Sacremento Must Hate Homeless People

There are times that I wish my friend Daniel Thompson were still alive.  He would have had a field day writing poems about this issue.  This comes to us from Sacramento advocates who testified in oppositon to these new rules limiting access to the transit authority for low income people.  My favorite rule that I think Daniel would have also teed off on was that a person must wear footwear with a sole and must wear clothing above and below the waist.  Daniel would have played on sole and soul and talked about those who sold their soul not being able to ride.   Daniel would have loved exploring a string bikini as a piece of clothing appearing above and below the waist or the exile of the phrase "no shoes, no shirt, no service" for this new language requiring further explanation about below the waist clothing.  The whole thing is strange and so unreasonable. Here is the language:

  • Boarding a vehicle unless clothed above and below the waist and wearing footwear that has a sole (clarification of an existing rule).
  • Emanating a noxious odor, whether from body, clothing, or possessions, that results in discomfort or inconvenience to passengers, unless the odor is the result of a disability or medical condition.
  • Sleeping on a train that has reached the end of a light rail line.
  • Playing sound equipment that is audible to other passengers.

The proposed amendments include changes intended to better reflect Transit Agency's Code of Conduct. These all come as the city prepares for a new playground arena for the wealthy who can afford to pay to see the professional basketball and concerts in downtown Sacramento.   The second bullet point about the highly subjective "emanating a noxious odor..." was removed but the other provisions passed. 

I am still having trouble understanding why any of these are necessary.  Are there a huge numbers of people with holes in their shoes who try to ride the Sacramento Rapid without pants?  Why not include those who showing their underwear?  Don't you always have to get off the train at the end of the line if you are sleeping or wide awake?  Were drivers allowing homeless people to sleep in the train cars after they parked at the end of the rapid lines or was this some form of punishment for tired riders that they locked you in the car at the end of the line if you fell asleep? From the 1970s and 80s with the age of the Walkman weren't there rules about loud music already in place? 

The City of Denver seems to have similar hate problems with the crushing of a Tiny Homes group last week.  Denver is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country and rents are out of control.  There are not the shelters to serve the number of people who are being priced out of the housing market.  A group, Denver Out Loud, staged a protest after attempting to find a place to build these homes.  They were tired of waiting and were worried that the weather was getting cold so they set up their structures in a public park.  Police and city officials were quick to crush the protest without answering the bigger issue.   It seemed like it was similar to turning on the fire hoses and bringing out the police dogs in response to the protest in the 1960s.  These individuals are petitioning their government for redress and deserve a non-violent response for government to solve problems. 

Brian Davis

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Denver And Homelessness

The National Coalition for the Homeless met in Denver Colorado for their twice yearly face to face meeting and held a conference on criminalization of homelessness.  Denver is one of the 25 largest cities in America, and has made some progress on homelessness in America, but has a long way to go.  It is the state capital so there are far more resources available in Denver than other Colorado cities, but there are many people sleeping outside.  There is no guaranteed access to shelter like in New York and Cleveland. 

The police regularly ask homeless people to move along, but never answer the question, "to where?"   There are many who travel through Denver to greener pastures.  I met a man who was sleeping outside from Bangor Maine by way of Washington and Chicago who was deciding on whether to stay or move on.  The outreach teams had tried to work with him in his first three weeks in Denver which is more than happens in most cities.  There also seems to be a growing number of people migrating to Denver because of the recreational marijuana, which is a far more expensive of a habit than cigarettes.  Housing is extremely expensive with supply not matching demand.  They have far fewer abandoned properties when compared to most Midwestern cities, but they do exist. 

Denver has many more laws on the books restricting homeless people and a pretty strict panhandling law.  They do have a pretty amazing healthcare for the homeless operation with five clinics, including a brand new clinic attached to their permanent supportive housing project with dental services and a complete pharmacy.  I was impressed with the level of care delivered to homeless people with an attempt to make the healthcare for the homeless clinics a medical home for low income people.  They screen people who come in for mental health issues while they are assessing their physical health needs.  People do not have to make appointments somewhere else and then face other challenges such as timing and transportation.  The new Denver health care for the homeless clinic has a huge and respectful waiting area and a seamless process to apply for housing once they have sought healthcare assistance. 

In Cleveland, most of the services are built around the shelters and even with Coordinated intake those staying at shelter are easiest to find and usually get access before those waiting on the streets.  In Denver, the system seems to be centered around health care as the first point of contact for most.  Those without housing seem to look healthier than I have seen in the Midwest or the East Coast.  I don’t know if this is from the amount of walking necessary in western cities or the number of farm and domestic workers among the homeless population.  Transportation is much more accessible in Denver when compared to Cleveland but not like DC, NYC or Boston. 

Denver is a clean city, but about three times the number of people sleeping outside compared to Cleveland.  There are no where near the numbers of people living outside as Washington DC, San Francisco or Boston.  There were a number of grassroots organizations helping to provide a voice to those living in shelters or on the streets.  There was not a real advocacy Coalition focused on the needs of homeless people and providing input to government or the social service community.   This is not unusual for a capital city where advocacy groups get overshadowed by the State Coalitions and all the money and resources goes to state efforts.  There is not the tradition to organizing in union cities like Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago.  So, there is not a strong tenant association or commitment to organizing low income residents of the city. 

They are making progress and have built large numbers of affordable housing units reserved for homeless people.  They have permanent supportive housing for families which most cities have not found the ability to fund.  They are working on funding a law enforcement diversion program which is supposed to save the city money over incarceration.  Finally, there are horror movie scary Mimes performing in Downtown Denver, which is unsettling, but at least they are not dressed as clowns. 

Brian Davis

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Denver Turns on its Citizens

It all sounds so nice and innocent until you actually begin to think of the implications.  The City of Denver is going down the path of making it illegal to be homeless downtown.  The Denver Post is supporting the plan while the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless is opposing the ordinance.  They had battling editorials/commentaries this past week.  These are awful laws that do nothing for the city, and have failed nearly everywhere.   They sound innocent enough. People should not be camping in public, and if they are it should be regulated by government.   But these activities have no comparison to "camping" and should be referred to as "surviving."  So these are "no surviving ordinances" actually.  Calling having to sleep outside "camping" would be similar to calling dodging bullets in the siege of Sarajevo "participation in a biathlon."

The city will be sued, and the Occupy movement will train homeless people to claim they are protesting by sleeping outside.  The police will resent having to give out tickets to poor people, because our society can't figure out a way to house its citizens.  The jails will fill up with those who cannot pay the fine for being homeless.  This will make it even harder for them to get into housing with a criminal background thus lengthing their stay on the streets.  And the bottom line is that punishing people for being homeless does not move them into housing.  It basically just moves people to other parts of town, and then those neighbors just have to deal with the issues.

The Council will then have to explain why this policy did not work to constituents in the three years, and will have to pass more severe laws.  These type of laws did not work in Atlanta, Austin, or any of the Florida cities that have tried it.  It is a waste of time legislation that just makes it seem as though elected officials are doing something about homelessness.  We tried this method in an unofficial manner in the 1990s in Clevelnad when the Mayor ordered the police to go out and threaten arrest of everyone sleeping outside.  Things had gotten out of control because the shelters were so deplorable to the point that hundreds were sleeping downtown.  We litigated this City of Cleveland policy for almost a decade until a settlement in 2000.  The City had to find a new approach to downtown homeless that did not involve law enforcement.  There were many upgrades including the creation of a decent shelter at 2100 Lakeside, coordinated outreach and in fact the Downtown Alliance cleaning crews that fundamentally changed downtown.  There are now a handful of homeless people downtown as compared to hundreds a dozen years ago. 

We recommend Denver and any city wishing to rid themselves of homeless people sleeping downtown look at Cleveland for a solution.  This is not cheap, but putting hundreds of people in jail and having the police become the babysitters of homeless people is not cheap either.  We have 20 years of information to show that making a law to criminalize being homeless does not work.  Denver leaders should look for a social service response to this community problem rather than a law enforcement response.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.