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City of Eureka: designated a Place for the Purpose purpose for the Homeless to Sleep and Grant a Pardon to  Dane Carr for Sleeping with-in City Limits.

City of Eureka: Designate a Place for the Purpose for the Homeless to Sleep and Grant a Pardon to Dane Carr for Sleeping within City Limits.

https://www.change.org/petitions/city-of-eureka-designated-a-place-for-the-purpose-purpose-for-the-homeless-to-sleep-and-grant-a-pardon-to-dane-carr-for-sleeping-with-in-city-limits

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WORK FOR A HOMELESS BILL OF RIGHTS!

“WRAP was created [by the members below] to expose and eliminate the root causes of civil and human rights abuses of people experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness in our communities”

 
 WRAP Members
Right to Survive                    * Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee    
St. Mary’s Center                 * Street Roots                               * Street Spirit

 

October 24th, 2013
Please don’t forget to add wrap@wraphome.org to your Safe Sender/Primary Email list so that we end up in the right inbox! 

 

WRAP recently launched the Homeless Bill of Rights (HBR) Campaign which seeks to provide a framework for communities to fight back against discriminatory local laws. We believe that people living on the streets deserve support and access to affordable housing, not criminalization for their mere presence on public land. We launched a social-justice-based campaign that will create bills which protect the following rights and prohibit the enforcement of any local laws that violate these rights: 

 

1.     Right to move freely, rest, sleep, & pray and be protected in public spaces without discrimination,

2.     Right to occupy a legally parked vehicle,

3.     Right to share food and eat in public,

4.     Right to legal counsel if being prosecuted,

5.     Right to 24-hour access to “hygiene facilities.”

  

The core of our HBR campaign is based on our outreach to homeless and poor people, in which we document their experiences with local police and private security. We have recently surveyed 1,276 people in five states and twelve cities. The civil rights violation people are experiencing everywhere are eerily similar. The main “illegal offenses” that homeless people are being harassed & criminalized for include: sleeping 81%, sitting or lying down 78%, and loitering or hanging out 66%. 

 

We are seeing unprecedented campaigns by local municipalities to enact anti-poor people laws. (Seattle, Portland, Sacramento, Fresno, Albany, Hayward, San Francisco, Palo Alto, Los Angeles, Venice, San Diego, and the list goes on) “Quality of life” ordinances are criminalizing homelessness and preventing people from attaining basic needs such as resting and sleeping. Additionally, with limited resources and funding cuts, poor people have very little support and are faced with numerous barriers which make escaping homelessness impossible. 

 

The time has come for a renewed national movement to protect the human and civil rights of poor and homeless people. WRAP is engaged in community organizing, research, public education, advocacy, and direct action efforts to build the power to defeat misguided housing legislation and overturn discriminatory “quality of life” laws. 

 

Learn more about our Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign.

                

Do you represent an organization working for social justice and equality? If yes, please endorse our Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign in California and Oregon!
 
Click here to download the form.

Launching Los Angeles  the Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign to End Criminalization
Launching Los Angeles the Homeless Bill of Rights Campaign to End Criminalization

Albany has an obligation to do a better job for the homeless
 
October 22, 2013
By: Paul Boden 
Over the past decades, as federal funding for affordable housing nose-dived, the solutions to homelessness have been left to local governments. Though the effort has been far from perfect, almost all Bay Area cities have contributed resources to housing our region’s poorest residents. Many have spent significant city funds. But not Albany.
 

The city of Albany has no homeless shelter. It has next to nothing on providing affordable housing, for years. It has been out of compliance with state law regarding zoning for affordable housing since at least 1999.

 

Oppose the San Francisco Park Closure Proposal!
 
 
 
San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener has introduced legislation to close all of SF’s public parks from 12 midnight until 5 am. This proposal will be voted on by the Board of Supervisor’s on Tuesday October 29th @ 1 pm.
 
The proposed law would:
  • Fine and jail people who are living/resting in public parks because they have nowhere else to go;- waste precious city funds on signs, fences, and costs of enforcement
  • Further eliminate already diminishing access to public space for ALL.

Take Action! 

We Need Your Support!
 
Please make a donation to WRAP and help sustain our efforts to make ending homelessness a national priority!
 

Homeless Bill of Rights New Narratives
 
September 8, 2013
 
Editor’s Note: Continuing our coverage of rights-based movements and narratives. Simon Davis-Cohen speaks with Paul Boden about Homeless Bills of Rights.

 

Paul Boden is Western Regional Advocacy Project ‘s Organizing Director. He became homeless at the age of 16 after the death of his mother. Paul served as Executive Director of San Francisco’s Coalition on Homelessness for 16 years and was a founder of the Community Housing Partnership, a nationally recognized permanent housing corporation with optional supportive services. He has received dozens of community awards during the last twenty-five years and recognition from the city and county of San Francisco, the State of California, and the Congress of the United States. Paul regularly writes articles and op-eds and travels throughout the country giving talks and trainings.

 

Connect with our members’ campaign in Oregon! Join their lists and endorse their Bill. 
 
 
Oregon Campaign Goals:
  • Pass a Homeless Bill of Rights in the state of Oregon (introduce the Homeless Bill of Rights into the Oregon State Legislature in 2014).
  • Investigate the priorities of the unhoused community
  • Change public perceptions of the unhoused
  • Educate the housed and unhoused about systemic causes of homelessness
  • Connect homelessness to public health
  • Build action teams to achieve incremental victories
  • Mitigate the negative impacts of criminalization ordinances (anti-camping/sit-lie)
  • Build local & statewide allies
 

On South Carolina’s Troubling Criminalization of Homelessness
 
U.S. Catholic Blog
 
In our August cover story, author Paula Lomazzi argued that we shouldn’t enact laws and policies that effectively make it a crime to be homeless. Lomazzi, formerly homeless herself and now the director of the Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee, made a compelling argument in favor or community, compassion, and practical solutions to ending homelessness. Our readers agreed, with 67 percent indicating that they would vote against legislation that prohibited sleeping outside in their city.
 

Food Truck That Feeds Homeless Could Be Forced To Move From Streets Of Hollywood 

 

October 16, 2013 
 
The Los Angeles City Council is considering new regulations that could potentially shut down a food truck that has been feeding the hungry on the streets of Hollywood for more than 25 years. The Public Works Committee heard a motion introduced by Councilman Tom LaBonge Wednesday, which urges city departments to consider banning non-commercial food distribution in public rights of way, an initiative that would force the Greater West Hollywood Food Coalition to move.
Western Regional Advocacy Project 
(WRAP)
 
 
415.621.2533
wrap@wraphome.org
 
We are sustained through individual donations and generous foundations. We need your support to continue our work and help us stand up for poor and homeless peoples’ civil rights!

 
 
 
WRAP is a 501(c)3 organization. 
 
 
  
 
Donations are tax-deductible.
 
 

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America in Decline: Why Germans Think We’re Insane

A look at our empire in decline through the eyes of the European media.

December 26, 2010

As an American expat living in the European Union, I’ve started to see America from a different perspective.

The European Union has a larger economy and more people than America does. Though it spends less — right around 9 percent of GNP on medical, whereas we in the U.S. spend close to between 15 to 16 percent of GNP on medical — the EU pretty much insures 100 percent of its population.

The U.S. has 59 million people medically uninsured; 132 million without dental insurance; 60 million without paid sick leave; 40 million on food stamps. Everybody in the European Union has cradle-to-grave access to universal medical and a dental plan by law. The law also requires paid sick leave; paid annual leave; paid maternity leave. When you realize all of that, it becomes easy to understand why many Europeans think America has gone insane.

Der Spiegel has run an interesting feature called “A Superpower in Decline,” which attempts to explain to a German audience such odd phenomena as the rise of the Tea Party, without the hedging or attempts at “balance” found in mainstream U.S. media. On the Tea Parties:

Full of Hatred: “The Tea Party, that group of white, older voters who claim that they want their country back, is angry. Fox News host Glenn Beck, a recovering alcoholic who likens Obama to Adolf Hitler, is angry. Beck doesn’t quite know what he wants to be — maybe a politician, maybe president, maybe a preacher — and he doesn’t know what he wants to do, either, or least he hasn’t come up with any specific ideas or plans. But he is full of hatred.”

The piece continues with the sobering assessment that America’s actual unemployment rate isn’t really 10 percent, but close to 20 percent when we factor in the number of people who have stopped looking for work.

Some social scientists think that making sure large-scale crime or fascism never takes root in Europe again requires a taxpayer investment in a strong social safety net. Can we learn from Europe? Isn’t it better to invest in a social safety net than in a large criminal justice system? (In America over 2 million people are incarcerated.)

Jobless Benefits That Never Run Out

Unlike here, in Germany jobless benefits never run out. Not only that — as part of their social safety net, all job seekers continue to be medically insured, as are their families.

In the German jobless benefit system, when “jobless benefit 1” runs out, “jobless benefit 2,” also known as HartzIV, kicks in. That one never gets cut off. The jobless also have contributions made for their pensions. They receive other types of insurance coverage from the state. As you can imagine, the estimated 2 million unemployed Americans who almost had no benefits this Christmas seems a particular horror show to Europeans, made worse by the fact that the U.S. government does not provide any medical insurance to American unemployment recipients. Europeans routinely recoil at that in disbelief and disgust.

In another piece the Spiegel magazine steps away from statistics and tells the story of Pam Brown, who personifies what is coming to be known as the Nouveau American poor. Pam Brown was a former executive assistant on Wall Street, and her shocking decline has become part of the American story:

American society is breaking apart. Millions of people have lost their jobs and fallen into poverty. Among them, for the first time, are many middle-class families. Meet Pam Brown from New York, whose life changed overnight. The crisis caught her unprepared. “It was horrible,” Pam Brown remembers. “Overnight I found myself on the wrong side of the fence. It never occurred to me that something like this could happen to me. I got very depressed.” Brown sits in a cheap diner on West 14th Street in Manhattan, stirring her $1.35 coffee. That’s all she orders — it’s too late for breakfast and too early for lunch. She also needs to save money. Until early 2009, Brown worked as an executive assistant on Wall Street, earning more than $80,000 a year, living in a six-bedroom house with her three sons. Today, she’s long-term unemployed and has to make do with a tiny one-bedroom in the Bronx.

It’s important to note that no country in the European Union uses food stamps in order to humiliate its disadvantaged citizens in the grocery checkout line. Even worse is the fact that even the humbling food stamp allotment may not provide enough food for America’s jobless families. So it is on a reoccurring basis that some of these families report eating out of garbage cans to the European media. 

For Pam Brown, last winter was the worst. One day she ran out of food completely and had to go through trash cans. She fell into a deep depression … For many, like Brown, the downfall is a Kafkaesque odyssey, a humiliation hard to comprehend. Help is not in sight: their government and their society have abandoned them.

Pam Brown and her children were disturbingly, indeed incomprehensibly, allowed to fall straight to the bottom. The richest country in the world becomes morally bankrupt when someone like Pam Brown and her children have to pick through trash to eat, abandoned with a callous disregard by the American government. People like Brown have found themselves dispossessed due to the robber baron actions of the Wall Street elite.

Hunger in the Land of the Big Mac

A shocking headline from a Swiss newspaper reads (Berner Zeitung) “Hunger in the Land of the Big Mac.” Though the article is in German, the pictures are worth 1,000 words and need no translation. Given the fact that the Swiss virtually eliminated hunger, how do we as Americans think they will view these pictures, to which the American population has apparently been desensitized.

This appears to be a picture of two mothers collecting food boxes from the charity Feed the Children.

Perhaps the only way for us to remember what we really look like in America is to see ourselves through the eyes of others. While it is true that we can all be proud Americans, surely we don’t have to be proud of the broken American social safety net. Surely we can do better than that. Can a European-style social safety net rescue the American working and middle classes from GOP and Tea Party warfare?

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A December 7, 2010 interview with Paul Boden, organizer with WRAP, the Western Regional Advocacy Project, about San Francisco’s Sit-Lie ordinance, & other policies across the country that criminalize the homeless and the poor.

Listen to the Interview HERE

National Radio Project: Productions, Distribution, Training, Community Collaborationshttp://www.radioproject.org/2010/12/paul-boden-on-sfs-sitlie-ordinance-and-the-criminalization-of-the-homelessness/

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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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Sisters Of The Road Launches Dorothy Day Community School

Posted on December 3, 2010 byWRAP Comms

From the trenches to the frontline, we are the leaders we’ve been looking for!

Sisters Of The Road is embarking on an ambitious and creative plan to build-up, educate, and organize leaders in our community to join the movement for Economic Human Rights.  Sisters is allied with amazing organizations like the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign and the Western Regional Advocacy Project who continue to work with and train people experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty to be effective leaders in the struggle.  Embracing this idea is no stretch for Sisters who has always used the wisdom and knowledge of our community to seek solutions to end extreme poverty and homelessness.  What we have lacked is a comprehensive way to do leadership development that combines existing Sister’s resources with other tools and resources from the broader activist community into a structured and ongoing program. Well…it’s here!  This creative and collaborative effort is called The Dorothy Day Community School (DDCS). 

“We make the road by walking…”

Leaders exist all around us.  Weather they are fighting to meet basic needs for themselves, their families and friends or are already working within established organizations working to advance the causes of economic, social, and environmental justice, people in our communities have some of the essential ingredients to participate in building a better world.  The DDCS will build off of those existing skills and knowledge to create a cross-class group of strong and empowered leaders capable of winning social justice and economic human rights for all by providing the training, skill-building, political education and analysis necessary to grow the movement from the ground up.

Over the months of October and November, the Systemic Change Team at Sisters conducted outreach to our community and to local community organizations to message about the schools goals and activities.  This outreach identified existing skills and knowledge and has helped us by providing a “road-map”, grounded in the strengths of the community, for what the DDCS’s leadership development program will offer and what it will look and feel like.

How do I get involved?

A cross-class mix of community members, emerging leaders, and already established leaders have given valuable input to the DDCS about the leadership development program but we still want to hear from you!  November marches on and there is still time for you to share with us your thoughts and ideas to help shape leadership development at the DDCS!  Call us to set up a meeting with you and/or your organization.  We are building towards a retreat in December that will bring the leadership base together to train, build relationships, and share skills.

Contact:

Brendan Phillips, brendan@sistersoftheroad.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , (503)222-5694 Ext 13
Lucilene Lira, lucilene@sistersoftheroad.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , (503) 222-5794 ext. 37

“The earth for all the people. That is the demand. The machinery of production and distribution for all the people.  That is the demand. The collective ownership and control of industry and its democratic management in the interests of all the people. That is the demand.  The elimination of rent, interest, profit, and the production of wealth to satisfy all the people. That is the demand.  Cooperative industry in which all shall work together in harmony as a basis of a new social order, a higher civilization, a new republic.  That is the demand.” -Eugene V. Debs, 1902-

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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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Every Tuesday gather in solidarity and strength. END THE WAR ON THE POOR.

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