Tag Archives: community organizing

Press Release: People’s Access to Homes Emerges from The Independence Center Community Organizing Efforts

People's Access to Homes logoCOLORADO SPRINGS, CO, November 23, 2015 – The Independence Center housing study from December 2014 – April 2015 engendered a new community organizing group in Colorado Springs called People’s Access to Homes (PATH), which continues to coalesce while fighting the proposed Sit/Lie Ordinance. Affordable, accessible housing for people with disabilities is a key issue of The Independence Center and Carrie Baatz, Community Organizer at The Independence Center (The IC) has been studying it and organizing around it for nearly a year.

“A home is that bedrock of your existence, where you rest each day at the end of the day, where you recover from illnesses, where you retreat and spend time with those close to you,” Carrie Baatz, Community Organizer at The Independence Center (The IC), says.

Baatz undertook the issue of housing from the community organizing office of The IC. Facilitating focus groups with other organizations such as Tessa, Springs Rescue Mission and Women’s Resource Agency; interviews and community forums, Baatz developed a formal report called Affordable and Accessible Housing Needs and Barriers: Community Voices in the Pikes Peak Region, which can be found online at http://bit.ly/theic2015housingreport.

In addition to the formal report, The Independence Center facilitated the emergence of a dedicated group of individuals to have a voice in the discussion and a place at the table to help drive change in the Pikes Peak region. These individuals joined together and created a community organizing group with the name People’s Access to Homes (PATH). Many of these people have personal, powerful stories of barriers to accessible, affordable housing. Many have been influenced by such stories.

Baatz says, “Being a part of this process at The Independence Center out of which PATH emerged has been life changing for me.” As for the group members, who essentially have chosen themselves, she tells, “I look up to them. They are all so articulate and talented and self-aware.”

Perhaps a mark of a true community movement, most PATH members happen not to be consumers of The Independence Center. PATH is still coalescing as a force, working on finding its common goal and long term vision. Broadly, this includes creating more opportunities for housing that meet people’s needs. The idea that everyone has a right to a space they call home is what motivates the members of PATH. PATH sees housing not as a problem, but through a positive lens: as a long term solution to many problems, one of which is the city’s homelessness problem.

While focused on creating long term solutions, PATH’s gauges its success by short term goals. The immediate goal of PATH is to see the Colorado Springs Sit/Lie City Ordinance fail. PATH is opposing this ordinance because it unfairly targets people who are homeless, and it would distract resources and energy from better solutions (namely, developing affordable and accessible housing). Making sitting illegal in certain places would negatively impact people with disabilities, and in the current draft, a person would have to provide “confirmation” of a medical disability as an affirmative defense.

During recent City Council meetings, various members of PATH showed up. Michael Hazard (PATH member with a background in law) shared on November 11, 2015 about the discrimination against the homeless in the Sit/Lie Ordinance and asked City Council to postpone the vote until a suitable alternative to Sit/Lie can be found. Kellee O’Brian (PATH member) spoke about her experience of being homeless. Baatz spoke about the shortage of over 20,000 units in Colorado Springs and offered solutions such as requesting the City Council to look at the Housing Trust Fund Project.

It remains to be seen what will happen with Sit/Lie Ordinance, but The Independence Center is engaging local government, advocating on behalf of people with disabilities. Answering the invitation for the community to join in advocacy, PATH has emerged as an active, engaged force campaigning for more affordable, accessible housing.

 

About The Independence Center

The Independence Center is a local nonprofit organization that provides traditional and self-directed home health care, independent living, and advocacy services for people with disabilities.  These services range from providing peer support, skills classes, and employment assistance to individual and systems advocacy. The IC’s mission is to work with people with disabilities, their families, and the community to create independence so all may thrive.

Guest Blogger: Community Organizing Take a Trip to Chicago

The Community Organizing department of the Independence Center received a huge influx of knowledge and energy after attending a week-long community organizing training in Chicago at the Midwest Academy. Midwest has been known for training thousands of effective organizers on how to win real improvements in peoples’ lives by effectively strategizing issue campaigns on topics across the political spectrum.

[Courtney and Achini in Chicago for training]
The 26 organizers at the training spent 12 hours a day together and learned how to give people a sense of their own power by altering the balances of power that limit peoples’ potential. They planned, role-played, and deliberated – they even wrote a song! The training covered topics from storytelling and one-on-one interviews, to building coalitions and confronting decision-makers.

Ultimately, the process of change is a slow and long one, but the energy, knowledge, and relationships gained in Chicago will only propel The Independence Center towards creating a more accessible, engaged, and empowered community for persons with disabilities, their families and the community.

[Oct training in Chicago]

 

In addition to training in Chicago, the Organizing Committee on Transit (OCT) held an all-day retreat at the end of August in alliance with the Community Organizing department of The Independence Center. They received a short training on strategic planning and brainstormed about their goals to more accessible transit in Colorado Springs.

The group has incredible passion and truly believes that people with disabilities should be freely able to contribute towards and be involved with their communities by having convenient, safe, and accessible transportation across the city.

If you have an interest in working towards that goal (or if a lack of transportation has or does limit your choices), get in touch with the OCT by calling 719-471-8181 ext. 146. We’d love to have you join us!

What is the Organizing Committee on Transit (OCT)?

Are you interested in joining forces with a citizens’ group that advocates for expansion of public transit?

The Organizing Committee on Transit (OCT) is a group of Colorado Springs citizens who advocate for the expansion of public transit in the city. In 2012 the OCT advocated strongly for the top priority that was found in their listening campaign: restoration of evening bus service. As a result of their efforts, in conjunction with the work of several other persons and organizations across Colorado Springs, the evening bus service returned to the riders of Colorado Springs on April 1st, 2013. With this victory in hand, the OCT is now planning their new campaign for expansion of our transit system.

Contact Community Organizers Achini or Courtney at the Independence Center:

Achini Wijesinghe
(719) 471-8181
AWijesinghe(at)the-IC.org

Courtney Stone
(719) 471-8181
CStone(at)the-IC.org

Evening Service Returns

Last Monday evening members of the Organizing Committee on Transit (O.C.T.) gathered with Independence Center staff at the Mountain Metro Transit terminal to celebrate the initiation of evening bus service.  Since the committee’s formation in October of last year this group has worked with great diligence to improve bus service in Colorado Springs.  By applying the principles and methods of community organization the O.C.T. did extensive grassroots research by listening to over 150 bus riders and others who have an interest in public transit.  The committee met weekly for two hours with great focus and commitment.  Compiling the results from the listening campaign allowed the group to identify the need for evening bus service as the top priority.  This specific point was made repeatedly along with the push for improving bus service generally at City Council meetings, in communications with the Mayor, during City budget discussions, with letters to the editor, and in broadcast media coverage.  The results of this effort, in conjunction with the work of several other persons and organizations across Colorado Springs, were realized Monday as the buses rolled out of the station for the first evening service in more than three years.

During the past two months the committee has continued its research on several fronts including individual interviews with candidates for City Council.  The intention of these interviews was twofold: to understand each candidate’s vision for the City as well as their positions on transit.  The interviews were also a first step in developing a working relationship with people who care about the city and are willing to dedicate their time to make a difference.  That last point applies to the members of the O.C.T. who have given a great deal of time and talent to achieve a successful outcome in their first campaign.

Committee members Sharon King and Frank Blakely were interviewed by Fox and KOAA news reporters and broadcast later that evening.  Both Sharon and Frank did a fine job of presenting informed opinions on the renewal of evening service and what it means to not have to live with a curfew. “It’s really exciting; to me it says we’re taking a step forward into the 21st century.” Frank explained “Without this expansion, I have no evening time except to sit in my apartment and watch television and read a book. Reading a book is probably good for me, but I like to go out sometimes!”  Sharon also spoke to the isolation that comes from not having access to good public transit and how the new service will help overcome the sense of being cut off from the wider community.

We celebrated with a ‘victory lap’ on buses #7 and #5 with a trip to the Citadel Mall where people gathered at the food court.  Congratulations to the O.C.T. on their good work that will benefit the entire community.

Transit Letter

Earlier in January, our CEO wrote a letter to City Council about the 2013 budget and the need to reexamine some of the ideas being proposed for people with disabilities and transit. One of the main concerns is a taxi voucher option for some Metro Mobility customers. Below is Patricia’s letter.  The Mayor’s Office Responded. See the Mayor’s response here.

To City Council Members

Re: 2013 Budget

I am writing as the CEO of The Independence Center located on South Tejon. One of the reasons this location is so perfect for us is that there is a bus stop on the corner. It is a symbol of the independence we work hard to help people with disabilities of all ages achieve. While we appreciate the Mayor’s proposal for limited expanded evening service, Colorado Springs really needs a better public transit system across the region. The Mayor’s vision of giving people with disabilities taxi vouchers could completely strain the City’s budget. With 60,000 people with disabilities (2000 Census), if even 20,000 came out of the woodwork to use these vouchers, this is an expensive way to go. Door to door service, while desirable by every resident in the city, is the most expensive option. How will we cap this service? People will only be allowed so many rides; only to certain places? Such an arrangement is charity of the worst sort. Able-bodied people saying when and where people with disabilities can live, shop, and work in the city. A robust public transit system provides independence not only for seniors and people with disabilities but all those individuals who choose not to have or drive a car. Public transit makes for a livelier and certainly a city with a much healthier air quality.

A separate but very related issue is having accessible, affordable housing located in those transit corridors. As more and more people see that they can get to work or shop or play without using their cars, this need will grow. The Mayor has proposed to cut planning fees by 50%.  Rather than cut those fees, why don’t we use them as incentives for developers to build housing in the transit corridors? Additionally, the City could expedite projects meeting the objective of accessible, affordable as well as  upscale housing in the transit corridors.

While I understand all of this cannot happen in 2013, let’s agree to work toward these six goals to improve our transit system:

  1. More frequent bus service during the rush hours (30 and 60 minute intervals don’t work for the employed)
  2. Expanded evening hours across the system
  3. Transit service to the Powers corridor so that people can take jobs there
  4. Transit to the bases  for job access (we can work with the military on security issues)
  5. Save those planning fees for housing development incentives in the transit corridors.
  6. Create a real transit plan that meets the needs of more than the 4000 individuals who currently ride the bus, according to the Mayor (October 31 joint Council/Mayor meeting)

I do not believe it is in the economic best interests of Colorado Springs to be a city where you must have a car to live here. That policy has poor health consequences and attacks the diversity of our region. The current policy suggests that anyone who needs transit must move downtown is the beginning of a ghetto right in the midst of our tourist area. A vibrant, economically healthy city must include public transit options.

The Independence Center and our transit leadership team look forward to working with the Council and the Mayor on this issue.  We aren’t going away.

Sincerely

Patricia Yeager, CEO

The Independence Center

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