Web Essay: Homeless protests ‘just the beginning’
Sister Grace Miller, Guest Essayist
Monroe County’s government sunk to a new low in arresting advocates and constituents who were simply looking to work with government to solve one of the county’s most grave and pressing issues — sheltering the street homeless before the winter.
On Sept. 15, a group of about 35 people came to the Monroe County Office Building to meet with County Executive Maggie Brooks to work together to solve the homeless crisis in Monroe County. Even if she was not present, we were willing to establish a meeting with her later in the week. We spoke with Monroe County Director of Public Safety David Moore and he informed us he would see if a meeting could be scheduled be back within 20 minutes. He never returned and instead ordered officers to start arresting protesters in the building even if they were not being disruptive.
I, along with and Ryan Acuff and Tom Malthaner went into the of Department of Human Services office at the Monroe County Office Building to ask to reschedule the meeting that had been canceled with the Commissioner of Human Services Kelly Reed. We left a message for her and were waiting in the chairs in the office for a call back. Just five minutes later, a Monroe County sergeant informed us that if we waited in the Department of Human Services we would be arrested. I and Tom were then arrested when we stayed. Even though Ryan was leaving and videotaping the arrests, he was slammed on the ground and arrested. All three of us were charged with criminal trespass in the third degree for being in a public office building exercising our rights.
Although Monroe County claims its homeless services are already sufficient and “is proud of its work,” we are wondering why it’s so afraid to meet with advocates from the House of Mercy and St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality — which combined have 104 years of experience serving the homeless in Rochester.
If their services are already sufficient why were there 30 to 40 people sleeping in a garage every night in Monroe County (before they were locked out on Aug. 21)? And why are so many residents still sleeping in parks and on the street? If their services are already sufficient why are they unable to release their plan to house all the homeless in Monroe County? If their services are sufficient why are Monroe County shelters full almost every night? If the current services are sufficient why are about 30 percent of emergency housing placements made at the Hotel Cadillac at a cost to the taxpayer of about $1 million a year?
If the research shows that housing first and shelter first models are the most effective methods of alleviating homelessness and HUD is recommending it as a best practice, why is the county fighting us in implementing HUD’s recommendations and insinuating that the research-based approaches we are recommending actually encourage “illegal drug and alcohol abuse”?
If enough of us come forward and demand answers, we will not only get answers but decisive action from our county government. This is our fourth protest of the county’s policies in the last four weeks, but it is just the beginning.
You cannot put handcuffs on the spirit of compassion, generosity and justice. This is the essence of our community from the time of Frederick Douglass to now. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. Animated by our spiritual and moral beliefs, our campaign of nonviolent direct action will continue until all our brothers and sisters are taken care of. Everybody in, nobody out.