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The ongoing quest to protect the rights of homeless people

Written by Annie Leomporra on . Posted in Uncategorized

As America’s poverty and homelessness crisis continues to escalate, men, women, and children across the country have resorted to finding shelter for themselves in the form of homeless encampments, known colloquially as ‘tent cities.’ There’s currently a six-digit shortage of emergency beds for those defined as ‘literally homeless’ by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, meaning that for many homeless individuals and families, there is no other option when it comes to immediate shelter.

Most communities faced with the increasing dilemma of encampments in public and private spaces have, until very recently, reacted negatively toward their unhoused neighbors. Encampments in every part of the country where homelessness abounds have faced forced closures, often with little or no regard shown for the residents’ civil or property rights. However, a recent string of legal victories might be turning the tide on what has been described by the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington and other organizations as “policies which chase people from one place to another, without effectively answering the question: Where can people go?”

In January, the city of Honolulu agreed to refrain from disposing of personal property including tents, bicycles, clothing and household goods as a partial settlement of a federal lawsuit brought by the ACLU that alleged improper treatment of the homeless and others cleared from Oahu sidewalks.

In June, the L.A. City Council approved nearly $950,000 in settlement fees and attorney costs for a pair of lawsuits charging that the city violated the civil rights of homeless individuals by impounding their personal property without allowing adequate time for people to separate out their medication and medical supplies.

Earlier this month, Ponoma, California agreed to build 388 lockers for the property of homeless people and to stop enforcing three laws that prohibit tents, personal property and overnight sleeping on public property until sufficient accommodations exist, either in indoor shelters or open spaces designated for overnight stays.

Finally, just yesterday Akron, Ohio settled a federal lawsuit involving how it removes homeless citizens’ belongings from public and private property, agreeing to change its policies and pay $20,000 in damages and court costs after police unfairly seized and destroyed homeless citizens’ tents, documents and other personal property in a series of raids.

These and other legal victories are helping to change the conversation about homeless encampments from, “How fast can we get rid of them,” to “how can we better address encampments without ignoring the needs of homeless residents.” We still have a long way to go before the majority of the country recognizes the right of persons experiencing homelessness to exist in public spaces, but progress is being made. To learn more about the encampment closure crisis, read our report.

Media Blitz to focus on Homelessness June 29th

Written by Annie Leomporra on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Civil Rights, Community Organizing, Criminalization, Education, Food Sharing, LGBTQ, Policy Advocacy, Poverty, Prevention, Public Education, Tent Cities, Violence Against the Homeless

On June 29th the media of San Francisco, Seattle and DC will be having a media blitz with all day coverage on the issue of homelessness. This effort was started in San Francisco, where media organization in have agreed to put aside their differences for the day is focus on the issues of homeless–discussing root causes and collaboration to find long-term solutions. This movement is being lead by the San Francisco Chronicle, but more than 70 media organizations have agreed to participate, including radio and TV stations and online publication. Seattle and DC media organizations have expanded this effort by planning a media blitzs in their cities on the same day as well. Advocacy groups, public officials and individuals are encouraged to participate and flood all types of media sources with information about and discussion of the issue of homeless in America.

How can you join the movement?
1. Use the hashtags  #Seahomlessness for Seattle, #SFHomelessProject for San Francisco, #dcHomelessCrisis for DC as well as #endhomelessness and #June29

  1. Tweet about homelessness on Twitter
  2. Share articles about homelessness on Facebook
  3. Encourage your local media outlets to focus on covering homelessness in your area on June 29th
  4. Contact your local, state or federal government officials and let them know ending homelessness in important to you

Sources

Fuller, T. (2016). A Plan to Flood San Francisco With News on Homelessness. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/16/us/san-francisco-homelessness.html?_r=0

Homeless Crisis. Twitter. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/_HomelessCrisis

San Francisco Homeless Project. National Alliance on Homelessness. Retrieved from http://www.endhomelessness.org/library/entry/sfhomelessproject

Hanscom, G. (2016). Homeless in Seattle: Media, community rally to address crisis. Crosscut. Retrieved from http://crosscut.com/2016/06/homeless-in-seattle-media-june-29/

California Considers Homeless Voter Registration Act

Written by Annie Leomporra on . Posted in Uncategorized

As we inch closer toward the general election this November, it’s urgent that we focus on making it as easy as possible for the voices of people experiencing homelessness to be acknowledged through their vote. While the National Coalition for the Homeless has made great strides over the last two and a half decades in helping to secure the rights of individuals without secure housing to register and vote, there are still plenty of areas for improvement.

California State Senator Carol Liu

In February of this year California State Senator Carol Liu introduced SB 928, the Homeless Voter Registration Act, for consideration. Over the past two decades states as diverse as Illinois, Arizona, and West Virginia have adopted similar acts, which are based upon NCH’s own model legislation. The Homeless Voter Registration Act would amend California’s elections and motor vehicles codes in order to allow people experiencing homelessness to use their shelter address, post office, or the cross streets closest to where they reside when applying for a state ID.

This kind of change is more important than ever with new voter identification requirements popping up across the country, though the inability to get a government-issued photo ID can be a barrier to even registering to vote. However, it’s by no means the only barrier that people experiencing homelessness can face when trying to exercise their constitutional right  to vote. Many people lack the documentation necessary to apply for photo ID’s, and retrieving it can be a difficult and relatively expensive process. Depending on the locations of polling places, the lack of transportation can also pose a serious problem.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways that you can help. Contact your local service providers and churches to see which ones provide assistance in obtaining legal documents, and connect your homeless neighbors to those services. Start your own voter registration drive using materials available on our website’s “You Don’t Need a Home to Vote” campaign page. When voting starts, coordinate with shelters and other providers to help transport registered voters to their polling locations. Together we can make sure that everyone who wants to vote in 2016 has the opportunity to do so.

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