National News from the Streets

From Boston, Spare Change...

The demise of rent control in Massachusetts has had a dramatic effect on homelessness in that state. Many landlords are now choosing to evict current residents when their leases expire and rent to new tenants at exorbitant rental rates. This move has affected residents of all ages as well as families. Many residents report being forced to move after 25 years of occupancy in the same place. Despite Chapter 239 (a just cause to evict law) a record 7,158 evictions were filed in Suffolk County Housing Court last year alone. Viable, permanent solutions include an increase in the minimum wage or bringing back rent control.

From Chicago, StreetWise...

Federal Judge Wayne Anderson will hear closing arguments a motion for a temporary injunction on Wednesday designed to stop the City of Chicago from discarding on the personal property of homeless Lower Wacker Drive residents. Judge Anderson is likely to rule in the case following closing arguments in January.

The homeless people filed the motion after the city allegedly violated court-supported, temporary procedures for off-street cleaning of Lower Wacker Drive on December 1, 1997. On that date, police and sanitation workers conducted a "sweep" of the homeless, told them to leave without their belongings, and used racial slurs and threats of arrest to intimidate them. In violation of the agreement, homeless people were not allowed to move their belongings. When people tried to leave the scene with their property, it was taken out of their hands. City workers allegedly discarded blankets, important documents including a marriage certificate, asthma and diabetes medicines, and personal remembrances including family photos.

In January, 1996, homeless residents of Lower Wacker Drive filed a class action lawsuit against the City of Chicago alleging that the city’s "sweeps" violated their rights by seizing and/or destroying their personal property. In March 1996, lawyers for the homeless and the City of Chicago developed court-supported temporary guidelines for carrying out cleanings of Lower Wacker Drive. Pursuant to the guidelines, the city must:

• Provide 12-hour advanced warning of the sweeps by posting signs and making verbal announcements under Lower Wacker Drive.

• Give homeless people the opportunity to move their belongings fifty feet from the area to be cleaned. Possessions not moved will be discarded.

• Prohibit Streets and Sanitation cleaning personnel from disposing any possessions moved by the homeless individuals

The homeless have been organized by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless (CCH). CCH believes that housing is a basic right in a just society. With the current critical shortage of affordable housing in Chicago, CCH supports the right of homeless people to live on Lower Wacker Drive. Through systematic research and intensive organizing of homeless people, CCH is working to end homelessness in metropolitan Chicago. CCH focuses on the root causes of the problem, including a serious shortage of affordable housing, the increasing scarcity of living wage jobs, and a lack of health and supportive services for poor people.

Also...

The Coalition to Protect Public Housing is currently battling the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) over the displacement of families in sub-standard housing. CHA has been criticized for failing to reinvest money into their properties over the last 60 years. As a result, many of CHA’s properties fail to "meet the minimum standards of quality, safety and security" ( StreetWise Vol. 6 No. 8, January 6, 1998). CHA has chosen to evict many of their tenants instead of bringing their units up to code like other landlords are required to do.

Current federal legislation no longer provides for one-for-one replacement of public housing units that are demolished. However, congress is now considering legislation that would nullify the one-for-one replacement rule. "According to the Coalition to Protect Public Housing, ‘CHA plans to demolish 18,000 units of CHA’s low-income family housing stock. That’s 34,000 - 50,000 men, women and children who could end up homeless because there would be no requirement for replacement of units to be destroyed.’ (StreetWise Vol. 6 No. 8, January 6, 1998)"

From San Francisco, Street Sheet...

One and a half years after Mayor Willie Brown’s ex-Matrix platform, the assault on homeless people still continues. Although Brown originally stated that "the Matrix program is a cynical publicity stunt that redirects scarce police resources away from violent crime and street corner drug sales to herding homeless people from neighborhood to neighborhood. This dangerous charade called Matrix will end when I take office." (Street Sheet, Dec., 1997, Smoke and Mirrors: Brown’s Non-Policy on Homeless) Brown has continued the harassment of homeless people started by his predecessors, Mayors Agnos and Jordan.

Despite Mayor Brown’s original promise to end the police harassment of homeless individuals, he has recently tried to step up the assault. He asked the city of Oakland to loan him heat-seeking helicopters to locate homeless people sleeping in Golden Gate Park (Oakland refused). He has ordered intensive sweeps of Golden Gate Park taking those "scarce police resources" away from serious crime in order to remove sleeping people from the Park. It is noteworthy that 1,500 people are turned away from area shelters each month. As homeless people look on, their possessions are seized and discarded by the Recreation and Parks Department. Brown has also worked to make homelessness a misdemeanor punishable by six months of jail time.

From Seattle, Real Change..

Inquiries into Washington State’s Workfirst plan have revealed many problems with the state’s welfare reform plan. Many of their DSHS social workers were poorly trained in the new program and find themselves unable to address clients’ needs. In addition, clients have found industry unwilling to provide jobs with livable wages. "By flooding the workforce with people who can be hired without fair wage or benefits, and simultaneously removing the safety net of welfare and Medicare, welfare "reformers" and employers will be able to offer less to workers everywhere. Put in classic supply and demand terms, there aren’t enough jobs for all those who must be moved from welfare to work. This makes workers less valuable and they will be treated as such." Real Change Jan. 1998, " Hearing Faults Workfare")

Nationally..

Late last month, President Clinton announced that he would request an increase in federal aid to help homeless Americans find homes and become self-supporting. The new budget proposes an increase of $133 million more to HUD than last year’s budget of $823 million. The new plan is also expected to add 34,000 new Section 8 vouchers for homeless, mentally ill individuals. Despite the increase in Federal spending, it is expected that the programs aimed at providing housing will still fail to meet the needs of the growing homeless population according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. (See page 9 for details.)

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published 1998 Issue 25