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Posts Tagged ‘Criminalization’

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!

#NHHAW – From Street to Cell

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

From Street to Cell: The Criminalization of Homelessness – Deirdre Walsh

It’s a cold, winter evening. There is no place for you to go. You have no place to sleep, no money, and no options. You find a corner near a subway terminal where warm air blows. You settle in for the night in hopes that tomorrow you will find shelter. All of a sudden, you are woken by a police officer conducting a sweep and told that you are not allowed to sleep in the terminal. If you protest, you risk being arrested. You are out of options and it is colder than it was before.

For too many Americans, this scenario is a reality. Instead of helping people to get the services they need, state and local governments are criminalizing everyday activities that target people experiencing homelessness. Theoretically, new measures seek to combat the rising numbers of homeless women, men, and children, but do little to address the causes of poverty that lead to homelessness. Criminalization can be carried out in a variety of ways. Carrying out sweeps of city areas known to be hubs for the homeless community while confiscating personal property including tents, bedding, clothing, and/or medication. Local ordinances are enforced that prohibit panhandling or sleeping in cars and parks. “Quality of life” requirements are issued pertaining to public activity and hygiene. Actions such as sharing food with people experiencing homelessness in public spaces are made illegal in an effort to keep homeless people from congregating in public spaces. The criminalization of homelessness has many faces, but it has one goal to reduce the visible signs of poverty on the streets of US cities and towns.

Many cities and tourist locations hope these ordinances will reduce the visibility of homelessness and poverty. News and media outlets have reported the various attempts to remove homeless individuals from street corners and sleep on park benches. Cities such as Honolulu, Fort Lauderdale, and Dallas impose anti-homeless laws in order to keep homelessness away from the eyes of passing tourists. They start with one ordinance that does not seem too bad and then expand into 5-10 restrictions on life-sustaining activities. When these cities succeed, homeless individuals have almost no choice but to relocate (if economically feasible) or go to jail because it is just too unreasonable to try to stay on the move and comply with all of the restrictions.

While cities across the country are focusing on developing new strategies to “clean the streets” and make homelessness illegal, the causes of poverty and homelessness go unaddressed. The leading cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing. Americans spend close to half of their income on housing and are left with little to use for additional expenses including food, clothing and healthcare. The demand for shelters is not met, affordable housing and rental assistance is not attainable for millions and healthcare to treat mental illnesses and addictions is not provided. Millions of homeless men and women are labeled “criminals” for being poor and disenfranchised. Many state and local governments seek to sweep the issue of homelessness off the street, out of sight, and out of mind, which New York City did in the 1980’s. Poverty in America, however, must be addressed. Criminalizing homelessness does not remove the problem from the streets. It infringes on the rights of homeless persons and abides an endemic cycle of poverty.

In order to address poverty and homelessness in the United States today, it would be more beneficial for government officials and policy makers to look at the journey from street to home instead of street to cell. The criminalization of homelessness does not end homelessness. It only sustains the suffering of individuals today and ensures of future of poverty for tomorrow.

How are Tourism and Homelessness Related?

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

Unintended Consequences: Leaving a Wake of High Living Costs in Tourist Destinations – By Julia Chambers

In recent years, Americans have become increasingly interested in the idea of responsible tourism. Many seek the most authentic and local experiences possible, but they do not necessarily consider how their presence may alter the place or the lives of the people who live there. The priority of responsible tourism is to minimize that impact. Most discussions about sustainable tourism, ecotourism, etc. are generally focused on places like Costa Rica, Kenya, or Thailand, but how are the trips that we take, our spring break trips and honeymoons, impacting the places we visit domestically?

It is no coincidence that we see the densest homeless populations in locations that are also desirable tourist destinations. While they arrive for different reasons, a decent climate is highly sought after and can reduce the burden of everyday life and survival. Tourists travel to warm places like Fort Lauderdale, San Diego and Honolulu to decompress and escape the cold winters. People experiencing homelessness also gravitate to these destinations for a bit of added security, because even if they cannot find any rental assistance or a place in a shelter, they can live more comfortably outside without the daily threat of hypothermia/hyperthermia that they might face in more dramatic climates. Visible homelessness is certainly higher in these locations.

Not all homeless individuals in these climates have travelled to arrive there. The truth is that a quality tourism industry is a powerful economic tool, which unfortunately does not always benefit the whole community. Many individuals experiencing homelessness in these sites have lived there for long periods of time and eventually could not keep up with the constantly-increasing, astronomical cost of living. Home prices and services are too expensive for the average citizen and access to basic necessities, like low-cost grocery stores, is often scarce. Jobs can be limited and many times reserved for skilled outside labor. The hospitality industry, for example, is very competitive; local talent is rarely developed and hardly ever brought into management roles. Orlando serves as an outstanding example of how a single tourist destination, like Disney world, can inflate the cost of living so high that the minimum wage workers keeping the destination running can hardly afford to live within a reasonable distance of the site. In an isolated state like Hawaii, there is fierce competition over job opportunities, even minimum wage work. Without massive job development on the part of the tourism industry, locals will be left with no work and nowhere else to go to look for employment. Even those with jobs are constantly at risk of falling into homelessness, as wages are inadequate to comfortably support a family.

If one were to fall into a state of homelessness, he or she could expect an exceptionally challenging future. Navigating shelter systems, housing authorities, and other service agencies is exhausting and difficult, but in high-tourism zones, those are just a few of the struggles that homeless individuals will face. In states like Florida, California and Hawaii, localities have enacted legislation that effectively criminalizes homelessness, in hopes of pushing the problem out of sight. Governments in these states have even purchased one-way bus or plane tickets for people experiencing homelessness in order to get them out of their jurisdictions. 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.

HONOLULU-CRIMINALIZATION

Sadly, more often they will enact numerous so-called “quality of life” laws that they can use to collect and jail homeless individuals in periodic sweeps. Some examples of laws that are in place are bans on sitting/laying on public sidewalks, bans on begging or panhandling, prohibition of the use of blankets, chairs, tents, etc. in public places, and bans on sharing food with homeless people in public parks. Not only do these laws neglect the immediate needs of people experiencing homelessness, they actually punish them for their current circumstances. They are inherently flawed and will fail to assist in any effort to end homelessness in this country.

Honolulu’s current war on the homeless is perhaps the most concerning, where nightly sweeps and increasing numbers of anti-homeless ordinances are forcing homeless individuals to constantly relocate, but this is taking place all over the country, and not only in tourist destinations. We need to stand together and shout that it is not acceptable for our neighbors to be targeted and jailed simply for being poor.

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