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.