U.S. Supreme Court Rules Ohio May Reinstate Practice of Purging Voters From Its Rolls for Not Voting Court Decision Could Lead to Disenfranchisement Across the Country

In a 5-4 ruling in Husted v. APRI, the U.S. Supreme Court today upheld an Ohio voter purge practice that removes infrequent voters from the registration rolls. The decision creates a danger that other states will pursue extreme purging practices to disenfranchise millions of eligible voters across the country.

“Today’s decision threatens the ability of voters to have their voices heard in our elections,” said Stuart Naifeh, senior counsel at Demos, which led the legal team challenging the state’s practices. “The fight does not stop here. If states take today’s decision as a sign that they can be even more reckless and kick eligible voters off the rolls, we will fight back in the courts, the legislatures, and with our community partners across the country.”

In APRI, Ohio asked the Supreme Court to overturn a federal appeals court decision that found an Ohio practice of targeting registrants who have not voted in a two-year period for removal from the voter rolls — when there is no evidence that the voter has become ineligible — violates a federal law known as the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA). The Court assented to Ohio’s request, holding that the state’s process does not violate the NVRA’s prohibition on using non-voting as a basis for canceling registrations because, although the state indeed targets eligible voters who have not voted recently, the non-voting is not “the sole criterion” for removing a registrant.  

“To have a healthy and functioning democracy, we must increase — not restrict — access to the ballot,” said Andre Washington, president, Ohio A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI). “Practices, like Ohio’s, that remove eligible but infrequent voters from the registration rolls disproportionately disenfranchise low-income voters and voters of color.”

In 2015 alone, hundreds of thousands of infrequent voters were purged from Ohio’s voter rolls. Over 40,600 registrants in the state’s largest county, Cuyahoga, were removed under the process allowed by the Supreme Court today. The majority of these registrants lived in low-income communities and communities of color.

“The Supreme Court decision to allow Ohio to purge its citizens from the rolls is a setback for voting rights nationwide,” said Paul Smith, vice president of Campaign Legal Center (CLC). “Our democracy weakens when states are permitted to take actions that discourage voter participation. By constructing obstacles that make voting more difficult, Ohio is sending the wrong message to its citizens.”

“Countless voters, including homeless and housing-insecure Ohioans, have already been stripped of their rights as a result of Ohio’s unjust and illogical purge process,” said Chris Knestrick, executive director, Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH). “By greenlighting Ohio’s purge process, the court allowed states to shut out the voices of these voters.”

Dēmos and the ACLU of Ohio first filed suit on behalf of Ohio APRI, NEOCH, and Ohio resident Larry Harmon in 2016, prevailing in the circuit court and securing relief that protected the right to vote for purged Ohio voters in November 2016 and every other election in the state to date.

“Today’s decision is a blow, not just to Ohio voters, but to the democratic process. Giving the green light to Ohio’s purge process could have a ripple effect across the entire country. Despite this setback, the court’s decision will not hinder our current and future advocacy efforts. Marginalized populations remain extremely vulnerable to state-sanctioned voter suppression and disenfranchisement, and we will continue to fight to uphold the rights of eligible voters in the 2018 midterm elections, and beyond,” said Freda Levenson, legal director at the ACLU of Ohio.

 “Voters should not be purged from the rolls simply because they have exercised their right not to vote. This ruling is a setback for voting rights, but it is not a green light to engage in wholesale purges of eligible voters without notice.",” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

Two Homeless Related Court Decisions

From the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty:

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas issued a Temporary Restraining Order against the City of Houston for citing homeless people under its new anti-camping ban. The ACLU of Texas, Dechert law firm, and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty filed the motion for TRO last week after police raided a homeless encampment. The order is can be viewed here.

Check out this quote from the order's conclusion:

 "The plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are subject to a credible threat of being arrested, booked, prosecuted and jailed for violating the City of Houston’s ban on sheltering in public.  The evidence is conclusive that they are involuntarily in public, harmlessly attempting to shelter themselves—an act they cannot realistically forgo, and that is integral to their status as unsheltered homeless individuals.  Enforcement of the City’s ban against the plaintiffs may, therefore, cause them irreparable harm by violating their Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment due to their status of “homelessness.”  Robinson, 370 U.S. at 666–67.  Moreover, there is no evidence that the City will suffer harm if a restraining order were issued, thereby, preserving the status quo that existed prior to the issuance of citations." 

NEOCH Comments:

In a strange juxtaposition, the City of Houston said that this law would reduce aggressive panhandling?  I have no idea how these two ideas are connected, but surprisingly no rainbows with pots of gold would result with this anti-camping law.  The shelters are all full in Houston with the average wait for a bed with only five shelters available. "The emergency shelters in Houston are full and have been so for years [Id. At 67 para. 16-17]. Therefore, homeless individuals wait in lines, daily, at the five shelters for any available space only to be turned away for lack of space. [Id. at pp. 75-76 para. 3-4]."

This is only a temporary ruling to prevent further tickets for "sheltering in public" while this case is litigated in Federal Court, but there is strong powerful language in the restraining order. 

In another case detailed by the Associated Press, the US Appeals Court has decided that day laborers are free to flag down motorists to solicit work.

NEW YORK (AP) -- A federal appeals court says day laborers in a Long Island town have a First Amendment right to solicit passing drivers for jobs. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday struck down a 2009 law banning the solicitation in Oyster Bay. The law had never been enforced. Here is a link to the full article.

 

This could doom the new City of Cleveland law regarding panhandling toward passing motorists.  In June 2017, the City removed its "aggressive panhandling law" and replaced it with a law prohibiting flagging down cars to solicit money.  A good civil rights attorney could make the case that panhandlers have the same First Amendment right to free speech as the day laborers.  Look for this to be the next front in the struggle for free speech.

Special to NEOCH from Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Justice Department Civil Rights Division

Justice Department Announces Resources to Assist State and Local Reform of Fine and Fee Practices

The Department of Justice today announced a package of resources to assist state and local efforts to reform harmful and unlawful practices in certain jurisdictions related to the assessment and enforcement of fines and fees.  The resources are meant to support the ongoing work of state judges, court administrators, policymakers and advocates in ensuring equal justice for all people, regardless of financial circumstance.

“The consequences of the criminalization of poverty are not only harmful – they are far-reaching,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.  “They not only affect an individual’s ability to support their family, but also contribute to an erosion of our faith in government.  One of my top priorities as Attorney General is to help repair community trust where it has frayed, and a key part of that effort includes ensuring that our legal system serves every American faithfully and fairly, regardless of their economic status.”

The package, which was sent to state chief justices and state court administrators throughout the country, includes the following elements:

  • Dear Colleague Letter from the Civil Rights Division and the Office for Access to Justice to provide greater clarity to state and local courts regarding their legal obligations with respect to the enforcement of court fines and fees.  The letter addresses some of the most common practices that run afoul of the U.S. Constitution and/or other federal laws, such as incarcerating individuals for nonpayment without determining their ability to pay.  The letter also discusses the importance of due process protections such as notice and, in appropriate cases, the right to counsel; the need to avoid unconstitutional bail practices; and due process concerns raised by certain private probation arrangements.
  • $2.5 million in competitive grants through the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) to state, local or tribal jurisdictions that, together with community partners, want to test strategies to restructure the assessment and enforcement of fines and fees.  The grant program, titled The Price of Justice: Rethinking the Consequences of Justice Fines and Fees, will provide four grants of $500,000 to agencies and their collaborative partners to develop strategies that promote appropriate justice system responses, including reducing unnecessary confinement, for individuals who are unable to pay fines and fees.  BJA will award an additional grant of $500,000 to a technical assistance provider.  The deadline was March 28, 2016.
  • Support for the National Task Force on Fines, Fees and Bail Practices, which is led by the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators.  The task force is being funded by BJA and is also supported by the State Justice Institute.  It is comprised of leaders from the judiciary, state and local government, the advocacy community and the academy.  The task force will draft model statutes, court rules and procedures, and will develop an online clearinghouse of best practices.  Department officials will also serve as ex officio members of the task force.
  • Resource Guide that assembles issue studies and other publications related to the assessment and enforcement of court fines and fees.  The resource guide, compiled by the Office of Justice Programs Diagnostic Center, helps leaders make informed policy decisions and pursue sound strategies at the state, local and tribal levels.

Today’s announcement follows a seminal two-day convening [external link] held by the Justice Department and the White House in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 2 and 3, 2015.  Judges, court administrators, researchers, advocates, prosecutors, defense attorneys and impacted individuals came together to discuss challenges surrounding fines and fees.  The convening made plain the existence of unlawful and harmful practices in some jurisdictions and highlighted a number of promising reform efforts already underway.  At the meeting, participants and department officials also discussed ways in which the Justice Department could assist courts in their efforts to make needed changes.  Participants specifically asked the department to provide legal guidance to state and local actors; to highlight and help develop model practices; and to provide resources for local reform efforts.

The Justice Department is committed to reforming justice-system practices that perpetuate poverty and result in unnecessary deprivations of liberty.  The department discussed many of these practices in its March 2015 report on the investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department and municipal court.  As discussed at the December 2015 convening, however, these practices can be found throughout the nation.  And their effects are particularly severe for the most vulnerable members of our communities, often with a disproportionate impact on racial minorities.  The resources released today are aimed at reforming these practices and mitigating their harmful effects.

From the U.S. Justice Department in March 2016

History of NEOCH Civil Rights

For the entire history of the Coalition, staff have worked on protecting against municipal actions that target homeless people and the hate crimes that result when government singles out one group in our society.  We believe that there is a correlation between high numbers of hate crimes against homeless people and the cities in the United States that routinely pass laws directed at homeless people.  It is for this reason that we regularly oppose “quality of life” laws and targeted enforcement against homeless people for purely innocent behavior of attempting to live without housing.  Here is a summary of the NEOCH Civil Rights work:

Clements vs. Cleveland

The first attempt in the mid 1990s to stop police arresting and threatening arrest of homeless people for purely innocent behavior of sitting or sleeping on the sidewalk.  Police accused of driving homeless people to the outskirts of Cuyahoga County and dropping them off the bus line.  The City of Cleveland eventually settled with the four plaintiffs and basically blamed “rogue cops” for misinterpreting the directives issued from the administration.  Richard Clements passed away in New York this year.

Homeless Grapevine vs. City of Cleveland

The City felt that vendors of the street newspaper must buy a license before they could sell a paper on the sidewalks of Cleveland.  NEOCH won in the district court, but was reversed on appeal.  City tried to pass legislation to force vendors buy a license, but could not get the legislation through the City Council.  Vendors are currently free to sell the paper within the City of Cleveland with only an agency issued license, but City maintains right to regulate the sidewalk if the City Council can agree. 

Key vs. City of Cleveland

This was the second attempt to stop the sweeps of homeless people in Cleveland.  Police began ticketing homeless people around the holidays to encourage people to come Downtown to shop.  Police were willing to testify that this was City policy at the time because they did not want to be labelled as “going rogue.”  Cleveland settled the lawsuit in 2000 and we have posed the settlement on our website.  It basically states that the police will not arrest or threaten arrest anyone for purely innocent behavior of sitting, sleeping, standing or eating on the sidewalk as long as they are not blocking access.  NEOCH tests this agreement every November to assure that it is still being followed (Appendix A). 

Stun Gun Attacks

In the early 2000s, there were young people who came to Cleveland from Youngstown and recorded themselves using a Taser stun gun to shock homeless people and film their reaction.  NEOCH pushed for harsh punishments for these three young people, and held a community meeting to talk about protection for vulnerable populations.

Homeless Exploitation Videos

There were major retailers in the United States online and in stores that were selling videos of homeless people fighting in exchange for change or alcohol.  NEOCH worked with the National Coalition for the Homeless to convince major retailers such as Best Buy and Target to stop selling these exploitation videos in their stores.  These were recorded by young people and collected together and then sold in many stores and online retailers.

Covenant to Serve Food

The City was concerned over the mess being created on Public Square by church groups feeding homeless people.  We worked with the new administration to avoid the City passing legislation that we would have had to challenge in court.  NEOCH worked out a “covenant” where the church groups would move off public square to a parking lot with trash and bathroom facilities and the City agreed to not introduce legislation.

The Right to Shelter

Since the founding of the Coalition, NEOCH has fought to assure that the shelters are accessible to everyone in need and at no time will the shelters turn people away over a lack of space.  For over 20 years we have had guaranteed access to shelter in Cleveland, and we have worked to improve the conditions at the shelters.  When the shelters are full, providers will transport people to a church or recreation center as an overflow site if the building capacity is reached.  We also support the development of an overnight drop in center similar to Metanoia for the entire year.

Voting Lawsuit Against the State of Ohio

NEOCH has filed suit against the State of Ohio and three Secretaries of State from 2005 through the present over voting procedures in the state.  Our concern was regarding the identification requirements and their impact on reducing turnout by low income, homeless and minority voters.  I have provided a series of depositions in this case.  In years 2006, 2008 and 2012, we had a settlement with the state to allow homeless people to use a social security number to have their ballot count if they voted in person.  This agreement was binding until 2014 when the state changed the law regarding the use of identification for provisional ballots.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

What is Happening in the United States Around Homelessness?

I attended the National Coalition for the Homeless meeting in April.  Here are some of the things that I heard.  Our two members from Florida were not able to attend, but Florida is still working on stupid laws to restrict access to food.  These are general notes.  You can go to the specific state/community for more information or contact the National Coalition for the Homeless.  Thanks to Gloria for typing up these notes.

Local Reports

Illinois: Working on events around the 20th anniversary Homeless Education Law which was the foundation of McKinney Vinto Homeless Kids Act.  Trying to get $3 million from State Legislature to serve the huge rise in homeless kids in the Illinois school districts since 2009: 26,000 to 55,000 kids in the last full school year.

Mass/NH:  Advocates are doing a lot with hunger and homelessness in New England.  There were 50,000 Kids in Massachusetts schools in the last school year.  They are working on a Children’s Bill of Rights law for the state.

Austin, Texas: No Hate Crimes to report.  The City is mostly in compliance with no sit ordinance. Working on developing permanent supportive housing and constructing a manufactured home area to keep people out of the shelters.  Developing a strategy of “no dischargers to homelessness.”  City is focusing on preventing homelessness.

Minnesota: 6% increase in numbers of homeless families.  Affordability of housing continues to be a problem.  The City of Duluth passed Homeless Bill of Rights.  Developing housing in communities for those disadvantaged because of low credit scores. Want to try to rehab the large number of foreclosed properties.  Working on a minimum wage increase and a second chance re-entry ACT.

Sacremento CA: Homeless Bill of Rights put on hold in the State.  The funding for the Housing Trust Fund lost in legislature.  The City is building a new arena – 70 construction jobs to homeless people, but on the negative side there will be six single room occupancy buildings lost or 75 total units of affordable housing lost. The City is considering aggressive panhandling ordinance in the next month.  There was money allocated for the Safe Ground to assist with keeping the space clean and removing trash unfortunately the members are fracturing and need to regroup.  The number of homeless children in the schools has tripled in the last few years now at 250,000 student in California.  Sacramento did a really intensive Homeless Death study used and is now being used by nurses to improve outcomes.

Georgia: Legislative session is a Biblically short 40 days.  They passed even stricter voting charges that make it harder for poor people and minorities to vote. A NYC Mayor  Bloomberg funded group is in Atlanta planning around homelessness and housing.  This despite the fact that homeless family numbers exploded in NYC during the Bloomberg administration because he eliminated affordable housing funding.  It seems that a private equity group has been purchasing subsidized housing and may be interested in converting it to something else.  The main shelter in Atlanta continues its legal struggle against the City of Atlanta and other community leaders who have shifted funding for homeless services resulting in huge losses of shelter beds.

South Carolina: There are no State or local dollars going to homelessness--only dollars is from HUD Continuum of Care funding at $9 million. Tried to get rental assistance in state but that was killed in the legislature.  The state charges $50 for a person to get ID if they are coming out of jail.   There is a lot of interest in homelessness and housing, but no political will to do anything about the situation. 

Louisiana: Redevelopment of a nursing home for affordable housing has taken years because of opposition by local government.  They have been in court for years and the people who want to redevelop the property have continually won, but the project has still not happened.  The Justice Dept came in to investigate and found why the City of New Orleans has continually violated the law to redevelop this property.  The State has punished the city for not developing the property and not being in compliance, but the City has not backed down and seem to not care about homelessness and remains opposed to the development.

What is going on in the Nation’s Capital?   War on Poverty brought up a lot of discussion on the merits of the food stamp, Medicare, and other 1960s era legislation.  The right wing is saying that all the programs have failed on want to block grant all the programs to the States to develop 50 different laboratories for how to deal with poverty.  They insist that there is too much focus on inequality instead of economic opportunities available to Americans.  It looks like the House Tax Reform efforts are dead, and it seems a long shot that immigration reform will happen.  There is some light on Sentencing Reform with the Justice Department proposing commuting the sentences of a number of the 100,000 people held for long prison sentences for federal drug offences.  They are reviewing clemency decisions and there will be small number who have their sentences commuted under limited circumstances.  This President has been the least generous President on clemency in modern history.  There is some Congressional interest in sentencing reform because of the huge amount of money we spend on incarceration.   There is a bill that would ban receipt of food stamps for life for any ex-offender and no Federal Housing benefits.

New York City: Bad news because of the huge numbers of families asking for shelter-- 53,000 homeless families each night with 22,000 children – highest number in American history.  400,000 apartments lost – lower income families saw their housing disappear over the last five years.  New administration has completely changing course. Recognized the deplorable conditions within some of the shelters and are trying to move families out of these facilities.  Plan to put 6,000 homeless families into housing.  Need state resources, which is a problem because the legislature is pretty dysfunctional.  They will introduce a new affordable housing plan in the next week.  The bad news is that Bill Bratton was appointed Police commissioner.  He has not been good to low income and minority members in his previous jobs.  He is working on stepped up enforcement of panhandling on subway.  The did stop the “Stop and frisk policy" which the court and the new administration declared discriminatory.   NY is working on new ID opportunity for immigrants. 

Boston/Massachusetts: Good Mayor for housing elected in Boston and there is a Lame Duck governor finishing up his term for this year.  They continue to see growth of those living in shelters/motel homeless who are receiving some kind of assistance.  They are looking for funding for care for people leaving a mental health or behaviorial health institution.  They are a laboratory for the new ACA healthcare access & resources integrated care must include housing, must be important part of the diversion gap.

Indiana: No Statewide Coalition yet.  Local police & mental health partnered to figure out when is it appropriate to arrest.  Food and shelter programs being harassed and shut down across the state.  Concern that there is a real disconnect in HUD saying numbers down and communities saying there is a rise in homeless families.  Many shelters lost public money and now are exclusively funded by private sources.  They have no incentive to collaborate or be a part of coordinated intake.  Shelters are still dying in our communities.  They are having issues with the Complete count numbers by HUD done in January throughout the United States.  

Arkansas: Problems with shelters numbers going up but funding for the shelters going down because of changes in definition of who is homeless that has shown a decrease in need.   They did shoot down a voter registration law.

Washington state:  There is a threat to the dedicated revenue source that provides rental assistance.  Because of state budget issues they want to take funding from this revenue source to go to other sources.

Puerto Rico: very difficult economic times that are challenging everything that the territory does.  The homeless groups are not as committed to civil rights issues as they were in the past.  Tough budget times are challenging the homeless groups trying to keep beds available to homeless people.  PR had passed Homeless Bill of Rights, but now there is an effort to see how it has been implemented and followed by police and others.  May want to change what we they have to provide real protections to the community.  Health concerns in the shelters has caused a lawsuit within the continuum over new regulations.  The local homeless advocacy have been cut in half making it difficult to operate Speakers Bureau in the territory.  Going more toward services less on advocacy.

Mississippi: 33 shelters in whole state. Number of people coming back home who need help has increased over the last three years.  The shelters continue to experience funding losses.   More people coming back home means a reduction in housing.  Dropouts from college because they can’t afford to continue and then become homeless.

Denver/Colorado: Recreational marijuana has made it difficult for the social service providers to come up with policies to meet this new reality.  There is an inadequate supply of family shelters, local government and state need to address this continued problem. Denver has found that they need 27,000 housing units with a subsidy. They do plan to create 3,000 units, but don’t have the money at this point; overflow shelter usage has decreased. “Camping” ban increased engagements with police.  They rebuilt a shelter that has been mats on the floor to improve conditions.  There are NIMBY problems in a number of communities.  One community is trying to build a wall around their shelter keep what they perceive as problems contained.  Medicare Expansion – 15% before of the Denver healthcare for the Homeless patients had Medicare in 2012– 25% had Medicare in 2013 and they expect 50% this year.  This is a huge boost in helping to support these programs. They are working on doubling the size of their health care clinic in Denver.  There is a nice treatment program for homeless people in Southeast Colorado that has a long waiting list. Developing another seventy-eight supportive housing units. HUD & VA are trying to work on a coordinated intake and assessments to serve homeless and veterans who are experiencing housing issues. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Awful News Out of Orange County California

Ron Thomas and District Attorney Tony Rackauckas (photo by the Gaurdian)In 2011, two Fullerton California police officers beat to death a mentally ill homeless man named Kelly Thomas, 37.  The two officers were acquitted of all charges on Monday January 13 in an Orange County court room.  Thomas's mother was quoted in the Huffington Post as saying, "Part of me died that night...They got away with it."  Kelly's father, Ron, was a retired police officer who was devestated by his son's death especially with the release of the security videotape from a nearby building of the encounter with the police on that July evening.  (It is on the internet, but we will not provide a link. It is too gruesome to watch).

The jury deliberated for eight hours after the three week trial and acquitted the two officers on second degree murder charges for Officer Manual Ramos as well as involuntary manslaughter charges.  Officer Jay Cicinelli was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter and excessive use of force in the criminal trial.  Thomas was beaten at the bus depot in Fullerton after he did not comply with former officer Ramos demand to sit on the curb.  The ten minute confrontation between the heavily armed police officers and the unarmed Thomas left him bloodied with broken bones and his face unrecognizable.  He was hit with a baton, tasered four times, punched, hit in the face with the butt of the Taser, pinned to the ground and kneed in the head.   Ramos put on latex gloves before the attack and told Thomas that he was going to beat him.  Thomas pled for his life during the attack, apologized, and then cried and called for his dad's help repeatedly.  All this was caught on tape and witnessed by numerous onlookers.   The pictures of Kelly Thomas in the hospital after his beating are gruesome and were posted on the internet.  Thomas died in the hospital five days later. 

With all this evidence, a jury decided that these two officers were not guilty of the charges.  The lawyers representing the officers focused on Thomas's previous acts of aggression that were a part of his mental illness.   They also claimed that Thomas kept fighting and the officers had to call for backup five times.  The videotape showed that the officers continued the beating even after Thomas went limp.  The defense team stressed that the officers were only doing their jobs.  After the verdict was announced the district attorney dismissed the charges against the third officer who was waiting trial on lesser charges.  

The family could now file a civil case against the officers for wrongful death and civil rights violations.  The FBI could re-open their investigation, which was stopped when the county prosecutor filed charges.   We are going to ask national mental health and homeless groups to push Attorney General Eric Holder to open a civil rights investigation into this case.  It is unbelievable that anyone viewing the disturbing video tape could not conclude that these officers prepared for an assault on Kelly Thomas and did not stop his beating until he had sustained injuries that led to his death.  We are all shocked that there will be no criminal charges against these police officers. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Columbia South Carolina Passes Crazy Law

It is easy to make fun of the Southern states, and their commitment to bad government.  From their defense of religious symbols in public places in violation of the US Constitution to voting against their own interests on a regular basis.  I mean most states below the Mason Dixon are last in education, access to health care, life span rates, and income levels, but they continue to elect state officials who never address the quality of life issues faced by their constituents.  Instead they focus on railing against Obamacare or federal regulations or raising fears about a threat to the second amendment to get re-elected. 

Columbia South Carolina passed a shocking ordinance to limit the number of homeless people within their borders by a unanimous vote of the City Council.  It is easy to laugh this off as another crazy law from backward legislators, but this law is especially disturbing.  Urban homelessness disproportionately impacts African Americans in the United States.  In Cuyahoga County 80% of the homeless population are black while according to the US Census the overall county statistics show that only 30% of the total population are African American.  The Columbia South Carolina Mayor is black and four out of the seven City Council members are black yet they all voted to make it illegal to be homeless in the city.  The Council said that they were concerned that they were becoming a "magnet for homeless people"  as the reason for this nonsensical response.

The Huffington Post article details the high cost of incarcerating individuals for violating this new law when compared to offering housing to the population.  The cost of incarcerating an individual for six months in Columbia is $9,000.  The cost of paying 100% of a person's rent for six months in a one bedroom apartment at the fair market rent would be $3,870.  The ordinance would give people on the streets the option to relocate or get arrested for living outside.  There would be police stationed at the shelter to monitor the streets, and a hotline will be established to "report" homeless people violating the law to be "removed."   This would mean that people would have to stay in a shelter, go to jail or leave the city limits.  

What happened to the "get government off our backs crowd?"  What happened to the Columbia law director not seeing the many constitutional violations here?   What happened to the majority African American Columbia City Council not seeing how this will have a disproportionate effect on blacks?  What happened to the freedom of movement?  Is there any evidence anywhere that law enforcement is good at scaring people into not being homeless?  Business owners are complaining that they have thrown money at the problem for 20 years and it has only gotten worse, so they are giving up and making it illegal to lose your housing. 

Cooperative homeless people will be given the option to go to a remote 240-person bed emergency shelter, which will be open from September to March. The shelter will also be used as a drop-off for people recently released from prison and jail, too.

The City Council members actually believe that making a segment of their poor population into criminals will "open up a window of opportunity."  It seems that the only opportunity created would be the opportunity to leave the state. The Gospel Mission staff quoted in the article stated the obvious in the most understated manner claiming that this might give off the impression that Columbia does not want homeless people.

According to ThinkProgress, clients at the shelter will not be allowed to leave the premises without permission and a police officer will stand guard at the road leading to the building.

They have decided on expanding public housing in the form of jails instead of building affordable housing.  They have decided on deportation orders rather than operating safe places for everyone to put their head at night.   They have opted for punishments for people making mistakes rather than forgiveness and offering safety to those struggling.  It is slapping on handcuffs over a hand up.  It is distrust of your fellow man conquering the religious conviction to help your brother. 

Brian Davis

Post absolutely reflect the opinion of only those who sign the entry. 

 

Advocates Support the American Bar Assoc. Homeless Resolution

This will not likely make much national news, but it should be mentioned.  On August 12, the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates passed a resolution calling on the U.S. government at all levels to promote and implement the human right to housing.

In the resolution, the ABA "urges governments to promote the human right to adequate housing for all through increased funding, development and implementation of affordable housing strategies and to prevent infringement of that right."

The resolution, introduced by the ABA Commission on Homelessness & Poverty, and drafted and enacted with assistance from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (Law Center), builds on increasing support in the U.S. for the human right to housing, including recent statements by the U.S. government recognizing a political commitment to the human right to housing and addressing the criminalization of homelessness as a violation of two major human rights treaties.

Tracking language drawn from the international human rights standards, in the report accompanying the resolution the ABA "calls upon federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial governments to ... [i]mplement policies promoting the human right to adequate housing for all... including: [a]ffordability, habitability, and accessibility; ...security of tenure, access to services...in areas that do not threaten occupants' health; and [p]rotection of cultural identity or diversity."

"This resolution by the ABA emphasizes that adequate housing is more than a goal - it is a basic human right, carrying with it obligations on the part of the government, at all levels, to fulfill that right," said Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights and Children's Rights Programs at the Law Center. "We hope this resolution will serve as a tool for lawyers and other advocates across the country in working with governments to create solutions to homelessness and address the lack of adequate housing in the U.S."

"As communities across the country continue to cope with the economic and homelessness crises, this resolution provides an important push in the direction of constructive solutions," said Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director of the Law Center. "Together with the three states that have passed homeless bills of rights in the past year, we are hopeful this is another step towards a human rights-based approach to homelessness in the U.S."

Passed on from a press release of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in Washington DC.  This post reflects the opinion of the Law Center.

Race, Poverty and Nonprofits in Atlanta

The June 16, 2013 edition of the Atlanta Progressive News has an interesting article about Race, Poverty and Non-Profits in Atlanta.  I am no fan of Atlanta, but Matthew Cardinale has a "devastating critique" of the city and the leading non-profits.  He makes the point that Atlanta Georgia is the "birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement" with the King Center a wealth of history in the new Capital of the South, but is also the city that has led a war on poor people.   He lists an amazing resuscitation of crimes against the poor by the City of Atlanta including prioritizing both the public hospital and the schools, destroying public housing, and making it illegal to be visibly homeless.  

Cardinale asks why the King Center is not more involved in fighting injustice in the City?  He asks why the majority African American City Council allows corporate interests to control the city and push out minority groups.   Cardinale wonders if Dr. Martin Luther King were alive today would he be "shunned...by the powers that be in Atlanta."  He talks about how the mainstream non-profit organizations have turned away from a social justice agenda, and do not try to engage the population in teaching public policy democracy.  Cardinale talks about his issues with the War on Poverty created Community Action Agency, which has lost its "action" part of its mission.   They do the HEAP program similar to the CEOGC program in Cleveland. 

Many of these issues are universal in big cities throughout the United States.  When was the last time anyone voiced an advocacy position from a Community Action Agency?  When was the last time we heard from African American leaders about the injustice of a disproportionate number of African Americans who lose their housing and live in local shelters?  When was the last time a United Way funded organization spoke out about the injustice of a public policy decision?  It is much easier for groups, politicians and the public to not say anything.  After all, you only get your head chopped off if you are willing to stick your neck out to protest.  It is easier to deal with criticism for saying nothing than having to answer to the big money interests behind most non-profits.   It is a good narrative lamenting the achievement of power by many African American leaders, and how they have not fulfilled the living wage, equality at the voting booth, fair housing or health care parity dreams expressed so eloquently by Dr. King in the 1960s. 

Brian Davis

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Ohio the Center of the Political Universe

NEOCH and SEIU had a victory this week in the court case regarding the counting of provisional ballots.  We have a write up on our Homeless Voting blog here.  This issue was reported in every paper in Ohio and nearly every national paper, because Ohio is so critical for this upcoming Presidential election.  There are racist, offensive billboards springing up in African American neighborhoods.  Our airwaves are clogged of political ads, and groups are working to challenge voters ability to vote.   This is what living in one of six swing states during a Presidential election.

There was a story on the front page on the Washington Page site regarding the Obama campaign lawsuit against the State of Ohio to keep the polling places open on the weekend before the election.  The case was appealed to the US Supreme Court and we hope that they will make their decision quickly so that we can make plans for these next three weeks.  NEOCH is transporting homeless and low income people to the Board of Election to vote early.   We are working to provide a ride to every shelter in Cleveland to encourage homeless people to vote early when they will not be pestered about identification.  

In another blow to getting every legitimate voter to cast a ballot that actually gets counted, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has ruled that County Boards of Elections cannot send an e-mail out to a voter to say that their vote by mail ballot envelope was messed up.   These are voters who listed their phone or e-mail address (volunteering this information) so obviously do not mind being contacted by phone or e-mail.   The Secretary has said that the local boards can only send mail to the voters to have them correct the envelope.  This does not make any sense.  We live in an age when people can receive information on their cell phone, and yet our Secretary of State is preventing the Boards from using all the tools at their disposal to contact voters to correct an error so that their ballot will count.  Every decision, every action is amplified, and everything is in conflict in a swing state during the election season.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.