Saturday, April 21, 2012

When the streets are full with homeless people, will the policy people & the poverty pimps finally listen?

Me and Amanda at Weds. press conference - Photo John Morris
This might be a long post because I am going to work backwards in time, and go from the specific to the general, but I hope readers will bear with me because there is just so much to tell.

I'd intended to work at home today but then remembered that our work study student, Rachel, was bringing in a fellow student to see about working with us in the fall.  But in the fifteen minutes before they arrived, I answered the phone and found myself dealing with an extremely distraught woman in shelter with her husband and two toddlers, who, after having spent some years in prison, some of them in solitary confinement, found herself emotionally unable to tolerate the 10' by 10' room in which they were placed.  (Much more to their story, but....)

I don't usually deal directly with the Dept. of Housing and Community Development, the state agency now in charge of sheltering homeless families, but couldn't reach a lawyer, and decided that maybe a direct appeal would help. Well, it didn't help, and I found myself in a larger conversation about the shelter cuts proposed in the current House Ways and Means budget (more on this further down.).  I was told that there simply isn't enough money in the budget to cover both the front end-- prevention-- and the back end-- shelter, and that families having to live doubled up with other families was not necessarily a bad thing, because they can share expenses.

There's some truth in that, of course; I've lived that way most of my adult life and my kids and I wouldn't have fared as well otherwise.  But my situation was mostly planned, and very different from what happens when a woman with three kids moves into the two-bedroom apartment already occupied by her sister, husband and two kids. Most landlords won't put up with that because it puts the landlord, the apartment and its residents in violation of the state sanitary code. 

In any case, you now have the state's official policy about allowable overcrowding.

Yesterday, Thursday, I and Arise VP Ruben Santiago and member Devon brought our poster-sized postcards from the April 2 rally to the mayor's office and the governor's office,  where again I found myself in conversation with a state employee who wanted to cast Gov. Patrick in the broadest possible terms: as a good man and a good governor.  People with institutional power-- or those who represent them-- often think that because I'm a reasonable person, I will understand their perspective and agree with them.  Well, I understand their perspective, all right-- and I know what I know about the thousands of homeless and unstable households in this city, and the effect that instability is having on our community.

On Wednesday, Arise, Community Legal Aid, Safe Passage Women's Shelter and  homeless Arise member Amanda Bermudez held a press conference on the House Ways and Means budget in front of the Liberty St. welfare office.  We had no more than started to get set up when a dozen people came out of the welfare office to talk to us.

"DHCD says I'm not eligible and that if I don't leave the office, they'll call the Dept. of Families and Children to come and take my kids," one woman told us, tears in her eyes.

"DHCD says i'm not eligible even though I'm six months pregnant and sleeping in my car."

DHCD, DHCD, blah, blah, blah, and if things are bad now, wait until the state budget passes-- unless we can change it, of course.  We have one week, and I'm asking anyone who's read this far to go to Mass Coalition for the Homeless and then call your legislator.  There's more bad news and more action you can take at the end of this post.

62 Bay St.
On Tuesday, the Springfield Office for Housing held a "viewing" of three houses to which it holds title in the McKnight Historic District-- and one of them just happened to be the house I lived in for 30 years.  Half a dozen Arise members  went to my old house at 62 Bay St., and held signs for the viewing: "This should be the people's house" and "This is MY house!"

me in what used to be my garden
It was a very bizarre experience.  I could not help but feel a resurgence of anger toward the man who had owned the house when I lived there, who cheated us out of our dreams of a housing coop (long story), who defaulted on the mortgage and I didn't know it until men in suits knocked on our front door and auctioned the house (no bidders) and a mortgage company assumed the mortgage, then the company failed, then the ownership passed back to the landlord who I didn't know was still the owner and who didn't collect rent for ten years, and avoided any repairs that needed to be made (and we weren't allowed to make repairs, because we weren't the owners), until the chimney was falling and the roof was caving and we had to go

And I also remembered that only a month ago, on March 21, I sat with Gerry McCafferty, Housing Director, talking about the state of housing in Springfield..  I mentioned that my old house, which had been auctioned off by the city a couple of years ago, seemed not to be undergoing rehab, and she said she suspected ownership had reverted back to the city, when in fact I'm sure the "viewing" of my house was already in the works.

One might think that when a house has no mortgage, and the only debt on a house is back property taxes, that the city might offer that house to the tenants-- which would have been me, six years earlier, before so much damage was done to the house.  But no.  Or one might think that the Office for Housing director would at least be honest with me about what was in store for the house.  But no, again.

At that meeting with Gerry, I found out that not only does the city not have a housing plan, but also lacks the basic knowledge about our housing stock-- the real vacancy rate, median rents by neighborhood, the number of substandard units by neighborhood, the number of foreclosed properties or properties at risk, et cetera. 

But of course, there is a housing plan, and the plan is to continue to promote home ownership, whether it still makes sense to do so or not.  Gerry said that whatever comes out in the "Rebuild Springfield" plan, which is supposed to be the product of meetings in tornado-damaged neighborhoods, is what the mayor intends to support.  And when will the plan be released?  Within a week or two, Gerry said.  Yet whenever I call the Rebuild Springfield office, I hear that the plan is still undergoing final editing-- and, I was told, Gerry contributed heavily to the housing sections. 

One more step back in time, to Monday, April 2, when 200 of us rallied in Court Square to stop the criminalization of poverty and homelessness.  We made a simple demand that day to Domenic Sarno, Mayor of Springfield: to create a housing task force consisting of at least 50% low and moderate income renters and homeowners.  We won't wait forever for an answer.  Joe Oliverio's video frames it well.  If you want to fight for housing justice in Springfield, don't stand back.  Call us and join us.


1. TAFDC - Amendment 664: This amendment would restore the annual September clothing allowance to $150 per child, and preserve the $40/month rent allowance and the $40/month transportation allowance.

2. EBT Restrictions - Amendments 635, 502 and 842: These amendments eliminate unreasonable restrictions on use of cash assistance benefits – Lead Sponsors Toomey, Rushing and Conroy.
Amendment 635 would remove the most egregious provisions of HWM outside section 35
to ensure that low-income residents of the Commonwealth can pay their rent and taxes and purchase basic necessities;
- Amendment 502 would strike out section 35 and replace it with the recommendations of the recent EBT Commission, which are much less harmful, but include disqualification if benefits are wrongfully used; and
- Amendment 842 would strike out section 35 and
direct the Inspector General and the Auditor to file reports about any potential EBT abuses before any restrictions are adopted.
3. Amendment 603 - Emergency Assistance shelter (7004-0101) – Lead Sponsors Representatives Wolf and Rushing: This amendment would (a) eliminate the proposed 8-month time limit on shelter stays that would kick families with children out of shelter with no place to go; (b) ensure that families at risk of sleeping in places not meant for human habitation, including cars or the streets, remain eligible for shelter; and (c) delay any new shelter restrictions until at least January to allow time to evaluate the impact of new housing resources on shelter demand. A fact sheet with the amendment number is attached.
Other Amendments to Support: Amendments 694, 696, 701 – Asset Development Commission recommendations to allow education and training to count for TAFDC Work requirement for all 24 months and require DTA to give time limit extensions to allow completion (694), make one car per licensed driver in TAFDC and EAEDC households non-countable (696) and make $10,000 of lump sum income non-countable if used for responsible purposes or put in an account for later such use (701) – Lead sponsor Rep. Khan: These amendments would help lift families out of poverty and were all recommended by the Asset Development Commission.

1. Amendments 804 (O’Connell) and 774 (Rogers) would bar cash assistance recipients from accessing any assistance as cash! These harmful amendments would allow TAFDC and EAEDC recipients only to access benefits as vendor rent and utilities or at point of sale. Recipients would have access to NO cash assistance, leaving them unable to pay rent where landlords or those they are doubled-up with do not accept vendor rent and unable to pay for babysitters, school fees, etc. where point of sale payments are not possible.
2. Amendments 414 (Cabral) and 660 (Kane) would deny homeless families in shelter as of January 1, 2012 the right to new MRVP vouchers (7004-9024) to move out of shelter and instead adopt vague language authorizing creation of supportive housing units while barring families in shelter from receiving any priority for the new MRVPs. Given the proposed restrictions on access to emergency shelter that Amendment 603 seeks to redress to some extent, the one bright spot for homeless families in the budget was that some of them could get the new MRVP vouchers that are proposed.  Ask the House to say no to these amendments.
Here are the full lists of sponsors and co-sponsors for the TAFDC and EA amendments as of April 16, 2012:

Amendment 664 – TAFDC Clothing, Rent and Transportation Allowances
Representatives Khan of Newton, Aguiar of Fall River, Cabral of New Bedford, Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield, Hecht of Watertown, Kocot of Northampton, Provost of Somerville, Schmid of Westport, Swan of Springfield, Timilty of Milton, Turner of Dennis, Wolf of Cambridge, Lawn of Watertown, Smizik of Brookline, Sciortino of Medford, Fox of Boston and Andrews of Orange.
Amendment 603 – Striking 8-Month EA Time Limit and Sheltering Children Otherwise on the Street
Representatives Wolf of Cambridge, Rushing of Boston, Fox of Boston, Canavan of Brockton, Aguiar of Fall River, Sullivan of Fall River, Hecht of Watertown, Schmid of Westport, Turner of Dennis, Kocot of Northampton, Provost of Somerville, Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield, Cabral of New Bedford, Basile of Boston, Brady of Brockton, Ross of Attleboro, Smizik of Brookline, Swan of Springfield, Atkins of Concord, Lawn of Watertown, Forry of Boston, Malia of Boston, Andrews of Orange, Khan of Newton, Balser of Newton, Sciortino of Medford and Campbell of Methuen (not listed but also O’Day).
Print Friendly and PDF

No comments: