Friday, March 20, 2015

 Homeless in America

by Mike S.
     Imagine if you will, a world where it is illegal to sit down.  Could you survive if there were no place to fall asleep, to store your belongings, or to sit or stand still?  For homeless people across America, these circumstances are an ordinary part of daily life.  In America people are criminalized on a daily basis for just trying to survive.  Sitting, standing, sleeping, and eating in public in many cities in the US are illegal.

  Norwegian Art depicts what they must think of the US.
     According to the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, homeless people are criminally punished for being in public, even when they have no alternatives.  Homelessness is caused by a severe shortage of affordable housing, and fewer emergency shelter beds than homeless people.  Despite a lack of affordable housing and shelter space, many cities have chosen to criminally punish people living on the street for doing what any human being must do to survive.  In Portland for example, there used to be a "sit/lie" ordinance, that made it illegal for people to sit or lie on a sidewalk.  There is still a law that makes it illegal to cover yourself if you are lying in a park, or public space.  Other laws affecting homelessness include: camping in public, sleeping in public, laws against panhandling, sleeping in vehicles, and food sharing. These laws are against the very constitution that everyone has, and against peoples basic human rights as afforded by the UN.

     In 3 states, a Homeless Bill of Rights has been passed.  These states are Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Illinois.  Rhode Island was the first state in the nation to pass a homeless bill of rights, ensuring that no one is discriminated against based on their housing status. For the first time, basic rights; such as the right to vote, to access gainful employment, or gain housing; can't be denied because someone lists a shelter or a street corner as their address.

    Oregon is trying to pass a very similar law that will allow people to shelter themselves, cover themselves, and sleep in a vehicle that is legally parked.  Our bill is Senate Bill 629, and is backed by Senator Chip Shields.  If you are interested in learning more about, or want to support us, please feel free to attend our meeting that are held every 1st, 3rd, and 5th Friday of the month at 11:30 am.  The address is 2249 E Burnside in Portland.

    One conclusion that could be raised is criminalization laws are ineffective, expensive, and violate the civil rights of homeless people.  Both the federal government and the international human rights monitors have recognized criminalization of homeless as a violation of the US human rights obligations.  One example of the expense, criminalization.  The Utah Housing and Community Development Commission found that the annual cost of emergency room visits and jail stays for an average homeless person was $16,670.  While providing an apartment and a social worker cost only $11,000.  By providing housing to its homeless population, Utah has been able to reduce its rate of chronic homelessness by 74%.

     Some solutions to this problem could be:
 1.  Governments investing in more affordable housing.
2.  Local governments dedicating resources to ending homelessness in their cities.
3.  Communities should adapt a housing first model, which is premised on the idea that pairing
     homeless people with immediate access to their own apartments is the best way to end their
     homelessness.
4.  Communities should improve police training and practices.
5.  Every state should enact Homeless Bill of Rights legislation.
These are just a few of the ideas that could help become a solution to the problem of homelessness.  There are probably as many solutions to the problem as there are homeless, but another temporary solution is more rest areas like Right 2 Dream Too.  To get involved with R2DToo, come by our rest area at 4th and Burnside.  All help is appreciated, and all donations are gladly accepted.  You should also go to city council and speak out for your rights, homeless or not.  If enough voices are heard on this issue, it will eventually make a difference.  If not for yourself, then possibly someone you love.

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