Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Free baby-- 1 1/2 yr old little girl-- any takers? and other tales from Arise

We've started monitoring DHCD at the Liberty St.welfare office in Springfield (and as the word is spreading, we're also hearing from families in Holyoke) and let me tell you-- if I had to put up with what many of these families are dealing with, I'd either be homicidal or suicidal.

We've been trying to help a single dad with eleven year old twins.  They've been living in a pop-up camper in a friend's back yard-- no running water, no electricity.  The first time the father went to DHCD, he was not given an application for shelter; he was told he was keeping his children in unsafe conditions and they were going to call the Dept. of Children and Families  and report him.  Of course he left, furious and terrified.  We told him to go back to DHCD the next day and insist on filling out an application.  I also called DCF in Boston to ask if they thought it was appropriate to be used as a threat against homeless families.  The father now has an appointment for Friday, but DHCD still had to include another threat, telling him he was just a heartbeat away from having a 51A (abuse and neglect) filed on him.

We finally got a mom and her three grandkids into shelter today, on the very day the sheriff was to physically remove them from their apartment. (I wrote about her in "The only thing we can do for you is walk you to the door." She and her grandkids, aged 2, 4 and 12, had gone back and forth between DHCD and the School Department four times, with DHCD insisting on a particular form they said the School Department had, and the School Dept. insisting they had no such form.  Finally, a call to the homeless liaison at the school dept. generated a screenshot of the child's enrollment which DHCD was willing to accept-- temporarily, until the grandmother proves she has legal custody. (Her daughter is incarcerated, and the notarized letter she'd given her mother had been good enough for the family to receive TAFDC benefits.)  When I asked my DHCD contact why the runaround, she said that without such strictness, anybody could walk into the welfare office and claim children as theirs when they really weren't.

"Yeah," I said, "but how often does that actually happen? Sounds like the kind of reasons used for tightening voter eligibility-- voter fraud-- when it scarcely exists."  She didn't disagree and gave me no examples that this kind of welfare fraud really happens..

Yesterday and today we've been hearing about-- and acting on behalf of-- a 26 year old mother and her four year old daughter who were found wandering in the middle of the night by the Holyoke Police.  The police were kind enough to let them stay at the station until morning, when they could drop her off at the Holyoke welfare office, where she was told by a worker,  "There are no shelters anymore."  She found her way to an ally (who shall remain nameless) and from there to the Mass Justice Dept.  They told her to go back to the office and ask for an application for shelter; she did, but DHCD refused to give her one.  So she was going to be sent back to the office once again, but now it was too late in the day and none of the advocates knew how to help her in time for tonight, so they suggested she spend the night in the Holyoke Hospital emergency room, and come back in the morning.  It was at that point that I put out a plea on our Facebook page, asking for mattresses and bedding.

I must say that everyone of these advocacies  has involved intense collaboration with the Mass Law Reform Institute, Mass Coalition for the Homeless and the Mass Justice Project.

Now to the free baby: yesterday was a long day but I was full of energy again after a meeting of our newest, two-month old committee, VOCAL-- Voicing Our Community Awareness Level.  We're dealing with criminal justice issues and the core group is fervent and strong.  However, I was definitely ready to go home when a friend of Arise, we'll call her Dorothy, stopped into the office.

Dorothy is not quite a member of Arise, because she is too busy completing her education in Early Childhood Education to take on the work, but we see her frequently during the school year, when she stops in to visit until it's time for her bus.

Dorothy is one of the sweetest, kindest people I know.  Two months ago, she and her high school aged daughter  opened their home to an elderly man who became homeless after his apartment building was condemned.  It was going to be a temporary arrangement, but he fits in well, and contributes to the rent (which the landlord raised because there was an extra adult living in the apartment), so there's now a tinge of permanency in Dorothy's voice when she talks about him.

"I've got some new people at my house," she said.

"Really?  Who are they?"

"This 26 year old girl and her year and a half old baby-- a girl."

"Where did you find them?"

"I was in the bathroom at the bus station and the girl was in there-- she was crying hard-- and the baby was balanced on the edge of the sink, and I was worried about her, because her mother was crying so hard, and not paying attention, so we got talking, and she had nowhere to go, so I took them home."

"Wow, Dorothy, can I help?-- try to get her into shelter?"

"I don't know," she said.  "The girl may not stay-- she has a boyfriend in Alabama and she texts him all day.  But she might leave the baby behind with me...but I don't know how to take him and still finish school..." Her voice trails off.

"How did that come about?"

"The girl just said to me, 'Please take my baby.  Please.  I just can't take care of her anymore.'  We went down to court last week for me to get temporary custody and we have a court date in September....My school has daycare but she's too young."

"Maybe you can be his foster mother, get some financial help, pay for daycare; they do exist for chilrden that young."

"I took her-- the baby-- to church last week, just to see how she'd be, and she was good, quiet, and she waved at the other people and she waved at me....she's a sweet daughter says she'd like to have a sister..."

"You've fallen in love with the baby," I said.

"Yes.  I've fallen in love."

She told me more about the girl-- the mother-- which I won't write here, except to say that the girl has a dream that she will marry her boyfriend, and they will get a little house, and everything will be all right, and then she can come back for her baby.  (Want to count the broken hearts in this dream?) What I heard of her story answers at least part of this question: What could possibly make a woman so desperate that she would plead, to a person she scarcely knows, "Please take my baby.  I can't take care of her anymore?"

I haven't been able to get them out of my mind all day.  I left a message on Dorothy's phone tonight.

"Listen, I really want to talk to you about the girl and her baby.  Let me help.  Maybe we can all meet together.  Maybe there's something we can figure out.  Call me."


We had a training today for people willing to put in some time to monitor the DHCD offices.  We have another one scheduled for this Thursday at 5 pm. at our office, and will be scheduling more for next week.  We need more help if we and our communities are not to allow men, women and children to wander the streets.  Please call Arise at 413-734-4948 if you can give even an hour a week.  Thanks.

 Photo of Gari Melchers' Mother and Child from Who Wants to Know's photostream at Flickr.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Truth Has Fallen" - help make this documentary happen.

  "Truth Has Fallen" trailer: Innocence Does Not Guarantee Freedom from Sheila Sofian on Vimeo.

Sometimes people write to us and ask us to promote their site or issue on our blog.  Many of these requests are so far from our work, it's easy to to say no.  But we have to say YES to this request.  People who think that innocent people don't go to jail are kidding themselves-- and innocent people are still being murdered by the state.  Watch the trailer and check out the film's website: Truth Has Fallen.

From IndieWire: TRUTH HAS FALLEN is a live action/animated documentary about three innocent people who were wrongfully convicted for murders they did not commit. The film examines their cases and sheds light on weaknesses in our justice system. Employing a combination of abstract, surreal animation and live action images, TRUTH HAS FALLEN asks how innocent people could be convicted of murder- what could be done to prevent such injustices in the future- and what happens to these innocent people when they are released from prison after years of incarceration?

Director/Animator/Producer Sheila Soflan and  Executive Producer David Fain still have funds to raise for a soundtrack and post-production costs.  You can find out more about their fundraising drive here.

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Zinnias, butterflies, wheelchairs, wanderers

A man calls who is in a wheelchair and needs an electrical breathing apparatus at night.  He's moved into an apartment but can't get the electricity turned on because someone has fraudulently used his name at a residence where he's never lived.  Doesn't look like he can get this resolved until Monday at least.

A woman comes in looking for an efficiency apartment.  She'd been staying at a church-run "home" but was kicked out because she went to a relative's funeral instead of a house meeting.  We'll meet again Monday; we might have a few leads for her.  After she leaves, our senior aide says she knows two other people abruptly kicked out of the same facility, after turning over most of their money.

A woman emails me who has gradually become disabled and is now in a wheelchair.  She's single, has been bouncing from friend to friend, is on every waiting list for a handicapped apartment but is being told she's years away from getting one.  I don't know if there's any w3ay we can speed up the process.

Another woman calls-- her brother is incarcerated, is sick, in fear of his life, and is being transferred to a maximum security prison even though he only has a year of his short sentence left to serve..  Ellen talks to her; Ellen has already tried to reach advocates in eastern Mass on her behalf without success.

A man comes in who wants to know why he received an eviction notice even though he's paid his rent.  (This was an easy one.)

Ruth from Mass Law Reform Institute,  Liz and I get on the phone to plan our strategies around the homeless families being turned away from shelter.  We have some ideas. I start designing a flyer in my head that we can pass out at Welfare.  This is a war against the poor, well underway, while we're still rallying the troops.  (Too bad there's no way to "draft" the people who are supposed to care but are too busy to help.)  The good news is, we totally understand the battle strategies of the enemy: empty the shelters, and bar most everyone else from entering.  They count on the apathy of the people, and we have to find a way to prove them wrong.

Our semi-office cat comes in from the heat.  John stops over and takes a photo of a butterfly which has landed on the zinnias we've planted at our back door.  All in all, we've had worse days. Print Friendly and PDF

New biomass rules take effect Friday!

Hey, biomass developers! If you can't meet at least 50% efficiency, then you won't be considered green and renewable, meaning you will not be eligible for subsidies from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Mass. Dept. of Energy has announced.

In the last three years, both pro and anti-biomass activists have spent many hours in hearings and many hours researching and submitting testimony and evidence.  Yes, we would have liked the new rules to be even stronger.  But even as they are, not a single one of the biomass plants currently operating in New England can meet the new standards-- this according to the president of the pro-bio trade group, the Biomass Power Association.

Most biomass plants operate at less than 25% efficiency.  (Can you imagine if only  25% of the gas you put in your car's tank actually took you somewhere?) Burning trees and waste wood is no more "green and renewable" than coal or oil.

Let's be clear: these new rules do not prohibit the construction of biomass plants in Massachusetts; they simply mean those plants won't qualify for Renewable Energy Credits.  The developers of the proposed biomass plant in Springfield, Palmer Renewable Energy, has said it doesn't need the RECs to operate profitably. But I can't imagine they're thrilled with the new rules.

Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield, Arise, the Conservation Law Foundation and the Toxics Action Center have accomplished a lot this year to keep PRE from moving forward in Springfield.  The city council revoked the company's special permit that a previous, all at-large version had approved, and when the building commissioner gave PRE a building permit anyway, we and the city council successfully appealed to the zoning board.  We appealed the plant's air permit to the Dept. of Environmental Protection, and the final decision is still pending.  PRE is appealing the building permit revocation to the Massachusetts Land Court, so our fight is not over.  But Springfield residents have had three years (so far!) where our already sick air has not been made sicker by spewing pollutants and greenhouse gases into our air.

Now we get to save our RECs for energy production for those sources that deserve it. Print Friendly and PDF

Thursday, August 16, 2012

"The only thing I can do for you is walk you to the door."

The last people I saw at Arise today were a woman and her adult nephew. 

For the last five years, she and her three children have been living with her father and taking care of him as he was dying, which, last month, he did..  She was never on his lease.  The landlord is evicting her, and Housing Court gave her ten days to leave.  Those ten days are now up, and she is waiting for the 48 hour notice from the sheriff.

Two weeks ago she went down to the Liberty St. welfare office and filled out an application for Emergency Assistance with the Dept. of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).  She went back to DHCD on Wednesday and a DHCD worker told her there was nothing they could do to help her.

"The only thing I can do for you," she said, "is walk you to the door."

Well, we're going to do what we can for her.  But here's what YOU can do: we're not done pressuring the Governor's office, our  legislators, or DHCD.  Please call BOTH the Boston and the local Governor's office: 617- 725-4005 or 784-1200.  Call your state senator and representative through the State House switchboard.  Ask them: is this what they intended when they voted these new rules through?  And call DHCD at 627-788-3610 and ask him to have some compassion in how his agency applies the new rules.

MORE YOU CAN DO: Help us monitor the DHCD office in Springfield (and Holyoke, if we can get enough people!) for homeless families being turned away from shelter.  We have two trainings scheduled: Monday, August 20, 11 am., and Wednesday, August 22, 5 pm.  It's not necessary to take the training to do the monitoring, but it's helpful. 

Here are some of the situations that our colleagues in Boston are reporting. I'll be very surprised if you aren't  gnashing your teeth by the end of this post.

In the past week, one very young mom with a 1-year old baby was denied shelter after exhausting her last double-up. She and her child slept for 2 nights in South Station. The first night a man approached them and offered them food. The next night he returned and said he was worried about them and would let them stay in his apartment. He then raped the young mother while the baby slept nearby. Even after the mother returned to DHCD with the rape kit results and proof of why she had good cause for losing a prior job (she had no child care and nowhere to stay), DHCD refused to look at the evidence, denied her shelter again, and told her that they would report her to DCF for neglecting her child by sleeping in South Station. In fact, we now know that DHCD actually did file a 51A on this poor woman. And even after Traveler’s Aid put her up for a few nights and contacted DHCD on her behalf, a high ranking DHCD official refused to place her and said: “she can appeal the denial and get a decision in 45 days.” Ongoing efforts are being made to force DHCD to place this family (which may or may not happen today), but whatever happens to this family now, the harm is done and there can be no denying that this is a predictable consequence of the policy that is being applied.

Other families are being approached outside DHCD offices by strangers who see them crying or distraught and offering to take them home. We are very concerned about the quid pro quos that may be imposed. In one double up, the mom was told she would have to “strip to stay.”

In another case, a woman who is 8 months pregnant and her baby’s father had no where to sleep but an old car of some friends that was parked on the street. The car recently was towed away, leaving them with nowhere to go. They applied for shelter and were told they would not be eligible until they brought in a ream of verifications, including the registration for the car that was towed (which of course is relevant to nothing and was in the car that was towed which no one had resources to retrieve). The pregnant woman in the late stages of her pregnancy has now been forced to sleep on the hard floor of an acquaintance’s house with no mattress and cannot stay there for long. She has given DHCD verification from medical providers that her pregnancy is high risk to which DHCD has responded: "they aren't my boss."

In addition to the fact of the denials and reflected in the above examples and others, families are systematically being treated horribly by DHCD. Families cry to us: “Do I really have to go back there to get shelter? Please don’t say I have to go back there.” They are forced to go to the office day after day, given long lists of verifications to bring back (some of which are not even relevant and many of which should not be required before placement), and then when they do bring them in are told DHCD is too busy to see them that day.

One woman who is a natural born U.S. Citizen and has never been in the Dominican Republic in her life was told by a DHCD worker: “Just go back to the Dominican Republic where you belong.”

One mother with several children who is hearing impaired and has just been diagnosed with cancer is another example. Based on reports from the City of Boston, she and her children have been staying temporarily with her mother in subsidized housing who has now been served with eviction papers, at least in part because their staying there violates the lease. She has spent multiple days at DHCD with her children without being served. She noticed many families who came in later than her being processed in front of her and so repeatedly went to the reception desk to ask if she had missed hearing her name called -- due to her hearing impairment. She was rudely told that if she came back to the desk again she would be forced to leave. Then she was told they did not have time to see her and she should come back yet another day. She begged them to place her because she could not go back to her mother’s because of the pending eviction and did not know where her children would sleep. She was told that it was her problem where her children were going to sleep and told in front of one of her children that DHCD would file a 51A against her to have DCF take her children if she did not return to her mother’s last night.  Traveler’s Aid ended up putting them up last night but obviously does not have the resources to replace the EA system for all these families.

In addition, Traveler’s Aid contacted DHCD counsel about the mother’s pending eviction, based on the understanding that DHCD had promised lawmakers that it would take steps to ensure that hosts in subsidized housing would not be evicted for taking in homeless families. But DHCD counsel informed Traveler’s Aid that no action would be taken to prevent eviction in individual cases.

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Homeless 18 yr old girl - any ideas?

Just got off the phone with an 18 year old girl who is homeless.  She called Worthington St. Shelter for Women, where she has stayed before, but was told there were no beds available.  Now, this is interesting, because the official policy of Friends of the Homeless, who administers both the men's and the women's shelter, is to never turn anyone away.  So I called Worthington St., and sure enough, it's true she was denied because the shelter is full.  The very nice woman I spoke with, when I mentioned that I thought there was a no turn-away policy, said that that policy needs to change.

"We're seeing the same kind of numbers," she said, "that we usually see in the winter."  We commiserated with each other a bit.  I chose to wait to insist they shelter this girl until I tried some other options.

I have a call into the homeless coordinator at the Springfield School Department, because the girl is still in high school.  I also have a call into Sr. Sanga, who runs Annie's House, although she never has an opening.  Last time I talked to her, she told me that the women just weren't turning over, because they couldn't fuind housing they could afford.

I called my girl back to tell her what I was trying, and to ask her a little more about how she became homeless.

"I've been in a foster home since I was 14, and when I was 18, I was stubborn and signed myself out of DCF custody," she said.  "Then I stayed at the Worthington Shelter for six weeks.  Then I went to stay with a friend in Worcester, but it wasn't safe-- the people in his house do drugs and I don't, it was pretty crazy there."

I suggested she try to sign herself back into DCF-- not easy, but not impossible.

Anyone have other ideas?

With what we know is happening to homeless families, all I can do is echo my girl and say, It's pretty crazy out there.

UPDATE: REALLY, REALLY BAD NEWS!  Friends of the Homeless has a NEW policy-- if you've been staying at one of their shelters and leave for what is considered to be a "housed" situation, you are not eligible for shelter for a year!   My girl is technically in that situation, but I spoke to the director, Bill Miller, who is going to call her and who might be willing to make an exception.

But more bad news: Bill says that those in the overnight shelter are going to have to come up with a housing plan, and if the "guests" are considered to be "noncompliant"(a pretty subjective term),  they will have to leave.  He says there are no time limits on shelter-- yet.

You would think the provider world would be more aware of what happens when you put people in a corner and give them no way out.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Arizona's out of control immigration laws

Briseira Torres of Glendale, Arizona spent four months in jail on forgery charges because she was suspected of being an illegal immigrant! But of course, race had nothing to do with it....

Check out this story from Young Turks (you can skip the ad): Print Friendly and PDF

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A snarky response to an annoying facebook post about poverty

This is so good I just had to repost the entire thing-- it's from The Phoenix and Olive Branch.  Thanks for the tip, Cynthia Melcher!

So, I keep seeing this seriously problematic image circulating on facebook. It’s an ugly beige and red graphic with the following text: If you can afford beer, drugs, cigarettes, manicures and tattoos, you don’t need foodstamps or welfare.
If you can afford beer, drugs, cigarettes, manicures and tattoos, you don’t need foodstamps or welfare.
Now, first of all, let me critique this thing as quickly as possible:
1. What you’re basically saying is that you can take one quick look at somebody and decide that they don’t deserve to eat or have a roof over their head. Wow, who made you god when I wasn’t looking?
2. You are not an expert on anyone’s needs when you bump into them in 7-11 and notice them buying cigarettes with nicely painted nails. See #1.
3. Targeting the poor as though they are stealing from you is stupid when your employer and insurance company are more likely the ones stealing from you in much greater amounts.
4. The poor don’t owe you an explanation for why they’re poor or what they do with what little they have.
5. The reason we have welfare and food stamps is to prevent assholes like you from withholding charity from the starving because you don’t approve of their lifestyles.
6. Compare the following:
Case of beer: $9.
Carton of cigarettes: $50.
Manicure: $15.
Tattoo: $200.
Total: $274.
Rent (per month): $500.
Food (per month): $400.
Total: $900.
Foregoing all those things still leaves you $626 in the hole, and we haven’t even mentioned electricity or running water or a phone line.
As for drugs, I have three responses:
  • Even if there were as many people abusing drugs and using welfare to survive as the Right seems to think, I’d rather pay an extra ten cents a year to have them not starve to death. Starvation is not a motivator. It’s a killer. If someone is so addicted to drugs that they can’t get it together enough not to be homeless, I doubt they’re in a position to stop doing drugs when their situation gets worse. What do you think got them started in the first place? A master’s degree and a new job at Google?
  • If someone is so addicted to drugs that they can’t get it together enough to keep a roof over their heads, they probably aren’t all that successful keeping up with the onerous paperwork that is required to stay on welfare. They’re probably leaning on the charity of family or friends.
  • If we had adequate, accessible psychiatric and health care for the poor, fewer people would turn to drugs in the first place.
7.  The poor do not have to perform for you by “looking poor” or foregoing things that you classify as luxuries to be deserving of basic human needs like food and shelter. Their survival should not depend on how much you like them, unless you want to return to the days of parents injuring their kids so they can receive more money begging on the street from pompous businessmen in fur coats. Read some Charles Dickens, for heaven’s sake.
8. If you’re academically minded, read this.
9. People turn to destructive creature comforts like cigarettes, alcohol and drugs to escape a life without real opportunity. How many poor kids have you sent to college lately?
10. Argh.
Okay, now that I’m done with that, here’s the snark I promised. Sometimes you can only fight a picture with another picture:
If you can afford to buy a senator, you don’t need a tax break.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

"Most Serious Attack on Poor People In 25 Years"

Forty voices filled with frustration. From all areas of our community. A vicious attack on us by the state government was underway. The guidelines for determining homelessness were revised. Under these new revisions , you could even sleep in a car and NOT be considered homeless The legislation crossed our governors desk, and HE SIGNED IT.
      We showed up on Thursday July 26th at 12:00 noon. The employees that worked in the Mass State building located on Dwight st in Springfield were forewarned as they arrived for work that morning. They knew we were coming. We arrived carrying sings and organizing chants. Mad, worried and determined, we stood on the walk in front of the building. Cars honked, folks yelled out windows in support. Michaelann Bewsee E.D of Arise, said that it was the worst attack on poor people she had seen in 25 years. This statement got allot of attention. Arise for Social Justice has been a advocate of the poor folks in our city for decades. Michaelann has seen it all. Alone we are easy targets for the oppressors. That is why we have to come out and stand together on attacks like these. We have strength in numbers. They cant ignore us. And anyone who knows Michaelann, knows it is close to impossible to ignore her.

      We entered the State building and marched up three flights of Stairs to Governor Devall Patricks office. We carried a protest sign with the signatures of all that were there that day.Outside of the Governors office door, we were meant by Elizabeth a staffer in the Devall Patrick administration.
She told us that she wanted to hear what we all had to say. She also told us that she has been a fan of Arise for a long time. She was cordial and invited all of us (30 +) into a large board meeting room. She introduced herself and her colleague's and stated that she felt this new legislation was a sensitive issue. Michaelann explained in clear and concise language that we wanted the revision changed and not left to the discretion of the agency or government officials whimsical or literal interpretations. Plainly she stated  "That if you were living in a bus station on Friday you were considered homeless, and therefore eligible for shelter. However on Saturday when the revision was instituted, under the same bus station roof as Friday, you would no longer be considered homeless and thus, NOT ELIGIBLE FOR SHELTER."

    This is the ATTACK Michaelann was referring to. Cuts in exactly the wrong place. On the most indefensible population of the state .And not just the state, but our country. You have to wonder who is responsible for this unforgivable, heartless piece of legislation? Well folks,I hate to think that the Governor fully realized the potential impact that this change would have on us. Did someone explain the "Bus Station Example" to him? Did he get it? Elizabeth, the staffer could not offer any relief beyond promising that Devall Patrick would be made aware of our protest and our visit. Oh, and our Protest sign with all of our signatures.

     We ended our 30 minute visit with Elizabeth and staff abruptly, Michaelann making it clear we were not happy or satisfied in any way. So what do we do now? Did you call your state rep? Senator? Congressmen? Are you as mad as we are?  This is just wrong on so many levels.
      Please get involved. A phone call to your elected officials office in a presidential election year carries a little more weight than non election years. We must all at least do that. Call Arise, ask what you can do .Better yet, visit us at 467 State street in Springfield Massachusetts. We love visitors. We need you to help support our campaigns. If you want to help, but cant come down,please contribute. Drop a check in the mail. Your financial support helps insure the grassroots work that we mobilize on. It cost us money and we are poor folks also. Collectively we do make a difference. We need your help. Times are tough. We are experiencing extreme hardship. Please insure the integrity of our work. Print Friendly and PDF