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