Neighborhood Welfare, the Animal Rescue League and Examples from Manchester

I didn’t intend to write this post because I don’t live in Homewood and I can’t articulate what would be in the best interests of those who do.

Then I saw the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette weighed in on the matter so I thought I would, too. You can read more details here about community response to the announcement that the Animal Rescue League’s plan to relocated into a brand new facility in Homewood.

Pittsburgh Animal Welfare

Pittsburgh Animal Welfare

To clarify, I live in Manchester another predominantly African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s Northside. Manchester is not the same as Homewood. But what we have in common in this specific situation is the plan of an animal welfare organization to build in our community.

The Western Pennsylvania Human Society (WPAHS) is located in Chateau, literally across the street (Western Avenue) from Manchester. They recently acquired a parcel of land in Manchester proper on which they hope to build an off-leash exercise area for their dogs. This parcel happens to be directly behind my home – our family is the one most impacted by this plan.

An off-leash dog area is not the same thing as a full facility, but I believe it gives me some perspective and I simply want to share some thoughts with ARL (and maybe WPAHS, too.)

First, the quality of life issue for the people in the neighborhood where you are building is important and it is equally important that they have the majority input in defining their own quality of life. Obviously, you can’t please everyone  – but you can certainly listen to most people and create open lines of communication. Announcing plans is not the same thing as opening lines of communication early in the planning stages. Talking with a CDC and elected officials is not the same thing as opening lines of communication with the residents of the community. I’m not 100% convinced that ARL is listening or that they sought neighbor input in a meaningful way before announcing their plan. WPAHS bought the land allegedly using money endowed specifically for the off-leash area then announced their vision. When they did come to a public meeting, they apparently did not even write down notes of what people were saying. I have this on the authority of Ledcat who attended the meeting. So I’m also not 100% convinced WPAHS is listening. This can be rectified but it requires both organizations to actively demonstrate that they value input.

Second, it is clear that in both cases, there will be an impact on the neighborhood. So what are you giving back to offset the inconvenience and the intrusion and the potential harm? This is what I suggest

  • Free routine medical care for the pets of the residents in the neighborhood. That’s a tangible benefit that will also further your own mission. It will cost the organizations some money, but it is an investment.
  • A neighborhood advisory committee that meets regularly to discuss the relationship (not just concerns, but the good things, too.)
  • Active, aggressive recruitment of neighbors for any job openings. I know there are not many jobs and neither plan will actually create jobs, but both organizations do hire and do hire entry-level as well as skilled positions.
  • Create a youth outreach program for the neighborhood to bring the kids in proximity with the pets, educate them on animal welfare, and all the great things that come with that.
  • Create a volunteer-driven program to take therapy pets to visit elders and shut-ins in the neighborhood. Bring the benefits to the people who are most vulnerable and least able to access it.
  • Make sure there is a 24/7 contact for emergencies. Not an answering machine. Not 911. A way to reach someone even if it creates a burden for staff to manage this. Like an on-call service or a cell phone shared by staff around the clock.
  • Ask the neighbors what they want (this should come first in the list.)

All of these things will cost money, no doubt. But again, I say that is an investment in the neighborhood and the quality of life of those who live in the neighborhood. So rather than spend the money in staff time lobbying electeds and CDC’s, go to your donors and explain why you need this funding.

I’m not thrilled at the idea of an off-leash are adjacent to my own yard where MY pets are just doing their thing. We already have issues with outside dogs charging our fence, people dumping all sorts of things (living and dead) in that isolated space and more. These are issues that could be addressed with open dialogue. That isn’t happening.

One final word – please do not use guilt. Don’t tell people living in Homewood or Manchester how to feel about animal welfare. Don’t make this about our families versus homeless, sometimes abused animals. That’s not fair and it is a classist, racist argument because you have no idea how these individual people engage animals. Don’t tell us that your mission is to help animals. We get that. But our neighborhoods are filled with human beings who aren’t being well-served by many, many institutions and it is perfectly reasonable for neighbors to demand that YOUR organization not add to that burden.

It is a dangerous step for these organizations (or their supporters) to create a false choice between animal welfare and the lives of human beings who live in the affected neighborhoods. It only makes things worse.

In case you are interested in reading further, this is my go-to example of what not to do. Soon after the WPAHS purchased property in Manchester, they parked their corporate and volunteer/staff vehicles on the lot during a Steeler game. Allegedly, they did this so they could rent their actual parking lot out to Steeler fans. Green spaces and empty lots are not parking lots. This was a massive #FAIL on their part – they literally occupied a dozen street spots and created this parking mess, both of which had an immediate impact on our lives. We lost more parking which is always a hot commodity on Steeler game days. We had a potential traffic jam in our backyard along two very tricky streets. And, had they asked, they would have realized that this brings more vandals into the neighborhood. It was disrespectful and lacked any forethought.

No less an advocate than our State Senator Wayne Fontana specifically asked the WPAHS to refrain from using this space as a parking lot. On several other occasions, they did it anyway. We’ll see what happens next fall, but this is precisely the sort of stunt that gives non-profits run by white men who don’t live in the neighborhood a poor reputation.

The key is “had they asked.” I typically park my car in our gravel spot right behind that fence on Steeler days until it was vandalized. Twice. Now I park on the street which adds to congestion. If you are going to create off-site parking in our neighborhood, you need to hire someone to patrol it during the entire game. It isn’t fair that we are exposed to more risk so you can make a profit renting out your spaces. I can’t rent out my space. See?

I could fill this blog with tales about that lot. I have historical and institutional information to share. But no one asked.

Again, I cannot speak for anyone in Homewood nor do I know if any of those residents would agree with my suggestions. I urge the Animal Rescue League to really listen to what their neighbors are saying and be proactive in their investment in the neighborhood.

Western Pennsylvania Humane Society
View of the WPAHS lot in Manchester from my second floor rear window
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  • You are right on point, Sue! first, I would like to clarify that because Operation Better Block (OBB) has separated Homewood into “clusters”, it was only because I was invited by the Homewood Concerned Citizens Council that I was even able to attend the meetings, and have a voice in this issue.

    I find it very disturbing that our elected officials and community based organizations (CBO) have taken so much time to organize meetings to discuss rescuing dogs, but never take time to organize meetings to discuss the issue of rescuing people which, to me, is so much more important. It’s no secret that shootings are a regular occurrence in Homewood. People are dying in Homewood! People are poor in Homewood! People are hungry in Homewood! People are uneducated in Homewood! And what do we discuss at meetings? RESCUING DOGS! I find that appalling, and a slap in the face of every parent that has lost a child to gun violence in Homewood; to every family that struggles every day to survive in Homewood; to every child that attends a public school in Homewood and can’t read, write, or do math or science at grade level; and ultimately, to every resident of Homewood who deserves the same amount of dignity, respect, time and consideration that we are affording the Animal Rescue League.

    At the last meeting, we were talked to like we were nothing! Councilman Burgess said, on more than one occasion during the meeting, “I’m going to say this, and then I’m going to stop talking”. How dare he! Jerome Jackson of OBB told us in so many words that his “….staff could be doing something else” which, to me, is an insult. We deserve to be given whatever time we feel is necessary for us to make an informed decision.

    What’s even more interesting is, according to an employee of ELDI, ARL took their proposal to ELDI over a year and a half ago and it was rejected, and also to Rosedale Block Cluster in Homewood. I respect Diane Swann for telling them that she does not speak for the community. According to OBB, ARL just brought the proposal to them this past January, and now it is being shoved down our throats so that ground can be broken in the next month or so. The owner of an apartment building in the area of the proposed development has already sold their building, and the residents have already been displaced, while the ARL hasn’t even raised all of the money needed to build yet.

    As you mentioned, and we agree, there should be some benefit to the community. When I asked Dan Rossi, Executive Director of the Animal Rescue League
    what the benefit of the new facility would be to Homewood residents, he
    didn’t even have an answer! Councilman Burgess and OBB are not even on the same page, because the Councilman thinks the benefit will be in developing the area around the proposed facility, too, while OBB hasn’t even considered any community benefits. They “aren’t for or against” it. Gee, thanks OBB! You’re really doing a good job of representing the interests of the community!

    But the real kicker is this……..before ARL approached OBB they approached another Homewood CBO that has done some WONDERFUL things in Homewood, particularly in their work with children. That CBO designed a program for Westinghouse students to do Veterinarian Internships at ARL, which would lead to enrollment in a Veterinary School. So why then would ARL ditch them and go with OBB? It’s pretty obvious! ARL does not want the Homewood residents to benefit from the development, and OBB is the perfect partner to push their one-sided agenda!

    Many people, both inside and outside of Homewood, think that there is a group of “naysayers” that don’t want to see development in Homewood. Nothing could be further from the truth! Everyone wants to see development in Homewood! Who wants to continue to look at vacant, abandoned, blighted properties every day? But any development that occurs in Homewood should be driven by the residents, and should provide both long and short term benefits to the community. We don’t think that’s too much to ask for. That’s why I have organized a meeting on May 7, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. at the Homewood Library, to begin the process of organizing a Consensus Group for Homewood. Malik Bankston from the Larimer Consensus Group and Carl Redwood, Jr. of the Hill District Consensus Group, and other invited guests, will be in attendance to inform Homewood constituents about all of the wonderful things they have been able to accomplish through Consensus Groups in their respective communities, and the possibilities for Homewood. It would be great if you could attend!

    Again, thank you so much for your insight, and for expressing your opinion, which I highly admire and respect, and thank you for caring about Homewood!

    Lucille Prater-Holliday
    Proud Homewood Resident

    • The veterinary program is another example of a tangible investment in Homewood. It is exactly along the lines I was thinking.

      I’m a little puzzled by this idea that only the homes immediately surrounding development should have input. If that were the case, WPAHS would be listening to my family since we are directly adjacent to their property and that’s certainly not happening. And I’m not sure it should – the plans need to be an investment in the whole neighborhood. Why else have a neighborhood?

      • I agree! OBB claims it’s easier to work in small groups, which may be true, but when the issue is of a magnitude such as this, segmenting people severely diminishes peoples capacity to impact decisions, which actually only makes it easier for developers to more their projects forward. It makes me wonder what’s REALLY going on!

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