Route to Recovery

A trip through the epicenters of the recession

America’s Route to Recovery: Part Two – A New Revolution

Dec 29, 2009 22:28 UTC

For the Reuters multimedia project Route to Recovery, a team of journalists toured America to examine the impact of the recession and posted their reports on reuters.com. For the last installment in the series, reporter Nick Carey has written an extended overview of the challenges and opportunities facing the country.  The second part of this three-part report is below. Click here for part one.

Leslie Taito is executive director of Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services (RIMES), a nonprofit that provides consultation for small and medium-sized manufacturers in Rhode Island, a state of 1 million people.

Rhode Island was the home of America’s first mechanized cotton mill, but since Taito arrived 16 years ago, the number of manufacturers here has fallen to 1,945 from 2,800. Still, she believes that all of those that are left can be helped to survive and thrive — and the best way is to get smart and not try to compete with low-cost Chinese producers.

“Manufacturers have to specialize and find a niche where they develop high-end goods that are not sold just based on cost,” Taito said. “Sure, China can make it cheaper than we can,” she said, while weaving in and out of traffic en route through the heart of Providence. “But what they don’t have is the design or engineering capabilities that we do.”

ROUTETORECOVERY/

Maria Montero carries plastic products for quality control inspection at Blow Molded Plastics in Pawtucket, Rhode Island November 17, 2009.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

One of the companies that RIMES has worked with in the past is Pawtucket-based Blow Molded Specialties, which makes products from hot plastic that is blown into molds where it sets. Its clients are predominantly in the healthcare sector.

President and majority owner Tom Boyd describes how the company’s largest customer switched production of a basic product to Mexico because it could be made there for 2 cents apiece instead of 8 cents in the United States.

That company had accounted for some 35 percent of business. “That was nearly the end of us,” Boyd said with a wry smile.

So instead of trying to compete on low-cost products, Boyd’s company specializes in high-end, complicated and intricate products, and even develops products for customers.

In the company’s meeting room, he shows off some of the firm’s products including one which looks almost like a plastic accordion and is about the same size, with evident pride.

This, he explains, is a plastic bellows his firm developed for a healthcare company, whose name he says he cannot divulge. It has a special function. Conventional practice in organ transplants has been to ship organs on ice. But Boyd says it has been found that a better way to ship organs is to keep them functioning, and the bellows he holds in his hands is part of a device to keep a set of lungs pumping while in transit.

Asked how much Blow Molded charges for a pump like this, Boyd shrugs his slight shoulders. “Maybe a few dollars each. And we only sold a few of them.”

But then he leans forward with right eyebrow and right forefinger raised. “Ah, but you see, the money’s not in the product,” he said, his grin widening. “The money’s in the engineering. We bill our customers for the development work we do.”

Communities around the country say they want to attract small firms like Blow Molded rather than focus on major corporations, for the simple reason that when a giant plant shuts down, it is almost impossible to replace the jobs lost.

The classic example is Wilmington, Ohio, where empty store fronts on Main Street are grim testimony to what happened when DHL axed nearly 10,000 jobs.

“When a big company like that goes, it leaves a very large hole to fill,” said Mayor David Raizk (pronounced “risk.”)

“I’d rather see 200 small companies with 50 employees each than one big one,” he said. “You can lose one, two or even 10 of those and find a way to replace them. Big companies are great when they’re in town, but when they leave they devastate communities.”

ROUTE-RECOVERY/

A pelican flies near a fisherman in Pensacola, Florida November 11, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

One such small firm is Computer Technology Solutions Inc, the largest privately-held software firm in Alabama, which has added some 40 jobs this year and now employs 150 people. “If that’s what we can do in a recession, imagine how we can do when the economy improves,” said president Sanjay Singh.

CTS got its start in a business incubator run by the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Singh said that unlike big corporations — which tend to be bureaucratic, slow-moving and inclined to withhold responsibility from young employees — CTS gives its 20-something employees multimillion-dollar projects to run on their own.

“If you give young people responsibility, they deliver,” he said. “We don’t hang over our employees’ shoulders waiting for them to get things done, we just let them do it.”

GREEN ECONOMY A LONG HAUL
There are great expectations that alternative energy or the “green economy” will help move America forward.

According to Lisa Frantzis, managing director for energy at Navigant Consulting Inc, in 2009, 7,000 megawatts of wind power was installed in America with the creation of 70,000 jobs — 50,000 direct and indirect jobs, plus 20,000 service-related jobs. Solar power saw 300 megawatts installed with the creation of 60,000 jobs.

Jay Paidipati, a Navigant managing consultant who works with Frantzis, said because of the industry’s breadth and relative youth, it is hard to make forecasts. “I would feel comfortable saying that the number of green jobs will be in the millions,” he said. “Just how many millions, I don’t know.”

ROUTE-RECOVERY/

Mesquite Lake Cattle Manure Power Plant is seen in El Centro, California, November 3, 2009.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

It will be years, however, before that potential is realized. One of the main problems is the mass of rules and regulations that make building plants a lengthy process.

Imperial County in southern California has hit on a novel way to get around red tape, using a provision of state law that allows local authorities to streamline the approval process for building a plant, as long as it is under 50 megawatts.

This loophole enables officials to handle the approval process in as little as a year, compared to several years at the state level.

“Getting anything done in California is hard,” said Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation CEO Tim Kelley, at his office in El Centro some 100 miles (160 km) east of San Diego. “But it is less hard to get it done here.”

This area has 360 days of sun a year and has suitable geological conditions for geothermal power — there are 10 such plants already. Thirty others for solar, geothermal and wind facilities, are in the process of acquiring permits.

Red tape is not the only challenge.

Paul Rich is chief development officer at Deepwater Wind LLC, which aims to develop America’s first offshore wind farm, in Rhode Island. The farm, which would eventually provide 15 percent of Rhode Island’s electricity, should come in two phases. The first test phase with six to eight turbines could be installed off the coast by 2012. By around 2015 the wind farm would contain around 100 wind turbines.

Rich described the coast between Maine and Maryland as the “Saudi Arabia of wind,” predicting an “enormous, exponential leap in jobs, manufacturing and infrastructure.”

Part of the reason for the long lead time is the need for extensive tests of local wind conditions, he said.
“It won’t happen overnight,” Rich said. “We are trying to create a truly new industry here and it has to be done right.”

“A far bigger concern for us is finding a qualified workforce to run and maintain the wind farm when it becomes operational.”

In blighted states like Michigan, many former manufacturing workers are already training for green jobs, even though relatively few have been created.

Matthew Derra, 41, lost his job at struggling auto supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc in July 2008. Now he is taking an associate degree in renewable energy and wants to find a job maintaining wind turbines.

“There’s nothing out there in my old field of work,” he said. “And there will be thousands of people out there chasing every green job, but I have to try.”

“I can’t just sit home and watch television.”

ROUTETORECOVERY/

April Metts watches television at her apartment in Providence, Rhode Island November 18, 2009.  Metts was homeless for several years before getting into her subsidized apartment as part of the Housing First RI initiative.   REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Even in California, which has America’s most aggressive climate change regulations, just 159,000 of the state’s 18 million jobs are considered “green” as of the start of 2008, according to public policy group Next 10.

Still, there are encouraging signs that money is flowing into renewable energy even in a sluggish economy.

Bill Gibson, is a business broker and principal of Gibson & Associates Inc in Pensacola, Florida. Gibson finds buyers for companies that want to sell.

He noted that companies selling luxury items are having trouble finding buyers because gun-shy banks won’t lend for that kind of investment, but he has noticed a lot more interest in renewable or alternative energy firms.

“There are definitely going to be haves and have-nots,” Gibson said. “Green energy is part of the future.”

The green energy industry is also seen as an opportunity for manufacturing firms to retool.

“What concerns me is when I hear people talking about manufacturing in the past tense,” said Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing. “If we want wind turbines, someone here should manufacture them.”

ROUTE-RECOVERY/

The Vulcan statue is seen at Vulcan Park in  Birmingham, Alabama November 14, 2009. The Vulcan statue is a symbol of old times at the iron industry in Birmingham.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

GEEKS AT THE TABLE
Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, keeps a board covered in bad news — headlines from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Economist about how badly the economy of the state has been faring. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate was 12.7 percent in November, the second highest in the country after Michigan.

“Our problems have made not just national but international headlines,” White said. “That motivates me to find a new way forward.”

Rhode Island is pinning its hopes on a strategy dubbed “Strengthening Providence’s Knowledge Economy.” It has involved bringing together local and state government, the Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) and hundreds of small hi-tech software companies.

“The geeks have finally been offered a seat at the table,” said business consultant Jack Templin.

White said there was an easy explanation: “The geeks are just about the only ones creating jobs right now.”
Companies like Working Planet, which handles algorithmic online market research for its clients, are now at the table.

“Up until a few years ago the chamber was focused on major companies and its existing membership base,” said Working Planet Marketing Group Inc president and co-founder Soren Ryherd. “Over the past three years the chamber has done an about face and is now also about the smaller companies that are creating jobs.”

“We have also become more organized because we need to reach the local universities so we can find and retain top talent,” he added.

Mike Saul is the interim executive director of the RIEDC and has spent much of his career as a “turnaround guy” taking poorly performing companies and making them thrive. He wants to do the same here, in part because three of his four children, like many of the state’s offspring, live outside Rhode Island because there was no work here for them.

“In any turnaround that is going to work you have to ask where is the enterprise value that I can push forward,” he said. According to Saul, the state’s education system and its wind potential create much of its enterprise value.

“Rhode Island’s attempts at economic development have been episodic in the past, but this time everyone is on the same page,” Saul said. “A crisis makes things happen. It helps individuals reinvent themselves and will help this country reinvent itself.”

Part Three – The Mind Factory

ROUTETORECOVERY/

A U.S. flag decal is stuck to the window in a door to the Harrington Hall homeless shelter in Cranston, Rhode Island November 18, 2009.    REUTERS/Brian Snyder

A NEW REVOLUTION
Leslie Taito is executive director of Rhode Island Manufacturing Extension Services (RIMES), a nonprofit that provides consultation for small and medium-sized manufacturers in Rhode Island, a state of 1 million people.
Rhode Island was the home of America’s first mechanized cotton mill, but since Taito arrived 16 years ago, the number of manufacturers here has fallen to 1,945 from 2,800. Still, she believes that all of those that are left can be helped to survive and thrive — and the best way is to get smart and not try to compete with low-cost Chinese producers.
“Manufacturers have to specialize and find a niche where they develop high-end goods that are not sold just based on cost,” Taito said. “Sure, China can make it cheaper than we can,” she said, while weaving in and out of traffic en route through the heart of Providence. “But what they don’t have is the design or engineering capabilities that we do.”
One of the companies that RIMES has worked with in the past is Pawtucket-based Blow Molded Specialties, which makes products from hot plastic that is blown into molds where it sets. Its clients are predominantly in the healthcare sector.
President and majority owner Tom Boyd describes how the company’s largest customer switched production of a basic product to Mexico because it could be made there for 2 cents apiece instead of 8 cents in the United States.
That company had accounted for some 35 percent of business. “That was nearly the end of us,” Boyd said with a wry smile.
So instead of trying to compete on low-cost products, Boyd’s company specializes in high-end, complicated and intricate products, and even develops products for customers.
In the company’s meeting room, he shows off some of the firm’s products including one which looks almost like a plastic accordion and is about the same size, with evident pride.
This, he explains is a plastic bellows his firm developed for a healthcare company, whose name he says he cannot divulge. It has a special function. Conventional practice in organ transplants has been to ship organs on ice. But Boyd says it has been found that a better way to ship organs is to keep them functioning, and the bellows he holds in his hands is part of a device to keep a set of lungs pumping while in transit.
Asked how much Blow Molded charges for a pump like this, Boyd shrugs his slight shoulders. “Maybe a few dollars each. And we only sold a few of them.”
But then he leans forward with right eyebrow and right forefinger raised. “Ah, but you see, the money’s not in the product,” he said, his grin widening. “The money’s in the engineering. We bill our customers for the development work we do.”
Communities around the country say they want to attract small firms like Blow Molded rather than focus on major corporations, for the simple reason that when a giant plant shuts down, it is almost impossible to replace the jobs lost.
The classic example is Wilmington, Ohio, where empty store fronts on Main Street are grim testimony to what happened when DHL axed nearly 10,000 jobs.
“When a big company like that goes, it leaves a very large hole to fill,” said Mayor David Raizk (pronounced “risk.”)
“I’d rather see 200 small companies with 50 employees each than one big one,” he said. “You can lose one, two or even 10 of those and find a way to replace them. Big companies are great when they’re in town, but when they leave they devastate communities.”
One such small firm is Computer Technology Solutions Inc, the largest privately-held software firm in Alabama, which has added some 40 jobs this year and now employs 150 people. “If that’s what we can do in a recession, imagine how we can do when the economy improves,” said president Sanjay Singh.
CTS got its start in a business incubator run by the University of Alabama in Birmingham. Singh said that unlike big corporations — which tend to be bureaucratic, slow-moving and inclined to withhold responsibility from young employees — CTS gives its 20-something employees multimillion-dollar projects to run on their own.
“If you give young people responsibility, they deliver,” he said. “We don’t hang over our employees’ shoulders waiting for them to get things done, we just let them do it.”

GREEN ECONOMY A LONG HAUL
There are great expectations that alternative energy or the “green economy” will help move America forward.
According to Lisa Frantzis, managing director for energy at Navigant Consulting Inc, in 2009, 7,000 megawatts of wind power was installed in America with the creation of 70,000 jobs — 50,000 direct and indirect jobs, plus 20,000 service-related jobs. Solar power saw 300 megawatts installed with the creation of 60,000 jobs.
Jay Paidipati, a Navigant managing consultant who works with Frantzis, said because of the industry’s breadth and relative youth, it is hard to make forecasts. “I would feel comfortable saying that the number of green jobs will be in the millions,” he said. “Just how many millions, I don’t know.”
It will be years, however, before that potential is realized. One of the main problems is the mass of rules and regulations that make building plants a lengthy process.
Imperial County in southern California has hit on a novel way to get around red tape, using a provision of state law that allows local authorities to streamline the approval process for building a plant, as long as it is under 50 megawatts.
This loophole enables officials to handle the approval process in as little as a year, compared to several years at the state level.
“Getting anything done in California is hard,” said Imperial Valley Economic Development Corporation CEO Tim Kelley, at his office in El Centro some 100 miles (160 km) east of San Diego. “But it is less hard to get it done here.”
This area has 360 days of sun a year and has suitable geological conditions for geothermal power — there are 10 such plants already. Thirty others for solar, geothermal and wind facilities, are in the process of acquiring permits.
Red tape is not the only challenge.
Paul Rich is Chief Development Officer at Deepwater Wind LLC, which aims to develop America’s first offshore wind farm, in Rhode Island. The farm, which would eventually provide 15 percent of Rhode Island’s electricity, should come in two phases. The first test phase with six to eight turbines could be installed off the coast by 2012. By around 2015 the wind farm would contain around 100 wind turbines.
Rich described the coast between Maine and Maryland as the “Saudi Arabia of wind,” predicting an “enormous, exponential leap in jobs, manufacturing and infrastructure.”
Part of the reason for the long lead time is the need for extensive tests of local wind conditions, he said.
“It won’t happen overnight,” Rich said. “We are trying to create a truly new industry here and it has to be done right.”
“A far bigger concern for us is finding a qualified workforce to run and maintain the wind farm when it becomes operational.”
In blighted states like Michigan, many former manufacturing workers are already training for green jobs, even though relatively few have been created.
Matthew Derra, 41, lost his job at struggling auto supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc <AXL.N> in July 2008. Now he is taking an associate degree in renewable energy and wants to find a job maintaining wind turbines.
“There’s nothing out there in my old field of work,” he said. “And there will be thousands of people out there chasing every green job, but I have to try.”
“I can’t just sit home and watch television.”
Even in California, which has America’s most aggressive climate change regulations, just 159,000 of the state’s 18 million jobs are considered “green” as of the start of 2008, according to public policy group Next 10.
Still, there are encouraging signs that money is flowing into renewable energy even in a sluggish economy.
Bill Gibson, is a business broker and principal of Gibson & Associates Inc in Pensacola, Florida. Gibson finds buyers for companies that want to sell.
He noted that companies selling luxury items are having trouble finding buyers because gun-shy banks won’t lend for that kind of investment, but he has noticed a lot more interest in renewable or alternative energy firms.
“There are definitely going to be haves and have-nots,” Gibson said. “Green energy is part of the future.”
The green energy industry is also seen as an opportunity for manufacturing firms to retool.
“What concerns me is when I hear people talking about manufacturing in the past tense,” said Virg Bernero, mayor of Lansing. “If we want wind turbines, someone here should manufacture them.”

GEEKS AT THE TABLE
Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, keeps a board covered in bad news — headlines from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Economist about how badly the economy of the state has been faring. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate was 12.7 percent in November, the second highest in the country after Michigan.
“Our problems have made not just national but international headlines,” White said. “That motivates me to find a new way forward.”
Rhode Island is pinning its hopes on a strategy dubbed “Strengthening Providence’s Knowledge Economy.” It has involved bringing together local and state government, the Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation (RIEDC) and hundreds of small hi-tech software companies.
“The geeks have finally been offered a seat at the table,” said business consultant Jack Templin.
White said there was an easy explanation: “The geeks are just about the only ones creating jobs right now.”
Companies like Working Planet, which handles algorithmic online market research for its clients, are now at the table.
“Up until a few years ago the chamber was focused on major companies and its existing membership base,” said Working Planet Marketing Group Inc president and co-founder Soren Ryherd. “Over the past three years the chamber has done an about face and is now also about the smaller companies that are creating jobs.”
“We have also become more organized because we need to reach the local universities so we can find and retain top talent,” he added.
Mike Saul is the interim executive director of the RIEDC and has spent much of his career as a “turnaround guy” taking poorly performing companies and making them thrive. He wants to do the same here, in part because three of his four children, like many of the state’s offspring, live outside Rhode Island because there was no work here for them.
“In any turnaround that is going to work you have to ask where is the enterprise value that I can push forward,” he said. According to Saul, the state’s education system and its wind potential create much of its enterprise value.
“Rhode Island’s attempts at economic development have been episodic in the past, but this time everyone is on the same page,” Saul said. “A crisis makes things happen. It helps individuals reinvent themselves and will help this country reinvent itself.”

COMMENT

I read one comment saying that their 2 children on graduation will have $100K in education debts.
Here in Sweden we can study right thru university completely free of charge, and even get a very generous monthly allowance to help with books and food etc etc

Posted by George | Report as abusive

Rhode Island family sees income drop by 40 percent

Dec 9, 2009 19:44 UTC

Following our Route to Recovery special report, we asked contributors from Associated Content to tell us their stories about the recession.

By Heather Richards

My husband and I have two incomes, no children and we’ve always lived modestly. But we’re finding the recession affects us, too. We live in a three-bedroom, two-bath house in Johnston, R.I. We buy used cars and clip coupons. Our biggest financial splurges are week-long vacations twice a year and occasional trips to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. Like most, we’ve tightened the belt.

I’m 37 and employed as a social worker for The Homestead Group, a non-profit agency serving individuals with developmental disabilities. We’re facing budget cuts because Rhode Island is staring down deficits. Our non-profit already runs a bare-bones operation, so the only things to cut are salaries. My job is secure, but I won’t be seeing a raise to my $42,000-a-year salary.

My husband, 35, runs New England Solid Waste Consulting, a trash consulting business. He’s hired by small business owners who need him to negotiate and manage their trash service. The work is time-consuming but profitable. However, as the economy worsened in the last two years, small businesses are chopping their budgets. My husband’s consulting work is one of the first bills they eliminate.

At the height of success, the business was making $10,000 a month. Profits fell to $4,000 a month as the economy crumbled. We realized it was time to look for a salaried job, but with unemployment in Rhode Island hovering around 10 percent, the availability of jobs at the income level to which we had become accustomed was low. It took six months to land a sales position that was even close to his previous income.

We’re now dealing with a 40-percent reduction in income. We can cover our basic living expenses: housing, electricity, food and gas. But that’s not enough. We have already canceled our vacation this year to Cancun, and there will be no weekend trips for some time. We’ve slashed the food budget. I’ve instituted meat-free Mondays and concocted meals from recipe Web sites like 5 Dollar Dinners and A Year of Crockpotting. Eating out twice a week is now once a month.

My biggest financial concern is that we have so little money left for savings. We both have retirement plans and IRAs, but we are not adding as much to them. Our plan to retire at 60 is in jeopardy. Before the economy crashed, we were aggressively paying down our mortgage. That has stopped.

But we are happy to be employed. We have kept our home and can pay our bills. My husband is underemployed. However, with so many unable to find work, we feel lucky.

Click here for more Route to Recovery

Carpentry course opens way to new life for ex-convict

Nov 20, 2009 22:22 UTC

ROUTETORECOVERY/

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – Eighteen months out of prison, Anthony Delgatto says he is a very lucky man.

“I see guys coming through the soup kitchen every day who I was incarcerated with who now have no place to live and are hungry,” said Delgattoo, 30, who is now employed as a carpenter and maintenance man by Amos House, which runs a soup kitchen and provides temporary housing for the homeless. “If it weren’t for this place I’d be out on the streets too.”

Originally from Brooklyn, Delgatto served five years in prison for robbing a store here in Providence. Burly, well built but softly spoken, he speaks about his former life in a matter-of-fact manner.

“I prayed constantly for the day when I would be able to get out and get back on a path in the right direction,” he said.

When he was let out on parole, he enrolled in the Amos House 90-day housing program, which has strictly enforced rules concerning sobriety and drug use. He then took the organization’s three-month carpentry course. After finishing, he was hired to take care of the organization’s properties.

“While I was in prison I took a construction course with some really hands-on stuff that prepared me well for the course,” Delgatto said.

“It’s hard enough to go back out there and get a job as an ex-convict, but it’s even worse with the economy the way it is now,” he said. “In my eyes, things couldn’t have turned out better.”

Best of all, Delgatto said he gets to visit his young son every other weekend back in New York.

“I get to be part of his life now, which means so much to me,” he said. “And now I get the chance to make up for my wrongdoings.”

Photo by Brian Snyder

Click here for more Route to Recovery

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

Click here for more Route to Recovery

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

Nov 20, 2009 22:01 UTC

ROUTETORECOVERY/

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.

ROUTETORECOVERY/

“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.

ROUTETORECOVERY/

COMMENT

hi its me april good to hear from you my contact numbers are 831 7860 morniing 2129474 cell number

Posted by april metts | Report as abusive

Homeless at 65 and looking for ways to say invisible

Nov 20, 2009 21:46 UTC

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – At 65, Bill Robinson never expected he would end up homeless.

Yet three months after losing his apartment, here he is at around 7am at Harrington Hall, a shelter for the homeless in Providence, with few prospects of moving on.

“Before I became homeless I had no idea how fragile I would feel without four walls of my own,” he said. “One you lose that enclosure you lose a sense of security.”

Up until three months ago he was living in Virginia, where he had a place to stay in return for taking care of other apartments. But when his landlord fell on hard times, Robinson decided to come back to Rhode Island, where he is from. A friend had promised to help him, but that friend has since disappeared.

His social security payments of $670 per month are not enough to pay rent, medications for a heart condition and buy food.

“I’d like to find someone to share with, but even that would be a stretch,” he said.

Now Robinson spends his days trying to fill in time between nights at the shelter. He can stay here from 7pm at night until 7am in the morning, then he is on his own for the day.

“I spend my days trying to be invisible,” Robinson said. “As a homeless person if I become visible I can get arrested for loitering.”

So he ends up spending time in his car instead.

“I tend to park my car at shopping malls during the day,” Robinson said. “There are lots of cars there, so nobody notices me. But I find the days very difficult because 12 hours is a lot of time to fill when you have nowhere to go.”

He feels that optimism that the longest and deepest recession since the 1930s is over is more than a little misplaced.

“There’s a lot of denial about the economy,” Robinson said before heading out into a chilly November morning. “Don’t let anybody kid you. This is a depression, my friend.”

Click here for more Route to Recovery

For homeless couple, each night brings loneliness

Nov 20, 2009 21:43 UTC

PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – For John Freitas and Barbara Kalil, the hardest part of being homeless is having to spend each night apart.

“We were rather naïve when we became homeless,” Kalil, 50, said. “We thought as a couple that we would be able to stay together or they would put us up in a hotel.”

“The reality was quite different.”

Freitas, 56, was laid off from his manufacturing job at a wire factory in 2005, and Kalil lost her job as a licensed practical nurse around the same time. They became homeless in 2006, a shock for a couple who had spent their lives working.

Each night he has to sleep in a shelter for men, she in one for women.

“You lose all your dignity in the shelter,” she said. “After 10pm you can’t even go to the bathroom without asking for the key. That’s a very private thing, so having to ask for the key is humiliating.”

Being forced to sleep apart was the main reason that early this year they decided to become part of the “tent city” movement here in Providence, where more than 100 people camped out on city land until a court ordered them to move in September.

“We decided to live in a tent because we decided we couldn’t stay in the shelters anymore,” Freitas said. “Now we’ve had to go back to the shelters and we’re stuck sleeping apart again.”

Click here for more Route to Recovery

To help the homeless, housing first

Nov 20, 2009 20:24 UTC

ROUTETORECOVERY/

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.”

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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.

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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

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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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Services for Providence homeless close to breaking point

Nov 19, 2009 18:20 UTC

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PROVIDENCE, Rhode Island – After 24 consecutive months of rising demand for shelter beds, advocates say urgent action is needed to prevent the homeless from being left to fend for themselves in the bitter cold this winter.

“We may be close to breaking point,” said Jim Ryczek, executive director for the Rhode Island Coalition of the Homeless. “If we don’t get more beds soon, we’re going to be in trouble.”

Rhode Island is the smallest U.S. state and has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. In September the rate hit 13 percent, above the national average of 9.8 percent and behind only Michigan and Nevada.

The loss of manufacturing and service industry jobs on top of the U.S. housing crisis has left some 7,000 people homeless in this state of around 1 million people, many of them with few prospects of finding work,

“There’s no work to be had and believe me I’ve tried to find it,” said Edward Therrien, 52, a chef with 30 years’ experience who ended up homeless in March of this year.

Even if there is work, members of the homeless community say that prejudice means that they are pushed to the back of the line.

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“When people look at me they disapprove of me and won’t give me a job,” said Larry Engram, 58. A quiet, gentle-mannered man, Engram sweeps the floor and cleans the sheets seven days a week at Harrington Hall, a homeless shelter run by House of Hope Community Development Corp.

Already the weather is getting brisk, with frosty temperatures at night that make living rough an even less appealing prospect. This shelter has 88 beds, but House of Hope executive director Jean Johnson said the number of homeless men here sometimes tops 100. Those who arrive too late for a bed have to sit on metal chairs and sleep with their heads resting on long tables.

“All of our shelters are overflowing,” said Johnson. “We need to do something or I’m afraid we may see men freeze to death in the winter months.”

Many who turn up are working poor who have been pushed to the margins of society by the downturn, and are new to being homeless.

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“More people are falling through the cracks,” Johnson said.

The Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless has tried to assess the shortage of beds in the Providence area and the tally stood at 156 as of late October.

“Those are only the people we have been able to count,” Ryczek said. “The real number is sure to be higher, we just don’t know by how much.”

In order to ease the overloaded shelters, the coalition is planning to the state government for emergency aid to fund another 100 beds.

But Megan Smith, 21, a student who helped form tent cities for the homeless in Providence earlier this year, said she fears even 100 beds may not be enough to keep up with the rising number of homeless people.

“Unemployment is set to keep rising and we’re expecting a second wave of foreclosures as people’s mortgages reset,” she said. “The real flood of people is yet to come.”

COMMENT

Why is it that the incredible amount of money assigned to the Pentagon for the various wars and new military toys they want is never mentioned as a possible target for reduction? The U.S. spends more on military issues than the rest of the globe. Why? Is the country that paranoid? Why aren’t the citizens screaming and marching on the streets against the cash cow called the military?
It has NEVER gained anything for the citizens and only causes deaths of their and our soldiers and civilians.
Pathetic but we get what we allow to happen.

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