Erie County Cares About Women: April Fools!
by Buck Quigley - posted 11:50 am, April 3, 2014
This wouldn’t fit in today’s print edition, so here’s a blog post from April Fools Day for those of you visiting the Artvoice website today to catch up on the news…
Yesterday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s spokesperson Peter Anderson sent out this press release announcing a May 15 luncheon at the swank Twentieth Century Club. The Buffalo News immediately repeated the exciting news here. The event will feature Miss America 2014, Nina Davuluri—the first Indian-American and second Asian-American to be chosen Miss America. The topic of Ms. Davuluri’s talk will be “Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency.”
Proceeds from the $45 luncheon ticket will go to fund the Erie County Commission on the Status of Women (ECCSW). Contrary to its name, the ECCSW is not funded by the county, but rather by the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo & Western New York, Inc., a not for profit. That’s according to Sawrie Becker, who is a county employee appointed Commissioner of Public Advocacy by Poloncarz, and serves as ECCSW Executive Director.
Also from the press release:
“The ECCSW supports the Miss America Organization’s mission of providing personal and professional opportunities for young women to promote their voices in culture, politics, and the community,” said event chair and ECCSW chair, Amy Rath.
Speaking on the phone today, Becker had no knowledge of an organization called Paradise Opportunities, which was established in September 1992. Among its facilities is Paradise House, which is located in the former rectory of Transfiguration Roman Catholic Church. This is the way the charity carries out its mission:
Women who have been released from jail, prison or drug rehab programs and have no place to go are offered shelter at Paradise House and the benefits of its programs. They are given the chance to live in a family-style environment, under caring supervision, for a minimum of six months. Paradise House affords a clean, secure, friendly and supportive environment for homeless or otherwise drug-addicted women.
When they have transitioned into more independent living in the apartments we provide, and have their children with them, they and their children continue to receive support and service until they are ready to be on their own.
The programs and support services Paradise House provides are the necessary encouragement and direction for drug-addicted women to recover from their addictions and reestablish their families. Further, Paradise Opportunities works with neighborhood, community, city and state representatives to ensure that our women and children receive the services they need to live independent, healthy and drug-free lives.
Paradise House functions with a staff that is paid minimum wage. In a nutshell, Erie County has cut funding to Paradise House from around $670/per resident/per month from just a few years ago, to $495/per resident/per month last year, to around $170/per resident/per month effective today, April Fool’s Day.
Sadly, this is not a joke, and there is nothing funny about it. I spent most of the month of March corresponding with various Erie County officials including Anderson, Department of Social Services (DSS) Commissioner Carol Dankert-Maurer, Assistant Deputy Commissioner of DSS Karen Rybicki, Director of Temporary & Emergency Assistance for DSS Donald Van Every, Special Assistant to the Commissioner of DSS Brian Bray—attempting to understand why Erie County would be so hell-bent on slashing funding to a charitable group that has served the community so well for over twenty years by addressing the needs of a particularly vulnerable female population.
What ensued became a string of defensive emails from the county that were refuted by the claims of Reverend Anne Paris, Founding Director of Paradise Opportunities. Finally, on March 21, Bray ended the discussion with this terse email, copied to Rybicki, Anderson, Dankert-Maurer, and Van Every:
We have no further comment on this subject.
If you need any further information, you are always free to submit a FOIL request.
The funding to support a woman recovering in Paradise House is much less than it costs to house a woman in the County Holding Center, or prison. It is a population prone to recidivism, especially when in free fall with no safety net like Paradise House. Factor in the societal cost involved when you account for the children who grow up separated from their incarcerated mothers. Considered in these terms, the previous county funding level for Paradise House was a bargain.
That’s one reason why Erie County Legislators Barbara Miller-Williams, Betty Jean Grant, and Pat Burke recently passed a resolution “Calling Upon the Social Services Department to Restore Much-Needed Funding for Substance Abuse Treatment Beds for Women in Recovery.” You can read it here. It argues that the county should maintain support for Canaan House (Walden Ave., Cheektowaga), New Life Residential Center (Memorial Dr., Buffalo), and Paradise House (Mills St., Buffalo)—all facilities that provide special help for vulnerable women in need. No further action has taken place to remedy the situation.
Today, Reverend Paris reports that a delivery from the mailman confirmed that the April 1 cuts from Erie County have gone into effect. Barring a miracle from the recalcitrant Erie County Department of Social Services, the fate of the 16 women now in Paradise House and the seven employees who supervise them 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for minimum wages, appears to be sealed.
If you are so moved, you can contact them at:
Paradise Opportunities, P.O. Box 84, Buffalo, NY 14212
Their office phone is: 716-892-2813