By Frank Schier
Editor & Publisher
The following column will upset you if you are politically correct.
For many of us downtown businesses, the announcement of Rosecrance opening a triage center for the mentally ill at 526 W. State is just too much, and another case of too often.
We have the feeling another anti-development facility we don’t want is being shoved down our throat, without our consent, advice or notification; and we can’t do a damn thing about it.
While the closing of Singer is more than very bad on many levels, the placement of a replacement center downtown intensifies the saturation of social services in a business district that is trying to attract more retail and market rate housing.
Don’t call us NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard); call us MEBAFYIFA (My Entire Back And Front Yard Is Full Already). Try to pronounce that mouthful; we’re ready to spit it out because we’ve had a really bad social service agency taste in our mouth for decades.
We have to swallow it every day. After being in the booming Quad Cities for five days, I returned to this bad news, and called City Administrator Jim Ryan to vent.
I was on my cell phone on my way to lunch at Octane, and as I went out the front door, I saw eight people around the intersection of North Church and Mulberry streets. Two of them behind me carried the trademark backpacks of the homeless at the Rockford Rescue Mission. Two walking toward me were heading toward the RRM or bus station, a block away. One was just hanging out on the corner. Three others were in some kind of social conference on the sidewalk, just down the block on Mulberry.
How do you know these folks are social service clients, Frank, you might ask?
I’ve been in management in business downtown since 1984. In those 28 years, including 17 years at my current business address, I definitely claim expertise.
They pop into my business on a regular basis and freak out my employees. We call the agency. They talk to their client, and they may or may not come back. Most of the agencies are very responsive, but that’s the point — they and I HAVE TO RESPOND!
I would love to have $8.25 an hour, just minimum wage, for every cumulative hour I’ve been panhandled, followed, threatened (with either physical harm or with “I’m gonna KILL you”), had my car spit on, cleaned urine and feces out of our businesses’ entryways, picked up their litter, tried to get rid of loiterers, spent time kicking them out of my office, soothing my employees, walking my employees to their car, and waiting for an overburdened police department to respond on the phone or in person.
I have just given up on calling Winnebago County officials to complain about the daily and nightly gathering of cigarette smokers from the Satellite Jail. Yes, sir, right on the Church Street sidewalk in the middle of the “entertainment” district, anyone driving by gets a great public relations look at part of our correctional population. Hey, you’d feel comfortable if your employees or customers had to walk through that group, wouldn’t you? Thanks for the repetitive ignoring.
Furthermore, after other repetitive incidents with the same person who has accosted us or threatened us, I can’t count the times an officer has rolled his eyes or shook his head with exasperation and said, “Frank, what can I say? He’s (or she’s) off his (her) meds again.”
Now we are going to get the more extreme cases and their families coming and going a few blocks away. Great. Just great. Yes, I’ve dealt with the brothers, sisters, kids, fathers and mothers of the agencies’ “clients,” too. It’s a regular Family of Fun.
I have to ask myself, considering all my previous 17 years of rugged experiences with social service clients at this location, “What can happen now? What’s going to happen now?” Nothing would surprise me.
Ryan called me back and said the property was properly zoned for such an enterprise; and although he was against it, there was no way to legally stop it. He said he felt blind-sided as well because he just learned about it when the building permit was filed.
I inquired with City Deputy Director of Community and Economic Director Todd Cagnoni about zoning for the facility, and he said new construction for a social service agency downtown would require a Special-Use Permit, with mandatory hearings.
I wish we could have had some hearings on the Triage Center. Rosecrance has other facilities in other parts of town, and other parts of town have many commercial vacancies. Actually, if you type in “Social Services in Rockford, Illinois,” an interesting map comes up. Take a look. We have many.
We do have scattered site social service agencies. My point is this should be scattered in the region, county or city, but not dumped into downtown. Enough, already!
But, hey, “we in Winnebago County and the metropolitan Rockford area are used to getting dumped on. Don’t blame the Morrissey administration; it’s been going on for decades. While Morrissey must do more to slow the flow, blame the Box and Scott administrations in particular.
We were the dump for Chicago’s Cabrini Green when it closed. Just try to get the federal housing vouchers out of the Rockford Housing Authority for the last 20 years. Ask any cop. Ask any cop if parole violators from around the state are dumped in Rockford. Hey, we even have a new housing program for them. The homeless folks who have helped us with our problem are honest about it. Rockford is known nationwide for our social service network among the homeless network. The Van Galder station is very busy with passengers a cynic might say are shipped here, too. Oh, don’t forget the county is now taking Chicago’s garbage at a regular rate for you and me.
Yup. The cost of this “Rockford Dump Syndrome” to area taxpayers and the private sector for hospital, fire and police emergency services, long-term health care, public housing and lost private sector development is more than very significant. And what is the cost in quality of life values? Go figure: I’m sick of it.
Here is another interesting bit of Internet research for you, speaking of taxes. Go to http://rockfordpropertyvalues.com.
We’ve included a map from that Rockford Property Values Study, showing properties in downtown that don’t pay taxes because they are government owned or tax exempt not-for-profit. That tells the story.
I was just going into the great new restaurant, The District, the other night, and a fellow asked me for money. I told him we have an ordinance that makes that illegal, and I called the police on him. It took about 15 minutes (considering the call load for other severe crimes, that was great), and they moved him off. I’m not sure they arrested or ticketed him. One of my friends who runs a major building downtown says he is panhandled all the time, and we need stronger enforcement. I said, did you call the cops? He said, “No.”
I’m calling the metaphorical “justice makers” on this densification of social services and parole violators in downtown and in the Rockford area. Why don’t you call the “justice makers” you know, or just join a gang? Chicago! How about our crime rate? Great. Just great.
By the way, reportedly, the Rockford Rescue Mission may want to build a women’s center across from its 715 W. State St. location, which does not pay property taxes, just as their Restoration Café property at 621 W. State does not pay taxes. That would require a Special-Use Permit for another property that probably would not pay property taxes. Would you attend that hearing? Or do you like our downtown and our crime rate the way they are? Great. Just great.
By the way, I just ran out of gas, and my pregnant wife is in the car, and I just moved from Chicago. Do you have $10 I can borrow?
From the Oct. 3-9, 2012, issue