Click on the blue link above to read a fascinating, well-written and well-researched article on housing and homelessness. This article explores productive and not so productive ways (e.g. Camden, NJ’s heartless evictions) of increasing affordable housing prospects and assisting people experiencing homelessness.
Click on the blue link above to read about Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s proposals to discourage homelessness in the Waikiki area. Two new proposals by the mayor aim to prevent people experiencing homelessness from public urination and sitting on benches and in public walkways in the tourist area. While the intent of the proposals seem good (Patty Witty-Oakland, Honolulu’s Director of Community Services, was quoted as saying: “We want to get folks to that point where they say, ‘OK, I’ve had enough. I’m ready’ to take the step to go to a shelter or to get the treatment that they need.”), these types of laws bring into question who counts as a citizen (with full rights afforded to citizens) and who deserves access to public spaces. Laws such as the proposed bills in Honolulu show that we are still living in a society that very clearly favors the rights of people with homes and disposable income over people experiencing homelessness and those struggling with economic hardship.
In the article (click on the blue link above), published on June 16, 2014, journalist Gordon Y.K. Pang of the Honolulu Star Advertiser writes: “Two new bills being proposed by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell would give his administration further ammunition to conduct his ‘compassionate disruption’ campaign to remove the homeless from the sidewalks of Waikiki…Violators would be warned before they are cited. Then they could be fined up to $500 and sentenced to as many as 30 days in jail.” The jail time and fines seem ludicrous punishments for merely seeking places to rest, and it would be unrealistic to seek fines from people experiencing homelessness who already have little to no income. (For more on inappropriate punishments, see NPR‘s series on debtor’s prisons’ and their negative effects on the poor at: http://www.npr.org/2014/05/21/313118629/supreme-court-ruling-not-enough-to-prevent-debtors-prisons). The proposed ordinances are very discriminatory and classist in nature–would the mayor and his administration have a problem with middle and upper class citizens spending lengthy amounts of time on public benches and in public spaces in Honolulu?
These types of bills and “sit-lie” ordinances (as they are referred to in cities such as Seattle and Portland) should encourage Americans to reflect on how and why we place value on one other as people and as fellow citizens. Is it really fair to limit access to public spaces based on someone’s housing, income, or mental health status? And, is it accurate to frame the narrative of this political maneuver to discourage homelessness in Honolulu as “compassionate disruption” if the disruption is forced and infringes on the rights of those people experiencing homelessness? It is not compassionate to kick homeless people out of public spaces because their presence makes others feel uncomfortable.
Click on the blue link above to read an article about a very inspiring, hard working young woman who is homeless and pursuing her dreams.
Click on the blue link above to read Al Jazeera‘s report on the “Anti Homeless” METAL SPIKES that have been put on the ground in front of London’s Property Partners, to deter people experiencing homelessness from sitting outside their building. Tesco, a popular European grocer, has also put up such spikes and the inhumane, really vicious trend is growing. Such spikes were initially used to deter PIGEONS from lingering near businesses, but HUMANS ARE NOT PIGEONS! This is an atrocity! Luckily, the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is calling for the removal of the spikes, and many activists are getting involved.
Here is the link to the Change.org petition, started by mental health nurse Harriett Wells of London, to get rid of the inhumane spikes: https://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/mayoroflondon-residential-property-partners-remove-the-anti-homeless-spikes
An excerpt from the Change.org petition:
“A controversial and inhumane way of ‘managing’ London’s homeless population was brought to the attention of twitterers by Worldview Media at the weekend: spikes have been placed outside a building owned by property company Property Partners, to deter people from sleeping on the property…We should be looking after our vulnerable population not ostracising them by moving them to places that are less intrusive to our lives, so that they are out of sight. The next time you walk past a homeless person, think about the fact that they have had lives, rich and interesting lives that were thrown into turmoil due to circumstances that are often out of their control…For those people who are not sure if they agree with this petition I would say if it is a problem for a homeless person to stay in that area, then perhaps a more human approach could be adopted – a person telling another person to move along is more humane than installing spikes. Humans deserve to be treated like humans regardless of their social situation.“
This is A MUST READ article!! Rosen highlights the stories collected by Margaret Miles, director of St. Stephen’s Human Services in Minneapolis, MN. In 2008, Miles developed an oral history project documenting the lives of people experiencing homelessness in the state of Minnesota. The project has collected over 600 oral histories thus far.
***Click on the blue link above to read the article.
The Giving Keys is a unique jewelry company that employs formerly homeless individuals as artists. Click on the blue link above to enter the website of The Giving Keys. This is a great place to buy a special gift, while supporting a business that promotes talented workers. My best friend gave me a key necklace from The Giving Keys this past Christmas and it is a beautiful reminder of our friendship!
*From The Giving Keys website: “The Giving Keys exists to employ those transitioning out of homelessness to make jewelry out of repurposed keys that get sold and shared around the world. Each key is unique and carries a message like HOPE, STRENGTH, DREAM or COURAGE. When the wearer of the key encounters someone else who needs the message on the key, they give it away and then send us the story of their key being paid forward.”
Interested in helping to improve the lives of people experiencing homelessness? What works the most effectively?
*Allocating more resources ($$$) for housing, feeding, and HEALING …Coordinated efforts by local, state, and federal agencies are necessary for increased funding for programs.
*Be patient and respectful of people experiencing homelessness. Change does not happen over night! Whether you are a private citizen volunteering with a nonprofit organization, or a leader in a government agency looking for solutions and visible change, be patient!! Provide support and care but don’t be controlling!
*Don’t get caught up in the numbers!! Quantitative data is necessary for policy making and planning, but sometimes people and policy makers get discouraged when the numbers do not match policy or planning goals. This is futile and silly! Remember that helping JUST ONE PERSON is more productive and effective than helping no one at all.
****Research programs that have been effective in assisting people experiencing homelessness. Some example of positive programs appear in the January 15, 2014 New York Times article titled “Program to End Homelessness Among Veterans Reaches a Milestone in Arizona”, written by Fernanda Santos. Click on the blue link above to read this article and then on your own, research programs that work and brainstorm ideas for supplements to existing programs and/or ideas for new programs!!
Click on the link above to read a well-written New York Times article about the Obama Administration’s renewed efforts to combat chronic homelessness among veterans, announced on June 4, 2014, in light of the Veteran’s Health Administration debacle. The Obama Administration has repeatedly stated that its goal is to end chronic homelessness for veterans completely and entirely (as if this goal is possible or even desirable for all veterans experiencing homelessness), citing the cities of Phoenix and Salt Lake City as exemplars in this fight. This announcement comes on the heels of controversial discussions about poor health care and service in the VA system, which leads me to question the political motives behind the announcement. People experiencing homelessness (especially homeless veterans and chronically homeless individuals) are only discussed in the political arena when politicians have something to gain from the public nature of the discussion, and the solutions (or “goals”) proposed are rarely formulated by consulting people who are actually experiencing homelessness, those individuals with the largest “stakes” (i.e. stakeholders) in the discussion.
With these thoughts in mind, it is necessary to interrogate the current policy goals related to homelessness in the United States. Is ending chronic homelessness for all veterans possible or desirable for those actually experiencing houselessness? Should this be the goal of the United States government? While allocating more resources to the department of Housing and Urban Development (or HUD)* is necessary and admirable for housing homeless veterans and individuals who want to be housed, the goal of eradicating chronic homelessness does not take into account the feelings and desires of chronically homeless individuals who feel more comfortable living outside. While working for a nonprofit organization that provides outreach services for chronically homeless individuals in Albany, NY, I encountered many people experiencing homelessness who felt more comfortable living outside and abhorred the thought of going indoors, even for one night. Some of these individuals were veterans and all had their own, very personal, reasons for preferring outdoors to indoors. Should the United States government, a government that espouses democratic ideals and frequently employs the rhetoric of “freedom” and “choice” for all citizens, allow for more flexibility and less rigidity in politically-motivated policy “goals” related to homelessness (such as the “eradicating chronic homelessness completely” goal)? I think so! Allow people experiencing homelessness the same freedom of choice as housed citizens. And policy makers, PLEASE give people experiencing homelessness a “seat at the table” when policies that will deeply affect their lives are being made!!!!
*President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget includes a 14% increase in funds (totaling $1.6 billion) to HUD for housing homeless veterans. This is a fantastic, very positive example of resource allocation, but the policy goals related to housing the chronically homeless and homeless veterans are still flawed and in need of revision. It is unproductive to attempt to “eliminate homelessness completely” (Huetteman)–this ALL OR NOTHING approach is unrealistic and does not help people experiencing homelessness.