National Homeless News Briefs

San Francisco Battles to Save the Pay Toilets

            San Francisco is one of the few United States cities featuring pay public toilets, and they have become a haven for homeless people, drug addicts and prostitutes.  Seems that toilets equipped with a 20-minute time limit frequently break or are jammed open at night.  With a 35% increase in homelessness over the last year in San Francisco, some have sought refuge in the pay metal self-cleaning toilets.  Police have asked that the toilets be locked at night, and are asking for legislation which allow them to fine people who linger inside the toilets ranging from $100 to $500.  The Board of Supervisors put the problems with the 25 pay toilets on their agenda, never getting around to the discussion of the 7,500 homeless people in the City every night.

 Washington D.C. Will Not Tolerate Hypothermia

          Last winter six homeless men died of hypothermia in the 2000-2001 winter; most were alcoholics.  Mayor Anthony Williams will not tolerate this embarrassment of people needlessly dying in the nation’s capital with its extensive outreach system in place.  In order to protect the city’s image and prevent further deaths, Mayor Williams has resurrected a 1940’s ordinance, which allows the city to remove intoxicated or mentally ill people from the streets.  Williams is also asking for an anti-loitering ordinance that could withstand constitutional challenges.  There was no increase in detox beds or shelters for the mentally ill in the plan.  The people forced off of the streets will be placed in overflow shelters that will be staffed when the temperature falls below freezing.  District officials estimate that 900 people live on the streets.

Cincinnati Conducts Street Census

            The United States Census found 550 people sleeping in shelters last March in Cincinnati.  Activists counted 15,688 people living in the shelters or in the streets “between” March 2000 to March 2002 with 1,333 on one evening.  The study found that 58% of the homeless population was women and children.  The study found that 60% of the homeless men and 45 percent of the women who are homeless in Cincinnati work full or part time.  Sixty eight percent of the homeless population was African American, which is significantly higher than the 39% they found in their first census in 1986.

Chicago Stops Enforcement of Anti-Panhandling Law

            Chicago officials have decided they have a panhandling problem, and have begun rigorous enforcement of a broad disorderly conduct statue.  The law allows police to cite people on the public streets for drunkenness, lewdness and panhandling.  They can face fines up to $500.  Courts have traditionally found that panhandling is legally protected speech.  City attorneys have asked for 30 days to review the ordinance while it is studied.  A local Chicago attorney has filed suit on behalf of three panhandlers.  The ordinance makes it illegal to ask for money, which is separate from aggressive solicitation, which is covered under other ordinances.

 Washington State Stops the Welfare Check

          Governor Gary Locke came out with an election day-gift for people counting down until time runs out for Washington’s welfare recipients:  He stopped the clock for those with significant barriers to finding a job.  In addition, he announced that people looking for work could keep receiving state assistance until their first paycheck arrives.            Locke’s move has a direct effect on about 3,200 families who were scheduled to hit their five-year lifetime limit next August.  The Governor’s office says that three-quarters of those recipients are “playing by the rules” – working, looking for work or getting vocational training.  Another 550 or so are physically or mentally disabled and cannot be reasonably expected to participate in WorkFi9rst.

            As Locke announced this amnesty for the majority of Work First Participants, he didn’t let up on an uncooperative minority.  The 120 Washington families that have resisted participation in Work First have been put under sanction, and their monthly payments gradually reduced.  Governor Locke introduced the Child Safety Net Payment System for the children of these families.  Under the system, a third party money manager will get a families monthly benefit check, and use it to pay for rent, utilities, food or other items deemed necessary for the children’s will being.

            “Even though some parents refuse to cooperate with Work First, their children should not suffer because of it,” the governor said in a statement.

            Locke prepared his statement in response to a petition filed by child and family advocates September 5.  It asked for prompt clarification of which families might be eligible for extension beyond their lifetime limits.

            A state survey conducted earlier this year showed that half of the families leaving Washington’s welfare rolls are making less than 1,100 a month – below the federal poverty line.  The study also showed an increase in the number of families going back to welfare after leaving a job.  Many of them said that they relied on food banks and sometimes skipped meals.

 Copyright NEOCH published December 2001 in Cleveland Ohio for Issue 51