Finding the Line on Benefits and Drawing the Line on Rubbish

leith_acorn_action Edinburgh    When it came time for the Leith ACORN branch chair to report on the accomplishments of the first 5 months of campaigns, the conversation among the leadership went from speculative and quizzical to animated and excited.   As much as the big issues of lease security and rent management engaged everyone in the room, campaigning was one thing, and winning was another all together, and in Leith of the three objectives set in the first big meeting when rubbish collection issues were voted as the primary issue, there were already solid victories on two of the three, and they were heavily engaged in putting pressure on the football stadium to surrender on that one as well.  The “language” might be a little different in Scotland and the United Kingdom, but the issues and process are familiar to every community organizer who has ever worked the street.

First on the list was how to get the council to solve the issue of “uplift.”  Uplift was the euphemism for heavy household trash, which in the cutback of city services was now fee-based, rather than part of any kind of regular collection.  No one in Leith or much of anywhere else was going to burn up their cellphone minutes calling for a pickup of an old mattress for twenty pounds or whatever might be left when they moved from one flat to another. The landlord was also going to keep his hands in his pocket for sure.  The result of course was a deteriorating neighborhood with trash in the alleys, out back, thrown into construction skips, and whatever else including streets and parks.Putting the pressure on with a series of actions, the council agreed in January to start an experimental program of regular uplift on an every month basis, sort of a rubbish amnesty if you will.  Perhaps more easily Leith ACORN also won an increased number of receptacles for glass recycling to be dotted about the community, since glass was not part of regular trash pickup anymore.  Bam and bam!

Third on the list and the hardest nut to crack were the meetings the leaders and members were now having with the management of the football team whose stadium lies fat in the community, which also means that the detritus of every game also lies there enraging neighbors.  Leith ACORN wants the team and the stadium to buy an additional street sweeper to solve the problem.  If they know what’s good for them, they might as well shake hands and throw in the towel now, because they are going to lose this one either sooner or later.  It’s not a problem that goes away.

It was interesting to hear the exchange between the Edinburgh ACORN team and Tom Scott, who is putting the pieces together on the first group to form ACORN Newcastle, as they talked about, yes, what else, rubbish, which is also what he has been working on in recent months.  What were the handles in England?  Which of these situations would be “devolved” in Scotland?

Tom was also all over what we call “citizen wealth” issues when looking for benefit allowances that were discretionary, not well known or advertised, and sitting there waiting for th kind of /maximum eligible
participation /campaigns we have done in North America and with our membership service centers.One program Scott raised was along the lines of the US- LAHEAP provision for utility support for low income families facing harsh winters or summer.  The program in the US is not an entitlement, but discretionary on a first come, first served basis.  In England, it is also driven by an application process for 140 pounds a
year with another emergency allowance in another program.Surprisingly, the program is administered by individual utility service providers and only mandatory for the big ones, while being picks-and-chooses for the smaller outfits with no clear standards from what the Newcastle research had found.  There’s many a campaign waiting to be done from the brief discussions we had and on-the-spot confirmation on government websites.

There’s gold in them there hills for lower income family, and many victories to be won by ACORN groups in the UK!

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