How do we deal with the homeless in Ann Arbor? Easy, hire greeters on Segways to shoo them away… Introducing Ann Arbor’s new “Ambassador” program

A few days ago, in a post about the increasing number of economic refugees making their way from Ann Arbor to Ypsilanti, I noted a new program being considered by the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Authority (DDA) that would put a small army of paid “ambassadors” on the streets of tree town, opening doors for people, shooing away panhandlers, and the like. Proponents say that these activities are necessary if we want to improve “the user experience” of downtown Ann Arbor, and attract more well-heeled visitors (who are apparently terrified by Ann Arbor’s current grittiness). Others, myself included, believe that the addition of Walmart-like greeters on Segways, removing band flyers from light poles and pointing people toward the safety of the nearest Starbucks, would be the final nail in the coffin for a city struggling to maintain some sense of identity in the wake of massive outside investment.

I’m not typically prone to hyperbole, but this “ambassador” program, if enacted, would effectively complete the mallification of this once interesting city.

Thankfully, some people are pushing back. As I write this, several folks are making plans to attend the January 21 open meeting of the DDA Operations Committee (11:00 AM at the DDA office) to express their displeasure, and suggest other, more meaningful ways in which this $900,000 might be put to use. ($900,000 is the projected cost of the program over 3 years.) Based on what I’m hearing, the meeting will likely be somewhat heated. At least that’s the sense that I’m getting from the Annarbourites that I know, who seem to feel very strongly that this program is not only misguided, but ridiculous and embarrassing… Yes, it would seem some folks don’t much like the idea of Walmart-like greeters making their way around the city, encouraging the poor to move along, while helping the more well-off to find their way into downtown stores.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard several people suggest that a better long term strategy to address the panhandling issue might be to increase funding for proven programs, like those currently operated by Washtenaw County’s Project Outreach Team (PORT), instead of hiring out-of-state consultants to outfit “ambassadors” with aps giving them tips on how to get undesirables to move along. But why put in the effort and do the hard work when you just shoo people along, and give the illusion of perfection, right?

Here, before we get deeper into the growing backlash, is a note posted to social media today by Mary Morgan, the former editor of the Ann Arbor Chronicle, on the background of this proposed initiative.

This all started years ago in the context of the DDA wanting additional police patrols downtown. Here’s some background from The Chronicle’s archives – a 2013 article:

“For several years, the Ann Arbor DDA has had an interest in maintaining some kind of additional police patrol presence in the downtown. In the mid-2000s, the DDA entered into a contract with the city of Ann Arbor with the implicit hope that the city would maintain the dedicated downtown beat cops. That contract was structured at the time to pay the city $1 million a year for 10 years, with the city able to request up to $2 million a year for a maximum of $10 million.

That hope was not realized, and the DDA has since discussed the idea of providing additional funding for police or for ‘ambassadors.’ The idea of ambassadors was explored in the context of subsequent re-negotiations of the contract between the city and the DDA under which the DDA operates the parking system. The DDA wanted to be assigned responsibility for parking enforcement (a function performed by the city’s community standards officers) and imagined that activity to be performed in an ambassador-like fashion.

At its June 3, 2013 meeting, the city council approved a resolution encouraging the DDA to provide funding for three police officers (a total of $270,000 annually) to be deployed in the DDA district.”

Instead of paying for additional police – and politics plays a role in this too, given the dynamics between councilmembers and DDA board members – the DDA has decided to pursue an ambassadors program.

So the DDA, at the behest of a group of downtown merchants, had started looking into the hiring of more police officers. At some point, however, they decided that it would be more cost effective, and give them more control, if they were to develop an “ambassador” program of their own, like the one in Grand Rapids, which would utilize relatively-low-paid part-time workers trained to greet people, give directions, keep panhandlers from Ann Arbor’s sidewalks, and the like…. essentially a smiling, private security force charged with making the city more commerce-friendly. And they entered into negotiations with the Louisville-based company Block by Block to manage the program. While most members of the Ann Arbor DDA were enthusiastic about the prospect, a few were not. The following comes from one of them, DDA member Al McWilliams.

Downtown ambassadors are supported, passionately, by a majority of the DDA board, most advisory groups and merchant associations, and the bulk of the emails/feedback that came into the DDA preceding the vote two meetings ago (yeah, it’s been that long already, but people are just now getting amped up). I did not support the program. The driving idea for the program is that it will shore up the “public nuisance” activities downtown while offering a welcoming hand for visitors. At best $900k is a lot of money to shoo away a few panhandlers, and can do more to spur economic development downtown in some other capacity. At worst, it works against our goals of attracting the young folks, keeping grads in town and creating a unique place and personality. The feedback from downtown tech folks has been especially brutal.

Where it stands now is that the budget is approved, and the operations committee has been given the go-ahead to negotiate a contract which will come back to the full board for approval. At this point, it is my hope that the contract will include specific direction & requirements for the vendor that will create a program more in line with Ann Arbor’s aesthetic (read: I’ll do my best to keep them off of Segways).

I will offer this: it’s excellent that the DDA board is divided on this issue. It means that it’s working. There are passionate folks on both sides of the program, and it was in committee and discussion for a very long time. There were board members who were very much undecided and were convinced through respectful debate and, well, for me – you win some you lose some, but I like that everyone is thinking independently.

And, with a little more on the perceived downside of this program, here’s a letter that was sent to the DDA yesterday by former Jefferson Market owner Jean Henry.

This is a really terrible idea. On every imaginable level. 1) It looks desperate. It tries too hard. 2) It’s sterile and doesn’t look like us (likely because it doesn’t originate with us). 3) Grand Rapids’ success is not attributable to Walmart-like greeters but a considerable investment in a positive future – local business and arts support, green building development, public transport, etc. 4) It’s unsustainable. What will you do after 3 years? 5) If you do this, it will be an embarrassment. Please don’t. I really appreciate the DDA’s work, but looking to outsource solutions that could be better generated internally, by our own dynamic, smart and savvy creative class, is a terrible idea on many levels. It’s like a harbinger of the future A2 we all fear. As a friend opined. “Welcome to Ann Arbor, the 7-Eleven is just down the street from the Walgreens, and across from 5 guys.” Our strength of character comes from who we are as a town. Put your considerable resources behind supporting local character. Look for win-wins, rather than lose-lose-lose. Why not use that 900k to fund low cost – high impact ideas to move our town forward and make it more interesting rather than more sterile. We have plenty of people gifted at generating those. Let’s put our money behind them. Thanks.

It’s kind of sad seeing the life drained out of a community, isn’t it? I mean, I can see how, in the short term, this might be good for business. Maybe, with a program like this in place, more folks will drive in from Southfield to spend the day. And, maybe, more large restaurant and retail chains will open places in Ann Arbor. Without show flyers on light poles and homeless people leaning against walls, maybe the mallification of Ann Arbor will be complete. Maybe it’ll become the completely safe, sanitary place that our new corporate stakeholders are looking for. I can’t help but think it’ll come at a cost, though. It’s not just ugliness that’s being scrubbed away… it’s character and history. And those are things that make a community. Sure, the per square foot value of Ann Arbor real estate might rise with an initiative like this, as Ann Arbor becomes more of a high-end, open-air mall, but there will eventually be a price to pay. More young people with energy will gravitate away from the city. More young families, who value things like community and authenticity, will start looking to put down roots elsewhere. And Ann Arbor will cease being culturally relevant. Sure, it may be profitable for some, but it won’t be dynamic. It won’t be interesting.

gob_segway2

If I had more time, I would have made a comic to accompany this post. It would have contained the following exchange between two people in downtown Ann Arbor.

“How does one completely drain the life and authenticity out of a city?”

“Easy, Block by Block.”

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49 Comments

  1. Posted January 16, 2015 at 3:00 am | Permalink

    I find the idea of a de facto privatized police force to be incredibly disturbing.

  2. Jcp2
    Posted January 16, 2015 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    Why Segways? They don’t work so well in winter. I think they should go with horses.

  3. Bob Krzewinski
    Posted January 16, 2015 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    How about llamas. Cute, but they could spit on people that are considered undesirable.

  4. Dan
    Posted January 16, 2015 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    the DDA needs to be disbanded, and the millions they waste returned to the general fund. It is an un-elected board that the tax payers have no say on. They can do ridiculous shit like this, and the tax payers and citizens of Ann Arbor cant do anything about it

  5. anonymous
    Posted January 16, 2015 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    You had me at “terrified by Ann Arbor’s current grittiness”.

  6. Posted January 16, 2015 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    They should just move the entire effort to Ypsilanti. I’m not sure what they would do, but it would be pretty entertaining.

  7. Eel
    Posted January 16, 2015 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I’ve got a serious question. I’ve read that these ambassadors will be outfitted with umbrellas, which they can loan out to people in case of rain. Will they be instructed as to what kind of person deserves an umbrella? In other words, will they be profiling, or will they hand over umbrellas equally to all people, including those who might appear to be poor?

  8. P Anne Palmer
    Posted January 16, 2015 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    The proposed Ambassador Program is a cynical, unrealistic, dumb, high cost/low benefit “solution” that does NOT address the REAL needs in our community….

  9. Posted January 16, 2015 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    Eel, I think you know that answer to that question.

  10. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 16, 2015 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    The “ambassadors” idea sounds creepy and lame.

  11. site admin
    Posted January 16, 2015 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    If you’d like to call the DDA here’s the contact information.

    http://www.a2dda.org/contact-us/

  12. Bob Krzewinski
    Posted January 16, 2015 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    Segways, to me, are really give the message of being an elitist toy. While true they can give mobility to truly disabled people, I always get the urge to go up to the people “riding” those things and asking if they have a problem walking.

  13. Posted January 17, 2015 at 12:13 am | Permalink

    It is interesting that no one else posted yesterday.

  14. Posted January 17, 2015 at 12:45 am | Permalink

    Everyone’s been busy calling the DDA

  15. Posted January 17, 2015 at 12:49 am | Permalink

    Wow. I am mortified at this cold and vane way of dealing with PEOPLE in need. …and I didn’t know what a Segway was until now either….

    I really appreciate you covering this, Mark. I recently read a great article about a fraternity in Alabama that was building ‘tiny houses’ for the homeless there. They have a high population of homeless, many of which are military vets. Maybe if the fraternities in Ann Arbor focused on something positive instead of getting ragingly drunk and destroying the city every weekend, we could make some progress.

    I did a little research, and there are ‘tiny house’ projects popping up around the country and the world for the homeless and others in need. We really need to be thinking about something like this here. Everyone should have the right to food, water, and housing FOR FREE. No one signed a contract when they were born saying that they would participate in the money system. smh

    Maybe Ann Arbor is not aware of this compassionate, humanitarian trend to help those who are struggling: http://nationswell.com/phi-kappa-phi-frat-brothers-build-tiny-homes/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=nsfbpage

    If the Segway Ambassadors try to make a homeless person “go away” from downtown, and they won’t/don’t, what happens next? Does the Ambassador call the police? The police usually don’t mess with the panhandlers in Ann Arbor unless they are aggressive. If they didn’t have time to mess with the homeless up until now, are they suddenly going to have time once the ambassadors get involved? What an elitist, disrespectful way to deal with people in need: just make them go away.

    I am not surprised with my Alma Mater town, as it has slowly been going down…. I am EMBARRASSED!

  16. Posted January 17, 2015 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Greg Pratt, I saw your comments on the MLIVE article about the recall on Kunselman. Thank you so much for everything you are saying there! I have been following this story and reading the comments and i am HORRIFIED at the elitist attitudes of many people commenting there.

    I can’t believe people don’t just look at another person in need and think: “Oh dear! That is a HUMAN BEING just like me and they need help! Is there anything I can do?”

    What has happened to humanity? I am not really religious, but many people are, so how come they are not just doing what Jesus would do: STOP TO HELP THOSE LESS FORTUNATE.

    I will never be truly happy until everyone else on this planet is.

  17. Posted January 17, 2015 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    Then you will never be happy.

  18. A2D2
    Posted January 17, 2015 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    Block by Block is a subsidiary of SMS Holdings Corporation, a self-described “faith based” private security solutions firm.

    http://smsholdings.com/index.php/about/values/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMS_Holdings_Corporation

  19. Box
    Posted January 17, 2015 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    I can’t wait till one if these ammbastards gives me shit for putting up show fliers.

  20. Posted January 17, 2015 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    Peter Larson, you are such an optimist. lol

    Here is another great article on tiny houses done in Madison Wisconsin. •”The Madison effort grew out of the Occupy Madison movement. The group purchased property in December and got approval from the city council for a village of nine tiny houses.”

    Wow… if they got approval from their city council, i wonder if we could see the proposal and how they did it so we can model it here?

    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/21/tiny-houses-aim-help-homeless/14411661/

  21. Posted January 17, 2015 at 10:15 pm | Permalink

    We should hire this guy as an ambassador: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4QnbXykve5U&index=54&list=WL

  22. Posted January 18, 2015 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    There are many people in the world who derive pleasure from hurting others.

    Those people should be as unhappy as possible.

  23. Posted January 18, 2015 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    “Block By Block is a subsidiary of the Nashville, Tennessee headquartered SMS Holdings, a powerful, politically connected private corporation with a shady record of attacking unions and relentlessly hollowing out the pay and benefits of its employees.”

    http://darwinbondgraham.blogspot.com/2012/01/sms-holdings-faith-based-anti-labor.html

  24. Mr. X
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Thank you for sharing that link, Ed. All the more reason not to move forward with this.

  25. Suswhit
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Thank you Mark Maynard and Jean Henry (and Al McWilliams.) http://instagram.com/p/x92T4TM5CG/
    This overflowing trash can was at the intersection of 5th Ave and Washington all weekend. Probably still is. There are any number of analogies here about the way the DDA thinks about trash – the sum of all are that they just don’t get it. But more importantly Ann Arbor does not need a DDA. It steals tax dollars from the larger community under the guise of improving a struggling downtown. They can’t tout us as the best downtown in the US while taking money away from the schools because we have a struggling downtown. Enough already. The city can manage the Republic Parking contract.

  26. Joan Lowenstein
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    I am on the DDA and we are still talking to Block by Block to figure out if and how they can help our downtown. We like bikes better than Segways and they will have to pay a living wage. They say their job is to “manage the public right of way” and this would include reporting and fixing constant problems like trash in the alleys and dangerous sidewalks. I have asked that they help solve some pedestrian safety problems (the downtown is the location for the majority of Ann Arbor’s pedestrian/auto accidents). As for the population of street people (few of whom are homeless), we have many service providers but little coordination among them, so this may be one way to direct services to people who need them. Their job will not be to “shoo them away.” The DDA welcomes any suggestions.

  27. Posted January 19, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    The Ambassadors program is run by a security company. I fail to see how this anything but a privatized police force patrolling public streets.

    As for “shooing away” street people, this would appear to be their main function. It is telling that you make a point of making a distinction between “street people” and “homeless people,” which shows your level of concern for their existence.

    This would be an embarrassment. I would be ashamed to be a part of the Ann Arbor community if this program goes forward.

    Assuming it does, I and probably many other people will be watching to see what the “Ambassadors” do to panhandlers, homeless and street people.

  28. Frosted Flakes
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    I also think the use of the term “street people” is a red flag. What, in your mind, distinguishes a “street person” from a non street person who happens to be spending time on the streets/ sidewalks of Ann Arbor?

  29. Curt Waugh
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    “…reporting and fixing constant problems…”

    Why are these constant problems? Are bumpy sidewalks and extra trash pickup really in need of extra scrutiny by a for-hire private entity?

    Why not spend the money fixing these problems if you already have identified the issue? Why does Ann Arbor need to pay people to tell them what they already know?

    Wouldn’t it be cheaper just to develop a little mobile app to have the citizenry report this stuff for free?

    Why do you insist that downtown is a mall and should be operated as such? This is nothing more than mall cops for downtown. Include the Segways and it’s not even a parody of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop”.

    “We like bikes better than Segways and they will have to pay a living wage.”

    You’re already talking about details like bikes instead of Segways and what wage they will pay without the foggiest notion of what exactly they’d do. Why do you insist on putting the cart so far ahead of the horse here? Is it often that you make a cake-shaped frosting and then try to “figure out if and how” to shove an actual cake under there at the last minute?

    “As for the population of street people (few of whom are homeless)…”

    I assume you have a study that says this. Can you share it with us? Or more to the point…

    What difference does this even make? What is the exact nature of the “problem” you are solving here? Labels like “street people” and “homeless” are such loaded code for just about everything. Let’s throw out the judgement words and state in clear language the nature of the problem. Is is begging? Is it crime? The smell? Is it that hard to find enough dirt to fill in Liberty Square?

    This whole idea is so far off base, it’s really difficult to see how it even got this far. We’re making fun of it because it’s REALLY difficult to take seriously. Glad this is seeing the light of day so that saner heads can prevail and quash this before it embarrasses the city further.

  30. Dan
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Joan, for illustrating that the un-elected DDA is out of touch with the community

  31. CED
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Wow. “Mallification” indeed. Though I’ve often suggested that Ann Arbor is turning into a theme park, called “College Town.”
    I don’t live in Ann Arbor now, so to some extent don’t feel like I have a pony in this race. But it is really disheartening to see that 1) the DDA has so much money to spend at their sole discretion and 2) that the majority on the DDA board thinks that this is a good idea. No matter what “guidelines” are in place for the “Ambassadors” as workers, this is an phenomenally tone-deaf idea. My thanks to all who are protesting.

  32. Dan
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    This totally sounds like a Dave Brandon idea

  33. Demetrius
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Q. What do these five recent headlines have in common?

    * Consultant tells Ann Arbor officials housing affordability an issue for many

    * America’s Productivity Climbs, but Wages Continue to Stagnate

    * Oxfam Study Finds Richest 1% Is Likely to Control Half of Global Wealth by 2016

    * Ann Arbor DDA entering contract negotiations for $300K downtown ambassador program

    *Ypsilanti Township installs 26 new public surveillance cameras to deter crime

  34. Steve Bean
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    “It’s not just ugliness that’s being scrubbed away…”

    It’s not even ugliness, Mark. I’m looking forward to the DDA board changing their collective mind about this contract and going back to the drawing board.

  35. Posted January 19, 2015 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    This proposed idea is without merit, and is sensationally wrong for our community. And not just the money, though that 900k is plenty of argument against it, all on its own. Since when did the DDA get to decide to squash the vibrancy and aliveness of what is left of the unique and interesting parts of our town?

    For fuck’s sake–how about this instead: if you see someone who looks like they need directions somewhere, just stop and offer some help. If you run into Arthur, give ’em a dollar and a kind word. Routinely purchase Groundcover News and use the coupons at the food co-op. See litter on the street, pick it up and put it in the trash can. When you’re driving a car, mind the peds and bikes. When you’re walking, watch for cars and bikes. When you’re biking, keep an eye on peds and cars.

    Really Ann Arbor, we’re better than needing a religious security force running our downtown. Come on DDA–step back and let’s use those funds for things we really need.

  36. Councilman Warpehoski by proxy
    Posted January 19, 2015 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    “The ambassador program is a softened answer to the push for more cops that the law and order faction had been pushing for. I would rather have ambassadors than cops (our crime rates are at historic lows and the concerns about ambassadors sanitizing Ann Arbor would be worse with the power to ticket or arrest), and I am unconvinced of the need for either.”

  37. Keith Orr by proxy
    Posted January 20, 2015 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Taken from a Facebook conversation about Mark’s post:

    I am on the DDA and in your network… and a business owner… and I voted against it for a variety of reasons. The main two were (1) cost, and (2) the relationship to the mission was too tangential.

    And seeing the mention of Al, I believe there were four of us who voted against…Al, Rishi, Sandi, and me. I believe a move to reconsider would be useless without heavy, broad-based lobbying. It would be most effective from stakeholders. Three of the four neighborhood associations all spoke strongly in favor. Get State Street (especially) to reconsider their endorsement and you might see a shift.

  38. Gillan
    Posted January 20, 2015 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    There’s a lot wrong with this program but the taking down of flyers really hurts me as a born and bred A2 townie. When I was a kid, my dad and brother and I would eat at the Fleetwood and had a running commentary on the status of phone pole flyers. We’d point out phone poles that were 100% coated in flyers and riddled with staples and say, “that’s a REAL Ann Arbor telephone pole.” It should be a point of pride that there’s.so much happening it creates thick layers on your telephone poles and transformer boxes. Sure, sounds kind of dumb now, but for me those flyers are really the root of a2’s identity.

  39. Jean Henry
    Posted January 20, 2015 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    “Law and Order faction” pretty much covers it, doesn’t it? According to the DDA’s own report there are less than 5 major crimes reported each month in the entire DDA district– which includes South U. Major crimes covers not just violent crime but any property crime or attempted property crime. 4 per month. The crime they want to address is nuisance crimes: Drunks(but not slowing down the bar biz any), Graffiti, Aggressive Pan-Handlers, Skateboarders, Building-climbers, etc. I do not see how ambassadors at $12 an hour would address any of these issues. They are a million dollar band-aid to appease the conservatives apparently running my town.

  40. Jean Henry
    Posted January 20, 2015 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    Also I have not been able to find any meeting minutes or board member listings for the State Street Association on their website. I have written them and intend to send them some of the public commentary accrued in this last week. I would like to hand deliver it to them at their next meeting if possible. That will likely be too late to effect the outcome of this initiative.

  41. Grumpy
    Posted January 20, 2015 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Some asshole has taken it upon himself to remove all the flyers downtown for several years now. He will follow people posting them around town and immediately pull them. Just another cool thing about Ann Arbor that only exists in the past.

  42. Jean Henry
    Posted January 20, 2015 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    Re State Street Area Association: “As corporate secretary I [Frances Hargreaves] run the organization, but I run the organization through the executive committee, meaning our president, Rich Bellas of Van Boven Shoes, our vice president, Bob Livingston of First Congregational, and John Splitt of Gold Bond Cleaners. Basically, all the decision making is through that executive committee.”
    So there you go, 3 people and a secretary, that’s the DDA constituency, I guess.
    http://www.mlive.com/business/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2014/02/qa_new_leader_of_state_street.html

  43. Posted January 20, 2015 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Jean, will you report back from tomorrow’s meeting?

  44. Jean Henry
    Posted January 21, 2015 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Sure. Honestly, the outcry at this point is so deafening, that I’m inclined to simply read the public commentary of others, say a few words, and suggest they table this program in order to seek the public input they failed to get before allocating funds. I’m all ranted out.

    Well almost… I must add that Joan Lowenstein’s belief that an outside, contracted, clean-up crew can somehow coordinate our social services better than the PORT street team already dedicated to that task is really mind-blowing. They have 3 staff to do this big job and are terribly underfunded, but they and many in our county social services do an amazing job of outreach into this community, given what’s available to them. The DDA can’t directly fund PORT as I understand it, because it’s out of their purview. So this is their pathetic run around to appear to address issues without giving a city more money that the DDA can’t allocate as it wishes. It’s over-reach and they’ve now angered more than the standard DDA-bashers. If I were them, I would cut their losses and stand back on this one. If they proceed with the Ambassador program. I think things will get much more complicated for them going forward.

  45. anonymous
    Posted January 21, 2015 at 6:58 am | Permalink

    Has there been the same kind of backlash in other communities that have contracted with Block by Block? If so, has anyone succeeded in stopping them?

  46. XXX
    Posted January 21, 2015 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Jean, you’re assuming that the DDA wants to help the homeless, and that their funding of an ambassador program is to get around the fact that they can’t contract with Port. I don’t see any evidence of that. I don’t think they want to provide more resources. I don’t think that they want to make Ann Arbor any more attractive a destination for “street people.” They may say that the ambassador program is in part necessary in order to coordinate outreach and direct these people toward resources, but that’s just marketing speak. The objective is to move these people away from downtown where it’s thought that they interfere with business.

  47. Jules
    Posted January 22, 2015 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I’m curious about Joan’s notion that the street ambassadors can somehow reduce the pedestrian safety problems. What are they going to do, don florescent safety belts and help people cross the street? Or perhaps throw themselves in front of errant buses? I’m scratching my head over that one.

  48. Joyce Buchanan
    Posted January 23, 2015 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I had a hard time adjusting to living in Ann Arbor, when I moved here over twenty years ago. I was shocked, for example, by a letter from the elementary school before Halloween telling me not to let my kids dress in scary costumes so the littler ones wouldn’t be scared. But I loved the mid-sized feel of it, and I loved being able to shop for most everything I wanted downtown. I liked the funky stores and interesting and unique goods I could find there. Most all of those things are gone now. State Street is like every other street in every other town and Main Street is almost solely devoted to restaurants with a few places to shop. And those little ones, who shouldn’t be scared, have grown up and ARE scared by “street people” and the homeless and by things a bit unsanitized and unusual.

    I have written to the DDA expressing my concerns about their proposal and I hope they change their minds on this one. I agree with Jean Henry that we have creative people who can bring good solutions to identified problems. Finally, I think we all need to remember we can always say “No thanks” or Not today” when approached by panhandlers. We can speak to other humans. Perhaps they just remind us that “there but for the grace of god..” and who likes to feel like that????

  49. phyllis ponvert
    Posted January 26, 2015 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    Before the DDA decides that Ann Arbor’s problems can’t be resolved by our own businesses and city departments, we need to ask them. For example, let’s ask The Chamber of Commerce, the Police Department, The Parks Department and Mental Health Services. Do they need/want outside help? Are they aware that the DDA is considering hiring Block by Block, an outside contractor.? Ask them how this could impact their jobs. Ask them for a written report to be made available to anyone.
    Thank you,
    Phyllis Ponvert

8 Trackbacks

  1. […] among other things, the hiring of paid greeters who would travel throughout downtown Ann Arbor, opening doors for the well-to-do, removing flyers from light poles, and ensuring that “street …. (“Street people” was the term used by DDA member Joan Lowenstein, who left a comment […]

  2. […] hire a platoon of smiling, paid “ambassadors” to travel across the city on Segways, opening doors for the well-to-do, removing show flyers from light poles, and ensuring, among other t…, I think we owe them a debt of gratitude for sparking a real, substantive debate over the future of […]

  3. […] not sustainable. You can not continue to push out the poor by eliminating affordable housing and hiring “ambassadors” on Segways to keep the homeless from your downtown. No, eventually the chickens come home to […]

  4. […] how, a few months ago, a bunch of us got up in arms over plans hatched by the Ann Arbor DDA to hire a small army of Segway-… to cheerfully open doors for well-healed visitors, remove unsightly band flyers from telephone […]

  5. […] we’ll begin to see more of this. We’ll see attempts, like we did recently in Ann Arbor, to replace trained officers with minimum wage-earning “ambassadors”, and we’ll see more police departments opening their doors to volunteer wannabe police […]

  6. […] rent is too much for even a 5 Guys to survive? And what artists would be drawn to a community where people are actually debating the merits of hiring Segway-riding army of “ambassadors&#82…? So, yeah, I like to poke my thumb in the eye of Ann Arbor every once in a while. If it’s any […]

  7. By Ann Arbor declares itself to be “Compassionate” on September 10, 2015 at 7:02 am

    […] few months ago, when we were discussing plans in Ann Arbor to hire a small army of so-called “ambassadors” who would be charged …, some of us questioned just how compassionate our neighbors to the west were. Well, apparently […]

  8. […] to Ann Arbor just as the Tech Center burned down.] Here’s Tobier telling me, after discussing the forces in Ann Arbor that were pushing for Segway riding “ambassadors” charged with o…, that we need “more […]

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