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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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Anti-Okie Laws

The agricultural workers who migrated to California for work in the 1900s were generally referred to as “Okies”. They were assumed to be from Oklahoma, but they moved to California from other states, as well. The term became derogatory in the 1930s when massive numbers of people migrated West to find work. In 1937, California passed an “anti-Okie” law which made it a misdemeanor to “bring or assist in bringing” extremely poor people into the state. The law was later considered unconstitutional.

Jim Crow Laws

After the American Civil War (1861-1865), most Southern states passed laws denying black people basic human rights. Later, many border states followed suit. These laws became known as Jim Crow laws after the name of a popular black-face character that would sing songs like “Jump Jim Crow.” In California, Jim Crow played out against Chinese immigrants more than black people. From 1866-1947, Chinese residents of San Francisco were forced to live in one area of the city. The same segregation laws prohibited inter-racial marriage between Chinese and non-Chinese persons and educational and employment laws were also enforced in the city. African and Indian children had to attend separate schools from those of white children. In 1879, the California constitution read that no Chinese people could vote and the law was not repealed until 1926. Oregon and Idaho had similar provisions in their constitutions. In 1891, a referendum required all Chinese people to carry a “certification of residence” card or face arrest and jail. In 1909, the Japanese were added to the list of people who were prohibited by law from marrying white people. In 1913, “Alien Land Laws” were passed that prohibited any Asian people from owning or leasing property. The law was not struck down by the California Supreme Court until 1952.

Ugly Laws

From the 1860s to the 1970s, several American cities had laws that made it illegal for people with “unsightly or disgusting” disabilities to appear in public. Some of these laws were called “unsightly beggar ordinances”. The first ordinance was in San Francisco in 1867, but the most commonly cited law was from Chicago. Chicago Municipal Code section 36034 stated: “No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offense.”

Operation Wetback

Operation Wetback began in 1954 in California and Arizona as an effort to remove all illegal, Mexican immigrants from the Southwestern states. The Operation was by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and coordinated 1,075 border control agents along with state and local police agencies. The agents went house-to-house looking for Mexicans and performed citizenship checks during traffic stops. They would stop any “Mexican-looking” person on the street and insist on seeing identification. Operation Wetback was only abandoned after a large outcry from opponents in both the United States and Mexico.

Sundown Towns

Sundown Towns did not allow people who were considered “minorities” to remain in the town after the sun set. Some towns posted signs at their borders specifically telling people of color to not let the sun set on them while in the town. There were town policies and real estate covenants in place to support the racism, which was enforced by local police officers. Sundown Towns existed throughout the United States and there were thousands of them before the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibited racial discrimination in housing practices. Sundown Towns simply did not want certain ethnic groups to stay in their towns at night. If undesired people were to wander into a Sundown Town after the sun had set, they would be subject to any form of punishment from harassment to lynching. While the state of Illinois had the highest number of Sundown Towns, they were a national phenomenon that mostly targeted anyone of African, Chinese, and Jewish heritage.

Today…… Broken Windows Laws Current “Quality of Life” laws also take a certain population into account: homeless persons. Using these laws, people are criminalized for simply walking, standing, sleeping, and other regular human behaviors. In other words, they are penalized and harassed simply because of who they are. Just as with Jim Crow, Ugly Laws, Anti-Okie Laws, and Operation Wetback, how people look and their very existence is the basis for charging them with criminal behaviors.

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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Companies can block customers’ class-action lawsuits, Supreme Court rules

Justices rule in a Southern California case that firms can force customers to arbitrate their complaints individually. The ruling is seen as a major victory for corporations

By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times April 28, 2011

The Supreme Court dealt a blow to class-action lawsuits that involve small claims affecting thousands or even millions of people by ruling that corporations may use arbitration clauses to block dissatisfied consumers or disgruntled employees from joining together.

In a 5-4 decision, the justices said Wednesday the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925, originally aimed at disputes over maritime and rail shipments, trumps state laws and court rulings in California and about half the states that limit arbitration clauses deemed to be “unfair” to consumers.

The ruling was “the biggest ever” on class actions, said Vanderbilt University law professor Brian Fitzpatrick, an expert on such litigation.

“It gives companies a green light to exempt themselves from all class actions from their customers or from their employees,” Fitzpatrick said. “Companies can basically escape from the civil justice system. And why wouldn’t a company take advantage of that?”

It has become routine now that when someone opens a bank account, subscribes to a cable TV service, buys a cellphone, a computer or a new car or makes a purchase online, he or she agrees to let disputes go to arbitration.

Many employers include the same kind of fine print for new hires, blocking class-action suits for employees with discrimination or wage complaints.

These arbitration clauses typically require individuals to bring claims on their own, not as a group.

Nonetheless, the California Supreme Court in 2005 said companies should not be allowed to “deliberately cheat large numbers of consumer out of small amounts of money” by shielding themselves from being sued.

But on Wednesday, the court’s conservative majority overruled those state judges and said arbitration clauses must be enforced even if they may be unfair.

Justice Antonin Scalia said companies like the “streamlined” arbitration proceedings because they are faster and cheaper.

Deepak Gupta, the Public Citizen lawyer who represented a California couple who sued over what was purported to be a free cellphone but cost about $30.22, agreed that the ruling in their case would have a broad effect.

It allows companies to use “the fine print of take-it-or-leave it contracts” as a “shield against corporate accountability,” he said.

Not all products or services come with arbitration clauses, but many do, he said. Some products, such as appliances, come with a box that includes fine-print contracts and an arbitration clause. These have been upheld as binding, even if the consumer did not sign the agreement, legal experts said.

Several business lawyers said class-action claims rarely work to the benefit of consumers anyway.

“I think this decision will help consumers, not hurt them,” said Alan Kaplinsky, a Philadelphia lawyer for the American Bankers Assn. “The only people who do well in the class-action suits are the lawyers. The attorneys get millions in fees, and the consumers get a worthless coupon. For them, it’s better to go through arbitration.”

Still pending before the court is a major dispute over class-action suits involving job discrimination.

Lawyers for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. have asked the justices to throw out a sex-discrimination claim brought on behalf of 1.5 million current and past female employees. Though the Wal-Mart case has attracted far more attention, Wednesday’s ruling on arbitration contracts could have a greater effect in blocking future class-actions suits on behalf of employees.

The decision is in line with a series of pro-arbitration rulings from the high court since the 1980s. They are all based on an obscure 1925 law that speaks of “maritime transactions.” It was passed to protect shippers and dealers who exchanged goods across the country. It said that if they agreed to arbitrate disputes, those deals would have to be enforced.

But in recent years, the court’s conservative majority has wielded that law to knock down objections to unfair arbitration clauses involving consumers.

Vincent and Liza Concepcion, who live in the San Diego area, were charged $30.22 in sales tax for what was promoted as a free cellphone. They tried to join a class-action suit against AT&T Mobility, but the company said the they would have to go to arbitration as individuals. Their cellphone contract prohibited class-action claims, the company said.

Judges in California — both federal and state — agreed with the Concepcions and ruled that the company could not enforce its ban on class-action claims. The Supreme Court reversed that decision in AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion.

“Arbitration is poorly suited to the higher stakes of class litigation,” Scalia said. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The dissenters said a practical ban on class actions would be unfair to cheated consumers.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer said the California courts have wisely insisted on permitting class-action claims. Otherwise, he said, it would allow a company to “insulate” itself “from liability for its own frauds” by denying consumers a practical remedy.

Breyer added that a ban on class actions would prevent lawyers from representing clients for small claims.

“What rational lawyer would have signed on to represent the Concepcions in litigation for the possibility of fees stemming from a $30.22 claim,” he wrote. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined his dissent.

The court itself divided along partisan lines. All five Republican appointees formed the majority, while the four Democratic appointees dissented.

david.savage@latimes.com

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/la-fi-court-class-action-20110428,0,2654787.story

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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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By Christopher Cadelago

Monday, November 8, 2010

The interfaith vigil from the San Diego Rescue Mission to the San Diego County Administration Center was designed to raise awareness of the men, women and children whose lives didn’t have to end on the streets.

Peggy Peattie

The interfaith vigil from the San Diego Rescue Mission to the San Diego County Administration Center was designed to raise awareness of the men, women and children whose lives didn’t have to end on the streets.

DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO — Nearly 300 people marched Sunday in a candlelight vigil to remember the homeless who have died on the streets of San Diego the past year.

Fifty of the marchers carried pairs of shoes meant to represent each of the homeless who died from Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30. Participants stopped to pray on their way from the San Diego Rescue Mission to the San Diego County Administration Center.

More than 8,500 people in San Diego County were homeless at the beginning of this year, according to the Regional Task Force on the Homeless. That represented a roughly 8 percent increase from the 2009 count of 7,892, said Herb Johnson, president and chief executive of the Rescue Mission.

The interfaith event was designed to raise awareness of the men, women and children whose lives didn’t have to end on the streets. That so many homeless died last year in America’s Finest City “is absolutely unforgivable,” said Johnson.

He then turned his attention to the many homeless people who had gathered along Harbor Drive.

“There’s the shared meaning and understanding that could have been them,” he said. “These efforts give a voice to those who are not heard and those who will never be heard from again.”

The common refrain is that people choose to be homeless because they are unmotivated to work. But many of those living in shelters are employed and can’t afford housing. Others might suffer from mental illnesses, substance abuse or medical issues, said Bob McElroy of the Alpha Project.

Kami Peterson, 45, lost her three-bedroom El Cajon town home before sliding deeper into addiction. Peterson’s drug of choice was meth, she said, but it could have been any number of vices that brought down many of her peers now living at the Rescue Mission.

After leaving treatment last month she was reunited with her 6-year-old daughter, Angel. Each of Peterson’s six children, three of them under the age of 18, has served as motivation for her recovery. “It’s about learning or relearning responsibilities.”

Through she didn’t know Nancy Vega-Wright, 54, who died on the streets, it was impossible not to feel a connection while carrying shoes bearing her name, Peterson said.

The same went for Joseph Christie. The 53-year-old entered the Rescue Mission program after his Bonita home burned down in March. Since, he’s embraced religion, offering a series of prayers as he carried shoes meant to represent the death of 44-year-old Kevin Kline.

“Everyone has their own reasons to be here,” Christie said. “My plan to stay out of trouble … is to tell people about the Lord.”

The interfaith candlelight vigil offered prayers and readings from Zen centers, synagogues and churches. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders proclaimed Sunday as “Homeless Persons Remembrance Day” and the county Board of Supervisors offered a similar proclamation.

Organizers then read the names of the dead. Marcos Rodriguez, a homeless man who declined to give his age, said the ceremony came on the same weekend that an acquaintance had passed away. The man, who was missing an arm and a leg, will be among the first names added to next year’s list. Rodriguez said. “You might not know his name, but he’s in our blessings tonight.”

Since 2001, 668 homeless people have died on the streets, according to the county Medical Examiner’s Office.

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/2010/nov/08/san-diego-march-remembers-homeless-who-have-died-s/

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Peace Protesters Call for an End to the Santa Cruz Sleeping Ban

Since July 4th, a couple dozen people have been protesting the Santa Cruz Sleeping Ban by camping each night from 8pm – 8am at the County Courthouse. Organizer Ed Frey says that the demonstration aims to “convince local and national government to stop breaching the peace, especially that of peaceful sleepers, and to instead use resources to discourage violence and warfare in all its forms.”

Indybay contributor Skidmark Bob spoke with Ed Frey, Robert Norse, and other campers who are participating in the civil disobedience in violation of the City of Santa Cruz Sleeping and Camping Ban, officially known as M.C. 6.36.010.

http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/07/07/18652973.php

4th July 2010 Sleepout/Camping Ban Vigil at S.C. County Bldg. | Santa Cruz Courthouse Sleepout Day 3 |Free the Land on Peace Camp Night 3

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CSU to raise undergraduate fees 5 percent
lrosenhall@sacbee.com
Published Friday, Jun. 18, 2010

California State University trustees voted today to raise fees for undergraduate students by 5 percent.

The action takes effect this fall and increases fees by $204 a year for a full-time student, bringing the total cost for an education at a Cal State campus to almost $5,100 — not including books, room or board.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal for the 2010-11 budget assumed that CSU would raise student fees by 10 percent. An alternative proposal from Assembly Democrats suggested the 5 percent hike.

In going with the Assembly’s proposal to raise fees by 5 percent today, Cal State trustees acknowledged they were taking the risk that they may have to increase them again in a few months, depending on the outcome of the budget process in the Legislature.

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REPORTS from only three days!

May 6, 2010

This morning I was wakened from sleep at around 7 in the morning by four men in uniform, led by Sgt. Swithenbank.

I was sleeping under the Bear Gulch bridge.

They told me they were having complaints about “you people”.

I said I wasn’t “you people” but they said yes I was.

They gave me a white paper notice of trespass warning with the County of Humboldt and Swithenbank’s name on it.

They said I would be arrested if they found me sleeping anywhere.

They photographed me with a board with my name, first and last, and something else written on it. I objected briefly before being photographed but one officer pulled out his handcuffs and said “I’ve been waiting to use these”.

I then let them take my photograph.

I wear glasses, I was not able to see the officer’s names. I know Swithenbank by sight; the others I think are new to our area.

I think referring to anyone as “you people” is stereotyping or profiling.

————————————————-

At about May 6, 2010 at about 7:30AM I was sleeping in my tent on the ridge north of Redway and I heard “you in the tent, come out”. I asked if I could put on my pants; he said no, come on out. I had long johns on so I stepped out.

I was surrounded by 8 officers, including a female.

The female was blonde and tall. The guy making demands was dark haired with a mustache and a chiseled, hawk like face. I did not get the names of the officers.

They asked what brought me to Humboldt County. I said “camping”. They said you’ve been camping for a while and I said I’d been ripped off by 3 companies and decided to live different.

They said I was trespassing on private property and asked me to produce my ID. I did. I had glass beer bottles containing water in my tent; I use glass bottles because they are safer and chemicals don’t leach into my water. They said “you’ve got your 40” and I told them it was water. Are you sure you aren’t making moonshine he asked. I was reaching in to get one of my water bottles and he yelled “hey, get out of there, you might have a gun”

I said “no, no, nothing like that”.

He said “Stand up, we’re gonna take your picture” They put a board with my name in front of me. One of the officers made a joke about my morning hair looking like a rooster and another officer said it was the best photo of the morning.

They gave me a white piece of paper and told me “If you’re here again it will be a fine. You have an hour to get out of here”. I told them it might take a little while longer.

They tazed someone the other day. I didn’t want to provoke them, there were 8 of them, and one of me and I was alone in the woods.

——————————-

From an Iraq veteran.

On May 6, 2010, yesterday, about 0700 me and my girl were already awake after staying up all night watching shooting stars on the hill a little north of Garberville. Swithenbank and his officers came out and gave us papers and teased us about being a couple. We had no garbage there, nothing, the camp was clean. There were 4 or 6 officers and animal control, they seem to want to just take the things homeless people have, and their dogs, and everything.

They ran our names to see if we had warrants. I don’t understand why they took my picture.

I’ve been cleaning up this town for years; they need to stop harassing us. I have a fiancé, I’m trying to keep things together.

They said we can’t camp down by the river either. They didn’t tell us where we could go.

I grew up around here and Redding, I was part of a homeschooled family. My grandpa died and I was left homeless.

I’m trying to start my life again.

Two years ago I got laid off 9 times; I was doing jobs I never did before, like welding.

—————–
from Vietnam era vet:

On May 6, 2010 at about 10AM I was sitting in my chair drinking a cup of coffee, enjoying the quiet morning. My cat alerted me that intruders were coming. Four deputies walked up into my camp. I saw them first, I said “good morning, how’s it going”. They asked if I had any ID. We don’t know if you are America’s top ten wanted, please have a seat (on the poison oak). They ran my name and told me I was camping illegally on private property and told me I was being issued a trespassing/littering notice. And that I should leave as soon as possible.

I told Swithenbank it would take me at least 24 hours to get things together (which I did, but I have to go back to get my cat).

They took my picture with a board in front of me with my name, as if I were a criminal.

They said they would come back and would be checking. If I were still here they would “have to take appropriate action”

One cop asked if I was on drugs like heroin or meth. I said no.
——————————————

9 Contacts from the raids on the homeless in SoHum
May 6, 2010 from 7AM till around 1PM

-Man at Bear Creek Gulch (just north of Garberville) contacted by cops with Sgt Swithenbank. Cops took picture, issued warning. Land owner Humboldt County (aka public property)

-Man at Redwood Drive by Bear Creek Bridge contacted by cops w/Swithenbank. Took picture, issued warning. Land owner Humboldt County(aka public property).

-Man Contacted by cops under Bear Creek Bridge, took picture. He’s from out of state: Swithenbank told him “to leave Humboldt county and if they come back he would go to jail”

-Young man contacted by cops at Bear Gulch. Cops took picture. Gave warning.

-Young man contacted by cops. Took picture, gave written warning.

-Man contacted by cops. Cops took picture, given warning.

-Woman contacted by cops at 10:45 AM. Cops took picture, gave warning. Contact was behind Blue Star Gas
(north of Garberville, near the freeway). Cited for no rabies tag on dog. Officer C. Nikolaus #99704. Cops were very rude.

-Young man contacted by cops behind Blue Star Gas. Cops took picture, issued warning.

-Man contacted by cops at Raven’s Cliff (Redway, above the river). Cops took picture, issued warning.
————————————————————–
Woman who was born in this area. Her boyfriend used to work for John Casali.

On Friday May 7, 2010 early in the morning around 6:30 we were in our tent about a quarter mile out of town (Redway). Police approached us and told us to get out of the tent. We did. They asked for our ID’s and our names. They said “We’re taking your pictures” and they wrote our names and dates of birth on paper on a clipboard and held it in front of us and took pictures. They did not ask our permission to take photographs of us.

They gave us a paper saying we were trespassing and that we should move immediately. They cited me for having a dog without a rabies tag even though I had mailed in my papers to get the tag.

We moved down to the other side of the road, to the bridge near Dean Creek.

Hamilton came by on Saturday, gave us till 9 AM Sunday to move and told us he was arresting us, but releasing us at the scene. Tresspassing and littering is what it says on the ticket, although we were not at the same location as we had been and were not littering.

Hamilton came on Sunday and gave us till 1 PM to move.

I get my food stamps here, and counseling, I was in a house
in Myers Flat for 4 years but now I am in a tent. I have no place else to go. I was born in Humboldt County. I feel I am being pushed from my home. I have Cherokee in me.

We keep our camps clean.
—————–
Ticket issued today, May 8, 2010 by Sheriff Deputy Hamilton for trespassing and littering. However, the circumstances were that the guy returned to the river bank with a few friends to have lunch there. There is a firepit; they were heating their lunch. They informed Hamilton they were just there for lunch, not to stay, but he said they’d been warned.

—–
more from May 8, 2010:

1) Man contacted by cops. Picture taken, warning given. He was on Public Land

2) Woman contacted by cops on public land. Picture taken.
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by Nick Jiles
May 3, 2010

Since the 2009 summer press conference addressing his proposed cuts to California’s IHSS program Governor Schwarzenegger has been relentless in his condemnation of an allegedly fraud-ridden program which he and his cronies claim is depleting the state’s tax revenue. The governor has no made no secret of his disinterest in closing tax loop holes for some of California’s most profitable corporations or in entertaining the thought of enacting oil tax legislation, both of which would generate much needed revenue but would be in stark contrast to the anti-working class agenda which has embodied his tenure in Sacramento. Perhaps no greater example of his recent attack against California’s working class is his latest effort to eliminate the IHSS program, justified by the blatant lies that comprise his anti-fraud campaign. Armed with fallacious rhetoric and testimony from a handful of county District Attorneys hiding behind the secrecy of Grand Jury findings the governor has championed one number, 25.

The governor speculated that fraud in the IHSS program was as high as 25% statewide, an alarming number for any program receiving state and federal tax revenue. Despite the efforts to ignore his critics, who have proposed such ludicrous measures as validating his estimation with actual data/empirical evidence, the governor has propelled his anti-fraud propaganda forward, using tax revenue to enforce anti-fraud policies and substantiate the urgency of dealing with such a sensitive issue that he claims lacks conclusive data to support his critics. Comments from governor Schwarzenegger’s July 6th, 2009 IHSS Fraud Press Conference included the following, “There is, of course, hesitation amongst the legislators. They say, “Well, we have to do some more studies,” and, “I don’t think we should jump to quick conclusions here,” and, “I don’t think we should make this part of the budget.”

Perhaps the “hesitation” of the governor’s critics could be attributed to the fact that one significant inquiry (unless one considers arbitrary statements from district attorneys as anecdotal evidence) has been made pertaining to fraud in the state’s IHSS program, a statewide audit commissioned by the governor himself in 2007-2008. The audit succeeded in providing an eerily powerful contradiction to the governor’s recent statements regarding the IHSS program. Of the 41 counties which participated in the quality assurance review, conducted by the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), nearly 24,000 (23,823) cases were reviewed in attempt to uncover fraud/activities requiring further investigation. Of the cases reviewed, just over 1,000 (1,076) required further investigation and of that number only 557 cases were referred to the California Department of Health Care Services for review. Schwarzenegger’s supporters point to the inadequacies of the audit’s methodology, pointing out the insufficient resources available to adequately find fraud and using such figures as the relatively low amount of home visits conducted during the audit (3,883) to justify the shortcomings of the audit’s conclusion (to be discussed in further detail below). How convenient! Conduct an audit to reveal the ubiquitous fraud of the IHSS program and then dismiss the audit’s findings when you they don’t return the desired results!

One might wonder: Why did the governor fail to mention the results of the audit to the public? Or perhaps even more troubling, how do public officials whose job duties require them to know such information support such a clear attempt to misinform the general public? As we’ve come to expect from the governor, logic ceases to exist when it comes to issues affecting the working class and despite the facts there were public officials who came forward, eager to defend the governor’s unfounded speculation. District Attorney testimony which mirrored the ambiguity of the following statement from Ventura County District Attorney Gregory Totten, “The current estimates range anywhere from on the low side, maybe 5 to 10 percent to 25 percent in terms of the fraud that occurs in this program…” is illustrative of the haphazard journey of speculative nonsense that the governor’s supporters have exhibited when discussing fraud in the IHSS program. After all, the confidence exuded by Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully sounded somewhat convincing, right? “And what we’ve told them is and I know you’ve used the figure and a lot of us agree with that, 25 percent fraud.” To state than an examination of the six grand jury reports does little to alleviate the unsubstantiated conjecture void of empirical evidence is a gross understatement.

Grand jury report findings are protected from public disclosure by the following legal disclaimer: “Grand jury reports area based upon documentary evidence, and the testimony of sworn or admonished witnesses, not on conjecture or opinion. However, the grand jury is precluded by law from disclosing such evidence except upon the approval of the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court, or another judge appointed by the Presiding Judge (Penal Code Sections 911, 924.1(a), and 929).” Is it not surprising then that the testimony of District Attorneys in agreement with the governor’s anti-fraud efforts, bolstered grand jury findings with sheepish obedience to his estimations of the magic number, 25%? Another principle element of the grand jury findings espoused by district attorneys who provided testimony was the program’s lack of adequate safeguards against fraud.

However, the IHSS Quality Assurance, the progeny of bi-partisan legislation enacted in 2004 and an active participant in the state’s most recent audit, is comprised of state and county officials whose job duties include monitoring the program for fraudulent activities and ensuring the efficacy and quality of care provided via the program. Counties are also supposed to conduct “targeted reviews” which focus on specified IHSS cases that indicate the potential for fraud. Much has also been made of background checks and technological implementations that would protect consumers from the litany of prisoners plaguing the IHSS program. A recent fallacy extolled by the LA Times stated that, “Requiring background checks of providers and hiring more fraud investigators could save the state hundreds of millions of dollars this year alone.” (Op Ed, 7/3/09) The recklessly irresponsible and untrue statement is merely a pathetic attempt to justify the governor’s proposal to spend $26.5 million of California’s tax revenue to investigate fraud that he claimed wasn’t discovered due to lack of available resources at the time of the audit. After reviewing the evidence available (i.e. the state-wide audit discussed above), it is apparent that adding yet another state funded bureaucracy to eradicate the 2% fraud rate that is draining the state’s tax revenue is beyond ridiculous.

Perhaps those who are convinced of the deviant characters serving as IHSS providers statewide and endangering the health of the vulnerable should take into account the following assessment of social workers’ struggles during the Schwarzenegger era, “Catching unscrupulous providers in the IHSS program requires good case management by trained social workers. Unfortunately, the Governor has consistently grossly underfunded the case management oversight in the program throughout his tenure. His budgets fund less than the bare minimum of case oversight — just over 8 hours per year per client to perform a number of activities, including client intake, assessment, provider enrollment, timesheet processing, and overall case monitoring. IHSS social workers often can’t get out to see their clients more than once a year. To make matters worse, the Governor permanently cut county IHSS budgets by another $15 million in 2008-09.” Apparently it’s difficult to find fraud when the very people employed to help monitor it find themselves subject to the governor’s guillotine as well.

Finding one’s way through the maze of guesswork and ancillary commentary of governor Schwarzenegger is easy enough when one has the facts. The people governor Schwarzenegger claims to represent in his efforts to eradicate waste and fraud within the IHSS program are the same people who will inevitably suffer in the event that he realizes his elitist agenda, an agenda that leaves California’s most vulnerable population without the care it deserves. I leave you with the following, the CONCLUSION from the most recent statewide audit of the program, “We continue to see the positive impact of QA and look forward to our continual collaborative efforts to ensure improvement and consistency in the delivery of services for all IHSS recipients and to minimize the potential for abuse or misuse of program funds, to enable more funds to be available to serve those in need.”

-Nick Jiles is an organizer with CUHW (California United Home Care Workers) and can be reached at: nicholasj@cuhw.org

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