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Posts Tagged ‘Western Regional Advocacy Project’

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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This Crow Won’t Fly

The United States has a long history of using mean-spirited and often brutal laws to keep “certain” people out of public spaces and out of public consciousness.  Jim Crow laws segregated the South after the Civil War and Sundown Towns forced people to leave town before the sun set. The anti-Okie law of 1930s California forbade poor Dustbowl immigrants from entering the state and Ugly Laws (on the books in Chicago until the 1970s) swept the country and criminalized people with disabilities for allowing themselves to be seen in public.

Today, such laws target mostly homeless people and are commonly called “quality of life” or “nuisance crimes.”  They criminalize sleeping, standing, sitting, and even food-sharing.  Just like the laws from our past, they deny people their right to exist in local communities.

In June of this year, Rhode Island took a meaningful stand against this criminalization, and passed the first statewide Homeless Bill of Rights in the country. The Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP)—a West Coast grassroots network of homeless people’s organizations—is now launching simultaneous campaigns in California and Oregon. Rhode Island will only be the beginning.

Today’s “quality of life” laws and ordinances have their roots in the broken-windows theory.  This theory holds that one poor person in a neighborhood is like a first unrepaired broken window and if the “window” is not immediately fixed or removed, it is a signal that no one cares, disorder will flourish, and the community will go to hell in a handbasket.

For this theory to make sense, you first have to step away from thinking of people, or at least poor people, as human beings. You need to objectify them. You need to see them as dusty broken windows in a vacant building.  That is why we now have Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) with police enforcement to keep that neighborhood flourishing by keeping poor, unsightly people out of it.

We have gone from the days where people could be told “you can’t sit at this lunch counter” to “you can’t sit on this sidewalk,” from “don’t let the sun set on you here” to “this public park closes at dusk” and from “you’re on the wrong side of the tracks” to “it is illegal to hang out” on this street or corner.

Unless we organize, it isn’t going to get much better soon.   Since 1982, the federal government has cut up to $52 billion a year from affordable housing and pushed hundreds of thousands of people into the  shelter system or into the street.  Today we continue to have three million people a year without homes.  1982 also marked the beginning of homelessness as a “crime wave” that would consume the efforts of local and state police forces over the next three decades.  Millions of people across the country sitting, lying down, hanging out, and — perhaps worst of all – sleeping are cited in crime statistics.
WRAP and our allies recently conducted outreach to over 700 homeless people in 13 cities; we found 77% of people had been arrested, cited, or harassed for sleeping, 75% for loitering, and 73% for sitting on a sidewalk.

We are right back to Jim Crow Laws, Sundown Towns, Ugly Laws and Anti-Okie Laws, local laws that profess to “uphold the locally accepted obligations of civility.” Such laws have always been used by people in power against those on the outside. In other words, today’s Business Improvement Districts and Broken Window Laws are, at their core, a reincarnation of various phases of American history none of us is proud of.

And they reflect a political voice now openly entering the political and media mainstream that dismisses social justice as economically irrelevant and poor people as humanly irrelevant.

This is not about caring for or even advocating for “those people.” This is about all of us. As Aboriginal leader Lilla Watson said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”  If you are not homeless, if you are not the target now, then understand that you are next. Isolated and fragmented, we lose this fight.

But we are no longer isolated and fragmented.  On April 1, WRAP and USCAI (US Canadian Alliance of Inhabitants) sponsored a  Day of Action in 17 cities.  We are one of hundreds of organizations and allies, from Massachusetts to NewYork and from Tennessee to California, all separate but all working together to give meaning to social justice and protect the civil and human rights of all of us.

We can only win this struggle if we use our collective strengths, organizing, outreach, research, public education, artwork, and direct actions. We are continuing to expand our network of organizations and cities and we will ultimately bring down the whole oppressive system of policing poverty and treating poor people as “broken windows” to be discarded and replaced.

To join our campaign for a Homeless Bill of Rights in both California and Oregon contact WRAP at wrap@wraphome.org and we will hook you up with organizers working in both of these states or others as this movement continues to grow.

 

Posted on August 27, 2012 by WRAP Comms

This Crow Won’t Fly:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2466&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

Criminalization Fact Sheet:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2474&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

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Anti-Okie Laws

The agricultural workers who migrated to California for work in the 1900s were generally referred to as “Okies”. They were assumed to be from Oklahoma, but they moved to California from other states, as well. The term became derogatory in the 1930s when massive numbers of people migrated West to find work. In 1937, California passed an “anti-Okie” law which made it a misdemeanor to “bring or assist in bringing” extremely poor people into the state. The law was later considered unconstitutional.

Jim Crow Laws

After the American Civil War (1861-1865), most Southern states passed laws denying black people basic human rights. Later, many border states followed suit. These laws became known as Jim Crow laws after the name of a popular black-face character that would sing songs like “Jump Jim Crow.” In California, Jim Crow played out against Chinese immigrants more than black people. From 1866-1947, Chinese residents of San Francisco were forced to live in one area of the city. The same segregation laws prohibited inter-racial marriage between Chinese and non-Chinese persons and educational and employment laws were also enforced in the city. African and Indian children had to attend separate schools from those of white children. In 1879, the California constitution read that no Chinese people could vote and the law was not repealed until 1926. Oregon and Idaho had similar provisions in their constitutions. In 1891, a referendum required all Chinese people to carry a “certification of residence” card or face arrest and jail. In 1909, the Japanese were added to the list of people who were prohibited by law from marrying white people. In 1913, “Alien Land Laws” were passed that prohibited any Asian people from owning or leasing property. The law was not struck down by the California Supreme Court until 1952.

Ugly Laws

From the 1860s to the 1970s, several American cities had laws that made it illegal for people with “unsightly or disgusting” disabilities to appear in public. Some of these laws were called “unsightly beggar ordinances”. The first ordinance was in San Francisco in 1867, but the most commonly cited law was from Chicago. Chicago Municipal Code section 36034 stated: “No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offense.”

Operation Wetback

Operation Wetback began in 1954 in California and Arizona as an effort to remove all illegal, Mexican immigrants from the Southwestern states. The Operation was by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and coordinated 1,075 border control agents along with state and local police agencies. The agents went house-to-house looking for Mexicans and performed citizenship checks during traffic stops. They would stop any “Mexican-looking” person on the street and insist on seeing identification. Operation Wetback was only abandoned after a large outcry from opponents in both the United States and Mexico.

Sundown Towns

Sundown Towns did not allow people who were considered “minorities” to remain in the town after the sun set. Some towns posted signs at their borders specifically telling people of color to not let the sun set on them while in the town. There were town policies and real estate covenants in place to support the racism, which was enforced by local police officers. Sundown Towns existed throughout the United States and there were thousands of them before the Civil Rights Act of 1968 prohibited racial discrimination in housing practices. Sundown Towns simply did not want certain ethnic groups to stay in their towns at night. If undesired people were to wander into a Sundown Town after the sun had set, they would be subject to any form of punishment from harassment to lynching. While the state of Illinois had the highest number of Sundown Towns, they were a national phenomenon that mostly targeted anyone of African, Chinese, and Jewish heritage.

Today…… Broken Windows Laws Current “Quality of Life” laws also take a certain population into account: homeless persons. Using these laws, people are criminalized for simply walking, standing, sleeping, and other regular human behaviors. In other words, they are penalized and harassed simply because of who they are. Just as with Jim Crow, Ugly Laws, Anti-Okie Laws, and Operation Wetback, how people look and their very existence is the basis for charging them with criminal behaviors.

Posted on August 27, 2012 by WRAP Comms

This Crow Won’t Fly:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2466&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

Criminalization Fact Sheet:
http://wraphome.org/?p=2474&option=com_wordpress&Itemid=119

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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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Sidewalks Are For The People

Posted on by WRAP Comms

In 2009, cops in San Francisco cited homeless people 2600 times just for being asleep That’s almost as many arrests as for all violent crimes combined. And yet late that year, the most cynical of the city’s politicians determined that what was really needed was a new law to address the aspects of homelessness they claimed to find most objectionable: A law that would make it a crime to… sit down.

San Francisco tried a sit/lie law in 1968. It was found unconstitutional thrice before being taken off the books. Police chief-turned-mayor Frank Jordan tried to introduce such a law again in 1994, but it was ultimately rejected by the voters. But the immediate impetus behind the proposed sit/lie law came from Portland. Portland has had a series of sit/lie laws that have been struck down by state courts, but despite these failures, a trip to Portland sponsored by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce led conservative politicos to think that such a law might be a good idea for San Francisco.

STAND AGAINST SIT/LIE

The media hysteria that followed the early proposals of a new sit/lie law focused on homeless youth living in and near Golden Gate Park and the historic Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. According to the SF Chronicle these youth weren’t homeless: They were Devil-may-care trust-fundies reveling in smack and booze on mummy and daddy’s dime, whilst terrorizing the neighborhood with their pit bulls. Residents of the Haight were scared to leave their houses. Several of the stories reported in the mainstream press about atrocities committed by homeless youth were proven to be false, and the neighborhood’s only residents’ association opposed a sit/lie law, but spurred on by conservative columnists Mayor Gavin Newsom was able to appear to be responding to a neighborhood demand when he submitted the law to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

The Chamber of Commerce stalked the corridors of City Hall, threatening Supervisors with an election war chest of $400,000 to support the sit/lie law and lend support to candidates who would do the same.  Homeless people comprise maybe 2.5% of the population in the City of San Francisco and through smart organizing and advocacy, the SF Coalition on Homelessness has been able to wield an influence disproportionate to its size, but their volunteers and organizers ran into a lot of weak handshakes and frozen smiles. “We can’t just be the party of ‘No,’” Supervisors would object.

Homeless people testified in front of the Youth Commission and won that body’s opposition to a sit/lie law. They also persuaded the Planning Commission to register its opposition to sit/lie. Even the Small Business Commission refused to support the sit/lie law as it was written, suggesting that a slightly less draconian version might be more palatable. And still the Board of Supervisors vacillated between conscience and fear.

Most of the staff and volunteers of the Coalition on Homelessness had been homeless, but none were “just” homeless: They had experienced homelessness because they were queer, because they were immigrants, because of the structural inequalities in our country that lead to poverty. They reached out, and their broader communities responded. Soon, we had a large committee that truly represented the queer liberation movement, organized labor, day laborers, sex workers, and many other members of the community who had simply been persuaded to give a damn.

SIDEWALKS ARE FOR PEOPLE

The members of this broader coalition outreached to drop-in centers and cafés, galleries, bars, and tenants’ organizations. They carried flyers bearing the slogan “Stand Against Sit/Lie!,” picturing the many ways in which sitting had been criminalized in the past: A sit-in at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro. Sit-ins against the British Raj in India. Drag queens and transgender women at the Compton Cafeteria in San Francisco. Rosa Parks in Montgomery.

The message was heard, and an unexpected group of San Franciscans heeded the call: Public Space Advocates. In March groups organized a citywide event under the banner “Sidewalks are for People!” Everyday San Franciscans from all walks of life would take to the sidewalks for an afternoon, cop a squat, and just do whatever they pleased — Chess games. Poetry readings. Barbecues. Chalk art. Even a hot tub. The first action was phenomenal, with over a hundred actions and literally thousands of participants.

Between the broadened pressure from the many sectors of the community who now recognized sit/lie—and even homelessness—as *their* issue, and the creative and popular appeal of the Sidewalks are for People actions.    the tide turned. Conservative columnists held out, but the media had a hard time resisting the appeal of the campaign, and coverage ceased to be completely one-sided.

Organizers for the campaign obtained a permit to hold a rally on the steps of City Hall the day of the Board of Supervisor’s decision. Homeless youth, day laborers, a union representative, a spokesperson for a queer organization, a civil rights attorney, and a supportive member of the Board were to speak. When they got there, they found that the Sheriff’s Department had barricaded the steps of City Hall, and a line of police stood behind the barricades with arms crossed. For a permitted protest from a group that had always been law-abiding, this was unprecedented. But organizers sat down on the sidewalk, and held their rally anyhow. When they got inside, the Board voted 8-to-3 to oppose the law, with even the moderate members of the Board speaking out against the potential infringements upon civil liberties.

We had won.

IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED, BUY, BUY AGAIN…

Rebuffed by the Board, the Mayor promptly placed sit/lie on the ballot. A truism of San Francisco politics is that neighborhood elections, favor progressive politics: Progressives have the neighborhood infrastructure and the community organizations to create powerful campaigns on a truly local level. But citywide elections favor conservatives, who are able to far outspend progressives. If he couldn’t get his way through the Board, Mayor Newsom was going to bank on… bankers.

Over the course of the summer, the campaign supporting a sit/lie law (calling itself the “Civil Sidewalks Coalition”) spent $411,000 persuading San Franciscans that such a law would create order in the city. The vast majority of this money came from the financial sector, including presidents and partners from Charles Schwab, Morgan Stanley, and the Bank of America. Commercials prominently featuring the Chief of Police were aired throughout the lead-up to the playoffs, during the championship and after each World Series game.

With a budget of less than $10,000, the opponents of the law—the Sidewalks are for People Coalition—put up a mean fight. They designed engaging tabloids and door-hangers, and went door-to-door in projected swing neighborhoods. They maintained a place in the media, through creative actions that included multiple drag shows, the musical genius of the Brass Liberation Orchestra, and a religious revival led by the renowned Reverend Billy.

In the end, however, the Sit/Lie law passed with 54% of the vote, aided by the phenomenal inequality of the campaign budgets, buying air time during the SF Giants success, the sense among many occasional voters that it would never pass in San Francisco, and a low voter turn-out in the two poorest districts.

THIS FIGHT AIN’T OVER

The night of the election, as results came in, spontaneous sit-ins happened in three different parts of the city. Within a week, hundreds of people got involved in other protests, organized by people who had not previously been part of the campaign. With core campaign organizers exhausted or burnt out, other organizations began planning their own actions. In a very, very important sense, we won: This was not something that other progressives in San Francisco had just let happen to homeless people: When we lost, we *all* lost. And there was no way we were going to take this loss lying down. Well… Maybe defiantly lying down.

Community groups have coalesced around the recognition that criminalizing any one group of us criminalizes us all. Saturday, December 18, we held the first Sidewalks are for People Day since the election, reclaiming the sidewalk now that sidewalk rest has become criminalized. With hundreds of people and over a dozen actions, this fight is not over yet.

At the same time, the Coalition on Homelessness has begun developing documentation and know-your-rights trainings for members of our community who are cited or threatened with citation.  Simultaneously, attorneys from the ACLU and Disability Rights Advocates, as well as independent attorneys, have begun work developing legal strategies to challenge what we believe to be an unconstitutional law.

Through coordinated documentation, litigation, and through public pressure on our legislators, on a new mayoral administration, on the media, and on the consciences of our fellow San Franciscans, we know ultimately we will win.

WRAP was formed to unite the voices, talents and energy of the awesome
social justice work happening locally in our communities throughout the West
Coast. Through our member groups’ outreach, community forums, WRAP
workgroups, and collective actions, we are creating a unified message that
amplifies the voices of the many organizations that fight for poor people.
Our widely distributed and updated report Without Housing (2006 & 2010) has
established us as a recognized presence – both in Washington DC and across
the country.

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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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