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Homeless State of Emergency

Written by Kyra Habekoss on . Posted in Advocacy, Awareness, Uncategorized

Local officials of Seattle and King County, Washington have declared a civil state of emergency for homelessness this week. Seattle follows Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon and the state of Hawaii, who have made similar proclamations likening the seriousness of homelessness with the aftermath of natural disasters. Unlike a natural disaster homelessness is not a new phenomenon, it has been prevalent for almost 40 years, but is being exacerbated with growing economic inequality and lack of affordable housing, etc. Homelessness is not contained to these areas either; it is widespread across the United States. It is safe to say that our country as a whole is in a state of emergency!

The recognition of epidemic levels of homelessness is long overdue. According to Mayor Ed Murray of Seattle, “More than 45 people have died on the streets of the city of Seattle this year and nearly 3,000 children in Seattle Public Schools are homeless,” In Hawaii, there were 7,600 people experiencing homelessness and only room for about 3,800 people in shelters or housing programs; among these unsheltered individuals were 439 children. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority counted more than 44,000 individuals experiencing homelessness in the county. Likewise, Portland, Oregon, officials counted 1,800 individuals including 566 women experiencing homelessness while unsheltered.

Further, as the value of our wages continues to decline, renters across the country are finding themselves paying 50% or more of their income on housing. 20.7 million households are housing-cost-burdened. Add to that the 1.5 million households living on $2.00 a day, the number of workers who can not afford fair market rents working 40 hours a week, etc. All further exasperating decades-long de-investment in affordable housing production and assistance to create growing homelessness.

Although these proclamations of emergency will enable regions to receive millions of dollars in crucial funding, these funds alone are not enough to prevent homelessness long-term. The allocation of emergency funds is fundamental to the effectiveness of local programs in preventing and ending homelessness. Hawaii has claimed they plan to use the funds toward the rapid construction of temporary shelters, increase of existing homeless services, and funding for housing first programs. Portland has stated that they will waive portions of state building codes to convert private and city-owned buildings into shelters, as well as build housing for people who will be served by the future psychiatric emergency center. While specific spending plans are in the process being negotiated, it seems that the common focus is the development of shelters. Even though shelters could reduce the amount of deaths on the street it is only a short-term solution that will not prevent homelessness and extreme poverty.

For long-lasting change we must focus on long-term systemic solutions, such as affordable housing, rent control, jobs that pay a livable wage, healthcare, and adequate funding for services like social security and disability, and so much more. The big picture response that we advocate is not easy, but it is necessary to correct the structure that has produced inequality and vulnerability for the last few decades. Homeless shelters alone will not remedy the factors that have produced homelessness in epidemic proportions.

HUD puts teeth into effort to stop criminalizing homeless people

Written by admin on . Posted in Uncategorized

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has released a Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the Continuum of Care (CoC) Program for $1.89 billion for Fiscal Year 2015. The CoC Program distributes funding to homeless projects in communities throughout the nation. The deadline for applying for the FY 2015 CoC Program Competition is November 20.

For the first time, HUD will examine whether applicant communities are preventing the criminalization of those experiencing homelessness. In a 2014 report, the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) found over 70 cities that had or were considering restricting the sharing of food with people who were homeless. Other laws that disproportionately affect people without a permanent home include bans on camping in public spaces, bans on loitering or begging, even limits to the time someone can spend sitting or lying down on a city sidewalk or park bench.

“The National Coalition for the Homeless is pleased to see HUD continuing the federal proactive approach against the continued criminalization of people experiencing homelessness,” state Megan Hustings, Interim Director, NCH. “NCH is the leading homeless civil rights organization in the nation and have been advocating for this position for at least two decades and our advocacy has finally paid off. If communities continue to enforce anti-homeless ordinances, now they risk losing valuable points in their CoC application, which means a potential loss of funding,” continued Hustings.

Specifically, the NOFA states that up to 2 points will be awarded to applicants that demonstrate their communities have implemented specific strategies that prevent criminalization of homelessness, affirm further fair housing, and ensure that outreach is conducted to homeless individuals and families who are least likely to request housing or services in the absence of special outreach.

This is especially critical given the recent Department of Justice [DOJ] statement of interest in the Bell v Boise, et.al. case where DOJ argued that for communities that lack housing alternatives of for homeless people, anti-camping ordinances violate the US Constitutions 8th Amendment as “cruel and unusual punishment” and as “misguided public policy.”

“It is a new day for protecting the civil rights of homeless people. Lets hope that this is a wake up call for communities to now focus on creating affordable housing that will end and prevent homelessness,” states John Parvensky, Board Chair, NCH and CEO of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

NCH is an advocacy organization focused on organizing and giving a voice to those who have experienced homelessness. NCH’s mission is to prevent and end homelessness while ensuring the immediate needs of those experiencing homelessness are met and their civil rights protected.

#NHHAW – A Note from Jerry Jones

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Uncategorized

Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week has come to a close and it is an opportunity to reflect on the work that has been done and the work that still needs to be completed. This past week, over 450 high schools, universities, faith-based organizations and community groups worked together to host over a thousand events nationwide to bring awareness to the issues of hunger and homelessness. The enthusiasm to learn more about the causes of poverty and how it can be eradicated was inspiring, but the work is far from over.

The eradication of poverty is not a suggestion for the future of the United States, but rather a requirement. If we do not address the issues of affordable housing, equal employment opportunities and funding public assistance inequality will rage on creating a further divide between the rich and poor. The National Coalition for the Homeless is committed to addressing these needs and ensuring the rights and dignity of all those affected by homelessness and poverty.

A home is a right that all Americans, no matter their age should be guaranteed. The National Campaign for Youth Shelter seeks to increase the available shelter beds for the nearly 500,000 unaccompanied homeless youths throughout the country. Despite the staggering number of homeless youths, only 4,000 shelter beds are put aside for them. This harsh reality leads many young, homeless individuals to fend for themselves on the street. For the thousands of families and adults who are at risk of losing their homes or trying to get back on their feet, we must put money back into rental assistance programs and fight to make housing more affordable.

The issues of homelessness and poverty in America must become part of the national and local agendas. Stronger grassroots networks and organizing have the ability to eradicate poverty. Let’s make Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week a catalyst for action in every community. Mass homelessness and mass hunger is a reality in our country and it shouldn’t be. Call attention to and organize against local legislation that criminalizes homelessness, cuts funding for affordable housing and ensures that the issues of the poor and homeless are constituently neglected. Make Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week your community’s catalyst for change and join together to resolve to end poverty!

 

Many thanks,

Jerry Jones
Executive Director
National Coalition for the Homeless

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