(TMU) — Across the United States, sky-high housing costs, a severe shortage of affordable housing, and stagnating wages have shredded the social fabric of countless communities, driving increases in homelessness and long-term poverty.
In Denver, Colorado, the problem has grown in pace with national trends, with one local study showing that at least 5,755 homeless people reside in the Mile High City.
So when a Quality Inn and Suites located on a major road went up for sale, the president of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) saw the perfect opportunity to turn the former hotel into a place where unhoused residents could rebuild their lives.
John Parvensky, who has headed the local nonprofit organization since 1985, purchased the 139-room hotel for $8.4 million using a combination of private, state, and city funds before renovating the property and renaming it Fusion Studios. The building is the 17th of its kind that he has opened in the 30-plus years he’s been working on the issue.
Fusion Studios, which is now comprised of 139 “microapartments,” will serve as a crucial source of shelter and support for some of the city’s unhoused population who continue to struggle to survive in the face of the city’s urban camping ban that remains in force despite the ban being ruled unconstitutional by a county judge.
Parvensky told the Colorado Springs Gazette:
“The project was really born out of desperation.
We were scratching our heads trying to figure out how we can shorten the time period so that the people who are on the streets tonight have a place to call their home as quickly as possible.”
Rooms are available for people who come in from shelters across the city or even directly off the streets. Prospective tenants will have access to special vouchers from the state and city that ensure they will only have to pay 30 percent of their income for rent.
Parvensky noted that many tenants typically can only pay about $100 per month, most of which comes from benefits such as disability payments.
Each room will be equipped with a private bathroom and kitchenette, as well as such amenities as a bed, dresser, desk and chair, a mini-refrigerator, a television, microwave, and even a food pantry.
Britta Fisher, the head of Denver’s housing department, has praised Fusion Studios’ “practically instant housing.”
During last month’s opening ceremony, she told Denverite:
“We all know that we need more housing units, that we need them quickly.
I truly hope we can replicate this model and partnerships at other sites in Denver.”
Michael Jordan feels “great pride” as he opens new health clinic for uninsured in his hometown
Legendary basketball superstar Michael Jordan is giving back to his community in a big way, and has opened a second medical clinic in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, to offer critical care to underprivileged community members during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Last year, the 57-year-old former Chicago Bulls shooting guard unveiled the Michael Jordan Family Clinic on Freedom Drive, which he personally contributed $7 million to. The clinic, which provides much-needed access to primary and preventive care to low-income residents, is being operated by nonprofit healthcare group Novant Health Clinics.
During the October 2019 opening, the six-time NBA champion and owner of the Charlotte Hornets tearfully explained that “it’s a very emotional thing for me to be able to give back to a community that’s supported me over the years.”
Jordan has now opened a second clinic alongside Novant Health in hopes to provide comprehensive primary care to underserved communities.
“It gives my family great pride to know that we are making a difference in Charlotte,” Jordan told The Charlotte Observer.
While the opening of the second clinic has long been in the works, the timing couldn’t be better given the dire impact of the ongoing pandemic on people across the United States and especially the Black community.
In April, the Freedom Drive clinic became widely used as a respiratory assessment center where locals had free access to coronavirus “screening, testing, treatment and education.”
“When this clinic opened, I said ‘We’re here for the long haul. Not just in a crisis’,” said Novant Health CEO and president Carl Armato.
“In fact, the first clinic enabled us to better respond to the [coronavirus] crisis. It gave us the infrastructure to set up walk-up testing – no referral needed. It gave us a platform to educate and treat patients – close to home,” he added. “It even gave us a distribution point for our universal masking initiative, where we provided free masks to anyone who needed them. This second location is critical, as it expands our impact and reach.”
Over 14,000 tests for the deadly virus were provided while around 12,600 mobile health appointments were conducted, forcing the Michael Jordan Family Clinic to direct those in need of primary care to another location – and proving the need for the second clinic to urgently begin operations amid the spiking demand in treatment.
“When we came together to mark the first clinic’s opening last fall, no one could have predicted we would be facing a global pandemic just five months later,” Jordan said in a Zoom meeting to launch the new healthcare center.
“I’m so proud of the positive impact our clinic has had on the community so far, especially during [the pandemic],” he added. “Our second clinic will provide critical services to improve the health and lives of more Charlotteans, which is so important to me and to Novant Health.”
The new clinic will be opening on Statesville Ave. in the North End of Charlotte, and will include 12 patient exam rooms, an X-ray room, and a physical therapy center. A full-time clinical social worker will also be on-site.
“We are thrilled the North End community of Charlotte will have access to the same comprehensive care that is transforming lives at the Novant Health Michael Jordan Family Medical Clinic in west Charlotte,” said Armato.
“The impact of the first clinic has been measurable and if [the coronavirus] has taught us anything, it is the importance of having accessible, safe and quality care in communities that need it most,” he continued.
“Michael Jordan’s commitment to improving the health of our communities, and society, is deep-rooted,” Armato added. “We’re so grateful to be his partner in bringing care and resources to those who would otherwise be without.”
Jordan is hopeful that the community has better days ahead.
“We’ve been dealt with some very difficult cards in 2020,” he commented.
“I hope 2021 is going to be much better.”
Louisiana man who was given life sentence for stealing hedge clippers finally walks free
A man who was serving a life sentence in Louisiana for stealing hedge clippers from someone’s garage in 1997 has been granted parole after spending 23 years in prison.
Fair Wayne Bryant, 63, was facing life behind bars due to the attempted burglary conviction and his criminal record. However, the state’s draconian habitual offender laws led to Bryant’s harsh sentence.
Bryant’s life sentence became the subject of withering criticism from civil liberties advocates and the chief justice of Louisiana’s Supreme Court, who called the sentence “cruel and unusual” and a legacy of slavery and racism in the Southern state.
According to Bryant’s parole panel, Bryant’s criminal record consisted of 22 arrests and 11 convictions. The past convictions included four felonies, only one of which was for a violent crime – an attempted armed robbery of a taxi driver in 1979.
In 1997, Bryant was driving when his car stalled and he went into somebody’s garage looking for a tank of gas. At that point, he was encountered and attempted to flee on foot.
When police apprehended him, he was accused of having stolen a pair of hedge clippers that were found in his vehicle, a claim that he denied. Evidence suggested that he had, however, intended to commit theft. Bryant’s previous criminal record and the state’s harsh repeat offender laws led to him receiving a life sentence, which he tried to appeal for the next 23 years.
Two months ago, Bryant’s case appeared before the Louisiana Supreme Court, which voted 5-1 to reject the appeal. The five votes came from while male board members, while the sole dissenting vote came from Bernette J. Johnson, the state’s first Black Chief Justice, who called for a review of the case.
In her opinion, Chief Justice Johnson blasted the sentence as completely disproportionate to the crime, noting that Bryant’s sentence had already cost taxpayers $518,667.
“Harsh habitual offender laws … permit a life sentence for a Black man convicted of property crimes,” Johnson wrote. “This man’s life sentence for a failed attempt to steal a set of hedge clippers is grossly out of proportion to the crime and serves no legitimate penal purpose.”
“If he lives another 20 years, Louisiana taxpayers will have paid almost one million dollars to punish Mr. Bryant for his failed effort to steal a set of hedge clippers,” she added.
Additionally, she described his past criminal offenses as the sort of “petty theft” rooted in the “ravages of poverty or addiction.”
She also blasted the state’s notorious repeat offender law as similar to the racist Black Codes and “Pig Laws” that unjustly penalized poor Black people for crimes like stealing farm animals or being unemployed, while also treating common misdemeanors and trivial offenses as felonies. In Mississippi, “pig laws” meant that any theft of property over $10 was enhanced to grand larceny. As a result of the “pig laws,” the prison population quadrupled.
On Thursday, the Committee on Parole voted unanimously to release him by a vote of 3-0. Bryant will be required to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings due to his history of drug and alcohol abuse, and he must also perform community service and adhere to a curfew.
Louisiana State University (LSU) Professor Robert Lancaster, director of the LSU Parole and Re-entry Clinic, represented Bryant during the hearing. Bryant was also assisted by Kelsey Jenkins, a third-year LSU Law student who helped Lancaster draft a memo that was submitted in support of early release.
“Mr. Bryant’s sentence is an example of the flaws in Louisiana’s criminal legal system, but the Parole Committee’s decision to grant him early release shows the importance of periodic evaluation of an individual’s rehabilitation, which Mr. Bryant will continue with the support of the Louisiana Parole Project, Inc.,” wrote Jenkins.
Rights defenders such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Louisiana hailed the decision as long overdue.
“Now it is imperative that the Legislature repeal the habitual offender law that allows for these unfair sentences, and for district attorneys across the state to immediately stop seeking extreme penalties for minor offenses,” said Louisiana ACLU executive director Alanah Odoms in an emailed statement.
Jelly Belly founder launches Gold Ticket treasure hunt, and the winner gets their own candy factory
It seems like something straight out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: the man behind Jelly Belly has launched a nationwide treasure hunt for golden tickets, and the winner could receive their very own candy factory.
David Klein’s Jelly Belly took the world by storm in 1976 with its lineup of colorful jelly beans, which used natural ingredients to offer intense, gourmet-quality flavors such as strawberry daiquiri, coffee, French vanilla, pink lemonade, and even buttered popcorn.
Klein sold his stake in the wildly popular jelly bean company in 1980. However, the candy creator now runs a company called Spectrum Confections that specializes in CBD-infused gourmet jelly beans, including such beloved mainstays as toasted marshmallow, piña colada, strawberry cheesecake, cinnamon, mango, and spicy licorice.
This is The Candyman..want to thank everyone who helped make our CBD jelly beans a world wide success. Overnight success that took 44 years…
And as Klein’s storied career reaches its end, the inventor is marking his coming retirement with a series of treasure hunts for golden tickets.
In a video message posted online last week, Klein said that the big winner will receive the keys to their very own candy factory. Thousands of dollars in prizes are also up for grabs.
It certainly reads like something ripped straight from the pages of Roald Dahl’s beloved 1965 children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – but don’t expect the tickets to be hidden in the candy you’ll find on grocery store shelves.
“David and his partner have started going across the USA hiding gold style tickets in the form of necklaces in places they come across with an interesting story,” noted a press release from the company. “Plans are to have multiple treasure hunts for these gold tickets in each state.”
One treasure hunter in all 50 states will be able to win a prize of $5,000, while the lucky participant who wins the candy factory winner must track down the “ultimate treasure.”
“You will be looking for a Gold Ticket in the form of a necklace with a tag that includes a code you need to use to verify your find,” according to contest rules.
The candy factory is actually one of Klein’s “Candyman Kitchens,” a 4,000-square foot property located in Florida. It remains unknown what the actual value of the factory is.
The winner will also receive an all-expenses paid trip and tuition for candy-making courses at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
However, the contest isn’t free. Participants must pay $49.99 to receive the riddle specific to their state. The website to enter the contest has already crashed due to the heavy influx of traffic, while a gold ticket Facebook group has also gone live and attracted tens of thousands of members in a matter of days.
Needless to say, demand for the golden tickets is extremely high.
“Each treasure hunt has a strict limit of 1,000 participants,” added Klein.
Klein is excited about how well the contest has already been received.
“The world needs this right now, we have received thousands of comments from people who say this has come at such a perfect time,” Klein told ABC7.
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