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Posts Tagged ‘Interns’

Freedom to Beg?

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

WASHINGTON – U.S. District Court Chief Judge “Ted” Stewart of the Utah District Court struck down a law that limited panhandling or public begging. Families and individuals who live in persistent poverty often turn to panhandling as a way of scraping together badly needed cash (the average American panhandler earns $30 for a three hour shift). Recently, instances of “aggressive-panhandling” have prompted some local Ute’s to take action to protect their public interest. Chief Justice Steward pushed back stating:

“The court does not dispute that the state has a legitimate and important interest in regulating conduct that occurs on busy roadways, and it may do so as long as the legislation is written so as to avoid infringing on constitutionally protected rights. However, it may not do so through sweeping statutes that regulate conduct unrelated to the government interest,” (Wilkinson et al. v Utah)

Efforts to restrict the poor have a long history, both locally and nationwide. But, specific efforts to criminalize panhandling have been under particular scrutiny just in the past year. Some examples include:

  • In Royal Oaks, Michigan, the ACLU appealed to mayor and city commissioners, calling for a repeal of the 2011 ordinance that bands panhandling in all public places. They cited the lower court’s authority that protected panhandling even if it’s uncomfortable for those being asked to give to the panhandler [Coast v. City of Cincinnati 402 US 611, 61(1971)]

Panhandling was specifically protected by the lower court on the following grounds:

  1. First Amendment speech [Loper v. NYC Police Department 999 F. 2d 699 (2d Cir. 1993), Benefit v. City of Cambridge 679 N.E.2d 184 (Mass.’97)]
  2. Broad application of content speech (Logsdon v Hains 492 F.3d 334,336)
  3. Failing to prove the state’s interest to curb charitable donations or solicitations on public ground [Blair v. Shanahan, 775 F. Supp. 1315 (N.D. Cal. 1991), Ledford v State, 652 So.2d 1254 (FL/Dist.Ct.App.’95)]

Subsequently, the Royal Oaks ordinance has been repealed and replaced with a prohibition on “aggressive” panhandling.

  • ARIZONA V. BOEHLER – On September 13, 2011, a state appeals court unanimously ruled in Arizona v. Boehler that a 2003 amendment to a Phoenix anti-panhandling law was unconstitutional under the First Amendment and strict scrutiny. The law “was not narrowly drawn because it applied to many forms of peaceful solicitations that did not threaten, intimidate or harass others. The law could apply to someone politely asking for cash contributions to a political campaign or a church volunteer asking for donations to the church,” according to the opinion. “Our constitution does not permit government to restrict speech in a public forum merely because the speech may make listeners uncomfortable.”
  • In the New Orleans French Quarter, the community passed a local anti-panhandling law, stating that it wrote the law “after similar laws in other cities and is designed to withstand possible challenges that it violates the First Amendment.”

The language of the 2011 law prohibits soliciting “in or near parks, playgrounds, banks, ATMs, bars, liquor stores, convenience stores and gas stations — or within 20 feet of an intersection or marked crosswalk, to people in parked or stopped vehicles, or to people standing in lines.” Although unstated in the laws review (article) The New Orleans prohibitions are similar to Royal Oaks prohibitions, in that they applied to public places and the regulation of speech in said area..

  • Johnston County, North Carolina approved panhandling regulations just two weeks ago. The county now requires solicitors to register for a permit to ask for money. Officials sated, “They’ll have to show a photo ID and pass a criminal background check. Upon appeal by the ACLU on the grounds that several provisions were unconstitutional, commissioners dropped all requirements that panhandlers renew their permits or pay a $20 fee each month.

Neighboring Wake and Raleigh counties also began regulating panhandling, with the ACLU describing the measures as near criminalization. ACLU legal director Katy Parker said, “Panhandlers rarely possess a photo ID, which is a requirement for the permits in Raleigh, Wake County and Johnston County,” Further complicating matters for those who wish to file for public solicitation, permits purchased in Wake County must be renewed weekly. The Johnston county law is thought to only apply to public solicitors only, creating the same or similar scenario similar as seen in Arizona v. Boehler and Wilkinson v. Utah.

By Jose Morales, American University ’13

NCH Spring Interns and why they’re excited to be here

Written by NCH Staff on . Posted in Uncategorized

NCH has the honor of working with so many talented interns each semester, read below examples of why they volunteer their time:

Sundal Ali, George Washington University ‘15

As a child, homelessness was not apparent to me. I grew up in Carrollton, TX, a small city a half hour outside downtown Dallas, where many of the social welfare issues were obscure and hidden. As a result, I came to Washington, DC with a sheltered perspective of the world. Homelessness was, and still is, running rampant in the streets of DC, home to the nation’s capital. During the day, the White House is a tourist attraction, crowded with tourists and workers but at night, the benches in front of the White House become coveted living spaces for the homeless.

For decades this grave social injustice has flourished on the streets of one of the strongest and most powerful nations in the world, and even now, not enough is being done to ensure housing for all of America’s citizens. How is it, that a nation with abundant weapons in its arsenal, enough funds in its pockets and an overwhelming number of people in its bureaucracy, cannot solve this crisis?

This paradox triggered action.

After attending a Faces of Homelessness Speakers’ Bureau panel, I was secure in my decision to apply to be an intern at the National Coalition for the Homeless. Working at NCH has shattered my sheltered perspective of our world, in a beneficial way. Because of my internship at NCH, I am more attuned to social crises, more aware of growing national concerns and most importantly, a more passionate advocate for the homeless. I am in a position where I can aid in protecting and promoting NCH’s goal to ensure the human right to housing and shelter. Devoting my time to help prevent returning veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan from becoming homeless, to help prevent more children experiencing homelessness at such a young age, to help prevent the criminalization of homeless people—  all of this, makes my time as an intern at NCH worthwhile. NCH has been working vigorously for decades to establish and protect every individual’s right to housing and shelter and I am privileged to be a part of their team to help accomplish their goal of Bringing America Home.

Jose Morales, American University ’13

I was born and raised in Bronx for ten years. Living in the New York metropolitan area exposes you to how deep the homeless crisis really is. I couldn’t go more than a block without seeing another person without a home, living off the sidewalk and any spare change. When I moved to Washington, DC two years ago to attend American University, I saw more of the same, even in neighborhoods considered the “nice” part of the District.  I was lucky enough to get out of the city ten years ago and into a permanent home, which helped me do really well in school and prepare myself for college.

Ever since the economic downturn, it’s been impossible to avoid the effects of homelessness in any major city. And I know that we can do more as citizens to help. So much of this nation’s homeless population is not comprise of the drug dealers or mentally ill, but children, students, and hard-working Americans who haven’t had a fair shake at life. I’m a junior in college now, and I truly believe that that is not better time than the present to stand up against the criminalization of homeless and poverty. I see no reason why young people from all sides of the political and socioeconomic spectrum can’t come together and put forward sensible protections for civil rights, fiscally responsible affordable housing policy, and better education of what homelessness really is outside of Hollywood’s depictions.

It’s time for my generation to stop complaining about the problems we will have to deal with. It’s time to meet them and defeat them. Homelessness is one of these challenges.

The National Coalition for the Homeless is dedicated helping everyone—especially the students of my generation and the next—get back on their feet to fulfill their potential by getting them in permanent housing and then some. And they’ve done it before. Neil, Megan, and Michael have all helped to structure and display such an impressive non-profit that stays true to its mission in a climate that has become increasingly cynical.  It’s an honor to intern here for however long, even if just to say that I am a part of the solution.

Will Hernandez, Dartmouth ’14

I decided to volunteer my time with the National Coalition for the Homeless because homelessness is an issue that is easily ignored and forgotten in this country.  This seems almost unimaginable with the recent foreclosure crisis and millions of people being homeless each year.  It is easy to ignore homeless people due to the common myth that all homeless people are in there situation due to their lack of hard-work or their bad economic decisions.

I hope to bring more awareness to this issue as well as develop a new perspective for those people who are in dire times and need any support we can muster.  I want to learn about the current homeless policies that are making a huge difference in their respective localities and learn why destructive policies are not very effective for the targeted population. So far, I have been able to research different events and programs produced by different advocacy groups and critically analyze how these events benefit the homeless populations.

As a future hopeful for a Congressional seat, I know that working with the homeless and the National Coalition will provide me with great insights on how to deal with large epidemics that are great hurting America and more importantly, to listen and learn directly from those people who are suffering the most.

Thank you to Sundal, Jose, Will (and Tessa!) for their great work this semester, and for being a part of Bringing America Home!

Guest post: What are the implications of drug testing recipients of government benefits?

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

We are happy to share today’s guest post from NCH member Laura Epstein who interned with us this past summer.  Laura is currently studying Government and Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College.

Recently, many states have introduced policies that would require drug tests for welfare recipients, as reported by the New York Times. States hope that these new policies will be more “fair” and will cut the budget. However, studies show that these policies are ineffective and hurt those who need the most help.

Though some argue that these programs are better because they restrict welfare only to those who want it enough to stop using drugs, this argument fails to take into account why those in poverty would use drugs in the first place. In the 2002 study, “Substance Use Among Welfare Recipients: Trends and Policy Responses” by Harold Pollack and others found that “adverse experiences, such as childhood trauma or experiences of violence, may lead some women both to seek welfare and to initiate or to increase their substance use.” Therefore, restricting welfare recipients harms more than just those who choose to use drugs; it hurts those who experience both poverty and prior abuse.

Pollack expressed his unchanging beliefs, as in a 2011 blog post he wrote, “[Alcohol and drug] disorders are important within specific populations – most crucially, welfare recipients facing child abuse or neglect issues.” Laura Schmidt, in the 1998 Alcohol Research Group study “Substance Abuse and the Course of Welfare Dependency,” had similar findings: “AFDC [Aid to Families with Dependent Children] recipients’ substance abuse problems appeared to have little effect on their future prospects for leaving welfare…. the strongest determinants of welfare dependency…correspond quite directly to…the economic hardships of single parents and their young children.” Quite simply, the argument that new welfare policies requiring drug tests just hurt those who choose to irresponsibly use drugs makes little sense.

Furthermore, the new welfare laws fail to provide means for people to have substance abuse treatment. In response to the New York Times article mentioned above, Director and President of the Legal Action Center New York wrote, “The vast majority of testing legislation also fails to allocate money for treatment, even though it is an extremely efficient use of taxpayer money.” Not surprisingly, in a 2000 study, “Sever Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders among Former Supplemental Security Income Beneficiaries for Drug Addiction and Alcoholism, Dr. James Swartz and others found that “studies of former welfare recipients…have found that substance dependence and psychiatric illness are among the most notable barriers to gaining and maintaining employment.” Welfare reform that encompasses treatment and job training would be much more effective at improving the livelihood of those in poverty than removing all assistance from those with drug problems.

The “Housing First” method of ending homelessness also contributes to the arguments against drug testing welfare recipients. Under this method, those experiencing homelessness can begin to receive transitional housing and job training without first becoming sober. It is much easier for someone to become sober when in a hospitable environment as opposed to when living in the streets without much food or other needs. Requiring welfare recipients to first have a negative drug test is directly at odds with the successful method of Housing First. In a 2010 presentation to the Society for Social Work and Research Annual Conference, Benjamin Henwood found that “Housing First providers were able to focus more on clinical concerns since consumers and already obtained permanent housing.” Housing First programs recognize that facilitating a person’s successful recovery and employment opportunities requires assistance to put the person’s life back on track. Housing First contributes to the argument that welfare services as a whole must meet people at their level of need, including potential substance abuse.

Luckily, some of the new welfare laws have been deemed unconstitutional. However, we cannot rely on the courts to ensure that these laws do not have effect. These new laws should not pass in the first place because they disproportionately hurt those in society who need the most help in finding employment to move out of needing welfare.

*Studies show that only 20-30% of the homeless population suffers from substance abuse.  It is often the case that people believe the majority of people who are on the streets suffer from substance abuse, but lack of affordable housing remains the number one cause of homelessness. Read more from Jaqueline Dowd, Poverty Lawyer, on how advocates are pushing to make drug-testing welfare recipients illegal.

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