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What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary activities are illegal when performed in American streets.

Demonstrators sleep in Zuccotti Park.: Bryan Smith/ZumaDemonstrators sleep in Zuccotti Park. Bryan Smith/ZumaThis story first appeared on the TomDispatch website.

As anyone knows who has ever had to set up a military encampment or build a village from the ground up, occupations pose staggering logistical problems. Large numbers of people must be fed and kept reasonably warm and dry. Trash has to be removed; medical care and rudimentary security provided—to which ends a dozen or more committees may toil night and day. But for the individual occupier, one problem often overshadows everything else, including job loss, the destruction of the middle class, and the reign of the 1 percent. And that is the single question: Where am I going to pee?

Some of the Occupy Wall Street encampments now spreading across the US have access to Port-o-Potties (Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC) or, better yet, restrooms with sinks and running water (Fort Wayne, Indiana). Others require their residents to forage on their own. At Zuccotti Park, just blocks from Wall Street, this means long waits for the restroom at a nearby Burger King or somewhat shorter ones at a Starbucks a block away. At McPherson Square in DC, a twentysomething occupier showed me the pizza parlor where she can cop a pee during the hours it’s open, as well as the alley where she crouches late at night. Anyone with restroom-related issues—arising from age, pregnancy, prostate problems, or irritable bowel syndrome—should prepare to join the revolution in diapers.

Of course, political protesters do not face the challenges of urban camping alone. Homeless people confront the same issues every day: how to scrape together meals, keep warm at night by covering themselves with cardboard or tarp, and relieve themselves without committing a crime. Public restrooms are sparse in American cities—”as if the need to go to the bathroom does not exist,” travel expert Arthur Frommer once observed. And yet to yield to bladder pressure is to risk arrest. A report entitled “Criminalizing Crisis,” to be released later this month by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, recounts the following story from Wenatchee, Washington:

Toward the end of 2010, a family of two parents and three children that had been experiencing homelessness for a year and a half applied for a 2-bedroom apartment. The day before a scheduled meeting with the apartment manager during the final stages of acquiring the lease, the father of the family was arrested for public urination. The arrest occurred at an hour when no public restrooms were available for use. Due to the arrest, the father was unable to make the appointment with the apartment manager and the property was rented out to another person. As of March 2011, the family was still homeless and searching for housing.

What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary, biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets—not just peeing, but sitting, lying down, and sleeping. While the laws vary from city to city, one of the harshest is in Sarasota, Florida, which passed an ordinance in 2005 that makes it illegal to “engage in digging or earth-breaking activities”—that is, to build a latrine—cook, make a fire, or be asleep and “when awakened state that he or she has no other place to live.”

It is illegal, in other words, to be homeless or live outdoors for any other reason. It should be noted, though, that there are no laws requiring cities to provide food, shelter, or restrooms for their indigent citizens.

The current prohibition on homelessness began to take shape in the 1980s, along with the ferocious growth of the financial industry (Wall Street and all its tributaries throughout the nation). That was also the era in which we stopped being a nation that manufactured much beyond weightless, invisible “financial products,” leaving the old industrial working class to carve out a livelihood at places like Walmart.

As it turned out, the captains of the new “casino economy”—the stock brokers and investment bankers—were highly sensitive, one might say finicky, individuals, easily offended by having to step over the homeless in the streets or bypass them in commuter train stations. In an economy where a centimillionaire could turn into a billionaire overnight, the poor and unwashed were a major buzzkill. Starting with Mayor Rudy Giuliani in New York, city after city passed “broken windows” or “quality of life” ordinances making it dangerous for the homeless to loiter or, in some cases, even look “indigent,” in public spaces.

No one has yet tallied all the suffering occasioned by this crackdown—the deaths from cold and exposure—but “Criminalizing Crisis” offers this story about a homeless pregnant woman in Columbia, South Carolina:

During daytime hours, when she could not be inside of a shelter, she attempted to spend time in a museum and was told to leave. She then attempted to sit on a bench outside the museum and was again told to relocate. In several other instances, still during her pregnancy, the woman was told that she could not sit in a local park during the day because she would be “squatting.” In early 2011, about six months into her pregnancy, the homeless woman began to feel unwell, went to a hospital, and delivered a stillborn child.

Well before Tahrir Square was a twinkle in anyone’s eye, and even before the recent recession, homeless Americans had begun to act in their own defense, creating organized encampments, usually tent cities, in vacant lots or wooded areas. These communities often feature various elementary forms of self-governance: food from local charities has to be distributed, latrines dug, rules—such as no drugs, weapons, or violence—enforced. With all due credit to the Egyptian democracy movement, the Spanish indignados, and rebels all over the world, tent cities are the domestic progenitors of the American occupation movement.

There is nothing “political” about these settlements of the homeless—no signs denouncing greed or visits from left-wing luminaries—but they have been treated with far less official forbearance than the occupation encampments of the “American autumn.” LA’s Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.

All over the country, in the last few years, police have moved in on the tent cities of the homeless, one by one, from Seattle to Wooster, Ohio, Sacramento to Providence, in raids that often leave the former occupants without even their minimal possessions. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, last summer, a charity outreach worker explained the forcible dispersion of a local tent city by saying: “The city will not tolerate a tent city. That’s been made very clear to us. The camps have to be out of sight.”

What occupiers from all walks of life are discovering, at least every time they contemplate taking a leak, is that to be homeless in America is to live like a fugitive. The destitute are our own native-born “illegals,” facing prohibitions on the most basic activities of survival. They are not supposed to soil public space with their urine, their feces, or their exhausted bodies. Nor are they supposed to spoil the landscape with their unusual wardrobe choices or body odors. They are, in fact, supposed to die, and preferably to do so without leaving a corpse for the dwindling public sector to transport, process, and burn.

But the occupiers are not from all walks of life, just from those walks that slope downwards—from debt, joblessness, and foreclosure—leading eventually to pauperism and the streets. Some of the present occupiers were homeless to start with, attracted to the occupation encampments by the prospect of free food and at least temporary shelter from police harassment. Many others are drawn from the borderline-homeless “nouveau poor,” and normally encamp on friends’ couches or parents’ folding beds.

In Portland, Austin, and Philadelphia, the Occupy Wall Street movement is taking up the cause of the homeless as its own, which of course it is. Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It’s where we’re all eventually headed—the 99 percent, or at least the 70 percent, of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior—unless this revolution succeeds.

Barbara Ehrenreich, TomDispatch regular, is the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America (now in a 10th anniversary edition with a new afterword).


http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/10/homelessness-occupy-wall-street


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Jason Houk * Medford City Buzz Examiner * December 4th, 2010 3:48 pm PT

At the edge of the community plaza in Ashland Oregon, a group of homeless people have come together to try to raise awareness about the growing problem of poverty, homelessness and the need for a safe campground within the city limits. Ashland is a vibrant community in Southern Oregon that is well known as the home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It’s a little city of about 22,000 people that lies nestled in the valley surrounded by hills and mountains in an area that seems to draw a fair number of dreamers, artists, poets and writers. It’s a place with a tourist driven economy and one that has skirted around the issue of homeless residents for many years.

Technically it isn’t illegal to be homeless in Ashland, but it is also not legal to sleep outside on public property either and therein lies the dichotomy.

It’s about eight o clock on a Friday night, on the fifth day protesters have gathered in the plaza. It is cold enough to see your breath as about a dozen people stand next to a bus stop holding signs asking for solutions.

Some of the signs seem a little angry, but this is largely a peaceful group. “Civil rights, basic human rights are being denied. It’s unacceptable,” says Stephanie Joy, a young woman who is currently homeless. In the distance there are holiday shoppers and fire dancers, and as Stephanie speaks, area residents driving by honking in support.

“I’m convinced that more families will be affected by this and there is a coldness in that.” She pauses for a moment and continues, “It’s also good though in a sense because it is forcing people not to be so distracted. They are talking about it.”

Protests began earlier in the week when police rousted a group of homeless campers sleeping in a wooded area above Lithia Park in Ashland. It was after midnight and the group had nowhere to go. They had been frustrated by earlier encounters with Ashland PD. People who are caught sleeping, camping or cooking on public property face fines and harassment. Finally in a move of desperation the group took up the protest in downtown Ashland across from City Hall.

On the sidewalk under the protesters, some folks have written messages in colorful chalk. One says that Jesus slept outside and above the sidewalk at the entrance of the plaza there is a large lit up menorah. About a million gold lights have been carefully hung up throughout the area so that each downtown shop is illuminated. And in the middle of all of this holiday cheer there are homeless men and women lined up on the sidewalk holding signs, waiting.

Ashland police have issued several citations this week related to the protest. Police say that so far, nobody has been arrested since they have all agreed to keep moving when they have been asked to move on. The general consensus among the protesters seems to be that since they do not have anywhere to go, they are all staying put and will keep protesting and fighting for a legal camping space.

Earlier this week, Ashland’s Police Chief Terry Holderness was quoted in an NBC interview as saying that homeless people could get a free bus ticket to Medford, Oregon where there are social services in place for them. Medford Police Chief Randy Schoen says that “Medford already has a significant homeless population and that is largely due to the social services Chief Holderness has mentioned. The County Health Department, the Veteran’s Administration, job counseling services, drug and alcohol recovery services, shelters and etc are located in Medford. Often these services are close to capacity and in the case of shelters there are times people have to be turned away. This is not just an Ashland or a Medford issue. This is a county wide issue. The Homeless Task Force has some good ideas but often those ideas are limited by access to funding.”

In the meantime other ideas are flowing. “A homeless council could possibly come out of this,” says Critter Salent who is one of the homeless men in the group, “and anyone who does not have a house or pay rent could be on it, so we could have a voice.”

Sean Gordon, a local passerby thinks that one solution might be to get some of the homeless to help keep the downtown area clean. “Sweeping up in front of businesses could go a long way in establishing people’s credibility and they would get business owners support, community support. It’s good karma, he says.”

As the evening progresses the atmosphere changes when four Ashland city police cars suddenly converge on the plaza. Officers gather at the south end of the plaza as the protesters nervously hold their ground. It is still early and the police withdraw but the protesters know the officers will be back.

When asked what the protesters need Critter responds “We need people to come out…” noting they have received some public support, folks standing in solidarity and delivering food and beverages to the determined group.

The challenges facing Ashland and its homeless citizens are not unique to this community. Ashland is in a position to demonstrate compassion and become a leader in finding solutions. If any community has the ability, resources and will it is Ashland, Oregon. “We have to start cooperating together,” says Stephanie Joy.

Vanessa Houk contributed to this article.

http://www.examiner.com/city-buzz-in-medford/ashland-oregon-homeless-protest-for-solutions-city-standoff

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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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