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Archive for the ‘tent city’ Category

November’s “Radical Rap” Addresses Inhumane Treatment of Houseless People in Southern Humboldt

Radical Rap is a radio show on KMUD radio that runs the 2nd Wednesday of the month (most months).  You can listen live at:  http://kmud.org/programs-mainmenu-11/listen-live-kmud

Here is a link to download and hear Radical Rap from Nov. 14, 2012:  https://www.box.com/s/m6qi2q41bt3xf9g3fh75

 

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What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary activities are illegal when performed in American streets.

Demonstrators sleep in Zuccotti Park.: Bryan Smith/ZumaDemonstrators sleep in Zuccotti Park. Bryan Smith/ZumaThis story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

As anyone knows who has ever had to set up a military encampment or build a village from the ground up, occupations pose staggering logistical problems. Large numbers of people must be fed and kept reasonably warm and dry. Trash has to be removed; medical care and rudimentary security provided—to which ends a dozen or more committees may toil night and day. But for the individual occupier, one problem often overshadows everything else, including job loss, the destruction of the middle class, and the reign of the 1 percent. And that is the single question: Where am I going to pee?

Some of the Occupy Wall Street encampments now spreading across the US have access to Port-o-Potties (Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC) or, better yet, restrooms with sinks and running water (Fort Wayne, Indiana). Others require their residents to forage on their own. At Zuccotti Park, just blocks from Wall Street, this means long waits for the restroom at a nearby Burger King or somewhat shorter ones at a Starbucks a block away. At McPherson Square in DC, a twentysomething occupier showed me the pizza parlor where she can cop a pee during the hours it’s open, as well as the alley where she crouches late at night. Anyone with restroom-related issues—arising from age, pregnancy, prostate problems, or irritable bowel syndrome—should prepare to join the revolution in diapers.

Of course, political protesters do not face the challenges of urban camping alone. Homeless people confront the same issues every day: how to scrape together meals, keep warm at night by covering themselves with cardboard or tarp, and relieve themselves without committing a crime. Public restrooms are sparse in American cities—”as if the need to go to the bathroom does not exist,” travel expert Arthur Frommer once observed. And yet to yield to bladder pressure is to risk arrest. A report entitled “Criminalizing Crisis,” to be released later this month by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, recounts the following story from Wenatchee, Washington:

Toward the end of 2010, a family of two parents and three children that had been experiencing homelessness for a year and a half applied for a 2-bedroom apartment. The day before a scheduled meeting with the apartment manager during the final stages of acquiring the lease, the father of the family was arrested for public urination. The arrest occurred at an hour when no public restrooms were available for use. Due to the arrest, the father was unable to make the appointment with the apartment manager and the property was rented out to another person. As of March 2011, the family was still homeless and searching for housing.

What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary, biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets—not just peeing, but sitting, lying down, and sleeping. While the laws vary from city to city, one of the harshest is in Sarasota, Florida, which passed an ordinance in 2005 that makes it illegal to “engage in digging or earth-breaking activities”—that is, to build a latrine—cook, make a fire, or be asleep and “when awakened state that he or she has no other place to live.”

It is illegal, in other words, to be homeless or live outdoors for any other reason. It should be noted, though, that there are no laws requiring cities to provide food, shelter, or restrooms for their indigent citizens.

The current prohibition on homelessness began to take shape in the 1980s, along with the ferocious growth of the financial industry (Wall Street and all its tributaries throughout the nation). That was also the era in which we stopped being a nation that manufactured much beyond weightless, invisible “financial products,” leaving the old industrial working class to carve out a livelihood at places like Walmart.

As it turned out, the captains of the new “casino economy”—the stock brokers and investment bankers—were highly sensitive, one might say finicky, individuals, easily offended by having to step over the homeless in the streets or bypass them in commuter train stations. In an economy where a centimillionaire could turn into a billionaire overnight, the poor and unwashed were a major buzzkill. Starting with Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York, city after city passed “broken windows” or “quality of life” ordinances making it dangerous for the homeless to loiter or, in some cases, even look “indigent,” in public spaces.

No one has yet tallied all the suffering occasioned by this crackdown—the deaths from cold and exposure—but “Criminalizing Crisis” offers this story about a homeless pregnant woman in Columbia, South Carolina:

During daytime hours, when she could not be inside of a shelter, she attempted to spend time in a museum and was told to leave. She then attempted to sit on a bench outside the museum and was again told to relocate. In several other instances, still during her pregnancy, the woman was told that she could not sit in a local park during the day because she would be “squatting.” In early 2011, about six months into her pregnancy, the homeless woman began to feel unwell, went to a hospital, and delivered a stillborn child.

Well before Tahrir Square was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and even before the recent recession, homeless Americans had begun to act in their own defense, creating organized encampments, usually tent cities, in vacant lots or wooded areas. These communities often feature various elementary forms of self-governance: food from local charities has to be distributed, latrines dug, rules—such as no drugs, weapons, or violence—enforced. With all due credit to the Egyptian democracy movement, the Spanish indignados, and rebels all over the world, tent cities are the domestic progenitors of the American occupation movement.

There is nothing “political” about these settlements of the homeless—no signs denouncing greed or visits from left-wing luminaries—but they have been treated with far less official forbearance than the occupation encampments of the “American autumn.” LA’s Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.

All over the country, in the last few years, police have moved in on the tent cities of the homeless, one by one, from Seattle to Wooster, Ohio, Sacramento to Providence, in raids that often leave the former occupants without even their minimal possessions. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, last summer, a charity outreach worker explained the forcible dispersion of a local tent city by saying: “The city will not tolerate a tent city. That’s been made very clear to us. The camps have to be out of sight.”

What occupiers from all walks of life are discovering, at least every time they contemplate taking a leak, is that to be homeless in America is to live like a fugitive. The destitute are our own native-born “illegals,” facing prohibitions on the most basic activities of survival. They are not supposed to soil public space with their urine, their feces, or their exhausted bodies. Nor are they supposed to spoil the landscape with their unusual wardrobe choices or body odors. They are, in fact, supposed to die, and preferably to do so without leaving a corpse for the dwindling public sector to transport, process, and burn.

But the occupiers are not from all walks of life, just from those walks that slope downwards—from debt, joblessness, and foreclosure—leading eventually to pauperism and the streets. Some of the present occupiers were homeless to start with, attracted to the occupation encampments by the prospect of free food and at least temporary shelter from police harassment. Many others are drawn from the borderline-homeless “nouveau poor,” and normally encamp on friends’ couches or parents’ folding beds.

In Portland, Austin, and Philadelphia, the Occupy Wall Street movement is taking up the cause of the homeless as its own, which of course it is. Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It’s where we’re all eventually headed—the 99 percent, or at least the 70 percent, of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior—unless this revolution succeeds.

Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch regular, is the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (now in a 10th anniversary edition with a new afterword).


http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/homelessness-occupy-wall-street


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http://www.thestreetspirit.org/un-expert-condemns-cruel-treatment-of-homeless-in-u-s-2/

The UN Rapporteur’s report is the latest in a series of condemnations by international experts of the criminalization and mistreatment of homeless persons in the United States. A growing record of both domestic and international law states that homeless persons cannot be criminalized for basic life-sustaining acts.

by Whitney Gent, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty

On August 24, in an official report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, a top UN investigator said that the United States’ failure to provide homeless persons access to water and sanitary facilities “could … amount to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.” The report was issued by UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque.

Tim engineered a sanitation system for the homeless community. Every week, he collects heavy bags of waste, and hauls them several miles to a public restroom. Art by Christa Occhiogrosso

“The Rapporteur’s report is the latest in a series of condemnations by international experts of the criminalization and mistreatment of homeless persons in the U.S.,” said Eric Tars, human rights program director at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty which helped facilitate her visit. “Earlier this year, the U.S. committed itself before the Human Rights Council to doing more to protect the rights of homeless persons. Where is the action to follow the words?”

Albuquerque visited the United States in February and March 2011, and was struck by the “extraordinary lengths” homeless persons had to go to just to remove bodily wastes. During a visit to the Safe Ground tent community near Sacramento, California, she met a man who called himself the community’s “sanitation technician.”

The man, “Tim,” engineered a sanitation system consisting of a seat overtop a two-layered plastic bag. Every week, Tim collects bags of human waste, weighing anywhere from 130 to 230 pounds, and hauls them on his bicycle several miles to a public restroom. When a toilet becomes available, he empties the contents of the bags. Following the disposal, he secures the dirty bags in a clean one, which he then places in the garbage, before washing his hands with water and lemon.

He said the job is difficult, but that he does it for the community — especially the women.

The UN Special Rapporteur’s report states: “The United States, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, must ensure that everyone [has access] to sanitation which is safe, hygienic, secure and which provides privacy and ensures dignity. An immediate, interim solution is to ensure access to restroom facilities in public places, including during the night. The long-term solution to homelessness must be to ensure adequate housing.”

In June 2010, the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness adopted its first-ever comprehensive plan to end homelessness, including a section promoting constructive alternatives to criminalization. However, the criminalization of homelessness by communities persists, and to date, the Justice Department and other agencies have done little to convey the unconstitutionality of these practices to local policymakers.

“This adds to a growing record of both domestic and international law stating that homeless persons cannot be criminalized for basic life-sustaining acts when the community provides no legal alternative,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the Law Center. “But ultimately, we must remedy this situation because we, as Americans, believe that no person deserves to be treated this way.”

Whitney Gent wrote this article for The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. Read the Rapporteur’s Report here.

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The Empowered Voices Media Project tells the truth!

Almost a year ago, Sisters Of The Road partnered with Portland Community Media to bring trainings to the café centered around learning how to use media technology to tell stories and share truth around homelessness and poverty. These stories are available on EVMP’s Youtube Channel!

At the time 5 community members elected to take the trainings and over this last year, they created 12 amazing short documentaries and photo journals touching on subjects ranging from access to bathrooms and criminalization of people who are sleeping outside to how Sisters sources it’s food and the effects of the calamity of homelessness on women and children living on the streets of Portland.

The EVMP culminated in a Film Festival on December 12th that brought together not only EVMP shorts but also films by other local organizations working with youth and immigrant workers as well as more established film makers like Brian Lindstrom (Finding Normal and the upcoming Alien Boy: the life and death of James Chasse).  The festival drew over 160 people and the overwhelming response was “We need more of this!”

Well, here we are about to embark on phase two and we are going strong and growing!  Over the next year, 12 new EVMP members will receive the same trainings and begin working on photo projects, covering community events and actions, and documenting the stories of people experiencing homelessness and poverty.  While the new members receive the core trainings around using video editing software (Final Cut Pro) and Hi-def cameras, the first class of 5 will receive more advanced trainings such as lighting techniques and how to compress videos to share them more effectively through social networking sites and other online resources like Vimeo and Youtube.

The EVMP already has a list of upcoming events and a plan to gather stories, experiences and truths from the Sisters community that will be used in projects highlighting health, housing, and civil rights issues.  Participants in the EVMP will compliment their technical prowess with training centered around understanding messaging and how the mainstream media works (or doesn’t work) to “spin” its views and the views of its corporate sponsors.

The EVMP will also be creating a documentary on Sisters Of The Road that will begin the process of putting in one place the milestones, voices, successes, struggles and philosophies of an organization that has existed for over 30 years.

ALL of the EVMP members are from the Sisters community and they are being joined by cross class allies who bring skills and abilities to the table that will expand the reach and accessibility of all the projects created by EVMP members.  This includes partnerships that we are building with other local grassroots media organizations like the B-Media collective.

The EVMP will host another film festival in December 2011. It will create powerful media and share that work with communities far and wide.  You are invited to see all the work to date on EVMP’s Youtube Channel!  Subscribe to our “channel”, post comments,  and ask questions! We look forward to hearing from you!

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Jason Houk * Medford City Buzz Examiner * December 4th, 2010 3:48 pm PT

At the edge of the community plaza in Ashland Oregon, a group of homeless people have come together to try to raise awareness about the growing problem of poverty, homelessness and the need for a safe campground within the city limits. Ashland is a vibrant community in Southern Oregon that is well known as the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It’s a little city of about 22,000 people that lies nestled in the valley surrounded by hills and mountains in an area that seems to draw a fair number of dreamers, artists, poets and writers. It’s a place with a tourist driven economy and one that has skirted around the issue of homeless residents for many years.

Technically it isn’t illegal to be homeless in Ashland, but it is also not legal to sleep outside on public property either and therein lies the dichotomy.

It’s about eight o clock on a Friday night, on the fifth day protesters have gathered in the plaza. It is cold enough to see your breath as about a dozen people stand next to a bus stop holding signs asking for solutions.

Some of the signs seem a little angry, but this is largely a peaceful group. “Civil rights, basic human rights are being denied. It’s unacceptable,” says Stephanie Joy, a young woman who is currently homeless. In the distance there are holiday shoppers and fire dancers, and as Stephanie speaks, area residents driving by honking in support.

“I’m convinced that more families will be affected by this and there is a coldness in that.” She pauses for a moment and continues, “It’s also good though in a sense because it is forcing people not to be so distracted. They are talking about it.”

Protests began earlier in the week when police rousted a group of homeless campers sleeping in a wooded area above Lithia Park in Ashland. It was after midnight and the group had nowhere to go. They had been frustrated by earlier encounters with Ashland PD. People who are caught sleeping, camping or cooking on public property face fines and harassment. Finally in a move of desperation the group took up the protest in downtown Ashland across from City Hall.

On the sidewalk under the protesters, some folks have written messages in colorful chalk. One says that Jesus slept outside and above the sidewalk at the entrance of the plaza there is a large lit up menorah. About a million gold lights have been carefully hung up throughout the area so that each downtown shop is illuminated. And in the middle of all of this holiday cheer there are homeless men and women lined up on the sidewalk holding signs, waiting.

Ashland police have issued several citations this week related to the protest. Police say that so far, nobody has been arrested since they have all agreed to keep moving when they have been asked to move on. The general consensus among the protesters seems to be that since they do not have anywhere to go, they are all staying put and will keep protesting and fighting for a legal camping space.

Earlier this week, Ashland’s Police Chief Terry Holderness was quoted in an NBC interview as saying that homeless people could get a free bus ticket to Medford, Oregon where there are social services in place for them. Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen says that “Medford already has a significant homeless population and that is largely due to the social services Chief Holderness has mentioned. The County Health Department, the Veteran’s Administration, job counseling services, drug and alcohol recovery services, shelters and etc are located in Medford. Often these services are close to capacity and in the case of shelters there are times people have to be turned away. This is not just an Ashland or a Medford issue. This is a county wide issue. The Homeless Task Force has some good ideas but often those ideas are limited by access to funding.”

In the meantime other ideas are flowing. “A homeless council could possibly come out of this,” says Critter Salent who is one of the homeless men in the group, “and anyone who does not have a house or pay rent could be on it, so we could have a voice.”

Sean Gordon, a local passerby thinks that one solution might be to get some of the homeless to help keep the downtown area clean. “Sweeping up in front of businesses could go a long way in establishing people’s credibility and they would get business owners support, community support. It’s good karma, he says.”

As the evening progresses the atmosphere changes when four Ashland city police cars suddenly converge on the plaza. Officers gather at the south end of the plaza as the protesters nervously hold their ground. It is still early and the police withdraw but the protesters know the officers will be back.

When asked what the protesters need Critter responds “We need people to come out…” noting they have received some public support, folks standing in solidarity and delivering food and beverages to the determined group.

The challenges facing Ashland and its homeless citizens are not unique to this community. Ashland is in a position to demonstrate compassion and become a leader in finding solutions. If any community has the ability, resources and will it is Ashland, Oregon. “We have to start cooperating together,” says Stephanie Joy.

Vanessa Houk contributed to this article.

http://www.examiner.com/city-buzz-in-medford/ashland-oregon-homeless-protest-for-solutions-city-standoff

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Kathy Anderson of People For A Human Rights Sanctuary

a tent is affordable housing

Eureka City Council Mtg.
Sept. 21, 2010

Dear Council members:

Article 1: Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

As a council that has publicly stated that you, therefore Eureka, supports The Universal Declaration of Human Rights I need to ask you how the conscience of the city can continue using decades old attempts to “handle” the homeless problem that have failed.  You have sunk millions of dollars into sheltering, policing and jailing people yet homelessness is on the rise.

20+ years ago and most every year since, you’ve had homeless activists/advocates talk to you about a campground and you always refuse.  Then John Shelter comes to you with his New Directions Program that you funded.  According to the program description, once John OK’s people to camp, they need not worry about becoming a criminal with a camping violation.

Last week a couple who lives in the marsh with an agreement between them and John was violated by a police officer who threatened to arrest this couple for trespassing and “maintaining a public nuisance”. 
Can you imagine having an officer come to where you live telling you that you must leave by tomorrow or you’ll go to jail?  Does that sound dignified?  The officer (M.Harpham) also added insult to the threat and cut the ropes to their tarp and destroyed the door that keeps out the rain.  I’ve taken many complaints from people in my neighborhood who have had the cops slash and otherwise destroy their belongings. 

Where do homeless people go to when their agreements with the New Directions Program have been violated?  Are you still employing New Directions, if not, when are you going to tell the public?

For more than 20 years you’ve been told of the necessity for a campground set up to provide basic sheltering and sanitation for those in housing poverty.  We’ve told you that housing for every income need must be supplied to our communities or suffer with homelessness indefinitely.  Today we have a saturated rental market because those who used to own are renting and those who rented are homeless because the owners were foreclosed upon and no low income housing is slated to be built this year.  So where are people living?  In the forests and the bushes along the bay and you have hired the police to take care of our housing shortage by criminalizing people in poverty and despair!

The welfare department recognizes that people need tents and sleeping bags and will refer people to Saint Vinnie’s for free ones if they have some donations.  There are hundreds of others who have voiced their approval of a campground and who would volunteer to set up and support when they are needed.

I ask that the city work out a way to secure “common space” for people without housing to set up camp as transitional housing until the housing needs of the area become stabilized.  Please don’t look to professionals to quantify needs, homeless people and activists are far more logical and realistic than are those who have financial interest in these things.

Sincerely,
K. Anderson

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Today, September 22, 2010, I was called by Maria within the hour after I helped them relocate to a new camp spot telling me that the cops were “raiding” again and she was afraid. After calling Verbena to report the raid I went to the marsh and walked with James, Maria and dogs, down to where the patrol cars (2) were. We spoke with Murl Harpham and an unknown officer. I asked Harpham why he threatened to arrest this couple when they had an agreement with John Shelter. He said because it is illegal to camp here. I asked why did the city give $20,000 to New Directions, and he said it was so that John Shelter could teach people how to camp respectfully and clean up the marsh. I asked why the city would pay John $20,000 to teach campers how to camp if camping is illegal. Officer Harpham then told me that he would have to tell John to stop doing that. My understanding of what he was saying is that EPD has jurisdiction and therefore what New Directions was hired to do is ineffectual to the “campers” and a waste of money to the city.

We need and must provide a Human Rights Sanctuary to give relief to people like Maria who worry everyday about her belongings and staying out of the rain.

We need quiet retreats where the mind can heal from too much noise and too many people.

We need a few acres in the woods where a garden can flourish from the care of hands that once were in handcuffs.

We need jobs available to people who can sculpt and build fascinating driftwood benches and art made of recycled materials found in the marsh along the path that will be built from a million dollar grant that was just awarded to the city of Eureka. I’ll bet we could get more grant money to employ people who would live and work in the marsh while building the trail. It could be fashioned into a project like what The Conservation Corps did during the Great Depression.

We need the cops to leave people alone.

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