Policy inconsistent with town ideals
The Chapel Hill Department of Housing should act now to amend its policy of denying housing to individuals with histories of drug charges (CHN, bit.ly/1nzW1UM). This policy is unnecessary for public safety and disproportionately punitive in comparison with neighboring locales.
Currently, in order to be eligible for public housing services in Chapel Hill, applicants must have no drug-related charges on their record for the 15 years prior to their applications. This period of automatic exclusion is five years longer than the period specified for criminal activity involving physical violence.
Furthermore, the way that the policy is drafted appears to permit the department to deny housing to applicants who have only been charged with, rather than convicted of, drug offenses.
Chapel Hill, ironically given its reputation for tolerance, is harsher than other major cities such as Asheville, Wilmington, Durham, Greensboro, Raleigh and Fayetteville, where the exclusionary period for drug-related offenses does not exceed seven years, less than half of the period in Chapel Hill.
This policy is not required or even recommended by federal mandate. According to a 2010 letter penned by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the federal government mandates outright bans only for individuals with histories of methamphetamine manufacture or sexual misconduct. HUD in fact urges communities to institute flexible policies that balance protective interests with public policy concerns to help citizens build productive lives. Denial of essential services and shelter based on 15-year-old drug charges can only serve to drive citizens back into law-breaking behavior.
The Chapel Hill Justice in Action Committee recently proposed several changes to the public housing policy, including (1) no longer considering arrests or unproven allegations made against applicants; (2) distinguishing between felony and misdemeanor convictions; (3) reducing exclusionary periods and (4) eliminating automatic denials in favor of case-specific review. The department should implement these changes. Doing so would be consistent with our community’s proud tradition of inclusion and fairness.
‘Bill of the century’
July 2, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Act at 50 finds the United States and especially the former Confederate states, remarkably changed in some significant respects. Explicit racial segregation in our schools, restaurants, movie theaters, stores and other public accommodations has been eliminated, although remnants remain. For most, it may be hard to believe that in the early 1960s citizens not considered white were forbidden entry into many Chapel Hill establishments and that desegregation of the public schools was still considered “a bridge too far.”
The Civil Rights Act has also had a far-reaching impact on partisan politics in the United States. When the Act was passed in 1964, every senator but one from the old Confederacy was a Democrat. On race, they were all conservatives and all opposed the passage of the bill. In fact, a higher percentage of Republicans in the House and Senate, almost all from non-Southern states, supported the Act than Democrats. Despite this fact, white voters in the South blamed President Johnson and the Democratic party for passage of the Act and they largely abandoned the Democratic party over the next 20 years. Now the former solidly Democratic white Southern voter is solidly Republican.
It’s also unfortunately true that despite the gains of the Civil Rights Act, all indicators of well being in America – health, wealth, education, housing, and employment – are still largely determined by race.
We will mark this important anniversary on July 2 with a community forum, “The Bill of the Century: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 – Why It Was Necessary, What It Accomplished, Where We Go From Here.” Sponsored by the Chapel Hill-Carrboro chapter of the NAACP, the Chapel Hill Town Council Justice in Action Committee, Empowerment, Inc., The Marian Cheek Jackson Center, Organizing Against Racism Alliance and The UNC Center for Civil Rights, the forum will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Chapel Hill Library and will end at 8 p.m. Among the speakers will be Theodore Shaw, former director of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and newly named director of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and Gene Nichol, director of the UNC Center for Poverty, Work and Opportunity.
Please join us so we as a community can learn and work together to ensure that all citizens, regardless of race, may enjoy the full benefits of citizenship.
When parents are incarcerated
On the surface there was nothing unusual about the scene: two men sat next to each other at a breakfast meeting, introduced themselves and talked over coffee.
What was unusual was who these two men were: a local police chief who had worked his way up through the ranks and a man who was recently released after serving more than 20 years in prison.
Many of us would assume that these men’s worlds would never intersect. And yet they did. Why? It was because of their concern about children of incarcerated parents.
The breakfast was hosted by Our Children’s Place (OCP), a statewide nonprofit agency that raises community awareness about these children, of which there are least 24,000 in the North Carolina.
These children, 2.7 million nationally or 1 in 28 (think of a classroom) are often overlooked, vulnerable, and without a voice. OCP educates the public about the impacts of parental incarceration and builds partnerships to tackle these challenges. We give professionals such as teachers, nurses, librarians, child care providers the resources they need to best support these children. We seek and share critical data about these children in the hopes of reducing their risk of involvement in the criminal justice system and reducing parental recidivism. These efforts benefit the children, the family and strengthen our communities.
During our awareness work across the state, we often hear, “I’ve never thought about these children. It’s not that I don’t want to help, it’s just that no one has ever asked me to.” Our job is to encourage and challenge people to think about these children and to ask what their communities could be doing to increase understanding and recognize, support, and care for these children, OUR children.
As we celebrate a decade of advocacy, OCP must grow its base of financial support. We will be unable to continue this important work without community investment. We need your help now. We do not receive state funding. Financial investments by citizens like you ensure that children of incarcerated parents have a voice. As a community, we must commit ourselves to these children so they will thrive and grow toward productive lives. Your financial support is urgently needed. If OCP does not do this work, who will? Find out more at ourchildrensplace.com
Michelle H Guarino
Help kids have an OKAY summer
I am in 10th grade, and have had the privilege of attending summer camp every year since I can remember. Science camps, music camps, sleepaway camp, all of it, and some of my best memories are from camp.
Unfortunately, many kids in our community don’t have resources for these activities. Their parents work one or more jobs all summer and can’t afford summer camps or time for vacation with their children. Consequently, the children stay home watching TV, caring for younger siblings, or getting into trouble with other kids. Also, it has been proven that lack of some structured activity in the summer only exacerbates the achievement gap.
However, I recently learned about Opportunities for Kids and Youth (OKAY), which formed to address this problem. OKAY is a group mainly of women from various churches that provides some funding, recruits volunteers for programs in community organizations, and gives families information about free or scholarshipped programs.
OKAY found that a limiting factor in having more programs is lack of space. Over the summer, there are many school and church buildings that aren’t in use. Places like that are perfect for summer programs, and one thing that OKAY tries to do is connect programs to available spaces.
As a community, it is our responsibility to give all our children the best chance they have to succeed.
Please help our community children by advocating for more free or low-cost community programs, helping programs get started with space through churches and other organizations, ideas, and volunteers.
You can also be involved by joining the OKAY team, providing supplies, money, or volunteering.
For more information about OKAY, contact Connie Gates at firstname.lastname@example.org