Friday, June 29, 2007

Shelter seeks injunction against city to prevent closure.

GOD HELPS THOSE WHO HELP THEMSELVES: This Sunday morning, which was to be the Warming Place shelter's last morning, friends are invited to come and join in a prayer vigil at 8:30 am. All friends are welcome

This Friday, Open Pantry Community Services, which runs the shelter, is taking the City of Springfield, MA to court, seeking an injunction which will stop the forced closing of the shelter.

The city has put the squeeze on the Open Pantry and homeless people for some time.
First Church, Court Square, had offered to let the Warming Place stay in their basement for a few weeks. This is not acceptable to the city. A few days ago, Gerry McCafferty, head of the city's Office of Homeless and Special Needs Housing, told OP's director Kevin Noonan that Mayor Ryan would consider it an act of political protest if the shelter moved to the church.

Political protest is about all that's worked when it comes to getting the city's attention focused on solving homelessness! It took two homeless men freezing to death and a tent city that lasted six months and housed 400 different people before a real planning process began.

Now that there is some progress to show, seems like those who've been on the front lines defending the homeless, as well as the homeless themselves, will now pay the price. But the Open Pantry, at least, is not going quietly. I can't resist putting in the entire text of the injunction.

Open Pantry Community Services vs. City of Springfield, MA Acting By and Through its Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services.

The plaintiff is the provider of essential food, shelter and emergency housing services to those otherwise homeless residents of the City of Springfield, Massachusetts who are poor or homeless.

The plaintiff has been providing its services to 90 to 102 persons a night under funding provided by both the City and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts pursuant to certain Community Development Block Grants (the “CDBG Funds) and private donations since September 2005 through March 2006. In March 2006 Open Pantry was awarded a contract for $400,800 in Emergency Assistance (EA “funds”) funds through the State Department of Transition Assistance (the “DTA”).

In the providing of its services Open Pantry had been utilizing the City’s facility located on West Columbus Avenue, more commonly known as the former York Street Jail.

Since March 2006, as a requirement of the Department of Transitional Assistance, the City issued temporary occupancy permits to the plaintiff which it permitted to operate and provide its homeless housing services.

Since the issuance of the first temporary occupancy permit, the City has intentionally issued subsequent temporary occupancy permits which allow fewer and fewer persons to be sheltered at the facility when the actual number of such persons has remained constant or been increasing.

The current temporary occupancy permit expires on June 30, 2007 after which there will no longer be shelter beds available at the former York Street jail.

Upon information and belief, the City has engaged in a specific plan and scheme to reduce the number of available beds and to remove or reduce the shelter facilities which provides spaces to those persons who are at great risk and in need.

The City has failed to provide reasonable alternative shelters and/or housing for those persons presently being cared for at the former York Street Jail.

One alternative shelter facility proposed by the City is religious and sectarian in nature, discriminates against women, and has a requirement that all occupants be “well behaved.”

The City claims that the plaintiff may no longer use the former York Street Jail; and that it must be closed in order for certain asbestos abatement work to commence.

Any purported asbestos abatement work is in a separate building (connected by a corridor with sealing doors at each end) pof the former York Street jail.

Upon information and belief, no contract has been awarded by the City and/or no asbestos abatement work has been scheduled at the former York Street Jail.

The allegations of the City regarding asbestos abatement work and the need to close the facility are but a mere pretext for the underlying purpose of reducing and limiting the number of available shelter beds within the City of Springfield.

The City, by refusing to extend the temporary occupancy permit, caused the plaintiff to lose its eligibility for State Department of Transitional Assistance and ESG funding.

On or about June 18, the City assured the plaintiff that it would fund and provide a site in which to operate through the fall of 2007.

The plaintiff attempted to resolve the problem with the City by engaging in numerous meetings and discussions after which the City ultimately regeged on its promises and assurances.

There is a great likelihood of immediate and irreparable harm to the plaintiff, its staff and to those vulnerable people in whose care the plaintiff is charged and responsible unless the requested relief is granted.

Maintaining the status quo will not be more burdensome or detrimental to the defendant than to the plaintiff as the defendant has failed to demonstrate its ability to provide care and facilities for the homeless persons at the York Street Jail.

THEREFORE, the plaintiff respectfully requests:

the Court maintain the status quo by enjoining the eviction or relocation of the current occupants being cared for by the plaintiff at the former York Street Jail.

the Court order the City to issue a temporary occupancy permit for the former York Street Jail for 100 persons a night from May 17, 2007 through December 31, 2007 or until further order of the Court.

the Court enjoin the City from interfering with the plaintiff’s application process requesting State Emergency Shelter Grant funds.

the Court order the City to cause to be issued to the plaintiff its Federal Emergency Shelter Grant funds in the amount of $60,000 from the federally funded state funds and $20,000 from the City’s existing funds.

For such other relief as is just and proper. By Norman C. Michaels, Esquire

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What part of "Safety Net" don't you understand?

I was trying to reach Ron Willougby, director of the Springfield Rescue Mission, today-- tried three times but he was on the phone, in a meeting, or just left.

With anybody else, I'd think he was blowing me off, but not Ron.
Ron is reopening the Taylor St. Shelter, which has been open the last two years as a winter-only.shelter for sober men. It had closed, as scheduled, on May 31, but just when the city has having to do some real scrambling to figure out how to shelter homeless people after their planned eviction of Warming Place shelter June 30, Ron announced that he was reopening Taylor St.

Seeing that the Springfield Rescue Mission does not take any funding from the city or state, I wondered if the mission had come into a windfall. Really, I just wanted to know how long Ron could keep it open.

"So maybe you can answer a question for me," I said to the very nice man who told me Ron had just left, "I understand you're reopening Taylor St?"

"Yes, we are," he answered.

"How long are you planning to stay open?"

His voice deepened over the seriousness of what he was about to say.

"Well, we have no funds. We're going through prayer to get the money."

"Well, good luck to you," I said, which, now that I think about it, was probably not appropriate to say.

I don't blame Ron or the Rescue Mission for reopening the shelter-- their motive, as it says on their website, is "to meet the physical and spiritual needs of the hungry, homeless, addicted and poor by introducing them to Christ and helping them apply the Word of God to every area of their lives." Fewer people will be unsheltered because of Taylor St.

But I continue to be astounded that Mayor Ryan and Gerry McCafferty, head of the Office for Homeless and Special Needs Housing, are willing to let the "safety net" plan and the well-being of the homeless depend on divine intervention.

(painting by deb hoeffner)

Monday, June 25, 2007

Two additional weeks likely for the Warming Place

Well, a bit of good news in an overall bad picture: Springfield's Old First Church, Court Square, has offered to let the Warming Place stay at the church after the program's forced closing on June 30.

Kevin Noonan, director of Open Pantry Community Services, which runs the Warming Place, has asked the city of Springfield for a two week extension at the program's current site, the York St. jail, but hasn't head anything back so he assumes the answer is no.

"This will give residents and staff a little more time to make a transition," Kevin told me. He expects to be able to keep the shelter going for another two weeks.

OPCS found out only last week that their contract to provide shelter from the state Department of Transitional Assistance had been awarded to the Friends of the Homeless shelter. The loss of this contract is directly linked to the city's refusal to give an occupancy permit to the Warming Place at the old jail site. The jail will be demolished as part of the city's revitalization plan for the Connecticut riverfront.

The Warming place has known all along it would have to move, and Kevin had been working on acquiring a permanent building. Financing for that building is now impossible given the loss of the contract.

The city hasn't even put the demolition contract out to bid yet, and it had to know that denying an occupancy permit would be the kiss of death for the Warming Place. But of course that's what Mayor Ryan has wanted all along-- that, and a zero vacancy rate in available shelter beds.

I'm surely sounding like a broken record by this time, but will another homeless person have to die before the city sees the impact of its policies?

Putting the tomatoes in, saving (maybe) a starling

Once I read a sentence in a National Geographic article about color that said: "In New England, they call it 'the color.'" No, we don't, I thought, no idea what the article was talking about. A few months later, in October, I found myself saying to a friend, "The color isn't supposed to be very good this year-- too dry a summer." Context is everything.

Well, in New England we "put in" our tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables, and that's what I did this Saturday and Sunday-- a bit late in the season but not too late. Most of the stores had put away their seeds but I managed to find string beans and bought plants for everything else. Sunny, dry, hot, breezy: a perfect weekend to be outside.

Today as I stepped outside my office door to go home, I found a bewildered baby bird sitting on the pavement. It was not one of those thumb-sized, almost embryonic babies that you always find already dead, yet it was not fully feathered enough to be a fledgling-- needed a bit more growing. There's a starling's nest in the overhang outside my office and I've been following the parents' progress in and out and the cheeps of at least one baby for some months. Clearly that's where it came from.

Could I put it back myself? The baby opened its yellow mouth and looked at me. I went and got a chair, but I was about two feet too short.
I went back into the building to look for someone taller than myself. There was one guy, but he said,"Oh, no, you can't touch them, the parents will reject them." He was busy and didn't want to be bothered. Back in my office I called the Audubon Society in Lincoln to ask: Is this true, or a myth? A myth, the naturalist said. And if I find this bird back on my sidewalk tomorrow, what would I feed it? I can't tell you that, she said, because it's illegal to keep a wild animal. You'd have to look it up on the Internet.

No ladder in the building, but suddenly I realized that if I moved my car under the overhang, and climbed up on it, I could reach the nest. So I moved the car, and gave it a trial climb first-- yes, I could reach. Back on the ground, I picked up the bird with some trepidation-- would it struggle?-- but the baby was calmer than I was. I put it back in its nest and told it to be good and that I didn't want to see it back on the pavement tomorrow.

I know that anything can happen, but the life of a bird feels especially precious right now.

25.5 million birds are missing in this country, according to a new Audubon Society report. Some 20 species have declined by an average of 68%. "Forty years ago, there were an estimated 31 million bobwhites. Now there are 5.5 million," Verlyn Klinkenborg reports in a poignant, must read editorial in the New York Times, Millions of Missing Birds, Vanishing in Plain Sight.

While the reasons for declining bird populations are complex, I want to mention two because they are both within our control to change in the short term.

100 to 900 million birds are killed each year in this country because of collisions with glass, mostly because they are disoriented by and fly into lighted windows. Given the urgent need to reduce our energy consumption, getting buildings to turn off their lights at night only makes sense.

At least 100 million birds a year are killed by cats. In Wisconsin alone, cats killed 7 million birds last year.

I know many cat owners (and I used to be one of them) who let their cats outside and say that it's just part of the circle of life when their cats kill birds. I want to say, Please think again. With 60 million feral cats in this country, birds don't need any additional predators.

While my friend Holly encounters a bear and three cubs in her back yard (she lives in Northampton), and it scarcely seems unusual these days, little lives disappear around us and we don't notice. When was the last time you found a toad in your back yard? Or saw a butterfly other than a Monarch, although even those are in decline? And birds? An absence of movement in the air, an absence of shadows that fall on you in the garden,
a silence.

Friday, June 22, 2007

How the city manipulates the outcome

I talked to Kevin Noonan, director of Open Pantry Community Services this morning. The Open Pantry runs the Warming Place shelter at the York St. Jail, which is out in the cold and without money after June 30.

"Any idea why you didn't get the contract from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) to continue running the Warming Place?"

"Well, according to John Shirley at DTA, it's because the city wouldn't give us an occupancy permit for York St. We had asked the city for an extension until September so we could get the building we were going to buy ready but they wouldn't give us one."

Considering that the contract for demolition of the old jail hasn't even gone out to bid yet, what would have been the harm to allow the shelter to operate over the summer?

Don't you think the city's Office for Housing knew that the lack of an occupancy permit would be a deal-killer? And that therefore, by default, the contract would go to the Friends of the Homeless, which can only provide half the beds of the Warming Place? Ron Willoughby of the Springfield Rescue Mission is going to reopen his Taylor St. shelter, and is happy to take 35 homeless, sober men. What happens if you're not in that category?

The Emergency Shelter committee for the city's Ten Year Planning process is happy....with Taylor St. coming online, we have the 85
funded beds at the Warming Place covered. Of course, the true occupancy was over 100 people, with extra people beyond that referred to the Friends of the Homeless. Now what will happen?

I expect there are a number of other sectors in our community happy about the demise of the Warming Place.

Homeless people are not among them.

A different take on Phil Mangano

Bush's "Homeless Czar" tours Canada

Philip Mangano's remedies sound positive but are punitive in practice.

Dateline: Tuesday, June 19, 2007

by Cathy Crowe

Philip Mangano, appointed by President George Bush in 2002 as the Executive Director of the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, is not content to contain his work to the United States' problems of epidemic levels of homelessness; instead he is spending an unusual amount of time in Canada promoting the American method of dealing with the "chronic homeless". Mr Mangano has recently been in Vancouver, Calgary (three times since winter), Red Deer, Toronto, Ottawa (he's returning in August) and Montreal, preaching the notion of a "Ten Year" plan to end homelessness with the seemingly positive message of "housing first." The underlying principles of "housing first" however, are ensuring a reduction in reliance and dependence on shelters and emergency services, targeting the "chronics", and creating a business plan with measurable and cost-effective outcomes.

In response to my February 2007 Newsletter entitled Dismantling Downtown, Mr Mangano sent me an email where he modestly noted, "Your recent reference to my potential impact in Toronto, I fear, is a bit exaggerated. While I have spoken there and met briefly with the Mayor, as of this date I am unaware of any jurisdictionally led, community based ten year planning effort there". He went on to say, "I am sorry that apparently your city, like Los Angeles, has not yet adopted a Ten Year Plan or engaged in Project Homeless Connect which are the innovative initiatives that we have disseminated across our country."

Mangano's policies involve "Weapons of Mass Displacement" that sweep homeless people out of sight.

Mr Mangano shouldn't be so modest. He recently spoke to 2,000 people in attendance at the Big City Mayors Caucus (BCMC) of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. BCMC member cities include Vancouver, Surrey, Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Brampton, Hamilton, Kitchener, London, Mississauga, Ottawa, Windsor, Toronto, Gatineau, Montréal, Laval, Québec, Longueuil, Halifax and St John's. The City of Toronto has just announced it is developing a 10-year Affordable Housing Action Framework: 2008 - 2018.

Michael Shapcott and I had a chance to hear Mr Mangano in Calgary earlier in May. He really is a remarkable speaker — you could almost say evangelical — preaching the issues of health, economics and the social evils of homelessness. The trouble is that the American approach is obviously not working. It's a game of smoke and mirrors. So why on earth are our municipal and national leaders looking to the United States for solutions on homelessness?

As Michael Shapcott explains: "So, what's wrong with this picture? While Mangano has been piling up frequent flier points visiting every part of the US to convince state and local governments that they need to take up the responsibility for a "housing first" policy for the homeless, his political boss — President Bush — has been gutting the US federal government's funding for housing. This year alone, there are massive cuts to seniors' supportive housing and disabled housing funding. The US federal housing program for people with AIDS will help about 67,000 people this year — yet an estimated 500,000 people living with HIV / AIDS desperately need housing help.

The problem is so bad that even the rather staid Joint Centre for Housing Studies at Harvard University has proclaimed in its latest annual State of the Nation's Housing that affordable housing and homelessness have reached their worst levels ever, and funding cuts by the federal government are the chief culprit.

While Canadian cities are looking at the Bush administration's approach to homelessness, the fact that the Bush administration is cutting funding to housing seems lost on Mangano's Canadian hosts. American homeless advocacy organizations in the US such as the National Coalition for the Homeless report this decade as being worse than the Great Depression for homeless people. In addition, the United States is increasingly relying on what has been dubbed "Weapons of Mass Displacement" — policies and funding decisions that limit necessary life-saving supports and spaces for people who are homeless. For example "no-feeding laws" in some American parks, increased policing and ticketing measures in downtown cores, street sweeps, removing public benches, closing public parks at night, using public works trucks to hose sleeping people down, fingerprinting homeless people who use certain shelters, all practices that create further hardships and worsen displacement.

As my friend, and documentary filmmaker Laura Sky notes, "Mangano is charismatic and compelling in naming our own collective wish — a home for every resident. At the same time, his solutions are part and parcel of the conservative federal, provincial and municipal policies that brought us the problems we're experiencing right now. The mantra of those policies is: cut services, they're inefficient; cut supports, they're too expensive; eliminate shelters, they're a blight on our cities. We need housing instead, the argument goes — at the expense of support for those who will be swept into that housing. All this without addressing the economic and social conditions, which create the need for shelters.

In Canada it's the same thing. We are witnessing an almost fetishized emphasis on research, including street counts and investigations into panhandlers' needs, new by-laws against panhandling and by-laws restricting where homeless people can sleep, reduction of funding to programs that do outreach to people who are homeless, and a withdrawal of funding for emergency day and night shelters. Toronto alone has lost over 300 shelter beds just this past winter and it continues to rely on its Streets to Homes program as an answer to visible street homelessness. There are many reports that people who are housed through this program suffer greatly from hunger and isolation and remain at great risk of becoming or do become homeless again.

The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee recently held a press conference to release new findings on Toronto's Streets to Homes program including the findings of their investigative trip to New York City, which was hosted by the National Coalition for the Homeless. Excerpts from the press conference can be downloaded here courtesy of John Bonnar.

Journalist Linda McQuaig, in a recent Toronto Star article titled "Wrong way to end homelessness", compared the Bush-Mangano model of weaning people who are homeless off temporary shelter and food supports and moving them into housing to Toronto's Streets to Homes program which emphasizes focusing energies on the visible street homeless without the supports to make the housing work.

For more on Mangano and the US housing scene, check out the Wellesley Institute backgrounder posted in the housing and homelessness section at the web site below.

Cathy Crowe, Street Nurse, is co-founder of the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee and is currently a citizen member of the Toronto Board of Health. She is a recent recipient of the Atkinson Economic Justice Fellowship.

Related addresses:

URL 1:
URL 2:

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

In 23 years, 2 billion people

will live in urban squatter or slum communities, without water or sanitation.

In an editorial, the Economic Times of India says that the huge influx of rural poor to cities has changed voting patterns, which are now divided along economic rather than caste lines.

It also said that legitimizing illegal land claims will only worsen the problem by encouraging more squatting, and that the government should instead offer affordable housing and increase economic opportunity in rural areas.

Experts say reformist social movements, religious crusades, drug gangs and fundamentalist militants such as Hamas have all emerged from slums, even as social and environmental problems deepen. Newsdesk.

The homeless in Edmonton's tent city have moved from a parking lot where they'd been set up before to a field across the street in order to avoid a confrontation with the police.

"We're just going to bide our time. I think we are pretty safe for the weekend," said Lorrie Neyrinck, who lives with her dog Corporal in one of the tents.

Neyrinck, who has been living in a tent for the last two months, believes the city should stop focusing on projects like the proposed hockey arena for downtown and put money towards homelessness.

"I think (Mayor Stephen) Mandel is wasting the money. He's making the rich richer and the poor poorer. He's worrying about beautifying the city. Why doesn't he come talk to us?" she said. Edmonton Sun.

In Cleveland, 20 homeless people tore down their tide encampment and moved out of the parking lot of a sports stadium, some going to shelters and others breaking into smaller encampments. "No shelters. No shelters," one tent city resident yelled Friday morning as church members and other advocates arrived in vans and trucks to help the remaining 10 or so move. Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Photo from Edmonton Sun.

Harold Williams

Tom Devine has a fascinating post up from the archives of the "Mitch Ogulewicz Chronicles." Mitch, who served on Springfield's city council in the 80"s, was a maverick if there ever was one; spoke truth to power no matter what the cost. I would probably disagree with his positions more than now than I did then, but I still admire him.

Tom mentioned how Mitch picked up a lot of support in the African-American community once Roger Williams got on board his campaign. I didn't know Roger well, and don't know where he is now-- passed away, perhaps?-- hope not-- but who I did know was his brother Harold.

While Roger made his contribution to our community through housing development, Harold worked at Monsanto and developed lung disease. He was a lifelong communist who never seemed permanently disillusioned about the potential for people to make a difference. He came to many of Arise's early meetings, huffing away, with the party newspaper under his arm. Of course, most of us at that time were current or recent welfare recipients, and we were way too disorganized intellectually either to refute or endorse his beliefs. We only knew we had an ally, someone who supported our struggle, and he remained an ally to the end of his life.

Until last month, right up until we closed the Arise office, we had a picture of Harold hanging on our wall. My friend Michael has it in safekeeping right now. Wish I could see it. Harold looked a bit like Ernest Borgnine. I tried to find a reference to Harold on Google, and found several Harold Williams who served on the Monsanto board,or were managers, and one Harold Williams who was some bigwig in the Communist Party, but those aren't my Harold. My Harold was a tireless foot soldier and friend. I don't want to forget him.

Monday, June 18, 2007

This should make the Springfield Police happy...

On Friday the Mass. Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it is legal for an officer to frisk a pedestrian on the street if he/she thinks the pedestrian might be carrying a weapon or drugs. The ruling overturns a lower court's decision which threw out the conviction of a Mattapan man on weapons charges.

District attorneys and police are happy; civil libertarians are unhappy. And the everyday citizen?

We already know the U.S. is full of folks happy to give away their liberty in exchanged for perceived security.

Many other folks, though, would say, "What's new?" The court's ruling just confirms life as already experienced by people of color, young people, homeless, poor, working class or otherwise "wrong place, wrong time" residents of Springfield.

I found this great picture of a police officer. It's so much how we want the police to be. I think they'd say they have to be the way they are because of the way everybody else is. Police have a terrifically tough job. I wouldn't want to be one. Anyone whose chief job is enforcing the rules runs the risk of starting to believe that the rules exist in and of themselves, for themselves, and forget the big picture and their part in it.

Arise and the ACLU got Police Commissioner Flynn to agree to stop having his officers photograph the homeless. Of course it still happens to young people all the time.

Flynn has set a tone for his officers but it is not one that has promoted courtesy and compassion.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 15, 2007

Homeless man found dead in Springfield; is this just the beginning?

Bad news all around for homeless people in Springfield today: a man has died and the state has made a decision which could lead to the deaths-- and will certainly lead to the misery-- of more homeless people.

A homeless man was found dead on a park bench in Riverfront Park today. The police don't believe foul play was involved. He was 46 years old and his name is not being released until his family can be notified.

"Whoever he is, I know him," my sister said, already mourning, just not knowing for whom. She works at the Warming Place shelter.

Now the other bad news: as of June 30, the Warming Place shelter will no longer be funded by the state, the city of Springfield can evict the program, and then the city will demolish the old jail that's been the Warming Place's home since September, 2005.

When the numbers of the homeless clash with the politics of the city, the homeless lose.

The contract to provide 85 beds for the homeless which has been the Open Pantry's (the Warming Place's parent) for the last three years will go instead to the Friends of the Homeless. Problem is, only 54 beds will be new; the rest of the contract will be used to pay for beds. F. O. H. provides but isn't paid for. Seeing as the Warming Place has been sheltering about 100 people a night, 46 will be left without shelter.
Over at F.O.H. half of the 54 people will be housed in the basement and half in the room that is usually the soup kitchen for the shelter. And the rest? And anyone new who becomes homeless? The city says it'll have some housing vouchers available in September, if they can find landlords.

What a mess. Gerry McCafferty, the city's Homeless and Special Needs Housing Coordinator, recently admitted at a meeting I was at that the city intends to have "no excess capacity" in shelter beds. So it seems like the city's plan is moving right along.

For years, through every administration I can remember, the city has rejected affordable housing and neglected the homeless. For years the Friends of the Homeless was run by the crook Frannie Keough and everybody knew it but nothing was done until the F.B.I. stepped in.

That history began to change when only a few days into Mayor Ryan's first term, a homeless man froze to death on the steps of Symphony Hall. It has not been all uphill-- Sanctuary City, a tent city run by the homeless with others helping, filled a six month shelter gap-- but once the city began its Ten Year Planning Process, there was a chance for continued, small gains.

Now I believe that Mayor Ryan and those who work for him have manipulated the process and the outcome every step of the way. At least one of their goals is to eliminate the Warming Place shelter because its director, Kevin Noonan, has been unfailingly faithful to sheltering the homeless. That makes him a radical and radicals are not wanted in Springfield.

The end of this chapter is marked by another death.

The creative, committed people at Manos Unidas

Arise had the great good fortune a few years ago to have Anaelisa Vanegas-Farrara intern with us. At the time, she and others had just started a new group in Pittsfield, Manos Unidas, and Anaelisa was soaking up everything she could to benefit her group.
"We are a multicultural, grassroots community empowerment organization that seeks, working alongside Latino immigran and underheard community members as well as with the wider Berkshire community through shared resources, participatory education, and living arts. We will construct a culture of community that crosses borders of class, race, culture and geography. Think globally, Act locally" Check them out.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Ward Representation moves closer to the Springfield ballot

The Home Rule legislation which will allow a question on ward representation to be placed on this November's ballot has passed the House of Representatives and is scheduled for a hearing tomorrow in the Senate's Rules Committee, according to Candace Lopes, aide to Sen. Stephen Buoniconti, when I spoke to her yesterday.

The legislation will have plenty of time to pass the full Senate to make it on our city's November's ballot.

When the City Council finally passed an 8 & 5 version of ward representation last October, it was with the threat of our-- Arise, the NAACP and Oiste's-- federal lawsuit going to trial in just a few months.

I watched the proceedings on community access TV with a great cynicism. I knew that it was the lawsuit that had finally forced the City Council's hand, that they'd begun to see ward representation as an irresistible force. Even then they passed as weak a version as they could get away with, and didn't even pass it outright -- they voted to put the question on November's ballot. Ten years ago our coalition worked the streets and collected enough signatures to get the 8 & 3 version of ward representation on the ballot, and it won 58% of the vote! It did not become law because one-third of all the registered voters would have had to vote for it-- and not that many turned out for the whole election.

Not once during the evening's proceeding was there even a mention of the twelve solid years of community organizing that had gotten us to this point-- and of course the council did not call themselves out on their twelve years of foot-dragging, broken promises and outright lies. There were a few councilors along the way who were exceptions-- but they were never in the majority. (Oh-- and Tim Rooke, who never once lied about his opposition to ward representation.)

Our lawsuit was stayed by Judge Ponser pending the outcome of the Home Rule legislation and the November vote. I want to stop and say a heartfelt thanks here to the
Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and Goodwin Proctor, who took on our lawsuit pro bono and who have been passionately committed and intelligent in their work with us. They mined the collective memory of community organizers to compile many lifetimes of racial injustice, police brutality, economic discrimination and thwarted expectations. Much of this was never heard in trial.

Twelve years of organizing-- petitioning, two lawsuits, lobbying the councilors, building community support-- has now come down to a binding vote for eight ward councilors and five at large for the City Council, and four ward reps and two at large for the School Committee (with the mayor as the deciding vote).

We, the plaintiffs, have to decide whether we will actively support the question. At this point we are not of one mind. We have to talk to each other. We're tired, bitter, feeling betrayed. And yet.

The Arise board of directors met last night and while we postponed an official vote until we know for sure that people will get to vote on ward rep in November, my sense is that we will throw ourselves into rebuilding a coalition and getting this law passed. This time, it only has to pass by a majority.

One built-in shortcoming of our lawsuit is that it has focused the public's attention on the racial inequity of the current at-large system, to the exclusion of all the other excellent reasons we need ward representation. I'm going to write more about them in another post. But I have to say, one more time, for the record:
Forty-six years of an at large system

Five Blacks and one Latino elected

in a city now a majority of color.

Enough is enough.

Great Blog of images, interviews with Nashville's homeless


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fair Trade Photography Battles ‘Development Pornography'

What's the difference between these two photos of Haitian girls? One was taken by a Haitian-American woman and one taken by a white photographer on the same trip....the posing was done by the girls themselves, not the photographers.
“Upwards of 90% of the images of the majority world that are seen in the western media are produced by white photographers from the USA or Europe. This results in a one dimensional view often driven by a negative news agenda or the need to raise money.”
See Technology, Health and Development for more on this thought-provoking subject. Thanks to Boing Boing for a lead on this.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Shelter numbers still high, Worker Center opens

I talked to the Open Pantry director, Kevin Noonan, today, and talked to a Warming Place staff member last night-- 101 people stayed at the Warming Place Sunday night, 92 in beds and 9 sitting up in the common area because there were no beds left.

So far, none of the necessary pieces have come together to make sure no one goes unsheltered after June 30-- the city is still working to get the voucher program in place, the state Department of Transitional Assistance hasn'r decided who will get the contract to shelter 85 people (it's between the Open Pantry and the Friends of the Homeless) and the churches haven't made up their minds about whether the Warming Place can stay in the churches after the wrecking ball hits the old York St. jail, where the Warming Place is currently housed.
Today I went to the grand opening of Casa Obrera/Worker Center at 130 Union St. This is a project begun by the Anti-Displacement Project, ADP, whose new name is now the Alliance to Develop Power, and which is now in partnership with the Pioneer Valley AFL-CIO-- the first workers center in the country to be dues-paying members of a Central Labor Council.

One of the many people from organized labor who spoke-- sorry, I forget who-- said that at one point, he was very anti-immigrant, especially against the undocumented, but he has educated by other members to remember the old labor adage: An injury to one is an injury to all. The villain is not the low-wage worker but the exploitative business willing to take advantage of a worker's uncertain citizen status.

Sometimes it seems like there are two kind of people in this world: those who think you can protect some people's rights by taking away the rights of others, and those who know the best way to protect our rights is to fight for the rights of all. More on this later.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Brief News About Homelessness

A Charlotte, North Carolina woman takes in the homeless but the city wants to shut her down: The Charlotte Observer. The city of Fresno, CA has bought a lot to be used for a homeless encampment. BCS47.TV. A homeless Seattle man in a sleeping bag was killed by a brushcutter. NBC12.TV. Freemont CA is using its Project Connect to give homeless people voicemail. Maybe Springfield's Project Connect could do this? Grand Central.

St. Petersburg, FL cops cut up the tents of homeless people this week. Acting at the city's request, police cut about 25 tents down Friday afternoon.

"They came in in about four different vehicles, the police department did, and they immediately started cutting off the tops of the tents," a homeless man said. "They cut the tops off and left with them. They never said anything to us or anything." Anonymous 1%.
A fellow blogger also picked up on the amount of attention given to the mother and baby whales who'd gone astray and compared it to the media attention given to homeless people. Humanity for Homeless.

MEDIA: Thought-provoking photo essay in
Time on what families around the world buy/grow and eat. Vegetables are abunant in some and lacking in others. Matt Silady has a new graphic novel, The Homeless Channel, about a producer's struggle with her conscience after she successfully launches a program of webcams of the homeless.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

The Woman Who Had Me Arrested

Kathleen Lingenberg, director of the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development, is leaving her job after eleven years because she’s moving out of Springfield and won’t meet the city’s residency’s requirement.

I couldn’t begin (not objectively) to sum up her contributions to Springfield, so let me just say what is true for me:

First, I guess, I will have to remember her as the woman who got me arrested—at least I’m pretty sure she was the one who decided, seeing as she was running the public auction of city-owned property where I stood up and spoke out of turn.

We ( me, Arise, homeless people) had been asking the city for months to give some tax-title property to homeless people to fix up. I and other Arise members and homeless people politely crashed the auction. We weren’t supposed to be there, because we didn’t have the thousand bucks entry fee, but we got by the doorkeepers, passed out flyers, and just stayed. At some point I noticed that a half dozen police officers were situated around the room.

When 25 St. James Ave. came up on the auction block, a building that would have made a perfect boarding house, and that we’d asked for, I stood up and spoke and got hauled away by the cops. The rest is another story.

Second, I know Kathleen did not use all of the power at her disposal to shut Springfield's Sanctuary down. If she and other department heads had used their full weight against us, we would probably not have been able to survive. But she didn’t. The following spring she and Health and Human Services Director met with some of us from Arise to talk about possibly cooperating on a new tent city should that become necessary. Mayor Ryan wound up squelching that idea, and in any case the Warming Place shelter stayed open, but I never doubted her sincerity in trying to come up with a mutual solution.

Next, Kathleen is one of the bluntest people I know. She will never tell you something just because she thinks that’s what you want to hear. Seeing as I am like that to quite a degree myself, we tended to have good, if infrequent, exchanges.

Finally, Kathleen represented and promoted a housing policy designed for the city that we want to have, not for the city we are. That means a focus on home ownership and the discouragement proposals for new, affordable rental housing. For the 25% “officially poor” people in Springfield, probably for the 40% of the residents who struggle to meet their basic needs, it’s a policy that leaves them, sometimes literally, out in the cold.

I don’t expect any magic policy changes when Kathleen steps down and someone else takes her place. Mayor Ryan, his competition Domenic Sarno, the vast majority of other city officials and the remaining middle and upper classes in this city feel the same way she does.

I wish her luck. Springfield, however, will need more than luck if we are ever to figure out how all the residents in this city can meet their need for decent, affordable housing.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Correction on Numbers; Why Doesn't It Seem to Matter?

Gerry McCafferty, the city's Homeless and Special Needs Housing Coordinator, corrected my housing voucher numbers from Monday's post-- I wrote 100 vouchers, and Gerry reminded me that it's actually 140-- 40 people were placed into housing-- earlier this year?-- through a program run by Mental Health Associates.

I tend to forget those 40 vouchers because they seem to have had no impact on the number of people in shelter.

In the short-term, my attention is focused on June 30-- that's the day the city is forcing the closing of the Warming Place shelter at the old York St. jail. Maybe the WP will find a place to relocate, maybe it won't-- but the bottom line is that the city is willing to risk a number of people being shelterless and the remainder of the homeless being overcrowded. It's the city's plan to achieve the "larger" political goal of having no "excess capacity" for the homeless in Springfield-- as if the homeless were a stagnant pool that once drained, will not recur.

Sooner or later-- I hope sooner-- we are going to have to talk about the lack of decent, affordable housing and living wage jobs in this city.

One Man Protest at Gainseville Tent City

Francis "Pat" Fitzpatrick sat in City Hall on Thursday and declared he was starting a sit-in.
Thinking aloud, he debated if he would chain himself to the front door.
Fitzpatrick, an outspoken local homeless advocate, said he decided to do the sit-in to prevent a raid on Tent City, a group of homeless people living in the forests near south Main Street. More at Alligator Online.
Meanwhile other homeless people among the 150 who live at the tent city took advantage of outreach services to try to get out of homelessness. Alligator Online.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Gainseville Tent City - guess who said this?

llenge for cities around our country has been to capture the [sense of] community and the camaraderie that often occurs in a tent city, that self-organizing principle that takes place. We need to ensure that we keep a good grip on ... the effectiveness of organizing that the homeless people themselves have done, but to then transfer that to housing that provides security they need."
It's Phil Mangano, executive director of the federal Interagency Office on Homelessness, and promoter of the Ten Year Plans to end homelessness that some 300 cities are now in various stages of designing and implementing. His statement is right on target with what I saw at Springfield's Sanctuary City. Thanks to the 13th Juror for finding this quote. Phil Mangano, in his trip to Springfield for our plan's kick-off, said we had one of the best plans he'd seen. Of course, I'll bet he says that to all the cities.

I talked to Gerry McCafferty today about the 100 vouchers (starting to take on a mythical nature, like the Hundred Blows or the Hundred Year War) that are supposed to make a serious dent in our homeless population and make the Warming Place shelter unnecessary.. Thirteen apartments will be ready to rent in July and another 30 are supposed to be ready between July and September. So we are way behind.

On the good side, Gerry says the city will now be looking for service providers willing to buy small buildings-- 6 to 8 units-- to provide both housing and services to the homeless folks who occupy them. The best thing about this is not the idea per se (great in theory, devil in the details) but that the city is willing to develop new strategies where older one haven't fit the bill.

Back to tent city-- The Gainseville Sun has done two excellent articles about why homeless people form tent cities, what they get out of it, their impact on the broader community and their future. Redjenny has a post about Edmunton, Alberta's homeless encampments. The photo is from her site.

Emergency Shelter Meeting -- Nothing Happened

I couldn't make the Emergency Shelter meeting on Friday because I had to be in Boston for my job but I checked in with Kevin Noonan, Open Pantry director which runs the Warming Place. Bottom line: the city STILL has no plans for what will happen to 100+ homeless people after June 30. I know Kevin is talking to some churches to see if they might provide some temporary shelter....but I also know these churches have their own challenges right now, and, if a church says yes, that church will be under a lot of pressure from the city...all of the churches are in the downtown area, the last place where they are wanted.

I did, however, hear a rumor from another source that the city is now thinking the majority of the apartments with subsidies that are supposed to start making a dent in the hardcore homeless population will not be available until September 1st. I will call Gerry McCafferty, Homeless Housing Coordinator, to see what she has to say about this.

On another note, I've exchanged a few emails with a fellow blogger who is in a homeless program. In one of his blogs he mentioned his partner, who is in Florida prison. I asked him how long his partner would be incarcerated and got this response:
He has a life sentence, with no chance for probation or parole, because he robbed at age 16, and again at age 21. Noone was ever injured, and all property was returned. Just another archaic Floridian law.
Christopher's blog is at

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Arise for Social Justice is not closing

In another two hours I will be back at the Arise office with a half dozen other Arise members, packing boxes, moving the remaining furniture onto to the truck, and, finally, locking the door at 94 Rifle St. for the last time.

Sadness and relief-- sadness that Arise's quest for social justice does not always run straight ahead, and relief that we will finally be able to focus on our plans for getting back to our roots.

We have always been a shoestring organization-- how could an organization of and for low-income people be otherwise?-- but this last year has been rough. Money has gotten tighter and tighter. A local foundation said we were "too political" for them to fund, and we were turned down for two other grants we thought we were likely to receive. Our small staff has not been paid consistently in a year, and sometime in December we realized more effort was going into figuring out how to pay the rent than in organizing. (And people wonder why more poor people are not politically active. Being poor is a fulltime job!)

I loved our office but it was in the wrong place-- harder for people to get to, and less easily connected to the political life of our city. The people who were most likely to walk into our office were people in need-- always true, of course, but they tended to be less able to recognize their own poverty as part of a larger problem. We began doing more advocacy than organizing. I knew we were headed in the wrong direction when we asked a sampling of our newest volunteers and members to describe Arise, and they would say, "Arise helps people!" No-- our mission statement says we are here to educate, organize and unite low-income people to know, stand up for and achieve our rights, and transform those conditions that make us poor in the first place! If we "help" people along the way, great. But that is not our mission.

The next three months will be spent meeting in people's houses, re-educating and committing ourselves, and ORGANIZING! If all goes well with fundraising, we can reopen a physical office in September or October. But the office is not Arise; Arise is in the will and commitment of our members to win a better life in a more just society.

Arise is not closing. We are being reborn.

PS-- you can still reach us at the same number-- 413-734-4948.