Property owners and service organizations are fighting over conflict in the ‘homeless triangle.’ Mediation may be the answer.
Author: Melinda Young – Greenville Journal
On one side of the “homeless triangle” conflict, you have West Earle Street homeowner Matt Johnson. A year ago, his daughter’s little pink bike disappeared. On a hunch, he went to the Salvation Army, across Rutherford Street from his house, and he found it. “There was a guy with a BS story about buying it from someone at the library for $5,” Johnson says. “I got it back, but it was a hassle.”
On the other side of the conflict are service organizations trying to help marginalized people improve their health and job prospects and find permanent housing. “There are a lot of people we have taken off the streets around here,” says the Rev. Deb Richardson-Moore of Triune Mercy Center on Rutherford Street. Triune Mercy Center is a nondenominational mission church for the homeless. It employs two social workers that help people with mental disabilities. “We had a man last year who had lived on the streets for 31 years,” Richardson-Moore says. “Now he has an apartment and a car.”
The divisions run deep between some North Main residents and their nonprofit neighbors that feed, shelter, and help the homeless. People, living or working in the homeless triangle, report seeing more transient people on the streets even as housing prices rise. In March, the Salvation Army requested a zoning change for a half-acre of its nearly 4-acre campus, to allow it to add more living space in its shelter. Residents weren’t pleased.
“The Salvation Army encountered substantial opposition to its rezoning, and this alerted them that there had been this neighborhood resentment building up,” says Lawson Wetli, an attorney who volunteers at the Upstate Mediation Center. In March, the zoning change was approved by the city’s planning commission. In May, the City of Greenville Board of Zoning Appeals also gave the Salvation Army the green light for a special exception, which would make it possible for The Salvation Army to expand its cafeteria and improve campus safety.
Currently, mediators are meeting with property owners, service providers, city/county officials, homeless people, local businesses, and others to hear each group’s concerns and brainstorm ideas for potential improvements and solutions. “Our function is to facilitate a conversation between various parties,” says Richard Kahn, an attorney, volunteer mediator, and director of the board of the Upstate Mediation Center. Kahn and Wetli are co-mediators in this case.
In Greenville County, about 991 people are homeless on any given night, and 126 of them do not have a bed in a homeless shelter or transitional housing, according to the South Carolina Coalition for the Homeless PIT Report. “We’re one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation,” says Susan McLarty, a mission outreach coordinator with Westminster PCUSA and a stakeholder of the Greenville Homeless Alliance. While higher income people are drawn to the city, so are people who are homeless because they might benefit from residents’ generosity, McLarty says.
After speaking with members of the Greenville Homeless Alliance about the homeless triangle’s challenges, McLarty was told to find a realistic solution to alleviate the North Main community’s tension, and someone suggested contacting the Upstate Mediation Center. “I contacted the Mediation Center’s executive director and gave her a brief overview, asking if this was something she’d want to help Greenville Alliance with, and she said, ‘Absolutely! I have mediators just dying and ready to work on this kind of case,’” McLarty says.
Last year, The Upstate Mediation Center handled 628 total mediations, 500 of which were family mediations. Sixty percent of the latter were resolved.
The homeless triangle mediation process will end — possibly in July — with documented action items that groups have agreed to follow. These could include homeless providers agreeing to patrol their property more often to clean up trash and homeowners agreeing to serve on the homeless providers’ boards so they can learn more about their nonprofit neighbors, Wetli says. There also will be some ideas that the community could act on to reduce chronic homelessness. “We want people to walk away with actionable items they voluntarily agree to do,” she says.
There already are some signs that the mediation is helping. McLarty believes the mediation process contributed to The Salvation Army’s rezoning approval, which received only one negative vote.
Stephen Bomar, business and human resources manager for WYFF-TV, the Salvation Army’s Rutherford Street neighbor, participated in the mediation, finding it helpful to hear all viewpoints. “You can’t bridge the gap unless you know where the impacts of the gaps are,” he says. From Bomar’s perspective, the Salvation Army has been a good neighbor: “Whenever we’ve brought up something with them, they’ve been responsive.”
Johnson also met with the mediators and learned that homeowners need to speak more often with law enforcement about their problems with homeless people and listen to their perspective. “We’re early in the mediation process, and we’re still waiting to hear feedback,” he says. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”
Upstate Mediation Center Celebrates National Conflict Resolution Day
The Upstate Mediation Center celebrated National Conflict Resolution Day on October 20th with a reception at Greenville’s Historic Kilgore-Lewis House to honor volunteer mediators and funders. At this years’ event, UMC Volunteer Leah Parisi was awarded for conducting the most mediations in 2016. Other volunteers honored at the reception include: Evan Cantrell, Bernie Ferrone, Sean Scoopmire, Don Vandersloot, and Jeff Zelmanow.
Mediators at the UMC are practicing and retired attorneys, members of the mental health community and others with relevant backgrounds that have undergone extensive training provided by the South Carolina Bar Association. Last year, UMC volunteer mediators handled over 650 cases for over 1300 clients. While the UMC offers all types of mediation services, most of the cases handled at the UMC are Family Court mediations. Accordingly, the UMC volunteers brought resolution to hundreds of families in transition. The UMC also provides all of the mediators for the Greenville County Magistrate Mediation Program—a program with a 79% resolution rate, saving the county thousands of dollars each year.
This year, the UMC launched a new Community-Police Mediation Program. This program is offered as an alternative to the traditional complaint investigation process by the Greenville Police Department’s Internal Affairs Department. The UMC and the GPD believe it will build understanding and improve relationships between the City of Greenville Police Officers and citizens of the community. In turn, mediation will help to make neighborhoods safer and stronger.
The UMC is the only non-profit organization in the Upstate dedicated to offering affordable, high-quality mediation services. It relies on the generous support of foundations, individuals and a grant from the S.C. Bar Foundation to keep its doors open.
Community – Police Mediation Program Launched
Greenville, SC – The Upstate Mediation Center (UMC) and the Greenville Police Department and are launching a new Community – Police Mediation Program that is designed to provide an alternative forum for resolving certain types of citizen complaints. Through this program, specially-trained professional UMC mediators will guide citizens and police officers through a face-to-face facilitated discussion in a neutral, confidential environment.
Participation in the mediation program is voluntary and is offered as an alternative to the Greenville Police Department’s formal complaint process. Complaints that are eligible for the program include demeanor complaints (e.g., discourteous or rude behavior); ineffective communication between a complainant and a police officer; and biased-based policing complaints.
Citizen complaints about law enforcement often stem from misunderstandings and poor communication during emotionally-charged incidents. The goal of mediation is to alleviate the accompanying anger, fear, anxiety, trauma, and resentment and provide an opportunity for both the citizen and the officer to tell their side of the story in a non-threatening, non-judgmental setting.
Through mediation, both parties gain an understanding of the other’s perspective, which helps to restore confidence and rebuild trust between the two parties. Every time a dispute is peacefully resolved, everyone benefits. Relationships are improved, and communities are strengthened.
Law enforcement agencies in cities such as Denver, Pasadena, and New York have successfully utilized similar programs and report that both citizens and officers leave mediation sessions with a greater sense of satisfaction than those who participate in the traditional departmental complaint process.
About the Greenville Police Department
The Greenville Police Department serves the city of Greenville, South Carolina, with a staff of over 241 employees, among whom 199 are sworn officers. The men and women of the Greenville Police Department are law enforcement professionals dedicated to their mission of service to the public. For more information, visit http://police.greenvillesc.gov/.
Upstate Mediation Center Celebrates
National Conflict Resolution Day
The Upstate Mediation Center celebrated National Conflict Resolution Day on October 15th by holding a reception to honor its volunteer mediators. At this years’ event, UMC Volunteer John Creech was awarded for conducting the most mediations in 2015. Other volunteers honored at the reception include: Leah Parisi, Dave Messina, Bernie Ferrone, Don Vandersloot, Herb Burnham, Robert Tucker, and Duke and Becky Stern. Additionally, Jerri Smith was recognized by the UMC for her contributions to the UMC Magistrate Mediation Program with Greenville County.
Mediators at the UMC are practicing and retired attorneys, members of the mental health community and others with relevant backgrounds that have undergone extensive training provided by the South Carolina Bar Association. Last year, UMC volunteer mediators handled over 600 cases. While the UMC offers all types of mediation services, most of the cases handled at the UMC are Family Court mediations. Accordingly, the UMC volunteers brought resolution to hundreds of families in transition. The UMC also provides all of the mediators for the Greenville County Pilot Magistrate Mediation Program—a program with an 80% resolution rate, saving the county 1000s of dollars each year.
The field of alternative dispute resolution has grown over the last few decades as there is now a recognition that not all cases need to be litigated to be resolved. Litigation is an expensive, time-consuming process, and there is always a risk of loss. Mediators are neutral and do not pick a side; instead they facilitate negotiation. Agreements reached by both parties have the buy-in and support of the participants, and are generally perceived as a fair resolution.
The UMC is the only non-profit organization in the Upstate dedicated to offering affordable, high-quality mediation services. It relies on the generous support of foundations, individuals and a grant from the S.C. Bar Foundation to keep its doors open.
Peer Mediation Skills Taught to Greer Middle IB School Students
On October 23rd, twenty-four Greer Middle IB School students attended a five-hour training session in basic peer mediation skills conducted by volunteer mediators from the Upstate Mediation Center (UMC). The training took place at the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.
The students are members of the school’s IB Ambassador Council, which consists of carefully selected 6th-8th grade students that exhibit strong academic integrity, positive character and the will to lead. Many of the students had taken part in peer mediation in elementary school through the Fuss Busters Program. Allison Rosemond, a UMC volunteer mediator and counselor at Greer Middle, organized the training with the help of Jennifer Olmert, the Executive Director at UMC. The trainers this year were experienced mediators from UMC: Jamie Ackermann, Hilda Barton, Jean Blank, Jennifer Harvey, Richard Kahn, and Lawson Wetli.
Peer mediation teaches students an alternative set of skills they can apply in conflict situations. In mediation, third-party student mediators help other students to come to a resolution without taking sides. Student mediators are taught a process of communication and problem-solving that they apply to help their peers reach settlements of their disagreements without confrontation or violence. Students also learn that conflict can be constructive and positive. The entire process is carried out by students for students. Mrs. Rosemond will serve as the program’s faculty advisor and coordinator. The student mediators will mediate in pairs under Mrs. Rosemond’s supervision, and the trainers from UMC will provide ongoing support throughout the school year.
The goal of this program is violence prevention at Greer Middle IB School, as well as, an overall reduction in discipline problems/suspensions, increased agreements, improved academic success, improved attitude toward conflict, and increased self-reliance in dealing with differences. Moreover, the program will teach valuable life skills that will help students become better citizens in the community.
Thank you to Greer State Bank and Citizens, Building & Loan of Greer for their support in funding this training!
Pro Se Litigants in Family Court Mediations
Appearing For or Representing Oneself
An increasing number of couples in South Carolina are filing “pro se” divorces each year. A pro se divorce is when a husband and wife for financial, privacy or other reasons have agreed to resolve the issues related to the dissolution of their marriage, such as custody, visitation, support, property division, etc., without hiring attorneys. The pro se mediation is collaborative; it occurs in a “safe” and private environment where the couple is empowered to discuss their concerns. The mediator does not give legal advice, but provides expertise and guidance on the legal and non-legal issues with which the couple faces. Simply put, family mediators facilitate communication between the parties, and help them move past any conflict so they can focus on their needs and what is best for their children. Pro se mediations often result in a marital settlement agreement. Once a settlement agreement is reached, couples are strongly advised to each consult with an attorney of their choice to ensure that their rights are protected by the terms of the agreement since the mediator helps them as a couple and not individually.
The Upstate Mediation Center (UMC) has a pool of trained mediators that are highly skilled in pro se mediation. The following is an example of a pro se mediation held at the UMC between amicable parties. However, even in acrimonious separations where couples feel more comfortable attending the mediation in separate rooms, pro se mediations have a high success rate.
Jane and John made the mutual decision to separate after 25 years of marriage and three children. The couple had no animosity toward each other and each was committed to doing what was best for the family. They were overwhelmed with all the decisions that had to be made such as how Jane could afford to keep living in the marital residence with the children and John could afford his own residence, dividing the value of a family business, child support, huge debt from prior financial setbacks and most importantly, how to pay the tuition for the two children already in college and the third child that would enter college in two years. A friend told them about the time and dollar benefits of family mediation, and they came to the UMC after learning about family mediation from the UMC website. Both were gainfully employed, but together they were in dire financial straits and very concerned about keeping status quo for their children.
Jane and John treated each other with respect and insisted on meeting jointly with the mediator. Realizing that the couple could work toward resolution in a transparent and peaceful manner, the mediator spent the first session identifying every issue and what financial information would be required to have a meaningful discussion of the possible outcomes. He had them track expenses for the next two weeks and formulate going forward budgets. He suggested they come back with a list of what issues were most important to them and what they thought was most important to the other. At the mediator’s suggestion, they met with their accountant to discuss financial ramifications of Jane relinquishing her interest in the business and whether John’s support obligation would be better characterized as alimony or child support. They were asked to explore all available student and parent loans for college expenses and get a fair market value of their home from a real estate agent friend. As suggested, they did their “homework” together which fostered trust in the answers they received.
In the second and third sessions with the mediator, the couple was well equipped to brainstorm resolutions knowing what was important to each other and what resources they had available to work with in the future. The mediator advised them that attorneys and judges often strive for equal division of assets as that is a standard measure of fairness. A theme throughout the mediation was that the optimal resolution of each issue might result in the global agreement not having the appearance of being equal or fair. However, if each of their priorities was addressed to their satisfaction, and they agreed the resolution preserved the unity of the family without discord, they had reached an optimal agreement. In three sessions over a period of six weeks, Jane and John resolved all of the issues arising from their separation to their mutual satisfaction and preserved their limited savings for college expenses.
This case clearly demonstrates the efficiency and expediency of family mediation and how the UMC can benefit families in this time of transition. Further, studies show that couples that enter into voluntary agreements are more likely to honor the terms of their agreements than they are with judicially imposed resolutions.
UMC Featured in Greenville Business Magazine
The Upstate Mediation Center recently had an article written and published in the August edition of the business periodical Greenville Business Magazine. UMC volunteer Robert Clark contributed to the article. To read the entire article please CLICK HERE.
Greer State Bank Support UMC’s Peer Mediation Program
Greer State Bank is the first area business to sponsor Upstate Mediation Center’s Peer Mediation Program in a Greenville County School. During the 2015-2016 academic year, the UMC will be partnering with Greer Middle IB School to train and maintain this new program. The fundraising goal for this program is $2500. Peer mediation teaches students an alternative set of skills they can apply in conflict situations. In mediation, third-party student mediators help other students to come to a win-win resolution without taking sides. Student mediators are taught a process of communication and problem-solving that they apply to help their peers reach settlements of their disagreements without confrontation or violence. Students also learn that conflict can be constructive and positive.
The entire process will be carried out by students for students, and the UMC will provide the training for the peer mediators with supplemental support as needed. Allison Rosemond, a UMC volunteer and Greer Middle IB School counselor, will serve as the program’s faculty advisor and coordinator. The student mediators will mediate in pairs under Mrs. Rosemond’s supervision. The goal of this program is violence prevention at Greer Middle IB School with outcomes of an overall reduction in discipline problems/suspensions, increased agreements, improved academic success, improved attitude toward conflict, and increased self-reliance in dealing with differences. Moreover, the program will teach valuable life skills that will help students become better citizens in the community. The UMC together with Greer Middle IB School thank Greer State Bank for its support and encouragement!
UMC Lunch and Learn Program Features Judge Barry Knobel
Upstate Mediation Center welcomed former Family Court Judge Barry Knobel as the presenter for the June 19th UMC Lunch & Learn program. Over 35 UMC volunteers and interested individuals attended Judge Knobel’s presentation on “The Ultimate Oxymoron: Managing Emotions in Family Court Mediations.” Judge Knobel’s extensive experience from practicing Family Law in South Carolina for over 40 years led to insights that were both inspiring and informative. Among a host of other tips, he encouraged attendee mediators to “let the parties know that ‘mediation is a gift’ given to them by the family court system; and that the parties should be ‘expected’ to make meaningful compromises in order to keep the control of their lives (and their child’s life) in their own hands, and not placed into the hands of complete strangers.” UMC thanks Judge Knobel for generously giving his time and expertise to the center. This presentation was approved by the South Carolina Bar CLE Commission for 1.0 CLE credit.
Lunch & Learns are quarterly, noontime presentations on a variety of topics relevant not only to mediators, but to anyone interested in the challenges and strategies of conflict resolution. The programs offer participants the chance to hear presentations from experts in the field of mediation, network, and discuss current issues in mediation. UMC’s Lunch & Learn programs are quarterly events that are free for UMC volunteers and $20 for all others.
The next Lunch and Learn is scheduled for Friday, September 18th and will feature former Family Court Judge Stephen Bartlett. CLE credit for attorneys is pending. For more information or to reserve a spot, call (864) 370-9771.
Bernie Ferrone Honored by Upstate Mediation Center
Greenville, SC – At the 15th Anniversary celebration of the Upstate Mediation Center, Bernie Ferrone was honored for mediating the highest number of Family Court mediations. This was the second year he has received this distinction. The celebration was held in conjunction with National Mediation Week in October.
During his twenty year real estate career, Ferrone mediated contract property disputes for the South Carolina Association of Realtors, and long before his retirement in 2011, he felt a strong need to give back to the community. After looking at possibilities, he decided that being a volunteer at the Upstate Mediation Center offered him a perfect way to continue using his mediation skills.
The Upstate Mediation Center is a nonprofit organization that offers a voluntary alternative to the adversarial court process by resolving disputes through use of mediation. In mediation, the parties are free to work out their own unique and sometimes very creative solutions to their problems, and are not bound by the procedural rules or case law that are required in court. Ferrone liked the idea of helping individuals and families work through difficult situations and find peaceful resolution.
In Greenville County, if there are any disagreements between the parties, mediation is mandated before a final court order is issued in Civil, Circuit, Family and Probate Courts. Ferrone began as a mediator for Magistrate Court, and then took the 40 hour South Carolina Bar training to become a Family Court mediator. The parties In Family Court cases are usually in conflict over divorce, alimony, child support, visitation, or property division. The end result of mediation is more cooperation and less tension between parents and fewer emotional scars for everyone concerned. During the process of helping parents resolve their issues, Ferrone realized that Family Court mediations were also helping to greatly alleviate suffering of the children involved.
Ferrone always begins mediations with the understanding that mediators don’t make decisions: their role is to facilitate communication between two parties so that they can reach an agreement. He says “Nobody wins in court and mediation gives the participants a chance to decide their own future.” A UMC staff member says “Bernie genuinely loves helping people and that is his motivation for mediating. He has a calm presence and authority that puts people at ease. “
Ferrone plans to continue volunteering at the Upstate Mediation Center indefinitely. He says “I care about people and I care about helping them solve their problems. I truly enjoy mediation.” The Upstate Mediation Center appreciates Ferrone and all of the other volunteer mediators who give generously of their time to the Center to help individuals and families resolve differences.
The UMC welcomes new volunteers who are qualified to do mediations or who are willing to take the five day training offered through the South Carolina Bar for Family Court mediations. For more information contact the UMC at 864-370-9771.