WRAP Op-Ed in SF Chronicle: “Change heartless rules to house homeless families”

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 29, 2014 by Cangress

An Op-Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle from our friend and ally Paul Boden over at the Western Regional Advocacy Project.

Change heartless rules to house homeless families
by Paul Boden

What kind of a mean, coldhearted, even sadistic homeless service provider would tell a family of three or four or five living in a single-room-occupancy hotel, or “illegally” sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment: “You aren’t homeless enough – you’re just poorly housed. Go sleep in the streets for a while. When you come back, you better be able to prove you are homeless.”

This would be the only kind of homeless service provider the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been willing to fund since 2009.

In fact, the agency is so serious about this that, in 2011, it put out a 105-page memo detailing for local communities how severe the penalties would be for providing any services with HUD money without thoroughly documenting the eligibility of any homeless family or youth. Fines would be incurred if agencies served those not designated as a priority for services by the ridiculous point-in-time head counts HUD requires communities to perform.

That is why Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and U.S. Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, have introduced legislation in their respective legislative chambers to overturn these draconian rules. The bills would amend HUD’s definition of homelessness, a change that would allow approximately 900,000 homeless children and families nationwide to access federal assistance programs. Specifically, children living in motels and doubled-up in households with acquaintances would be recognized as homeless.

HUD is, by far, the largest funder of homeless services. Yet, HUD’s restrictive definition of homelessness has created a cruel and vicious cycle. Once families lose their homes, they scramble for any place to stay. If they sleep in a vehicle or remain on the streets, they risk being categorized as unfit parents and losing their children to public agencies.

Hoping to avoid that, families will stay with other people, often in unstable and unhealthy situations that render them ineligible for homeless assistance. And, if that isn’t coldhearted enough (and it is), HUD also applies these rules to unaccompanied youth as well.

Why this Scrooge-like approach? Because families and unaccompanied youth cost too much money, that’s why. HUD can house 25 single adults in hotel rooms for the same cost of housing three families or helping out seven unaccompanied youth. So single adults have become HUD’s primary business.

HUD and some of the national homeless groups are trying to sell everyone on the amazing success of their 10-year plans to end homelessness. Yes, their head count numbers have gone way down (through redefinition but not reality). And yes, thousands of single adult homeless people have been housed in hotel rooms.

So, when your measuring stick for success is fewer homeless heads on the streets and more people in hotel rooms, you really can’t be wasting money caring for people who aren’t visible or obviously homeless (but who, nevertheless, are neither safe nor providing a good place for their children).

The human math is pretty simple: In 2006, we had 600,000 homeless students in public schools nationwide. In 2009, we had 930,000 and in 2012, it was 1.168 million. Yet, that same year, only 247,178 homeless households were eligible to receive services through HUD homeless assistance programs.

Call it poorly housed or call it the invisible homeless. No matter what you call it, this is heartless public policy. Support Feinstein’s and Miller’s legislation to change it.

Paul Boden, who was once homeless, is the organizing director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project. For updated information and to find out how to contact your elected representatives, go to http://www.helphomelessyouthnow.org.

LA is “crafting a new plan” for Skid Row – unfortunately in reality it’s really just talking points.

Posted in civil rights, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 17, 2014 by Cangress
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May 2014 – Carlos Ocano, a homeless Skid Row resident with a known mental illness, who fell to his death after LAPD SWAT Team shot him with non-lethal ammunition. Why was SWAT called instead of the System-wide Mental Assessment Response Team (SMART), which pairs mental health professionals with specially trained officers? (Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Police Department and City of Los Angeles are “crafting new plan to help homeless on skid row.” This includes “developing a new strategy for taming pervasive homelessness on skid row, easing up on arrests for petty offenses while concentrating mental health, medical, housing and sanitation services in the long-troubled swath of downtown.” Unfortunately, this rhetoric – both on the part of the writer and city officials who are quoted throughout the piece – does not reflect the actual criminalization of an entire community and too often deadly use of force that continues to characterize LAPD policing in Skid Row.

To be clear, LA CAN has opposed “broken windows” policing from the day it was introduced in the form of the “Safer Cities Initiative.” The flawed policing method, introduced by former Chief Bill Bratton in 2006, has brought nothing but long-term devastation  that continues to plague the community. We would welcome any sincere efforts to shift the focus in Skid Row from policing and criminalization to housing, mental health services, and public health infrastructure. These are concrete solutions to ending homelessness that LA CAN has worked on securing for well over a decade.

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July 2014 – LAPD officers at 6th and San Pedro after telling homeless residents they had to take their belongings and move on or “they would be going to jail.” (Credit: AARON CANTÚ)

However, the residents of Skid Row just aren’t seeing this supposed “more progressive approach” that LAPD Captain John McMahon describes in the article. Rather, residents continue to experience the more of the same: Citations and harassment for basic life-sustaining activities (like sitting or sleeping on the street); a lack of restroom facilities, trash cans, public space and other public services/amenities enjoyed by Downtowners who live west of Main St.; the business community actively opposing projects that would house homeless residents; regular examples of aggressive, violent, and deadly force; Private property theft on the part of Business Improvement District Guards/Workers; Racial profiling and targeting; and, an overall policing style that violates basic civil and human rights and punishes people for being homeless rather than connecting individuals with the services and support they need.

And if there is a new approach to how the community is policed, why haven’t the residents themselves heard about it? LA CAN has tried regularly to set up community meetings in which residents can express their ideas and concerns about the Safer Cities Initiative directly to LAPD and the Police Commission, and those demands and requests have been consistently declined. Recently LA CAN met with new leadership at LAPDs Central Division, secured a community meeting time and date to discuss Safer Cities implementation, only to have the meeting canceled at the last moment.

LA CAN welcome’s a genuine move toward actual solutions to homelessness (housing, services, ending the Safer Cities Initiative) – and have been organizing to make that a reality. However, we fully understand that just because LAPD says something doesn’t make it so – we will be convinced when the rubber meets the proverbial road.

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June 2014 – A female resident of Skid Row being arrested after not listening to LAPD’s orders to get out of the street.

 

The July/August 2014 Community Connection is NOW AVAILABLE!

Posted in community connection with tags , , , , , , on July 8, 2014 by Cangress

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Click HERE to read the July/August 2014 Community Connection.

Click HERE to download a high-resolution PDF version.

Among the Many Challenges, Threats and Missed Opportunities in the State Budget Signed Today, a BIG Win in Finally Lifting the Lifetime Bans in CalFresh and CalWORKs Programs

Posted in Uncategorized on June 20, 2014 by Cangress

After ten years of work by organizations focused on food justice and ending the mass criminalization of our communities, the budget signed by Governor Brown today FINALLY ends the lifetime bans on receiving CalFresh and CalWORKs for those who have been convicted of drug-related felonies.  LA CAN has worked with a wide variety of partners in the California Hunger Action Coalition and others across Los Angeles and California every year to get this important policy passed.  Low-income communities of color have been most targeted and impacted by the unjust and punitive drug war, and those who have completed their sentences simply must have access to all opportunities to survive and thrive when they return home.  Ending these bans is one important step toward upholding human rights for formerly incarcerated people.  It’s especially important in Downtown Los Angeles, where since 2006 the Safer Cities Initiative has focused on escalating simple possession charges to more serious drug sales charges – an unjust practice that has impacted thousands of people who will now be able to access much needed benefits.

However – this win comes within a budget that also causes serious harm to our communities through the allocation of an additional $500 million in prison expansion and which made minimal to no restorations to a wide variety of anti-poverty programs such as Medi-Cal and Supplemental Security Income (SSI).  With the projected revenues, the State could have made significant progress in restoring the severe cuts to these programs made since 2008 – but largely left that opportunity off the table.  The Governor and State legislators must be held accountable to our communities and allocate our tax dollars to improve our communities, not incarcerate them.  While lifting the bans is critical, and will have massive positive impacts – we cannot accept the one step forward, three steps back approach that continues at the State level.

LA CAN applauds the work of all of our partners who held firm to our collective goals to lift the bans over years of setbacks and defeats – some campaigns are long and frustrating, but are worth the fight!  We will continue to work together to fight for justice and human rights – and fight for future budgets that include more wins than setbacks!!  

Human Rights Victory Today – A Win against City of LA’s Continued Efforts to Criminalize Homelessness instead of Ending It

Posted in civil rights, Homeless Bill of Rights, human & civil rights, LAPD, legal with tags , , , , , on June 19, 2014 by Cangress

Today, the 9th Circuit of the US Court of Appeals overturned a prior lower court decision and ruled that LA Municipal Code Section 85.02 (which prohibits living/sleeping in a vehicle) is an unconstitutionally vague statute and opens the door to discriminatory enforcement against the homeless and the poor.  The Court’s decision states, “Plaintiffs argue that Section 85.02 is unconstitutionally vague on its face because it provides insufficient notice of the conduct it penalizes and promotes arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.  We agree.”

This important case was litigated by Civil Rights Attorney Carol Sobel, with co-counsel by Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and homeless individuals who were impacted by Section 85.02 enforcement by LAPD.  Several community-based organizations fighting against criminalization and forced displacement in Venice and across the City supported this case as well.  This fight is crucial to upholding the human rights of everyone, of ensuring homeless and poor people have full and equal access to public spaces, and – for those that do have vehicles but have no current access to housing – ensures at least some shelter and safety protections over sleeping on the streets.

California and Los Angeles should enact Homeless Bills of Rights to protect the civil rights of homeless residents, seriously invest in housing solutions, and stop expensive and inhumane criminalization efforts.  Segregation and criminalization of public space cannot continue and this victory is one step toward that.  To get involved in local and statewide campaigns, contact Eric or Dogon at LA CAN, and/or attend the next LA-region Homeless Bill of Rights meeting on Thursday, June 26th at 6:00 PM at LA CAN (838 E. 6th Street, LA 90021).

The full court decision can be read here:  9th circuit DECISION June 2014

Freedom Now Awards Celebration: June 14, 2014

Posted in art & culture, women's issues with tags , , , , , , on June 19, 2014 by Cangress

LA CAN HAS MOVED!

Posted in Uncategorized on May 28, 2014 by Cangress

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LA CAN has moved to its new home at 838 E. 6th Street! Come through and say hello!

Also, we’re still setting up the new space (and phones!), but our email is working! More updates soon!

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