Friday, September 28, 2007

H.R. 840 – The HEARTH Act of 2007

BACKGROUND:

On Tuesday, February 6, the “Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing Act (HEARTH Act), H.R. 840, was introduced by U.S. Representatives Julia Carson (D-7th/IN), Geoff Davis (R-4th/KY), Rick Renzi (R-1st/AZ) and Barbara Lee (D-9th/CA). The HEARTH Act reauthorizes the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Programs that are administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). HEARTH now has 75 co-sponsors.

The HEARTH Act provides greater decision making at the local level, more closely aligns the HUD definition of homelessness with other federal agency definitions (including the U.S. Department of Education), expands resources for supportive services, provides a framework for greater homelessness prevention activities, and allows communities the flexibility to implement a range of housing solutions. A summary of key provisions is included below.

KEY HEARTH ACT PROVISIONS:

• Consolidates all HUD McKinney-Vento housing programs (except Emergency Shelter Grants) into one competitive program with a broad set of eligible activities, including homelessness prevention, permanent or transitional housing for any homeless population, and supportive services.

• Allows communities to prioritize particular housing and services initiatives based on demonstrated local need, not because of national priorities set by HUD that often do not match local needs.

• Aligns the HUD definition of who is homeless more closely with the definition used by the U.S. Department of Education by including people who are living in doubled-up situations or in hotels / motels. This change will make many more children, youth, and families eligible for HUD homeless assistance, providing communities with the flexibility to serve the people who are homeless within their borders.

• Protects victims of domestic violence by prohibiting the disclosure of any information collected by a housing or social service provider that could identify them, and prevents homelessness by permitting victims of domestic violence who may be in danger to immediately move to a safer living situation.

• Ensures that communities wishing to prioritize housing and services for homeless persons living on the streets for a long period of time are free to target dollars to that population, without codifying a definition of “chronic homelessness” or a set of incentives designed to end “chronic homelessness.”

• Requires a 25% match for all housing and supportive services, but permits the match to be met either in cash or with an in-kind contribution.

Brother, can you spare a dime?

LIKE VALETS AND BLACKJACK DEALERS,
panhandlers in Las Vegas are rumored to do surprisingly well. Legends abound: They live in mountain-side mansions and drive BMWs;

Full article:
Recently released study busts some myths about panhandling in Las Vegas

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Refining McKinney

Room for Improvement in Senate Markup

Mobilizer readers know that 2007 marks both the twentieth anniversary of the Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act, the first major federal legislation directed towards ameliorating homelessness, and the time to reauthorize HUD-administered McKinney Homeless Assistance programs. Regrettably, despite the availability of McKinney resources, more people now experience homelessness than when the act first was authorized in 1987. Although McKinney alone will never end homelessness (only dramatic changes in the nation’s housing and health care policies will accomplish this goal), the legislation is important and must be strengthened. Last Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs unanimously passed S.1518 – the Community Partnership to End Homelessness Act (CPEHA) – which would reauthorize and amend McKinney Homeless Assistance programs. Several results of the Committee’s mark-up session require action from advocates.

Defining McKinney

The Senate markup would expand HUD’s definition of homelessness to include certain individuals and families living in hotels or motels along with those “doubled up” due to economic hardship. Though this expanded definition is welcome, there is still room for improvement. The new definition would only permit doubled up families to be considered “homeless” (and thus eligible for McKinney resources) if they have moved three times in the past year or twice in the past 21 days. The specificity of this language no doubt will prove difficult for communities to measure and enforce and could prevent many eligible individuals and families from accessing HUD’s homeless assistance programs. A less restrictive definition would reflect more accurately the realities of homelessness and very precarious housing.

Realigning McKinney

More than five years ago, the Administration announced the laudable goal of ending chronic homelessness by 2012 – without appropriating resources sufficient to support this noble effort. In FY2007, Congress appropriated $1.442 billion for McKinney programs – an increase over the previous year, but hardly the investment necessary to end homelessness. The current markup of S.1518 would increase the authorization level to $2.2 billion. In addition to this increase, the bill rightly requires thgat funding for permanent housing subsidies created through the McKinney Act be renewed through the Section 8 account rather than through McKinney – thus reserving a greater portion of McKinney dollars for new supportive housing and new and on-going services. Although a step in the right direction, the proposed increases are not sufficient to fund existing projects working to end and prevent homelessness let alone important new projects necessary to get people off the streets and back into the mainstream. The National Council calls upon Congress to appropriate at least $3 billion for McKinney Homeless Assistance programs.

House Reauthorization

In contrast, the House of Representatives is considering a different piece of legislation to rewrite the laws of McKinney—one that the Council and other national homeless advocacy organizations have endorsed because it is more comprehensive and better equipped to address the complicated task of ending and preventing homelessness. Introduced by Congresswoman Julia Carson (D-IN), H.R. 840, the Homeless Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act contains an expanded definition of homelessness that includes individuals and families living in hotels or motels and “doubled up” situations without the restrictive language that defines how often a person must move to be considered homeless, such as the language that exists in the Senate bill (CPEHA- S.1518). In addition, HEARTH reauthorizes McKinney Homeless Assistance programs at $2.5 billion and provides communities with flexibility in using their McKinney funds to address their community’s needs, rather than allowing HUD to dictate how the money must be used, provisions that are not include in the Senate bill. The House Committee on Financial Services subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity has schedule two hearings, beginning next week, to discuss McKinney reauthorization.

ACTION:

• Read the National Council’s policy statement on Housing (HERE)

• Call your Senators TODAY to enlist their support to strengthen McKinney and to back other measures necessary to end homelessness. Urge them to pass language more accurately reflecting the number of homeless Americans by including everyone lacking a place of their own due to financial hardship. Ask your Senators to support increasing McKinney authorization to $3 billion. Find your Senator at www.senate.gov or call the Capitol Switchboard 202-224-2131.

• McKinney alone will never end homelessness. As you encourage your Congressional representatives to pass as strong a homelessness assistance package as possible, be sure to communicate the need for broader national policies promoting access to affordable housing, comprehensive health care, and livable incomes for all. Only through these measures will we prevent and end homelessness for good.

• For more information contact the National Council’s Health Policy Organizer, Adrienne Breidenstine at abreidenstine@hchmd.org or 443-703-1337

President Bush Discusses No Child Left Behind Reauthorization

The federal government invests money and education, and we ought to expect results in return for that investment. It's a pretty simple principle. If you're a taxpayer and you're spending your money, you want to make sure that money gets good results. And the best way to determine whether you get good results is to measure.

Full Article:
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning.

Newly Formed Organization Gives the Homeless a Stronger Voice

Press Release:
Father Bill's Place and Mainspring Coalition for the Homeless Merge to Focus on Ending Homelessness in Southeastern Massachusetts.

Full Article:
Newly Formed Organization Gives the Homeless a Stronger Voice


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Health Care for the Homeless Mobilizer

The National Health Care for the Homeless Council
P.O. Box 60427
Nashville, TN 37206-0427
Telephone 615/226-2292
Fax 615/226-1656
E-mail: council@nhchc.org
Website: www.nhchc.org
Vol. XII No. 11 9/20/07

Civil Rights Jeopardized As Homelessness Grows

The continuing demand on HCH providers and our observations of our communities suggest that homelessness continues to grow, despite some bold claims to the contrary. The core causes of homelessness – dire shortages of affordable housing, accessible health care and livable incomes –steadily worsen, as witnessed most recently by the sharp increase in uninsurance last year (now 47 million of us). As the ranks of homeless people swell on our streets, understandable frustration on the part of powerful interests is resulting in negative and reactionary measures, such as “sweeps” of public areas, the passage of “public nuisance” laws, the enforcement of local curfews, and requiring the provision of an address as a prerequisite for services. The civil rights of people without homes are more and more frequently violated. The National Health Care for the Homeless Council calls upon advocates to react vigorously to reverse such developments.

Sweep Dust Bunnies, Not People.
The practice of “sweeping” away homeless encampments constructed in out-of-the-way areas is a growing and disquieting trend. Recently, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the town of Elkton following a high profile 2006 case in rural Maryland in which town leaders bulldozed an occupied homeless encampment in wooded public land as residents attempted, unsuccessfully, to retain their belongings. A similar lawsuit was filed by the ACLU in 2003 when the Pittsburgh Department of Public Works entered an encampment to confiscate and destroy personal property including medications, identification, family photographs, clothing, and blankets. The ACLU and others have investigated similar “sweeps” in Atlanta, Chicago Cleveland, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other communities.
Clients of HCH projects commonly report routine “sweeps” (of lower profile though no less damaging) at the hands of law enforcement organizations or business groups. Last month in Baltimore, employees of a downtown business association discarded personal property at an encampment under a highway overpass while being videotaped by the local media. Hardly a new experience for the individuals asked to “move along,” many recounted being relocated from place to place throughout the City. One individual’s asthma medications were thrown away, resulting in a three-day stay in the hospital. Aside from damaging the relationships being established by local outreach workers, such practices seriously prolong homelessness. The loss of ID alone can disrupt for months the process of obtaining public benefits, health care, employment, and housing.

A Crime to be Homeless
Service providers observe that people experiencing homelessness more often are the victims of serious crime than they are the perpetrators of it. According to Hate, Violence, and Death on Main Street USA, a report from the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), 26 states reported assaults or murders of homeless people in 2006. Unfortunately, recent experience suggests that when individuals without stable addresses voluntarily come forward with information about crimes they’ve witnessed, they may themselves face incarceration solely because of their homelessness. In Medford, Oregon where three individuals without stable housing went to the police with eyewitness information regarding a homicide. They were not charged with any crime, but they were jailed after a prosecutor argued that because they lacked stable housing, they might prove difficult to locate at the time of the trial. As a result of the advocacy of committed court appointed local defense attorneys with help from WRAP two of the three were released but required to report to the probation department everyday. In Scranton PA a homeless man witnessed a brutal murder and called police to provide a statement, only to be incarcerated for four weeks before being placed on a house arrest program. In both cases, justice system officials violated the civil rights of witnesses who simply lacked a regular place to stay.

Homelessness: It’s Criminal
The examples above only hint at the extent to which the experience of homelessness is criminalized in contemporary society. Removing homeless individuals from public spaces, incarcerating homeless witnesses, the passage of “sidewalk” or “no panhandling” legislation, and other similar discriminatory measures are ineffective and inappropriate responses to the problem of homelessness; ultimately, such actions remain counterproductive to the goal of ending and preventing homelessness. As housing becomes less affordable, health care less available, and incomes less livable, we will continue to see an increase in the number of our neighbors who sleep on the streets. Unfortunately, continuing increases in homelessness will prompt ongoing reactionary responses. Mobilizer readers have an opportunity to redirect public attention toward the social crime of homelessness itself and the underlying conditions that cause it.

ACTION

• Write a letter to the Editor. Contact your local paper’s news desk or editorial board to inform them of the injustices experienced by individuals without homes. Write a letter to the editor in response to the criminalization of homelessness in your community and to discuss the ultimate solutions to homelessness.

• Contact your local American Civil Liberties Union to inquire about active cases in your community involving the violation of the civil rights of homeless individuals. Begin a dialogue about the ACLU’s interest in investigating local violations. To identify the ACLU chapter representing your community, visit http://www.aclu.org/affiliates/.

• Attend the 2007 National Forum on the Human Right to Housing. Over the next two months, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty offers two audio and video opportunities for advocates to explore issues of homelessness and criminalization within a human rights context. For details and registration information, visit http://www.nlchp.org.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Atlanta Housing Authority moves to demolish housing projects!!

As the Atlanta Housing Authority moves to demolish another wave of housing projects, what does that mean for the city's poor?

BY MARA SHALHOUP
Published 09.19.07

Ray and Sandra Sellers were displaced from their apartment in Capitol Homes in 2002, when the dilapidated public-housing complex was slated for demolition.
It's been five years since Sandra and Ray Sellers stepped out of their tattered apartment in an inner-city project — and into the brave new world of Atlanta public housing.

Their first stop was a house in Decatur, paid for with a federally subsidized voucher, where they watched the walls crumble and the ceiling fall in. From there, they used the voucher to move across town, to a gated community near the last stop on MARTA's western line. It's the nicest place they've lived – though they had to send their rebellious teenage son to live with a family friend, because they say their new neighborhood "is still drug-infested."

The Sellers had once been hopeful that they'd return to the site where their old apartment once stood, in Capitol Homes. They'd lived there for 15 years, until the housing project was torn down in 2002 to make way for a mixed-income community called Capitol Gateway. The Atlanta Housing Authority promised that many residents would be able to move back into the new development, on Memorial Drive between Grant Park and downtown.

But even then, the Sellers were skeptical about their odds of re-entry. "My own personal belief is that they wouldn't let us back," Sandra Sellers said at the time. "They're looking for people who can pay top dollar."

The Sellers were among six displaced public-housing families interviewed by CL in 2002, when Capitol Homes was the city's ninth housing project to have been scheduled for demolition. Two more were around the corner. At that point, the numbers of original residents trickling back to the first of the redeveloped communities were low, hovering around 10 percent.

Today, of the approximately 5,000 families who ultimately were displaced in the public-housing demolitions, only 332 live in the new mixed-income communities that went up in their place.

One of the reasons why so few residents returned was the housing authority's strict terms. The Sellers, for example, say they were turned down because they'd been late paying their utilities at the house in Decatur. Families also can be barred from re-entry due to a drug conviction (past or present), unemployment (unless you're disabled, which the Sellers are) and poor credit history – some of the most common misfortunes that plague the poor.

Now, on the eve of the city's second major wave of public-housing demolitions – a mass razing of 12 more projects that will reduce the number of public-housing units from a former high of 14,800 to an unprecedented low of 4,800 – the fate of families such as the Sellers could be a harbinger for the thousands that will follow.

Surprisingly, the Sellers' situation mirrors that of a majority of public-housing families who used a voucher in the wake of displacement: The home they've found away from the projects is superior to the one they were forced to leave.

At the Peaks at Martin Luther King, many of the Sellers' neighbors pay full rent. The grounds are well-manicured. There's a pool. The train is a five-minute walk. The Sellers even have their own washer and dryer.

"I don't look to move no time soon," Sandra Sellers says.

More than a decade ago, the Atlanta Housing Authority took a dramatic turn in philosophy: It decided to start razing its housing projects and scatter the residents throughout the city using housing vouchers to help them pay their rent.

Starting in the early '90s, the AHA began to amass more than $200 million in federal grants, mostly through the now-discontinued HOPE VI program. The grants were used to tear down blighted projects and partner with private developers to build properties where residents paying full rent live alongside government-assisted tenants. To date, Atlanta lags behind only Chicago in the amount of HOPE VI grant money received and the number of public-housing units razed.

For the AHA's new public-housing vision to work, it needs residents who share the Sellers' experience. But distrust among residents – including a formal complaint that the agency is pushing low-income blacks out of the city in violation of the Fair Housing Act – still stands in the way.

"It's an agenda to gentrify the city," says Terence Courtney, who works with low-income families through the nonprofit Atlanta Jobs with Justice. "The housing authority has done whatever it could to create a justification for mixed-income communities that aren't really mixed-income. They just keep a few token folks."

In the first decade after the housing authority announced its intention to tear down the first of what will be 23 housing projects by 2010, there was scant evidence to show what happened to the displaced residents. Did their lives get better or worse? The answer to that question would help determine whether spending millions of federal dollars in the name of breaking up concentrations of poverty and inching low-income families toward self-sufficiency actually worked.

The more obvious upshot of the demolitions has been unprecedented economic growth in the city's urban core. The Atlanta Housing Authority makes no bones about having shifted its priorities from serving the poorest of the poor – the traditional role public-housing authorities have played – to improving communities. Thus, in some ways, the housing authority now performs less like a social-services agency and more like an economic-development one.

The shift in philosophy echoes back to Washington, where federal housing policy has backed away from serving the lowest of low-income families and moved more toward leveraging federal funds with private dollars. Not everyone is a fan of that model.

"The results ... were not met with unanimous approval," according to a 2005 Brookings Institution study that looked at HOPE VI projects across the country. "In particular, questions arose over the extent to which the original public housing families had benefited. ... Evidence was limited and inconclusive [as to] whether their life situations had improved."

Or, as Courtney puts it, "Private corporate forces want to take control of the city's assets to benefit themselves, rather than the people who need them."

In the past two years, however, there have been a handful of other studies – including one focused solely on Atlanta public-housing residents – that analyzed what happened to the displaced families. The findings suggest that families in Atlanta fared surprisingly well.

When a resident was relocated to demolish public housing and rebuild a market-ready development with a reserve of low-income units, the resident was given two options: move to another public-housing community or accept a voucher for subsidized rent, called Section 8, which can be used at any eligible property in metro Atlanta.

Critics argue that the use of Section 8 vouchers is troubling. If residents who rely on vouchers can't find a willing landlord, for instance – or if they're convicted of certain crimes (including any drug conviction) or fall too far behind on rent or utilities – they will lose housing-authority assistance. And once lost, it's nearly impossible to get back.

The vouchers also offer an opportunity for slumlords to be guaranteed a steady, federally funded rent check by coaxing Section 8 voucher holders into substandard properties. Those who hold vouchers pay only 30 percent of their income for rent, which seldom covers even a third of what they owe; the government picks up the rest. And though annual property inspections by AHA are supposed to weed out the worst Section 8 rentals, that hasn't always happened.

In an attempt to figure out how displaced residents with vouchers were faring, Danny Boston, a professor of economics at Georgia Tech, set out in 2001 to track 1,235 families who had lived in three demolished housing projects: Clark Howell Homes near downtown, John Egan Homes on the Westside and East Lake Meadows just beyond East Atlanta. Boston compared the fates of those families with the fates of another 1,483 living in traditional housing projects.

And he found that the demolition of public housing actually improved the lives of residents who once lived there.

While some of the displaced families he tracked did wind up losing public-housing assistance, they lost it at the same rate – roughly 50 percent – as families who remained in housing projects. What's more, those who moved away from the projects with the help of vouchers were more likely to find a job (17 percent were employed before they moved, versus 45 percent six years after), to earn higher incomes (median salaries nearly doubled, to $14,000), and to live in at least a slightly better neighborhood (as measured by poverty and employment rates), according to the study, published two years ago in the Journal of the American Planning Association.

Boston also cites recent research showing that families who used vouchers saw improvements in other significant areas: health, happiness and safety. In Chicago, for instance, residents who left public housing with the help of a voucher experienced lower rates of obesity and depression.

"There are psychological and physiological changes taking place as a result of being relocated," Boston says. "Most of the families who had vouchers didn't want to come back."

Critics of the AHA's demolition plans say the new public-housing model isn't as promising as it might seem. To them, the use of so many vouchers puts public housing in a precarious balancing act.

Larry Keating, an emeritus professor of city planning, also at Georgia Tech, has published several studies on the early effects of HOPE VI in Atlanta. He says replacing hard public-housing units with vouchers endangers the future of government-assisted housing – at a time when rising property values, which can be attributed in part to the revitalization of old housing projects, have made it more difficult to secure housing for the poor.

By some estimates, the city is suffering a shortage of 81,000 affordable housing units (those with rents less than $600). What's more, the Atlanta Housing Authority's waiting list for a Section 8 voucher has been closed since 2001 – meaning that the newly poor, or those new to Atlanta, have almost zero chance of getting one. Over the past five years the list has only decreased from 24,000 names to 22,000. (Displaced housing residents get to bypass the list.)

And while the neighborhoods in which vouchers are being used are often a step up from the neighborhoods the families left, the improvement is not always vast. Boston's study found that the mean poverty rate in neighborhoods where vouchers were used was still 28 percent, and the employment rate was only 38 percent.

Nor are vouchers working to spread low-income families across the city. Not even close.

Nearly 8,000 of the 9,600 vouchers being used in the city are located in just 10 of the city's 100-plus ZIP codes. Those 10 ZIP codes are clustered in neighborhoods in south and west Atlanta, where there are immense pockets of poverty. Not surprisingly, there are no vouchers being used in upscale neighborhoods such as Buckhead, Druid Hills and Ansley Park.

Some housing-authority critics, including state Rep. and Clark Atlanta University professor Bob Holmes, fear Atlanta's housing crunch is pushing voucher holders into the suburbs.

"Several thousand low-income African Americans have been relocating outside the city as a result of the Atlanta Housing Authority's HOPE VI revitalization," Holmes wrote in the preface to 2005's Status of Black Atlanta.

Yet the housing authority provided CL with statistics showing that only 12 percent of the vouchers it oversees are being used outside the city of Atlanta. But those stats don't take into account that when a voucher holder moves to another jurisdiction, the voucher sometimes transfers to that jurisdiction's housing authority. AHA spokesman White couldn't say how often those transfers might occur.

In addition to Keating's belief that vouchers are taxing the city's supply of affordable housing, he also is skeptical of the decision to swap standing housing units with vouchers, which he believes are more susceptible to federal funding cuts.

"Since we got started with this [public-housing] program in the '30s, we had accumulated almost 15,000 units," Keating says. "Those are real assets that can provide housing for lots of people for a long time. It's just tragic to throw that away."

Both Boston and White say there's another way of looking at the equation.

For years, the feds have been cutting funding for traditional public-housing units, leaving crumbling and sometimes abandoned apartments in their wake. Rather than perpetuate that blight, the housing authority replaced those communities with ones that have drastically altered urban life.

Take Centennial Place, the former site of Techwood and Clark Howell Homes. Violent crime in that neighborhood – which Boston says once measured 37 times the national average – has been slashed to below-average rates. Boston points out that the revitalization cleared the way for neighboring attractions such as the Georgia Aquarium and the new World of Coke. And according to White, the first-ever public-housing child from the neighborhood is in this year's freshman class at the university a few blocks north: Georgia Tech.

"People can sit there and criticize what might happen, but they need to look at what is happening," White says. "It's not even a philosophical disagreement. Congress could just as easily stop funding the hard units, and we would be right back to where we were. So you tell me: Which is the better approach?"

Unlike the residents of the 11 public-housing projects to have been torn down since 1994, those in the 12 projects currently on the chopping block will have one fewer option for relocation: They aren't being given the opportunity to move back into the revitalized communities.

That's because neither plans nor funding for new construction at those sites exists.

Instead, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is allowing the demolitions to go forward with the confidence that the Atlanta Housing Authority will be able to shop the empty lots to developers – and eventually partner to build communities that contain some low-income housing. In the past, the new developments set aside 40 percent of units for public housing, though not exclusively for original residents.

That's one of the things that really riles Shirley Hightower. She's losing the community where she has spent the past 14 years so the land can be developed by the best bidder.

Hightower was 18 when her parents moved her and her 11 siblings to Bowen Homes, off the old Bankhead Highway on the western edge of the city. At the time, the project was only six years old – and Hightower was eager to get out. She married soon after moving in, and eventually bought a house in Decatur with her husband.

Nearly 20 years later, in the early '90s, Hightower fell on hard times, and she and her five children moved back to Bowen. Since then, she has become president of the Bowen Homes tenant association. She has worked to stave off evictions, which she says spiked after the housing authority adopted a voluntary federal initiative requiring all able-bodied residents to either hold a job or be enrolled in school or job training if they're under the age of 62. The rule applies to those with vouchers, too.

The federal Moving-to-Work program (or CATALYST, as it's called in Atlanta) has proved challenging, particularly for single mothers with young children. Hightower says it's easier to live in a housing project than to hold a voucher under the CATALYST program. That's because in the projects, there's a strong network of friends and family who can help watch each other's children. The demolition of the projects will eradicate that social network.

"Where will our people go and where will they be when all this is over and done with?" Hightower asks. "How many of our children and our parents are going to be homeless? There's not enough affordable housing in Atlanta for them."

Last month, Hightower and Diane Wright, president of the Hollywood Courts tenant association, enlisted the help of Emory University law professor Lindsay Jones. Together, they sent a complaint to HUD alleging that the AHA's practice of demolishing public housing and replacing it with mixed-income communities amounts to discrimination against black residents, in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

"The intentional elimination of useful public housing projects occupied almost exclusively by African American families would be a double insult to the civil rights of African Americans," the letter states. "The Atlanta Housing Authority has engaged in the de facto demolition of its remaining stock of public housing projects ... [while] denying the affected tenants, who are almost exclusively African American, the opportunity to meaningfully assert and protect their rights to equal opportunity in housing."


The letter asks HUD to place a moratorium on the housing authority's demolition plans.

Jones says he's not yet received a response. Nor has he received records he requested on Wright's and Hightower's behalf from the housing authority in July. He says he was trying to obtain documents that would give an indication of the health of the Section 8 program in Atlanta.

"The lack of transparency," Jones says, "is likely to cultivate an environment of fear and distrust between the residents and the AHA."

Yet AHA spokesman White says he believes public-housing residents have newfound trust for the housing authority.

He offers as proof a recent survey of residents living in all 12 projects scheduled for demolition. When asked if they would like "the opportunity to receive a Housing Choice voucher," an average 96 percent of those who responded said yes. White says that's evidence the families want to leave the projects, and that they trust the housing authority will treat them fairly.

"I think this is actually a reflection of the sea change that has occurred," he says.

Other evidence that families are faring well can be found in Boston's research. But like some of the housing authority's claims, Boston's findings also have been questioned.

In a published response to Boston's study, University of Minnesota professor Ed Goetz challenges the merits of the research. He describes the AHA's revitalization efforts, as well as the efforts of other housing authorities across the nation, as "the highly intrusive and expensive process of forcible relocation." And he calls the improvements in the lives of former residents "modest."

Revitalization has been most successful, Goetz writes, in "reclaiming particular neighborhoods, reducing criminal activity in those areas, and significantly upgrading the physical environment." He also describes the redevelopments as having "spawned or facilitated gentrification, or served other interests of local governments" – including Atlanta's desire to clean up downtown in anticipation of the 1996 Olympics.

"What has not yet been demonstrated," Goetz states, "even by Professor Boston's study, is that the original households experience their share of benefits in the process."

Boston stands by the strength of his numbers that show improvements in the lives of families displaced from public housing. But he agrees that the impact of revitalization "is a blessing and a curse."

"As the community is improved, the property values increase," Boston says, "and it becomes much more difficult for low-income residents to maintain ownership and control."

The phenomenon can be summed up in a single word: gentrification. And Boston and others believe there are ways to offset it.

To some -- including Keating at Georgia Tech -- the only solution to tearing down public housing is to replace every unit that's destroyed with another public-housing unit. Vouchers, he says, shouldn't count.

"You don't have to build it new," Keating suggests. "Go buy some properties – they're out there – and fix them up."

The housing authority actually is proposing something similar to that. While the agency doesn't intend to buy properties, it is working on obtaining long-term leases on 5,000 units of "workforce" housing throughout the city. The apartments would be available for minimum-wage earners, all the way up to families of four who earn less than $40,000.

White points out that since public-housing residents are now required to work, the new units are comparable to those lost to in the demolitions.

The addition of the 5,000 units would bring the city's total number of public-housing units, after the upcoming demolitions, to nearly 10,000. That's about 1,600 shy of the number of inhabitable units that existed before the first wave of demolitions.

Boston says the city should take this model a step further and offer all developers incentives to set aside a certain percentage of units for low-income families. The city saw a huge surge in tax revenue as a result of the gentrification that stemmed from the housing authority's new communities. "It's literally hundreds of millions of dollars," Boston says. "That, I argue, is sufficient enough to address the people who are being adversely affected by revitalization."

Earlier this year, legislation to create those kind of incentives was introduced before Atlanta City Council. But Andy Schneggenburger, executive director of the nonprofit Atlanta Housing Association of Neighborhood-based Developers, says the incentives aren't persuasive enough.

AHAND looked at hundreds of other cities and counties that passed similar legislation, and found that voluntary ordinances "typically aren't successful at all," Schneggenburger says.

"They just don't produce the kind of numbers you need," he continues. "You can't afford to have just a slight increase. You need major production."

He's now advocating that a mandatory 10 percent of new development be set aside for low-income units – with benefits to developers to help offset the cost.

One thing is for certain: Something has to happen to stave the loss of affordable housing in Atlanta, and soon.

"Obviously, everybody wants to live in a better neighborhood," Boston says. "But we've got to do that in a way that everybody can win. And I think everybody can win, if we address specifically those who are likely to lose."

For those likely to lose – particularly the residents of Atlanta's ill-fated public housing – action will have to come fast. Or it will come too late.

"What happens when the people all come together and realize the trick that was played on them?" Hightower asks. "Why aren't people concerned? Why can't they see what's going on?"

More H.U.D. changes:
SF Housing Authority Director Resigns

Monday, September 24, 2007

Use the Homelessness Curriculum this Fall

By Orion Lumiere

Educators are invited to check out Sisters’ curriculum on homelessness and download it from our web-site www.sistersoftheroad.org on the “PhotoVoice/Curriculum” page listed under our Programs. Educate youth K-12 about homelessness; use by itself or in conjunction with our traveling PhotoVoice exibit.

With an emphasis on dispelling stereotypes, the curriculum combines lesson plans created by advocates around the country and unique activities sreated by Sisters geared toward particular age groups, such as;

  • Writing, art projects& recommended reading
  • How youth can help end homelessness
  • Statistics and information on homelessness
  • Service learning opportunities for youth

High school activities incorporate critical thinking questions the Western Regional Advocacy Project’s eye-opening report, Without Housing, which looks at the root cause of homelessness, the las of affordable housing.

If you use the curriculum, Please take the time to fill out the curriculum evaluation form, also on the web-site. This will help continually improve it.

Please contact Devin at (503) 222-5694 Ext.#16 or
Devin@sistersoftheroad.org

Friday, September 21, 2007

Georgia homeless providers find home!

Snellville Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer said the city did all it could to help the Southeast co-op. Oberholtzer said he made some calls, but couldn't find a new location. And, he said, the agency couldn't stay in its old location because the building had leaks and other problems.

"We are open to any kind of service that provides help to our less fortunate," Oberholtzer said. "But we are limited to what we can do as a city. We couldn't give them property rent free. ... Our long-term plan was to take that building down."

Click below for full article:
Snellville shelter finds home after year of homelessness

Related Articles:
Former COTS location left out in cold by Green Bay committee

"Rising Homeless In N.D./MN."

A survey released Thursday shows a 49 percent increase in Fargo-Moorhead’s homeless population from three years earlier, though those involved with the study say part of the increase can be attributed to better search efforts.

Click below for full article:
F-M homeless population goes up

More Stories:
Number of homeless families rises

Subject: Senate Banking Committee Passes McKinney-Vento Legislation


NPACH Statement: Senate Banking Committee Approves McKinney-Vento Legislation

Yesterday, the Senate Banking Committee approved S. 1518, legislation to reform HUD's McKinney-Vento homeless assistance programs. If enacted, the bill would make important improvements to current federal policy on homelessness. Many of these positive changes are part of the legislation thanks to the hard work of advocates and service providers from around the country who provided comments and recommendations to Senators and their staff members. Without grass roots efforts, we would not have seen these gains.

Unfortunately, S. 1518 continues to inadequately address our concerns in three fundamental areas.

  • Definition of homelessness - the bill's language requiring multiple doubled up or motel episodes in order to be considered homeless would be difficult for local communities to implement, and as a matter of policy would unwisely prevent many children, youth, and families without homes from accessing HUD homeless assistance.
  • Set-asides and priorities - the bill is overly prescriptive in continuing to dictate to communities how funds should be spent, rather than allowing local advocates, service, providers, and government agencies to make these decisions.
  • Community participation - an amendment to the bill deleted language to ensure that traditionally underrepresented stakeholders -- such as education liaisons, domestic violence program staff, and youth service providers -- are present "at the table" when homeless assistance grant applications are prepared. In addition, language specifically requiring the needs of homeless veterans to be considered in developing these local applications was removed from the bill.

Before the Senate passes S. 1518, improvements should be made in these key areas.

Next week, we will circulate a detailed analysis of S. 1518 as amended. Timing for the bill's consideration on the Senate floor remains uncertain. We believe that opportunities to make changes will be available, and will continue to inform you of those opportunities as they arise.

We, and many of our partners, believe that the HEARTH Act - H.R. 840 - provides a significantly better framework for McKinney-Vento reauthorization. We look forward to working with all of you, and with key House Members, to ensure that HEARTH's important provisions become law.

More HUD articles below:

HUD ANNOUNCES MORE THAN $18 MILLION TO HELP DEVELOP HOUSING FOR VERY LOW-INCOME ELDERLY



Wednesday, September 19, 2007

County: Scrap Thomas J. Pappas schools

The Thomas J. Pappas schools for homeless kids are no longer needed, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors decided Friday, and the students should be mainstreamed into public schools in their communities.

Click below for full story:
www.azcentral.com

More Articles:
Fewer attend Pappas schools
Plan for Pappas: Close schools, move students

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Education - The number of homeless students rises as Oregon's stronger economy fails to lift poorer families

Despite a rebounding economy, Oregon schools report a continuing surge in the number of their students who are homeless.
The latest count of 15,517 homeless children and youth, released Wednesday, is 18 percent higher than a year ago and 37 percent higher than two years ago

Click below for full article:
More kids have a school but not a home


Urban districts tend to have the highest numbers of students who are classified as homeless. The Portland school district, the state's largest, has 1,513 homeless students, followed by Medford — a district with a high population of students from migrant worker families — with 1,168.

Click below for full article:
Homeless student numbers jump

Click for related article:

More homeless students identified in Oklahoma
More than 8,200 Oklahoma students were identified as homeless during the 2006-2007 school year, according to a state report.

Needing assistance
Ten ECISD students, three adults live to-gether, struggle

More homeless students, or just logistics?
Racine - The numbers of homeless students in Racine Unified begs the question: Is poverty really worse in the Racine area than in surrounding Kenosha and Milwaukee?

District's coordinator identifies those in need-When the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was broadened under No Child Left Behind in 2002, school districts nationwide were mandated to hire someone to identify and serve the needs of homeless children.

Other articles about Medford, OR.
Checkout:
Oregon's "Homeless" Witness Program

Homeless man who witnessed murder under house arrest: PA
Judge says homeless witnesses must stay in jail: OR

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

HUD REPORT OFFERS FIRST ASSESSMENT OF “HOUSING FIRST” STRATEGY

First exploratory study expands understanding of how to help the hardest-to-help

WASHINGTON - A new report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development documents and qualifies the effectiveness of Housing First strategies in terms of keeping chronically homeless persons from returning to the streets or addressing the root causes of their homelessness.

Click below for Press Release:
HUD REPORT

Monday, September 10, 2007

B.C. Homeless Man Fights For Right To Sleep

Homeless challenger gets his day in court

The 35-year-old is getting set for Monday, when two lawyers are scheduled to take on the City of Victoria with a constitutional challenge to the municipal bylaw forbidding camping in city parks.



Click below for Article

Richard Watts, Times Columnist
Published: Monday, September 10, 2007

Friday, September 7, 2007

Oregon's "Homeless" Witness Program

In Medford, Oregon, a state court judge incarcerated three homeless people to secure their attendance as witnesses in a homicide case. Using Oregon's material witness statutes, the judge held the three in custody for over two months.

Despite the fact that two of the homeless folks lived in the community, promised to comply with all subpoenas, and had no history of intentionally failing to appear in court, the judge held that they should be kept in jail indefinitely pending the defendant's trial. At no point were the homeless people charged with committing any crime themselves; they were held solely as witnesses.

The judge based his decision, in part, on his finding that the homeless people "were not forthcoming" with police and did not immediately run to the police with the information that a potential crime had been committed. The judge's reasoning was maddening to homeless advocates who note that some police officers' threatening and harassing behavior toward homeless people instills a sense of distrust of the police in many homeless people. On the whole, it seemed clear that the judge focused on the witnesses' homeless status - or, rather, the inevitable consequences of being homeless - to render his decision.

The homeless witnesses' court-appointed criminal defense attorneys fought extremely hard to win their clients' release. A number of hearings were held, to no avail. The attorneys, with the help of WRAP's legal counsel, filed a Motion to Reconsider, which outlined the constitutional flaws in Oregon's material witness law and the process by which the witnesses were arrested and held. The judge denied the motion but the matters will be pursued on appeal.

In the end, the attorneys were able to arrange a release plan that the judge accepted. The homeless witnesses were released last week. Also, last week, it was reported that another homeless man in Medford was incarcerated on a material witness warrant in another criminal case.

Through its work on this case, WRAP has discovered other instances across the nation of homeless people being held indefinitely as material witnesses. It appears to be "enemy-combatant"-type treatment, writ small, with little or questionable due process and indefinite incarceration without charge. WRAP will continue to monitor and contest this unconstitutional and inhumane treatment of homeless people.

Related Articles:
Homeless man who witnessed murder under house arrest: PA
- A homeless man who witnessed a murder was jailed and placed in a house arrest program, despite not committing a crime, to ensure his safety and participation in court proceedings, officials said.

Judge says homeless witnesses must stay in jail: OR
- Three homeless people who saw a fatal fight at an encampment must remain in jail until the case is tried, a judge has ruled.
The three have been held for 10 weeks as material witnesses, getting $7.50 a day in compensation. A trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 25.

Ala. Woman, 81, shoots homeless 'washer'
-Getting charged for first degree "laundry"

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Private Policing of Public Spaces

Premature Evacuation
Sit-Lie Comes Early for Rent-a-Cops


BY MATT DAVIS


Rent-a-cops paid for by the Portland Business Alliance (PBA) were caught enforcing the city's controversial new sit-lie ordinance two days before its official enforcement date last week—despite repeated assurances they would only conduct "community outreach" on the law, leaving its actual enforcement to the cops.

Dale Hardway, a formerly homeless Portlander who now works in a building on SW 6th and Alder, was on the sidewalk during his morning break on Tuesday, August 28, when he saw three street kids walking away around the corner. A rent-a-cop working for the PBA's Clean and Safe program for Portland Patrol, Inc. (PPI) had just spoken with the kids.

"I ran after the kids and asked them if he'd run them off," continues Hardway. "And they told me he'd said they couldn't be there because of the new sit-lie ordinance, and that they'd have to leave or face arrest and a possible fine."

Read More!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Seattle Manifesto

Manifesto: Italian, from Latin manifestus, clear, evident. See manifest.
A public declaration of principles, policies, or intentions, especially of a political nature.

This editorial runs in this weeks Real Change, and is intended as a challenge for all of us to reconsider our approach to homelessness and poverty. Our systematic failure as homeless advocates and service providers to recognize that radical inequality and increased poverty and homelessness are linked have placed us in the position of now being part of the problem.

Call it a sign of the times. Cities throughout the Northwest and beyond are getting tough on visible poverty. Tacoma and Portland have enacted some of the most stringent “time, place, and manner” restrictions on panhandling anywhere, and Seattle has quietly adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy on homeless encampments of any size. San Francisco is an anti-homeless war zone, with homeless sweeps becoming both more frequent and brutalizing.

Even here, in liberal Seattle, the diamond-hard edge of our times is beginning to be felt.

The Downtown Seattle Association says there are more human feces on the street now than before public toilets were installed. They want this basic public amenity removed.

They say panhandling is up by thirty-eight percent this year alone, despite their new “Have a Heart” campaign to discourage direct giving. They say that outdoor meals programs, which serve some of the toughest cases, attract litter, dysfunction, and blight.

Yet, few others seem to have noticed. Business is booming. The convention center and facilities at other hotels and conference centers are fully booked. Downtown living is more popular than ever, and concerted efforts to effectively address homelessness are underway.

So why the meanness? Why here? Why now?

The answer has to do with the future of our downtown, and the hardening soul of Seattle. As those who have the means increasingly opt for in-city living, Seattle is becoming an island of affluence in a sea of growing economic and racial disparity.

One barrier to downtown living is the perception that it might not be safe. With big money committed to downtown development that is designed to attract the wealthiest one percent, the DSA's preoccupation with squelching visible poverty makes a lot more sense.

While everyone knows that the downtown has been rezoned for “tall and skinny” condo development, the upper-end of this market is the proverbial tail that wags the dog.

There’s the Escala at 4th and Virginia, slated to open in 2009. "Anticipate perfection. Embrace elegance. Experience grandeur," says their website. This 30-story glass tower at 4th and Virginia has 275 new condos going for a million dollars or more each. Nearby, at the Fifteen Twenty One Second Avenue Building ("designed exclusively for the confident few"), 143 units sell for an average of $1.8 million each. The move-in date here is December 2008.

The Four Seasons, going in at 1st and Union and scheduled to open in summer 2008, bills itself as "Seattle's Signature Address," and will feature 36 private residences above a luxury hotel. Condos are priced from $2.5 million to more than $10 million.

With all this wealth comes a vision for a downtown that is safe, secure, and sanitized, where the ├╝ber-rich and the merely affluent can buy groceries at the public market and uphold high cultural standards at the SAM without ever having to confront the ugly side of inequality.

It'll be sort of like New York. But without the diversity or the people.

There is a strategy in play, and it involves both carrots and sticks. The priority for "ending homelessness," led by federal funding opportunities and eagerly adopted by government, philanthropy, and large human services institutions who stand to benefit, focuses on that ten percent or so of homeless people who constitute the visible urban poor, otherwise known as the "chronic homeless."

No matter what the issue — homelessness, education, the environment, whatever — federal funding levels are a precise calibration of maximal cooptation at minimal price. Homelessness goes for around $1.6 billion right now. Cheap.

The stick is the increased policing of the urban poor, and new legal tools designed to drive poverty from the center to the periphery.

If there is a central fact of life in America at the beginning of the twenty-first century it is this: What we don’t see doesn’t bother us.

As the Downtown Seattle Association beats their steady media drumbeat of faux-compassion and tough love for the poor, we can expect them to move from rhetoric to more explicit forms of action. We need to prepare for when this happens

Approaches to homelessness that stigmatize and criminalize poverty must be resisted. Rhetoric that legitimates fear and hatred of the poor under a threadbare cover of compassion needs to be questioned. Policies that undermine equality and democracy need to be identified and opposed.

For too long, the strategy to end homelessness has focused on charity, while questions of economic justice have received little more than useless lip service. Meanwhile, a one-sided class war has raged on right under our noses.

Don’t you think it’s time to take sides?


Eureka, California Police Beat Man to Death

FROM REDWOOD CURTAIN COPWATCH
UPDATE


Since Redwood Curtain CopWatch learned of the Thursday August 9th death of Martin "Fred" Cotton II, we have spoken with many witnesses and other community members regarding the events leading to Martin's death. Immediately after the Sheriff's Department sent a press release (on the afternoon of August 10th), local papers wrote 'stories' simply parroting the police account and criminalizing Martin. People's reports to Redwood Curtain CopWatch and to ACLU members share many common threads; facts and perspectives that stand out starkly against the police account.

Martin was pepper sprayed and then beaten severely by the Eureka Police Department [EPD]; a sack was thrown over his head and he was taken to jail. There, we believe he was further beat by Sheriff's and possibly also EPD officers. The man next to the cell where Martin died witnessed officers dragging Martin, who was hooded and handcuffed, into a cell. Multiple officers (but no medical staff) then went into the cell. After 15 minutes of intense thumping and moaning coming from the cell, the officers exited. No further noise came from the cell. The man in the adjacent cell was soon released. According to the Sheriff's Dept, Martin died two hours after booking.

Martin, known to be manic-depressive, was involved in a confrontation at the Eureka Rescue Mission on Aug. 9th, just weeks before his 27th. birthday. Rescue Mission staff called the police, who arrived after Martin, unarmed, had already been ejected from the Mission. The EPD officers, whose names continue to be withheld by EPD, immediately pepper sprayed Martin, kicked him, beat him with night sticks, and punched him with fists—for up to 20 minutes by many accounts. EPD pummeled Martin all over his body, including heavily attacking his kidney area and his legs while he was face down on the concrete. Each witness with whom we have separately and independently spoken regarding the attack by EPD has said at least five officers inflicted the beating, with several more present at the scene. Not one such witness observed Martin threatening or attacking the police. Many people present explicitly stated that Martin never reached for an officer's baton. All witnesses have expressed trauma at watching what they explained as an unwarranted, long-lasting, and deadly beating.

EPD officers intimidated people attempting to photograph the public incident; one woman trying to take photos on a cell phone was reportedly told to "put that f---ing cell phone away!"

Eureka Mission House Manager, Bryan Hall, ordered some of the men who reside at the Mission and were witnessing the brutality to go inside after several minutes of the beating. Bryan, who made the call to police, was the only person from the Mission to attend the so-called Town Hall meeting featuring EPD Chief, Garr Nielsen, on Thursday August 16th. Bryan defended the police and told a very different story than we have heard from all other witnesses. It is our informed belief that the men who stay at the Mission were not allowed to attend the meeting to share their stories. Additionally, many of the witnesses, who already suffer from police harassment and abuse, are fearful of retaliation if they were to step forward.

On the 16th, Chief Nielsen admitted that he hadn't read a report from the incident, yet since his very first interview on the matter he has insisted, without a doubt, that 'his' officers were warranted in their actions. At the same time he has consistently criminalized Martin and justified the killing with speculations of drug use, even going so far as to blame Martin for his own death. At the Thursday meeting Nielsen spoke of a Sheriffs' film showing Martin banging his head on the walls of the jail. Nielsen repeatedly expressed relief stemming from his conclusion that Martin banged his own head to death, rather than being killed by officers. Two days after the meeting, Nielsen admitted that he had not seen such a film. Throughout the "Town Hall" meeting, (actually occurring in a private restaurant owned by the mayor), the chief seemed far more concerned with EPD's public image than with the tragic death of another human being.

Martin is the 6th person killed by the hands and weapons of local police officers (all involving EPD) in the past 2 years. Martin's death was perhaps the most brutal. Lawsuits have been filed against the City of Eureka by 3 other victims' families. The District Attorney and the police have, regarding each incident, claimed that the force used by officers was justified. A former cop and 28-year forensic ballistics expert explains:

"...with the thousands of police involved shootings that have occurred, there are few where the officer or department has admitted a mistake or error in judgment; the department usually investigates its own shooting incidents and clears themselves and the officer of any wrongdoing."

We have no faith that justice or accountability will come from the closed circle of the EPD, DA, Sheriff's Dept, and Coroner.

EPD is hoping for a toxicology report that will indicate some drug in Martin's body, so as to further criminalize Martin and distract from EPD officers' behavior---behavior that is unacceptable and unwarranted under any circumstances. Meanwhile, no officers involved in the deaths of Martin and others have been tested for drug or steroid use.

Although Martin was severely injured from the cruel and undeserved beating, EPD took him directly to jail to die, rather than immediately bringing him to the hospital. Neither Nielsen nor any jail employee (Sheriff's Dept) has indicated that Martin was seen by medical staff while in their custody, until he was dead. This is unacceptable and adds to the outrage that we feel.

Even if one were to ignore the deadly beating inflicted by police in front of the Mission and accept Nielson's 'theory' that Martin banged his own head to death, the police would be responsible; Martin was 'in their custody.'

Martin was houseless... And he is someone's son, grandson-- and a brother and friend to others. We are tired of community members dying at the hands of police. Killing by EPD cannot be seen as a mistake-- it is EPD's modus operandi, and it must stop.

Redwood Curtain CopWatch believes that as a community we can work towards creating real justice that heals and transforms rather than destroys and erases. Police violence does not make us safe. The police, as a structural component of our society, have not outgrown their long legacy of protecting the rich 'from the poor'; and have accelerated their practice of further marginalizing the people most trampled by our socio-economic system.

We have experienced, documented, and heard stories about the consistent abuse of people who have mental health issues and of people who are homeless. These targeted populations are integral parts of our neighborhoods and families. (Martin was one of 3.3 million people in the U.S. diagnosed as manic-depressive.) People who are in crisis need help not violence. The police believe they can treat many of us like we are 'scum', like we cannot feel pain--our bodies and lives worthless, can be exploited and violently disposed. In contrast, Redwood Curtain CopWatch wants to create grass-roots support networks that respect, nurture, and heal the community; exploring true conflict resolution that has nothing to do with the police.

Please help us imagine creative alternatives to the violence of police. Let's work towards justice that is nourished by knowing our neighbors, taking care of each other, and relating to each other as dignified human beings.

Contact: copwatchRWC@riseup.net (707)633-4493.