Friday, December 18, 2009

H.O.P.E. for the homeless

"Another long one....sorry"

Earlier this week representatives from the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center met with Memphis Housing and Community Development Director Robert Lipscomb in the first of a series of meetings about addressing homelessness and affordable housing concerns here in the city of Memphis. This initial meeting went very well and plans are being made in the future to also meet with representatives from the city's two major homeless service organizations, Greater Memphis Inter-agency Coalition for the Homeless and Partners for the Homeless. Director Lipscomb's goal is to pull concerned parties and shareholders to the table to not only discuss current programs,but to research and review best practices locally and nationally to lift up successful local initiatives and programs as well as explore innovation from outside models. The culmination of these efforts will manifest in a new TEN YEAR PLAN TO END HOMELESSNESS. I'd personally like to thank Director Lipscomb for his leadership here and for reaching out to us in an honest spirit of collaboration

This is a positive step towards the overall goals of the H.O.P.E. campaign,"HOMELESS ORGANIZING for POWER and EQUALITY" a program launched by the Peace and Justice center this summer. Part of that campaign began in July when I and some really great interns went out and canvassed hotspot areas where the homeless gathered. From meal programs to shelters, to some canvassing of vacants and squats we went out and conducted a survey of 300 folks out living on the streets of Memphis. The survey asked about not only current local services but also asked participants to rate and prioritize what additional services were needed or needed to be augmented to help them get off of the streets.Currently we are a little over halfway processing the data but some things have already become clear.As far as service providers go, so far First Pres Church,Manna House and Hospitality Hub spring to mind as a services that received very high marks from the folks we surveyed. The most common comment provided was "We are treated like human beings there." Many other service providers received high marks as well,and there were other providers who received lower marks and in some cases some pretty disturbing comments about the treatment of clients, which we are following up on investigating. Now alot of the answers about needed services are what you'd naturally expect, with Affordable Housing being number one, followed by more transitional housing, a free shelter and residential job training all being at the top of the list.
However, there were also some interesting things that popped up enough under the Misc/other section that we eventually added them to the survey list. These were things like application assistance for Social Security disability benefits.This so far is far and away the most popular concern written in on the survey. Which really is not surprising, as many folks out on the streets qualify for benefits but by virtue of their residential status have difficulty navigating the application process. Hell i'm not homeless and i'm sure it would give me problems.

Another issue that popped up from time to time is the request for a place for those on the streets to charge their cellphones. This seems odd at first glance but most respondents who cited this as a need consistently expressed that they were waiting for calls from family, from job opportunities and from being on housing waiting lists.In fact there are charities that provide cheap or in some cases free cellphone service for just such reasons.
The problem was they had few options on how to keep the phones charged. So most had to scrap up or panhandle what change they could in order to by something "coffee, a sandwich..whatever" at fast food restaurants so they could plug in their phones there. Granted this was neither a high priority to those surveyed in comparison to other needs,nor a numerically large number of responses but I do think it highlights the sheer logistical difficulty of daily life on the streets, where tasks that are normally mundane for those with housing can be time and resource consuming undertakings.
Once the processing of this survey is complete, the information will be given to service providers as well as HCD for their own uses. I will also make that available here. This survey serves as the guiding star for our advocacy efforts as the homeless themselves have little voice in policies that directly impact them, and often little recourse against those who victimize them within the social services system.

Around that same time work was being done to complete the Memphis Survival Guide, a client centered, user friendly directory of homeless service providers as well as maps, a daily meal guide, information on substance abuse services, runaway help as well as information on the new 260-Home, hotline. This Guide will be distributed to service providers, hospitals, churches, community organizations and directly to the homeless free of charge.

Now in the course of all this there has been some research on other program models that could be successfully adapted to work in Memphis that filled a clear need. I wanted to take a brief moment to talk about two in particular that we have been exploring and researching.

Daytona Beach's DOWNTOWN STREET TEAM is a wonderful program based in part on a similar program in Palo Alto ,California.
In a nutshell this program was a progressive response to dealing with the issue of panhandling in the tourist district without criminalization while providing a path out of homelessness for those on the streets. The program championed by Daytona Beach Commissioner Rick Shriver, as well as the local Salvation Army, the Chamber of Commerce and other organizations created a program in which the area homeless are "hired" to perform basic litter clean up, janitorial, grounds keeping services as well as giving tourist directions and other related tasks. This is paired with housing and meal vouchers that can be used with local service providers and area restaurants. The program also assists participants in starting bank accounts, assisting the eligible in applying for potential benefits, interview and resume building skills and other services designed to help the person find employment and housing. The program while not perfect nor a "one size fits all" has had great success in a short period of time. In fact from January of this year,"the programs launch date" as of this September. 42 individuals have participated in the program , with many already transitioning on to either transitional housing, to some even finding traditional housing and employment outside the program.
For the past two months I've been reaching out to the program leadership down in Daytona looking into details about how such a program could be adapted and replicated here. The very good news on that front is that "kits' for replication are available and that this initiative is an already an "approved" Salvation Army program. So I have also been in contact with The Daytona Beach Salvation Army director of Social Services Joni Casillas as well as Barbara Tillery who is the Director of Social Services for the Salvation Army here in Memphis. The goal is to finish the initial research and present this program as an alternative to criminalization of homelessness here in the city of Memphis. We have also in the past two months met with 8 city council members about this plan and they were cautiously supportive and interested in hearing more.

Another promising option is based on the Housing First model. Which a nutshell...."Housing First is an innovative approach to ending chronic homelessness where people are provided rapid access to low-cost apartments, with vital medical, mental health and other support services available on site. It is a more humane, a more successful and a more cost-effective method than paying for these same individuals to cycle in and out of the emergency room, the sobering center or jail."

Case in point the 1811 Eastlake Center in Seattle,Wa This innovative and controversial program. Provides housing, counseling and 24 hour a day services for 75 formerly homeless men and women with extremely serious and long term alcohol abuse issues. What makes this program controversial in the eyes of some is that unlike many programs there is no ban on drinking as long as the residents are in their rooms. While many contend that this would amount to enabling alcoholism,advocates and staff believe that by first addressing the housing issue, one can mitigate the substance abuse issues and more effectively enlist cooperation of clients in rehabilitation...and the results seem to bear this out. A study by the University of Washington concluded that while residents in the program still drink a high level of alcohol, that by having a stable housing environment that those in the program drink about a third less after one year of living in the apartment complex...."i.e. eating better, protection from elements, no longer binge drinking to avoid the police". This program also is being studied as a national model for harm reduction especially as the fiscal benefits to cities becomes apparent. In the Journal of the American Medical Association a study concluded that the 1811 Eastside center despite it's initial high start up costs saved Seattle 4 million dollars in it's first year of operation alone, due to the resulting decrease in criminal justice and law enforcement resources devoted to this segment of the population, as well as emergency medical services, shelter use and other related costs. In fact alcohol related incidents decreased by 48% according to the Downtown Seattle Association.
This program has been an incredibly successful model for harm reduction and curbing alcoholism among the most serious cases while greatly reducing "lifestyle' violations such as open container, public intoxication and public urination and defecation.We are currently in contact with Tulin Ozdeger of the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty about models for adaptation of this program.

“From where I sit, the “housing first” model is an anti-crime program. Let’s get people off the street first and then deal with their addictions. It’s not easy to beat any addiction… Yet when we get a person housed, good things happen. This seems to be the case with 1811 Eastlake. Before it opened, the 75 residents of this housing program were regular visitors to our court and jail. Since the project opened, we hardly see them at all.”
- Tom Carr, Seattle City Attorney

Finally.."and I know this has been a long read folks." We are also doing some intensive research into another new project designed to provide quality affordable housing to those in extremely low income brackets. Folks who may not qualify for existing assistance under current guidelines and who do not make enough to afford current housing options. While at the same time reducing the number of vacant lots currently being held by the county in the Land bank and in the long term create new tax revenue for the city and county in a cost effective manner. Our idea is currently under the working title "Moving On Up". Watch this space for a full detailed presentation of this potential program in the next two months.

These projects are in our view models for serious consideration to address some of the fundamental root causes of homelessness in effective, moral and fiscally responsible ways, without resorting to counter productive criminalization of poverty.

Sunday, December 13, 2009



Being Homeless is not a crime, but in cities all across this country many Americans are being treated like criminals. The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center as a part of our H.O.P.E. campaign,"Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality" will kickoff our initiative by taking to the streets this Tuesday, December 15th from 4-6pm to ensure that the voices of our brothers and sisters out on the streets are heard loud and clear. We will gather in teams on every major intersection on Poplar Ave, from Danny Thomas to Highland with our signs and our information on how Criminalization of Poverty is an ineffective, immoral and fiscally irresponsible strategy for dealing with homelessness. We will also stand in support of positive and data driven alternative approaches like Daytona Beach's DOWNTOWN STREET TEAM and the 1811 Eastlake Center in Seattle, programs that speak to some of the leading causes of homelessness. Lack of Affordable housing, Job opportunities and addiction.

Over the past five weeks we have had meetings with 8 members of the City Council as well as the Salvation Army, the National Law Center for Poverty and Homelessness and other potential shareholders and advocacy for these efforts will continue.We also created a Memphis Survival Guide, a user friendly directory of all homeless,runaway and addiction rehab services in Memphis,including meal guides,shelters and maps of prime locations for help, which we will be distributing at no charge to service providers and the homeless.

This Monday night (12-14-09) from 4-8pm at the Peace and Justice Center we will have a sign making and planning meeting to finalize the details for the Tuesday event. We currently have Captains and teams for each intersection but hope to have every intersection team fully staffed for this event. If you cannot make the monday sign making event but still want to participate tuesday please email me at so we can direct you to a team that needs members.

We have invited Mayor Wharton and MPD Col Billy Garrett to join us at Manna House for our weekly conversation group with the homeless. We feel first and foremost their voices need to be heard in the polices and programs that impact their daily lives. We are currently awaiting a reply from his office.

So please take the time to join us for these events this week and stand up for justice those out on the streets...don't wait until it's someone you know.

JOBS NOT JAILS-Sign making event
Monday-Dec 14th
Location-First Congo Church 1000 South Cooper-"Please come to rear entrance,Red doors by Children's playground. look for doorbell labeled Peace and Justice Center"

LOCATION-Poplar ave- "Every major intersection between Danny Thomas and Highland"

Demand Change

Brad Watkins
Organizing Coordinator
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Credit Where Credit is Due.




Tonya Meeks │ 901-576-6007 or 901-570-6385

city of memphis identifies immediate shelter for the homeless - tonight

Memphis, TN --- December 9, 2009, Given weather reports that local temperatures are to fall as low as 23 degrees tonight, City of Memphis has worked with Partners for the Homeless and Coalition for the Homeless to identify and confirm the following direction and information for those persons in need of immediate shelter:

- Families and women with children are to call the Homeless Hotline at 901-260-4663 for arrangements. The line and service will be covered after hours. There is no charge for this service and arrangements.

- Single men are to go to Memphis Union Mission Men’s Emergency Shelter located at 383 Poplar Avenue. There will be NO charge for persons needing shelter tonight.


Tonya M. Meeks

Communications Specialist

Office of Mayor A C Wharton, Jr.

City of Memphis

125 N. Main Street, Suite 700

Memphis, TN 38103


Direct Dial: 901.576.6007

Mobile: 901.570.6385


Thanks to the Memphis Union Mission for as ALWAYS opening their doors to the homeless for free on nights where the temperature drops below 32*
This is nothing new they always do this and we thank them.

Also the Homeless hotline set up via the Memphis/Shelby County Emergency Housing Partnership (260-HOME) program. Is a great program set up via the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) of 2009 the hardwork of HCD and PFH since the summer so thank you and Thank you Congressman Steve Cohen. It's only for families with children,but it's a great start.

.....and in my gratitude I am also disappointed that besides these already existing efforts that a press release was sent out implying something new with nothing new in it. Admittedly..maybe that's my fault for hoping.

When is a Sweep not a Sweep? PART 3




Monday , December 7th-Action News Five

Today-,Wednesday December 9th-Memphis Daily News
Daily news

Both media statement confirmed that today Memphis Police would be {FUTURE TENSE] serving a Seven days notice to the homeless in vacants and in encampments and would be connected to service providers. Those still there in seven days could be arrested for trespassing. Instead the administration is pursuing the original notice from Seven days ago. This lack of communication is troubling and disappointing and more to the point is wrong.As none of our calls to the Mayor's office requesting information have been returned.

HOMELESS SWEEP UPDATE As of today 33 stops of the homeless have been made 3 referrals to service providers 14 homeless makeshift structures have been destroyed. 0 new housing units or shelter beds created.

Also yesterday reports came in from the homeless themselves that police are performing stops to homeless individuals wearing backpack in the Downtown/Midtown area. The police are asking them. "where do you live?" "What are you doing?" and "What's in your backpack?" none of these folks questioned by the police were put in touch with Homeless service providers or referred to services or shelters, nor were they arrested, they were simply harassed and told to move on.

The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center invites all of our members, allies and anyone who is concerned about this morally, legally and ethically questionable policy to join us as we move to the next phase in our campaign in support of housing, support and Justice for our brother and sisters on the streets of our city. As such we will not only discuss how to effectively advocate for a real solution to this issue but also plan and organize a protest of the proposed sweep for the coming week.

We have invited Mayor Wharton and Col Garrett to speak directly with our homeless brothers and sisters at our weekly discussion group at Manna House.Both had prior commitments this week so we offered them the choice of three dates next week. The voices of the homeless should be heard in polices that effect them, it's the very least that can be done.


LOCATION-FIRST CONGO CHURCH, 1000 S. Cooper, Mphs,Tn 38104
DATE-Friday,December 11th

Brad Watkins
Organizing Coordinator
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

When is a Sweep not a Sweep. Part 2

Also wanted to take a brief moment to examine some other things about the Mayor's statements regarding the Homeless Sweep now set to occur next week on Dec 16th.

Today in the Daily News Mayor Wharton said
“There is no deadline,” Wharton said. “The effort will begin to find suitable protective and humane accommodations for these individuals who in many instances, through no fault of their own, are homeless. … We’re going to be protective, not punitive. … You can’t allow homelessness to be a license to flout the law. And these officers are trained. They know the difference between homelessness and lawlessness. There is a distinction.”

Later in that same article MPD Director Larry Godwin says

“They’re letting the homeless know in seven days we’re going to come back and code enforcement will be here. It’s not to come back and arrest. It’s to offer you some assistance and get the help that you need and get you a place to stay where you’re not on the street.
“If they’re in violation – if they’re trespassing – they’ll be removed, obviously. The only arrest you’ll probably ever see us make is if there are warrants.”

Seven days sounds like a deadline to me and what is meant by the term..."REMOVED"
How is this not a Sweep?

I respectfully ask...Define "lawlessness"..afterall trespassing is against the law, yet those sleeping in vacants are doing so because of a lack of capacity in existing services and affordable housing.Section 8 is currently not accepting applications and is on a long waiting list already and according to service providers as I have said repeatedly shelter capacity is already stretched thin. Here is an article from ABC24 on just that subject.SHELTER CAPACITY

From that article

The Memphis Union Mission is already packed night after night, along with other shelters in the area. Cordell Walker runs the Alpha Omega Veterans Services shelter for homeless vets. He says, with the colder temps and the holidays coming up…

"Your capacities are usually full,” Walker said. “You usually have waiting lists and it's unfortunate, but it seems like the more you house, the more you have to house."


Another shelter, Calvary Rescue Mission, can house 46 men. They are at capacity every night. The director there says they can't take anymore people than they already do. They have been trying to expand, but they're been waiting on the city to approve their offer and sell them the land.

Again this is not so much of a Homeless plan but a plan for Neighborhood clean up of the properties the homeless are encamped within. So says Dr. Richard Janikowski of the University of Memphis.Source
"This is part of a wider initiative for a neighborhood clean-up," said Dr. Richard Janikowski, a criminologist with the MPD.

From the Mayor's statement

In November, the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development and Partners for the Homeless officially launched a new $4.2 million effort aimed at preventing Shelby County residents from becoming literally homeless or to quickly re-house those who are already homeless (in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or on the streets.)

The project includes four key elements that are new to the region:

1. A 24-hour hotline to respond to families in Shelby County who are homeless and seeking shelter;
2. A central assessment and intake operated by MIFA that connects homeless and imminently homeless households with the most appropriate housing resources;
3. Financial assistance and supportive services to prevent evictions or rapidly re-house those who are already homeless;
4. Mediation services and access to public benefit programs including Food Stamps, Families First, Medicaid, etc.

This is a GREAT program and will provide much needed relief to those in need, the thing that I regret is that this new program is mostly only for families with CHILDREN who are homeless or near homeless, not for individuals like those who will be potentially caught up in the sweep. This is an important distinction in the context of this conversation.

Also, program was a result of stimulus funds that came out of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) of 2009. This has been something that HCD and PFH have been working on for months and in fairness would have occurred no matter who won the October 15th special election...or for that matter if Mayor Herenton had not resigned.Congressman Steve Cohen mentioned these funds to me in Washington DC last January.

Mayor Wharton also mentions in the ABC news article the possibility of some emergency shelters in the short term.
. He even mentioned the possibility of opening up Dunn Elementary like the city did for hurricane victims.

"I betcha I can call Bob Nations right now and find space that could be used on a temporary basis for these individuals who we feel for their own protection ought to be in a secure environment," Wharton said.

That would be a welcome step in the right direction and would begin to address the core issue here which is capacity and affordable housing. I hope the Mayor does indeed work towards this goal and we are ready to support such an endeavor. However, this would only be the first step as these shelters like in the case of Katrina would be temporary then the question remains..then what? Still it's a positive step, but these are things that should have been dealt with before this plan began, not after the clock started ticking on the folks within the areas of the sweep. You cannot have a homeless plan without first addressing capacity and housing, otherwise it is a sweep.

When is a Sweep not a Sweep?

Best of times..the worst of times...

Yesterday Mayor Wharton released a statement on the issue of the currently planned Sweep of the Homeless living in catholes,vacants and on the streets. The Mayor, Dr. Janikowski ,MPD Col Garrett and MPD director Godwin all contend that his is not a "crackdown", "round up" or "sweep" of the homeless but a humanitarian effort designed to place those in need in touch with service providers. Thus Mayor Wharton said that there would be no sweep of the homeless. It was later clarified that starting tomorrow that Police accompanied with social workers will give another 7 days notice to those in 17 homeless encampments that they need to vacate these areas and MPD and the Social Workers will work to provide assistance to those seeking shelter or aid. Thus next week December 16th those still found living in vacants and catholes could be arrested.
Click here

Okay, first let me say that I am glad to see that the proposed sweep has been delayed for another week in order to do more outreach to connect the homeless to existing services. That is always a good thing, and it was a good thing when it was done last week at Hospitality hub. It is also VERY promising that the Mayor has also made public statements in support of a free shelter. This is something Memphis needs and is a positive step and I want to applaud the Mayor for that. However, there are a couple of things that need to be pointed out here..

1.This is a change from what MPD officials said to the homeless, service providers the media and me personally last Thursday night after the Mayor's Townhall meeting in Midtown.The date was confirmed by media reports as well.
Click here

2. The 7 day notice while a small positive step does not change the fact that next week those not out of the areas of the sweep could and will be arrested. Thus the Sweep is effectively still on, it's just no longer being referred to as such. BTW the term "Sweep" came directly of MPD officers service providers and Col Garrett, "Sweep" only became a dirty word when the media reported on it.

3. The core issues of Homeless service capacity and AFFORDABLE HOUSING has not been addressed nor were even mentioned in the statement or press release. Those two things are at the heart of the matter. Let's say that all of the homeless took up the city on their offer. Because resources are already strained and some service providers are already near capacity, we really don't have shelter and services available to all of them. There are not any homeless service providers out there like some Maytag repair man of old..sitting around with no clients to serve...they were already working as hard as they could to provide services. The ethical ones anyway. Is the City ready to guarantee that every person who they give these cards to will have a place in a shelter? Not be be jaded but I doubt this..and notice how no one has ever denied this.

Also, do we expect the Social workers and Service providers to change folks lives in a week? The process is not that fast. So the question remains..where are these people supposed to go?

4. Once in the Shelter system...then what....what happens after the "free days" run out? Seriously i'm asking a question here..I really just want to know?

You know..I've been really tossing and turning.. trying to understand why this is happening...Why would a policy of dealing with the homeless take this form?...Then last night it hit me... This Sweep is not a plan to address homelessness, it's not really about homelessness at all. The homeless are simply the eggs to the omelet of something larger.

In fact according to Doctor Richard Janikowski, this is part of a larger effort centering around neighborhood clean up.Consider these quotes


Or how about this?

In the past, police would sweep homeless gathering places, especially large encampments where numerous people live, and the Public Works Division would follow up by tearing down the site without offering any help, said University of Memphis criminologist Richard Janikowski, who helps MPD with its data-driven Blue Crush initiative.

"We wanted to do something that was protective of the neighborhoods and economic development, and something that was humane and could really help people," said Janikowski of the current city initiative. "I thought we were doing a good thing."

full article

Also Consider the words of Director Godwin here
"The last thing we want is to see folks out on the streets that cant help it there out there try to get them help they need the assistance they need and clean up the blight at the same time."

and also in the same news piece..

"Wednesday were going to let them know about these service providers and in seven days were going to come back if they are on private property were going to clean those areas up."
Full article

So you see the homeless living in vacants in these areas were just a small part within a larger plan about blight...and maybe economic redevelopment. If the opposite were true then this Sweep would be going on at the really large homeless encampments outside of Midtown in lower income areas of the city. The Covington Pike Bottoms and other places...those are the major encampments.

I also want the record to show that Dr Janikowski is correct this "sweep" is more humane than previous sweeps..but my contention is that is not cause for celebration in fact it's something we as a community should all be shamed of.

If you think about the sweep in these terms, also helps one understand why there was no official announcement of this "Plan to Address Homelessness" by anyone beforehand.
Afterall if you are trying to launch a major new initiative to deal with homelessness, wouldn't you have a press conference and invite the media and enlist the community to help in that effort?.Would you not get down in front of the story?

The fact that we are even having a discussion about this at all is because the homeless and advocates and concerned citizens raised our voices and alerted the media. Otherwise...the Sweep would have gone on this Wednesday day as planned and most folks would be none the wiser.

Think about it.

Please call at 576-6000 and ask the Mayor and the Colonel to attend. We have invited Mayor Wharton and Col Garrett to speak directly with our homeless brothers and sisters at Manna House.Both had prior commitments this week so we offered them the choice of three dates next week. The voices of the homeless should be heard in polices that effect them. No media will be present.

Monday, December 07, 2009




Bobby White, Chief of Statff │ 901-576-6010


regarding treatment of homeless population

Statement from Mayor A C Wharton:

“Given the recent shift in temperatures, finding a humane, responsible, proactive way to meet the needs of our city’s homeless population has obviously become a major priority. Starting this week, Colonel Billy Garrett of the Memphis Police Department and his officers will be working to connect individuals and families in need with local service providers who can help them. This is a new, above-and-beyond collaboration with the Hospitality Hub and other service providers to make sure that we are accommodating and helping as many homeless individuals as possible. My staff is working with the Memphis Police Department and local service providers to ensure we remain coordinated in our efforts to help the homeless.

“I want to assure every citizen and every concerned party that homeless individuals are in no way going to be targets of a ‘sweep’ or a ‘round-up.’ There will be no ‘crack down’ on homeless people, as some have claimed. Any action that is being taken by the Memphis Police Department will be protective, proactive, and humane. I will tolerate nothing less.

“It must be noted that removing illegal dwellings and encampments is something that is done on a regular basis by the MPD. However, we recognize that this alone is not a solution. Connecting Memphians in need with services that can truly help them must be part of the process.

“Let me be clear: the City of Memphis has no fight with our city's poor and homeless citizens; we are, however, at war with the conditions that cause these individuals and families to go without shelter. Obviously there is no easy and quick solution to the pernicious and critical problem of poverty. Ending the crisis of homeless will only come about through the improvement of our schools, an increase in college attainment and appropriate job training programs, and the continued development of our local economy. No one is more concerned about this problem than I am, and no one is working harder on these fronts than my staff, my Division Directors, and me.”

In November, the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development and Partners for the Homeless officially launched a new $4.2 million effort aimed at preventing Shelby County residents from becoming literally homeless or to quickly re-house those who are already homeless (in emergency shelters, transitional housing, or on the streets.)

The project includes four key elements that are new to the region:

1. A 24-hour hotline to respond to families in Shelby County who are homeless and seeking shelter;
2. A central assessment and intake operated by MIFA that connects homeless and imminently homeless households with the most appropriate housing resources;
3. Financial assistance and supportive services to prevent evictions or rapidly re-house those who are already homeless;
4. Mediation services and access to public benefit programs including Food Stamps, Families First, Medicaid, etc.

# # #


Friday, December 04, 2009

Jobs not Jails • Call Mayor Wharton Now

Jobs not Jails • Call Mayor Wharton Now


This week the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center has learned that Memphis Police Department is planning a major sweep of the homeless in the Downtown and Midtown area set to begin Wednesday December 9th.


Earlier this week Memphis Police Department officers went to several homeless shelters, food pantries and day shelters and handed out cards to the homeless about a meeting with homeless service providers at the Hospitality Hub on Thursday. However, the homeless were also told that anyone found out on the streets, or living in vacants or catholes after the 9th in the downtown or midtown areas would be arrested and their belongings would be thrown away.

This is a moral outrage and must be stopped immediately. Memphis has no free shelters and existing homeless services are full or near capacity due to the cold weather and current economic crisis. Where is the call for emergency shelters and affordable housing? This "Sweep" of the homeless will not only fill 201 Poplar at a huge cost to taxpayers, but will create further distrust between the homeless and the police and potential service providers who are working every day to aid our brothers and sisters on the streets.

The sweep will only serve to continue the systematic push of our homeless population to the communities to the North and South of Downtown and Midtown, areas of the city which have much higher rates of vacant properties. Thus as the winter months roll on and as temperatures continue to drop, this sweep will only encourage the homeless to squat in vacants in other parts of the city. This will lead to more fires and potentially higher incidences of related emergency medical services.

This sweep is not a moral, effective or fiscally responsible solution to the issues of poverty and homelessness in our city; sadder still is that these laws seek to imprison the poor and the addicted in the midst of the holiday season. Mayor Wharton has the power to stop this illegal and immoral sweep.


Call Mayor Wharton's office now and ask him to STOP THE SWEEP.

Thursday, December 3, 2009 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Memphis Police Threaten Homeless in Downtown/Midtown with Arrest
MPD Officers Telling Homeless to Get Off the Street by Dec. 9 or Go to Jail

Contact: Brad Watkins, Organizing Coordinator
901.495.0818 •

MEMPHIS -- On Tuesday December 2, 2009, Memphis Police officers handed out cards and a threat of arrest to homeless people in midtown and downtown Memphis. The cards distributed on Tuesday, instructing individuals to come to the Hospitality Hub on Thursday Dec. 3, to “get help to stop living on the streets.” Hospitality Hub was pairing individuals with service providers in order to get help off the street, which is a good thing.

But officers also told the homeless that anyone found out on the streets after Dec 9th or found sleeping in "catholes" or in vacants will be arrested. Furthermore they were told that their property would be thrown away. In fact, we have received word from multiple sources that the sweep has already begun as early as 4:00am today.

The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center would like to know the following things:

* Who authorized this illegal sweep within the Memphis Police Department and the government of the City of Memphis?
* With no free shelter in Memphis, and an inadequate number of beds in paid shelters, where are these people supposed to go?
* What amount of police resources in terms of manpower and money are being wasted on this illegal action?
* How much will it cost us in jail costs at $87 per day to house the arrested persons?

We demand an immediate end to this sweep. We urge all Memphians to call Mayor Wharton at (901) 576-6000 to ask that he use his authority to end this illegal action and move to hold those responsible accountable.

Jobs not Jails!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Sweeping the Homeless Under the Rug

1 a : to remove from a surface with or as if with a broom or brush b : to destroy completely : wipe out —usually used with away c : to remove or take with a single continuous forceful action d : to remove from sight or consideration e : to drive or carry along with irresistible force

Yesterday I received a call from a gentlemen who is formerly homeless who now works for a local homeless service provider. He warned me that the Police are gearing up for a major sweep of the homeless especially in Downtown and Midtown Memphis. So I did some checking and I learned from my homeless friends and from other service providers that the police were handing out cards to the homeless inviting them to Hospitality Hub to meet with service providers today from 9am-12noon to receive placement in existing services. That in it'self is a good thing.

The problem was that police also told the homeless that anyone found out on the streets after Dec 9th or found sleeping in "catholes" or in vacants will be arrested.Furthermore they were told that their property would be thrown away.In fact I have received word from multiple sources that the sweep has already begun as early as 4am today I heard this not only from large numbers of homeless folks across Downtown and Midtown, but also from some homeless service providers as well. The message being sent is "move along..outta sight..outta mind" But MOVE ALONG WHERE?

Where do we honestly expect people to go...let's say for argument's sake that every homeless person in Memphis showed up to the Hub this morning. The hub would not be able to fit them fact they were letting people in in increments of 15 when I was there. Not a knock against the hub,they were doing the best they could, but it's not a huge place. More to the point..most shelters are already full or filling up due to the weather and the growth in our homeless population even at max capacity there would still be a large number of folks left out.

So where do we want them to go?

Well I do not claim to have psychic visions, or to be a deductive genius, but if you sweep people out of an area that borders areas with high amounts of vacants, then are you not simply encouraging the same squatting you seek to prevent?

Think about the areas North and South of Downtown and Western Midtown...So i'm thinking off the top of my head to the North "Uptown,Greenlaw,North Memphis,Klondike,Smokey city,Hollywood-Springdale,Douglass Bungalow and the South"Vance-Orlenes,Riverview-Kansas,Glenview,South Memphis,Orange Mound,Beltline". These areas all have high rates of vacant houses, apartments and commercial properties and are adjacent neighborhoods from the prime locations of the sweep. I do not think it takes Adrian Monk to figure out what's going to happen next.

The other problem was that because many homeless folks heard that the sweep was coming..alot of them choose not to go to Hospitality Hub today because they thought it was somekind of "set up". Thus not only is this proposed sweep immoral and in some cases illegal..but it was overall counter productive to the positive work being attempted by the service providers.

Again I think placing service providers in a central place to help the homeless access services is a good idea, but draconian sweeps do nothing but push people deeper into hiding..creates mistrust between the homeless and the police and the service providers and fills the jails with people who are not a danger to society.

At $87-90 dollars per person per day at 201 Poplar this will also have the effect of bogging down an already overwhelmed criminal justice system, tie up valuable law enforcement resources and cost the taxpayers untold thousands of dollars....and for what?

The quite simple...shelters and affordable housing will be more effective..more ethical and two to three times cheaper than the costs of say nothing of the related costs of blight, putting out fires created by squatters warming themselves and related emergency health related costs.

I am currently awaiting a reply from Mayor Wharton's office about the details of this sweep, and who authorized this in the first place..i'll be sure to pass that and opportunities for action to address this outrage along.

This is wrong..and it has to stop.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Memphis Survival Guide

I am thrilled to announce the completion of a Peace and Justice center project a long time in the making. The Memphis Survival Guide is a handheld new user friendly directory of all the homeless service providers,runaway services, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, shelter and meal services offered in the City of Memphis.

The guide also includes information on the new Memphis/Shelby County Emergency Housing Partnership (260-HOME) as well as a daily schedule of meal services, including some maps and pictures to aid clients in finding the services that they need. We also have included information about our friends at Food not Bombs and our discussion group for the homeless who are victims of harassment. As well as our G.O.T. Power Grassroots Organizing Training program in hopes of helping the homeless to be able to effectively advocate and organize on their own behalf.

Starting soon I will be working to distribute 5000 copies of this guide to various service providers, church congregations,neighborhood and community organizations and directly to the homeless themselves in the coming weeks. Not only will this guide help those in need find the services they require,but I also feel it will help service providers by reducing the time they have to spend calling,searching and directing client groups that are outside of their scope of service to other providers. The clients will already know which providers do what and when.

Special thanks to Mairi Albertson with Memphis Housing and Community Development,Nancy Bailey and Eric Crites of the University of Memphis Tiger graphics,Shiloh Barnat. Peace and Justice center interns Kelly Atwood,Kavita Pillai,Jessie Ferguson,Mahal Burr McNeil,Dev Parma, Mike Stevens and Shane Ham. Thank you all very much for your hard work.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Pimpin' Poverty: Nice Straw man you got there.

Today the Commercial Appeal presents another editorial in support for the two proposals of the Center City Commission. Dealing with the proposed single beer sale ban and the creation of an Anti-Panhandling Zone both within the CBID within the Downtown area.
You can read this editorial HERE
Please take a moment to read this.

Okay the editorial is misleading in several ways...

Let's be honest here, the study that is referred to here was TWO stores out of about eight or nine within the zone. Yet this study never checked to see what was the impact on the other six or seven stores during the month of March. I asked this question point blank at the CCC board meeting last week. The answer i was given was..."I don't know"

This study was not scientific nor were there any impact studies done on the potential effects on the surrounding neighborhoods of Greenlaw, South Main,The Med district, Midtown,Uptown,Orange Mound Or North or South Memphis. Notice how no one proposing these ordinances ever denies this.

The proposals of the CCC will only succeed in pushing the problems into residential neighborhoods and compel those with addiction issues to either take a short walk, panhandle more or commit more serious crimes in order to purchase alcohol in greater amounts and volume.

In fact i'll take it a step further. The other major fact that is being glossed over in this debate is that Aggressive panhandling is illegal all over Memphis, thus the entire city is a "No aggressive panhandling zone". Now as the act of aggressive panhandling is already by definition a crime, then how would this Anti panhandling zone accomplish anything?
Afterall if you are already engaged in illegal activities then why would making it "more illegal" stop anyone?

It would be like declaring an area of the city a "No crack selling zone". If you read the ordinance the zone applies to passive panhandling, thus the only people really impacted by this law would be those who do not harass people in the first place and try to comply with the law.

This is a bait and switch, using people's fear and anger towards aggressive panhandlers to pass a law which is so broad and vaguely written that it will foster the pushing of the homeless out of one area and into others. It does absolutely nothing to stop aggressive panhandling in any real sense.

Another thing about open container and public intoxication if people really want the cops to crack down on this then I encourage people to be prepared for alot more citations to be written outside of the various bars downtown on the weekends as well as concerts, festivals and other events.

Afterall there are plenty of open container and public intoxication law violations to go around..especially at Tiger football tailgates, St Patrick's day pub crawls and at the Southern Heritage classic just to name a few. Open container is open container, public intoxication is public intoxication. The law should not be selectively enforced to judge the same behavior in two different ways.
It's bad science and bad policy.

Another far as the issues of local stores. The map of the beer ban zone skirts BP, Tigermart and Mapco. All three major chains will still be allowed to sell as they are just slightly outside the zone. Diversification is not the issue the point is that these local stores already have a hard time competing in pricing with the larger stores and now will have even more of an economic disadvantage. The Brother's Sundry on Lauderdale, literally shares a sidewalk with BP on Poplar. They are practically next door to each other. Vance Grocery is within eyeshot of another store outside the zone and a short distance from Mapco on Danny Thomas. If we want to have a debate on the issues that's fine, but solid facts should be presented to the public and in a proper context.

We need real comprehensive solutions to deal with the problems of addiction, homelessness and crime.Let's work on those things and not devote more police resources needed elsewhere in the city to enforce laws that do nothing positive.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pimpin' Poverty;The Pilgrims were Panhandlers

As you may or may not have heard or read the Center City Commission is proposing two new ordinances to the Memphis City Council.In a bit of irony these proposals were passed last week, during National Hunger and Homeless Awareness week.

These deal with two connected issues for a singular goal. One is a ban on single beer sales "Tallboys,32oz and 40oz beers etc" in an area of Downtown roughly bordered by MILL to the North, Fourth to the EAST, Riverside to the WEST and VANCE to the SOUTH. The Second deals with an expansive Anti Panhandling ordinance including a "NO PANHANDLING ZONE" within the same area.There was an article in today's Commercial Appeal which you can read HERE
The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center has numerous concerns about both of these items on moral, practical and fiscal grounds.

First of all neither of these ordinances address the root causes of the problems of alcohol and drug addiction or "Aggressive" panhandling. Instead these ordinances simply seek to push a population of those living in poverty and addiction our of an area and into surrounding communities that are not equipped to provide the services needed to help them get off of the streets and out of their situations.

This is especially troubling as the CCC has conducted no study or research into the impact that the passage of these laws will have on the surrounding communities of South Main, Greenlaw, the Medical District, North Memphis, The Foote homes area,Riverview-Kansas, Midtown or Orange Mound. These communities have already seen an increase in their homeless populations since the CCC via their new private security force began pushing the homeless out of the Downtown area. It is also worth noting that as many service providers for the Homeless are located within this zone that this push could impact the work of these agencies by scattering their clients, making them harder to find and harder to help. There was no input from these communities, nor homeless service providers.

Secondly, The boundaries for these proposed ordinances puts local stores at an economic disadvantage as the boundaries skirt major chains such as Tiger Mart, BP, and Mapco, all of which are slightly outside the zone.The only Major chain within the Zone is a Shell station on Auction. Small independent stores will lose revenue and will add to their difficulty in competing with the larger chains which due to their superior size and market share generally have lower prices.In fact there is a small store on Lauderdale that shares a sidewalk with the BP on Poplar. Yet the BP is outside the zone and the small store is within it. I spoke to three store owners in the area who say this will impact their business. There was no input from these store owners, some were unaware of this ordinance until I told them of it. In fact the Center City Commission did convince two stores to voluntarily cease selling of "single serve beers" for a period of time. They say that this had a positive impact in the surrounding area. When I asked what was the impact at the other stores?...the response was. "I don't know."
It must also be pointed out that this ordinance does not affect liquor stores, as such this law may have the consequence of encouraging those with an alcohol addiction to panhandle more or commit more serious crimes to raise the funds to buy a six pack...or switch to half pints of liquor. The law could encourage those with an addiction issues to consume more alcohol in volume and amount.A half pint can run you as little as $3 "airplane" bottles are even cheaper

Third, Aggressive Panhandling is already illegal under local ordinance as is open container and public intoxication. It is also worth noting that this law effectively does nothing new for "Aggressive"Panhandling but will push Passive panhandling,"A person not speaking holding a sign." outside of a predetermined area. So despite the public statements of the CCC that these laws are not meant to push the "truly homeless" the fact remains that it most certainly will.

Fourth, the potential costs involved to our criminal justice system and the drain on law enforcement resources will need to be considered.It's also worth noting that the passage of these laws will require more police resources to be devoted to the statistically safest area of the city at a time when other communities are grappling with an upsurge in serious violent crime. Where are the cops going to come from to enforce this ordinance? Where?
I personally think we need those police out in our high crime communities dealing with serious and violent crime as opposed to paroling a zone for panhandlers.

It currently cost $87-$90 per inmate per day at 201 Poplar. The recidivism rate for those offenders with a substance abuse issues stands at 70%. On the other hand the General sessions Drug court with it's rehabilitation programs has a 67% success rate and costs $8 dollars per person per day. In fact last spring we worked with the CJCC to advocate to the County Commission for additional funding to alternatives to incarceration that came out of recommendations from the Shelby County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. Programs like the Jericho Project, Drug Court and an expansion of Pre-trial diversion services. By investing 2.3 million dollars in these programs that address drug addiction and mental illness 201 poplar will free up 200 beds this year and as a result save Shelby County taxpayers an estimated 4.1 million dollars this year.

I also wanted to bring to your attention a clear case of police harassment of the homeless. "Jonah" is a homeless individual who was given a police citation for panhandling in early October. The officer in question drew "Jonah" a map of the downtown area and told him he was not to come back within this area. In addition to this action being highly illegal and a violation of "Jonah's" civil rights, I think it is also telling that the borders of the area on the map that the officer drew, are oddly similar to those for these two proposed ordinances. I have a copy of the citation which I have given to the Center City Commission, members of the City Council and to the Mayor's office.

There are alternatives, one such example is the DOWNTOWN STREET TEAM in Daytona beach Fl. Where City Commissioner Rick Shriver in concert with the Salvation army, the Chamber of Commerce, and other agencies created a program that employs the area homeless to clean up liter downtown, act as guides etc..and pairs this with transitional housing, life skills training, counseling and budgeting skills and other services. This program which was launched in January of this year has already successfully transitioned 42 individuals out of the program. This is something we really need to consider here and there have already been conversations with members of the council on this subject as well as the Salvation Army. We plan on trying to pull some of these shareholders to a meeting with HCD/MHA Director Robert Lipscomb by the end of the year, to explore options like this one.

The bottomline is these two ordinances are not the right thing to do, the fiscally responsible thing to do..or even an effective thing to do.

Please call your City Council members at 576-6786 and ask them where is the study on the impact to other neighborhoods for these proposed ordinances. Ask them where is the prevention, outreach and shelter for our homeless brothers and sisters.Ask them where will the police resources come from to enforce this zone? Ask them why BP, MAPCO and TIGERMART are outside the zone while most of the stores inside the zone are Mom and Pops? Ask them to say no!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Vandalism at MGLCC

MGLCC’s Pride Flag Target of Vandalism

Vandals Attempt to Burn Memphis Gay & Lesbian Community Center’s Pride Flag

Memphis, TN, November 11, 2009: Early Wednesday morning, two vandals attempted to burn the rainbow pride flag that flies prominently in front of MGLCC’s building at 892 South Cooper. The pride flag is a recognizable symbol for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community’s solidarity, pride and unity.

No motive for the incident has been reported at this point.

This act of vandalism marks the second time in two months that a public symbol of the LGBT community raised by MGLCC has been destroyed or damaged. The first was a National Coming Out Day billboard on Friday, September 25 at Poplar and High.

We find this targeting of our community to be a disturbing pattern that is not limited to property but also includes the more serious attacks on our transgender members as well as bullying of LGBT youth. MGLCC takes very seriously the safety and security of our visitors and friends. We are cooperating with the Memphis Police Department who are investigating at this time. We understand that they have one suspect is in custody and are searching for the second. We sincerely appreciate the attention given to both incidents by the Memphis Police Department and wish for a speedy recovery of the officer who protected our flag.

Public incidents such as this shed light on the larger issue of intolerance and hatred that our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens face every day. Once again, attempts to silence or frighten our community will not succeed, but will make us more determined to fight for equality. We appreciate the support of the community in this struggle.

Will Batts

Executive Director



Monday, November 02, 2009

Pimpin' Poverty Pt 1

*This will be another long one

* The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported in 2006 that 13% of the urban homeless population was employed.
* In a number of other cities, the percentage is even higher. The National Coalition for the Homeless found in 2001 that 42% of people experiencing homelessness are employed. Many of these workers are employed by day labor agencies, characterized by low pay, no job security, no health insurance, and inadequate worker protections.
# Federal funding for low-income housing fell 56% from 1976 to 2007. 1

* In 1976, federal housing funding was $87 billion, and 435,263 new affordable units were built.
* In 2007, funding had fallen to $38 billion, and zero new housing units were built.

# The federal government says affordable housing should take no more than 30% of a person's income.
# No one earning minimum wage in any US state can afford a one or two-bedroom apartment at Fair Market Rent.
# In 1999, the national two-bedroom housing wage was $11.08; in 2006, the national housing wage was $16.31, a 47% increase.
# The lack of affordable housing is widely considered to be the main cause of homelessness in the United States today.

Being homeless is not a crime, but all across the country many Americans impacted by the economic crisis are being treated as if it was. According to this years annual Hunger and Homelessness report conducted by the US Conference of Mayors, 19 out of the 25 cities surveyed reported an increase in their population of homeless persons with the average rate of increase being 12%.In March of 2008,CBS NEWS reported 38% of the foreclosures affected rental properties affecting over 168,000 households. In addition by some accounts 311,000 persons nationwide have been evicted from their homes this year as lenders took over these properties according to an article in the Sarasota tribune herald.

Despite the fact that homelessness is growing at an alarming rate locally and nationally, many cities are responding to this crisis by criminalizing poverty and selectively enacting and enforcing laws. Sadly Memphis is no exception to this.

Criminalization of poverty deals with a host of constitutionally dubious laws crafted at harassment of the homeless or by the selective enforcement of existing laws such as loitering,panhandling and open container and anti camping laws to target the homeless and move them from one area to another or out of town completely.Some cities such as Las Vegas have gone as far as restricting food sharing and penalizing organizations that feed the homeless.

Such efforts are not only inhumane and immoral but have been legally challenged as violations of the First, Eighth and Fourteenth amendments. More to the point these efforts are are largely ineffective,counter productive and fiscally wrong minded.

Consider this, The 2009 Homes Not Handcuffs report released by the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty,found in a survey that the national average cost for arrest and incarceration of the homeless to be two to three times the cost of Permanent supportive housing. In Los Angeles the cost of supportive housing is 30.10 cents per person per day compared to $63.69 dollars per day in jail costs for the same individuals. In Memphis the costs of incarceration are much higher and according to the Shelby County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council sits at about $87-$90 dollars per inmate per day at 201 poplar.

That same study also cites the case where the Hennepin County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee studied the effect of Minneapolis's new Downtown safe Zones initiative by observing the cases where the 33 homeless persons were tracked via their involvement with the criminal justice system, from April 17h to June 17th in 2005.
The HCCJCC wanted to determine the effectiveness of this new initiative and they discovered high disproportioned cost for minimal outcomes. On closer inspection the HCCJCC found that the costs to the Criminal Justice system for those 33 individuals alone was
$876,741 for Hennepin County jail cost since 1994
$184,200 for Hennepin County law enforcement costs since 1994
$140,25 for Hennepin county court costs since 1985
2,651,732 Total criminal justice related costs, including $829,790 in Minnesota state prison costs since 1991.

For that kind of would have been better off providing affordable housing.

Criminalizing poverty also has the negative affect of preventing the homeless from being able to qualify for many housing and job training opportunities as they tend to have longer arrest records filled with petty charges. These things created a cycle where it is very difficult for those on the streets to ever,"Pull themselves up by their own bootstraps". Hell I know alot of folks with college degrees and job skills who are having a hard time finding work presently...and these folks have homes, cars and clean clothes.

It is not well known but the fact is that there are no free homeless shelters in Memphis despite the fact that most cities our size have at least one. There is a consistent myth being perpetuated in this city that a free shelter is some kind of unrealistic radical lefty fact quite the opposite is true.Memphis by population has large numbers of people living in poverty. The other cities around our size with issues of poverty include...

8.St Louis

All of these other cities have at least one free shelter...some of them have multiple free shelters, so let's drop this bull about it being impossible. I don't want to hear anymore nonsense about comparing ourselves to Atlanta or Chicago, when we are eating Birmingham's dust.

If we accept the reality that Memphis has no free shelters and little in the way of real affordable housing, then how can we turn around and be surprised that there are persons panhandling? Now many cling to the myth that panhandlers are not homeless and homeless people do not panhandle, but as long as we have a social services network that charges homeless people for shelter and a city with a 26% poverty rate, that amounts to about 160,000 people..guess what...folks are panhandling and many of them are not con artists. a free shelter would at least decrease the cases of aggressive panhandling a great deal.

The threat to the homeless comes not only from criminalization of the homeless by government by also the harassment and exploitation of the homeless by criminals, law enforcement and in some cases even homeless service providers.

I have learned of a case where homeless individuals at a certain local shelter are compelled to work for a temporary service daily in order to receive shelter from this organization. The paychecks for these men are sent directly to the service provider who deducts $120.00 a week, plus a mandatory tithe offering to this church run charity of an additional $20.00 per week. Those in the shelter often complain of substandard food and mandatory attendance of church services. If you are late getting in after curfew...that's another $20 dollar fine...if you miss a day of work...that's another $20 dollar fine.
As a result..we have large numbers of people living in homeless shelters who are in fact working up to 40 hours a week in some cases getting checks for as little as $60-$80 dollars...."Load sixteen tons..what do you get..another day older and deeper in debt.."

Currently the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center’s work to organize and advocate for positive change in our communities rolls on with our H.O.P.E. Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality campaign. This effort will work to build partnerships with the homeless to oppose new unconstitutional and immoral anti laws and make sure that their voices are heard in the policies that affect them. In addition H.O.P.E. will advocate for affordable housing, and other program goals that came out of a MSPJC survey conducted with 300 homeless persons in the Memphis area.
Currently the Peace and Justice Center is wrapping up the creation of a Memphis Survival Guide, a comprehensive directory of homeless services in this city, including a meal schedule, shelter information, maps and information for runaways and veterans services.

We plan on reaching out to the new Wharton administration as well as these issues are consistent with Mayor Ac Wharton's signing of the Issues First People's Agenda.
This pledge signed while Mayor Wharton was a candidate for office stated that issues of POVERTY,HEALTH,JOBS and CRIME AND VIOLENCE would be a priority in his administration.
As a result Mayor Wharton pledged to support enhanced services for the homeless including a Free Homeless Shelter,Temporary housing for those on waiting lists, augmented mental health services and application assistance for social security disability benefits, a free parking lot where those living in their cars can have a safe place to park and gain access to other services. a resource center where the homeless and poor can learn about employment opportunities, as well as available services and have a safe place to congregate during the day.
Most of all mandating that the homeless have a voice in the creation of policy.

For more information or if you are interested in volunteering to take part in this project please contact Brad Watkins Organizing Coordinator for H.O.P.E. at 901-725-4990 or email him at

Monday, October 19, 2009

2009 Gandhi-King Conference on Peacemaking-Oct 23rd-25th

Schedule updates, workshops posted, and more...

Gandhi-King Conference on Peacemaking
October 23-25, 2009
Memphis, TN

Final preparations are under way for what is going to be our most engaging conference yet. We have just updated the schedule and added a listing of workshop offerings to the website. The phones are busy fielding calls from as far away as Kenya and Nepal, with peacemakers from all over the world finding ways to make the trip to Memphis to be a part of this important gathering.

Please don't wait a minute longer. Register today to reserve your space in this gathering that will feature....

Speakers: Rev. CT Vivian, lifelong civil rights activist • Kathy Kelly, Voices for Creative Nonviolence • Mubarak Awad, Nonviolence International • Barbara Love, United to End Racism • Rudy Balles, PeaceJam Foundation • Michael Nagler, Metta Center

Workshops by: LaOnf, 9/11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, United to End Racism, Community Media Workshop, National War Tax Resistance, the Matrix Center, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Young Spirit Foundation, the Community Nonviolence Resource Center and much more...

Want more than just a conference? The Gandhi-King Convergence: from shared ideas to coordinated action.

The Gandhi-King Convergence is an opportunity for people from across the country and around the world to come together to vision, share ideas and resources, and further our work in a more unified and collaborative way. Participants will form issue-based working groups and engage in a process to share insights and experiences, find ways we can be of support to each other, and to create an action plan for the coming year. Presenters will act as resource agents in this process to provide guidance and support. We will also form a network so that these groups can stay connected and support each other in their common work throughout the year. These working groups will help us dig deeper and turn our knowledge into action!

Registration includes all this PLUS a Friday reception, lunch on Saturday, and the Saturday evening banquet.

click here to download the workshop schedule, register, and more...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

..... Take a Bow

On behalf of ISSUES FIRST, we want to congratulate County Mayor AC Wharton on his victory in the Special Election for Memphis Mayor. Issues First wishes you all the best and godspeed.

I'll leave the post election analysis to those better suited than I and just wanted to take a moment to say something personal.

I want to express my appreciation and respect for the Campaign Workers and volunteers who worked not only on Mayor Wharton's winning campaign but on all the others as well. It's hard, unglamorous and thankless work..filled with late hours and little if no pay. You do this work because you believed in the candidate you worked for..believed in them enough that you gave your precious time, money and energy to try and get someone else elected to public office. This is a tremendous thing and the bitch of it is..when your candidate are often unsung..when you breaks your heart. So please accept my humble congrats and admiration of your work and take a bow.


That all goes for our ISSUES FIRST workers and volunteers as well, but our campaign is not over...signing a pledge is one thing...honoring it with action is another. So our work continues as we work with and support our Mayor in his noble goal of building ONE MEMPHIS, as well as as working even harder to reach out to the community, our partners and those who are impacted by the issues of Poverty,Health,Jobs,Crime and Violence to ensure that this PEOPLE'S AGENDA moves forward.

This Election is Over..Our Campaign is Not

...but first...let take a nap and catch our breath....and catch up on some DVR'ed episodes of DEXTER

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

AC Wharton on the ISSUES FIRST Campaign

Dear Brad:

The theme for our campaign - "One Memphis" - emerged out of my desire to see not only greater unity among people, but greater understanding that the issues we face are inextricably linked. The four that you have highlighted in your Issues First agenda, poverty, obs, health, and crime must not be approached as divided, segmented problems but with the clear understanding that they are inter-related. Just as the prosperity or decline of one area of Memphis affects all areas of Memphis, so does impacting one of these issues affect what happens with the other three.

My administration will be defined by the same ethos that has defined my campaign - an investment in people instead of projects and a focus on making results, not taking credit. During my time as your County Mayor, I have worked tirelessly with local companies to provide incentives for the workforce training and hiring of ex-felons. Young men and women who have ended up on the wrong side of the law once should not be forever denied the ability to earn a living or provide for their families, as long as they have accepted responsibility for their actions and paid their dues to society. In fact, recidivism rates in Shelby County are so high precisely because upon leaving jail, a continued life of crime is too often the only available option for an individual.

Creating the structure, responsibility, and financial security of a good job not only reduces crime, it raises household incomes across our entire city. As a result, Memphis becomes safer and more prosperous. We're already doing this, and as your next City Mayor, I look forward to doing even more. From FedEx to Piggly Wiggly to Holiday Inn to Stax Records, Memphis has proud legacy of successful entrepreneurship. I know that spirit is still alive in our city, and in a competitive 21st century economy, it's more important than ever. My administration will ramp up its support for small and minority-owned businesses and strategically use incentives to atract companies to parts of town where jobs are needed the most. My office will also comprehensively organize all of the city's economic development agencies, departments and non-profits to ensure that we are recruiting and retaining valuable talent as aggressively as possible.

A thriving community is an inherently safer and healthier one. A few weeks ago, following an appearance I made before the National Press Club, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution to focus new attention on the epidemic of infant mortality that plagues Shelby County. An infant dies in our community every 42 hours - that's a rate on par with some third-world countries, and it is utterly inexcusable. I've been working with Governor Bredesen to secure resources so that we can attack this problem by going straight to the most afflicted ZIP codes and neighborhoods and talking directly to expectant mother. There should not be a separate standard of care for rich families and poor families. I if have to lead my staff door to door to every household in the City to ensure that, I'm prepared to do so.

It's sometimes said in politics that there are not permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent issues. I certainly hope that the issues I'm running to address are not permanent ones! To that adage, however, I'd add that there are not permanent leaders, only individuals such as myself who have been presented the opportunity to serve at the will of the people. I am running for City Mayor so that I can continue a personal mission of service that I began many years ago. I applaud the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center for your leadership in making sure that our focus as candidates and elected officials remains squarely where it needs to be - on the needs desires, concerns, and aspirations of those we have pledged do serve.

You may find answers to additional questions about my platform at my website,, or by emailing me personal at

Yours in service,

AC Wharton, Jr

Friday, October 02, 2009

"Where they are more easily tolerated."

"This is going to be a long one"

Many of you no doubt have seen,heard or read that the Center City Commission is moving ahead with plans to try and get new ordinances passed that would ban single beer sales in areas of downtown...excluding Beale street, as well as the creation of "No Panhandling zones." The proposed motivation for such action is the stated belief that such a ban would discourage aggressive panhandling of tourists and downtown residents. If you have not heard about this yet, please feel free to check out this article right here.

Now...where to begin....first let's make something clear, no one is defending aggressive panhandling, and no one has the right to threaten harass or intimidate people out of their money.This issue has little to do with it's publicly stated aim of dealing with that crime and is instead another in a long line of veiled attempts by the Center City Commission to use extreme cases of Aggressive panhandling to rally public support to drive the poor and the homeless out of Downtown and into other neighborhoods. "...and by other...I mean yours"

About a year ago the CCC spent half a million dollars in launching a private security force downtown with the stated purpose of discouraging aggressive panhandling ONLY, and not harassment of the homeless, yet a year later and by their own reports the CCC's security force only deals with AP issues 40% of the time. The bulk of the time is dealt with enforcing "Lifestyle" issues.

The CCC actions push poor people out of downtown despite the fact that a large number of homeless service providers are in fact located in the Downtown area. The result is the continued push of the homeless out of the Green zone and further into Midtown, Berclair and Orange Mound, rather than pursue a policy that addresses homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction for the benefit of all parties involved. If the opposite were true, then where is the CCC's call for a free shelter in Memphis?

We are the only major metro area our size that does not have one. Where is the CCC's call for greater mental health and alcohol addiction services? Where is the CCC's call for assistance for those trying to navigate the complex application process for social security disability benefits? Hell, the CCC just updated it's fancy dancy website and did not update their information on Homeless services, nor have they added an online giving button to their website as they encourage people to give to charities not panhandlers.We have asked them to do this for over three years now.

More to the point, where is the effort to engage the homeless population as a potential partner in dealing with the issue. As the homeless as a whole bear the brunt of the backlash against Aggressive Panhandlers, many of them are angry about the situation as well...which the CCC would know if they ever bothered to dialog with them. Aggressive Panhandling is a behavior, homelessness is a situation, yet these methods of dealing with a behavior punish Aggressive Panhandlers the poor,the homeless, and non homeless folk alike? Where was the input from the homeless and the homeless service providers?

What is the real benefit of banning single beer sales in areas other than Beale Street? What if YOU worked downtown and wanted to buy a tallboy after work one day, why set aside one set of rules for one population and another set of rules for another?
A well known local blogger regularly documents his public intoxication walking around downtown Memphis and wins awards for it.
Members of the CCC at last year's Christmas tree lighting ceremony were seen in broad daylight pouring Maker's Mark from a bottle in a brown paper bag into their cups. In fact there was a video of this on their website until earlier this year.
So I guess the message is, if you have money, public intoxication is not a problem or a crime. What about the regular law abiding citizen who just wants to buy a beer?

If the problem is people with an alcohol addiction problem, then what is the benefit of forcing people to buy beer in larger quantities. Is Malt liquor even sold in a six pack format? Would this policy not simply push those with alcohol abuse issues to buy pints of equally inexpensive liquor from area liquor stores, as they would be unaffected by this proposed ordinance? Exchanging beer cans for liquor bottles...progress?

What is the real benefit of nonsensical "no panhandling zones"? Will that really solve anything..or is it a policy designed to push the issues elsewhere.? Afterall, by creating a "No Panhandling zone...aren't you really just creating Panhandling zones elsewhere?

In fact Today's editorial in the Commercial appeal, shines quite a light on the underlining motivation behind this push, check it out right Here

Here is the crucial quote from that piece...
"But some panhandlers are simply trying to collect enough money for their next beer or malt liquor to drink on the street. If they can't get what they want Downtown,
perhaps they will give some thought to moving where they're more easily tolerated."

....Where they are more easily tolerated.....where they are more easily tolerated....again, that means...your neighborhood. In fact, just the other day I spoke with a group of volunteers at the midtown based St Vincent Depaul Food mission on Cleveland. While I was there, I watched as this organization served over 225 meals to the poor and homeless in less than two hours. Why the upsurge?...because according to the staff and clients, these folks were being pushed out from Downtown.
Late last week, at a place of Hospitality in Midtown I spoke to volunteers and clients about how the police pick up homeless individuals and drive them out to the city limits and drop them off as well as "indicted corners and alleys" where the police routinely harass the homeless for simply standing in certain areas known to be spots of "drug/gang related activity". Hell, about a quarter of the city fits that criteria...
Speaking to activists at a Food mission in Highland Heights/Berclair, i've heard from staff,volunteers and clients about how the population of homeless folk increases in the area right before any major event occurs downtown.
Where they are more easily tolerated......

The CCC instead of focusing and reaching out to potential partners to deal effectively with the roots causes of homelessness, drug addiction and public safety for everyone in the community, the CCC is engaged in just another in a series of steps to further criminalize poverty in the two safest precincts in area in the city of Memphis.

One last thing....
It's never fun and it's scary to some to be Aggressively panhandled...I totally understand and respect that, but let's be real. Go to Washington D.C. Philadelphia,Chicago,Los Angeles, or in major other tourist location inside or outside the US from Paris to Rome....and then go on and on about how serious a problem we really have here.People need to get out more.

The cost of incarceration at 201 poplar is $87-90 dollars, per inmate, per day. Arresting poor people or fining and citing for nonviolent "nuisance" offenses is a fiscally, morally and pragmatically failed policy for dealing with homeless issues.

Don't we have some real crimes to focus all this time money and energy on?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

ISSUES FIRST-Carpenter,Chumney,Lawler,Lowery and Whalum sign the pledge

Today at one of Memphis' largest food missions for the poor and homeless in our city five candidates in the election for Mayor of the City of Memphis stood with the community and signed a public pledge that the ISSUES of POVERTY,HEALTH,JOBS, CRIME AND VIOLENCE outlined in the PEOPLE'S AGENDA would be priorities in their administrations.

The ISSUES FIRST CAMPAIGN hosted a press conference outside of the ST VINCENT DePAUL food mission at 123 North Cleveland, candidates Charles Carpenter,Carol Chumney,Jerry Lawler,Myron Lowery and KT Whalum fulfilled a commitment to signing and embracing the issues set forward by this community driven campaign of issues that center on the challenges faced by thousands in our communities everyday.

Each of the candidates spoke of their support and their individual and collective passion for promoting positive change in the city of Memphis and uplifting the work of those in the community.

Our deepest thanks to these leaders for their pledge, and watch this space for updates on our next Pledge signing event, Where candidates Wanda Halbert, AC Wharton, and Sharon Webb will also sign the pledge of the People's Agenda.

Demand Change

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

ISSUES FIRST Campaign-Pledge signing event-Thurs,Oct 1st at 10am

Contact:Brad Watkins*901-495-0818

Candidates Lowery,Carpenter,Chumney,Whalum,Webb and Halbert have confirmed attendance

MEMPHIS-- Issues First, a campaign of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, will hold a press conference and pledge signing event Thursday at 10am at St Vincent Depaul, food mission at 123 North Cleveland. Representatives will make comment on the PEOPLE'S AGENDA issues platform advocated by the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center to the major candidates in the Mayoral race. Details on this platform can be found at

The Issues First campaign has over the past several weeks worked to engage the public with issue based voter education and advocacy efforts designed to secure a public pledge from all of the major candidates in the October 15th Memphis special Mayoral election that the issues of the People's Agenda will be a priority within their administrations if elected. These issues center on the four major campaign planks of POVERTY, HEALTH,JOBS and CRIME AND VIOLENCE within our community. Mayoral candidates who have committed to signing the pledge and confirmed to be in attendance include Charles Carpenter,Carol Chumney,Wanda Halbert,Myron Lowery,Sharon Webb, and K.T. Whalum. Candidates will be available to give their comment following this press conference. Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton has also committed to signing the pledge, but due to a schedule conflict will sign the pledge publicly at a later date.

St Vincent De Paul Food Mission
, located at 123 N Cleveland St, is a place of hospitality in the Midtown Memphis area. It offers meals and a safe place for over two hundred homeless persons and others in need every day. It is for this reason that the ISSUES FIRST CAMPAIGN has decided to host the First of two pledge signing events here. All of the candidates in the race for Mayor, the community and the media are invited and urged to attend. Here we will hear from each of the candidates about why these issues matter to them and watch as they sign the pledge joining this campaign.

The Issues First campaign seeks to uplift the tone and conversation within the electoral process away from divisive negative attacks and or vague rhetoric into a positive and productive conversations about the issues that our community grapples with everyday. These "People's issues," are often ignored in political campaigns according to Brad Watkins, Organizing Coordinator of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, "We have heard alot in this campaign about consolidation, we have heard alot about whether or not to fire MPD director Larry Godwin, but what we have not heard enough about is how are we going to make MATA more efficient? or What are we going to do to address homelessness? or How are we going to address the toxic levels of lead soil in many residential areas?...that's what this campaign is all about."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

ISSUES FIRST CAMPAIGN-Thank You Wanda Halbert!

The ISSUES FIRST CAMPAIGN is pleased to announce that City Councilwoman Wanda Halbert his made a commitment to sign the pledge and support the issues of the PEOPLE'S AGENDA if elected.

Wanda Halbert has been fierce and vocal in her advocacy for our schools and for issues of economic and social equality in the City of Memphis, from her days as a citizen activist, to her time on the school board to the present. She is a candid person who speaks her mind and talks frankly about the challenges facing the Memphis community, we are very happy to have Ms. Halbert's support for our platform.

Wanda Halbert joins Carol Chumney Charles Carpenter,Myron Lowery,Sharon Webb,K.T. Whalum and AC Wharton as the candidates in this race, who have committed to making a public pledge that the issues of Poverty,Health, Jobs, Crime and violence will be priorities within their administrations if elected.


On October 1st at 10am at St Vincent De Paul Food Mission, located at 123 N Cleveland St, is a place of hospitality in the Madison Heights neighborhood of Midtown Memphis. It offers meals and a safe place for over one hundred homeless persons and others in need every day. It is for this reason that the ISSUES FIRST CAMPAIGN has decided to host the First of two pledge signing events here. All of the candidates in the race for Mayor, the community and the media are invited and urged to attend. Here we will hear from each of the candidates about why these issues matter to them and watch as they sign the pledge joining this campaign.

If interested in joining us and making your voice heard, please contact Brad Watkins at or call at 901-725-4990

Friday, September 25, 2009

ISSUES FIRST Campaign-Thank You Carol Chumney

The Issues First Campaign would like to extend our thanks to Carol Chumney for making the pledge to sign the People'S Agenda

Carol Chumney is a passionate and tireless fighter for the causes she supports in particular the causes of fighting crime and removing blight and for the ethical management of the City government.We at Issues First are glad and proud to have her as a supporter of these issues and this effort.

Ms Chumney joins Charles Carpenter,Myron Lowery,Sharon Webb,K.T. Whalum and AC Wharton as the candidates in this race, who have committed to making a public pledge that the issues of Poverty,Health, Jobs, Crime and violence will be priorities within their administrations if elected.


On October 1st at 10am at St Vincent De Paul Food Mission, located at 123 N Cleveland St, is a place of hospitality in the Madison Heights neighborhood of Midtown Memphis. It offers meals and a safe place for over one hundred homeless persons and others in need every day. It is for this reason that the ISSUES FIRST CAMPAIGN has decided to host the First of two pledge signing events here. All of the candidates in the race for Mayor, the community and the media are invited and urged to attend. Here we will hear from each of the candidates about why these issues matter to them and watch as they sign the pledge joining this campaign.

If interested in joining us and making your voice heard, please contact Brad Watkins at or call at 901-725-4990