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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.

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.

Presidential Candidates on Affordable Housing Welfare and Poverty

Written by Annie Leomporra on . Posted in Uncategorized

As the primaries start to wind down and the home stretch is near, this is a quick update on what the candidates have said about affordable housing, homelessness, welfare and poverty. To read the full articles please click on the link below.

Republicans

Ted Cruz:

  • Department of Housing and Urban Development
    • Offer real solutions to lift people out of hardship rather than trapping families in a cycle of poverty, and empower Americans by promoting the dignity of work and reforming programs such as Section 8 Housing
  • Welfare and Poverty:
    • “Volunteers in the private sector who depend on donations to keep their efforts afloat have vested interest in helping people down on their luck get back on their feet, so that the charity can then help other people in need. The best cure for poverty is not temporary food and shelter (although those are certainly needed), but a job and the ability to provide for your family. And private charities are far more likely to work not only to feed and clothe those in need, but also to help train them and get them interviews for jobs. Moreover, through the church, they can also help with their spiritual needs, which can be transformational in their lives. Under government assistance, by contrast there is far less on an incentive to help people become independent. Government programs don’t tend to run out of money, regardless of whether they help people or not. In fact, the larger the homeless problem, the more money government programs receive.”

John Kasich:

  • Welfare:
    • In Congress John Kasich worked as part of a leadership team to pass legislation that led to historic reforms to federal welfare programs. Lifetime limits on cash benefits, work requirements and flexibility for states to design their own relief programs helped people begin moving from dependency to self-sufficiency.
    • “… My sense is that it is important that we do not ignore the poor, the widowed, the disabled. I think that’s the way America is. And I think there’s a moral aspect to it. In my state, there’s not only a moral aspect where some people’s lives have been saved because of what we’ve done, but it also saves us money in the long run.”

Donald Trump:

  • Welfare and Poverty:
    • The American work ethic is what led generations of Americans to create our once prosperous nation. That’s what I find so morally offensive about welfare and dependency: it robs people of the chance to improve. Work gives every day sense of purpose. A job well done provides a sense of pride and accomplishment. I love to work. In fact, I like working so much that I seldom take vacations. Because I work so hard, I’ve been privileged to create jobs for tens of thousands of people. And on my hit show, “The Apprentice”, I get to work with people from all works of life. I’m known for my famous line, ” You’re fired!” but the truth is, I don’t like firing people. Sometimes you have to do it, but it’s never fun or easy. One of my favorite parts of business is seeing how work transforms people into better, more confident, more competent individuals. It’s inspiring and beautiful to watch.”

Democrats:

Hillary Clinton:

  • Affordable Housing:
    • Proposed affordable housing policy:
      • Increase the supply of affordable rental homes by expanding annual allocation of Low-income Housing Tax Credits, also known as the Housing Credit
      • Reform the Section 8 program to help recipients of rental assistance vouchers access neighborhoods with good schools, jobs, public transit and other resources
      • Make comprehensive investments in high-poverty neighborhoods, including resources to clear blight and preserve the supply of affordable homes

Bernie Sanders:

Independent

Gary Johnson:

  • Welfare and Poverty:
    • Entitlement reform proposals
      • Block grant Medicare and Medicaid funds to the states, allowing them to innovate, find efficiencies and provide better services at lower cost
      • Fix Social Security by changing the escalator from being based on wage growth in inflation
      • Repeal ObamaCare, as well as the failed Medicare prescription drug benefit

Jill Stein:

  • Affordable Housing:
    • “We will honor right to decent affordable housing, including an immediate halt to all foreclosures and evictions. We will create a federal bank with local branches to take over homes with distressed mortgages and either restructure the mortgages to affordable levels, or if the occupants cannot afford a mortgage, rent homes to the occupants. We will expand rental and home ownership assistance, create ample public housing, and capital grants to non-profit developers of affordable housing until all people can obtain decent housing at no more than 25% of their income. We will honor the right to accessible and affordable utilities-heat, electricity, phone, internet, and public transportation-which will be made available to all through democratically run, publicly owned utilities that operate at cost, not for profit. In honoring these rights we will create the basis for a new economy- an economy that is stable and not vulnerable to speculation.”

 

 

 

 

 

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