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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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Foot Care Program for the People who are Experiencing Homelessness
http://www.nursescare.net/homeless_footcare.htm

“The foot care problems for people who are homeless are great and are a major deterrent for one to getting or maintaining a job. The average homeless person stands in lines about 4 hours a day and walks on the average of 35 miles a day usually on cement! If they are able to stay in a center that has no beds available they must sleep upright adding to their increasing their painful foot swelling.

Other problems usually include chronic foot infections, immersion foot (like Trench Foot) caused from being in wet socks & shoes too long, as well as severe calluses, blisters, and ingrown nails from poor (if any) socks and ill fitting shoes. Then of course in the winter there is the excruciatingly painful problem of frostbite….”

“A program sponsored by Nurses Foot Care Services is hoping to eliminate many of these peoples’ foot problems. After screening and treating them for the most immediate problems this group of volunteer nurses and nursing students will be doing intensive education on prevention as well as referrals. These people will be shown how to correctly, wash, rinse, dry, and screen their feet for problems. They will be taught how to file their toenails and pick out correctly fitting socks and shoes. Exercises & diet ideas to decrease their foot swelling will also be taught. They will also be given washable reusable nail files, good clean seamless socks, and shoes as needed.”

This program looks worthwhile for someone who needs shoes, socks, foot medical care, use of a sink and toe nail clippers. However, people experiencing homelessness, like anyone else, know what their feet need; there’s not an educational problem. The problem is that people can’t get what they need if there is no place to rest, to get out of the rain and cold, no place to slip the shoes off, wash socks and feet. This “foot program” is a good example of a group of people really trying to help their sisters and brothers who are not otherwise having their needs met, but most important would be joining the struggle for dignity and justice with and for people living houseless.

As long as every human need is systematically denied to people who are living without shelter, as long as houseless people are prohibited from going in places to get warm and dry, prohibited from using a shower, bathroom or kitchen sink, as long as police continue, throughout the country, to punish and chase houseless people around wherever they are, not let them sit, lie down, or BE ANYWHERE for very long- many of us who are living houseless- of all ages, backgrounds, and educations- will continue to be sick, in pain… and die on the streets.

Defend Homeless People! Take down the “Bathrooms for Customers Only” signs! Speak Out Against Prejudice and Oppression! Join the Struggle for Dignity and Justice!!

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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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So today (July 14th) the Mateel meal was held at the Vet’s park across the street from the bookstore in Garberville(because the Mateel kitchen staff is down at the reggae site). Police (Humboldt County Sheriff’s Dept) arrived and told people that the Veteran’s have said they don’t want anyone sitting in the park, that they want it cleared out. People asked where they could go and there were no places. Police said they will arrest people who are sitting in town anywhere.

One of the people who cooks the Mateel meal reported that when she asked Deputy Ken Swithenbank where people could EAT, he responded, “They can go a day without food.”

A call was made by a caring resident (and business owner) in the area about the cops’ Vet’s Hall claim. The call went to Brian Ormond, who is supposedly the vet in charge, but he is out of town till Monday.

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