Route to Recovery

A trip through the epicenters of the recession

“Pastor with no church” wants abandoned homes rented to poor

Nov 25, 2009 15:34 UTC


YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – We didn’t have to go far to find Stephen Townes; he found us.

While we were nearly finished with an on-camera interview with a local community organizer in front of an abandoned red brick home in Youngstown’s historic district, Townes drove past and yelled out the window, “Save those homes! Don’t tear those homes down!”

We flagged him down and asked him to talk. Reluctant at first, Townes stood talking to us for a good half an hour, then agreed to let us come to his apartment to interview him on film.

“I don’t understand why have all these abandoned homes and have people living on the streets,” he said. “Why can’t turn them into affordable housing and have poor people who can’t afford normal rent live there. As long as they obey the rules, they should be allowed to stay.”

Youngstown has some 4,500 abandoned properties in a city of less than 73,000 people.

“There ain’t no way that a poor can ever pull himself up when you keep kicking him while he’s down,” said Townes, 42, who described himself as a “pastor without a church.”

Townes said that he used to be homeless himself and knows full well how difficult it is to get back into the mainstream.


“I took drugs, I ate out of the trash, I stole and I committed minor crimes just so I could go to jail where I would be warm and have a hot meal,” he said. “This so-called Christian society needs to stop looking at what people have done. Society needs to stop looking at who they were and start looking at who they are today and who they could be tomorrow.”

Townes said he spent time in jail on three separate occasions for minor crimes, but has since cleaned up himself and is trying to help his fellow man.

“It makes me angry that if a man goes to prison and pays for his crime, he can’t get a job,” Townes said. “No one will hire a convicted felon.”

“The problem with this society is that we’re not helping each other,” he added. “If you’re hungry and you ask for bread they’ll give you a brick and tell you it’s over.”

Photos by Brian Snyder

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I have and still do agree with Mr Townes .The city Should help people in need of housing if a few peopleof Youngstown don’t purchase them they are stripped then tore down why not even let them go for part of their back taxes if owed ??? This is my personal opinion.

Local Americorps volunteers roll up sleeves to fix home town

Nov 23, 2009 16:04 UTC


BUFFALO, New York – Mike McGreevy, Brandon Barry and Edwin Andino alone made our grueling marathon around America worthwhile.

We met these three young Americorps workers at an abandoned and dilapidated home they are renovating for PUSH Buffalo, a nonprofit grassroots community organization working to rebuild the West Side of Buffalo. Eventually this home will be used as affordable housing.

For all three men, this is something they are doing to make this blighted post-industrial city a better place to live.

“I got tired of hearing my parents’ generation complain about how bad things are here but not doing anything about it,” said Barry, 25. “So I decided that to make a difference I had to do something about it myself.”

Americorps is a domestic version of the Peace Corps, where workers are paid below poverty level wages to do community service work like this.


“This pays enough for food, but not really enough for a place to live,” McGreevy, 30, said. “But we’re not doing this for the money. This is our city and we want to make it better, house by house.”

Barry and McGreevy are both covered from head to food in grey dust from the house that they are renovating and are evidently tired from their labor. But they radiate a deep sense of satisfaction and purpose. They are truly content and it shows on their faces as they watch the young team members they supervise hauling bucket loads of debris from the house.

The truly impressive thing about these two men is that Barry was an office worker and McGreevy was a salesman before they joined Americorps, both successful and well paid.

“This is what matters,” McGreevy said simply.

Edwin Andino is no less impressive. This 17 year old just left high school and said that doing this for his community matters more than finding a well-paid job.

“If I wanted to make a lot of money, I could be out on the street selling drugs,” he said, wiping the dust from his face. “But there’s more to life than money.”

Photos by Brian Snyder

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Multimedia: Homeless in Rhode Island

Nov 20, 2009 22:13 UTC

In Providence, Rhode Island, joblessness and recession have pushed homeless shelters beyond capacity. But in the audio slideshow below, some families are turning things around, one day at a time.

Photos and audio by Brian Snyder

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“I didn’t think I was ever going to get out”

Nov 20, 2009 22:01 UTC


PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – April Metts is handling the interview well until I ask about her experiences out on the street.

Metts, 39, has been in affordable housing for two and a half years and had just told us that she is very happy where she is and “can never go back to being homeless again.”

But when I ask about what homelessness was like for her when she was out on the streets for two years. within moments she breaks down.

“I was so hopeless, so afraid,” Metts said, her voice faltering. “I didn’t think I was ever going to get out.”

Her lip quivers and she is rendered speechless as she tries to wipe away the tears that are running faster than she can mop them up. The wound that I have reopened is simply too raw, too painful for her to bear.
“I’m sorry,” she apologizes, though it is entirely my fault. “I’m sorry. I just can’t go back there.”

When Metts regains her composure, she says that the apartment she got through affordable housing program Housing First has changed her life.


“I feel lucky to have this opportunity,” she said. “Now I want a better job with a 401(k). If I can get this far I can go further.”

Metts has a job at a coffee shop, but has just had her weekly hours cut to 20 from 32. Under the Housing First program, a third of her income goes toward to rent and her rent has been cut in line with her wages.

“I need to find a better job,” she said. “But I’m going to stick with this one until I do.”

In the meantime, she loves having a place to call her own, which she shares with her two-year-old son Jamar.

“I like it because it’s mine and no one can tell me what to do, when to go to bed or when to leave,” Metts said.



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To help the homeless, housing first

Nov 20, 2009 20:24 UTC


PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – Homelessness is a complex problem, and often includes a constellation of issues, including substance abuse, mental illness and unemployment.

But a new strategy has emerged in Providence: Ignore the other problems and provide housing first.

Longtime advocates for the homeless were way of the approach. When Don Boucher got involved with the Housing First project, which puts homeless people in affordable housing without preconditions, he was skeptical that it would succeed.

Nor did he ever expect that it could save thousands of dollars per person on the emergency services that are provided to the homeless.

“I complained that they were taking away my teeth,” said the program director of Housing First RI/Riverwood Mental Health Services.

Prior to the launch of the program in 2006, being sober and drug-free were preconditions for getting into housing, and Boucher was able to take punitive action against those who disobeyed the rules. But there was a very low success rate under the old system, with the overwhelming majority of tenants ending up back on the street.

“It is typically very difficult to get people to sort out the problems that accompany homelessness before they got into housing,” said Karen Jeffreys, spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless.

Under the Housing First program, as long as tenants obey the rules that apply to tenants in normal housing, they can do what they want.

“With the old system if they broke the rules we could throw them out into the street in January, which didn’t solve anything,” Boucher said. “Now if I turn up and they’re drinking alcohol, they can say ‘go away, it’s my place and I can do what I want.”


Boucher was surprised by the results of the program. It has had a 90 percent success rate among the 130 c

hronically homeless people who have been given affordable housing as part of Housing First. As well as staying in their apartments and paying rent, around 20 percent have jobs.

Up to 60 percent of those given accommodation under the Housing First program are incapable of work due to mental and physical disabilities, but everyone pays rent, equivalent to a third of their income or benefits. And Boucher said they are all doing better.

“Their health is better, their hope is higher and their substance abuse is down,” he said. “It’s a great model and has been a great success wherever it’s been implemented.”

According to a study by Eric Hirsch of Providence College and Irene Glasser of Roger Williams University, the Housing First program in Rhode Island has led to a reduction in hospital emergency room visits, detoxification services, prison services and homeless shelter use. They said the average savings per person for the first year after they entered the program was nearly $8,000.

April Metts, 39 (above), who has been living in an apartment provided by Housing First for two and a half years said that it had transformed her life.

“I am so lucky to have had this opportunity,” she said. “I’ll do everything it takes to stay in this apartment.”

Across the city, Amos House, which runs a soup kitchen and provides temporary housing for the homeless, has a cooking course and carpentry program that provides the homeless with skills to help them find employment. Of the eight students who graduated from the last three-month carpentry class in September, four have so far found work.


Jim Webster has a group of students working on a house across the road from the Amos House, which will be used to house mothers and children who have been victims of domestic abuse.

“When they finish this course they could easily be hired as carpentry assistants,” he said. “Or they may be able to make a living out on their own fitting windows and doing other work.”

Phal Phann, 30, is scraping the kitchen walls ready for painting and says the course has been very useful for him.

“This is definitely going to help me a whole lot,” he said. “Once I’m done here this will help me look for a job.”

Photos by Brian Snyder

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Tent city founders still seeking help for homeless

Nov 20, 2009 15:03 UTC


PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – Two months after a court ruled in favor of allowing a “tent city” in a city park, advocates say Rhode Island has yet to deal with its homeless problem.

“There is no reason why a human being should have to freeze to death under a bridge,” said John Joyce, 47, who was homeless when the first tent city was set up in Providence in January, but has since moved into a studio apartment. “There is a solution to the homeless problem here. It’s called affordable housing.”

Joyce and Megan Smith, 21, decided to set up the first tent community in Providence after Paul Langlais, 56, was found dead under a bridge in early January. An autopsy said he died of heart disease.

“Whatever the autopsy said, the police told me Paul was frozen solid,” Joyce said.

Between January and September the camps changed locations a couple of times as the authorities pushed to move them on, arguing that they did not have the right to camp on city land. Eventually on Sept. 21 a judge ordered that the tented community had to pack up and leave. At their peak, more than 100 homeless people were camped on city property.

“We felt there was safety in numbers,” said Smith, a student. “We were handing out coffee and blankets, but it was easy for the authorities to ignore people when they were alone. The state didn’t want to recognize the scale of the problem.”

Edward Therrien, 52, has been a chef for 30 years but after being laid off he ended up homeless in March and moved into one of the camps.

“Until we became a community, it was a question of out of sight, out of mind,” he said. “Individually, the authorities could treat us as they wanted, so banding together helped us restore some of our dignity.”

John Freitas, 56, who was leader of one the tent cities called Camp Runamuck, said that by banding together, they had forced the issue of homelessness into the open. Freitas used to work in manufacturing and his partner, Barbara Kalil, 50, was a nurse, but they both lost their jobs in 2005 and have been homeless since 2006.

“We were a public embarrassment for the city,” he said. “I was told by officials that we were a black eye on the state.”

Joyce and the others said that the core issue that must be overcome is that the homeless are treated as if they have no rights.

“If you walk down the street you have a right to do so, but a homeless person can be arrested for loitering,” Joyce said. “The American constitution guarantees your rights, but they only count if you have somewhere to live.”

“The moment you’re homeless, a different set of rules apply,” he added.

Photo by Brian Snyder

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