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Posts Tagged ‘Civil Rights’

Violence and Hatred Risky for Homeless

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Civil Rights, Hate Crimes, Report, Violence Against the Homeless

This week, NCH will release their annual report on biased incidences against un-housed individuals, “Hate Crimes against the Homeless: The Brutality of Violence Unveiled”. Take a look at an excerpt from Brian Levin, Director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, which details the crucial need for federal protections for the homeless. 

Many people worry about the dangers of terrorism, natural disasters, and plane crashes.

Last year, however, more homeless individuals were killed in bias attacks than the sum total of American civilians killed in hate crimes (approximately 10), large commercial air crashes (no fatalities), and earthquakes (no fatalities)–combined. The fact that the 32 homeless killed in bias attacks alone in 2011 are only a portion of homeless people criminally killed each year and come from a pool of only 650,000 on any given night, makes the numbers a cause for concern. Moreover, bias motivated violence is only one of the serious dangers homeless people encounter, including exposure, hunger, accidents, disability and a lack of medical care.

One would think that with all the risks and vulnerabilities the homeless face, they would be the universal recipients of assistance and compassion. Yet among these notable risks, are violent attacks owing to nothing more than prejudice. The National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) catalogued almost 1300 incidents of anti-homeless bias violence from 1999 to 2011, but these are only a small sampling of such cases, as only a sliver of non-lethal attacks are reported.

Because homicides are more likely to be reported, they are considered more reliable; although, in many instances where attackers are at large, the motive is unknown. Since 1999, the NCH annual survey has reported the number of hate-motivated anti-homeless homicides to have exceeded the total of all the hate crime homicides for every group enumerated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), except in 2003. Even more stark, is the total number of hate crime homicides against the homeless recorded by the NCH for the period of 1999-2011, at 339, is over twice the number of FBI hate crime homicides combined, at 122.

Hate crimes are offenses where a target is selected because of the actual or perceived group characteristic of another such as race, religion or sexual orientation. Over forty states and the federal government have laws that enhance penalties for hate crimes, but only a handful of states cover homeless status. Hate crime laws often enhance criminal penalties, but sometimes are solely focused on providing data collection, training, or civil remedies. After recent legislative advances where six states and Washington, D.C. have enacted hate crime legislation that covers homelessness, legislative efforts over the last two years in several other states stalled.

While most cases involve victims who are middle aged and offenders who are young adults or youths, the Kelly Thomas case put a spotlight on violent police-homeless interactions. Thomas, a mentally disabled homeless man was killed by police, three of whom have been charged in connection to his death. One former officer, Manuel Ramos, is the first police officer in Orange County, California to be charged with an on duty murder. In some jurisdictions such as Boston and Broward County, FL, police have been at the forefront of protecting the homeless, while in others like Fullerton, CA and Sarasota, FL alleged flawed police practices have been the subject of litigation. The NCH has consistently found each year, that while promising police programs exist, there are also disturbing cases of brutality and harassment. Training, reasonable discretion, and departmental policies that take into account the unique issues surrounding the homeless cannot only improve interactions between law enforcement and the homeless, but send a message to young people that such violence will not be tolerated by anyone in their communities.

Why Membership Matters to Jake

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Advocacy, Civil Rights, Hate Crimes

Jake Walters believes that Membership Matters, especially to young people. Read how youth can make a difference in ending hate crimes against the homeless by becoming a member at NCH:

The Coalition’s You Don’t Need a Home to Vote campaign is aimed at spreading awareness to organizations about issues related to voting among the homeless population. In addition, the campaign aims to register numerous new homeless voters so that they can exercise their democratic right to vote. On this note, membership with the Coalition is crucial as the greater the membership to the organization, the more awareness of homeless voting issues can be spread throughout the nation. Voting discrimination is not something commonly associated with homelessness and many people do not consider it an important issue, therefore it is important that information about this issue be spread so people can be aware of how this issue reflects on homeless peoples’ invisibility in society.

I am also working on the Coalition’s 2012 Hate Crime report, which looks to spread awareness about violence conducted on people experiencing homelessness. This is another important issue that there is little awareness of, and since few states report information on violent crimes against the homeless, this information needs to be spread in other ways, such as through members of the Coalition. Having greater membership would also lead to more resources for this research, since the Coalition relies heavily on input from connected organizations and individuals who are aware of acts of violence in their local areas.

Its especially important that young people be involved on this issue because, unfortunately, the large majority of hate crimes against people experiencing homelessness are perpetrated by youth.  This makes it especially important for young people to become involved in this issue so they can spread awareness of the root causes of homelessness among their peers in an effort to stop others from acquiring negative attitudes toward homeless people and then acting on these attitudes.

Why We Should Care About the Homeless Vote

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

by Jin Zhao
Originally Printed in AlterNet
Thursday, August 9, 2012

Only 10% of homeless Americans vote each year, but they can still make a difference in elections.

Having a home is not a prerequisite to vote in the United States. But activists and homeless service providers still face major challenges trying to help homeless Americans register.

Pitts v. Black (1984) and several subsequent cases in the 1980s and ’90s established that homeless people could not be denied the right to vote because they did not live in a traditional residence. A shelter, park or street corner can be designated as a residence. In states that require a mailing address for voter registration, homeless voters can usually use the addresses of shelters, churches, friends’ houses, or P.O. boxes.

Still, turnout among homeless voters is one of the lowest for any demographic. In the 2008 presidential election, people with the lowest income (family annual income less than $20,000) and people with no reported income — the groups most homeless Americans fall into — had the lowest voter registration rate and the lowest voting rate. According to Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), only one-tenth of un-housed persons actually exercise the right to vote, and over the years, “the number has been fairly consistent.”

This is unfortunate, because homeless voters can make a difference. As the 2012 presidential election nears, issues that are relevant to homeless Americans, such as economic inequality, healthcare and job creation, will continue to shape the national debate. Although the homeless vote may not be a wild card for any candidate or party, with at least 1.6 million people experiencing homelessness nationwide, it does have the potential to change the game in some swing states.

Some advocates believe the real impact of the homeless vote lies in local elections. “Americans are most interested in national elections, which is ironic in a sense, because local elections are the ones that affect…your day-to-day life the most,” said Devo’n Williams of Homeless but Not Powerless, an advocate group that pushes for greater homeless engagement in local elections. Indeed, local legislation and policies about funding, housing, healthcare, transportation, and employment can often have a greater, more direct impact on homeless people’s lives than national policy.

Sill, the upcoming presidential election is a great opportunity for activists to raise awareness for the cause of homeless suffrage. From September 30 to October 6, NCH will sponsor the National Homeless and Low-Income Voter Registration Week to help its 4,000 organizations across the country boost voter registration. NCH has sponsored the week-long event every presidential election year since 1992 as part of its You Don’t Need A Home to Vote campaign, which has helped register tens of thousands of homeless voters.

This year, activists may have to work harder, for new voter ID laws and other restrictions introduced to states across the country will make it more difficult for some homeless Americans to vote. At least 34 states introduced laws that require photo ID for voter registration; at least 17 states introduced laws that require proof of citizenship such as a birth certificate. For homeless people, who do not have a steady residence, keeping documents such as a birth certificate is a challenging if not insurmountable task. Many also cannot afford the fees to apply for an ID.

Some states also introduced bills that would make voter registration harder by restricting voter registration drives, eliminating election day registration, reducing early voting periods, or making it harder to restore voting rights. Civil rights activists often organize voter registration drives to help and mobilize the homeless to register to vote, and these bills can make their work more difficult.

A battle is underway across the country over the constitutionality of these laws. We have seen new voter laws struck down or blocked as unconstitutional in several states such as FloridaTexas, SouthCarolina and Wisconsin. At the same time, activists are working to make sure that organizations engaged in homeless voter registration are aware of the laws. “Each state has different laws, different ways of addressing voter ID, and…it is important for most groups who are planning on doing any type of voter registration campaigns, especially dealing with people experiencing homelessness, [to] start reaching out to officials and try to figure out how to address some of the problems that some people are beginning to see related to voter ID,” said Isaiah Castilla of the Alliance for Justice, a national civil rights advocacy group. Castilla recommends that activists use the Brennan Center for Justice Web site, which offers comprehensive resources for voter registration and a summary of voting law changes in 2012.

NCH also published a 2012 Voter Rights and Registration Manual for organizations engaged in homeless voter registration and two weeks ago conducted a voter registration workshop during the 2012 National Conference on Ending Homelessness. “We talked about the nuts and bolts of not only how to do it, but why it’s important as well as informing people about the unique characteristics of their state,” said Neil Donovan. The workshop tuned out to be one of the most popular at the conference.

In addition to having a firm grasp of the law, activists working on the ground must be familiar with the logistics of each election. Simple things like making sure that a location is open during the hours it is supposed to be open can make a huge difference.

“The majority of the un-housed people who are our members are employed while they’re homeless,” said Donovan. “Many times the employment is from 7am to 3am, having a half hour for lunch, something like that, so what we need to do is to make sure that if voting officials say that they are going to open the polls at 6am in the morning, they are open at 6am in the morning. We’ll have local people go and just make sure that all commitments are honored.”

Homeless Americans are by no means a homogenous group. Despite some of the myths and misconceptions about the homeless population, many people who are homeless are technologically savvy and well informed. However, when it comes to elections, especially local elections, where there can be dozens of candidates on the ballot, learning about the platforms of all the candidates when one doesn’t have a stable home can be a challenge. That is why voter education is such a challenging but essential part of activists’ work.

To prepare for Atlanta’s recent primary election, Homeless But Not Powerless posted on its Web site candidate profiles with links to candidates’ sites. However, because of a lack of funding, the group could not afford to produce print materials for individuals who do not have access to the Internet. “Primaries are just really really difficult to educate everyone, let alone a population that traditionally does not have the easiest access to the latest technology,” said Williams.

Chicago’s Mercy Housing Lakefront, a nonprofit permanent housing program for people with special needs, relies on its residents to help with voter drives and education. Most of the residents in the program have experienced homelessness, and some of them used to be chronically homeless. As part of its Civic Participation Project, which helps residents reintegrate into society, residents can become “deputy registrars” and register their neighbors as well as homeless people in shelters or on the street. Residents also help research candidates and educate voters.

According to Lisa Kuklinski, Mercy Housing Lakefront’s regional vice president, 75 percent of the residents in the program are registered voters. The number is about 2.5 percent higher than in the general population (72.4 percent) in the 2008 election — a great success.

“For people who have been homeless or for people who have been marginalized by society, this kind of activity, being involved in their community and being civically involved, brings a return of human dignity, brings a return of purpose to their lives that maybe they never had before or that they used to have,” said Kuklinski. “Mostly, the thing that brings so much joy to people is to feel that they personally matter, that they have personal political advocacy that they had not felt before, and that just brings a sense of dignity that actually leads to other major changes in their lives.”

Jin Zhao is a freelance journalist, multimedia producer and photographer. Her work has appeared in the Nation and on AlterNet. Follow her on twitter @jinealogy and visit her blog thingsyoudontknowaboutchina.com.

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