A United Nations panel reviewing the U.S. record on racial discrimination has expressed unusually pointed concern over a new pattern of laws it warns is criminalising homelessness. U.S. homelessness has increased substantially in the aftermath of the financial downturn, and with a disproportionate impact on minorities. Yet in many places officials have responded by cracking down on activities such as sleeping or even eating in public, while simultaneously defunding social services. The new rebuke comes from a panel of experts reviewing the United States’ progress in implementing its obligations under a treaty known as the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, commonly referred to as CERD or the race convention. “The Committee is concerned at the high number of homeless persons, who are disproportionately from racial and ethnic minorities,” the CERD panel stated in a formal report released on Friday, “and at the criminalization of homelessness through laws that prohibit activities such as loitering, camping, begging, and lying in public spaces.” This was only the second time that the United States’ record on race relations and discriminatory practices, and particularly the federal government’s actions in this regard, have been formally examined against the measuring stick of international law.
Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang, appointed to the housing committee, has been slandering in recent interviews the people in Oppenheimer tent city as mobs and mischief-makers who are breaking the law. However, tent city residents are quite well-versed in the law, citing the B.C. Court’s Adams decision, the Supreme Court of Canada’s Tsilhqot’in decision, and inherent indigenous law as a defence for their stand. The city claims that camping and structures are not allowed because they “create barriers for other residents who want to use and enjoy the park space.” These seemingly innocuous bylaws about structures in parks and public enjoyment of green spaces, in effect, criminalize poverty. “The majestic quality of the law forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under the bridges, to beg in the streets and steal bread,” Anatole France said in the early 1900s. Pivot Legal Society launched a legal challenge two years ago to the city’s bylaws that prohibit homeless people from sleeping and sheltering outdoors. Instead of adhering to the significant Adams court decision — which ruled that Victoria bylaws that prohibited homeless people from sheltering outdoors when there is a lack of indoor shelter space were unconstitutional — our municipal government is considering increasing fines for homeless people sleeping outdoors to $10,000 per ticket.
The latest report from the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty reveals that most municipalities believe in criminalizing, not helping, the down and out. For the report, the organization studied laws in 187 cities. Seventy-six percent of towns prohibit begging in specific public places, a 20 percent increase since 2011. However, the most dramatic uptick, the authors write, “has been in city-wide bans on fundamental human activities” such as sleeping in your car. A full 43 percent of cities prohibit people from sleeping in vehicles, an increase of a shocking 119 percent since 2011. And 53 percent of cities prohibit people from parking themselves on a curb or against a building. That’s down 3 percent since 2011, but at a time when the number of homeless people is expected to rise in 2014 and affordable housing is in short supply, these ordinances and laws come off as draconian.
Just days before its international debut at an airshow in the United Kingdom, the entire fleet of the Pentagon’s next generation fighter plane — known as the F-35 II Lightning, or the Joint Strike Fighter — has been grounded, highlighting just what a boondoggle the project has been. With the vast amounts spent so far on the aircraft, the United States could have worked wonders, including providing every homeless person in the U.S. a $600,000 home. It’s hard to argue against the need to modernize aircraft used to defend the country and counter enemies overseas, especially if you’re a politician. But the Joint Strike Fighter program has been a mess almost since its inception, with massive cost overruns leading to its current acquisition price-tag of $398.6 billion — an increase of $7.4 billion since last year. That breaks down to costing about $49 billion per year since work began in 2006 and the project is seven years behind schedule. Over its life-cycle, estimated at about 55 years, operating and maintaining the F-35 fleet will cost the U.S. a little over $1 trillion. By contrast, the entirety of the Manhattan Project — which created the nuclear bomb from scratch — cost about $55 billion in today’s dollars.
As he, Sabo and other tenants organized similar committees in other hotels, they all began to develop a greater sense of themselves as a low-income community. That victory was one of several partial ones at the Frontier from about 2003 to 2008. Together, the tenants also succeeded in getting Los Angeles to pass a hotel preservation ordinance that requires no net loss of low-income housing, covering 17,000 to 18,000 units citywide. That includes about 8,000 downtown. The final ordinance gained approval in 2008. Diaz, who now works for LA CAN, points out that at the Alexandria all the rooms are covered by Section 8, the federal government’s low-income rent subsidy program, and rents start at $56 a month.
Even if you don’t think society has a moral obligation to care for the least among us, a new study underscores that we have a financial obligation to do so. Late last week, the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness released a new study showing that, when accounting for a variety of public expenses, Florida residents pay $31,065 per chronically homeless person every year they live on the streets. The study, conducted by Creative Housing Solutions, an Oklahoma-based consultant group, tracked public expenses accrued by 107 chronically homeless individuals in central Florida. These ranged from criminalization and incarceration costs to medical treatment and emergency room intakes that the patient was unable to afford. Andrae Bailey, CEO of the commission that released the study, noted to the Orlando Sentinel that most chronically homeless people have a physical or mental disability, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. “These are not people who are just going to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get a job,” he said. “They’re never going to get off the streets on their own.”
There are more than 1.6 million homeless children living in the United States, says The National Center on Family Homelessness. That’s one in every 45 American kids who goes to sleep at night without a bed to call their own. Families with young children now account for about one third of the homeless population. And in case you are wondering why, the recession caused a 50 percent jump in the number of students identified as homeless in school districts throughout the country. Here are seven things about being a homeless kid that you probably didn’t know: 1. Making friends is harder when you’re homeless. Carey Fuller, who lives in her car with her 11-year-old daughter Maggie Warner in the Pacific Northwest, said she “cringed” when she recently took Maggie out to play in a park. Things were going fine until “someone asked her where she lived,” Fuller explained. It’s the death knell question, the one that throws the wet blanket on the playdate and it’s usually just a matter of seconds before the other kid takes off in the direction of someone else.
Just one day after activists set up a camp for homeless people on Rosette Street, the city removed their tents—and took two organizers away in handcuffs. That was the scene Friday afternoon in the Hill, where the police arrested Gregory Williams and Mark Colville after they refused to leave a piece of city-owned property. On Thursday, Williams and Colville had organized an encampment for homeless people following the closing of the seasonal 88-bed “overflow” shelter on Cedar Street. The Harp administration had told the activists that they were occupying the vacant lot illegally and would have to leave. ..Luz said she recognized that the camp was not a permanent solution, but it was the best alternative given the situation. “I don’t appreciate that they take our leaders,” said a man who declined to give his name. He said he slept at the camp Thursday night. “I was going to stay tonight,” said Nicholas Terlecky. He said he came to the nearby Amistad Catholic Worker house for breakfast and was invited to stay. Terlecky said he was happy for the opportunity to get away from bedbugs in the shelters.
Homeless encampments known as “tent cities” are popping up across the country. Formed as an alternative to shelters and street-living, these makeshift communities are often set up off of highways, under bridges and in the woods. Some have “mayors” who determine the rules of the camp and who can and can’t join, others are a free-for-all. Someare overflowing with trash, old food, human waste and drug paraphernalia, others are relatively clean and drug-free. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty documented media accounts of tent cities between 2008 and 2013, and estimated that there are more than 100 tent communities in the United States — and it says the encampments are on the rise. “[T]here have been increasing reports of homeless encampments emerging in communities across the country, primarily in urban and suburban areas and spanning states as diverse as Hawaii, Alaska, California, and Connecticut,” the organization’s study states.
A Florida couple who retired from their management jobs to care for the poor vowed Monday to wage a tenacious legal fight days after being fined more than $300 each for violating a local law. Debbie and Chico Jimenez openly admit committing the act that earned them two citations apiece: feeding more than 100 people who are homeless in Daytona Beach. Police in Daytona Beach also threatened them with arrest and incarceration, if they offer any more of their home-cooked meals at Manatee Island Park, a gathering the Jimenezes say they’ve hosted every Wednesday for the past year. “The worst thing is, these are people we have grown to love, they’ve become like family to us, and now we’re not allowed to go down and do that anymore. It’s just heartbreaking. I have cried and cried and cried,” said Debbie Jimenez, 52, a retired auto parts store manager. She and her husband, 60, a retired construction manager, operate New Smyrna Beach-based ministry called “Spreading the Word Without Saying a Word.” “One of our (homeless) friends said that Wednesday is just not going to be Wednesday anymore,” Debbie Jimenez added. “We were given 10 days to either pay the fine or tell them we’re going to court. We’re going to court. The police don’t like it. But how can we turn our backs on the hungry? We can’t.”
The Albany Bulb is an overgrown landfill on the Western edge of the East Bay, in the San Francisco Bay Area. “The Bulb” juts into the SF Bay, surrounded on 3 sides by water. It is a green growing wildland of naturalized plants, animals and people. And it’s an organically created citizens’ gallery of outsider art featuring giant sculptural forms and colorfully painted concrete and rocks. Friends of mine have lived there, in handmade huts built from recycled materials. They were Food Not Bombs activists, musicians, and people who sought an alternative to the inhumanity of capitalist society. Now the East Bay Regional Park district (EBRPD) is moving in to sanitize the area. Residents are being harassed and evicted, art is being removed and trees cut down. Many activists and artists have lived storied lives that embue us with appreciation for the fringe-places, the edge-dwellers, the communities that thrive among the ruins and the refuse, society’s throw-away treasures. We love to find these “diamonds in the rough”, and we work and polish until the beauty shines.
Homelessness is on the rise. Despite the fact that we have more than enough houses to adequately shelter our population, three and half million homeless men, women, and children live and sleep in the streets. Imagine how it feels to be freezing to death, looking at one of the 18.5 million vacant houses in America . . . homes that are owned by banks that bought the foreclosed properties with bailout money that came from our taxpayer dollars. It rankles the soul. On Occupy Radio this week, homeless advocate Jean Stacey likened the unhoused to the canaries in the coal mine of our nation. They are signs that something has gone terribly wrong. (Listen here) Some argue that the something is the economy, but I’d say there’s nothing wrong with the economy as far as the wealthy are concerned. 95% of the 2009-2012 income gains dove into the pockets of the wealthy 1%. The rest of America saw little sign of economic recovery. For many, poverty is just one step closer.
In the three decades he worked as a software engineer in Silicon Valley, Fred Smith never imagined he would spend his golden years homeless. But three years ago, Mr. Smith could no longer afford an apartment here, so he moved into an aging Winnebago camper. The 70-year-old showers at a gym where he has had a longtime membership. For most meals, he eats $1.20 orders of eggs or fish patties at McDonald’s. As housing costs here have skyrocketed with the latest technology boom, Mr. Smith has found himself among thousands of people in Silicon Valley struggling to afford a place to live. The San Jose/Santa Clara County region’s homeless population—about 7,600 on any given night, the fifth-highest among major metro areas—edged up in 2013, even as the number of homeless nationwide dropped, according to U.S. data.
The idea of having to navigate cockroaches, mice, no heat and sexual predators before you even leave for school is not something any child should go through. Yet, this is the daily life for hundreds of children living in two shelters in New York City and Brooklyn. They are part of the more than 22,000 children that make up New York City’s homeless population. Now, after more than a decade of repeated citations for deplorable conditions, more than 400 children and their families are being moved from the city-owned facilities – all because of a determined 12-year-old girl. Chanel couldn’t afford the luxury of buying water in a bottle. When the water with the fancy name started arriving in the bodegas of her Brooklyn neighborhood, she felt that it represented a certain status in life she could never imagine. When her first child was born a short time later, she gave her the name Dasani, with the hope it would give her a chance in life.
Many in New Mexico have embraced both the ghost of James Boyd, cut down for lacking a home, and the ghost of Tom Joad, a specter of moral action. The group Anonymous called for occupation of Albuquerque police sites in a video statement describing the murder as done in “cold blood”. “This man, who was schizophrenic, obviously had no intention of hurting these police officers, on the contrary, this man looks as if he is simply attempting to protect himself from visually fierce militarized thugs,” said the hacktivist group. A coalition of groups protested over the weekend in an eight-plus hour march. The police shot tear gas canisters at largely peaceful demonstrations. The FBI has opened an investigation into Boyd’s killing, and the Justice Department is continuing their probe into a police department that has fired at 37 people since 2010, killing 23.