Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Thank You Oshkosh!

The Salvation Army bell-ringing campaign has exceeded its goal. Over $113,000 was collected in those familiar red kettles. Captain Johnny Harsh informed me that the goal this Christmas season was $100,000. He told me to tell everyone: "THANK YOU"! He also notes that every penny collected here stays right in Oshkosh.

The top bell-ringer volunteer this year was Bob Henning who was responsible for over $12,000 of that total. Bob has collected something on the order of $85,000 in donations over the years he has volunteered. Bob has my vote as 'Someone who makes a Difference' in this city.

The overall budget for the local Salvation Army is $480,000. Anyone who wishes to make a late contribution may do so at the office on Algoma Blvd. across from the Courthouse.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wisconsin's Largest Homeless Shelter? Empty?

I have some good news today about Peter Gruenberg. Pete's story can be read in the recent post on your right titled Homeless in Oshkosh.

After being unceremoniously kicked out of Father Carr's Place 2B Shelter Pete walked to the Salvation Army on a bum leg. The Salvation Army put up Pete in a local motel for a couple of nights. Captain Johnny Harsh attempted to get Pete enrolled in a six month employment program that the Milwaukee Salvation Army runs. That program was full, there was an opening in the shelter at Appleton, and Captain Johnny personally drove Pete there. Captain Johnny talked with a representative of the Appleton Salvation Army some days ago and asked about Pete. Pete was no longer at the shelter. He found a job shortly after arriving in Appleton and moved into an apartment just days ago. A paycheck and a warm bed is a good ending, a bit bittersweet, but a Hell of a lot better than being under the bridge in Oshkosh.

I was asked to find Pete's address. I'll work on that. Regulars at American Family Table on Main want to keep in touch with him. I will bet Pete's still got the mustache!

There has been a buzz of activity in the last weeks regarding housing and the homeless. Mr. Rieckman from the Northwestern was already on the subject weeks back. The Northwestern had put out feelers to some members of the Winnebagoland Housing Coalition. My last blog struck a nerve with many readers including Mr. Rieckman. Congrats go to Alex Hummel for his series of articles on poverty. I'm looking forward to the Northwestern's investigation of Father Carr's Place 2B. I have given my personal info. to the Northwestern and offered to put them in touch with people who are really living 'on the edge'. They don't have phones, and frequently move from one person's sofa to another's basement. The people who are in these dire straits are our concern. (Will the residents of Appleton be accusing Oshkosh of 'dumping' their homeless there?)

Please note that six people were staying at Father Carr's last Tuesday. Also note that the Fond du Lac Shelter, the two Appleton shelters, and the shelter in Green Bay are busting at the seams. Need I say more?

Thanks goes to Miles McGuire at Oshkosh News who posted a link to Father Carr's tax return and named his Board of Directors on Oshblog. Tony Palmeri has a lot of traffic on his site and I truly appreciate that he has linked this blog. Both Tony and Miles asked me if Alex Hummel had contacted me. He still hasn't.

Unintended consequences...?

A side story worth mentioning is that several citizens in our community who don't read well and have extremely poor computer skills are suddenly taking an interest in reading, sharpening up their computer skills, and in some cases are even learning to post comments on blogs. This may not sound like much to you or I, but to them it is an absolute revelation that they can put their personal thoughts out to the community. The local Literacy Council should be smiling about this. I am.

I will continue to write on this subject. I don't feel enough is being done in the media. Oshkosh contains what quite possibly be the largest single homeless shelter in the state of Wisconsin. Underutilized is a nice word. It had six residents the other night. Check the place for lights when you drive by. Will the Post Crescent, the Journal Sentinel, or Madison's Capital Times beat the Northwestern to this story?

Sunday, December 04, 2005

No Room at the Inn

A sigh of relief was what I felt last spring when the weather warmed and no one in Oshkosh had frozen to death. What will happen this winter? A few weeks ago a fellow in town woke up to a 17-degree temperature in the back of a pickup truck (not his) and hung up his camping experience and is now staying in someone's basement. Today's column is about the homeless problem in Oshkosh. It is not about medical clinics. It is not about free meal programs for the poor. It is about housing for the homeless. This is not a rant about Father Carr's Place 2B Ltd., but it will be an eye-opener. Serious problems need to be addressed and it is my hope that my words today will lead the way to a community-wide discussion.

Appleton has two homeless shelters. They run at near capacity in the winter months. The staff at these shelters must cringe when a homeless person dropped at their door declares they are from Oshkosh. They know about that giant monolith of a shelter in Oshkosh visible to all who travel Hy.41. They also know that almost all of the (approx.) 180 rooms are vacant on a cold night in January.

Father Carr's Place 2B Ltd. is that mega-complex homeless shelter visible from the highway next to KMart. Father Carr collected over $1.1 million in contributions from donors last year. What those donors don't realize is that the shelter is virtually empty every night of the year. Father Carr, with a net worth of just under $5 million, houses almost no one. You can check these figures by going here and typing in: Father Carr's Place 2B Ltd.
You can check on attendance at the shelter visually anytime you are in that neighborhood.

People who recently received a fund-raising letter from him should note two items which are glaringly absent. Nowhere can the words 'Roman Catholic Church' be found. Nowhere in that letter can 'Diocese of Green Bay' be found. It is apparent to me that he has no oversight from a parent organization. I will hereby refer to him in this article as Mr. Carr (with no disrespect to his background).

The federal housing agency HUD takes a survey every year in order to allocate funds to various agencies which help the homeless. ADVOCAP in Oshkosh is one of those. In order to complete the HUD report, private shelters such as Father Carr's are asked to supply a simple report which includes the number of beds and the number of current clients. Mr. Carr has ignored this survey in the past with the result that ADVOCAP and other groups may have lost out on receiving funds they might have been entitled to. Mr. Carr recently has verbally agreed to allow this survey to be completed for the next reporting cycle. This is an encouraging sign. I hope he follows through.

Mr. Carr routinely tosses clients out on their ear for no apparent reason. He states that he runs an emergency shelter. An emergency might be three days or a week. We must take him at his word. Does Oshkosh need a 180-bed emergency shelter?

A fellow in town who I will refer to as Accordion Man has experience with Mr. Carr and also with the shelters in Appleton. He tells me that in Appleton during the orientation he was told that the shelter would work with him and that he would stay 'as long as it takes' to iron out his problems and find housing. He said they held up their end of the bargain. He did find a job and the shelter assisted him until he was able to rent a place.

Transitional housing...
The Appleton shelters provide emergency housing. It is apparent to me that they also provide transitional housing. Mr. Carr does not provide transitional housing in Oshkosh.

Clients not only need to find work, they need to build up a nest egg. Many landlords want the first month's rent, the last month's rent, and a security deposit. Many clients also have obligations such as child support, fines, and past due power and light bills. This is what transitional housing is about. FATHER CARR'S PLACE 2B DOES NOT PROVIDE TRANSITIONAL HOUSING.

The nicest thing that I can say is Mr. Carr is not getting the job done.

Many well meaning churches and individuals contribute to this shelter every year and are under the impression that the job is getting done. Grab your phone and call a member of the clergy right now. Ask them what to do about a homeless person. They will invariably say: "Our church donates to Father Carr's. Give him a call." Mr. Carr however is not doing what these well meaning folks think he is. Mr. Carr is collecting donations and running an empty emergency shelter.
Here is my suggestion. Mr. Carr is not going to change his way of doing things any time soon. Please direct your contributions regarding the homeless to other agencies. The first ones that come to mind would be the Salvation Army and the Christine Ann Center. They need the cash to put people up in area motels and also to transport clients to shelters in other cities.
What can you do?
Pass on this link electronically or in hard copy to a neighbor or friend who belongs to another church. Urge the Northwestern or the Post Crescent or the Valley Scene to do a feature on this subject. I profess limited knowledge on this subject but at the same time I can clearly see the problems. I of course welcome comments on this blog. I have already had a public comment from Eye on Oshkosh and Tony Palmeri has expressed an interest. I didn't write this to damn Mr. Carr. I want input and conversation that works toward solutions. Please direct the comments toward housing. Comments on medical clinics and free meals for the poor belong in another column.
Still thirsty for more? Check out Prof. Dennis P. Culhane:

Mr. Culhane has been doing extensive research on the homeless. He does this big time in places such as the Big Apple. Some high points...

  • 40% of those entering the shelter system in New York City have passed through other institutions such as hospitals, detox, jails, foster care and the like.
  • Many are recycled through those institutions again and again.
  • The chronic homeless in New York City cost an average of $40,000 per year, per person to shuffle through these various institutions.

Mr Culhane has come to the conclusion that it might be cheaper to GIVE free housing to many of these folks along with adequate supervision. It would be cheaper than the alternative.

Peace. ---Oh yes: Merry Christmas.