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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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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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This is from a July 6, 2005 PLAZOID. The Plazoid was a brilliant independent, self-published pamphlet/zine that circulated in Arcata in the mid 2000’s.

 

SOON Nazi authorities and the police began to consign members of other groups to the new camps: homosexual men arrested as criminal offenders; Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to obey demands to cease their activities; women accused of prostitution; people labeled “asocial” because they were homeless, begged, or for some other reason did not fit into Nazi society.

In 1936, in preparation for the Olympic Games in Berlin, German police “cleaned up” the city, arresting people deemed inappropriate—prostitutes, street people, petty thieves—and forcing hundreds of Gypsies (Sinti and Roma) into makeshift camps.

All of these early victims were easy targets, people whom other Germans did little or nothing to protect, and whose disappearance from the public scene they often welcomed.


Nazis Increase Power and Targeted Populations
Mass attacks on Nazi targets that included widely respected members of German society did not start until 1938, five years after Hitler was named chancellor. By then Nazis had firm control of all the instruments of state power—the police, courts, laws, civil service, military and press—so they could afford to be less cautious.

The “Euthanasia” Program
During the following year, 1939, Nazi authorities began deadly attacks on one of their major targets: people considered handicapped. Rather than sending them to concentration camps where they would have to be housed and fed along with people who were being held and then sometimes released, disabled people were taken from hospitals and other institutions and sent to designated locations for “special treatment.” That “special treatment” was killing. In just a few years, with the cooperation of scores of doctors, social workers, hospital administrators, and others, Nazi officials organized and carried out the murder of at least 70,000 Germans deemed “unfit for life.” To the extent possible, the authorities tried to hide these killings from the rest of the population, so that family members would not protest.

The Early Targets

The first concentration camp in Germany opened in Dachau in 1933, at a time when the Nazi government was still consolidating its power. Accordingly, it focused on political prisoners—communists, social democrats, and dissidents who posed a threat to the new regime and were unpopular with most other Germans.All of these early victims were easy targets, people whom other Germans did little or nothing to protect, and whose disappearance from the public scene they often welcomed.

http://www.pbs.org/auschwitz/40-45/background/ideology.html

 

“Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure!”

from the first leaflet of the “White Rose.” The White Rose began distributing anti-government leaflets in mid 1942 protesting against the brutality and evil of the nazi government, and against the extermination of the Jews, which was beginning to become known to more and more people at this time.

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[this was played on All Sides Now, a listener commentary of KMUD (http://www.kmud.org/)

Monday, June 14th WHILE a caring community member shared sandwiches with up to 100 hungry people in Redway- on the street- engaging in a responsible and constitutionally protected activity- the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department drove around photographing the people who were eating lunch. This is INTIMIDATION. This is profiling. There is no good reason for it.

People are scared when the Sheriff’s Department behaves this way because the Sheriff targets anyone who lives outside with very few resources. The Sheriff’s Department hunts people down while they are sleeping -out of sight- and Sheriff Deputies attempt to DISAPPEAR people who are, for instance, sitting under a tree for shade.

The cops call this “sweeping”, but in reality, they are PUNISHING people for their status as houseless, PROFILING people who appear to be carrying all of their possessions on their backs, and INTIMIDATING people out of their constitutional rights to travel, to assemble, to express themselves, and to be free of unreasonable invasion of privacy. The Sheriff’s Dept, and the County are also INTIMIDATING the same people out of their human right to LIVE, and to live without fear of government abuse and invasion into their lives. The photographing today is part of a County wide government campaign to harass, hurt, punish, and disappear people who have no shelter, or have very few resources.

There is no reason that people who are eating lunch in Redway in public- poor , rich, houseless, employed, unemployed, black, white, old, or young- should be subject to police intimidation and persecution.

We can do something about this. We can anticipate the Sheriff’s using those photos and the fear they instill to mess with people tonight or tomorrow. Please have your cameras and eyes and awareness ready on the streets of Redway and Garberville, and in the outlying areas. Please defend people, be present when and if the sheriff’s come around to further harass folks who live outside of capitalism’s graces. Do not allow your own prejudices to blind you from the need for persecuted communities to be protected. Sharing food is not a crime. Surviving without a roof is not criminal. Pay attention. Speak out. Let the Sheriff’s know that this behavior is unacceptable against ANY community.

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Do you know what to do if you’re stopped by the police? Do your children? Are you tired of your rights being violated? This workshop focuses on the law “on the street” — what your rights are and how cops try to trick you out of them. We want to share strategies to survive police encounters.

Know Your Rights!

Workshop:  How To Handle Encounters with Police

FREE

at P.A.R.C. [Peoples’ Action for Rights and Community]
on Q street, take a right into the alley between 3rd and 2nd streets
in Eureka

ALL AGES WELCOME

SNACKS, COFFEE, JUICE

 

Workshop hosted by Redwood Curtain CopWatch

For info, call (707) 633-4493

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And we have a revised lawsuit challenging Arcata’s systematic violation of houseless peoples’ rights!

 

Please send PEOPLE PROJECT writings about your experiences with the Arcata Police Department and/or the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department with regards to your EXISTING WITHOUT A HOUSE (i.e. being ticketed for sleeping on public property, being harassed for looking poor, having your gear stolen by police). You can email peopleproject@riseup.net or call (707) 442-7465 to talk.

HERE is the new Complaint (fancy word for lawsuit) arising from the Spring 2007 encampment demonstration in Arcata.

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