Pastor John D. Ogletree reflected Thursday evening that it had been a sad day in Houston, and a somber one. Four city police officers were fired that day for their roles in the April 21 death of Nicolas Chavez, in an incident captured on police video that was finally made public after months of calls, from activists, to “release the tapes.”
But as Ogletree noted Thursday evening, at the beginning of an online summit on justice coordinated by The Metropolitan Organization of Houston and the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, Chavez’ death wasn’t an isolated incident.
“Chavez was the first of six killed by HPD officers during a two-month stretch, April and May,” Ogletree said. “All of these were men of color who were killed....”
“The cry now across the nation is for justice,” Ogletree continued. “Since May, there has been a heightened sense of rage, desperation, and resolve to shift the way policing is done in America.”
That’s certainly true, and it’s the best reason to feel optimistic about the prospects for police reform in Houston, at least....
[Photo Credit: Pastor John Ogletree of First Metropolitan Church]
Grieder: Push for Police Reform Shouldn’t be Scuttled in Favor of Partisan Politics, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Leaders with The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, a coalition of churches and organizations that work to help low-income, local communities, are calling on Justices of the Peace to halt evictions and for renters to take action to prevent losing their homes.
Beginning Friday, a new evictions moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes place. The rare order prohibits landlords from evicting any tenants through the end of the year but does not relieve renters of having to pay their rent and other fees in the future.
TMO leaders said during a Friday press conference while the CDC's sweeping moratorium is a step in the right direction, it's not enough.
“The CDC order creates a welcome pause in evictions in this area but is only a half-measure because all rents and late fees will continue to pile up and be due when the moratorium expires on December 31” Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, a leader with TMO, said in a news release.
“COVID-19 is not going anywhere, and it is time for Congress to return to negotiations to pass the next stimulus bill, including $100 Billion in rental assistance,” TMO Leader Rev. Scott Cooper said in the release.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Physicians]
Houston Coronavirus Updates: What You Need To Know For September 4th, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
1. Changing the present culture within police departments from a culture of intimidation and punitive responses to one of community policing which focuses on developing relationships within the community.
2. Raising the hiring standards of police to increase the degree of professionalism.
3. Effective and rapid implementation by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement of their recent decision to require all Texas police officers to learn how implicit bias can affect their actions.
4. Require the introduction of programs in all police departments to provide for the ongoing mental health wellness and care for the mental health needs of officers.
5. The elimination of qualified immunity that shields law enforcement officers from being sued for their discretionary actions.
6. The establishment of Independent Police Auditors with subpoena power in municipalities to independently investigate allegations of police misconduct.
7. Timely and effective investigation of all police shootings, allegations of excessive force and in-custody deaths by the Harris County District Attorney Civil Rights Division and prosecution of all officers where it is warranted.
[Photo credit: Godofredo A. Vásquez, Houston Chronicle]
"Because of language barriers, Texas risks leaving some of the state’s marginalized communities even more vulnerable to contracting the virus while making it more difficult to access resources needed to get through the pandemic...."
"We have to be informed because we are the most vulnerable," [Maria] Ramirez explains.
The information Ramirez has gotten throughout the pandemic has mostly been through her own efforts seeking it out and through the community groups she was already involved with. Ramirez's church sends out information to congregants, as does The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, a local nonprofit of which she is a member.
[Photo Credit: Eddie Gaspar, Texas Tribune]
In a 3-2 vote at a special meeting, the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court passed a budget for how to spend $134.3 million in federal funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
TMO-Fort Bend clergy and judicatory leaders from Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, Lutheran and Islamic congregations testified at multiple hearings, including Rev. John Strader of Heritage Baptist Church who called on the county "consider its faith leaders and organizations as a resource to help....[we'll] help with seeing the true issues of our county to be addressed by the CARES Act funds." As a result, 6,500 Fort Bend families will receive $1,500/mo for rent, utility and food assistance.
"Rev. David Lee Sincere Jr. with Fort Bend Transformation Church, Advocacy Now Institute and The Metropolitan Organization was one of several county residents and officials who spoke at Commissioners Court about the need for rental, mortgage and utility assistance. He said he has received a number of phone calls, emails and stories from residents who require help."
Leaders are also calling on the county to "enact a countywide rent moratorium that would help those directly affected by...this emergency.”
[Photo Credit: Screenshot via Fort Bend County]
Fort Bend County OKs Budget For Distributing $134M CARES Act Funds, Community Impact [pdf]
George Joins Others In Asking State To Extend Eviction Moratorium, Fort Bend Herald [pdf]
Fort Bend County To Host Workshop On Distributing $134M In CARES Act Funds, Community Impact [pdf]
Fort Bend County Launches $19.5M Rental Assistance Program June 1, Community Impact[pdf]
Seven [commissioners], plus the one Mayor Turner spoke to, said they plan to postpone eviction hearings until June. That’s great news to Mesias Pedroza, a leader with The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), who today was helping to pack meals for families with meals.
“Just right now we’re preparing for service giving food supplies to families and they come and say ‘hey we need help with rent. We can not pay for rent. We don’t have a job. What are we going to do? Where are we going to go?” Pedroza said.
As of Wednesday, there were 1,286 evictions pending in Harris County. Since March 18, 1,591 have been filed, according to data collected by January Advisers.
On Tuesday, TMO sent a letter to Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo asking her to extend the moratorium on evictions which expired May 19. Judge Hidalgo has said that’s not in her power but she and county commissioners have allocated $30 million to help struggling families with relief.
“At TMO we believe they have the legal basis to do so because other counties have done so,” Pedroza countered. “There is ample discretion because the Texas Supreme Court they have said eviction orders may resume it doesn’t say that it shall resume.
[Photo Credit: KPRC Click 2 Houston]
Houston Mayor’s Tweet Sparks Optimism to Families Facing Evictions, Click 2 Houston [pdf]
Editorial: What Houston must do to avoid eviction disaster Houston Chronicle [pdf]
HOUSTON — The $15 million meant to help Houstonians pay rent is already gone. The money dried up in less than 90 minutes....
The Metropolitan Organization was hosting two application clinics this morning to help families without internet access apply. Large crowds waited in line starting at 5 a.m. Because of the issues with the site many families weren't able to apply before it was shut down.
"They designed a system to give away $15 million quickly and yes it was a success they gave away $15 million, but did it get to the people with the greatest need, I question that," said Joe Higgs, Executive Director of TMO.
As many as 30,000 tried to access the website, an indication of the need for rent relief in the wake of COVID-19, which has led to business shutdowns and skyrocketing unemployment. Housing advocates have said the money does not go far enough in helping renters.
Houston's $15 Million Rental Assistance Program Fills Up In 90 Minutes, Houston Chronicle
Houston's $15 Million In Rent Assistance Runs Out In Just Two Hours, Click To Houston [pdf]
Rev. Carissa Baldwin-McGinnis of Northside Episcopal Church said church groups are seeing a lot of children across Houston experiencing trauma — and even grief — as normalcy and friendships are lost because of COVID-19 and all the events that have come before it.
Baldwin-McGinnis is an executive committee member for The Metropolitan Organization, a nonprofit that brings faith-based groups together to influence policymakers’ decisions. The organization is currently working to raise awareness for the food and housing needs low-income and minority communities are facing during the pandemic.
“We know that the nervous system of children gets extra triggered when there are multiple experiences of complex trauma,” Baldwin-McGinnis said. “If they’ve had losses in the past, they’re less able to regulate their emotions, they have higher levels of anxiety … (and) you can get all kinds of crazy behavior including higher aggression.&rdquo
[Photo by Brett Coomer, Houston Chronicle]
"There's a story that sounds almost apocryphal, except it isn't, about how the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, which focuses on community-leadership development, came to anchor itself in the consciousness of elected officials across the state.
Locally, the network affiliate is known as The Metropolitan Organization, or TMO. Primarily church-based, as the IAF organizations are in other cities, TMO is made up of 27 congregations largely located in east and southeast-side neighborhoods.
As the network of organizations marks its 40-year anniversary, we turned to TMO leaders for insights about the group's work here in Houston, its impact and vision for the future. Outlook editor Veronica Flores-Paniagua talked with the Rev. Robert McGee and Ana Cummings, who were among TMO's founders."
Below are excerpts from the conversation.
...."It's about the Texas IAF Network, to which The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) of Houston belongs. Through its interdenominational base of congregations, TMO identifies the needs of the communities, develops leaders and establishes strategies so that the ears of authorities are reached and elected officials compelled to respond to their demands.
'We have seen time and time again that politicians - Democrats, Republicans, from the left, from the right, independents - respond to power (that of organized communities). So we build power. It doesn't matter what party an official comes from, if they see that a community is organized and has the power to pressure them, they will change things quickly,' affirms priest Eric Holloway of Santa Mar√≠a Virgen Episcopal Church, which is situated in southeast Houston and whose parishioners are predominantly Latino."