19 June 2009

THE DROP RECONFIGURES, FOR BETTER OR WORSE

All most homeless shelters do is provide homeless people with a place to sleep indoors. Buddy Gray had other ideas about bringing social services into some sort of shelter, like having licensed social workers connecting homeless shelter residents with housing, medical or psychiatric care, jobs or job training, G.E.D. programs, alcohol or substance rehab. Over the years the Drop Inn Center has not been able to consistently deliver what Gray envisioned. Those of us who have had to stay there recall shower stalls soiled with feces, urine, blood or vomit. We remember a staff overwhelmed, especially during the winter months, by the raw need that confronted them. We can remember criminals on the lam hiding among the homeless, drug dealers finding ways in and out of the building to sell, or to recruit new customers and new players. Case managers from mental health agencies were afraid to come to the Drop, yet their clients often did not have bus fare to get to the case manager's office. Mail was lost, phone messages routinely lost or garbled. You were protected from hypothermia, but that was the only advantage over living outdoors. Companies that ran day labor scams were given unquestioned access to the shelter residents. If you fell far enough through the cracks to land in the Drop, you became a persona non grata, a living ghost. The Drop has been in the process of reassigning it's staff. Some staff will be let go, some will have to reapply for jobs. All job descriptions are being discontinued, and if staff wants to continue to work there, they will have to reapply for whatever new job description for which they might be qualified. No guarantees, no consideration for seniority. The Drop is cleaning house, both it's physical self, and it's staff. Recently, the Drop has been contending with more intense scrutiny because of attempts to gentrify the neighborhood, and because the School for the Performing Arts's new building is nearing completion in the block defined by W.12th, Elm St., Central Pkwy, and Race St. When you consider that students from the CSPA are harassed by bangers and drug dealers at the Sycamore location, you might find it odd that a new location was chosen at the southern end of Washington Park, half a block east of the Drop Inn Center's front door. But CSPA wanted to stay downtown, centrally located. Meanwhile, the concept of centrally located services for homeless people remains anathema for most politicians and real estate developers. The NIMBY advocates may yet succeed in scattering homeless services all over the city. The question remains: If a homeless person does not have bus fare to go to his case manager's office, how much bus fare does he or she have to make a trip to one address for a place to sleep, another for medical or psychiatric services, another for job training, ad infinitum? NIMBY perpetuates homelessness.

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All original text (C) 2007, 2008 David J. Carney. All rights reserved.

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