News: The Right to Struggle

For the underpaid or homeless, human rights offer hope

Matt Borgerding

People in need should not be ashamed to ask for help, according to attorney Jennifer Kinsley. Nor should they be prosecuted, as they are in Cincinnati, she says.

Dec. 10 was the 55th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Around the country, educational workshops, rallies and town halls marked the occasion.

About 200 people gathered at McMicken Commons at the University of Cincinnati to support efforts by adjunct instructors to form a union. Article 23 of the Declaration of Human Rights says, "Everyone has the right to form and join unions."

But Ohio law bars part-time faculty at state colleges from collective bargaining. The Adjunct Faculty Association (AFA) is calling for an end to the restriction.

Helen Schwier, an adjunct professor at UC, spoke passionately about the needs of her co-workers. She blasted the university's master plan for focusing on campus improvements but leaving out academics.

"The master plan leaves out people," Schwier said.

However, UC President Nancy Zimpher is starting an academic plan.

"We applaud her for that," Schwier said.

She wants the administration to view an adjunct union as a partnership. UC partners with banks, businesses and other schools, according to Schwier.

"There is room for another partner," she said.

Susan Durst, a full-time professor and former adjunct, said she shares her colleagues' concerns.

"The pay is very low for adjuncts, although it's better than Xavier University," she said. "Many adjuncts aren't single and need benefits. A lot of department heads are embarrassed by the salaries of adjuncts, but there's nothing they can do because of the administration."

Howard Konicov, president of AFA, expressed gratitude for the large number of people that came out to show moral support.

"I have a really profound appreciation for everyone that came out to support us," he said. "It's their lunch hour, and they could be some place else."

'Buddy's spirit lives'
The civil rights of homeless people were the theme of the keynote address at the annual dinner for the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, held Dec. 9 at the Cintas Center at Xavier University.

Attorney Jennifer Kinsley stressed the importance of homeless people being open to receiving help.

"We need more individuals facing homelessness to step to the forefront with shamelessness," she said.

Last summer Kinsley represented a homeless man, Don Henry, when the city attempted to evict him from a camp under a Third Street overpass. As part of the settlement, the city agreed police will contact the Homeless Coalition if someone is living under a bridge.

Kinsley praised Henry's willingness to fight the city.

"Don raised awareness of homelessness in the city by refusing to abandon his campsite and friends," she said.

The fight is not over, according to Kinsley, whose lawsuit challenging Cincinnati's new panhandling restrictions is pending in U.S. District Court. She called the practice of arresting homeless people seeking help "repugnant." Such laws discourage people from helping others, she said.

Kinsley urged people at the dinner to continue their work to end homelessness.

"There are far too many well-intentioned good people living off the streets," she said.

She related her own biggest moment of need, when she was stuck at LaGuardia Airport. It took the kindness of a stranger who understood the desperation of her situation to help her. Kinsley said because the stranger was willing to give and she was willing to receive, she was helped out of her emergency.

Attendance at the dinner set a new record, a hopeful sign in a city that the National Coalition for the Homeless named "sixth meanest" in the United States for poor and homeless people. In years past, the local coalition has sold an average of 100 tickets for the dinner. But this year 240 people attended.

Media reports about the plight of people living under bridges helped ticket sales, according to Georgine Getty, director of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. In addition, many showed up to hear Kinsley's speech, Getty said.

"I'm very touched at how Cincinnati turned out to support homeless folks," she said. "It was great to see homeless people and non-homeless people together. I wish it could happen more often."

An awards ceremony marked by tearful speeches and standing ovations concluded the program.

The first award, Streetvibes Vender of the Year, went to Arlene Mullen.

Annie Combs received the Service Provider of the Year Award. She runs the Full Circle Program, a relief program for women.

Maura Ramsey, a former Xavier University student, received the Volunteer of the Year Award. She recently left for South Africa for two years to educate children there.

The Jimmy Render Award, which honors someone who was formerly homeless and has gone on to help the homeless, went to Rodney Sutton, who became a homeless runaway at 14. He was taken into a foster home, but at 30 he became homeless again. He later started A.W.O.L. Ministries and went to college.

"I could not have done any of it without people like you," Sutton said.

Bonnie Neumeier presented the Buddy Gray Award, which honors a person who, like the late Gray, has dedicated his or her life to ending homelessness and advocating justice.

"Buddy's spirit lives here," Neumeier said. "It lives in everyone out there who works to end homelessness."

The award went to Sister Mary Grath, a member of the Sisters of Charity for 53 years. She is the founder of Bethany House.

"You live simply so others can simply live," Neumeier said to Grath.

Grath remembered Gray as a wonderful person who touched many lives. She then remarked on the future and the need for young activists.

"The older we get, the less energy we get, so we need all of you young people," she said. ©

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