Saturday, January 31, 2009

Hands off my marijuana law!

One would think that when 65% of Massachusetts' voters said that we approved of decriminalizing marijuana, that that would tell our elected officials all they need to know about the will of the people. But oh, no! The law is less than a month old and already municipal officials are trying to toughen the penalties.

Massachusetts joined eleven other states on January 2 when we voted to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, replacing a criminal penalty with a civil fine of $100. Almost immediately, law enforcement officers began complaining that the law was unclear and would be difficult to enforce. In particular, officers said that those offenders who were issued citations could easily give a false name. Maybe that could happen in Boston, but it certainly won't be happening in small towns and every other city where police are quite likely to know the faces of most of the population. I'm not sure what the penalty for giving a false name to the police is in Massachusetts, but why add insult to injury?

The state has already issued opinions that the new law does not mean schools must now tolerate marijuana possession in schools, and that employers can continue to forbid marijuana possession in the workplace. But a Cape Cod lawmaker, Rep. Cleon Turner, D-Dennis, plans to propose a law making three unpaid citations to possession in a one year period a criminal misdemeanor offense, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, as well as a law to make explicit the right of schools and workplaces to ban marijuana on the premises.

Apparently most lawmakers haven't caught up with the public's growing distaste for the war on drugs as it's been fought the last thirty years, because now some municipalities want to get in on the act and make their anti-drug position very clear.

Framingham's Board of Health wants to add smoking marijuana to the already in place law against smoking cigarettes in restaurants and other public places, and institute a series of fines for establishments that allow such smoking to take place.

The Methuen City Council wanted to increase fines for possession of less than an ounce of pot to $400, but compromised at $200 after public opposition.

Now , this Monday, the Springfield's City Council will consider Councilor James J. Ferrera III's proposal to make smoking marijuana in public an arrestable offense with a $300 fine (emphasis mine).

The proposal is supported by Police Commissioner William Fitchet but talk to many law enforcement officers off the record, and they'll tell you they support decriminalization of marijuana. Many want to bring the drug war to an end altogether. Members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), not all of whom are retired, make a strong case for decriminalization based on their first-hand experience.

Meanwhile I expect that a lot of law enforcement officers are not going to go out of their way to issue citations; in fact the first citation under the new law issued in Massachusetts came after a Springfield police officer arrested a man for possession of crack cocaine and illegal firearms possession.

For the first time in a number of years, we have a chance for a sensible drug policy to prevail in this country. let's hope local officials don't drag their feet.

Don't let Bush and his pals get off easy

Do you think Bush and his co-conspirators should be able to steal away quietly, write books, get jobs with major corporations, and otherwise profit from their illegal actions?

I don't. It makes no sense to me that we should allow our chief elected and appointed officials to commit mayhem and then just move on as if nothing has happened. It's a kind of insanity. They should be held accountable for their actions, which damaged civil liberties, killed thousands of innocents, hurt the U.S. reputation-- but there's one word that haunts me the most:

torture torture torture torture torture torture torture torture torture torture

There's a petition up at the Care2 Petition Site calling on the new Attorney General to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate war crimes. Here's the text of the letter, and if you want to sign, go to the Petition Site.

Dear Attorney General Eric Holder,

We the undersigned citizens of the United States petition you to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute any and all government officials who have participated in torture and other war crimes.

In the final days of their administration, President Bush and Vice
President Cheney admitted they authorized "enhanced interrogation" of prisoners, specifically including waterboarding. But "enhanced
interrogation" is simply a euphemism for torture, which was so severe that it caused the deaths of at least 70 prisoners.

As Major General Antonio Taguba, the Army general who led the investigation into prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison has stated:

"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

The United States is a representative democracy. The actions of our
government officials are done in the name of its citizens. We are outraged that torture been committed in our name. We urge you to appoint a Special Prosecutor to prosecute those responsible for torture to the fullest extent of the law.

Photo from Takomibibelot's photostream at Flickr.

Seeing homeless people is a downer at the Super Bowl

If you're homeless in Tampa Bay, make sure you don't loiter or trespass this week-- because nobody wants to think about homelessness during the Super Bowl.

Shannon Moriarty over at End Homelessness has a post about the homeless sweeps going on in Tampa Bay. Police deny it, but advocates say the homeless are being targeted.

Of course, this is nothing new. During last year's Olympics in Beijing, not only were homeless people hidden, the government actually created homeless people, displacing up to a million and a half. Vancouver, BC has been planning on how to deal with homeless people for its 2010 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately it's still more about hiding homeless people than housing them.

Anything big happening in your city, where the national spotlight will shine? Watch what happens.

Photo from United Way Tampa Bay

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Poverty? It's all relative

I started a post this afternoon which I decided not to publish after I read through it because it seemed all whiny and self-pitying. Truth is, there's a good chance I'll be laid off in the next couple of months, but I guess I'll survive..... unlikely I'll wind up in the Friends of the Homeless Womens' Shelter or starving to death in an unheated apartment... but it sucks to be 61 years old and looking for work.

Later I went to an Economic Justice Committee meeting at Arise. Liz reported on her contacts with homeless families in motels and Lamont talked about his organizing with homeless single people.

Liz said that cooking-- or lack of-- seemed to be the biggest problem motel families had. Some motels allow microwaves or small refrigerators, some don't. Hotplates are, of course, verboten, getting to market is difficult, and fast food palls after a while. Being cooped up in one room can't be good on the nerves, either.

And still the state is closing four shelters in Springfield and Holyoke. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has come up with a better plan, mind you, of placing homeless families directly into apartments for 18 months so they can get stable and save some money. HAPHousing, the regional housing non-profit in Hampden and Hampshire counties, just won a contract to open and manage 46 apartments for homeless families. that should just about cover the population displaced from the closing family shelters. And the fate of other families who become homeless? Headed for a motel, perhaps?

I think the state's plan was developed before it spotted the economic iceberg ahead, and like the Titanic, is too unwieldy to turn in time.

Truth is, I can't think of a single plan to end family homelessness right now that's really going to work. Very poor families-- and there are more of them all the time-- just don't have enough income to keep a household. As nine families leave homelessness, ten enter. Until we get some fundamental changes in this economy, the best we can do is to try to help individual families survive.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sleep on...

Ghazal 314

You who are not kept anxiously awake for love's sake, sleep on.
In restless search for that river, we hurry along;
you whose heart such anxiety has not disturbed, sleep on.
Love's place is out beyond the many separate sects;
since you love choosing and excluding, sleep on.
Love's dawn cup is our sunrise, his dusk our supper;
you whose longing is for sweets and whose passion
is for supper, sleep on.
In search of the philosopher's stone, we are melting like copper;
you whose philosopher's stone is cushion and pillow, sleep on.
I have abandoned hope for my brain and head; you who wish for
a clear head and fresh brain, sleep on.
I have torn speech like a tattered robe and let words go;
you who are still dressed in your clothes, sleep on.

Translated by Jack Marshall, Arabian Nights, Coffeehouse Press, October 1986

Painting by Michael Green from Rumi Book.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Food shortages not in the news but scarcely over

The Guardian's Jayoti Ghosh has an excellent article about the increasingly low media profile the food shortage is receiving. Remember the riots in Haiti? The famine in Liberia? Rice hoarding in the Midwest of America? Is it over?

"No, the "silent tsunami" has simply been overwhelmed in public awareness by the much noisier tsunami in the world of international finance, with the giant sucking sounds of possible bank collapses and enormous bail-outs grabbing all the attention. Yet the global food crisis is far from over, and is even likely to intensify in the near future," Ghosh writes.

Falling crop prices this year after two years of massive increases may have led policy makers to believe they could pay less attention to the issue. The U.S. had a bumper crop of grain this year; crop prices fell 40% in Australia. Somehow, though, those bumper crops and cheaper prices are not putting any more food in people's bellies.

Weather and insect plagues can cause food shortages. Extremely cold temperatures and gasoline shortages in Bosnia have completely cut some villages off from food. Floods have washed out roads in the Philippines have prevented food from being delivered. Be glad you're not a Liberian farmer, having to flee your lands because of an invasion of Army worms-- fierce caterpillars that eat anything in sight. News24.

Climate and poor soil can reduce crop yields. Much of Kenya's soil is nutritionally depleted and the severe drought is pushing the people toward famine. Drought in Burundi has caused thousands of families to flee to neighboring countries in search of food.

Ghosh points to three main causes of of the food crisis:
  • A crisis in cultivation. Policy neglect and lack of investment in agriculture's infrastructure, lack of credit for the farmers and trade liberalization have made farming an unprofitable venture.
  • Depression of wages in developing countries. The food is there, but people just can't afford it.
  • Fewer agribusinesses exercising more control. Government subsidies encourage taking land meant for food to production of ethanol. Thus, consumer prices remain the same or higher.
All of these forces are less obvious in the United States but still have their role to play. Over the last three years, one in nine Americans has experienced food insecurity. That means that 13 million households went hungry some time during each year. Oddly, though, poverty in America tends to equal obesity. In 2004, Jefferson County, one of the poorest counties in the country, also had the dubious honor of being the most obese. You get more calories from a dollar's worth of carbohydrates than a dollar's worth of fruit.

In the capitalist global economy, corporations have to make a profit to survive. But where do we draw the line? This month Monsanto, the world's largest seed corporation, boasted its quarterly earnings have doubled over last quarter. To understand Monsanto's stranglehold on agriculture, see Vanity Fair's May, 2008 article.

We are unlikely to be able to change agricultural policy until we can make sense of it.

Sculpture from Frankie Roberto's photostream on Flickr.

Ah, Youth...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Another old man

Another old man with a suitcase
stands at the interstate ramp
his grin has a glow in the twilight
his cap and cigar in his hand

and he wears a mystique of adventure
as if having nowhere to go
is only a door that is open
instead of a door that is closed.

In winter he wanders the city
he holds in his bare weathered hands
a map to a meal and a shelter
a night in the nobody land

where nobody lies in the silence
of curses that nobody hears.
The echo on asphalt is kinder
the street is no stranger to tears

REALLY easy homemade pretzel recipe

No pretzel you buy in the store could taste as good as these homemade ones. You'll want to go to the Frantic Home Cook for the whole recipe after looking at this luscious picture. There's no going back after you try it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Paradise Unpaved

Very soon, February 1st, some of us will be celebrating Imbolc, that wonderful day when winter is halfway through. It's actually time to start planning for this year's garden!

A few years ago, one couple decided they were going to dig up their driveway and replace it with a garden. Their illustrated tale of their travails and ultimate triumph can be found here at Paradise Unpaved.

City living is no barrier to growing edible items. I've been saving ideas all winter and I'll be sharing them with you as we go along.

Three men arrested for the arson of a black church. Now what?

Last week arrests were made in the day after the presidential election burning of the predominantly African-American Macedonia Church of God in Christ. Benjamin F. Haskell, 22; Michael F. Jacques, 24; and Thomas A. Gleason Jr., 21, all of Springfield MA, face a minimum of ten years in prison for violating the civil rights of the Macedonian congregation.

Judging by what I read on Springfield's Masslive forum and what I heard in the community before the arrests, many whites were sure the burning wasn't arson or if that it was, it wasn't a hate crime, and many African-Americans just knew the burnings were related to the election of Barack Obama-- and so it seems to be, although there are rumors the young men were involved in other arson fires in the city.

Now comes the trial.

Sometimes I have a war going on between the more primitive parts of my nature and the parts that have been educated by the emotional, spiritual and intellectual experiences of my life.

Someone steals the battery out of my car.
A woman yanks the hair of her child to "make her behave."
A man grabs an elderly woman's purse and knocks her down.
A well-known sports figure organizes dog fights and kills other dogs with impunity.
A financier steals millions of dollars and ruins the lives of thousands who believed in him.
Three young white men burn down a predominantly African-American church because they're angry about Barack Obama being elected.

I'd be lying if I said that revenge is not one of the first impulses in my mind. How about if I pull your hair so you can feel what it's like? How about if I tie you up in the back yard and hit you with a baseball bat?. How about if we burn down your parents' houses?

And then what? Have we made our world safer or better?

In theory, incarceration serves three purposes: keep society safe from the offender, punish the offender, rehabilitate the offender.

Even if we were to agree on the purposes of incarceration and other aspects of the criminal justice system are what they should be, we must also agree that the standards are unevenly applied. Bernie Madoff is at home under house arrest and as of Monday, so will be the three young white men accused of burning the Macedonian Church of God in Christ to the ground. Think that scenario would be repeated for the Latino marijuana dealer or the African-American check forger? And do we really think Bernie Madoff's punishment will be proportional to the fifteen year sentence a Shreveport man received for holding up a bank for $100?

So what does the community think should happen to the three men if they are found guilty-- and why? I'm conducting my first-ever poll on this blog, and I'd like to know what people think.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Murders and freezing deaths haunt homeless communities

The L.A. Times is reporting that police have arrested Benjamin Mathew Martin in the gruesome burning death of John McGraham last October. Apparently the motive was pure personal dislike. I posted about his death and others last year, but so many homeless deaths have continued to occur, it's impossible to keep up with all of them.

A homeless man was one of two people shot to death last Wednesday in Brockton, Massachusetts by a man looking for "non-white" people to kill. Arlindo Goncalvis, like many homeless people, made a few dollar a day collecting cans, which he was doing when he was killed. Mr. Goncalvis was also a musician who carried a keyboard and played around town, where he was well-known. the Daily News Transcript has more about Mr. Goncalvis' life and death.

A homeless man who lived in and watched over a junkyard in Blue Island, ILL was found shot to death last Thursday. Ryan Briggs was 36. the Chicago Sun Times has a little more information, but there's not much info available so far.

On Christmas Eve, 61 year old Yoshio Nakada was found dead on the George Washington University campus in Washington, D.C. where he was well-known. He'd received a number of severe blows to the head and his skull was fractured. Although Mr. Nakada spoke little English, he liked to sing and had recently been attending Quaker services, where he occasionally spoke in his native language. The student newspaper GW Hatchet has a report on the murder's impact on campus.

Woodstock, ILL police are still searching for a motive in the stabbing death of 28 year old Robin Burton, allegedly killed by Kyle Morgan, who brought Mr. Burton to his apartment and then killed him. Morgan's MySpace page, since taken down, seemed to show an interest in serial murders. The Daily Herald is following the story.

Of course not all homeless deaths are the result of murder. Many die quietly from illnesses exacerbated by being homeless. Other-- too many-- die from exposure, and I expect this winter to take a particularly high toll. reports that weather was a factor in the death of 42 year old Stacy Bradish, who was sleeping outside in a campsite and could not be awoken the next morning by his friend. Eric Victor Spence was probably trying to get kerosene for his heater when he couldn't go on anymore. he was found dead with an empty gasoline can nearby in the woods in Taylor, MI, the News Herald reports.

Safety is not guaranteed by seeking shelter, however. In early January, five men died in a swift-moving fire at a men's shelter in Paris, Texas. Earlier this week, a homeless man was stabbed-- fortunately not fatally-- at the Worthington St. Shelter operated by Friends of the Homeless here in Springfield, MA, my home city. Overcrowding often leads to short tempers and Worthington St. is packed to the gills.

While the total of homeless deaths will almost surely be higher for 2008 and 2009 than ever before, our information will remain sketchy and anecdotal, because no agency or governmental body tracks these deaths. Each year, dozens of cities participate in the Homeless Persons Memorial Day on or around December 21st, the longest night of the year, but far more cities let these deaths go unremarked.

Photo from the National Coalition for the Homeless: 2007 D.C. memorial service.

One click: save rainforest, rescue animals, feed the hungry

Every now and then, advertising helps to accomplish something good. These two sites-- which I ought to post once a month-- are both advertising-supported

First, go to the Animal Rescue site, where you can also click for several other good causes.

Then, Go to Care2's Take Action site, where one click (each) saves big cats, baby seals, the rain forest, the ocean and several more.

Go on, drag these sites to your toolbar and go there every day!

Friday, January 23, 2009

20 Questions: NEVER doubt the power of a brand name

OK, my sister sent this to me as a memory test, and it's true that being over 60 helps, but I just got twenty out of twenty questions right, and considering that 17 of the 20 are about products in some way, where a top 40 song or mouthwash-- well, what it means is that the crap we absorb never goes away! And growing up, I spent far more time with a book than a TV, and yet I still, after four or five decades, remember the answers. It's scary. Here's some sample questions:

12. NFL quarterback who appeared in a television commercial wearing women's stockings.....
A.. Troy Aikman
B. Kenny Stabler
C.. Joe Namath
D. Roger Stauback
E.. Joe Montana
F. Steve Young
G. John Elway

13. Brylcream...
A.. Smear it on
B. You'll smell great
C. Tame that cowlick
D. Grease ball heaven
E. It's a dream
F. We're your team
G. A little dab'll do ya

14. I found my thrill...
A.... In Blueberry muffins
B. With my man, Bill
C. Down at the mill
D. Over the windowsill
E. With thyme and dill
F. Too late to enjoy
G. On Blueberry Hill

15. Before Robin Williams, Peter Pan was played by...
A.. Clark Gable
B. Mary Martin
C. Doris Day
D. Errol Flynn
E. Sally Fields
F. Jim Carey
G. Jay Leno

You can go to the Khou Forum for the rest of the questions and the answers.

Photo from the Fifties Web.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Leonard Peltier beaten in prison - you can help

Thirty years have passed since the conviction of Leonard Peltier for the murder of two FBI agents, and I worry that some people may not even know who he is.

The two agents were killed on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in 1975, at the height of the American Indian Movement. Peltier was convicted in 1977 after a trial rife with irregularities. Many believe him to be innocent and Amnesty International considers him a political prisoner.

Robert Redford produced a film directed by Michael Apted in 1992 about the AIM uprising and the framing of Leonard Peltier, Incident at Oglala, which you can download at the Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee website. Apted also directed a highly fictionalized but still compelling film Thunderheart the same year.

A letter has been circulating from Leonard Peltier's sister, Betty Peltier-Solano,describing how Leonard was severely beaten after being transferred to Canaan Federal Penitentiary in Waymark, Pennsylvania. She fears for his life.

Please, read this letter and then take action. Leonard Peltier's wellbeing depends on prison officials knowing that we still care and are still watching.

Forwarded on behalf of the Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee

URGENT! Leonard Peltier's Safety in Jeopardy!

Dear LP Supporters,

I am so OUTRAGED! My brother Leonard was severely beaten upon his arrival at the Canaan Federal Penitentiary. When he went into population after his transfer, some inmates assaulted him. The severity of his injuries is that he suffered numerous blows to his head and body, receiving a large bump on his head, possibly a concussion, and numerous bruises. Also, one of his fingers is swollen and discolored and he has pain in his chest and ribcage. There was blood everywhere from his injuries.

We feel that prison authorities at the prompting of the FBI orchestrated this attack and thus, we are greatly concerned about his safety. It may be that the attackers, whom Leonard did not even know, were offered reduced sentences for carrying out this heinous assault. Since Leonard is up for parole soon, this could be a conspiracy to discredit a model prisoner. He was placed in solitary confinement and only given one meal, this is generally done when you won't name your attackers; incidentally being only given one meal seriously jeopardizes his health because of his diabetes. Prison officials refuse to release any info to the family, but they need to hear from his supporters to protect his safety, as does President Obama. His attorneys are trying to get calls into him now.

This attack on LP comes on the heels of the FBI's recent letter, prompting this attack by FBI supporters as an attempt to discredit LP as a model prisoner. Anyone who has been in the prison system knows well that if you refuse to name your attackers or file charges against them, then you lose your status as a victim and/or given points against your possible parole and labeled as a perpetrator. It is not uncommon, in fact is quite common for the government to use Indian against Indian and they still operate under the old adage "it takes an Indian to catch an Indian". In 1978, they made an attempt to assassinate him through another Indian man who was also at Marion prison with LP. But Standing Deer chose to reveal the plot to him instead of taking his life in exchange FOR A CHANCE AT FREEDOM. When Standing Deer was released in 2001, he joined the former Leonard Peltier Defense Committee as a board member. He also began to speak on Leonard's behalf until his murder six years ago today. Prior to his murder, Standing Deer confided with close friends and associates that the same man who visited him in Marion to assassinate Peltier, had came to Houston, TX and told him that he had better stay away from Peltier and anything to do with him.

We are aware that currently, the FBI is actively seeking support for his continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier and also also seeking support from Native People. So please be aware, and keep Leonard in your prayers. The FBI is apparently afraid of the impact we are having. If they will set him up to blemish his record just before a parole hearing, what will they do when it looks like his freedom will become a reality? We need to make sure that nothing happens to him again!

Please write the President, send it priority or registered mail. Email to or email President Obama. Call your congressional representatives and write letters, not email, to them. Do what you can to get the word out to insure that LP is receiving adequate medical attention for his injuries.

I am asking you, supporters of Leonard and advocates of justice at this time to help. I don't know what else to do. Please Help!

Thank you Betty Peltier-Solano Executive Coordinator
Leonard Peltier Defense Offense Committee

Also call and request Leonard be treated with dignity and respect.

let the Bureau of Prisons know that the public will hold them accountable for the safety and wellbeing of Leonard Peltier. Please make sure to use Leonard's prisoner ID number ("register number") 89637-132

Warden Ronnie R. Holt, Warden
U.S. Penitentiary
3057 Easton Turnpike
Waymart, PA 18472
Phone: 570-488-8000
Fax: 570-488-8130

D. Scott Dodrill, Director
Northeast Regional Office
Federal Bureau of Prisons
2nd & Chesnut Streets., 7th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: 215-521-7301

Harley G. Lappin, Director
Bureau of Prisons
U.S. Department of Justice
320 First Street, NW, Room 654
Washington, DC 20534
Phone: 202-307-3250
Fax: 202-514-6878

Ask President Obama to investigate this incident:

The Honorable Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Comments: 202-456-1111
Switchboard: 202-456-1414
Fax: 202-456-2461

Time to set him free... Because it is the RIGHT thing to do.

Friends of Peltier

Artwork by Rigo 99 at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive.

Obama saves wolves!

January 21, 2009

Seattle, WA -- White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel Tuesday sent a memo to the heads of all executive departments and agencies, ordering a stop to all pending regulations until a legal and policy review can be conducted by the Obama administration.

A rule that would eliminate Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains except for those in Wyoming was scheduled to be published on January 27. Now it will fall under review with the new administration.

Among others, the Bush administration recently finalized rules that significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act, allow for mining deposits to be dumped within 100 feet of flowing streams and exempts large-scale factory farms from notifying government officials when they release unsafe levels of toxic emissions into the community. Earthjustice, a public interest law firm, filed suit against all of these rules.

The following statement is from Patti Goldman, Vice President of Program for Earthjustice:

"While we are pleased that the new administration has put a stop to these hasty actions, there are some rules we continue to monitor.

"Under the Emanuel memo, the wolf delisting rule will be withdrawn. This rule was extremely controversial and was rushed through even though a federal district court had declared the wolf delisting illegal in July. It defied the law which prohibits a state by state listing when the wolves do not respect state boundaries.

"For the vast majority of the midnight regulations, the Bush administration got them published in time to evade the Emanuel memo's freeze. Earthjustice has brought dozens of legal challenges to Bush rollbacks, which provides the ultimate pathway to reining in the excesses of the Bush administration."


John McManus, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6707

UNICEF photos of 2008

The winning photo for 2008 comes from 21-year-old Belgian photographer Alice Smeets, the youngest person ever to win the competition. The picture comes from a slum in Port au Prince called the "Cité Soleil," or "City of the Sun."
See more the at Spiegel Gallery.

654 homeless families in motels, but they're closing shelters?

Yesterday Massachusetts state officials announced there would be a one month extension for three of the four shelters in Western Mass. for which the state is terminating funding.

No more extensions after that, the state says.

What I don't get is why any shelter would be closed when 654 families are living in motels because there's no room at any of the shelters where 2,647 other homeless families are already placed.

All of this closing and shuffling families around is part of a state re-organization which may or may not actually benefit families. The goal is to place families into housing more quickly. Hope it works. Of course, families have to be able to afford that housing.

Earlier this month the Deval Patrick Administration announced that homeless services for families would be transferred from the Department of Transitional Assistance to the Department of Housing and Community Development. The philosophy behind this move is to hook families up to housing as soon as possible. Unfortunately DHCD has no infrastructure in place to handle this and has never directly served any individual and has no offices outside of Boston. We'll be starting a bureaucracy from scratch for the commonwealth's most vulnerable families .

Of course, placing families in motels rather than shelters is cheaper for the state: pay for one room instead of paying for a building and support staff to assist the homeless family in gathering the resources to find an apartment.

It's not cheaper for families, though. These motels don't have cooking facilities. That means families have to buy prepared food or take the kids out to McDonald's to eat, if a restaurant or market happens to be nearby-- no guarantees. And most motels are in commercial areas nowhere near hospitals or social service agencies. In Springfield, bus fare is $1.25 each way for adults and .75 for each kid between 6 and 12. Living with one to five children in one room in a motel is isolating and depressing enough as it is; saving any money from a miniscule welfare check is near-impossible.

Just once, I'd like to see the policy-makers ask those who are directly affected by homelessness what they think the best services and solutions are-- but that's not likely to happen.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Closing parks to the homeless - everyone suffers

Joel John Roberts at L.A.'s Homeless Blog has a post on a trend that hurts everybody-- closing parks to the public when homeless people start spending time or sleeping there. He found an article by Kay Ebeling at the L.A. Buzz Examiner which explores the exclusion of homeless people from aspects of life we take for granted-- like going to the park.

Last couple times I’ve tried to go to a park where I live on the near West Side of LA, the few square feet of green was cordoned off with police tape. The response to a growing number of homeless people living in parks all over this city is for the city to shut down the parks. Eight foot high spiked fence keeps people out of Lafayette Park, police patrol cars and yellow crime scene tape keep you away from any greenery in Beverly Hills or strips of respite that used to line Wilshire Boulevard.
Still there are people trying to find a place to just sit for a few hours and rest.

Say, that 'minds me-- whatever happened to the Mayor of Springfield Domenic Sarno's promise to return park benches to the city's central jewel, Court Square? It's been more than three years since the park benches were removed as part of a renovation long since completed. Of course, it's winter, now, so the city has an excuse. Maybe we can finally get some action in the spring.

And now for something completely different....

From I Can Has Cheezburger


Today I am willingly a fool for love, a virgin of pure belief, born anew from the good green earth.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Librarians are compassionate to the homeless

Former Springfield resident Lesley Haynes, author of a new blog, PeaceSojourner, sent me this article about homeless people in Buffalo NY and their use of the public library as a sanctuary. Springfield's homeless residents wind up at our library, also, and at libraries across the country. There was trouble for a while at the main branch with people using the rest rooms to wash up...seems to have been resolved.

Grim story of survival in the library
By Charity Vogel,News Columnist
The cold has brought them in again. It happens every year. Like swallows to Capistrano, in reverse, they come not to escape the heat but to find it. Bedraggled and grim-faced, weighed down by tattered duffels and beat-up thermoses, they trickle in as temperatures drop.
People, mostly men, who have no homes to sleep in at night, or marginal ones — in shelters or shared rental spaces with little in the way of heat or food.
To them, the Central Library isn’t a temple of knowledge. It’s got a much more practical function: survival. Read more here.
Photo from Bradleyolin's photostream at Flickr.

Hold up! Not ALL Dr. Martin Luther King's dreams have been fulfilled

I just saw Martin Luther King III interviewed on CNN, which has been doing a day-long program called From MLK to Today. It's been an inspiring program yet I've had a nagging worry that we will be too optimistic, so willing to look ahead that we overlook what's in front of us.

Barack Obama's being elected President is indeed a tremendous accomplishment and a significant blow to the wall of racism that has divided this country. But racism won't disappear on January 21. And poverty? Not one person will be less poor the day after the inauguration.

Therefore I was just relieved to hear Martin Luther King III say in an interview that his father's dream included economic justice for all, and that his father's dream could not possibly be considered fulfilled when 37 million people in this country live in poverty and 47 million live without health insurance.

CNN has a good report of civil right veterans speaking out on just this issue. Give it a read.

shreveport man gets 15 years for stealing $100.00

ndon Preston tipped me off to this from We Saw That...

A homeless man goes into a bank, pretends he has a gun, and picks a single $100 bill from the stack presented to him. Later, he feels remorse and turns himself into the police. His sentence? Fifteen years.

Bernie Madoff sits at home in luxury awaiting trial. How many people's lives has he ruined? Want to guess what he'll get for a sentence?

Hey, white people! Want to apologize?

Hey, white people: have you ever witnessed a person of color being treated in a disrespectful manner and wanted to apologize, wanted to say, We're not all like that?

Have you ever heard other white people say, Why are they (African-Americans) taking it out on me-- I've never owned a slave?

Apologies from a group of people or a government to another group of people are not uncommon, even when the people doing the apologizing were not directly involved in whatever caused the need.

German and Austrian churches have apologized to the Jewish people.
Japan has apologized for its colonial rule and to the women forced into prostitution during World War II.
The Pope apologized in 2004 for the sacking on Constantinople in 1024.
The U.S. Congress has introduced a bill (still unpassed) to apologize to Native Americans.
And the U.S. House has passed a bill apologizing for slavery which has yet to pass the Senate.

So now's our (white people's) chance to do the same.

Three Massachusetts residents have been so moved by recent experiences that they have begun collecting signatures from white people to make a public apology for racism. Their site, Facing Our Unhealed Past, has a compelling statement which includes information about Massachusetts' role in racism in particular, but you don't have to be from Massachusetts to sign.

If you are so inclined, go ahead and add your signature. It doesn't absolve us from taking other actions to dismantle racism, but it's a beginning.

Photo from Fatty Tuna's photostream at Flickr.

Simple action could save hawks and eagles

Most Western Mass. residents have had the eerie experience of driving the Massachusetts Turnpike at night while approaching the Springfield exit and seeing fire burning in the sky-- seems that way, anyway, because we can't see the burners at the Chicopee landfill which are responsible for burning off accumulating methane.

I've often wondered why there isn't a way to recapture that methane instead of burning it but I never thought that the burner itself might be a hazard for hawks, eagle and other raptors.

Apparently, raptors will perch on the burners while looking for prey, completely unaware that fire could flare up at any moment. Most birds caught in that fire will die.

There's a simple and inexpensive solution-- install spikes or other excluder devices. Long-term solution? Find a way to use the gas so that burners are unnecessary.

There's a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that you can sign, asking them to direct landfill owners to make the necessary changes to their burners. Go to the Care2 petition site to sign.

Photos from the Petition Site and Paul W's photostream at Flickr.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gaza casualties

Local blogger Bill Dusty challenged info in my last post about 90% of the casualties in Gaza being non-combatants. That figure does seem wrong. I took a look online for some estimates and they follow below, and while I rarely print newspaper articles in their entirety, I must do so for an NYTimes article about the death of three of the daughters of a Palestinian doctor in Gaza.

Just remember: no CHILD voted in any Palestinian election, not for Hamas, not for anyone.

Gaza: UN official reports horrific hospital scenes of casualties

12 January 2009 – Appalled that fighting was still continuing in Gaza despite the Security Council’s ceasefire resolution, senior United Nations officials said today they were horrified at the human costs amid reports that over 40 per cent of the nearly 900 Palestinians killed in the Israeli offensive, and almost half of the 3,860 wounded, were women and children.

“Behind those statistics that we read out every day is really profound human suffering and grave tragedy for all involved and not just for those who are killed and injured but for their families as well,” UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) Director of Operations John Ging told a news conference in New York, speaking by video link from Gaza, where he had just visited the main Al Shifa hospital.

“(It) is the place of course where you see the most horrific human consequences of this conflict. Among the tragic cases that I saw were a child, six years of age, little or no brain activity, people don’t have much hope for her survival; multiple amputee – another little girl; and a pregnant woman who’d lost a leg,” he said, as the Israeli offensive went into its 17th day with the stated aim of ending Hamas rocket attacks into Israel.

“The hospital is really full of patients whose lives have been in many instances really destroyed, and they’re alive.”

UNICEF: Number of child casualties still rising in Gaza

Humanitarian situation is desperate

JERUSALEM/NEW YORK, 9 January 2009 - The number of children being killed and injured in the fighting in Gaza continues to climb and the humanitarian situation is becoming more desperate every day.

According to figures cited by OCHA today, there have been 758 Palestinian deaths since December 27 , out of which 257 were children and 56 were women. At least, 3,100 have been injured including 1,080 children and 452 women.

Red Cross accuses Israel over 'shocking' Gaza casualties

Posted Fri Jan 9, 2009 7:10am AEDT

The Red Cross has accused the Israeli army of hindering its rescue teams after saying it found four children lying next to their dead mothers in the wreckage of a shell-battered Gaza City neighbourhoood.

In a scathing statement, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) accused the Israeli army of failing to meet its obligation under international humanitarian law to care for and evacuate the wounded.

The Red Cross said its rescue teams had been refused access to the Zeitun neighbourhood for four days.

January 18, 2009

Gazan Doctor and Peace Advocate Loses 3 Daughters to Israeli Fire and Asks Why

TEL HASHOMER, Israel — Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish is a Gazan and a doctor who has devoted his life to medicine and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.

But on Saturday, the day after three of his daughters and a niece were killed by Israeli fire in Gaza, Dr. Abuelaish, 53, struggled to hold on to the humane philosophy that has guided his life and work.

As he sat in a waiting room of the Israeli hospital where he works part time, he asked over and over, “Why did they do this?”

Elsewhere in the hospital another daughter and a niece were being treated for their wounds.

“I dedicated my life really for peace, for medicine,” said Dr. Abuelaish, who does joint research projects with Israeli physicians and for years has worked as something of a one-man force to bring injured and ailing Gazans for treatment in Israel.

“This is the path I believed in and what I raised and educated my children to believe,” he said.

Dr. Abuelaish said he wanted the Israeli Army to tell him why his home, which he said harbored no militants, had been fired upon. He said if a mistake had been made and an errant tank shell had hit his home, he expected an apology, not excuses.

The doctor, a recent widower, had not left Gaza since the Israeli assault began last month and was at home in the Jabaliya refugee camp with his eight children and other family members during the attack on Friday.

An army spokesman said that a preliminary investigation had shown that soldiers were returning fire toward the direction of areas from which they had been fired upon.

“The Israeli Defense Forces does not target innocents or civilians, and during the operation the army has been fighting an enemy that does not hesitate to fire from within civilian targets,” said the spokesman, speaking anonymously on behalf of the army.

The Israeli public became witness to the Abuelaish family’s tragedy on Friday night when a conversation that a television journalist was having with Dr. Abuelaish was broadcast live.

In a video now available on YouTube, the doctor implored the journalist, whom he had called, to help send assistance, wailing, “My daughters have been killed.”

Journalists had come to know the doctor, who was already well known in the country’s medical establishment, because he has been providing witness accounts of the Israeli operation for television stations. After the broadcast, an ambulance was sent to a border crossing to pick up the doctor and the two wounded girls. His four other children remain in Gaza and are expected to join him in Israel soon.

At the Chaim Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer on Saturday, Dr. Abuelaish was surrounded by Israeli colleagues. Several were crying. Tammie Ronen, a professor of social work at Tel Aviv University, knelt beside the doctor. “You cannot let yourself collapse, you have your living children to take care of,” said Dr. Ronen. Dr. Ronen had worked with him in researching the effects of conflict-related stress on Palestinian children in Gaza and Israeli children in Sderot, a border town that has been the main target of Gazan rocket fire in recent years.

“Tell them who my children were,” said Dr. Abuelaish, spotting Anael Harpaz, an Israeli woman who runs a peace camp in New Mexico for Israeli and Palestinian girls that three of his daughters attended, including his eldest, Bisan, 20, who was killed Friday. The other two daughters who were killed were Mayar, 15, and Aya, 13. The doctor’s niece who died, Nur Abuelaish, was 17.

Dr. Abuelaish recalled that it was Bisan who, after her mother died of leukemia, urged him to continue his work in Israel, saying she would look after the younger children.

In a hospital room, Ms. Harpaz held 17-year-old Shada Abuelaish’s hand as a nurse placed drops of medicine on her tongue. The girl’s forehead was covered in bandages as was her right eye, which had been operated on in hopes of saving it. The niece who was wounded is in critical condition, with shrapnel wounds.

Outside the room, Ms. Harpaz crumpled into a chair, sobbing.

“I hope this is a wake-up call,” she said. “This is such a peace-loving family.”

Dr. Abuelaish is a rarity: a Gazan at home among Israelis. He describes himself as a bridge between the two worlds, one of the few Gazans with a permit to enter Israel because of his work.

“I wanted every Palestinian treated in Israel to go back and say how well the Israelis treated them,” he said. “That is the message I wanted to spread all the time. And this is what I get in return?”

Later, sitting on a plastic chair near his daughter’s hospital room, Dr. Abuelaish spoke with the prayer of so many parents who have buried their children as part of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I hope that my children will be the last price.”

Springfield's "Israel Solidarity Week" infiltrated by peace activists

A ceasefire may hover on the horizon, but the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is far from ended.

It's hard to know what role the nearly universal horror of Israel's invasion of Gaza, and the intense political activity that's followed, has had on moving the conflict closer to peace. But speaking out is simply what people of conscience have felt compelled to do.

On Friday, a group of peace activists brought their message to an event at the Jewish Community Center in Springfield, MA. The following is a report from one of those activists.

A lot of people have been asking for a report of our direct action at the Jewish Community Center yesterday evening in Springfield so here it is.
A group of 28 of us went to -- essentially infiltrated -- the "Israel Solidarity Week" rally at the Jewish Community Center (JCC)/Jewish Federation in Springfield. A series of these events were held all over the U.S. over the last two weeks. The rallies are sponsored and coordinated by the national organization United Jewish Communities (UJC). UJC's webpage defines the organization's mission as:

"Unifying North American Jewry: United Jewish Communities represents and serves 157 Jewish federations and 400 independent Jewish communities across North America. It reflects the values of social justice and human rights that define the Jewish people." [Emphasis mine.]

We planned our action very carefully so as to ensure the safety of all participants. Our goal was to get the media that was inevitably going to be at the event, as it always is for Israel solidarity rallies, to get footage of our protest that made clear to a broader public that the rally did not represent the sentiment about Israel's actions and policies of all Jews, Israelis, and other people of conscience. (As part of our group we had three Israelis and several Jews.) We didn't for a minute think we'd be changing the minds of the Israel supporters in the room.
We organized into "affinity groups" and drove to Springfield in six cars. The JCC auditorium was packed with over 200 people. Our group sat throughout the auditorium. After a welcome speech by the JCC's president; a short, sycophantish speech by the Springfield mayor in support of Israel; and the singing of the U.S. national anthem and the Israeli anthem, "Hatikva;" all the members of our group rose and went and stood at the sides of the auditorium. We unfurled three large banners and held up signs condemning Israel's actions in Gaza and calling for solidarity with the Palestinian people.
Audience members all looked at our signs and started to "get" what was going on. Immediately the verbal abuse from the audience began with calls of: "get the garbage out of here," "ANIMALS!!!" and "TERRORISTS!!!"
Within a matter of a minute or two, about ten Springfield police who were there doing security for the event approached us and started physically pushing and pulling us out of the auditorum to the hallways on both sides of the space. As soon as we were pushed out of the range of the news cameras' view, the police became physically and verbally aggressive and abusive. They herded us like cattle smashing us one into the other, dragging some of us by our clothing and scarves around our necks, screaming at us abusively all the while, and ultimately beating a few of the members of the group with batons.
Meanwhile, one policeman radioed for additional units to come to the JCC and requested a K-9 (canine) unit as well. Members of the group reported that at least one policeman had his gun drawn and ready to shoot. Their verbal abuse was tremendous, extremely loud and often shouted into our faces literally just inches away from our heads. They demanded that we get into our cars and threatened repeatedly to arrest the entire group. Approximately 10 squad cars arrive on the scene and cops swarmed us pushing us into our cars all the while screaming and physically pushing and pulling us.
One policeman slammed the car door on my leg as I was getting into the car. I got back out of the car and yelled at him that he has slammed the door on my leg and that that was not acceptable. He responded by putting his face right up to mine and screaming, "No I didn't! You're Lying."
A night to remember.
Unfortunately, the news media did not follow us out into the hallways or into the parking lot to record the abuses wreaked upon us. There was short clip of our demo on the 10 p.m. Fox News program (Channel 6) and ABC's channel 40 at 11 p.m.
I saw a cop writing down my license plate number. They probably recorded those of our other cars as well. What will happen to that information? Will it go to the FBI and Homeland Security? I recently heard an interview with Naomi Wolf about her book Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries in which she talked about the increasing force with which local police forces are responding to civil society's protests and political actions. She discussed how police are intimidating people calling for social change with such brutality that protesters are becoming more and more scared to participate in actions.
I don't know if we achieved the goal we had set for ourselves. The media coverage was fairly marginal and some of us sustained bruises and increased rage. We continue to struggle with questions about what our next steps should be toward ending the current carnage and cruelty in Gaza; ending Israel's occupation, siege, blockades, and dehumanization of Palestinians for the longterm. How can we, here in little Western Massachusetts, influence the hearts and minds of our fellow citizens and the politicians who are supposed to represent us? For those of you who are local, I'll send out just one more email today with ideas some of us are working on. We'd like to solicit your participation and support.
I am attaching a copy of the flier we dispersed as we were being pushed out of the JCC

We are an ad-hoc, multi-generational coalition of students, members of academia, Israelis, Americans, internationals, Jews, and people of conscience in Western Massachusetts who are speaking out against the policies and actions of the Israeli government and military.

We are deeply troubled by and outraged at Israel’s war on Gaza and its aggressive violence against the Palestinian people.

To date:

Over 1,100 Palestinians have been killed and over 4,600 have been wounded. Over 90 percent of those killed and injured are civilians. Almost half are children.

  • The 1.5 million Palestinian people in Gaza have been under Israeli-imposed siege and blockade for the past 18 months without adequate food, water, medicine, or fuel
  • The Palestinians in Gaza have suffered collective punishment for resisting an unjust and illegal occupation
  • Israel continues to perpetrate massive violations of international and humanitarian law against the Gazans
  • Israel’s murderous and unjust campaign in Gaza is being funded misguidedly by the U.S. and carried out with U.S.-made weapons and U.S. approval

We call on Israel to:

Stop the killing! Stop the siege! Stop the blockade! Stop the war crimes! Allow humanitarian goods and other commodities to flow into and out of Gaza freely! Allow the people of Gaza their human dignity, legal rights under international law, and freedom!

While the end of the current war, siege and blockade on Gaza is our most immediate priority, we call for an end to Israel’s ongoing occupation, ethnic cleansing and oppression of Palestinians. Israel’s current policies and actions will not bring safety to Israelis nor peace to anyone in the Middle East.

We call on the United States to: Stop funding and supporting Israel’s war crimes, occupation, and unjust assault on Palestinians!

Israelis, Jews all over the world, and people from all over the world are speaking out against the Israeli war on Gaza. We mourn the carnage Israel has wreaked in Gaza and the loss of life on both sides. AIPAC and this rally do not represent our views.

Image from Makaristos,

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Cats that know what they want and how to get it

I have more serious things to blog about today, so let me share this first:

Link: YouTube

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bush after the wolves....if only

If only the wolves could go after Bush!

In what the National Resources Defense Council calls a cruel parting shot, Bush has removed Endangered Species Protection from gray wolves in Montana and Idaho.

Bush removed their protection last year, also, and 110 wolves were slaughtered in the aftermath. Remember Hoppy? NRDC and other groups went to federal court and stopped Bush, but now, with only a few days left...

NRDC will be headed back to court next week.

Photo from Harlequeen's photostream at Flickr.

13 Below & no safety net for Springfield's homeless

In Boston, MA, homeless shelters are staying open 24 hours instead of the usual overnight hours until the worst of the cold spell passes.

In Buffalo, NY, the city has opened two warming shelters to handle the overflow of those seeking to get in out of the cold.

In Connecticut, Gov. Rell has ordered the National Guard to open the armories to the homeless.

But in Springfield, MA, the director of the city's largest shelter won't promise no one will be kicked out of the shelter for bad behavior, and won't promise that those who have already been banned will be allowed back in during below zero weather.

"We go on a case by case basis," says Bill Miller, director of the Friends of the Homeless Shelter, one of two shelters for men in the city and the only shelter for women.

One of any shelter's responsibilities to its residents is to keep them safe, and many (but not all) bannings at the Friends of the Homeless Shelter come about because of violent behavior. Fear of violence can keep other homeless people away, so obviously the common good must be preserved. Yet violence in a setting where there is no privacy is almost unavoidable. On Monday, one man told an advocate from the poor people's rights organization Arise for Social Justice that he was sleeping in his cot when someone punched him in the face. Another man told of being asked for a dollar by four other homeless men, and when he said he didn't have a dollar, they attacked him.

Punching a man in the face, however, is not a capital offense, and anyone sent out into the cold is at risk of dying. Men can try to get into the Taylor St. Shelter, which has a limited number of beds and only operates from Monday through Friday. Women who are banned, whether because of theft, violence or possession of drugs, are completely out of luck.

So what's the solution? That's what advocates and some service providers have been asking at the city-sponsored "Homes Within Reach" meetings, which for the past two years have been working on a "Housing First" model to get people out of the shelters and into housing.

Prior to 2004, homelessness was not even on the city's radar screen, but when homeless people organized a tent city with the help of Arise, Springfield officials started to pay attention. The tent city lasted six months, closing only when the Warming Place shelter, operated by Open Pantry Community Services, was able to re-open. But in 2007, facing state cutbacks and with a marked lack of support from the city, OPCS once again was forced to close the Warming Place-- this time, permanently. Nearly ninety people were left scrambling for space in the other shelters. Many just seemed to disappear; some left town; others started camping in hidden places.

One of the city's strategies-- and for a while, it worked-- was to limit the number of homeless in Springfield by limiting the number of shelter beds, and to move the "chronically homeless" into housing. But progress in Springfield-- and indeed, across the country-- is slowing to a crawl as more people become homeless while state and federal resources are being cut.

Recent Homes Within Reach meetings have attempted to organize resources to assist homeless people out on the street, including helping the Springfield Police Department come up with a set of procedures for when it is appropriate to forcibly place a homeless person into protective custody.

But so far, the city and the Friends of the Homeless Shelter have been unable to figure out what to do to preserve the wellbeing of those who have been banned.

The following email from Kevin Noonan, director of the Open Pantry Community Services to the Homes Within Reach committee members, gives an inside look at the politics of homelessness and points out the limitations of the city's approach-- limitations that may cost someone his life.

Four years ago Larry Dunham died on the steps of Springfield's Symphony Hall. After Mr. Dunham died, the then mayor of the city of Springfield, whose office window overlooked the Symphony Hall steps, told us all in january 2004, this was indeed a tragedy and adequate shelter space would be developed as soon as possible!

Since then we have witnessed the number of shelter beds, available in the city, deliberately reduced and we have repeatedly heard this touted as a celebrated accomplishment. There have even been glossy brochures boasting wonderful successes which include a depiction of people who are homeless, who managed to peacefully shelter and care for themselves on our postage stamp of a parking lot in an encampment known as Sanctuary City (which demonstrated more racial harmony than the city as a whole) as an example of one of the low points of "where we have been" and "how much better we can do than that".

A snapshot / a point in time count in 2008, which calculated 39% fewer people than a previous point in time count one year before it (visible on the streets), became an urban myth, repeated in the local and national media and again in the glossy promotional brochure, that street homelessness in Springfield, MA has been reduced by 39% thanks to a new housing first strategy. Yet over two years into a housing first strategy, which was used to justify the reduction of shelter beds, approximately 70 housing first vouchers which were issued to Springfield by HUD remain unused and people who are without homes still languish on the waiting list and in many cases, on the streets of Springfield.

Since the closure of the Warming Place in June 2007, over a dozen people who once resided there, are now dead, though clearly not all of them died from hypothermia or hyperthermia. While we wholeheartedly agree with a "housing first" strategy and we have personally participated in the development of permanent affordable housing over the last twenty years, it is a strategy that cannot sink its anchor into the bodies of people who once trusted us to hold onto the safety net below them.

At the last solstice, we got together to mourn those who died in 2008. the length of the list and the ages of the people who had died was deeply disturbing.

After more than two decades of obfuscation, amid repeated assertions that no one is turned away, there is still no public acknowledgment or accountability regarding people who are banned from the only government funded shelter for individuals in Springfield, and it is difficult to
accurately ascertain why they are banned or for how long.

The city, as a conduit for federal government funds to the agency which operates the only government funded shelter for individuals within its boundaries is probably best suited to set up a system for monitoring who is banned, why and for how long etc. this could be done with signed releases of information and without compromising confidentiality. City officials might even be in a position to take proactive steps to guarantee the safety of individuals they know in advance are banned, or they might be able to broker the re-entry to the shelter of some of these individuals, or perhaps even function as a point of appeal.

Instead, the repeated e-mail messages or calls over the last two years, sent by me or by Open Door Director Theresa O'connor, and Loaves & Fishes director, outlining specific problems or complaints alleged by guests have been met with a startling silence which only seems to continue to put lives at risk and leave all parties feeling very frustrated.

The procedures outlined in the earlier e-mail from Ms. McCafferty (director of Homeless and Special Needs Housing) are indeed confusing. We are now instructed to first contact the shelter to see if a person is
indeed banned before we move onto the next step: i.e. determining if they were appropriately discharged from the last place they resided. As I understand it, only then should we contact Rev. Greg Dyson, and preferably via e-mail. He then may be able to help provide a room in a motel (for one night - maybe more?) or may be able to help us work out some other solution? all this while not revealing to people who are homeless that this remedy is even a possibility!

Last night at about 6:30 p.m. I was called by Marion Hohn of Western Mass Legal Services, who had encountered a woman sitting in one of the doorways of a downtown restaurant. despite a warm restaurant teeming with patrons chatting, sipping drinks and enjoying themselves this woman (K) sat just outside one of the doors, slowly freezing.
She was intoxicated, wearing a light jacket and an oversize pair of overalls with broken clips. She was unable to keep her overalls up without exposing her bare hands to the bitter cold and when she couldn't bear the stinging cold on her hands and chose to warm them next to her body her pants would fall to her knees, revealing she not only lacked thermal underwear, but that she had none at all. Thanks to the Red Cross' People's Center, she was at least wearing a hat. Although she described the hat as ugly it may well have helped to save her life.

K was alternately agitated and despondent. Her body temperature, in my opinion, was beginning to descend into a state of hypothermia. We convinced her to walk with us down to the Crown Chicken pizza shop to try to help her warm up and to give her something to eat and drink. K would not agree to let us contact an ambulance and she claimed she was afraid to go to the Friends of the Homeless shelter (although she said she had not been banned from the facility) because she feared for her safety from other residents.

I absolutely appreciate Rev. Dyson's willingness to help out with resources and I suspect, more often than not, those resources come from his own pocket and they are given selflessly, from the heart, with love and compassion. I also appreciate the resources that have regularly been made available by Rev. Jack Desroches and his associates, most likely also from their own pockets, and ditto from Rev. Jim Munroe and members of his congregation, or from the folks who go out on the streets each week to search for people who are homeless, and many other folks, including members of the mobile outreach team or the police department, other agencies and our own staff who are committed to saving lives. I deeply admire and respect each of them for their willingness to do whatever it takes.

That said, I absolutely believe it is
not a viable city policy to simply acknowledge the good will and support of these committed and loving individuals and tell us to seek them out whenever we encounter people on the streets, after we have called a shelter to determine if they "really are banned" and after we have determined if they were "appropriately discharged from the last place they stayed" and presumably we should not contact Rev. Dyson -- or any of these other kind people, if there has been, in someones estimation, an inappropriate discharge?

It was way too cold to do all that yesterday evening (and then send an e-mail and hope for a reply) while standing on the street with a woman in crisis. In these temperatures we also can not engage in what I believe was termed by Ms. McCafferty in our last meeting as "push back" or wait to hear what Rev. Dyson referred to in his last e-mail as being sent "back to the drawing board" if someone thinks the last place to accommodate this individual engaged in "inappropriate discharge planning". Btw: is banning someone and sending them out into the bitter winter cold of New England considered an "appropriate discharge"?

One of the reasons for not making public the list of people who are banned is presumably confidentiality, or that the list, according to Mr. Miller, is "an internal document". If this is the case, why then are we now told that on an ad hoc basis, when we encounter someone half naked and freezing to death on the streets of Springfield, we can dial into the shelter (if we have a cell phone with us) and expect to be granted an update on a person's confidential status on the shelter's "internal document" also known as the "banned list". It was stated in our last meeting that there is at least one name (perhaps more I can't recall) on that list for an individual(s) who is permanently banned.

If any of the clergy or people in our community can help or are available, of course we will attempt to contact them to see what can be done. We have done this in the past and will continue to do so. yet their kindness and goodwill should not and cannot be the official response on the part of the city of Springfield. certainly not four years after finding Larry Dunham's frozen corpse at the portal of music and culture for the city of homes and definitely not thirty five+ years after the onset of this epidemic in Springfield which has witnessed people languishing on the streets year after year.

We should be ashamed of our collective failure to not have a more responsive policy. Icannot possibly believe that taking advantage of the love and compassion of these well meaning and hardworking clergy and others is the only appropriate city wide response in 2009!
We acknowledge the right of the only government funded shelter for individuals who are homeless to exclude people on occasion for various behavioral reasons but what we cannot and will not accept is that the appropriate consequence of that exclusion is: "see if you can survive on the streets tonight" or "tomorrow night" or "until we say so" or "for a longer period of time if you choose to argue with us about the matter" as some have alleged.

There absolutely needs to be a clear and unambiguous policy and preferably an easily accessible place for people (who are at risk of dying on the streets) to seek refuge if further fatalities are to be avoided. Although we and others did our best to secure a safe place for K to stay last night who knows where she will be tonight, which of us will encounter her and what her body temperature will be when meet her. We really don't need additional names for the memorial list.


PS - For those who wish to attend: there will be a memorial service for Bill Conners, on Friday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. at Christ Church Cathedral, 35 Chestnut St. Bill, who was a very nice man, collapsed and died of a massive heart attack in December.