The Roma in Seattle: Proposal for a Multi-Service Center

In January 1973, Romani leader Ephraim Stevens petitioned Seattle City Council to fund a small multi-service center to serve the economic, social and cultural needs of the local Roma population. Specifically, the request was for vocational training and adult education programs, including literacy. The Concentrated Employment Program was a federal manpower system that coordinated local employment programs for the disadvantaged; with a freeze on new enrollments by President Nixon, the Roma people could not receive job training. The request for a multi-service center attempted to fill this gap. Ephraim Steven's request for a multi-service center was addressed at the February 27, 1973, meeting of the Parks and Public Grounds Committee. At the end of the meeting, the chair of the committee, Bruce Chapman, referred the request to the Human Resources Manpower Planning Office and suggested the need for services be addressed to the existing Model City's neighborhood centers. Ultimately, the request for training was denied.

Ephraim Stevens previously petitioned City Council in 1968 for permission to tell fortunes; that request was also denied.

Excerpts from the meeting are transcribed below.

Sylvester Burch, Director of Seattle Concentrated Employment Program: The gypsies have only recently been given the status, if you will, of being an ethnic group. I don't know what people considered them to be prior to that time. But if you look at the figures for the gypsy community you'll find that 90% of the population are on welfare and unemployed. So, my point is simply this: the gypsies have no one to look to for assistance. The Native Americans have the BIA; after slavery, the blacks had the Freedmen's Bureau. Every ethnic group has some organization supported by the federal government to assist them in obtaining their rights.

The Concentrated Employment Program, while not a program, attempted to do this. We were unable to meet our commitment to the community because of the budget cuts... We believe therefore that the only logical place to turn is to the City. Not because we believe the City has endless supply of money but because for one, I personally believe in the system. And although I learned in civics class that city government does not have responsibility for personal welfare but for public safety and welfare for individuals in terms of buildings and things... Mr. Nixon in his new federalism is seeking to change that; he is seeking to say to state and local governments...you now are responsible for the welfare of your citizens... We are saying that if in fact revenue sharing comes and local government takes on responsibility of public welfare, then the gypsy community should not be excluded. As a community, very much in evidence, very much in need, very much desirous of returning to the mainstream. Because they have been denied by the legal process from doing those things that were part of the culture and part of their religious heritage... The proposal that we are submitting asks for $50,000 plus. That may sound like a great deal of money... The application of the multi-service center is of the philosophy that we want to teach people how to fish so they can feed themselves... We believe that this budget could be kept within the figures cited here and we believe that as the gypsies become more self-sufficient, the need to depend on local governmental funds would be reduced...

Councilmember Jeanette Williams: How many are you talking about?...

Burch: ...We were trying to serve ten gypsy males... The culture of the gypsies itself demands that the males receive first priority in terms of assistance. This document here deals with...the 500 to 1,000 gypsy families that exist in the Seattle area, not just ten people, but the families...

Ephraim Stevens:...I think they forgot the minority group of gypsies... We would like to get our people off of welfare and find them a job and put them into businesses. Now mostly the state and the city have taken everything away from the gypsies that they was making a living. They took fortune telling, they took out people fixing fenders out on the street... The gypsies have always been proud of making their own living...

Councilmember Bruce Chapman: Here's my concern. If we are to take on a special program for a community that has thirty families, then we can very quickly get into the situation where every small group in the city will have a community center. I'm sympathetic to the kinds of problems that you've raised...but the idea of putting this somewhat separate from our other existing facilities doesn't make sense in terms of the numbers of people... I think that you've got to serve everyone's needs... The question is at what point does the population become too small to warrant a special situation...

Williams: I can't quite agree with this philosophy. I think if you're helping an ethnic group, you're not talking about quantity of people, you're talking about the needs of individuals...

Chapman: Where does it stop?

Williams: We don't... Because our job in the city is to help people... I don't think you can at any point say yes to one and say no to another.

Chapman: Well, if there's one person here from, from Zanzibar, do we have a Zanzibar center for one person?

Williams: Possibly.

...

Burch: I would ask your indulgence of another two or three minutes to have Ms. Frasier speak to the [numbers in this] article.

Chapman: I would like to limit to that because of the time.

Burch: Fine.

Clara Fraser: I discussed this question with Hilda Bryant and it's an arbitrary number picked out of a hat and everybody knows it is much underneath the actual number of gypsies who reside part-time in the area or who are constantly mobile and traveling between Spokane, Seattle, Tacoma and up and down the west coast. The multi-service center here would actually serve, we estimate, 500 gypsies at any one time or in the course of one month because they are a mobile people, literally living caravan style through automobiles and visiting the gypsy communities in each of the cities. It would be absurd of us to request of you $50,000 for a multi-service center for ten people... I wonder if you're aware that the counted gypsy population nationally is 500,000 people... And while I also think it's important for you to look into the issues of fortune telling, which is really a violation of First Amendment rights for the gypsy people, because it does come from their religion, still this does not completely solve the employment problems of the men, as it is the women who do the fortune telling. And most of the men, and the women as well, if they are to do other things than fortune telling, have got to learn literacy skills. And Gypsies are 99.9% illiterate... So one of the main functions of the multi-service center would be on on-site, on-spot adult literacy training and childhood education so the children will get used to the experience of learning in their own environment...

The entire meeting can be heard here. The Multi-Service Center is the last item on the agenda and starts at 1:05:28.

Citation: Parks and Public Grounds Committee Meeting, February 27, 1973. Event ID 1679, Record Series 4601-03, Seattle City Council Legislative Department Audio Recordings, Seattle Municipal Archives.