Homeless Advocacy Group Calls for Action From Legislators:
Wants Solutions to Criminalization
Press Type: Press Release Associated Program: Civil Rights
Cold weather is here, yet the number of peopleand especially families with childrenwith nowhere to go has never been higher. Economic decline and shrinking shelter, food and housing resources have left many with no place to turn. Harsh government policies have made life for the poorest of the poor even crueler.
November 17-23 is National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty calls on local, state and federal legislators to act nowstop passing laws that criminalize the poorest families and individuals in our society.
More people are now literally fighting for their very survival. Not all will make it: each winter, homeless Americans die on our streets. In cities across the country, local officials are passing laws to turn homeless people into criminalssimply for having no place to go. They are conducting sweeps to clean up their downtownas if homeless people are nothing more than annoying refuse, an inconvenience to be disposed of as quickly as possible.
In Albuquerque, teenagers waiting for a teen homeless center to open were ordered to leave, then grabbed by the police, forced to the ground, handcuffed, repeatedly kickedand then charged with disorderly conduct.
Even those who try to help are harassed:
In Orlando, Florida, the City Council is considering a law to limit charity groups feeding the hungry in a downtown park to four feedings a year.
No one should have to live on the street or beg for change. Not in the richest country on earth. Everyone should have some place to livesome place to come in from the coldsome place to call home.
But right now, millions of people dont. In a 2002 survey of 57 cities around the country, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and the National Coalition for the Homeless found that in no city were there sufficient shelter bedsor affordable housing unitsto meet the needs of the citys homeless residentsaccording to the cities own estimates. The survey, Illegal to Be Homeless, found that more jurisdictions are enacting laws that criminalize homelessness by prohibiting activities such as sleeping or camping in public, even when no shelter beds are available.
This year some 3 million men, women and children will be homeless for at least some part of the year. According to a 1999 HUD report, some 10.9 million Americans have worst case housing needs, putting them at imminent risk of homelessness: they are paying over one half their income for housing, they are doubled up with others in overcrowded, precarious conditions, or they are in substandard housing.
"The Bush Administration has recognized homelessness as a priority, and made a commitment to end chronic homelessness in ten years. The commitment is noteworthy, and laudable. But without specific action, and significant funding, it will be an empty one,"states National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty Executive Director Maria Foscarinis.
Punishing people for living in public when they have no other place to go is inhumane. It wont work: ultimately people must be somewhere. It is also unnecessary: some cities have adopted other, more constructive approachesworking with homeless people and service providers to create more resources instead of punishing people for not having them:
In Fort Lauderdale, police and homeless advocates are working in partnership to address street homelessness constructively. Instead of arresting people living in public places, police refer them to social services. A new homeless assistance center was created with public and private funding to increase the availability of those services. Police are trained to understand homelessness, and police protocol specifically states that homelessness is not a crime.
Just this past year, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty won a major new law protecting homeless childrens rights. Just last month, NLCHP secured a Social Security Administration proposal to remove barriers to benefits for disabled homeless people. Just last week, we got a food stamp administrator to agree to stop denying food stamps to homeless people because they dont have an addressa violation of federal law.
Here at the Law Center we are working every day to remove the barriers that keep people out of the aid they are entitled to and deserve. We advocate in Congress and in the Courts. We empower homeless people and those who serve them with the law. NLCHP is a voice for the poor and powerless.
Now more than ever there is consensus on how to solve homelessness. What works is affordable housing, including supportive housing for those who need services such as mental health care or substance abuse treatment. Jobs that pay a living wage, and the support to make work possible, such as transportation and child care, are also part of the solution. Education for homeless children, including early childhood programs, to make sure they do not become homeless adults.
In the meantime, this winter, leaders at all levels of government should at a minimum do everything possible to ensure that no one freezes to deathand that no one is punished simply for having no place to go.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty seeks solutionsconstructive alternatives to criminalizing the poor and marginalized. We must act now to start moving toward a better tomorrow.
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