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Richmond Homeless Shelter Denounces Casino Payout

Richmond homeless shelter denounces casino payout

By Lisa Vorderbrueggen
Contra Costa Times

Posted: 11/20/2009 02:28:59 PM PST

Updated: 11/20/2009 02:36:41 PM PST

 

BAY AREA RESCUE MISSION President John Anderson is unequivocal: His organization will never accept money from Indian casinos.

"We are an entirely privately funded Christian ministry and gambling goes against the principles that we believe and stand for," Anderson said.

Anderson raised eyebrows earlier this month when he and political consultant Dan Lee entered the debate over the Point Molate Indian casino proposed in Richmond.

The men brought clients from the mission's 325-bed Richmond homeless shelter to testify against the casino before the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors.

Nearly every other opposition group has or is negotiating a lucrative deal with the Guidiville Band of Pomo Indians. Behind the scenes, casino proponents have urged Anderson to meet with the tribe.

And who could blame a man who runs a shelter for the poor? If the casino produces more homeless gambling addicts, demand for the mission's services would rise.

"We were not angling for money," he said. "We see the devastation that would come about as a result of a casino like the one proposed at Point Molate ... We wanted to encourage the (Board of Supervisors) not to be supportive. It was as pure and simple as that."

Coincidence?:

The Bay Area Rescue Mission suffered two setbacks after its public anti-casino stance.

The Contra Costa Health Department made a surprise inspection of the shelter two days after the supervisors' hearing. An inspector came again Nov. 16 and has scheduled three more visits.

Contra Costa Public Health Director Wendel Brunner said his homeless services staff received reports of sick people at the shelter. They confirmed through stool samples the presence of the highly contagious Norwalk virus.

"None of our interactions with (the mission) had anything to do with its opposition to the casino," Brunner said. "... We took the necessary steps to work with the mission to stop the spread of the virus."

Strangely, Anderson says he was never told about the virus or sick people. He says he specifically asked the inspector the reason for the visits and was told it was routine and not the result of a complaint.

Anderson estimates it will cost the shelter more than $45,000 to comply with the county's demands, among other things, for installation of single-use towel dispensers, another hand-washing sink and the replacement of the wood shelves in its pantry.

"We want to be in compliance and we are doing the repairs," Anderson said. "But the extra expense comes a week before Thanksgiving at a time when donations are down 11 percent compared to last year and the need is up 18 percent."

Meanwhile: On the same day as the inspection, Pittsburg Redevelopment Agency analyst Janis Glover, wife of Contra Costa Supervisor Federal Glover, called Anderson and asked questions about the mission's religious activities.

The mission is negotiating to buy 2 acres of city property for a 50,000-square-foot women and children's shelter.

The timing was truly a coincidence, said Pittsburg City Manager Marc Grisham.

"I think transitional housing for women and children is very important and I think my council does, too," Grisham said. "But we have some church and state issues, and Janis was gathering information for our attorney."

The city wants to help Anderson who says his group will gladly pay full market value but public agencies cannot use taxpayer dollars for religious purposes.

The city also wants to restrict the property to use by the very poor, which it may not be able to impose on a religious group, Grisham said.

The city needs the limit so that it includes the units in its state mandated housing for the poor goal, Grisham said.

MORE FALLOUT: Anti-casino activist Andres Soto was fired from his job at Neighborhood House five days before the supervisors' casino hearing.

"I can't prove it but I can't help but feel (my political activities) are related," Soto said. "I believe I was unlawfully terminated and I am exploring my legal options."

Neighborhood House provides community services in West Contra Costa including substance abuse treatment and anti-gang programs. Its executive director, Barbara Becnel, supports the casino.

Becnel says she cannot discuss personnel matters although she expressed disappointment with Soto's allegations.

On its face, the timing favors Becnel.

Soto has been a vocal opponent of urban casinos and a well-known political activist for years.

If Becnel didn't like Soto's politics, hiring him in the first place was an odd way to show it.

Reach Lisa Vorderbrueggen at lvorderbrueggen@bayareanewsgroup.com or 925-945-4773 or www.ibabuzz.com/politics.