Friday, September 28, 2012

Calling all people of compassion

Rainy and cold this morning and I'm wondering how my young homeless couple fared last night.  They've been sleeping outside while their year old son stays sometimes with her sister, sometimes with his mother, both extremely tenuous situations that could end at any time because .  I've been trying to get them into shelter all week, but no luck so far.  They are "to blame" for their homelessness because a month ago, when the mom was living with her mom in Connecticut, they were evicted from private housing. I won't even try to explain all the hoops this family has been jumping through, trying to get qualified for shelter.  But in my last conversation with a DHCD worker yesterday, the worker said the Gram had been working 32 hours a week and the mom receiving cash assistance from welfare and they still couldn't pay the rent of $750!  Well, I'm calculating that at minimum wage, Gram was taking home about $700 a month, and mom's cash benefits were about $500, leaving them about $450 a month to pay all other utilities, transportation, clothing, etc. Maybe some families could have pulled this off, but my family couldn't; they gradually fell behind.    (Gram had 2 other children in the household, also.)  So it's their fault they were evicted, and they are therefore ineligible for shelter.

But what does it matter?  They are no less homeless.  Every morning my couple goes and picks up their son from whatever house he's been sleeping at the night before (both her sister and his mother work two jobs each) and then they wander the street.  But according to the DHCD worker, as long as the child has a place to sleep at night, that's all that matters.  And if the situation falls apart, and the child is out on the street with them, they still won't be eligible for shelter-- but most likely they will then lose their child to the custody of the Dept. of Children and Families.

More bad news for my couple-- when I told them that at least they, themselves, could get beds at Worthington St. Shelter, I found out that the shelter has changed its policy from taking all comers to the development of a waiting list.  You have to call at 9 am. and 5 pm. each day to see if a bed has opened up.  (There are only 36 beds for single homeless women in all of Springfield.)

This is scarcely the worst case of shelter denial I've heard in the last six weeks, since DHCD's new regulations went into effect.  Not surprisingly (to us, anyway), many housing and shelter providers choose to say these regs are good for the families, that shelter is a bad place, and what they have to offer, instead, is a housing benefit with a $4,000 maximum.  You can use it for first month's rent and a security deposit, but if my family can even find an apartment that is less than their monthly income (which is zero, at the moment), how far will $4,000 take them?  The thinking on DHCD's part, such as it is, is that before the $4,000 runs out, families will be able to increase their income and stabilize their lives to be able to carry the burden of market rate housing on their own-- at a time when market rate rents have never been higher, when there's a ten year waiting list for public housing, and when most jobs are part-time and low-paying.

I could go on, but let me come to the point of this blog post:  I am asking readers for two things:

First, who would be willing to open their homes and take a family in for a couple of days at a time?  We promise to send you only families who literally have nowhere else to go, and who are not eligible for shelter or are still jumping through hoops.  This is a very short-term solution, I know-- sort of like evacuating survivors from a war-torn country-- but it's all we can think of at the moment.  We've been trying to get the attention of the Greater Springfield Council of Churches and Catholic Charities, but they've shown a remarkable lack of interest in the issue of homelessness so far. 

Second, we know there are some other solutions that are possible-- and I won't describe them here-- but we need more people resources. Can you help us strategize and bring these solutions to reality? 

Let me end by saying that we are really over the top here at Arise with the number of families who come to us needing help..  I even had a (now shameful) moment yesterday when I hung up the phone after talking with another homeless family and shouted to the ceiling, :"God help me!"    But it's not me that needs help-- except help helping others.  What can you do to help?

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Charles Wilhite: Never give up! Panel next Tuesday

Panel Discussion:

Resisting the New Jim Crow in the Pioneer Valley and the Campaign to Free Charles Wilhite of Springfield

Speakers: Ed Cage, Uncle to Charles Wilhite; Emahunn Campbell, W. MA Students Against Mass Incarceration; Sheldon Gaynor, Community Organizer; Ellen Graves, Arise for Social Justice; Holly Richardson, Out Now


Charles Wilhite was convicted of murder in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.  Hear about the community and legal efforts that resulted in his being granted a new trial and how this struggle is related to legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s writings on mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow.


Presented by: Student Chapter of the WNE National Lawyers Guild Print Friendly and PDF

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Some Men Wear PINK

"Boys don't cross their legs like that."  "Cooking is a girls job."  "You run like a girl."  "Boys don't play with dolls."  "You whine like a sissy." " All male hairdressers are queer."  "Most waiters are gay."  "Flowers are for girls."  "You hold your cigarette like a fag."  "You walk like a gay dude."  "Boys don't cry."

                                                                                                                                                                        This is what I grew up hearing, these and so many more. I'm sure you could add to the list.. This was the neighborhood code of the day-- everyone in fear of being labeled a "fag."

Where did this shit come from and how does it affect me as a grown man of 54 years?  I really haven't asked myself those questions before this year. But being exposed to Arise and Out Now, working on hate and homophobia, being in the presence of a large contingent of LGBTQ folks, holding the banner at the opening ceremonies of Springfield Pride week, applauding and standing in solidarity with my friends as the rainbow flag is raised, marching up State street in Springfield to protest a hateful-homophobic pastor that spreads hate through the community in the name of God. (Yes, Scott Lively) is changing how I think.

I must begin by saying that I have always considered myself a very open person, accepting of most folks and cultures. I thought myself a kid who grew up in the post 60's era of free love, peace and rock n roll (The early 70's).  I was open to everything and loved being different. But as I look back, even then I was deeply affected by the code of society that dictated what was masculine and what was feminine. I didn't even realize how rigid I was.

     About 7 years ago my youngest daughter called me and said "Dad, I need to come and see you. I have to talk to you about something. " Well, I panicked. A sickness? Some crisis?  Maybe she was hurt in some way?  I had no idea what was wrong. She came over and told me she was gay. She also said she knew I would be accepting, understanding and not judge her for her sexual preference What she didn't know was that her free-love post 60's, peace, love and rock n roll, father took a deep breath of fear when she disclosed to me. I knew how I was supposed to act, but I couldn't quite get my footing.  After all, this is my daughter standing in front of me, telling me she is gay and her whole world is going to change and folks are going to not like her because she is gay, and she will lose jobs and people will discriminate against her, and GOD FORBID if she goes to the southern US, where she will be burned at the stake. I've seen what can happen to someone for just being different, but I kept my best poker face on. She left my house that day feeling that I fully understood and accepted her just as she was. And I do. But I worry.  What that day taught me is that I have been tolerant of the gay community all of my life, but until that day, I don't think I fully accepted gay folks. They were different. 'They weren't my daughter!

     This past week I watched myself have a interesting experience. I LIKE FLOWERS!  Does that make me gay? Does it in some way diminish my masculinity? Am I suppose to hide the fact that I love fresh flowers in a vase, in the house with my 7 male housemates? ( A little bio on my housemates) Everyone is 40 years old +, all of us are divorced from women. All of us are single. There are racist comments repeatedly from a few of them. (working on that one). We have a beautiful flower garden that was planted and cultivated by a former housemate, with many varieties of colorful flowers. I do not know the names of most of them.

A few days ago, I was cutting flowers for the vases. Arranging them just so. One of the guys came out and was watching me. I knew he was watching me. I straightened up a little, puffed chest- "What are ya doin?" he said. Almost by some instinctive, deeply ingrained masculine response, defiantly born of fear, I answered in deep manly bass tones, "Flowers are Fucking cool man"
Now my housemate said "What are you doin?" What I heard was a snaky-"Oh, look at that, are you playing with flowers girly-boy?" I immediately assumed a defensive posture. Defending my masculinity against the attack of the House Homosexual Patrol. (Real or Imagined). In my response to him I use the word FUCK several times and then invoked the term "My Ole Lady" Not once, or twice but three times, just to eliminate any lingering notion that  I was not being masculine. Manley. Tough. Guy Shit. (disclaimer) BTW. I never use that term "My Ole Lady" I fact, I really detest those words.

I could almost hear "Flowers are for Girls" and "You whine like a sissy".  I had an automatic fear driven response. Fear, learned long ago, deep lifelong lessons that go back generations. After I gathered the flowers and put them in the vase, I went to my room. I realize how pathetic I acted. I was somewhat sickened and ashamed. In getting some insight to where this shit comes from, I am now charged with understanding how it affects me and those around me. I do not believe this makes me dis-ingenious, on the contrary. I am more sensitive. Who fucking cares that I like flowers? And why does it affect me? I  also like the color PINK. ALLOT! Can you see it? I come home in a pink shirt with a pink gym bag and begin to pick flowers for the boys. OMG! (Thanks for that Idea Holly)

      But you see, that's what I want to do. All that. Without the fear. Without the judgement. Really! Ideally, I would come home in a nice pink shirt, because I like pink. And then pick a fabulous bouquet of fresh flowers and meticulously place them around the house. And not be looked at differently.And just as important, not feel as though I should be concerned with doing a "Feminine" task, as society and my roommates would view such an action.

     There are a lot of issues going on here. Honestly, more than I really understand. Lots of questions.
How do I learn to overcome the lessons Ive unconsciously learned throughout my life? What is a helpful answer to those who would ridicule in such a manner?  (Roommates, social situations, family, friends) Should I respond to comments with subtle sarcasm to engage the nefarious? Perhaps moral and  ethical pleadings? Should I ignore being called a "Fag?" Do I take it as a challenge? Should I give them a testosterone-turbo slap? My earliest lessons tell me "Them There's Fightin Words" and "You Gonna Let em call you that?"

Well friends, for now I'm going to skip the pink leotard's and continue to pick those flowers for my housemates and me to enjoy. After all, Autumn is setting in, and the flowers are almost gone.
Til Next Year!
By John Morris

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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Climate Change Action!

I'm doing a workshop on the vulnerability of poor people to climate change and what we can do to make a difference....

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