PLACES TO EAT: OUR GUIDE TO NEARLY 100 LAKES AREA RESTAURANTS JANUARY 2015
ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS THE PLIGHT OF THOSE LIVING BELOW ENFORCEMENT RADAR CABLE TV: BIG CHANGES POSSIBLE IN WHO OWNS THE SYSTEM CRISIS HOTLINES: LOCAL RESOURCES FOR TROUBLED TIMES ECRWSS Postal Customer PRSRT STD U.S. POSTAGE PAID ROYAL OAK, MI 48068 PERMIT #792
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The plight of illegal immigrants There are 150,000 undocumented immigrants living in Michigan, which is basically two percent of the workforce, many of them in Oakland County.
FROM THE PUBLISHER
8 There are numerous local, regional and national crisis hotlines to help with suicide prevention and provide general support for those in need.
A recap of select categories of crime occurring in the past month in Commerce, Walled Lake, Wolverine Lake and the Union Lake area, presented in map format. OAKLAND
Search for township treasurer extended; private family club on lake approved; temporary contracts approved by board; water table could scuttle land deal; village changes sign ordinances.
37 28 Cable television changes Although consumers won't reportedly notice any difference in service, there are major changes taking place in who controls cable tv in Oakland.
Spot On Pet Grooming; Glenlore Golf Course; Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital; Wixom Station Food and Drink
THE PLIGHT OF THOSE LIVING BELOW ENFORCEMENT RADAR CABLE TV: BIG CHANGES POSSIBLE IN WHO OWNS THE SYSTEM CRISIS HOTLINES: LOCAL RESOURCES FOR TROUBLED TIMES
PRSRT STD U.S. POSTAGE PAID ROYAL OAK, MI 48068 PERMIT #792
The crisis hotlines
Westend newsmagazine and Downtown Publications has reached a milestone with the January issue, and Publisher David Hohendorf reviews the mission and goals for the publishing group and monthly newsmagazine.
ECRWSS Postal Customer
PLACES TO EAT: OUR GUIDE TO NEARLY 100 LAKES AREA RESTAURANTS
Our thoughts on the newly formed Great Lakes Water Authority and how the form of government for urban townships could be brought more up to date.
17 Steve Hamilton 23
36 M.J. Abrams
THE COVER An abandoned silo on Benstein Road in Commerce Township. Westend photo: G. Lynn Barnett.
WHITE LAKE | $295,000
Built 2001, lovely home on 1/2 acre lot on cul-desac with private yard. 4 bedrooms, 2.5 baths, nearly 2500 sq ft. Huge basement, 3-car garage. Super master suite. Lots of updates.
MILFORD | $585,000
All the amenities you are looking for! Circular drive, spacious rooms, 5 BR, 3 full & 2 half baths, finished walk-out with sauna and full kitchen. 4 car attached garage and 4 car detached garage.
COMMERCE | $290,000
Beautiful, custom home moments from Commerce Lake. Renovated 2003 w/2646 sq. ft., 4 BR, 3.5 baths. So many amenities including finished walk-out on a simply stunning lot! Move in mint...hurry!
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WALLED LAKE | $110,000
Hard to find ranch condo in pretty complex with easy access to M5. 2 bedrooms, large bath, freshly painted top to bottom. Newer windows, full basement & attached garage.
WEST BLOOMFIELD | $290,000
Great Space! Popular Pilgrim Hills sub near Hiller & Greer. 4 BR’s, 3.5 baths, luxury master suite with fireplace. Updates include kitchen with hardwood & granite, roof, furnace and more! Immediate Occupancy.
COMMERCE | $1,600 LEASE
Classic ranch in pretty neighborhood with lake privileges. 3 bedrooms, 1.5 baths, 2-car attached garage and full finished basement. Fenced yard and Walled Lake Schools. Long term lease preferred. Not for sale.
10 Things to Know If You Are Selling in 2015 1. The Spring market is February to May (June is summer) 2. Now is the time to get your home ready. 3. If you have lived in your home 15+ years, consider a pre-sale inspection now to avoid a lost buyer later. 4. Size matters – but condition matters more. 5 Cute doesn’t matter if it’s cluttered and not clean. 6. Professional window washers: worth every penny! 7. There is a reason “model homes” are neutral: It Sells. 8. The market sets the price – always has and always will. 9. Staging matters – big time! 10. You need an agent who is honest advocate for you.
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248-694-9371 248-387-6049 | cbwm.com Locally Owned and Operated Since 1950.
PUBLISHER David Hohendorf NEWS EDITOR Lisa Brody NEWS Allison Batdorff Kevin Elliott | Camille Jayne
STAFF/CONTRIBUTORS | Rachel Bechard | Hillary Brody Sally Gerak | Austen Hohendorf | J. Marsh | Kathleen Meisner
PHOTOGRAPHY/CONTRIBUTORS Jean Lannen | Laurie Tennent Laurie Tennent Studio VIDEO PRODUCTION/CONTRIBUTOR Garrett Hohendorf Giant Slayer ADVERTISTING MANAGER Jill Cesarz ADVERTISING SALES Heather Marquis GRAPHICS/DESIGN G. Lynn Barnett WEBSITE/CONTRIBUTOR Chris Grammer OFFICE 124 W. Maple Birmingham MI 48009 248.792.6464 DISTRIBUTION/SUBSCRIPTIONS Mailed monthly at no charge to most homes in the Commerce, Wolverine Lake, Walled Lake and Union Lake area. Additional free copies distributed at high foot-traffic locations in west Oakland. For those not receiving a free mail copy, paid subscriptions are available for a $12 annual charge. To secure a paid subscription, go to our website (westendmonthly.com) and click on “subscriptions” in the top index and place your order online or scan the QR Code here.
INCOMING/READER FEEDBACK We welcome feedback on both our publication and general issues of concern in the Commerce/Union Lake community. The traditional “letters to the editor” in Westend are published in our Incoming section and can include written letters or electronic communication. Opinions can be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Downtown Publications, 124 W. Maple Road, Birmingham MI 48009 WEBSITE westendmonthly.com
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Living in, Working in, and Supporting Our Community.
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Immaculate colonial in very private location. Cul-desac lot and backs to woods. Over 2800 square feet with 4 bedrooms. Spacious kitchen with granite island, counters, and hardwood floors. You'll love the glamour master bath complete with 2 walk-in closets. Seasonal lake views. Close to recreation, bike trails, and beach. $420,000.
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Brand new to the market. Located very close to Bloomer Park on Middle Straits Lake. 3 bedrooms and 1.5 baths. New carpet in finished basement. Kitchen has granite counters and kitchen appliances are included. Spacious 2 car attached garage. Lake privileges. $135,000.
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All Sports Lakefront 3 bedrooms 2 baths Full finished daylight bsmt Two fireplaces 75 feet of lake frontage Spacious 2 car garage 1948 finished living space Possible 4th bedroom
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4 bedrooms 2.5 baths 1 acre private wooded lot Home has many updates Master bedroom with balcony Over-sized 24 x 24 garage Hardwood floors on main floor Kitchen with granite counters Lake lot just across the street
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FROM THE PUBLISHER
he January issue of Westend you now hold in your hands represents a special milestone for those of us at Downtown Publications.
This edition marks the beginning of our third calendar year of publishing Westend newsmagazine for the lakes area of Oakland County, and the sixth year of operation as an independent publishing group, starting in 2010 with our first newsmagazine, Downtown Birmingham/Bloomfield. Not bad for products in an industry that, to say the least, is challenged. We would like to think that our success to this point is due in large part to the fact that we created a publication in the Commerce/Union Lake area that was lacking â€“ one that has been able to capture the interest of readers due to our editorial content and a monthly newsmagazine that has strong and growing support of local businesses that recognized the value in getting their message out to local residents in a publication that places value on an editorial environment in which ad messages also get read. Certainly the fact that some of us have lived in the west Oakland area and have extensive knowledge of the communities helps with the high standard we have set for the content of Westend, which is what matters most in our book. Yes, I recognize that a few other publications had existed prior to our arrival on the scene, but I submit that other publications either carry no editorial content or if they do, none offers the commitment to editorial quality, nor the strong local focus that we present to these special communities. We already knew that lakes area residents were a discerning lot, but based on phone calls and e-mails we have received and chance personal encounters, Westend newsmagazine has been well received and is quickly becoming the dominant source of news and advertising information. Our editorial mission for Westend newsmagazine is simple: provide a solid editorial product each month that both captures life in the communities comprised of Commerce, Wolverine Lake, Walled Lake and the Union Lake area, which includes part of West Bloomfield, White Lake and Waterford, while at the same time offering up insight about developing trends or important issues through long-form journalism features, an art form of sorts that most other publications here and across the nation have abandoned because of the time and expense involved in exploring in more detail critical issues facing local residents.
In case you are new to our publication, or are not a regular reader of this column, we capture life in the local area through our coverage each month of important decisions by the government bodies you elect to conduct your public business, be they municipalities or school districts. We also provide capsulized notes each month on what is happening in the local business community. Along with that, we offer personality profile features of those either living in this area or who have hailed from the general Commerce/Union Lake area and have accomplished something of note or made a special contribution to the community at-large. Further, we provide a guide to eating out each month, recognizing that our followers have educated palates and an acute interest in this part of the entertainment scene. We also feel strongly that any publication has a responsibility to assume a leadership position and offer its opinions on important issues facing the local communities, which we do each month at the back of Westend in our Endnote page. No, we donâ€™t expect everyone to agree with our editorial opinions on these issues. We offer them because we think we are especially qualified to help parse the issues due to our decades of experience in following and reporting on local government, while at the same time realizing that we are just one voice in the community. We hold a traditional view of our responsibility as a publication to serve as an unbiased provider of information in our news columns as part of our government watchdog role, but we also think it important to comment in the Endnote page when we feel debate needs to take place. Beyond our monthly newsmagazine, we provide weekly updates on government news through our website at westendmonthly.com, which draws on average over 30,000 visitors each month. You can also find us on Facebook (facebook.com/westendmonthly) and Twitter (twitter.com/downtownpubs). We provide a complete package of information through a variety of avenues, remain involved in the local communities, and take very seriously our role as a provider of information to local residents who in kind have shown their strong allegiance. For that we remain thankful as we look forward to continuing to bring our Westend newsmagazine to the communities in the west Oakland lakes area.
David Hohendorf Publisher DavidHohendorf@downtownpublications.com
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MLS 214123969 - $125,000 5 Bedroom, 2 bath home with lots of updates! Newer roof, furnace, a/c, windows and carpet. First floor bath has been totally remodeled, updated kitchen cabinets in oak, hardwood floors, neutral paint throughout, maintenance free exterior with brick, aluminum and glass block basement windows, large fenced yard, large partially finished basement. www.realestateone.com
MLS 214123184 - $245,000 Brick colonial sitting on a large lot tucked away at the end of a cul-de-sac, professionally landscaped front and back including an awesome Kol pond with waterfall feature, large deck for entertaining, tons of living space including a finished basement, refinished hardwood flooring throughout many rooms, fresh paint inside and out. www.realestateone.com
MLS 214124073 - $199,900 2700 square feet of living space on over a ½ acre lot with beach access to Commerce Lake! Huge living/family room, updated kitchen with lots of cabinets and counters, tons of closets, huge master bedroom with sitting area, updated bathrooms, second floor laundry, newer roof and furnace, new exterior paint, immaculate move in condition, pride of ownership. www.realestateone.com
MLS 214109831 - $399,900 Location! Location! Bloomfield Twp. sprawling 3 bedroom, 3.5 bath brick ranch with open floor plan situated back off the road on 1.16 acres, deep gorgeous sloping wooded lot with plenty of privacy, lake privileges and boat docking on Walnut Lake plus Birmingham Schools, extensive hardwood and ceramic throughout, crown molding, 2 fireplaces, new windows. www.realestateone.com
MLS 214124263 - $129,500 Totally redone interior with open floor plan. Real ¾ hardwood throughout, Kitchen with granite counters, new bath, large master bedroom fits king, all bedrooms have new doors, trim and paint. NEW vinyl windows throughout, partially finished basement, two car garage is extra wide, fenced in backyard On a private corner lot. www.realestateone.com
MLS 214116183 - $169,000 Who wouldn’t enjoy the biggest house on the block? 4 uniquely designed large bedrooms with large spacious closets, 3 lavatory areas including 1 full bath with separate shower and bathing areas, many new updates throughout, spacious open floor plan with large living areas, over 2400 sq. ft. with a finished basement great for entertaining, nice fenced yard, move in ready! www.realestateone.com
MLS 214125111 - $175,000 Beautiful first floor master condo with open floor plan and high ceilings. Look from kitchen into dining room and great room featuring soaring ceilings and dual sided fireplace, separate office, spiral staircase takes you to 2nd bedroom with private bath and walk in closet, finished basement has a recreation room, storage area and an additional half bath, newer furnace, A/C, HWH. www.realestateone.com
MLS 214124974 - $249,900 One of the best units in one of the best locations in a fantastic complex! View of the golf course and woodlands from 3 levels of decking, phenomenal finished walkout with two bedrooms, full bath, large great room with vaulted ceiling, master suite with luxury bath, library, all ceilings on first floor are 9 feet, sellers to offer $5000 for flooring allowance, this will not last long! www.realestateone.com
MLS 214122024 - $200,000 Location-Location-Location! Great opportunity to live in the very charming Milford Village. Very affordable tri-level home is move in ready, features beautifully refinished hardwood flooring through the main level and upper bedroom, updated kitchen, lower level has family room with gas fireplace, office, huge back yard with mature trees, maintenance free exterior. www.realestateone.com
MLS 214126268 - $250,000 This lovely 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath brick ranch home features a spacious living room that is open to the dining room, large family room with wood burning fire place, beautiful Florida room is four season room with heat overlooking the large back yard, large 2.5 car garage. www.realestateone.com
MLS 214126222- $279,900 Desirable 1.5 story contemporary sits on large corner lot with a side entry garage, private back yard features a water fountain, two story entrance flows into a large great room with gas fireplace, caulted ceiling and floor to ceiling windows, large eat-in kitchen with door wall leading out to the deck area, hardwood flooring, nice size pantry, first floor master, Walled Lake Schools www.realestateone.com
MLS 214127878 - $679,900 Elegant Colonial in Milford’s upscale Stone Hollow Subdivision. Over 5000 sq. ft. of living space located on 2.71 acre lot with a serene nature setting. Custom built home features great room with fireplace, formal dining, parlor, office/library, dual staircase, butler’s pantry, large masterbedroom with French doors, professionally finished lower level with home theatre. www.realestateone.com
© Real Estate One, Inc., 2014
Lakes Area (248) 363-8300
Larceny from vehicle
These are the crimes reported under select categories by police officials in Commerce Township, Walled Lake and Wolverine Lake Village through December 18, 2014. Placement of codes is approximate.
THE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS OF OAKLAND LIVING BELOW THE RADAR AS UNDOCUMENTED BY LISA BRODY
he words are inscribed on a plaque in the pedestal in the Statue of Liberty, once the first sight new immigrants to the United States glimpsed of our country: “Give me your tired, your poor/ Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” These iconic words from the poem “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus have long epitomized the feelings of those settling in our country from foreign lands, and remain as relevant today as when they were first penned in 1883. We’re a nation that’s a melting pot of countries, cultures, races and colors. Our ancestors arrived on these shores seeking financial opportunities, the freedom to practice their religion, fleeing economic hardship or brutal dictatorships and wars. Some, such as African Americans, were brought here as slaves against their will. Fast forward to today. Those from other countries continue to flock to our borders, both legally and illegally. Whether seeking better opportunities and increased pay for highly skilled jobs, cash to fill hungry children’s bellies, or to escape intolerable situations in their native lands, the United States
continues to be the country where others want to live, with thousands choosing metro Detroit as the place they want to make their home. Seen from the other side of the mirror, immigration is actually economically advantageous to the communities where immigrants reside. Global Detroit, an organization which works to revitalize southeastern Michigan’s economy and a national leader in the emerging development field centered on welcoming, retaining and empowering immigrant communities as valued contributors to regional growth, notes that while metro Detroit has a lower immigrant rate, at 8 percent, than the national average of 13 percent, the area is still a global region, just as it has been historically since immigrants first swarmed here to work in the auto industry when Henry Ford offered workers $5 a day, a huge sum at the time.
“Our border with Canada, international supply chain routes, and global automotive industry have all helped attract a significantly large number of foreign companies, which...number at over 900 firms from over 35 countries,” Global Detroit states. “Simply put, there are hundreds of thousands of residents in the region who were born in another country. Metro Detroit is estimated to be the home of the largest concentration of Middle East migrants outside the Middle East – larger than New York, London or Paris...The foreign born are fairly evenly spread throughout the entire region, rather than living in specific clusters. The fact that the foreign-born are a part of nearly every community and neighborhood in southeast Michigan is extremely important to understand in light of the fact that the region scores highly on national rankings chronicling black-white segregation. We believe that the dispersion of foreign-born communities throughout the region contributes to a feeling of ‘invisibility’ among ethnic groups.” Unlike other areas of the country, where those from Mexico and Central and South America comprise the largest groups of immigrants, the largest immigrant group in metro Detroit comes from India, with a majority of those immigrants residing in Oakland County. Those from India account for 11.5 percent of the foreignborn immigrants in metro Detroit, with a little over 20,000 immigrants in Oakland County out of a total population of 1.2 million residents. There are about 41,000 Indians living in metro Detroit. Many Asian Indians live in Novi, Farmington Hills, Bloomfield Township and Troy. Indian immigrants, in general, are highly-educated and highly skilled, particularly in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics, also known as STEM, which are competitively sought after by employers. Additionally, Indians typically arrive here already able to speak and write in English, which gives them an advantage over other immigrant
“The ‘immigrant belt’ runs clearly through Oakland County, starting with Novi in the southwest and moving northeast through Farmington Hills, Bloomfield Township and into Troy, with sizable populations in other municipalities as well,” said a document from Global Detroit. “Communities to the northwest and southeast of this ‘crescent’ have considerably smaller concentrations. The Asian community is highly concentrated in this county, with significant numbers of Asian Indians, Chinese, Korean, Pakistani and Japanese residents. The Chaldean (Iraqi Christians) community has established strong ties in West Bloomfield, Bloomfield Township and Farmington Hills.” Global Detroit, in a presentation to Oakland leadership this year, statistically showed that the rates of crime among immigrants is much lower than the population as a whole, with immigration incarceration rates one-fifth the rate of those who are born in the United States. More than 40 percent of current Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children, and in 2011, 28 percent of small businesses were founded by immigrants, many in fast growing sectors of the economy, such as leisure and hospitality; transportation; health and social services; construction; and education. In the New Economy, immigrants created 25 percent of all high tech firms nationally between 1995 and 2005. Of those high tech firms, they created 52 percent of the Silicon Valley firms, and 32.8 percent of those created in Michigan and account for 25 percent of all venture-backed firms with public offerings. “In Michigan, immigrants have entrepreneurship rates three times those of native borns,” the presentation pointed out, with 64.4 percent of immigrants of working age, while only 50 percent of native born residents of working age. Many immigrants come to the U.S. and metro Detroit to be
After immigrants from India, the second highest documented immigrant group in Oakland County comes from Iraq. Almost 10,000 Canadians reside in the county, with 7,300 Mexicans and Chinese, each, living in Oakland. Other immigrants in the county come from Japan, Germany, Korea, the Philippines and Russia. groups who have to learn the language. Many Indians arrive at our shores as students, seeking masters and doctorate degrees; many stay and work for local automotive and supply companies, engineering firms and other companies. But some have trouble attaining their “green card”, or permanent resident card through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or their H1-B visa, because of prioritization and tight regulations by Homeland Security, leading many to go “off the grid” and become undocumented workers. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are 150,000 undocumented residents living in Michigan, up from 25,000 in 1990, or a 500 percent increase. Approximately 90,000 of those workers are seasonal migrant farm workers. Statewide, undocumented workers are 2 percent of the workforce. Nationwide, it is 5.2 percent of the workforce. “They’re undocumented so they’re living under the radar,” said Professor David Koelsch, an immigration law professor at University of Detroit Mercy law school. “Many undocumented Indians come on temporary visas or student visas and just stay (when their visas expire). Or the company they’re working for goes out of business. So they go to work for another tech start-up or a small mom-and-pop automotive supplier. They’re all up and down Big Beaver in Troy, within shooting distance of Somerset Mall. They have a higher skill level and compensation level than many other immigrants.” But they are still illegal, or undocumented, workers. The second highest documented immigrant group in Oakland County comes from Iraq, with about 16,000 Iraqis living in Oakland County. Almost 10,000 Canadians reside in the county, with 7,300 Mexicans and Chinese, each, living in Oakland. Other immigrants in the county come from Japan, Germany, Korea, the Philippines and Russia.
educated. Fifty percent of all new U.S. PhDs awarded in engineering are granted to immigrants; 45 percent of all new U.S. PhDs in life sciences, physical sciences and computer science; 40 percent of all new U.S. Masters degrees in computer science, physical sciences and engineering; and 25 percent of all practicing physicians in the U.S. are currently immigrants, according to Global Detroit. Of those immigrants residing in metro Detroit, close to 40 percent possess at least an undergraduate degree. “Those immigrants have given the Detroit metro area an incredible economic contribution,” Global Detroit asserts. “Not only is metro Detroit third in the nation (among the 25 largest metro areas) for immigrant contributions to the economy, but the immigrant community contributes more to local prosperity than almost any other.” These educational statistics contrasts to a native-born population with educational attainment levels that include 11 percent with some high school education; 28 percent who have their high school diploma or GED; 33 percent having some college and/or an associate’s degree; 17 percent having attained a bachelor’s degree; and 11 percent with a graduate or professional degree. “Oakland County is very diverse and more diverse than other immigrant communities around the county,” said Koelsch. “Both the documented and undocumented workers are very educated and more diverse ethnically and economically.” “Metro Detroit has a powerful impact with highly-skilled, highlyeducated, highly-entrepreneurial rates, more even than with nonimmigrants, particularly in technological areas,” said Steve Tobocman, director of Global Detroit. “From a purely economic issue, there’s a pretty widespread agreement that it’s (immigration) a winwin for everyone. There is a pretty broad consensus among champions of commerce that immigration reform would be an economic incentive, allowing for more international students and
skilled workers to become part of our economy. It would allow for a number of aspiring workers to join the economy – there are currently 11 million undocumented workers working for lower wages, and it would give the opportunity for those folks to come above ground and join the formal economy. It would be a very good thing because they have great entrepreneurship, they would invest in their businesses, and follow greater regulations.” The Center for American Progress concurs. The organization believes the legalization of many undocumented immigrants, an initiative recently put forth with restrictions by President Barack Obama, would economically benefit Michigan and the country as a whole by creating a 10 percent increase in wages for illegal workers that would lead to $109 billion more in local, state and federal taxes. Their report said it would also create $392 billion extra in earning across the country. “I’m fairly conservative, but I recognize the dynamics on this issue,” said Koelsch. “It’s a weird dynamic because they take services, so they’re a drain on services, but very minimally. It’s very difficult to access any government service from the county or the state – both have clamped down on benefits. Their kids do take public education. But they contribute back so much. They rent apartments, shop at IKEA, their kids go to public schools, and there’s a huge benefit to that. In Oakland County, we’re grayer and older than the rest of the United States. We need more life blood. If we give these kids of undocumented workers a chance, we’re creating contributors in 20 years. “The reality is, if there wasn’t an economic reason for it (illegal immigration), it would wexist,” Koelsch emphasized. Upwardly Global, a resource for immigrants which acts as a bridge for immigrant professionals to help them reach their potential, notes that because immigrants want to establish a new
4 million of the 11 million undocumented workers in the country. “ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has immediately started to screen individuals in our custody who may be affected by (the) executive actions. ICE will continue to focus its priorities on national security threats, convicted felons, gang members and recent illegal entrants. ICE officers have extensive experience conducting such screening, most recently in 2012 when Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was announced,” said Khaalid Walls, Northeast Regional Communications Director/spokesman for ICE. “From November 20 through November 29 of 2014, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations released 183 individuals from detention under prosecutorial discretion,” Walls said, indicating they were individuals no longer deemed a detention or deportation case once the executive action was in place. For individuals already in ICE custody, in order to enhance its ability to detain and remove those who pose a national security or public safety threat, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations are now proactively reviewing the cases of individuals in its custody. For Michigan and Ohio, which the Detroit office covers, ICE removed 1,841 immigration offenders in 2014, from January through June. In 2013, there were 3,279 deportations, and in 2012, 3,851. “One key point about the 2014 regional statistics is that approximately 70 percent of all removals from Michigan and Ohio were of convicted criminals, which represents a nearly 50 percent increase since 2008,” Walls said, when there were 2,151 deportations from the region. In 2013, the number one country where illegal immigrants were deported back to was Mexico, followed by Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Canada, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, India, Columbia and Albania rounded out the top 10, Walls said.
For Michigan and Ohio, ICE removed 1,841 immigration offenders from January-June of 2014. In 2013, the number one country where illegal immigrants were deported back to was Mexico, followed by Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Canada, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, India, Columbia and Albania rounded out the top 10. life, they usually have a higher sense of job loyalty and dedication and lower employer workforce turnover costs. It also creates a larger tax base. “Employing immigrant job seekers in professional positions brings about a higher income tax base,” according to the organization. Not everyone agrees. Republican National Committeeman and former Michigan Rep. Dave Agema of Grandville, a strong conservative, said that undocumented immigration costs Michiganders money, jobs and threatens national security. When he was a state representative, Agema introduced several bills that would have cracked down on undocumented immigrants, claiming they are a huge financial burden on public education, healthcare, welfare, jails and human services. Immigration action taken in November 2014 by President Obama is changing the conversation, as well as the repercussions. His executive action on immigration policy offers legal reprieve to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have lived in this country for at least five years, removing the threat of deportation and allowing many of them to apply and receive work permits. It also expands the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program for young immigrants, under 30 years old, who arrived here as children to apply for deportation deferral and are now here legally. Immigrants older than 30 can now qualify, as well as more recent arrivals. Everyone must reapply every three years. The executive action also includes a program to facilitate visas for people who invest in the U.S and who invest in science, technology, engineering and math – those desirable STEM – degrees. The action will not expand visas to migrant workers, help parents of DACA immigrants – those referred to as Dreamers, nor does it offer access to the Affordable Care Act. It’s estimated it covers about
The Roby Law Firm in Royal Oak has been representing immigrants and companies with immigrants working for them since 1985, as well as assisting illegal immigrants. Principal Steve Roby points out that there are many industrial, automotive and manufacturing companies located in Michigan “who rely on foreign talent just as we rely on U.S. talent. They want the best they can find. We help companies find science, manufacturing and engineering talent. There are huge shortages for highly qualified positions for all kinds of companies,” Roby said. The Partnership for a New American Economy’s recent report, “Closing Economic Windows: How H-1B Visa Denials Cost U.S.-Born Tech Workers Jobs and Wages During the Great Recession”, shows that existing H-1B visa lottery caps for high tech worker and students disproportionately hurt U.S. workers by depressing job and wage growth in more than 200 metropolitan areas. The report emphasizes that the technology industry would have grown substantially faster post-recession if so many H-1B visas had not been denied, leaving many companies without qualified workers. Roby works with companies, individuals and the government to procure work and permanent visas for immigrants, assist spouses in immigration and/or travel issues, immigration compliance assurance, expatriate administration and strategies, and language assistance, with Steve fluent in Spanish, and other lawyers fluent in German and French. Besides the firm’s work with corporations and compliance, the company’s knowledge allows it to assist undocumented workers. “We do that simply out of policy, to people without money or talent,” he said. “We offset our fees (for undocumented workers) with our corporate work.” The Roby firm sees a great deal of Latino workers, primarily from Mexico and El Salvador, “and now there’s a rise in undocumented
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Asians,” Roby said. “They come to us because we’re fluent in Spanish, and many of them do not have good English capabilities, so they gravitate to people like themselves, and many are unskilled and less educated. They tend to go to people who are not immigration specialists and trust them only because those people speak English, they say they know immigration, and they don’t know we have a credible firm. “I often say there is nothing I can do – there is no legal solution at present,” Roby explained of the limitations of the law presented to him by their cases. “They’re shocked. Then they search within their communities for someone with false promises. They’ll say, ‘Give me $1,000, or $3,000.’ Sadly, they’re often misled – about the importance of giving false statements and accurate documentation. We admonish our clients to always give truthful statements and accurate documentation. But, when you come from a culture where bribery is the custom, you’re more willing to do it.” He emphasized that whether with legal or illegal workers, they work to educate their clients about the absolute importance of doing the right thing. “Sadly, the community has ground them down.” A key piece of legislation Roby believes is particularly aimed at illegal Mexicans states that if someone has two illegal entries into the United States, and they stay more than 180 days in the U.S. each time, they are permanently barred from entering the U.S ever again. “They all want to go back and visit their mamas,” he said. “Unless there is total amnesty of this law, I have to tell them there’s nothing we can do.” His son, attorney Tony Roby, cautions many undocumented workers who think President Obama’s action suddenly clears them that they need to be careful who they talk with. “The president’s policies have not yet been fully implemented and immigrants have to be careful because there are scammers out there.” Tony noted that while Obama is looking to help people because of humanitarian reasons, without a question, beneath the executive action are other considerations. “The reality is the money just isn’t there. It’s not realistic or feasible to deport 11 million people,” he said. That’s why, Tony Roby pointed out, deportations are focused on criminals. “If you’ve been brought here as a one-year-old, it only makes sense, whether you’re from Mexico or the Ukraine,” he said. “Most don’t even speak the language. It’s not right to be exiled from the only home they’ve ever known.” Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder views immigration as having the potential to invigorate the economy, bringing workers with desirable skills, talents and education to the state – those with STEM skills. Following the president’s executive action, Snyder called on the president and congress to work together to find a long-term, comprehensive solution to the immigration problem in this country. “Here in Michigan, we’ve demonstrated how we can work together to solve difficult problems. We are proud of our rich heritage of immigration, and know that there are talented people who can help Michigan become stronger. Immigrants are proven job-creators and we should tap their entrepreneurial spirit to accelerate our recovery. We have thousands of students who are trained at our world-class universities who want to stay and be a part of our reinvention,” Snyder said. “I’m calling on Washington to act on Michigan’s request to have 50,000 visas for immigrants to put down roots and build their lives and careers in Detroit. It’s a plan supported by (Detroit) mayor Mike Duggan and other city leaders, and, together, we believe it will help the city – and all Michigan – grow and thrive.We also must never forget that we are a nation of laws. Our leaders in Washington need to make sure that our borders are secure, our employers have the ability to verify status and that those who have worked for years to follow the legal path to citizenship are treated fairly.” The Michigan Office for New Americans, created by Snyder in January of 2014, has as its mission the goal to “grow Michigan’s economy by retaining global talent and promoting skills, energy and entrepreneurial spirit of our immigrant community and to make Michigan a more welcoming state,” said deputy director Karen Philippi. The office coordinates with other state agencies on immigrant issues. “Our office is looking at the positive economic force immigration can have, most notably with STEM jobs,” Philippi said. She noted there are more than 80,000 jobs available in the talent bank, many of them STEM jobs, “and there are not enough U.S. born candidates to fill those jobs.” A report from Georgetown University notes that by 2018, Michigan will need 274,000 STEM jobs to be filled. “We definitely want our native-born residents to stay here, but we can’t fill all these jobs with them,” she said. “The talent needs to be supplemented.” WESTEND
Steve Hamilton he knack for storytelling helped earn Steve Hamilton two New York Times best sellers and the opportunity to have his novel “The Lock Artist” acted out on the silver screen. “The main character (in the Lock Artist) never says a word,” he said. “He’s a young kid who has this skill for opening locks. The producer has someone in mind for the main character. I don’t know who it is, but you have to attach a star to it.” Hamilton is co-writing the screenplay with producer Shane Salerno. Salerno is a revered Hollywood talent who is also writing one of the sequels to Avatar for James Cameron. “Misery Bay” and “Die Stranger” are two of Hamilton’s books that have made the New York Times Best Seller List. “One character who is in a lot of my books is Alex McKnight,” Hamilton said. “He’s just a guy who came to me. I just sort of had this idea of this retired Detroit cop. He was shot on the job and he ended up in Paradise, Michigan.” For an upcoming book, Hamilton will travel from his home in upstate New York to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to brave the treacherous roads around Lake Superior in the middle of winter. “This is something Alex is going to do in the next book, so I want to get a feel for it,” he said. “I’m going to drive 1,200 miles around Lake Superior.” In his most recent novel, “Let it Burn,” Hamilton took his character, Alex McKnight, back to Detroit.
“For ‘Let it Burn’ I just drove around Detroit and saw what it looks like now,” he said. “It’s like a war was there and nobody rebuilt it. This is the city my character came from. It’s amazing to go back and see what it looks like now.” Hamilton himself was born in Detroit and his family moved to White Lake when he was young. “When I was eight years old, I wanted to be a writer,” he said. “When I was 12, I tried sending my first mystery story to Ellery Queen’s (Mystery Magazine).” Hamilton’s early influences were Edgar Allan Poe and Agatha Christie. “I always liked dark fiction and anyone who wrote on the dark side.” After graduating from Lakeland High School, Hamilton studied computer science at the University of Michigan. A career with IBM took him to New York just after graduation. Since retiring from IBM, Hamilton has been able to focus completely on his writing. He is currently working on another McKnight novel and a book that is a complete departure from his usual work. Hamilton has been able to successfully share his talent with an eager audience of readers while providing for his family for three decades. Now that he has retired, he is able to reach a lifelong goal. “I promised I’d get back to that idea of what I really wanted to do. Write. Just to write. Just to have that be the thing that I do every day.” Story: Katey Meisner
Photo: Julia Hamilton
CRISIS CENTER HOTLINE HELP DE-ESCALATING SITUATIONS WITH TRAINED STAFF, VOLUNTEERS THRU PHONES, TEXTING, ONLINE CHAT BY KEVIN ELLIOTT
he holidays are over. Families and friends have left, the holiday lights have dimmed. It’s just you and lots of reruns. When people are sad, alone and desperate, feeling like they have no one to turn to, it can seem like help is out of reach. Yet, metro Detroit is full of options for those needing immediate assistance or help coping with a crisis. More than 38,000 Americans, including 1,100 people in Michigan, die by suicide each year, according to the Michigan Association of Suicide Prevention. Recent estimates indicate that there are about 12 attempts for each suicide, with older Americans – those 65 or older – the most frequent ones making those attempts. Younger people may be having more success in their attempts, unfortunately. In total, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, but the second leading cause of death for people ages 15-34 years old. For each death by suicide, it’s estimate that six to 10 survivors are left behind, or as many as 380,000 grieving loved ones across the nation, with about 11,000 in Michigan. And the trauma of losing a loved one in turn increases the chance of suicide amongst those survivors. It’s believed most suicidal people desperately want to live. However, when depression and hopelessness set in, they often can’t see alternative solutions to their problems. It is at those times when the danger is high the need for help is the greatest. For one Oakland County resident, help came in the form of a phone call to one of the many crisis center hotlines operating in the metro Detroit area. At nearly 40, Mark (who asked his actual name be withheld due to privacy concerns), had been battling bipolar disorder for several years prior to being diagnosed with the illness. A death in the family seemingly set him into a tailspin that included a divorce filing, loss of employment and temporary homelessness. When the mother of his child voiced her concerns about child visitation due to the instability, Mark was at a loss. “I wasn’t looking for anything to be resolved. I wasn’t looking for any insight or knowledge, really just an ear,” he said. “When I called, I felt like I didn’t want to exhaust my friends anymore.” Out of work and off his medications, Mark said he could sense he was heading toward a crisis. Feeling that he would be criticized or ignored by friends or family, Mark reached out to a stranger and dialed the first number that appeared in an Internet search for crisis hotlines. “They say to call for any reason, and it kind of stopped a crisis from happening,” he said. “I felt something coming on, something that could have been dangerous. It wasn’t a lark. I was asking what the line was about, and I found it helpful.” While it’s hard to calculate figures on prevention, Mark’s personal history suggests that calling the crisis line helped to divert a crisis before it happened. A previous episode, he said, included a series of posts on Facebook which drew the attention of concerned family members. Concerned for his safety, one of his loved one telephoned the police, who then came to his home and had him transported to the hospital for his own safety. By dealing with the crisis before it became a more serious episode, Mark was able to better deal with his situation in a healthier way.
In Oakland County, the largest and most frequently called helpline is the one operated by Common Ground, which takes about 4,500 calls per month. Lisa Turbeville, manager of Common Ground’s crisis hotline, said staff and volunteers at the crisis center are trained to de-escalate crisis situations and help callers solve their problems. “A big portion is just listening. That’s something that people don’t get enough of,” she said. “It’s hard for family and friends to be objective because they know their whole story. We don’t, so you have someone to really listen to you. A lot of times they are struggling with mental illness and have exhausted their support system. Another goal is to link them up with the help they need.” As the contracted service provider for the Oakland County Mental Health Authority, Common Ground works with nearly 300 agencies, organizations and other service providers that can assist clients with issues regarding domestic violence, homelessness, legal, relationship and family issues, suicide, eating disorders, and other mental health issues. Founded more than 40 years ago, Common Ground provides a lifeline to individuals and families in crisis, victims of crime, persons with mental illness, those trying to cope with critical situations and runaway and homeless youths. The organization’s crisis line, which incorporates several different hotlines, as well as an online chat and texting service, are key to Common Ground’s services. “A lot of young people prefer that mode of communication; also it allows us to help more people. You can only talk to one person at a time, but you can text to several people at one time. On a crisis call, you can only take one call at a time,” said Common Ground Director of Communications Lenda Jackson about the organization’s text line. As part of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Common Ground assists in handling crisis texts from all over the country. The organization also provides training on a national level. “We are part of the National Suicide Prevention line, which is comprised of many crisis centers around the country, and we are one of those,” Turbeville said. “If someone calls the national line, it will go to the closest center to where they are calling from. If we aren’t available, it will go to the nearest one.” The non-profit organization receives much of its funding through a major contract it holds with the Oakland County Mental Health Authority, as well as funding and grants from other counties it supports. Funding also comes from grants and donations. Turbeville said the crisis center is staffed by a mixture of volunteers and staff. And while she said the organization would like to have about 100 volunteers available, they currently have about 65 volunteers, as well as six full-time staff members. Common Ground holds training sessions three times a year, with each going through 96 hours of training, including nine hours of observation in
the crisis call center. She said volunteers usually put in time about once a week and are assisted by staff. “We listen to their phone calls and guide them,” Turbeville said. “Any decision, like to call the police, the staff is here and it falls on them to make that decision.” Volunteers and staff are taught to use a “crisis model” that employs a blend of communication skills, crisis theory and empathy, which also includes finding out what prompted the caller to make contact in the first place. The goal then is to de-escalate the situation to help guide the caller to a calmer state and help get them in touch with the resources they need to improve their situation. “We teach them the basics of crisis intervention, and teach them how to de-escalate,” Turbeville said. “If they aren’t in a crisis, but are lonely, we teach then how to help someone in different situations, whether they are suicidal or dealing with substance abuse or other issues.” Turbeville said the crisis center also receives many calls from family or friends of people who are going through a crisis and are seeking information or help for them. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), depression and emotional crisis often precede suicides, and in most cases, are recognizable and treatable. In fact, the foundation states most suicides are preceded by some warning of the person’s intentions. The most effective way to prevent a friend or loved one from taking their life is to recognize when someone is at risk, take the warning signs seriously and know how to respond. Known risk factors for suicide include: previous attempts at suicide, as between 20 and 50 percent of people who kill themselves had previously attempted to take their life; talking about death or suicide, as suicidal individuals often talk about suicide directly or indirectly; planning for suicide, as people contemplating suicide often arrange to put their affairs in order or give away possessions; and depression. Although the AFSP states that most depressed people aren’t suicidal, serious depression can be manifested in obvious sadness, but oftentimes it is expressed instead as a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities. Instructors who train phone operators to deal with crisis calls state that it’s important to determine if a caller is thinking or planning on hurting themselves, and the best way to do that is to ask. Although it may be uncomfortable to ask, it’s a common misconception that asking a caller if they are thinking about hurting themselves will increase any chance that they will hurt themselves. If the caller states that they have thought about suicide or injuring themselves, finding out if they have planned how or when they will do it also helps to assess the risk of suicide. If a caller can answer “yes” to these questions, they are at a higher risk. Mark said part of the reason for calling the crisis hotline when he did was his attempt to get an online assessment regarding bipolar disorder. “I got to the suicide section and I answered
‘yes’ twice to the answers,” he said. “I couldn’t keep doing the assessment. It said I had to call this number immediately.” Outside of Oakland County, there are several crisis and helplines available for people who are coping with suicide. The Detroit Suicide Prevention Center has been operated by the Neighborhood Service Organization since 1978. The center provides a free, 24-hour phone crisis intervention and suicide prevention and information referral service. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is available at 1.800.273.8255, is available to connect callers to a skilled, trained counselor at any crisis center in their area 24 hours a day, seven days a week. “If you feel like you are in a crisis, whether or not you are thinking about killing yourself, please call the Lifeline,” the national lifeline center states on its website. “People have called us for help with substance abuse, economic worries, relationship and family problems, sexual orientation, illness, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and even loneliness.” Callers who contact the national line are connected to a crisis center in the Lifeline network, which would include Common Ground in Oakland County, or other agencies for callers outside of the area. The network includes more than 150 crisis centers and provides counseling and mental health referrals day and night. The national lifeline was launched in 2005 by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Mental Health Association of New York City. Henry Ford Hospital hosts a 24-hour line that can connect callers to one of the facility’s psychiatrists, which is part of the hospital’s telephone and walk-in crisis counseling services. The Dearborn Crisis Center is available to Wayne County residents who need help with a crisis, domestic violence assistance or court advocacy. While crisis hotlines are most typically associated with suicidal callers, there are a host of other in Oakland County and the metro Detroit area that are available for help people dealing with a variety of issues. “They don’t have to tell us their name,” Turbeville said. “We don’t even determine the crisis; they do. They don’t have to be suicidal – that is a big misconception.” While Common Ground is able to help callers with a variety of issues, some help lines are geared toward specific causes or needs. The national lifeline network also maintains a Veterans Crisis Line for veterans in crisis, or family and friends may also use a text service or use an online chat service. The line was established through an agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental health Services Administration. Since its launch in 2007, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered more than 1.25 million calls and made more than 39,000 lifesaving rescues. In 2008, the crisis line added an anonymous online chat service and has engaged in more than 175,000 chats. In November 2011, the crisis line
looking to speak to someone for help or guidance, Funding for the center comes mainly from introduced a text messaging service to provide there are two main helplines available to callers. another way for veterans to connect with donations from individuals, corporations and Locally, the Affirmations Helpline provides confidential, round-the-clock support, and has organizations, with about a third of the center’s peer counseling, empathy and community since responded to more than 24,000 texts. funding coming from grants. resources for lesbian, gay, bisexual and With the exception of Common Ground, “The majority tends to come from very transgender (LGBT) people. perhaps one of the most frequently called help generous individuals,” Fitzgerald said. “And there The Affirmations center, which is based in lines in Oakland County is operated by HAVEN. is never enough funding.” Ferndale, provides volunteers who participate in HAVEN also maintains a text line and an online The Affirmations help line is staffed by two comprehensive training on LGBT concerns, chat service. part-time employees and is open six evenings per including coming out, gender identity, intimate HAVEN is Oakland County’s only week. There are also master’s level counselors partner violence, suicide prevention and more. comprehensive program for victims of domestic and volunteers available who undergo training The helpline is available Monday through violence and sexual assault. The non-profit prior to working at the center’s helpline. Saturday, 3-8 p.m. A representative from organization provides shelter, counseling, “I’m surprised at the number of national calls Transgender Michigan is also available to answer advocacy and educational programming for about we get that don’t come locally,” Fitzgerald said. trans-specific questions on the helpline from 6:3030,000 people each year. “It could be that someone is afraid that someone 9 p.m. Additionally, older adults and seniors are Raechel Decker, development director for local is going to know who it is.” able to speak with someone every Tuesday and HAVEN, said about 5,000 people called the Fitzgerald said as one of the longest running Friday, from 4-7 p.m. organization’s crisis line last year. programs of its kind, he is hopeful that they will John Fitzgerald, interim executive director for “It started as a sexual assault hotline, and we be able to add some new models to the program, Affirmations, said the organization’s help line is have expanded our services over the years,” particularly additional training for all its staff and the oldest, longest running program at the Decker said. “We speak with victims directly, and volunteers, including those who don’t work the organization. friends and family that are seeking resources for helpline. Currently, staff is able to transfer calls to “It actually started out of someone’s basement someone. We also get calls from adult survivors of Common Ground when someone calls the when the program started,” he said. “It was set sexual assault, maybe something that happened helpline outside the normal hours of operation. up as a model for empathy listening. Most of of as a child. We get those kinds of calls as well.” “We want to be a resource for anyone who the calls are resource calls, but occasionally, they HAVEN’s crisis line is staffed by a mix of staff calls into the building,” he said. “We may want to try the words aloud to a stranger: ‘I am and volunteers, with staff maintaining more of a consolidate and train everyone. I think it’s a huge gay.’ Most callers, though, tend to be looking for a supervisory role, Decker said. resource that was needed in the community, and resource, or they really want someone to listen for “We do get a fair number of suicidal calls, but continues to be needed, and is probably due for a few minutes.” they are quickly evaluated and sent off to a more an update.” When the founders of Affirmations came up appropriate agency. Some callers are homeless with the idea to form some 25 years ago, there In addition to the local Affirmations line, a and just looking for a warm bed. We do get was no place for someone in southeast Michigan national hotline is available for young people, people that are in an immediate situation. to call for help or resources in the LGBT ages 13-24, which has been available 24/7 since Perhaps they just fled a home and don’t know community, Fitzgerald said. From there, he said 1998 by The Trevor Project. where to go or what to do next. We talk to them the idea expanded not only into a helpline, but The Trevor Project was started by the creators about safety planning and options.” into a full community center, including a place for of an award-winning short film about a boy HAVEN receives about half of its funding support groups. Today, programs include “little bit named Trevor. The producers of the film realized through federal and state resources and local of everything,” he said. there was no place for people like Trevor to turn, government funding, with the remaining half “We have everything from youth programs to and they began recruiting mental health experts coming from private fundraising. older adult programming that meet here, such as to figure out how to build the infrastructure for a While some crisis lines tend to see spikes Coming Out Over Coffee to a transgender-life nationwide, 24-hour crisis line. Today, the project during the holiday season, Decker said HAVEN support group, and a ton of different 12-step offers free, confidential and secure services on the tends to receive more calls just after the holidays. programs that meet in the building.” telephone. “We get a lot of calls in So far, the Trevor Project lifeline January,” she said. “People will receives about 36,000 calls per say, ‘if we can get through year, and educates about 15,000 Christmas, things will be different.’ • Affirmations: Operates a helpline providing peer counseling, empathy and people a year with training. There is that sense, and the fact community resources for the LGBT community at 1.800.398.GAYS. While training may differ for that when children are in the Operated Monday through Saturday, 3-8 p.m. different kinds of hotlines, home, mom isn’t able to make • Common Ground: 24-hour crisis and resource hotline at 1.800.231.1127 for Turbeville said the crisis center these types of phone calls, so we free, confidential counseling, information and referrals. Text line at doesn’t use any scripted materials see more of a spike in early 248.809.5550; and live chat at the website www.commongroundhelps.org. when talking with callers. January.” Essentially, she said they allow the • Dearborn Crisis Center: 313.823.2530. Turbeville also said that it caller to talk and explain why they • Detroit Suicide Prevention Center: 313.224.7000 or 1.800.241.4949. seems to be a myth that there are are calling that day, which allows • HAVEN: 248.334.1274 or 1.877.922.1274 for HAVEN’s 24-hour crisis line for more calls during the holiday the crisis worker to determine those in crisis related to domestic or sexual violence or abuse. HAVEN also season. whether or not there is a crisis, and “The holidays aren’t necessarily maintains a text line at 248.334.1290 and a chat service at its website at what the problem is. However, she busy,” she said. “March and April www.haven-oakland.org. said, the crisis line isn’t intended have always tended to be the • Henry Ford Hospital: 313.916.2600 psychiatrists on call 24 hours a day. to be a substitute for therapy or busiest times of year. That’s when • Michigan Department of Community Health Crisis Hotline: other resources. the calls spike. I’m not sure why. It 1.866.289.2641. “We get creative and try to could be the changing of the • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1.800.784.2433. come up with other options for seasons. People have been holding • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1.800.273.TALK (8255). them,” she said. “We try to get on for winter, and the school year • The Trevor Project: 1.866.488.7386. National LGBT issues line for young them a plan before they get off the begins. When kids go back to people, ages 13-24. phone or chat, or text. At least for school, we have a lot of parents • Veterans Crisis Line: 1.800.273.8255, then press the number 1. that night, we can help them come call, too.” up with solutions that will work for For young people dealing with Compiled by Kevin Elliott sexual orientation issues and them.”
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FACES Blake McComas n a snowy winter day in March of 2013, Blake McComas, captain of the cross country team at Lakeland High School, was running down Bogie Lake Road with his teammates when he was struck by a vehicle. “We were right past Northern (high school) and trying to turn down Sugden (Road),” McComas said. “I wasn’t paying attention and a car came by. I was a little too close and it swept my right leg out and broke my leg in three spots.” McComas’ teammates didn’t notice what had happened immediately, he said. When drivers began to honk their horns, his fellow runners realized their team captain had been hit. “A lot of them were just in shock,” he said. Some went looking for help and a friend stood by, reassuring him that he would be ok. McComas’ family was called on the cell phone of the driver who unintentionally struck him. He was able to speak to his mother while waiting for help. The National Honor Society student was taken to Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital where he and his parents waited to hear from a physician to learn he would be able to walk again. “In the hospital, I was more worried about ever running again,” he said. “It took about week for the doctor to say I would be able to run or even walk ever again.” Once McComas had the hope he needed, he rigorously pursued physical therapy. In the late 2013 cross country season, McComas was able to run at two track meets. “I had a lot of people around me who helped me through this major accident and I think they were all happy to see me out and running with the team again,” he said. “They made a pretty big deal out of it. My parents were happy to see me be able to do what I love to do.” Throughout his difficult experience, McComas graciously recognized one person in particular who stood by him as he endured pain, sadness and eventual victory. “My brother Cody sat by my side for most of the ordeal,” he expressed emotionally. “I got injured around spring break time and I heard him talking to my parents about going down to Florida and he declined to go. He said he wanted to be up here ‘helping Blake.’” The accident has shaped McComas’ future and his career goals. “I’m hoping I can run a marathon over the summer. It would be fun,” he said. “I want to be a nurse in the ER. I’ve always had an interest in nursing and the medical field. After being in the hospital for a week, I ended up volunteering (at Huron Valley-Sinai Hospital).” Following his recovery, McComas placed third at the Mustang Invitational and was runner-up at the Lakeland-Milford dual meet. His team was also the state runner up in 2014. “I was very grateful for where I finished in certain meets. I couldn’t have had a better senior year. It feels amazing.”
Story: Katey Meisner
Photo: Laurie Tennent
Happy Holidays and a prosperous New Year
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CHANGE COMING FOR CABLE TV NEW COMPANY TAKING OVER IF COMCAST, TIME WARNER CABLE MERGER HAPPENS
BY LISA BRODY
hen you press your TV remote, you want to know whatever you turn on will be there instantly. Ditto your Internet service. All of us are looking for fast, reliable connections to provide us with the instant gratifications we are seeking, whether for business, school work or streaming services. And we each rely upon the cable providers in our communities to supply us with these services.
For a majority of those who live in Oakland County, their cable and Internet services are provided by Comcast. But perhaps for not much longer. Unbeknownst to many residents, a proposed merger between Comcast and fellow provider Time Warner Cable will prompt Comcast to divest itself of its Michigan cable operations in a swap with Charter Communications, which will form a new company, GreatLand Connections. GreatLand, which will be comprised of 66 percent of Comcast shareholders and 33 percent of Charter Communications, will be run by Michael Willner, a 40-year executive of the cable industry who was put in that position in May 2014 by Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Charter executives. But what will happen to your cable TV and Internet service if and when these changes occur? Both Comcast and local cable boards assure that nothing will change for individuals and businesses. “What will change on Day One – nothing,” said Michelle Gilbert, vice president of public relations for Comcast. “There will be service agreements in place between Comcast and GreatLand to ensure minimal disruptions to consumers.” o what is going on? And why will a merger – or actually, a corporate takeover – between two cable giants, with a third poking its head in, have any potential impact on local lives? It all comes down to money, both big money, in the form of corporate cable impact, and local franchise fees which are paid to municipalities and their cable boards. And ultimately, we, as consumers, may potentially get financially squeezed by an increase in cable fees when contracts expire, despite denials on all sides. It all began in late November 2013, when both Comcast, the largest cable telecommunications company in the United States, sought advice on a possible bid for Time Warner Cable, the second largest American cable company. In January 2014, Charter Communications, which is currently the fourth-largest cable operator, but the tenth largest telephone provider, made three attempts to buy Time Warner Cable, offering $37.4 billion. Time Warner Cable fought the Charter purchase, and Comcast bid $45.2 billion for Time Warner Cable; Charter fought the deal initially, forecasting difficulties with the regulatory review process. By April 27, Charter and Comcast came to a deal, entailing a swap of subscribers, and Charter dropped its opposition. Under the current deal, if approved, according to Comcast, Comcast will acquire Time Warner Cable by exchanging each of Time Warner Cable’s 284.9 million shares for 2.875 shares of Comcast’s stock. Then, Comcast will sell 1.4 million of Time Warner Cable’s subscribers to Charter Communications for $7.3 billion.
Comcast will divest itself of 2.5 million subscribers, including those it has in Michigan, to a new public company, called GreatLand Connections. It will be owned 66 percent by Comcast shareholders and 33 percent by Charter, which will manage its network and customers. Finally, when that is all put in place, Comcast and Charter will swap about 1.6 million subscribers with each other. Why all the swapping? It’s for the same reason Time Warner Cable was hotly pursued. It’s all about control of desirable cable and Internet subscribers, with Time Warner Cable the provider for New York City and its vicinity, Los Angeles, San Diego, most of Texas, and key areas in 29 states. Comcast and Time Warner Cable don’t directly compete for customers and there is not any physical overlap in their respective service areas. Charter, which was founded in 1993 in St. Louis, has grown as a corporation through acquisitions of other cable companies and through swaps with other systems to improve the geographic clustering of its systems. According to Forbes Magazine on April 28, 2014, Charter agreed to the swap of territory with Comcast in “an even tax-efficient exchange whose intent is to improve the geographic spread of both companies.” In a nutshell, it’s advantageous for each of the corporations to swap because it provides them with more subscribers in contiguous territories. But that is still all speculative, because the original deal, the Comcast purchase of Time Warner Cable, which they are calling a “merger”, is still up in the air, and may not come to pass. Currently, it is in the process of being approved by both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) before the acquisition can be completed. Each corporation’s shareholders approved the proposed takeover in October. The FCC and DOJ could each potentially block the sale because Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable could represent a cable telecommunications monopoly, especially since as of March 31 of 2014, Comcast had 22.6 million and Time Warner Cable had 11.2 million video subscribers, and together the two companies will serve 33 percent of paid TV customers in the U.S. Comcast has been considering selling off about 3 million more subscribers since the announcement of the sale, because that divestiture would bring Comcast’s share of the U.S market just below 30 percent, and that threshold has previously been used by the FCC as a strict limit on the TV market share for one company. The FCC’s review of the acquisition began on April 8, when Comcast filed its public interest statement, and the antitrust division of the DOJ announced it was looking into the proposed combined company on March 6.
Furthermore, about 25 states around the country, through their attorney generals, are conducting probes of the acquisition, notably California, Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Florida and Connecticut. Sam Gustin of Time Magazine noted that it’s typical for a proposed merger of this size because the deal has the potential to affect millions of consumers around the country. “There’s really nothing happening at this point. We’re still waiting,” Comcast’s Gilbert said. “The FCC recently started the 180-day clock they set for the merger to go through (on October 31). Earlier this year, they had stopped the clock in order to allow franchises to review the information provided to them.” The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, telephone, wire, satellite and cable in all 50 states. The 180-day timeline “represents the commission’s goal of completing action on assignment and transfer of control applications (i.e., granting, designating for hearing, or denying) within 180 days of the public notice accepting the applications. Routine applications are decided well within the 180day mark,” states the FCC. “It is the commission’s policy to decide all applications, as expeditiously as possible consistent with the commission’s regulatory responsibilities. Although the commission will endeavor to meet its 180-day goal in all cases, several factors could cause the commission’s review of a particular application to exceed 180 days. The timeline is intended to promote transparency and predictability in the commission’s process. The commission occasionally receives requests by outside parties to ‘stop the clock’ for a particular transaction. The timeline carries with it no procedural or substantive rights or obligations, but merely represents an informal benchmark by which to evaluate the agency’s progress on a particular transaction. Accordingly, stopping the clock is a decision purely within the commission’s discretion. Further, although the commission seeks to meet the 180-day benchmark in all cases, its statutory obligation to determine that an assignment or transfer serves the public interest takes precedence over the informal timeline. The commission’s failure to release an order within the 180-day benchmark is not indicative of how it will resolve the issues raised in this proceeding.” hile the telecommunications industry is supportive of the Comcast/Time Warner Cable deal, there is widespread opposition to it, including from U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit). Conyers has been a critic of big corporate mergers in general, and said in May that a combined Comcast/Time Warner Cable would have 30 percent of the cable market, at least 40 percent of the broadband market, 19 of 20 of the biggest cable markets, a
major Spanish-language channel, as well as movies, television shows, and sports programming, in the form of Comcast SportsNet, MLB Network, NBC Universal, New England Cable News, and SportsNet New York. “Comcast is a cable company and a programmer. That raises a double concern with me,” said Conyers, who was unavailable for this article. “I don’t know if it’s resolvable.” ublic Knowledge, a non-profit public interest group based in Washington D.C., is interested in choice in the digital marketplace and an open standard of end-to-end Internet, and is currently sending out e-mail petitions to local individuals urging them to “Stop the Mega Comcast Coalition.” The e-mail reads in part: “Comcast is seeking permission from the Federal Communications Commission to merge with Time Warner Cable. This would result in a giant corporation on the path to dominate the high-speed broadband market. If the merger is approved, Comcast-Time Warner Cable would control the wires in about half of the U.S households that subscribe to high-speed broadband. Its control over broadband connections, cable TV lineups, and the devices people increasingly use to access video content would give it a make-or-break power over much of the content ecosystem.” Further, the e-mail emphasizes in bold text, “The Comcast-TWC merger threatens these ideals (a diverse American media and technological marketplace) and runs counter to our antitrust and communications laws.” Large companies which depend upon highspeed Internet and cable access, such as Netflix and DirectTV, have been outspoken in their opposition. So have over 56 consumer advocacy and public interest groups, according to The Consumer Watchdog, including the Parents Television Council, the Writers Guild of America and the Media Alliance. It’s still up in the air as to whether there will be a merger, but most analysts do believe that it will be approved by both the FCC and DOJ. And that means that Oakland County residents who have had Comcast as their telecommunications provider will actually have Charter providing their service, via the new company, GreatLand. Most local cable franchise organizations, which have contracts with cable providers, anticipate no change in service. “That’s the million dollar question,” said Gary Allison, cable coordinator for the Waterford Cable Commission. “I’ve reached out to Comcast and they haven’t responded.” While it feels like Comcast has the monopoly on cable operations, the idea that cable television was a monopoly was actually put to an end by Michigan’s legislature in 2007, when they passed Michigan PA 480, which states that any cable provider may deliver service to a community upon filing a
form with a local community. No governmental agency monitors or sets rates, channel lineups, programming or service areas. Michigan PA 480 also provides specific penalties for failure to provide service. If there’s only one cable provider in an area, the law makes clear that it’s due to business considerations on the part of a cable company, not because of franchise limitations. Since the passage of Michigan PA 480, communities in Oakland County have seen other entrants in the cable field. “PA 480 changed the competitive playing field to statewide franchising from local franchising for new cable entrants, because it’s not just technically ‘cable’ anymore – it’s cable and telecommunications,” said Elaine McLain, chairman of the Birmingham Area Cable Board, an all volunteer organization that handles cable affairs, including maintaining revenue streams to communities, handling residents’ cable complaints, inviting competition from cable companies, and providing public, educational and governmental (PEG) programming for Birmingham, Beverly Hills, Bingham Farms and Franklin. PEG is the public access, educational and government access programming which is supported by telecommunication companies paying a percentage of their gross revenues to local communities so they can provide programming for the public good, whether it’s televising municipal meetings, school programs or other shows. In 2007, AT&T applied for a state franchise to offer video services and was approved. “Technically, AT&T isn’t cable. Their U-verse is IPTV, which is Internet Protocol TV, like where the Internet is controlling the TV. But their entry changed the playing field,” explained McLain. In April 2006, Bloomfield Township adopted a resolution expressing support of local control of cable franchising and opposing Michigan Senate and House of Representatives bills, which AT&T and Verizon actively lobbied for, that would eliminate local cable franchise agreements. However, the legislature, and presumably, the telecommunication companies, prevailed, and statewide franchising became law, although individual communities continue to receive franchise fees for providing access to their community’s rightof-way. The right-of-way can be above ground on traditional telephone poles, or dug underground. Each cable company, by state law, pays the local municipality five percent of their gross revenues in the form of franchise fees. “Under an interlocal agreement, the communities keep 60 percent of that revenue and 40 percent is sent to the local cable board,” said McLain. “Each cable company must pay a percent of their gross revenues for
PEG fees (public, educational, and government programming), and those fees go directly to the cable board for PEG production and capital equipment that is involved in PEG usage.” The percentage of gross revenues for PEG fees varies among local community boards. “The stipulation in the Uniform State Video franchise law (PA 480) was that PEG fees must be at least two percent. Most of us have been receiving three percent, so we’ll likely see a drop of one percent,” Greg Kowalski, director of community relations for Bloomfield Township as well as general manager of Bloomfield Community Television, who is in the midst of negotiating Bloomfield Township’s franchise agreement with Comcast. “Our contract has expired, but it has been extended. But there’s no worry about a continuation of service to customers. “Residents will see a name change on their bill and that’s about it,” said Kowalski. Richard Lehmann, Huntington Woods finance director and treasurer of the Intergovernmental Cable Communications Authority covering Huntington Woods, Royal Oak, Troy, Ferndale, Clawson, Berkley, Pleasant Ridge, Auburn Hills, Oakland Township, Rochester and Rochester Hills, isn’t as optimistic. “I think that after the cable act was passed, the landscape changed. Anything is possible. Most franchise agreements, which are for 15 years, are almost up, and I think there will be a lot of changes on the PEG side. The franchise fee is more hard-pressed. That is a payment for the right-of-way, and we all have to pay for it as consumers. These companies have to pay for the right-of-way as cable companies. PEG is different, though, so that’s where we’ll see changes. “A lot of the baseline of the education and government portion was based on local governments using local televisions to get their information out,” Lehmann continued. “Today, we live in such a digital age that it’s not as important. They’ll make a case, I’m sure, that PEG is not as important because you’re throwing good money after bad in an era of streaming, and supporting local TV stations isn’t something they need to do. And the state could care less. It will not be good for the consumer. For local municipalities, it figures to add up to hundreds of millions of dollars.” ot every community has been as fortunate as Birmingham and Bloomfield in receiving large PEG fees. Ian Locke, executive director of Orion Neighborhood Television, said Comcast has the majority of their subscribers, with a small amount of customers in the community choosing AT&T Uverse. Their contract with Comcast expires in June 2015, and they are not yet in franchise contract negotiations. They too receive a five percent franchise fee, but only one percent annually in PEG fees from Comcast.
Clawson, Troy, Ferndale, Huntington Woods, Oakland Township, Rochester, Rochester Hills, Royal Oak, Berkley, Pleasant Ridge, and Waterford all receive one percent in PEG fees as well as a five percent franchise fee. Members of the Greater West Bloomfield Cable Commission – West Bloomfield, Keego Harbor, Sylvan Lake, and Orchard Lake – receive two percent in PEG fees in addition to their five percent franchise fee. “There won’t be any changes in PEG fees because it’s dictated by the state,” said Dave Albery, executive director of Greater West Bloomfield Cable Commission. In western Oakland County, eight communities which are members of the Western Oakland County Cable Authority – Commerce Township, Walled Lake, Wixom, White Lake Township, Highland Township, Milford Township, Milford Village and Lyon Township – receive just one-half percent in PEG fees plus five percent franchise fees. In early December, Wolverine Lake Village voted to exit the authority. Tom Zoner, Commerce Township Supervisor and its representative to the authority, said the total revenue of the authority is a little under $150,000 a year, with Comcast as the primary cable provider, and some communities having AT&T Uverse in some places. “Our Comcast (franchise) agreement is up December 31. There is no new contract, so it’s falling under the statewide cable agreement, that says the existing format with the existing cable company stays the same,” he said. Because AT&T isn’t technically cable, but uses Internet lines to provide the cable access, they do not pay franchise fees to communities. “Those that are wireless say that they don’t have to provide this (fees) to receive the stream to communities,” Birmingham’s McLain said. “Satellite providers do not pay any franchise or PEG fees to communities. ‘Cable’ means traditional cable TV and IP services.”
AT&T is known for their U-verse service. AT&T U-verse uses a fiber optic technology and computer networking which they assert brings better digital TV, faster Internet and is ideal for smart phones. However, it is acknowledged by several cable board executives that their high-speed Internet is not as fast as Comcast’s. Further, while AT&T entered Oakland County in 2007, they did so in a very tightly controlled, edited fashion. “Only about 20 percent of homes can get AT&T, and they have announced they will not build more,” said Bob Borgon, the former executive director of Birmingham Area Cable Board. “There are a lot of frustrated residents who want it but can’t get it because they use a whole new wiring that only reaches a certain amount of houses. They’re very limited in their reach and they like to cherry pick the residents in the area they want to serve.” omcast is the most pervasive and prominent cable and telecommunications presence in Oakland County, available to consumers in every community except for Novi, Farmington, and Farmington Hills and Oxford, Oxford Township, Addison Township and Leonard Village in northern Oakland County. Eric Angott, operations manager for Southwest Oakland Cable Commission, which provides cable and Internet for those three communities, said they have Brighthouse Cable and AT&T Uverse. Southwest Oakland Cable Commission receives one percent in PEG fees, along with five percent in franchise fees. “We are one of the little islands in Oakland County,” Angott said. “I think we are the only area in Oakland County without Comcast. We will not be affected at all (by the change).” “This whole change going on, we’re in calm waters because we’re already with Charter,”
said Oxford Area Cable Communications Commission Dave Kenny. What will life be like under GreatLand Connections? Residents have Charter Communications’ past performance to go by as a gauge, and there is cause to for some concern. Charter has had an uneven history of growth and contraction, including filing for bankruptcy in 2009. They restructured and refinanced, and came out of it. In 2007, PCWorld magazine ranked Charter’s cable Internet service as the worst among 14 major Internet providers, and in their February 2008 issue, Consumer Reports said their TV/Internet/phone bundle was the worst of all the major national carriers. According to PC Magazine, since, there have been improvements, however, it was reported by the Associated Press on Monday, January 21, 2008, that during a routine sweep of inactive accounts, Charter accidentally deleted the email accounts of about 14,000 customers, and the data could not be retrieved. Willner, GreatLand’s incoming CEO, has assured local franchise boards that e-mail accounts will be preserved “If the Comcast/Time Warner Cable merger does go through, GreatLand will be the fifth largest cable provider in the country, and they will provide cable, Internet and phone services,” said Comcast’s Gilbert. She said customers have nothing to worry about because it is the network which Comcast has installed which provides the services, which has nothing to do with Charter. “GreatLand is in essence taking over Comcast. The name is changing. They are taking over Comcast’s assets,” she explained. “It’s no longer entertainment,” McLain said of the telecommunication industry. “It’s connections for those who may have no other way to be connected to the outside world, their family, or the government.”
Cable options in local communities • Addison Township Charter
• Bloomfield Township Comcast; AT&T
• Keego Harbor Comcast; AT&T
• Oxford Comcast
• Walled Lake Comcast; AT&T
• Auburn Hills Comcast; WOW; AT&T
• Commerce Township Comcast; AT&T
• Leonard Comcast
• Oxford Township Comcast
• Waterford Comcast; AT&T
• Beverly Hills Comcast; WOW; AT&T
• Farmington Brighthouse; AT&T
• Lyon Township Comcast; AT&T
• Pleasant Ridge Comcast; WOW; AT&T
• West Bloomfield Comcast; AT&T
• Berkley Comcast; WOW; AT&T
• Farmington Hills Brighthouse; AT&T
• Milford Township Comcast; AT&T
• Royal Oak Comcast; WOW; AT&T
• White Lake Comcast; AT&T
• Bingham Farms Comcast; WOW; AT&T
• Franklin Comcast; WOW; AT&T
• Milford Village Comcast; AT&T
• Rochester Comcast; WOW; AT&T
• Wixom Comcast; AT&T
• Birmingham Comcast; WOW; AT&T
• Ferndale Comcast; WOW; AT&T
• NOVI Brighthouse; AT&T
• Rochester Hills Comcast; WOW; AT&T
• Wolverine Lake Village Comcast; AT&T
• Bloomfield Hills Comcast; AT&T
• Highland Township Comcast; AT&T
• Orchard Lake Comcast; AT&T
• Sylvan Lake Comcast; AT&T
Compiled by Lisa Brody
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