system.

I did get a chance to see for myself what will be the two pillars of opposition to ward representation this fall.

Tom Rooke reiterated his belief that anybody can get elected to City Council if they just work hard enough, and that a seat on the council shouldn’t be “handed” to anyone. This message will certainly appeal to those white people who share his belief and fear what would happen if people of color start getting elected to City Council in numbers that reflect their percentage in the population.

Bus Williams, though, says that the idea of ward rep is 10 to 15 years too late—that passing ward rep now, when our population is becoming “browner and browner,” is a disservice to people of color, who, apparently, (and now we switch back to Rooke’s line) could now get elected to the City Council simply on the basis of their increasing numbers in the population if they tried hard enough.

What he forgot to say was that he has opposed ward representation for those entire 15 years!

More later.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Domenic Sarno: the man who would be mayor

Ah, Domenic Sarno…God loves him, his family loves him, he would have the city love him (at least enough to vote him in as mayor) but when I think about him, my mouth twists to the side.
I asked in an earlier post: how is Dom Sarno like President Bush? One answer: he can’t admit a mistake.
Now, poor people, including poor activists, can’t ever get very close to the seat of power in this city, so other people might have even better examples of Dom’s inability to own up—or maybe even examples that contradict my own experience—but here’s how he looks from the Arise side.
On August 17, 2006, Arise members and a number of homeless people attended a Civil Rights subcommittee of Springfield City Council, chaired by Domenic Sarno; the topic was homelessness. We thought that the meeting was about the civil rights of homeless people; it turned out to be about the civil rights of our housed citizens who don't like to be asked for money by poor people, or see them sleeping in doorways, etc.
At the end of Sarno's opening remarks, he said (I’m paraphrasing, seeing as the City Council does not keep verbatim transcripts) "Lastly, I have heard some disturbing information, if it is true-- that Arise is getting people from Northampton to come to Springfield, pretend they are homeless, and take pictures of the police."

I protested that this was untrue-- we have our own members who are really homeless, we don't need to get people to pretend. Sarno cut me off and said that his info was credible and that he’d gotten it from Police Commissioner, Edward Flynn (also present at the meeting).
Attempts to hold Flynn’s office accountable for this misinformation were fruitless (another post).
In October, I met with Bernie Glassman of the Zen Peacemakers, who was interested in doing “something” for the homeless. He mentioned that a dozen people from his organization had slept on the streets for a week over the summer, so they could find out what homelessness in Springfield was all about. I’d actually already heard about this from my sister Liz, who works at the Warming Place, because some homeless people had had to sleep on the floor the night that the Peacemakers, in disguise as homeless people, had turned up at the shelter. Suddenly it hit me, and I told the story of Sarno’s remarks to Glassman.
“I’ll bet it was you and your crew that Flynn reported as Arise members to Councilor Sarno,” I said.
“I’ll bet it was,” he said with a smile.
The following month, on November 17, Dom held a special subcommittee meeting to introduce the Zen Peacemakers to the Springfield community—they seem to have really hit it off. I attended the meeting, and before it actually began I thought, What a perfect time for Dom to acknowledge that it wasn’t Arise members out on the street, it was the Peacemakers, and to offer us a public apology for his misinformation. I put my thoughts in a quick note and went up to the rail to hand it to him. He was taken aback by my handing him a note—he was already pumping my hand and thanking me for coming when I slipped it to him—and I saw him read it as a video presentation about the Peacemaker’s work in Brooklyn was being prepared.
Dom stood up to open the meeting, and began by saying, “Before we actually begin, there’s something I’d like to tell you…”
Here it comes! I thought.
Well, what he actually said eludes me now, but as you might guess, it was not an acknowledgement of his error. I think the twist in my mouth that occurs whenever Dom Sarno is mentioned began at that moment.
A small affront, to be sure, in the grand scheme of things, but one that tells me much.
I have had many differences with Mayor Ryan about how he is working to solve the homeless problem in Springfield, but at least he’s trying.
Sarno’s solutions, on the other hand, range from wanting to put skunk-scented spray in empty buildings to discourage the homeless from sleeping in them to criminalizing shopping carts and panhandling.
It’s going to be an interesting mayoral campaign.

Tough all over

The Homeless Services Center in Santa Cruz, CA is running a deficit so they’ve decided to cut the meals they serve to homeless people from seven meals a week to five…A homeless teen in Michigan died when the dumpster he was sleeping in was picked up by the recycling truck and he was crushed to death…Osaka, Japan is getting ready to evict 3,500 squatters in Nishinari Ward because it won’t look good when the city hosts the International Association of Athletics Federations 2007 World Championships this summer.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


Yesterday I had to go to Boston by bus and back. Early in the morning I saw:

  • Four hawks
    Geese and ducks
    spring water falling from rocks
    A coyote moving like ginger
    through a yellow marsh

On the way home I started the Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra for the third time and found it much easier going. Guess my consumption of popular physics is paying off. I finally understood that it is my mass, curving the space/time continuum, which is responsible for cats falling into my lap and draping themselves in an orbit around my desk.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Tent City News

Arcata, CA police arrested homeless advocates April 25, in an attempt to break up their People Project tent city encampment.

In Oregon, Thurston County officials visited Dignity Village, considered to be the only government-sponsored tent city in the country, to see if it was a potential model for a tent city that sprang up in downtown Olympia and which is currently housed-- at least till May 19-- at the Unitarian-Universalist church.

Thomas Friedman is an idiot/ Dom Sarno

In today's NY Times, Friedman speaks in the voice of a repentant George Bush addressing Middle East leaders, owning up to his "mistakes" about Iraq but saying we absolutely have to stay the course to fight terrorism.

Besides the fact that Bush will never own up to anything, Friedman chooses to remain clueless about one of the main reasons terrorism is flourishing-- up 29% last year, according to a State Department report. The war itself has created fertile ground for terrorism-- just as many of us predicted even before the war began.

What is one way in which City Councilor Dom Sarno, the man who would be Springfield's mayor, is like George Bush? Stay tuned.