Binns Park: National Homeless Memorial Day: December 21, 2019
The Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee joined the Lancaster County Homeless Union for a “Vigil: Day In Remembrance” event to culminate our “Week of Action.” Homeless Union chapters all over the United States hosted a vigil to honor those who were lost to us on the streets on the longest night of the year. The event was co-sponsored by Put People First! PA, Party For Socialism & Liberation, and the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign a National Call for Moral Revival. We talked about the recent water shutoffs in Lancaster, shared stories of those we lost, pleaded for an end to the criminalization of the Homeless, an end to gentrification and the need to save the legacy of the old St. Joseph’s hospital.
Tammy from Put People First! PA shares how important and sacred Binns Park is to the poor and dispossessed of Lancaster, PA. Lancaster Food Not Bombs meets on Saturdays in Binns Park from 12-2pm to serve food to the community in need. Food Not Bombs is a global movement with over 1,000 chapters all over the world. One of the Co-Founders is Keith McHenry, a Leader in the California Homeless Union. Keith joined us in solidarity September 2019 for our “Medicaid March on Penn Medicine” along with other leaders from the National Union of the Homeless, Keith shared with everyone present that day that medical debt has caused him to become homeless on numerous occasions. (Video Link to her remarks here https://youtu.be/e9kNDAO2J4M)
Matt from Put People First! PA talked about the water shutoffs happening in Lancaster, PA and how they could lead to homelessness and he reminded us we are joined together for the day to remember those we have lost because of our unjust system. (Video Link to his remarks here https://youtu.be/TZyaB8PL0-g)
Kristin, Organizational Secretary and Organizer with the National Union of the Homeless shares with us the history of the movement, her thoughts and feelings about the establishment of the Lancaster County Homeless Union chapter through the National Union of the Homeless and the farce that is our economic system. (Video Link to her remarks here https://youtu.be/QriPRc-6RX8) Jacob from Put People First! PA and Theomusicologist with the PA Poor People’s Campaign a National Call for Moral Revival then led us in song (Video Link to us singing here https://youtu.be/dtpGL0qZv30)
Tammy from Put People First! PA shared about the fight of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee to “Take Back St. Joseph’s” and their continuing fight against UPMC. She broke down the question the Lancaster City Planning Commission asked the representative of UPMC and the answer that UPMC representative gave in regards to would or could UPMC allow the community to use the old St. Joseph’s Hospital as is for things the community needs.
Matthew from Put People First! PA shared his personal testimony of how he was denied bailed because he was homeless. Matt ultimately spent about 14 months in Lancaster County Prison because of being denied bail and he was found not guilty. He also shared the story of Gregory Bayne who was shot and killed by Lancaster City, PA police in June of 2013. Matt was in jail at the time and he shared with those present that day what it was like inside Lancaster County Prison at the time of Gregory’s murder. Matt explained how difficult it was for friends of Gregory’s to mourn his death while having to deal with heckling from the correction officers. (Video Link to Matt’s remarks here https://youtu.be/3mOsxkegN4U)
For the first time, Junior, a member of the Lancaster County Homeless Union (LCHU) gave testimony. Originally he wasn’t going to speak but when Matt shared the story about Gregory Bayne, he was inspired to speak. Junior shared testimony about the criminalization of the homeless by police. (video link to remarks here https://youtu.be/n4DxV6li2sc)
Kristin, spoke again and explained the history of the homeless memorial vigils and why we hold our own. She shared the story of what happened to “Mama Desi” and went on to say “We gotta have revolutionary perseverance” and she continued by stating that the National Union of the Homeless supports the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee in our fight to “Take Back St. Joseph’s” and the members of the Lancaster County Homeless Union who were present said they will join the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee in our fight to save the legacy of St. Joseph’s hospital with support from the National Union of the Homeless. If we all come together there is an opportunity to do something great with the old St. Joseph’s hospital, that will meet the needs of our community and hold true to the legacy that was once St. Joseph’s Hospital. Let’s unite and “Take Back St. Joseph’s” together!
Lancaster City Planning Commission Meeting Action: December 18, 2019
Wednesday December 18, 2019 marked the one year anniversary of when our fight to “Save St. Joseph’s Hospital” began and we once again found ourselves in City Hall in battle with UPMC to save the legacy of St. Joseph’s Hospital! Members of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee along with other residents of Lancaster joined together to take a stand against the rezoning petition being proposed by UPMC to rezone the old St Joseph’s Hospital from a hospital complex zone to a multi use property of businesses and housing, which would further gentrify our community and continuing the displacement of the poor and dispossessed.
This action was a very symbolic, poetic, and spiritual action of togetherness. We once again found ourselves up against UPMC and this time representatives of UPMC were present and they found themselves having to listen to ridicule from the community over their actions against the people of Lancaster, PA for the first time. UPMC neglected to realize what this fight means to us, not only are we fighting because we are losing a much needed healthcare facility, we are fighting for the legacy of St. Joseph’s Hospital, a hospital with a rich history of over 135 years that meant so much to the community personally.
We knew going into the meeting we would have the opportunity to speak up about the actions of UPMC, what we didn’t know is that representatives of Penn Medicine would be present as well. Penn Medicine was there to request part of of what’s needed for their expansion plan for the location of Lancaster General Hospital, the only hospital left within Lancaster City limits. So we used this opportunity to question Penn Medicine about the expansion and brought to light that their expansion plan was based on the need to expand the emergency room department prior to the impact received from the hospital UPMC chose to close. Penn Medicine representatives went on to comment that the space is limited and they can only expand so much, leaving us to wonder what does this mean for the future of our community without another hospital within city limits. This interaction was a great segway into UPMC presenting their plan to rezone the old St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Eric, someone new the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee has connected with shared with everyone present his concerns about gentrification and what he witnessed take place while he was living in New York prior to returning to Lancaster, PA. He remarked on the comment UPMC stated about there being a couple of potential buyers of the property already and highlighted why UPMC is itching to rezone so they can make a real estate deal that will make them a huge profit. Clearly UPMC could care less about what the community of Lancaster, PA needs making it clear we MUST fight back against this atrocity! (Link to video of Eric’s remarks here https://youtu.be/hMJgTp9dG4I)
We are at a pivotal moment right now, this is an important historical moment for our community and we need to do this right. The history of St. Joseph’s hospital is remarkable and it’s legacy needs to be honored. Let’s come together and organize as a community and save the legacy of St. Joseph’s hospital together! We are continuing to lose what makes Lancaster, Lancaster. It’s time to come together and push back! We are not alone in this fight UPMC has devastated many other communities across Pennsylvania and the people are done with the tactics of UPMC. We recently connected with people from Sunbury, PA who are currently facing a hospital closure by the hands of UPMC. Tammy from the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee made it a point to highlight what UPMC is doing in Sunbury and that their tactics our causing so much harm across Pennsylvania that people are itching to take on UPMC STATEWIDE! To do so would only strengthen all of our fights against them! (Link to video of Tammy’s remarks https://youtu.be/L4x06NBysXQ)
Others from the community spoke out and highlighted many reasons why the Lancaster City Planning Commission should hear our concerns and postpone rezoning the property which sits the old St. Joseph’s hospital. Stating the only reason to rush the decision would benefit UPMC so they could make a huge profit off of a real estate deal. Ann shared how the community of Lancaster built St. Joseph’s Hospital with our blood, sweat and tears. (Video link to her remarks here https://youtu.be/nTVEogg2BKs) Zak, a leader with Lancaster Stands Up asked questions which brought to light the old St. Joseph’s Hospital could wind up becoming a mini version of 101NQ. (Video Link to his remarks here https://youtu.be/YcpWjfP4sJ0) Nick, a leader with Party for Socialism and Liberation emphasized the importance of what everyone had stated and
reiterated what Penn Medicine had stated about being overburdened by the closure of the old St. Joseph’s hospital by UPMC. (Video Link of his remarks here https://youtu.be/4p4zS9vObrI)
We can NOT allow the old St. Joseph’s Hospital to become luxury condos/housing and shops! We can get what we need WITHOUT rezoning that property. We have a vision that incorporates housing and healthcare for our most vulnerable residents and it’s the best way to honor the legacy of St. Joseph’s Hospital!
We are relieved that The Lancaster City Planning Commision decided to postpone the vote on whether or not to recommend the petition to rezone being proposed by UPMC until January 15th 2020 per our request. After a year of organizing and fighting against UPMC we finally got a win! Our fight is not over, we will go back to the City Planning Commission to continue to plead our case for them to not recommend the UPMC rezoning petition. Whether the planning commission decides on the 15th to vote in favor of the rezoning petition or not the petition will move onto to Lancaster City Council for a vote thus leaving the legacy of St. Joseph’s hospital in the hands of the Lancaster City Administration.
Throughout 2019 the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee has shared with City Council and the Mayor of Lancaster the dehumanizing tactics being used by UPMC, the partnership brewing between them and Amazon and how we should be concerned about this. With Amazon and UPMC partnership now becoming public this should make everyone in Lancaster, PA worried about what’s to come. With the suspicious sale of the property across the street from St. Joseph’s hospital, which UPMC leases out of and the desperate push UPMC is making to get the old St. Joseph’s Hospital rezoned we should all be cautious of their intentions and fight back against it!
The most remarkable part of this action and what’s ahead for us, is the connection we made with those in the community. We are finally getting others in the community from other organizations who are willing to come on board and join us in our fight against UPMC. It took us, the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee and many others from Put People First! PA organizing and being active in the community, pushing back and sticking to our messaging, it took us, the poor and dispossessed telling our stories to sway the narrative of poverty by showing up, consistently, and speaking our truths and speaking truth to power in order to motivate others in the community to see the value and possibilities of what could happen when you fight back TOGETHER! This fight to “Take Back St. Joseph’s” is a prime example of what can be made possible by a movement led by the poor and dispossessed.
Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee Hosts a “Week of Action” Sunday December 15th through Saturday December 21st
Prequel to the “Week of Action”
Throughout the month of November and leading into the month of December there was a political shift that took place in Lancaster, PA. The working class from all backgrounds began to speak out and take action on many issues that are affecting our class. The remarks and participation at the City Council meetings accompanied by many beginning to realize dispossession comes in many forms are great examples of the political shift I speak of. I wrote a piece about what transpired during this political shift, titled “The Price the poor pay for gentrification: Ewell Plaza” and it was published on the Kairos Center blog during our “Week of Action.” The Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee decided to host the week of action continuing what was already taking place and largely inspired by what was transpiring at the time. Going into the “Week of Action” our community was facing a large scale water shutoff threat by the City Administration, UPMC petitioned to rezone the old St. Joseph’s Hospital property from a “Hospital Complex” to “mixed use” for businesses and housing and Saturday December 21st is National Homeless Memorial Day, so it was only fitting we host a “Week of Action”
Colleen Wessel McCoy from the Kairos Center shared about the work of Put People First! PA and our current fight happening in Lancaster, PA. The piece she wrote was published on December 23, 2019. Here’s an excerpt and link to the entire written piece by Colleen.
[It reminded me of poor families in Lancaster, Pennsylvania who have formed a Healthcare Rights Committee with Put People First! – Pennsylvania. Not only are they taking action to prevent the closure of their hospital, expand Medicaid’s coverage, and make universal health care a reality, but now they are fighting water service shut offs in more than two thousand households for not having updated water meters. But as Isaiah says, from the thirsty ground are springs of water. People are not saved apart from the things we need to survive, and our survival is intimately connected to the earth’s flourishing.]
Lancaster City Council Meeting Action: Tuesday December 17, 2019
We returned to City Council on Tuesday December 17th after we had already spoke at a previous City Council meeting the week before regarding the water shutoffs happening throughout our community alongside other concerned residents. The Lancaster City Administration chose a tactic of threatening to shut off residents water if they had yet to comply with the mandatory water meter upgrade.
After the previous City Council meeting where many of us spoke out against the water shut offs, and the Pennsylvania Poor People’s Campaign a National Call for Moral Revival publicly showed their support the Lancaster City Administration decided to remove tenant occupied properties off the water shutoff list so the tenants wouldn’t be affected, that still left homeowners at risk of losing their basic human right to water.
At Put People First! PA when we say “Everybody In, Nobody Out” We mean it so we went back Tuesday December 17th to demand a stop to ALL water shut offs! We didn’t just speak out against the water shut offs, we also continued our outcry about the removal of the bus shelters and bus stop near the 101NQ development and pleaded with the City Administration to push back against the petition being proposed by UPMC to rezone the old St. Joseph’s Hospital property from a “Hospital Complex” to “Mixed Use” for businesses and housing.
Leaders in the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee were concerned that residents in Lancaster could become homeless if they have their water shut off and that made this issue one that needed to be addressed with urgency. (Matt makes demand to stop all water shut offs-https://youtu.be/DPVRSIdCvak) The Law states that if a utility such as water is shut off for 72 hours, the property could be condemned and residents forced to vacate the property immediately thus rendering them homeless. There is a misconception about homeownership, people believe homeownership creates wealth so many seem to think if you’re a homeowner you must not be poor and should have no problem completing the necessary work to comply with the mandatory water meter upgrade.
The reality is homeownership doesn’t actually “create wealth” for the majority of homeowners. Recent media coverage on the water shutoff issue shows a great example of homeowners who are struggling to comply with the water meter upgrade. Many look into homeownership as a way to pay less monthly in comparative to what it would cost to rent. Yet many of those same homeowners find themselves struggling to keep up with the necessary upkeep of the home and property taxes that are ever on the rise in many communities.
Dottie Almoney, a faith leader in the PA Poor People’s Campaign a National Call for Moral Revival shared remarks about the water shut offs, her concerns about our housing crisis, current economic development that is happening which is causing mass displacement and ended her remarks with a reflection about Lancaster, PA being the refugee capital of the United States and how we should think carefully when deciding the future of the old St. Joseph’s Hospital. (See video of her remarks here: https://youtu.be/EWjvDeLVPzc)
Rev. Tim Seitz-Brown who is also a faith leader in the PA Poor People’s Campaign a National Call for Moral Revival thanked City Council for removing tenant rental properties from the water shut off list. He continued by expressing concerns around the economic development that is happening throughout Lancaster and pleaded with the City Administration to listen to the poor and dispossessed for the poor have great ideas and their voices should be heard.
People from the local art community were present at this City Council meeting as well, they continued to speak out against the $600,000 public art proposal that is to take place in Ewell Plaza. I hear it’s the largest public art project in our community’s history, and the local art community was largely excluded from the process. April, a member of the local art community, who owns an art gallery on N. Mulberry Street, put forth a proposal to City Council about the public art project. She offered to fundraise and pay back the $15,000 the City paid to R&R studios and asked that the City Administration scratch the plan they have now and instead work with local artists on the project. April gave us her card at one of the November City Council meetings and wants to connect with us to learn more about our work in the Poor People’s Campaign (PPC). Connecting with the local art community is one of our goals in 2020, we’re aiming for a PPC art mural in Lancaster, and this could be an awesome project to develop leaders in the movement.
Art, an ex Lancaster Mayor spoke out as well at this City Council meeting, continuing his push back against decisions being made by the Lancaster City Administration. He shared his thoughts about the new employees hired by the city, their expertise versus what positions they were hired to fill. Sounded like a very good reflection on the city’s priorities, who they hired and why—sounds like they are expert gentrifiers, and that should concern us all.
(Link to complete City Council meeting footage, Art speaks at timestamp 26:10-30:27- https://youtu.be/1mhnM2_fyuM) Art also spoke out about the rise in rates around the water & sewage fees. He expressed concerns on how will the poor, those living in poverty be able to afford the new severe rise in the cost, which is approximately $200 annually.
Nathan Warren, a member of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee shared with City Council and those present his personal testimony about how the removal of the bus shelters and bus stop from the 100 block of North Queen Street, otherwise known as 101NQ, has affected him and others. His remarks were powerful and spoke truth to power. Afterwards a City official stated to Nathan the decision to do that would not fall on City Administration but rather those who run the public transportation system. Yet in reality when the City Administration voted in favor of the proposed plan for the development at 101NQ/Ewell Plaza they did in fact vote away those bus shelters and bus stop. You can clearly see they are not shown in the rendering photos of that project. (Video Link of Nathan’s remarks here: https://youtu.be/QxXcq0BRFyA)
Tammy Rojas, a member of the Lancaster Healthcare Rights Committee pleaded with City Council to push back against the UPMC rezoning petition and instead stand with the community against UPMC and their desire to make a real estate deal that would devastate the legacy of the old St. Joseph’s Hospital and further gentrify our community continuing the displacement of the poor and dispossessed. “Don’t let a global Healthcare conglomerate corporation like UPMC destroy the history and legacy of what was once St. Joseph’s Hospital!”- Tammy said (Link to video of remarks https://youtu.be/Hsisg13v4lQ)
After this City Council meeting we began to hear from others in the community who wish to show their support in our fight against UPMC. They showed up at the City Planning Commission Meeting Action to support us after a year of us speaking out against the actions of UPMC. They finally joined us and spoke out with us in resistance, against the UPMC rezoning petition. This proves we can come together as a class, it just requires clear, competent, committed and connected leaders among the poor and dispossessed to make it happen.
Shortly after this City Council meeting took place, Art, April and others filed a lawsuit against the City Administration over the public art proposal project.
Members of Put People First! PA, and Every Mother is a Working Mother supported by the PA Poor People’s Campaign a National Call for Moral Revival hosted a vigil on December 18, 2019 outside the Blair County Courthouse to demand an end to family separation. Families from across Pennsylvania fighting for their loved ones shared testimony. While many enjoy family warmth and togetherness during the holidays, too many face separation and despair. Families present at the vigil shared their experiences being torn apart – by removal of children from poor households, imprisonment, separation at the border and deportation.