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Archive for August, 2011

Soup Kitchen Limits End in Gainesville

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Civil Rights, Criminalization

In March 2009, a city developer informed the Gainesville, Florida city Plan Board about an 18 year old ordinance that was regularly violated. The ordinance, located here in city code, limited soup kitchens to serving up to 130 meals within a 24 hour period. The Plan Board listened to the developer and voted for stricter enforcement of the limit. After two years of protests and activism, the 130 meal limit will now be replaced with a new policy that allows soup kitchens to serve as many people as they can within a three hour period each day.

The Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW! lead a grass-roots effort to repeal the ordinance.

Due to exemptions in the original ordinance for churches and the Salvation Army, St. Francis House was the city’s only soup kitchen affected by the limit. Commissioner Jeanna Mastrodisca had stated that the limit was in place to keep soup kitchen patrons from being concentrated in the downtown area where many receive meals from the St. Francis House, saying “What we’re trying to do is spread [patrons] out. […] That’s our goal.” City Spokesman Bob Woods said in 2009 that Gainesville is currently developing a “one-stop” homeless center that will provide food, shelter, and services. Woods also said that Churches can hand out up to 20 meals without a permit.

But with the center still yet to break ground in August 2011, the hungry have limited options in Gainesville: according to the Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW!, “the St. Francis House, in order to keep its license to operate, has had to turn away anyone after number 130 in line to be fed, despite lines approaching 300 people.” The meal limit was featured in the National Coalition for the Homeless’ (NCH) 2010 report on food sharing prohibitions and also helped garner Gainesville the fifth spot on NCH’s 2009 Ten Meanest Cities.

People began protesting the meal limit by picketing city hall and demanding that it be overturned in the summer of 2009. A petition to lift the limit on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and another holiday of St. Francis’ choosing quickly reached the city Plan Board later that year, and the unelected group of Gainesville residents recommended that the City Commission investigate overturning the limit all together. The Plan Board unanimously reaffirmed its position in 2011.

As the amount of time that the meal limit was enforced increased, so did its opposition. On December 1, 2010, the Coalition to End the Meal Limit NOW!formed with the mission of ending the need for their organization to exist as soon as possible.

The Coalition planned to post a billboard with this design to raise awareness and rally support against the limit.

The Coalition brought together a number of people and groups, including Food Not Bombs, Veterans for Peace, and the International Socialist Organization, acting as an umbrella to coordinate protests of the meal limit.

By August 2011, the Coalition had grown immensely. According to Sean Larson, the Coalition Convener, “we currently have 18 member organizations, with many of those sending regular delegates to our bi-weekly meetings. […] We [also] have had over 700 local residents sign the Coalition’s petition, and almost 15,000 supporters sign an online petition at Change.org.”

The petitions have brought attention to the issue, but not nearly as much as the Coalition’s pickets and protests. Larson says that their presence at city hall and downtown has drawn local, national, and even international attention to the meal limit, putting considerable pressure on the City Commission. According to Larson, their campaign gained even more momentum following a revelation that it was only a select group of land developers who pushed for the limit, allowing the Coalition to single out those responsible and hold boycotts and pickets. In October 2010, Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe still defended the meal limit, saying that it was the best way to keep the downtown community safe until an alternative could be found. But less than a year later, on July 27, 2011, Lowe announced his support of ending the limit, endorsing a plan that allows soup kitchens to serve an unlimited amount of people within a three hour window each day.

Larson says that the Coalition’s protesting is what truly made a difference: “[Mayor Lowe’s] indefensible support of the meal limit became unsustainable in the face of the mounting pressure engendered by the Coalition’s public actions, which generated a large public outcry against the mayor in particular. He changed his position because he had to.” On August 18, 2011, a repeal of the 130 meal limit won its first City Commission vote, and in its place will likely be the “three hour window” plan that Lowe eventually backed.

*This marks the last post by our Civil Rights Summer Intern Daniel Honeycutt. Thank you Dan (and all of our summer interns) for your great work this summer!

Why Do California Governors Keep Vetoing Homeless Hate Crime Bills?

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Civil Rights, Hate Crimes

You would think that in a progressive state like California there wouldn’t be three different Governors (two Republicans and one Democrat) who have vetoed homeless hate crimes legislation.  But such is the case.  Disproving that the third try is a charm, on August 5, 2011 Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed AB 312.

Introduced by Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), AB 312 would have granted homeless people the right to invoke hate crimes protection when suing an assailant in civil court.   Current categories include:  race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, marital status, political opinion and position in a labor dispute.

It was supported by state trial lawyers, veterans’ organizations, county sheriffs and the state’s rank and file police officers.

In an interview with EverythingLongBeach.com, Assemblywoman Lowenthal said, “Homeless people have enough problems without becoming the targets of violence.  This bill is the state’s way of saying those kinds of attacks are especially reprehensible.”

In his veto message, Gov. Brown said, “This bill would expand the provisions of the Ralph Civil Rights Act to include homelessness or the perception that one is homeless, thereby creating new private and enforcement remedies.  It is undeniable that homeless people are vulnerable to victimization, but California already has very strong civil and criminal laws that provide sufficient protection.”

But according to Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University in San Bernardino, “California for years has consistently ranked first or second in bias homicides against the homeless. Moreover, they are often attacked serially with increasing severity. Yet, current legislation completely excludes the homeless as a group from even the basic civil remedies extended to many other groups to stave off these horrible attacks. For anyone to say that the status quo is acceptable strains credulity.”

He should redirect his letter to the family of Kelly Thomas, 37, a schizophrenic homeless man in Fullerton, who died after a July 5th, 2011 interaction with police.  The brutal beating of Thomas has sparked an international outcry along with rallies, officer’s suspensions, calls for the resignation of the police chief, and pending investigations by local and federal authorities.

Last year Brown’s predecessor, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a similar bill -AB 2706- also introduced  by Assemblywoman Lowenthal.

In his veto letter dated September 29, 2010 to Members of the California Assembly, Gov. Schwarzenegger wrote:  “While this bill is well-intentioned, it is unclear whether the homeless are targeted for violence because they are homeless, or because they possess a characteristic already protected by California’s hate crime statute, such as mental or physical disability.   Furthermore, poverty, unlike race, gender, national origin and disability, is not a suspect classification.  Because of the incongruence between the recognized classifications listed in the Civil Code section 51.7 and homelessness, this bill could result in legal challenges and increased court costs.”

The former Governor must have forgotten the October 9, 2009 incident in which John Robert McGraham, 55, a homeless man, was drenched in gasoline and set on fire on the side of the road in Los Angeles.  He died.  According to a police officer, the perpetrator, John Martin, had a “straight-up personal dislike and little bit of crazy” toward homeless people.

In both legislative sessions the bills passed overwhelmingly, but along partisan lines.  Democrats generally in favor; Republicans opposed.

Other homeless hate crimes legislation has been stalled, getting tied up into California’s prison overcrowding issue.  In 1994, then Republican Governor Pete Wilson vetoed an even stronger bill that would have simply added homelessness to the state’s existing hate crimes law.

However, there is clearly a need for anti-hate legislation in California.  Since 1999, the National Coalition for the Homeless has issued an annual report on hate crimes and violence against the homeless population.

Between 1999 to 2009, there were a total of 213 hate crimes/violent incidents against the homeless occurring in 48 California cities.   Forty-eight resulted in death.  California had the most incidents of any state during this eleven year period.  Florida came in second with 177 attacks.

Preliminary numbers from NCH’s annual (2010) report on hate crimes/violence against the homeless population has California taking second place only to Florida.   But California still ranks number one for the twelve year period from 1999 to 2010.

But even with three strikes against homeless hate crimes bills, we’re not out yet. Looking forward, the fight in California is far from over. Lowenthal hopes that as states around the country pass similar laws, such as Florida, people will see more the importance of hate crimes legislation that protects people experiencing homelessness. She also expresses her continued resolve, stating, “This legislation has now been vetoed by two successive governors. That is disappointing and frustrating, but I’ve been working on homelessness issues for a long time and making progress is never easy.”

By Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing, National Coalition for the Homeless.

NCH Headquarters Resembles a Portrait Art Gallery with a Homelessness Theme

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy

Over the years, NCH has had many homeless-related artwork either loaned or donated to us.   If you come visit us at our office located in the Church of the Pilgrims here in Washington, DC, you will find the following exhibits at the NCH office, and in the Church’s Bird Room Art Gallery and Pilgrimage Retreat Center.  Each year several thousand people get the chance to view our artwork.

If you are interested in checking out our artwork or borrowing our artwork for a special event, please contact us.  Also, if you are an artist who has done homelessness related artwork or know of an artist who has, please consider loaning or donating the artwork to us and or letting your artist friend know about our interest.

Portraits of Homelessness, Frank Russell Four paintings depicting homelessness in Baltimore grace our walls.  Mr. Russell also has loaned his paintings and drawings to Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore.

“Giving Back”, Alan B. Tuttle—These five paintings depict the lives of homeless people with the goal of raising awareness of the problem of homelessness.  Alan resides and works in Oxbow, New York.

Home Street Home (1984), by Fran Adler and Kira Corser.   24 artworks, each with a photograph and poem.  This exhibit is a collaborative photography-poetry exhibition by photographer Kira Corser and poet Frances Payne Adler.  This exhibit was an artistic response to the homelessness crisis in San Diego in the mid-1980’s.

Homeless T-Shirt Quilts, by the late Dorothy Hand.    Since NCH’s founding in 1982, staff and board members have traveled the country to mobilize the grassroots to do advocacy on homelessness issues.   During these travels we came across a number of poverty-related t-shirts that reflect our extensive grassroots network.  As you can only wear one t-shirt at a time, we thought a better idea would be to have these cutting-edge t-shirts made into quilts.

All six quilts were done by the late Dorothy Hand, a quilter from Cincinnati.  She created the quilts in an effort to raise awareness of the homelessness issue.  Her daughter and granddaughter continue to make quilts for NCH.   So if you have a favorite homelessness/poverty-related t-shirt, please send our way.

Images of Homelessness (1999), Tammy DeGruchy (Grubbs).   The Images of Homelessness is the largest (22 portraits) ever oil painting exhibit on homelessness..  Artist DeGruchy painted the exhibit for the National Coalition for the Homeless. The exhibit raises awareness on homeless issues and represents who becomes homeless.

Tammy Grubbs now resides in Pipestone, Minnesota.   She continues to volunteer doing portraits for NCH.  Two of her paintings have been turned into posters that are available for purchase on NCH’s website.

Locked Out, Pat Apt—a 14 piece exhibit—linoleum prints (black ink on brown wrapping paper).  This exhibit seeks to explore how in a society as wealthy as ours, that allows persistent hunger and homelessness to exist.

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