Interesting Stories Over the Last Week

Pam Fessler at NPR is on fire with homeless stories.  Two in the last week and relevant to what is happening in American cities.  The criminalization of homeless people is a huge issue facing this country.  In Hawaii, most of Florida and even Boise Idaho, the municipal government has given up trying to end homelessness and instead are house people in jails.  These cities are spending precious resources to incarcerate people for purely innocent behavior.  This is what makes the Justice Department filing so important.  Also, the Department of Housing and Urban and Development are giving extra points for cities that are doing a better job with reducing criminalization and discharges. 

One interesting note that was not in the story.  The City of Denver is trying something novel to avoid paying for incarceration by taking out municipal bonds to pay for avoiding jail.  These are similar to the Pay for Success program that Cleveland is undertaking.   They will pay back the bonds based on the cost savings for each person enrolled who does not go to jail but instead stays in housing.  This is a unique twist on social investment bonds and it all starts in January. 

Fessler also did a story on Permanent Supportive Housing, and the wonderful new property being constructed in DC.  The story appeared on the radio, but is better viewed online with the amazing picture of this new building.  Los Angeles is just dipping their feet into the new permanent supportive housing projects.  For a city as large as LA, they have only a small number of units in development.  After a period of no housing being developed these small numbers (100,000 nationally over last five years) are a drop in the bucket compared to the need. 

The problem is that we are paying for these units out of the money we had previously spent on shelters and only 20% of the population qualify.  This is the reason that shelters are closing and more families are struggling with housing.  These would be wonderful if it was all new money funding these projects.  If the veterans have reduced homelessness by combining shelter and housing and supportive services why is HUD doing the opposite.  These are beautiful units being developed, but they cannot be the only response to homelessness.  If we do not have an option for everyone who shows up requesting help, we will see only increases. 

Bringing Pets into the Shelters

Speaking of people who do not fit in the current shelter system:  what do we with homeless people who show up with their pets.  Huffington Post had an article about shelters that are now allowing pets. This is a group who are typically unwilling to kill or give up their "only friend" on the planet: their pets.  The article talks about a new a new partnership between a pet store and Family Promise.   We need this to start in Cleveland.  We have such a hard time placing people with animals.  It also shows the merits of having smaller shelters rather than the big facilities that Cleveland is stuck with at this point. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

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

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

HUD Puts Teeth into Effort to Stop Criminalizing Homeless People


The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has released a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the Continuum of Care (CoC) Program for $1.89 billion for Fiscal Year 2015. The CoC Program distributes funding to homeless projects in communities throughout the nation. The deadline for applying for the FY 2015 CoC Program Competition is November 20.

"The National Coalition for the Homeless is pleased to see HUD continuing the federal proactive approach against the continued criminalization of people experiencing homelessness," state Megan Hustings, Interim Director, NCH.  "NCH is the leading homeless civil rights organization in the nation and have been advocating for this position for at least two decades and our advocacy has finally paid off.  If communities continue to enforce anti-homeless ordinances, now they risk losing valuable points in their CoC application, which means a potential loss of funding," continued Hustings.

Specifically, the NOFA states that up to 2 points to CoCs that demonstrate recipients have implemented specific strategies that prevent criminalization of homelessness, affirmatively further fair housing as detailed in 24 CFR 578.93(c), and ensure that outreach is conducted to homeless individuals and families who are least likely to request housing or services in the absence of special outreach.

This is especially critical given the recent Department of Justice [DOJ] statement of interest in the Bell v Boise, case where DOJ argued that for communities that lack housing alternatives of for homeless people, anti-camping ordinances violate the US Constitutions 8th Amendment as "cruel and unusual punishment" and as "misguided public policy."

"It is a new day for protecting the civil rights of homeless people.  Lets hope that this is a wakeup call for communities to now focus on creating affordable housing that will end and prevent homelessness," states John Parvensky, Board Chair, NCH and CEO of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

Press Release from the National Coalition for the Homeless

The opinions reflect those of NCH and not necessarily NEOCH

NPR and WashPost Take Up Criminalization

This is how not to do law enforcement. Austin Texas Police in full riot gear patrol near the shelter. These officers cannot be identified and their badges are not visible. Photo by Richard Troxell

NPR had a nice story about the Justice Department weighing in on the Bell vs. Boise Lawsuit.   This was a good assessment of the issues with an interview of Eric Tars of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. It is worth the listen.

The Washington Post also did a good overview of the issue. 

"Homelessness is just becoming more visible in communities, and when homelessness becomes more visible, there’s more pressure on community leaders to do something about it," Tars says. "And rather than actually examining what’s the best thing to do about homelessness, the knee-jerk response — as with so many other things in society — is 'we’ll address this social issue with the criminal justice system.'"

There was a story about this issue here:

By Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

We felt that this was such a historic decision that we have dedicated a page on our website to the decision which has a copy of the well written brief.

Justice Department Weighs In on Homeless Policies

Bell v. City of Boise

Everywhere across the country homelessness, an often involuntary act, is criminalized. Cities all over are making it illegal to be homeless and even to aid homeless people. Being homeless is a difficult ordeal, and for many it can seem, and is, never-ending, yet these cities are doing all they can to make it even more difficult for those that are homeless. In response, many people and organizations are fighting against these ordinances and laws that seek to criminalize homelessness.

Boise, Idaho is one of these many places that criminalizes homelessness. Continuously, the police are citing and fining people for sleeping on the streets, despite the fact that the shelters are full and there is nowhere for them to go. However, here, homeless people have decided to fight back against the city of Boise and sue them in federal court. Along with homeless people, the Department of Justice on August 6th argued on behalf of the homeless population in Boise.  Here is the Justice Department press release on the issue.

Sharon Bett, a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ, argued that fining/criminalizing a homeless person for sleeping on the street, when the shelters are full, violates the 8th amendment’s clause on “Cruel and Unusual Punishments.” Bett notes that legal precedent, with regards to the 8th amendment, has stated that acts of conduct can be criminalized, but not an individual’s status. For example, someone can be fined for drinking alcohol in public, but not fined for being an alcoholic. In other court cases, dating back to the past decade, the courts have continuously maintained that being homeless is a status, not a conduct.

It has also been established that criminalizing people who are sleeping in public when shelters are full is a violation of the 8th amendment’s “Cruel and Unusual Punishment” clause. In reference to Boise, Bett uses precedent, set in Jones v. City of Los Angeles, 444 F.3d 1118 (9th Cir. 2006), claims that, if there is no place for a person to go (this would mean not being able to access a shelter), then that person’s sleeping outside becomes an “involuntary and inseparable from” an individual’s status of homelessness. So, the homeless individual should also be entitled to sleep in public, when there is no shelter that they can access.

Here is the heart of the Justice Department filing, "[i]t should be uncontroversial that punishing conduct that is a universal and unavoidable consequence of being human violates the Eighth Amendment. . .  Sleeping is a life-sustaining activity—i.e., it must occur at some time in some place.  If a person literally has nowhere else to go, then enforcement of the anti-camping ordinance against that person criminalizes her for being homeless."

The essence of the argument put forth against criminalizing sleeping outside and Boise specifically, is that the status of homelessness, like being mentally ill or a victim of natural disaster, is a status, and a person’s status cannot be criminalized. However, conduct can be criminalized, such as an addict drinking in public, because, in this scenario, an addict could reasonably and voluntarily find a private place. Nevertheless, sleeping outside in public spaces is different, in that it is “involuntary and inseparable from” the status of being homeless. The Justice Department contends that the City of Boise should not be criminalizing the acting of sleeping in a public space, because these individuals have no where else to exist.  The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty has been assisting with this case for the past three years.  Activists hope that they can use this briefing to change the law in Boise and use it in other cities in the United States.

The Case in the News

From National Law Center of Homelessness and Poverty

by Dan the Intern

PS:  We have set up a web page with the actual text of the brief submitted by the Justice Department here.

Homelessness in the National News

With the recent strings of police misconduct, it was sad to see police officers taunting a homeless person in Florida.

In some areas, city governments are taking steps, if minor, to limit the unjust actions taken by police against a large part of the population. Los Angeles is trying to increase police awareness about mental illness and de-escalation techniques. However, it is not going far enough, they need to account for how mental illnesses affect people when considered legal charges.  The LA Times takes a look at one mentally ill homeless woman caught in the legal system after being charged with assaulting a police officer.

Two St. Louis individuals are doing their own interesting take on the Food Truck craze. They are looking to create trucks with showers for homeless people to use.

Findings in San Jose show that many stereotypes of why people are continually homeless are very off-base. At one homeless healthcare program, 71% of the patients had brain impairment.  The sample size is small and will need further research to determine a definitive link.

To prevent homelessness, people need affordable housing. One Seattle study shows that a $100 increase in median rent corresponded to 15% increase in homeless population.  The study published in the Journal of Urban Studies showed that population growth and low vacancy rates also contributes to an increase in homelessness.

Stereotypes are countless when it comes to the homeless. This story provides an insight into what it is really like to be homeless and going to school. Many do not know the resources available to them and are afraid or ashamed to ask.  This is a first person account of being homeless in college.

Los Angeles recently announced a program to help homeless people clear minor citations and fines. This is a much needed step toward ending the criminalization of homelessness.  Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in June launching a one-time, statewide amnesty starting Oct. 1 to dismiss up to 80% of infraction-related debt and restore suspended driver's licenses.

In London, anti-homeless spikes have begun to pop up. One activist group could not stand the idea of this and built beds over these spikes.   There is a nice photo associated with this video story.

A study done in the United Kingdom has had results that show the longer someone is homeless the more costly that person becomes to society. The quicker homelessness is dealt with, or even prevented, the more money saved.

As Los Angeles houses more homeless people than any other city, the homeless crisis still increases. This article argues the issue is that no matter what LA does to combat homelessness the problem still remains that there is not nearly enough affordable housing.  This is an op-ed from a Los Angeles City Council member.

Faith-based groups speak out in San Antonio against ordinances that seek to criminalize generosity. Activists are saying that if you wish to feed a homeless person on the streets, you should be able to do so unabated. Local religious leaders were being ticketed for serving food to homeless people.

Non-profit organizations in New York City are providing homeless children a chance to attend a camp like every other kid.  During the summer, they provide children a chance to go to sleepaway camp sessions and to get away from the shelters.

One Atlanta initiative at the largest shelter in the South has homeless people planting urban, organic gardens to feed shelters. These gardens let the homeless individuals eat fresh food and obtain job skills. This is at the Metro Atlanta Task Force Shelter which has been under constant attack for the past 10 years by the City of Atlanta.

Evansville, Illinois is implementing a similar policy to Cleveland’s Coordinated Intake for homeless people. One of the biggest problems for the homeless if finding and understanding all the resources available. These policies give homeless people a central place that has the information to navigate all the services.

by Dan the Intern

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Homeless People in the National News

Homelessness in the News

When Pope Francis comes to the U.S. in September, he will meet with people who are homeless, immigrants, and the incarcerated.  This is very noble, but, as Lewis Diuguid points out, the visits should be impromptu to avoid politicians from scripting these meetings.

Community policing in Cincinnati is one of the best in the country, but Cleveland’s police do not know where to start when it comes to working with the community.  Upcoming reforms will hopefully see the police making a positive difference in communities.

What community benefit comes from jailing a homeless person, who is obviously not in the right state of mind?  Nothing.  A person consistently, and incoherently calling 911 needs help getting a stable place to live, not prison time. 

If cities want to end homelessness and improve the conditions of shelters, maybe it is time to start adequately funding the services needed to get homeless people off the street.  After the murder of a shelter director by a former client, shelters in New York City are working to improve safety for the staff.  

Student at Chicago Portfolio School has begun designing new signs for homeless.  These new signs, drawn with an artistic touch, are meant to draw people to have an actual conversation with these people and create awareness.  Sometimes it is just small gestures that make a big difference.

Los Angeles City Council legislation would make something as small as putting a bag on the ground a cause for action by police.  LA civil rights activists urge the mayor to veto this legislation.  Criminalizing homelessness does not see the results it expects to see, but hinders the possibility of ending homelessness. 

Rapid Rehousing has been touted as a cure-all for homelessness, but for many, particularly families, it is not enough.  These families are cut off way before they are able to sustain themselves.  This report looks at the limitations or the Rapid Rehousing movement highlighted by a new HUD report.

New Orleans plans to build $7 million dollar centralized homeless shelter with less restriction. However, it faces opposition from business owners, who rely on myths about the homeless community. 

Since Obama began a push to end veteran homelessness in 2010, many cities and counties have essentially eliminated homelessness.  Now, will we see as much success ending chronic, youth, and family homelessness? Cuyahoga County will be declaring a "functional end" to veteran's homelessness on Veterans Day 2015.

A minister in Nashville, Tennessee is raising money to build micro-homes for the homeless. 

Repurposed military base becomes a recovery center for  addicted homeless people.  This shelter is different from many by allowing the residents to run the shelter, while also providing meaningful things to do during the day, such as online classes.

by Dan the Intern

Opinions represent the opinions of those who sign the entry.

More Homelessness in the News

Homelessness and Governing

Recently, the city council of Madison, Wisconsin has passed legislation to prohibit discrimination based on housing, which the mayor vetoed.  However, homeless people were added to the list of protected classes by the city council overriding the mayor’s veto.

San Francisco just opened America’s first LGBT homeless shelter.  Though it is not big enough to address the whole community, it is a step in the right direction. The Jezzie Collins Shelter is one of the few new shelters created in the United States after huge federal cut backs over the last three years.  

An innovative plan in Hawaii plans to renovate 70 retired buses into homeless shelters.  However, with the highest per capita homeless population in the US, it is time for Hawaii to evaluate what the real problems are in their state.

Activists are asking that Hawaii work to solve homelessness, not make it harder for individuals.  A new study by the University of Hawaii says that homeless sweeps are more harmful than good. "They found that the people living there suffer property and economic loss, physical and psychological harm, and possible constitutional violations," according to the KHON TV report.

Public Defender, Robert Wesley near Orlandoand Orange County Florida stands up against the criminalization of homelessness, and, to an extent, the city is finally listening.  He said that these arrests were "a revolving door" for homeless people. Wesley specifically wants to revamp the arrest procedures for violating local ordinances — including urinating in public, having an open container, trespassing and sleeping in public — that almost exclusively affect homeless people. Instead of being taken to jail, officers would give violators a "notice to appear" in court, according to a story in the Orlando Sentinal.

In St. Cloud, Minnesota, high schoolers and the local Coalition for Homeless Men built the state’s first tiny house.  Yet, it still has a long way to go until someone can live there.  Many zoning and safety laws can prevent someone from having their tiny home. 

Cuts to ‘Food Stamp’ funding has caused nearly 255,000 people in Wisconsin to survive on 1 meal a day.  A disproportionate amount of these people are elderly or disabled.  One Congressman was surviving on Food Stamps and had their benefits cut down to $16 because they did not submit a utility bill as verification. 

No longer are cities merely criminalizing homelessness, but also criminalizing helping homeless people. San Antonio’s law costs one woman up to $2,000 just for feeding homeless people out of her truck.  She is fighting the ticket and the law.

Individuals Making a Difference

A Washington D.C. teen transitions from homelessness to finishing her first year at Georgetown.  She  discussed the difficult transition and disadvantages she faced compared to their wealthy classmates.  This Washington Post article talked to other young people who got out of homelessness. 

One former homeless veteran in Portland, Maine decided to give back to other homeless veterans.  He founded the Maine Homeless Veterans Alliance to connect homeless vets to the services that are available to them, and for those that do not desire the services, he helps in any way he can. 

A Seattle man is trying to change the stereotype of homelessness, largely through Facebook.  Rex Hohlbein started a non-profit called Homeless in Seattle, where he takes photos of homeless people and writes short stories about them in, while also operating a Facebook page that allows every day citizens to help with the needs of the homeless.

In Ann Arbor, landlords are helping to end homelessness by doing what all landlords should do, accept housing vouchers. In response, the Washtenaw Housing Alliance is honoring these individuals. (nice pic of a homeless couple in a tent with their dog--all things not welcome in shelters).

by Dan the Intern

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Weekly Update on Homeless Stories in the News

Here are a few interesting news stories about homelessness from the last week.  Click on the blue text to view the source article.

by Dan the Intern

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

How Do You Apply Broken Windows to a Tent???

NPR did a long piece (14 minutes) last Sunday on Skid Row and walking around with police and "residents" of the largest homeless encampment in North America.  The story just glossed over the flaws in the Broken Window Theory of law enforcement and stepped right into the relationship with the police.  The San Francisco Examiner did a better job showing the fallout of this policy of strict enforcement of even minor infractions of the law

The report starts with some defining of the terms which includes the "Safer Cities" initiative.  Police Chief William Bratton is the Johnnie Appleseed of this project and leading proponent of the theory.  He brought both the New York and Los Angeles police forces into this zero tolerance theory of policing after Bratton was chief of both departments.  Kelly McEvers is the author of this story and Tom Dreisbach was a correspondent for NPR working on this story.

DREISBACH: The idea is to cite or arrest people for the little stuff - jaywalking, drinking in public, blocking sidewalks.

MCEVERS: You know, that whole broken windows approach that was made famous by ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

DREISBACH: If you stop people from committing the little crimes...

MCEVERS: ...They'll be less likely to commit the big crimes.

No one saw the irony of talking about "broken windows" in the context of hundreds of tents. There are no windows to break in a tent.   Skid Row is the break down of society, and community policing in a chaotic society has to be different than in the suburbs.  A neighborhood falling down may need a strong police presence to keep it from tipping over the edge.  A neighborhood without order, basic sanitation, and safety needs about 1,000 things before a they need a strong police show of force.  Ticketing and jailing residents of Skid Row only prolongs their stay on the streets.  Low barriers housing is the key, but it is not cheap. 

What if jail were better than living on the streets?  What if the debt cycle from all the broken window tickets mean the person will never be able to find stability?  What if the police begin to see the city as a lost cause and become fatalistic about the residents?  Where do homeless people with alcohol problems consume alcohol if they have an addiction--everywhere is an open container?  Where do people go to the bathroom if no business will allow them to use their precious facilities?  What if the rest of society decides that the Skid Row community is not worth the trouble?  What if a desperate population begins to confront the police with every ticket written?   Why wouldn't NPR cover the absurdity of punishing people for broken windows on a tent?

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who signt he entry. 

News Stories for this Week

There was an explosive report issued out of the University of Berkeley and proof that cities are making it illegal to be homeless.   The report shows that 58 cities are passing laws that are unequally enforced on homeless people.  They cited anti-camping laws among others as unfairly targeting homeless people for criminal citations. 

Channel 3 has been looking at people who live outside in this extreme cold. They talked to Rick and before that Christine.  They have been talking to people who stay outside.

Channel 19 put aside their tabloid news and did a nice story about the Salvation Army Canteen (not a Cantina).  The Salvation Army feeds hundreds in East Cleveland and Cleveland. 

St. Louis takes steps to make it easier to participate in the voucher program and makes it difficult for landlords to refuse to take a voucher.  We need similar laws that would not allow landlords to discriminate against voucher holders. 

We love the libraries and in Cleveland they are really helpful to homeless people.  This is a story about how libraries are trying to adapt to the number of people who are homeless and using the facility.  This is a Huffington Post article about libraries attempts to help homeless people with jobs and health care. 

How about a public restroom in Cleveland?  New Mexico was looking at introducing a shower bus that goes around the community to help people maintain their hygiene. 

Mother Jones did a long story about Housing First.  I am always dubious about quoting statisitcs (72% drop) when we know how unreliable counting homeless people can be.  They do a good job of outlining all the good items about homelessness.  It does not mention some of the draw backs of the programs or how the programs that are saving money can spend that savings on other homeless people.  It is a good overview of the issues and the program characteristics.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Ft. Lauderdale: Center of Hate Toward the Poor

Ft. Lauderdale officials are taking heat world wide for the arrest of a 90 year old chef and two religious leaders for the crime of feeding low income and homeless people.  They approved a series of anti-homeless measures with the most prominent outlawing the serving of food outside without a permit.  Comedian Stephen Colbert roasted the City last night mocked the Mayor for arresting this "perp", Arnold Abbott, for carrying the dangerous weapon of food.

  "So clearly he knows what Jesus said in Matthew. 'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat.  I was thirsty and--look out! The cops are here! Hide the Loaves and Fishes!' And I am glad...they eventually caught up with him."

The National Coalition for the Homeless Sent a letter to the Mayor asking for a re-evaluation of the legislation. 

[Full Disclosure:  I helped in the drafting of the NCH letter.] Most are focusing on the anti-feeding law and that is appropriate, but there are four other laws including the prohibition against a homeless person to sit down in the public space that are just as offensive.   These laws go back to the 1990s when cities were using law enforcement to try to "solve" homelessness.  They have failed and in fact, most cities found it only increased the number of homeless people.  Repeatedly ticketing homeless people make them unemployable and unable to engage a lease for housing.  We have also seen the correlation between a rise in hate crimes directed at homeless people when cities begin to pass laws directed at those without housing.  Ft. Lauderdale, by preventing people from being able to eat, goes to the front of the line in legislating hate against a fragile population.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

By the way if you want to express your concern over these extreme laws here is the Mayor's e-mail:  Send us a copy of the e-mail if you decide to write neoch (at) neoch (dot) org. 

Does Institutional Violence Provide Cover to Hate Crimes?

Over the weekend the Albuquerque police made an arrest of three young people accused of killing two homeless people.  This after police shot a homeless person who was giving himself up earlier this year.   It seems that cities that mistreat homeless people or pass laws directed at homeless people are also the cities that have higher numbers of hate crimes directed at homeless people.  Albuquerque police have a large number of officers involved in shootings (40) of which 26 were killed since 2010.

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty just released a report on the large number of laws directed at homeless people.   The Law Center details the surprising rise in cities which have made it illegal to feed people outside.  There are panhandling laws, anti-sitting laws, anti-"camping" laws, loitering, and no feeding laws.  These "quality of life" ordinances are on the rise, and there are consultants sitting in hotel conference centers crafting new ways to hide homeless people.  Then there are police actions to arrest and hide homeless people.  These include private security for Business Improvement Districts harassing homeless people to go into hiding.  Then in those cities that use law enforcement to solve homelessness there is a corresponding increase in attacks on homeless people

In the 1990s, when there were routine arrests of homeless people for sleeping outside in Cleveland we also saw regular attacks on homeless people.  We saw the stun gun attacks and bricks being thrown from motorists.   We have not seen the level of hate crimes that they see in Cincinnati, which still has not worked out how they deal with a growing population.  If government targets homeless people with laws or arrests it seems to give cover to violent or fringe elements of society to attack fragile populations.  If you place the National Coalition for the Homeless hate crimes report on top of the National Law Center criminalization report you see some huge overlapping cities especially in cities in Florida. 

We have been dealing with homelessness for 40 years, and it seems as though cities have not learned anything.   They still try to deal the problems associated with homeless people instead of dealing with the root cause of homelessness: housing.  They are still trying to regulate homelessness out of existence instead of providing affordable housing and behavioral health services.  Fair share development laws, minimum wage increases, universal access to treatment are sure fire ways to end homelessness.  Passing "quality of life laws" are sure fire ways to prolong homelessness. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

South Carolina Council Reverses Criminalization Law

We posted two blog entries about the absurd Columbia South Carolina law that would require homeless people to seek shelter or go to jail.  With all the national attention and pressure put on the City from national groups like the National Coalition for the Homeless and the National Law Center, the petitions on and the national media stories was too much for the City Council.  They backed away from the law and will go in a different direction.  It is amazing to me that they did not have the backing of their own police, and that not one council member saw the potential problems associated with this legislation to vote against it. 

According to the Huffington Post which quoted the Columbia Free Times,

“I will take responsibility for that getting into the public discourse,” Councilman Cameron Runyan said on Tuesday about his suggestion to force homeless people into confinement, according to the Free Times. “That is not the desire…We are not going to forcibly confine anyone.”

Instead the City is planning to expand outreach efforts with vans and will try the old standby of discouraging people from giving to panhandlers.  While certainly not as punative, these new efforts will have about as much success as their last plan.  The City Council does not seem to understand how federal benefit programs work.  They are proposing to steal the food stamp and social security benefits from the disabled and impoverished to pay for these programs.  We hope that this plan is adopted so that Columbia's City Council members can face Justice Department lawyers who could seek indictments for shaking down poor people to pay for government services.  Is Columbia South Carolina being run by a group of middle schoolers who have not yet passed their government classes?

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry

Police Oppose Columbia South Carolina Law

We wrote about this "crazy South Carolina law"  in the last two week, but it turns out that not even the police agree with the scope of this law.  Huffington Post printed an article on August 28, detailing Columbia Interim Police Chief Ruben Santiago's opposition to the new law.  The National Law Center has been raising concerns about this issue and staff appeared on MSNBC last week.  The Huffington Post quoted the acting police chief saying, " We can't just take people to somewhere they don't want to go.  I can't do that. I won't do that." 

It is amazing that the legislation was passed without opposition at the Council.  No one thought that this might be a violation of constitutional rights of the low income?  Then the comments made by Councilman Cameron Runyan in the face of this opposition is even more amazing.  This was his quote in the Huffington Post article, "We have to understand that the only cure for poverty is commerce." This is the basis of his law, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of the problem.  Commerce does not get a person who cannot work (long term disabled) more income.  People who have a criminal background and cannot find a job are far away from the ability to engage in legal commerce.  Commerce does not cure the individual who is addicted and can only find programs that will help after she has cured herself.   It is no wonder that they came up with such a misguided solution when they were starting with the premise that poverty has been left unchecked thus destroying commerce. 

Councilman Runyan was willing to say publicly that the suffering of his citizens who are without housing was hurting businesses. He did not mention the impact on the kids, their schools or the breakup of families. This policy of arresting people who do not go into shelter has so many problems with putting business over the welfare of his own citizens among the top.  I believe that all of these Councilmembers should be fired from their elected office for their stunning lack of human decency or concern for their own voters.  Is it hubris or a lack of understanding or an inability to grasp complex issues?  These men and women elected to represent all the residents (including those without a fixed residence) need to spend the weekend on the streets of Columbia to see how things work.  They need to host a group of homeless people to talk about the issues, and most of all they need to repeal this law and convene a plan to provide safety and security rather than jail to those proud homeowners foreclosed on in Columbia or former tenants who are waiting for disability screenings. 

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Miami Attempts to Renege on its Agreement

Before Cleveland homeless individuals settled with the City in 2000, Miami lawyers struck an agreement to step back from the effort to make it illegal to be homeless.  Word came out that the current city government is working on ways to get out from under this 1998 settlement.  The National Coalition for the Homeless wrote a letter condemning these attempts to scrap the Pottinger settlement.  

The National Coalition for the Homeless is very concerned that the City of Miami is working to cancel its agreement with those experiencing homelessness in the Pottinger settlement of 1998.  This settlement came about because of the excessive use of police authority to move homeless people out of the public eye.  This was callous  example of using law enforcement as a substitute for effective social services which builds relationships with those resistant to shelters. 

Instead of working to renege on this landmark court settlement, the City should work to assure that no one feels the need to sleep on the streets of Miami.  Until the City does not turn one individual away who requests shelter in Miami, it is too early to turn away from the Pottinger settlement.  The number of homeless youth, families, personal bankruptcies, and those facing food insecurity are all reported higher in South Florida, which does not seem to be the best time to cancel an agreement with homeless people.  

Going back to a failed public policy of arresting homeless people will only jeopardize any progress the City has made in serving those who have been homeless for a long period of time.  This policy of arresting and jailing homeless people is expensive and will in the end lengthen the time people spend without housing.  The City will eventually pay the additional cost of housing, feeding, providing health care, and behavioral health for these individuals they arrest for purely innocent life sustaining behavior. 

We urge the City to commit to social workers, housing and supportive services instead of law enforcement, incarceration and turning on their own citizens. 


Michael Stoops

Director of Community Organizing

National Coalition for the Homeless

Washington, DC

NEOCH echoes the thoughts of the National Coalition.

Brian Davis

Posts reflect the opinion of those who sign the entry.

Panhandling Madness

People get so angry about panhandling.  It is a dividing point in our society.  There are passionate people on both sides of the issue.  There are those who love bypassing all the bureaucracy and administration of nearly every non-profit to give directly to a person in need.  Then there are those who hate seeing people have to beg for money, and know that most of the donation is going to feed a chemical addiction.  There are those that want to have a connection with a stranger who is struggling as directed by most spiritual texts.  Others see people who have made mistakes or are perceived to be lazy, and want government to respond to these "problems."

There were flair ups in this war over the last month in both Akron and Cleveland.  The City of Akron and Fairlawn both have extremely restrictive laws to protect pedestrians from the evils of panhandling. The Summit County Council was scheduled to add a panhandling law to cover the unincorporated places in the county.  They were prepared to make panhandling a job as the other communities in the county have done.  They had proposed requiring a license to beg and forcing panhandlers to wear a uniform (a vest).  Calmer head prevailed and they ditched these two provisions, but is working on passing a law that limits where a person can ask for money and outlaws aggressive solicitation (which is already illegal under the menacing laws).  Cleveland suffered a black eye over giving a good samaritan a ticket for LITTERING because the individual threw a dollar at a panhandler and it landed on the ground. 

All of these stories generated a ton of comments in the Plain Dealer and the Beacon Journal.  Yet, there is very little rational thinking on this issue.  No matter how many laws are made, begging will continue.  People will figure out a way around any and every law.  You can sponsor all the campaigns that you want, the people who like giving will continue.  The only way to stop panhandling is to find alternatives (such as a Street Newspaper!!!).  Sponsor a competition among the non-profits to see who can find alternatives for the most panhandlers.  No matter what Akron or Cleveland does with the laws, people will continue to keep giving and panhandlers will figure out ways to beg.  If a person finds themselves without options, they will turn to begging for money as the last option.



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.

WCPN Covers Homeless Issues

Yesterday, WCPN and the morning show, the Sound of Ideas, featured a discussion about homelessness or more specifically a look at Dan Kerr's book Derelict Paradise which traces the history of homelessness in Cleveland. We had a Street Voices speaker, Sheri West on who successfully transitioned from shelter back into housing in 2008 to 2009. An interview with Ms. West will be in the next Street Chronicle. I was also able to participate. Jeff Kaiser Executive Director of Haven of Rest in Akron participated by telephone.
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