Sunday, July 24, 2016

Homeless Youth - This Week at Arise

Kei'shairra is an amazing young woman who walked into Arise earlier this summer and has now organized a youth committee.  She's also been doing summer activities for the kids at a local park, including some kids from a homeless family we helped get into shelter.

Yesterday she returned from the park with a young man, we'll call him Neal-- homeless, gay, Puerto Rican, very hot and very down in the dumps.

There are a couple of programs that take in youth under the age of 18, but Neal, unfortunately, turned 18 a few months ago.  Still, I called around to see if anyone could make an exception, and lucked out-- the Gandara Center had just opened a new program for homeless youth eighteen to twenty-four!  They found a temporary foster situation for him and when he came to visit today, he was in a much better place.

Unfortunately, the next young person-- a woman--  who came to us was twenty-five.  Miguel King, our former Senior Aide who we found a way to hire when we had to hire him or else lose him, helped her think through job training and housing options.  There was no immediate fix for her except the Worthington shelter, but fortunately, they had space.

Earlier this week the employer of a young woman who had been living in her van with her dog and her cat called us-- the woman was at the end of her rope.  Could we help?  Dakin Humane Society used to have a program that could board animals of homeless people until they could get back on their feet, so I called them, but that program has ended-- lack of funding. One of our members was able to take them in for a while, while the woman figures things out.

It was quieter on the homeless family front.  Liz met with a couple of families facing homelessness and helped to prepare them for applying for shelter to DHCD.  Meanwhile the Go Fund Me page that Joanne Ehret set up for us-- to have a little slush fund to place homeless families in a motel overnight when necessary-- inches toward its $1,000 goal.  Please contribute if you can.

Aaron McBryar, our STEPC intern from UMass, is almost finished with updating our Food Pantry Guide and Homeless Singles Survival Guide, and we'll be passing them out this week wherever people are most likely to need them.

Arise and Springfield No One Leaves folks also met to talk about the major housing action we are planning for September 22nd.  Both of our organizations are members of  Right to the City/Homes for All, which is coordinating a National Day of Action for Renters' Rights.  Stay tuned!

This could be a big week for the Environmental Justice work we're doing.  Health Commissioner Site Assignment Hearing-- that is, have we provided enough evidence to convince her, as we convinced the Public Health Council, that the threat to public health and our environment from Palmer Renewable Energy's proposed plant requires a hearing?  And the Conservation Law Foundation will be in Springfield on August 3 for oral arguments on their/our challenge to the issuance of an air permit for the incinerator.   
Helen Caulton-Harris says she'll decide this week if the biomass incinerator we've been fighting for eight years deserves to have a

I found out this week that Pat Sullivan, head of Parks, Recreation and Facilities for the City of Springfield, has gone ahead and posted Fish Advisory signs ahead of the city council taking up our ordinance (proposed through the Green Committee).  Most people don't know that freshwater fish in Massachusetts are contaminated with enough mercury that women of childbearing age and children under twelve years of age should NOT eat them. (Really, should anybody?)

Our organizers Lisa Torres and Jesse Lederman met this week with Steve Bryant, President and CEO of Columbia Gas, to continue negotiations around sealing the "super emitters" of gas leaks in Springfield and around the state.  Climate Action Now has taken this up as one of its major campaigns. 

Not last and far from least, those of us who helped to organize the Black Lives Matter/#FedUp413 rally against police shootings on July 11 are meeting this week to plan a large community meeting.

So much more I could tell you about from last week....Want to get involved in organizing for social justice?  Call Arise, 734-4948 or email us at

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Monday at Arise

Folks, we could use some food-- simple things, crackers, cans of soup, juice-- because we've had a lot of homeless kids in our office the past couple of weeks and sometimes their families are just out of money.  And it is just impossible to eat food in front of hungry people unless you have enough to share.

One family today spent several days with us last week, also.  We get to be headquarters, so they can make calls without having to use up their cellphone minutes, look apartment leads up on the computer, and, of course, bring each new piece of information about their shelter eligibility to  us so we can figure out what it means and what to do next, if there is a next thing that can be done.

A father and his three children came in with a DHCD denial letter,  and I think we can fix this one pretty easily-- DHCD thinks it was an illegal sublet (which would make them ineligible if the primary tenant gets evicted) but no, he actually paid his rent to his friend's mother, who was the owner of the house.  So he needs to get a letter from his friend's mother, not his friend.  (Maybe if DHCD weren't so busy, they could spend more time exploring how a family could become eligible.) The bank took the house in April, and the family has been bouncing ever since.  He works third shift, so the kids get to sleep at their babysitters.

"And when do you sleep?" I asked him.

"I stay where I'm working and catch a couple of hours when my shift is done," he said.  The rest of the time, with school out, the kids are with him all the time.

The family who has spent the most time with us recently has a complicated story, too long and too revealing to tell, so you'll just have to take my word that the main cause of their homelessness is racism.

Marion at Community Legal Aid has offered to do another training for us in the Emergency Assistance regulations to we can train more people, and we're going to take her up on it.  Let us know if you'd like to be involved.

Meanwhile, organizers are organizing, Jackie, as volunteer coordinator, is getting the kids to help fold brochures, and the phone is ringing, ringing.

We need a bigger place.

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Friday, June 24, 2016

We're back!

Hi, All,

Through a series of misadventures, our website crashed and cannot be restored.  We're starting over but it will take a while.  In the meantime, our blog is back in action!-- and, as is always the case, if you have a story to share, email it to me at or  Watch this site!  And there's great stuff in the archives. Print Friendly and PDF

Friday, October 17, 2014

This blog no longer active, but don't despair.........
Well, folks, it's been fun....but this blog is no longer active.  To keep up with Arise for Social Justice from this point on, go to, our new, great website!  So long, farewell, see you at our website! Print Friendly and PDF

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What a bad day for an addicted panhandler

Today was by far the worst day I have had since I have been making money panhandling-- bad day in so many ways. 

First, a dear friend of ours, who was severely alcoholic, died tragically. She was in her 50’s and was basically housebound with her husband and a very close friend of ours. They were drinking very heavy and she slipped and fell, hit her head on the floor and suffered a massive brain injury. She was pronounced brain dead and died at 3:00am this morning. I got the news as we were leaving my friends house to go to work (Panhandle-Signing) It set the somber mood for the day.

I have been addicted to opiates for many years, with brief periods of clean time. So when I am begging for money, it is not only for food and a place to stay for a night, but to also maintain my addiction. 

Before you judge me, please hear me out. 

I have served a 5-10 year Walpole sentence for crimes I committed trying to maintain a drug habit, such as unarmed and armed robberies, breaking and entering, burglaries of businesses, shoplifting, fraud, credit card theft, and a host of other lesser crimes-- all the time telling myself that I had no choice. I was physically addicted and subject to violent sickness if I did not have the drugs I needed. This is what I believed at the time. It is not uncommon to hear an addict say that. In fact only today, a fellow panhandler came to the spots late. Therefore he was not able to get prime real estate, as they were all taken by 9:00 am. He was drug sick. (Apparent by his sweating and snot dripping nose.) He looked fucking terrible. He is 26 years old, and homeless. However he told me that his Mother got him a hotel room for the week and he had one more night in the room. He was severely depressed and told me that he was now out of choices. He said he had to do some boosting. Said he was going to do a CVS where he had been caught two times before and arrested. The dude said “I don’t have a choice”. I understood completely. I really wanted to try to talk some sense into him, but realized where he was at and knew it futile to even attempt. I told him to be careful, and it felt so shallow. 

Please allow me to continue explaining my views and experience on the benefits of panhandling to society and myself. When panhandling the money is slow, but it does come, sometimes sooner than others. By asking for help, I am not hurting anyone and am breaking no laws of seriousness. Therefore I am not breaking into your home, or stealing your car, I am not shoplifting or hurting anyone. I depend on the kindness of you for help. There seems to be a lot of logic in this from where I stand. I am in a constant struggle to arrest my addiction, but until that happens, I do not want to hurt anyone by stealing. So I simply ask, and then it is your choice. 

What you see is a man who is bearing his impoverished soul, and begging for help. PLEASE HELP ME. Do you realize how hard that is? To stand there, knowing many folks look down on you, even despise you? They look at you like a piece of garbage. Many will not even acknowledge your very existence. 

But then there are the few who want to help another struggling human being. They make you feel worthy and warm and show you that you matter. This is a great experience for a panhandler. Today a young woman road by me on her bike. As she rode by she said to me “I See You.” I was completely struck by her words because for the past hour I had been quietly forming the words ‘Please See Me’ as folks would drive by me. I just wanted people to see me, and not ignore me as if I didn’t matter at all. Of course no one could understand what I was saying, except by maybe my look or body language. I wanted to matter to you. You didn’t have to give me any money, just SEE ME. Tell me, I matter, Please. None of this occurs when you're breaking into someone’s home. That mind and heart set is dark and just the opposite of what I just described. This is my take on panhandling and why you should acknowledge the person behind that HOMELESS sign. Show compassion. At least wave. Look at them. Nod. My experience has brought me to put great value on those simple expressions of kindness that cost you nothing. 

My friend and I worked for 4 hours and between us made $80.00, a  $10.00 coffee shop gift card, a $10 supermarket gift card, a couple bags of chips and a couple beverages. It was cold when we started out this morning at 9:00 am – 30 degrees, a little wind, and high humidity. Standing for 4 hours is tough in this weather. We made an agreement to stop at 1:00 pm and make our way home. (About 19 miles) 

I have been staying in my car. It is unregistered. I keep the car running as long as I can to stay warm. But some nights, I just can’t afford the gas. So I bundle up best I can. When we arrived back in our town, we got something to eat at McDonalds and the went to buy some drugs. We saw a young Latino who we knew to be a drug guy. As we were making the deal with him for $25, he pulled a gun and robbed us of all we had just worked for. He robbed us of every penny we had. 

After he ran off and disappeared, my friend began to weep. I was choked up. Very angry. Realizing there was nothing two old guys could really do about it. We quickly made a decision to head back to our panhandling spots. 19 miles away. It felt like a hundred miles away. We were very cold and broke and not feeling very good. We needed the drugs as much as we needed food and water and a warm place to sit for a while. We could not afford that luxury. We got back to our spot at 2:15 pm, we agreed to work until 4:00 pm. We met up at 4:15 pm, pooled our money and had another $80.00, It would have been an amazing day. Enough where we wouldn’t have to have gone out for 1 day. But now its late and I am so very tired. We will hit the road at 7:00 am tomorrow. Back to our spots to live another day. Other than our friend dying and getting robbed, it was a very ordinary day in the life of a panhandler.

Good Night  - Please See Me Tomorrow.
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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Activists (our own Ellen!) Occupy National Museum of American History — Install Torture Exhibit to Mark Guantánamo Anniversary

  Vowing to “Make Guantanamo History,” human rights advocates from around the country marked the beginning of the thirteenth year of torture and indefinite detention at the prison camp with a dramatic protest at the National Museum of American History. 150 activists occupied the atrium of the crowded museum for more than two hours, speaking out against torture and calling for Guantanamo to close.

The activists hung banners, stood in stress positions in hoods and jumpsuits, spoke to the tourists, and with their bodies and voices revised the museum’s “Price of Freedom” exhibit to include twelve years of torture and indefinite detention as the bitter cost of the United States’ misguided pursuit of “national security.”
In a booming chorus, members of Witness Against Torture and other groups read from a statement that closed with the lines: “to honor freedom and justice and the struggles of Americans for these things, we must end torture, close the prison and make Guantanamo history.”
Chantal deAlcuaz, a Witness Against Torture activist from Anchorage, Alaska spent the two hours in an orange jumpsuit and black hood. She reflected that: “We came here today because we want to see Guantanamo relegated to a museum — to be shuttered and condemned, but also understood as an example of where fear, hatred and violence can take us.”
The museum protest followed a robust and spirited rally at the White House that featured speeches from grassroots activists, Guantanamo attorneys and representatives of national human rights organizations.
“It was so great to see the spirit of hope at the White House, in the streets of DC and at the museum,” said Chris Knestrick, a divinity student form Chicago. “We definitely moved closer to our goal of closing Guantanamo today. And the work will continue!!”
Since Monday, January 6, Witness Against Torture activists from throughout the country have gathered in Washington, D.C. to engage in street theater, demonstrations, fasting and direct action to demand that Guantanamo be closed immediately.  There were also anti-Guantanamo protests and vigils throughout the country, including in Los Angeles, CA, Boston MA, Chicago IL, Santa Monica, CA Erie, PA, and Cleveland, OH.
Witness Against Torture is a grassroots movement that came into being in December 2005 when 24 activists walked to Guantanamo to visit the prisoners and condemn torture policies. Since then, it has engaged in public education, community outreach, and non-violent direct action. January 2014 is the eighth year the group has gathered annually in Washington, DC to call for justice and accountability. To learn more, visit

Saturday, January 11, 2014: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Jeremy Varon, 732-979-3119, jvaron@
Frida Berrigan, 860-389-8566, frida.

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Call your elected officials and ask them to request an investment of at least $87.5 million in the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program (MRVP) as well as a modest reform to the Emergency Assistance (EA) shelter safety net in the Governor’s FY 15 Budget Proposal. 

The final FY 14 budget funded MRVP at $57.5 million, a $15.5 million increase from FY13, providing vouchers to an additional 1,000 families across the Commonwealth. This was a much needed investment and yet if we are to address the growing family homelessness crisis in the state in a meaningful way, we must take sustained and significant steps to expand investment in MRVP and other forms of permanent, affordable housing for our lowest income residents.   

Family homelessness in Massachusetts is at an all-time high, with over 4,000 families currently living in shelter and many more in unsafe or unstable double-up situations. The single most significant cause of family homelessness is a lack of affordable housing. 

We have witnessed first-hand the devastating human and economic consequences of the current family homelessness crisis. It is well-established fact that homeless children, as compared to their housed peers, have:
-       higher rates of acute and chronic illness,
-       more nutritional deficiencies like iron deficiency anemia,
-       greater rates of hunger,
-       higher rates of developmental delays and
-       more difficulty focusing in school, if they make it to school at all, resulting in risks of repeating years in school.

Worse, placing families in motels and shelters costs more – approximately $3000 per month –as compared with funding an MRVP voucher which costs just $1028 per family per month. And long term, the costs of family homelessness – in health care, education, public benefits, and to society at large – are substantial. While we must continue to fully fund EA shelter, since it is such a critical safety net while so many families are homeless and at risk of homelessness, we must also substantially increase our investment in permanent, affordable housing if the need for shelter is to decrease.   

We are asking for a proposed investment of at minimum $87.5 million in the MRVP line item in the Governor’s FY15 Budget Proposal. This would be a $30 million increase over the FY14 investment, and would create between 2,000 and 3,000 additional vouchers. Permanent, affordable housing is the centerpiece to child health and a stable education and has a proven record in contributing to substantial long term cost savings.

 At the same time, we know that families experiencing homelessness need access to emergency shelter until they are able to secure permanent housing and we are very concerned that many families cannot now qualify for EA unless and until they have had no choice but to stay in a place not meant for human habitation.
 The lack of this protection is putting a strain on our medical, educational and social systems. Families in dire straits sometimes have to resort to staying in the emergency room when they’ve been denied shelter and have no other housing options, thereby driving up medical costs. The educators among us have noticed students out of school as their families bounce around from place to place, and have had to take time away from teaching to address the homelessness crises of our students. 

We are asking you our elected officials to request that the Governor's proposal slightly expand eligibility for EA shelter to families who provide credible information that they are within 24 hours of having to stay in a place not meant for human habitation with their children. This should increase cost very little, if anything because these families are qualifying for shelter now but only after having had to go through the trauma of staying in places not meant for human habitation. 

 We ask you to  urge the administration to take this step to ensure that children are kept safe and off the streets while simultaneously setting a strong precedent toward ending family homelessness by proposing to fund the Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program at $87.
5 million or higher.
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