Page 6-The Michigan Daily/New Student Edition - Thursday, September 6, 1990
Housing problem fought on
Organization creates 'unity' in
fight for tenants' denied rights
by Amy Harmon
Daily Staff Writer
On April 27 U.S. Marshals and
Ann Arbor Police officers armed
with machine guns entered four units
at the South Maple public housing
site and forced six adults and seven
children to leave their homes.
Although three of the tenants were
later charged with distribution of
narcotics or possession of narcotics
with intent to deliver, none of them
had been charged at the time of the
eviction. The incident was the first
use in Michigan of the federal law
which allows the government to
evict public housing tenants sus-
pected of drug dealing whether or not
they have been charged with a crime.
The storm of angry protests fol-
lowing the seizure - which resulted
in U.S. attorney's office allowing
the tenants return temporarily to
their homes - were organized by
UNITY, an association of tenants in
Ann Arbor public housing. UNITY
formed in March 1989 as a small
group of tenants dissatisfied with
what Elmira Collins, a UNITY
member, called "the Housing Com-
mission's irresponsibility on the is-
sues of housing and maintenance,"
as well as "arbitrarily enforced regu-
lations and lack of affordable hous-
"The idea behind UNITY," said
Traceye Matthews, a member of the
United Coalition Against Racism
who has worked closely with
UNITY, "was to get a residents or-
ganization to provide a voice for the
tenants who were really getting
short-changed by the Housing
Commission. They were treated with
a lack of respect and were basically
walked over. So UNITY formed as a
supportive political organization
which could fight for the rights of
poor people in public housing."
Members and supporters of
UNITY catalogue a long list of
complaints against the Commis-
sion's management of the units and
their tenants, the most bitter of
which centers on its refusal to allow
the evicted tenants back into public
housing during the several weeks in
which they were homeless.
"The position of the Housing
Commission is collaborating with
Bush's war on drugs," Barbara
Ransby, member of the United
Coalition Against Racism said, "the
eviction was racist, sexist, and ig-
nored due process."
Collins emphasized that by de-
manding the families be allowed
back into their homes, UNITY was
not supporting drug dealing in pub-
lic housing. "We are not supporting
drug dealers," she said, "But we are
supporting the families because of
the way their homes were seized....
They were found guilty even before
they went to court"
Housing Commission Director
Bonnie Neuland defended the Com-
mission's response to the evictions.
"It was not our action." she said.
"When the Federal government
seized those units from the tenants
they seized them from the Housing
Commission too." Neuland said if
the Commission allowed the fami-
lies back into public housing its
funding from the U.S. Department
of Housing and Urban Development
would be jeopardized.
Neuland also denied UNITY's
charges that the Commission had
done substandard maintenance work
with the grant HUD had designated
for the purpose of rehabilitating the
apartments at the South Maple unit.
"In our opinion, the apartments are
in good condition," she said, noting
several of the repairs the Commis-
sion had made in the last year, such
as installing handrails, floor drains
in the bathrooms, and new kitchen
One of UNITY's main com-
plaints is that the Commission does
not involve tenants in decisions
about the use of various funds for
tenant programs and maintenance.
But Neuland said the Commission
has encouraged tenant organizations
and tried to negotiate with them.
"We, the Ann Arbor Housing
Commission, applied for a grant in
1987 to get a resident organization
at each of the family sites," she said.
"Those organizations became
RiUTH lLITT IMANN'
Despite the large number of beds for the homeless shown here, the city cannot accommodate all those people without housing. There are a number of
different groups working not only for the homeless, but also those in low-income housing.
Matthews said the Commission's
claim to support tenant organizing
is insincere. "The Housing Commis-
sion says it wants to have a tenants
association, but in name only," she
"Federal HUD says they have to
have resident input on everything, so
they want something to point to and
say, 'see, we have resident input.'
They wanted a puppet kind of tenant
organization. They didn't expect it
was going to develop into
something which was going to chal-
lenge them and their control over
Area shelters strive to 'break the
with strict rules
by Noelle Vance
Daily Staff Writer
Students can volunteer at almost
all of Ann Arbor's five shelters for
homeless people - helping to serve
or cook meals, working phone shifts
or just talking to the clients.
"Community support has been
terrific. There's lots of wonderful
student support," said Sandy
Bankropt, a volunteer at the Shelter
Each of Ann Arbor's shelters tar-
gets a different segment of the home-
less population in order to "break the
homeless cycle," as shelter workers
describe their jobs.
"We don't want residents just
crashing there," said Tom Haefner,
case manager at Arbor haven, the
Salvation-run shelter. "We help
them to look for more permanent
jobs and assist in locating job op-
portunities," he said.
Breaking the cycle means strict
rules at most of the shelters. No
drug use, alcohol use or violence are
permitted; anyone found involved in
any of the three is immediately
Activities are regularly moni-
tored. At the Shelter Association -
a privately-owned shelter with a
Christian backing - a sign on the
wall is one example: "Food cooked
here must be eaten here. It cannot be
taken over to the night shelter. No
cooking after 8:30 p.m. Ask before
using the microwave. Ask before
making phone calls."
"The rules are good. They really
help so there's no fights," said Mac,
a resident of Arbor Haven, who said
he once had a drug problem but is
now recovered and saving his money
for a home.
Most shelters limit the stay of
each client to less than three months
unless the client has a job.
"The great majority of people do
work here," said Dawn Adams of the
Shelter Association... The stereotype
is always that they're drunken, lazy
people, but that's simply not true,"
The shelters cannot hold every-
one, and some of Ann Arbor's
homeless take issue with the way
the city shelter is run.
"They ought to have a place sepa-
rate for people who have jobs to
keep them away from the riff-raff,"
said John Shenberger, who became
homeless after following his daugh-
ter and ex-wife to Ann Arbor from
Chicago, where he owned a house
and two cars. Now he sleeps with
his friend Patrick in a garage.
Shenberger criticized the shelter's
advocates for not working hard
enough to find homeless people
"They're only encouraging home-
lessness by not giving the peop
their money," he said referring to
dispersion of Social Security Incom
checks for people deemed incapable
of handling their own funds.
"Look at Pat, he's been on the
streets nearly eight years. I'm sure
there's a place in Ann Arbor for
him. There's absolutely no reason
for him to be on the streets," Shen-
Area shelters include: Ozono
House for runaway youths, Arbor
Haven and the Shelter Association
for single adults, Prospect Place for
families, Safehouse for survivors of
domestic abuse and the city shelter,
which does not specify a particular
group of people it helps.
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