Sunday, October 6, 2013

Homeless Bill of Rights

If we are going to see the lives of the homeless improve, a first step is to keep government officials (especially city officials) from preventing the homeless doing legal activity.  Things like sleeping in a car or a public park, having access to a bathroom.  Seems pretty basic?  Yet our homeless folks are told to leave the city because a police officer sees them sitting down or laying down on a sidewalk.  They aren't asked to move.  Sometimes they are given a ticket.  Sometimes they are told to vacate the city for 30 days without due process. 

Being homeless is hard enough, with the stress of poverty, and the difficulty of surviving.  It's harder to get off the street.  But it's even harder to do all that and have the government treat you like an enemy because you don't happen to have a place to sleep.  

One way of dealing with this is to have states pass a Homeless Bill of Rights.  Conneticut already passed on this year, which prevents the homeless from being persecuted for being human.  Here's an example of one that WRAP is trying to pass in California and Oregon:

1.     Right to move freely, rest, sleep, & pray and be protected in public spaces without   discrimination.
2.     Right to occupy a legally parked vehicle.
3.     Right to serve food and eat in public.
4.     Right to legal counsel if being prosecuted.
5.     Right to 24-hour access to “hygiene facilities”

This bill, if passed by state legislators, will improve the lot of the homeless tremendously.  It doesn't provide them with any services, but it takes out one of the major stresses of everyday homeless living: wondering if an officer will wake you up and tell you that you have to move on.

The Six Point Plan to End Homelessness

Daniel Hong, Jose Serrica, Michael Withey and others in Portland have presented to the Mayor of Portland a six point plan to end homelessness.  I think that this is a significant approach to actually accomplishing the goals of Portland to end homelessness.  The one-track approach of trying to get some of the homeless housing, even the most needy, has not worked.  A less expensive, multi-faceted approach is necessary.  Here is their proposal, as found on Facebook "The Six Point Plan to End Homelessness":

Homeward Bound, otherwise known as the "10 Year Plan To End Homelessness" has failed. Non-profit corporations that were paid to put themselves out of business, could not bring themselves to do so. Tens of millions have been squandered on new buildings that temporarily help few, while real solutions are offered at no charge to the public and are quickly put to an end by City government or members of the homeless industry.

One case that immediately comes to mind is Right 2 Dream Too. This small "camp" hosts up to 80 individuals nightly at no cost to the city. This "camp" has saved Portland tax payers millions of dollars in emergency room visits, legal costs, etc. More importantly, it saved lives. Unfortunately, R2DToo is fined over $1200/month because no good deed can go unpunished. Another case in point would be the new "Bud Clark Commons" Building. At it's initial cost of $40 million, there could be housing for 2,750 individuals in self sustainable, community supportive "Eco-Villages." Bud Clark no longer allows showers or laundry past 2:00pm due to budget cuts.

While some may wish to stay on the street indefinitely, most do not. The public typically will see the "chronically homeless man" and think that that is the face of homelessness. Most do not see the family living in a van or the women that just lost her home to foreclosure, sleeping on her daughters couch. This segment of homeless do not want to be seen but they do want to be helped. We all need to ask ourselves, what would I do if that was my sister or my brother? Would you care enough to get involved then?

With the help of the homeless community, homeless advocates and the general public, this document was formed. You will find within this document, some of the answers to the issue of homelessness.

Here are some ideas to ponder:

1. Eco-Villages
Small communities that are self sustaining already exist in Portland, Oregon, successfully. Homeless advocates have been working hard to bring their plans to fruition, lacking only the support of our city government and members of the homeless industry. These Eco-Villages are our least expensive and most favorable option for a long term solution.

2. Americorp Relief Camps
Americorp comes in after natural disasters to bring immediate relief and temporary housing. Federally funded and volunteer run. Relief camps would offer all of the things that you would expect including lodging, meals, laundry, storage, employment assistance, educational assistance, counseling, ect. etc. Those staying at a relief effort would have a case worker that would actively participate in securing the needs of client, with the end goal of permanent housing. I would like to remind everyone that Americorp is a Federal program and the Federal Government should by all means, be utilized whenever possible for it's vast amount of resources.

3. Rest Stations
A "Rest Station" is a place in which one would erect a tent in which to sleep, from dusk till dawn. While at a Rest Station one would not be allowed to consume alcohol or drugs. One would not be allowed to roam or visit with others. One would be there to sleep and only to sleep. Rest Stations could be located throughout the city in "Low Key" areas so as not to disturb residents or business. Rest Stations would be monitored by security officers.

4. Existing Buildings
City or privately owned buildings could be transformed into housing using volunteers and donated building materials. Millions of tax dollars would be saved on construction costs.

5. Campgrounds
City or privately owned land could be leased and a permit to operate a campground could be granted. A fee could be charged to residents that would cover costs including security. Dodge Park is a camp ground operated by Portland Parks and is closed to the public between October and May. This park should be made available to a responsible entity that can guarantee that the park will remain in its pristine state and that this camp be a safe, clean and cooperative environment.

6. Day Centers
A "Day Center" would serve the immediate needs of a person experiencing homelessness by providing vital services that one would need to be able to become gainfully employed. One would have the ability to shower, store their belongings and be assisted with job searches.
Another service that would be offered at a "Day Center" would be Education. Volunteers would assist with enrolling those desiring a GED, collage courses and vocational training through Pell Grants and all other types of financial assistance.

I fully support this proposal.  As an advotate of the homeless in East Multnomah County I've been talking about the need of a multi-faceted approach for years.  This proposal comes the closest I've seen to the desires of the homeless that I have spoken to.

I have two suggestions beside the six proposed above:

1. The distribution of street-ready mobile homes made to attach to bicycles.

2. A campaign to Multnomah County home-dwellers and especially police officers to treat the homeless as fellow citizens and not criminals, so as to reverse the trend of dehumanization.

In order to follow the outcome of this, or to support this proposal, please follow their Facebook page.