Durham CAN News & Updates | September 2020

Durham mother faces eviction by Durham Housing Authority | Raleigh News &  Observer

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Durham CAN News & Updates | August 2020

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Follow The Money & The Data: Our Follow-up to Durham County Public Health Director Rodney Jenkins

August 7, 2020

Mr. Rodney Jenkins

Director, Durham County Health Department

Dear Director Jenkins,

Thank you for your recent reply to our letter of June 30. You responded to three questions from us, and we briefly address each of those responses here. 

First, we asked you about publishing current and future testing data and results specific to the Durham County Detention Facility. You replied that the information could be found via a link on the Durham County Coronavirus Datahub to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.  However, correctional facilities are not listed on the site unless there is an outbreak. We believe that the most appropriate and transparent policy would be to list the number of tests given along with the number of positive and negative results regardless of an outbreak (even if those numbers are ‘0’).  We understand that Sheriff Birkhead currently provides you with this data, so publication is not overly burdensome nor does it violate privacy rights. In fact, the publication of this data would be consistent with the Covid-19 information published by the  NC Department of Public Safety for all its facilities (number of tests, positives, negatives). We ask you again to publish these numbers for the Durham Detention Facility. 

Second, we asked if you would provide tests or advocate for funding to test all residents at the Detention Facility, and you replied “yes.” As a follow up we ask you to clarify: are you committing to provide tests to all residents? If not, how do you plan to advocate for funding for the tests? We are aware that Durham County is receiving a second payment of CARES Act funds from the State in the amount of $6,239,422. As you are aware, we have been in communication with Deputy County Manager Jodi Miller about the plans for these funds, and she has indicated that Durham County Staff must request funds for COVID-related expenses so that a plan can be drafted and approved by the County Commissioners. Will you ensure that the amount that you and Sheriff Birkhead calculate is needed to perform COVID testing for all staff and residents, current and new arrivals, at the Durham County Detention Facility is included in this plan?  Further, how can we help you to advocate for such funding?

Finally, we asked you for a virtual meeting in the next month and you asked for additional time given your responsibilities as Director of Public Health. Of course we appreciate all your hard work during this pandemic and we gratefully accept your proposal for a meeting in the next few months. 

Sincerely,

Durham Congregations Associations and Neighborhoods

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Durham CAN Urges The Durham Housing Authority To Extend Eviction Moratorium

July 24, 2020

Anthony Scott, CEO, Durham Housing Authority
Durham Housing Authority Board of Commissioners

Dear Mr. Scott and Durham Housing Authority Board of Commissioners,

On July 16th, the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis (HACA) announced an extension to the moratorium on evictions due to unpaid rent until November 2, 2020. Earlier this month, WinnCompanies, a major affordable housing landlord in Massachusetts, halted evictions through the end of the year. We write to you today, to urge the Durham Housing Authority (DHA) to follow the lead of (HACA) and WinnCompanies and extend the moratorium on evictions for DHA residents.

As part of the CARES Act, a federal moratorium on evictions was established that affected public housing properties, but that moratorium is ending next week. Nothing has changed since March. The pandemic is still with us. As of yesterday North Carolina had over 1075,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 1,700 deaths. People are still facing layoffs and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation bonus is coming to an end next week.

Durham workers have been affected by layoffs related to COVID-19. According to Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) records posted on the Dataworks-NC website on July 20, between Durham and Wake county there have been around 4000 layoffs. As noted by Dataworks-NC, this number does not account for all layoffs as many small businesses have had to close and these may not be a part of the WARN records. Furthermore, many people who are self-employed have lost work during this time.

We are experiencing this economic crisis through our relationships with Durham Housing Authority residents. Many of us know residents who have experienced financial hardship as a result of the pandemic. Through grant funding, a Durham CAN member institution has been providing assistance with rent or utilities during this time. They have received a large volume of calls from DHA residents and have managed to help a lot of them, but not without frustration. Our own experience with calling the Durham Social Services number provided to residents for financial assistance left us in shock and anger at the level of disrespect, hostility and run around that we received from the other end of the line.

At a Coalition for Affordable Housing and Transit meeting in June with Mr. Scott and Legal Aid, the Hardship Exemption was suggested as an option for minimum-rent qualifying residents unable to make their rent payment. Yet, there is confusion about this. Residents don’t know about it and property managers are poorly or completely uninformed about it. Furthermore, residents report discrepancies with their rent statements. An extension on the eviction moratorium would give DHA time to make sure that all residents’ rent payments correspond to their current circumstances and provide information and clarity about the Hardship Extension to their residents and property managers.

We urge the Durham Housing Authority to follow the lead of the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis and extend the moratorium on evictions due to unpaid rent until at least November 2, but preferably through the end of 2020.

Sincerely,
Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods

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Durham Detention Center Testing & Data Transparency: Our Letter to Durham Public Health Director Rodney Jenkins

June 30, 2020

Rodney Jenkins
Director, Durham County Department of Public Health

Dear Director Jenkins,

We, Durham Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods (Durham CAN), are an organization based in over 30 influential institutions throughout our community that share a concern for families and a tradition of faith and democracy. We seek to develop public relationships with elected, appointed, and other leaders in our community, and through those relationships shape public policy for the common good, especially for the voiceless and vulnerable in Durham. We also hold our leaders accountable. While we hope to have a relational meeting with you soon (see below), the current circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic do not permit us to wait before sharing with you our concerns and requests.

When you assumed the role of Director of Durham County Department of Public Health (DCoDPH), you committed to serving all the residents of Durham County. In this role, you are charged with helping the whole community, including those people who cannot speak for themselves. We are writing today specifically about our incarcerated brothers and sisters at the Durham County Detention Facility. We acknowledge and thank you for the Durham County Coronavirus Data Hub, which includes the total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the county, the average age of a COVID-19 person, the demographics, and the total number of deaths. While the Data Hub is revealing, it lacks testing and results specific to the Durham County Detention Facility. The DCoDPH website mentions that it will use every resource at its disposal to help stop the spread of COVID-19. We believe that transparent and up-to-date testing and results specific to the Durham County Detention Facility is critical in combating the spread of COVID-19.

In a letter to Durham CAN dated June 1, 2020, Sheriff Clarence Birkhead stated that approximately 24 residents were tested for COVID-19, and thankfully, none were positive. When asked about making this data public, Sheriff Birkhead indicated that this information was forwarded to you, Director Jenkins. Thus, our first request of you today is:

Will you make current and future COVID-19 testing and results specific to the Durham County Detention Facility publicly available on the Durham County Department of Public Health's website?

As the Health Director, we know you understand the dire consequences of a virus making its way into a closed building with congregate residents like the Detention Facility. During an online conversation that we had with Sheriff Birkhead on June 8, he committed to testing all the residents of the Detention Facility if he had sufficient resources. He told us that he did not have the resources then, and he anticipated that his budget would be reduced in the next county budget. If you have access to tests that could be made available to the residents at the Detention Facility, we would ask that you make these tests immediately available so that all residents can be tested. Even if you do not have access to a significant number of tests currently, Durham county will be receiving federal money from the CARES Act that must be used towards mitigating the effects of COVID-19. Thus, our second request of you today is:

Will you provide tests and/or advocate or arrange to designate a portion of the CARES Act money that Durham county receives to fund COVID-19 testing for all residents of the Durham County Detention Facility?

Finally, as we indicated above, Durham CAN believes that the most productive public relationships we can have with our leaders is borne of a strong relational foundation. Thus, our final request today is:

Will you meet with Durham CAN leaders via online platform in the next month to discuss your work and vision for DCoDPH?

We believe that answering yes to all three of our questions would be consistent with your commitment to protect and serve all of Durham County residents. Considering the aggressive nature of COVID-19, we hope that since June 1, 2020, there has been ample testing in the Durham County Detention Facility. We hope that tests are readily available for our incarcerated brothers and sisters. We acknowledge all the steps you have taken thus far, but we hope that our call for more transparency does not go unanswered as it is your duty to keep our community safe. As coronavirus cases rise in our county and state, our concerns are obviously urgent. We eagerly await a response to this letter. We look forward to speaking with you soon, and we hope you will let us know if there is anything Durham CAN can do to help you in your work.

Sincerely,


Durham Congregations, Associations, and Neighborhoods

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Covid-19 Testing Data Transparency, Statewide Re-entry Support & Expanded Detention Center Testing: Our Thanks To Durham County Sheriff Birkhead

June 18, 2020

Clarence F. Birkhead Sheriff, Durham County

Dear Sheriff Birkhead,

As we continue to get through these difficult times, we at Durham CAN remain concerned for the safety and well-being of our incarcerated brothers and sisters. We want to thank you for your continued commitments during this time of crisis. Specifically, we commend your letter dated June 1, 2020, where you outlined specific steps you are taking to address the COVID-19 pandemic. We thank you also for joining our conference call on June 8, 2020. On this conference call you committed to the following:

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"You Don't Even Know George Floyd, But You Know These People"

On Tuesday, June 2nd, as a follow up to our October 30, 2019 Public Assembly at First Chronicles Community Church, Durham CAN leaders met with Mayor Steve Schewel about his failure to fulfill the public commitments that he made in front over 150 Durham CAN leaders to support and initiate a planning process for the redevelopment of the Fayetteville Street projects (referred also as "Fayette Place") within the following 6 months and meet with leaders from the Hayti community and Durham CAN as part of that process.

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Response from Durham County, Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead re: COVID-19 Testing

On Wednesday, May 20th, as a follow up to our April 3rd letter, Durham CAN sent a letter to Durham County Sheriff, Clarence F. Birkhead with questions about testing among the staff and residents of the Durham County Detention Center due to lack of publicly accessible testing data specific to this population in Durham.  Our letter also included an invitation for Sheriff Birkhead to attend our next Criminal Justice Action Team meeting during the week of May 26th.

On Tuesday, June 2nd, Sheriff Birkhead provided the following response and accepted the invitation to attend our next Criminal Justice Action Team meeting on Monday, June 8th:

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Race, Poverty & Who Is Deserving: Report on East Lake Meadows Screening & Discussion

On Thursday, April 2nd and Saturday, April 4th, leaders from Durham CAN institutions led a conversation about race and poverty in public housing after watching the documentary East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story.  Durham Housing Authority (DHA) CEO, Mr. Anthony Scott, and Durham Housing Authority Commissioners Mr. Dan Hudgins, Mr. Bo Glen and Ms. Christine Westfall joined in these discussions.

We began both sessions with a moment to acknowledge the recent passing of a community elder, Mr. Raymond "Brother Ray" Eurquhart.  Considered one of the busiest "retired" people in Durham, Bro. Ray also served on the Durham Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and earlier this year, thanked Durham CAN for our open letter in response to the displacement of McDougald Terrace residents.

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From a Place of Love

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We Can

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Transformed By The Journey

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Follow Up Letter from Durham CAN to Sheriff Birkhead: COVID-19 Testing Data

May 20, 2020
Clarence F. Birkhead
Sheriff, Durham County

Dear Sheriff Birkhead,

As our community continues to grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we first want to thank you for your April 6 letter detailing the initial measures you took to prevent the spread of the virus in the Durham County Detention Center. After detention officer Alexander Pettiway, Jr.’s death from COVID-19 and several other officers testing positive for the disease, we write with continued concern for the safety of your employees and our incarcerated brothers and sisters. In addition to seeking information, we also want to know how we as a community can assist and support you in making the detention center as safe as possible.

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Early Release Support

Over the past 10 weeks, our Criminal Justice Action Team has led efforts focused on decarceration as an approach to preventing the spread of Covid-19 among our jail & prison populations. Due to the work of our leaders, in collaboration with community organizations and the leadership of Durham County District Attorney's Office, Satana Deberry, we've seen 15-16 individuals who are over the age of 65, with pre-existing health conditions, who have served 75% or more of their sentence (for lower-level crimes) receive modifications to their sentences and be released. These include individuals who would have otherwise remained incarcerated in places like Neuse Correctional, the site of one of the largest outbreaks in the nation.
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Response from Durham County, Sheriff Clarence F. Birkhead re: COVID-19 & Incarcerated Community Members

On Friday, April 3rd, Durham CAN sent a letter to Durham County Sheriff, Clarence F. Birkhead, to express our concerns and priorities regarding our brothers and sisters in the Durham County Detention Facility; and to invite his thoughts about how we as a community could assist him and his staff in securing the necessary resources to protect the men and women in his custody. Our letter also included a list of questions about the specific measures he was taking at the Detention Center facility to prevent the spread of a virus.

On Monday, April 7th, Sheriff Birkhead provided the following response:

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Decarceration As Covid Response: Our Thanks To Durham District Attorney Deberry

April 27, 2020

Satana Deberry

District Attorney, Durham County

 

Dear Ms. Deberry,

We write to follow up on our letter of March 27 and our conversation on April 2. First, thank you for your efforts in reducing our county’s jail population during this pandemic. As of this morning the jail population is 265. That number was nearly 500 when you took office, and it was over 360 five weeks ago. The drastic reduction, achieved through a combination of fewer and lower pretrial bonds and sensible plea agreements, is laudable. We thank you, the defense bar, and the responsible magistrates and judges for such quick and dramatic action in deference to public health.

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April Metro Council Meeting via Zoom

We hope that you and all those you hold dear are faring well during these times.

A lot has changed since our last Metro Council Meeting at Abundant Hope.  And the fact is that many of the communities we organize with are in a constant state of emergency even when there isn't a pandemic. So while this moment forces us to adjust our methods and our tempo, we still remain committed to action.

Leaders from all Durham CAN institutions, as well as those assessing membership, are welcome to our April Metro Council meeting:

Durham CAN Metro Council Meeting
Thursday, April 16, 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm

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Statement from Durham CAN to Durham County Sheriff, Clarence F. Birkhead

April 3, 2020

Clarence F. Birkhead Sheriff, Durham County

Dear Sheriff Birkhead,

As our community prepares for the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we at Durham CAN write to share our concerns and priorities regarding our brothers and sisters in the Durham County Detention Facility. In addition to communicating our agenda, we write in a spirit of cooperation, with an invitation to please let us know how we as a community can assist you and your staff in securing the necessary resources to protect the men and women in your custody.

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Register for PBS Documentary - Eastlake Meadows Zoom Discussion with Durham CAN Leaders

Durham CAN will be hosting two opportunities to discuss the PBS Documentary, East Lake Meadows, this week. Please register in advance by clicking on the link for the discussion session that works best for you.
 
 
Once you have registered, you will be sent a Zoom link that you will use to join the session.  (See photo below. The red arrow points to the Zoom link.)
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Statement from Durham CAN to Durham District Attorney, Satana Deberry

March 27, 2020
Satana Deberry
District Attorney, Durham County

Dear Ms. Deberry,
As our community prepares for the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we at Durham CAN want to add our voice to the growing cry for help for one of our most vulnerable populations: our incarcerated brothers and sisters. As closed environments, jails and prisons present the highest risk of illness from a virus. Outbreaks in our detention and correctional facilities are inevitable. In explaining his stay-at-home order, Mayor Schewel declared that the window for keeping ourselves safe is now. Similarly, the window for releasing our community members from prisons to spare them, and other incarcerated people and the staff that secure them, from this dangerous disease is now.

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PBS Documentary on the Impact of Racism on Public Housing Tonight

It's the story of a public housing community in Atlanta that became nearly uninhabitable after years of neglect and underfunding. Eventually, it was torn down to create a mixed-income community.  Yet, only 15% of people returned to the property after it was completed. Some were ineligible to return due to tighter restrictions.
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Organizing In The Time of Pandemic

Over the past week, I've spent some time thinking about the implications of this moment for a practice of organizing that is deeply relational -- eye-to-eye, heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul.

I shared some thoughts this morning with our Clergy Caucus members and thought I'd share with ya'll:

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Adjusting Our Rhythm

“All real living is in meeting."  - Martin Buber, I and Thou

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Report from March 5th Metro Council & Next Steps

Durham CAN held its first Metro Council Meeting of 2020 at Abundant Hope Christian Church on Thursday, March 5th.  After a welcome and invocation from Rev. Mark-Anthony Middleton, Strategy Team members Rev. Timothy Conder and Ms. Ketty Thelemaque led a formal evaluation of our recent McDougald Terrace action and conducted a "fishbowl" exercise with our new lead organizer, Ms. Tinu Diver.  We set a collective vision for 2020 as a year of "dis-organizing and reorganizing" and a time to prioritize training, rebuilding core teams and running another cycle of listening campaigns.

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