White water walking

When you walk, you see things.

I am trying to make more time to write. I feel like I am my own marionette, pulling myself through a fast-paced script for a faster-paced life. It’s like the rapids on a quick-moving river. You spend all your time balancing the raft, consumed by the experience and vivaciousness of the trip, that you don’t get a chance to sit back and appreciate the beauty of the rock formations the river cut. At the end of the day, I find myself laying next to my daughter in her absurdly scaled bed, snuggled, and falling asleep. We joke that she’s putting us to bed – we often forget to wake up after she falls asleep.

Well, looks like there’s finally someone with enough balls to take on the corrupt New York State officials. We’ve otherwise been Illinois without the consequences. This gives me hope. There are a few politicians I feel whose intentions are for the people – Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz come to mind – who have spoken against very popular politicians or entities when it was fit. Most politicians in NYS fall in the rank and file. Fearful of losing whatever power they have managed to acquire, those who should otherwise be rocking the boat carefully balance stones to ensure it never tips, and our politics remain corrupt.

I suppose the facet of our political culture that frustrates me the most is the dearth of truly brave leaders. And the tricky thing is that there is a fine line between bravery and foolishness. There’s a degree to which playing nice accomplishes your goals. There’s a degree to which your colleagues – fellow politicians – need to feel they can trust you. At the same time, there’s an obvious institutionalized complacence for inefficiency and often corruption. As if everyone gets so caught up in the minutiae of what they are doing, that they don’t take a step back and say, “Wait a minute!” Politics is known for being dirty for a reason, and it keeps reminding me why I’m registered as a Green.

I walked to an emergency shelter that I’d never visited before. The clients weren’t there, needing to be out during the day as per the shelter’s rules. I felt like I was intruding on private space, but it looked like a hotel before it was occupied – everything was crisp and clean. It wasn’t that far. I don’t walk as much as I did before moving to Buffalo again. I did not have a car nor a kid, and that facilitates long walks. When you walk, you slow down. You see things, notice buildings that were otherwise absent. Driving can be like experiencing the world through a tube – you see the bits on the outside ends, but not much in between. Even bicycling can blur your surroundings a bit, but to a much decreased extent. Pregnancy-related balance issues are keeping me off my bicycle. My schedule, and its tightness, keeps me driving. I’m not Percy Grainger; I can’t take hours and hours to walk. Though when I can, the world shrinks.

My sense of distance is still informed by not having a car, despite the fact that my family is currently in possession of two of them. When you don’t have a car, your world shrinks. Your activities might be mostly bound by where you can bike, where public transit can take you, and where you can walk. I rarely left the city of Seattle. I doubt I’d often leave the city of Buffalo if I didn’t have a car. Walking blocks can take some time – walking miles takes even more. Bicycles are often faster than buses, but they are still not entirely quick. I perceive the suburbs as being far away, though my husband works in one and drives there everyday. I still think of things in walking time. I don’t like going more than a couple miles from home. And that’s a thing I think people don’t understand about the car-free. You don’t get out very far, but you know everything within very very well.

Your life slows down when you don’t use a car.

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pplkpr and quantitizing relationships

Pplkpr. I’m only aware of it because David Cervi shared it on Twitter. It reminds me of the psychophysiology articles I used to read in undergrad for my psychology degree: the dependent variable was often measured by some sort of physical response. Heart rate was a common one. Sweating was another. Being that we are corporeal beings, our thoughts and emotions are physical manifestations that can be found in the body. The creators of this app took that information and tried to optimize it so that you could compare the physiological reactions you have to people and note trends – does someone make you feel terrible? Is someone boring? What about positive? Then, it premises that it would auto-schedule those into your life, or “pplkpr can compose text messages, invite people to hang out, or block or delete their contact. These actions will appear on your home screen as they happen.” This as fascinating to me as it is something I am entirely unlikely to use.

The site itself is a single page, with an FAQ at the bottom.

This isn’t dramatically different than what social scientists and big data folks do on a regular basis, which is to say that they are seeking ways to attach numbers and operationalize all facets of human behavior into something that is measurable. When it’s measurable, one can analyze it more effectively. Science requires that you take something like “love” and break it down into all of its facets. So when you say “love”, do you really mean feelings of warmth and attachment? How do we operationalize warmth and attachment? (It’s a fun exercise. I realize that one reason I use insult curse words so infrequently is because I am in the habit of describing exactly what bothers me about a person. Blanket terms suggesting that one is a lousy person are just too imprecise to be satisfying to me. Interjection cuss words, on the other hand…) The creators of the app are using changes in heart rate to operationalize strong feelings. They’ve needed to decide boundaries over what makes a change in heart rate a “strong” feeling – is it a change of 20 beats per minute? 15? And so forth. This is so fascinating to me.

With that said, the app itself is not something I see myself being likely to use. For one, I suspect the habit of mindfulness and self-awareness probably achieves the same goal as the app. Instead of numbers telling you that person X inspires strong feelings, you’re likely aware of it from remembering the experience. Making decisions to hang out with someone more frequently or less frequently based on how you react is a purely utilitarian approach to relationships that does not correspond with how we decide who will be in our company. Read Twitter before Thanksgiving, see how folks are lamenting spending time with some of their relatives, and you’ll get what I mean. Many of our social companions are from some other interpersonal calculus. Another example: I really like my coworkers, but that’s not a universal experience by any stretch of the imagination.

Some relationships exist solely out of a pursuit of happiness. If a party does not feel happy, I suspect it may not be a lack-of-information issue. Perhaps it is a denial issue, or an issue of a lack of empowerment and self-confidence, or an abusive or manipulative relationship. All of these keep people from acting in their best interests, or best interest as defined by this app: maximizing positivity. We don’t always make the best decisions. Data alone is rarely sufficiently persuasive in the face of habits or interpersonal decisions. I’m a data nerd who is aware of this and my friends could tell you about times where I maintained relationships despite overwhelming information that it was unwise. We all have somebody in our lives that was hard to give up. So I’m not convinced that the app’s information would be necessarily used in the rational ways the creators designed it, especially if we make poor decisions in a context of information overload.

And then there is this: This is an art project, but it is also something that fits in with the ways that parts of our society are trying to use technology to solve all of its problems. Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages suggests that the goal of the twenties and thirties is to wrestle the conflict between intimacy and isolation. In some ways this means finding a partner, and in other ways it means learning to relate. The pplkpr app is a very technical solution to that problem. And why would this be surprising? Technology is just one variety of tool, and humans are noted among animals precisely because we build our tools and rely upon them to solve our problems. I suppose what I find so interesting here is that social tools are becoming tangible objects instead of bodies of knowledge. Social skills are real skills, the knowledge of how to talk to folks and what to say. If you are building a house, you need a hammer, a physical implement to move other physical implements. The skill there is in how to hold it, and how to swing it. Here, you are using physical implements and math to solve a problem that is far more intangible – human interactions.

It is very fascinating.

But you won’t see me using the app.

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Crepes

The truth of the matter is that I enjoy making crepes more than I enjoy eating them. That’s not to suggest that I dislike crepes: quite the contrary. Since I initially learned to make them in Russia in 2009, I’d been craving their savory and sweet combinations. My first attempt in the States was a failure – an equipment issue, as I recall. I didn’t have any flat bottomed skillets. With a whole world of other potential culinary adventures, I forgot about crepes. Then I became vegan, and figured it was a lost cause.

Not making crepes often means not eating crepes because it is not common to find them at restaurants in the United States, at least the parts of America that I find myself frequenting. A quick search of Yelp finds only a handful of places on my side of the Niagara River; at least crepes of the European sort. I kept thinking that I would make my way to the cafe on Parkside Ave which sells them, deferring it in the way you do when something has no deadline and no particular urgency. (Ask the average Buffalonian how often they go to Niagara Falls. I reckon you’ll get an answer varying from “never” to “every time my relatives visit”.) The prices were around $4.50-8 for something I know is much, much cheaper to make. Russians, as known as they are for their caviar, tend to eat inexpensively. Then I had a really mediocre experience at its non-crepe sister cafe. So, I figured it was time to try making them myself again.

It was ultimately an impulse decision on a rainy day. I grabbed my husband’s welding glove, our fish spatula, and our cast-iron skillet. I grabbed my mother’s old Betty Crocker book, my go-to for all classic foods, and found a recipe. My refrigerator was completely lacking in milk but had powdered buttermilk, so I made that substitution. I whisked together the ingredients, buttered the pan, poured on the thin batter, and tilted the heavier-than-crepe-pans cast-iron skillet. I waited. I wasn’t sure. I know from my Russian cooking instructor that the first crepe is a sacrifice. This one didn’t make my memory of his lesson a liar. It was soggy in butter, flimsy, and broken. The second one, benefiting from a more seasoned pan and more seasoned baker, came out perfectly. My right wrist would need to build some muscle, but I had this.

I’d played with the recipe. What happens when you run out of buttermilk, and still don’t have milk? What if you grind your oatmeal into a flour? Yesterday, I realized that veganizing the recipe wouldn’t be too hard. I could replace the milk with a substitute, the eggs with flax “eggs”, and the butter with coconut oil. Add some nutmeg and almond extract and boom. And some extra water, because flax left standing will bind more. Veganizing the recipe was purely for the challenge. I do not know any vegans in Buffalo to cook for. I am not vegan anymore. I still have a vegan-compatible pantry, but it’s not exactly a cheaper way to cook.

Truth it, I find making crepes more satisfying than eating them. My life is blessed with an abundance with delicious food. Crepes aren’t special in that regard. This recipe requires that I step back from what is turning out to be a very busy phase of life, focus on the skillet for a little bit. I can’t step away. I can’t try to multi-task. I have to watch, focus, and be there. I can create something which feeds the rest of my family. I cannot deny the satisfaction of success after a “F-it, I’ll do it myself,” moment.

Presence of mind and a freedom from distraction are proving more elusive than I would have expected, at least as I was foreseeing my life at a younger age. I’m recognizing a greater need to be intentional about staying in the moment as well as being aware of the clock and schedules.

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One Word: Intention

Another year. Thankfully I am still alive and healthy enough to observe it, and my life is as such that there’s barely any reason to find that notable. I am not into resolutions for the new year. It’s a nice concept, but I am efficacious enough that when something small bugs me, or I sense a need for a specific behavioral change, I just pursue it. Instead, I’ve made the habit of taking part in One Word. It is a yearlong focus on a theme summarized by one single word. In theory, you could write about it. In practice, the word stays in the back of my head, as it is something that I know needs attention.

The word I chose for 2014 was “direction”. I wrote this:

I have been unmoored the last few months. While uncertainty has not been scaring me, and I have chosen to embrace this state of life, I have been drifting in the open waters. It is one part indecision, one part being overtaken by a new phase of life, and one part trying to coordinate in this interdependent web that I exist in. At this point, I suspect I may need to practice greater intentionality and fearlesssness. Come 2015, I may have a different conclusion.

Un-moored indeed. At the time, my husband, daughter, and I were residing in my parents’ home with my other siblings, attempting to get established in New York State. I had started a small business copyediting, and I was tutoring math on the side. Will hadn’t found work yet. Since then, I saw the copyediting grow, I branched into content writing, and then took on fewer jobs when I found full-time work. In March, we moved to Buffalo. The markers of instability we had throughout the year (feast or famine part-time work, low-pay self employment, a derelict car) were replaced with stability (apartment of our own, functioning cars, good work). It’s such a remarkably different place. I see a concrete future, I have goals, and I have accomplishments already. I feel successful in creating and pursuing a meaningful direction.

This year, I choose intention as my One Word. I feel like I’m being pulled through my days. When the daylight occupied more hours, and we were able to spend evenings at the park, life was slower and I felt like I could stop and smell the roses, and think a bit. I am pregnant now, Will takes night classes, and in the struggle to fight fatigue, I have myopically focused on getting the immediate tasks done and I am losing sight of the big picture in my personal life. With the impending birth of my son mid-year, I expect the chaos to increase and that mindfulness will be a very necessary part of life.

Folks in Buffalo have been incredibly kind to me since I have come back. My supervisors at work give me many opportunities to try new things. People think of me when interesting opportunities arrive. I had the chance to do some interesting things, a couple of which landed my picture in the local newspaper. I could not have asked for a warmer welcome. So with that in mind, I am trying to be mindful about which opportunities I pursue and looking for opportunities to be generous to others. I have a lot to pay forward.

Truly though, this one word is inspired by my relationship with my daughter. Parenting is exciting. It provides ceaseless opportunities to problem-solve conundrums that I otherwise had little reason to expect. One consequence of aging and West Coast living is that I have become quite easy going, and have far fewer preset opinions on how I want things to be. The ones I do have are pretty strict, mostly entailing boundaries, respect, and how I will tolerate people treating myself or others. IE- things that inform my activism. The rest of my life? Uh, well… sure. I don’t generally have strong opinions on aesthetics, what to have for dinner, or how other people conduct their lives (presuming it does not harm others).

This means that I am doing a lot of improvisation in the moment with my daughter. Am I OK with her doing X, Y, or Z? It didn’t previously occur to me that she would try X, Y, or Z. What are the consequences of pursuing all of these options. Uh… *decision*. I worry that I may be a bit too permissive in this process. With that said, she’s generally reasonably well-behaved in public places and she is only a year and a half. I have the big-picture goal set: I want my children to be kind, empathetic, efficacious, just, and independent members of society. Translating that to the immediate minutiae of circumstances and ensuring it conforms to reasonable expectations relevant to my kid’s development is a trick on the fly. Of course, all parents wing-it. I just want to be more mindful while I am in the process of winging it.

Finally, my spiritual life has been lacking, due to the aforementioned lack of space to stop and breathe. I feel very connected to the world around me, but not as much to creation. This is different than how I felt in Seattle, where I loved but felt a bit distant from the city, but felt more at home with life itself. I love Buffalo. I feel like I belong here. I feel like this city is a worthwhile target of my energy. By and large, I really enjoy the people and the land. I have been thinking less about the bigger picture things which consumed my younger years. I have been choosing to go to bed instead of writing or reading because of fatigue. I find that my energy is often consumed by practical matters (ie, child-rearing), so I have a bit less leisure to pursue the top of Maslow’s hierarchy. This is fine, but a thing to think about.

I obviously started considering the circumstances listed above, and acting accordingly. Intention is a more static version of direction. I am not seeking to change paths, as I was last year, but I am seeking to ensure that all of my energy and actions fit into the larger picture that I am aiming to pursue. This means I need to define that picture more clearly, and discern the smaller aspects of it.

2014 treated me kindly. I hope I can treat 2015 just as well. Thanks for reading what was likely one of the more boring posts on this blog :)

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When Power Intersects a Lack of Consequences

The news made me sick, revealing some lingering belief I had in American exceptionalism. I exaggerate not: for a week after the release of the CIA torture report, I had a bloodless feeling in my limbs. That is how I physically experience shame. Due to my profession, I am pretty good at compartmentalizing. With Ferguson, the Eric Garner case, Tamir Rice, and the CIA report, I found myself in a state of perpetual distraction. I thought we’d be better than this. And my outrage is one of ideals: I am white, I am American by birth, and I am unlikely to be a target of any of these things due to my position of privilege. It can only be a lack of empathy that leads anyone to believe one shouldn’t be protesting or rioting. What else do people all around the world do when they completely lose faith in, and feel powerless in the face of, their government?

If you learn about Russia, you learn about its rich tradition of unchecked authority. It is presented in American books as if it were something dramatically different from the American tradition of government, which prides itself on limits. I am learning that these limits are more reputation than truth. We all read the horrors in the CIA torture report. It details how we absolutely brutalized our fellow human beings, because we believed we are more special than human rights are important. We broke and killed. I personally could not care less if information we received was useful or not – that’s beyond the point. We became monsters in the pursuit of monsters. We already lost.

No one will be held accountable. Had a private citizen engaged in the actions that the government did (and there has been at least one in every place I’ve lived), and they were caught, they’d be subjected to a trial, perhaps a conviction, and a prison or death sentence. But the government can commit atrocity without consequence. It seems a private citizen can torture as long as they are a part of the government.

Impunity is not limited to the federal government. I can’t help but see the CIA’s torture program and the police brutality and subsequent lack of accountability in New York City, Ferguson, and nearly everywhere else as shades of the same color. (It happens in Buffalo too, though it is not generally publicized.) In all cases, the people who were targeted are perceived as lesser-than-human by the majority, a population that is feared due to prejudice, and the perpetrators are in a position of power. Those who are not in power, and not members of the feared groups, are too willing to accept the phrases of justification by power. So whereas the Soviet Union could brutalize its people because those in power would kill their detractors, the United States can brutalize its and other’s people because not enough of its citizens object to such measures. It is hard to tell which is worse.

Though I am not naive enough to believe we are better than that, I really wanted to be.

So now what do we do? Of course the head of our government, the president, would advocate for change using the government, but the unchecked authority appears to be a part of the problem. The relative disempowerment of those who are not wealthy is a problem. The disenfranchisement of those with criminal convictions is a problem. We have a government that is not representative of its people, and it has unchecked authority to be brutal. So now what?

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The Letter I Sent to WIVB

Update: They listened to us, and did a follow up story in which they interviewed my boss at the Homeless Alliance. I personally would argue that it’s not a great story, but kudos to them in talking to advocates this time.

Emailed to stationmanager@wivb.com.

To the Station Manager:

On October 21, I was working at the Buffalo-Niagara Convention Center with representatives of nearly all the other homelessness alleviation service providers (75+!) in the Buffalo area. It was a great event, with 700 homeless and poor individuals attending so that they could get needed services such as medical care, hair cuts, housing information, legal services, HIV/AIDS testing, dental services, and a hot meal. I was supervising a team of Daemen College social work students who were surveying homeless people about their experiences. Most of these students described the experience as “eye-opening” and “not what they expected”. You see, homelessness is misunderstood. Most people resort to stereotypes when they think of homeless people, and actually talking to those experiencing that circumstance opens their eyes.

I work for the Homeless Alliance of Western New York, a research and policy organization that takes a systemic, bird’s eye view of homelessness in Erie and Niagara Counties. It is our business to know about homelessness, about the services available to help them, and to make sure they are helping clients. This means asking them – which we were doing at Project Homeless Connect.

It was an extraordinary and infuriating disappointment to see this story – and even more so to see that you deleted the comments of anyone who has more expertise than a prejudice-informed opinion on the subject. In fact, the logistics of finding an expert on the subject of homelessness – who are homeless people and homeless service providers – was easier than it is 364 days of the year. But your reporter could not be bothered.

I moved back to Buffalo in March. Now I know not to rely on your news station for anything fair or balanced.

So you are aware, most of the pan handlers are not homeless. We know this because homeless outreach teams connected with them – and do so repeatedly – but most have addresses and are housed. This is something your reporter would have discovered if they fact checked their article. The term “vagrant” is considered offensive by most people with an education, and your reporter would have been wise to omit it. Surely you wouldn’t refer to Italian or Indian immigrants as WOPs, right? It’s similar. A night of jail costs approximately $125 per night and makes it harder for someone to leave homelessness, as they have a criminal record in addition to a lack of housing. Permanent supportive housing costs $50 per night and actually gets people off the streets. All of these would have been known had your reporter researched their article beyond interviewing a rich downtown resident.

If your reporter was nervous about talking to someone who is homeless, I can assure you that walking up and being polite will be as successful as it would be with anyone who has a stable residence. I do it. I suppose that was the most disappointing part of the article – watching someone with a platform neglect to do the simple things I do on a daily basis, disparaging the city residents who are the most dis-empowered and have the least ability to defend themselves.

Please reconsider your coverage of homelessness in the future. My office is more than happy to provide any background information that you need to contextualize and give nuance to your reports, so you can avoid further embarrassment to your professional integrity in the future.

Sincerely,

Christine Slocum
(address, job title, and contact info)
—-

This is important because prejudice-filled opinions of homeless people are used to justify criminalizing the behaviors they need to survive. For more on this, read No Safe Place. When news agencies report as if homeless people are animals, dehumanizing legislative practices are easier to pursue and acquire an ill-informed air of virtue. Beyond that, downtown is for all Buffalo residents, not just the rich ones.

UPDATE: Here is the response I got. This was the canned response sent to everyone who emailed WIVB.

I am responding to your email regarding our coverage of the Main St. businessman complaining about vagrants and panhandlers loitering outside businesses and apartments.

I completely understand your sensitivity to the issue, but our reporter provided a clear and balanced story on the issue.

The interview subject is a respected homeowner and business owner in the area. He is far from the only person maintaining the opinion he presented in our story. Several other residents and workers shared similar opinions with our reporter before the interview, during the interview, and after the story aired. They were not willing to go on camera however, because it is a sensitive topic, and they feared a backlash such as you voiced in your email.

If you read the comments posted under the story you will see many other viewers hold the same opinion.

We specifically used the term “vagrants” because we were uncertain if all the people described by our interview subject were, in fact, people who are commonly called “homeless” in modern vernacular. Webster’s Dictionary describes a vagrant as:
One who has no established residence and wanders idly from place to place without lawful or visible means of support. A wanderer, a rover.

In only one sentence during our report did the reporter use the term homeless and that instance referenced the city’s efforts to assist them:
“A BPD spokesman says the detail to address vagrant people includes the main street and downtown area and does include foot patrols.
Police work with outreach agencies to help the homeless get the help they need.”

Every year, WIVB broadcasts several stories on homeless advocacy. I assure you we will continue. In this particular instance our report told an often unspoken view of the issue.

Our television station takes its role in the community seriously. Our mandate is to discuss all sides of controversial issues. That coverage provides an opportunity for public discourse that hopefully results in actions that improve the lives of all the people who live in our community.

That is why I appreciate hearing from you and respect you for taking the time to communicate your thoughts.

Peter Jacobus
News Director
WIVB

Here is my response:

Hello Peter,

I am aware this is the same response that you send to everyone.

How unfortunate that you did not have the cultural awareness beyond your dictionary for the term “vagrant”. This would have been easily remedied with more research. It’s also too bad you didn’t look into how those police patrols work, how frequently the police meet with homeless outreach workers (here’s a hint: not very frequently).

It’s hardly courageous to take the normative opinion, that homeless people are a problem, claim it is unspoken and broadcast it. It is not an unspoken opinion – it’s the one most people have. You did not present all sides. All sides includes talking to the disparaged population. You clearly don’t get it. This is a shame.

Feel free to contact the Homeless Alliance if your idea of “fair and balanced” includes all sides of a story.

Sincerely,

Christine Slocum

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The letter I am sending the city regarding the Green Code

This is the letter I am sending the Buffalo Green Code developers regarding the human service facilities. You can send your comments to info@buffalogreencode.com. Feel free to plagiarize ideas, but I do request you don’t take the entire letter as people don’t read block letters.

As a commentor noted in the last post, this ordinance exists in the current Buffalo code. I asked around about the backstory regarding this code, and was told that it was a temporary ordinance that simply never expired. It was supposed to be temporary pending a study on non-profit concentration that was never accomplished.

Dear Green Code Developers:

By an large, you are to be commended for taking a large and unwieldy land use code and condensing it into a briefer, largely more logical set of regulations. To that end, thank you for the time and diligence that you have put into developing it.

I write with specific criticisms regarding the Human Service Facilities permit regulations. I am disappointed to see a temporary ordinance from the late 1990s, which was not based on evidence or clearly defined terms, further codified into the green code. This is a blatantly discriminatory regulation, and I am surprised that it has not been challenged legally in the time that it was enacted.

The language is vague and sets an unreasonable burden to human service providers, some of whom tend to be low-cash operations. For instance, I cannot find a study or evidence that there is a “concentration” of human service facilities. This would be a relatively easy study for the city to do (take addresses, put them in GIS), except for one facet: you would have to define what you consider a concentration. Is it three such facilities per block? Is it three such facilities per half square mile? Is it three such facilities per city? As a concentration is not defined, an over-concentration is not defined either. (My attempts to search for the topic pulled up academic concentrations – this appears to be language unique to the city of Buffalo and as far as established by the city, is not informed by any best practice). Such vague language gives a project’s detractors grounds for rejecting it without providing a concrete vision for what the city is attempting to accomplish.

I am also concerned that “adverse impact” is vacuous language that conveys neither vision of what the city wants to be, nor examples of what the city is trying to avoid. What is considered adverse? Neighbors in the Beaumaris/Woodette/Elmview neighborhood considered the development of a former factory into the now much-loved Wegmans as having a potentially adverse impact on the neighborhood, because they preferred vacant land behind their property. Some folks consider living near a park undesirable, because they do not want a place for people to congregate near their home. My point is that without a definition, “adverse impact” can simply mean “change” and anyone who is opposed to any change in their neighborhood would use that line to deter any development. That the language is used, as far as I read, exclusively with Human Service Facilities is troubling to me.

In addition, suggesting that such a facility cannot change a neighborhood (which is what the “adverse impact” language does) and also stating that such facilities cannot be placed in neighborhoods that wouldn’t be changed due to a preexisting presence of human service facilities suggests that the writers of the code wish to make the entire city of Buffalo unsuitable for these facilities. The way the code is written, a human service facility may be rejected due to undefined proximity to another facility, or because a neighborhood has none. This is troubling to me. 5,754 people were homeless in Erie County in 2013, 81% of them in the city of Buffalo. The poverty rate for children is 50.6%. Buffalo has problems with hunger, homelessness, and poverty. This ordinance targets all of the facilities which serve the most vulnerable populations, and makes it difficult for them to exist. Our poverty and hunger problems will not cease because we are not coping with them. There is no other community that we can push our vulnerable on. We need to solve our own social problems because they will not go away, and threaten the revitalization of Buffalo as a whole. Hungry people make poor potential employees.

I fear that the process to create such a facility is overly burdensome to some of the providers covered. For instance, food pantry and soup kitchen operations vary from well-funded, well-staffed, somewhat sophisticated operations to volunteer-run efforts sponsored by churches or other organizations whose primary endeavors are not soup kitchens or food pantries. These are low-cash operations that can do a lot of good for a neighborhood’s struggling residents. I would hate to see a church group dissuaded from starting a Saturday morning meal operation from their kitchen because no one feels they have the savvy to appeal to the planning board, the city council, and the zoning board of appeals. No other permit would require so many governing bodies. I noticed that state entities were exempt, but churches were not. Homeless shelters also run the gamut from professional organizations to volunteer-run ones. All of them are full in the city of Buffalo, and all play a role in meeting our state-constitutional requirement to provide shelter to all homeless residents. When they are full, the county places homeless people in hotels at significant expense. It is cheaper to the taxpayer to have shelters. The city’s residents still pay county taxes.

Nonprofits are like any other business entity in that they choose their location based on the place they can best operate logistically and efficiently serve their clients. Their clients are among the neediest, most vulnerable residents of the city of Buffalo. This ordinance creates criteria that is neither friendly to the recovery of their clients, nor does it facilitate the service facility’s function.

The city of Buffalo is participating in a consolidated plan to end chronic homelessness by 2016. This requires having beds and facilities to house the chronically homeless, who tend to have higher medical needs. The city is working against its other goals by making such efforts more difficult and costly for our community’s non-profits to pursue. We are getting close to success, and it would be a shame if the codification of this temporary ordinance erased that possibility.

Overall, it seems obvious to me that the human services facilities permit is unwise, unclear, and counter-productive to developing Buffalo into a prosperous city. All prosperous cities still have poverty and hunger. It is a consequence of capitalism. The successful ones (Seattle, San Francisco, New York City) have extensive infrastructure to cope with the problem. I fear that further codifying this ordinance is a step in the wrong direction. In the least case, it should be revised to remove language of concentration, specify and define its terms, and the procedure should be revised to include fewer governing bodies.

In the best case, human service facilities would be treated like any other business and given an identical permitting process to other potentially disruptive developments such as bars, restaurants, and commercial businesses.

Thank you for your time,

Christine Slocum
(address)
(phone number)

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