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Posts Tagged ‘homeless shelter’

Rest In Peace Michael Graves

Michael Graves was in the “Program” at the Eureka Rescue Mission, but he got drunk Monday night. So, the Mission would not let him sleep there, and he was out in the cold- drunk. He wasn’t belligerent, he had been allowed to sleep off a drunk at the Mission before, but not the other night in the freezing weather.

We heard about his death from someone else who is houseless. Our dates may be off, meaning it may have happened Monday night or Tuesday night. But, what we heard is that he died trying to get through the night in the field across from Has Beans.

I understand not wanting a disruptive person staying at a shelter, but someone who has been drinking needs to EAT. The Mission breathalyzes before dinner (which can only be eaten if you’re present for the sermon). A person who has been drinking needs to SLEEP SOMEWHERE WARM. Otherwise, s/he, who’s body temperature has dropped from alcohol, will not feel the cold, and not wake up or do things to get warmer. [Then again, even if someone is freezing and they know it- where should they go in the middle of the night?] So, the Mission’s policy is not only COUNTER-INTUITIVE, but also involves a lot of judgment- NOT a Christlike quality.
Can we all learn something now? or do something new? soon? Please?

These are personal words from an admirer of Michael’s for the past couple of years.

Michael was very compassionate towards other people. He cared a great deal about how other people felt. He always tried to say and do the right things so that people would feel good about themselves. He was a light. No matter who he came in contact with, you could see that light inside him- and now that light has been snuffed out. he’ll be sorely missed. We can all remember Michael Graves of one of many who die on the streets. All the talent, all the ideas and dreams and hopes gone.

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There has been no response.

From: Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community
Date: Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 3:05 PM
Subject: Message to Dan Ice, Exec Director of Eureka Rescue Mission: November 30, 2010
To: erm.director@sbcglobal.net

Greetings,

My name is Verbena Lea, and I am the Executive Director of PARC [Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community] in Eureka. After I phoned the Eureka Rescue Mission Executive Office on November 28, 2010, I received a return call from you the next day at the PARC office. I had back to back appointments and phone calls that day and apologize that I was unable to return your call. I appreciate your quick response; I was informed that you were going through some trying times, and hope you are well today.

I have many concerns about the Eureka Rescue Mission, and have for some time. Here I will share with you some of my concerns and also a request. please send to me, in hard copy and/or electronic versions, the Eureka Rescue Mission’s policies, rules, requirements, and by-laws.

Some of my concerns are related to what is purported to be Mission policy and what is actually enforced or imposed upon some or all of the people wishing to access the services. Much of my knowledge and understanding of the workings and requirements of the Mission are quite disturbing. I also have serious concerns related to the honesty and integrity of your employee, Bryan Hall – with respect to his treatment of program members and others seeking to access services at the Mission, in addition to his influence on Mission policies and attitudes, being that he is in a position of authority. Mr. Hall’s public defense of the fatal police beating of Martin Cotton in August of 2007 was not only incredulous but disconcerting. Furthermore, his indifference to the trauma experienced now and then by other people at the Mission who witnessed the beating puts into question where Mr. Hall’s loyalties truly lie and raises severe concerns as to his sense of humanity and his treatment and consideration of people who utilize Mission resources.

When examining the Eureka Rescue Mission website, I find a number of discrepancies or perhaps omissions in terms of what is stated on the website versus what really happens at the Mission and what is required of people seeking shelter and/or meals at the Mission.

I would like to point out a repeat occurrence that is just one part of a longer list of what I consider unethical and troubling practices of the Eureka Rescue Mission. There are announcements, from time to time, by Mission staff, forbidding certain activities outside of the Mission, for instance, sitting in certain areas of town. These announcements include explicit threats of exclusion from access to food and shelter at the Mission for anyone who engages in such activities. Given the non-threatening and non-violent nature of such ‘forbidden’ activities, such as sitting in certain areas of town, the Mission’s arbitrary rules seem unreasonable, intrusive and oppressive, and appear to emerge from the whims (and fears) of whoever is in charge at the time.

As stated above, I am hereby requesting written and/or electronic copies of the policies, by-laws, and any other written and unwritten rules, requirements, guidelines, tenets, etc. of the Eureka Rescue Mission. My purpose is to gain some clarity as to how the Mission is supposed to be functioning in our community, which I may find is different than how it currently functions. Most important, I think it is critical to have transparency from the Eureka Rescue Mission, not only for myself, but also for the organizations I work with, the people who frequent the Mission, people who may in the future seek to volunteer or receive assistance at the Mission, and the general public. I am aware that the Mission receives consistent monetary and other donations from the community. Integrity demands that the same community be provided the truth, so it may understand how the Mission conducts itself. The community deserves to know, not only how many beds, meals, and sermons occur, but also the systematic indignities that unfortunately are perpetuated by the Eureka Rescue Mission against people who need to utilize its resources. I imagine that your Board of Directors is unaware of some of the nefarious goings-on at the Mission by people in positions of authority and that the Board does not know of some of the unpublished “policies.” Thus, I intend to respectfully make the Board members aware.

Please understand that my request comes from a sincere care for the well-being, rights and dignity of all people. Perhaps my request will present your organization with an opportunity to examine how things are going, tidy up, solidify its position on various aspects of its operations, and tend to any situations or practices of the Mission that are at odds with the humanitarian and empowering example of Jesus Christ.

Thank you for your immediate attention to these matters. Please respond at your earliest convenience. Electronic documents can be sent to this email, and hard copies to the PARC address below.

Sincerely,
Verbena Lea
Executive Director
Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community [PARC]
1617 Third Street
Eureka, CA 95501
(707) 442-7465
parc.office@gmail.com

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Did you know That the Eureka Rescue Mission…

prohibits gay people from being there?

Did you know that the Mission

sends out spies to watch what people do when they are not at the Mission, and kicks them out if found, for instance, smoking pot?

Did you know that

even after Martin Cotton was beat to death by Eureka Police in front of many people who stay at the Mission, and even though the police target people who are homeless and stay at the Mission, Bryan Hall (Mission Director) has the men who use the Mission do free labor cleaning up around the police station?

Recently, Bryan Hall, was overheard talking with Eureka Police Officers on the phone about “cleaning up” behind the Ingomar Club- and “running everyone [homeless people] out of there.”

Did you know?…

When Bryan Hall, who was the Mission’s House Manager when Martin Cotton was fatally beaten by the cops, LIED PUBLICLY and said that the cops did nothing excessive to Martin, he [Bryan] was ON PAROLE?

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HUFF [Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom] is soliciting blankets, sleeping bags, pillows, tarps, and food donations for our nightly event. Please come by, sign our petition, and lie down with us against the Sleeping Ban (MC 6.36.010 section a). If you would like to add your name to our list of endorsers, please e-mail me back at the above e-mail address. — Becky Johnson of HUFF

Homeless, their advocates sleep at county courthouse to protest Santa Cruz’s camping ban

By Kimberly White
Posted: 07/06/2010 01:30:54 AM PDT

found online at: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ ci_15446448

SANTA CRUZ — A handful of homeless men and homeless rights advocates gathered in front of the Santa Cruz County courthouse Monday night, spreading out blankets and unfurling their sleeping bags in a willful violation of a city ordinance that prohibits camping within city limits.

Leigh, who declined to provide his last name, was preparing to sleep out on the courthouse steps for the second night. He said he has lived in Santa Cruz for 35 years and has been “houseless” for the last four or five years.

“I understand at some legal level why the ban was implemented, ” he said. “I also understand that it was implemented due to the city’s intentional oversight in the creation of housing and jobs for people that actually live here. They’re in violation of the state charter that requires them to build housing for people that actually work here, or at least plan for it.”

He called the ban a “draconian measure” aimed at making it “harder for people that they do displace to stay here” and then criminalizing the resulting behavior.

“The problem is, for a lot of people here, there’s no place to go,” he said.

Organizers of the “Peace Camp” say they will continue camping on the courthouse steps every night from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. until the city either scraps what they call a “sleeping ban” or creates a safe shelter with additional capacity.

Santa Cruz Vice Mayor Ryan Coonerty said the city attorney automatically dismisses any citations handed out for illegal camping, provided there is proof that all available beds at the various shelters around the city are full.

“He’ll dismiss it,” agreed Ed Frey, a local attorney who helped organize the protest, “but he won’t stop the police from waking people up, writing them a ticket, making them go to court twice, and go over to the homeless services shelter and get an affidavit to the effect that there were no beds available that night. And then the law, in its majesty, will grant you a not guilty verdict.”
According to the 2009 Santa Cruz Homeless Census and Survey, about 2,260 people in the county are homeless.

Coonerty estimated that through a combination of city programs and a partnership with area churches, roughly 400 beds are available each night — and the latest report that came out last month showed that the shelters averaged about 84 percent capacity total.

“I’m not even sure that any area churches are participating anymore in that program,” said Becky Johnson, a member of advocacy group HUFF, or Homeless United for Friendship and Freedom, which is backing the protest. HUFF estimates that shelter space is available for only 8 percent of that population, or about 180.

She said the Interfaith Satellite Shelter Project is now redirecting their staffing and funding into the Paul Lee Loft, a new facility at the Homeless Services shelter.

Frey said about 10 of the about 30 people who arrived at the courthouse lawn Sunday night slept there overnight. Deputies eventually came by “and checked us out,” he said, but ultimately left without issuing any citations.

Paul Tashiro, patrol supervisor for the Sheriff’s Office, saw several people camped out on the platform in front of the courthouse Sunday night, but said no citations were issued because the protesters were peaceful and not creating any disturbances.

In fact, Tashiro said Monday afternoon — before that evening’s vigil began — that he didn’t even know what they were protesting.
“I don’t know how much attention they brought to the homelessness issue in the middle of the night on a holiday weekend,” he said when he learned that they are protesting the sleeping ban. He noted that if they are gone by 8 a.m. today, “they won’t disrupt any services because the county doesn’t even open until after 8 a.m.”

Asked what the advocates hope to accomplish, Frey said they want to “put pressure on the city government and courts to do the right thing” and stop depriving the homeless of sleep. Instead of forcing the homeless to jump through so many hoops to get the fines dismissed, police should simply call the shelter themselves to confirm that it is full, he said.

“The solution is to follow the law … which gives the homeless a right to privacy, a right to be left alone, a right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, a right to due process of the law, and a right to be free from torture,” Frey said.

“If they think it’s unconstitutional, they should challenge it,” Coonerty said. “If they want to change the policy, they should have people run for City Council. … I don’t think camping out is the most effective way” to create the change they want.

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http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/03/20/18642123.php

Homeless Frame-Up by Cops and City Attorney Defeated in Rare Court Victory
by Robert Norse

Saturday Mar 20th, 2010 4:59 PM

The City’s “Go to Sleep; Go to Jail” campaign suffered a rare setback with two “Not Guilty” verdicts after a four-hour contempt hearing for Anna Richardson and Miguel deLeon on Friday, March 19th. Judge Timothy Volkman returned to the plain language of MC 6.36.010c which makes sleeping, even on blankets, even with your possessions around you, a legal activity during the day if you have no intention of remaining overnight and haven’t “set up a campsite”, no matter how much that infuriates police officers who want you to move along.

BREAKFASTING WITH THE BIRDS

The day began outside the main entrance of the courthouse at 8:15 AM with a free breakfast provided by Joe Schultz, soon to open a new restaurant downtown on Front St. Schultz has long been a supporter of homeless protest actions in Santa Cruz, a rare exception to the cowed, indifferent, or hostile response of many merchants downtown.

The Downtown Association, whose former executive director Peter Eberle, voted to end the entire Camping Ban in 1999 when he was on the Homeless Issues Task Force has since refused to even discuss modifying the Sleeping Ban sections of the camping ordinance under the leadership of its new director, “Chip”.

Over a dozen homeless people munched coffeecake, sipped coffee,and spoke out about their experiences outside. Curbhugger Chris Doyen passionately denounced the existing laws that target homeless survival behavior like sleeping and sitting in public places. Congressional Candidate and Attorney Ed Frey (pronounced “fry”) described his appeal of the case of Robert “Blindbear” Facer on the grounds that waking people up is torture and requiring people to wake up, get ticketed, move, and get a letter asserting what everyone knows–that there’s no shelter–is cruel & unusual punishment.

Anna Richardson’s pro bono Jonathan Gettleman, decked out in a dark court-friendly suit, said his main focus today would be keeping his clients out of jail. “Compassion, not more punishment” is required, Gettleman noted, adding “everyone knows the shelters are wholly inadequate. People don’t want to be treated like they’re in prison just cause they want to sleep…”

JUDGE VOLKMAN’S INITIAL POSITION

Initially things didn’t look too good. Attorneys Mark Briscoe and Jonathan Gettleman sitting alongside defendant Miguel deLeon faced City Attorney John Barisone. Judge Volkman dismissed all of the defense’s concerns about the May 2009 Injunction itself being improper, the minute order served not matching Barisone’s final language, and Barisone’s affidavit being incomplete. The complaints were police reports and citations from three officers, one of whom, Officer Martin, was on vacation.

Barisone decided (ill advisedly as it turned out) to proceed with the case without Officer Martin, who was apparently 50% of his case. The one point the Gettleman/Briscoe defense team won was a ruling from the judge that “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” was the standard the City Attorney had to meet, since the penalty involved possible jail time and was hence ‘quasi-criminal”. Some thought the reason Barisone was using a Civil Injunction was to evade the need for a real trial with a high standard of proof and more protections for the defendants.

Barisone also chose not to use the “three infractions ignored makes a misdemeanor” law which he and City Council added to the city code in January 2009 over the objections of homeless advocates. Did this mean that the two homeless musicians had either dealt with all their citations, or hadn’t gotten three since May 2009? Or was Barisone simply using a procedure with less protection for the defendants (a civil Injunction that seems to circumvent the need for a jury trial, is not susceptible of appeal, and provides for no appointed public defender)?

The “case” for contempt itself involved four incidents of police contact between the two and Officers Winston, Forbus, and Martin. The issue wasn’t sleeping at night or sleeping at all, even though the cops woke them up, prompting their anger. The issue was “setting up a campsite with the intention of remaining overnight” downtown in the “forbidden zone” created by Barisone and ratified by Judge Burdick in May (http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_12483386?IADID=Search-www.santacruzsentinel.com-www.santacruzsentinel.com).

Three witnesses testified–Officers Forbus and Winston and homeless expert Linda Lemaster. Forbus and Winston are downtown beat officers under the jurisdiction of Sgts. Harms and Garner, to whom they reportedly pass on reports of all contacts with the two targeted homeless musicians. Lemaster previously served the city as Chair of the Commission for the Prevention of Violence Against Women and of the Homeless Issues Task Force. She is currently on the County’s Homeless Action Partnership.

THE ISSUES AND LINDA LEMASTER’S TESTIMONY

The key legal issues under scrutiny were (1) what determines whether a person as “set up a campsite” and (2) what is the standard for proving they had “an intention to remain overnight”.
Both connditiosn are required to cite and convict someone during the day under MC 6.36.010c. At night just sleeping or covering up with blankets after 11 PM is itself illegal on all public property, on much private property, in any structure that isn’t a house or hotel, and in any vehicle parked on public property. A third was whether the presence of homeless possessions next to an individual sitting, lying, or sleeping was itself significant or sufficient evidence of a campsite and an intention to remain overnight.

Lemaster testified there was a waiting list for storage lockers at the Homeless Services Center and insisted that commercial storage lockers are out of reach for anyone without a stable income. She talked about her own difficult experiences when a homeless mom. Barisone vigorously cross-examined her, suggesting that lockers were available for storing homeless property without even hinting at any evidence. He volunteered that homeless failure to apply for shelter and services indicates a conscious scofflaw mentality and not a function of the wearisome homeless treadmill. Finally he ignored the well-known and unchanging lack of shelter space and services. “Many homeless people stop trying,” said Lemaster. “They are pressured over time to give up on waiting lists and application hurdles in order to stay focused on immediate survival needs.”

Lemaster subsequently claimed that numbers of local homeless people exceed access to even momentary public aid by a facto of more than 15-1. “Homelessness,” she noted, “is a growing epidemic that will not be resolved by municipalities.” “It is profoundly immoral to simply pluck out the most egregious presences on Pacific Avenue, while ignoring the forces that destroy everyone else outside until they get sick or angry or messy or die.”

Last year’s county homeless death figure was nearly three times that of the prior year (http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/12/19/18633184.php?show_comments=1#18633349).

Not discussed at all were the difficulties involved even when Armory shelter space is available. Shelter space is never available in the late spring, summer, and early fall for 95% of the chronically homeless who apply, according to Lemaster. Requirements include: Show up early and so miss work opportunities; Face what some call unhealthful conditions sleeping in a room on the floor with many coughing and sick people; Show picture ID; Deal with what some have described as discriminatory treatment by ill-paid staff and Armory personnel; Abandon most of one’s property during the night; Accept sexually segregated sleeping conditions; etc.
etc.

BAD SENTINEL REPORTING

Sentinel reporter J.M. Brown sat through the proceedings and wrote a heavily merchant-friendly story. It mostly ignored the deeper legal issues and repeated deceptive and incomplete descriptions from prior stories. J.M. Brown cast the two defendants in a bad light, highlighting merchant fears and unproven allegations. (See “Judge dismisses some charges in preliminary injunction against S.C. couple accused of violating city’s camping ban” at http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/ci_14711762?source=rss).

Brown nowhere mentioned the costs of the proceeding nor indicated the bizarre nature of the patently fraudulent charges (even under the abusive wording of the Injunction covering downtown sleeping and the absurd Sleeping Ban making it illegal everywhere else). Apparently he didn’t think to ask the City Attorney: “Why would you think that two people sleeping at midday with their possessions downtown constituted a campsite?” “How could that possibly mesh with the wording of the law and the Injunction?” “Why would you spend city time and money and waste the court’s time with this?”

Reporter Brown repeated the unproven, irrelevant, and inflammatory charges of “bathing in a fountain”, “destroying trees” , “trespassing” and other claims rejected in the May Injunction hearing, Those smears were not permitted in this contempt hearing which was specifically held to determine only whether the two were violating the Camping Ordinance in the forbidden Downtown zone–the only behavior the Injunction bans, and the only “crimes” alleged.

It was not proven at the May 2009 hearing that created the original injunction that Richardson and DeLeon were a Public Nuisance, simply that they were regularly charged (but not convicted) of violating the unconstitutional Sleeping Ban. This alone was the grounds for labeling them a “nuisance per se”, not any substantial nuisance behavior. Thus was created this unique Injunction which bans an essential human function–sleeping, and set the two up as police targets. Not because their behavior specifically injured anyone, but because nighttime homeless sleeping is and has been illegal in Santa Cruz since 1978.

Brown used [phrases like “vagrancy”–an outdated and prejudicial epithet which criminalizes poor people outside for their status). “Years of negative public perception about safety issues” echoes a paranoid merchant perception–but the two are not charged with any violent crimes. Brown quotes Mayor Rotkin at length, who as usual talks out of both sides of his mouth–professing compassion for the homeless, but supporting the Sleeping Ban–which makes homeless people criminals for a life-sustaining act. All that De Leon and Richardson were charged with was sleeping during the day. Iinstead of grilling Rotkin on where homeless people can park their bones or researching the shelter realities, Brown simply mouths authority propaganda.

Misleading and sloppy reporting includes such comments as “limitations on loitering”. There is no such crime; City Council under pressure from gentrification advocates and merchants intent on blaming homeless people for the economic depression has made more than 95% of the city’s sidewalks in business districts a crime to sit on, and peacefully spare change on. A huge expanse has also been made forbidden territory for political tabling or busqueing.

MY RESPONSE TO THE SENTINEL STORY ON THEIR WEBSITE

I wrote the following commentary in response to Brown’s Sentinel article which covers some more points (somewhat modified in this reprinting):

City Attorney Barisone’s arrogance strikes again. As with another recent case where he’s wasted over $100,000 of the City’s money (and intends to waste more), this one was a really bad call.(See http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/localnews/ci… )

Anna and Miguel were sleeping downtown during the day–an activity not forbidden by Burdick’s injunction. But when harassed by Officers Forbus and Winston, they refused to move (as was their right since they were doing nothing illegal). So maybe the two officers, out of resentment that their heavy-handed authority was being properly and caustically challenged, wrote phony tickets without probable cause to further intimidate the two.

The tickets “worked” in that the two defendants gathered together their possessions and left. They also provided grist for Sgt. Garner and Barisone’s stalking agenda: holding the two in contempt and jailing them.

However, sleeping during the day is not “setting up a campsite” and even a judge nervous about offending the merchants and politicians knows that. It may show the depth of Barisone’s arrogance (or perhaps his indifference–after all, he gets paid regardless) that he proceeded to drag these two into court on what were obviously false charges.

Further aggravating the situation for those of watching the trial was the fact that apparently the cops did not say they’d gotten any specific complaints about the two sleepers. It was just two thugs in uniform showing their power or currying favor with the city attorney–at what may ultimately be a significant cost to the city.

Exerting naked power against people–even poor people–can piss them off, especially when it’s illegal.

Volkman had no choice but to find the accused not guilty of contempt. Barisone should have known that from the getgo. Barisone and his two cop witnesses should be held liable for harassment as well as misuse of public funds.

Even those whose agenda is characterizing visible homeless people sparechanging downtown as “bums” should get together to dump these incompetents.

Ironically sleeping during the day is the only legal option for all homeless people in Santa Cruz since sleeping at night is banned under MC 6.36.010a.

So Anna and Miguel sleeping at 1:40 PM and 5:20 PM in the afternoon were actually trying to follow the law.

Present in the audience watching this farce were Mayor Rotkin, Councilmember Robinson, Julie Hende, and no doubt a number of other notable bigoted bureaucrats. Boy, bigotry is bad, but stupidity when mixed with bigotry is even more ludicrous. And making a public spectacle out of this makes them all a laughingstock. Which, given the abuse they’re trying to bring to homeless people, is what they deserve.

For more background go to http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/03/15/1… and http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/03/18/1… .

Those interested in real solutions should consider how much cheaper it would be to set up a campground and acknowledge the clear and present reality the immense shelter deficiency in Santa Cruz puts the City in very vulnerable spot legally and wretched position ethically.

TIME FOR ANOTHER KIND OF INJUNCTION?

The one positive thing to come out of this case (other than exposing the incompetence and/or corruption of the police and city attorney) is the revelation that police are now (perhaps under instruction from their supervisors) misusing section c of the camping ordinance–which says folks can be ticketed anytime if they’re “setting up a campsite with the intent of remaining overnight”.

This means there is no “safety zone” as Vice-Mayor Coonerty insisted several years ago, that allows homeless people to sleep during the day and so makes our city different from Los Angeles, San Diego, Laguna Beach, and other places that have had courts overturn their Sleeping Bans.

It may be time to go back to court with a lawsuit–and this time the Injunction will be against the City and the Police, and not against homeless sleepers.

COMING UP SOON: SINISTER SONGSTER CITATION TRIALS

Two homeless activists, a homeless musician, and an innocent passerby were falsely given $445 citations last January for singing political songs in front of the Bookshop Santa Cruz. Officer Shoenfeld refused to say herself whether the singing she heard at 3 PM on a Wednesday afternoon, was “unreasonably disturbing”. Because the singers refused to move, but did agree to sing more quietly (and stopped singing at Shoenfeld’s request), Sheofeld apparently orchestrated the citizen’s arrest from a resident of the St. George—Simon Reilly by falsely informing Reilly that the singers refused to sing more quietly.

Some of the story is told at http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2010/01/20/18635743.php (“Sinister Street Singers Cited on Sidewalk”).

On March 25th at 1:30 PM in Dept. 10 (the basement of the County Building) the innocent bystander, a teacher named Michelle, will go to trial in the court of Commissioner Kim Baskett.

On March 26th at 10 AM, activist Becky Johnson will go to trial in Dept. 1 (first courtroom to your left as you pass the metal detector) in front of Judge Symons.

On April 27th, Robert “Blindbear” Facer is due to go to trial at 1:30 p.m. Dept. 10.

HUFF (Homeless United for Friendship &; Freedom) will likely be sponsoring an outdoor meal to encourage the community to have a bite to eat and then witness the proceedings in the hopes that these ridiculous charges will be dismissed, encouraging the police not to use citizens as catspaws.

Judge Volkman at the Injunction Contempt Hearing commended the audience for coming and the presence of the audience may have had a positive effect in helping him hold the line against a lawless city attorney whose main concern seems to be running disfavored homeless people out of town or out of sight.

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March 11, 2010

Supreme Judicial Court Rules Against Warrantless Search of Homeless Shelter

ACLU of Massachusetts applauds state Supreme Court decision prohibiting police searches of homeless shelters without occupants’ consent or a warrant.

BOSTON — Residents of homeless shelters must be protected against unreasonable searches and seizures under a ruling issued today by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, in which the ACLU of Massachusetts filed a friend of the court brief. The case, Commonwealth v. Porter P., affirms that constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures apply to residents of homeless shelters, just as they do to renters or students in dormitories.

The case resulted from the prosecution of a juvenile based on evidence obtained by police during a 2006 search of his locked room in a homeless shelter. The shelter manager gave consent to the search, but the occupants of the room — one of whom, a juvenile, was in the room at the time — did not.

In finding that the search violated the rights of the shelter’s occupants, the Court rejected the claim that there was less protection for transitional housing or that the shelter manager could consent to the search.

“Although transitional, the Court concluded that the room at the shelter was the family’s home and therefore entitled to the full protection of the state constitution. And, while recognizing that the shelter manager retained the right to enter the room to inspect the premises, she could not consent to a police search. That, the Court found, could only be done with a warrant,” said John Reinstein, legal director for the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The ACLU, along with the Committee for Public Counsel Services and other groups, filed a friend of the court brief arguing that endorsement of the search would consign the homeless to second-class status under the constitution.

“The Court has ruled today that homeless citizens are entitled to no less protection than those in our country who have housing,” said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. “Especially in today’s tough economic times, which have driven more people into poverty, we must remember that the homeless still enjoy the same constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures as everyone else. The Constitution does not distinguish between rich and poor.”

For a copy of the SJC decision, see: http://www.aclum.org/legal/commonwealth_v_porter_p/sjc_decision.pdf

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In D.C., Clergy & Homeless Allied in Fight for Separation of Church and State

City Should Not Fund Ministry That Compels Homeless Men To Attend Religious Services

Federal Lawsuit Challenges District Of Columbia’s Funding Of Religious Mission
ACLU-NCA Brings Lawsuit to Bar D.C. from Giving $12 Million to Mission
‘We are in the business of converting people to Christ.’

The ACLU of the National Capital Area (now the ACLU of the Nation’s Capital), Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on Sept. 18, 2008, challenging the District of Columbia’s plan to grant more than $12 million in public property and cash to the Central Union Mission, a religious homeless shelter. For a copy of the complaint, please click here.

The Mission conditions shelter for the homeless on participation in Christian religious activity, including mandatory attendance at nightly church services. Its director has stated, “We are in the business of converting people to Christ. That’s what we do.” The Mission only employs Christians and requires volunteers to declare their church affiliation.

The lawsuit, Chane v. District of Columbia, was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Two of the plaintiffs are homeless men in the District of Columbia who do not go to the Mission because of its requirement that the homeless participate in religious services.

Six other plaintiffs are local taxpayers – including members of the clergy – who assert that the proposed gift of cash and property from the District of Columbia to the Mission will unconstitutionally support religious activities. The taxpayer plaintiffs include the Right Rev. John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Bishop of Washington, and the Rev. Joseph M. Palacios, a Roman Catholic priest and professor of sociology at Georgetown University.

“The Central Union Mission has a constitutional right to preach the gospel and recruit disciples for its faith, as it’s been doing for 124 years,” said Arthur B. Spitzer, Legal Director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area. “But it is a constitutional violation for the District of Columbia to support that preaching with millions of dollars of public money and public property.”

Said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, “Government should not fund a homeless shelter that requires residents to take part in religious services and discriminates in religious hiring. Religious activities should be funded with the voluntary donations of the faithful, not tax dollars.” 

The Council of the District of Columbia voted in July to pay $7 million in cash and convey a downtown property known as the Gales School to the Mission, in exchange for far less valuable property in the Petworth neighborhood. The transaction will result in a net financial gain for the Mission of more than $12 million. There is also no limit on what the Mission can do with the property later.  (The Mission is selling its current “shelter” property to a condo developer—for $7 million.)

“People who are homeless lack options for finding shelter and are particularly vulnerable to religious coercion,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, Senior Litigation Counsel for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “The District should use its tax funds to ensure that sufficient shelter space exists for all who are homeless here, not just for those who are willing to go to church services every night.”

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs ask the court to block the transaction, or alternatively, to require the Mission either to agree not to engage in religious activities at the Gales School, or to pay fair market value for the property. The plaintiffs do not object to the shelter’s religious activities as long as they are not supported by government funds or property.

The lawsuit notes that the mission statement of Central Union Mission reads, “Our mission is to glorify God through proclaiming and teaching the gospel, leading people to Christ, developing disciples, and serving the needs of hurting people throughout the Washington Metropolitan Area.”

“The government shouldn’t use taxpayer dollars to underwrite religious indoctrination,” said Daniel Mach, Legal Director for the ACLU’s Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief. “This is a bad deal for the city, its homeless population and the U.S. Constitution.” 

http://www.aclu-nca.org/content.php?contentID=200&SID=1
http://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/federal-lawsuit-challenges-district-columbias-funding-religious-mission

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