Archive for July, 2009

Sent by Carlos…

Here is a video of the courageous and unified teamwork that still resonates in local corners and has sparked more interest for change in others.



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One Hundred Homeless and Allies
Grilling Food, Playing Music, Taking Back The Land

Bring food, hang out, share company…

At 11am EST, July 23 Picture The Homeless and allies installed a tent city
in a vacant bank-owned lot at 115th and Madison Ave. 100 people are in the
lot, enjoying corn, beans, bread, fruit, and music by the Welfare Poets.
Police are on the scene, but everything’s calm. We have a casita, a stage,
barbeque grills, banners, signs, cardboard shovels and pick-axes, and tent

As the foreclosure crisis festers, Bloomberg and the banks fail us. Across
the street from the tent city is public housing, where families are doubled
and tripled up. Over-crowded apartments, the shelter industrial complex, or
sleep on the streets – we need better options.

From Miami to Sacramento to now here in NYC homeless people aren’t waiting
around. Come show your support! 115th and Madison, we’ll be here as long as
we can.

Carlos (Rico)

A Place To Call Home!/ El Lugar A Donde Estar En Casa!

A Place To Call Home!/ El Lugar A Donde Estar En Casa!

NYC Encampment 2009

NYC Encampment 2009

Everyone deserves a place to be, and sing, and love....

Everyone deserves a place to be, and sing, and love....



Vacant Lots. Vacant Homes. House the Homeless. House the Poor!

Vacant Lots. Vacant Homes.  House the Homeless.  House the Poor!

Terrenos Desocupados. Casas Desocupadas. Alojen Los Sintechos. Alojen Los Pobres!

Terrenos Desocupados.  Casas Desocupadas.  Alojen Los Sintechos.  Alojen Los Pobres!

Support the NYC Tent City!

Support the NYC Tent City!

Unlock the Heart of the City

Crack the Heart of the City

Sharing is SURVIVAL

Sharing is SURVIVAL

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Homes Not Handcuffs
July 13, 2009


The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) and the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) released a report today, Homes Not Handcuffs, tracking a growing trend in U.S. cities – the criminalization of homelessness. The report, available here, focuses on specific city measures from 2007 and 2008 that have targeted homeless persons, such as laws that make it illegal to sleep, eat, or sit in public spaces. The report includes information about 273 cities nationwide.

Homes Not Handcuffs also ranks the top 10 U.S. cities with the worst practices in relation to criminalizing homelessness.

The national ranking is based on a number of factors, including the number of anti-homeless laws in the city, the enforcement of those laws, the general political climate toward homeless people in the city, and the city’s history of criminalization measures.

In addition to the “meanest cities,” the report identifies examples of more constructive approaches to homelessness.

NLCHP and NCH released their last joint report on the topic in 2006. In the 224 cities surveyed in both this report and the 2006 report, there are currently more laws used to target homeless persons, including an 11% increase in laws prohibiting loitering in certain public places and a 7% increase in laws prohibiting “camping” in certain public spaces.

Maria Foscarinis, NLCHP Executive Director, noted, “Homelessness in America is a human rights crisis right here at home. As foreclosures continue and the recession deepens, the crisis is affecting more and more Americans. But while some cities offer a helping hand, too often, as documented in our report, cities adopt unjust laws and practices that punish people simply for being poor and homeless.”

“As a result of the economic crisis, homelessness is on the rise. Instead of helping to prevent homelessness, many cities are criminalizing those who lose their homes by passing ‘quality of life’ laws,” said Michael Stoops, Executive Director at NCH.

While more cities are cracking down on homeless people living in public spaces, the housing and homelessness crisis in the United States has worsened over the past two years, particularly due to the current economic and foreclosure crises. According to a report released last week by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 41.8% of the homeless population was unsheltered between January 2007 and January 2008. Most cities do not have adequate shelter space or affordable housing to meet the need, leaving many homeless persons with no choice but to live in public spaces.

“Criminalizing homelessness is not only an inhumane way of approaching people who are poor and vulnerable, but is counterproductive in dealing with the problem of homelessness,” said Tulin Ozdeger, NLCHP Civil Rights Program Director. “It costs more to jail a person than it does to provide permanent supportive housing.”

The report also includes information about costs studies examining criminalization measures, constitutional challenges to measures that criminalize homelessness, how criminalization measures violate human rights law, as well as constructive alternatives to criminalization.

*** The report recommends that cities adopt constructive measures, such as developing innovative strategies to allocate more city funds for permanent housing, job training and services for homeless people. In addition, NLCHP and NCH recommend that the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, recently charged by Congress with developing such alternatives, urge cities to stop criminalizing homelessness and adopt such constructive measures instead.

Top Ten Meanest Cities:

1. Los Angeles, CA

2. St. Petersburg. FL

3. Orlando, FL

4. Atlanta, GA

5. Gainesville, FL

6. Kalamazoo, MI

7. San Francisco, CA

8. Honolulu, HI

9. Bradenton, FL

10. Berkeley, CA

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Safe Haven: rest for the weary

Posted in CULTURE by Heather Dillon on Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 6:00 am
For years, homeless people have been camping in vacant lots, by the railroad tracks, and in other spots around Champaign. Now, some of those people have decided to band together in community.

Although the idea of a tent community is new to Champaign-Urbana, these sorts of communities have been popping up all over the country and are being compared to the Hoovervilles of the Great Depression. Various camps have been reported all along the West Coast — in Washington, Oregon, and California — as well as in places like Athens, Ga.; Reno, Nev.; Nashville, Tenn.; and St. Petersburg, Fla.

Jesse Masengale, 22, is a resident of Safe Haven, the tent community that formed a few weeks ago here in Champaign and has been a popular news topic in recent days. Masengale started camping in the vacant lot adjacent to Champaign’s Catholic Worker House, and before long, people started asking him about it. The community of campers began coming together organically, and then officially organized after an incident with the police on June 8, 2009 (see Incident Report #1).

“The way the police treated us that night really ignited a fire in everybody’s hearts. We were like, ‘Okay, let’s do this,‘“ Masengale said.

From the very beginning, Safe Haven’s standard has been “no riff-raff.“ They expect no drinking, no drugs, no stealing, no violence — no riff-raff. They are attempting to establish a community characterized by safety, authority, and respect.

Safe Haven currently has 10 mutually agreed-upon guidelines that are enforced within the community (based, in part, on the rules established by Dignity Village in Portland, Ore.):

1. No physical violence to self or others is permitted within a one-block radius of the Safe Haven site.
2. No intake of alcohol, drug use, or possession of alcohol, drugs, or drug paraphernalia is permitted within a one-block radius of the Safe Haven site.
3. No theft of others’ property is permitted within a one-block radius of the Safe Haven site.
4. No behavior that disrupts the peace and well-being of the community is permitted within a one-block radius of the Safe Haven site.
5. No possession of stolen property is permitted on the Safe Haven site.
6. No weapons are permitted on the Safe Haven site. Knives of four inches or less are permitted for utility purposes.
7. All members and guests contribute to the upkeep and welfare of Safe Haven and work to become a productive community member.
8. All rules of the host organization must be followed by members and guests of Safe Haven.
9. Members are required to perform seven hours of service per week to the Safe Haven community and/or the host community.
10. No verbal abuse or verbal threats are permitted on the Safe Haven site.

For this group of people, who would normally camp solo around the city, Safe Haven provides an element of law and order. Abby Harmon, 27, a Safe Haven advocate, described the homeless community as a community ruled by might. Imagine if there was no police intervention in your neighborhood and any person stronger than you could come into your house, beat you up, take your possessions, and assume residence in your home. Those camping solo around town experience this often. Another homeless person might beat them up, steal any possessions they have, and take their camping spot.

When camping solo, people are surviving by themselves and will often resort to violence when they feel threatened. Coming together in community takes away some of that individualistic tendency to protect the self at all cost. People start looking out for each other. It also allows the community to develop expectations and to make and enforce rules.

“I don’t think people see a tent community as introducing order, but it is,“ Harmon said.

In opposition to Safe Haven’s ideals of law and order, some people who live in the neighborhood surrounding the Catholic Worker House have expressed safety-related concerns. (If you’re unfamiliar with the neighborhood complaints regarding the Catholic Worker House, check out last Tuesday’s News-Gazette article for an overview.) Masengale and Harmon agreed that some neighbors have legitimate concerns, but pointed out that those concerns are being falsely linked to Safe Haven.

Homelessness is on the rise nationally, as the current state of the economy has led to increased foreclosures and unemployment. As people become increasingly desperate, problems such as theft increase. Neighbors surrounding the Catholic Worker House began noticing problems in the middle of winter, months before Safe Haven began. The beginning of neighborhood problems and the beginning of Safe Haven have been perceived as one and the same, but are actually very separate issues.
“It’s all a misunderstanding,“ Masengale said. “People had legitimate complaints. But once the community started up and once we started policing, problems like drinking on the [Catholic Worker] property stopped almost immediately.“

Safe Haven residents do not have authority to police the entire neighborhood; they can only police their own community. Essentially, Safe Haven cannot control drunkenness, vandalism, and other disruptive behavior that is committed by homeless people who are not residents of the tent community. But within the Safe Haven community, Masengale and Harmon made it clear that residents want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Safe Haven currently has eight members and additional guests. Members participate in weekly meetings, decision making, and policing. Guests, on the other hand, simply stay at Safe Haven temporarily.

“[Safe Haven] has given people something to live for — a place to call home, a place to sit down,“ Masengale said. “Up until now, they’ve been camping wherever they can find a spot, wherever they could lay their heads. But now to have a place to call home … it does something to them.“


Over the next few days, Smile Politely will take a closer look at options for homeless people in Champaign-Urbana and Safe Haven’s ideal solution, modeled after Dignity Village in Portland, Ore.


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