International News From the Streets

Sweeping the Parks I

From Real Change
Seattle, WA

excerpt from article Have a Bleeding Heart

by John Fox

    The local Parks Exclusion Law gives police and parks personnel the authority to bar people engaged in "unlawful activity" from a park and surrounding parks for up to one year. In the six months since the passage of the law, over 1,000 exclusion orders have been issued, and while they may be issued for any prohibited park activity, 30 percent of the exclusions were issued for "trespass" and approximately 50 percent were issued for drinking. About 10 percent were drug related.

    Police say that most of the 300 trespass exclusions were issued to people camping out at night after park hours. In a city with only 2,300 shelter beds each night for more than 4,500 homeless, this is not a surprising fact. Sleeping out in wet, cold weather is not a lifestyle choice, but a product of widespread poverty, homelessness, and a lack of services in our community.

    The Seattle Displacement Coalition has received several reports from homeless people who say that if they are gathered in a group and only one or two of them are drinking, all of them still receive an expulsion. And since there is no judicial review for those receiving exclusions (since an appeal could not be filed until after the 7-day exclusion period has expired) and police do not provide detailed reports, there is no way of determining how often the police abuse the broad authority they are given under this law.

    If the homeless cannot sleep in our parks, just where are they supposed to go? Last year, after police drove the homeless from their nighttime sleeping areas around the Municipal Building, and swept our greenbelts of nighttime "campers," a homeless person was run over and killed where he slept in an alley in the Denny Renegade and lost her leg. Closure of campsites in our parks and greenbelts, and issuance of parks exclusion orders carries real human consequence.

Affordable Housing Threatened

From StreetWise

Chicago, IL

from "Vouchered Out! Will Section 8 Worsen Public Housing Woes?" by La Risa R. Lynch

    Several Robert Taylor Section 8 recipients, whose buildings are slated for demolition, gave a wavering "thumbs-up" to a voucher program that, in theory, is supposed to provide them with market rate apartments. But, strikingly, no one would comment on record about the program because, in the words of one source, they "didn’t want to have unexpected problems" arise in their search for housing with their Section 8 certificates or vouchers.

    A Streetwise canvas of the Robert Taylor Homes last week found several residents who said they feared reprisals from tenant managers if they spoke about their frustrations with the delays in Section 8 program. This silence fuels suspicions among housing activists who say that the voucher program is seriously flawed, offering too few vouchers and not enough support for residents trying to find an apartment.

    "People are afraid to talk," said Wardell Yotaghan co-founder of the Coalition to Protect Public Housing. "I think only time will tell to see if they can find housing in the private market with their certificates".

Yotaghan also says that the fear of retaliation from tenant management staff has put a lid on the truth as to how well Section 8 is working.

    "If the lower level people find out that the residents are in contact with us because of problems that they are having, they will do things to tenants like minor harassment as retaliation," Yotaghan said. "I’m sure that the higher-ups at CHA don’t condone what they are doing but managers and coordinators are still doing it".

    Gregory Russ, chief of staff at CHA stated that the process of moving from public to private housing is a "traumatic experience" and should not be compound by harassment from relocation teams or the local advisory council. That kind of behavior would be "unacceptable and unethical-we are in the business of helping residents find housing not hindering them".

    Section 8 is a federally funded program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to assist low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to obtain housing in the private market.

    In recent years, the profile of Section 8 program has markedly increased, as vouchers are viewed by public housing policy makers as being cheaper than building projects, which have been criticized for their isolation and crime problems, while also satisfying court desegregation decrees.

    The Chicago Housing Authority has promoted Section 8 vouchers as its answer to relocating displaced residents from public housing projects that are scheduled for demolition..

    According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development 1.4 million households, nationally, are under lease in the Section 8 program.

Homeless Settle Suit

Task Force for the Homeless

Atlanta, GA

    The city agreed to train police on how to deal with the homeless and pay $3,000 each to five homeless people who sued the city for alleged harassment dating back to the 1996 Olympic Games.

    Under a settlement announced in June, veteran officers as well as new recruits will receive the training, and the Task Force for the Homeless, an advocacy group, will monitor arrests of the homeless and allegation of abuse by police.

    The five homeless plaintiffs alleged they were arrested and harassed by police under ordinances adopted in 1991 and 1996 aimed at cutting loitering and aggressive panhandling

    The suit claimed that the ordinances were adopted to make downtown Atlanta attractive to 1996 Olympic Games visitors, a charge which the city denied but was reported widely in the national media in 1996.

Sweeping the Parks II

From Street Sheet

San Francisco, CA

    Last November, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown implemented what many see as a politically motivated crackdown on the homeless in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Mayor Brown had police forcibly remove hundreds of homeless people from Golden Gate Park, and in the process confiscated all their belongings. This had led to a group of twelve men and women filing separate lawsuits against the City in a San Francisco small claims court. They did this with the help of the Coalition on Homeless and the American Civil Liberties Union.

    The majority of the plaintiffs claimed that they either returned to the campsite to find their belongings missing, or they were given just a few short moments to gather up their belongings before they were hauled away. For this the Plaintiffs are asking for between $3,000 and $5,000 each in compensation for lost items, emotional distress, and punitive damages.

    According to the city, the police followed directives not to destroy any property of value. The twelve homeless men and women who lost their belongings, and the ACLU see this as direct violation their rights.

“Get Out of Town!”

Tuscon AZ

    A recent lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court claims that Tucson has made it a crime simply to be homeless in certain parts of the city.

    The suit, which was filed by 47 year-old Alan J. Mason, alleges that Tucson police have taken to arresting homeless people without cause, and then release them under the condition that they will stay clear of the area in which they were arrested for a period of time. This period of time could range from just the period until their case is heard, or up two years after they are sentenced in the case.

Copyright NEOCH and the Homeless Grapevine published July 1998 in Cleveland Ohio