[Hpn] Fwd: My concerns about StreetWise

streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Mon, 12 Feb 2001 22:18:21 -0000


--- In nasna@y..., Paula Mathieu <pmathieu@u...> wrote:
Thanks to Chance for keeping the NASNA papers updated about 
the 
recent and disturbing events at StreetWise.  As a NASNA EC 
member and 
former StreetWise employee, I have written a letter to the 
StreetWise 
Board of Directors sharing my concerns there.  I thought it would 
be 
appropriate to share my views with you here.

Paula Mathieu


>Date: Sun, 11 Feb 2001 16:04:35 -0600
>To:  Mandecj@m..., bszafranski@p..., 
>willa.holden@u..., markb4@v..., Danny.Davis@M..., 
>brucec@c..., gailwaller@n..., 
>rhiannon.schmieg@z..., juddrhcpa@a..., 
>pwilkins@i..., pam@n...
>From: Paula Mathieu <pmathieu@u...>
>Subject: My concerns about StreetWise
>Cc:
>Bcc:
>X-Attachments:
>
>Dear StreetWise Board of Directors,
>
>As most of you know, I was the founding director of the 
StreetWise 
>Work Empowerment Center, working for more than two years 
developing 
>a computer learning center, writing group, and other support 
>programs for StreetWise vendors.  During my tenure, the 
computer 
>center grew, I created a lending library, procured eye exams 
and 
>glasses for vendors, developed a vibrant writing group, and ran 
>weekly workshops on computer use, Internet navigation, email, 
word 
>processing and resume writing.  Twice a year, I held 
web-design 
>workshops for vendors.  I am extremely proud of the work I did 
with 
>StreetWise.
>
>In September 2000, I was fired by StreetWise executive director, 
>Anthony Oliver, in September 2000.  He asked another staff 
member to 
>take my keys away after he had spent weeks verbal abusing 
and 
>reprimanding me in the presence of vendors and fellow staff.  
The 
>only reason I didn't resign during that time is that I was in the 
>middle of launching a successful bus tour project that brought 
good 
>income to 15 participating vendors (more than $10/ hour) and 
that 
>received positive reviews in more than 10 Chicago media, 
including 
>the Tribune and the Reader.
>
>The 'crime' that led to my firing was that I had invited the 
>Neighborhood Writing Alliance to help launch this project-a 
decision 
>I emailed immediately to Oliver and Sharon Allen, which they 
claim 
>not to have read for more than three weeks.  The Writing 
Alliance 
>not only took care of the logistical complications of the project, 
>selling tickets, etc, they raised more than $5000 to see its 
launch. 
>StreetWise maintained the rights to the name and future 
staging of 
>the project.  The Writing Alliance's only interest was launching a 
>successful community arts project and receiving some positive 
local 
>recognition for the project.
>
>Director Oliver accused me of threatening the StreetWise 
>organization and 'acting illegally,' exposing StreetWise to legal 
>liability (this is because I created a website that used the name 
>'StreetWise Writers Group' on it, which Oliver had already given 
me 
>permission to use.)  He demanded that all press releases 
remove any 
>mention of me and my involvement in this project.  He became 
the 
>public spokesperson for this project that he had earlier tried to 
>kill, appearing on a local NPR radio program, having to rewrite 
the 
>origins of this project, in order to erase my participation.
>
>If this project was such a liability to the organization, why did he 
>support it so wholeheartedly?  Why is the organization planning 
to 
>launch it again in the spring?
>
>This incident came after several difficult months for me as the 
Work 
>Empowerment Center director, a time in which Oliver failed to 
>complete promised work and to provide promised resources 
for the 
>Center.  His responses to my complaints were angry and 
defensive, 
>but when I expressed any anger about this situation, I was 
suspended 
>for a week and asked to leave the building.
>
>Obviously, management and staff can legitimately disagree 
about 
>whether or not a staff member's decisions and actions are 
beneficial 
>to the organization or not.  Clearly, if my actions in launching 
>this bus tour or running the center were in harmful to Streetwise 
>and its vendors, I would have been willing to resign.  But my 
>actions did not harm the organization.  The center was a vibrant 
>place, and vendors gained resources, skills and community 
from its 
>presence.  The positive press from the bus tour project was 
>overwhelming, and the organization plans to launch it again 
this 
>spring. Yet it was these actions that not only led to my firing, but 
>to weeks of verbal abuse and groundless accusations.
>
>I will receive my doctorate in English from the University of 
>Illinois at Chicago this spring.  I have tenure track job offers 
>from four top-level research universities.  I have worked for my 
>current university for eight years, receiving teaching awards and 
>positive feedback from all supervisors.  In my 13-year working 
>career, I have never been reprimanded, suspended or fired 
from any 
>job.  I have never had personal difficulties with any 
management 
>personnel. I now work with the Neighborhood Writing Alliance 
and 
>continue to serve on the executive committee of the North 
American 
>Street Newspaper Association.
>
>In my work life, to have received such treatment and to be 
>characterized as a renegade employee was unique, and 
uniquely 
>upsetting.  Unfortunately, for StreetWise under Anthony Oliver's 
>direction, this treatment was far too common.
>
>In addition to the personal treatment I received, I have concerns 
>about the fiscal propriety of the organization.  When I left 
>StreetWise, more than $15,000 in grant proceeds that had 
been raised 
>for the Work Empowerment Center was left to be spent. (I sent 
a 
>report to the Board detailing this money upon my firing.)  Six 
>thousand dollars was to go to publish an anthology of vendor 
>writing--a project that was ready to go to a designer upon my 
>departure.  More than five months after my departure, no book 
has 
>materialized, and there is no evidence that the remaining funds 
have 
>been spent on supporting the Work Empowerment Center and 
the vendors 
>working there.
>
>I chose not to share my concerns publicly at the time of my 
firing, 
>because I didn't want to harm StreetWise in any way by airing 
my 
>grievances.  I had hoped things would calm down there and 
proceed in 
>a positive direction.  But clearly, in light of recent firings and 
>the lack of continuity in the Work Empowerment Center, I feel it 
is 
>necessary now to speak out.  Director Oliver's behavior is 
harmful 
>to the organization and to the street paper movement overall. 
>Projects like a street paper need to be collaborative projects, in 
>which the talents, ideas, and work of many are integrated into a 
>vision for ending homelessness through local action.  Under 
the 
>current climate at StreetWise, the only ideas and work that is 
>considered valuable is that of the executive director.  The input, 
>ideas and criticisms of staff are either disregarded or used as 
>grounds for termination.  This is not a healthy climate, and 
clearly 
>the organization is suffering-this is evidenced by the current 
Work 
>Empowerment Center's assessment of the deplorable working 
conditions 
>in the areas of the building where vendors are given 
access--no 
>heat, poor lighting, nonfunctioning plumbing, and no soap or 
toilet 
>paper.
>
>I urge the Board of Directors to replace Anthony Oliver with 
someone 
>more able and less combative, someone who is willing to work 
with a 
>staff of collaborators, helping guide and foster creative ways to 
>benefit the homeless population of Chicago. 
>
>I would be happy to speak with any of you to answer any 
questions 
>you might have.
>
>Paula Mathieu
>Doctoral Candidate
>Program in Language, Literacy and Rhetoric
>Department of English
>University of Illinois at Chicago
>pmathieu@u...
>312-286-9474
--- End forwarded message ---