Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Oak Lawn: Apprehensive Agreement in Temporary Shelter Ordinance

An Apprehensive Agreement in Oak Lawn Temporary Shelter Ordinance

A standing room only crowd attended last night’s meeting of the Oak Lawn Board of Trustees to consider, among other orders of business, the newly revised draft of an ordinance to apply regulations for churches acting as temporary shelters.  Dr. Sandra Bury, the Village President moved the agenda to accommodate the audience’s obvious interest and placed the issue front and center.

The legal representative for the Village in this matter, Kevin Casey, took the podium and referenced the great amount of dialogue that had taken place since the meeting with church and shelter representatives the previous week.  That meeting with the Oak Lawn Planning and Development Commission saw another standing crowd and concern that too little collaboration had taken place between those who were constructing these regulations and those who worked with the poor and homeless. 

Casey outlined a number of proposed amendments to the original document:  the change of license approval from January of 2018 to October of 2018, the modification in the serving Oak Lawn homeless first to “making an attempt to do so”; an adjustment from keeping a record of names and data to be shared with the Village official(s) to a list kept by the church/program for seven years; an alteration to provide flexibility for shelter operators when facing extreme weather; and a revision of denying medical care programs to instead approved counseling, emergency treatment and access to flu shots.  

Earlier agreements had been reached during the week regarding changes in the limits of guests, revisions in staffing requirements, allowance for food preparation, and a revised hierarchy of appeals processes.

Casey identified both Pastor Peggy McClanahan of Pilgrim Faith Church and Tina Rounds of the BEDS Plus Program out of LaGrange as instrumental in helping collaborate this shift in the regulations. 

Both Pastor McClanahan and Ms. Rounds spoke later on.  Pastor McClanahan noted that “although this is not a perfect document,” she and many others were “hopeful that we can all work together to make this (ordinance) workable as we continue on.”  Tina Rounds offered BEDS Plus’ “commitment to the process and working together,” and she wished for the future “reasonable administration of this ordinance.”

Others spoke as well, but the most powerful of words provided for the Board of Trustees came from a young lady named Jennifer, who limped heavily to the podium.  She provided her name and described her residence as “Homeless.”  She kindly thanked the Board for the time to speak, and in an emotional explanation punctuated by tears Jennifer thanked them also for the kindness in providing for her and so many others.  “Even if you do not do this kindness directly,” she reminded, the effects of your goodness to someone reaches far beyond a single act.”  She described how it reverberated within a community and even through time to help and assist, long after the giver of such an act would know.  She described the pain and humility that are thwarted by such compassion and humanity.  As she struggled to return to her seat, the crowd responded in great applause. 

Trustee Vorderer moved to add the amendments to the ordinance.  Approved.

The Ordinance was called for the vote and during discussion; Trustee Robert Streit described the need to exercise some caution and restraint in moving so quickly.  The Village had received a call from the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, and he wondered aloud whether the Village should wait on this measure – seeking more information from HUD as well as additional cooperation with shelter leaders. 

The Ordinance passed quickly after his words of concern and his dissenting vote. 




Sunday, November 12, 2017

Let's "Make Oak Lawn Great Again"

Let’s “Make Oak Lawn Great Again”
Or “Let’s Send ‘em all back to Chicago”

In the centuries before and during the Old World’s exploration of the New Americas, villages constructed walls around the towns to protect against unfamiliar vagabonds and unwanted vagrants.  In fact, many historians conjecture that Wall Street in New York was originally the site of a large wooden rampart running along the boundary of the busy and growing New Amsterdam. 

Up until this last year, there was little fascination with building walls in America.  Now, walls are in.  Lines need to be drawn.  Political correctness and civility be damned.

Of course a south-side suburban village like Oak Lawn couldn’t exactly be expected to build a wall anymore. It’s impractical.  Villages are contiguous and rely upon the free flow of people for commerce and education and even worship through adjoining neighborhoods.  So, what to do?

Enter stage far right: an Ordinance to protect against those vagabonds and unwanted vagrants in Oak Lawn.  In short, let’s Make Oak Lawn Great Again by constructing a restrictive ordinance to make it difficult if not impossible for vagrants to find any safe harbor in our village. 

Not a wall of bricks or mortar, but words.

The crowd attending the Nov. 7th Meeting.  
Last week, on Tuesday, November 7th, the Planning and Zoning/Development Commission convened last week to weigh an earlier proposed ordinance put together by the Oak Lawn Board of Trustees to apply updated restrictions to the institutions in the village that housed the homeless: Their job was to endorse or block the plan to implement changes in the way “temporary shelters” are managed and operated in the Village of Oak Lawn.  A third option would have been for the Board to table the proposed ordinance until further discussion between the Oak Lawn Trustees and leaders of the programs could work toward a more inclusive and serviceable document. 

Concerns had been raised by both the Director of the BEDS Plus program which administers to the homeless in the area but also the many pastors who have developed the network of temporary shelters through the winter months to serve those who are homeless.  Ironically, the original intent to protect those most vulnerable during inclement weather  - that began nearly two decades ago after a request by the Village of Oak Lawn to prevent such misfortune  - seems to be facing a series of requirements which may hamstring or preclude its original mission to help the less fortunate. 

In the original proposed ordinance presented to the Oak Lawn Commission last Tuesday; a number of requirements were presented which in turn generated understandable pushback by the attending crowds.  Churches would need seek variances and approvals from the Board or City Manager for a multitude of restrictions: “inspect and maintain an approved fire alarm system in an operative condition at all times, in compliance with all village adopted codes including the international building code, 2012 edition, the international fire code, 2012 edition and the NFPA 72 – national fire alarm code, 2010 edition.”

Comment: Refitting half-century old churches that have operated without incident for over 20 years to effectively provide shelter for the homeless with sprinkler systems and radio alarms boxes is a financially punishing demand, one that many small churches may not be able to meet.

A vote is called for, and further discussion ended.  
Other requirements were just as daunting and unsettling: “Every licensee shall keep and maintain such records and make such reports to the Village Manager or his/her designee as may reasonably be required to implement this Chapter, including but not limited to a list of names of all persons who stay overnight at the shelter and the dates of the stay. Data from such reports and from applications on file within the Village shall be made available by the Village Manager…”

When queried by the Directors of the Homeless Programs as to whether such a code was legal or undercut any various privacy acts, the Village lawyer Kevin Casey suggested that such wording was only recommendations, not requirements.  One member of the commission wondered aloud why a recommendation would be codified. 

The next day, the Oak Lawn Patch published a review of the evening’s meeting and a series of FAQ’s written by the Administration’s representative(s) to counter the resistance from the previous evening.  Found within the document are a series of revisions and re-interpretations of the coding as simply recommendations: who shall be served, restrictions on sites’ placements, changes in earlier prohibitions on occupancy amounts, medical health related services and counseling changes, and others.

Other revisions took place even as the November 7th meeting convened.  The Village lawyer noted that original license approval dates would be changed from the middle of winter (January 1) to October, a result of being reminded by the homeless program’s directors that such a date could imperial many people during severe winter weather.  Mr. Casey did not say whether such a decision would also extend the grandfathered additional year for current temporary shelters to retro-fit and make necessary alterations to align with the proposed ordinance.  In the Patch, Casey called his original date of January 1st his faux pas; on the other hand, if his change of heart and date include all shelters, current and those coming on line, the timeline for readiness for current operating shelter/churches is shortened by almost four months. 

While the Zoning and Development Commission’s task was to review questions regarding the specific detail within the proposed document, most of the speakers in the audience spoke against the intent of the ordinance.  Most also asked that the ordinance be tabled and sent back to the Board of Trustees in order that a more cooperative and sensible approach be developed through a collaboration between the Board of Trustees, church leaders, homeless program leaders, volunteers and the homeless be assured. 

During the exchange between the considerable audience and the Commission’ members, a number of underlying and undressed disparagements percolated up through the interactions.

Commissioner(s): “Why do we (in Oak Lawn) have so many homeless sites?  Why do we have to have so many?  Why can’t other places like Evergreen Park or Orland have some of them?” 

You can provide the sub-texts.  Providing for the homeless is an organic and evolving ministry.  Over the many years, various churches have volunteered to aid the less-than-fortunate and homeless, many with food pantries and some as far as providing shelter.  The churches come and go, but many see this new ordinance as a draconian restriction, which may prevent the admission of newer churches as others become unavailable. 

Looking over nearly 12 years of work with this mission, I have seen hundreds of people placed into housing and finding balance again.  I have also seen thousands of people and children who have watched over each other and toiled on to find work and good health once again. 

Later, in the evening, the Chief of Police, Randy Palmer, described with anxiety the great weight the homeless in the community place upon him and his officers.  “they defecate in alleys, and they run with bloody hands through yards…”  
   
After Palmer’s recitation of evils, one volunteer took the podium to respond: “I’ve worked shelters for a decade, and I have never felt so safe and helpful.  This is an attempt to capitalize on fear, nothing less… Shame on you.”

Another attendee reminded the Chief that his several anecdotes were a reminder of “those mentally ill that receive little or no treatment in our area.”  It was not a description of many clients we all knew. 

Nearly 100% of the people in the room asked the Board to table the planned ordinance, but the members voted to adopt it, saying or nodding in agreement that “no document is ever perfect, just look at the Declaration of Independence. We’ll let the Board of Trustees decide…” 

Meanwhile behind the scenes, one Village Official continues to display an unequivocal dislike for the program and its population while denying any direct attempt to harass or annoy the program to help the destitute in the area: demanding that representatives from the homeless program pick up glass in the area, clean up bathrooms in public areas, disallow individuals from using public places, stampede the helpless out of public libraries.  He often sends pictures of various places and sites where he believes the vagrants have done evil deeds. 

He says: “Send ‘em back to the Windy City.”   

The next meeting of the Board of Trustees of Oak Lawn is scheduled for November 14th at 7 p.m. at the Oak Lawn Administration Building, 9446 S Raymond Ave. in Oak Lawn.  The Board of Trustees is scheduled to present a revision of their earlier proposed Ordinance, take suggestions from the audience and then decide to vote.  Will they collaborate with the various churches and providers?  Will they endorse an “imperfect document “again? 

Remember always that the least of us has the least of what we all have: health, safety, employment, access to physical and mental care, food, security, clothing, home, freedom.  Collaboration and cooperative discussion with the personnel who work with this very fragile population would make a tremendous difference in their survival.  To simply force new and restrictive parameters of existence in the name of safety will not help in the greater mission of moving them to once again productive lives. 

You may contact the Board Trustees of Oak Lawn below:

Contact information for the Oak Lawn Trustees:
Dist. #1 – Tim Desmond  tdesmond@oaklawn-il.gov

Dist. #2 – Alex Olejniczak aolejniczak@oaklawn-il.gov
Dist. #3 – Robert Streit rstreit@oaklawn-il.gov
Dist. #4 – Terry Vorderer  tvorderer@oaklawn-il.gov
Dist. #5 – William “Bud” Stalker  bstalker@oaklawn-il.gov
Dist. #6 – Thomas Phelan  tphelan@oaklawn-il.gov
Village President -  Dr. Sandra Bury sbury@oaklawn-il.gov
Village Manager – Larry Deetjen  ldeetjen@oaklawn-il.gov


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Is It Time Yet, Sarah Huckabee Sanders? No? How About Us, Illinois?

Is It Time Yet, Sarah Huckabee Sanders? 
No? How About Us, Illinois?

October 25th  will be one month since the Mandalay Bay killings in Las Vegas, the worst mass murder by assault weapons in the history of the United States.

I am hoping that tomorrow the perpetually furrowed, dark eye-browed Sarah Huckabee Sanders will give us all permission to talk about the event and ask questions about whether or not we might want to do something to reign in or at least curtail the bloody mayhem that is able to be visited upon us all.  Something tells me that she won’t bring it up. 

You might remember that Sanders had suggested that this is a time for “mourning,” not a time for legislation or even a discussion of legislation.  “I think one of the things that we don’t want to do is try to create laws that won’t create — or stop these types of things from happening,” Sanders said. “I think if you look to Chicago, where you had over 4,000 victims of gun-related crimes last year, they have the strictest gun laws in the country. That certainly hasn’t helped there. So, I think we have to, when that time comes for those conversations to take place, then I think we have to look at things that may actually have a real impact.”

We’re all told to be in mourning and Chicago shows us anything we might try to do won’t work anyway?  What kind of answer is that?  And I thought Sean Spicer was insincere or at best befuddled?

We learned a bit more from the nearly 60 killings in Las Vegas and over 500 hurt.  On the federal level, anything or bill that might move to examine or prevent various accessories like “bump-stocks” and over-sized magazines has stalled – evaporated – vanished.  Just like Sandy Hook and Newtown.  Like Orlando and other future sites.

But Springfield Armory (in Illinois) and the NRA have not been quiet, although the NRA threw a fallacious bone to the media after the shooting in Las Vegas, suggesting someone should “look at bump-stocks.”  Well, a quick look has been followed by another call to arms by the NRA and Geneseo-based Springfield Armory to fight against any bill looking to undermine the sacred right to bear arms that can kill and maim nearly a thousand people wielded by one individual.   

In the Illinois House and Senate, a number of bills are being written and sponsored to do something about what has happened in Las Vegas in an attempt to prevent it from happening here – despite Sarah Huckabee Sander’s proposal that nothing can be done to save us.

At least three of the many bills collecting in the House and Senate in the General Assembly call for the elimination of “Bump-Stocks” in Illinois.  A bump-stock is an accessory that replaces an original stock on a semi-automatic weapon (firing a shot each time one pulls the trigger) to an almost fully automatic ability by creating a bouncing stock that jumps back and forth against the shooter’s finger, increasing the amount of firepower to nearly the same as fully automatic war weapon. 

Like Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Steven McKelvain, the President of Springfield Armory, believes that any move to suppress the availability of such accessories is a “knee jerk reaction.”  He is helped by the NRA and the Illinois State Rifle Association in his quest to warn we  place blame where it does not lie. These feel-good measures by anti-gun legislators never solve anything but infringe upon our constitutional rights. This has been proven time and time again in cities that have the most restrictive gun laws also have the highest gun-related crime rates”
Of course, McKelvain’s argument that cities that have the highest rates of gun crimes might also wisely impose the most restrictive gun laws does not enter his mind or anyone else in the NRA.  Causality is not one of the cognitive high-points in the minds of the NRA.  The answer is instead to stop any and all kind of thoughtful and rationale concern for the greater good’s numbers – at movies, ball parks, concerts, gatherings…
The bills coming up in the Veto Session include HB’s 4107, 4112, 4115, 4117, 4120 and SB 236, 1657.  HB4117 is my personal favorite.  HB4117 not only bans the sale and possession of bump-stocks in Illinois, but it also stops the use of tannerite (a trademark name) in personal possession. 
I’ll use an exhausted NRA argument.  You’re a hunter, and you have a military weapon allowed by law after George W. Bush let the assault weapons ban lapse.  You want to “hunt deer” but practicing is difficult because you want to be like Chris Kyle, famed sniper in American Sniper.  Deer can’t fire back, but you need to practice at long range, because “real snipers” shoot at a distances of nearly 2500 meters (1 and ½ miles).  This where Tannerite comes in. 
Tannerite is a mixture of two mixtures of ammonium nitrate and aluminum powder sold separately to would be snipers who mix the ingredients and apply to targets placed far downfield.  Rather than use a scope or walk the distance downfield to see if they have actually hit the target, tannerite causes an explosion upon being struck by a bullet.  Thus, the shooter can tell if he/she has hit the target where the tannerite has been applied.  Tannerite is an explosive, but as it is sold in separate packages before mixing, it does not fall into a category of “dangerous” or even fireworks. 
And, it’s fun to see things explode.  Nothing says power like blowing up a target at 1000 meters, unless it is a bump-stock at 500. 
You might want to call your Senator or Representative to urge them to vote in agreement with this bill.  My Representative is a co-sponsor, I am happy to say. Here are the others. 

Others you might call include Senate President Cullerton and House Majority Leader Michael Madigan.  The NRA has provided many thousands of dollars to our Illinois legislators to stall such action.  Please call your politicians and support these common sense restrictions. 

You might also want to call Sarah and ask her if it’s time yet?  Sadly, you won’t find a contact for her, but you may want to ask the White House if it is time to talk after mourning.  202-456-1111