Sunday, August 21, 2016

Saving Dorothy Day Hospitality House

Note: The original brief did not contain any illustration. They have been added here to help the reader get a netter understanding of what Dorothy Day Hospitality House is all about.

Dorothy Day Hospitality House (DDHH) has been in existence for years on Spring Street. It provides free food to the homeless every day and also provides shelter to a limited number of the homeless every night.

Suddenly, coinciding with the building of the million dollar housing project known as Kennedy Flats, the city claims that DDHH is in violation of its permit and has served a Cease and Desist order against the DDHH. This has been appealed against and the Zoning Board of Appeals is now seized of the matter.

I have submitted a brief to the Zoning Board of Appeals in favour of DDHH. It will help understand the issues involved.  Here is what it states:

Respected Chairman, Members and Alternate Members of the Zoning Board of Appeals,

I humbly request that you treat this submission as an unsolicited amicus curiae on behalf of the Dorothy Day Hospitality House (DDHH) and its beneficiaries.

I submit that this Board is not confined to and should not confine itself to merely ascertaining whether there existed a prima facie case (noncompliance with the requirement of renewal of permit) which mandated action by the Zoning Board but should also consider if the drastic action taken (issuance of a Cease and Desist order) is appropriate for a technical offence and the effect such an order would have.

Regrettably, in spite of you, Mr. Chairman, insisting at the outset that all comments, submissions and arguments be confined strictly to the question of whether the DDHH was required to renew the application issued to it by the city in 1983 and whether it was in violation of that requirement by not renewing it --- in spite of this insistence, various persons introduced extraneous issues. Included among these were P.J.Prunty, Executive Director of the City Center, who submitted a written argument in favor of the Cease and Desist order, and the owner of Two Steps Downtown Grille. Some residents of Spring Street narrated the ‘dangers’ they faced allegedly as a result of DDHH welcoming all people ‘no questions asked’.

Since the Board has been exposed to these allegations, they are likely to influence the thinking of the Board and need to be dealt with, which I will do after dealing with the crux of the problem before the Board, namely the alleged violation of the requirement to renew the permit.

The City contends that DDHH was so required to do and it having failed to do so it is in violation of the permit. The Zoning Board is therefore not only legally justified in issuing the Cease and Desist order but, in the words of this Boards Chairman at the last hearing, it was “incumbent’ on it to do so.
The DDHH contends that it was NOT required to so renew the permit and therefore the Cease and Desist Order has no legal legs to stand on.

Who is right?

One way to find out is to look at the written records which, in this case, are not very helpful. An important letter which would have thrown light on the subject is missing from the record and no one knows where it has gone.

Another way often adopted in legal proceedings is to look at the behavior and actions of the parties concerned. Here the City did nothing for more than 30 years about DDGG not renewing its permit which the City claims expired in 1984. Not that the City was not aware of DDHH continuing its operations from Spring Street. Various agencies of the City carried out several inspections of DDHH during this period. And, it appears, the City did issue to DDHH a dormitory license up until 2008

A member of this Board at the last hearing remarked that it was not for the City to remind DDHH about renewing its permit but for DDHH to go to the City to renew the permit. That may be so though normally if a permit holder is in violation the City does inform it as soon as possible’

Also, if DDHH was in violation of the permit, it was not only the duty of the Zoning Commission to take action against it but, again to use the language of one of the members of this Board, it was “incumbent” on it to do so. That it did not do so for more than thirty years goes to strongly indicate that there was no violation by DDHH.

On the DDHH side we find it is a law abiding entity. It has passed al the inspections by various City agencies. It has also modified its original policy of welcoming everybody “no questions asked” and has debarred dangerous elements from using the shelter and, to avoid becoming an ‘enabler’, even limited the total number of days (nights) a person can use the shelter (see Exhibit A attached). It is reasonable to believe that if it had been required to renew the permit every year, it would have done so.

Further, there is the legal concept of Estoppel to be considered.

In this case there is a THIRD consideration to be taken into account, a serious one.

The City woke up to the fact that DDHH was in violation of its permit not because some diligent clerk went through the records and found the violation. It was found by a city BUSINESSMAN who was researching police calls to the shelter. He is one of those who wants DDGG to be removed from the downtown area, if not closed down.

Even more significant is WHEN this discovery was made. It was made last summer and coincided with the construction of the multi-million dollar Kennedy Flats complex just behind the city bus pulse point in the downtown area.

It is well to remember that the City has gone out of its way to help the developer of this project. First the City granted a large tax deferral to the developer. Then it pushed out the day workers from the park just opposite to the complex by “gentrifying” it and fencing it. The City then even uprooted the benches from the bus pulse point to prevent homeless people using them after the buses stopped plying at 6 pm and the benches were no longer needed by the commuters. In doing this the City ignored the hardship it was causing the bus commuters. Now they have to stand as they wait for the bus they need to arrive. The buses run on the hour and so if you go to the pulse point at 10 past the hour you have to stand for 50 minutes for the bus.

It should be obvious that the City is most eager to make the downtown area as pleasing to the higher class renters for whom the luxury apartments are built and whom the developer, the city and downtown businessmen are hoping to attract.

DDHH is seen a sore spot by all these elements and the alleged noncompliance by DDGG to renew its permit is apparently just a pretext to issue the Cease and Desist order.

It was pointed out by a member of this Board that complaints against DDHH by residents of Spring Street, where the DDHH is located, pre-dated the construction of the Kennedy Flats. This is irrelevant because the City did not issue the Cease and Desist order at that time.

Taking into account all these facts, I submit that the Cease and Desist order has nothing to do with the lawlessness existing at Spring Street, nothing to do with the alleged failure of DDHH to renew its permit but has been issued to facilitate the occupation of the luxury apartments and to meet the demands of the avaricious business and property owners eager to attract uppity tenants and more business to the downtown area.

I am all for increasing business in the downtown area but not on the backs of the poor and homeless.
The City has already gone above and beyond what it is required to do to help the developer of the Kennedy Flatsthat the Cease and Desist order is malafide and strike it down.

I IMPLORE this Board not to become an accomplice in the efforts of the City to close or push out the DDHH shelter from Spring Street, uphold DDHH’s appeal and quash the Cease and Desist order.

Coming to the other issues raised. These are three.

1. The ‘no questions asked’ policy is drawing undesirable elements to the area and these create a law and order situation and pose a threat to the residents. A large number of phone calls to the police has been cited.
Rebuttal: Though a “no question asked” policy did exist initially, the DDHH put severe restrictions since then. Please refer to the sections highlighted in yellow in the attached Exhibit A.

As for the large number of police calls, please see sections highlighted in blue in the attached Exhibit A

2. DDHH has become an enabler. It enables people to remain homeless rather than requiring them to take actions to address their needs and get them into housing

Rebuttal:  Please see sections marked in green in the attached Exhibit A

3. The location of the DDHH close to downtown is detrimental to the economic growth of the City. It prevents more people coming to downtown and prevents more businesses starting in downtown.

Rebuttal: There is no Empirical evidence for this claim. In fact, it can be argued that DDHH is a historic site and can well be turned into a tourist attraction.

The Dorothy Day Hospitality House is a private, non-profit organization that provides essential community services that would otherwise need to be funded by the City of Danbury. The majority of the homeless people sheltered here are natives of Danbury and its environs.

Our shelter is designed to be a temporary base that both provides guests with critical daily resources (bed, shower, and laundry service) and incents them to take the necessary steps to get back on their feet and secure permanent housing and employment.

Guests are required to register with the Coordinated Access Network and Connecticut’s Homeless Management Information System (HMIS), and referred to agencies with resources that address individual needs, such as mental health and substance abuse issues.

Dorothy Day House also partners with Off The Streets, a 501c3 organization which provides security deposits, furniture and household goods to homeless people with a source of income. Since its inception in 2009, Off The Streets has successfully placed more than 400 individuals (100 in 2015 alone) – many of them previously guests in our shelter - in permanent housing in Danbury.

Description of the Facility
·         Operating since 1982
·         Free-standing, off-street building located behind 11 Spring Street, Danbury
·         Beds for 16 guests (male and female) and I volunteer
·         2 shower stalls
·         Commercial clothes washer and dryer for guest clothing and bed linens
Shelter Operations
·         Open 50 weeks (350 nights) per year
·         Open at 9:00 PM, closed at 6:30 AM – not open during the day
·         Doors locked at 10:00pm – no one enters or leaves until morning
·         Security guard from 6pm to 10pm daily to ensure people do not congregate on Spring Street and facilitate orderly opening process
·         16 bed shelter represents a relatively small percentage of people served at Dorothy Day vs 70/day at the soup kitchen
·         Managed by seven experienced weekly coordinators (average 20 years experience) and nightly volunteers (40)
·         Training required for all new volunteers
·         Volunteer manual and written procedures for volunteers to follow
·         Professional cleaning service for the facility twice weekly
·         Pest extermination service including separate bedbug specialist monthly

·         Pest extermination service including separate bedbug specialist monthly


Guest admission policies
·         All guests must sign written pledge cards to comply with all shelter regulations before first being admitted
·         Shelter open to adults, both men and women
·         Guest stay limited to 30 nights during warmer months – even if empty beds are available – to incent people to find housing
·         No admission to anyone under the influence of alcohol or drugs
·         No admission to anyone on suspension for breaking shelter rules
Shelter rules
·         No loitering on or near the premises before 8:45 PM
·         Sobriety: no use of alcohol or drugs on the premises
·         Safety: no weapons allowed
·         No one leaves or enters after door closes at 10:00 PM without special permission
·         Guests awakened 5:30 AM, and must leave before 6:30 AM
·         Do not disturb the peace
Violation of these rules results in suspension, often for weeks or months at a time
Community Interaction
·         Coordinating with the Danbury City Shelter administration on homeless community matters, including annual planning meetings
·         Cooperating with Danbury City Shelter nightly in securing guest beds for all in need
·         Directing guests to 211 service when shelters are full, and often driving guests to motels as directed here
·         Employing security guard service to reinforce our no-loitering rule before the shelter opens, and act as a deterrent against any behavior that would disturb the peace
·         Proposing cooperation with neighbors and Danbury Police through a Neighborhood Watch program to strengthen neighborhood security
Misconceptions about the Dorothy Day shelter:
  • Misconception 1 -- There are no rules at Dorothy Day House and no consequences for bad behavior.  
  • The Facts --
·         Bad behavior is not tolerated and will result in guests being banned from Dorothy Day House
·         All kitchen and shelter guests are required to sign a pledge indicating their willingness to follow Dorothy Day’s rules (ex no one admitted under the influence of alcohol or drugs) and not to congregate on Spring Street.  Pledge cards  include photos of guests for identification.   If guests do not live up to the pledge, they are not provided services at the kitchen or shelter.  

2) Misconception 2 --Dorothy Day Hospitality House enables people to remain homeless rather than requiring them to take actions to address their needs and get them into housing.  

The Facts
·         The number of days people may stay at Dorothy Day House is limited to 30 days during the non-winter months to incent people to seek permanent housing.  
·          Shelter guests at Dorothy Day House are required to get connected to services through the Coordinated Access Network, which registers people in Connecticut's HMIS (Homeless Management Information System) and directs people to agencies that have the resources to address their individual needs (such as mental health, substance abuse) .
·         Dorothy Day House volunteers have taken an active role in getting people into housing by forming Off The Streets, a related 501c3 organization which provides security deposits, furniture and household goods to homeless people with a source of income.  

As a result of the efforts of many people in Danbury, the number of homeless people in Danbury has started to come down.   The population at Dorothy Day shelter and the overflow shelter was 20% lower in 1Q2016 vs 2015.

Changes at Dorothy Day House
As a result of neighborhood, business and government input, the following changes have been made:
  • Security guard hired from 6pm to 10pm daily to prevent people congregating on Spring Street
  • Removed wording from website that "all are welcome with no questions asked"
  • Pledge cards instituted (see above)
  • Reinforced with our guests the importance of being good neighbors
  • Shelter from the Cold Program *(6pm through 8pm -- November through March) moved from Spring Street to William Street (St James AME Church)

Issue: Police Calls from Spring Street

In the one year period from July 2014 through July 2015, a Freedom of Information request reported that 693 police calls were made from Spring Street.   Dorothy Day House also requested information from the police department. The  report we received contained 703 calls, and the police department records department worked with us to help us understand the nature of the calls on the report.
  • Of these 703 police calls, 443 were to 11 Spring Street and 260 were to other addresses on Spring St.
  • Of the 443 calls to 11 Spring St, 278 were really police issues and 165 dealt with medical issues (ex accompany EMT)
  • Of the 278 police issue calls, 213 dealt with police responses to situations and 65 were scheduled calls (ex
  • Of the 213 police response calls, 93 (<2 120="" 7am="" and="" closed.="" during="" hours="" in="" o:p="" operation="" per="" pm="" shelter="" the="" to="" was="" week="" were="">

  • Of the 93 calls during the time the shelter was open, 43 calls (<1 50="" 6am-7am="" 7am="" and="" calls="" closed="" doors="" during="" entering="" guests="" leaving="" lights="" o:p="" or="" out="" per="" pm-10pm="" pm="" shelter="" the="" through="" times="" week="" were="" when="">

  • Conclusions from Police Call Reports
    • The number of police calls associated with the Dorothy Day House shelter is substantially lower than reported when taking into account medical calls reported in call statistics, routine scheduled calls and calls when the shelter is not open.   Either <2 all="" are="" calls="" day="" doors="" dorothy="" during="" hours="" is="" locked="" made="" o:p="" of="" open="" or="" per="" police="" shelter.="" shelter="" the="" to="" week="" when="">

  • Similar calls to other facilities (Danbury Hospital and Library) are in the same range (1-2 per week)

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