Nov 232011

From State College to Berkeley and back to Lexington

By Jeff Gross

Like many on the morning of November 10, I woke up to the swell of news about what had happened overnight at two major public universities. In State College, P.A., an estimated 2,000 students took to the streets after the Penn State University Board of Trustees announced the dismissal of university president Graham Spanier and head football coach Joe Paterno for their alleged roles in covering up the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. Angry that media attention had pressured the school to end Paterno’s reign, students hurled rocks at television reporters and overturned a news van. By the time the streets were cleared, the police had made no arrests.

Across the country, at the University of California-Berkeley, students gathered in front of Sproul Hall (site of famous 1960s protests) to Occupy Cal and draw attention to the increasing cost of tuition and the long-term impact of student loan debt. In defiance of university administrators’ orders not to set up an encampment, a group of nearly 1,000, made up of students and faculty members, attempted to set up tents to occupy their campus. Refusing police orders to disperse, protestors knowingly committed an act of civil disobedience when they linked arms to protect the individuals setting up the encampment. Continue reading »

Sep 142011

Adjunct labor at Bluegrass

I am shocked to find out that the adjunct instructors are paid so little (“Open Letter to KCTCS president Michael McCall,” July 13). Most of the instructors I have had are adjuncts, and without exception they have been hard working and very dedicated to their students. I certainly hope this helps KCTCS to recognize that they need these instructors and that they deserve to be fairly compensated.

Lora Botner, online

War on homeless

I am a member of the much-hated homeless population in Lexington. Continue reading »

Sep 142011

City avoids responsibility, leadership

By Jeff Gross

What, if anything, the LFUCG will do about the Catholic Action Center remains to be seen, and it will say a lot about our community’s values. Following the Herald-Leader story on the LFUCG councilmembers’ response to concerns raised by the Center’s neighbors, councilmembers have said little publicly on the issue, awaiting community feedback at an upcoming public safety committee meeting.

On the other hand, the Catholic Action Center has attempted to improve their neighborhood presence and services. They are expanding meal delivery services for their elderly neighbors. They are visiting neighbors to find people who would benefit from this service. They have also reiterated that the public is welcome to their Tuesday free medical clinics. As a friend remarked upon seeing this news on a Quaker listserv, “Evidently, the way the Catholic Action Center handles criticism is to reach out and help the community even more!” Continue reading »

Aug 242011

By Jeff Gross

Last week, news emerged that four members of the Urban County Council (Vice Mayor Linda Gordon, At-Large member Steve Kay, First District’s Chris Ford, and Fifth District’s Bill Farmer, Jr.) met privately with Bishop Gainer to ask him to address concerns about the Catholic Action Center. The Center is independently run, but the property is owned by the Diocese of Lexington. Beverly Fortune’s “Neighbors’ complaints about Catholic Action Center get Attention at Lexington’s City Hall” in the Herald-Leader outlined the common complaints against the Center and potential actions being weighed by the councilmembers. The Catholic Action Center’s response, available on their Facebook group page, convincingly articulates their record for service and their commitment to working with the neighborhood. You can also search North of Center’s archives for my previous writing on this topic.

In response to complaints about loitering, noise, public intoxication, and litter, Kay suggests that one potential solution would be to expand the city’s nuisance ordinance to cover commercial property: “The current ordinance says if you have more than two police citations in a certain period of time, the building can be closed for one year.” In a moment of forced austerity, especially for already impoverished and struggling Americans, and in light of Lexington’s budgetary cuts to social services and public safety, the legal loophole nuisance ordinance “solution” poses an especially dangerous and impractical threat to private agencies that provide a safety net for vulnerable citizens. If government agencies cannot care for citizens (especially those who suffer from addiction or mental illness), then they must find ways to work with the agencies that can and will do that work. Continue reading »

Aug 252010

Homelessness in our communities

By Jeff Gross

(Editor’s note: This article is part two of Jeff’s series based on his work with and for people experiencing homelessness in Lexington. In his last piece, he introduced the Catholic Action Center and the Street Voice Council.)

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, I was sitting in Phoenix Park, near the downtown public library at the corner of Limestone and Main. I counted 27 people in the park, most of whom were sitting on benches and carrying on private conversations. Two police officers on bicycles talked to each other and watched the park. All-in-all, the park was a clean and quiet environment. Despite its tranquil atmosphere this particular Wednesday, Phoenix Park is an often-contested space in the heart of Lexington.

Photo by Hilary Brown

Phoenix Park with daytime residents. Photo by Hilary Brown.

The homeless and marginally homed, the vast majority of people who inhabit the park on an average workday, see it as a space for community, a safe place where they can get together to make it through the day.

For some downtown business owners, though, these park users are seen as a threat to business.

In the public discussion over the character and purpose of the park, the problem has been that the voices of the homeless and marginally homed have been the most muted in the struggle over the park’s future. Yet, these are the people the most personally affected by decisions made about Phoenix Park. Continue reading »

Jul 282010

Catholic Action Center in north-side neighborhoods

By Jeff Gross

Part One

Nearly as soon as I moved to the north side in February 2009, I heard people call the Catholic Action Center a neighborhood pariah. At a Martin Luther King Neighborhood Association meeting, Movable Feast outlined their renovation plans for the former Nanna’s Soul Food. Local residents were concerned that Movable Feast would be another Catholic Action Center. They wanted reassurance that Movable Feasts’ clients would not come to the organization’s location at the corner of Fifth and Silver Maple and that it wouldn’t end up like the Catholic hospitality house three blocks down at Fifth and Chestnut. This isn’t to say that neighbors’ concerns are unfounded: a quick search of the Lexington Division of Police’s Crime Map shows a significant number of calls to the Fifth and Chestnut intersection, though most other intersections in the Williams Wells Brown, MLK, and North Limestone neighborhoods also show high numbers of police calls.

Between February 2009 and January 2010, I put little thought into the Catholic Action Center’s presence in our neighborhood. Perhaps because I lived five blocks away, I never paid much attention to the Center. I had no reason, good or bad, to notice it. Homeless persons walked down my street throughout the day, though I had no way of knowing if they were going to the Catholic Action Center or somewhere else in the area. Since then, I’ve learned that many of the people passing through the north side are heading to Baker Iron and Metal off Seventh Street to exchange cans for cash. Others in our area are making their way back to the Hope Center or some of the camps off North Broadway. Continue reading »