National News, Confrontations and Panhandling

Homeless Shelters Feel Squeeze

     The NOAH Shelter, the Cape’s only drop-in overnight shelter for the homeless, is struggling under an $80,000 deficit and desperately trying not to cut staff and services. The shelter served an all-time high of 533 people last year. To help agencies with difficult times a coalition of human service providers has emerged with a concept for a “continuum of care” for homelessness services. The $300,000 proposal to fund prevention programs on the Lower, Outer and Mid Cape would chew through the bulk of the $465,000 remaining from the county’s 2003 budget surplus. A third of the money also would be set aside for an acute-care facility for the homeless. County leaders say the surplus funds should go to Cape’s cash-strapped municipalities. A vote of the general assembly on the surplus items is scheduled for April 7.

Attacker Gets Probation

     Homeless man Albert Blanchard was set on fire as he slept in downtown Nashville last year, by a Mr. Erwin, a 30-year old jeweler from Clarksville, who could not remember setting the man on fire because he had been drinking with two friends. Erwin stated he threw a lighted match on Mr. Blanchard’s leg and then ran away with his friends. A witness said he saw flames and ran to help. Blanchard was on fire from the waist down. Mr. Erwin was sentenced to four years probation. Mr. Blanchard, who is being cared for by his sister, spent more than six months in the hospital, has had eight surgeries so far and is facing more.

King Settlement for Tent City

     King County Executive Ron Sims, who has long been opposed to tent cities for the homeless, agreed to allow a temporary tent city for the homeless on county property near Kirtland. His action headed off a confrontation with Seattle-based groups that vowed earlier this month to occupy park land somewhere in King county on May 6 if an agreement had not been reached. Sims allowed the temporary city to go up for 90 days. This gives the county, with guidance from King County Council, time to find other non-park, county-owned properties that could serve as a more permanent location for Tent City 4. Sims proposed that the county enter into an agreement with Seattle Housing and Resource Effort (SHARE) and the Women’s Housing, Equality and Enhancement League (WHEEL) to establish and operate the city.

City Razes Homeless Man’s Shack

     The Detroit Police Department, acting on orders from the city Building and Safety Engineering Department, gave Ralph Thomas, 56, one hour to move his belongings out of a shanty he built on a vacant lot at Michigan Ave. and West Grand Blvd. before it was razed. Thomas had lived in the shanty for about two decades. The driver of the backhoe waved his hand and declined comment. Other city officials did not return phone calls. Mr. Thomas was able to get most of his belongings out of the shanty before it was destroyed. A friend allowed him to store his belongings until he found a place. An outreach coordinator who assists the elderly in southwest Detroit is looking into what services Mr. Thomas may be qualified to receive.

Woman Who Feeds Homeless Forced to Move

     Mary Judd has fed the homeless daily from her front porch in Raleigh for eight years. Raleigh’s zoning enforcement administrator sent Ms. Judd a letter stating she must shut down because she is operating a charitable institution and her property is not zoned for that. The city has given Mary until June 23 to relocate and is helping her find a vacant building that is properly zoned. The city received a tip that led to the inspection.

Men Charged in Brutal Beating of Homeless Man

     Clifton Agnew, who was so brutally beaten and stabbed that he was not expected to live, is showing improvement at University of Louisville Hospital. Police arrested 19-year old Tyreese Hall and 40-year old Derek Edmonds and charged with robbery and sodomy. The report says Mr. Agnew was robbed, stripped of his clothing, and sodomized with sticks, boards, and bottles, causing internal injuries. He was then stabbed repeatedly.

Safe Zone Agreement Reached

     The Monroe County Commission and Key West City Commission reached an agreement that allows a temporary safe zone to be erected on county land to house the homeless. Four Quonset tents are being erected adjacent to the Monroe County Sheriff’s office on Stock Island. The city has been trying for months to provide a place for the homeless to sleep so that a ban on camping in the city’s wetlands can be enforced.

Homeless Assistance Shelter Delay

      It’s been a year since Dallas voters approved $3 million in bonds for a homeless shelter, but a facility won’t be opening any time soon. Due to the small volunteer staff it has been difficult to compile the needed information. These numbers are important because it will determine how much money the city receives in federal aid. The city postponed a vote on the homeless facility in February after three suggested sites drew heavy opposition. Now the city is working to identify a location that fits new criterion: at least 1000 ft. away from single-family homes, and public or private elementary and secondary schools; the shelter would also be a least a 1/2 mile away from any overnight shelter and it would be within walking distance of public transportation. In the meantime, as the homeless population continues to grow, the city department that deals with homelessness plans to request money to rent a temporary site to help alleviate the problem and to hire four addition outreach caseworkers.

Homeless Activists Stage Protest in Rhode Island

     A group of homeless people and student activists traveled from Providence to Barrington to protest the state’s lack of affordable housing in front of the Barrington Town Hall. The protesters set up a “Ribbon of Shame” in front of Barrington Town Hall, which the bikers broke through when they arrived. According to Catherine Rhode, protest organizer and member of the advocacy group People to End Homelessness, the event was the first in a “Tour of Shame” that will eventually visit towns across the state to push for affordable housing.

“Bumfights” Producers Sentenced

     The producers of the controversial Bumfights videos were sentenced to three years probation and community service working with the homeless for their roles in producing the films in which homeless men perform dangerous stunts. The judge called the three producers of the Bumfights video “opportunists motivated by greed” before handing down their sentences. The trio plead guilty May 9 to a misdemeanor charge of paying homeless men to fight in front of the camera. After the sentencing, the three men snickered when they were asked them to comment on the sentencing. Michael Slyman, another Bumfights producer, received the same sentence May 16. The attorney for the three producers confirmed that there is another Bumfights video coming out. The $20 videos have sold more than 300,000 copies.

Insurance Scammers Accused of Recruiting, Injuring Homeless

39-year old Michael Garner was known around area homeless shelters as the bone-crusher. Police say for a least 2 years he recruited the homeless to be victims in staged auto accidents. Garner allegedly inflicted real injuries on the homeless using a sledgehammer or the butt-end of an axe. Although some of the settlements were six figures many of the homeless were paid only several hundred dollars apiece and left with life long injuries that required extensive surgeries. Police began investigating after shelter operators noticed a high number of residents suffering with broken legs and arms. Mr. Garner, along with 5 other organizers, were charged with aggravated fraud conspiracy, conspiracy to commit insurance fraud, aggravated insurance fraud and six counts of battery.

Daily Bread Kitchen Opens

Hobe Williams, Jr. saw the need of feeding the hungry and opened the Daily Bread Community Kitchen in Morristown. The opening of Daily Bread Community Kitchen with free lunch/dinner program was a move of faith that stood a 10 year test and continues to feed the hungry on a daily basis. Mr. Williams manages to provide as many as 1,000 free meals a week with the help of volunteers, businesses, and the collective community. Since its inception in 1993, no one has left the Daily Bread hungry. Williams is undertaking yet another project to better serve the community. He plans to remodel a building that now houses his furniture business. The building will accommodate more seating and a better food prep area/kitchen/food storage and serving facility. The project is estimated to be over $200,000 and Williams is researching possible grants available to help with the relocation and remodeling.

Interfaith Program Shelters Homeless

     Though not religiously affiliated, Interfaith Hospitality Network is a nonprofit, private organization that provides emergency shelter in 11 local churches for families with children. Other churches provide donations and support to Interfaith. During the day, Interfaith shuttles its guests to school, work, recreation, or to the program’s headquarters. Of Savannah’s programs for the homeless, Interfaith has the smallest capacity, but they are the only emergency program that provides space for families to stay during the day.

     At night, the program doesn’t separate older children from their parents. Boys over 13 are allowed to stay with their mothers. Over the past decade, families with children were among the fastest growing segments of the homeless population. Forty percent of the homeless population in Savannah is made up of women and children, according to the local Economic Opportunity Authority.

Homeless Man Set On Fire In Corpus Christi

     Lucas Adama Wiser, 21 remained in the burn unit with burns to his arm and leg, including some third degree burns to his leg, after being set afire by six to eight men as he lay sleeping on a bench outside Corpus Christi Metro Ministries. A video shows two cars stopping abruptly after passing the Mr. Wiser, the men jumping out of the cars and running up to the sleeping man, and then flames leaping in the air as the men run back to their cars and speeding off. Witnesses said the man ran into the street covered in flames. Local television stations aired the footage in an effort to help police identify the attackers. Though police indicated they have some idea whose behind the attack, no arrests have been made.

Copyright Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio published July 2004 Issue 65B