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 again..in 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

JOBS NOT JAILS-DEMONSTRATION-TUESDAY DEC. 15th

Friends,

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 brad@midsouthpeace.org 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
4pm-8pm
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"


JOBS NOT JAILS PROTEST
DATE-Tuesday-Dec-15
TIME-4-6pm
LOCATION-Poplar ave- "Every major intersection between Danny Thomas and Highland"


Demand Change




Brad Watkins
Organizing Coordinator
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center
901-725-4990-office
901-495-0818-cell

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Credit Where Credit is Due.

CITY OF MEMPHIS IDENTIFIES IMMEDIATE SHELTER FOR THE HOMELESS - TONIGHT


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 9, 2009



CONTACT INFORMATION:

Tonya Meeks

Tonya.Meeks@memphistn.gov │ 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
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


BRAD'S NOTES

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

Friends

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 11th AT 6PM THE MID-SOUTH PEACE AND JUSTICE CENTER IS HOLDING AN ORGANIZING MEETING AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR ACTION IN RESPONSE TO THE HOMELESS SWEEP CONDUCTED TODAY! DECEMBER 9th.

I WAS CONTACTED BY THE WHARTON ADMINISTRATION JUST MOMENTS AGO AND TOLD THAT TODAY WAS THE DAY OF THE SWEEP DESPITE MEDIA COMMUNICATION OTHERWISE.

Monday , December 7th-Action News Five
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.

DEMAND CHANGE


WHAT-MEETING TO OPPOSE THE HOMELESS SWEEP
LOCATION-FIRST CONGO CHURCH, 1000 S. Cooper, Mphs,Tn 38104
TIME-6pm-8pm
DATE-Friday,December 11th


Brad Watkins
Organizing Coordinator
Mid-South Peace and Justice Center
901-725-4990-office
901-495-0818-cell

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."


LATER IN THAT ARTICLE

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

ABC24/30

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

STATEMENT FROM MEMPHIS MAYOR A C WHARTON, JR. REGARDING TREATMENT OF HOMELESS POPULATION

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 7, 2009

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Bobby White, Chief of Statff

Bobby.White@memphistn.gov │ 901-576-6010

STATEMENT FROM MEMPHIS mAYOR A C WHARTON, Jr.

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.

# # #

BRAD'S NOTES
WE HAVE INVITED MAYOR WHARTON AND COL. GARRETT TO THE MANNA HOUSE THIS THURSDAY AT 9AM TO MEET WITH OUR DISCUSSION GROUP WITH THE HOMELESS TO SEE AND HEAR FROM THOSE AFFECTED BY THESE POLICES. PLEASE CALL MAYOR WHARTON'S OFFICE 576-6000 AND ASK HIM TO ATTEND.
WE ONLY ASK THAT NO MEDIA BE PRESENT AND THAT COL GARRETT OR ANY MPD REPRESENTATIVES PLEASE COME IN PLAIN CLOTHES AS TO AVOID MAKING THE GUESTS OF MANNA HOUSE FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Jobs not Jails • Call Mayor Wharton Now

Jobs not Jails • Call Mayor Wharton Now

CALL MAYOR WHARTON'S OFFICE 901.576.6000 AND CALL FOR AN END TO THE PLANNED SWEEP OF THE HOMELESS IN DOWNTOWN AND MIDTOWN.

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.

CALL MAYOR WHARTON'S OFFICE NOW AT 901.576.6000 AND TELL HIM THE HOMELESS NEED HOMES AND SHELTER NOT HARASSMENT.

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 AT 901.576.6000 AND TELL HIM THE HOMELESS NEED HOMES AND SHELTER, NOT HARASSMENT.

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 • brad@midsouthpeace.org

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

SWEEP
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 all..in 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 anyway...so 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 answer..is quite simple...shelters and affordable housing will be more effective..more ethical and two to three times cheaper than the costs of incarceration..to 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.