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Posts Tagged ‘discrimination’

WORK FOR A HOMELESS BILL OF RIGHTS!

“WRAP was created [by the members below] to expose and eliminate the root causes of civil and human rights abuses of people experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness in our communities”

 
 WRAP Members
Right to Survive                    * Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee    
St. Mary’s Center                 * Street Roots                               * Street Spirit

 

October 24th, 2013
Please don’t forget to add wrap@wraphome.org to your Safe Sender/Primary Email list so that we end up in the right inbox! 

 

WRAP recently launched the Homeless Bill of Rights (HBR) Campaign which seeks to provide a framework for communities to fight back against discriminatory local laws. We believe that people living on the streets deserve support and access to affordable housing, not criminalization for their mere presence on public land. We launched a social-justice-based campaign that will create bills which protect the following rights and prohibit the enforcement of any local laws that violate these rights: 

 

1.     Right to move freely, rest, sleep, & pray and be protected in public spaces without discrimination,

2.     Right to occupy a legally parked vehicle,

3.     Right to share food and eat in public,

4.     Right to legal counsel if being prosecuted,

5.     Right to 24-hour access to “hygiene facilities.”

  

The core of our HBR campaign is based on our outreach to homeless and poor people, in which we document their experiences with local police and private security. We have recently surveyed 1,276 people in five states and twelve cities. The civil rights violation people are experiencing everywhere are eerily similar. The main “illegal offenses” that homeless people are being harassed & criminalized for include: sleeping 81%, sitting or lying down 78%, and loitering or hanging out 66%. 

 

We are seeing unprecedented campaigns by local municipalities to enact anti-poor people laws. (Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Fresno, Albany, Hayward, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Venice, San Diego, and the list goes on) “Quality of life” ordinances are criminalizing homelessness and preventing people from attaining basic needs such as resting and sleeping. Additionally, with limited resources and funding cuts, poor people have very little support and are faced with numerous barriers which make escaping homelessness impossible. 

 

The time has come for a renewed national movement to protect the human and civil rights of poor and homeless people. WRAP is engaged in community organizing, research, public education, advocacy, and direct action efforts to build the power to defeat misguided housing legislation and overturn discriminatory “quality of life” laws. 

 

Learn more about our Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign.

                

Do you represent an organization working for social justice and equality? If yes, please endorse our Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign in California and Oregon!
 
Click here to download the form.

Launching Los Angeles  the Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign to End Criminalization
Launching Los Angeles the Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign to End Criminalization

Albany has an obligation to do a better job for the homeless
 
October 22, 2013
By: Paul Boden 
Over the past decades, as federal funding for affordable housing nose-dived, the solutions to homelessness have been left to local governments. Though the effort has been far from perfect, almost all Bay Area cities have contributed resources to housing our region’s poorest residents. Many have spent significant city funds. But not Albany.
 

The city of Albany has no homeless shelter. It has next to nothing on providing affordable housing, for years. It has been out of compliance with state law regarding zoning for affordable housing since at least 1999.

 

Oppose the San Francisco Park Closure Proposal!
 
 
 
San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener has introduced legislation to close all of SF’s public parks from 12 midnight until 5 am. This proposal will be voted on by the Board of Supervisor’s on Tuesday October 29th @ 1 pm.
 
The proposed law would:
  • Fine and jail people who are living/resting in public parks because they have nowhere else to go;- waste precious city funds on signs, fences, and costs of enforcement
  • Further eliminate already diminishing access to public space for ALL.

Take Action! 

We Need Your Support!
 
Please make a donation to WRAP and help sustain our efforts to make ending homelessness a national priority!
 

Homeless Bill of Rights New Narratives
 
September 8, 2013
 
Editor’s Note: Continuing our coverage of rights-based movements and narratives. Simon Davis-Cohen speaks with Paul Boden about Homeless Bills of Rights.

 

Paul Boden is Western Regional Advocacy Project ‘s Organizing Director. He became homeless at the age of 16 after the death of his mother. Paul served as Executive Director of San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness for 16 years and was a founder of the Community Housing Partnership, a nationally recognized permanent housing corporation with optional supportive services. He has received dozens of community awards during the last twenty-five years and recognition from the city and county of San Francisco, the State of California, and the Congress of the United States. Paul regularly writes articles and op-eds and travels throughout the country giving talks and trainings.

 

Connect with our members’ campaign in Oregon! Join their lists and endorse their Bill. 
 
 
Oregon Campaign Goals:
  • Pass a Homeless Bill of Rights in the state of Oregon (introduce the Homeless Bill of Rights into the Oregon State Legislature in 2014).
  • Investigate the priorities of the unhoused community
  • Change public perceptions of the unhoused
  • Educate the housed and unhoused about systemic causes of homelessness
  • Connect homelessness to public health
  • Build action teams to achieve incremental victories
  • Mitigate the negative impacts of criminalization ordinances (anti-camping/sit-lie)
  • Build local & statewide allies
 

On South Carolina’s Troubling Criminalization of Homelessness
 
U.S. Catholic Blog
 
In our August cover story, author Paula Lomazzi argued that we shouldn’t enact laws and policies that effectively make it a crime to be homeless. Lomazzi, formerly homeless herself and now the director of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, made a compelling argument in favor or community, compassion, and practical solutions to ending homelessness. Our readers agreed, with 67 percent indicating that they would vote against legislation that prohibited sleeping outside in their city.
 

Food Truck That Feeds Homeless Could Be Forced To Move From Streets Of Hollywood 

 

October 16, 2013 
 
The Los Angeles City Council is considering new regulations that could potentially shut down a food truck that has been feeding the hungry on the streets of Hollywood for more than 25 years. The Public Works Committee heard a motion introduced by Councilman Tom LaBonge Wednesday, which urges city departments to consider banning non-commercial food distribution in public rights of way, an initiative that would force the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition to move.
Western Regional Advocacy Project 
(WRAP)
 
 
415.621.2533
wrap@wraphome.org
 
We are sustained through individual donations and generous foundations. We need your support to continue our work and help us stand up for poor and homeless peoples’ civil rights!

 
 
 
WRAP is a 501(c)3 organization. 
 
 
  
 
Donations are tax-deductible.
 
 

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Since winter started, people have died in Eureka because of the cold. Well, that’s not what the coroner’s office has documented, but that is the word on the street. The temperature is what killed them, but insensitive policies might be more culpable than the winter weather. Upon walking into the Rescue Mission in Eureka, one has a breathalyzer inserted into their mouth to determine whether or not they will be allowed to have a cooked meal, bathe, and sleep inside for the night. If one doesn’t pass, then they are cast out into harsh conditions.

When alcohol is consumed and makes its way into one’s bloodstream it usually gives a sensation of warmth. This is deceptive, because alcohol causes blood to thin and increases blood flow near the skin. This means that blood which is flowing near the skin will be rapidly affected by the cold,which then inhibits one’s body from maintaining homeostasis. This causes the human body to loose its ability to sustain a living temperature, which increases one’s susceptibility to hypothermia.

This is relevant when one is denied access to shelter for having a drink and is forced, out of bodily necessity, to sleep underneath a building, in the woods, or out in a field. When one sleeps outside in Eureka they have to be concerned about the Eureka Police Department harassing them throughout the night. This tends to happen either through selective enforcement or violence.

By selective enforcement, an officer giving one a citation for illegal “camping”, which one probably can’t afford later, and which may become an active warrant. Or sometimes selective enforcement takes shape in other ways. In Eureka and Arcata people are commonly profiled for looking poor and arbitrarily searched for drugs without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Sometimes people who are profiled as being on the street are detained for no decent reason. For instance, a kid that I befriended while I was living at the Arcata Night Shelter showed me a detainment certificate one morning that he was given two days prior. When I asked him why he was detained, he told me that he didn’t know. Apparently, when he was walking down the street in Arcata, minding his business, a cop car rolled up, put him in handcuffs, and forced him into the back of the car. He was never told specifically why he was detained, the most that was told to him was that he looked like he was about to do something suspicious.

By violence, having your tent, tarps, or temporary shelter intruded upon, ransacked, and destroyed. Your belongings will be rendered unsalvageable and thrown into a locked dumpster. After being criminalized and dehumanized, there are few material possessions left to stay dry and warm which leaves one hoping they don’t die of hypothermia. Or sometimes violence takes shape in other ways. My friend “star gazer”, who I met during my stay at the Arcata Night Shelter, was lifted off of the sidewalk and thrown onto the concrete after she refused to communicate with cops who were asking her why she had blood on her forehead. She was unconcerned, minding her own business, and did not have any obligation to talk to the cops. They detained her and towed the car that she was living in which was parked at the end of the street. Because of this, she had nowhere to go after her car was impounded. Because she had nowhere safe to go after this happened, and because she was alone, she got taken advantage of one night and ended up getting raped. This would have never happened if her car was not impounded for no decent reason.

Houseless people continue to die and unnecessarily suffer. This is because they are denied access to shelter for drinking; because their possessions are looted and trashed; because of the callousness of John Shelter behind New Directions; because of the policies and the people at the Eureka Rescue Mission; because of the current policies, the lack of policies, and the lolly-pop lady at the Arcata Night Shelter; and because of the sick brutality of the Eureka Police Department.

New Directions claims to be an organization which stewards the environment by “cleaning up” trash left behind from people sleeping outside as well as “cleaning up” encampments themselves. New Directions also prides itself in giving houseless people opportunities to give their life a “new direction” by paying them to “clean up trash” and by providing them with temporary living quarters. This facade sounds endearing, but the reality is that “cleaning up” usually takes the form of abusive behavior that has included stealing people’s tarps, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and personal belongings and throwing them into a locked dumpster so they can not be retrieved later. John Shelter is the man behind New Directions who started the agency, organizes the policies, and recruits new people to work for him. Prior to starting New Directions, he was the manager at the Arcata Service Center. Having been in these positions, one would hope that he would be considerate and respectful towards people who live outside. But, people who have collaborated with him seem to think otherwise. Kathy Anderson was the coordinator at the Arcata Endeavor from 1988 to 1995 which mainly operated to provide food to hungry people. She was also the director at the Arcata House for a period of time which mainly operated to provide transitional living for people. Kathy has conviction that one is entitled to live their life in any way that one is inspired to do so, and she does not rely on a “middle class standard” as a means to gauge how she should relate to other people. She had the opportunity to work alongside John Shelter as well as participate in community meetings with him. As a result of having relations with the same people, Kathy was able to observe how John Shelter relates to people who live outside or are in low income situations. She described him as not being for the people, as being completely loyal to his sources of funding at the expense of people’s livelihoods, and as being driven by a conquest for power, an attitude of self-importance, and the desire for prestige. While working at the Arcata Service Center he consistently exercised biases against people who drank alcohol or who he found a reason not to like. This discrimination took place through denying these people services such as food, when the only qualification to get food should be whether or not one is hungry. In short, his personal prejudices inhibited people from receiving services when they were in need of services. During the 5 years that Kathy Anderson ran the Endeavor she never had to call the police to resolve disputes among guests. According to her coworker, Verbena, she managed the Endeavor with integrity and respect. She worked with people by “having a program that fit the needs of the people rather than people fitting the needs of the program.” But, when the Arcata Endeavor began to accept federal funding in the form of block grants, and later when John Shelter came into the scene, things began to seriously change. Having worked at the Arcata Endeavor for three and a half years, Verbena witnessed these changes as they began to take place. John Shelter quickly garnered a reputation for relying heavily on police presence to run things. The cops began to come through the Service Center on a day-to-day basis to run warrant checks on people who were trying to get a meal or clean up. The programs became rigidly structured. Everything became computerized and every person who wanted to use services was documented into an electronic database. As the director of the Arcata Service Center, John Shelter began to determine who could be at the Service Center, how people had to behave, he would be inquisitive and intrusive about whether or not people were on drugs or alcohol, he antagonized people, and he consistently called the cops on people for suspecting their behavior to be caused by mental illness or the influence of intoxicants. This disrespectful mentality that the management pushed towards guests was indicative of internalized biases against houseless people and low income people. This lack of respect encouraged guests to have a lack of respect towards the management. The social relations continued to worsen between guests and management, and the Arcata Service Center gradually fell apart. John Shelter continues to operate within this framework of prejudice and discrimination through New Directions. John Shelter’s sick mentality continues to reveal itself through his current actions towards houseless people. These actions include his on-going collaboration with the Eureka Police Department. When New Directions is not merely picking up litter outside of the Bayshore Mall or cleaning up after an event, John Shelter and his co-opted recruits prowl around Eureka looking for tent or tarp situations to dismantle. After an outdoors living situation is scoped out, then the New Directions’ crew will contact the cops if the person is at the site. Depending on the situation, the police may detain and arrest the person who is staying at the site. Otherwise, people are issued a citation rather than being cuffed and taken away. But, what past instances have shown to be constant is that the New Directions’ crew will raid one’s tent or tarps, loot all of their belongings, destroy all of their belongings, and then throw them into a locked dumpster. As someone who works with youth who live outside, I regularly come into contact with people who have some sort of relations with the agency. Earlier this week, a kid who works for New Directions, came into my work to use services. I asked him about the agency and how “camps” are handled and he was pretty forward spoken about the procedure. He straight up described instances in which he has gone out with the rest of the crew to locate places where people camp out. On occasion, he said, the cops handcuff the person who is sleeping outside for “camping”, and then after this person is taken away, New Directions will raid and destroy their possessions at the site.

The Eureka Rescue Mission has a questionable reputation amongst many people who have stayed there, and is loaded with a lot of terrible associations for a lot of people who have spent time there. From personal experience, I would rather sleep outside behind a building rather than going back to the Mission for provisions. I associate the Mission with a man that I met there one night when I was eating dinner. I was new in town and did not really know my way around. It was my first time eating dinner there, and he offered to take me to a better spot to stay for the night after I finished eating, and I went along with it because he came across like a decent person, and because the Mission is incredibly dispiriting. He even said that he did not want to ask me for anything. He told me that it was rare to have someone want to help you without expecting anything in return. We walked across town, stayed at the devil’s playground, and then he molested me. It is difficult to communicate the sensation of powerlessness and helplessness over myself within the situation and within the dynamic with him. I felt sexually violated and like my dignity was completely compromised. I was pretty clueless as to where else I could go, or what to do, or how to handle the situation. It was like I did not take myself to be capable of somehow leaving the situation. We were sleeping in one of the abandoned chambers where timber used to be stacked. He was able to pick up on me being queer, but tried to suggest that I was “like him” through subliminal questions and provoking mind-games inside of my head. He was wearing an ankle brace, I think that he had raped other people before. He tried to create a complex inside of me. I think that it was my second day in Eureka. I am much more familiar with how to handle situations like this now, especially how to handle situations with older men who have special interest. Anyways, that is what comes to mind when I think of the Rescue Mission, and I have consistently heard sleazy memories being elicited with the mention of that place. My friend Jimmy told me about an experience that he had with the Mission. He had one beer earlier in the day, went to the Mission later in the evening to eat and rest, and was then denied access because the light in the breathalyzer falsely indicated that he was intoxicated. One should not be denied access to food and shelter for being under the influence of alcohol. There are many people on the street who have a physical dependency on alcohol. Because of this addiction, they are not able to actively get around, communicate, and do things if they are forced to suddenly stop all alcohol consumption. When one is going through withdrawal from alcohol, and the body is detoxing itself, one is increasingly dysfunctional if they do not have lesser amounts of alcohol to help their body and mind work through the dependency. A girl that I met on the streets in Portland comes to mind. If she did not have a beer by mid-morning, then she would be overwhelmed with nausea, she told me that she can’t stop herself from throwing up when this happens. It is not fair, decent, or reasonable to expect guests at a shelter to immediately conform to a standard of sobriety that they may not be physically or psychologically capable of meeting because of their past levels of alcohol use and because of their current dependency on alcohol to function. The Rescue Mission offers a New Life Discipleship Program, which serves as a “clean and sober” program, but it is not without conditions. Despite one’s belief system, value structure, or spiritual orientation it is required that one must complete a minimum of 600 hours of “structured bible study” by the end of the one year program. One should not have to study the Bible for 600 hours for a temporary residential situation to become sober. The side of the Rescue Mission van that drives around town states in bold lettering “ Rebuilding broken lives, one life at a time.” Similar to the prison system, the faith-based shelter system aims to subdue people into states of obedience, compliance, and powerlessness. This happens through manipulating one’s sense of self worth, compromising one’s integrity, and by convincing one that they are “in the wrong” and that they need to “change their ways.”

When I was staying there, we would refer to the Arcata Night Shelter as The Island. It is on the outskirts of Arcata and the only way that one is meant to come or go is by the van that comes to town at designated times. Most of the time the van driver is the head staff member who I will refer to as the lolly-pop lady. I only stayed at this shelter for around two months, but this was enough time to get insight into the poor decisions she made and the people that were directly affected. The first memory that I have of her was when I boarded the van one afternoon outside of the library. I did not realize that she didn’t notice me inside until she accused me of sneaking on the next morning when she was driving us back into town, told me that she was “at capacity,” and that I should try to get into the Rescue Mission in Eureka instead. I was not willing to stay at the Rescue Mission because of my past experiences and associations. I shared the news with someone who worked at the drop-in that I was going to, they told me I was being discriminated against, and were able to open up a space for me by calling and voicing that suspicion. I was then given intake and accommodations, but during my stay there I saw person-after-person turned away day-after-day. The usual excuse for rejecting people in need was that the shelter was “at capacity”, but the meaning of “capacity” was unspecific. Some afternoons when capacity was asserted, there would be no more than 15 or 16 people. Then, some evenings there would be around 20 to 25 people sharing the space with one another. Capacity was relative to the lolly-pop ladies mood at the time of pick-up. Occasionally, new faces would be allowed to come to The Island. Usually, they would be turned away, with absolutely no help or concern as to what they would do that night or where they could go instead. Not only would people in need be excluded from services, but people in need would also be sporadically kicked out for two weeks. My friend “canary” had been staying at the Night Shelter for three nights, did not have any better alternatives, and did not have any belongings other than the clothing she was wearing. One afternoon, when she was walking to the laundry room to get her bedding and a towel, a host’s son accused her of being on pills once he was out of ear-shot of anyone else. He responded to her frustration at this accusation by phoning the lolly-pop lady. She drove the van back to the shelter several hours later, picked up “canary” despite her wanting to stay, and despite there being nothing to suggest that she had consumed pills, and dropped her off that night somewhere in town. I haven’t seen her since then. A month or so later, a friend of mine was accused of stealing some tobacco from a fellow guest. Despite there being no evidence to prove that he had done this and no legitimate reason to suspect this, he was prohibited from returning to the shelter for two weeks because of this accusation. He did not have anywhere to go, and he did not have sufficient gear to be staying outside. The last time that I saw him was a few days after he had been 86’d when he dropped into my work and told me about what went down.

There needs to be alternative shelter options in Humboldt. There needs to be different policies at the current shelters in Humboldt. There should not be an imperative on sobriety at these shelters that causes people to be denied services. There needs to be enough room to accommodate every person who wants to sleep inside. People should not be denied food for arbitrary reasons. People should not be marginalized for being perceived as mentally ill. People should not be demeaned, reduced, talked down to, or dehumanized by anyone, but especially through agencies that claim to help people in need. People should not have their belongings stolen from them, destroyed, and thrown into a dumpster by agencies that claim to steward the environment. People should not be given citations for sleeping. People should not be searched without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. People should not have to endure acts of violence from the APD and the EPD. People who look poor should not be questioned, handcuffed, and apprehended for no decent reason. People who live outside should not have their lives threatened by hypothermia because they are not allowed a place to stay inside.

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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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John Shelter and crew have, once again, further degraded the integrity and services of the Arcata Endeavor, the only food bank/pantry in Arcata. People who cannot PROVE THAT THEY HAVE A RESIDENCE in Arcata cannot get a food box. Do the funders know that homeless people are banned from receiving food? Do the community donors who donate food and money know that homeless people will get NOTHING from those donations?

The poverty pimps have got to go. The mission of the food endeavor is to feed hungry people. This is disgraceful.

Check out the website: http://www.arcataendeavor.org/default.asp

And notice that in the “Community Resources” page, the Arcata Endeavor is advertising the link for online Sun Valley Floral Farms Job Applications!

The poverty pimps have got to go. People getting fat while refusing to share with hungry people?!

Everyone deserves to eat.

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Officer Accused Of Harassing Homeless Has Troubled Past

SDPD Officer Anthony Bueno Accused Of Slashing Homeless Couple’s Tent

January 25, 2011

10News has uncovered troubling details in the background of a police officer accused of going rogue and taking his anger out on homeless citizens in San Diego.
Officer Anthony Bueno, an 11-year veteran, remains on the job pending an investigation.
Bueno is accused of slashing a homeless San Diego couple’s tent in December. Homeless San Diegan Malia Mason said the police officer, who was upset she had put up a tent during a rainy night, used a knife to slash her tent and cords.
“He was slicing as I climbed out and the knife came within inches of my face,” said Mason in an interview in December.
Homeless advocate David Ross said the tent-slashing incident was one of five similar incidents documented against the officer during a two-week span in November.”It’s shocking and disappointing,” said Ross.
10News learned Bueno was arrested in 2007 on four counts of misdemeanor battery on a fellow police officer while on duty. Few details of the incident are known, but in that case, Bueno pleaded no contest to a lesser charge and was allowed to stay on the force.
Last year, Bueno was on the scene of the death of a homeless man in East Village. Another homeless man who is accused of resisting arrest said Bueno was “joking and speaking very disrespectfully” about the deceased man and provoked the incident.
Ross said Bueno should be removed from the streets.”Him being on the streets invites similar behavior and reflects very poorly on the police department,” said Ross. “It’s disappointing because the police department, including the homeless outreach team, has been trying very hard. I’m not here to indict the entire department.”
10News brought Ross’ demand to Boyd Long, the assistant police chief. When asked why Bueno was not taken off the streets, Long replied, “We haven’t reached the conclusion we need to pull the officer out of the field. We do take these accusations very seriously.”
10News was told the primary reason for keeping Bueno active was because several witness statements and surveillance video cast doubt on Mason’s version of events.
“I don’t believe that. Each of the interviews I conducted were consistent. They were scared of this officer,” said Ross.
Though the tent-slashing investigation should be wrapped up soon, a second internal probe is possible into the accusations that Bueno was making fun of a deceased homeless man.
Meanwhile, a judge will soon decide if the details that 10News uncovered will be allowed as evidence in the trial of the homeless man accused of resisting arrest.

 

Previous Stories:

WATCH NEWS STATION VIDEO HERE: http://www.10news.com/news/26602821/detail.html

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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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by Robert Norse Wednesday Dec 15th, 2010
http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/12/15/18666771.php

VIDEO of Robert Norse “Nazi Salute”: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2…

Today the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted me a new trial against the City for its actions in harassing, excluding, and arresting me for making a mock-Nazi salute at a March 2002 City Council meeting after the Mayor had threatened a diminutive peace activist with arrest for stepping up to the microphone in search of her Oral Communications time. I’ll be posting a link to the full decision shortly, But in the meantime, I invite Free Speech advocates to savor a few of the phrases used by the unanimous court as well as a few stronger ones used by the two judges who would have defended my rights even further.

In an earlier article (“9th Circuit Court Slaps Santa Cruz City Attorney in Mock-Nazi Salute Case” at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/06/28/18652079.php), I I discuss the 10-judge hearing down in Pasadena this summer and how badly City Attorney Kovocevitch’s arguments came off. For once, it seemed, judges were actually listening.

This case concerns the civil rights of advocates in a stacked forum (City Council) which has traditionally been hostile to homeless civil rights on the streets. Many people rightly wonder, “why bother with City Council anyway?” After years of frustration, I don’t really have a good answer.

A body stacked with neo-liberal gentrification maestros masquerades as progressives or “moderates”. It has legislated away civil rights for the poor on the streets and continues to make the act of sleeping at night outside (in a city with no shelter for 85% of its homeless). The point: to establish a “comfort zone” for the frightened and prejudices, whose legitimate concerns about housing, health care, jobs, the war, and the economy are being displaced onto “the smelly homeless”. “Quality of life” is to be regained under this deluded theory by driving the poor out of sight and out of town instead of ending the economy-devouring Imperial War Machine and the lopsided wealth distribution.

Some courts, we can see, still defend the right to attend a Council meeting and speak there for three minutes (even if you can’t get your subject on the agenda). But this whole issue doesn’t mean much in the day-to-day homeless life where basic concerns are denied like the basic right to sleep legally somewhere), the right to not have one’s property searched and seized arbitrarily, the right to protest these conditions, the right to fair treatment by public agencies and private businesses, etc.

Still, while I’d have much preferred to see a successful assault on the Sleeping Ban (as was the case in L.A., San Diego, Fresno, and Laguna Beach), this seemed a good well-documented opportunity to force the City Council to cut back on its repression. This arrest in March of 2002 was the latest in a cycle of repressive incidents.

The cycle of repression has continued. With Mayor Coonerty coming back into power with a right-wing majority on the Council, the federal courts and the streets may be the only avenues of redress.

Hopefully this court decision–and a subsequent victory in the trial–will make the Coonerty Council and its cops more reluctant to stifle regular human dialogue and protest at City Council. And perhaps cut short some of its homeless-ophobia downtown.

There were some strong and encouraging statements made by the 10-judge panel:

THE ENTIRE 10-JUDGE PANEL unanimously wrote:

“The City contends that only certain portions of its meetings are limited public forums and that no members of the public have any First Amendment rights at all once the public comment period has concluded. The City cites no support for this proposition, and there is none.

In City of Norwalk, we held that city council meetings, once open to public participation, are limited public forums. 900 F.2d at 1425. A council can regulate not only the time, place, and manner of speech in a limited public forum, but also the content of speech—as long as content-based regulations are viewpoint neutral and enforced that way.

What a city council may not do is, in effect, close an open meeting by declaring that the public has no First Amendment right whatsoever once the public comment
period has closed. As we explained in Norwalk, the entire city council meeting held in public is a limited public forum. But the fact that a city may impose reasonable time limitations on speech does not mean it can transform the nature of the forum by doing so, much less extinguish all First Amendment rights. A limited public forum is a limited public forum. Perhaps nothing more, but certainly nothing less. The City’s theory would turn the entire concept on its head.

Thus, even though we can tell from the face of the amended complaint that Norse’s provocative gesture was made after the public comment period closed, Norse still had a First Amendment right to be free from viewpoint discrimination at that time. The City’s argument proves the danger of its theory. The City contended at oral argument before us that, because the public had no First Amendment rights after the public comment period had closed, the Council could legitimately eject members of the public who made a “thumbs down” gesture, but allow members of the public who made a “thumbs up” gesture to remain.11

We note that we have been unable to find a single First Amendment case where a person has the right to be in a place but has no First Amendment rights once there. Rather, the First Amendment test itself accounts for the nature of the forum and, at its most restrictive, only permits viewpoint neutral restrictions that are “reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum.”) (“[S]tudent First Amendment rights are applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment.”) (“[A] prison inmate retains those First Amendment rights that are not inconsistent with his status as a prisoner or with the legitimate penological
objectives of the corrections system.”).

When queried at oral argument whether that action would constitute classic viewpoint discrimination, the City responded that it was “just human nature.” We decline the City’s invitation to rewrite First Amendment law to extinguish the rights that citizens have when they attend public meetings.

We also decline the City’s invitation to rewrite the rule announced in Norwalk. There, we held that a city’s “Rules of Decorum” are not facially over-broad where they only permit a presiding officer to eject an attendee for actually disturbing or impeding a meeting. In this case, the City argues that cities may define “disturbance”
in any way they choose. Specifically, the City argues that it has defined any violation of its decorum rules to be a “disturbance.” Therefore, it reasons, Norwalk permits the City to eject anyone for violation of the City’s rules—rules that were only held to be facially valid to the extent that they require a person actually to disturb a meeting before being ejected.

We must respectfully reject the City’s attempt to engage us in doublespeak. Actual disruption means actual disruption. It does not mean constructive disruption, technical disruption, virtual disruption, nunc pro tunc disruption, or imaginary disruption. The City cannot define disruption so as to include non-disruption to invoke the aid of Norwalk.

The city officials are not entitled to absolute immunity. Local legislators are absolutely immune from liability… But “not all governmental acts by . . . a local legislature[ ] are necessarily legislative in nature.”. “Whether an act is legislative turns on the nature of the act, rather than on the motive or intent of the
official performing it.” Thus, we must determine whether the actions of the Council members, when “stripped of all considerations of intent and motive,” were
legislative rather than administrative or executive.

In this Circuit, we have developed a four-part test to determine whether an action is legislative in nature. We consider
(1) whether the act involves ad hoc decisionmaking, or the formulation of policy;
(2) whether the act applies to a few individuals, or to the public at large;
(3) whether the act is formally legislative in character; and
(4) whether it bears all the hallmarks of traditional legislation.”

In this case, we are dealing with city officials who ejected one individual from City Council meetings. Separately, and with regard to his argument for municipal liability, Norse argues that the officials were formulating policy. We need not determine whether the ejections “effectuate[d] policy,” because the second, third, and
fourth factors clearly point to this being an administrative rather than legislative act. Thus, Krohn, Kennedy, and Fitzmaurice are not entitled to absolute immunity for their part in removing Norse from the meetings. Although the record is incomplete, it appears that in both 2002 and 2004 Norse was singled out for expulsion and arrest. Mayors Krohn and Kennedy did not take any formal legislative action, but rather ordered Norse out of the room. And both expulsions lacked the hallmarks of the legislative process.

With respect to the 2002 arrest, Krohn ordered Norse to leave on Fitzmaurice’s motion without any debate. The motion was predicated on the “dignity” of the council rather than the council’s performance of its obligations to the citizens of Santa Cruz. And with respect to the 2004 arrest, the record does not reveal a motion based even on dignity, let alone a legislative decisionmaking process. Thus the decisions to expel Norse were administrative, not legislative, so the defendants are not entitled to absolute immunity.

Chief Judge KOZINSKI, with whom Judge REINHARDT ADDITIONALLY WROTE:

I join Judge Thomas’s opinion because it’s clearly right. I write only to observe that, even after the procedural irregularities that deprived Norse an opportunity to present evidence,

it’s clear that the council members aren’t entitled to qualified immunity. In the Age of YouTube, there’s no need to take my word for it: There is a video of the incident that I’m “happy to allow . . . to speak for itself.” see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOssHWB6WBI (last visited Nov. 16, 2010).

This video (also found in the record) clearly shows that Norse’s sieg heil was momentary and casual, causing no disruption whatsoever.

It would have remained entirely unnoticed, had a city councilman not interrupted the proceedings to take umbrage and insist that Norse be cast out of the meeting.
Councilman Fitzmaurice clearly wants Norse expelled because the “Nazi salute” is “against the dignity of this body and the decorum of this body” and not because of any disruption. But, unlike der Führer, government officials in America occasionally must tolerate offensive or irritating speech.

The Supreme Court long ago explained that “in our system, undifferentiated fear or apprehension of disturbance is not enough to overcome the right to freedom of expression.” Even in a limited public forum like a city council meeting, the First Amendment tightly constrains the government’s power; speakers may be removed only if they are actually disruptive.

We’ve said so twice. In White v. City of Norwalk,we explained that speech must “disrupt[,] disturb[ ] or otherwise impede[ ] the orderly conduct of the Council meeting” before the speaker could be removed. …We upheld a spectator’s ejection from a public meeting only because he was “disrupting the proceedings by yelling and trying to speak when it was not time for” discussion..

Had he been given a chance, Norse could no doubt have presented lots more evidence that he never disrupted the Santa Cruz council meeting, but what would have been the point? The video speaks for itself: Norse raises his hand in a brief, silent protest of the mayor’s treatment of another speaker. The mayor ignores Norse’s fleeting gesture until Councilman Fitzmaurice throws a hissy fit.

“Listeners’ reaction to speech is not a content-neutral basis for regulation. . . . Speech cannot be . . . punished or banned[ ] simply because it might offend a hostile” member of the Santa Cruz City Council. The council members should have known that the government may never suppress viewpoints it doesn’t like. Though
defendants point to Norse’s reaction to Councilman Fitzmaurice as the “disruption” that warranted carting him off to jail, Norse’s calm assertion of his constitutional rights was not the least bit disruptive.

The First Amendment would be meaningless if Councilman Fitzmaurice’s petty pique justified Norse’s arrest and removal.

Even viewing the facts most favorably to the city council members, their behavior amounts to classic viewpoint discrimination for which they’re not entitled to qualified immunity. And that’s what the district court should have held when it set about resolving qualified immunity as a matter of law. If it was going to take it upon itself to grant summary judgment to anyone on that issue, it should have been to Norse.

On remand, the district court can set things right by holding, as a matter of law, that the city council members are not entitled to qualified immunity, and proceeding to assess damages.

ATTORNEY BEAUVAIS TO DISCUSS CASE THURSDAY DECEMBER 16TH ON FREE RADIO SANTA CRUZ

At 7 PM one of the two attorneys who argued the case before the court (and has fought this battle before a district judge (twice) and the court of appeals (twice) will discuss the case and its significance at 101.1 FM (http://www.freakradio.org). Call in questions and comments at 831-427-3772.

BACKGROUND

More background on the case can be found at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/06/28/18652079.php (“9th Circuit Court Slaps Santa Cruz City Attorney in Mock-Nazi Salute Case”)

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Reno to Order Homeless Squatters Off Streets

The Reno City Council is moving to expand its ordinance keeping the homeless from sitting or sleeping on city streets.

Posted: 9:44 PM Nov 17, 2010
Reporter: Ed Pearce

Their address for the moment is could be any street corner near the downtown. Their home for the night is likely some doorway, some stretch of sidewalk somewhere and wherever that is, it’s likely to create a problem for someone else. [And “someone else” matters more, of course…]

The problem of the homeless camping out on the sidewalks of Reno is especially evident along East Fourth Street and the closer to the Record Street Homeless Center, the more evident.

Businesses along here say it’s a growing problem. Those close by say they often have to clean up after someone who’s relieved themselves in their doorway.

A few blocks east of Record Street at Anchor Auctions Connie Pilliod says she is sympathetic to the homeless and never finds them sleeping outside her door, but she worries about their impact on the whole neighborhood.

“It’s scary and I’m concerned people will be afraid to come down here,” she says.

Daniel Davis lives just a couple of blocks from Connie’s business on the sidewalk just outside the homeless shelter.

He says he understands the concerns, but has little choice. “We’re not all bad. We aren’t drunks or on drugs,” he says. “We’ve just had bad luck.”

[GENTRIFICATION] The sidewalk Daniel and others now call home was once blocks away from the downtown core, but the city has been expanding it’s redevelopment efforts and features like the new City Center Bus Station and the Freight House District are just a short block away from dozens of homeless camped on the streets.

So, today the city council took the first step to expand those boundaries.

Some residents spoke in opposition suggesting restrictions were cruel.

The council’s answer: this is not an effort to criminalize homelessness. There are services available, but some choose not to accept the help and that’s put them at odds with a city determined to clear its sidewalks.

The ordinance will come up for a second reading and vote in the coming weeks.

When it does, sleeping or sitting on a sidewalk in a huge area surrounding the downtown will become a misdemeanor.

Deputy Police Chief Dave Evans says offenders will get a warning and all the help they need. Those choosing to stay will be arrested.

The area that would be covered by the ordinance is bounded on the north by I-80, the south by California Avenue, the west by Keystone and the east Wells Avenue.

http://www.kolotv.com/home/headlines/Reno_to_Order_Homeless_Squatters_Off_Streets_108828299.html

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DO WE REALLY HAVE A CHOICE?

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Drawing the Line
Dealing with Eugene’s Downtown Exclusion Zone

by Rick Levin

Exclusion is an ugly word. Applied to human beings and the public space they occupy, terms like “exclusion” and “sanitizing” and “cleaning up” can spark powerful historic images, none of them particularly nice: the Warsaw Ghetto, Kristallnacht, South African Apartheid, fire hoses opened up on Southern blacks and other such insidious experiments in cordoning off society’s so-called undesirables.

For the past two years and change, downtown Eugene has been boxed in by an imaginary but supposedly legal zone of exclusion. This zone has been dubbed — in somewhat Orwellian fashion — the Downtown Public Safety Zone (DPSZ). At the behest of law enforcement and to address the concerns of beleaguered establishments in Eugene’s business core, the City Council on Aug. 11, 2008, passed by a vote of 5-3 an ordinance that draws a line in the civic sand, and inside those lines the city has declared a sort of soft-soap War on Misbehavior in the umpteenth degree.

I spent some time hanging out in the zone with Obi James, a 31-year-old homeless guy who’s been selling his jewelry for the past few weeks in front of the McDonald Theatre. James told me he’s been cited for criminal trespass in the DPSZ. “I wasn’t criminally trespassing,” he said. “I was sleeping. It’s kind of ridiculous. My big thing is being discriminated against because of my position.”

The sun was scheduled to set on the zone Aug. 11 of this month, thereby repealing the code. But as any street kid knows, the sun also rises, sometimes unexpectedly. The council voted to extend the municipal code another 90 days in anticipation of the long-promised police report on the DPSZ’s effectiveness. The vote was 6-2 this time.

Beyond this, nobody knows precisely what the police report is supposed to show: Some want proof the cops aren’t profiling certain street kids; others want to know if the zone has benefited businesses. How this is to be shown isn’t clear.

Historical hindsight tells us that when the shit really hits the fan, exclusion can lead to extermination. But don’t fly off the handle: Nobody’s suggesting Eugene will start gassing 16-year-old kids for sleeping on grates or jaywalking. We’re not talking about the rise of Brown shirts (we do have red hats) and midnight beatings; that would be ridiculous. It can’t happen here.

No doubt, there are times when downtown Eugene is no picnic. Downtowns are rough all over. Many people who oppose the DPSZ, and even some kids on the street, are willing to admit there are mean, crappy people hanging around. At night especially, with so few folks in the area on week nights, getting around can be a bit scary. And yet, Eugene’s crime rate remains relatively low. It is possible to acknowledge that downtown isn’t exactly Shangri-La without simultaneously scapegoating street kids and pushing for more police and harsher enforcement.

The question, it seems, is not whether the DPSZ is effective but whether it’s desirable. Is the creation of an exclusion zone really the way Eugene wants to make itself a more attractive, safe and economically vital place to be? Does the DPSZ promote civic understanding and economic growth, or does it simply reveal a desire to sanitize and whitewash the urban core in order to attract more middle-class money? Is there an ironic and perhaps hypocritical contradiction between Eugene’s vaunted liberal image and the exclusion of certain “undesirables,” many of whom are being pushed over the line without being convicted of a crime? Is this public policy just a pig in a poke, a means of appeasing jittery yuppies who can’t tolerate the gritty realities of an economically struggling city? For that matter, is the DPSZ even constitutional?

How exclusion works

As set out in Eugene Code 4.873, the Downtown Public Safety Zone is a 20-square-block area centered on the LTD station and bounded by 7th Avenue, Lawrence and Lincoln streets and 11th Avenue. The ordinance does not require a criminal conviction before the exclusion period is imposed. The alleged offenses that can get you kicked out of the DPSZ include property damage, intimidation, controlled substance violations, menacing, urinating or defecating in public and criminal trespass. A police officer claiming you violated any of these state or municipal codes can get you excluded for 90 days, and should you violate this three-month probationary period — barring certain things like consulting your lawyer or seeking medical help — you can get booted for a whole year. If you cross the line a third time, you might get tossed in jail.

One of the strange offshoots of the whole DPSZ issue is the “trespass letter of consent” that was passed around to businesses, requesting that owners and managers of downtown establishments sign a paper that designates “each and every police officer” as “my agent for the purpose of enforcing” certain of the city’s municipal codes regarding criminal trespass. Seeing as this is sort of what police are supposed to do anyhow, the letter has something nervously pre-nuptial about it — an arrangement that seems to legally pre-empt questions about why it is that cops get to decide who is and isn’t a legitimate customer.

Even stranger was the sudden appearance of that painted white box on the sidewalk near the bus station. The box runs from the southwest corner of 10th and Willamette past the LTD station, after which it doglegs at the corner of 10th and Olive near the Rosa Parks statue and continues halfway up Olive to the western entrance to the bus station. Written at intervals within the box in stenciled yellow letters are the words:

“Do Not Block Public Right of Way.”

For fans of unintentional irony, it should be noted that a person could stand on the bench next to Rosa Parks and, with a vigorous leap, land directly in the middle of a box limiting, the civil right to assemble in public.

If the box is a literal interpretation of the intent of the safety zone, it also seems a rather subjective and arbitrary one. In an email sent May 18 to Mayor Kitty Piercy and the Eugene City Council, City Manager Jon Ruiz refers to those “timely” white lines as the “Magic Box Project,” which he says addresses the concerns of pedestrians “forced to walk a gauntlet of aggressive panhandlers, out of control dogs, and other unpleasant behavior.” Ruiz asserts in the email that “large groups of 100 or more” sometimes block the sidewalk by the LTD station, and he goes on to note that the magical box “is a good example of our employees continually providing innovative solutions to problems, often at little cost.”

It’s unclear whether Ruiz’s assertions are based on reality. I’ve made numerous visits to the area in question and have never observed 100 people creating any kind of gauntlet (or gantlet for that matter), and I’m not even sure that many people and their “out of control” dogs could pack into such a small area.

The city manager claimed that “the City received 100 positive comments” about the magic box. Ruiz, however, fails to provide any names of those who offered positive comments, or whether he even checked that other comment mailbox marked “negative.”

In an email to Police Chief Pete Kerns, Piercy appears to take to task those who acted without the knowledge of the rest of the department or the approval of the mayor or the city council. Apparently, Sgt. Terry Fitzpatrick asked Ruiz if he could paint the box, and then he had a city employee go at it. “I had no idea the sidewalk writing was the result of downtown safety meetings or any upper management decisions,” the mayor writes, adding that she “never heard there was a review by the city attorney.”

Kerns did not return calls requesting an interview.

Walt Hunt, who owns New Odyssey juice bar at the corner of 10th and Willamette, called the box an “awkward” attempt to address the issue of people blocking the sidewalks downtown. Hunt said he’s been trying for years to take the “old school” route of fixing the problem by bringing people together to iron out their differences in person, to no avail. “We weren’t making any headway,” he said, adding that he’s not opposed to the box per se though he would have preferred “something more fun and not quite so weird.”

“Seriously, it was done from beginning to end in about 30 minutes,” Hunt said of the Magic Box Project. “It took longer for it to dry.”

Hunt said he supports the idea of the DPSZ so long as it’s used properly to deter dangerous or antisocial behavior. Having been involved in some intense and potentially violent confrontations with unruly customers, he said there are instances when certain people have burned up their chances and need to be dealt with. In this sense, he said he appreciates the DPSZ as an attempt “to create a way not to put somebody in jail.”

According to Hunt, his initial concern was that police not target or profile certain individuals. “This is not to be used against homeless people,” he said. “It’s not a witch hunt.” Hunt said he’s satisfied the DPSZ hasn’t been mishandled, noting that he believes there were fewer than 50 instances of people actually being excluded during the past two years. “That doesn’t seem like abuse,” he said.

Hunt, who also supports the recent 90-day extension of the DPSZ, said it’s unrealistic to oppose the zone on principle without a street-level understanding of what goes on downtown all day every day. “Some of the people in our community are very reactionary,” he said. “They’re not down here. Are business owners struggling? Yes. Are they blaming street kids? No.”

Principal Mary Leighton of the Network Charter School, a self-identified peace activist, also supports the Downtown Public Safety Zone. “It looks to me like it’s working,” she said, adding that people opposing the zone might be “nurturing an unhealthy skepticism” toward the current Eugene police force. As someone who deals at her school with otherwise good kids who “fall through the cracks,” Leighton said she’s found Eugene police have shown uncommon concern about the welfare of wayward youth.

“Our kids are the ones who hang around Eugene Station, much to my chagrin, but they don’t go inside those boxes,” Leighton said. “I can say that the police I run into every day downtown know their neighbors. I think they’re decent people. They spend a lot more time than they need to solve a problem.”

Leighton said she is well aware of both the troubled past of the EPD as well as the nasty connotations of social exclusion. “The theory of exclusion is horrible, but the practice is okay, I think,” she said. “We have to make sure that the safeguards currently in place result in the equitable exclusion of people the community properly don’t want in the concentrated section of downtown. If the data can’t tell us that, we should be kind of mad.

“Technically, due process is missing,” Leighton said about the fact that a mere citation can get you excluded from the zone. “But practically they have such a preponderance of evidence before they apply it, it’s not like they’re fragrantly strewing it about. They are, as far as I can tell, applying it very prudently.”

 

Country club versus constitutional rights

The issue of the DPSZ and due process, on the other hand, is one of the major reasons Eugene City Council member Betty Taylor voted against the ordinance in the first place, as well as nay-saying its extension. Taylor said that “one of the really bad things” about the safety zone is that “a number of people have been excluded before they’ve even gone to trial. I think if people are doing something wrong, then charge them with that.”

Taylor’s perspective on the matter is cosmopolitan, in that she believes “downtown’s the best place for all kinds of people,” and she goes on to make a distinction between downtown and residential real estate. “I don’t believe in excluding people, especially downtown,” Taylor said. “It’s the best place for people to be. If it was a neighborhood, it might be different. If they’re criminals, put them in jail.”

Neither does Taylor believe that any perceived upswing in the social or economic vitality of the downtown area should be directly linked to the creation of the DPSZ. “I know a lot of people think things have gotten better, but that’s like saying those people did all the bad things down there,” she said. “If they’re bad people, it might be better to have them down there where there’s more people to watch. If they’re bad people, I don’t think we want them gathering in the park.

“I just don’t think it’s the right way to do it,” Taylor said of the whole idea of an exclusion zone. “If we get more people downtown, it will just be local color.”

As a UO law student, Katy Ann Crosslin became interested in the social and legal implications while serving an internship at the Civil Liberties Defense Center, where CLDC executive director Lauren Regan assigned her the project of researching the issue. Crosslin argued against extending the DPSZ at the Aug. 11 City Council meeting, saying that the zone is “unconstitutional, ineffective at stopping crime and is being used to profile the homeless, mentally ill and diverse youth.”

In an interview last week, Crosslin said that “the only purpose of the exclusion zone is to comfort the wealthy business owners, so that they can feel like they live in a classy area with high property values.” She said that although the DPSZ was touted as a way to stop crime by creating an “intangible” border, the reality is that the zone has been used to “systematically remove people that commit any number of minor and vague offenses such as ‘disorderly conduct’ and ‘interfering with pedestrians.’” The business owners who pushed for implementing the zone, Crosslin said, made the argument that many of their customers were too afraid to enter the area due to the “offensive behavior” that takes place there.

“I have found this fear of downtown to be unwarranted unless people are referring to the homeless, mentally ill and diverse youth of Eugene to be ‘offensive,’” Crosslin said. It’s obvious why downtown has become a gathering place for people of all sorts, she said, pointing out that many disadvantaged people need access to things like the bus station, FOOD for Lane County and the public library.

There are plenty of better, more humane solutions to dealing with whatever problems downtown Eugene might be experiencing, Crosslin said. “I think that the police should enforce most of the laws that are listed in the list of offenses that one can get excluded for,” she said. “Police should utilize existing crime-stopping tools and dish out appropriate fines or punishments without completely throwing out our constitutional rights.”

Crosslin’s investigation into the uses and abuses of the DPSZ have led her to some pretty disconcerting conclusions about the city in general. “I think that Eugene has this reputation to the outside world that it is a unique city with people that live alternative lifestyles and have refreshing ideas and beliefs about society, acceptance and diversity,” she said. “I now feel like Eugene resides within its own Bible Belt” where “the ones that called the shots on this exclusion ordinance are not very accepting of diverse people or the U.S. Constitution.”

Crosslin noted that downtown is “not a country club for members only” but a public space. “Kids on the street are saying that cops have threatened them not to even set foot in the box at all or they will get a ticket,” she said. “But in public statements and interviews, the cops deny that they have told anyone not to set foot in the box.”

I spoke with dozens of street kids and heard a lot of these kinds of stories.

How the other half lives

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve spent time sitting on the sidewalk — which is criminal trespassing — talking with many of the people who hang out downtown smack in the middle of Jon Ruiz’s Magic Box Project. Over and over again, I heard stories about kids getting hassled by the man, about being told to move along before getting busted, about not stepping over the white line. If this is untrustworthy second-hand news, it’s also some pretty widespread second-hand news.

As I sat talking to a couple of guys outside the entrance to the McDonald Theatre one afternoon, a jacked-up hot rod laid a smoking patch of rubber as it squealed through the stop sign. I also witnessed numerous people driving and talking on cell phones at the same time. I also saw cops riding bikes on the sidewalk.

Neither of the first two potentially deadly offenses I mention can get you excluded from the Downtown Public Safety Zone unless you want to bundle those crimes under the vague catchall category of criminal trespass. On any given day, Eugene Municipal Court seems to be handling a lot of criminal trespassing charges, mostly against poor kids, and many of which lead to a reduced fine when the trespasser agrees to do time working on the city’s road crew.

Andy Pew, 23, like Obi James, has spent the last couple months stationed on the sidewalk outside McDonald Theatre, selling jewelry. Right now, Pew said he’s doing some couch surfing, though he balks at the term homeless. “Houseless, yes,” Pew said. “Homeless, no.”

Pew said he’s seen as many as 10 to 15 kids get cited for violations in a single day for things like criminal trespass and drug possession. His major beef, however, isn’t with the Eugene police, many of whom he said can be pretty cool. Pew, like many of the people I spoke with, reserved his criticism for those guys in the red hats and white shirts — the downtown guides employed by Downtown Eugene, Inc., an organization funded by the city and headed up by Chamber of Commerce president Dave Hauser (who did not return my call for an interview). The kids hanging out in the DPSZ have several nicknames for these guides, including “the red hats” or the “British” (as in, “the red hats are coming”) and, my favorite, “bloody tampons.”

“There’s not a lot of positivity about the red hats,” Pew said. “They like to talk like they have the authority to detain you and make you wait for the cops to show up. The red caps seem to be the worst of the worst, abusing authority they don’t even have.”

Pew said he’s seen the dudes in the red hats follow groups of kids around before they’ve even done anything wrong. And the ironic thing, Pew said, is that “the street kids are way better guides than they are,” often providing directions.

James said he’s seen the red hats “rolling around in the passenger seat of cop cars.” He said he wouldn’t have a problem with them if the guides treated everybody equally, but from what he’s seen, “they target the kids.”

James, who arrived in Eugene a few months back after traveling up the coast from Sacramento, said he understands the idea behind the ordinance as a means of dealing with certain dangerous or predatory people. What bothers him, he said, is that law enforcement seems to lump all homeless people into the same category, which makes it difficult for someone like him, who is trying to “come up” and improve his life in the down economy.

James said that, from what he’s seen, profiling is taking place regarding who is being targeted or cited in the safety zone, which in turn is creating an environment of stereotyping. For instance, James said that when he goes into a fast food restaurant and orders food, “They don’t ask me if I want my food for here or to go.”

The exclusion zone, James said, seems more than anything to be money driven, and an obvious gambit to sanitize downtown. “I think they are super ready to give tickets to kids to drive them out of town. It wastes money and time when they could be doing other things,” he added. James suggested that the city should issue temporary permits to street vendors for $10 or $15, as a way of helping them do the all-American thing of pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

Instead, as James’ friend Pew pointed out, “I’ve seen three cops roll up here at once to write somebody a $65 littering ticket.” And when cops are confronted with breaking city code by riding their bikes on the sidewalk, Pew claims he’s heard them respond several times: “We’re exempt.”

“You can’t argue with an officer,” James said. “All of a sudden, now you’re resisting arrest.” Nonetheless, he added, “there are a lot of really good cops here. It’s definitely a mix. It’s just a mentality of picking on someone. I really think they need to focus on the real problem.” As problems, he offered the lack of trash cans downtown and the paucity of public restrooms. James said it’s no mystery why people are being cited for pissing and pooping in alleys.

“I’m not going to shit in my pants,” James said. “These are the only pants I have.”

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