Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I know no class of my fellowmen, however just, enlightened, and humane, which can be wisely and safely trusted absolutely with the liberties of any other class.
- Frederick Douglass


$50 hamburgers.
$700,000 inkpens.
$10 million dollar homes.
Private submarines.
Welcome to Richistan, U.S.A.

As a proud member of the working class, I read with interest an article by Paul Harris reprinted in yesterday's Alternet about the growing income disparity in the United States.

In 2005 the top one per cent of earners in the US gained 14 per cent in income in real terms, while the rest of the country gained less than one per cent. The situation is especially bad for the severely poor -- those living at half the poverty level -- whose numbers are at a 32-year high."

So-- is Frederick Douglass' quote true for me, who is on the receiving end of the lack of liberty? (Think: the freedom to live without the fear of dire poverty and homelessness.) You bet. If it were within my power, the wealth of the truly rich would be distributed to reshape our communities, and the rich would have to live like the rest of us.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Correction to yesterday's post

Jerry just had some more back luck. Once he gets a job, as a homeless person, he will receive only $28 a month in food stamps, not the $98 I thought.

Once he is renting a room, and still working, he is eligible for $73 in food stamps-- again, not $98.

put everything in late
still today I ate
my first cucumber

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Is "getting a job" the solution to homelessness?

Bill Dusty, a fellow Western Mass blogger (Earth to Bill), had a comment on my post about the two young men I've known for about ten years who are homeless and currently living in a tent. Bill said what a lot of people would say: they need to get a job and find a way to overcome their background.

I'd like to see them have jobs, too. Working has psychological benefits that people can barely intuit when they're jobless.

But will working deliver you from homelessness and keep you in a home? I want to look at this assumption a little more closely.

First, let's not pay too much attention as to whether there are actually jobs to be had. Let's pretend that the local Wendy's franchise had not just closed, throwing 300 people out of work, and that Jerry, my friend, gets a job at Wendy's.

There really is no such thing as fulltime work in the service industry. My nephew Steve worked 30 hours a week at Wendy's, but it was actually 27.5-- you don't get paid for lunch or breaks.

Steve was paid minimum wage-- $7.50 an hour. So Jerry's gross pay would be $202.50 a week; if he claimed himself as a deduction, he'd take home $171.39 weekly, or, at 4 and a third weeks a month, $747 a month.

Steve worked second shift; his hours were divided among three days. So Jerry would take a bus one way three days a week and walk back to his tent three nights. That's $3 a week.

Steve's schedule was never fixed. He would always have to call in or be reachable by phone.That would cost Jerry $2.50 a week. It also makes it tough to get a second job, because if you turn down your boss too many times over schedule changes, you won't have your job long.

Wendy's has a few upfront expenses-- they provide the shirt, but you have to buy black shoes and black pants. Let's say Jerry finds the pants at the People's Center for free but has to pay $25 for a pair of black shoes.

Now, of course you have to keep your clothes clean. Let's say Jerry washes his clothes out by hand (in the Connecticut River?) twice a week but once a week, takes his clothes to the laundromat. That's $4.

Oops, I forgot about food. At Jerry's income, he would also be eligible for $98 a month in Food Stamps. Let's give Jerry some really good luck and figure he got his food stamps just before he got his job. So he has $24.50 a week to eat on. Because he doesn't get back to his tent until after midnight, getting a 7 am free breakfast is tending not to work, but he can get lunch at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen. Food at Wendy's is not free, and you can't purchase it with food stamps. Let's allow Jerry to spend $4 for each of the three days he works-- not the first week,of course, nor the second week, which will be over before he gets his first paycheck.

The first week, Jerry won't get a paycheck, but he still has expenses. Let's hope a friend can loan him the money. The second week, Jerry gets $171.39. He pays back his friend for the first week expenses ($25 for shoes, $4 laundry, $2.50 phone, $3 bus. = $34.50) and has his own minimum expenses for that second week-- another $9.50. That's 171.39 minus $44, leaving Jerry $127.50 at the end of his first two weeks.

Now comes his third week at work. He takes home $171.39. He has a minimum $44 in expenses, plus the $12 we let him spend on his supper break at Wendy's, leaving $115.39. Assuming he has not spent even a penny of last week's money, Jerry now has a total of $242.89.

Time to look for a room, because at this rate, saving money for first, last and security is quite an undertaking. When rooms are available, they can be had for about $125 a week.

Now, let's see if we think Jerry can make it longterm.

Based on four and a third weeks, Jerry is taking home $747 and paying $541 for housing, leaving him $206 a month. Initially he's feeling quite flush and buys a bus pass for $36 a month, leaving $170. He still has to call in once a day ($10.75 a month) and go to the laundry weekly ($17.20 a month). Let's cut Jerry's supper allowance to $3 a working day (38.70 a month).

Now Jerry has $103.35 a month to live on. For the sake of round numbers, that's $25 a week in cash and $25 a week in food stamps.

Can we let Jerry buy toilet paper, sink detergent, toothpaste and a razor? A second pair of black pants? New underwear? An alarm clock? An extra blanket?

Moving toward the luxurious, how about a houseplant, a secondhand TV, a throw rug for the floor? If not the first month, how about the second?

I'm thinking that Jerry will have to be extraordinarily disciplined to pull this off.

We've given Jerry a lot of good luck; now let's give him some bad luck.

He's out sick for two days one week
the rooming house goes up $10 a week on rent
he gets robbed one week coming home from work
his boss takes a dislike to him and cuts his hours in half
the rooming house gets cited by Code Enforcement and has to close
he goes to work one day and Wendy's is closed.

I don't write this to be discouraging to anybody, or to say there is no value in the work ethic.

I do say that no one should have to be extraordinarily lucky, extraordinarily intelligent or extraordinarily motivated just to survive in this world.

Most of us are average (or the word would have no meaning!). If our society is no longer structured to make it possible for the average person to live decently, we are in big trouble.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Friends in Tents - home is where the heart is

Earlier this week I went downtown for an Arise meeting. I arrived a bit early so I was hanging out in front of the building, having a smoke, when I heard someone call my name. I turned and saw five friends that I haven't seen since the Warming Place closed.

"Where are you guys, now?" I asked.

"We bought a six man tent and we're staying in it." I'm not going to say where they are-- it's not the riverbank-- but they seemed to be OK for the moment.
They were waiting for one more of their friends to show up before they headed home for the night.

Of the six people, four of them are couples. That's one problem with the current sheltering system-- couples can't stay together. At the Warming Place, men and women slept in the same room, separated by dividers, but until it was time for Lights Out, the couples could spend time together. At The Friends of the Homeless shelter, like most other shelters that house both men and women (and there are few) , the sexes are completely separated.

I have actually known two of the guys, Jerry and Jack, since they were pre-teens.

Their dad used to be the custodian in a building we shared with a social service agency. His wife, a meek little woman who always reminded me of a Russian nesting doll, would come into Arise with the three kids and wait for dad to get out of work and we would chat. When the agency took some budget cuts, Dad got laid off. It was all downhill from there. Unemployment ran out, Dad couldn't find another job, they lost their apartment.

For a couple of years they all lived in an unregistered and immovable camper on a friends' property. During that time, Mom died of cancer. The daughter got pregnant and married her boyfriend (I hear they're doing well). Dad's diabetes got worse and he had a foot amputated. A few years after that, he passed away. The boys were sixteen and eighteen.

Jerry and Jack gave me a hug, which I felt I scarcely deserved, because all I have been able to do for them through the years is try to be someone who treated them with respect.

I read a study somewhere-- can't find it now-- that said nearly half of all homeless adults had experienced homelessness as children. One might think, reading the study, that we are talking about a sociological phenomenon, and indeed there are some elements of that, but I think of it primarily in economic terms-- Mom and Dad had absolutely NO material wealth to leave their children to get a foot up in this world.

Jerry and Jack have not completely lost their youthful optimism and their open hearts. Their smiles are still wide and not yet wary. l wish them well.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What's wrong with Springfield's homeless plans

I don't usually reprint an entire article, but this one is just too good...really puts a finger on the flaws in Phil Mangano's plans to end homelessness.

I will never forget sitting at the back of the room at Mayor Ryan's press conference about Springfield's ten year plan, and listening to Bush appointee Phil Mangano congratulate the city. The irony of a guy representing an administration that has decimated housing opportunities talking about ending chronic homelessness seemed to be lost on our public officials.

Seems they forgot the reason it’s called home-less-ness

By Paul Boden, Contributing columnist

The Republicans may have lost control of Congress, but they still maintain a tight rein on homeless policy and the public perception of homelessness. The House and Senate can change and change again, but thanks to the tireless efforts of the White House, Department of Housing and Urban Development and National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), the acknowledged “experts” on homelessness still are Phil Mangano with his traveling minstrel show, HUD with their federally funded studies, and White House award winning NAEH with their compassionate conservative approach to “ending homelessness.”

Immediately after last November’s elections, NAEH and Mangano (head of Bush’s Interagency Council on Homelessness) embarked upon editorial board tours around the country, to ensure that the administration’s 10-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness initiative would continue to be perceived as the One True Way to address homelessness. Their message is clear — that homelessness as we know it today is not caused by the lack of affordable housing, but by the failures of a few bottom-feeding individuals and emergency service programs.

They steer clear of the federal government’s refusal to preserve and promote affordable housing. Instead, they promote yet another set of plans to be created by communities already in competition with each other over scraps from their HUD master’s table. There are more than 470 Homeless Planning Boards as well as more than 200 10-Year Plans already in place, all competing for the biggest piece of the less than $1.4 billion HUD is allocated to dole out for homelessness assistance.

“$100 million has been added to homeless assistance!” they say, “George Bush cares, he really do.”

They don’t mention the $290 million cut from public housing operating expenses, or the thousands of security and maintenance workers laid-off from Public Housing Authorities, or the vacant units being sold off rather than renovated and rented to poor people. They don’t talk about the 100,000 public housing units lost between 1996 and 2005 nationwide. They certainly don’t talk about the zero funding for new public housing since 1996, and they are a bit reticent about the 4,000 undamaged public housing units being demolished in New Orleans along with those that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Chronic homelessness, they say, is the problem. Worry not, because once we solve that, we’ll get back to the other 90 percent of you poor schmucks without housing.

In the meantime, what we need are more plans in place to deal with us poor schmucks when we become chronic. And, they have even thoughtfully provided a step-by-step guide to writing effective 10-Year Plans, to help plan writers secure funds to alleviate the “visible impact” of “chronic homelessness” on their “community’s safety and attractiveness.” And in the meantime, the thousands of poor people and families losing their housing every year should just tough it out, (or perhaps chill out and smoke some “chronic”) until the chronics are under control.

In the meantime, housing subsidies are better directed toward mortgage lenders and wealthier households, to the tune of $122 billion a year; those pesky poor people looking for a place to rent can make do with the less than $30 billion, and decreasing, allocated to HUD.

Besides, housing has nothing to do with homelessness. HUD pays experts to write reports proving conclusively that what homeless people really need is biometric tracking, life skills training and leased single resident occupancy rooms with case managers in the front office, and they need 10-Year Plans to be written for them.

It’s funny that once upon a time, our federal government created HUD, a Social Security system, and the Works Progress Administration — all without having to write a single 10-Year Plan, and these programs actually worked!

2007 marks the 20th anniversary of the federal government’s primary response to contemporary homelessness, the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act of 1987. The money provided by this act has become the lifeblood of National Alliance to End Homelessness and the Interagency Council on Homelessness as they promote the chronic homeless initiative and mobilize a policy movement in support of itself. After 20 years of writing plan after plan after plan on how “best” to spend McKinney money and “end homelessness,” there hasn’t been one damn plan to restore the cuts to federal funding for affordable housing, which is, after all, what got us here in the first place.

Tell Congress, tell the White House, tell your mama and your papa too. Say it to anyone who will listen and write it to those who won't. Nothing ends homelessness like a home.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Happy Birthday, Mitch Snyder

Belated, actually-- his birthday was a couple of weeks ago. God, I miss him. Mitch, a hardcore homeless and housing activist, is one of my heroes.

He came to Arise in 1988 and convinced us to turn out as many people as we could for a Washington, D.C. demonstration taking place the next year in support of the National Affordable Housing Act. This was a challenge for a poor people's organization, but, with other allies in Western Mass, we did it. I still have a picture of our group at the march, holding a Western Mass banner high and proudly, It's hung in my various offices for eighteen years.

"On July l4, 1988, attention and support for the "National Affordable Housing Act" was generated through actions in over seventy cities across the U.S.A. Most involved building take overs and other acts of civil disobedience.n October of 1989 the movement that Snyder helped create brought over 140,000 people to Washington to demand increased federal support for affordable housing.

Less than a year after that march on Washington Snyder was dead. He committed suicide in July of 1990." First Church Shelter, Cambridge.

This site talks about the accomplishments of Mitch's hunger fasts and acts of non-violent civil disobedience. I think Jim Stewart must have written it-- we had a chance to work together many years ago.

Mitch has been much on my mind these days, especially since Gerry McCafferty, the city's coordinator of homeless and special needs housing, mentioned Mitch in her opinion piece on homelessness in the Republican the Sunday before last. It turns out that Gerry was at that D.C. demonstration with Mitch, too. What she described as her most enduring memory of the day was being in a civil disobedience action and being yelled at by Rep. Barney Frank, D-MA, one of the sponsors of the housing legislation, who told Mitch and her group was undermining support for the bill.

Gerry told this story as part of explaining why she was now seemingly on the other side-- working within the system.

My most enduring memory of the day was the sea of people, most poor, many homeless, feeling a sense of our power, feeling hope and belief in the possibility of change.

And, after all, the legislation did pass. I'll bet Barney Frank even voted for it.

I love the way people like Gerry have such selective memories about the role of poor people in social change, and about the use of direct action, civil and otherwise, as a catalyst for that change.

Was homelessness even on the city of Springfield, Massachusetts' radar before Larry Dunham froze to death? Was there a plan before homeless people organized a tent city in the spring that lasted six months? I know there was not.

Recently I went back and reread the entire Homes within Reach document, the city's plan to end chronic homelessness within ten years. The plan does well making use of scarce resources to accomplish as much as possible. However, one resource left totally untapped is homeless and at-risk.people themselves.

I was supposed to be on that task force, along with Christina, one of the leaders of Sanctuary City. We were each at a couple of meetings, but then somehow never got notices....I'd call Russ Denver's office, then chair of the task force and still head of the Springfield Chamber of Commerce, and ask when the next meetings were taking place...but we never heard...and then we heard there was a draft plan and it could be revised....but you know what it's like, once the solution is framed, all that's allowed after that is fine-tuning. (Nothing like splitting into subcommittees to limit the real number of decision-makers.

At the heart of all of this, of course, is class prejudice and self-interest, manifesting as the need to control those deemed lesser than you who are also perceived as a threat to your well-being.

Why else would human service workers talk about "servicing" people?
Why else would the Department of Transitional Assistance call a family in need "an assistance unit?"
Why else would the desires of homeless people be discounted so that those who "know better"can make the decisions?

The city is happy, now; the powers that be have had their way, the Warming Place shelter has been forced to close and the plan to end homelessness is underway. I hope the best of it succeeds, but the "managing" and "handling" of homeless people makes me sick.

Tonight when I was looking up a few facts about Mitch, I stumbled on a blog called Apesmas' Lament-- and a post just written on July19!--about the writer's memories of Mitch Snyder. It's a great piece and deserves reading. He talks about the Port of Seattle's refusal to sell to King County 162 apartments that could be made available to desperately poor people, choosing instead to demolish them. He ends by asking, "I wonder what Mitch would do?"

That's one of the questions I ask myself. Now, when many poor people start asking that question.....

A personal note

Haven't been feeling so great lately and have been really busy with my job so not blogging as much as I like, but just got back from an Arise meeting and that always psychs me up more than it wears me out, so in a bit I'll try to catch up with some homeless news, local and otherwise.

Someone who reads this blog told me it was interesting that I went back and forth between the personal and the political in my posts. That surprised me a bit, I'll admit, because although I do sometimes share my personal observations, I don't think I tell you much about my personal life-- not where I live, or the names of my children, not where I work or whether I'm in a relationship-- I suppose the longer I blog, the more that will come out.

Local readers, of course, know me more well. I am still banned from MassLive and still don't know why. As much as my views differ from most of the MassLive posters, the Springfield forum is still a community of sorts, with the opportunity (even if frequently squandered) to share information and build a collective knowledge. I am, however, one of the very few people to post under my name, so I don't know much about my fellow forum members-- and I don't comb their posts looking for clues, either. Still, it doesn't feel good to get cut off. from that community.

The two pictures in this post are two sides of me.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Blogging life is bizarre

and I suppose I don't know the half of it, having been blogging for only a few months.

Last night my nephew turned up at Wendy's to go to work and found the store closed. I wrote about this last night.

First weirdness: I got more hits on my blog for this post than on any single subject I've posted on before, including the death of a homeless man.

Second weirdness: I discovered this morning I'm blocked from MassLive, our local forum. Think I figured out it's because I used the Wendy's logo on my story about Wendy's. Guess I was tired and not thinking about the logo being copywrited. Usually I am very careful. Don't know how long this banning will last. I have since removed the logo.

My estimate of the number of employees affected by Wendy's closing was way under-- 250 is more like it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Wendy's employees stiffed out of pay, jobs

My nephew Steve works at Wendy's. At 1:30 this afternoon he called his shift manager, Sidi Dion, to find out when paychecks would be in and was told it wouldn't be till 8 or 9 that night.

At 3:30 my sister drove Steve to work. When they arrived, employees were standing outside, a police cruiser was on the scene, and the store was locked. A few workers from other stores were there, also-- they'd also found their stores locked and dark, and were trying to figure out what was going on.

At 5 tonight Steve reached another shift manager, who had come into the store not knowing, and she told Steve all the food and money was gone.

some people knew what was going down. Of course nobody bothered to tell the workers, and most likely they are out a week's pay.

The franchise for this store and a number of others in Western Massachusetts is owned by
Sondocatt Investments, major stockholder Robert Burda of Ohio. My sister looked the company up online and found out that on July 2, Capmark Finance Inc. filed a civil suit in Federal Court charging Sondocatt Investments and Robert Burda with breach of contract. They are asking for a jury trial.

What exact action led up to the closings, we don't know yet. I called stores in Chicopee, Holyoke, Ludlow, Hadley, Northampton and Westfield, and the phones just rang and rang.

Steve worked for $7.50 an hour-- the state minimum wage. About 70 workers will be without jobs.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A coincidence and a connection

The first time I wrote about the homeless situation in Edmonton, like most ignorant U.S. citizens, I had no idea what province it was in.

So I typed "Edmonton" into Google and at the very second the answer popped up, some character on television introduced herself to another character. "I'm Alberta," she said. Since then I've realized I drive by Alberta St. every day on my way to work.

Tonight I was checking my mail and was struck by the daily quote in Sojourner. It reminded me of a poem I wrote in the early years of Arise for Social Justice. So here are both:

We campesinos are used to planting seeds and waiting to see if the seeds bear fruit. We’re used to working on harsh soil. And when our crops don’t grow, we’re used to planting again and again until they take hold. Like us, you must learn to persist.
- Elvia Alvarado
from "Don’t Be Afraid Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart."

There are those of us who love poor soil
who flourish in the struggle
who throw our seeds
proudly on land
where others before us
have taken too much.
In drought, we seed early.

For those who cultivate for profit
we are an endless trouble
for we dare to choose a barren field
over oblivion.

At best, neglected,
at worst, plowed under,
our bodies enrich the earth
and our children are insidious:
they reach for light
even before
breaking the soil's horizon.

Our legends are in their genes.

Monday, July 16, 2007

When homeless people die

The Calgary Drop In & Rehab Center blog has a thoughtful post about the deaths of homeless people on the streets of Calgary. Calgary's population is nearly one million but it could have been written about any large city.
Since the beginning of the year, 24 former and current clients of the Drop-In have passed away. It’s been a record year thus far, doubling in the first 7 months of the year the number of clients who died in 2006. Five of the individuals were murdered. Their assailants remain ‘at large’.

The deceased ranged in age from 18 to 62, with the average being 47 years old. Predominantly men, four of the deceased were women, the most recent being the fatal stabbing of Jackie Crazybull by unknown assailants in the early morning hours of July 11 on 17th Avenue S.W.

There’s very little to say about someone who died homeless. We try to find words to make sense of their passing. That make sense of what happened to their lives. But, there are few words that make sense of the tragedy of a life lost to addictions, abuse, homelessness....

I thought HOMELESS people were the problem

An article in today's Republican about the work of the Springfield Business Improvement District blames the perception of crime and lack of cleanliness for our underutilized downtown.

"From his office at 95 State St., Cataldo, a native of Holyoke who now lives with his wife and 3-year-old son in Longmeadow, said he realizes there is much more to be done to change the perception that downtown is crime-ridden and unsafe.

"No one can deny (the perception)," he said. "I don't think (the reality) is anywhere near what the perception is, but for some people the perception becomes the reality."

Until that perception is changed, companies will be reluctant to locate downtown and people will be afraid to shop, eat out or go out on the town, he said." MassLive.

I don't disagree with his assessment, as far as it goes. The perception of crime in downtown Springfield is greater than its reality. It does seem, however, that some Springfield residents revel in that perception, especially if it lends itself to racism. Check out the Springfield forum on MassLive to find the folks who gleefully list crimes committed in Springfield, especially if the perpetrator has a Hispanic last name. Perhaps Mr. Cataldo should start posting on MassLive?

Mr. Cataldo also mentioned cleanliness, and I couldn't agree more. People's thoughtlessness around disposal of litter is a sign of a deep disconnection from the environment around us, and the role that we can play as individuals in making a difference.

I was in a bank parking lot the other day when a woman came out of the bank and got into the passenger side of a freshly-waxed SUV. The vehicle idled for a few minutes and then the passenger side door opened and the woman dropped a handful of opened mail to the ground. This really pissed me off. I was on my way into the bank so I stopped by her car, picked up the mail, and said through the window, "Excuse me, I think you dropped these." She had no choice but to take the mail back.

Heaven forbid that her SUV have even a single piece of trash temporarily. Better to throw it on the ground.

I wonder in the downtown business community would be willing to entertain making downtown Springfield off-limit to cars? Other cities have done this and reaped many benefits even more significant than a decline in litter. More later.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Quincy Sounds like Springfield

"...some do care who make up the clients of the Quincy Crisis Center’s free lunch service. Members of the surrounding business community complain that the program draws an undesirable population to Quincy Center by creating a reason for the homeless to congregate in the area.

And Mayor William Phelan is trying to find a new location for the free lunch program, which he says deprives its host, the historic Church of the Presidents - where the bodies of John Adams, John Quincy Adams and their wives reside in a basement crypt - of its full potential as a tourist attraction.

‘‘We by no means want to avoid our responsibility to those less fortunate than us,’’ Phelan said. ‘‘That doesn’t, however, change the fact that the location for this meal program is arguably the worst possible location I could think of in terms of its suitability.’’ See Patriot Ledger for the full story. Photo by Lisa Bul.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Homeless man loses bid for injunction to keep shelter open

Well-- a straight-sounding headline-- but I hardly feel objective about what happened in Housing Court today.

Ali Mohammed, a guest at the Warming Place shelter for the last few months, did his best to speak up for homeless people and explain to Judge Fein why it was important to them that the Warming Place stay open.

He was there to request an injunction prohibiting the city from closing the Warming Place. Sue Venne, another Warming Place guest, was added last minute as a plaintiff, but really every one of the twenty homeless people in the courtroom was a plaintiff.

I didn't expect him to prevail. The Open Pantry, which runs the Warming Place, lost a similar attempt last Thursday. This time, however, the shelter was a defendant along with the city, and I'm sure Kevin Noonan, OP director, had a few odd feelings in the city's company.

Everybody was there-- Gerry McCafferty, head of the Homeless and Special Needs Housing, two attorneys for the city, the head of the building department, Bill Miller, director of the Friends of the Homeless, one of the two shelters remaining in the city, the president of F.O.H.'s board of Directors, Bob Carroll-- some others I don't remember-- all on one side-- the city's.

On the other side were twenty Warming Place residents, Warming Place staff and a few advocates.

Ali told a simple story, with three main points: the Friends of the Homeless shelter was unsafe and would be overcrowded, some people had been banned from the Friends previously and had nowhere to go, and the Warming Place residents and staff were like a family and needed more time to transition to the other shelters.

Four other WP guests testified, all telling similar stories. One man got a bit emotional when talking about his friend who had recently been found dead on a park bench.

Coincidentally, the Friends' shelter's basement had flooded the night before in a heavy rain, and their shelter's guests had had to be moved upstairs. Leaks at the shelter are old news and a problem that's never been successfully resolved, although I'm sure the shelter is working on it.

That flood was not enough, however, to convince the judge. She asked the people who testified how long it had been since they'd stayed at the Friends' shelter, and felt no one had recent enough experience to judge the shelter now.

The city defended itself, saying all the right things, all very credible.

The judge excused herself for deliberation.

Then came that moment when people started to believe, as improbable as it was, that the truth might speake louder than the evidence and that justice would prevail.

But that was not to be.

Sometime just before the judge came back to deliver her decision, I looked around and saw that the security guards in the courtroom had increased from two to five. I was not the only one who noticed, either. I thought it was an insult to the homeless people who were present, who had come to court clean and well-dressed and who had behaved with complete appropriateness.

Judge Fein came back and denied the injunction. I saw shoulders fall throughout the room. The judge suggested that the Warming Place folks meet with Gerry McCafferty to find out about availability of housing subsidies, and offered her courtroom for the remainder of the afternoon. The Bailiff said "All rise" and we all rose. The judge left the bench and it was over.

Gerry called out that people could come and talk to her, but as far as I could tell, no one did. It was the wrong moment. People needed the dignity of their defeat.

The homeless people who spoke up today were very brave. Many of them know they will wind up having to stay at the very shelter they criticized. I could see some people's thoughts turning to where they were going to stay that night.

I continue to be saddened by how people with power silence the voices of the homeless and devalue and dismiss homeless people's loyalty to each other. Yeah, sometimes they'll stab each other in the back but they're more likely to be watching each other's back, as best as they can. And that's what I felt today.

I want to close this by remembering that no matter how sad I am, no matter how bad I feel, tonight I get to be at home, typing these words.

Who's the artist?

I have some wonderful graphics I've saved through the years without ever thinking I'd use them in a blog. I remember that many came from the archives of a street paper for homeless people and now I can't find the source anymore to give credit.

If anyone recognizes this or a few other drawings I'd like to post, or has ideas about where it came from, please let me know. Thanks.

Tent cities rise, fall, rise....

Wednesday was the last night for the Warming Place shelter and its guests UNLESS shelter guest Ali Mohammed wins his injunction in Housing Court today. Mr. Mohammed's actions have actually put the city of Springfield and the Open Pantry on the same side as defendants-- at least for the the moment. He is trying to keep the city from closing the Warming Place by focusing on the problems homeless people will face at Springfield's two other shelters

Meanwhile, I can catch up on some other homeless/tent city news....Huntington, Ohio police cleared several small tent cities from the banks of the Ohio River this week. ""This is insanity," one homeless man said.. "It's one big family down here. We don't mess with nobody." Herald Dispatch.

Two city councils in Washington are considering an ordinance which would legally recognize and regulate tent cities.
"In an unusual move, Olympia and Tumwater are considering the same measure at the same time. Olympia Councilman Jeff Kingsbury will bring the ordinance to the Olympia City Council on Tuesday and ask for a vote July 17. The Tumwater City Council will have a public hearing about it July 17, Councilwoman Karen Valenzuela said, and she wants to pass the measure as an emergency ordinance the same night.
“If you don’t have an ordinance, essentially, whoever is hosting a tent encampment can do so without any rules whatsoever,” she said.
Kingsbury, who once was critical of homeless encampments, said he now thinks tent cities offer a good option for transitional housing and that the city should work with churches.". The Olympian.
Four teenagers in Huntsville, Alabama have been arrested for robbing and physically assaulting homeless people in a small homeless encampment. Huntsville Times.

In Edmonton, Alberta, a street pastor is calling for the city to open its parks and abandoned buildings to the homeless. About 2,600 people are homeless in Edmonton. Radio News 1130.

A sad story with-- maybe-- a happy ending: A University of Pittsburgh student who has been missing for some months was found at Glacier National Park in Montana, living in a small homeless encampment. Will he go home now? KX News.

Fresno tent city photo by Mike Rhodes, Fresno Alliance

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Twice in one week I heard/read what I thought was commonly accepted knowledge presented as new information. Are we reinventing ourselves and our world? Is everything old new again? Or is it just me?

Maybe dreams have meaning after all! That's the conclusion Rebecca Cathcart comes to in her July 3 NYTimes article "Winding Through ‘Big Dreams’ Are the Threads of Our Lives". Haven't we known that for 10,000 years? If we have forgotten that, the forgetting is very recent.
On ABC news, Charles Gibson announced that crickets can accurately tell the temperature. This is new? If we didn't learn "the formula" as kids, surely that background awareness that becomes part of intuition has told us that crickets chirp more frequently when it's hot and slower when it's cooler.

Some years the bails of hay with which I've mulched my garden have come loaded with cricket seeds. I notice them when they are less than a match head in size and simply everywhere. A week later they are fewer and bigger, and thus for every week that follows through the summer and early fall.

Little crickets have tiny, high voices.
Big crickets have smooth, middle voices.

By October I seem to be following the fate of a sole cricket, the only one left in the world, for all I know. Each night I listen, and then I forget to listen, and somewhere in that forgetting the cricket falls silent.

So here is the formula: count the number of times a cricket chirps in 14 seconds and add the number 38. You will have the exact farenheit temperature.


A world of birds, a shortage of beds


Monday, July 9, 2007

Homeless man to seek his own injunction against the city

I was down at the Warming Place tonight and talked to a number of people-- much sadness, confusion and disbelief that the shelter is really closing.

Open Pantry's director Kevin Noonan was there and had a Cease and Desist order from the city in his hand when I saw him. It had been delivered that afternoon from someone from the city (forget who) who had then proceeded to take pictures. He said if the shelter didn't get out, Kevin would be back in court on Thursday.

I guess somehow we thought there'd be an official deadline set by the city. Guess the city thought it would be the other way around. In any case, Kevin has decided that Wednesday night will be the official last night of the Warming Place. My sister Liz, who works at the Warming Place, will order some party-sized pizzas for the guests.

Meanwhile, yesterday one of the guys who stays at the Warming Place wrote up a statement about why people should not have to move to Worthington St. shelter, got everybody but one guest to sign it, and brought it down to Housing Court! He has a hearing Thursday at 2 pm.

I'll report as I find out more.

Painting by a homeless man taking part in Leicester, UK's Homeless Art Show, part of Homeless Service Day - BBC.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

City now in complete control of sheltering homeless

On Friday, Housing Court Judge Dina Fein gave the go-ahead for the City of Springfield to evict the Warming Place shelter from its home at the old York St. jail. Seems like Monday night or Tuesday might be the last night for the shelter.

You can read why she reached her decision and what it means at
MassLive. I didn't think the Open Pantry, which runs the Warming Place, had much chance of stopping the eviction, and it was clear that Judge Fein didn't know enough about the politics of homelessness in this city to read between the affidavits. In any case, she based her decision on whether "irreparable harm" would take place if the shelter closed.

The city now pretty much controls, albeit indirectly, who shelters homeless people in Springfield.

The Springfield Rescue Mission, which has proudly stood behind its principle of not taking government money, was able to reopen (for 36 sober, well-behaved men) when donations were made by the business community at the behest of the city.

The Friends of the Homeless, with much of its board appointed by the city, and which used to include the current head of the city's Homeless and Special Needs Housing Gerry McCafferty, has added 54 beds in its basement and is prepared to add more in its soup kitchen.

Now that The Friends of the Homeless has won the sheltering contract that used to go to the Warming Place, the city assured Judge Fein that Director Billl Miller would no longer direct his staff to refuse referrals from outside Springfield (that would be a contract violation). The message was that homeless people staying at the Warming Place had better hurry up and relocate, before the "out-of-town" homeless get their beds.

So the city says we now have exactly enough new shelter beds to shelter everyone after the Warming Place is evicted. The numbers look good but but what this means is that the city wants NO VACANCIES at any Springfield shelter.

If the city and the business community had its way, not a single homeless or poor person would ever be seen downtown. Not only has Open Pantry's Warming Place been forced out, its Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen and Food Pantry, housed at two downtown churches, are also under pressure to move.

I'm going down to the Warming Place tomorrow night to talk to shelter guests. I do want to let them know that to the degree Arise can help, we will-- can't get people apartments, or give people money, but we will stand
with people. I want their transition to other shelters to be as trouble-free as possible. At the same time, they have the right to be treated with dignity, to organize to have a voice, and to be included in the new shelter communities.

What will happen from this point on is not entirely predictable.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Shelter's request for injunction to be heard tomorrow

I will be in Springfield Housing Court tomorrow at 9 am. to support Open Pantry Community Services' effort to halt its shelter's eviction from the old York St. jail by the City of Springfield. If weather permits, we will walk from the Warming Place shelter at 8 am. If you're in the area and want to join us, please do.

I can't say I feel hopeful at tomorrow's outcome but the struggle is a worthy one and I'm proud that the Open Pantry is willing to go as far as it can on behalf of homeless people.

Our local public radio station, WFCR, covered the shelter issue in today's news, interviewing first Kevin Noonan, Open Pantry's executive director, and then Gerry McCafferty, director of the city's Homeless and Special Needs Housing department.

Gerry, responding to a criticism of beds at a different shelter by one of Warming Place's residents, said,
" For us to be arguing about what that shelter is like seems to be missing the point. I think there's bigger issues we could be talking about, like affordable housing and not whether these beds are as nice as those beds."

Well, I am
more than ready to talk about housing, and I think a lot of people in this city feel the same way.

Last September, the city's
"Homes within Reach" plan included supplying 250 new housing units, BUT no construction of new housing.

Can Gerry or the city's new Director of Housing and Neighborhood Services tell me how many new units of affordable housing have been created in the last twenty years? I would venture the answer is close to zero.

And how many units of affordable housing have been lost in the same period?

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Stewart B.McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, which funds many of the city's initiatives.

"The McKinney Act has done some good for some people but it has not significantly reduced homelessness across the country. How could it? A $1.4 billion a year homelessness budget cannot compensate for a $52 billion a year reduction in affordable housing," says Paul Boden in "Homeless pitted against homeless" in Tuesday's San Francisco Chronicle.

For the first time in decades, federal funding for the construction, preservation and rehabilitation of affordable housing might be in the works. The National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act of 2007, H.R. 2895, was recently endorsed by the New York Times. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a major force behind the bill, has a list of bill sponsors and they're looking for more. I notice that Congressman Richard Neal's name is not on it, nor the name of any other Massachusetts congressman. Has anyone in our city government asked Neal to sign on? I certainly intend to do so.

Tonight CNN reported that 20% of Mexico's population lives in poverty and yet millionaires abound! Well, in Springfield more than 25% of our residents live below the poverty line, and I'd venture that 40% of us struggle to meet all our expenses each month. With the percentage of their income that we 40% pay for rental housing, any catastrophe-- lost job, broken car, building fire, funeral expenses-- could put us over the edge into homelessness.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A rumor of housing

I hear the city's homeless director, Gerry McCafferty, was hanging out in the parking lot of the Warming Place shelter last night, telling the guests going in for the night that there was plenty of shelter at Friends of the Homeless and the Springfield Rescue Mission. Gee, she could have gone inside. Whenever I've wanted to pass out flyers for Arise at the Warming Place, I've gone in and asked permission. A few times I forgot and just went in.

I hear if you want to stay at the Rescue Mission's Taylor St. shelter, you have to take a breathalyzer test, can't bring in food or a radio, and have to participate in evening prayer, preaching and discussion.

I hear a guy from Mental Health Associates went down to the Warming Place tonight and told people that if they could find apartments, the city would come up with first, last and security for rent, to forget about that "other program." Some folks were upset. "Wait, I was on that waiting list!" It all seemed very confusing to the homeless.

If this is true-- this idea of first, last and security-- its a good idea for all the wrong reasons and won't work without planning and support and won't work for everybody anyway. As things stand now, it's an act of desperation on the part of the city and Mayor-- anything they can come up with to empty the shelter before the Warming Place's hearing on its injunction Friday to keep from being evicted by the city.

To think that there were times when I actually had some faith in the goodwill of the city officials and business leaders that were going to make sure nobody went unsheltered after June 30. The last of that faith evaporated at the May 22 Emergency Shelter Committee meeting. "Well, the fix is really in," I remember saying. "You all know exactly how this is going to turn out."

The power of coincidence

I opened my daily email from Sojourners today and saw that the quote of the day is one I just put in a newsletter and that hangs on the wall of my office. Coincidence? I think not....

Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand; it never has and it never will.

- Frederick Douglass

My starling didn't make it

Drove into the parking lot at work today and there was my baby starling, quite dead, quite dessicated-- I worked at home yesterday so it could have fallen any time from Friday night through yesterday. I was saddened but not terribly surprised.

After work I treated myself to supper at Casa de Nana. I ate outside on the deck. At one table two young women and a guy were talking about how much it sucked that one of the girls wasn't going to be working where they all worked anymore. About the third beer, two of them passed from laughing too loud to weeping in silence.

Three young guys came in, two blond and crew-cutted and one with a small dark goatee. Never did find out much about him-- he mostly just listened-- but one guy was an actor and the other on active duty in the Army.

The actor said, "People think its just pretending, but no-- you have to really become the person you're playing."

The soldier said, "I dreamed I was in solitary confinement and then I got out and I was walking down this long hall and it seemed like I was walking forever."

Drawing by Gregor Laird

Monday, July 2, 2007

Can you picture Ryan and Sarno homeless?

Mayoral candidates in Nashville, Tennessee spent a night on the streets in June, trying to get a sense of what it means to be homeless and what Nashville can do about it. Why don't I think this will happen here?

Mayoral rivals spend a night on the streets

The vice mayor was bounced out of a bar after asking for a bag of potato chips at 3 a.m. Two councilmen walked the downtown streets hour after hour, rarely, if ever, sleeping. And the former city attorney struggled to catch some shut-eye on a bus-stop bench.

Those were some of the experiences of four Nashville mayoral candidates who went on an "urban plunge," seeing Nashville's downtown homeless community up close and personally.

The event was organized by the Nashville Homeless Power Project, which has become a very visible group lobbying Metro officials for housing and other services for the city's homeless population.

Each candidate said he came away with a new outlook on homelessness and what the city can — and, in some cases, can't — do about it.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has been organizing similar experiences for college students and others for the last 25 years. But the group's executive director, Michael Stoops, said it was the first time political candidates agreed to take part. "I think all people who run for office should be in touch with people living in poverty," Stoops said.

Read the Nashville Tennessean report here. Thanks to The 13th Juror for a lead on the story.