NATIONALHOMELESS.ORG
Twitter Facebook Facebook Facebook Facebook

#NHHAW – From Street to Cell

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

From Street to Cell: The Criminalization of Homelessness – Deirdre Walsh

It’s a cold, winter evening. There is no place for you to go. You have no place to sleep, no money, and no options. You find a corner near a subway terminal where warm air blows. You settle in for the night in hopes that tomorrow you will find shelter. All of a sudden, you are woken by a police officer conducting a sweep and told that you are not allowed to sleep in the terminal. If you protest, you risk being arrested. You are out of options and it is colder than it was before.

For too many Americans, this scenario is a reality. Instead of helping people to get the services they need, state and local governments are criminalizing everyday activities that target people experiencing homelessness. Theoretically, new measures seek to combat the rising numbers of homeless women, men, and children, but do little to address the causes of poverty that lead to homelessness. Criminalization can be carried out in a variety of ways. Carrying out sweeps of city areas known to be hubs for the homeless community while confiscating personal property including tents, bedding, clothing, and/or medication. Local ordinances are enforced that prohibit panhandling or sleeping in cars and parks. “Quality of life” requirements are issued pertaining to public activity and hygiene. Actions such as sharing food with people experiencing homelessness in public spaces are made illegal in an effort to keep homeless people from congregating in public spaces. The criminalization of homelessness has many faces, but it has one goal to reduce the visible signs of poverty on the streets of US cities and towns.

Many cities and tourist locations hope these ordinances will reduce the visibility of homelessness and poverty. News and media outlets have reported the various attempts to remove homeless individuals from street corners and sleep on park benches. Cities such as Honolulu, Fort Lauderdale, and Dallas impose anti-homeless laws in order to keep homelessness away from the eyes of passing tourists. They start with one ordinance that does not seem too bad and then expand into 5-10 restrictions on life-sustaining activities. When these cities succeed, homeless individuals have almost no choice but to relocate (if economically feasible) or go to jail because it is just too unreasonable to try to stay on the move and comply with all of the restrictions.

While cities across the country are focusing on developing new strategies to “clean the streets” and make homelessness illegal, the causes of poverty and homelessness go unaddressed. The leading cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing. Americans spend close to half of their income on housing and are left with little to use for additional expenses including food, clothing and healthcare. The demand for shelters is not met, affordable housing and rental assistance is not attainable for millions and healthcare to treat mental illnesses and addictions is not provided. Millions of homeless men and women are labeled “criminals” for being poor and disenfranchised. Many state and local governments seek to sweep the issue of homelessness off the street, out of sight, and out of mind, which New York City did in the 1980’s. Poverty in America, however, must be addressed. Criminalizing homelessness does not remove the problem from the streets. It infringes on the rights of homeless persons and abides an endemic cycle of poverty.

In order to address poverty and homelessness in the United States today, it would be more beneficial for government officials and policy makers to look at the journey from street to home instead of street to cell. The criminalization of homelessness does not end homelessness. It only sustains the suffering of individuals today and ensures of future of poverty for tomorrow.

How are Tourism and Homelessness Related?

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

Unintended Consequences: Leaving a Wake of High Living Costs in Tourist Destinations – By Julia Chambers

In recent years, Americans have become increasingly interested in the idea of responsible tourism. Many seek the most authentic and local experiences possible, but they do not necessarily consider how their presence may alter the place or the lives of the people who live there. The priority of responsible tourism is to minimize that impact. Most discussions about sustainable tourism, ecotourism, etc. are generally focused on places like Costa Rica, Kenya, or Thailand, but how are the trips that we take, our spring break trips and honeymoons, impacting the places we visit domestically?

It is no coincidence that we see the densest homeless populations in locations that are also desirable tourist destinations. While they arrive for different reasons, a decent climate is highly sought after and can reduce the burden of everyday life and survival. Tourists travel to warm places like Fort Lauderdale, San Diego and Honolulu to decompress and escape the cold winters. People experiencing homelessness also gravitate to these destinations for a bit of added security, because even if they cannot find any rental assistance or a place in a shelter, they can live more comfortably outside without the daily threat of hypothermia/hyperthermia that they might face in more dramatic climates. Visible homelessness is certainly higher in these locations.

Not all homeless individuals in these climates have travelled to arrive there. The truth is that a quality tourism industry is a powerful economic tool, which unfortunately does not always benefit the whole community. Many individuals experiencing homelessness in these sites have lived there for long periods of time and eventually could not keep up with the constantly-increasing, astronomical cost of living. Home prices and services are too expensive for the average citizen and access to basic necessities, like low-cost grocery stores, is often scarce. Jobs can be limited and many times reserved for skilled outside labor. The hospitality industry, for example, is very competitive; local talent is rarely developed and hardly ever brought into management roles. Orlando serves as an outstanding example of how a single tourist destination, like Disney world, can inflate the cost of living so high that the minimum wage workers keeping the destination running can hardly afford to live within a reasonable distance of the site. In an isolated state like Hawaii, there is fierce competition over job opportunities, even minimum wage work. Without massive job development on the part of the tourism industry, locals will be left with no work and nowhere else to go to look for employment. Even those with jobs are constantly at risk of falling into homelessness, as wages are inadequate to comfortably support a family.

If one were to fall into a state of homelessness, he or she could expect an exceptionally challenging future. Navigating shelter systems, housing authorities, and other service agencies is exhausting and difficult, but in high-tourism zones, those are just a few of the struggles that homeless individuals will face. In states like Florida, California and Hawaii, localities have enacted legislation that effectively criminalizes homelessness, in hopes of pushing the problem out of sight. Governments in these states have even purchased one-way bus or plane tickets for people experiencing homelessness in order to get them out of their jurisdictions. When the economy is so reliant on tourism dollars, it is natural for a local government or tourism board to take complaints seriously. Often times, tourists complain that they feel unsafe or uncomfortable around homeless individuals. The reputation of a destination can be tarnished so quickly, it is almost remarkable to see how agile governments can be in responding to economic threats. They generally first introduce bans to keep people from sleeping in the most visited parts of town. Sometimes they will open up a resource center far from the center of town to try to lure homeless people away from the hot spots.

HONOLULU-CRIMINALIZATION

Sadly, more often they will enact numerous so-called “quality of life” laws that they can use to collect and jail homeless individuals in periodic sweeps. Some examples of laws that are in place are bans on sitting/laying on public sidewalks, bans on begging or panhandling, prohibition of the use of blankets, chairs, tents, etc. in public places, and bans on sharing food with homeless people in public parks. Not only do these laws neglect the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness, they actually punish them for their current circumstances. They are inherently flawed and will fail to assist in any effort to end homelessness in this country.

Honolulu’s current war on the homeless is perhaps the most concerning, where nightly sweeps and increasing numbers of anti-homeless ordinances are forcing homeless individuals to constantly relocate, but this is taking place all over the country, and not only in tourist destinations. We need to stand together and shout that it is not acceptable for our neighbors to be targeted and jailed simply for being poor.

Protecting Our Country’s Homes

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Criminalization, Tent Cities

To each person, the word “home” carries a different meaning. For some, it is simply a roof over one’s head. To others however, the word “home” carries greater significance: it implies a certain sense of comfort provided not only by the protection of having a physical shelter, but also by the support given by a person’s family or loved ones. Thus, having a “home” can also mean having a community to rely upon.

This is exactly what the word “home” meant to the residents of Camp Take Notice (CTN) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The camp was a grassroots tent community of homeless people who worked to create a safe and sober atmosphere in which they could receive food and shelter. CTN partnered with Michigan Itinerant Shelter System-Interdependent Out of Necessity, an organization that facilitates tent communities for the homeless, to create the camp.

Photo by Michael Dietsch

Unfortunately, the Michigan Department of Transportation ordered the eviction of the camp, stating the residents of CTN were trespassing. Homeless persons were forced to move out of the area on June 22nd, 2012 and abandon the community they called home. An eight-foot wall is now being built around the area in order to prevent the establishment of any other encampments.

Of the 68 camp residents, only 33 qualified to receive one-year housing subsidies; the others were left to fend for themselves. In a situation like this, real sustainable solutions for every resident need to be provided. Unfortunately, this rarely occurs when dealing with criminalization of the homeless. Many simply believe that by implementing camping bans and similar laws, the homelessness issue will disappear. Yet, without sustainable solutions attacking the root of the problem, the homelessness issue will still remain widespread.

Michigan Senator Rebekah Warren has worked tirelessly to delay the eviction, and help create alternative solutions to the problem. “I am deeply concerned for the well-being of the residents of this camp and I believe that all people deserve basic necessities like shelter, running water and electricity.”

Senator Warren sought another property that could serve as a new location for the camp but was regrettably unsuccessful in her attempts due to MDOT’s unwillingness to delay the eviction. Consequently, there was insufficient time to find another location. Despite these setbacks, she remains committed to the issue by continuing to look for long-term solutions to the homelessness issue.

While Senator Warren’s work is inspiring, too few public officials champion the issue of homelessness. In fact, many support criminalization efforts that negatively target the homeless in an attempt to “deal with the homeless problem.” Everyone deserves to have a place they can call home. Creating barriers to housing not only violates basic human rights, but it also counters the better interests of our society. It is thus imperative that more actions be taken to prevent such criminalization laws from being put into place.

By Sahana Malik, NCH Summer Intern

See NCH Staff talking more about Home and Homelessness. (Special thanks to Speak For We for the insights, platform and innovative thinking!)

NATIONALHOMELESS.ORG

National Coalition for the Homeless | 2201 P St NW, Washington, DC 20037 | (202) 462-4822 | info [at] nationalhomeless [dot] org
© 2014 National Coalition for the Homeless | Private Policy
Powered by Warp Theme Framework