Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Nimby Paradox 3- The Search for Stats

Today the City Council Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee, these ordinances will now go before the full body for three readings before final approval.
There is still no word on where the Exempt zones where passive panhandling will be located.

Still it's important that the passage of laws and the conducting of public business be done in a manner that does not cater to divisive fears and serious forethought and caution should be urged in the passing of new laws. These things have consequences.

So any discussion about these ordinances should deal with the facts at hand and need to be shown in the proper context.

Case in point the CCC frequently cites the Alcohol Impact Areas in Seattle and Tacoma Washington as examples of how banning single beers can result in positive benefits for the community. However it should be pointed out that the AIA's in Tacoma and Seattle are in no way an across the board single beer ban. These bans only effect specific brands and types of high octane ice beers, fortified wines and malt liquor. This is problematic as...

A. Tennessee has stricter alcohol and beer laws than Washington state.Thus alot of the banned products sold in Seattle and Tacoma local stores was not legal for our stores to sell anyway. Others while legal here are not even sold at these stores.

B. Wine products like Maddog and Wild irish Rose are not legal in our stores now.

Seattle’s Proposed Banned Products List (corrected
revised) (To include all container sizes, alcohol content, and flavors)
Beer and Malt Products – 23
Bull Ice
Busch Ice
Colt 45 Ice
Colt 45 Malt Liquor
Hurricane Ice Malt Liquor
Keystone Ice
Lucky Ice Ale Premium
Mickey’s Iced Brewed Ale
Mickey’s Malt Liquor
Miller High Life Ice
Milwaukee Best Ice
Milwaukee Best Premium Ice Beer
Natural Ice**
Old Milwaukee Ice
Olde English 800
Pabst Ice
Rainier Ale
Red Bull Malt Liquor
Red Dog*
Schmidt’s Ice
Special 800 Reserve
St. Ide’s Liquor and Special Brews
Steel Reserve
Wine Products - 6
Gino’s Premium Blend
MD 20/20
Night Train Express
Richard’s Wild Irish Rose

*The city of Seattle sent a request on August 11, 2006 to add Red Dog beer to the list
of banned products since there was evidence that this product attributed to the CPI
**Natural Ice was on the original banned products list from the city of Seattle but was
mistakenly omitted from the list provided here.
The original proposed banned products list from the city of Seattle contained six beer
products that were found to no longer be sold. The city sent a request on August 11,
2006 to remove those products from their banned products list as follows:
Hamm’s Ice Brewed Ale Hamm’s Ice Brewed Beer King Cobra Malt Liquor
Lucky Ice Magnum Malt Olympia Ice

...But if they want to make comparisons..fine let's make comparisons.

Unlike in Tennessee,in Washington state public intoxication is not a misdemeanor but a ticketable offense only. THIS IS A MAJOR DISTINCTION.We already have more enforcement options than Seattle or Tacoma under existing law.

Also even the study that the CCC cites about the impact of the Tacoma AIA does not give the AIA all of the credit..in fact it concludes that some of the area improvements might have happened without the AIA. There were other factors at play..including.Increased police attention to the problem, A volunteer clean up movement and the opening of a NEW TACOMA RESCUE MISSION.The study concludes that it just focused people on the problem...well..we are already focused on the issue.

After the passage of the Tacoma and Seattle's AIAs. City residents report that the problem of public intox and issues of homelessness moved to other parts of the city
a notable case is the Eastside neighborhood in Tacoma which became one destination for those with an alcohol addictions.Now Eastside is thinking about an AIA of their own.
Also Narrows Bridge area has seen an increase as well.

I'd also like to mention that Seattle leads the nation in supportive housing for chronic and extreme alcohol addiction via the 1811 EASTLAKE center.Which reduced public intox related crimes dramatically in Downtown Seattle, by providing supportive housing for the 75 top homeless chronic public inebriates. BTW it did so as well as saved Seattle 4 million dollars in Criminal justice and Emergency medical costs.

So if we are gonna copycat best practices and all......

Now..no one is saying that Aggressive panhandling is not a problem it most certainly is..but the key here is putting that problem in it's proper context.
The CCC claims that 35% of non downtown residents do not come downtown more often because they have concerns about Public/Safety and crime. That is a true number according to their own market survey. However that same survey shows some other things as well.

I do go Downtown often 4.9%

Public Safety/Crime 34%
Parking is inconvenient 17.7%
Too far to drive 15.8%
Not interested in Downtown activities 12.5%
Parking is Expensive 11.4%
Don't know why I don't go/think of it 7.6%
Too Expensive "other than parking specifically" 7.1%
BOTHERED BY PANHANDLERS "Homeless,Street people.etc" 4.6%
No public Transportation available 3.8%
Cleanliness of Downtown 2.4%
Don't know what's happening downtown 2.2%
Other-traffic/navigation of the streets 3.0%
other-My health/age 3.0%
Other Not enough events/nothing to do there 3.0%
Other Too crowded 0.8%
Other-General single mentions 3.2%

So looking at that in the proper context..I think we need to dial down the fear baiting and really take a good long and hard look at what will be the impact of the passage of these ordinances here and find an alternative solution.

Don't say I did not warn you.

Next up Nimby Paradox 4- The quest for treatment.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Nimby Paradox 2-The Wrath of CON

It is said that bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny, if that be the case then the new ordinances proposed by the Center City Commission definately apply.

These new laws would outlaw the sale of single beers and create a NO-panhandling zone with the boundaries of a small part of the Central Business Improvement District or CBID for short.These laws would allegedly have the effect of curbing Aggressive panhandling downtown. Which is a problem, however these laws are not the solution.

Let's take a moment to look at the important aspect and shortcoming of this approach, and in a word that would be the enforcement of these proposed laws.
To repeat, Aggressive panhandling is already illegal everywhere in the city of Memphis. Thus all of Memphis is a no-panhandling zone for Aggressive panhandling This law does not effect Aggressive panhandling as anyone who does so is already breaking the law. Thus a zone makes as much sense as a no mugging zone..or a no assault zone and will have equal results. This law deals with passive panhandling despite how it's being presented.

Yesterday I wrote about the moral hazard of the creation of exempt zones within the borders of the CBID. In this/these areas passive panhandling would be permitted. The problem as I have continually asked is WHERE WILL THE EXEMPT ZONES BE LOCATED? I ask this because this is not spelled out in the language of the ordinance itself...but moving along...
Now some might say, "Well Brad, let's just not have those exempt zones in the first place?" and that would be a fair question. The answer is that without the exempt zones this new ordinance may not survive judicial scrutiny....even with the exempt zone..this law has some problems.

*The law has some constitutional concerns. As courts have ruled that panhandling is a form of free speech. While local governments can limit the times and places of such activities they have also ruled that content based regulations must be narrowly tailored to promote a compelling governmental interest. The ordinance in addition to the creation of the Anti panhandling zone also places new myriad boundaries on panhandling outside the zone. Such as 50ft from a health care location, bank, or lending institution or ATM
20ft from the entrance to a pay phone, bus stop, public building,self serve gas station,car wash, marked crosswalk,church..or vendor. In fact the law even states 20 ft from a line of people waiting to get in to somewhere.
Now..it's already illegal to panhandle AT these locations, but the boundaries are so big that it creates some serious unforeseen consequences.

Now according to the National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty and the Southern Legal Center,"Two of the nation's leading homeless advocacy organizations this law may not be narrowly tailored enough to withstand judicial scrutiny.The National Coalition for the Homeless also shares these concerns.

Also when passing a law people must have a reasonable ability to be able to comply and law enforcement must have a reasonable ability to be able to enforce the law.
These restrictions frequently over lap and thus create a de facto ban on all panhandling over huge areas. Thus a person may be 50' away from an ATM..but by moving that far is now in violation of a Church. and last time I checked..aren't most if not all gas stations at intersections? Thus the only places where passive panhandling would be legal would be areas of high blight or more residential areas and parks..just what those neighborhoods need.

Also one has to ask, if this law is passed,unless the city is going to set out and map and publicly label all these areas..'on the City's dime" there will be serious enforcement issues with each citation written."Was that 20ft..or 19ft?...and how does one prove that without clear markers?"

The National Law Center for Homelessness and Poverty has faxed a letter to the City Council offices explaining their legal opinion and citing relevant case law and offering themselves as a resource for alternative options. We ask that the Council Attorney see this letter and confer with these agencies before action be taken.

Next, I think we need to have a serious conversation about real solutions to the problems of panhandling for the ENTIRE community. Again according to the CCC we are only talking about 35-50 people who are supposedly causing all the problems here. Yet in other cities where these laws have been passed the homeless population frequently bear the brunt of laws such as these.

We have two county programs called Jericho and the Drug Court both are national models for dealing with offenders with mental illness and serious addiction issues out of the criminal justice system.Yet these programs are seriously underfunded. Drug Court's program for addicted mothers with children is in serious danger.
Locking up and fining offenders up over and over again costs all of us about $87-112 dollars per inmate per day...and 70% of these offenders are going in and out of 201 poplar.

Drug Court and Jericho cost $8-9 dollars per person per day and have a success rate of 50-67%..

"Getting tough on panhandlers" may make a person popular, but using law enforcement alone to deal with with these issues is neither effective nor practical.

So here's what often happens. a person gets a citation for panhandling.If they go to court most often the charges are dismissed. If they are arrested for aggressive panhandling and for some reason do jail time..they are out in a short period of time..as they cannot afford to post the standard $100-250 bond...they end up costing the 201 more money than it's worth to hold, cite and process them and fills jail space needed for dangerous criminals. Also by the time they go to court they have already served close to the maximum sentence time served...normally for Disorderly conduct. So there's often no point in spending more public money to maybe hold someone another week or two.
The problem is not and has never been that Cops are not writing citations or are somehow "sleeping on the job"...the problem is writing citations and making arrests on these type of crimes is a losing proposition with this rate of recidivism. Cops alone are not the answer...it more complicated than that and this law will only make the glut at 201 worse while solving nothing. Have you even been to General Sessions at around 8:55?...it can be a madhouse.

A better option would be undercover officers who could observe direct violations. That way enforcement of these laws would be specific to the offender and not target the homeless. The main problem with panhandling laws is that they are "criminal' cases, which makes them much harder to prosecute because odds are the officer did not personally witness the act, the citation is poorly written...and/or the victim if an out of town tourist will not come back to town just to go to court.
In fact I know a retired Public Defender who said that if he wanted to he could get 90% of these cases thrown out if had wanted to.
Once these offenders are in court..."surprisingly, i'm told most do show up." They can either be channeled into treatment options or in some cases outreach can be performed to contact their relatives or service providers who can take a role in getting them off the streets, in some cases out of town relatives came and got them and they left town with them.
That would in time would leave a smaller number of folks for the cops to deal with.

This is very very similar to something we used to do here in the city of Memphis according to a former Asst District Attorney and others in the Criminal Justice system who worked on these cases in that time and there were REAL results. While you are never going to completely stop this behavior..it did curb it.

Now with undercover patrols, you would not need to saturate the area with cops and MPD forces could be deployed to higher crime neighborhoods. Downtown is the statistically safest part of Memphis. We need to stop the fear mongering and find real solutions that work for the ENTIRE community.

We are currently working and reaching out to the the Malt Beverage Association individuals in the Criminal Justice system as well as the National Coalition For the Homeless and local store owners to find a real solution to this problem that includes enforcement with a strong outreach, treatment and rehabilitation aspect.

If we want to solve the problem..we can, but it will take a holistic approach to the issue and being mindful of how best to deal with the roots causes of this situation and this is addiction.

Next up....we talk about data in Nimby Paradox 3-the Search for Stats

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Panhandling Quick fix...or NIMBY paradox?

The worst laws passed in history are those passed based on broad appeals to emotion without a clear and objective view of the situation and solutions. The two new proposed ordinances sponsored by the Center City Commission stand as the latest local examples of this phenomenon.
They include the creation of a Single beer ban and the expansion of the local panhandling ordinance to create a ANTI-PANHANDLING zone both in set within the boundaries of the Central Business Improvement District in part of Downtown Memphis.

Now I and others have already blogged at length about this subject, so rather than rehash all of that I will simply direct you to these posts of mine on the subject Here and Here Others have also made similar observations which you can read Here and Here
I think these sum things up nicely

...But let's take a step back to point out some of the central and core flaws of these proposed pieces of legislation.
The Anti Panhandling zone, if you read the legislation calls for the creation of exempt zones, places where Passive Panhandling would be permitted withing the CBID. Passive Panhandling involves a person holding a sign..not speaking or communicating verbally unless such conversation is initiated by the potential donor. In this/these areas those who panhandle will be able to legally ask for donations.
That sounds reasonable right?...well that clause was included to help this law get past judicial scrutiny. You see you cannot ban Panhandling outright....more on this later.

Well here is the major problem....the ordinance does not say WHERE this Exempt zone will be. It states that a committee made up of members of the CCC and MPD will later..."does not say when" decide where this/these zones will be located and review the situation there semi annually.

So..I pose to you where do you think this Exempt zone will be?....and why is this not already decided?...i think it already has..but i'll play fair here.

Well let's see the CBID is not a large area geographically with borders roughly from MILL to the North, Vance to the South, Riverside to the West and Third to Fourth to the East. Okay so where within this area would you put this exempt zone?

Well we already can safely assume that this area will not be near Beale street..nor will it be near the Cannon Center. It's also safe to say that it will not be near Peabody place, the Fed-Ex forum, the Peabody Hotel or the Pinch district. Ok..so what's left?

Hmm...well if you place the Exempt zone near the area of Vance and 3rd or 2nd you have an area that's more or less vacant except for Raiford's and some commercial businesses.
OK...problem solved..."shakes head" No because if you place the zone there nobody walks down there. So the passive panhandlers will make no change and thus will leave the zone to go back to the tourist areas. Of course by then the Cops will be watching for them to do this and "try" to run them back out of the zone. Hmmm...so what do you think the passive panhandlers will do then?....here's a hint....where do tourists and pedestrians go that's South of Vance?...South Main district.

Ok..so that did not work out...let's try again.
How about the vacant area to the northside of the CBID just east of the Pinch?....no too close to St Jude.
Further to the North of that?..no getting into Uptown and the Mata station.

See the problem here is no matter where you place the exempt zone you either have to place it somewhere folks go, in which case the people and businesses there will get mad. Or you place it somewhere no one goes, in which case the Passive panhandlers have no reason to stay and are motivated to either violate the law..or go to adjacent areas.

It should be pointed out that this law would only affect passive panhandlers those folks are not the problem anyway
...Aggressive panhandling is already a criminal act anywhere in the city..and if this law passes the penalty for violation would remain the same as it is now. Whether inside or outside the zone. So if you are already a criminal...and the penalty for violation is the same in either case...why would you care about a "Zone"? Honestly..objectively..why would you care?

Now don't get me wrong...no one is saying that Aggressive panhandling is right..or ok..or something that should be tolerated. However when making laws we need to dial down the emotions and think about the consequences of these actions and find effective solutions. Treatment and outreach for those with serious substance abuse issues has to be a part of that conversation..without it..you cannot solve the problem.

Now speaking of laws..my next post will deal with the myriad enforcement issues of this ordinance. Here's a hint...you can't.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

"It's not what you spend, it's what you spend it on"

Another very long one pack a lunch......sorry but it's been a while.

First of all I want to thank all those who volunteered to help in the city's homeless count last week. This years count was designed to allow the city to receive greater demographic data about those unsheltered individuals in the city.
This year's count marked a departure from previous efforts in a number of ways. For one it took place during the day as opposed to night. Hitting meal services and other daytime hot spots and a survey in an effort to find and receive up to date data directly from those on the streets who might be to difficult to find at night. It also did not have a down in front law enforcement presence in order to put the minds of those on the streets at ease. This effort was very successful as this years count doubled the number of unsheltered persons found by last years count. In my view a vindication of the method.

Our thanks and a job well done to Katie Kitchin, formerly the director of Norfolk VA, Ten Year Plan To End Homelessness, now a consultant for the City of Memphis for spearheading this effort. Ms Kitchin has been a strong advocate for Housing First strategies and was a key player in Norfolk reducing their homeless population by 20+% in just a few years. She is now working with a broad array of individuals from government, service providers, advocates and the private sector in the form of a planning committee to create a new Ten year plan for Memphis, under the leadership of HCD/MHA director Robert Lipscomb, and the Wharton Administration

As one of the member organizations on this multifaceted committee, I can say that the agenda involves identifying best practices from all over the country for their possible implementation here in Memphis. Also with some of the structural changes underway in the city's homeless services network, it possible that Memphis at the end of this process will qualify for a substantial increase in federal aid to address and prevent homelessness.
Still this is a major undertaking and we hope to help engage the community in support of positive efforts on this front.

One of the things that the P&J is working on is to promote a heightened awareness of how homelessness effects all of the residents of the city. Of course we all know that most people are but a paycheck away from being homeless themselves, but in addition to that we are trying to show that policies that reduce homelessness are not simply morally right but also from a fiscal standpoint is the practical and correct thing to do. We have a strong and compassionate community but many in our community have a "not my problem" attitude towards the plight of the homeless and in these times of financial difficulty programs for the poor, the mentally ill and for substance abuse issues are often the first ones to feel the pinch. Thus we have to change the narrative from that of "charity" to that of "practical self interest".

For example in our criminal justice system it currently cost county tax payers $87-90 per person per day to incarcerate an individual at 201 poplar. Those nonviolent offenders who are among the homeless in general cannot make bail due to hardship and due to the fact that we have inconsistent bail levels and as a result generally stay in jail until their court date,which by that point they are normally released time served or the charges are dropped as the time they have served is about half or in some cases near the maximum sentence in some cases. This costs the taxpayers a great deal of money and ties up resources that could be put to better use elsewhere in the CJ system.

Last year we worked with Sheriff Luttrell and Bill Powell of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in successfully advocating to the County Commission for alternatives to incarceration for those with substance abuse and mental health issues, By spending 2.3 million dollars on programs like the Drug Court, and Jericho,Pre-trial diversion etc... this is projected to free up 200 beds this year at 201 poplar, and thus save county tax payers an estimated 4.1 million dollars this year.Thus jail overcrowding, moral and fiscal concerns were addressed at the same time.

One of our major concerns has always been that the neighborhoods north and south of Downtown/Midtown,"NORTH-Bearwater-Caldwell,New Chicago,Klondike,Hollywood-Springdale, Douglass..etc and SOUTH Vance/Orleans, Riverview-Kansas, Glenview, The Works,South Memphis, Orange Mound and Beltline" all have VERY high rates of vacant housing and properties. Our concerns being the likelihood that as the homeless are moved from out of certain parts of the city that incidents of squatting will continue to increase which in turn can contribute to fires and emergency medical costs, damage to property and the potential for violence against the homeless.We are also concerned that this could make the outreach work performed by service providers more difficult and make those on the streets harder to find and thus harder to assist. By my best estimations a residential fire can cost the city as much as 30 thousands dollars in related costs.
911 calls in some cases can result in cost totaling up to as much as 1-5 thousand dollars per call. To say nothing of the related medical emergency room costs to the MED and other medical care providers. Adding those in addition to the costs of Law Enforcement man hours,Code enforcement resources and Criminal justice related costs, it's easy to see how even a small number of people on the streets living in vacant houses can cost the city up to three to five times the cost of providing affordable housing and Permanent supportive housing. As I have said before..it's not what you spend..it's what you spend it on.

One of the things we are trying to research is the number of fires in vacant commercial and vacant residential properties caused as a result of homeless individuals "squatting". We are overjoyed to be working in partnership with Memphis Fire Dept and Emergency Medical Services the coming months to complete this research and to perform community outreach and advocacy work to show not only the number and frequency of these incidents but also show the cost of resources for these and other related events. This way the public can better understand how having a homeless population impacts their pocketbooks and that policies that reduce homelessness can potentially save the city large sums of taxpayer dollars. This could help promote the human needs of our brothers and sisters on the streets,reduce fires and EMS calls and address blight at the same time.

"Intermission....go grab a snack"

Another thing which I'd like to "briefly" touch on is how the number of vacant lots within the city of Memphis. By my estimates we have about 14-15k vacant lots in the urban core alone, and 3000+ of those lots are county owned and many have foundations from the previous structures. These lots cost Shelby County a lot of money to maintain and upkeep, and are a drag on the city/county's resources. In addition vacant lots contribute to blight and can serve as a health risk as vacant lots often become illegal dumping ground that serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes and rats. So..what does any of this have to do with homelessness or affordable housing?...
Well back in the early days of the reconstruction of the Gulf coast from Hurricane Katrina, Fema in reaction to the substandard conditions created the Katrina cottages, for use as alternative housing for those needing temporary shelter while their homes were being rebuilt. These cosy and historic looking constructed units are incredibly energy efficient."Energy cost topping out at around $800-900 dollars a year" are made from rot and termite highly resistant materials and are portable up to 500 miles.

Since their use in the Gulf coast many have seen the promise of these cottages as a inexpensive, quickly build source of housing. In fact I have learned that many other municipalities across the country are exploring the idea of Katrina cottages for use as affordable housing as well as commercially as rental guest properties or small homes for single retires and in some cases small communities of cottages as seed housing. See Here
In fact even hardware giant Lowe's has gotten in on the act. See Here
Now for 37-47k per unit we can provide transitional and supportive housing for a significant portion of the homeless population in a relatively short time period. That's significantly cheaper and quicker than the city can traditionally provide new housing...by a factor of four in some cases.

But if that's too rich for your blood..that's okay.. there may be an even cheaper option

In Mississippi,as this phase of the reconstruction draws to a close I have learned from Ashley Edwards, the Deputy Director of Mississippi's office of Recovery and Renewal that they are expected to have a surplus of up to 300 Katrina cottages with appliances included by this summer. These cottages will be sold at auction at a substantial savings due to several factors..

One, while the houses are cheap, it's still hard to get a mortgage for the land to put it on. We have no such problem here with our 3000+ county owned lots

Two, due to their location on the gulf coast there are significant code,hurricane foundation and sea level considerations that Memphis does not have.

Three, regional non profits cannot simply afford the early expenses, in more than limited and smaller scale ways. Still it's worth noting that Habitat for Humanity has been using cottages and then adding on to them to create larger homes up to 1300 sft for as little as 72k.

So it seems to me that this is an idea worth pursuing and we will be staying in touch with Mr Edwards about this topic and will be gathering all the available data to see all the in's and outs of this potential process and make presentations to the community, government and private sector interests in hopes of moving this forward.

Lack of Affordable housing is the leading cause of homelessness and the biggest barrier out of it. Perhaps with Katrina cottages we can provide housing and reduce vacant lots and in the long term create tax revenue for the city and county at the same time.

Or not...it's up to you.