Federal shutdown hurts blind North Carolinians

More than 50 social workers that serve the blind and visually impaired have been furloughed because of the government shutdown, leaving potentially thousands of North Carolinians without services.

This story originally reported more than 100, one social worker per county, with some counties having more than one. However, Department of Health and Human Services later clarified that some social workers cover more than one county.

Eddie Weaver, executive director of the N.C. Division of Services for the Blind, confirmed the furloughs but directed additional questions to the state Department of Health and Human Services. DHHS did not return a call from the INDY by press deadline.

Each county in North Carolina has at least one social worker; larger jurisdictions, including Durham and Wake counties, have two. The positions are partially federally funded.

Social workers help visually impaired North Carolinians with home health care, checking Braille books out of the library, and independent living.

Social workers do not help with vocational rehabilitation, according to DHHS.

When the INDY called social workers’ offices in the Triangle, the voice mail messages stated that because of the government shutdown the employees are unable to assist clients. The visually impaired should call their county social service agency for help.

According to the American Foundation for the Blind, 238,447 people in North Carolina have vision loss that impairs their daily activities; nearly half of those are ages 35–64. At press time, the INDY could not confirm how many visually impaired seek services through the state.

The State Library for the Blind, which serves 12,000 patrons, is unaffected by the shutdown. Lisa Sorg

Raleigh task force: Mission unclear

On a recent evening, the walls of a room in Marbles Kids Museum were plastered with large sheets of paper, scribbled with last year’s notes on the “challenges” of distributing food to Raleigh’s homeless in Moore Square Park: littering, lack of bathroom access, hygiene, nutrition and safety.

However, several members of the 30-plus-member task force, charged with finding alternatives to distributing food in city parks, say they are still unclear about the group’s purpose. And they still have questions about the ordinance that prohibits them from giving food to homeless residents.

Composed of charity workers and business owners, the task force has one more meeting before it will present its recommendations to Raleigh City Council’s Law and Public Safety Committee on Nov. 26.

At the heart of the discussion is the city’s ongoing failure to explain the sudden enforcement of the ordinance in late August. Raleigh Police threatened to arrest members of Love Wins Ministries, who were feeding the homeless in the park, as they had done for six years.

Trust was broken when Raleigh police threatened us with arrest,” said Debbie Biesack, a local activist and volunteer with the Father Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House. “We are not going away. The people who live and work with people who experience homelessness, we will not just go away.”

Though the task force’s official charge is “to identify, evaluate and recommend alternatives for food distribution to the less fortunate,” many members have said they want to continue to be allowed to distribute food to the homeless in public spaces, especially in Moore Square.

“I’m worried that we’re doing stuff on the outside that has no meaning,” one task force member said, “because we’re not addressing the issues of the city, like the ordinance.”

Dana Youst, community government coordinator for Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, said that it is up to the task force to consider whether the ordinance is still appropriate, “because there has been a strong recommendation to continue to serve food in Moore Square Park. But we still have other things to consider, like bathrooms and hand-washing stations.”

But City Councilor Mary-Ann Baldwin, who has stated that she believes there is a better solution than handing out food to homeless people in Moore Square, said that the park will evenuatally close for renovations. However, the cost of those repairs is not included in this year’s city budget

“This is why we need to move forward on this,” Baldwin said, “because we need short-term and long-term solutions to issues. Feeding is a symptom of the real issue, which is how can we care for people in the community who need our help. These meetings need to be about a long-term vision of taking care of our community and we need to stop dwelling on Moore Square.”

Another task force member said she was confused, because everything she has heard at the meetings so far has been about food distribution.

“We need short- and long-term solutions for food distribution,” said assistant director for Parks and Rec, Scott Payne. “We’re here because of short-term solutions for food distribution and the long-term need for committed, holistic approaches to ending homelessness. It is a challenging and complex problem.”

Other potential distribution sites include the old Salvation Army building, now owned by the city, but Payne said the interior of the building is not being maintained. Jane Porter

A hollow apology

She’s sorry. Rielle Hunter, John Edwards’ mistress and the mother of one of his children, has apologized for her “wrong, selfish behavior” in her affair with the former presidential candidate. Hunter’s blog entry was published by Huffington Post and linked to by Talking Points Memo.

“Back in 2006, I did not think about the scope of my actions, how my falling in love with John Edwards, and acting on that love, could hurt so many people. I hurt Elizabeth and her kids. I hurt her family. I hurt John’s family. I hurt people that knew Elizabeth. I hurt people who didn’t know Elizabeth but loved her from afar.” Lisa Sorg