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The way forward is action
While looking over the October 26 issue of CITY, I got a news flash that I am sure was not intended. First there is a half-page ad featuring Mayor Lovely Warren commenting on the Best of Rochester awards. She notes that our community is "bursting with talent, creativity, and innovations." She further states that community energy and investment will enhance the city mission "to create safer, more vibrant neighborhoods."
The next column contains Feedback. One of the letters, headlined "Rental practices hurt the poor," is the heartbreaking lament of a Rochesterian desperately searching for an affordable apartment as she is now on DSS awaiting SSI. Obviously she cannot find or afford those more vibrant neighborhoods.
Next comes Urban Journal by Mary Anna Towler. This editorial is entitled "This Divided Nation." After asking the question on many lips these days, "Where do we go from here?" she observes that she, like many Americans, lives and works in a bubble. This is where my "aha!" moment occurred: segregation.
We have been brainwashed to accentuate the positive, always. We have been brainwashed to live and socialize where we are comfortable and safe, with people like ourselves. We have been brainwashed to believe that those who are different are that way through choice or personal failure. And none of it has much to do with us or our lives.
This outlook makes it very difficult to see the apartment-seeker as connected to us. We do not see her as related, part of our human family. We do not see her as deserving of the same security and comforts we enjoy. In fact, we simply do not see her.
So I challenge Mayor Warren and Towler, along with all CITY readers, to consider that solving the problems of those struggling the hardest must be where we go from here. To ignore this and simply go on with our privileged daily lives makes each one of us complicit. It makes us more like our new president than we would ever care to admit. And it makes us foolish. For if and when our time comes, who will speak up for us?
No voice for children in county budget
We voted for a county government that told us that we could cap taxes without suffering. However, because of the tax cap and poor funding choices, 26,171 children live in poverty in our community (ACT Rochester, 2015). These children would completely fill Frontier Field two times. They are suffering.
Yet every year for the past five years, the county has paid nearly $5 million for homeless services with little difference in our homeless rates (Monroe County Housing/Homeless Services report, 2016).
I invite you to drill down and discover how this $5 million is spent. A proposed additional $100,000 would provide child care for only 10 of the 2,600 homeless families in Monroe County.
By itself, providing a bed in a shelter will not bring down the number of homeless families in our community. Without access to quality housing and child care, parents cannot work; without a job, parents cannot pay rent. It is no mystery how we are keeping families homeless. The real question is why are we keeping families homeless?
If we continue to do the same thing, we will continue to have the same result.
Urge our elected leaders to make different choices about funding child care subsidies and housing subsidies — choices to get families into housing and parents back to work and contributing to the tax base. Urge your county legislator to pass a budget that prioritizes lifting children out of poverty.
Children not counted
At the end of January, Monroe County conducted its federally mandated Point in Time count. Shelter providers, street outreach workers, and other agencies that provide homeless services counted how many people, sheltered and unsheltered, are homeless in Monroe County.
While multiple factors contribute to the accuracy of this count, there is one missing piece that should be a concern for all of us: the Rochester City School District homeless students and families program's 1,500 plus children.
In 2015, the total number of students enrolled in the program reached more than 2,200 by the end of the school year. Yet a shocking number of these students did not, for the sake of the PIT count, qualify as homeless.
Under the federal McKinney-Vento Act, which appropriates money to state shelters and assistance programs based on county-collected homeless counts, these students absolutely qualify as homeless. The act defines homelessness as an individual, family, or child who lacks a fixed, regular, and adequate nighttime residence.
The official explanation for this error is that the state, and therefore county, does not want to "double count" populations; however in doing so, an entire population of children in critical need is overlooked.
By taking this gross error into consideration, New York State and the City of Rochester can begin to amply treat the homelessness. The PIT count must open its eyes to our children who are most in need of being seen.
One of the most appalling ironies of the past presidential election is that the so-called party of small government apparently had no trouble accepting the help of the FBI and the Russian secret service in getting their man installed in the White House.
For the next four years, Vladimir Putin will be the elephant in the room of American democracy.