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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-quigley/eight-homeless-youth-die_b_802109.html

By Bill Quigley

Eight young people, who the Fire Department said were “trying to stay warm,” perished in a raging fire during the night in New Orleans. The young people were squatting in an abandoned wood framed tin walled warehouse in a Ninth Ward neighborhood bordering a large train yard. The young people apparently had a barrel with wood burning in it for heat. Officials said this was the city’s most deadly fire in twenty five years.

The eight young people, estimated to be in their late teens and early twenties, remain unidentified. “We don’t know their IDs,” said the Fire Department, “they were so burned we cannot even tell their genders.”

Audrey, a young woman with brown dreads and a Polish last name, arrived at the scorched scene. She spent the night in the warehouse a couple of times. Because last night was so cold she and a few others begged money from people in the French Quarter and got enough to spend the night in a hotel. Do you know who was in there? “Usually 10 to 15 people, nobody uses last names, but Katy, Jeff, Sammy, Nicky, John and Mooncat usually stay there,” she sobbed. Why did people stay here? “A lot of freight hoppers stay here,” she said, pointing to the nearby trains. “We are just passing through, hopping trains. We don’t have any money.” Behind her a group of young people were crying and hugging as they picked up pieces of a navy blue sweatshirt from the burnt remains.

There are an estimated 1.6 to 2.8 million homeless youth in the US, people between the ages of 12 and 24, according to a June 2010 report of the Center for American Progress. Most are homeless because of abuse, neglect, and family conflict. Gay and transgender youth are strikingly over-represented.

The fire happened in an area of abandoned warehouses at the end of Prieur Street, two blocks towards the train tracks down from the new Family Dollar on Claiborne. It is a modest neighborhood. Some people are back, some aren’t. One block from the warehouses is a long lime green shotgun house with a beautiful red rose bush in front. Next door stands a big grey double shotgun with a wide open door and tattered curtains hanging out broken windows. Untouched since Katrina, the grey house sports OWNER HAS DOG spray painted on the front and the date, 10.8.5. “After Katrina, people don’t have the money to fix their houses up,” said the firefighter.

Across the street from the blackened warehouse is a vacant lot with a tiny handmade wooden shelter at its end. No electricity, no water. Inside are a mattress and some clothes. Follow the path through the weeds and there is another long vacant building that looks like it was once a school. Clearly people stay here as well. Empty cans of baked beans, chili, and Vienna sausages are piled next to Four Loko cans, jars of peanut butter, and empty juice boxes. “Where’s our skate park?” is painted onto the wall in blazing red. A Thanksgiving card with a teddy bear on the outside lies on the pavement. Nana wishes the best to granddaughter Heather and son Dave.

New Orleans has 3,000 to 6,000 homeless people living in abandoned buildings according to an August 2010 report by Unity of Greater New Orleans. The report, “Search and Rescue Five Years Later: Saving People Still Trapped in Katrina’s Ruins,” notes homelessness has doubled since Katrina. Seventy-five percent of the people in those buildings are survivors of Hurricane Katrina. Outreach workers report many are disabled but many also work. Inside abandoned buildings live full-time sitters and restaurant workers.

Since Katrina, New Orleans has a severe homeless problem because of the scarcity of affordable housing. HUD and local governments demolished over 4000 affordable public housing apartments after Katrina. “The current housing crisis in New Orleans reflects the disastrous impact of the demolition policy,” according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing in a February 2010 report very critical of the United States. Rents rose. Tens of thousands of homes remain vacant. Over 30,000 families are on the waiting list for affordable housing.

A November 2010 report from the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center pegs the number of vacant and blighted properties at over 40,000 in New Orleans with more in the suburbs – 14,000 of which are owned by the government.

Unity for the Homeless has been asking for help for people living in abandoned buildings for years. They have four outreach workers who nightly check on people living in abandoned buildings. Five recommendations from Unity to help these thousands of people: convert abandoned building into housing for the homeless; fund case managers to help people with disabilities move into housing; additional outreach and housing search workers; create a small shelter with intensive services for people with mental health problems who are resistant to shelters; and serious investment in affordable rental housing. There are several hundred housing vouchers available for disabled homeless people but no money to fund the caseworkers they need.

Nationally, the US has severely cut its investment in affordable housing despite increasing need from the foreclosure and economic crises. Homelessness is of course up all over. The U.S. Conference of Mayors reported in December 2010 that demands for food and housing are up across the country. The causes? Unemployment, high housing costs and low wages.

Will we look into our abandoned buildings and look into the eyes of our abandoned daughters and sons and sisters and brothers? Will our nation address unemployment, high housing costs, and low wages? Will we address the abuse, neglect, and family conflict that create homelessness for millions of youth, especially gay and transgender youth? Or will the fires continue and the lives end?

Bill Quigley is Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. You can reach Bill at quigley77@gmail.com.

 

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Posted on Thu, Nov. 18, 2010 By DANA DiFILIPPO Philadelphia Daily News difilid@phillynews.com 215-854-5934

THE FORECLOSURE notices have piled up, and collection agents call weekly.

http://www.philly.com/dailynews/multimedia/BC679067330001.html
Esther “Moya” Smith fears it won’t be long before the bank changes the locks and boots her from the redbrick rowhouse in Olney where her mother moved the brood 15 years ago.

But she won’t go. She can’t go, she says.

At 31, she’s the reluctant head of her household since her mother died two years ago, leaving her in charge of her two teenage sisters and baby nephew. Financial troubles that started with her mother’s medical and funeral bills mounted until she fell seven months behind on mortgage payments, prompting foreclosure.

So, today, Smith, her neighbors and community activists will gather at her house on Widener Street near 3rd. They plan to stay there – camping out “for however long it takes” – to fight the foreclosure and ensure that Smith’s family keeps the house.

“We are willing to go to jail. This family will not go out on the [Roosevelt] Boulevard for the holidays,” said Cheri Honkala, of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. “We shouldn’t allow banks to come into neighborhoods and empty buildings and create crackhouses. In this economy, they should be forced to modify [mortgages]. If they board the house up, we will take the boards off and move everybody back in.”

In Philadelphia, a city with 40,000 vacant or abandoned properties, squatters are as plentiful as Wawas and water ice.

But many of today’s squatters aren’t the wretches and drug-addled runaways of the imagination: They’re poor families, like Esther Smith and her charges, so desperate to stay together that they’ll move into a blighted property – or squat in their own foreclosed home.

No one tracks the number of squatters. But homeless and anti-poverty advocates say that the unrelenting recession has kept homeless shelters full daily, forcing those without homes to bunk with family or friends, or to squat in abandoned buildings.

“It’s the reality show that no one sees,” Honkala said.

Homelessness in Philadelphia has risen sharply since 2000, when there were 1,175 homeless people in the city, according to Project HOME, a homeless-advocacy group that keeps a census for the city of people living in shelters and on the streets. This year, that population has grown to 1,720, Project HOME found.

“More people are losing their homes and their jobs, and we’re absolutely seeing more families double up with [other] family members,” said Marsha Cohen, executive director of the Homeless Advocacy Project.

Laura I. Weinbaum, Project HOME’s director of public policy, added, “Anecdotally, we are seeing more people in squatting situations.”

Smith never thought that she’d become a squatter in her own home.

Two years ago, she worked an overnight shift as a campus shuttle-bus driver at the University of Pennsylvania.

In August 2008, her mother died. Smith’s youngest sister, Monica, then 10, quickly devolved into grief-fueled insomnia and misbehavior at school. After missing work several times to help her sister, Smith got fired, she said.

“I felt hurt, because I needed the income, but I needed even more to be at home for her,” Smith said.

Smith cobbled together an income doing odd jobs in home construction, car repair and baby-sitting – anything that allowed her to focus on her sister first.

But with an inconsistent income, she soon fell behind the seven months on her $645 monthly mortgage bills.

In early summer, she applied to her mortgage company, Texas-based American Home Mortgage Servicing Inc., for a loan modification. They denied her application, saying that her debt-to-income ratio was too high, meaning that she made too little money to qualify for a modification.

She also applied to several foreclosure-assistance programs run by social-service agencies, but she was told they had run out of money.

In July, she said, she started collecting $316 a month in welfare.

In August, her sister Barbara – who was living with her husband, an Army soldier stationed in Texas who will deploy to Iraq in January, and their 2-year-old son, Jovanie – moved back in with Smith to help with the bills. Smith and her sister thought that Barbara’s income as a housekeeper at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, along with $200 monthly from her husband’s soldier’s pay, might be enough to fend off foreclosure.

But last month, Smith received her first foreclosure notice.

Since then, she’s gotten calls several times a week from the company, demanding payment.

The increased pressure to pay prompted Honkala’s group to champion her case.

“[Leaving the home] is not an option,” Honkala said last week. “There’s a growing army around her.”

Honkala has plenty of experience in standoffs and sit-ins.

As founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, she set up tent cities for homeless people on vacant lots and led marches to raise awareness about poverty and homelessness in the early 2000s. She disappeared for a few years to help her sister and others fight foreclosure in Minnesota and to raise her son, Guillermo, now 8.

But she’s back in Philadelphia and ready for battle, with her new group, the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign.

The group teaches “foreclosure classes” and encourages squatting, or “homesteading” as Honkala prefers to call it, to people like Smith. Lessons include topics such as how to participate in nonviolent civil disobedience, how to prove residency in order to get utilities – even when possession of a home is illegal – and how to explain to children what’s happening.

“They can call us a criminal all they want,” Honkala said, “but we think we’ll be upholding higher laws: laws of humanity. We are good mothers and sisters and caregivers who are going to care for our families however we have to.”

In Smith’s case, it’s too early to tell whether today’s planned sit-in will be more consciousness-raising or civil disobedience.

Philippa Brown, a spokeswoman for Smith’s lienholder, American Mortgage, said her company is considering modifying Smith’s $60,000 mortgage, but she wouldn’t release details. The foreclosure, which is temporarily on hold until the company decides whether to alter the loan, will move forward unless Smith clears her outstanding debt, Brown said.

Smith is delinquent by about $9,000 since April; about half is mortgage payments, while the other is penalties and fees, Smith said.

Now that her little sister Monica has improved, Smith said she has applied for numerous jobs, including retail and janitorial positions, as well as jobs with SEPTA, the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia Prisons System. But she’s had no luck landing anything.

One morning last week, sassy, saggy-diapered Jovanie frolicked in the family’s living room, where they still keep candles lighted and glasses full of water for their mother.

“They give evolution to the spirit,” Smith said.

As December approaches, Smith said she grows more depressed. Barbara, Monica and Jovanie all have December birthdays. A foreclosure and eviction, Smith noted sourly, would be lousy birthday gifts.

“The sad thing is with most of these struggles [to stave off homelessness], we’ve lost them,” Honkala said. “This time, hopefully, there will be an angel.”

Smith, sifting through old photos of her mother, smiled and agreed: “Yes. Hopefully.”

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We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home. ~ Edward R. Murrow

Ashland Oregon Criminalizing Laws Target Homeless – One Ordinance States “Sleeping Prohibited”
October 19, 2008
by freedomrebel

When a city like Ashland, Oregon passes laws targeting the homeless it sends a clear message that they are not welcome. It sends another message that beneath the thin veneer; society considers them worthless. Instead of lending a helping hand, most people cross to the other side of the street to avoid them. As if they have something that is contagious. This lack of empathy I find to be heartbreaking.

McCain’s home state of Arizona is one of the places where 32 homeless people died on the streets of Phoenix, in the summer of 2005. Four homeless men died of heat exposure, in one weekend, in the summer of 2006. Sad statistics that I’m sure did not even get a mention in the local paper. When cities like Phoenix and Ashland could solve the problem easily by building homeless shelters.

The ACLU of Oregon is challenging Ashland’s anti-camping ordinance.

The Southern Oregon Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon calls upon the City of Ashland to amend its “Prohibited Camping” ordinance from one that punishes poverty and homelessness into one that prods the city to provide housing for the homeless.

The city’s inhumane anti-camping law is inconsistent with the values of the Ashland, and the ACLU calls for immediate reform.

“The poor should not be punished simply for being poor, and that’s what this law does in Ashland,” said the ACLU of Oregon Executive Director David Fidanque. “The city of Ashland and all cities should seek to address the underlying issues of homelessness and poverty, rather than enacting and enforcing laws that target those who are homeless.”

In a report released today, the Southern Oregon Chapter calls on the Ashland City Council to make the specific revisions to the Prohibited Camping Ordinance, Municipal Code Section 10.46, and to the related “Sleeping Prohibited” ordinance, Section 10.68.230:

Section 10.46.020 (“Camping Prohibited”) should be amended to provide that, except as set forth in Section 10.46.030, the prohibitions in this ordinance shall not apply between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m., unless and until at least 50 units of permanent supportive housing are created within the City of Ashland, at least 50 percent of which are centrally located. These units must be created for current or chronically homeless persons.

Section 10.46.050 (“Penalties”) should be amended to lower the offense in Subsection A to a “violation,” to correct the erroneous reference in Subsection B to Section 1.08.010, and to correct the next to last word in Subsection B from “rebuttal” to “rebuttable.

Section 10.68.230 (“Sleeping Prohibited”) should be repealed.

The “Sleeping Prohibited” is way over the top. Ashland is by far not the worse for their poor treatment of the homeless; actually that goes to Florida.

Florida historically is “one of the worst states for criminalizing homelessness.” Stoops points out an Orlando ordinance that limits feeding homeless people in public places. In April 2007, undercover cops were sent to Orlando’s Lake Eola Park, to arrest Eric Montanez for feeding 30 homeless people – five more than the city’s 25-person limit.

“You can feed pigeons, dogs and squirrels, but God forbid you try to feed the homeless,” Stoops says.

In many cases, ours laws protect animals better than they do people. It makes me yearn for the stories my grandmother use to tell me about – during the depression – when her family of 11, use to feed the homeless that would come to their back door for a meal. They didn’t have any money but they never turned away a single person that came to the door hungry. It was the worst of times that brought out the best in people.

http://tpzoo.wordpress.com/2008/10/19/ashland-oregon-criminalizing-laws-target-homeless-%E2%80%93-one-ordinance-states-%E2%80%9Csleeping-prohibited%E2%80%9D/

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By Paul Boden Organizing Director, Western Regional Advocacy Project

What images do the words “quality of life” bring to mind? A peaceful beach? A beautiful park? A farmers market full of healthy produce? In the realm of policing, the phrase “quality of life” carries different connotations. It means a veteran getting hauled in for sleeping on the sidewalk, a homeless woman being prohibited from resting on a park bench, or even brutal scenes like these from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Fresno.

For poor, homeless, queer, transgendered, and disabled people, “quality of life” is a zero-sum game. It means someone else’s life is better only if theirs is worse. It also means no begging, no sitting or lying on public benches or sidewalks, no congregating in public space, and no sleeping outside. In this context, “quality of life” is an array of ordinances being used against people deemed “abnormal” or “undesirable,” especially in gentrifying areas. Quality of Life campaigns have been driven by the concerns of Chambers of Commerce, Business Improvement Districts, and residents uncomfortable with the unsightliness of extreme poverty, especially middle-to-upper class whites.

The heavy-handed tactics shown in the video clips above are extreme expressions of the daily harassment visited upon those who have to struggle with poverty, addiction, mental illness, and disabilities in open public view because they lack basic amenities such as housing. These tactics help the police clearly demarcate urban boundaries and enforce who belongs where. They’re part of a social system where welfare and punishment have become almost indistinguishable.

This is the second part in a series of articles we’re running on Quality of Life campaigns. Here we explore their theoretical basis, what they actually do, and what their implications are for our society.

Quality of Life laws are based on the Broken Windows theory, first popularized in an influential 1982 Atlantic Monthly article written by James Q. Wilson and Edward Kelling. The article reflected the ascendant conservative ideology that New Deal and Great Society programs had turned the U.S. into a “nanny state” that reinforced the laziness and criminality of the lower classes, especially people of color. This is the theory’s dubious starting point.

The premise of the Broken Windows argument is simple: it is necessary to come down hard on the “disorderly” (e.g. homeless panhandlers, drunks, prostitutes, and rowdy youth) to discourage more serious criminals from taking over a neighborhood. This was to be done by saturating selected areas with beat cops that have the “discretionary authority” to not only respond to actual crimes, but to “manage street life.” These tactics go by the various names of zero tolerance, order maintenance, and broken windows policing.

Wilson and Kelling write:

“The unchecked panhandler is, in effect, the first broken window. Muggers and robbers, whether opportunistic or professional, believe they reduce their chances of being caught or even identified if they operate on streets where potential victims are already intimidated by prevailing conditions.”

“Tough on Crime” advocates saw Broken Windows as a panacea to the problems facing their cities. The cumulative effects of economic stagnation, growing inequality, unemployment, rampant privatization, and government neglect were ravaging urban centers. The first to apply it were New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and his Police Commissioner William Bratton. In 1994, they put forward Police Strategy No. 5: Reclaiming the Public Spaces of New York. Giuliani and Bratton made their careers off exporting this model. Giuliani created a consulting company and Bratton took jobs in other major cities such as Los Angeles.

In recent years, activities associated with being homeless became the most glaring signs of disorder that needed to be eliminated, and as a result the problems faced by homeless people were transformed into a criminal justice issue. Today, more than 50 cities have passed laws that prohibit sitting or lying down in public places and 100 localities have passed some form of anti-begging ordinance. To bolster Quality of Life policing efforts, Business Improvement Districts have hired private security guards to monitor and patrol public space with scant oversight to limit civil rights violations.

Consequently, public funds are being redirected from social services to homeless courts, jails, and prisons. So much so that in 2007, a public defender in Los Angeles told the Daily Journal on the condition of anonymity: “It’s not abnormal for the DA to have a policy. But this policy is about targeting the homeless in that area because the city is redeveloping that area. It’s a policy to get people off the streets and into state prison, jumping right over rehab and jail.”

Quality of Life campaigns have been credited for cleaning up and making business, entertainment, and shopping districts more enjoyable for their intended users, namely tourists, shoppers, and concertgoers. In New York City, for example, the campaign was so successful that only one homeless man remains in Times Square, but at the same time homelessness in the city was up 34%.

So the question must be asked: Do these ordinances actually work or are they “politically successful policy failures?” Who exactly do they work for and at what cost for society as a whole? Do the ends justify the means? Or are we once again developing a repertoire of exclusionary mechanisms that further tarnish our country’s claims on freedom, equality, and justice for all?

There is no clear evidence that Quality of Life campaigns have seriously reduced crime. In his book Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing, University of Chicago law professor Bernard Harcourt calls attention to a Harvard study in which the authors conclude that “the current fascination in policy circles on cleaning up disorder through law enforcement techniques appears simplistic and largely misplaced, at least in terms of directly fighting crime.”

In the pursuit of “safe,” “sanitized,” and “livable” cities, we’re systematically stripping people of basic civil and human rights and banishing them beyond the realm of human decency. By reactivating or expanding the application of archaic vagrancy laws, we’re criminalizing the basic necessities of living and keeping in existence a disgraceful system of second-class citizenship. Nightsticks and jail time cannot address the lack of housing and services that put millions of people on the streets in the first place.

Even Wilson and Kelling concede that:

“Of course, agencies other than the police could attend to the problems posed by drunks or the mentally ill, but in most communities especially where the ‘deinstitutionalization’ movement has been strong — they do not.”

They go on to raise concerns about equity:

“How do we ensure that age or skin color or national origin or harmless mannerisms will not also become the basis for distinguishing the undesirable from the desirable? How do we ensure, in short, that the police do not become the agents of neighborhood bigotry?…We are not confident that there is a satisfactory answer except to hope that by their selection, training, and supervision, the police will be inculcated with a clear sense of the outer limit of their discretionary authority. That limit, roughly, is this — the police exist to help regulate behavior, not to maintain the racial or ethnic purity of a neighborhood.”

So, why have police become our society’s primary service providers? Aren’t other agencies better trained to deal with health, social, and economic problems? In the next part of this series we will take a look at the “long and unbecoming” history of other exclusionary social policies carried out in the name of “regulating behavior.” Histories that should make us think twice about the police’s ability to provide safety for everyone. We hope that looking at Ugly laws, anti-Okie laws, and Jim Crow laws will give us the distance and perspective we need to illumine our own blind spots and democratic failings. The fact of the matter is, we can only police the gross inequality riveting our society for so long.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-boden/whose-quality-of-life-par_b_769036.htmlOctober 22, 2010 

This series is a collaboration between researcher Casey Gallagher and Western Regional Advocacy Project.

Follow Paul Boden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@withouthousing

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UNITE AND FIGHT!

DAYS OF ACTION AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY

October 22nd & 23rd

No School  *   No Work

Call 707.633.4493

 

The Schedule is BELOW!!  To DOWNLOAD the poster with schedule, CLICK HERE for Color version CLICK HERE for Black-n-White version.

Talk with bosses and teachers/professors about taking Oct 22nd and 23rd off work and school NOW- or just walk out when the Days of Action come!

 

If you are interested in fliering or getting involved in planning and organizing the Days of Action, please call! 

 

The 22nd is the National Day of Action Against Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation.  The 23rd is the memorial anniversary of Christopher Burgess, murdered by a Eureka Police officer in 2006.

 

 

FRIDAY OCTOBER 22. Eureka,CA

 

12 PM/ KICK-OFF & MARCH

food, music, sign-making

(CLARKE PLAZA)

 

3 PM/ SPEAK OUT

(CLARK & SUMMER ST.)

 

5 PM/ WHEELIN AGAINST BRUTALITY

group bike/skate/wheelchair ride

(GAZEBO)

 

7 PM/ DINNER & VIGIL

(COURTHOUSE)

 

SATURDAY OCTOBER 23. Eureka, CA

 

11 AM/ BREAKFAST

(HIGHLAND PARK)

 

12 PM/ PEOPLES’ MEMORY MARCH AGAINST POLICE BRUTALITY (LEAVES FROM HIGHLAND PARK)

Honor and Remember Chris Burgess

1-6-90 ~ 10-23-06

 

2-4 PM/ RALLY

(COURTHOUSE)

 

5PM/ DINNER, MUSIC

(TBA)

 

For More Information Call Redwood Curtain CopWatch 707-633-4493

 

 

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Whose Public Safety?


The Perception of Public Safety

Perceptions of public safety vary drastically. A tourist or shopper’s basic understanding of safety will probably clash with that of a person who can’t rub two dimes together. How you perceive public safety will depend on where you stand in society.

As the gap between the wealthy and poor grows, public displays of extreme poverty and suffering have become commonplace. This disturbing reality brings to the fore competing needs for public safety: whose rights should be protected by the state?

Our growing divide is a recipe for social instability and conflict. The current proliferation of “nuisance crime laws,” private security, and surveillance cameras in public spaces resurrect a long-standing tradition in the United States of using punitive police measures to deal with poor and “unwanted” people. Like Jim Crow and Anti-Okie Laws, “nuisance crime laws” are encoded with racism and classism.

Does the litany of “nuisance crime laws” forbidding camping, loitering, trespassing, blocking the sidewalk and panhandling make society safer or would we do better to focus our attention and resources on the vast inequality riveting our country?

Public Safety and the Neoliberal State

The recession has hit the poorest the hardest. According to the Center for Labor Market Studies, in the fourth quarter of 2009, households with incomes over $150,000 had an unemployment rate of 3.2%, whereas households with incomes under $12,499 had an unemployment rate of 30.8%. United for a Fair Economy reported that roughly 3.4 million families experienced foreclosure in 2009 and that almost 60% of mortgage defaults were caused by unemployment. African Americans and Latinos have experienced the brunt of the recession’s unemployment and home equity loss.

Meanwhile, local and state governments across the country are eliminating programs, privatizing parks and other municipal services, raising tuitions, putting government workers on furloughs or reducing hours to curb budget deficits that in many States are now in the billions of dollars. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “At least 45 states plus the District of Columbia have reduced services since the recession began.”

The Obama Administration has interrupted some of the neoliberal social policies of the previous four administrations, most notably with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Nonetheless, we are still reaping the misfortune of 30 years of neoliberal cutbacks to the safety net, cutbacks that have created huge structural gaps in the housing and labor markets.

As the economy and safety net unravel in the recession, public spaces have become a battleground for which perspective of public safety will win out. People from the top-earning households don’t feel safe or comfortable in the presence of all the poor people on our streets and all the poor people on the streets don’t feel safe or comfortable in the presence of all the police officers and security guards.

“Nuisance Crime Laws” Limit Public Safety

“Nuisance crime laws” separate public safety from social welfare and equity at a time when a broader systemic effort is necessary to address the crises in housing, employment, education, and health care. Poverty is not an individual choice or lifestyle. Resting on a bench or even sleeping in a doorway are not problem behaviors, nor are they criminal acts. They are survival activities.

According to Homes Not Handcuffs, a report released in 2009 by the National Law Center on Poverty and Homelessness that surveys the criminalization of homelessness in 235 cities: 33% prohibit camping, 30% prohibit sitting/lying, 47% prohibit loitering, and 47% prohibit begging in certain areas of the city.

The messaging is clear: If your city is seen as tolerant of poor people in public spaces, tourists will stay away, families won’t come downtown to shop, small businesses will go under, tax revenue will go down, budget deficits will increase, and more services will be cut, precipitating a downward, irreversible spiral into financial ruin.

This messaging has worked well with the mainstream media and local legislative bodies looking for “action now” solutions. It suggests a clear cause and provides a specific answer. The cause is “those people” and the answer is to get rid of them for “the greater good.” After all, it’s much easier to find someone to blame and pound the message home till it becomes its own reality than it is to address an economic system that is increasingly producing inequality and poverty.

A Place of Greater Public Safety

The fear, nervousness, and desperation are very real, but policing the crisis will not fix the fundamental problem. We are at a crossroads in many ways. We need real solutions and they do exist. Economic human rights models that include a right to housing, education and treatment, a job with a living wage will prove much more effective in the long run. When pressed, people on all sides of this issue seem to agree on this point. Yet, advocates for “nuisance crime laws” keep crowding out other voices by saying that we need “action now!” They argue that one more law will give them the “tools” to make everything better.

Taking “action now” to address homelessness has meant needing even more “action” tomorrow. If we as a country had initially diagnosed the real causes of emerging homelessness in the early 1980s – the disappearance of affordable housing – instead of seeing it as a temporary crisis for dysfunctional people, the divisiveness, hostility and anger that surrounds today’s frenzy to add more and more laws that keep moving homeless people from public view would be virtually non-existent.

from the blog of the Western Regional Advocacy Project [WRAP]: http://www.wraphome.org/index.php/blog/archives/575#more-575

WRAP exists to expose and eliminate the root causes of civil and human rights abuses of people experiencing poverty and homelessness in our communities.

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An Open Letter to a Mayor Reluctant to Decriminalize Homelessness

http://homelessness.change.org/blog/view/an_open_letter_to_a_mayor_reluctant_to_decriminalize_homelessness

BY NOAH JENNINGS PUBLISHED JANUARY 26, 2010

Last week, criminalization of the homeless in Boulder, Colorado got the attention of End Homelessness readers as grassroots activists fought to put an end to a camping ordinance that unfairly targets the homeless. Thanks to Change.org readers and a protest organized by the homeless and their supporters, Mayor Susan Osborne agreed to make camping tickets a priority. She also ordered her city manager to write up an emergency moratorium on camping tickets. It looked like a victory. But politics being what they are, Mayor Osborne backslid. The following is an open letter to Mayor Osborne.

Sign our petition to keep the pressure on Boulder’s leadership.

Dear Mayor Osborne,

I’m writing to you because we want the same things. We share this little city and want it to be a safe place for everyone, both the homeless and the housed, those alone on the streets and those at home with families, the wealthy and the not-so-much, small business owners and the unemployed. I write to you as a friend because I know we share a desire to end criminalization of the homeless in Boulder and uphold the human rights of every single citizen. That’s why you became mayor; that’s why I write about and work with the homeless.

I read this weekend in the local paper that you felt “boxed in” by petitioners and protesters at the Boulder city council meeting last Tuesday. You said this pressure was largely the reason you promised to consider an emergency ordinance putting a temporary halt to ticketing homeless people for sleeping in public places.

Now it looks as if you’ve rescinded that promise, citing the need to reconsider without the interference of a public meeting or the review of the citizens who elected you. The paper made it sound as if you only agreed to stop punishing the homeless because you were intimidated by all the protesters. That’s disappointing, because it’s exactly the opposite of what our grassroots coalition hoped to do. The point was to convince, not coerce. And now it sounds as if you believe we twisted your arm.

Rather than intimidating you, we hoped to inspire you with the possibility of creating a city that does not punish those who don’t have homes. We hoped to appeal to not just your sentiment to do the right thing and end criminalization of the homeless in Boulder, but to your sound judgment as well, based overwhelming evidence that anti-homeless laws are bad policy.

It seems more likely to me that you were influenced by other stakeholders who expressed fear about the possibility of seeing a tent city spring up in a town known for its beauty and affluence. People are scared. I know. I’ve heard parents who have never interacted with a homeless person argue against allowing space for them to camp without harassment because they’re afraid it might lead to a city where children aren’t safe to play. But we both know that letting fear dictate policy is not the answer.

Widespread economic volatility creates difficult situations for a small community with disparate needs. Families need to feel comfortable. But to punish the city’s dispossessed with cruel and unconstitutional laws is cutting corners in the effort to make our community a better place for everyone. Alienating a marginalized group through discriminatory laws hurts more people than it intends to help. What’s more, and this is what saddens me the most, it creates unnecessary class conflict in a town once known for its progressiveness.

As the fight over Boulder’s mistreatment of the homeless continues, people all over the world have come to know about it. The shame of this fact is an eyesore uglier than any encampment. The ACLU agrees. In addition to bad publicity, hundreds of people have protested the city’s willingness to punish the homeless for not having a home. Concerned citizens from Boulder to Lisbon have written you with two requests:

1) Suspend what’s become known as the camping ticket ordinance.

2) Hold a transparent meeting with leaders from grassroots organizations like H.O.M.E., the Homeless Ordinance Moratorium Endeavor, who have already submitted to you alternatives to the current law.

Of course homelessness is much larger than this small ordinance. Anyone could get lost in the issue. It’s maddening to tackle. But this is something we can do to address the suffering of our city’s most vulnerable. Please join me in fighting for our city and its integrity.

Sincerely,

Noah Jennings

Photo credit: Marty Caivano/The Daily Camera

CATEGORIES: ADVOCACY, CRIMINALIZATION, LOCAL POLICY

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