Social Justice Committee Seeks Additional Funding For Programs That Support Underserved Residents

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Report On The Meeting Of The Community Safety And Social Justice Committee (CSSJC), September 7, 2022


Present
Dee Shabazz (co-chair), Allegra Clark (Co-chair) Phillip Avila, Pat Ononibaku, Debra Ferreira, Freke Ette

Staff: Jennifer Moyston, Assistant Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion
Town Council Liaisons: Pat DeAngilis (District 2), Dorothy Pam (District 3)

Two members of the public attended.


Announcements

The Committee sent a letter to Council President Lynn Griesemer, reminding her that they have been waiting two months for a response from the Town Council to the Committee’s concerns about police harassment of a group of mostly BIPOC youth (now referred as the Amherst Nine) on July 5, 2022. Co-chair Allegra Clark said that Griesemer’s response will be discussed at the next meeting. Debora Ferreira asked about the police response to the incident, which has not yet been released, and wondered why it is taking so long. Pat Ononibaku reported that some of the families of the Amherst Nine have decided to write a joint narrative of the event to convey their sense of what happened on July 5. This will then be forwarded to Amherst’s Human Rights Commission.

Member Reports

Jennifer Moyston reported that the Community Responders For Equity, Safety and Service (CRESS) program officially began its work on September 6. They have not yet responded to calls but responders are doing outreach, going into the community and introducing themselves. 

Co-chair Dee Shabazz said it was important for CRESS and the Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) office to engage with the Community Safety And Social Justice Committee (CSSJC) regularly so that everyone is well-informed and aware of what the other is doing and optimally situated to support each other. Ononibaku noted that the Community Safety Working Group (CSWG), the precursor to the CSSJC, had recommended a strong connection be established between the CSSJC and the new departments (i.e. DEI and CRESS).. Ferreira added that the new departments need to utilize the CSSJC to fulfill their missions. 

Dorothy Pam said that she read in the papers that CRESS will not be responding to noise complaints and wondered if that is true. Moyston responded that it’s a complex issue and that Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone and  CRESS are still trying to work out the protocols. Ferreira said that calls about anything that is non-criminal ought to be going to CRESS and that CCSJC needs to be informed in a timely manner of what they are doing and that more consistent communication is needed between the committee and the departments. Moyston said that there would likely be an update on the handling of noise complaints at the next meeting of the committee, on 9/28. 


Funding Of Programs
The remainder of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of funding for social justice programs,programs that support under-served residents in Amherst, and involving CSSJC in the budget process.  Of particular concern was the difficulty that underserved residents seem to have in being informed about or gaining access to funding opportunities.

ARPA Funds
Ononibaku reported that the town is slated to get over $11M in ARPA funds but there doesn’t seem to be any racial equity component for how they should be distributed.  She noted that a substantial amount, $550,000, is going to the Business Improvement District (BID) from $650,000 allocated to the business community. (see here and here). She said that there was supposed to be some prioritization of BIPOC businesses (see e.g. here) but there was apparently little outreach for that. She said that she had contacted several Amherst-based, BIPOC-owned businesses and most said that they had not heard of the ARPA program.

She reported that the town still has $2M in ARPA funds that as yet are unallocated. Many of the CSWG’s recommendations (such as a multicultural center, a BIPOC teen center, and a Residents’ Oversight Board) are not funded and the DEI department is currently under-funded. And there is no funding in the town budget to support any work in racial/community healing. She said that the town ought to use the rest of the ARPA money to fund CSWG recommendations and the BIPOC business community.

Shabazz remarked that 50% of the town’s ARPA funds are to be reserved for minority owned or marginalized businesses and noted that this does not appear to be happening. “How can CSJCC and DEI make sure that there is a more equitable outcome for this program?” she asked.

Moyston reported that she was told that the ARPA program was widely advertised, including notices in local mass media and social media, including the  BID’s “social space” and on the town website. Ononibaku said that the outreach was not set up to prioritize reaching the businesses that need the money the most. She suggested that DEI ought to be asked to be part of the process whenever there are funds to be disbursed. “And perhaps that money ought not be managed by the BID — at least some of it ought to be managed by another entity,” Shabazz said. She added that “something is definitely not working.”  Ononibaku said that she would seek a list of all applicants and awardees for ARPA funds.

Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
Shabazz reported that CSJCC’s program priorities are not on the list of CDBG funding priorities for 2022. She noted that with budget season beginning, many of the new departments do not seem to be aware that they need to be actively seeking money. Part of CSJCC’s role is to make them aware of this and get them connected to funding sources. Shabazz observed that it’s too late to gear up for this grant cycle but that the committee could encourage DEI and CRESS to submit proposals to CDBG the next time around

Ononibaku said that the town ought to have a grant writer to go after funds for the programs that need the funding the most, especially programs like DEI, which is currently under-funded.

Victims Compensation Fund
Ononibaku reported that some of the families of the Amherst Nine are seeking financial assistance for counseling and therapy that they have sought following the July 5 incident. She suggested that CCSJC ought to begin the work of establishing a fund that could help in such instances. Shabazz read a letter from a group of parents representing five of the families, speaking to their trauma. A final draft of that letter will be forwarded to Amherst’s Human Rights Commission. Freke Ette thought that the committee needed to hear from the other parents before moving forward but the other members disagreed, noting that the fact that not all families are represented by the letter does not diminish the urgency of the needs of those who did speak up. Shabazz reminded the committee that the letter reflects the substantial testimony received by CSWG on how and why BIPOC people do not feel safe here in Amherst.

Public Comment

Vira Cage commented on the availability of CDBG funds and grant writing. She said that CDBG funds are really meant to support underserved communities and it looks as if  the town has used it for other needs, such as street paving, and  justifying it by saying that there are low-income houses on the street being paved. She asked the committee to think about how CDBG funds are actually being used in Amherst and how much they work to uplift communities that really need it. 

On The Agenda For The Next Meeting On 9/28
Seeking the formal response of the Amherst Police Department to the July 5 incident
Seeking the response of the Town Council to the July 5 incident
Discussion of above responses
Clarification from DEI director on whether they will be doing any follow up on their report about the incident, which they delivered on July 9
Presentation on new guidance from the state on police interactions with youth and guidelines for posting a complaint about police (Shabazz)
Clarification of CRESS exclusion from responding to  noise complaints
Report on the Amherst High School Youth Group’s plan for a know-your-rights workshop

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