Tag Archives: criminalization

Criminalizing the homeless costs us all

By Paul Boden, Contributing Writer

The Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) and the USA-Canada Alliance of Inhabitants (USACAI) are calling on our members and allies throughout the United States and Canada to join us on April 1 for a bi-national day of action against the ongoing criminalization of poor and homeless people in our communities. Stay tuned for information on Portland’s action led by Sisters Of The Road, Right 2 Survive, and Street Roots.

We are building a movement to reclaim our communities for all members, not just those who set the rents. In order to build this movement and assert our human rights, we must make clear the myriad ways in which our community members are treated as though they are less than human. We must connect the dots.

Over the past 30 years, neo-liberal policy-makers have substituted private gain for public good; they have abandoned economic and social policies that supported housing, education, healthcare, labor, and immigration programs. WRAP and USACAI are at work identifying and tracking such policy, legal, and funding trends in order to publicize their spread and their effects. This is not a matter of theoretical analysis, this is an investigation of the policies and tools by which more and more people have been made to suffer. Continue reading

The quality of whose life? The zero-sum game. Part II

The second in a four-part series on the country’s modern anti-poor movement

By Paul Boden, Contributing Writer

What images do the words “quality of life” bring to mind? A peaceful beach? A beautiful park? A farmers market full of healthy produce? In the realm of policing, the phrase “quality of life” carries different connotations. It means a veteran getting hauled in for sleeping on the sidewalk, a homeless woman being prohibited from resting on a park bench, or even brutal scenes like these from San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Fresno. Continue reading

The quality of whose life?

The first in a four-part series on the country’s modern anti-poor movement

by Paul Boden, Contributing Writer

One more stark reminder of the disconnect between our ideals and public policy is to look at the declining stocks of our country’s public and project-based housing. In the years between 1994 and 2008, we have been building more and more jail cells but fewer and fewer affordable housing units, and as a result, we now have millions of people without housing, some living on the street, some in cars, some in jails.

Other consequences of this disconnect are stark too. In city after city, nationwide, we see new so-called quality-of-life ordinances and anti-panhandling statutes. In Las Vegas, for example, both panhandlers and the people who give them money can be fined, and providing people free meals for homeless people in parks is banned. In San Francisco, a hotly debated new measure would make it illegal for people to sit down on city sidewalks. As a result, one McDonald’s on a street that has a relatively high concentration of homeless people, Haight Street, has become the only franchise in the city that has stopped offering its popular “Dollar Menu.” These are only the latest developments in a city where the mayor sailed into office on a platform, known as “Care Not Cash,” that severely limits cash assistance to the homeless.

All these laws and ordinances (and many more like them) are presented to the public as serving the greater good, making cities more livable, improving public safety; in a nutshell, increasing quality of life across the board. Residents’ quality of life is enhanced because they live in safer, cleaner cities. Businesses are able to attract more customers. Cities themselves are able to attract more tourists. All in all, quality-of-life ordinances seem to work for everyone. Quality of life is, of course, a well-chosen phrase. It has a nice ring to it, it sounds upbeat and profound at the same time. Who could possibly oppose such a thing? One group might be those who care about social justice and our collective responsibility toward the economically marginalized — the exact people who are, more often than not, on the receiving end of quality of life initiatives. Continue reading

Without rights, without housing

(July 14) Paul Boden connects the New Deal with today’s current climate on the streets.

In 1933, when more than a million Americans were homeless, President Roosevelt’s New Deal made their economic and social well-being a federal responsibility. In 2008, an estimated 3.5 million Americans will live without housing; homeless children in school number more than 900,000 according to the Department of Education. Ironically, in this election year – which marks the 75th anniversary of the New Deal – neither major party nor presidential candidate has acknowledged a federal responsibility. It is time that they do so.

The federal government created the contemporary crisis of mass homelessness by cutting and refusing to restore billions of dollars in funding for affordable housing programs. Since 1982, every federal plan to address homelessness has failed because every plan has been based on the assumption that something was wrong with the people who were finding themselves without housing. Every plan has focused on individuals: FEMA emergency shelter plans, HUD Continuum of Care plans and 10-Year Plans to End Homelessness as spearheaded by the Bush administration’s Interagency Council on Homelessness all identify homeless people as “the problem” that needs fixing.

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We’re waiting.

Street Roots editorial, June 27.

After more than three weeks of protests by individuals experiencing homelessness, countless actions (including actions by Street Roots and Sisters Of The Road), weekly testimonials from individuals in front of City Council and the realization for many that we are indeed dealing with a housing crisis, Portland finds itself at a crossroads.

City Hall has sent a clear and consistent message that both the camping ordinance and the sit-lie ordinance will not be repealed, at least not in the near future.

First and foremost, the outrage on the streets is in direct response to a lack of housing and the realities that come with not having a home. For many, those realities come in the form of the enforcement of obscene laws, meant to keep order and maintain business as usual.

Both the camping and sit-lie laws, coupled with park exclusions (overseen by a private security agency that continues to go unchecked) and programs like the Service Coordination Team, are intended to maintain order downtown and to ultimately help individuals. But it’s time our politicians faced the cold, hard facts that these laws are breaking people’s spirits.

Beyond facing the great wilderness of being homeless, individuals on the streets are being constantly harassed by law enforcement and private security agencies that have no clear solutions other than to push them out of sight.

In the past six weeks, many of those individuals have refused to remain invisible.

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