A New Hope

3 Apr

They are trying.  And I was wrong.

Tonight I attended the public forum from NorthamptonConnects, a new organization with an intent to create a forum for discussion to end the divide in Northampton.

For those who follow my rants, and I do call them rants, I was very upset that the venue for this event was four miles away from downtown Northampton, despite being a discussion on Downtown Northampton.  I was upset that it was held at a time when those living in the cot shelter couldn’t attend, because they would miss their curfew and get tossed out on the street if they attended.  I was upset that it was inaccessible by bus, making it a challenge to get there if you don’t own a car.

I also felt this was intentional.  Despite knowing some good people on this panel and involved in organizing this event, I was swayed by skepticism.  I was not easily swayed by those who did reach out to me to explain that the venue was chosen based on size and availability.  I was not easily swayed by the expression that it was an unintentional oversight.

But I was wrong.  They are trying.  The venue was a poor choice.  They owned up to it.  And as they move forward, they will try harder.

In this era, it’s uncommon for public figures to apologize.  They did.  And I believe them.  I have to believe them.  Because there are people involved in this that I trust implicitly.  There are people involved in this who work so hard to support the voiceless and vulnerable.

So I attended the event this evening.  I got a ride from one of the panelists.  And I’m so glad I went.  This evening filled me with hope.

The evening began with a panel who addressed what each one loved most about Northampton and what they think could be done to make Northampton more welcoming. We then moved the conversation to our groups at each table, which were intentionally set up so that everyone was assigned random tables, forcing them to talk to strangers in order to hear new perspectives, and we did hear, and we all listened to one another with respect and civility.

As I expected, the conversation often turned towards those experiencing homelessness, those who panhandle, and those experiencing struggles with addiction and mental health.

What I didn’t expect was that overwhelmingly, the conversation around those folks were not “How do we get rid of them?” but rather “How do we help them?”  “How do we talk to them?”  “How can we support them?”  I was not expecting this, and I felt such hope.

Of course, there were some talk about “those scary people”, but even that was said with respect, from a perspective of wanting to be more educated, and it was returned by folks like me, who agreed, yes, sometimes we are.

Of course, not all the talk was about the homeless and panhandlers.  We discussed many topics, including art, protecting immigrants who are scared to be downtown for other reasons in this climate, and of course we also talked about all the things we love about Northampton, the things that make it so special.

One thing I need to say is that everyone who follows me knows of my passion for a community center.  I went there with the intention I wouldn’t bring it up, because I didn’t want to come with my own agenda.  Other people brought it up.  And everyone seemed to love the idea.  You just can’t imagine how I wanted to do cartwheels, not that I could.

Other things that came up as positives (to me at least) was more festivals, more art, more music, bring back a movie theater, and one thing a friend of mine has been talking about for a long time, stores downtown that are not just for tourists, like a hardware store.

The plan is to have more of these panels, maybe even monthly.  The plan is also to move to various different venues, with varying topics.  One thing that most people wanted was to have a meeting downtown, where the homeless and panhandlers can sit down and be part of the conversation.  I left there feeling hopeful.  My cynicism is replaced with hope.

Part II:  A Voice Heard

So this morning as I left my apartment, I found a notice on my door.  I live in government subsidized housing because of my disabilities.  The notice was dated March 30 (today is April 3).  The notice said they would come into my apartment on April 4 (that’s tomorrow) to inspect fire alarms, and that they have given us the proper 48 hour notice in accordance to the lease.  Except that they weren’t.

So I went to the housing office to address the problem.  The receptionist asked me “What?  Do you have something better to do tomorrow?”  Excuse me?  As a matter of fact, I do.  Then a person came to speak to me from the back office who seemed new.  She explained that the maintenance guys delivered the notices late, she acknowledged that entering the apartment would violate the lease, and that they were going to do it anyway.

Well, that’s pretty normal of how they treat their tenants.  But I happen to be a tenant who knows people.  So I reported what happened to someone at City Hall, who then reported what happened to the director of the Northampton Housing Authority.  I didn’t expect anything to come of my reporting this.  I just wanted people to be aware.

I was then told by my City Hall contact to contact the director directly if I wished.  I sent her an email explaining the situation again.  I explained how this was unfair treatment of people based on their income level.  I explained how people with mental health issues like myself need time to emotionally prepare to have strangers enter their safe space.  I also explained that because I suffered from depression and physical challenges, I have been a messy housekeeper over the winter, and could use more notice to straighten up for people to come in.

What happened next I never expected.

The director of housing canceled the fire alarm inspections.  She called me and said she will reschedule them to ensure we receive proper notice.  She also wants me to talk to her in person about my negative interactions with her staff.  I was floored.  I was heard.  I was respected.  I was accommodated.  I was impressed.

Part III:  A New Forum

So I don’t want to give too much detail, but my writings about community issues, providing a voice for the voiceless, and advocacy for those in need, may move to a new forum.  Another website, a blog that covers similar topics, may soon add me as a writer.  Once things are cemented, I will send folks to the new site.  I will begin with a series on how I went from being a homeowner to homeless, and how that experience changed my outlook on life and people for the better.  A new hope.

One Response to “A New Hope”

  1. Stan Schapiro April 5, 2018 at 10:13 pm #

    Robert: was sent a link to your blog and read your most recent post. Really gratified to see your thoughts about the Northampton Connects forum. It was a good start but we certainly have more work to do and hopefully we can help to get more people talking to each other and understanding each other. Maybe you can help us to be sure we can expand into venues where other people can come. Let’s keep the conversations going.

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