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Posts Tagged ‘disability’

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

Read Full Post »

It’s Crazy To Criminalize Homelessness

Posted on by WRAP Comms

WRAP has been documenting the increases of mentally ill people in local jails as a result of diminished funding for mental health treatment and housing, escalation of “nuisance crime” enforcement by police and private security, and expansion of mental health courts.

The scale of this issue is enormous: it is reported that the LA county jail alone houses 3,000 mentally ill people a night. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, as many as 64% of people in jails nationwide have mental health problems.   In the 1980s and early 1990s, people with severe mental illness made up 6-7% of the jail population. In the last 5 years, this percentage has climbed to 16-30%. Nationwide, there are three times as many people with mental illness in prisons as there are in hospitals; 40% of people with severe mental illness have been imprisoned at some point in their lives; and 90% of those incarcerated with a mental illness have been incarcerated more than once and 30% have been incarcerated ten times or more.

We at WRAP see this ever-increasing incarceration of mentally ill people as part of a trend toward using the criminal justice system to address health and socioeconomic needs.  On the ground, this means that mentally ill homeless people who lack adequate access to housing and treatment services are vulnerable to getting caught in the criminal justice system, especially arrest or citation under local “quality of life” or “nuisance crime” laws that include sitting/lying on sidewalks, panhandling, and loitering. Oftentimes, the seriousness of these infractions is escalated to “failure to appear” bench warrants, which require jail time.

To gain a clearer understanding of the scope of the problem, we are conducting outreach to self-identified mentally ill people, service providers, justice system employees, lawyers and researchers.  We have also conducted a literature review of Department of Justice reports and periodical pieces.  We were stunned to learn that never before has there been systemic outreach to self-identified mentally ill homeless people about this issue.

During the month of August 2010, WRAP did street outreach with 253 self-identified mentally ill homeless people in six cities (Portland, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, Los Angeles and Denver).  The National Consumer Advisory Board of the National Health Care for the Homeless Council is doing 350 more in seven cities across the country. We currently have a small sampling of online surveys from 36 frontline service providers.  If you or your organization would like to participate in either of these surveys contact staff at WRAP.

The initial responses tell us we need to bring together all the concerned members of local communities and finally start to reverse this trend.

Here’s just some of what the street outreach found:

  • 76% reported being stopped, arrested, or cited due to “quality of life” offenses.
  • 60% reported being harassed by private (Business Improvement District) security.
  • 35% reported having ignored tickets issued against them.
  • 59% reported having Bench Warrants issued for their arrest.
  • 22% reported having outstanding warrants at the time of the survey.
  • 21% reported being incarcerated while 5% reported being referred to a program when brought before court.
  • 29% reported losing their housing or being discharged from a program due to incarceration.

This closely mirrors the initial service provider experiences even though they were not all in the same cities:

  • Almost 20% of service providers report that their clients’ interactions with police occur because they appear to be homeless.
  • More than 60% of service providers report that their clients’ interactions with police occur because of drinking related offenses
  • 30% of service providers report that their clients interact with police because they are loitering, 16% report interaction because of jaywalking, and 16% for trespassing.
  • 53% of service providers report that approximately 20% or more of their clients have bench warrants against them.
  • 44% of service providers report that 50% or more of their clients have outstanding tickets.
  • 74% of service providers report that at least 70% of their clients have been arrested.

By looking at and analyzing the experiences of the clients and of the service providers and relating these to the research that been done on issues of decreasing access and increasing criminalization, we will lay the foundation needed for all of us to come together and finally begin to dispel the myth that mental illness and homelessness are the result of people choosing a lifestyle and that service providers are incompetent. These claims have gone unanswered far too long and the result, as we all see, is killing us.

While re-funding housing and treatment services might seem to be a logical response, local and state governments, with the support of the Federal Department of Justice have instead been implementing Homeless and Mental Health courts. In the last 10 years, the number of Mental Health Courts in the U.S. has increased from 4 to 120.

In theory, the mental health court system is a collaborative effort between judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, caseworkers, and mental health professionals aimed at figuring out an appropriate treatment plan for the offender. Some recent studies suggest that mental health courts substantially reduce recidivism, and others have shown that participation in mental health court increased defendants’ access to long-term care. Which would seem to disprove the whole services resistant argument, which is so prevalent in the creation of these courts.

However, mental health courts also have significant drawbacks.  In order to gain access to the mental health court, defendants must plead guilty to the crime they are accused of and agree to adhere to the courts recommendations or be remanded to the traditional court.  These conditions are coercive and can also perpetuate the criminalization of people with mental illness. As one service provider noted, “in Mental Health court, people are often “remanded to custody” for non-compliance with court case management, which includes medications. To jail someone for not taking medication, especially if it is medication that causes extremely adverse side effects, is questionable from a legal standpoint, and from a treatment standpoint, it is barbaric. Everything described above then happens: people [lose] their income, health insurance, housing, and everything else.”

WRAP seeks to ensure that jails do not replace community-based mental health treatment services and that the hundreds of millions of dollars that are currently funding the whole bureaucratic process of criminalizing people instead be applied as an initial down payment towards the housing and treatment that is not only much more humane, but in the long run, much more affordable as well.

We’ll use our collective strengths, organizing, outreach, research, public education, artwork and direct actions. We will continue to expand this network of organizations and cities and we will train ourselves to ultimately bring down the whole oppressive system of policing poor people and poverty as a non-human broken window to be discarded and replaced.

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Easter Seals pool is the only therapeutic warm water pool up here on the NorthCoast- it is indoors and has a wheelchair ramp. The facility also provides art, cooking, and other such classes.

The facility will be closing on April 30th if the community doesn’t keep it open.

Vector Rehab Services, with the intent of taking the facility over, investing in some construction repairs and upgrades, and continuing to maintain the pool and other therapeutic and rehabilitative resources, needs more time to complete the proposal and buying process. Easter Seals San Francisco, however, wants to sell the property off immediately to the highest bidder, threatening the communities who use it- elderly, disabled, and injured. The facility was originally donated about 60 years ago to serve these communities, and has been a unique and critical component to their health and enjoyment. The warm water pool is one of the few places where people who use wheelchairs or have difficulties with movement, many who are landlocked, chairlocked, or bedridden, can comfortably relax, move more freely, and in some cases, enjoy rare times of extended mobility. The pool is often full because it is a vital resource for the quality of life and health of so many people.

Easter Seals, headquartered in San Francisco, is telling the local community to “butt out” and “mind your own business.” Easter Seals does not care or want to hear from the affected public.

All we need is for Easter Seals to wait long enough for Vector, which wants to add a pool to its public resources, to purchase the property.

Today (Wednesday) supporters and beneficiaries of the facility protested on Edgewood Road in front of the Easter Seals Eureka. Please see the Press Release from that event at one of these links: PDF: http://www.box.net/shared/ji0t8vapdr JPEG: http://www.box.net/shared/gb0b2isxo3

Tomorrow, Thursday April 29, 11:30am to 4pm there will be a protest in front of the Humboldt Courthouse in Eureka.

We just need time, so that Vector can get all the paperwork together to buy it and keep the pool open!

Easter Seals is not supposed to be about profit and the highest bidder; Easter Seals is supposed to work in the interest of elderly, injured, and disabled people. People travel from Trinidad, Fortuna, and all over the county to get healing, freedom, and community at the Easter Seals facility. It would be a horrible loss for all of us if Easter Seals pushes for developers to move in.

Please join the PROTEST tomorrow and/or
CONTACT Easter Seals Northern California by phone at (415) 382-7450 or
Email cking@noca.easterseals.com or
WRITE a Letter to the Editor to our local papers or to the Press Democrat in Santa Rosa.

Also, as suggested in a handout from the protest today: If you drive by the pool on Edgewood Road , and you see a real estate sign (or are aware of developers looking at the property), contact them and ask them to keep “hands off” this property. Give the “save the Pool” committee a chance to submit a proposal.

Show your support for this facility to remain in the service of the people who need it.

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