My neighborhood transitional living facility, perhaps

It used to be a crackhouse. Now it belongs to the government, which you might think would be an improvement. Chris Young has a story about it in this week’s City Paper:

Instead of auctioning off the apartment complex, the government is seeking to donate it to Renewal, Inc., a national organization headquartered in Monroe, La.

… … …

Officials from U.S. Probation Services and Renewal, Inc. attended a June 7 neighborhood meeting where they explained the program to about 50 East Liberty residents. According to [neighborhood activist Pat] Buddemeyer, officials answered questions, but they did not offer a written description of the plan.

Participants agreed to hold another meeting, where the program would be further discussed and eventually voted on by neighbors. Buddemeyer said that Johnson “pushed for the earliest possible date.” They agreed on June 13.

I was at the first meeting, where no questions were answered satisfactorily and Ted Williams of the U. S. Probation Service flatly refused to answer any questions in writing. In fact, he claimed that no documentation exists. Considering that this project has involved three federal agencies, possibly state and local agencies, and at least two nonprofits, that is not only a transparent and obvious lie, but one that shows a shocking contempt for the intelligence and savvy of the residents of this section of East Liberty.

Just because we don’t live in Shadyside or Squirrel Hill doesn’t mean we have no idea how government works, and Ted Johnson, who told us he lives in Homewood, should know better. Then again, maybe Ted Johnson is just an habitual liar. City Paper again:

“At the last minute, [Johnson] chose not to attend or send another representative[,] … saying that his office had been inundated with phone calls from the media and he was unprepared to deal with it right now,” wrote Buddemeyer in a June 19 e-mail.

I don’t know what media were inundating Johnson at that time. As far as I can tell, this City Paper article was the only medium in which he was quoted on any subject from the June 7th meeting until now. And, of course, he told the media, in the form of Chris Young, a totally different lie:

Johnson’s vague reason for not attending: “All the players were not available.”

As that has no meaning, it might not actually be a lie, but it is certainly a misrepresentation. The June 13th meeting was chosen specifically because Ted Johnson, Doug Williams of Renewal Inc, the nonprofit involved, and most of the neighbors were able to attend. Johnson does not give any idea of which “players” he would like to attend and were not available.

Williams, who is acting more or less as Johnson’s partner in this project, had his own take on why Renewal Inc and the U.S. Probation Office didn’t show:

According to Doug Williams, CEO of Renewal, Inc., after the first meeting, people began “twisting the intentions” of the program, and that played a part in their absence at the second meeting.

“We decided not to attend the second meeting because it’s being spun the wrong way by other people,” Williams told City Paper.

Hard not to twist the intentions of a program, if no one will give you a straight answer about what those intentions are. When Williams was pressed on exactly how “it’s being spun the wrong way” and by which “other people” he wimped out:

Williams asked that questions be directed to Johnson.

Maybe I am one of the “other people.” Here is most of an e-mail I sent on June 11th:

I will not be able to be at the meeting on Wednesday because of work, but barring any change, I have real problems with this project. Neither the government nor Renewal have offered us any real solid information. For instance: how many units would there be in this building? How many people would be living there? How many people are expected to have family there with them? How many staff would be assigned to the place, and for how many hours per week? What kind of training would they have? How do those numbers compare to industry standards?

How much would this project cost? What would it look like? How many of the residents would have cars? How many of those cars can be accommodated in the parking lot in the back? At least one unit will be open in a year, but how long will it take for the rest to be operating?

Why can’t we look at the documents that already exist about this project? It involves three government agencies and one nonprofit, so the claim that there is nothing yet is either a lie or a terrifying truth.

I am really troubled by all these questions, and more so by the lack of answers to any of them, and the unwillingness to put even the vague information that was provided last week in writing.

I would like to pass on my worries about this, as well as my no vote as long as the manufactured hurry, the fear-mongering threats that it will end up in the hands of another drug dealer, the evasions, the refusals to give information, and the lies continue.

Additionally, I think that we need to require that the residents of the neighborhood be treated as partners in this process, not as a speed bump. We do need a veto over what is done, and real decision-making representation in this project.

Without documentary answers to all of my above questions, as well as other questions that other residents have and questions that arise from the answers, and without true representation in the project, we would be insane to do anything other than everything we can to block it.

None of these questions have been answered, and Ted Johnson’s and Doug Williams’ responses have been to blow off our community meeting.

I came into this process ready to support this project, and ran into a string of deceit, disrespect and misrepresentation from the U. S. Probation Office and Renewal Inc. I can’t imagine what they thought the result would be when they came into a community meeting with no solid plan to present, no written information on their project at all, and an attitude of belittling dismissal. People coming out of prison need a place to live, and they need a chance to work, and to get to know their families again, but Chris Young’s lede says it all:

Residents of East Liberty’s Rippey Street might not object to a group of ex-cons moving next door . . . it’s the federal government they don’t trust.

2 Comments so far

  1. Anderson (unregistered) on July 3rd, 2007 @ 10:58 am

    Very useful, excellent information..

  2. Anderson (unregistered) on July 4th, 2007 @ 11:01 am

    Thanks for the information

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