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Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Category

This Crow Won’t Fly

The United States has a long history of using mean-spirited and often brutal laws to keep “certain” people out of public spaces and out of public consciousness.  Jim Crow laws segregated the South after the Civil War and Sundown Towns forced people to leave town before the sun set. The anti-Okie law of 1930s California forbade poor Dustbowl immigrants from entering the state and Ugly Laws (on the books in Chicago until the 1970s) swept the country and criminalized people with disabilities for allowing themselves to be seen in public.

Today, such laws target mostly homeless people and are commonly called “quality of life” or “nuisance crimes.”  They criminalize sleeping, standing, sitting, and even food-sharing.  Just like the laws from our past, they deny people their right to exist in local communities.

In June of this year, Rhode Island took a meaningful stand against this criminalization, and passed the first statewide Homeless Bill of Rights in the country. The Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP)—a West Coast grassroots network of homeless people’s organizations—is now launching simultaneous campaigns in California and Oregon. Rhode Island will only be the beginning.

Today’s “quality of life” laws and ordinances have their roots in the broken-windows theory.  This theory holds that one poor person in a neighborhood is like a first unrepaired broken window and if the “window” is not immediately fixed or removed, it is a signal that no one cares, disorder will flourish, and the community will go to hell in a handbasket.

For this theory to make sense, you first have to step away from thinking of people, or at least poor people, as human beings. You need to objectify them. You need to see them as dusty broken windows in a vacant building.  That is why we now have Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) with police enforcement to keep that neighborhood flourishing by keeping poor, unsightly people out of it.

We have gone from the days where people could be told “you can’t sit at this lunch counter” to “you can’t sit on this sidewalk,” from “don’t let the sun set on you here” to “this public park closes at dusk” and from “you’re on the wrong side of the tracks” to “it is illegal to hang out” on this street or corner.

Unless we organize, it isn’t going to get much better soon.   Since 1982, the federal government has cut up to $52 billion a year from affordable housing and pushed hundreds of thousands of people into the  shelter system or into the street.  Today we continue to have three million people a year without homes.  1982 also marked the beginning of homelessness as a “crime wave” that would consume the efforts of local and state police forces over the next three decades.  Millions of people across the country sitting, lying down, hanging out, and — perhaps worst of all – sleeping are cited in crime statistics.
WRAP and our allies recently conducted outreach to over 700 homeless people in 13 cities; we found 77% of people had been arrested, cited, or harassed for sleeping, 75% for loitering, and 73% for sitting on a sidewalk.

We are right back to Jim Crow Laws, Sundown Towns, Ugly Laws and Anti-Okie Laws, local laws that profess to “uphold the locally accepted obligations of civility.” Such laws have always been used by people in power against those on the outside. In other words, today’s Business Improvement Districts and Broken Window Laws are, at their core, a reincarnation of various phases of American history none of us is proud of.

And they reflect a political voice now openly entering the political and media mainstream that dismisses social justice as economically irrelevant and poor people as humanly irrelevant.

This is not about caring for or even advocating for “those people.” This is about all of us. As Aboriginal leader Lilla Watson said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”  If you are not homeless, if you are not the target now, then understand that you are next. Isolated and fragmented, we lose this fight.

But we are no longer isolated and fragmented.  On April 1, WRAP and USCAI (US Canadian Alliance of Inhabitants) sponsored a  Day of Action in 17 cities.  We are one of hundreds of organizations and allies, from Massachusetts to NewYork and from Tennessee to California, all separate but all working together to give meaning to social justice and protect the civil and human rights of all of us.

We can only win this struggle if we use our collective strengths, organizing, outreach, research, public education, artwork, and direct actions. We are continuing to expand our network of organizations and cities and we will ultimately bring down the whole oppressive system of policing poverty and treating poor people as “broken windows” to be discarded and replaced.

To join our campaign for a Homeless Bill of Rights in both California and Oregon contact WRAP at wrap@wraphome.org and we will hook you up with organizers working in both of these states or others as this movement continues to grow.

 

Posted on August 27, 2012 by WRAP Comms

This Crow Won’t Fly:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2466&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

Criminalization Fact Sheet:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2474&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

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Richardson Grove Action Now invites you on a trip to Sacramento!

We plan to leave SOON. We’ll venture out on Wednesday, June 8th and will return June 10, Friday night.

We’re riding down in a bio-diesel bus. We will send a creative musical message to Gov. Jerry Brown and to people ALL OVER- which will be broadcast on the world wide web. Our serenade will demand that the highway expansion plan through Richardson Grove be canceled. We will be covering old classics like “One Demand, Cancel the Plan”, “Resist Invasion,” and “We want old growth, not corporate flow.”  

 

We will be bringing a loud temporary presence to Sacramento regarding the road widening- which would bring a PERMANENT impact to our lives and to the survival of ancient redwoods.

 

If you are not able to join us, in person, on this trip, please support the action by contributing food or money. We are trying to raise $650 for travel expenses. And the food is for the people.

 

If you really want to go and you think there is some obstacle, call us.

 

If you are in the Bay area, we would like to come there for the night and bring you with us!
We are also considering, on the way, visiting the spiritual encampment/action at Glen Cove.

 

Our phone number is 707.602.7551
Our email: rgroveactionnow@gmail.com

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The Quality of Whose Life? Final Part

Linocut by Art Hazelwood

 

Author’s Note: This is the final part in “The Quality of Whose Life?” series.  It focuses on the proliferation of “quality of life” laws across the country that make it a crime to sit or lie on a sidewalk, sleep outside, panhandle, and urinate or defecate in public even when suitable alternatives do not exist. “These repressive new laws trample on the constitutional rights of the poorest of the poor, but few people are even aware of the massive extent of these human rights violations because they are targeted at people who are almost invisible to mainstream society, explains Terry Messman, editor of Street Spirit. “The sheer inhumanity of these discriminatory laws would cause an immediate outcry if imposed on any other minority group in our society.”

“Quality of life” laws are usually part of the gentrification and redevelopment of downtowns and they are enforced in conjunction with the closure of public parks, banning of free food and clothing distribution, and banishment policies like trespass admonishments. To gain public support for passing these laws, officials promise homeless services that seldom get fully implemented.

Part 1 introduced the series, Part 2 examined the broken windows theory that these laws are based on, and Part 3 showed how these laws revive the disgraced vagrancy and banishment frameworks found in Ugly Laws, Sundown Towns, and Bum Blockades. This concluding part details what four West Coast cities have done and are doing to expose and challenge these unjust and discriminatory laws. Their efforts illustrate the dedicated work that is being done across the country. 

Congress and the President recently negotiated how intense this round of the bipartisan war on the middle class and poor will be. The situation will only get worse if Representative Paul Ryan and company get their way.  In this “winner-take-all” social order, “quality of life” laws establish control over shopping and business districts and push the collateral human damage out of sight.  It is a social order that masks and suppresses untenable inequality and cruelty.

The aggressiveness by which “quality of life” laws are enforced varies from place to place depending on local politics, police departments, and community opposition, but three things are consistent across the country. Downtown business alliances and Chambers of Commerce wield too much power over the process, urban public space is being privatized, and poor and homeless people are being stripped of basic citizenship rights.

Civic determination and private resources support “quality of life” restrictions. Chambers of Commerce, business alliances, city officials, and consulting groups meet to share expertise and troubleshoot obstacles.  For example, in 2007, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce sponsored representatives from the Business Alliance of Portland to come to San Francisco to present Portland’s “Street Access For Everyone” plan to city officials. The plan included a sit/lie ordinance. A few years later, Mayor Gavin Newsom introduced a sit/lie ordinance for San Francisco.

Resisting A Filthy, Rotten System

Local social justice groups like the ones we detail below are at the center of opposing what Dorothy Day once described as “our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”  They are forceful and often successful in confronting this trend in individual cities, but they also recognize that as long as this work remains isolated by geography and jurisdictional limitations, it is no match for the formidable wave of power and money that is sweeping the country.

In recognition of this reality, seven west coast groups came together to create a social justice alliance that has communities working jointly whenever and wherever needed.  In 2005, Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN), San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness (the Coalition), Sisters Of The Road (Sisters), Street Roots, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), Street Spirit, and Real Change became founding members of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP).  We recognized that only by joining forces, first regionally, then nationally, can we build a movement strong enough to counter the ongoing assaults on poor people and present injustices like the current “quality of life” laws.

For this final part, we look at the groups that make up WRAP.  We highlight the multifaceted civil rights work they are doing to educate, activate, and defend their communities in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Berkeley. Strategies include research, public education, grassroots media, community organizing, advocacy, Community Watch, and citation defense. We conclude with the collaborative work that is being done as WRAP to challenge “quality of life” laws at the regional and national level.

Los Angeles – LA CAN

The Skid Row neighborhood of Los Angeles is the most heavily policed area outside of Baghdad. In the three years of the Skid Row Safer Cities Initiative, 36,000 “quality of life” citations were issued and more than 27,000 arrests were made in a 50-square block community of 15,000 people who are mostly poor African Americans. These mind boggling statistics give Skid Row the notorious distinction of being ground zero for “quality of life” policing.

Photo Credit: LA CAN

To educate, mobilize, and share the stories of their community, LA CAN produces the Community Connection newspaper, their rendition of the North Star and Liberator. Community Connection covers policing, housing, health, budgetary, and other community issues from the perspective of Skid Row residents.  At the end of 2010, LA CAN also released an influential human rights assessment on the negative impacts of the Safer Cities Initiative in Skid Row. Most recently, they published Downtown Blues: A Skid Row Reader, which explores the struggles against displacement, misrepresentation, and civil rights violations in Los Angeles’ Skid Row. In February, a release party for the book at the University of Southern California featured contributors Robin D.G. Kelley, Cedric J. Robinson, Clyde Woods, Pete White, General Dogon, Gary Blasi, Damien Schnyder, LisaGay Hamilton, and Jonathan Gomez. Over 100 people attended the event in celebration of Black History Month.

LA CAN has fearlessly attempted to address the police’s “culture of abuse” through official channels at the local level.  They have used public records and declarations to illustrate illegal actions, public testimony to the Public Safety Committee and City Council, and, with the help of the ACLU and civil rights attorney Carol Sobel, lodged a complaint in federal court that found LAPD — by its own admission — guilty of illegal stops and seizures in Skid Row. Since most attempts have been rebuffed, they submitted a color of law complaint to the Department of Justice (DOJ) and are now in conversation with DOJ staff over the violations that need to be addressed.

In 2005, LA CAN launched a Community Watch program to reduce the harmful impacts of unaddressed state and private security violence. Teams of four LA CAN members patrol the neighborhood with clipboards and a video camera, monitor the police and Business Improvement District security guards known as “red” or “purple” shirts, and gather evidence when the civil rights of residents are violated. Their presence and documentation ensures fewer incidents of brutality and racial profiling. The Nation has recognized Community Watch as “One of the Top Ten Things You Need to Know to Live on the Streets.”

LA CAN also runs a legal clinic that provides education, services, and representation to help low-income tenants and homeless Skid Row residents get their housing needs met. In 2007, they launched a Citation Defense Program in response to the dramatic increase in “quality of life” citations (roughly 1,000 a month) issued under the Safer Cities Initiative.

In order to break the vicious cycle of poverty, incarceration, and disenfranchisement in Skid Row, LA CAN teamed up with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, Fulbright and Jaworski, LLP, and other law firms working pro bono to defend Skid Row residents.  Of the 700 tickets handled by the clinic in 2009, 90% were issued for crosswalk violations like jaywalking.  Among the 700 tickets from 2009 that have been resolved to date, 86% had the charges and/or all penalties dismissed and an additional 10% had the community service penalty significantly reduced. Amongst those who reported their disability status on intake forms for the tickets, 60% had a disability.

Through the legal clinic, organizers were also able to identify a resurgence of illegal property confiscation by LAPD from homeless residents.  Again with pro bono legal support, residents claimed initial victory when a Temporary Restraining Order was issued on April 22, 2011 to prevent LAPD and the City’s Public Works Department from seizing or destroying personal property without following proper procedures.

General Dogon, a LA CAN organizer and Skid Row resident, summed up the paradox of punishing the poor this way, “How do you criminalize the blind for being blind or the lame for being lame? If a man don’t have no where to go, he don’t have a job, and the city don’t have nothing to offer him, you can’t criminalize the man for that and this is what they’re doing. The cold part about that is, on this street right here, Main Street, they were allowing the yuppies to sit on the sidewalk. That’s the new in-crowd, and the city is supporting them. They’re the ones getting everything.”

San Francisco – The Coalition

San Francisco suffers similar harassment.  Since the mid-1990s, San Francisco police have issued well over 100,000 citations for minor offenses that target homeless people on the streets.  While these citations do not allow incarceration, the failure to pay the fine is a misdemeanor. Since most homeless people cannot afford to pay the fines, warrants are issued for their arrest.  The end result is that up to 25% of the people in the San Francisco County Jail are homeless.

Outstanding bench warrants for these misdemeanors can also block access to housing and other services needed to exit homelessness. To provide some defense for its community, the Coalition initiated the Citation Defense Program in 1995. Volunteer outreach workers collect citation information and narratives, which they give to pro bono attorneys who provide representation in court. Over the past several years, the Citation Defense Program represented roughly a quarter of all “quality of life” citations issued in San Francisco. The attorneys in these cases have a 97% success rate for getting cases either discharged, dismissed, or fines stayed in guilty findings. LA CAN and Berkeley’s Citation Defense Programs were modeled on the Coalition’s.

In addition to outreach and citation defense, the Coalition has documented police and other government employee harassment and court inequalities to better protect homeless people from injustice and uses its newspaper, Street Sheet, to educate and mobilize the community against anti-homeless measures.  It also used video documentation to end a Department of Public Works program called “Operation Scrubdown” in 2008. Operation Scrubdown sent police-escorted water trucks through the Tenderloin, a neighborhood where homeless people sleep on the sidewalks.  Every morning before dawn, the trucks power blasted the sidewalks and hosed down sleepers with water and a cleaning agent that city officials identified only as “lemon.”  The video documentation brought media attention to this inhumane practice, which led to the program’s termination.

In 2009, the City of San Francisco opened a new Community Justice Center (CJC) in the Tenderloin neighborhood, against the wishes of the electorate. It targeted homeless people, half of whom were charged with no crime other than sleeping outside. Because the City and the courts claimed that they could not provide documentation of the cases heard at CJC, the Coalition attended court almost daily for three months and collected every court calendar that was produced in order to document the injustices occurring.  Although the Coalition was unsuccessful at closing down CJC, the court began to document its work and move away from a homeless focus toward more serious crimes.

In 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors considered a sit/lie law to make sitting or lying down on the sidewalk a criminal act. The Coalition produced reports on the effects of similar laws on small business in other cities, the impact on real crime in other cities, the constitutionality of the law, racially unequal enforcement of similar laws, and the impacts of criminalization on homeless people’s daily lives and on their chances of housing access. This documentation and reporting, in combination with meeting with public officials, public actions, and strong community organizing, led to the Board ultimately deciding to oppose the law.

The law then barely passed in the November election after a $400,000 media campaign that was aired during the San Francisco Giants World Series and financed by individuals from Charles Schwab, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America. However, with less than $10,000, the Coalition and a newly formed group, Sidewalks Are For People Coalition,  reduced support by 16% from just nine months earlier.

Photo Credit: Sidewalks Are For People Campaign

Since then, Coalition civil rights organizer Bob Offer-Westort writes, “the Coalition on Homelessness has begun developing documentation and know-your-rights trainings for members of our community who are cited or threatened with citation.  Simultaneously, attorneys from the ACLU and Disability Rights Advocates, as well as independent attorneys, have begun work developing legal strategies to challenge what we believe to be an unconstitutional law. Through coordinated documentation, litigation, and through public pressure on our legislators, on a new mayoral administration, on the media, and on the consciences of fellow San Franciscans, we know ultimately we will win.”

Portland, Oregon – Sisters and Street Roots

In Portland, Sisters Of The Road (Sisters) and Street Roots have been at the forefront of resistance to “quality of life” measures, including a camping ban and sit/lie ordinance. In 2003, Sisters and Street Roots launched the Right to Sleep Campaign, urging City Hall to look at alternatives to criminalization measures that target individuals living on the streets. In their newspaper, Street Roots highlighted the civil rights issues faced by people experiencing homelessness through in-depth reporting on private security in downtown Portland and how it relates to the criminalization of homelessness. Over the years, the newspaper reported on a number of criminalization efforts, including alternatives to the camping, sit-lie, and Drug Free Zones. Due to community pressure and legal challenges, the sit/lie ordinance was twice struck down as unconstitutional in 2004 and 2009.

 

Photo Credit: Michael Lloyd/Oregonian

In 2010, the city proposed another version of the sit-lie law called the Sidewalk Management Ordinance. In response, Sisters organized an action in celebration of sidewalks being for everyone that was attended by over 200 unhoused and housed allies who then marched to City Hall to testify against the measure.  Sisters exposed the classism and bias of the new ordinance in a public statement they used in their media work, outreach to the community, and in City Council hearings.

Sisters also gave a presentation to the city’s Human Rights Commission on the history of the two previous sit/lie ordinances, how it had been used against homeless people, and how the Council was manipulating the issue to make the new ordinance seem like it was about mobility rights for “differently-abled” people.  They specifically objected to the way the ordinance used the Americans with Disabilities Act. Homeless people were targeted for blocking sidewalk access for people with disabilities even though the Portland Housing Bureau recently found that 47% of homeless people had a high risk of mortality caused by untreated disabilities.

A week after the presentation, the Human Rights Commission took a public stand against the ordinance. At the next City Council hearing on the ordinance, three Commissioners testified that it violated human rights and the City Council should vote no on it.

Despite these efforts the ordinance passed. Sisters immediately switched gears and launched a “know-your-rights” campaign. They did street outreach that included handing out 2,000 flyers to educate Portlanders on their rights under the law and invited them to organize with them to oppose the ordinance. Sisters’ organizer Chani Geigle-Teller notes, “Largely because of this organizing on the streets, conversation by conversation, our weekly Civil Rights Workgroup consistently has over 12 volunteers who come in throughout the week to help us carry out this work!”

Berkeley – BOSS

Berkeley, another “liberal” city, is now considering its own no-sitting ban to go along with a no-lie ordinance passed in 2007 under Mayor Bates’ Public Commons for Everyone Initiative.  Since the 1990s, there have been multiple attempts by merchant associations such as the Downtown Berkeley Association and Downtown Berkeley Business Improvement District, the Mayor’s office, and City Council to clear out homeless people from People’s Park and the shopping districts along Shattuck and Telegraph Avenues.

Like anti-homeless measures in other cities, the Public Commons for Everyone Initiative promised a mixture of services and policing. Largely due to pressure from groups like BOSS, East Bay Community Law Center, and Homeless Action Center, the city made a little progress on outreach, Social Security Income advocacy, extension of public bathroom hours, treatment services, and addressing harassment complaints against the Berkeley HOST Program (a private ambassador program paid by the city to patrol the downtown area).  But it has fallen woefully short on providing housing and other services that were promised.

Photo Credit: Janny Castillo, BOSS

The Berkeley Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Business Association are now pushing to ban sitting on the sidewalk. The Chamber of Commerce says the ban is necessary to curtail negative behavior and scary pets that are frightening people away from the downtown area. Advocates argue that there are laws already in place to address these issues and the new ban will target homeless people. Like the new sit/lie law in San Francisco, Berkeley’s latest effort directly targets homeless youth. To assert any homeless person’s right to exist in public space, BOSS and allies organized a “sit down for justice” action last month. Michael Diehl, a long-time community activist led a sit-in and demonstration that drew local news and passersby. UC Berkeley students from the Suitcase Clinic and other student groups joined the sit-in. Later that evening, the group marched to a Berkeley City Council meeting to speak out against the sit ordinance and its likely negative impact on the homeless population.

To focus public attention on this growing trend of discriminatory laws and reclaim public commons in Berkeley, San Francisco, and Portland, WRAP, the Coalition, BOSS, Sisters, Right to Survive, and other allies coordinated a “Sidewalks Are For People Day” on May 22, 2011. This three-city action is a small example of the type of collaboration and solidarity that is needed to overcome the civil and human rights issues raised in this series.

As shown by the work described above, local civil rights efforts have been effective at curtailing the level of criminalization in individual neighborhoods and cities.  They have led to many successful actions and put pressure on mayors, police chiefs, local human rights commissions, and even the DOJ, to begin responding to these widespread abuses. Important victories have been won, but they have been separated by geographical boundaries.   They need to be joined and that is the mission of WRAP.

Coming Together For A More Inclusive Quality of Life

WRAP is creating an organizing model that builds strategic relationships across local boundaries and unites community organizers, poverty and civil rights activists, students, the faith community, public defenders and progressive lawyers in the civil rights struggle.

In our short history, we have organized a regional “House Keys not Handcuffs” action in San Francisco that brought together over 1,000 people from up and down the West Coast to demand the federal government begin addressing our civil rights and housing issues.  We are now organizing a Community Congress for August that will bring together our member organizations and hundreds of grassroots leaders from their communities. It will include know-your-rights, citation defense, and Community Watch trainings, as well as strategic planning on how we can combat discriminatory “quality of life” laws, enforcement, prosecution, and homeless courts on a regional level.

WRAP has also documented the impact of “quality of life” policing on over 300 self-identified homeless and mentally ill people in six cities.  Our research found that nearly 80% of the people surveyed had been stopped, arrested, or cited for “quality of life” offenses, 60% were harassed by Business Improvement District private security, and 29% had lost their housing or were discharged from a program due to incarceration. This coming June, we will use this research on a criminalization panel and Congressional briefing that are part of the National Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s Forum on the Right to Housing in Washington, DC.

We are in the beginning stages of building a movement.  The recession, jobless recovery, and gridlock in Washington, DC lay bare the bankruptcy of the current system. Never has the need and imperative been more critical to defend the due process and civil rights of those being criminalized as more of our neighbors are forced onto the streets.  But in the end “defense” is not enough. We must also assert a vision for the future that reflects our humanity and interconnection. We all need a safe place to call home, freedom from fear and want, nutritious food and health care to sustain our bodies, education and culture to expand our minds, and dignified work.

Throughout the many civil rights struggles in our nation’s past, communities have bound together to fight for a more inclusive democracy. The abolitionist, women’s rights, labor, civil rights, disability rights, and environmental movement have all shown that change happens on a large scale only when pockets of resistance create a network of support and solidarity. The collective resistance forming to the present injustice of “quality of life” laws is no different.

Will you join in this movement for a better quality of life for everyone?

Special thanks to Marlene Griffith, Casey Gallagher, Becky Dennison, Chani Geigle-Teller, Israel Bayer, Bob Offer-Westort, Janny Castillo, and Michael Diehl for their contributions to this article.

http://wraphome.org/pages/?p=1218&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

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Spread the word!  February 14th Action!!!

The Feds are seriously looking to cut $100 Billion from the already limited housing-related programs!  Close to one million Section 8, public housing, homeless, elderly, and disabled people could lose their housing!

In solidarity with actions taking place in 25 other cities throughout the U.S., Rally and March in San Francisco this Valentine’s Day!

Monday, Feb 14th is the NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION TO SAVE CRITICAL HUD PROGRAMS led by the National Alliance of HUD Tenants

Join us in stopping the budget cuts to Housing Vouchers, Section 8 PBRA (Project Based Rental Assistance), Homeless Assistance Grants, and other housing related budget items!

!Unase con nosotros para ponerle un alto a los recortes del presupuesto a los Vales de Vivienda, Seccion 8 PBRA, Subvencion de asistencia para personas sin hogar, y otros articulos relacionados al presupuesto de Vivienda!

Monday February 14th

@ 2pm

Rally at San Francisco Civic Center

March to the Federal Building!

 

Lunes 14 de Febrero

a las 2pm

Donde: Centro Civico de San Francisco

iVamos a marchar al Edificio Federal!

Here is a link to the facebook page:

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=198056183539430

For FLIERS to this action: http://wraphome.org/pages/downloads/Valentine%27s%20Day%20Flyer.pdf

For a FACT SHEET on the housing cuts: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3341

Groups involved in organizing this day of action in San Francisco:

WRAP (Western Regional Advocacy Project), SF Coalition on Homelessness, SF Housing Rights Committee, Causa Justa: Just Cause, Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), Homes Not Jails, AIDS Housing Alliance/SF, Council of Community Housing Organizations, and many other housing rights groups.

Please get the word out!

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A December 7, 2010 interview with Paul Boden, organizer with WRAP, the Western Regional Advocacy Project, about San Francisco’s Sit-Lie ordinance, & other policies across the country that criminalize the homeless and the poor.

Listen to the Interview HERE

National Radio Project: Productions, Distribution, Training, Community Collaborationshttp://www.radioproject.org/2010/12/paul-boden-on-sfs-sitlie-ordinance-and-the-criminalization-of-the-homelessness/

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Sidewalks Are For The People

Posted on by WRAP Comms

In 2009, cops in San Francisco cited homeless people 2600 times just for being asleep That’s almost as many arrests as for all violent crimes combined. And yet late that year, the most cynical of the city’s politicians determined that what was really needed was a new law to address the aspects of homelessness they claimed to find most objectionable: A law that would make it a crime to… sit down.

San Francisco tried a sit/lie law in 1968. It was found unconstitutional thrice before being taken off the books. Police chief-turned-mayor Frank Jordan tried to introduce such a law again in 1994, but it was ultimately rejected by the voters. But the immediate impetus behind the proposed sit/lie law came from Portland. Portland has had a series of sit/lie laws that have been struck down by state courts, but despite these failures, a trip to Portland sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce led conservative politicos to think that such a law might be a good idea for San Francisco.

STAND AGAINST SIT/LIE

The media hysteria that followed the early proposals of a new sit/lie law focused on homeless youth living in and near Golden Gate Park and the historic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. According to the SF Chronicle these youth weren’t homeless: They were Devil-may-care trust-fundies reveling in smack and booze on mummy and daddy’s dime, whilst terrorizing the neighborhood with their pit bulls. Residents of the Haight were scared to leave their houses. Several of the stories reported in the mainstream press about atrocities committed by homeless youth were proven to be false, and the neighborhood’s only residents’ association opposed a sit/lie law, but spurred on by conservative columnists Mayor Gavin Newsom was able to appear to be responding to a neighborhood demand when he submitted the law to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The Chamber of Commerce stalked the corridors of City Hall, threatening Supervisors with an election war chest of $400,000 to support the sit/lie law and lend support to candidates who would do the same.  Homeless people comprise maybe 2.5% of the population in the City of San Francisco and through smart organizing and advocacy, the SF Coalition on Homelessness has been able to wield an influence disproportionate to its size, but their volunteers and organizers ran into a lot of weak handshakes and frozen smiles. “We can’t just be the party of ‘No,’” Supervisors would object.

Homeless people testified in front of the Youth Commission and won that body’s opposition to a sit/lie law. They also persuaded the Planning Commission to register its opposition to sit/lie. Even the Small Business Commission refused to support the sit/lie law as it was written, suggesting that a slightly less draconian version might be more palatable. And still the Board of Supervisors vacillated between conscience and fear.

Most of the staff and volunteers of the Coalition on Homelessness had been homeless, but none were “just” homeless: They had experienced homelessness because they were queer, because they were immigrants, because of the structural inequalities in our country that lead to poverty. They reached out, and their broader communities responded. Soon, we had a large committee that truly represented the queer liberation movement, organized labor, day laborers, sex workers, and many other members of the community who had simply been persuaded to give a damn.

SIDEWALKS ARE FOR PEOPLE

The members of this broader coalition outreached to drop-in centers and cafés, galleries, bars, and tenants’ organizations. They carried flyers bearing the slogan “Stand Against Sit/Lie!,” picturing the many ways in which sitting had been criminalized in the past: A sit-in at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro. Sit-ins against the British Raj in India. Drag queens and transgender women at the Compton Cafeteria in San Francisco. Rosa Parks in Montgomery.

The message was heard, and an unexpected group of San Franciscans heeded the call: Public Space Advocates. In March groups organized a citywide event under the banner “Sidewalks are for People!” Everyday San Franciscans from all walks of life would take to the sidewalks for an afternoon, cop a squat, and just do whatever they pleased — Chess games. Poetry readings. Barbecues. Chalk art. Even a hot tub. The first action was phenomenal, with over a hundred actions and literally thousands of participants.

Between the broadened pressure from the many sectors of the community who now recognized sit/lie—and even homelessness—as *their* issue, and the creative and popular appeal of the Sidewalks are for People actions.    the tide turned. Conservative columnists held out, but the media had a hard time resisting the appeal of the campaign, and coverage ceased to be completely one-sided.

Organizers for the campaign obtained a permit to hold a rally on the steps of City Hall the day of the Board of Supervisor’s decision. Homeless youth, day laborers, a union representative, a spokesperson for a queer organization, a civil rights attorney, and a supportive member of the Board were to speak. When they got there, they found that the Sheriff’s Department had barricaded the steps of City Hall, and a line of police stood behind the barricades with arms crossed. For a permitted protest from a group that had always been law-abiding, this was unprecedented. But organizers sat down on the sidewalk, and held their rally anyhow. When they got inside, the Board voted 8-to-3 to oppose the law, with even the moderate members of the Board speaking out against the potential infringements upon civil liberties.

We had won.

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, BUY, BUY AGAIN…

Rebuffed by the Board, the Mayor promptly placed sit/lie on the ballot. A truism of San Francisco politics is that neighborhood elections, favor progressive politics: Progressives have the neighborhood infrastructure and the community organizations to create powerful campaigns on a truly local level. But citywide elections favor conservatives, who are able to far outspend progressives. If he couldn’t get his way through the Board, Mayor Newsom was going to bank on… bankers.

Over the course of the summer, the campaign supporting a sit/lie law (calling itself the “Civil Sidewalks Coalition”) spent $411,000 persuading San Franciscans that such a law would create order in the city. The vast majority of this money came from the financial sector, including presidents and partners from Charles Schwab, Morgan Stanley, and the Bank of America. Commercials prominently featuring the Chief of Police were aired throughout the lead-up to the playoffs, during the championship and after each World Series game.

With a budget of less than $10,000, the opponents of the law—the Sidewalks are for People Coalition—put up a mean fight. They designed engaging tabloids and door-hangers, and went door-to-door in projected swing neighborhoods. They maintained a place in the media, through creative actions that included multiple drag shows, the musical genius of the Brass Liberation Orchestra, and a religious revival led by the renowned Reverend Billy.

In the end, however, the Sit/Lie law passed with 54% of the vote, aided by the phenomenal inequality of the campaign budgets, buying air time during the SF Giants success, the sense among many occasional voters that it would never pass in San Francisco, and a low voter turn-out in the two poorest districts.

THIS FIGHT AIN’T OVER

The night of the election, as results came in, spontaneous sit-ins happened in three different parts of the city. Within a week, hundreds of people got involved in other protests, organized by people who had not previously been part of the campaign. With core campaign organizers exhausted or burnt out, other organizations began planning their own actions. In a very, very important sense, we won: This was not something that other progressives in San Francisco had just let happen to homeless people: When we lost, we *all* lost. And there was no way we were going to take this loss lying down. Well… Maybe defiantly lying down.

Community groups have coalesced around the recognition that criminalizing any one group of us criminalizes us all. Saturday, December 18, we held the first Sidewalks are for People Day since the election, reclaiming the sidewalk now that sidewalk rest has become criminalized. With hundreds of people and over a dozen actions, this fight is not over yet.

At the same time, the Coalition on Homelessness has begun developing documentation and know-your-rights trainings for members of our community who are cited or threatened with citation.  Simultaneously, attorneys from the ACLU and Disability Rights Advocates, as well as independent attorneys, have begun work developing legal strategies to challenge what we believe to be an unconstitutional law.

Through coordinated documentation, litigation, and through public pressure on our legislators, on a new mayoral administration, on the media, and on the consciences of our fellow San Franciscans, we know ultimately we will win.

WRAP was formed to unite the voices, talents and energy of the awesome
social justice work happening locally in our communities throughout the West
Coast. Through our member groups’ outreach, community forums, WRAP
workgroups, and collective actions, we are creating a unified message that
amplifies the voices of the many organizations that fight for poor people.
Our widely distributed and updated report Without Housing (2006 & 2010) has
established us as a recognized presence – both in Washington DC and across
the country.

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