The Snipers of Jersey Shore

 

By WALTER BRASCH

 

Garder54 calls Kevin June “a real scum.”

LadyDawg4 calls him a “sleazeball.”

Proud2bMom calls him a “liar and a thief.”

Kevin June is the reluctant leader for the 37 families of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village in Jersey Shore, Pa., who were evicted from their homes, most of which they owned and paid a monthly lot fee. Some of the residents lived there for more than three decades. Most of the residents are elderly, disabled, or living slightly above the poverty line. Several are employed; all are struggling to survive in a bad economy.

In late February, Aqua–PVR, a joint operation of Aqua America and Penn Virginia Resource Partners, bought the 12-acre trailer park for $550,000. It plans to build a pumping station to withdraw up to three million gallons of water a day from the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and send that water through a newly-constructed pipeline system to natural gas companies that use fracking. The controversial practice involves forcing as much as 10 million gallons of water, sand, toxic chemicals and potential carcinogens deep into the earth to withdraw natural gas. The Marcellus Shale, primarily in Pennsylvania and parts of four surrounding states, is one of the nation’s largest sources for natural gas.  Health and environmental pollution problems are widespread near the wells.

Aqua–PVR had originally ordered the residents to leave by May 1, but then extended it a month. It dangled a $2,500 relocation incentive in its eviction. However, the cost to move each trailer is between $6,000 and $11,000 plus any sheds and ramps.

Most regional trailer parks are either at capacity or won’t accept the older trailers. Getting an apartment is also difficult. Because of the natural gas boom, with thousands of out-of-state workers moving into the area, there are few vacancies, and rents have doubled and tripled. Senior citizen housing isn’t a viable option—waiting lists are as long as a year or two in most areas.

Some have been forced to sell or throw out many of their possessions and move into studio apartments or rooms with relatives. Seven families remain at the trailer park.

But the harpies who have written several hundred posts that appear on the online site of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette have been relentless in their condemnation of the residents. Hiding behind anonymous screen names, the writers, who sound like drunks in a bar fight or callers to an afternoon talk show, could be among the thousands of gas company employees who have moved into the area. They could be those who have leased part of their land to the oil companies. They could also be the business owners who have profited because of selling products to the workers. But almost all of them condemn the residents.

Linhk48, who posted several dozen times, believes “the new owner’s only obligation is to give you notice to vacate. He is under absolutely no obligation to subsidize your move, allow you to live rent free until you move, or hire professionals to help you with relocation. Anything he does is a generosity and SHOULD be appreciated!” Linhk48, like many, called them “rabble-rousers/troublemakers/trespassers.” Czkb217 thought the police or National Guard could move in, and advised the residents, “SO just pack your stuff and MOVE, you are now breaking the law.”

It’s doubtful any of the commentators know Pennsylvania state law, but there are legal processes that must be met to evict persons from their homes. One of the issues lawyers for Riverdale will be pursuing is whether those mandated processes were met.

CitizenQ, who opposes helping the residents and who posted several times, claimed, “some of the residents have been seen stealing from others.” However, the facts are that residents who left the trailer park took what they could from their own trailers, many of which could not safely be moved or which would cost too much to move, and specifically told other residents they could take whatever was left.

Linhk48 thought Aqua–PVR should take the residents to court “for leaving the property with trailer shells and trash all over and ask for clean-up costs—and punitive damages after they were so generous.”

Several repeatedly questioned where the donations to Riverdale went. Some specifically accused Kevin June of theft and fraud, apparently not having the time or intelligence to learn about the controls and regulations to release money from a bank-held account that is a registered 501(c) charity. “The residents know exactly where the money went and why,” says June.

When those writing into the Sun-Gazette later learned some of the money was used to buy phone cards, a camera, lawnmower, and weed whacker, they increased their assault. Had they taken the time to think or ask questions—something those who type and pound “SEND” often don’t do—they would have learned that June used the phone cards to cover his expenses in numerous calls to and from attorneys, the media, and others who had an interest in the problems of the residents. They would have learned that the lawyers specifically required June to document the appearance of the village and the residents’ activities. They would have learned that both the previous and new owners had no intention of mowing the lawns or killing the weeds. With pride in their community, the residents took care of the grounds. Cutting grass and eliminating weeds also served to help protect their health; living near the river, with the warm seasons approaching, the residents knew there would be increased black fly and mosquito infestations.

Woolrich haughtily wants to know, “Why on earth would you not have saved money for when you eventually had to move your MOBILE home???” Perhaps, Woolrich, it’s because when you have poverty-level income, it’s hard to save anything.

Czkb217 thought the residents should have just gotten together and bought the park. Possibly, Czkb217, since most of the families live slightly above the poverty line, they didn’t have an extra $550,000 plus lawyer fees and closing costs laying around. Nevertheless, Czkb217 believes the residents should “Just man up and put your big boy panties on and MOVE.” He objects that his taxes are supporting some of the residents who are using Legal Aid, which receives state and federal funds to assist the impoverished. In addition to North Penn Legal Services, the Community Justice Project in Pittsburgh and the Williamsport law firm of Murphy, Butterfield and Holland are assisting pro bono.

Justin1 wants the residents to “Get out of the way of progress already.”  

On Friday, June 1, the final day of eviction and the day Aqua–PVR said it would start construction, about 50 persons showed up to blockade the entrance to the park. “We are here to fight against the exploitation and abandonment by a society of the economically vulnerable,” says Dr. Wendy Lee, one of the organizers. The protestors are often identified as “out-of-town activists” or, more specifically, “environmental activists.” Bobbie2 called the scene a “liberal zoo . . . a veritable microcosm of the liberal social system.” Joe123 called the protestors “unorganized morons,” and decided the residents “are on display by ‘Fame Seekers’, like trick-monkeys in a circus.” Proud2bMom, with no facts, something that never stymied any of the others who wrote into the online site, claimed “the residents left that are trying to get out are more or less being held prisoner in their own homes because of the few who feel they need to block the roads.”

Many of those who attacked the residents and defended corporations probably believe they are good Christians; they go to church regularly and, in one of the more conservative and highly Christian parts of the state, undoubtedly praise God publically.

However, the Rev. Leah Schade doesn’t see them as good Christians. “It is a craven, cowardly way to snipe at people,” she says. Those criticizing the residents “are profiting from the way things are or they are so insulated from the pain and suffering the people are undergoing that they are unable to respond with compassion,” says Schade, pastor of the United in Christ Lutheran Church in nearby Lewisburg. Schade has been to the trailer park several times to minister to the residents. “As a Christian,” she says, “I make a decision to do what Jesus calls us to do—to minister to those most vulnerable and resist the powers and the principalities that seek their own self perpetuation and their own profit.” Schade, who is completing a Ph.D. in theology, points out, “The church has a long history of offering a prophetic voice to persons who are oppressed and made vulnerable by powerful systems, and who need advocates to speak for and alongside of them in the public arena. The teachings of Jesus would tell us that what is happening to these families isn’t right. He would ask, ‘Who controls the resources; who does not?’ The residents and the surrounding ecosystem are the disempowered ones.”

A meeting between attorneys for residents at Riverdale and Aqua-PVR was held June 5 to discuss improving the incentives and settlement for the residents. Aqua-PVR, at that time, said it has no immediate intention to remove the residents.

            [To assist the residents, go to http://www.saveriverdale.com/

Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist/columnist and the author of 17 books, most fusing history with contemporary social issues. His current book is Before the First Snow: Tales From the Revolution.]

 

 

 

The Snipers of Jersey Shore

 

By WALTER BRASCH

 

Garder54 calls Kevin June “a real scum.”

LadyDawg4 calls him a “sleazeball.”

Proud2bMom calls him a “liar and a thief.”

Kevin June is the reluctant leader for the 37 families of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village in Jersey Shore, Pa., who were evicted from their homes, most of which they owned and paid a monthly lot fee. Some of the residents lived there for more than three decades. Most of the residents are elderly, disabled, or living slightly above the poverty line. Several are employed; all are struggling to survive in a bad economy.

In late February, Aqua–PVR, a joint operation of Aqua America and Penn Virginia Resource Partners, bought the 12-acre trailer park for $550,000. It plans to build a pumping station to withdraw up to three million gallons of water a day from the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, and send that water through a newly-constructed pipeline system to natural gas companies that use fracking. The controversial practice involves forcing as much as 10 million gallons of water, sand, toxic chemicals and potential carcinogens deep into the earth to withdraw natural gas. The Marcellus Shale, primarily in Pennsylvania and parts of four surrounding states, is one of the nation’s largest sources for natural gas.  Health and environmental pollution problems are widespread near the wells.

Aqua–PVR had originally ordered the residents to leave by May 1, but then extended it a month. It dangled a $2,500 relocation incentive in its eviction. However, the cost to move each trailer is between $6,000 and $11,000 plus any sheds and ramps.

Most regional trailer parks are either at capacity or won’t accept the older trailers. Getting an apartment is also difficult. Because of the natural gas boom, with thousands of out-of-state workers moving into the area, there are few vacancies, and rents have doubled and tripled. Senior citizen housing isn’t a viable option—waiting lists are as long as a year or two in most areas.

Some have been forced to sell or throw out many of their possessions and move into studio apartments or rooms with relatives. Seven families remain at the trailer park.

But the harpies who have written several hundred posts that appear on the online site of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette have been relentless in their condemnation of the residents. Hiding behind anonymous screen names, the writers, who sound like drunks in a bar fight or callers to an afternoon talk show, could be among the thousands of gas company employees who have moved into the area. They could be those who have leased part of their land to the oil companies. They could also be the business owners who have profited because of selling products to the workers. But almost all of them condemn the residents.

Linhk48, who posted several dozen times, believes “the new owner’s only obligation is to give you notice to vacate. He is under absolutely no obligation to subsidize your move, allow you to live rent free until you move, or hire professionals to help you with relocation. Anything he does is a generosity and SHOULD be appreciated!” Linhk48, like many, called them “rabble-rousers/troublemakers/trespassers.” Czkb217 thought the police or National Guard could move in, and advised the residents, “SO just pack your stuff and MOVE, you are now breaking the law.”

It’s doubtful any of the commentators know Pennsylvania state law, but there are legal processes that must be met to evict persons from their homes. One of the issues lawyers for Riverdale will be pursuing is whether those mandated processes were met.

CitizenQ, who opposes helping the residents and who posted several times, claimed, “some of the residents have been seen stealing from others.” However, the facts are that residents who left the trailer park took what they could from their own trailers, many of which could not safely be moved or which would cost too much to move, and specifically told other residents they could take whatever was left.

Linhk48 thought Aqua–PVR should take the residents to court “for leaving the property with trailer shells and trash all over and ask for clean-up costs—and punitive damages after they were so generous.”

Several repeatedly questioned where the donations to Riverdale went. Some specifically accused Kevin June of theft and fraud, apparently not having the time or intelligence to learn about the controls and regulations to release money from a bank-held account that is a registered 501(c) charity. “The residents know exactly where the money went and why,” says June.

When those writing into the Sun-Gazette later learned some of the money was used to buy phone cards, a camera, lawnmower, and weed whacker, they increased their assault. Had they taken the time to think or ask questions—something those who type and pound “SEND” often don’t do—they would have learned that June used the phone cards to cover his expenses in numerous calls to and from attorneys, the media, and others who had an interest in the problems of the residents. They would have learned that the lawyers specifically required June to document the appearance of the village and the residents’ activities. They would have learned that both the previous and new owners had no intention of mowing the lawns or killing the weeds. With pride in their community, the residents took care of the grounds. Cutting grass and eliminating weeds also served to help protect their health; living near the river, with the warm seasons approaching, the residents knew there would be increased black fly and mosquito infestations.

Woolrich haughtily wants to know, “Why on earth would you not have saved money for when you eventually had to move your MOBILE home???” Perhaps, Woolrich, it’s because when you have poverty-level income, it’s hard to save anything.

Czkb217 thought the residents should have just gotten together and bought the park. Possibly, Czkb217, since most of the families live slightly above the poverty line, they didn’t have an extra $550,000 plus lawyer fees and closing costs laying around. Nevertheless, Czkb217 believes the residents should “Just man up and put your big boy panties on and MOVE.” He objects that his taxes are supporting some of the residents who are using Legal Aid, which receives state and federal funds to assist the impoverished. In addition to North Penn Legal Services, the Community Justice Project in Pittsburgh and the Williamsport law firm of Murphy, Butterfield and Holland are assisting pro bono.

Justin1 wants the residents to “Get out of the way of progress already.”  

On Friday, June 1, the final day of eviction and the day Aqua–PVR said it would start construction, about 50 persons showed up to blockade the entrance to the park. “We are here to fight against the exploitation and abandonment by a society of the economically vulnerable,” says Dr. Wendy Lee, one of the organizers. The protestors are often identified as “out-of-town activists” or, more specifically, “environmental activists.” Bobbie2 called the scene a “liberal zoo . . . a veritable microcosm of the liberal social system.” Joe123 called the protestors “unorganized morons,” and decided the residents “are on display by ‘Fame Seekers’, like trick-monkeys in a circus.” Proud2bMom, with no facts, something that never stymied any of the others who wrote into the online site, claimed “the residents left that are trying to get out are more or less being held prisoner in their own homes because of the few who feel they need to block the roads.”

Many of those who attacked the residents and defended corporations probably believe they are good Christians; they go to church regularly and, in one of the more conservative and highly Christian parts of the state, undoubtedly praise God publically.

However, the Rev. Leah Schade doesn’t see them as good Christians. “It is a craven, cowardly way to snipe at people,” she says. Those criticizing the residents “are profiting from the way things are or they are so insulated from the pain and suffering the people are undergoing that they are unable to respond with compassion,” says Schade, pastor of the United in Christ Lutheran Church in nearby Lewisburg. Schade has been to the trailer park several times to minister to the residents. “As a Christian,” she says, “I make a decision to do what Jesus calls us to do—to minister to those most vulnerable and resist the powers and the principalities that seek their own self perpetuation and their own profit.” Schade, who is completing a Ph.D. in theology, points out, “The church has a long history of offering a prophetic voice to persons who are oppressed and made vulnerable by powerful systems, and who need advocates to speak for and alongside of them in the public arena. The teachings of Jesus would tell us that what is happening to these families isn’t right. He would ask, ‘Who controls the resources; who does not?’ The residents and the surrounding ecosystem are the disempowered ones.”

A meeting between attorneys for residents at Riverdale and Aqua-PVR was held June 5 to discuss improving the incentives and settlement for the residents. Aqua-PVR, at that time, said it has no immediate intention to remove the residents.

            [To assist the residents, go to http://www.saveriverdale.com/

Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist/columnist and the author of 17 books, most fusing history with contemporary social issues. His current book is Before the First Snow: Tales From the Revolution.]

 

 

 

Collateral Damage in the Marcellus Shale

 

by Walter Brasch

 

There’s nothing to suggest that in his 51 years Kevin June should be a leader.

Not from his high school where he dropped out after his freshman year.

Not from his job, where he worked as an auto body technician for more than 35 years.

Both of his marriages ended in divorce, but did produce two children, a 31-year-old son and a 28-year-old daughter.

June readily admits that for most of his life, beginning about 14 when he began drinking heavily, he was a drunk. Always beer. Almost always to excess. But, he will quickly tell you how many weeks he has been sober. It’s now 56, he says proudly.

In October 2008 he was in an auto accident, when he swerved to miss a deer and hit an oak tree head on. That’s when he learned MRIs showed he had been suffering from degenerative arthritis. Between the accident and the arthritis, he was off work for three months. Then, in May 2009, he was laid off when the company moved.

The pain is now so severe that after about 10 minutes, he has to sit.

Unable to work, surviving on disability income that brings him $1,300 a month, just $392.50 above the poverty line, he lives in the 12-acre Riverdale Mobile Home Village, along the Susquehanna River near Jersey Shore in north-central Pennsylvania. The village has a large green area where families can picnic, relax, or play games, sharing the space with geese and all kinds of animals.

For most of the six years June lived in the village, he kept to himself—chatting with neighbors now and then, but nothing that would ever suggest he’d be a leader. The last time he led anything was almost two decades earlier when he was president of a 4-wheel club.

On Feb. 18, the residents found out their landlord had sold the park, only after reading a story in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. The landlord, who the residents say did what he could to make their village safe and attractive, later came to each of the 37 families. He told the families he sold the park and they would have two months to leave. It was abrupt. Business-like. “We knew he was planning to sell,” says June, “but we all thought it would be to someone who would allow us to stay.”

Four days after the residents were ordered to move, certified letters made it official. The owner sold the park to Aqua PVR, a division of Aqua America, headquartered in Bryn Mawr. Sale price was $550,000. It may have been a bargain—land and industrial parks that have been vacant for years are going for premium sales prices as the natural gas boom in the Marcellus Shale consumes a large part of Pennsylvania and four surrounding states.

Aqua had received permission from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) to withdraw three million gallons of water a day from the Susquehanna; the 37 families of the mobile home village would just be in the way. The company intends to build a pump station and create a pipe system to provide water to natural gas companies that use hydraulic fracturing, the preferred method to extract natural gas from as deep as 10,000 feet beneath the earth. The process, known as fracking, requires a mixture of sand, chemicals, many of them toxins, and anywhere from one to nine million gallons of water per well, injected into the earth at high pressure. Jersey Shore sits in a northeastern part of the Marcellus Shale, which is believed to hold about 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Aqua isn’t the only company planning to take water in the area. Anadarko E & P Co. and Range Resources-Appalachia have each applied to withdraw up to three million gallons a day from the Susquehanna. While the Delaware River Basic Commission, and the states of New York and Maryland, have imposed moratoriums upon the use of fracking until full health and environmental impacts can be assessed, Pennsylvania and the SRBC have been handing out permits by the gross.

Most residents had only a vague knowledge of fracking and what it is doing to the earth. “They have a lot more knowledge now,” says June, as politically aware as any environmentalist.

Aqua had originally ordered the residents to leave by May 1, but then extended it to the end of the month. It dangled a $2,500 relocation allowance in its eviction.

However, the cost to move a trailer to another park is $6,000–$11,000, plus extra for skirting, sheds, and any handicap-accessible external ramps. But, most trailers can’t be moved. “These are older trailers,” says June. His is a 12-by-70, built in 1974, with a tin roof and tin siding (“tin-on-tin”); like others, it isn’t sturdy enough to survive a move. But even if it did, there would be no place to put it. The parks want the newer trailers, but most parks are full.

So, the residents began looking in the classified ads for rentals. Because the natural gas companies are bringing in thousands of employees to frack the land, there is a shortage of apartments, most with inflated prices to take advantage of the well-paid roustabouts, drivers, and technicians who moved into the area, and spend their money on local businesses eager to improve their own profits. During the past two years, rents have doubled and tripled. “None of us can pay a thousand or more a month,” says June. The current mobile home owners paid $200 a month for their lot.  

Not long after he was served his own eviction notice, June had a dream. Some might call it a nightmare; some might see it as he did, a religious experience. “It was Jesus coming to me, telling me I had to do something,” he says.

June is constantly on the move, going from trailer to trailer to help the families who were abruptly evicted. Whatever their needs, Kevin June tries to provide it, constantly on the phone, running up phone bills he knows he can’t afford but does so anyhow because the lives of his neighbors matter.

There’s Betty and William Whyne. Betty, 82, began working as a waitress at the age of 13 and now, in retirement, makes artificial Christmas trees. She has a cancerous tumor in the same place where a breast was removed in 1991. William, 72, who was an electrician, carpenter, and plumber before he retired after a heart attack, goes to a dialysis center three times a week, four hours each time. They brought their 12-wide 1965 Fleetwoood trailer to the village shortly after the 1972 flood. Like the other residents, they can’t afford to move; they can’t find adequate housing. “We’ve looked at everything in about a 30 mile radius,” they say. They earn $1,478 a month from retirement, only $252.17 above the federal poverty line. One son is in New Jersey; one is in Texas, and the Whynes don’t want to leave the area; they shouldn’t have to.

There’s April and Eric Daniels. She’s a stay-at-home mom for their two children; he’s a truck driver whose hours have been reduced. Their 14-by-70 trailer is valued at $13,200; she and her husband were in the process of remodeling it, had already paid $5,000 for improvements, and were about to start building a second bathroom. April Daniels had grown up living in a series of foster houses, “so I know what it’s like to move around, but this was my first home, and it’s harder for me to leave.” Their trailer provides a good home, but can’t be moved. “We’re pretty much on the verge of just tearing down the trailer and living in a camper,” she says. They don’t know what will happen. They do know that because of what they see as Aqua’s insensitivity, they will lose a lot of money no matter what they do.

Doris Fravel, 82, a widow on a fixed income of $1,326 a month, has lived in the village 38 years. She’s proud of her 1974 12-wide trailer with the tin roof. “I painted it every year,” she says. In June, she paid $3,580 for a new air conditioner; she recently paid $3,000 for new insulated skirting. The trailer has new carpeting. Unlike most of the residents, she found housing—a $450 a month efficiency. But it’s far smaller than her current home. So she’s sold or given away most of what she owns. She may have a buyer for the trailer, and will take $2,500 for it, considerably less than it’s worth. “I can’t do anything else,” she says. “I just can’t move my furnishings into the new apartment,” she says.  Like the other residents, she has family who are helping, but there’s only so much help any family can provide. “I never knew I would ever have to leave,” she says, but she does want to “see one of those gas men come to my door—and I’d like to punch him in the shoulder.”

Not only are there few lots available and apartments are too expensive, but most residents don’t qualify for a house mortgage; and there are waiting lists for senior citizen and low-income housing. The stories are the same.

No one from Aqua has been in touch with any resident. But, the company did hire a local real estate agency. The agency claims it has made extraordinary efforts to help the residents find other housing. The residents disagree. April Daniels says “some of the Realtors have gotten real nasty with the people in the park—they just don’t understand that we are all in a hardship, so we get mad and frustrated and take it out on them.” But there really isn’t much anyone can do. The natural gas boom has made affordable housing as obsolete as the anthracite coal that once drove the region’s energy economy.

The residents, with limited incomes, have lived good lives; they are good people. They paid their rents and fees on time; they kept up the appearances of their trailers and the land around it. They worked their jobs; they survived. Until they were evicted

And now it’s up to the residents to try to survive. They have become closer; they listen to each other; they hug each other; and, the tough men aren’t afraid to let others see them cry. “The pain in this park is almost too much at times,” says June.

If something goes wrong, the residents have to fix it; Kevin June is the one they call. If he can’t fix a problem, he finds someone who can. In this trailer park, as in most communities, there is a lot of talent—“we help each other,” says June. His job is to make sure the residents survive. I’ve had the Holy Spirit running through my veins a long time, but it’s running real deep right now,” he says.

A half-dozen families have already moved, but most say they will stay and fight what they see as a politically-based corporate takeover.

During the week Aqua PVR issued eviction notices, its parent company issued a news release, boasting that its revenue for 2011 was $712 million, a 4.2 percent increase from the year before; its net income was $143.1 million, up 15.4 percent from the previous year. But, for some reason, the company just couldn’t find enough money to give the residents a fair moving settlement. “They just expect us to throw our homes into the street and live in tents,” says June.

“I went to see a state representative to ask what he could do to help,” he says, “but his secretary just coldly told me there was nothing that could be done because whoever owns a property can do with it what he wants to do.” He never saw the state representative.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania—armed with an industry-favorable law recently rammed through by the Republican-controlled legislature and eagerly signed by a first-term Republican governor who received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions from the energy industry—has decided that fracking the earth, threatening health and the environment, is far better for business than taking care of the people.

Kevin June and 36 families are just collateral damage.

[Tax-deductible donations may be made to the Riverdale Fund, c/o Sovereign Bank, 222 Allegheny St., Jersey Shore, Pa. 17740; 570-398-1540. Dr. Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist and author of 17 books. His current book is Before the First Snow, available in hardcover and ebook editions from Greeley & Stone, Publishers; amazon; and other book stores.]

 

 

Collateral Damage in the Marcellus Shale

 

by Walter Brasch

 

There’s nothing to suggest that in his 51 years Kevin June should be a leader.

Not from his high school where he dropped out after his freshman year.

Not from his job, where he worked as an auto body technician for more than 35 years.

Both of his marriages ended in divorce, but did produce two children, a 31-year-old son and a 28-year-old daughter.

June readily admits that for most of his life, beginning about 14 when he began drinking heavily, he was a drunk. Always beer. Almost always to excess. But, he will quickly tell you how many weeks he has been sober. It’s now 56, he says proudly.

In October 2008 he was in an auto accident, when he swerved to miss a deer and hit an oak tree head on. That’s when he learned MRIs showed he had been suffering from degenerative arthritis. Between the accident and the arthritis, he was off work for three months. Then, in May 2009, he was laid off when the company moved.

The pain is now so severe that after about 10 minutes, he has to sit.

Unable to work, surviving on disability income that brings him $1,300 a month, just $392.50 above the poverty line, he lives in the 12-acre Riverdale Mobile Home Village, along the Susquehanna River near Jersey Shore in north-central Pennsylvania. The village has a large green area where families can picnic, relax, or play games, sharing the space with geese and all kinds of animals.

For most of the six years June lived in the village, he kept to himself—chatting with neighbors now and then, but nothing that would ever suggest he’d be a leader. The last time he led anything was almost two decades earlier when he was president of a 4-wheel club.

On Feb. 18, the residents found out their landlord had sold the park, only after reading a story in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette. The landlord, who the residents say did what he could to make their village safe and attractive, later came to each of the 37 families. He told the families he sold the park and they would have two months to leave. It was abrupt. Business-like. “We knew he was planning to sell,” says June, “but we all thought it would be to someone who would allow us to stay.”

Four days after the residents were ordered to move, certified letters made it official. The owner sold the park to Aqua PVR, a division of Aqua America, headquartered in Bryn Mawr. Sale price was $550,000. It may have been a bargain—land and industrial parks that have been vacant for years are going for premium sales prices as the natural gas boom in the Marcellus Shale consumes a large part of Pennsylvania and four surrounding states.

Aqua had received permission from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) to withdraw three million gallons of water a day from the Susquehanna; the 37 families of the mobile home village would just be in the way. The company intends to build a pump station and create a pipe system to provide water to natural gas companies that use hydraulic fracturing, the preferred method to extract natural gas from as deep as 10,000 feet beneath the earth. The process, known as fracking, requires a mixture of sand, chemicals, many of them toxins, and anywhere from one to nine million gallons of water per well, injected into the earth at high pressure. Jersey Shore sits in a northeastern part of the Marcellus Shale, which is believed to hold about 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Aqua isn’t the only company planning to take water in the area. Anadarko E & P Co. and Range Resources-Appalachia have each applied to withdraw up to three million gallons a day from the Susquehanna. While the Delaware River Basic Commission, and the states of New York and Maryland, have imposed moratoriums upon the use of fracking until full health and environmental impacts can be assessed, Pennsylvania and the SRBC have been handing out permits by the gross.

Most residents had only a vague knowledge of fracking and what it is doing to the earth. “They have a lot more knowledge now,” says June, as politically aware as any environmentalist.

Aqua had originally ordered the residents to leave by May 1, but then extended it to the end of the month. It dangled a $2,500 relocation allowance in its eviction.

However, the cost to move a trailer to another park is $6,000–$11,000, plus extra for skirting, sheds, and any handicap-accessible external ramps. But, most trailers can’t be moved. “These are older trailers,” says June. His is a 12-by-70, built in 1974, with a tin roof and tin siding (“tin-on-tin”); like others, it isn’t sturdy enough to survive a move. But even if it did, there would be no place to put it. The parks want the newer trailers, but most parks are full.

So, the residents began looking in the classified ads for rentals. Because the natural gas companies are bringing in thousands of employees to frack the land, there is a shortage of apartments, most with inflated prices to take advantage of the well-paid roustabouts, drivers, and technicians who moved into the area, and spend their money on local businesses eager to improve their own profits. During the past two years, rents have doubled and tripled. “None of us can pay a thousand or more a month,” says June. The current mobile home owners paid $200 a month for their lot.  

Not long after he was served his own eviction notice, June had a dream. Some might call it a nightmare; some might see it as he did, a religious experience. “It was Jesus coming to me, telling me I had to do something,” he says.

June is constantly on the move, going from trailer to trailer to help the families who were abruptly evicted. Whatever their needs, Kevin June tries to provide it, constantly on the phone, running up phone bills he knows he can’t afford but does so anyhow because the lives of his neighbors matter.

There’s Betty and William Whyne. Betty, 82, began working as a waitress at the age of 13 and now, in retirement, makes artificial Christmas trees. She has a cancerous tumor in the same place where a breast was removed in 1991. William, 72, who was an electrician, carpenter, and plumber before he retired after a heart attack, goes to a dialysis center three times a week, four hours each time. They brought their 12-wide 1965 Fleetwoood trailer to the village shortly after the 1972 flood. Like the other residents, they can’t afford to move; they can’t find adequate housing. “We’ve looked at everything in about a 30 mile radius,” they say. They earn $1,478 a month from retirement, only $252.17 above the federal poverty line. One son is in New Jersey; one is in Texas, and the Whynes don’t want to leave the area; they shouldn’t have to.

There’s April and Eric Daniels. She’s a stay-at-home mom for their two children; he’s a truck driver whose hours have been reduced. Their 14-by-70 trailer is valued at $13,200; she and her husband were in the process of remodeling it, had already paid $5,000 for improvements, and were about to start building a second bathroom. April Daniels had grown up living in a series of foster houses, “so I know what it’s like to move around, but this was my first home, and it’s harder for me to leave.” Their trailer provides a good home, but can’t be moved. “We’re pretty much on the verge of just tearing down the trailer and living in a camper,” she says. They don’t know what will happen. They do know that because of what they see as Aqua’s insensitivity, they will lose a lot of money no matter what they do.

Doris Fravel, 82, a widow on a fixed income of $1,326 a month, has lived in the village 38 years. She’s proud of her 1974 12-wide trailer with the tin roof. “I painted it every year,” she says. In June, she paid $3,580 for a new air conditioner; she recently paid $3,000 for new insulated skirting. The trailer has new carpeting. Unlike most of the residents, she found housing—a $450 a month efficiency. But it’s far smaller than her current home. So she’s sold or given away most of what she owns. She may have a buyer for the trailer, and will take $2,500 for it, considerably less than it’s worth. “I can’t do anything else,” she says. “I just can’t move my furnishings into the new apartment,” she says.  Like the other residents, she has family who are helping, but there’s only so much help any family can provide. “I never knew I would ever have to leave,” she says, but she does want to “see one of those gas men come to my door—and I’d like to punch him in the shoulder.”

Not only are there few lots available and apartments are too expensive, but most residents don’t qualify for a house mortgage; and there are waiting lists for senior citizen and low-income housing. The stories are the same.

No one from Aqua has been in touch with any resident. But, the company did hire a local real estate agency. The agency claims it has made extraordinary efforts to help the residents find other housing. The residents disagree. April Daniels says “some of the Realtors have gotten real nasty with the people in the park—they just don’t understand that we are all in a hardship, so we get mad and frustrated and take it out on them.” But there really isn’t much anyone can do. The natural gas boom has made affordable housing as obsolete as the anthracite coal that once drove the region’s energy economy.

The residents, with limited incomes, have lived good lives; they are good people. They paid their rents and fees on time; they kept up the appearances of their trailers and the land around it. They worked their jobs; they survived. Until they were evicted

And now it’s up to the residents to try to survive. They have become closer; they listen to each other; they hug each other; and, the tough men aren’t afraid to let others see them cry. “The pain in this park is almost too much at times,” says June.

If something goes wrong, the residents have to fix it; Kevin June is the one they call. If he can’t fix a problem, he finds someone who can. In this trailer park, as in most communities, there is a lot of talent—“we help each other,” says June. His job is to make sure the residents survive. I’ve had the Holy Spirit running through my veins a long time, but it’s running real deep right now,” he says.

A half-dozen families have already moved, but most say they will stay and fight what they see as a politically-based corporate takeover.

During the week Aqua PVR issued eviction notices, its parent company issued a news release, boasting that its revenue for 2011 was $712 million, a 4.2 percent increase from the year before; its net income was $143.1 million, up 15.4 percent from the previous year. But, for some reason, the company just couldn’t find enough money to give the residents a fair moving settlement. “They just expect us to throw our homes into the street and live in tents,” says June.

“I went to see a state representative to ask what he could do to help,” he says, “but his secretary just coldly told me there was nothing that could be done because whoever owns a property can do with it what he wants to do.” He never saw the state representative.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania—armed with an industry-favorable law recently rammed through by the Republican-controlled legislature and eagerly signed by a first-term Republican governor who received more than $1.6 million in campaign contributions from the energy industry—has decided that fracking the earth, threatening health and the environment, is far better for business than taking care of the people.

Kevin June and 36 families are just collateral damage.

[Tax-deductible donations may be made to the Riverdale Fund, c/o Sovereign Bank, 222 Allegheny St., Jersey Shore, Pa. 17740; 570-398-1540. Dr. Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist and author of 17 books. His current book is Before the First Snow, available in hardcover and ebook editions from Greeley & Stone, Publishers; amazon; and other book stores.]

 

 

Poverty, Opportunity, and the 2012 Presidential Election

A recent forum in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, provided an in-depth discussion into the level of concern in the United States about poverty and opportunity, particularly concerning children.Spotlight on Poverty also looked at whether or not these issues will be factors in the upcoming presidential election. Overall, people believe strongly that equal opportunity for children of all races is very important; that not all children currently have full access to opportunity; and that presidential candidates’ views on poverty are very important. But, many think that neither the candidates nor the media are discussing poverty enough.

Interestingly, there were substantial numbers of Republicans who agreed with Democrats and Independents in several of the poll’s questions. (The corresponding national poll of likely voters undertaken at the end of last year highlighted several key points; all graphics are from this poll's report.) 

Most importantly, 88 percent of respondents said that “candidates’ positions on equal opportunity for children of all races are important in deciding their vote for President,” and 55 percent said that they were very important.  

Among Democrats, 70 percent agreed that candidates’ views in this area arevery important (and an additional 25 percent said they are somewhat important). Fifty-five percent of Independents said that candidates’ views arevery important (and an additional 28 percent said they are somewhat important).  Among Republicans, 44 percent agreed that candidates’ views in this area are very important (and 42 percent said they were somewhat important). Agreeing that they are very important were 85 percent of African Americans, 62 percent of Hispanics, and 51 percent of Whites.

But, despite the level of belief in equal opportunity for children, many voters do not believe that all children have full access to it as of yet. Over half of the respondents say that “children of different races tend to face unequal barriers to opportunity.” 

In this question, researchers pointed out significant differences in the breakdowns: “By party, 70 percent of Democratic voters said children face unequal barriers, compared to 50 percent of Independents, and only 38 percent of Republicans. By race, 50 percent of white voters said children face unequal barriers, compared to a solid majority (62 percent) of non-white voters who said so as well. Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of African American voters said children of different races face unequal barriers. Somewhat surprisingly, only 48 percent of Hispanic participants agreed.”

There was strong feedback from the public that candidates’ views on poverty matter in deciding on their vote for president. Almost nine in ten respondents said that this was very (45 percent) or somewhat (42 percent) important.

Within specific demographics, 61 percent of Democrats, 42 percent of Independents, and 33 percent of Republicans agreed that candidates’ views on poverty are very important. (Another 35 percent, 40 percent, and 51 percent, respectively, agreed that candidates' views are somewhat important). Agreeing that candidates' views are very important were 76 percent of African Americans, 57 percent of Hispanics and 39 percent of Whites. 

Despite the importance of this topic to voters, almost half of the respondents said that “they have not heard enough from presidential candidates about reducing poverty.” This includes four in ten Republicans, just under half of Independents, and six in ten Democrats. Half of both Whites and African Americans agree with this opinion, along with more than four in ten Hispanics.

When asked if the media has adequately covered poverty reduction during this campaign, half said no, while four in ten thought they had (10 percent didn’t know or didn’t answer). By party, six in ten Democrats said that the media hadn’t covered this issue enough, as did half of Independents and four in ten Republicans. By race, this opinion was expressed by about half of Whites and Hispanics, and by almost six in ten African Americans.

Childhood poverty can have severe, long-lasting results. The Urban Institute found the following

  • Sixty-three percent of children enter adulthood without experiencing poverty, but 10 percent of children are persistently poor, spending at least half their childhoods living in poverty.
  • Black children are roughly 2.5 times more likely than white children to ever experience poverty and 7 times more likely to be persistently poor.
  • Children who experience poverty tend to cycle into and out of poverty, and most persistently poor children spend intermittent years living above the poverty threshold.
  • Being poor at birth is a strong predictor of future poverty status. Thirty-one percent of white children and 69 percent of black children who are poor at birth go on to spend at least half their childhoods living in poverty.
  • Children who are born into poverty and spend multiple years living in poor families have worse adult outcomes than their counterparts in higher-income families.

A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation revealed that, “over the last decade there has been a significant decline in economic well-being for low income children and families. The official child poverty rate, which is a conservative measure of economic hardship, increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009, essentially returning to the same level as the early 1990s. This increase means that 2.4 million more children are living below the federal poverty line.” 

These statistics and others illustrate the ongoing need for presidential candidates, other politicians, the media, social service providers, and everyone else, to stay focused on this issue and work to alleviate poverty in the United States.

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