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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. 

NCH Policy Against Sweeps

Written by admin on . Posted in

The National Coalition for the Homeless has always opposed sweeps of those who stay outside and have embraced a housing first model of help. 

Many communities in the United States are dealing with a large number of people sleeping outside, despite their best efforts to provide shelter and permanent supportive housing. Due to the pandemic and continued increases in the cost of housing, US society has become even more destabilized. Many former home owners and previously stable tenants have decided that congregate shelters are not safe against the spread of infectious disease and have instead found it safer to stay outside. 

Now more than ever, investment in affordable housing is needed to help people get off the streets. Every city needs to adopt protections against evictions that lead to homelessness. In keeping with CDC recommendations, NCH strongly opposes sweeps and displacement during a pandemic. We support utilization of the hotel program as an alternative to expanding shelter or segregating homeless people into a section of town not of their choice.  

One troubling trend is that cities are offering the panacea of additional resources for “outreach” or the development of more shelter beds in exchange for forcibly evicting people living in a tent. Local municipal governments have proposed “sanctioned encampments” in exchange for expanded ticketing or arresting those who stay outside. NCH always opposes sweeps, and no amount of additional funding can offset the harm caused by an agent of the municipal government ticketing houseless individuals, stealing their last possessions, and then throwing them in the garbage.

A real plan does not involve sweeps of those without housing; it does not force people into unsafe shelters; and it does not create a parking lot program or other places not suitable for human habitation as a response. By moving people out of sight, NCH believes a local government is only exacerbating the problem, and we believe history has shown that these criminalization policies will only increase in the population of unhoused residents. We have already published our statement on “sanctioned encampments”, which we oppose. Neither “sanctioned encampments” nor congregate living shelters are substitutes for affordable housing. By violently disrupting people’s lives through encampment sweeps that evict them from their tents and communities, the local government is only prolonging a person’s homelessness, because they are repeatedly having to start over.

While administrative citations may seem trivial, taxes assessed in the form of fines and penalties serve as one more obstacle to survival among many, punishing people experiencing homelessness simply for not having a house. This is cruel and unconscionable. Why punish people for simply trying to survive? In addition to penalizing unhoused persons, these local ordinances lead to a cycle of evictions for people experiencing homelessness as the municipal government sweeps encampments. Imagine being forced to pack up all your belongings over and over again or risk everything you own being thrown away. 

Sweeps don’t solve the problem of homelessness; they only serve to push people out of “desirable” or popular areas in the local community. Rather than help connect people to housing and outreach services, sweeps are an attempt to make the problem of homelessness invisible. If taxpayers don’t see people experiencing homelessness, it is much easier to ignore their existence. Additionally, as unhoused persons are repeatedly evicted, they often lose trust in services providers, their local government, or become increasingly difficult for outreach teams to locate and help. 

Many elected officials are claiming that they are conducting sweeps in order to provide for the health and safety of those living outside. They proclaim that it is unsafe to stay outside and anyone who advocates for “leaving people outside” is dooming those individuals to death.  This is a short-sighted response and does not take into account the needs of those who forgo shelter.

No advocate wants any human to stay outside! We want private, safe, secure places to stay for everyone residing in the United States!

People in shelters often face violence, stolen belongings, and poor living conditions. This is not to mention the serious risks during the coronavirus pandemic where shelters can put peoples’ health in jeopardy and increase the spread of COVID due to large numbers of people sharing space indoors. If a city is only offering shelter or staying on the streets, it is understandable that many find the streets the safest option. 

NCH offers these alternatives to sweeping those who live outside. No matter how much outreach or support services offered, a city cannot and should not try to criminalize its way out of homelessness by banning camping. Instead, the local municipal government should invest in affordable housing and outreach that can connect people to necessary housing with wrap around services. Cities have the opportunity to put people into motels and hotels with the federal government picking up 100% of the costs. The local community should also work to prevent any evictions that lead to homelessness. 

Real leaders must not sweep encampments to “clean” the streets; rather they should provide services such as public toilets, showers, and trash receptacles to address hygiene issues without evicting people and throwing away all their possessions. Finally, they should listen to those struggling with housing about their needs, and not just to the home owners who want to hide the problem.  

National Coalition for the Homeless Opens First Field Office in Cleveland, OH

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

The National Coalition for the Homeless officially opened the Cleveland Regional Field office on November 23 with a ribbon cutting and a forum on racial equity.  There was some confusion among local advocates about this office, and we wanted to clarify our goals and objectives since this is the first of five regional sites we intend to open. 

It is a natural fit for NCH to open our first office in Cleveland for a number of reasons.  The first is our long history of working with the local homeless Coalition and other advocacy groups in the area including the closed Cleveland Tenants Organization. NCH has strong ties to Ohio advocates across the state, including Bill Faith of COHHIO and Donald Whitehead (when he was in Cincinnati) both serving as Board Presidents. Currently, Cincinnati Coalition Director, Josh Springs is a board member, and Brian Davis, now on staff at NCH, served as Board Vice President when he was the local director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless.  If we were going to pick one natural fit for NCH it would be either Cincinnati or Cleveland.  

Cleveland has a long history of creative and effective advocacy that were used as models for other communities in the struggle to reduce the number of homeless people. The Key vs. City of Cleveland federal court decision is one of the only federal lawsuits still in existence that protects those who stay outside from harassment by the police for sitting, sleeping, lying, or eating on the sidewalk.  The work protecting those who stayed outside during the 2016 Republican National Convention is used by other cities today when a special event comes to their town. The opening of the waiting list at CMHA to those experiencing homelessness and the attempts to deconcentrate poverty while preserving the overall number of public housing units was used by other cities as a model. Many cities are pushing for a Justice Department meeting with groups of homeless individuals while negotiating a consent decree with the police as Cleveland and Cincinnati both started years ago. The work with the local ACLU on various homeless issues in both Akron and Cleveland including the overturning of panhandling legislation has always been impressive. There are only 15 similar homeless led organizations like the Homeless Congress—a local group of homeless people who meet every month to push an advocacy agenda. One of the first six street newspapers in the country was started in Cleveland and continues to this day.  The outreach work of the local Coalition and getting individuals into hotels during the pandemic was impressive and life sustaining.  

In the long history of moving homeless legislation in Congress, Ohio has been critical to that success with Representatives like Dennis Kucinich, Stephanie Tubbs Jones, Senator Sherrod Brown and the current Secretary of HUD, Marcia Fudge, all championing the rights of people who experience homelessness. This office will be a regional office to attempt to bring current advocates together from throughout the region, to support and build stronger networks in places like Akron, Toledo and Dayton. Cleveland has a strong local commitment toward advocacy with the Poor People’s Campaign, the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, NAACP Cleveland Branch, Organize Ohio, the Homeless Congress, and the ACLU that we will continue to enhance their work.  We may be able to offer local groups input on national policies or figure out ways to influence change at the national level that benefits Cleveland, but our role will never duplicate or supplant local advocacy.  There is plenty of work to do locally with a continued rise in homelessness and the NCH field office intends to support local efforts already in place.  

The overarching goal of the regional offices is to mobilize people who experienced homeless and those currently experiencing homelessness to add their voices to an effort to create the structural changes necessary to end homeless.  Too often efforts to end homelessness fail because those efforts are conducted in silos.  The goal of Bring America Home Now is to raise the resources to the level of the needs of the people and not just to the level of need of the service sector.  There is far too much suffering for territorialism.  At NCH and through the BAHN campaign, it is our belief that the needs of the people must transcend the needs of the institutional interests.  

Cleveland has been among the top five cities for poverty for two decades now.  It is appropriate for NCH to have its first field office in one of the poorest cities in America, as so many living with low-incomes also struggle with housing stability.  The National Coalition began the process in December 2020 to open field offices, and we saw an opportunity when the previous director of NEOCH became available for our open position of Director of Grassroots Organizing.  Since we were all operating remotely, Brian Davis stayed in Cleveland to begin to make contacts out in the field.  He has regular contact with Coalitions throughout the United States especially in those communities where the rights of people who are unhoused are particularly under attack. NCH began identifying possible field sites in May 2021 with a plan for five regional sites in California, Texas or Atlanta, the Midwest, Florida and the Central Plains or Minnesota.  We announced these plans at our kickoff of the Bring America Home Now Campaign in June 2021, and promoted the idea on our website and in social media.  

Over the last year, Davis and NCH staff have been in discussion with the local Coalition and members of the Homeless Congress, collaborating on awareness events and NCH policy and organizing committees. Over the summer of 2021 NCH firmed up plans for a Cleveland regional office, reaching out to the local Coalition about collaborating. NCH staff have been meeting regularly with the leadership of the Homeless Congress, and Loh, a local advocate with homeless experience, has been on the agenda for, and participated in, several NCH online events. NCH will hope to meet with other local advocates to discuss our plans, including Organize Ohio and the local chapter of the NAACP.  We have made every effort to be transparent about our plans and goals. 

NCH’s field office in Cleveland is in no way meant to construct a new homeless advocacy organization or duplicate existing services and efforts.  We will be working with people who have experienced homelessness in the Cleveland area to setup an advisory group to provide input from those who are currently living without housing on federal policies with the CDC, HUD, and the Department of Justice. This is a natural step for a group founded on the principle of raising the voices of those without housing and being led by people who have experienced homelessness. We believe that those who have experienced homelessness have the expertise and knowledge of how we will ultimately end homelessness. We are excited to partner with advocates in Cleveland, and the larger region, to bring the ideas and direction of people who have been homeless into fruition, truly Bringing America Home and ending homelessness across the country.       

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