“My Two Cents” – February 2018

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

As we start the new year (2018), it has been over two years since the New Jersey Supreme Court took the power of making decisions regarding affordable housing, out of the hands of the COAH Board, and into the respective courts of jurisdiction.  So, the question to be asked and answered is has this been a better alternative moving us forward, or has it just delayed and set the affordable housing issue back to the drawing board.  My answer to that is that some progress has been made although it has taken a lot of time to get where we are right now.

A little history is in order to set the stage.  Sometime in 2008, the COAH board had set out to establish its third round of rules for affordable housing.  This had been done twice before, ergo first round and second round.  The third round rules passed however were challenged in the courts and after several years, portions of those rules were rejected, and a portion was upheld.  COAH then   attempted again to revise their rules and after several false starts, a new set was proposed by the administration, who was under the judicial gun to make a decision.  Finally, the COAH Board did vote to turn down those proposed rules, in spite of the courts pressure, which brought the issue before the NJ Supreme Court.  That Court decided that COAH, now was defunct and not able to operate, so that all issues of affordable housing would have to be solved within the court of jurisdiction for that town.  As a result, most towns filed their declaration of judgement in court, which has given them   immunity from a builders lawsuit until their cases could be heard.

So, that is what has been going on for the past two years, with towns having to submit their new   COAH plans which now are to go to the year 2025.  ( 2015 to 2025 – 10 years ).  Some towns have combined their efforts to fight these new requirements, while others have worked to settle.  Overall, the majority of towns have worked to settle these lawsuits by submitting their new affordable housing plans.  As a result, Project Freedom has gotten called into some of these towns for new future      projects.  One of those new towns is Robbinsville, coincidently where Project Freedom built it’s very first housing project.  Another town is Hamilton, again where we also have a presence.  Both towns recognize the demand for barrier free housing, and have been supporters of our disabled clients. 

This certainly is gratifying to know that these two towns think that much of Project Freedom to include us in their new housing plans for the future.  This is also a result of having the issue of affordable housing finally being settled within the structure of the court system.  In the past, when the Towns would come before COAH, they could easily delay their responses and would take months if not years to address what should have been settled months earlier.  And since COAH had no real police power, there was basically nothing that COAH could do to make them comply.

 

“My Medicaid, My Life” by Alice Wong

“My Medicaid, My Life” by Alice Wong,  New York Times — Opinion/Disability Section, May 3,2017

I am a Medicaid welfare queen. When Republicans talk about safety net programs like Medicaid, Social Security and food stamps, they evoke images of people like me gabbing on their smartphones, eating steak and watching TV from the comfort of home. Political rhetoric and media coverage paints us as unmotivated and undeserving individuals, passive consumers of taxpayer dollars who are out to “game the system,” taking resources away from hard-working people.

The reality of being a disabled person on Medicaid is far more complex and nuanced. Many people do not even know the difference between Medicaid and Medicare and simply consider them “entitlement programs,” as if tax breaks and corporate subsidies aren’t entitlements by another name. Medicaid is more than a health care program. It is a life-giving program.

Like the thousands of people sharing their stories at town halls about how the Affordable Care Act saved their lives, I am sharing my Medicaid story to illustrate its value and the potential consequences of “reform.”

I am an Asian-American woman with a disability and a daughter of immigrants. When I turned 18, my dad told me that I needed to make an appointment at the county office and apply for Medicaid. Living in an affluent suburb of Indianapolis, I was indignant. Medicaid was for “those people,” the “indigent.” I learned that my parents paid exorbitant monthly premiums for my health care. Only one company in our state would cover me because of my pre-existing condition (spinal muscular atrophy, a congenital motor neuron disease). I had no idea of the financial pressure placed on our family for basic health insurance because of my disability.

I graduated from high school in 1992, two years after the Americans With Disabilities Act was passed. Learning about disability history and realizing I was a member of a protected class encouraged me to imagine and create the life that I want. Once I got over myself and realized I had a right to Medicaid, it made a difference immediately.

I began to receive several hours a week of services to help me with personal care. When I went away to college I was able to hire attendants and live independently for the first time. It was an exhilarating taste of freedom that showed me a glimpse of what was possible. Before Medicaid, my family members, including my siblings, provided all of my care, including bathing, dressing and toileting. Now I had choices and the basic human right of self-determination.

Unfortunately, Indiana made cuts to Medicaid the following year that resulted in fewer hours of services. Our family couldn’t manage both tuition and private pay for personal care, so I made the heartbreaking decision to leave the school I loved and move back home.

As I commuted to a school nearby, I learned about the activism by disabled people that led to expanded accessibility and services across the country, California in particular. Moving to San Francisco for graduate school in the late 1990s afforded me the privilege of being in a state with a program that allows me to direct my own personal care services, including hiring and training my attendants. This program, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), is funded by a combination of local, state and federal funds. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to go to school, work or volunteer.

By no means is it fun or easy receiving Medicaid. I follow strict eligibility rules and guidelines. I’ve been able to work as a researcher thanks to a state Medicaid Working Disabled Program where I can maintain eligibility by paying monthly premiums. Over time, my disability progressed and I needed substantial care that would normally take place in an institution if I didn’t have any help. I became eligible for additional hours of service through a Medicaid waiver so that I could remain in the community and stay out of a nursing home, at a considerable savings cost for the entire system.

When you are disabled and rely on public services and programs, you face vulnerability every day. This vulnerability is felt in my bones and my relationship with the state. Fluctuations in the economy and politics determine whether my attendants will receive a living wage and whether I’ll have enough services to subsist rather than thrive. The fragility and weakness of my body, I can handle. The fragility of the safety net is something I fear and worry about constantly.

Although the American Health Care Act — the Republican attempt to replace the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act — failed, the assault on poor, disabled, sick and older people continues in other forms. The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services can weaken regulations, place limits on the services states provide without legislation and add new work requirements. States can request block grants and changes to eligibility and regulations from the federal government directly. Block grants and per capita limits will force states to reduce or eliminate services to make up the difference from the federal government, affecting millions of people.

“Program flexibility” is code for the decimation of Medicaid that will put lives like mine at risk. Some people with disabilities may have to live in nursing homes if community-based services wither away under this flexibility and reform. We cannot disappear again after a history of segregation and institutionalization. When Republicans talk about freedom and choice, they don’t realize that Medicaid gives those very things to people with disabilities.

Every day I resist forces that label me as the Other or a scapegoat for society’s problems. With the disability community, I share our stories and speak out against threats to our future by using my privilege and tools such as social media. I hope my story will continue for decades to come.

 

“My Two Cents” – January 2018

As I write these words, it is the day after Christmas, so all the parties, have come and gone, with only memories of those good times.  It indeed has been a wonderful year, for which we at Project

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Freedom have a lot to be thankful.  This year, we obtained our funding for two new projects, one in West Windsor and one in Gibbsboro.  Staff will soon be working to make them a reality, which will provide needed barrier free housing for many of our consumers.  We must have had our guardian angels working overtime for us to win those funding awards this year, which was quite extraordinary.

And speaking of Angels, at Project Freedom communities we have always been grateful for our “community angels” throughout the years, who provide special programs to our consumers throughout the year. 

  • At Robbinsville, The Resurrection Lutheran Church gives gifts to tenants at Easter as well as hosting our Thanksgiving dinner and Labor Day picnic, open to all tenants there. 
  • In Hamilton, the Nottingham Women’s Club donates a $25 Gift card to all the tenants there at Christmas Time.
  • In Hopewell, Merrill Lynch provides a ” Giving Tree” with Christmas gifts to each family there as well as food for many families during the Thanksgiving holiday.
  • Our Woodstown Community had a holiday food delivery to several tenants thanks to Franklin Savings Bank, and the Woodstown Police Department, and Meals on Wheels provided large gift bags to their Meal recipients.
  • In Lawrence, the Menges family donated personalized gift bags for all our tenants there, as well as helped with our annual Christmas party. They, along with Deborah Hospital donated Christmas gifts for our Chinese Auction, allowing many tenants to go home with more than one gift.  The students from Sommerville High School come down to help serve as waiters and waitresses, and escort tenants home or deliver gifts to those who couldn’t come out.  We even had the Lawrence Community Band give a holiday concert, with attendance from our other Mercer County communities, for a great night of Christmas music. 
  • In Toms River and Westampton, our two newest communities, PFI has provided the means to hold a Christmas party so all could enjoy the holidays.

So, a lot to be thankful for.  For me, these things don’t just happen.  I am pleased to have a great staff, who orchestrate, coordinate and work, those days….all with a smile on their faces, to provide these memorable events.  So, I would like to give a big “thank you” to them:  Lawrence: Joanne, Brie, Ross, Joe and Johnny; Hamilton and Robbinsville:  Jackie, Melinda, Mary, Esther, Judy, Dana, Maria, Doug, Ed, John and Ron; Hopewell: Ceil, Jennifer, Jen, Frank and Damien; Toms River: Laurie, Joyce, Jim and Al; Woodstown:  Sammi, Arlene, Mike and John; Westampton:  Dara, Savanah, Tony and  Leonard.  And of course our executive staff: Norman, Steve,  Frank, Tracee, Marion, Heather and Sakina.

And finally, to our Board of Trustees, who consistently meet every month to provide support and     continue the mission of Project Freedom, now and into the future.  Many thanks to all.                   Happy New Year.

 

“My Two Cents” – December 2017

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Well Christmas is right around the corner and for many of us, it revolves around the tasks of shopping for that special gift.  Shopping for family and friends, can really get expensive, however many times giving doesn’t require money.  It can be as simple as making a phone call to our Mom or Dad or a friend, to just wish them a Merry Christmas and to say “ how are you”. Giving is really what Christmas is all about, and it is something that we can all do. 

Recently, I hooked up with an old high school classmate, who is recently disabled and who uses a wheelchair full time.   Prior to becoming disabled, Ed was a policeman, a building contractor and a private investigator.  A man of many talents.  Ed also has a love of animals and nature, and has chosen to use his Facebook and blog pages to advertise pet adoptions in this area.  Ed will include photos of these animals on his postings, with a little description of each pet.  Getting out the word is how Ed has managed to save many of these stray animals.  Not only is Ed providing a great service to the local animal shelter, it is very satisfying for him knowing that he is contributing something back to society.

My other friend, Mike, who is not disabled, is always involved in some community activity.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday, he organized our church in the delivery of turkey meals to over 170 local folks, replacing the Meals on Wheels that day.  For years, he and his two boys would collect food donations to bring to the local shelter, and he has always taught his kids that it was better to give than to receive. 

I once heard it said that the most precious thing that we possess is our time.  Spending our time to comfort someone or just to talk with our friend, who may be down, is something that really costs us nothing, but can be so important to those who we comfort.  Even not saying a word, at times, but just being there for that person, can mean so much to them, especially in their time of need.

For Christians, Christmas commemorates the birth of Jesus, someone who cares very much for others.

So, when you spend your Christmas this year, take time to reach out to someone you haven’t  spoken to in a while, and let them know that you are interested in how they are doing.  You never know, you might stumble upon a new friend, someone who you would be glad to know, and who would be glad to know you.

Have a very Merry Christmas.

 

From Norman’s Desk – November 2017

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

This year will be the twelfth time in my life that I cast a vote for the governor of NJ.  I remember back in 1973 being forced to vote two weeks ahead of time by absentee ballot because my polling place was not accessible.  I remember in 1992 being challenged at the poll because of disability, and I remember the empowerment I felt by calling a state hotline while at the poll to “fix” the situation to my satisfaction.

Times have changed for people with disabilities in terms of voting ease.  Now most polling places and polling booths are accessible. Voting early by mail is encouraged for everyone in many states.  Yes, there are still barriers to voting—especially in other states, but there is no excuse for any person with a disability not to vote.

Yet last year I read an article from the Arizona Capital  Times about people with disabilities voting, and it cited a report from the Research Alliance for Accessible Voting.  The report said that people with disabilities voted at a lower rate than their able-bodied peers in the 2012 election.  The rate was 56.9% in the able community vs 48.1% for people with disabilities. Our vote was 12% less than people who were able-bodied, and we wonder why some elected off do not pay attention to us!

The article also contained a quote from Phil Pangrazio, a person with a disability and the CEO of an Arizona-based center for independent living.  Pangrazio said:

“With barely half of our community overall voting in any given election, it is critical that we each take our civic right – and our duty – seriously. Not voting may just be one of the most selfish and irresponsible acts a citizen could commit.”

I agree with Pangrazio—especially with what is happening in Washington and Trenton these days.

One of my heroes in the Disability Movement was Justin Dart.  He is credited by many as the force behind the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Dart’s take on people with disabilities voting was simple and succinct: “Vote as if your life dependent on it…because it does!”

          Voting is a right that every citizen of this great country should exercise.  People have died to gain that right. People have died to protect that right. People have died to exercise that right.  We need to honor their ultimate sacrifice by voting, and there is no excuse for people with disabilities not to vote.

“My Two Cents” November 2017

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

Well, we are one week away from our Angel Award Dinner, and staff are busy pulling all the last minute details together.  Thanks to Board member Karol Moss for heading up this committee and for providing the leadership for this event once again.

At this year’s Gala, we are honoring two Mercer County mayor’s–

Robbinsville Mayor David Fried, with our June Ronan Angel Award, and West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh with our Freedom Bell Award.  Both are elected officials for their respective towns. 

As we have done in years past, our Angel Award remembers June Ronan, Norman’s cousin who was instrumental in establishing Project Freedom in the early days.  We honor others in her name, like Mayor Fried, for his support for Project Freedom programs and for people with disabilities.  What is most unique about what Mayor Fried has done, is that he has transformed his yearly State of the Township Report into a fundraising event that raises money to help someone in need.  Created in 2015, the Mayor calls this program, “Pay It Forward”, in which the funds raised at the event, go to provide some specific need in the community of Robbinsville. 

In years past, he has raised money to purchase a wheelchair accessible van for our Robbinsville tenant Trey Shepherd, as well as making renovations to the home of Debbie Dauer, a Sharon School teacher who has  ALS.  Over the past three years, his program has raised over $100,000 for individuals connected to  Robbinsville that were in need.  A very creative way to present the Township Report and help someone in the process. 

Likewise, Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh has continued his steadfast support for a Project Freedom    community within West Windsor, since 2006.  Under his leadership, an appropriate site was     identified for our project, arrangements were made to purchase this site for our community and     $250,000 was contributed to help pay for the engineering and architectural costs so that we could get our project approved by the planning board.  In the world of Township politics, these are almost super human accomplishments.  Thanks to Mayor Hsueh, our West Windsor construction will start sometime in early March 2018.

Our other honorees are two Project Freedom tenants who have both achieved their independence despite some difficult challenges—Jaime Hooker and Bill Manzo.  Both are great examples of people who don‘t give up, but rather contribute back to society.

And finally, our Employee of the Year Award this year goes to our Woodstown Social Service     Coordinator, Sammi DeMaris.  Located in Salem County, Sammi has managed our furthermost site since 2009, with a very minimum amount of support from our central office.  It is very gratifying for me, as the boss, to know that our communities are in good hands and having Sammi in Woodstown is most reassuring.

So, our Angel Award Dinner is slated for November 11 and there is still time to call for tickets ( 609 ) 278-0075.  Hope to see you there.

 

 

 

“My Two Cents – October 2017

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

So, one of the hot topics today in our country, is the use of “Free Speech” which is guaranteed by our Constitution and First Amendment.  Usually this revolves around some kind of protest or some action that certain groups are usually against.  Recently we have seen this in protests involving racial equality and the mistreatment of minorities by law enforcement officials.  Today, it is often said that we are a divided nation, yet when disaster struck in the form of hurricane Irma in Texas, Jose in Florida, and Maria in Puerto Rico,  American’s came together to help one another.  So, this begs the question, on what level are we divided and again, on what level are we united?

Let’s also keep in mind that our nation was founded upon a rebellion from a foreign nation that wanted to control the destiny of our citizens.  So, controversy is a part of our national make up.  For sure, even our founding fathers, were not always united in the cause to break from Great Britain.  There continued to be disagreements during the revolution, with some remaining loyal to the Crown.  In the end, we did come together as a people and formed a unity of states–a United States.

Today, the most recent controversy, comes from the NFL, with players and coaches “ taking a knee” during the singing of our national anthem.  This lack of respect for our flag is to show that not all of us agree with what is happening in our nation today.  Certainly, our country is still struggling with racial equality and treatment of minorities. Our history here has not been good.  But I honestly don’t know from these protests exactly what they are pointing to and how we are to address these issues.

But our flag and the national anthem represent many different aspects of America, so much more, most of which are good.  We are the land of opportunity, which is why so many immigrants want to come to our country.  Our freedom’s  have provided the wealth, which most of these NFL player protesters enjoy today—each and every one who “took a knee” are millionaires.  And let’s not forget all the men and women, minorities included who have given the ultimate sacrifice for this country.  Disrespecting the Flag and our anthem, disrespects those folks as well.

Finally, isn’t there some other way to raise a voice in protest rather than to disrespect our flag?  Maybe the NFL could sponsor a dialogue prior to the games, which offers speakers the opportunity to make their case, and call attention to injustice.  Or donate funds to inner city schools, or revitalize poor neighborhoods, or sponsor police education programs.  I just think that much more constructive action could be taken that would help to heal and mend these wounds, than by protesting the singing of our national anthem, or our flag, symbols that represent us all.

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

“My Two Cents” – September 2017

Tim Doherty, Executive Director

I have exciting news to report.  The governor announced last Friday, the Low Income Tax Credit Awards for this year, and Project Freedom has won for both our new projects—West Windsor and Gibbsboro.  Hooray.

This is by no means an easy task, and in the past, we have only been able to get one of our submitted projects the award, so to get both is quite a feat.  So, before I go too far, I need to thank our Director of Development Tracee Battis and her assistant, Marion Doherty, along with CFO Steve Schaefer for all their hard work on making those applications a success.  And a very big thank you to our Board of Trustees who has steadfastly supported our efforts to develop affordable housing in New Jersey under the leadership of Board Chair, Herb Schneider.  It certainly was a team effort.

So, a little about where and what these two communities will be.  Our setting in West Windsor is off of Old Bear Brook Road and it will be adjacent to the Enclave by Toll.  Our project will mirror our buildings at Hopewell, two story, 12 unit buildings– all barrier free with an elevator in each.  We will also have a large community center for tenant and civic activities.  This site is about ½ mile from the train station which makes it ideal for someone who uses a wheelchair for mobility.  The Enclave will contain long term suites, townhomes and apartments and some light retail commercial buildings.  We hope to start construction in early 2018, with completion in Spring of 2019.

Our second project is located in Gibbsboro, Camden County, in South Jersey, off of route 561.  Gibbsboro is a quaint little town set around Silver Lake which is a beautiful setting for our housing, and next door to Voorhees Township.  It is known historically as the headquarters for the Sherwin Williams Paint company which moved out of the area years ago.  Gibbsboro is in the process of  developing the area around the lake, which will create housing and retail, consistent with the character of the town.

Both projects have been in the works for over ten years.  I remember traveling to Gibbsboro in the late 1990’s working with the town fathers and their planner to identify a possible site.  During those years, Gibbsboro had been in litigation with Brandywine Corporation, a large real estate developer, that was proposing high density housing for the lake area.  Ultimately the Town won, and have worked to develop a plan that will continue to maintain the local town flavor and not compromise on traffic and safety.  Our site will create 72 rental apartments, one, two and three bedroom units, on three floors within four buildings.  We will be part of the town’s bike and walk path, throughout the town and should contribute at least 95 COAH credits for Gibbsboro’s affordable housing plan.

Our West Windsor site, will also have 72 units and look exactly like our Hopewell Freedom Village.  We are excited with the fact that this location is so close to the train station, and will provide an  increase in mobility to anyone who uses a wheelchair.  Also, this location will lend itself to access to the city of Princeton and all that goes with it.

Lastly, I need to mention the tremendous help and cooperation we received from both towns toward making our project a success.  Both towns provided tremendous help with our planning effort, the passing and approvals in a timely manner.  West Windsor even provided the land along with some seed money which helped enormously in making our project work financially.  So, our task now is to create housing that both towns can be proud to have in their communities that will include people from all walks of life.  Our mission continues.

 

From Norman’s Desk – October 2017

New Jersey will be holding its Seventh Annual Disability Pride Parade and Celebration in Trenton this month.  The event is organized by the Alliance Center for Independent Living based in Edison, and I’m proud to have been a part of the parade since the beginning.

I have told this story many times, and the underlying philosophy remains important to emphasize each year.   I have recruited people with disabilities to march in past parades. One year my neighbor sarcastically asked me: “Are you proud of that stutter of yours?”  Since I’m always reminding him that he cannot see too well and that he is dangerous in a power-chair, his well-aimed barb is routine banter between people comfortable with their disabilities.  His comment, however, started me thinking about the incongruity of pride and disability.

It is incongruous to take pride in not being able to do something.  There must have been some onlookers at the parade in the past asking: What are these “broken-down people” with crutches and in wheelchairs doing marching around proclaiming their pride?  How can they be proud when they can’t do anything for themselves?

Well, that is the point.  Society’s view of people with disabilities can be so negative, so weakening, so smothering of spirit that overcoming that negativity can be empowering and something to be proud about.

As people with disabilities, we put up with so much crap imposed upon us by society, the government, the system, and the people in our lives that it is a wonder that any of us have the energy and initiative to be independent, productive, or active.   

But we are independent, productive, active, and we need to own it and show our pride in what we do!

This applies to every person with a disability no matter what their situation.  Our lives are a precarious “high-wire acts” of low income with under-funded supports that keep us more dependent than independent.  One false step drops us into the abyss of institutional living to be trapped and robbed of personal initiative, independence, and dignity.

Yet every day we get up to perform on the “high wire” defying negative attitudes, preconceptions, prejudices, and fears.  Some do it with drudgery.  Some do it with gusto.  Most people with disabilities live our lives somewhere in between.  We do it every single day.

This is why we should have pride.  This is why we need to display our pride publicly and loudly. This is why we celebrate our pride in ourselves and our community. 

 

Norman A. Smith,  Associate Executive Director – ProjectFreedom1@aol.com

Follow me on Twitter @normansmith02    Follow Project Freedom  on Twitter @TheFreedomGuys    “Like” us on Facebook.com/ProjectFreedomInc

 

From Norman’s Desk – August 2017

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director

This year will be the twelfth time in my life that I cast a vote for the governor of NJ. I remember back in 1973 being forced to vote two weeks ahead of time by absentee ballot because my polling place was not accessible. I remember in 1992 being challenged at the poll because of my disability, and I remember the empowerment I felt by calling a state hotline while at the poll to “fix” the situation to my satisfaction.

Times have changed for people with disabilities in terms of voting ease. Now most polling places and polling booths are accessible. Voting early by mail is encouraged for everyone in many states. Yes, there are still barriers to voting—especially in other states, but there is no excuse for any person with a disability not to vote.

Yet LAST YEAR I read an article FROM the Arizona Capital Times about people with disabilities voting, and it cited a report from the Research Alliance for Accessible Voting. The report said that people with disabilities voted at a lower rate than their able-bodied peers in the 2012 election. The rate was 56.9% in the able community vs 48.1% for people with disabilities. Our vote was 12% less than people who were able-bodied, and we wonder why some elected off do not pay attention to us!

The article also contained a quote from Phil Pangrazio, a person with a disability and the CEO of an Arizona-based center for independent living. Pangrazio said: “With barely half of our commu-nity overall voting in any given election, it is critical that we each take our civic right – and our duty – seriously. Not voting may just be one of the most selfish and irresponsible acts a citizen could commit.”

I agree with Pangrazio—especially with what is happening in Washington and Trenton these days. Nothing about us without us, right? Well, the decision process for our issues is moving ahead at all levels of government. We need to be involved! We need to be involved from the start by voting! Before we demonstrate, before we sit-in, before we get arrested, WE NEED TO VOTE!!! The rest is meaningless unless we exercise our right to vote. To paraphrase our great leader Justin Dart: We need to vote as if our lives dependent on it! We all need to vote on November 7!

Norman A. Smith, Associate Executive Director – ProjectFreedom1@aol.com
Follow me on Twitter @normansmith02