Posted by Carolyn Classen
Over 125 people filled up the Lower Level 1 meeting room of the Joel D. Valdez Main library yesterday in downtown Tucson for a Community Forum/panel discussion on homelessness. Tim Steller, columnist at the Arizona Daily Star moderated a panel of eight individuals:
Michael Keith, CEO of Downtown Tucson Partnership
John Cooper, Organizer with Occupy Public Land
Michele Ream, Social Services Outreach Rep. and Organizer with Community Supported Shelters Tucson
Anthony Potter, Co-founder of Safe Park, and Field Organizer with Occupy Public Land
Jodi Barnes, City of Tucson Community Development
Jon McLane, Co-founder of Safe Park, and Field Organizer with Occupy Public Land
Michael B. Schwartz, Founder of Tucson Arts Brigade (TAB)
Dave Ferrari, Pastor of Central City Assembly
This event was co-sponsored by Downtown Tucson Partnership, Primavera Foundation, Tucson Arts Brigade, Occupy Public Land, Safe Park, Community Supported Shelters, Nonviolence Legacy Project and Central City Assembly. The only politician represented was Ward 6 Councilman Steve Kozachik (who was ill) – his Chief of Staff Ann Charles was present and spoke at the Q & A session afterward, saying they wanted to assist in continuance of this dialogue.
As we walked in there was a flyer (based on a recent January 30 survey of homeless at Safe Park) entitled “WHAT WE WANT” and this is what was listed:
24 hour bathrooms
To be left alone
More drop-in/community centers
Elimination of Black Line
No income bus passes
Non weapons based industry
Seating in public areas
The right to sit downtown
Non weapons based economy
Business creation assistance
The 8 panelists spoke first about their areas of expertise, followed by a Q and A from the audience about their experiences/concerns and what happens next with this dialogue. Here are some of the highlighted comments from the panel:
Anthony Potter said as a former homeless person that they just wanted “a legal place to sleep at night” hence his helping to co-found Safe Park, located at 99 S. Church Ave. He said that Tucson has probably about 7600 homeless people but only 400 shelter beds (almost all for men only, not couples), that homeless people have to walk miles or ride the bus (2 rides only on a pass) to get showers, their mail, and face difficult job restrictions and limited job training.
Jodi Barnes from the City of Tucson helps homeless connect with needed housing/resource services. The 2013 count of homeless for Tucson was at 1765 and they just took the 2014 count in January (not available yet). She said that these people are homeless due to job loss, large medical bills, domestic violence, release from prison, and that affordable housing and liveable wages were key solutions to this problem. Getting an adequate I.D. was also a problem. She participates in TCPH (Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness), which is a coalition of community and faith based organizations, governement entires, businesses and individuals committed to ending homelessness.
Michael Schwartz of Tucson Arts Brigade said that he works with homeless youth in arts projects, and many others students on the free/reduced lunch program who are at risk of becoming homeless. He also said that some artists do go homeless and that this community needed “true public places” and to “paint new pictures of homelessness.” He explained what the “Black Line” on the flyer above meant that the City hired "artists"/city workers to tape & then spray paint a straight black line on the sidewalks at Viente de Agosto Park, over which the homeless could get arrested if they crossed the line between dusk and dawn. More info here on the black line.
John Cooper of Occupy Public Lands said that the government should not “discriminate against people who are destitute”, that the homeless have basic rights though they are without money, that the homeless should not be “criminalized” or “forced to have a home.” He said the plight of the homeless was that they need bathrooms 24/7, and many water fountains downtown were broken or nonexistent in parks. He said that each city was handling this issue differently and that the “rich and poor have the same rights.”
Pastor Dave Ferrari spoke that his church located at 19th Street x 10th Avenue that feeds homeless with compassion and provided 50,000 meals last year, 65 beds for homeless men last night. His church receives no government funds, exists on contributions and assistance from other agencies only. He thought the “faith-based communities could be a large part of the solution, could do more.” He said they mission was "to serve without strings attached."
Michele Ream, realtor and former social worker said that she does street outreach to those in the washes and in distress, many of whom face mental health issues, plus getting an I.D is a big problem. She is organizing Community Supported Shelters for low cost shelters/huts for people, but where to put them? Churches and non profits, even neighbors could place these on their lots, backyards or properties.
Michael Keith of DTP said he is taking this issue with Michele Ream to his 41 member board, that they represent 17 neighborhoods in the downtown area, art groups, small & large businesses, property owners. He said that affordable housing is a start to the solution though he understands that there is a difference between those who prefer to live outside and those who want to go back to homes and a job. He sees the problem as 1) providing decent housing/amenities and 2) creation of means to income, job training, pathway out of homelessness (if desired).
Jon McLane as a homeless person spearheaded the Occupy Tucson effort, spent 142 days at Viente de Agosto Park and received 36 arrests. Over 200 individuals now at Safe Park which he co-founded and they have received $35,000 in donated goods & services. He is working on a project called “People’s Parkway” where income can be generated through jewelry sales online, learning skilled trades and recycling materials. A community shelter is needed like in Portland & Eugene, Oregon. He emphasized that for the homeless that there is no legal place to sleep or use bathroom between 10:30p.m. and 7 a.m., no access to showers.
A long line of about 16 people stood up to speak/ask questions after this panel and here are some of their comments/concerns. (I apologize for not getting all the names, but I had to leave right after the program for another event).
— woman asked questions about Safe Park’s needs (outside space), and who partners with Central City Assembly to provide meals. Ferrari responded saying that the Community Food Bank and Caridad Community Kitchens provided the meals so his church had no costs
–statement by a man about basic, fundamental human rights for the homeless, &the difference with prisoners/criminals who are provided shelter/food, etc.
–statement from a former homeless man Bobby Burns who received help from Primavera Shelter, who now helps homeless & unemployed homeless vets. He asked what was the “elephant in the room?” and Cooper responded that it was “social integration”, equality needed between rich and poor.
–Moderator Tim Steller asked at this point about "sheer, brute economic growth" needed to help create more jobs. Keith responded that was a part of it, as Tucson is the #7 poorest city of its size in USA. Schwartz said that resources needed to be better distributed, there needs to be a "will to make change". Potter added that living wages were necessary, plus creation of a new business at no charge, mentors and education needed.
— speaker from Avalon Organic Gardens in Tumacacori, an inter-faith eco-village invited individuals to come down & help with their non-profit farm & get training
–Jodi Netzer of TAB said that regular dialogue was needed, that artists didn’t always “survive their mortgages”, mentioned Start Up Tucson- to create new ways for businesses to operate, and a friend who is a production designer building sustainable, mobile homes
–Activist Leilani Clark, spoke of the other large elephant in the room, the “gentrification of downtown Tucson”, pushing out the homeless, lost of public space and organizations like Skrappy’s on Toole Ave. that helped homeless youth
— George, a homeless man who said he resented the “dirty old man image” he has been given
–a deaf woman artist who spoke of her inability to find affordable housing with her partner, wants/needs basic human rights, trying to sell her art on the streets. Potter responded that GLBT couples were usually asked to leave in 11 of the 12 shelters in Tucson
–Sarah her partner, wants a community of tiny houses, perhaps with compostable toilets, how to manage/access “fallen apart apartment buildings” for community use
— parishioner from Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church spoke of their ministry on E. Adams St., Joseph’s Pantry which provides food, drink, toilet supplies, showers, referrals to the homeless 3x/week but receiving complaints from neighbors in Blenman-Elm, saying the crime rate has increased due to their program
–new resident nurse to Tucson, homeless from California, lived in a friend’s basement, that more unemployment benefits & job training needed, more Sun Tran bus service past midnight, a one-stop center for food/shelter/hygiene
–street advocate from Olympia, WA spoke of People’s House there which provides 24/7 housing and a needle exchange program
— Ann Charles, Chief of Staff from Ward 6 Council office said Councilman Steve Kozachik not able to attend due to sickness, but wants to be part of the conversation, will propose a future forum
–woman asked a question about what legal rights were taught to the homeless and Cooper responded that basic laws were being explained without giving legal advice, through flyers esp. to those with limited educational backgrounds
–woman who said she was inspired/overwhelmed by the panel discussion, was taking food, hugs, her kids, and toilet supplies to Safe Park next Saturday
–final speaker was a woman who said another elephant in the room was lack of mental health services, PTSD, high stress levels and that many homeless had their possessions stolen at night
Community Supported Shelters meets on the last Thurs, of every month, 3 p.m. at 99 S. Church Ave. at Safe Park
Feb. 22 and 28, 3 p.m. Feed the homeless at Safe Park, 99 S. Church Ave.
May 25, 2 p.m. Community Panel on housing the homeless, 99 S. Church Ave.