Testimony of Pamela Goodwin on preventing homelessness
[Pamela Goodwin testifies in favor of legislation to prevent evictions and foreclosures, describing her ordeal of being bullied and harassed while living in public housing, and her decision to live as a homeless person to escape the harm.]
Honorable Senator John Keenan and Honorable Representative James Arciero and other members of the Joint Housing Committee, I thank you for your time today. I come before you today in support of S bill 891 and H 1434.
My name is Pamela Goodwin & my age is 73. I have lived in public housing for about 7 years. For approximately 4 years I lived at Coach Road Apartments, State Chapter 667 Housing, part of the Upton Housing Authority. Coach Road consists of 40 one bedroom units located at 4 Hartford Avenue North, Upton, MA 01568.
After years of being bullied, harassed, and mobbed, I chose to leave to save myself, spending nearly one year as a homeless person while living in a tent and my car. While homeless, I suffered through 4 housing denial hearings until finally I found housing in a private section 8 subsidized facility in Greenfield.
I serve on the Housing the Homeless committee for the city of Greenfield For the city of Greenfield through Franklin County Continuing the Political Revolution (FCCPR). I was appointed to a sub committee of CHAPA, served on a committee called Public Housing Development with Mass Law Reform attorneys under the roof of Mass Union of Public Housing in Dorchester. We tried to develop protections for the rights of residents knowing that housing was turning to the private sector. ( This was passed on to DHCD ) I was trained as a Resident Leader by the Mel King Institute. I actively supported and assisted in the research and advocacy of Jerry Halberstadt in his role as a member of the Commission on Bullying.
When I was a tenant of Coach Road apartments in Upton, I ran for the position of tenant board member of the Upton Housing Authority. My opponent was a 28 year incumbent chair of the Upton Housing Authority Board, who was the sister-in-law of the property manager. I was narrowly defeated. By standing for election I challenged the ruling elite of Upton. Outrageous accusations were published in local newspapers. The resulting animus against me probably caused the following retaliation and mobbing.
Once we established a Tenant Association, the officers betrayed the residents, even meeting with the pro management DHCD lawyer. I experienced bullying for several years, which became mobbing. I obtained several restraining orders to protect me from a resident board member, the Tenant Association president, and a resident. I could not walk from my car to my apartment without being stalked and verbally abused. The constant bullying was condoned by management and destruction of my property was done by maintenance. My health failed, I had to wear a life line necklace and I dropped to 107 lbs. My doctors were horrified at my situation and wrote many letters in support of reasonable accommodation for me. I took 5 defendants into Worcester Housing Court for lease violations. I fought my case Pro Se for over 6 months and proved 7 people committed perjury. The ruling by Chief Justice Diana Horan was so illegal that it led to two separate cases at MCAD in Boston. I chose homelessness over this fight or flight miserable life.
All of my church friends said I was much happier homeless than being victimized, which I agreed with.
At the age of 71, I slept in my Prius each night, choosing various secluded locations in Minden, Uxbridge, and Milford. I slept on love seats of friends in public housing, but was more comfortable in the car. DHCD does not view the period of homelessness when staying with friends... unless you can prove you slept outdoors or in a car. At 3:30 a.m. an Uxbridge policeman startled me awake w/ his flashlight and a knock. He said I was fine and to keep my doors locked. I never got back to sleep and found an all night coffee shop in Northbridge. Imagine having to climb out of a car several times a night in the pouring rain to empty your bladder. I tent camped in the Sturbridge area with my parakeet until it became too cold for both of us . I drove to North Carolina to visit dying relatives, enjoying my cousin's hospitality. I rented my friend's duplex in Bellows Falls, VT, for 3 weeks but had to commute to my exercise place for my volunteer job and for doctor's appointments. At the RMV I was disparaged for having a PO Box Linwood Ave, Linwood MA, a section of Uxbridge. I was denied the Real I.D. , paying the same amount for Driver's License renewal. The rude woman told me to take it up with the Federal Government.
I worked w/ the Chief legal aide of Congressman Jim McGovern, applied for RAFT, (which went nowhere), used Legal Aide, Tri Valley Protective Services ( they pulled out after my first appearance in Court), and Worcester Center for Independent Living. Over a year of so-called investigation by the Ethics Commission about the nepotism and corruption in a small town, Upton toward me, a whistle blower.
Finally I found a woman's shelter in Ashland, run by South Middlesex Opportunities Council (SMOC). It was dehumanizing, to say the least. I was in a 5 bed dorm room. We were awakened at 5 a.m. and had to be out of the place by 6 a.m and not allowed back in until 3 pm. Our purses and bags were searched upon entry. Showering was not allowed in the morning. Only 2 bathrooms for about 18 women on the lower floor. They insisted that we all find employment. They wanted us to buy coffee, creamer, and toilet paper for the place. We were forced to sit at the supper table even if we were ill. We could not leave the supper table until we were told to by staff. Chores were assigned and if a person had a full time day job, that chore had to be done before they could crawl off to bed. We used to call ourselves, "Cinda F'n Rella". We got in trouble if we were late to a meeting, chore, or the meal. If someone broke a rule the whole house paid the price.. Locking up the kitchen from us was the main punishment. At a weekly meeting we got reamed out for not smiling and being grateful. Some staff clearly enjoyed shaming us. One of my roommates was a stroke victim. When she fell off a chair, they threw her out of the shelter, saying they could not be held responsible. One woman was on dialysis; one getting chemo treatments; one's apartment house had burned down; one very ill with Crohn’s disease; one who worked all night and was not allowed to sleep at the shelter during the day. SMOC officials never helped me. I was threatened with being thrown out after I was late for curfew while I camped with my children and grandchildren. I only remained at the shelter so I could shower and enjoy camaraderie—“Misery loves company." And, living in a shelter may give one priority for housing. Having a car, I provided a ride to a good friend because she was supposed to walk from Ashland to the Framingham Panera.
Betty Roche, my property manager, was tremendously vindictive. She wrote in references to other housing authorities false claims that I started fires, was behind on rent, and had assaulted people in the public housing authority Board meetings. We used Public Access video taping but the judge refused to take the tapes. I became a little behind on rent due to Court costs and the obligation was for the manager to work out a payment plan. Her own Board kept demanding that she figure the rent correctly, which she never did. Betty Roche's goal was that I never be allowed into public housing again. It nearly happened. She was married to a Code Enforcement Officer for a large part of the State.
In the Worcester Courthouse hallway the DHCD attorney tried to bribe me with the offer of a raving positive reference if I just moved out quietly. In hindsight I should have taken her up on the offer, never dreaming that all of my evidence contradicting the lies by Betty Roche in the reference would prevent me from my right to public or subsidized housing.
The last denial hearing was for State Housing in Amherst. I was so traumatized by the manager’s attitude & cruelty that when I left the hearing I experienced PTSD symptoms, vowing I would never put myself through that again.
It began to look like I would need to leave my 3 adult children and 6 grandchildren, moving in with a relative in the Midwest.
It is important to know that there are many loopholes in the 760 CMR regulations and there is next to no oversight. My experience taught me that local Boards of Health get told to butt out because the Authority is run by the State. Going to the BOH, often results in a Notice to Quit. We had to go to the town tree warden for help and my car was the one demolished by trees due to the Authority's negligence The stigma of homelessness, evicted or not, means that one will be passed over due the sheer numbers involved.
It was only by the Grace of God that I found a property manager in the city where I was born and the area where I taught school for over 26 years. After spending much time with me, she believed me and refused to believe the referral.
I apologize for the length of my testimony. I just heard very little during the 5 hour hearing regarding the details of being homeless. I felt this story should be told. Thank you.
An Act to prevent COVID-19 evictions and foreclosures and promote an equitable housing recovery
S 891 Patricia D. Jehlen
H 1434 Frank A. Moran , Kevin G. Honan
Now We Must Stop the Retaliation: An Open Letter to Legislators, the Governor, and the People 10/07/2019
Righteous Indignation Confronts Mobbing 09/13/2017
Shelterforce: excellent coverage of preventing homelessness
Eric Dunn, How State and Local Governments Can Avoid Mass Evictions, Shelterforce, August 6, 2021