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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!)

Occupy Homelessness: A News Update

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

While Occupy movements across the country have been forced to relocate from parks and have become less visible to communities and the media, many Occupiers have been finding creative ways to use their protests to assist community members who are un-housed or at risk of losing their homes.  In December, we asked that the Occupy movement remember the lowest 1%, and we’re seeing the response:

After an April 1st march to preserve the civil rights of people experiencing homelessness, Occupy San Francisco occupied a vacant building, calling for more housing and resources for people in the city without homes.

With so many cities having already passed, or currently considering, legislation to limit the ability of people who are homeless to sleep in public areas, Occupy Nashville held a “sleep-in” to protest an anti-camping law that had been signed by the Tennessee governor in March.

And finally, foreclosures are continuing at an alarming rate.  Occupy Our Homes recently assisted a District of Columbia resident in preventing her eviction.

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

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