On the 73rd anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s birth, January 15, homeless people found their civil rights threatened in an increasing number of communities, according to a anew report released today by homeless advocacy groups. The report found that more jurisdictions are enacting laws that effectively criminalize homelessness by prohibiting activities such sleeping or camping in public, even when no shelter beds are available.
The report found that the use of these ordinances is increasing. Almost 80 percent of the cities surveyed in the 2002 report have laws that prohibit sleeping/camping in public areas. Meanwhile 100 percent of communities surveyed lacked enough shelter beds to meet demand.
The report distinguished California as the “meanest” state in the country for people who are poor and homeless, with New York City vying with Atlanta, Georgia and San Francisco, CA – the three meanest cities nationally – for top notoriety. Special mention went to Palm Beach County, Fla. For their chillingly Orwellian methods of tracking people who are homeless.
The three cities in Ohio that made the list of the 52 municipalities that attempt to criminalize homelessness included Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo. Cleveland was cited for the settlement of a lawsuit over sweeping homeless people off the streets for the innocent behavior of sitting and sleeping. There was citation of the preservation efforts of homeless people with regard to Camelot, and the increases in hate crimes directed at homeless people.
The National Homeless Civil Rights Organizing Project (NHCROP) – a project of the National Coalition for the Homeless-has partnered this year with the National Law Center on Homelessness * Poverty to compile data samplings from 80 communities, both urban and rural, in 37 states, the District of Columbia an Puerto Rico. The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has published five similar reports in the past decade. This is the most comprehensive examination of its type on this issue to date. “Homelessness will not disappear simply by putting people behind bars. We need to address the systemic causes and look at the real solutions. The burden of poverty is far too great to be exacerbated by the incarceration of the impoverished. Affordable housing, health care and livable wages are what we need to truly bring an end to homelessness,” stated Donald Whitehead, formerly homeless and now the Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless.
“Punishing homeless Americans for living in public when thousands literally have no alternative-is-inhumane, immoral, and it just won’t work. What will work is affordable housing, health care, and living-wage jobs,” said Maria Foscarinis, executive Director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.
In the report Angelo Anderson, a vendor of the Cleveland Homeless Grapevine newspaper and a local activist said, “The sweeps seem to be directly connected with the holiday season in the city’s central business district.” It seem a that there was under the previous administration an attempt to enforce a policy of “out of sight, out of mind” toward homeless people.
In conjunction with the release of the Illegal to be Homeless Report, homeless people threw a party in Cleveland to celebrate the end of twelve years of the Michael R. White administration 65 people attended the party to call for better treatment of homeless people under new Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell. Outgoing Mayor Michael White did not attend event. He was out of the city vacationing after 12 hard years of chief operating officer of Cleveland.
Copyright Cleveland Street Chronicle March-April 2002 Cleveland, Ohio