Monthly Archives: February 2012

An Invitation to a Town Hall Meeting

February 4th, 2012

 

Dear friends,

I received this invitation from the City of Athens (see below) to speak at the next Town Hall meeting for 3 minutes on Tuesday February 7th @ 6:30 pm.

I am not able to attend this meeting.

I am writing to ask you to SPEAK UP for those who are not able to speak for themselves: the 142 people (including 65 children) who we turned away from the Timothy House last year because of lack of space.

We have asked city officials for help in addressing the struggle of people who are without homes but they have remained silent.  I feel like they want to frame this as a Good Works problem but the fact that our fellow citizens don’t have a place to sleep at night is a community problem that all of us should be concerned about.

On two occasions in 2011, I personally asked our Mayor Paul Wiehl to have a conversation with the Safety Service Director and the City Planner in order to identify areas of our city where Good Works could legally relocate to serve the growing number of people without homes.  The response has been silence.

 Last year, I attended the February 1st Town Hall Meeting and spoke about these concerns, but no verbal or written reply was provided at the June follow-up meeting when the city responded to the other matters citizens brought forth. 

WE are not asking the city of Athens for money. We are asking for justice.

Since we are not allowed to serve the increasing number of people without homes in Athens and the city refuses to step in and provide shelter for them, I believe this is an injustice.  Honestly, I need to be persuaded that those with power actually care.  I want to believe they care but as we turn away family after family, I’m having a hard time believing that those with the power to do something actually care about the people who are so vulnerable.

The city’s Zoning Code was written in the 1960s.  It does not allow for homes like the Timothy House in Athens.  There is no place we can locate without some kind of zoning variance.  In my view, the code itself has discriminated against people in poverty.  Unlike a local business, which could locate in a zone for businesses in Athens, there is no such zone for organizations like Good Works who provide housing for people who are indigent.  The only way for us to relocate is to appeal to the Zoning Board of Appeals for each property we want to explore.  This process is costly in time and money.

In the fall of 2007, we appealed to the Zoning Board of Appeals for permission to purchase the house next door to the Timothy House in order to provide increased capacity and care for families with children.  This request was denied.  The following year, 26 local ministers wrote a Pastoral Letter to the city of Athens asking the city to find a way to address the problem of homelessness.  To my knowledge, this letter was met with silence.

Therefore, I am asking you to attend this meeting for the sake of those who cannot speak up for themselves.

Here are the facts:

  • In 2008, we served and cared for 168 people and turned away 80 because of lack of space. 
  • In 2009, we served and cared for 143 people and turned away 36 because of lack of space.
  • In 2010, we served and cared for 150 people and turned away 86 because of lack of space.  
  • In 2011, we provided 156 people with shelter and turned away 142 because of lack of space (this includes 65 children).

 

I am not trying to vilify the people who volunteer to serve on the Zoning Board of Appeals.  Hear me again: the Zoning Code was written in the 1960’s, way before we had students living off campus, and a long time before our community was faced with the needs of those without a place to sleep because poverty moved them to a situation of homelessness.

The code provides NO PLACE for organizations like Good Works to locate.  That is the primary reason that My Sister’s Place had to sue the city when they were denied a Zoning Variance.  It was only through a lawsuit that they obtained the legal right to operate their shelter in the location they now exist in.

Most recently, I have written to our whole community in the form of a Letter to the Editor explaining the difficulty the Good Works community is having as we are forced to turn away people we cannot accommodate due to lack of space.  In December 2011, the Athens News and the Athens Messenger both wrote front-page articles on the situation that Good Works is now experiencing.

So, would you raise your voice by attending this meeting and speak for 3 minutes on behalf of those who are not able to speak for themselves?

Can you ask:

1. Are elected and appointed city officials— those with the power to address this issue— aware that Good Works turned away 142 people without homes (including 65 children) because we did not have space to accommodate them?  Are they aware and do they believe that this is not a Good Works problem but a problem all citizens are concerned with?

2. Are city officials interested in or willing to make a commitment to work with the staff of Good Works during the year 2012 to identify areas of the city where Good Works could legally relocate in order to increase our capacity to provide shelter for people without homes? Will the Mayor or City Council appoint someone to address this issue during 2012?

3. Does the city, as it represents those of us who pay taxes, believe it has any moral responsibility to help provide shelter for its citizens who are without homes?

With more people experiencing unemployment and with more financial limits being placed on people struggling with poverty, we need our city officials to work alongside non-profits like Good Works to assist our most vulnerable citizens.  After 31 years, isn’t it time for the city of Athens to step up?  Good Works is not asking for money from the city.  We are asking for justice.

THANK YOU for considering this request.  If you have any questions for me, you can reach me by telephone at 740.594.9000.  My email address is keith@good-works.net.

I am appealing to our community’s compassion.  I truly believe that the people of Athens are compassionate and caring.  Will you express your compassion by speaking on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8-9)?

Love is a verb,

Keith Wasserman

PS:  If you are not able to attend the meeting, would you write something to the city or a Letter to the Editor and let your voice be heard?

 

Athens Community Center 6:30 to 8:30 pm.

At the February 7, 2012 Town Hall Meeting community members will have the opportunity to speak on subjects of local interest.  In order to have numerous viewpoints represented, speakers will be limited to three minutes each.

The Mayor and members of the city administration will be present to ask clarifying questions and briefly respond to citizen comments if necessary. At a follow-up June 2012 Town Hall Meeting, city officials will describe steps they have taken to address issues that were discussed at the February meeting.

The February Town Hall Meeting will be an opportunity for community members and organizations to dialogue with each other and with the city government.  It also will be an opportunity to find common ground for solving problems affecting our community. Athens area community members are urged to attend and speak about local issues that concern them.

If weather forces the Town Hall Meeting to be postponed, it will be held on February 15th.

The Athens Town Hall Meetings are sponsored by the City of Athens and the Athens Chapter of the League of Women Voters.

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