Archive for the 'Homelessness' Category

Councilman Deutsch to Deliver Minority Party State of the City Address

Posted on Thursday, March 19 2009 by Heather Brandon

At 12:15 pm today, Hartford City Councilman Larry Deutsch (pictured) will offer a People’s State of the City address at City Hall, either in the spacious atrium inside, or on the front steps if weather permits (inside is looking likely).

In a press release issued late yesterday, Deutsch invited all Hartford residents and media to the event, adding, “A state of the union or state of the state address by a majority party is often followed by minority party comments on crucial topics. We think it important to inaugurate such a dialogue in our city of Hartford.”

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Downtown Library Working to Tighten Security, Conduct

Posted on Friday, December 5 2008 by Heather Brandon

Hartford public library. Photo by H BrandonThe Hartford Courant reported today that the board of directors for the Hartford Public Library agreed yesterday to implement many of the suggestions of a safety and security task force.

The task force, convened last summer, recently released an undated document containing recommendations to address numerous complaints.

The board also bid an official farewell to chief librarian Louise Blalock, who is retiring. Steven Goode reported in the Courant that the board of directors gave her “a standing round of applause” for her 14 years of service.

The task force’s full report is below. See photos of the library here. (more…)

Local Blogs Aren’t Just for Covering Little League Banquets

Posted on Monday, June 9 2008 by Heather Brandon

Boston-based journalist Dan Kennedy of Media Nation wrote in a blog post last week about the struggle of an established newspaper to launch and sustain an online venture. From his post:

[W]hen it comes to hyperlocal online journalism, I think it’s more likely that community-based bloggers will start doing real journalism, and embrace professional standards, than it is that big papers like the [Washington] Post will be able to dominate that turf. …

[As for big regional metros,] what they really need to do is find the sweet spot—completely dominate regional coverage of state and local politics, business, sports, health and the arts, while leaving the national and international coverage to the Post and the New York Times, and the Little League banquets to community papers and bloggers.

In a way it is a shame that Springfield and Hartford lack better coverage of Little League banquets. (more…)

Challenges in Urban Libraries

Posted on Thursday, June 5 2008 by Heather Brandon

Reporter Tina Brown at WNPR. Photo by M BlanksteenJohn Dankosky of WNPR's On Monday this week, Hartford-based public radio station WNPR aired an interview on news director John Dankosky’s weekday morning show, “Where We Live,” with Tina Brown (pictured in the studio) of the Courant regarding her alarming recent series of reports about challenges faced by the downtown public library branch.

Brown described some of the problems at the library including sex in the bathrooms and loitering without any purpose, violence and robbery. “The [library] workers were desperate to get some sort of assistance or additional security,” she said in the interview.

“The administration’s rule was that staff can walk someone out of the library, and tell them to come back tomorrow. It was very few people that were banned, even if they were caught doing lewd acts, and looking at pornography, and child pornography, and that sort of thing.” (more…)

City Events Roundup: Sustainability Theme

Posted on Wednesday, February 27 2008 by Heather Brandon

Following is a roundup describing a handful of events in Hartford and Springfield today and into the next few weeks. Please add more in the comments.

Groundwork USAGroundwork Springfield: Today at 10:30 am, Groundwork USA announces Groundwork Springfield, in an event at Springfield Technical Community College, regarding the organization’s pilot program based in the city. An article by Peter Goonan in today’s Republican mentions the Spanish-American Union as the head of the group of local organizers, who make up a 14-member steering panel and an advisory board, and cites Patricia Moss as the project director. Initial project details are being released today at the event. “The goals include educating the community about environmental issues in urban settings, promoting civic engagement among low-income residents, and providing training and paid internship opportunities,” Goonan wrote, adding that “the first public informational session is scheduled from 11 am to 2 pm on [Saturday] March 8 at the central public library on State Street.” The library calendar confirms this, adding, “Groundwork Springfield is an urban environmental ecological education and employment program dedicated to change, revitalization, transformation and contributions that will result in a cleaner, safer, more beautiful community. Not a library sponsored event. For additional information please contact Patricia Moss, Project Manager, at (413) 734-7381.”

SocaplastEuro Recycling Co. Locates in the City: Also today, at 2:15 pm, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, as well as officials from the Office of Planning and Economic Development and the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council, along with chief officers of a yet-to-be-named Socaplast, a European company “with an established reputation in the international recycling market,” will host a press conference to announce the company’s new US headquarters in Springfield. The event will take place in Mayor Sarno’s office.

Philip ManganoRegional Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness Release: On Friday, February 29, from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and US Interagency Council on Homelessness director Philip Mangano (pictured) will join other municipal officials and business leaders in the area to announce the release of a regional ten-year plan to end homelessness. The event will take place at Holyoke Community College’s Kittredge Center, in the People’s Bank Room.

One of the kids in Living the Green Dream Performance: On Friday, February 29, at 4:00 pm, a group of children from a homeschooling family in the city will offer a 45-minute skit, “Living the Green Dream,” at the Hartford Public Library main branch downtown. This group of children (one of them pictured) is also associated with a new sustainability-focused cooperative group in the city, founded by owners of the Alchemy Juice Bar and Café close to Trinity College and just down the street from the Koeppel Community Sports Center (with indoor ice rink) on New Britain Avenue. Later on Friday evening, starting at 7:30 pm, Alchemy will host a Hope Out Loud open mike and coffeehouse in its lounge, including an upcoming book excerpt reading related to environmental stewardship. (more…)

At Friends of the Homeless, Inc. Part 5

Posted on Wednesday, February 6 2008 by Heather Brandon

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Candlelight Memorial Service for Homeless Planned

Posted on Tuesday, December 18 2007 by Heather Brandon

Court Square in Springfield. Photo by H BrandonSpringfield Mayor Charles Ryan’s office announced today a candlelight vigil planned for this coming Friday, December 21, at Court Square near City Hall, to remember 38 local homeless people who have died during the past year. The event is part of National Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day.

The vigil will take place at 4:00 pm, called the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Service. Ryan’s office said that it will be an opportunity for health and service providers, people experiencing homelessness, volunteers, advocates, members of the faith community, and government officials to honor the people who lived on the streets and in the shelters of the Pioneer Valley, and who died in the last year from various diseases, injuries, and suicide. (more…)

Possible Gas Explosion at 50 Willard; 150 Displaced

Posted on Tuesday, October 23 2007 by Heather Brandon

An early-morning explosion today at a Hartford apartment building at 50 Willard Street has displaced about 150 residents to the Pope Park Community Center, according to a report from the Courant‘s Hilda Muñoz (including video) as well as a report from WFSB. Fire officials reported smelling a strong natural gas odor on the scene, which brought approximately 14 crews of emergency personnel around 6:00 am. It was an early-morning alarm for many in the area, including at my own house, where the sirens could be heard blaring through the warm, humid October air.

Muñoz’s video is particularly compelling as apartment residents describe walls coming down and windows being blasted open. Some reported hearing an initial loud bang three hours earlier, followed by a second explosion closer to 6:00. Some also told Muñoz that this is “the third fire at the complex in six months.” From the article:

Some residents said the building superintendent, Jose Felix, had been asked on Monday night to investigate an odor of gas. But Felix said none of the tenants reported smelling gas. He said he also walked by the boiler room Monday night and doesn’t remember smelling gas. “We were working late last night, until nine. We walked by [the boiler room] and I smelled nothing,” he said.

The American Red Cross is providing emergency shelter for displaced residents at the location near Frog Hollow‘s Pope Park. In spring 2004, the Pope Park Community Center evidently housed about 30 city residents after a fire displaced 50 people from a Park Street address. The local chapter reports that in 2006, it provided 2,000 local disaster victims with assistance in the form of shelter, clothing, food, mental health counseling and other aid, amounting to more than four responses a week.

Campaign 2007: Springfield City Council Candidate Pat Markey

Posted on Friday, October 19 2007 by Heather Brandon

Springfield resident Pat Markey is running for City Council. Following are his answers to questions I sent via email. The interview is part of an attempt to reach candidates for City Council and learn more about their background, unique qualities, and thoughts about the city.

Patrick Markey

INTERVIEW WITH PAT MARKEY

About the candidate

Education: University of Notre Dame, BA in Government (1986); Georgetown University Law School, JD (1992), with honors. Bilingual (English and Spanish).

Employment: Since January, has worked as an attorney with O’Shea, Getz & Kosakowski, PC in Springfield; was employed at Robinson Donovan from 1997 through December 2006. Worked as City Solicitor from 2004 to 2006. Served as a trial attorney in the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice from 1993 to 1997, and as Special Assistant United States Attorney in Washington, DC in 1996 and 1997. Began legal career as a clerk in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts in 1992.

Volunteer and civic involvement: Springfield Library Commission chairperson; Springfield Retirement Board member; served on the committee to locate a site for a new Mason Square branch library. Worked as a US Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay from 1987 to 1989.

Where have you lived besides Springfield, Washington, and Paraguay?
I spent three and a half of my four college years in South Bend, Indiana at Notre Dame. I did one semester of college in London, and spent the summer between my junior and senior years living with cousins of my father in Northern Ireland.

My dad’s cousin is a builder, and he took me on as what he called an “apprentice plasterer.” I mixed the cement for the plasterers who knew what they were doing, and we rehabbed housing in Belfast. (more…)

Homelessness up in Massachusetts; Hartford Ten-Year Plan Moves Forward

Posted on Tuesday, October 9 2007 by Heather Brandon

In exchange for diligently tracking the needs of the homeless, the state of Massachusetts wins the award of reporting by the Associated Press when its homelessness numbers reach record highs.

Philip Mangano, director of the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness, told reporter Pat Eaton-Webb that the number of homeless people in the country is up from a few years ago, but an exact number is impossible to determine since reporting requirements vary widely in each state. “Our desire would be to have many more states step up and track the data,” Mangano said. “Research and data, that’s what should drive the resources that we make available. Instead it’s often anecdote, conjecture and hearsay that does that.”

Mangano will be on hand in Hartford today as Mayor Eddie Perez unveils “Journey Home,” an action plan to supplement the city’s ten-year plan (PDF), released in June 2005, to end chronic homelessness. That plan ostensibly developed from a 24-member commission established some months prior, given 90 days to generate unity of thought and a document. (more…)

At Friends of the Homeless, Inc. Part 4

Posted on Thursday, October 4 2007 by Heather Brandon

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Housing of Last Resort Turns Crisis Corner

Posted on Tuesday, August 28 2007 by Heather Brandon

A stairwell in Longhill Gardens. Photo by Heather BrandonGranting an emergency motion made late last week by Valley Real Estate, receiver in control of Springfield’s Longhill Gardens Condominiums, Housing Court Judge William Abrashkin authorized the eviction of all 211 units there by October 1, estimated to affect about 103 families according to Peter Goonan’s report today. Abrashkin earlier described the situation as a “slow-motion disaster.”

In describing the city’s stance in opposition to the full closure of the housing complex, City Solicitor Lisa DeSousa was cited in a report today saying the shut-down “would create a housing crisis that I can’t even begin to imagine.” (more…)

Project Homeless Connect in Springfield, 8/17/07

Posted on Thursday, August 16 2007 by Heather Brandon

Project Homeless ConnectOn Friday, August 17, starting with a “rally” at 7:30 am, a one-day event coined Project Homeless Connect will take place at Springfield’s MassMutual Center.

More than 80 supportive services agencies will be available between 8:00 am and 3:00 pm providing everything from foot-rubs new eyeglasses and haircuts to substance abuse counseling and help finding a job. Entertainment sponsored by a number of faith-based organizations will be provided from 3:00 to 5:30 pm. The event is expected to wrap up at 6:00 pm.

Philip Mangano in Governing MagazineThe evangelist of ending chronic homelessness, Philip Mangano, will be in attendance in his position at the helm of the federal Interagency Council on Homelessness. From a description of Project Homeless Connect, more than 150 events such as this, in over 115 cities in the last two years, are sufficient evidence of “the rapid adoption of this innovation. Cities of every size from coast to coast have engaged in [these] events.” The idea is to mobilize “civic will” to end homelessness, and “to move people more quickly toward housing and stability and to help further the goals of their ten-year plans to end homelessness.”

Mangano will join Mayor Charles Ryan and city officials, according to a media advisory released by Mangano’s office, “welcoming people who are experiencing homelessness from off the streets and [connecting] them to a range of resources—housing, jobs, mainstream benefits—that would put them on the road to self-sufficiency.” Also expected is Brian Golden, regional director of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

A media advisory released by the mayor’s office calls the event an opportunity to provide “homeless, indigent and at-risk people with resources that are crucial in working their way back to stability.” (more…)

At Friends of the Homeless, Inc. Part 3

Posted on Wednesday, August 15 2007 by Heather Brandon

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Finance Control Board Speakout Transcript, 7/19/07

Posted on Tuesday, July 31 2007 by Heather Brandon

Springfield Finance Control BoardThe Springfield Finance Control Board held a meeting on Thursday, July 19, at which ten people participated in a now-routine 30-minute public speakout session. Below is the transcript of what was said, provided by resident Sheila McElwaine, and slightly edited for brevity.

Springfield Finance Control Board meeting, July 19, 2007
Public Comment

Present: Chairman Christopher Gabrieli, Mayor Charles Ryan, Robert Nunes, James Morton, City Council President Kateri Walsh, City Clerk Wayman Lee.

Chairman Christopher Gabrieli: We’ve decided that in regard to public comments going forward, we’ll do two things a tiny bit differently. One, we’re encouraging or supporting control board members asking clarifying questions in case somebody raises something that we just don’t understand so that we can get the full benefit of the topic. Second, we’ve asked staff to provide us a follow-up memo on all the issues raised at control board meeting speak-outs so that we can understand the context, the [unintelligible] of the department response and whether there is some piece of information that it is really important for us to know for the future, or not.

We won’t have that memo from last time, because we just asked for it today. We would hope, on a timely basis going forward, to be able to know for each control board what the follow-through was on items raised. We may or may not necessarily comment on those. Some of these are sensitive matters, as you can imagine, but I want to make sure you all realize we intend to try to benefit from the opportunity to hear from people who may or may not be part of the administration or part of the city—that anybody can walk up and bring up an issue, and that those of us who don’t know the context will learn it. So, thank you very much.

City Clerk Wayman Lee: For those of you who’ve never attended a public comment session, we go with three minutes per party. We have ten people that have signed up today, so I will ask that you keep your comments brief. I will give you a heads-up at one minute, at 30 seconds, and at ten seconds. Our first speaker today is Miss Lois Smith. (more…)

Neighbors Worry? More Like Investigate, Persist and Promote

Posted on Monday, July 16 2007 by Heather Brandon

Basement at 91-93 White Street, Photo courtesy Arelys Diaz

If this were your basement, what would you do? What if it were the basement of your friend or relative? It happens to be the basement of 91-93 White Street in Springfield’s Forest Park neighborhood. The attic in the house is said to be even more cluttered.

Yesterday’s Republican included an article by Mary Ellen Lowney featuring this property titled, “Mess worries neighbors.” The piece was part of the paper’s “quality of life” series spotlighting dismal, depressing properties in the city and how dismal and depressing they are.

City resident Arelys Diaz, captain of her neighborhood’s Avalon Crime Watch, submitted the property for the newspaper. A few days prior, she had circulated an email describing some of the property’s problems in detail, accompanied by photos. Diaz graciously gave permission for the information to be published here. (more…)

Affidavit Marks Some Homelessness City Milestones

Posted on Friday, July 13 2007 by Heather Brandon

In a recent Housing Court case filed by Open Pantry Community Services, Inc. against the city of Springfield, the city’s Deputy Director of Homeless and Special Needs Housing, Geraldine McCafferty, submitted a lengthy affidavit chronicling some of the history of the provision of shelter for the homeless in the area.

Some details in the affidavit bear correction: “Tent City” took place in the summer of 2004; various churches housed the Warming Place in winter 04-05; and the Warming Place moved into St. Joseph’s, and the York Street jail, in the late summer or fall of 2005. (Thanks to McCafferty for these corrections.)

COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS
HAMPDEN, ss

HOUSING COURT DEPARTMENT OF THE TRIAL COURT
CIVIL ACTION NO. 07-CV-1060

OPEN PANTRY COMMUNITY SERVICES, INC., Plaintiff

v. AFFIDAVIT

THE CITY OF SPRINGFIELD ACTING BY AND THROUGH ITS OFFICE OF HOUSING AND NEIGHBORHOOD SERVICES, Defendant

I, Geraldine McCafferty, being duly sworn, depose and state the following to be true:

I am the Deputy Director, Homeless and Special Needs Housing, in the Springfield Office of Housing. I have been in this position since late June 2006, working as the city’s point person on homelessness, pursuant to the recommendation of the Mayor’s Homelessness Strategy Committee. (more…)

Plates Shifting for City Homelessness: Will Problems Erupt?

Posted on Wednesday, July 11 2007 by Heather Brandon

Late last week, Open Pantry Community Services, Inc. brought the city of Springfield to Housing Court and lost, having sought an injunction to stop the forced closure of its city-donated emergency homeless shelter— known as Warming Place—in the former York Street jail on the city’s riverfront. The shelter, which occupied the space for about two years, was recently asked by the city to relocate now that the city plans to demolish the building. A study of the former jail’s condition—apparently nonviable for remediation—is said to be forthcoming.

According to Peter Goonan’s reporting in the Republican, Open Pantry’s suit said that “no city contracts have yet been awarded for the jail demolition or advance work.” Open Pantry also cited “the city’s refusal to extend its temporary occupancy permit at the jail,” which “caused the agency to lose its eligibility for an annual $400,000 state grant to operate the shelter.” (more…)

At Friends of the Homeless, Inc. Part 2

Posted on Thursday, July 5 2007 by Heather Brandon

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At Friends of the Homeless, Inc. Part 1

Posted on Monday, July 2 2007 by Heather Brandon

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Ten More Days; Tell Me What to Cover

Posted on Sunday, June 10 2007 by Heather Brandon

There is more going on in Springfield of interest than I have ever witnessed before. I’ve been collecting raw information right and left, and I lack the time lately to process and post it. This builds a bit of stress along with feelings of inadequacy, made more acute because of the uncomfortable transition phase that moving to Hartford entails. In order to focus on that move, I have a functional need to blog less, whereas blogging has always been a way of venting some of the stress of Springfield city living. Watching the stress pick up and the blog slip away a bit causes me to wonder what my tools for coping will be as I lurch north to south. Giving myself a bit of space to take it all in, without blogging the moment, is a likely path, since blogging under high degrees of personal stress is not really recommended.

I’ll be taking some time off here and there not only to relocate my family, but also to road-trip partway across the country to get a change of pace and see some people. Relatives in southern Ohio, where I used to visit every summer, will get a hello from us. We plan to eat a lot of corn on the cob and see the outdoor play “Tecumseh.” I will get to drive through the city where I grew up, Pittsburgh, for the first time in over a decade. I will also get to visit Cincinnati for the first time (that I remember). Naturally, my camera will get plenty of use and I’ll blog from wherever, but I won’t be able to do it with my full attention for a while. (more…)

Kick-Starting Springfield’s South End Coalition, Part 3

Posted on Friday, June 8 2007 by Heather Brandon

To catch up on this three-part series, read parts one and two.

After listening to comments from the audience at a May 2 community meeting to examine the South End‘s Hollywood-Gemini area, ULI-Boston panel co-chairman Fred Kramer (pictured below) prepared to present some fairly radical ideas, ways that the district could be laid out differently to benefit the community. First, he needed to share the panel’s observations of the region of Springfield in question, taken in three sections: the Hollywood area, the Gemini site, and Main Street.

“When we talk about Hollywood,” he said, “we’re talking about the area between Saratoga, Adams, Montpelier, Oswego, right on down to Marble Street, east of Main Street, generally speaking.”

Fred KramerThe Gemini area, between Morris and Central Streets, is a former children’s clothing factory site, what Kramer called the largest developable piece of land in the vicinity. Kramer said there is also a wide array of city and Springfield Redevelopment Authority-owned property along Water Street, near the Gemini site.

“There’s a significant amount of land there,” Kramer said. “What makes the most sense to do with that land, given that it’s city-owned? What does the community think would be best? What does the city think would be best? Working together on those things will give you an answer.” (more…)

“Homes Within Reach” Plan Requests Landlord Participation

Posted on Monday, June 4 2007 by Heather Brandon

Peter Straley (pictured) of Springfield’s “Homes Within Reach” (PDF) implementation committee wrote a letter to the editor printed in today’s Republican requesting landlord participation in the ten-year plan to end homelessness. Looking to fill 143 one-bedroom and efficiency units this year with chronically homeless individuals supplied with an array of social support services, Straley makes it sound even a little bit appealing. From his letter:

To achieve our full goal of 143 units this year, we need the participation of more landlords with one-bedroom and efficiency units. The benefits to landlords include a ten-year subsidy contract with payment of market rents, vacancy payments for two months in the unlikely event that units go unfilled, and dedicated support workers to ensure that the tenant abides by the terms of the lease. Landlords can screen tenants with standard screening criteria.

Interested landlords should contact Isabel Serrazina of the Springfield Housing Authority at (413) 785-4513.

Community Development Meetings: Homeless Persons and Vulnerable Populations

Posted on Wednesday, May 30 2007 by Heather Brandon

The Springfield Office of Community Development held a series of four public meetings last fall for the purposes of planning strategies and funding for the new fiscal year. The second two, focusing on health and human services, were held back-to-back on Wednesday, November 29 at the Good Life Center on East Columbus Avenue downtown. A 6:00 pm meeting focused on homeless persons, followed by a 7:00 pm meeting on vulnerable populations. Below are the notes taken from the Community Development department’s recently-released action plan (PDF) for the coming year.

Hearings 3 & 4: Health and Human Services
Wednesday, November 29, Chestnut Accelerated Middle School (more…)

Community Development Meetings: Housing, Neighborhoods and Economic Development

Posted on Wednesday, May 30 2007 by Heather Brandon

The Springfield Office of Community Development held a series of public meetings last fall for the purposes of planning strategies and funding for the new fiscal year. The first two were held back-to-back on Wednesday, November 15 at the Good Life Center on East Columbus Avenue downtown. A 6:00 pm meeting focused on housing and neighborhoods, followed by a 7:00 pm meeting on economic development. Below are the notes taken from the Community Development department’s recently-released action plan (PDF) for the coming year.

Hearings 1 & 2: Housing, Neighborhoods and Economic Development
Wednesday, November 15 at the Good Life Center, 1600 East Columbus Avenue (more…)

ULI-Boston Surveys Downtown; Public Invited 5/30

Posted on Tuesday, May 29 2007 by Heather Brandon

Court Square seen from MassMutual Center

The ULI-Boston District Council has been at work in Springfield again, this time sending a panel to survey downtown. Led by co-chairs Nancy Springett of ICON Architecture and transit specialist Eric Fellinger of Wilbur Smith Associates, various members of the eleven-member panel visited our city on Tuesday, May 8 for a day-long informal fact-gathering endeavor focusing on the city’s central business district.

Court Square seen from East Columbus AvenueLast month, a separate panel sent by the district council was here to survey the city’s South End. Final reports for both surveys are anticipated in June.

The group is assessing the area as part of a ULI Technical Assistance Panel initiative, which enables Springfield to gain the fruits of ULI expertise at no additional cost; panel members had to sign documents attesting to their volunteer involvement and lack of current or near-future investment in the area.

The public is invited to a forum on Wednesday, May 30, 5:00 to 7:30 pm, at the Old First Church (pictured at left) on Court Square, to hear preliminary results of the panel’s study of the downtown area, and to have a chance to give some input. (more…)

“Homes Within Reach” Effort Receives Furniture

Posted on Tuesday, May 22 2007 by Heather Brandon

Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan‘s office released a media advisory today regarding a significant step in the city’s newly-implemented “Homes Within Reach” (PDF) ten-year plan to end chronic homelessness: the arrival tomorrow of furniture for apartments.

According to the advisory, 35 individuals have been placed in housing under the banner of the new plan, and more housing is still sought—a frustrating process for some, who believe that handling housing this way may only tighten the affordable market for others who need it, thereby making them homeless, too. Or that we’re looking at another tent city. Combined with the new access policy in place at Friends of the Homeless, a Springfield shelter, the effort to lend a hand to the needy can appear to be sending mixed messages.

In any case, the housing effort has not yet been implemented at full throttle. What might result simply remains an unknown, and appears to be worth a try. Below is the advisory in full. (more…)

Ending Homelessness Plan Unveiled

Posted on Thursday, January 11 2007 by Heather Brandon

Following is a transcript of a presentation Wednesday, January 10 at Springfield City Hall unveiling a ten-year plan to end homelessness.

Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan: I’m delighted to see so many people here. This is an important day for our city, and for the people of our city. In some respects, it’s the end of the beginning, because I think we’re coming here together today to celebrate the work that has been done by a special committee in creating a ten-year plan on the issue of homelessness.

I think you’ll find that it’s a thoughtful, extremely well-crafted plan. It represents the collective effort of many, many people. And so this is not necessarily just a press conference; this really is a presentation, to you, and the people of Springfield.

The press, we’re just delighted they’re here, because they are in so many aspects our primary means of communicating to the people of this Valley what’s going on in this city, whether it’s bad or whether it’s good. So it’s in that spirit that I would like to move forward and look a little bit at the history.

We’ve been here about three years now. Overall, we’re making significant progress on a whole series of fronts, which are essential. And they’re varied fronts, whether it’s financial on the one hand, or infrastructure, or educational.

Certainly there’s another issue that is a part of our community, and that we have to deal constructively with, and that is the whole issue of homelessness, its cause, its effects, and the impact it has, not only on the people who find themselves homeless, but on the rest of the community also.

You may remember that, if you go back to just about three years ago this time, in the month of January 2004, when we learned of the tragic news one morning that a man, Larry Dunham, had frozen to death next door, on the steps of Symphony Hall.

I don’t know if there could be a more dramatic presentation of a problem than the death of that very, very unfortunate man. You may remember, as the summer went on, we then had a prolonged period of time where we had a tent city, which was created by homeless people themselves. First it was on the lawn of St. Michael’s Cathedral, and then it moved across the street to the property of the Open Pantry. I don’t think it was until October that that finally ended.

We then went forward realizing that this was a complex problem, and one that didn’t have any easy solutions. If you just sat and talked to two or three people, you might get two or three different offerings as to what might be done, and in some cases, that nothing should be done. This is not an issue on which there is necessarily good feeling all around.

There are some people that are very impatient, and indeed indignant, that we have to share the city with the homeless people. I’ve heard that said publicly and privately, and I’m sure you have too, rather than understanding that we are what we are.

We are a community of 150,000 people, some well-off, and some very, very poverty-stricken. Some healthy in mind and body, and some not healthy in mind and body. We do have, and always have had, and always will have, a continuing responsibility, one to the other, regardless of their station in life.

And so, we did create a committee to deal with the overall situation of homelessness. One of the great thrills I have is that more often than not, when I ask people to be of assistance to a need of the city, that the response is inevitably generous. The response is inevitably yes. The response is inevitably that I want to do what I can, if you think I can be of some assistance, I will do the very best I can. And you can’t ask for more generosity than that.

When I spoke with Russ Denver, the president of the Chamber of Commerce, and Helen Caulton-Harris, the head of our Health and Human Services Department, and asked them to co-chair this committee, I was met with a very, very warm and receptive, affirmative answer, and then they went forward.

I would like to ask them to come forward—Helen first, and then Russ—and talk with you about different aspects of this planning process. Because, at the end of the day, at the end of this meeting, we are going to be holding up the ten-year plan, that’s a comprehensive, almost an exhaustive approach, to this issue. And really, it is their leadership, and this committee, that brought this about.

They had a lot of help, and they’ll spell that out for you, because many of you in this room were members of that committee also. But I do want to now turn this over first to Helen, and when she gets through her part of this presentation, I would appreciate if she would introduce her co-chairman, Russ Denver. Helen, would you come forward?

Helen Caulton-Harris: This is really a very important day, because we bring to fruition some very important work. But it could not have been done without the leadership of Charles V. Ryan. And I say that to you very sincerely today, because in January, when Mr. Dunham died, the mayor called the community together.

Many of you in this room will remember that Mayor Ryan met with us on a weekly basis, or every other week, during January, and February, and March of 2004, to strategize how we could move forward collectively, and solve what was a common issue of homelessness. We need to applaud the mayor for his really diligent efforts. It was the first time in my career in city government that I’ve seen an individual come forward with such enthusiasm and caring as far as this issue of homelessness is concerned. So I’m very pleased to acknowledge the fine work of our mayor.

Secondly, the mayor appointed in May or June the task force which I had the opportunity to work on with Russ Denver. There were 35 organizations and individuals who came around the table together to start to work towards a common solution.

It was not an easy process. As you might know, there were varying opinions and individuals around the table who had input, but it was met with this fact that we all needed to collectively work together. And so the diversity of this group was really important. It was providers, it was individuals; everyone was embraced at the table.

We then broke up into subcommittees. The housing subcommittee was capably chaired by Kathleen Lingenberg of the city’s housing department. Economic development was chaired by James Morton, who at that time was at MCDI. And mental health and substance abuse was chaired by Jerry Ray.

Those three committees went forward, and had numerous focus groups, numerous meetings, to come back with some suggestions to us on what we should put into our ten-year plan. There was a draft plan that was put together and was initiated I believe in 2005, early 2006.

Many of us reviewed that plan a couple of times, but there was something missing. The glue was not there to hold the plan together in terms of our ability to read it, and synthesize it, and internalize it.

And that glue, that piece that was missing, the mayor had the foresight to appoint in Gerry McCafferty, as the deputy director of special housing and homelessness. She took that plan, and really wordsmithed it, worked with us, and what will be presented today is really a comprehensive plan that includes a lot of people’s work, but certainly includes good work by the city’s homeless and special housing director.

My co-chair is someone many of you know well. Mr. Denver is a very opinionated person. He tells me he’s middle of the road; I have not found the path that that is yet. It has been a pleasure working with him, because he has kept me on task, and on target, and he was very committed to making sure that we got this plan done. So let me introduce to you my co-chair Russ Denver, who is the chair of the Greater Springfield Chamber of Commerce.

Russell Denver: I don’t know if I should thank her for that kind introduction or not. I want to give, before I proceed any further, my personal thanks to everybody who served on the committee. I came into this knowing next to nothing about the issue of homelessness. And I want everybody on the committee that’s here today to know that I learned a great deal from you. You know, Michaelann [Bewsee], Kevin [Noonan], Doreen [Fadus], just to name a couple.

I learned a lot from you, and I want to personally thank you for telling me things that I didn’t know before, and things that I needed to know to try to move things forward. So thank you very, very much.

I’m here just to tell you that the business community is going to be supportive of this plan. We will be behind it. We will participate in it. We want the entire community to come together, to come around it, support it, and be part of it. Other than that, I have made a personal commitment that I will continue to be involved. I will be on the implementation committee, which will be chaired by Bob Schwarz, and that’s further commitment of the business community. So as we move forward, I ask the entire community—and I’m choking up because I really believe in this plan—that everybody come together, and everyone participate for the benefit of the community. Thank you.

Mayor Ryan: Thank you very much Russ, and Helen. Not only for your presentation today, but for your leadership on this committee. We’re going to move now and spell out what I consider four key elements of the plan. One asks for the city to have a point person. We’ve had people before; primarily Helen and Kathleen, and other people on their staff, who would be involved in this.

I think we all felt there was a clear need that there be one individual of proper competency and experience to really do this on a full-time basis. We certainly needed the private sector to lead the implementation. City government can go just so far, but this is a complex, multi-faceted problem and approach, and so we needed that leadership.

In what I think is the most dramatic change of all, [we had] to come up with a brand new strategy of Housing First. Not housing last, not housing never, but housing first.

While I intend to re-emphasize this when I introduce Phil Mangano here, I really feel, ladies and gentlemen, that while we can get frustrated and impatient and unhappy with what we see as the inability of the federal government, through its agencies, to get things done in a way that we feel common sense would dictate; if there’s any one area of the federal government that really has done an outstanding job in the last several years, it’s the office of homelessness. And it’s been headed by Phil Mangano.

I really think that while many, many people participate—certainly on something that’s a national problem—that the whole dialogue, and the whole emphasis, and the whole approach has changed because of the fact that Mr. Mangano had a vision of Housing First.

While we were kind of stuck in the mud, and the only approach that any of us seemed to know, from here to Sacramento, was shelters, shelters, shelters, he from his pulpit in the federal office has really changed, in my opinion, the awareness of this country. And so as we examined it, it seemed to be that Housing First made eminent sense, and you will see that’s an integral part of this plan.

And last but not least, because of the fact that we know not everything is done overnight, especially something as complicated as this, that we feel we have to move forward with a homeless assistance center, which is part shelter, and part a gathering together of those other disciplines which make sure that the shelter experience is at least as positive and affirmative as it possibly can be. And so let me go on those four, one by one.

Gerry McCafferty, this young lady sitting in back of me [above, at left], is the point person. She’s an outstanding human being. She’s a woman who has devoted her career, up until this time, really in the area of advocacy. We’re fortunate she’s here, and I thank my lucky stars every day for her presence.

She’s a graduate of Notre Dame University, Georgetown Law School, has her Master’s in urban affairs from the University of Colorado, and is just an enormously dedicated and intelligent person. She has a unique ability to deal in difficult matters, and really do it always with a smile, and always with sensitivity, and she is absolutely indispensable. We’ve been very, very fortunate with respect to item number one.

Item number two, another strong person in our community, Bob Schwarz, who, as I remember, for some years held the position that Russ Denver holds now. He was the president of the Chamber of Commerce for a good number of years, but through his friendship with the late Peter Picknelly, became the number two man in the Picknelly empire.

He is the executive vice-president of the Peter Pan bus company. He’s an outstanding individual and a guy who it’s so easy to ask to do something, because he’s saying yes even before you get the final words out of your mouth. He’s an outstanding citizen. It’s one thing to craft a plan and disseminate a plan; it’s another thing to make it work. Bob Schwarz has taken on the significant responsibility to do exactly that.

The third one is Housing First. Well, this is where we plow new ground: new ground for Springfield, and probably new ground for many other communities; although Denver and Chattanooga, and other communities throughout this nation, are a little bit ahead of us. It’s their initiative, and their example, which has enabled us to feel as competent as we do in this new approach.

That is, to endeavor to move the long-term and repeat homeless individuals into permanent, supportive housing.

I can remember discussions with Michaelann Bewsee two and a half to three years ago, where she was saying exactly that. And I’m sorry, Michaelann, we weren’t there at the time. But you were right, and here we are.

It’s one thing to say 140 units—again, nothing is capped. I think what we’re talking of is a new strategy, a new way of doing things. We start off with 140, and we see where we go with that. Because this is not going to be the easiest thing in the world, either.

We understand, with respect to some of the people who are homeless, who will go into private housing opportunities, that we also need to supplement that with professionals, from a health care point of view, or from some other discipline, which will make sure that we don’t stumble and fall. This has got to work. And so it’s housing opportunities on the one hand, but supported by the appropriate professionals, to make sure that we can be successful.

There are many building pieces on this, but I just want to say, and pay tribute to, the Springfield Housing Authority, for really being our partner. Again, this is what happens. We go back three years, we had a housing authority in tatters, with the biggest scandal Springfield has ever known. That’s behind us. The people who have done wrong are being punished.

The reconstituting of our housing authority, so that it can be an effective force for the community, is a major job. I was fortunate enough to be able to persuade people like Ray Warren, and Melinda [Pellerin] Duck, and Tim Babcock, and others, to take on membership of the board, and then under their leadership—and Carlton Standen, of course, was already there; he was the governor’s appointee. These are great people.

Under their stewardship, ultimately they came up with Betsy McCright as the executive director. And so now we have this significant municipal asset, even though it’s an Authority, able to be part of the team.

In that spirit, when we went to them and said we need Housing First opportunities, and because of the fact that you control the vouchers, you’re critical, you’re key to this, we can’t do it without your help. And they did it; they responded. I’m extraordinarily grateful to them for the leadership role they’re playing.

Also to the owners of the private dwellings or private apartments into which these people will go, for having the willingness to cooperate, to yes, bring these people in, clearly on a subsidized basis, but again, if we’re going to have a Housing First strategy, it could not and will not work without this strong and affirmative and generous participation of the housing authority.

Let me say this: this is almost the middle of January; to get this so that it’s effective, we know that we need at least a couple of months of turnaround time. Our goal is that as we gear up, and begin to fill these spaces that have been set aside by the Housing Authority, there will be a matching reduction in the occupancy at the gymnasium [Warming Place homeless shelter] at the York Street jail. We expect to have that emptied by June 30.

The York Street jail [shelter] occupancy will come down as the housing occupancy goes up. We realize that the housing occupancy has got to go up before we can expect that the jail [shelter] occupancy will come down. And that’s our job, to make it work right. But we’re confident it will work right.

The goal is that we will be closing the York Street jail. As you have probably seen in the papers, on an economic development front, we have planned this summer to tear down the whole jail—not only the gymnasium, but the whole jail infrastructure itself. So this is an integral part of it, also.

I’ve already talked about the collaboration not only with the housing authority, but also the other service providers. My understanding is that the Mental Health Association really is out in front of us on that. I see Jerry Ray here. The first 20 units are being done right now, under their auspices.

We learn from everything that’s happening. I think it’s very important to acknowledge not only the part the Open Pantry will have in this, but also to enable me to say some very kind words about the Open Pantry, and its leadership of Kevin Noonan over the years.

He’s been a consistent advocate in this cause. It’s not been easy; it’s contentious. He has kept the faith, and has done a superb job. The Open Pantry, as the jail [shelter] phases down, we expect that they will be playing a very strong, significant role in providing the house visits by the professional staff, to make sure that in the housing first component of this, that it works.

I can’t think of any organization better-equipped to do this. They really have been, in so many respects, one of our two primary caretakers of the homeless now—the other being Friends of the Homeless. Now, you will see, a shifting of at least a part of their role as the housing first component becomes more and more important.

The last major part of this plan is what we call the Homeless Assistance Center. This is another entity, what should have been a strong asset of this community, was not an asset, because of its failed leadership—that’s Friends of the Homeless.

I won’t say anything more about it than—I guess we all kind of know what’s happened, and we’ve reached a final conclusion with respect to the former leadership. But out of the ashes of all that, there has been a reconstruction of the board; I see Bob Carroll here, who at my request, took on the chairmanship, even though it’s a non-profit agency.

We had a wrestling match about a year ago where we said we would put no more money in support of that organization unless there was a change of the board. And out of that came a very, very unique gathering of men and women who have cared about that. They selected Bill Miller, who is sitting next to Bob, and Bill has done a yeoman’s job and a sensitive job in operating this shelter.

The facility is kind of a mixed-up facility, to put it mildly. They want to move forward on something that I think is enormously exciting: a new facility, which would provide day space, and that’s important—that’s critical. As you know, right now, the homeless are shoved out on the street at seven o’clock in the morning, whatever the weather is; we’ll see you tonight at five or six. But somehow, they have to [fend] for themselves for ten or 12 hours.

This new facility would provide space all day long. It would provide meals for up to 150 people. Supportive services on-site: in other words, on site there would be a housing and an employment resource center. You don’t need to go walking all over creation to find these things; they’ll be right there. A medical and a dental clinic. Separate dorm space for men and women, and open 24/7.

We’re not there; it just hasn’t happened. When you look at the women’s shelter at 501 Worthington Street, it’s out of Charles Dickens. It’s just an absolute humiliation. And to think that we have women of our community in there is just absolutely unacceptable. And so this is a major step forward.

We’ll have an appropriate announcement of this, or Friends of the Homeless will, within the next two to four weeks, but that’s just a quick exterior rendering of it; and that’s an interior—and without better pictures, you really can’t have a full appreciation—but that does have the dormitory space, it has the meeting room, which then turns into eating facilities; and then you have the separate offices for the supportive services.

There is a financing of it all, looking to the Commonwealth to issue some tax credits, and you go on from there. It’s not easy; that’s a complex matter. I know from time to time, Bob Carroll wakes up in the middle of the night and wonders how it’s all going to be done.

I believe it will be done because this community is going to be galvanized to make sure that it happens. The better-off people in this community, whether they’re individuals or corporations, I have confidence will understand our responsibility unto another. Our new governor is saying exactly that. And he’s not saying because it’s political, because the campaign’s over. He’s saying it because he believes it. But that’s a message that is long overdue.

And unless it’s an integral part of our leadership and government, and of the people who have been so successful and so fortunate in their private or their corporate lives, we’re not going to do very well as a society. But I think that we’ve turned a corner on that, and again, we all take strength from one another. This is going to be a very, very exciting and profound experience in citizenship.

Before I introduce Bob Schwarz, because I do want him to respond, I do want to—I’ve already acknowledged Michaelann Bewsee and Kevin Noonan, and I want to reiterate the leadership, and I’m aware of the lonely role they have played up ’til now. I want to acknowledge what they’ve done, and what I know they’ll continue to do, with deep gratitude.

I’ve introduced Bob Carroll, and Bill Miller. And clearly, this is the other organization—it still has the same name, but different people, a different methodology, different motivation, and I’m sure, far different results.

I want to thank Clodo Conception and Marty Gallagher, who a couple of months ago reached out to me, and said that they had been to Providence. They had been to a place in Providence called Crossroads, which is kind of Providence’s non-profit organization that deals with the problems of the homeless there.

Through their good offices, we went to Providence with them, and several other people, a month or so ago. And I was delighted, because I knew what was coming along. I knew what the assistance program was going to call for. I was able to see at Crossroads, which is in the building of a former YMCA, really what it meant when you had these supporting services all under one roof.

By the way, when I say I’m confident that the corporate community can come up with some help here, we should be aware of the fact that the renovation of the old YMCA in Providence, to what it is now, cost $26 million. If the Providence community was able to do that—now that wasn’t all from the community; there were state and federal funds, or applications there, but the community did a lot. I can’t tell you how important that was to me, and some of my advisors, thanks to Clodo and to Marty, to see that.

Jerry Ray and the Mental Health Association really has been in the leadership of all this, Doreen Fadus; I really almost have to stop there, because there are so many of you who really have kept the faith in this battle to do better for the homeless, and we’re enormously indebted to all of you.

I want to talk about Sheriff Michael Ashe. This is a man who is dealing with people who are down and out. This is a man who—yes, when you go there, you don’t escape. But by the same token, he’s not warehousing people. With his programs, both inside the jail and outside the jail, from day one, Michael Ashe has understood that these are men and women who are coming back into the society, and he wants to equip them in any way he possibly can.

Rick Devine is here this morning, right here, one of the sheriff’s key men. We’re working with him all the time. I think we have ten or 15 different programs with the Sheriff’s Department, where these men, while they are still inmates of the jail, or on release, or partial release, post-confinement, working with us.

There’s nothing that makes me happier, or fills my heart more completely, than to be with those men, and to see what it means to them to be outside doing something, something good and something important. In this whole field of homelessness, the sheriff and his department, and his key advisors such as Rick, really stand unmatched, I think. It’s a tremendous community asset that we can’t overlook.

Last but not least, and I don’t know if it’s here today, but you’ve read in the paper of Bernie [Glassman], the Zen Buddhist from Montague, Mass., he’s come here. There’s his partner right there—could I have your name again, sir?

James Bastien: Jim Bastien.

Mayor Ryan: Yes, thank you, Jim. We met recently. He’s got an embryonic partnership with the sheriff—this is very exciting—to provide jobs, at a place where these men and women can make a living. They did outstanding things in Yonkers, New York. They’ve come here into this Valley, and I think we’ve tried to put out the red carpet for them, because we understand that you’re part of the solution. We welcome you here, and we’re just delighted you’re here.

This is the kind of team that’s coming together, so that when we get together a year or two from now, we’ll show that there was progress from here. As I said, this is really, this is kind of the jumping-off spot. All the fits and starts, all the hits, runs, and errors, I think are kind of behind us.

Take a little bit of a deep swallow, but Housing First is the way to go, and Housing First has got to work, and it’s our partnership responsibility to make sure it does exactly that.

With that, I would like to call my very close friend Bob Schwarz forward to accept his new responsibility as the chairman of the implementation committee, so that we can begin to see some measurable success just as soon as possible. Bob, would you come forward?

Bob Schwarz: Mayor Ryan, thank you very much. The family, the Picknelly family, that I worked for for 20 years, and particularly Peter senior, would always say, the highest calling is to serve, when asked, by the chief executive of your city to do something.

So it’s with great pleasure I accept your challenge. My company, Peter Pan Bus Lines, stands prepared to put our resources behind accomplishing the goals and objectives set in the ten-year plan.

Russ, I am very proud of my alma mater, and what you have done. Helen, your work, that you will see, that has been forward in this document, is outstanding. It truly is a business plan.

Homelessness Symposium Set for Jan. 22

Posted on Friday, December 15 2006 by Heather Brandon

A recent article in the Reminder, by G. Michael Dobbs, announces the date for a multi-city symposium to examine the root causes of homelessness. Set for January 22 at HCC’s Kittredge Center, the event is sponsored by the cities of Springfield, Holyoke and Northampton. State-level officials have been invited. From the article:

[Holyoke Mayor Michael Sullivan] is concerned about concentrating more people at or below the poverty line in the city. He said currently Holyoke, a city of about 40,000 residents, has over 2,200 families living below the poverty line.

Available property in the city provides the opportunity for a greater concentration of poor, but the city doesn’t have the capacity to provide the services they need. Sullivan said the closing of homeless shelters in the eastern part of the state is driving more poor to cities such as Holyoke.

Stressing that he wants to do the “socially responsible thing,” Sullivan said that other communities, even the suburban ones, where poverty is seen far less need to share in providing services. “I have to stand up and say we need a balance,” he said. He added that over the past three years there has been a 200 percent increase in families with no permanent address in the city.

The article also references Springfield Mayor Charles Ryan‘s recent visit to Crossroads Rhode Island in Providence (pictured above, from left, Crossroads Chair Howard Sutton, Crossroads President Anne Nolan, Providence Mayor David Cicilline, and Springfield Mayor Ryan). Crossroads is part of the city’s Housing First program, which turns the traditional approach to addressing homelessness on its head. Certain people in need are first placed in housing, and secondarily, mental health and addiction problems are rigorously addressed.

It’s worth mentioning that the Providence area’s success has had significant state support. According to an article about the visit in the Republican, Ryan and other Springfield representatives were impressed with the strategy.

Dobbs’s article mentions that a long-term plan to address homelessness—now officially regarded as a regional problem—was drafted and placed on the Springfield mayor’s desk in September.