National News

Hawaii Homeless Sweeps Continue

     Homeless advocates in Hawaii will continue to lobby lawmakers this year to find short-term solutions to Hawaii’s homeless problem as increasing numbers of homeless people are ordered to vacate large public parks.

     According to media reports, advocates have called for a moratorium on sweeps of homeless people from large public parks. A non-binding resolution in the House asks federal, state and county governments to place a moratorium on homeless sweeps until a program can be implemented by appropriate government agencies to designate areas of large public parks as places where the homeless can stay under supervision.

     The state Department of Land and Natural Resources opposed the measure, saying it had neither the equipment nor the funds to assist with homelessness.

     Supporters of a repeal, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii, which has challenged the act in federal court, say it is too vague and has resulted in authorities banning some people from public places such as the Hawaii State Library, airports and the University of Hawaii.

     In a recent sweep at Oneula Beach Park, known as Hau Bush, police said residents had complained about assaults and domestic violence that occurred at the park. Other recent sweeps have occurred at Dillingham Airfield in Mokuleia and Wahiawa Bridge.

TB Invades NY Shelter

     A recent outbreak of tuberculosis among homeless people was isolated to one homeless shelter in New York. Public health officials from the Orange County Health Department in Goshen, New York, reported 29 TB cases were identified among residents in one homeless shelter between 2000 and 2003. Three local health jurisdictions had received the initial reports.

     Examination of the genetic sequence of bacilli from 26 of the 29 cases showed that 11 were a strain of TB associated with the homeless shelter.

“Bumfights” Creators Jailed

     Two men on probation for producing videos featuring homeless people brawling and performing dangerous stunts were sentenced to six months in jail for failing to complete community service.

     According to the Associated Press, Ryan McPherson, 21, and Zachary Bubeck, 27, pleaded guilty in 2003 to misdemeanor conspiracy to stage an illegal fight in connection with their video production “Bumfights.” The pair was ordered to serve 280 hours of community service at a homeless shelter.

     The two men recently requested their probation be terminated, however, officials at the shelter said they have no record showing the two men had finished the required service

     Superior Court Judge Charles Ervin denied the men’s request and put them on probation for an additional 2 1/2 years in addition to jail time.

     Authorities reported more than 300,000 copies of the videos had been sold over the Internet. They depict homeless men and women engaged in humiliating, self-destructive acts, including ripping out teeth and ramming themselves into doors.

     Two other “Bumfights” producers, Michael Slyman and Daniel Tanner, also pled guilty and received community service.

 Homeless Man Gets Shot

     A homeless man is recovering from a gunshot wound after a security guard in Dallas, Texas, accidentally shot him according to media reports.

     Police said the guard saw a driver back into a car at the Taqueria El Paisano near Lombardy and Brockbank in North Dallas. The driver tried to leave the scene, but was confronted by the guard. The driver then, according to investigators, aimed his gun at the guard.

     The security guard fired a shot towards the driver but missed and struck the homeless man in the foot while the driver of the car fled the scene.

Baby Dies at Homeless Shelter

     Philadelphia police are investigating the recent death of a baby girl living in a homeless shelter.

     The child, 16-months-old, was found dead early in the morning at the Saint Barnabas homeless shelter in the 6000 Block of West Girard Avenue in West Philadelphia. The child’s mother was with her at the time of death.

The Philadelphia police Special Victims Unit is investigating whether the child died of natural causes or if foul play was involved.

North Carolina Creates Homeless Database

     Starting next year, information on computers used at shelters, soup kitchens and treatment centers can be shared with nonprofit agencies across North Carolina.

     Supporters say the goal is to improve services, allowing workers to track whether the homeless get continued help. The new system, known as the Carolina Homeless Information Network, is designed to reduce paperwork, coordinate resources and provide an accurate count of the state’s homeless. It is one of a dozen databases under way in different states because of a new federal regulation requiring agencies that serve the homeless to keep more precise numbers.

     Officials with the N.C. Housing Coalition, a nonprofit group that is developing the database with state money, said it would have safeguards to keep data private and restrict access. Although the databases are required by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, the department won’t have access to all data.

     The programs use names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth and other data to create individual computer files. Each time a homeless person spends a night in a shelter, sees a counselor or gets food at a participating agency, the file is updated.

San Jose Homeless Numbers Rise to surprising levels

     The homeless population of San Jose is now bigger than San Francisco.

     A survey done last December found San Jose had at least 7,100 people living in shelters or on the streets. More than a thousand of them are children. In San Francisco, a January count showed just over 6,200 homeless people.

     The mayor of San Jose recently pledged to build another 6,000 low-income housing units over the next  five years.

Homeless Man Steals Boat

     A 41-year-old homeless man was arrested last month for allegedly stealing a 75-foot fishing boat from Santa Barbara Harbor and abandoning it on the beach at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

     Donald Patrick Kelley also had a jar of Grey Poupon mustard from the boat’s galley in his pocket when he was arrested a quarter-mile from where the boat was left on the rocky beach. The million-dollar boat and several other boats were damaged while the homeless man maneuvered out of the harbor.

     Kelley was booked for investigation of grand theft of an item worth more than 100-thousand dollars—a crime that could lead to four years in prison.

     Police say Kelley apparently acted alone.

     Besides the mustard, Kelley was allegedly found with other items from the boat’s galley, including a bottle of A-1 steak sauce and a box of tea.

Vegas Shelter Cuts Services

      The Las Vegas Rescue Mission is cutting back on kitchen service as of March 2005.

      The facility usually provides counseling, shelter and food to about 150 homeless men, women and children, and feeds another 500 people a day. Officials, however, contend they’re concerned about sanitation and safety in the encampment, and don’t want the county Health Department to have to do a sweep.

Homeless Fill Fargo Shelters

     Fargo, and neighboring Moorhead, Minn. have historically seen a decrease in the number of homeless   people as the temperatures dip until this year.

     The increase in homeless people in shelter may be due to increasing awareness of the homeless health clinic and outreach nursing at local shelters.

      Last year, 1,328 women and children stayed at the YWCA of Cass Clay’s shelter, an increase of 31 percent over the year before. The shelter’s capacity increased by about 30 beds when it moved to its new center last April. The New Life Center, a men’s homeless shelter in Fargo, has seen a 10 percent increase in residents since the holidays.

     The most recent survey of the Fargo-Moorhead homeless population, done in 2003, estimated there are 400 homeless people at any given time, an increase of 25 percent since 2000.

Panel Visits Shelters

     Denver’s Commission to End Homelessness has begun visiting the city’s homeless shelters to solicit comments and opinions on its upcoming 10-year plan.

     The commission’s plan, which it intends to deliver to Mayor John Hickenlooper and the City Council in May, calls for assistance programs and affordable-housing help estimated to cost several million dollars a year in city, state and federal money.

     The plan proposes construction of 2,493 apartments during the next 10 years to help homeless people get off the street. It also proposes expanding shelter hours, adding shelter beds and more funding for eviction assistance and first-time renters, among other things.

Tent City in the News

     Tent City 3, one of the temporary homeless encampments organized and set up by homeless advocacy groups in Seattle, recently enjoyed a month’s tenure on the campus of Seattle University. As reported by Peter Monaghan in the March 11 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Tent City 3 came to Seattle’s campus at the invitation of the university, after a group of graduate students suggested it to university president the Reverend Stephen V. Sundborg. President Sundborg hoped the visit of Tent City 3, as part of the campus’s yearlong theme of consumption and poverty, would raise awareness of and involvement in the problem of homelessness in Seattle.

     Certainly Seattle University students became aware and involved. Monaghan reported that some Tent City residents and freshmen in an Introduction to Literature class came together for a discussion of Native Indian writer Sherman Alexie’s stories of homelessness. The homeless men joining the discussion shared their tales of trying to raise money on the streets, which included selling copies of Seattle’s homeless newspaper, Real Change. In addition, many students volunteered to help set up the camp, prepare evening meals, and raise donations of money and goods when Tent City first came to campus at the beginning of February.

     Monaghan’s article emphasized the constructive nature of the association between Tent City and the university. President Sundborg made clear that the homeless persons on the campus would not be used as just an educational opportunity for campus students and faculty: the university also offered Tent City residents the chance to participate in classes and to attend workshops that offered help building money-management and job skills.

 Copyright NEOCH, The Homeless Grapevine #70, May 2005. All Rights Reserved