Article 43

 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Homeless In California 2 - Criminalizing Homelessness

image: homessness

“They’ve turned their backs on us”
California’s homeless crisis grows in numbers and violence

By Sam T Levin
The Guardian
December 27, 2019

In a state with the worlds fifth largest economy, physical assaults and criminalization efforts have made 2019 a particularly grim year for the homeless

As homelessness surged to crisis levels in California in 2019, so did the violent attacks on people living in tents and on sidewalks and the political and law enforcement efforts to keep homeless encampments off the streets.

Physical assaults and criminalization efforts combined have made 2019 a particularly grim and terrifying year for many Californians struggling to survive without a roof over their head.

“They are trying to shove us underneath the carpet, and it’s just not fair,” said Shanna Couper Orona, 46, who is currently living out of an RV in San Francisco. San Francisco is supposed to be progressive, a place where you love everyone, take care of everyone. But they;ve turned their backs on us just because we’re unhoused. They are leaving us with nothing.

Amid expanding crisis, a surge in homeless victims

In a state with the world’s fifth largest economy, an IPO tech boom and some of the richest people on earth, Californias severe affordable housing shortage has become what advocates describe as a moral failing and public health emergency.

By the numbers

Los Angeles experienced a 16% increase in homelessness this year, with a total of 36,000 people now homeless across the city, including 27,000 without shelter. San Francisco’s homeless count surged 17% to more than 8,000 people. There was a 42% increase in San Jose, a 47% increase in Oakland, a 52% increase in Sacramento county and increases in the Central Valley agricultural region and wealthy suburbs of Orange county.

There were patterns across cities: huge numbers of people experiencing homelessness for the first time, evictions and unaffordable rents leading people to the streets, families and seniors increasingly homeless, and higher rates of the homeless not getting shelter.

“Homeless people are everywhere now, and they are becoming more and more desperate,” said Stephen Cue Jn-Marie, an LA pastor who was formerly homeless and now works with people living on Skid Row, known for its massive encampments. “All of these people are human beings. We need to respond to this as if it’s an earthquake.”

The growing visibility has led to an increase in complaints, news coverage focused on housed people who reside near encampments, and intense media attention on the rare cases of violence perpetuated by people living on the streets.

Communities have largely declined to treat the crisis like a natural disaster that demands humanitarian aid. In many places, what followed instead was a backlash, and in some cases overt attacks.

There were at least eight incidents in LA where people threw flammable liquids or makeshift explosives at homeless people or their tents this year, according to authorities and the Los Angeles Times.

A 62-year-old beloved musician’s tent was set on fire in Skid Row in August, killing him in what police say was an intentional killing. That month, two men also allegedly threw a “firework” at an encampment, causing a blaze that grew into a major brush fire just outside of the city. One of the men arrested was the son of a local chamber of commerce president. Police said this fire was intentional. In a separate attack, a molotov cocktail destroyed tents and donations.

In San Francisco, a man was caught on video appearing to dump a bucket of water on a homeless woman and her belongings on the sidewalk in June. Witnesses said it seemed to be a “deliberate attack.”

Three months later, San Franciscans who said they were upset with homeless people in their neighborhood paid to install two-dozen knee-high boulders along a sidewalk in an effort to stop them from living on the streets.

In neighboring Oakland, a resident recently put up an unauthorized concrete barrier in the middle of the street to deter homeless people from parking RVs. A real estate developer taunted homeless people by shouting free moneyӔ at them and offering to pay them to leave their encampment in Oakland.

Residents repeatedly organized against proposed homeless shelters in their neighborhoods, most notably in a wealthy San Francisco area where locals crowdfunded $70,000 to hire an attorney to fight a shelter project.

“A lot of it is brought out by this fear of the other as if their homeless neighbors are not neighbors at all, or not even people for that matter,” said TJ Johnston, who is currently staying in shelters in San Francisco and is an editor with Street Sheet, a local homelessness publication. “Hearing wealthy residents complain this year was like watching angry online comment sections come to life,” he said: “It’s very dehumanizing to be looked upon as a nuisance.”

A terrifying trend: jailing people for being too poor

As the crisis has worsened, local governments have spent billions to create new housing and provide services, but the scale of the response has been inadequate. Cities have increasingly looked to law enforcement and legal maneuvers to tackle the problem.

Those political efforts to further criminalize the homeless in turn have sparked intense anger and fear among the homeless population and their advocates.

LA leaders fought to ban people from sleeping on streets and sidewalks throughout the city. In Lancaster, a desert city north of LA, the mayor has pushed a proposal to ban groups that provide food to homeless people and suggested people should buy firearms to protect themselves from violent people on the streets.

This month, in a case closely watched by many west coast cities, the US supreme court dealt a victory to homeless advocates by allowing an existing ruling to stand that states governments cannot ban people from living on the street if they don’t offer enough shelter beds.

Officials in Oakland have proposed a new policy to cite homeless people in parks while some have suggested setting up a shelter in a defunct jail. Law enforcement leaders in Bakersfield in the Central Valley pushed a plan to throw homeless people in jail for misdemeanor offenses. A state taskforce has also suggested a similar system of forcibly placing homeless people into shelters.

“These efforts ignore the overwhelming evidence that criminalization and locking people up are costly and harmful responses that fail to fix the crisis,” said Eve Garrow, homelessness policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

“There’s a dangerous and disturbing movement in California to address homelessness not by expanding access to safe, affordable and permanent housing but by jailing people,” she said. It’s a terrifying prospect of a world in which we segregate, incarcerate and restrict the civil liberties of people just because they have disabilities and they are too poor to afford a home in our skyrocketing private rental market.

“Fears and unfounded stereotypes about people experiencing homelessness seem to be driving these policy pushes to jail those in need,” she said.

The Trump administration has created further anxiety by repeatedly suggesting he might pursue some kind of police crackdown in California to clear the streets of encampments.

The president has used the crisis to attack Democratic leaders in the state, and has COMPLAINED ABOUT HOMELESS PEOPLE in LA and San Francisco taking up space on the “best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings” where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige

It’s a huge concern - are they just going to take people to jail?” said Kat Doherty, an LA woman who became homeless this year and is living at a shelter at Skid Row.Trump’s talk has terrified her and others, she said. “It’s horrendous. It sounds like a death camp situation.”

“With the president promoting criminalization, it could inspire some anti-Trump Democrats in California to push back,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director for the Coalition on Homelessness in San Francisco. There’s some hopefulness that it will force the local municipalities to shift in opposition to Trump and talk about how criminalization doesn’t work.

But some are not optimistic about 2020, especially since the crisis is on track to continue escalating, with people falling into homelessness at rates that far outpace government’s ability to find housing for those on the street.

“Conditions are going to get worse and the responses are going to get worse,” said Jn-Marie.

If the political attacks continue next year, some said they hoped to see more communities fighting to stand up for the homeless.

“I want people to give a fuck and help. Don’t just ignore it,” Orona said. “Just because we’re unhoused doesn’t mean were not San Francisco residents. We still have a heartbeat. We still buy food. We still exist.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 12/29/19 •
Section Dying America
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