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Action Alert: Missouri Passes Legislation to make it Illegal to be without Housing

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Action Alert

Since our founding, NCH has opposed any measure that makes it a crime to be homeless in America. We oppose enforcing “no camping” initiatives when there is no other choice available to those who lose their housing. Shelters are full, we still have a Covid problem and there are no more motels available to keep people safe. What do you expect citizens of Missouri to do?

NCH urges the Governor to reject this callous effort to solve a social service issue by using law enforcement.

We oppose solving the affordable housing crisis for a select few in our community. We support a comprehensive solution that involves “housing for all” utilizing a “Housing First” strategy for every single person who loses their safe secure dwellings. The Missouri legislature passed HB 1606 that makes it illegal to be without housing.

  • Missouri legislators are focused on providing “tiny homes” as a solution to homelessness. While some may appreciate tiny homes as a transitional or even permanent living space, NCH advocates for a wide array of other permanent housing solutions.
  • The initiative does nothing to address or alleviate homelessness and goes back to old and tired enforcement laws that led to an increase in homelessness in the early 2000’s.
  • The initiative will simply move people from one side of the street to the other, or from one neighborhood to another, rather than providing real solutions. It’s the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it sits now at the bottom of the Atlantic.
  • HB 1606 says that people who “camp” will be given a warning and then charged with a misdemeanor if they do not relocate. This will only increase the costs on the criminal justice system with more incarcerations and judicial costs associated with enforcing this law.
  • Our unhoused community will be ticketed and prosecuted, leaving them with arrest records and high fines that will only make it even more difficult to secure housing.
  • HB 1606 instructs local communities to set up wartime-style internment camps or tent cities to place all those without housing in one part of town designated by the local community.
  • The initiative will send us back to the old way of doing things, with massive congregate shelter that has shown to be dangerous during a pandemic or other public health emergency. 
  • Any program provided public funds must have access to mental health/substance abuse assistance. While this sounds wonderful, it is pretty depressing sitting in a tent and watching a society of wealth and expensive vehicles pass you by while going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The punitive measures harbored by most “treatment” programs will only alienate and exclude more people than they help.
  • HB 1606 uses false data from the Point in Time Count as some sort of Census of homeless people and demands reductions or communities will lose state funding.
  • HB 1606 uses Point in Time Count as some sort of scientific count of the homeless population. It does not take into account that communities get a bonus for having smaller numbers compared to the year before. What community is going to engage in a truthful count when they are rewarded for stopping the second they get to the number they counted the year before?
  • The numbers cited by the authors of HB 1606 are a ONE day count of the number of homeless people. Every day in Missouri people become homeless. This number vastly understates the actual number of people in Missouri needing housing assistance. In addition, the scope of mental illness among the homeless population is vastly over- estimated. It is no where near 75% of the population when you consider that the majority of the homeless population are families with children.
  • The authors of HB 1606 are mischaracterizing it as an incentive to do better, while it will in actuality punish the social service community, those without housing, and those who want to help. It will do nothing to create more opportunities for housing Missourians
  • The state will mandate extensive background checks for anyone participating in these programs including criminal checks and forcing those asking for help to disclose their history of hospitalizations.
  • HB 1606 says that if a city allows camping the Missouri Attorney General has the power to intercede and charge the local municipality to prosecute those who illegal camp within the state.
  • Also, no community can bar a law enforcement officer from enforcing this law. It is martial law light. In the past every citizen would have objected to any state usurping their power and meddling in local government operations.
  • It is highly likely that one year after this law is initiated communities such as St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Jefferson City, Columbia and even Branson will be under threat to lose their state funding for housing/homelessness because they will not be able to show any progress on reducing the numbers of homeless people.
  • The initiative is a smoke and mirrors policy where the outcome will be to pour more money into enforcement instead of housing.  Neighborhoods will see an increase in homelessness with no permanent solutions, as the Show Me State shows the nation how to make homelessness worse.
  • The plan is purported to offer a “comprehensive plan” to end long term homelessness but offers no details or additional funding to address the affordable housing crisis.

For this and many other reasons, NCH opposes HB 1606 and we urge the Governor to veto this bill that will only criminalize the status of being without housing in Missouri.

Here is a letter that NCH sent to US Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Fudge:

Dear Secretary Fudge:
We contacted your office early in the administration to complain about the growing number of sweeps of encampments in the United States urging the Department of Housing and Urban Development to act to stop this horrible practice of making it illegal to be without housing.  We asked that HUD condemn these policies and act to restrict federal dollars going to criminalizing of those without housing. It is ridiculous that local jurisdictions would take in millions of dollars for homelessness in rescue dollars to house the population while turning around and issuing tickets and throwing away the valuables of those who fled the shelters to live outside.  We understand that you and others spoke out against sweeps especially when they fly in the face of Center for Disease Control recommendations. We saw governors in Texas and now Tennessee (TN SB 1610) pass legislation forcing local communities to enforce “anti-camping” ordinances and allows the state to intervene if the local jurisdiction is not criminalizing homelessness fast enough.   Unfortunately, Congress has not given HUD the ability to halt the proliferation of sweeps in the US since we now have 66 cities are regularly sweeping those who live outside.  
We contacted your office about Iowa legislation 252 passed into law in 2021 that is a direct attack on the Housing Choice Voucher program.  This piece of legislation strikes local laws in three communities that do not allow landlords to discriminate based on how a tenant will pay the rent.  NCH thought it was important to defend a federal housing program which helps lift a disproportionate number of minority members of our community out of homelessness.  We again thought it was a betrayal of the partnership established over the last 40 years for one state to attack a federal program that helps solve a housing crisis while also accepting millions in federal funding to build and develop affordable housing.  We have yet to hear any public comments condemning the state of Iowa for this horrible piece of legislation.  
We write to you today regarding a bill that passed the Missouri (HB 1606) that the Governor is contemplating signing that is a direct assault on HUD policies and programs.  We urge you to intervene and respectfully ask the Governor to veto this bill.  We ask that you let him know how this will impact HUD funding before June 30 or the bill will become law.  Please inform the Governor of Missouri that this new law is inconsistent with any of the Consolidated Plans approved by the state and nor can it ever be consistent with those plans since it conflicts with Congressionally approved HUD policies.  This new law will result in people living in places not fit for human habitation for an indeterminate amount of time.  Please inform the Governor that this potential law is extremely harmful to those without housing, the social service community and the local governments who could lose all state funding as a result of this law.  The National Coalition for the Homeless sees a sharp rise in homelessness in Missouri as a direct result of this law’s implementation. 
If this law goes into effect, we recommend that you present a time line for reversal of this law or declare that HUD funding would be in jeopardy.  This is a direct attack on housing first policies and the long tradition of working to get homeless people into safe, decent housing. It perverts the Point in Time count into a census that Missouri will measure the success of the local homeless service providers, and if they fail to reduce the numbers they will lose state funding.  This was never the intention of the Congressional mandate to provide a point-in-time count. It is also a direct assault on the 30 year history of partnership between the federal and state governments in addressing the affordable housing crisis.   We urge you to intervene to stop this assault on federal policies.  If this law is allowed to stand other states will adopt similar positions and HUD funding will be misused to force people into internment camps.  The time to act is now. 

Letter sent to NYC Mayor Eric Adams: Do Not Criminalize Homeless New Yorkers for finding Refuge in the Subway

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

Dear Mayor Adams:

The National Coalition for the Homeless is alarmed by the subway safety plan released by your administration on February 18, 2022, and are concerned that this will only escalate the issues facing those without stable housing in New York City.  Our concern is this “plan” was tried by the previous administration in New York City and has been tried by other mayors on a smaller scale in many other cities and every time it has failed because affordable housing is never attached to these plans.  NCH and every homeless organization mourns the loss of life in the subways and the escalating amount of violence, but it is misguided to blame these issues on the unhoused.  After 40 years if we have learned one thing it is that use of law enforcement to deal with a social service/housing issues will fail and will only extend the stay on the streets for many caught up in these sweeps.

While we understand that the safety of every rider of the New York subway system (including those without housing) is paramount, our concern is that this plan will only exacerbate the violence.  It also diverts law enforcement resources from solving real crimes to being reduced to crossing guards or curfew violation security officers.  We have seen a number of videos over the last two weeks of encounters between law enforcement and those without housing and it seems as though these encounters are only agitating those who utilize the subway for shelter.  The law enforcement or transit official asks the unhoused individual to move their stuff out of the subway, which typically involves three or four trips down the escalator, and each time the person is more and more frustrated.  We are worried that this subway plan is just going to lead to more and more volatile interactions and eventually people backed into a corner lash out.

What is missing from this plan is where do these individuals go if they are not in the subway?  And based on the videos, shelters are not an option to many of these individuals utilizing the subway.  They clearly describe unsafe, unsupervised and overcrowded conditions that make the streets a more attractive alternative.  We had written to City of New York officials in 2021 about our concern over the shelter conditions and lack of oversight.  Unless you find safe spaces for those you are removing they will continue to utilize the subway, doorways, and bridges to stay alive.  There are so many failed systems that led to people sleeping in the subway and you are entirely focused on the victim of these system failures instead of attacking the causes. 

The National Coalition for the Homeless has many ideas for how local communities can better address the crisis within the behavioral health system and the inability for the market to meet the housing needs of the service based economy we have created, but none of our proposals involve the use of law enforcement to be transformed into social workers. The individuals that you roust from the subways will still use the public transit system, but will be even more suspicious of law enforcement, transit officials, and outreach teams.  Housing First, safe havens, hotel rooms, low barrier facilities all work and are proven to keep people from living on the streets.  We understand the scale of the problem in New York City, but neglecting the population or utilizing police to shuffle people around the city is not going to encourage people to go inside in any capacity. 

The behavioral health system that keeps individuals on a 24 hour hold and then sends them back to the streets; the housing system that takes years to process paperwork and complete inspections, the inability for doctors to prescribe housing as part of the treatment for their patient’s recovery plan; the pharmaceutical industry getting individuals hooked on opioid and keeping the price of other life sustaining medicine too high for many in our society; the vacant and abandoned housing sitting idle while so many sleep outside, and we could go on for 8 pages to describe all the other holes in the social safety net.  But the bottom line is that there is nowhere for these individuals to go and therefore they seek safety in the subways. Until you answer the question where do all these people go, you are just constructing a massive game of hide and seek as part of this security theater for the media. 

Please, for the safety of those who are struggling with their housing and the passengers of the New York transit system, we urge reconsideration of your plan with the publication of a new plan that answers the basic question: where do all these individuals go to stay safe? 

In Loving Memory of “Better Believe” Steve Thomas

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

The displaced populations in most American cities have grown so much that they comprise a neighborhood separate and unique from any geographic based community.  These people who fin themselves unhoused travel the city, but depend on each other for safety, survival and family support.  Steve Thomas was the older uncle figure in the homeless community of DC who was working every day to give a hand up to everyone without housing.  Thomas died on February 23, 2022 after long term health struggles that limited his ability to do what he loved most—helping people. 

Steve had a career that included travelling the world with the military, and travelling the country driving a truck. Bad decisions and fractured relationships led to Steve eventually losing his home. He lived in his Jeep for years struggling with his own demons, but always had a pair of socks or a rain jacket to spare for anyone in need. He developed life long friends on the streets of DC, and saved the lives of countless individuals who never had anyone care for them or look out for their well being.  Rachelle Ellison knew Steve for 25 years (including 17 years on the street) and tried to talk to him every day. She said, “He had a heart of gold, and was always there to uplift us.” 

Steve Thomas was the Public Education Coordinator for the National Coalition for the Homeless, but the title does not give the full extent of his role as the heart and soul of the Speaker’s Bureau and the glue that kept everyone together as a family.  While on the street, he met some of the speakers from the Faces of Homelessness program and got to know Kelvin, Rachelle, Eric, David and others before eventually becoming a speaker.  Steve would tell you that he was the best speaker in the program despite Donald Whitehead, NCH’s executive director, claims to the contrary.  They had a long running joke of which one was the best speaker at NCH with each trying to outshine the other and each making the other better when the spoke together. 

Thomas stepped into the role as coordinator after the death of Michael Stoops and after David needed a break from that role.  Steve loved to cook and many of the speakers talked about how much they enjoyed his food.  Up until the pandemic, he had regular dinners at the office for the speakers to motivate them, provide updates, but most of all to show everyone they were a family. Steve is survived by his daughter, Stephanie, and he told us all at a staff meeting how proud he was to be a part of her wedding in 2021.  He built a family of speakers at NCH that he protected, counseled, found work for, and became a close friend to every one of them.  Thomas was a veteran of the US Air Force where he rose to the rank of Sergeant, which may have been where he learned to put the needs of others ahead of his own. 

Donald remembered him as bringing so much humor to the staff and said Steve was really like a brother to him. Speaker Karen Ennis remembered that Steve loved joking about her teeth until he fell and cracked his own tooth. He then would tell everyone that Karen must have somehow contributed to his fall to get back at him for the jokes.  Megan Hustings, the Deputy Director of NCH and his supervisor for a time, remembered that he was always so dedicated to seeing that NCH succeeded and was always willing to take on new challenges.  She remembers that he turned mundane activities like monitoring a table at a service fair into a cheerleading session for everyone to yell out the NCH name who visited the table.  Everyone he met would talk about his booming personality and the joy he tried to spread.  Those who first met Steve would think he was a cold disciplinarian, but as Kelvin Lassiter explained, “he was really just a big old teddy bear at heart.” It took a short while to get to know him, but those who spent time without housing were forever his family. 

Thomas’s biggest issue that he struggled with for 20 years was that he could not stand to see people pass away on the streets of DC.  He helped organize a number of sleep outs as part of the Candlelight Memorial Vigil service in Washington on December 21 and did everything in his power to prevent people from dying when they did not have housing.  Penny Nance, another of the NCH speakers, loved his ability to tell stories and the concern he had for all the speakers.  Steve had started a group to try to eliminate homelessness in the District, and loved going out to distribute items to those who lived outside and those who felt safer on the streets than in the shelters.

Kelvin Lassiter, Policy Director at NCH and a long term speaker, remembered this story that Steve told him.  Thomas was overseas in Turkey during his military duty, and eating with some of the local population. They encouraged him to try all the strangest and most repulsive sounding foods.  Steve, never wanting to insult or offend his hosts, was always willing to try whatever they put in front of him, and he made it out of Turkey without having to have his stomach pumped or being poisoned.  

Don Gardner, another speaker who met Thomas in recovery, thought Steve had a great talent for matching speakers to fit the engagement. Gardner said that he always would try to link people back to their families and that very few people knew all the things he was doing behind the scenes to help give the speakers the best opportunities. Ellison talked about how fair he was to every speaker trying to get everyone an equal number of engagements. Steve was a good actor and had done a series of skits called “The Obsoletes” with other speakers to demonstrate the real stories of living on the edge in a modern American city.  Thomas was extremely competitive, and Whitehead described him as an “inspiring personality who was always helping others.” The staff at NCH found him as a joy to be around and all were the subject of his verbal pokes to keep us on task and to help us overcome the depression and sadness associated with working so closely with those struggling to survive in such a prosperous country.  


Services for Steve Thomas will be held on March 7, 2022, at Purity Baptist Church & Urban Center, 1325 Maryland Ave NE, Washington DC 20002. For those unable to attend in-person, the service will be livestreamed via FB at www.facebook.com/Betterbelievesteve.

In lieu of flowers, Steve’s family is requesting donations be made to NCH. We will be announcing plans to keep Steve’s legacy alive and to continue his mission to help those within the District.  

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