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Dear City & Monroe Park Advisory Councils,
“There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people,” states the beginning of our labor union’s preamble. We, the Richmond members of the Industrial Workers of the World, feel that the renovation plans for Monroe Park, as they currently stand, will serve to exacerbate hunger and want in Richmond. We, as concerned citizens of the Richmond area and hardened activists and organizers, will not let this issue slip by without a struggle.
These renovation plans include fencing off the entire park for several months, and up to a year, denying access to all who depend on it, including the services provided there. This translates to the homeless being forced out of the park and dispersed into the VCU and Greater Richmond community, without concern for where they might await refuge in otherwise nearby shelters or sustenance via various meal programs that congregate there.
Where will the homeless find refuge? Those suffering from mental illnesses and other disabilities, in all likelihood will become increasingly vulnerable to arrests for trespassing because less empathetic campus residents and police do not want the homeless in public view.
With the incarceration rate for Richmond being well above the national average, there is cause for alarm when considering the risks that await Richmond’s homeless population. The VCU police, according to their own reports, have made multiple arrests monthly for trespassing. We are willing to chance that many of the arrested individuals are in fact homeless and happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and nothing more.
Once arrested, they will be taken to the Richmond City Jail, which witnessed controversy over the summer when an inmate, Grant R. Sleeper, died of heat exposure. It would also be worth mentioning that the jail is filled well past its maximum capacity. Do we really want to risk the lives of anyone else over such petty charges?
The church and community groups that serve Monroe Park patrons, homeless, unemployed, and financially stable alike, will have to relocate to other parks less central to needed services. Although many of the homeless will likely adjust to alternative locations, those with both physical and mental dissabilities will be at a disadvantage.
It has been proposed that meal programs relocate to the Conrad Center. However, the Conrad Center is geographically isolated and located in a valley involving steep hills, several miles away from temporary employment agencies, reliable public transportation, and other resources. How will those with physical disabilities get to and from the Conrad Center? How can they afford the transportation if they, as is often the case with the homeless, haven’t any money?
Furthermore, the Conrad Center has anti-loitering policies, and lacks the capacity to serve the number of homeless that frequent the services provided in Monroe Park. The center, overlooked by two jails, can also be quite disconcerting for those who feel they are constantly being discriminated against due to their economic and social disposition. This proposal only serves to criminalize the homeless and place them out of sight, and out of mind.
Once renovations are complete, will the park return to normal? Will the homeless continue to be welcome in the park? The city’s master plan for the park includes the hiring of a private security firm to regulate, per the master plan, a ratio of 75:1, being the number of “non-homeless appearing” people to those who are “homeless appearing” in the park at any given time. This is a direct assault on the homeless, perpetuating a hostile and exclusive atmosphere that allows the systematic repression of the homeless, or those who “appear” homeless in our community.
Lastly, we would like to draw attention to the fact that the funds being used to renovate the park could be used more effectively towards ventures that would help create and sustain jobs and/or fill a $1.5 million dollar deficit that has plagued the public transit-dependent in the form of fare increases for GRTC services. The ability of the working poor to reach the places they need to be, at a minimal personal expense is more important than the ephemeral and aesthetic renovations of a public park.
The Richmond IWW asks, in solidarity with Food Not Bombs and the The Campaign to Keep Monroe Open and Public, that shall there be any renovation of Monroe Park, that at least two acres or 25 percent of Monroe Park (whichever is greater) be left open for the public during renovations. We also ask that charitable feeding programs be allowed during this time and post-renovation, and finally, that no private security firm be hired.
Richmond Industrial Workers of the World
cc: Mayor Dwight C. Jones, Charles Samuels, Kathy Graziano, Ellen Robertson, Bruce Tyler, Chris Hilbert, Marty Jewell, Cynthia Newbille, Reva Trmmell, Doug Conner, Brian Ohlinger, Dave Clinger, Elinor Kuhn, James C. Hill, John Peters, Janice Nuckolls, Turk Sties, Alice Massie, Todd Woodson, Patricia Daniels, as wall as local and international media outlets.