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Being A Good Neighbor

Written by Je'Lissa on . Posted in Advocacy, Civil Rights, Community Organizing, Housing, Poverty

Compassion and charity have never been enough to address the realities plaguing a society’s most vulnerable citizens long-term. Efforts toward obtaining a living wage, developing more affordable, secure and safe housing, ending community violence and law enforcement brutality, and protecting the rights of people experiencing homelessness must be transformative for lasting change. How we address poverty and its emerging issues, and all forms of oppression is measurement of how we see ourselves in relation to each other in community as neighbors, and ultimately as fellow human beings.

In 1956 as he prepared for the Montgomery bus protests, Dr. King delivered his sermon “On Being a Good Neighbor” and identified our neighbor as “Anyone who lies in need at life’s roadside.” As he reflected on the issues of the day, he asked his listeners, “What would happen if we do not take a stand?” That question is still pertinent today, as we reflect on the Trayvon Martins, the Sandra Blands, the victims of gun violence, the growing number of children without permanent housing, and the women and men burdened with fines and arrest records for inhabiting public spaces. These are a few of our neighbors who can be counted among the most vulnerable and in need.

Unfortunately, it seems that we sometimes struggle with what it means to be a good neighbor to those who are like us, and much too often to those who are not like us. Maybe we feel powerless, are fearful, blame the victimized, or have been lulled into complacency and passivity. Fortunately, history bears witness to what committed people awaken to the call for greater humanity can accomplish.

As we engage in activities across the nation commemorating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, two questions arise, “How open are our ears, minds, and hearts to today’s voices echoing his call for social and economic justice? And, what are we willing to do to get it done?” Dr. King’s question nearly sixty years ago allows us to individually and collectively identify if we can be counted among the active participants to bring about change for our day. This year as we celebrate his life and legacy let us become awaken to the call for justice in new ways. Whether we find ourselves involved in community, seated at tables of power, members of faith communities, or on social media, let us shake the trees of fear, complacency and passivity with active involvement in causes and movements that seek solutions. Let us be active for change, and by doing so take a stand that reflects the essence of being a good neighbor.

– DeBorah Gilbert White, Founder and Coordinator of HerStory Ensemble

MLKonPovertyNCH

Putting our heads together to find the Criminalization of Homelessness

Written by admin on . Posted in Advocacy, Civil Rights, Community Organizing, Criminalization, Food Sharing, Hate Crimes, Policy Advocacy, Tent Cities, Violence Against the Homeless

Thirty eight grassroots organizations from around the nation gathered in Denver last week to discuss the criminalization of homelessness. NCH helped fundraise for the event, one of the largest strategy sessions with our field partners in many years. A growing trend of criminalization laws have made it illegal for homeless people to eat, sleep or even ask for help. As a consequence, those who inhabit public spaces have their lives constantly interrupted by law enforcement, racking up arrest records for petty crimes that exist only as penalties for being homeless. Advocates came away from the Denver strategy session with renewed energy to fight these policies and protect the civil rights of those experiencing homelessness.

Advocates from across the country show their fighting spirit

Advocates from across the country show their fighting spirit

 

No Picnic in the Park

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Awareness, Community Organizing, Criminalization, Food Sharing

Don’t Even Think About Having a Picnic in the Park, by Michael Stoops, Director of Community Organizing

We are facing a moral crisis. Cities pursuing higher tourism revenues and greater economic development have declared a war on their poor residents. Unfortunately, it is perceived that those who are living without homes effectively “taint” the scenic vistas and make visitors uncomfortable. More than ever, tourism hot-spots are targeting people who are homeless by passing laws that force them to the outskirts of town or into jails. Popular destinations often treat these individuals like riff-raff and criminals, arresting them for menial crimes in an effort to keep them from unconsciously photo-bombing a couple’s photo of their trip.

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. Sadly, more often they will enact numerous so-called “quality of life” laws that they can use to round up and jail homeless individuals in periodic sweeps. Some examples of laws that are in place are bans on sitting on a sidewalk or sleeping in a park, bans on begging or panhandling, and prohibition of the use of blankets, chairs, tents, pillows, etc.

We all know the detrimental impacts a criminal record can have on the futures of low-income individuals. Being locked-up can preclude a homeless individual from ever being able to find future employment or stable housing, leaving them exposed and likely to get swept up in this broken system all over again.

These efforts even extend to those who are trying to help. 39 US cities actively punish individuals and groups that operate food-sharing programs, trying to offer their homeless neighbors basic sustenance. In Fort Lauderdale, Arnold Abbott, a 91-year-old World War 2 Veteran who has been running a food-sharing program twice a week for 24 years, has been wrapped up in these issues for years. Despite a court victory in the 1990s, protecting his religious freedom to feed those in need, he has received three court summons since the passage of the City’s latest anti-homeless law in October. With the threat of $1,500 in fines and up to 180 days in jail, he continues to support his homeless neighbors, acknowledging the importance of a consistent program that meets them where they are to minimize the challenges associated with receiving proper nutrition. He maintains that he has the constitutional right to continue preparing meals and will continue to do so despite any personal consequences.

When showing compassion becomes illegal, we know we have a serious problem to tackle. The perception of poverty in places like Fort Lauderdale is so tainted with generalizations and assumptions that almost no person who is down on his/her luck has a chance. Communities that pass these inhumane laws are not apt to take proactive solutions and give people a chance. They react to bad stigmas and punish people for trying to survive. If we cannot appeal to them on a human level, we must take a broader stance and try to communicate just how little we stand for this type of injustice. We must make these cities feel the consequences of these inhumane actions.

Students Promoting Fairness

We at the National Coalition for the Homeless are calling on all conscientious citizens to pledge that they will not invest in this kind of discrimination. Our expectations of poverty-free clean beaches are unrealistic and encourage unjust practices. Recently, we have seen increased interest in eco-tourism and other forms of environmentally sustainable travel; the time has come to support conscious consumers who elect to travel to respectful and compassionate destinations. As tourists, we must all put people first and consider the human consequences of our decisions.

Fort Lauderdale has been one of the most egregious culprits. The city rapidly passed the largest number of bans in one year that I have ever seen, culminating with its infamous food-sharing restrictions. In the uproar, following the City’s decision to essentially ban compassion, thousands of individuals have stepped up and taken action. College students have pledged to not spend their spring breaks in this town that mistreats its do-gooders and its vulnerable citizens. They are committed to selecting destinations with more moral integrity. We hope that companies too will vow not to host meetings in a place that has arrested a ninety-one year old on multiple occasions for sharing food with the homeless population. We will all choose fairness over everything!

Join our pledge!

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