Out of Sight, Out of Mind?

In the past few decades, laws and ordinances have been enacted and enforced as “quick-fix” solutions to remove homeless people from sight, rather than addressing the underlying causes of homelessness. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has been documented this criminalization trend in reports by since 1991.

According to an NLCHP report,  out of the 187 cities survey between 2011 and 2014, 34 percent had citywide laws criminalizing camping in public.  Another 43 percent of the cities prohibited sleeping in vehicles, and 53 percent banned sitting or lying down in certain public areas such as parks. All of these laws targeted the kind of activities — sitting, resting, sleeping — that are arguably fundamental to human existence.

Cities all over the country have increasingly moved toward enacting and enforcing laws that target and criminalize homelessness. For instance, in response to their concern about the use of public space. In response to complaints about gatherings of “vagrants” in public parks from downtown Sarasota, Florida. The city decided to remove the benches, later prohibited camping. The benches in Selby Five Points Park were removed in May 2011 to discourage the homeless from using the park.

Florida’s example along with NLCHP report show the common intent of removing homeless people from public spaces and sight. Although some city officials’ concerns about public safety are valid, the criminalization of homeless individuals is a poor public policy for several reasons.

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By adopting anti-homeless laws and policies, we are punishing homeless people for their circumstances rather than addressing causes, prevention, and solution to homelessness.

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Penalizing people for their circumstances will not help homeless people improve their situation and certainly will not keep them out of public spaces when they have no other choice. Rather, we should implement those laws and regulations to help increase resources for shelter and services that homeless people need.

Imposing laws that punish unavoidable activities is not only useless, but it is also inhumane.

Best wishes,

Auris

Facts don’t lie, Mr. Mayor

Michael Bloomberg is one of the richest people in America, with a worth of forty-five billion dollars. After Rudy Giuliani left, Bloomberg had some tough shoes to fill, as Giuliani cleaned up a lot of crime and is considered iconic for his brave response after the World Trade Center was destroyed by terrorists on 9/11. Bloomberg’s tenure as a mayor lasted three terms indicating his success as the mayor of the Big Apple. However, the mayor received a lot of criticism for his dealings with New York City’s homeless people and its impoverished population. According to an article posted by the Wall Street Journal, back in 2013, right after he finished his last term, saw the former mayor defend his stance that he did not fail New York’s homeless population. The mayor in a way bats away the question and focussed on the well documented story of Dasani, an eleven-year-old girl who was living in a homeless shelter. The formerly tipped presidential candidate went on and said that he felt bad and would assure that her situation would be dealt with. Hers may have been, but what about the rest of NYC?

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Michael Bloomberg’s official website as mayor of New York City, repeatedly lauds him for his record of fixing poverty and helping the homeless, but this is a farce, as statistics have shown Bloomberg’s policies not only didn’t shorten the rates of the homeless they increased–by 62 percent. Looking at the statistics of his last two years as mayor both in 2012 and in 2013, New York city’s homeless population grew by almost 10,000 people, yet this man still claimed to have done a good job. In fact, when asked about his dealings of the homeless in New York City, Bloomberg stated, “I don’t think there is any administration in any city that has ever done as much to help those in need as we have done in this city” he later continued by comparing the issues of the homeless in New York City to that in other countries, but that is an idiotic argument. It does not matter what happens in other places, Michael Bloomberg is the mayor of New York and should have had everything at his disposal to make a change, but he only made things worse. Bloomberg will point to the 2007 Advantage Program, which helped afford the first two years of rent for people who moved from shelters to housing, but this was shut down four years later as Bloomberg tried to help the state of New York deal with its multibillion dollar deficit.screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-11-08-23-pmscreen-shot-2016-11-09-at-11-08-04-pm

Patrick Markee, a writer for the Coalition of the Homeless, lined up the facts one more time and explained what Bloomberg’s tenure left behind for the homeless and the poor: increase it’s population by 69%, one out of every three kids in NYC is raised in poverty, downplay the causes, and distort the truth about the rate of the homeless. Nowadays, three years later, the number of homeless population has gone up. This reinforces the notion that dealing with the homeless is a fragile and difficult issue to solve, but not fixing an issue and claiming you did something tremendous to fix it are two completely different things, yet Bloomberg’s website awards him for work. It could be said that Michael Bloomberg did a lot for the city of New York, but one is for sure he did not decrease the rate of poverty and surely didn’t help the poor, no website can disprove that–because facts don’t lie, Mr. Mayor.            bloomie

http://progress.mikebloomberg.com/

Looking At The Bigger Picture

Homelessness is the responsibility of all of us. Those with mental illness, physical or mental handicaps, or simply hardships or misfortune should be supported by those around them. Harriet McDonald in Helping the Homeless Help Themselves puts forward the position that “ We need to expect more from homeless people….” She asserts the notion that “Rather than condemn the homeless to lives on the government dole, let’s demand more of them — and ourselves.” This old school mentality where the homeless simply need to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” is antiquated at best and dangerous at worst.

In the majority of the country’s major cities basic resources such as homeless shelters and soup kitchens etc. are simply not enough to meet the rising tide of desperate people. According to sfgate.com  “Homelessness in and around big U.S. cities increased 3 percent this year, even as the nation’s overall rate declined 2 percent, according to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development“. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness “Despite a national decrease in unsheltered homelessness, only 18 states reported decreases in the number of people living in unsheltered locations…”  this year. There is still a great way to go in getting those most in need off of the streets and putting the necessary housing measures in place.  The report reads, “Transitional housing capacity continued to decrease nationwide with 40 states and D.C. reducing capacity…..utilization of transitional housing was low, with 81.7 percent of beds filled …. the lowest utilization of transitional housing recorded since 2007.”

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We fundamentally disagree with the assertion that “… we will never be able to … add enough  government-subsidized housing units to shelter everyone forever. Nor should taxpayers be expected to pay forever for people who appear only cursorily unable to make it on their own.” The real truth of the matter is that we must take steps to first providing the basic necessities. Only then, will we as a society be able to lift those out of their misfortune and incorporate them into the larger community as a whole.         

McDonald goes at length to place her organization “The Doe Fund” on a pedestal as the ideal model for how to solve the crisis of homelessness. This organization however is not the ideal. It effectively excludes many who may be unable to work due to physical or mental illness or handicaps or even single mothers who have to look after children.  Due to the lack of basic resources available to most able-bodied homeless men and women, the odds that they would be willing to take a chance on such an organization is doubtful. Without some form of bedrock beneath them to launch from, “The Doe Fund” represents more confusion than opportunity.puffins

In short, although I can understand the notion that taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear the weight of the homeless population, I can reason that in time more expectations should be put upon the homeless to engage and contribute to society. However in order to get to that time and place the homeless must be first given some ground to stand upon so that they can gain the confidence and security to take new opportunities such as “The Doe Fund” when they arise.

Best,

Ryan

Regulations on Homelessness: More Harmful Than Helpful

Homelessness has become more prevalent across the United States in recent years, especially in major cities like Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In addition to implementing initiatives like housing and other programs to help manage the homeless population, some cities have been imposing regulations on both homeless individuals and homed citizens, with the hopes of creating substantial progress.

In Fort Lauderdale, FL, a law was passed in 2014 criminalizing “street feeding,” or passerby being able to give food to homeless individuals, as reported by The Atlantic. In the article, Robert Marbut, a consultant for NPR, states that street feeding is “one of the worst things you can do, because it keeps people in homeless status.” Other laws prohibit loitering or sleeping in certain public places, sleeping outside or in cars, and more. If they are found in violation of these laws, homeless individuals are arrested and face bail or fines they cannot pay. The most extreme cases have to led to death, as outlined in the case of Jerome Murdough, as outlined in this article from the Center for American Progress.

homelessThese articles speak to the motivations behind putting legal restrictions on homelessness: cities want to move people from outside and encourage them to stay in shelters. They believe that shelters are the best option, which is far from true. The Pew Charitable Trusts detailed a report from the National Law Center that found that in many cities there are not enough beds to house the homeless, and that “74% of the homeless population do not know how to find a place where it is safe and legal for them to sleep.” The National Alliance to End Homelessness found that “On a single night in January 2015, 564,708 people were experiencing homelessness — meaning they were sleeping outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.” This overlooks a very large portion of the homeless population that is not accounted for via a shelter or other program, conveying that the actual total is much higher. The same organization also breaks down the cost for supporting the homeless: homeless individuals can cost taxpayers over $14,000 per year if they are incarcerated, and emergency shelter beds can cost $8,067 more than federal housing. Not only that, but shelters are unable to house large numbers of people, especially if they have stay limits.

As Ryan mentioned in his post, regulations meant to help the homeless can have great benefits. However, there are fewer of those than laws that restrict homeless and citizen activity. Cities need to think about what is most effective—limiting the actions of homeless individuals, or working to invest (and save) money in long-term housing options and treatment? Change is possible, and with homelessness reaching epidemic levels in some areas, it’s time to work to create it.