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Archive for March, 2012

What my NCH internship meant to me

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy

A couple weeks ago we shared with you the stories of our current interns, who in their words described why they chose to work at the National Coalition for the Homeless.  Today, we share the below post from a past intern on how his experience with NCH shaped his professional career.

“It was 16 years ago that I came to the National Coalition for the Homeless as an intern from DePauw University.  At that time, I already had a little exposure to homelessness and poverty issues as a result of some of my coursework and as a volunteer at the Center for the Homeless in South Bend, IN. However, I had no idea what a lasting impact that spring and summer at NCH would have on me.

At NCH, I was surrounded by a wonderful and dedicated group of advocates, including staff, volunteers, and other interns from across the country.  It is an understatement to say that it was an inspiring group to be a part of.  Everyone exhibited a confidence that things could be different, that seemingly unsolvable problems could be addressed, and that we could achieve a fairer system for all, even in the face of what seemed to be insurmountable hurdles.  It was always uplifting to be in an environment with people pushing for big change.

As an intern, I got a glimpse of the policy work being done to address the needs of homeless individuals.  This was a new experience for me.  It was the abstract, “back-office” work that I wasn’t exposed to as a direct service volunteer.  And it was a needed and important reminder to me of how little attention is given to issues affecting poor people by our elected officials.

I really believe my work with NCH has influenced my career decisions. While I haven’t focused on homelessness or housing issues, I have continued to be involved in social justice issues and poor people’s issues as a criminal defense attorney representing people who cannot afford an attorney.  I currently work at the Innocence Project representing individuals in prison who have maintained their innocence and who are seeking to prove that they were wrongfully convicted. Without a doubt, my experiences at NCH solidified my path in public interest law.”

By Jason Kreag
Staff Attorney
The Innocence Project

Freedom to Beg?

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

WASHINGTON – U.S. District Court Chief Judge “Ted” Stewart of the Utah District Court struck down a law that limited panhandling or public begging. Families and individuals who live in persistent poverty often turn to panhandling as a way of scraping together badly needed cash (the average American panhandler earns $30 for a three hour shift). Recently, instances of “aggressive-panhandling” have prompted some local Ute’s to take action to protect their public interest. Chief Justice Steward pushed back stating:

“The court does not dispute that the state has a legitimate and important interest in regulating conduct that occurs on busy roadways, and it may do so as long as the legislation is written so as to avoid infringing on constitutionally protected rights. However, it may not do so through sweeping statutes that regulate conduct unrelated to the government interest,” (Wilkinson et al. v Utah)

Efforts to restrict the poor have a long history, both locally and nationwide. But, specific efforts to criminalize panhandling have been under particular scrutiny just in the past year. Some examples include:

  • In Royal Oaks, Michigan, the ACLU appealed to mayor and city commissioners, calling for a repeal of the 2011 ordinance that bands panhandling in all public places. They cited the lower court’s authority that protected panhandling even if it’s uncomfortable for those being asked to give to the panhandler [Coast v. City of Cincinnati 402 US 611, 61(1971)]

Panhandling was specifically protected by the lower court on the following grounds:

  1. First Amendment speech [Loper v. NYC Police Department 999 F. 2d 699 (2d Cir. 1993), Benefit v. City of Cambridge 679 N.E.2d 184 (Mass.’97)]
  2. Broad application of content speech (Logsdon v Hains 492 F.3d 334,336)
  3. Failing to prove the state’s interest to curb charitable donations or solicitations on public ground [Blair v. Shanahan, 775 F. Supp. 1315 (N.D. Cal. 1991), Ledford v State, 652 So.2d 1254 (FL/Dist.Ct.App.’95)]

Subsequently, the Royal Oaks ordinance has been repealed and replaced with a prohibition on “aggressive” panhandling.

  • ARIZONA V. BOEHLER – On September 13, 2011, a state appeals court unanimously ruled in Arizona v. Boehler that a 2003 amendment to a Phoenix anti-panhandling law was unconstitutional under the First Amendment and strict scrutiny. The law “was not narrowly drawn because it applied to many forms of peaceful solicitations that did not threaten, intimidate or harass others. The law could apply to someone politely asking for cash contributions to a political campaign or a church volunteer asking for donations to the church,” according to the opinion. “Our constitution does not permit government to restrict speech in a public forum merely because the speech may make listeners uncomfortable.”
  • In the New Orleans French Quarter, the community passed a local anti-panhandling law, stating that it wrote the law “after similar laws in other cities and is designed to withstand possible challenges that it violates the First Amendment.”

The language of the 2011 law prohibits soliciting “in or near parks, playgrounds, banks, ATMs, bars, liquor stores, convenience stores and gas stations — or within 20 feet of an intersection or marked crosswalk, to people in parked or stopped vehicles, or to people standing in lines.” Although unstated in the laws review (article) The New Orleans prohibitions are similar to Royal Oaks prohibitions, in that they applied to public places and the regulation of speech in said area..

  • Johnston County, North Carolina approved panhandling regulations just two weeks ago. The county now requires solicitors to register for a permit to ask for money. Officials sated, “They’ll have to show a photo ID and pass a criminal background check. Upon appeal by the ACLU on the grounds that several provisions were unconstitutional, commissioners dropped all requirements that panhandlers renew their permits or pay a $20 fee each month.

Neighboring Wake and Raleigh counties also began regulating panhandling, with the ACLU describing the measures as near criminalization. ACLU legal director Katy Parker said, “Panhandlers rarely possess a photo ID, which is a requirement for the permits in Raleigh, Wake County and Johnston County,” Further complicating matters for those who wish to file for public solicitation, permits purchased in Wake County must be renewed weekly. The Johnston county law is thought to only apply to public solicitors only, creating the same or similar scenario similar as seen in Arizona v. Boehler and Wilkinson v. Utah.

By Jose Morales, American University ’13

How AmeriCorps is making an impact

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Speakers' Bureau

This year’s National AmeriCorps Week, March 10 – 18, is an opportunity for AmeriCorps members, alums, grantees, program partners and friends to demonstrate impact on critical issues, bring more Americans into service, and thank the community partners who make AmeriCorps possible. AmeriCorps Week shines a light on the more than 80,000 members currently serving in communities across the country – individuals who are effectively serving and meeting critical needs in our country’s communities.

I am one of these proud 80,000 AmeriCorps members! I started with AmeriCorps*VISTA in the summer 0f 2009. So far the experience has taken me to rebuilding homes in the bayous of Louisiana, teaching lessons in the inner city classrooms of Washington, D.C., and now serving as a VISTA Project Leader for the vast reaching five state and counting VISTA program here at the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH). The experience, connections, and knowledge I have gained from serving are already helping guide and shape my future.

Brian being sworn in to his 3rd year of VISTA

In this, my third year of AmeriCorps*VISTA I have learned what it means to really be an advocate for a community. I have grown a lot in the few short months I have worked with NCH. Being apart of a great VISTA network allows for me to be inspired by the work of other members daily whether it is a speakers bureau reaching a group of students for the first time, LGBTQ outreach to those who need services desperately, or to see veterans stand downs where literally hundreds of our nation’s patriots get the help and respect they deserve. The work that our members are doing is truly incredible and uplifting.

The National Coalition for the Homeless is the oldest and largest homeless advocacy organization in the country.  Through their stewardship they have administered the largest AmeriCorps*VISTA project for the homeless in the country. Two out of three staff members at the coalition are past VISTA members themselves and NCH has partnered with VISTA for the past fourteen years. NCH believes in the leadership potential of these individuals and has supported them both as an organization and a strategy to continue to create change. During this year’s AmeriCorps Week, you can support NCH’s AmeriCorps*VISTA project today through the Crisis Hidden in Plain View campaign. The campaign is working to encourage outreach and engagement to families and individuals who are homeless or at-risk of becoming un-housed. Here is how you can give.

The value of AmeriCorps service has been felt in communities both large and small. Here at NCH we look forward to celebrating AmeriCorps Week with our service partners and volunteers and lifting up currently serving members and the hundreds of thousands of Alums – they are at the forefront of possibility for community change.

In Service,
Brian Parks
AmeriCorps*VISTA Leader
Washington, DC

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