Neighborhood Advisory Council 11 (NAC 11) residents meet monthly to share concerns about the quality of life in downtown Frederick and seek solutions to common problems. On Oct. 22, the coordinators of NAC 11 submitted a letter to Mayor Michael O’Connor and the Board of Aldermen regarding the Frederick Community Action Agency. This is a modified version of the coordinators’ letter, which was reduced in length at the request of The Frederick News-Post.
Dear Mayor and Board of Aldermen:
We are writing to express our support of the mayor and board’s recent decision to bring new leadership to the Frederick Community Action Agency (FCAA). With the intention to take the agency in a new direction, we believe this can and must be an important first step toward reversing the years of decline in the quality of life in the south part of the historic district (the South End). It is the responsibility of the city and the FCAA to provide solutions for its clients that do not simultaneously increase crime and reduce the quality of life for residents, businesses, and visitors in the surrounding community. The city and FCAA’s anemic and often dismissive responses to the damage inflicted on nearby neighborhoods must stop.
The FCAA, under Mike Spurrier, has done much over the last 30 years to improve the lives of Frederick’s most vulnerable by providing a wide range of necessary services. These include basic shelter, food, medical treatment, home weatherization, addiction treatment, and mental health services. All of these are needed, critical, and important in our community. As citizens, we applaud the mission of this organization.
However, as services have been provided over the past few years, residents and business owners have watched as conditions around the FCAA have deteriorated. Every day, residents and business owners in this part of town are subjected to the negative and sometimes criminal conduct of some clients of the FCAA and those who prey on them. This occurs on the street, sidewalks, the creek, in the parks, and on residents’ own front porches. Residents and visitors are routinely forced to navigate large groups of people who are drunk or high and blocking the sidewalks. Residents and business owners are faced with daily episodes of drug dealing, discarded drug paraphernalia, used hypodermic needles, vomit, trash from the takeaway containers provided by the various service providers, personal threats and intimidation, urinating and defecating on the sidewalk and private property, assaults, domestic abuse, property damage, and violence.
The new direction must take into consideration the flaws of the current delivery system for the people that use them. Are we doing what’s best and compassionate for the entire community by leaving the FCAA in its current location? We regularly see people with disabilities and families struggling to reach the FCAA building due to the lack of parking. The recipients of services have to sacrifice their privacy by being forced to receive services on one of the most visible downtown intersections.
A more complete program would consider the current inadequacies. A model facility would provide opportunities to bathe and use toilet facilities, opportunities for recreation and participation in the organization’s functions, meaningful employment programs, a day shelter, and would be actively connecting people who are homeless with the various services they need to get back on their feet. Prevention should also be a key part of the program design to discourage repeat offenders by creating consequences for criminal behavior.
The renewed activism by South End community members will continue to focus on addressing the long-ignored quality-of-life issues that have been compounded by, if not created by, the city’s systematic shortsighted policies and leadership in the South End. We are hopeful that under new leadership, downtown residents, small-business owners, the FCAA, mayor’s office, Board of Aldermen, Frederick Police Department, state’s attorney’s office, and the city as a whole can work together to improve the quality of life for everyone in the area and come up with new approaches to delivering services. We hope to look to other cities and communities to identify and adapt successful approaches to effectively reduce homelessness and develop compassionate approaches for supporting those who suffer from substance use disorders and mental health issues.
Though the word community is in the FCAA’s name, the way in which these needed services have been delivered in the past few years has been anything but community-oriented. It is serving one population at the expense of others. We hope that there will indeed be a new direction.
Neighborhood Advisory Council 11 (NAC 11) coordinators