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Northampton Community Support Network Celebrates One Year of Progress

13 Apr

April 22 is the one year anniversary of the Northampton Community Support Network. So how are we progressing?

The Northampton Recovery Center will be moving to its own space at 2 Gleason Plaza on May 1 and over the next year you can expect its Recovery and wellness programming to expand.

As for a community center that focuses on supporting those experiencing struggles with homelessness, poverty, addiction, mental health and trauma, that’s making progress as well.

Recently Northampton Connects held a town hall meeting where my community center concept was discussed with great favor by the majority of the attendees.

Then a few days ago the city released a survey on Downtown Northampton which asked citizens if there was a need for such a community center which was described exactly as I’ve been promoting it.

The city seems to be rallying around the idea and that makes me very excited.

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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.

The Solution

30 Mar
The key to reducing homelessness and panhandling in our community is through addiction recovery and mental health recovery. You can put someone in an apartment, and then next year you’ll be helping that same person when they are homeless again if they didn’t treat the root causes. You can get someone a job, and six months later you’ll be helping that same person when they are unemployed again if they didn’t treat the root causes.
 
Addiction and mental health recovery is more than stopping the use of drugs and alcohol and its more than taking psych meds. It involves developing skills in life manageability and addressing the trauma that created the mental health issues and the need to self-medicate (numb) through the use of substances (or other non substance addictions).
 
Places like the Northampton Recovery Center and the Western Massachusetts Recovery Learning Community can do more to help reduce homelessness and the panhandling in our community through supporting recovery than can be done through social workers whose goal is to get you a job or a place to sleep and then they walk away and wait for you to fail, so they can maintain their job security by helping you over and over.
 
It’s basically this. Social workers will give you a fish. Recovery teaches you how to fish.
 
The same is true for crime reduction in general. If there were more support for recovery, you would find less crimes downtown like vandalism, shoplifting, and fighting. In these cases, we tend to solve the problem by putting them in jail. But then they come back out and we put them back in jail again when they repeat. Again, this is great job security for the police and jails, but if we really want the problem to be alleviated, it’s recovery that will teach people a better way to live their lives and a better ways to behave. They will learn the life manageability skills and overcome the trauma that puts them in the situations that lead them to crime.

Poor People not invited to talk about poor people

13 Mar

On April 3 at 7PM, there will be a meeting in Northampton at the JFK middle school to discuss issues in Downtown Northampton.  Traditionally, “downtown issues” are those annoying poor people downtown that make us uncomfortable to see because then we have to acknowledge that they exist.

The meeting is of course held mile away from downtown Northampton, as a time and location where the buses have stopped running and at a time where people in homeless shelters cannot attend because if they miss their 5:30 PM curfew they will lose their bed and be kicked out onto the street.

This is of course a meeting to hear “all voices” but we make sure not all voices are able to be heard.

We hate when men gather to talk about women’s healthcare.  We hate when voting polls are set up so that they are inconveniently located and inaccessible to the poor or require identification that some can’t afford.

This is the same thing.

For years, the privileged class of Northampton has sought to eliminate the poor from their line of sight.  They continue to fail but they keep coming up with new schemes.  Its clear they won’t stop until this perceived pest infestation is exterminated, because they don’t see that poor people are still people.  They matter.  They have value.  They are not animals or insects to eliminate.

Please, anyone who can attend this meeting to be a voice for the voiceless, come and speak.  We must stop the constant attempts by the city to criminalize the poor, the addicted, and the mentally ill.

I continue to express to the city and community the need for a community center that will give the homeless a place to be other than outside of the businesses on Main Street.  The city and community have said no.  I have expressed that it’s better to create a place where the underlying causes of homelessness, panhandling, addiction, and crime are addressed and treated.  The community and its government have said no.

They’d rather lock them up or push them out to another community.  They’d rather take the heartless approach.  Please attend to help me support a better solution, and to provide a voice for the voiceless.

Some Updates

2 Mar

I haven’t posted here in a while.  Thought I’d update followers on what I’ve been up to.  (Mostly because I can’t think of anything more interesting to write about tonight.)

So I wrote a timeline for Dorian Gray that will be appearing in an anthology being put out by Wild Hunt Press sometime this year.

Just posted a new TVCU post on Roswell and Area 51.

I’ve been watching a lot of Christmas movies.  In November, I had come across a list of the 100 best Christmas movies and challenged myself to watch them all before Christmas.  It’s now March and I’m still working my way through the list.

Meanwhile, I’m still doing a lot of work with various organizations within my local Northampton, MA community, trying to get a community center built that will support those struggling with homelessness, addiction and mental health issues.

I am running again for city council as well.

I’m struggling to get a job that actually gives me money.  I’m thinking of going back to school for a Masters in Social Work, but not having a car has been an obstacle.

My stalkers have been legally stopped from harassing me, so that’s a relief.

I still have not seen Black Panther, and every day I end up seeing more and more spoilers, and that’s a bit bothersome.

Jessica Jones season 2 is coming out, and I still haven’t watched Defenders and Punisher, so I’m allotting myself time to take care of that.

Having become disheartened lately by many things, I’ve decided to devote the rest of my life to pizza, sleeping, and old movie.

A Disheartening Day

31 Jan

I went to the veterans lunch today. A special event was going on, with the mayor and press and such. One of my stalkers whom I have a Harassment Prevention Order against showed up. I have been instructed that should either of my two stalkers show up anywhere I’m at, I’m to call the police even if the person leaves so that the police can have it on record.

My phone battery was at 2% so I asked the director of the Building Bridges Veterans Initiative, which hosts the luncheons, to use his phone to call the police. He refused. I explained the situation to him, even though I knew he was already aware of the situation. He explained to me that he wasn’t going to ruin the event and make the Building Bridges Initiative look bad in front of the mayor and press by having the police show up.

I explained to him that I’m advised by the court to call the police, that I felt unsafe around this violent individual who physically assaulted me on Christmas Eve at church. He told me that if I felt unsafe I should leave. I should leave.

The director of the Building Bridges Initiative is also a pastor at Cathedral in the Night. I’ve been involved with them from day one, when I was the only volunteer they had, and they would parade me around like their mascot. Today I felt betrayed. He made it clear that I’m not safe there. He made it clear that I don’t matter.

I had to leave and go home to charge my phone and call the police. Fortunately, the police came quickly, and after taking my statement went to look for my predator. Of course their first stop was to go to the luncheon, which Pastor Chris Carlisle didn’t want to happen. Because the police put the law and safety before political motivation. Sadly the pastor put political motivation before the law and safety.

I’m so hurt. I’m struggling to process these emotions.

2017

22 Dec
2017 was a year of transformation and plot twists.
 
Creating the Northampton Community Support Network. That failed, technically, but it led to other opportunities that supported the same goals.
 
Started the ELCA School of Lay Ministry.
 
Joined a city committee.
 
Ran for city council.
 
Wrote something new for a new publisher.
 
Created another new podcast. Cancelled (sort of) that new podcast.
 
Got a new job, potentially leading to other job opportunities.
 
Came out as queer.
 
Was found to no longer be mentally disabled.
 
I started 2017 in a very dark place, which led me to create change in my life, which opened up all sorts of new opportunities and an exploration of who I am. Who we are. I am not the same persons that I was twelve months ago, and would never have imagined how much would have changed in one year. And though I’ve gone through change and transformation, regeneration if you will, that took me out of that dark place and brought me to a more spiritually minded place, it has brought with it more challenges which I now carry into the new year.
 
I’m now only working eight hours a week paid, and a lot of volunteer work, but now have my primary income source gone. As I move forward, will I find employment that will help me to continue the work I’ve been doing in this community, or will I find work that will take me away from working with the community.
 
As my writing picks back up again, how will that affect my priorities?
 
Having had a second attempt at a relationship that wasn’t healthy, have I given up on love?
 
I entered the world of politics this year? Will I move forward in that direction? And what of the opportunities that are potentially before me in the field of recovery?
 
Will my not having a car prevent me from gaining employment? Will my not having employment prevent me from having a car?
 
As someone who has gone from being a homeless, mentally ill alcoholic to a person who serves the homeless, mentally ill, and addicted, how does that affect my social relationships. As 2017 ends, I find those in my old peer community resentful of my success, and those of my new peer community skeptical of my abilities. I find myself in a lonely place where I walk in two worlds and feel welcome in neither.
 
One thing that won’t change is my excessive sharing on social media that makes Trump look reserved in comparison.