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Posts Tagged ‘Civil Rights’

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.       

Statement against anti-camping ordinance in Kern County, CA

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

California has been facing a homelessness crisis for years now, but that crisis is reaching new  heights in nearly every major city. As of January 2020, 72% of those without housing in  California are unsheltered. Now more than ever, investment in affordable housing is needed to  help people get off the streets. Instead Kern County has released a “comprehensive plan” that  makes it illegal to be without housing and neglects to provide safe, secure and private places to  re-establish stability while we move out of the pandemic. A “sanctioned encampment” or a  congregate living shelter is not a substitute for affordable housing. By violently disrupting  people’s lives through encampment sweeps that evict them from their tents and communities,  you are only prolonging a person’s homelessness because they are repeatedly starting over. In  keeping with CDC recommendations, the National Coalition for the Homeless 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. 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, you are only  exacerbating the problem and you will find that homelessness will only increase within Kern  County. 

On November 9, 2021, Kern County will hold a public hearing to discuss and potentially adopt  an anti-camping ordinance. This ordinance would outlaw camping on public land and make it  illegal to store belongings in public areas. By passing this ordinance, Kern County would  criminalize homelessness through fines and citations. While administrative citations may seem  trivial, fines 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 fine people  for simply trying to survive? In addition to penalizing unhoused persons, this ordinance would  lead to a cycle of evictions for people experiencing homelessness as the county sweeps  encampments. Imagine being forced to pack up all your belongings over and over again or risk  everything you own being thrown away. These sweeps violently disrupt people’s lives and leave  them worse than before. People have lost their tents, beds, ID, medication, important documents,  and more as a result of street sweeps. This theft and destruction of people’s property alienates an already marginalized community and makes it that much harder to live. Rather than helping  those without housing, sweeps will actively harm them.  

Sweeps don’t solve the problem of homelessness; they only serve to push people out of  “desirable” or popular areas in the county. Rather than help connect people to housing and  outreach services, sweeps are an attempt to make the problem of homelessness invisible. If you can’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 or become increasingly difficult for outreach teams to locate and help.  

Where do you expect people to go when you outlaw camping? No one forced your other  taxpayers where to live or in what section of town they were allowed to reside, but this is the  proposed policy to those who lost their housing. And while it may appear logical to expect  people experiencing homelessness to just go into shelters if they want to avoid fines, this ignores  the many reasons why people camp instead – people don’t choose to live outdoors on a whim.  People in shelters often face violence, stolen belongings, and poor living conditions. Not to  mention the serious risks during the coronavirus pandemic where shelters can put people’s health  in jeopardy and increase the spread of the virus due to large numbers of people sharing space  indoors.  

While this anti-camping ordinance would have terrible consequences if passed, the county has  also announced they will invest $8.3 million to create outreach teams for the homeless, with a  particular focus on mental health. This commitment is crucial for helping people experiencing  homelessness and deserves recognition. However, tying this funding to the anti-camping ordinance risks destroying the program’s positive impacts and harming the very community the  county is trying to help. 

So what can Kern County do to end homelessness? First, it cannot and should not try to  criminalize its way out of homelessness by banning camping. Instead, the county should invest in  affordable housing and outreach that can connect people to necessary housing with wrap around  services. The County should work to prevent any evictions that lead to homelessness. The county  must not sweep encampments to “clean” the streets, rather they should provide services such as  public toilets, showers, and trash receptacles to address cleanliness 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 the home owners who want to hide the problem.  

Passing this anti-camping ordinance will not reduce the number of homeless people in Kern County. If the county wants to truly end homelessness, they must vote against adopting this ordinance and instead listen to people with lived experience of homelessness to identify alternative solutions. Have you thought about sitting down with those who stay outside and ask  what they need to move inside? The county’s investment into building affordable housing,  improving access to mental health professionals, and substance abuse treatment will help save lives. Don’t undermine this work by criminalizing and punishing the homeless community for trying to survive.  

NCH and partners ask DOJ to investigate Criminalization of Homelessness in Miami

Written by Brian Davis on . Posted in Blog

 

NCH joined the National Homelessness Law Center, Legal Services of Greater Miami, and Southern Legal Counsel to send the following letter to the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice. 

We applaud the actions of DOJ to open an investigation into the Phoenix Police Department and we believe it is historic for the Attorney General to emphasize the  treatment of those without housing in announcing the investigation. As we told your staff, we  believe that the San Diego police are engaged in a much larger campaign to endanger the lives of  those without housing by throwing away personal possessions and displacing thousands of  unhoused individuals. Since our meeting, it has come to our attention that the City of Miami  Police are engaged in a systematic and coordinated effort to make homelessness disappear by  regular harassment of those without housing.  As you know the City of Miami was sued by homeless individuals in the 1980s in Pottinger vs.  City of Miami. There were settlement negotiations in the 1990s and an agreement was struck.  The activists and homeless individuals claimed that there were regular violation of the agreement  and eventually the court ended the oversight of the Pottinger settlement despite a great deal of  evidence that there was regular police harassment of homeless people in Miami. While we recognize that DOJ’s oversight of the City of Miami Police related to police shootings recently ended, we believe the pattern and practice of systemic engagement of those living outside and forcing them to relocate and to regularly have their personal possessions confiscated and discarded demands further scrutiny.  

The National Homelessness Law Center, the Southern Legal Counsel and Legal Services of  Greater Miami join the National Coalition for the Homeless with this letter. The local Legal  Services of Greater Miami have several clients who are unsheltered individuals and have  reported incidents in which City of Miami employees under the supervision of City of Miami  Police have thrown away almost all if not all their property. They have documented the  discarding of medical devices, prescription medications, clothing, shoes, tents, identification  documents, dentures, glasses, family photos, and even a family member’s ashes. Most of these  individuals are African American and LatinX residing on the streets of Miami. In addition to  Legal Services’ clients, we have the contact information for another dozen individuals who have  had these negative experiences with the City of Miami police, and we could solicit additional  voices if necessary.  

Further, on October 28, 2021, the City of Miami passed an ordinance which prohibits  encampments on public property which further criminalizes those experiencing homelessness. Typically, DOJ investigations are opened after a tragedy like George Floyd in Minneapolis,  Brionna Taylor in Louisville or Timothy Russell/Malissa Williams in Cleveland, but we are  hoping to avoid a similarly tragic situation in Miami. The individuals swept by the police are  continually starting over. They are having their health jeopardized by discarding their life  sustaining medicine that a doctor has prescribed to address their mental illness or other chronic  conditions. They feel frustrated, angry and treated as a second class citizens by the City of  Miami. We are asking for DOJ involvement to stop a potentially deadly encounter between  those living outside and the police supervising these clean ups. Any of the organizations signed  on to this letter would be willing to assist in any way we can with a DOJ investigation of the  pattern or practice of the City of Miami police.  

Sincerely,  

Donald Whitehead
Executive Director
National Coalition for the Homeless

Jeffrey M. Hearne Esq
Director of Litigation
Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc.

Eric Tars
Legal Director
National Homelessness Law Center

Jodi Siegel
Executive Director
Southern Legal Counsel, Inc.

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