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Elizabeth Morris

Journalism and Economics Major at Ithaca College. Passions: Reading, Baking, Writing and Economics.

“My own room with a real bed”: Transitory housing in Ithaca

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The Court Street Place men’s group home is located in downtown Ithaca. ©Ithaconomy 2015, Emily Masters

Note: This story was originally published in “Ithaconomy”

by Elizabeth Morris and Emily Masters

“I’d had a home that I’d built for about 13 years and my wife passed away and I kind of bottomed out emotionally,” said Dave Steel, 60.

Overcome with grief, Steel stopped working, paying bills and eating. A close friend stopped by his house every day to get him out of bed. And when Steel lost his home, he moved in with that friend and his wife for about a year. He moved out when the couple had a baby.

“I spent a couple weeks camping outside and then rainy weather started,” Steel said.

Next, Steel turned to the Rescue Mission Emergency Homeless Shelter. Just as he timed out of the emergency housing, Steel learned Court Street Place had an opening.

“It’s just nice to have my own room with a real bed,” Steel said. “I’m paying rent. It’s a good deal.”

Court Street Place is a supportive residence for men who are working to transition out of homelessness and establish self-sufficiency.

A few weeks into his stay at the group home, Steel now works as a cab driver six days a week, 12 hours a day.

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“They need time for the change and this is what this house is about,” said Barry Segal, owner of the property and a volunteer in the home. “This gives you a stable environment for as long as you need it.”

Segal bought the property three years ago with the idea that he could house 10 homeless men, while using the backyard for his construction business.

“This had 10 rooms, already zoned,” Segal said. “It was the abandoned American Red Cross emergency shelter.”

Now the home is run by Rescue Mission, an organization that aids people struggling with homelessness in Upstate New York. Rescue Mission offered to partner with Segal after he bought the property. The organization provides the men with community resources, case management and other programs.

Segal now describes himself as “a major volunteer,” and regularly spends time with the men.

“I’ve cultivated relationships with them — I can call somebody up [after they have moved out] and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Want to get together for coffee?’” Segal said. “If they’re in trouble and they need help, they can call.”

Segal said men typically stay for five to six months. However, the range can vary between two years and two weeks.

“Lately the intake system has gotten better, so the people who are coming in are in a better position to stay,” Segal said. “In the beginning, the focus was on ‘these guys are really bad and they really need a place’ but then they began to collapse, [or relapse, and become a negative influence on] everybody else.”

Now, Segal said, the focus is on bringing in men who are ready to make the transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency.

With financial support from the Department of Social Services, men pay $400 monthly rent. Neither a security deposit or background check is required. The group home is centrally located in downtown Ithaca, so residents can walk to work.

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Segal said gaining employment gives the men a sense of self-worth and teaches them life skills like budgeting, punctuality and hygiene.

There are rules against female guests and the use of alcohol and drugs, as well as an 11 p.m. curfew, Segal said.

“Being here is not so bad,” said resident Francis Shattuck, 58. “There’s no drugs, no alcohol, so I’m clean. It’s part of my life that I need to do.”

Segal said these rules challenge the men to take personal strides.

“A little adversity strengthens you a little bit, it makes you grow, it makes you move forward,” Segal said. “This place is comfortable enough, you’re secure, you’re safe. Now you want to move your life forward, so let’s figure out how to get a job, let’s figure out how to save money. You need to have somebody around you to hold you accountable, that’s what this place does.”

Shattuck moved into Court Street Place about six months ago. He had previously been living in the Jungle, a tent community in the Ithaca woods. Shattuck said it took time to get used to living with five men in one house.

“Your living ways don’t correspond with his living ways,” Shattuck said. “So of course there’s going to be a conflict here and there, which there was, but anyway it gets straightened out. No one fights here, so it’s a pretty decent place to be.”

Segal said safety is integral.

“They want to feel like, ‘I can go home tonight and no one’s going to come into my bedroom and rip me off,’” Segal said. “We have cameras and stuff, so there’s not going to be a fight, I’m not going to get beat up.”

Shattuck said Court Street Place “is a much better situation than the one I was in.”

“When I was in the Jungle I didn’t know where I was going to go from there. I didn’t know what I was going to do, anything like that,” Shattuck said. “Being sick — I’ve got Parkinson’s Disease, I’ve got heart problems, arthritis, neuropathy, diabetes, a lot of problems. I think [the Rescue Mission] kind of rescued me. Thank God for them.”

Businesses Struggle to Find Employees Because of Low Unemployment

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Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit hired seven contract bus operators for three months. ©Ithaconomy 2015, Elizabeth Morris

Note: This story was originally published in “Ithaconomy”

by Elizabeth Morris

For TCAT bus operators, December brings with it a relief from overtime, mandated work days and requirements to work during their time off. While TCAT needs 82 bus operators to be fully staffed and most efficient, they currently only have 73. These work strains had became a common theme for a TCAT employee over the past year.

“We’ve just had difficulty with recruiting qualified candidates,” said Patty Poist, TCAT communications and marketing manager. “It’s a job skill that’s very much in demand locally, regionally and nationwide.”

TCAT recently hired seven professional transit contract drivers from National Tour for an estimated three months in order to fill gaps in their workforce due to a shortage of bus operators. Because of the skill the contract bus operators have, it only takes a week to train them, in comparison to the several weeks it does for most local labor, said Poist.

TCAT received approximately 100 applications in response to ramping up their recruitment efforts. But it still takes time to process these applicants, train them and help them get the appropriate licensing.

“Then everybody goes through a training session that lasts several weeks,” Poist said . “So you know, we have the contract workers for at least three months, and it’ll take that amount of time to really ramp up.”

Julia Mattick, executive director for the Tompkins County Workforce Investment Board, said the goal of the board is to create opportunities for individuals to enter career pathways in the occupations in demand through a “business-led, demand-responsive workforce development system that’s intended to meet businesses’ needs.”

The board works with mainly the private sector to supply them with trained individuals for those fields. They are also a part of a statewide job bank that allows them to quickly help the unemployed into the open positions.

While the low unemployment rate of 3.9 percent in Ithaca means that most people looking to work have jobs, it also has had a negative impact on businesses. They’re unable to find local employment that fits their job skill needs.

“Employers are — they’re desperate — you know,” said Mattick. “They’re struggling to fill their positions.”

The high-tech industry, manufacturing and healthcare are the three biggest industries struggling to find employees in the area. Only a few select sectors are not suffering from the lack of available talent, said Mattick.

“In the current environment, with an unemployment rate that is so low, not many [positions are easy to fill] because there’s just not a large enough pool of available talent in any field,” Mattick said . “I will say that where we tend to have an overabundance of people is in what I would call administrative support. So, Cornell University, when they have open administrative positions, they tend to have a fair number of applicants.”

https://infogr.am/ithaca_jobs-04614

In order to accommodate for this lack of skill, many employers, like TCAT, are hiring from outside of Tompkins County.

“Obviously businesses are recruiting from outside of Tompkins County, but the unemployment rate is going down for everyone,” Mattick said. “So it’s getting harder and harder to fill those positions.”

But Mattick pointed out there are also difficulties with recruiting people to work in Tompkins County.

“Recruiting folks to upstate New York is not what I’d say is easy,” Mattick said. “It’s cold, it snows, we’re not close to a major city.”

This is also a factor for students in Ithaca deciding where to go after graduation. Mattick said many leave for bigger cities like Boston, and often it’s because of a perception that there are no opportunities available — a perception Mattick is looking to change.

Many of the employers in Ithaca are struggling to find qualified local labor, but those that are able to find the labor often find employees not up to their standards. Phyllisa DeSarno, director for economic development in the City of Ithaca, said small businesses in downtown Ithaca’s biggest problems are their employees.

“I hear a lot about the work ethic, that that’s a real problem, that people will be hired, and then they don’t show,” DeSarno said. “And they’ll call up and they’ll say they’re sick or they [have] a problem with childcare.”

TCAT thinks there may be another reason for a low workforce shortage – the high cost of living in Ithaca, said Poist.

“It’s becoming more and more expensive to live here, or it is expensive to live here,” Poist said. “So as it is, a lot of our bus operators have to commute from outside.”

First Friday Gallery Night event brings buzz to the Commons

Ithaca Gallery Night
A visitor admires the Community School of Music and Arts’ Gallery opening on Nov. 6. ©Ithaca Week 2015, Elizabeth Morris

Note: This story was originally published in “Ithaca Week.”

By Elizabeth Morris and Will LeBlond

Bright bubble gum pink candy, Celtic knots integrated with playful colors and 3D dimensions dominate just a few of the many shows displayed across Ithaca’s downtown during a walkable gallery night. Visitors trickle in to admire the local art before heading out to other shows just a quick walk away.

Artist Christi Sobel is the creative genius behind one of 22 galleries participating in First Friday Gallery Night, a local collaboration organized by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance where Galleries release their new shows once a month. This year she put together a 12 set cohesive piece aimed to be a calendar, integrating local staples like wine and beer with animals and Celtic knots.

“Every show’s a little bit different, last year I actually did another calendar show at Sarah’s [Patisserie], totally different paintings, but again, a body of work,” said Sobel. “When I hang a show, I try to make a cohesive body of work.”

The Gallery Night includes businesses whose sole purpose is to promote the arts, and then also stores, restaurants and bars who also find artists and arrange shows.

Sobel has participated in the event numerous times at various different venues, sometimes at galleries, but also at the businesses.

The Gallery Night started around 15 or 16 years ago, and Downtown Ithaca Alliance first took it over in 2007 and transformed it from a quarterly event to a monthly one, said Evan Williams, Outreach Coordinator for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance.

First Friday Gallery Night first began with six or eight core galleries. Over time, the number of venues has increased from 8 to twenty, increasing the diversity of artists, said Williams.

“Each month we seem to have one or two new ones who sign up and so some people only participate a couple times a year, some people participate every single month, other venues pick and choose when they have shows,” said Wylie Schwartz, Gallery Night Coordinator. “So it’s always a different mixture of who’s participating and what the shows are like.”

The Gallery Night opens art shows, but the displays are available to visit during the week. Williams estimates that a few thousand people view the galleries that participate in Gallery Night throughout the month before they switch during the monthly Friday event.

One Gallery that’s been a part of First Friday Gallery Night since the beginning is the Community School of Music and Arts, or CSMA.

Robin Tropper-Herbel, Executive Director of the Community School of Music and Arts, said that people come to CSMA to see the artwork during First Friday Gallery Night, but then learn more about the organization and their other arts related programming.

“It’s a fantastic program because it’s all the galleries. Now we’re on this same cycle that each month we either open a new show or continue say a two month show,” said Tropper- Herbel. “But we all have the openings at the same time for the most part, so that the community can just come and go from gallery to gallery, and really make a night of it.”

Tropper-Herbel said the Downtown Alliance branded the First Friday aspect of Gallery Night, which is helpful for galleries because it allows visitors to plan their schedules ahead.

The Gallery Night’s ability to bring together so many diverse facets of the community creates a compelling event, Tropper- Herbel said.

“There are so many working artists that live here, doing all kinds of work in a range of mediums, styles and just a lot of people working in the arts here,” said Schwartz. “And it’s great to have so many venues that offer a platform for this work.”

CrossFit resonates with the Ithaca community

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Jared Jordan, co-owner and head coach at CrossFit of Ithaca, teaches a CrossFit class. ©Ithaca Week 2015, Elizabeth Morris

Note: This story was originally published in “Ithaca Week.”

by Elizabeth Morris and Kira Maddox

There has been a spike in the fitness world, and the international trend has resonated with the Ithaca community as well. It’s called CrossFit.

From Nov. 5–9, CrossFit Lift Off, an online CrossFit competition, will pit any interested men and women from around the world against each other to see who can do the best in a series of three fitness challenges: the snatch, the clean and jerk, and a final that will be announced the day the competition opens.

CrossFit Lift Off is part of a fitness trend that has a considerable following in the U.S., especially throughout the Northeast.

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CrossFit is a collection of strength and conditioning workouts that has seen a spike in popularity within the last four years, even though CrossFit Inc. was only founded about 15 years ago. Though Ithaca is a relatively small town with a population of about 30,000, it has two certified CrossFit gyms: CrossFit of Ithaca and CrossFit Pallas.

“CrossFit is a wide variety of different exercises,” said Jared Jordan, co-owner and head coach at CrossFit of Ithaca. “We take weight lifting, cardio, all mixed together and then it’s kind of defined as functional movement that’s performed at high intensity and it’s constantly varied.”

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“The growth of CrossFit has been, I think unexpected for everybody,” said Tim Paulson, an owner of CrossFit Pallas. “Even for people who do CrossFit and were involved with it from the start. It was a bit of a slow growth for a while, but in the past fews years it’s just taken off.”

Paulson’s gym saw so much growth from its original home on Court Street, where it opened in 2012, that they had to relocate. The business now occupies a large, red garage space on Cherry Street, expanding from about 1,000 square-feet to 6,000 square-feet, with 25-foot high ceilings.

Paulson said the business is nearing the 200 member mark.

“People who do CrossFit, they see results, and when they see results they share that,” Paulson said. “So I think a lot of the growth of CrossFit has been word-of-mouth, organic.”

CrossFit of Ithaca has seen similar growth. While it’s only been open for a little less than two years, Nina Cobb, co-owner and coach at CrossFit of Ithaca, said the business began with four members in the first two months, it has grown to about 60–65 regulars.

Cobb said they’re hoping to expand their business and move into a bigger space by February 2016.

“Even if you go to your normal Globo Gym, Planet Fitness, this and that, you see CrossFit happening in all those gyms,” Jordan said. “A lot of boxing and martial arts places have added CrossFit in their program.”

Paulson said he thinks this is also do to the screening of the annual CrossFit Games on ESPN.

The CrossFit Games began in 2007 and was first live streamed on ESPN in 2011. These games start with a five week competition, called the Open. Boxes across the world, including CrossFit of Ithaca and CrossFit Pallas, compete in the same workout and submit their scores every week. Then athletes who qualify go on to the regionals, which occur over three weekends. The fittest 40 men and 40 women compete in the final stage, the CrossFit Games.

While there are only two affiliated CrossFit gyms in Ithaca, there are many other areas where CrossFit is taught in the area. In 2012, the Cornell Fitness Club was founded, and it now offers two CrossFit inspired bodyweight classes a week.

“A lot of the people who have joined this semester, a good handful of them are freshmen students,” said Nicky Blobel, Cornell Fitness Club president, “and so they have all done CrossFit before before coming to Cornell, and wanted to continue similar workouts. So I guess because the popularity of CrossFit has been increasing, people have becoming more interested in our club also.”

Religious advocates petition for environmental stewardship

David Holmes
David Holmes, a Ithaca College and Cornell Catholic Communities Campus Minister, reads a passage from Genesis 2. ©Ithaca Week 2015, Elizabeth Morris

Note: This story was originally published in “Ithaca Week.”

By Elizabeth Morris and Lindsey Witmer

As an environmental studies major at Ithaca College, Sarah Butler ’15 learned about a perfect job. In it, she could use her Quaker upbringing to generate interest in the community about environmental issues dear to her heart.

After graduating from the college, Butler began working for the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Quaker lobbyist group based in Washington, D.C., in September 2015. As one of 18 Advocacy Corps organizers across 15 states, Butler works in the Ithaca community to urge representatives to take on climate issues.

“I want people to realize that they should care about political and environmental action because it really does align with and relate to their religion, no matter what faith they identify as,” Butler said.

On Sept. 17, 2015, H.Res. 424 was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, which expresses the commitment of the House of Representative to conservative environmental stewardship.

The Resolution

H.Res. 424 – Expressing the commitment of the House of Representatives to conservative environmental stewardship, or the “Gibson Resolution,” is a signal of House members’ affirmation of climate change.

The resolution was dubbed the “Gibson Resolution,” after the sponsor of the resolution, Rep. Christopher Gibson (NY-19).

The resolution focuses on representatives’ dedication to creating solutions that address the real effects of climate change and “efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact.” Instead of focusing on whether climate change exists, the resolution aims to shift this debate to what House members can do to help.

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Religion and the Environment In Ithaca

Butler worked with David Holmes, a campus minister for the Ithaca College and Cornell University Catholic Communities to gather signatures from the interfaith and Catholic communities on Ithaca College campus.

Butler joined the community during one of its weekly soup suppers, and then also during masses, to petition for signatures to ask Rep. Tom Reed to support the Resolution.

Holmes said he was more than happy to join Butler in her petition. He talked with churchgoers during the Catholic Community’s mass on Sundays. Holmes said people were excited and “wanted to help in any way they could.”

“It really all stems from a line from Genesis 2, where basically, God says, you as humans are in charge of this, you have to take care of this creation,” Holmes said.

Butler also reached out to a student club called the Ithaca College Interfaith Council, where she found the members welcoming to her petition and sharing some of her same beliefs regarding the environmental crisis.

“It is our call to action for people to speak out on these environmental issues because it is very important and pressing,” said Grace Neely, a member of Interfaith Council. “As a person of faith, our religion says that it is our responsibility to make sure that our Earth is in good condition.”

Both Holmes and Butler said protecting the environment is also about individuals and caring for one another.

Butler said people with no political voice are the ones who are harmed the most by bad environmental policies, as landfills and toxic waste dumps are often close to poor communities.

Support for the Resolution in Ithaca

“The Gibson Resolution, it’s a first step in reality, and it’s kind of sad that it took this long to take the first step, but we need to take it anyways,” Holmes said.

On September 29, 2015, Holmes and Butler gathered around 70 signatures from the Catholic Community and brought them to Rep. Tom Reed’s office in Ithaca.Butler said she collected 80 signatures total and sent about 20 support letters to Reed’s office. Currently there are 10 co-sponsors of the Resolution.

“Religion can be a hot topic and causes a lot of global conflict,” Butler said. “But really all religions say in some part of our text that we have an obligation to care for God’s creation, or whatever higher power you believe in, and make sure you are leaving something for future generations.”

Butler said she will continue to work on gathering support for the Resolution in the Ithaca community and is beginning to reach out to other faith groups about protecting the environment.

Reed’s office could not be reached for comment.

Ithaca residents support Bernie Sanders’ progressive policies

Ithaca and Tompkins County for Bernie Sanders sells buttons to raise money for the Bernie 2016 campaign. ©Ithaca Week Kelsey Mckim
Ithaca and Tompkins County for Bernie Sanders sells buttons to raise money for the Bernie 2016 campaign. ©Ithaca Week 2015, Kelsey McKim

Note: This story was originally published in “Ithaca Week.”

By Kelsey McKim and Elizabeth Morris

Finger Lakes Running & Triathlon Company’s back room is split into two sections: one with extra gear and other storage, the other full of buttons, bumper stickers, pamphlets and yard signs neatly displayed on tables. It is all arranged with one goal in mind: supporting Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Ithaca and Tompkins County have been highly supportive of Sanders so far, and the group Ithaca and Tompkins County for Bernie Sanders is working to keep the trend going. Ithaca’s zip code (14850) ranks ninth nationally in campaign contributions to the Vermont senator, with $11,470 raised. This figure is based on Federal Election Commission data released Aug. 3 of individual contributions of $200 or more. Campaign donations are only one indicator of support for a candidate, however.

“From the get-go there was this huge response,” said Will Fudeman about Bernie’s popularity in the area. Fudeman has been involved with the steering committee. “Commonly with these sorts of campaigns, there might be three or four people who might be carrying most of the weight, and, I don’t know, there’s like more than a dozen really active people, and people keep stepping up.”

Past racks of leggings, sports bras, and other running attire lies the temporary office space of the group. To get to the “campaign headquarters,” volunteers walk into the store under a banner proclaiming “Bernie: Join the Political Revolution!”

At steering committee meetings, about 15 volunteers gather in this room to plan tabling events, canvassing and other strategies for the campaign. Many volunteers began campaigning for Sanders independently, but quickly merged their efforts to create a unified group. The group is not formally associated with the official Bernie 2016 campaign, according to Becky Chambers Hennessy, a member of the steering committee.

Campaign Contributions

The group has seen a large amount of support for Sanders in the area at campaign events, and according to an article by the Ithaca Voice, Bernie Sanders has raised three times as much in campaign funds from Ithaca as any other presidential candidate.

According to FEC data, 31 people from the 14850 zip code donated a total of $11,120 to the Sanders presidential campaign between April 30 and June 30. In comparison, the next-largest recipient of donations, Hillary Clinton, received $3,460 from 8 people in the same zip code between April 13 and June 28. FEC donor reports are generated quarterly.
Origin of Tompkins County Support for Sanders.

Origin of Tompkins County Support for Sanders

Tompkins County consistently supports progressive candidates, according to Don Beachler, associate professor of politics at Ithaca College. In the 2008 Democratic primary, it was the only county in New York to vote for Obama over the less-progressive Hillary Clinton.

The overall support for Sanders in the area is considered a continuation of this progressive worldview. Hennessy explained the personal reasons why she is one of many locals who support the Vermont senator.

“I realized immediately when I saw him come on the horizon that I’ve been settling and I’ve voted over the course of many elections, settling until now,” Hennessy said. “A lot of people feel that way.”

Hennessy said Sanders’ policies on health care, labor and the environment are key issues that attract local residents to his platform. Healthcare is one of Sanders’ most well-known campaign platforms; the senator supports “enacting a Medicare for all single-payer health care system.”

“Here in Tompkins County, we’re among the pioneers of the living wage movement,” said Joe Lawrence, a local “Labor for Bernie” organizer. “Bernie is the only candidate to flat-out say, ‘Fifteen bucks an hour,’ and he’s not tap-dancing around that.”

The concentration of highly-educated citizens in the area is another factor in local support for the Sanders campaign.

“Ithaca has an educated electorate,” said Alex Skutt, co-treasurer of the local campaign. “You roll a bowling ball down The Commons and you hit Ph.D.’s.”

Beachler said that education levels correlate to voter turnout.

“Education across the country is highly coordinated with voting: the more education you have, the more likely you are to vote,” said Beachler.

Because voter turnouts tend to be low across the country, this trend skews elections, especially primary elections (which have the lowest turnout rates), toward candidates favored by highly-educated voters.

Local Campaigning

Until recently, much of the group’s focus has been on courting independents or members of other parties to switch their registration to Democrat. New York State has a closed primary, which means only people registered with a party can vote in that party’s primary. In an open primary, voters of any affiliation can vote in one party’s primary.

The last day for voters to switch party affiliation was Oct. 9, and the group is now focusing on registering new voters, especially students, for the April 19 Democratic primary.

“Seeing people like Bernie Sanders that push the envelope to the left are really interesting for me,” said Charlotte Granison, who attended a debate screening hosted by the group. “Whether or not people determine him as electable, we’re seeing this movement, we’re seeing a broader expanse of ideas, and I think that’s really powerful.”

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