Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Happy Birthday, Evan

My son Evan turned 19 today. He has become a driven, vibrant, articulate, and loving young adult who has equal measures of those things that young adults also have to work through to become responsible, productive members of the community.

Regardless of some of those shortcomings that we all possess, I believe that Evan has the tools to work his way through, and build himself a life full of honor, prosperity, and love. It's been a joy to watch this journey, and to guide and support where necessary.

Evan wants a day trip on his birthday, so along with Grandma we are headed down toward Ouray. A nice dinner to celebrate, and then back to the joyous grind of living tomorrow.

Here's to many more years of learning and joy, Evan. Enjoy your day, be safe, and may God watch over you as you seek your path to happiness.

My Two Lives

After nearly three weeks with Leslie and the girls, I packed up and spent the weekend westbound on I-70. My mother came back with me to spend some time with us, and to celebrate Evan's birthday, which is today. With one stopover in Kansas City, we arrived back in GJ late Sunday evening. The trip was largely uneventful and pleasant, save for the crazy driver in the Buick SUV with Texas plates who was weaving through traffic at high speeds in Ohio, and caught up to us doing the same thing in Illinois. My mother seemed to enjoy most of the ride, but I get the distinct feeling she won't be doing that again.

The drive to and from Pennsylvania feels increasingly like a transition between two lives. The highway itself, and those who call it home, represent a moving, fluid, dynamic community of purpose that I seemed to draw energy from as I traveled. Truck stops, and the lives they provide support to, are very interesting.

Michaela's condition is largely unchanged, but nonetheless tenuous. She completed her run of radiation treatments a little over a week ago. Since then, the emphasis appears to be on monitoring things that have a large impact on her current status. Michaela gets a Complete Blood Count (CBC) test run twice a week.
If her platelet count or hemoglobin is low, she goes to Children's to get these. In this picture, Michaela is in the infusion area at the Oncology clinic, with a volunteer music therapist who sang some beautiful, simple, and peaceful songs.

The things that Leslie endeavors to monitor on a daily basis include any bruising or fatigue that might betray a lower than normal blood count. Also, Michaela's IV fluid intake needs to be closely monitored, especially when she receives blood products. Leslie must moderate the amount of TPN that Michaela receives, in order to prevent fluid overload.

The larger concern is that Michaela's bone marrow will shut down, and her body will stop responding to transfusions. At this point I will defer to Leslie's words from a members-only site that she maintains to chronicle Michaela's story:
Only God has a say in what will happen to her now. Our hope is resting in God's tender love and mercy. I believe that all things are possible with God. I have no doubt that he has kept her through these long four and a half years and I know he can heal her if he chooses to. I still however do not know his will for Michaela. As long as there is life there is hope and so I pray daily for strength and to accept whatever God decides. He loves her. Her name is written in his hand.
When I left Leetsdale on Saturday morning, I knew two things:
  • That my life, or the shambles of conflicting priorities, symbiotic relationships, and dreams both realized and unfulfilled that at times substitutes for a life, has a place with Leslie. This is a place that I must play an equal role in nurturing and forwarding, while at the same time trying to address another life that at times sees itself as incompatible with this one.
  • A child is suffering and struggling, and her mother, the woman I love, is in need. Regardless of how long it takes or what it looks like at the end, I belong with her.
I'll try to post an update or two as Michaela's journey progresses. We are all praying for God to hold her. Nevertheless, I am looking toward my next trip back east through a bittersweet glass.

So in the interim I am trying to pick up my 'other' life where I left it 3 weeks ago. My son deserves credit for keeping the house as well as he did, despite the frequent gatherings of his friends that I knew were inevitable. One thing that is certain is that neither he and I enjoy yard work, so off we go into the verge. I go back to work tomorrow, and Words is beckoning me to complete July's complement of programming. It'll be a busy few days.

Enjoy the rest of your week.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reflection and Revisionism

Leetsdale, PA - Some things about summer back east have been abundant over the fortnight that I've been here. Most of these things aren't typically as abundant in Grand Junction. Things like seasonal allergies, bad roads, road construction, bad drivers, heavy concentrations of bad drivers, and humidity.

I spent most of today within the air-conditioned confines of Children's Hospital, while Michaela received blood and platelets. I got to work on Words for a little while, but recent days have afforded not much in the way of opportunities for reflection. Yesterday I accompanied Leslie while she addressed some discomforting business. This included a visit to the large and historically significant cemetery that overlooks my hometown.

On the way back from Children's today I was able to snag a half-dozen pink roses from one of the flower vendors that work some of the major commuter intersections in the city. They look very nice in a glass vase in Leslie's kitchen.

Sitting on her back porch at dusk, feeling a gentle breeze waft in from the west, watching her backyard teem with fireflies, reconciles those minor discomforts that accompany summers where I grew up, and helps calm the mind to cope more readily with the difficulties at hand.

Speaking of dealing with difficulties at hand, the three former Grand Junction Police officers that were let go in the wake of the recent homeless camp vandalism investigation told their story to the Daily Sentinel today, perhaps in hopes of bolstering their appeal, but also perhaps to bring subtle pressure on the GJPD about the way it's been accused of doing business.

Paul Shockley did a great job of documenting many of the details of the case that at first blush may appear mundane, but together paint a nice mental picture of what the officers were tasked with doing, and whether or not their actions were congruent with the task at hand. I arrived at the same conclusion that Chief Camper did; they were not.

With regard to the appeal by the officers, they claim that their actions were consistent with the training they had received as GJPD officers. There’s a significant difference between law enforcement training standards and the unwritten manner in which those standards may or may not be applied. Chief Camper’s actions will hopefully go a long way toward assuring that those unwritten ‘standards’ that get in the way of equal protection under law will no longer be a visible manifestation of the underlying prejudices that serve as their foundation.

With regard to the officers' appeal, I don't believe they have a chance. If the City is smart, Deputy City Manager Rich Englehart will sustain Chief Camper’s decision and actions, which were likely arrived at with considerable consultation of the City Attorney’s office.

To do otherwise would place Chief Camper’s mandate to lead at risk, and thus undermine his ability to oversee the department and apply the standards that he so forcefully put forward in firing these three officers. It could also reflect poorly on City Administration's perceived level of confidence in the advice of their attorneys.

The fired officers and their attorney claim that, contrary to Chief's Camper's quoted assertions in the officers' termination letters, that as trespassers the homeless individuals whose tents were cut open and ransacked are not entitled to protection from the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. Ralph D'Andrea gets into more detail about this particular subject, and he's right on the mark as well.

Whether these officers have any case regarding the applicability of the 4th Amendment to the camps and tents could be decided in the courts, and it feels to me that is where these guys are headed after their appeal is denied. What I'm thinking is that the former officers could be trying to posture themselves in the public eye to bring one of two arguments to the forefront:

  • The aforementioned question about the applicability of the 4th Amendment;
  • Framing an employment-related civil case into a community referendum on homelessness in the Grand Valley, and its related problems .

Based on the comments attached to today's story in the paper, if the fired officers do sue the City, watch them ask for a jury trial, and listen for discussion about the unwritten rules concerning treatment of the homeless members of the community that may have been tacitly accepted and/or selectively applied prior to Chief Camper's tenure.

This leads to one last question; rather than risk what could be potentially embarrassing disclosures about GJPD policy toward homeless individuals, will City administration be tempted to modify Chief Camper's decision to terminate these officers?

I hope not, for the reasons above, and also because Chief Camper appears to be establishing his imprint on the GJPD. As a public safety professional he doesn't deserve to be interfered with in this case by those who know how to administrate but not lead, and those with a counterproductive political agenda.

Leave it be, and move on through whatever storm is ahead. We'll all be better off.

Have a good week.

Friday, June 18, 2010

I Like Soccer

Leetsdale, PA - I have yet to watch any matches of this year's World Cup. This is not out of indifference or disdain, such as that expressed by fellow Grand Junction area writers Steve Beauregard and Gene Kinsey. It's just that I've been busy, and Leslie doesn't have cable. I did catch the highlights of the USA-England match online, and I think that the goalkeeper for England will likely not be walking into any local pubs for a while.

In response to these local naysayers, I like soccer..a lot. The fluid nature of play, combined with the skill and endurance required, make the game very appealing. I like the same things about hockey and lacrosse, and watch those whenever I can as well. Defense is as appealing an aspect of these sports as offensive prowess, and some of the low-scoring affairs, especially in hockey, can be some of the finest examples of athleticism and effort.

Contrary to some warped conventional wisdom, there are lots of soccer fans out there in the states. During the last World Cup in 2006, I was in Massachusetts, and was enthralled by the number of knowledgeable and boisterous American fans watching in bars and restaurants.

I also enjoy watching other sports that don't emphasize constant movement, but are driven by intricate strategies. Baseball, American football, and curling are examples of these. Leslie cringes whenever I mention curling - she thinks it's pretty ridiculous. I personally think that her affinity for the
PBR is kind of interesting, but I also think that those riders and bulls are the real deal. Now if only the hype-generating marketing style that resembles what I have called "NASCAR with livestock" would back off some, then I would enjoy it more as well.

One thing that everyone seems to have noticed about this year's World Cup is the profligate use of the vuvuzela, or what I call a 'stadium horn'. The South African fans have been
driving many to distraction with these. I had one in my trunk for years when I used to go to a lot of Pittsburgh Spirit games in the 80's. I think I got it at Mike Feinberg's on Penn Avenue.

Yeah, it was loud. Yeah, it was fun. Good for them.

My favorite teams are the
Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer, Arsenal of the English Premier League, and Inter Milan of the Italian Serie A. Inter was in the news most recently for winning the UEFA Champions League title. They also have the coolest jerseys around.

That probably looks like Sanskrit to those who don't pay attention to soccer. That's OK. I don't pay attention to NASCAR, and I'm seriously in doubt about "Mixed Martial Arts" (AKA cage fighting) as an honorable display of the best humankind has to offer in the way of athletic endeavors. To each his (or her) own.

Now it's time to root for Team USA, because everyone knows that Americans love an underdog, and that's something we've been on the world soccer stage for many, many years.

We'll be at Children's Hospital all day today, as Michaela needs a transfusion along with a radiation treatment. The hospital has lots of creature comforts for the young patient and visitors; TVs with cable channels, and wireless Internet everywhere. Maybe there will be some good soccer on, if I can somehow get the channel changed from Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon. Good luck with that..

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Prayers For Michaela -
The Road Home

Leetsdale, PA - As many of you know from either conversations with me or through several posts here, my fiancee Leslie has two daughters. The youngest, Michaela, has been fighting neuroblastoma, an aggressive cancer involving nerve cells, since December of 2005. Michaela has endured two major operations, stem cell and bone marrow transplants, extensive radiation and chemotherapy, and most recently some specialized radiation treatments in an attempt to arrest this disease.

When I left Pittsburgh around a month ago, Michaela was in the same general condition as when I had seen her in late March.
She was still struggling with nausea and vomiting, resulting in a considerable loss of weight. At the same time she would also have good days, wanting to be more active, willing and able to hold down some of her favorite foods.

The big difference in Michaela's disposition was that she felt too weak to walk long distances. Leslie got her a portable wheelchair, which helped a great deal. In this photo Michaela is looking at a statue of a Triceratops covered with small toys, many of them dating from my childhood. I saw lots of green plastic army men in there..

Recent GI studies to attempt to ascertain the cause of Michaela's vomiting located a narrowing of one of the loops of her small intestine. Michaela's surgeon was hesitant to proceed without some additional nutritional support. With that plan in mind, Michaela checked into Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh in mid-May to begin Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN), in hopes of building her up to a point where she could safely endure an exploratory procedure.
After admission, a CT Scan of Michaela's abdomen revealed extensive new tumor growth throughout.

After the scan, Michaela started having more difficulty with pain. Leslie and Michaela elected to go home with the TPN, pain meds, and hospice care. She has lost more weight in the past month.

Getting Michaela to and from Children's almost every day has been a difficult task for Leslie. Michaela has two portable IV pumps, and needs the wheelchair as well. Like any sick child, her patience is limited, and those around her can be subjected to the effects. Leslie is excelling in her role as a full-time caregiver, but is plainly exhausted by the end of the day.

On top of these harsh realities comes the stark realization that Michaela could soon lose her battle, and be called home.

Since I got back here last week, I've been helping with general household duties and assisting Leslie with the almost daily trips to Children's for radiation treatments, as well as occasional transfusions of blood or platelets. Michaela's body may be weakening, but her spirit and belief in God do not appear to have been shaken by her experiences in fighting cancer, and tolerating the treatment regimen that may be arguably as taxing on the body and spirit as the cancer itself.

I initially thought that being in Leslie's position in terms of having lost a loved one to cancer would help me understand things better, especially since both of us have teenagers that have also been affected by this illness. I find myself feeling at times inadequate to the task, primarily because I'm not here as much as I should be, but also because it's a child that is suffering.

This inadequacy may also be an extension of feelings that have affected my relationship with Leslie, related to distance, logistics, and bringing two families together through hardships past and present.

So I'm here to help, learn, adapt, and most importantly, love. As Michaela's struggle continues, so does the need to deal with medical and other expenses that have been steadily building up over the course of her illness and treatment. Those of you with the resources to assist in this area can send your donations to:

Michaela Russo Care Fund Trust

c/o Dollar Bank

P.O. Box 765

Pittsburgh, PA 15230-0765

Thanks very much, and have a good week ahead.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Who Is Cablevision?

If you are in an area where Bresnan Communications provides service, Cablevision is the name of Bresnan's new owner. In a joint press release issued today, Cablevision Systems and Bresnan announced the acquisition by "a newly-formed subsidiary of Cablevision...in a transaction valued at $1.365 billion." This represents a majority stake in the company. No word appeared to be available today on what, if anything, Comcast was going to do with its 30 percent stake in Bresnan. The Cablevision acquisition should be completed by the end of the year, or early 2011.

There is no indication from today's announcement as to the name of the "new subsidiary", or whether Bresnan's name will change as a result. Thanks to resources like Wikipedia, I thought my limited writing time would be better spent on getting to know the new owner:
  • Cablevision is the 5th largest cable provider in terms of subscribers. Most of these customers reside in the five states that generally make up the New York City metroplex.
  • The company is publicly traded (CVC), and is headed by Charles F. Dolan and members of his family. They, along with other investors, have unsuccessfully tried to take the company private since 2005. Ironically, another Cablevision press release issued today outlined a new $500 Million stock repurchase plan.
  • The company is a major player in both media and sports holdings. These include the Madison Square Garden, its sports teams (Knicks, Rangers, etc.) and cable channels, officially spun off from Cablevision in February but chaired by James Dolan. The company, which is headquartered on Long Island, also purchased the Newsday group of newspapers in 2008.
  • The company appears to be willing to engage in contentious disputes over carriage and/or retransmission consent, including a dispute with two NYC area affiliates of ABC that deprived Cablevision subscribers of portions of this year's Academy Awards telecast. The company also refuses to carry NFL Network, reportedly over the exclusive rights to NFL Sunday Ticket programming currently enjoyed by DirecTV. No word now on any changes to the continued availability of NFL Network to Bresnan subscribers.
  • Having most of your customer base consist primarily of New Yorkers naturally lends itself to no shortage of creative complaints, and Cablevision has been the target of many. This includes a website derived from that seemingly ubiquitous Internet presence, "(your nemesis here)sucks.com".

I'll try to find out more about these and other aspects of the sale over the next few months. Bresnan has been a largely honorable provider of television and telecommunications services to the Grand Valley and other parts of the western slope, and I don't think there's any reason to think that will change.

I believe at first blush that the Cablevision deal is better for the local consumer for two reasons:

  1. Bresnan will now be owned in toto by at least two larger providers of these services in larger marketplaces. This will continue to allow for Bresnan to leverage economies of scale in obtaining programming, upgrading technology, and optimizing customer service. A note of caution is appropriate, however, regarding the aggressive retrans negotiation posture of the new owner.
  2. These companies (Cablevision and Comcast) are publicly traded, thus returning Bresnan to the purview of the public investment marketplace. A similar note of caution is warranted regarding continued attempts to take Cablevision private in the future.

Best wishes to Bresnan employees for a smooth and hopefully painless transition. We'll be watching.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Getting To 'The Point'

Leetsdale, PA - I left Grand Junction on Friday afternoon, and arrived here in the wee hours of Sunday morning, driving 1700 miles in 34 hours, 26 of them spent on the road, actually the same road, a straight shot on I-70.

My fiancee Leslie and her two daughters live here, a small town with a large industrial presence along the Ohio River about 15 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. I'm not far from the hospital where Leslie and I were both born, and can easily walk to where we went to high school.

I'm here because Leslie said she needed my help. Her youngest daughter, Michaela, has been fighting cancer for the last 4 1/2 years, and right now is having a hard time. I'm writing in more detail about her struggle, which I've chronicled periodically in the past, and will have more about that soon. We head for Children's Hospital later this morning.

One of the things that I think about when I come back here are the similarities between Grand Junction and Pittsburgh. One of these is the location of both cities along the confluence of at least two rivers.

The recent news stories about the trashing of a homeless camp near what is called "The Point" in Grand Junction brought to mind a stark contrast and a revelation that I found interesting.

The confluence of the Grand (now Colorado) and Gunnison Rivers that is Grand Junction's namesake shares a nickname with Pittsburgh's more famous and developed confluence, pictured below.

Below is a map overview of Grand Junction's "Point", which appears to be railroad right-of-way. Note the different shading of some of the land areas in comparison to others.

The parcels shaded in tan are within the city limits of Grand Junction. The parcels in white are in unincorporated Mesa County. Yes, it does appear that the namesake of the City of Grand Junction is not even within the city limits of Grand Junction.

This begs another observation regarding the investigation of the allegations of misconduct by the three GJPD officers that were eventually fired for their actions. News reports and the City's press releases all stated that the investigation into the vandalism at the homeless camp was conducted by the Mesa County Sheriff's Office.

What appears to have gone unreported is that the MCSO may have conducted the investigation because the location of the incident was in their jurisdiction, and not that of the Grand Junction Police Department. More fuel for the "Where's the City Limits this week?" file.

Have a great week ahead.

Photo credits:


Mesa County GIS

Friday, June 04, 2010

Respect, Authority, and Values

Grand Junction Police Chief John Camper is deserving of praise for his handling of the recent incident involving his officers destroying the property of homeless individuals at a riverfront camp about a month ago.

In his prepared statement, the Chief made a strong, values-based case for the termination of the three officers involved, and the discipline of two additional un-named officers who were apparently privy to these actions, yet did not report them.

Ralph D'Andrea, as well as other commentators on the local scene, have already weighed in with their impressions of the official GJPD action, as well as what could be called the official inaction of Mesa County's District Attorney. I agree with Pete Hautzinger that it would have been difficult if not impossible to prove who exactly did what.

Ralph thought that the GJPD's action was more of a slap on the wrist without criminal prosecutions, and that it will be "open season on the homeless" as a result. I respectfully disagree. I know how hard it is to get a civilian, "non-sworn" job at the GJPD, not to mention one that carries with it the power to arrest and use deadly force if necessary. Losing it involuntarily will be no picnic for these guys.

Also, events this week and last showed that there are a lot of people willing to stand up and help those homeless who want to be helped, as well as assuring that those who don't are not treated in the manner that Chief Camper was forced to deal with yesterday.

It will be interesting to see how quickly the fired officers bounce back into another law enforcement position, if that's the path they choose to go from here.

A few of the Chief's remarks stuck out for me:
"I’m angry because our department is truly concerned about the growing transient problem in this community, but now any steps I would take to try to address that issue cooperatively with other agencies would likely be viewed as either vindictive or pandering."
It's interesting how the Chief frames the problem, as well as the approach his department might be prevented from taking as a result of the incident.

Does the "transient problem" consist of people who have no permanent domicile (homeless), the actions those people engage in, or their visible presence in the community? We can all agree that homelessness is a problem; indeed, how does a law enforcement agency proactively address it without first dealing with the perception that all transients are criminals, or unworthy of the protections that all citizens are entitled to? Yesterday was a good first step toward that.

I also don't really understand how the GJPD could be perceived as "vindictive or pandering" by attempting to work cooperatively with other stakeholders. Chief Camper took a big step toward setting the tone for his agency with his actions yesterday, and it was good to see two respected members of the GJPD command staff at the "Beyond Charity" event last week.

Although I'm no expert, I think that this may have roots in something very basic within the law enforcement profession. Cops aren't necessarily accustomed to negotiating, and when they do it's usually from a real or perceived position of strength. The presence of a uniform, badge, and gun can have a strong controlling influence (some would say intimidating) on most people. That's how we've been conditioned, and there are positive aspects to that.

Cops depend on this to exercise a measure of their authority in a passive way, but without that respect on the part of citizens, their effectiveness is diminished. That's why what happened yesterday is so important, and why it's equally important for every police officer to approach their work with a solid value system in place.

I also agree with Chief Camper's statement that "the work of our finest officers is sullied and overshadowed when something like this occurs. The number of commendations our officers get each year far outweighs the few complaints that we receive". I'm proud to have worked for the GJPD, and have great respect for the vast majority of those within the department that I got to know during my time there.

While I have never personally met Chief Camper, I believe that he is a man of integrity and balanced leadership who is trying to set his ship upright, and insists on his officers upholding those values that he sets forth. With yesterday's action, the Chief took a big step toward assuring that this occurs on a consistent basis.

However, as the masthead of this blog has stated since I began it nearly 4 years ago, In God We Trust, all others we monitor. The people are watching.

Like any viable community, Grand Junction holds fast to values that represent both our respect for the rule of law, and the need to take care of those who cannot care for themselves. It's fitting to conclude with Chief Camper's words from yesterday:
"It is said that a society is judged by how it treats ‘the least among us’, and by that standard we failed miserably. When we act in a mean-spirited or retaliatory manner, we not only let down our citizens, but we let down ourselves as well."
To add a corollary of sorts, if it is true that the actions of our police reflect the attitudes of the citizenry, then we as a community still have a lot of work to do. If you need further evidence of that, just look over to our east, to one of the de facto meccas of American Christianity, Colorado Springs. Consider what the leading newspaper there, the Gazette, found out about some of the community it serves.

To the great work ahead..

Time to make my way. Have a great weekend.

Bresnan For Sale

It looks like the 'exploration' of a possible Bresnan sale that I wrote about back in April appears to be coming to fruition, albeit quietly.

From Bloomberg:

Providence Equity Partners Inc. is seeking to sell broadband provider Bresnan Communications for more than $1 billion including debt, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.

The private-equity firm, based in Providence, Rhode Island, hired Credit Suisse Group AG and UBS AG to sell Bresnan, which has attracted interest from buyout funds and strategic buyers, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Bids are due in two weeks, one of the people said.

Private-equity firms are selling holdings after returning less money to clients last year than at any time since at least 2000. Providence took cable company Kabel Deutschland Holding AG public in March, raising 759 million euros ($929 million) in Germany’s biggest initial stock sale since 2007.

Bresnan, based in Purchase, New York, provides broadband- communication services in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah and is 30 percent-owned by Comcast Corp. Bresnan would give its new owner a slice of the burgeoning market for high-speed Internet services, whose revenue is expected to rise to $210 billion globally in 2014 from $164 billion in 2009, according to ABI Research in Oyster Bay, New York.

Founder Bill Bresnan, who repurchased the company in 2003 for $525 million with backing from Providence, died last year. Bresnan has increased revenue at a 15 percent annual growth rate and cash flow at a 20 percent pace since Providence took over, according to one of the people.

Julie Fisher, a Providence spokeswoman, didn’t return a phone call seeking comment. Doug Morris, a UBS spokesman, declined to comment, as did Duncan King, a Credit Suisse spokesman, and D’Arcy Rudnay, a Comcast spokeswoman.
It will be interesting to follow this as it develops, especially what Comcast might consider doing as they already own just shy of a third of Bresnan. Could GJ be "Comcastic" in the future? We'll see.

In the meantime, check out this recent story from the Durango Herald if you want a sample of how crazy the business of television can be. Hopefully the folks in Albuquerque will either acquiesce to Denver market stations in that section of their DMA, or will just go away.

Good night.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

JUCO Boom and Bust

Last night wasn't a good night to be a baseball umpire, or a homeless advocate trying to get your message out.

I went to the Unitarian Church last night to hear Randall Amster of Prescott (AZ) College speak about the criminalization of homelessness. Mr. Amster is a well-spoken subject matter expert with a penchant for activism, and a lengthy portfolio of books and numerous articles to his credit. He was both entertaining and enlightening.

It's too bad that the attendance was light (about 20 or so), and that there didn't appear to be a single news media representative in attendance. To their credit, KKCO did make mention of the event in their reporting on the gathering at "The Wedge" earlier in the day. I'm guessing that the sound and fury surrounding a certain JUCO game had the attention of the area and the media last night.

If you took in some of the TV reporting yesterday afternoon, Bryce Harper of Southern Nevada is the greatest thing since Navajo Tacos. Monday night he led his team over Iowa Western with 2 home runs and 8 RBI. Tuesday's early newscasts were singing the praises of the 17-year old phenom, expected to be drafted high, if not first, in the upcoming MLB amateur draft. JUCO committee chair Jamie Hamilton was taking note of the exceptional media presence that Harper had seemingly drawn to Grand Junction. How often does a 16-year old ballplayer make the cover of Sports Illustrated, as Harper did last year?

By the time 10:00 rolled around, however, a decidedly different tone was present, as Mr. Harper was ejected in the 5th inning for taking umbrage to a called third strike, and his team lost to perennial JUCO participant San Jacinto (TX), 10-8. The ejection will result in a 2-game suspension per NJCAA rules, as Harper was also ejected earlier in the season.

Barring two wins by Southern Nevada in the JUCO loser's bracket to get to the Championship Game, Mr. Harper's amateur baseball career will end with a decisive thud on the league's premier stage. He let his team, the fans, the leaders of his sport, and all of the assembled media down with his actions. You could almost call him the Exxon of this year's JUCO Tournament.

I was wondering why such an outstanding prospect would be playing JUCO ball. Last year's SI cover story spelled it out. Mr. Harper's parents, under the advice of an agent, pulled Bryce from high school and had him get his GED. This would allow him to enroll and play at the JUCO level, which would then make him eligible for the MLB draft. So the kid is built, seasoned, and marketed for baseball.

It's rumored that Mr. Harper will be drafted by the Washington Nationals this coming Monday. His coach is rumored to be offered a scouting job with the Nats as well. While it's clear that Mr. Harper has bigger fish to fry elsewhere, he showed to the JUCO faithful that he's also got a little growing up to do, and may not be remembered fondly among other JUCO players who made it to the majors, such as Kirby Puckett.

I wish Mr. Harper well in his quest for professional glory, if that's what he wants. On a day where a third perfect game in the majors this season was thwarted by an umpire's blown call with 2 outs in the 9th, he'll hopefully have plenty of opportunities to redeem himself as a pro.

That doesn't help us here in Grand Junction, however. In an enterprise where hype can sometimes trump history, Mr. Harper's unceremonious exit could put a damper on what has been a better attended and more exciting tournament so far this year.

I have plenty to do today. Enjoy your day as well.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Readers Deserve More Coverage of Homeless Issues

Happy June.

This morning the Daily Sentinel ran a follow-up to yesterday's story that the Grand Junction Police purchased 11 tents for transients, to replace those allegedly damaged by 3 of their officers. This was accompanied by an editorial strongly encouraging, if not insisting upon complete transparency in releasing the details of the investigation and its conclusion. I'll reserve comment until those details are part of the public record.

What I would like to touch upon is the event held one week ago today at the Whitman Education Center downtown. Titled "Beyond Charity", the event was hosted by Grand Valley Peace and Justice, and was billed as a forum to bring together stakeholders in the struggle to address the problem of homelessness, or "houselessness", as many who are involved in the struggle prefer it be called.

The event was well attended, and was led off by a group of local leaders in addressing homeless issues detailing their missions and activities, and how they have made an impact locally. This was followed by a brainstorming session facilitated by Blake Chambliss, an architect and former Grand Valley resident now living in Denver and advocating for social justice.

There was a lot of participation by the attendees to define the varying issues and causes surrounding homelessness; those will eventually be presented by the stakeholder group in a more formal type of report, which will hopefully have an online presence that I can link to.

The speakers seemed to make the most impact on me. Mayor Teresa Coons was in attendance, and spoke briefly. She did mention up front that the City is interested in "collaborative partnerships", but was not sure that they should be in charge of coordinating efforts among what appears to be a robust number of stakeholder groups. More about this later.

Sister Karen Bland of Catholic Outreach had some poignant remarks regarding the interdependent concepts of charity and justice, and how her organization thrives on both. She said, "Justice fuels the work of Catholic Outreach, even though our resources come from a source of charity. Everyone has a right to life that goes beyond a struggle to survive". She also asserted that safe and decent shelter for all is a moral imperative, defined as a "principle that something must be done because it is a right, through opposition and difficulty".

She went on to ask that if safe and decent shelter is an inherent right, what are the impediments to it?

I found a 2007 column from Sojourners Magazine that touches on this, and does an even better job of explaining the dichotomy that our nation, purportedly "one nation under God", must confront with this concept:

The goal of social charity and social justice is furthering the common good. Social charity addresses the effects of social sin, while social justice addresses the causes of such sins. Brazilian Catholic Archbishop Hélder Câmara famously said, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint; when I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.” His phrase indicates the societal pressure to separate charity and justice. The two can not be separated. It would be like taking the heart out of a body—neither would live for long.

Lori Rosendahl from the Grand Junction Housing Authority spoke about the specific successes they have seen over the past year in addressing this need. Providing training to help prevent foreclosure, facilitating 'short sale' loan modification where necessary, and locating funds to provide assistance with paying security deposits are some of the ways that the Housing Authority addresses the issue. Still, over 2000 families remain on a waiting list for adequate, affordable housing, with 28% of those listing themselves as homeless. They did make the news this past week for their work with the VA and Catholic Outreach in securing housing vouchers for 35 local veterans through the federal Veterans Assistance for Supportive Housing (VASH) program.

Mike Stahl of Hilltop reported significant inroads in leveraging its existing resources along with establishing partnerships with businesses and property managers to adopt a task-driven approach to addressing homelessness issues. They have committed housing in existing Hilltop facilities to transitional use for homeless families, developed a case management framework to essentially triage for those with the greatest need and prioritize their resources, and continue to work on assisting victims of domestic violence, especially those with children, who seek assistance through Hilltop's Latimer House shelter.

One niche area Mr. Stahl also touched on is those homeless who are young adults. Many of these are foster children who turn 18, and thus 'age out' of supervision by the Mesa County Department of Human Services. Others in the audience commented later on the need to identify and work with this group, as well as other teenagers who may be homeless and are functioning under the radar of DHS or the schools.

Mr. Stahl concluded with the very astute observation that Grand Junction is a "very giving community", with "lots willing to help". He said one thing that is needed is "the right ask".

Mr. Chambliss then took the floor, and the resulting flow of ideas was as extensive and varied as the reasons behind homelessness itself. Several of the more emphasized ideas put forth were a need for coordination of all of the resources and consensus among all of the stakeholder groups. This is critical to avoid duplication of resources, and the conflicts inherent with differing missions or ways of doing things.

Several attendees made reference to the successes enjoyed by Denver's "Road Home" program, which relies on a Commission for the Homeless and a paid administrator, in partnership with the Mile High United Way to provide fundraising support. I've written about this before, specifically the parking meters placed on Denver streets from which all proceeds benefit Denver's Road Home.

This constituted my suggestion to the brainstorming session; instead of making all Downtown Grand Junction parking free during the Christmas shopping season, commit all revenue from meters, garage fees, and fines collected from tickets to the cause of addressing homelessness in Grand Junction.

There was some dissatisfaction on the part of myself and others as to Mayor Coons' remarks at the event. The Mayor has long been a supporter of community efforts to provide for programs like these, but she must also work with 6 other people whose views most likely traverse the spectrum of caring and tolerance.

Still, there is a working urban model for addressing homelessness just 250 miles away; don't allow politics or intolerance get in the way of taking the best of a working program and 10-year plan and running with it. The intellectual capital present in the City's workforce could be put to good use here, just as it likely will in identifying funding options to remodel Sam Suplizio Field.

Those in attendance included several members of the local print and broadcast media, including Sentinel reporter Amy Hamilton and, notably, publisher Jay Seaton. You wouldn't have known it, though, judging from what appears to be a complete absence of any reporting about the event in the week since it took place. Even the Free Press, noteworthy for its coverage of these issues in the past, didn't have anything about the event in this past Friday's edition. KREX appears to be the only media outlet in the area that had any reporting of the meeting.

Granted, there have been stories about the small successes, including one by Ms. Hamilton about the community garden at Catholic Outreach. However, until there is a comprehensive discussion about the nature and nuances of the problem, and how to best pool our collective resources to provide for the greatest amount of our citizens in need, we will continue to address things on a sporadic and perhaps less efficient basis than we could. This effort deserves the support of the entire non-profit community, local government, and the mass media.

Mr. Stahl had perhaps the most applicable point to make about the homeless in communities like Grand Junction. It takes not only 'the right ask', but the right attitude, that being a desire to work as hard as one can, rise out of difficulty, and eventually become self-sufficient. Contrary to a lot of current political rhetoric, the 'right wing' does not hold a monopoly on this kind of thinking, and we must also recognize that there are many in our homeless community that may too impaired to adapt into this model, whether by their own doing or not.

This leads me to mention the most glaring absence from last Tuesday's event, that being a representative of Colorado West Mental Health. This organization is the primary provider of mental health and substance abuse services in Mesa County. Their failure to be represented as a key stakeholder in a discussion about a population that may very well comprise a significant amount of their client base begs for an explanation.

Today, two events will showcase the plight of many homeless around the country, that being the attempts by many communities to criminalize their activities. Housing First! No More Deaths! will host a barbecue at the former Colorado West Park at 1st Street and Grand Avenue, in part to draw attention to the City's surreptitious removal of the land's status as a park, and re-designation of it as a median, thus prohibiting panhandling in what could be the largest median in Colorado.

This will be followed by a lecture this evening by Randall Amster, a professor at Prescott College in Arizona, on "Public Space and the Criminalization of Houselessness". 7 PM at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1022 Grand Ave.

Until then, enjoy your day and your shelter.