Sunday, December 30, 2007

Tent City in Suburbs Is Cost of Home Crisis

By Dana Ford

Thursday 20 December 2007

Between railroad tracks and beneath the roar of departing planes sits "tent city," a terminus for homeless people. It is not, as might be expected, in a blighted city center, but in the once-booming suburbia of Southern California.

The noisy, dusty camp sprang up in July with 20 residents and now numbers 200 people, including several children, growing as this region east of Los Angeles has been hit by the U.S. housing crisis.

The unraveling of the region known as the Inland Empire reads like a 21st century version of "The Grapes of Wrath," John Steinbeck's novel about families driven from their lands by the Great Depression.

As more families throw in the towel and head to foreclosure here and across the nation, the social costs of collapse are adding up in the form of higher rates of homelessness, crime and even disease.

While no current residents claim to be victims of foreclosure, all agree that tent city is a symptom of the wider economic downturn. And it's just a matter of time before foreclosed families end up at tent city, local housing experts say.

"They don't hit the streets immediately," said activist Jane Mercer. Most families can find transitional housing in a motel or with friends before turning to charity or the streets. "They only hit tent city when they really bottom out."

Steve, 50, who declined to give his last name, moved to tent city four months ago. He gets social security payments, but cannot work and said rents are too high.

"House prices are going down, but the rentals are sky-high," said Steve. "If it wasn't for here, I wouldn't have a place to go."

"Squatting in Vacant Houses"

Nationally, foreclosures are at an all-time high. Filings are up nearly 100 percent from a year ago, according to the data firm RealtyTrac. Officials say that as many as half a million people could lose their homes as adjustable mortgage rates rise over the next two years.

California ranks second in the nation for foreclosure filings - one per 88 households last quarter. Within California, San Bernardino county in the Inland Empire is worse - one filing for every 43 households, according to RealtyTrac.

Maryanne Hernandez bought her dream house in San Bernardino in 2003 and now risks losing it after falling four months behind on mortgage payments.

"It's not just us. It's all over," said Hernandez, who lives in a neighborhood where most families are struggling to meet payments and many have lost their homes. She has noticed an increase in crime since the foreclosures started. Her house was robbed, her kids' bikes were stolen and she worries about what type of message empty houses send.

The pattern is cropping up in communities across the country, like Cleveland, Ohio, where Mark Wiseman, director of the Cuyahoga County Foreclosure Prevention Program, said there are entire blocks of homes in Cleveland where 60 or 70 percent of houses are boarded up."I don't think there are enough police to go after criminals holed up in those houses, squatting or doing drug deals or whatever," Wiseman said.

"And it's not just a problem of a neighborhood filled with people squatting in the vacant houses, it's the people left behind, who have to worry about people taking siding off your home or breaking into your house while you're sleeping."

Health risks are also on the rise. All those empty swimming pools in California's Inland Empire have become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which can transmit the sometimes deadly West Nile virus, Riverside County officials say.

"Trickle-Down Effect"

But it is not just homeowners who are hit by the foreclosure wave. People who rent now find themselves in a tighter, more expensive market as demand rises from families who lost homes, said Jean Beil, senior vice president for programs and services at Catholic Charities USA.

"Folks who would have been in a house before are now in an apartment and folks that would have been in an apartment, now can't afford it," said Beil. "It has a trickle-down effect."

For cities, foreclosures can trigger a range of short-term costs, like added policing, inspection and code enforcement. These expenses can be significant, said Lt. Scott Patterson with the San Bernardino Police Department, but the larger concern is that vacant properties lower home values and in the long-run, decrease tax revenues.

And it all comes at a time when municipalities are ill-equipped to respond. High foreclosure rates and declining home values are sapping property tax revenues, a key source of local funding to tackle such problems.

Earlier this month, U.S. President George W. Bush rolled out a plan to slow foreclosures by freezing the interest rates on some loans. But for many in these parts, the intervention is too little and too late.

Ken Sawa, CEO of Catholic Charities in San Bernardino and Riverside counties, said his organization is overwhelmed and ill-equipped to handle the volume of people seeking help. "We feel helpless," said Sawa. "Obviously, it's a local problem because it's in our backyard, but the solution is not local."

Article from:

Friday, December 28, 2007

Trying To Shine A Little Hope In Rural PA.

Three houseless veterans from three wars live together under bridge, and a few programs helping to raise a little hope for ending homelessness. Full Article

Friday, December 21, 2007

Beggar or Businessperson?

There are a million of these out there, but we found this one to be quite funny.


December 21, 2007
By Anat Rubin
Daily Journal Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES - Leonard Woods is tired of fighting for his home. Woods has lived at the Alexandria, a Skid Row residency hotel, for a decade. But the 53-year-old, who depends on a motorized wheelchair to get around, doesn't know how much longer he'll be able to stay. "They've worn me down," Woods said, crying. "It's one thing after another, and I'm falling apart." Everything was fine, he said, until the city of Los Angeles gave a for-profit affordable housing developer substantial funding last year to purchase and renovate the Alexandria, which has long been home to some of the city's poorest residents.

Since then, more than 80 of the hotel's tenants, many of them disabled, have been evicted, according to court records. Some now live on the street. Others are in emergency housing. Many remaining tenants, like Woods, say they are barely hanging on. Woods, a carpenter who suffered a spinal injury eight years ago, said the hotel's managers have made every effort to get him to leave. They refused to accept his medications and disabled bus pass when they arrived in the mail, he said. They told him he had to give up two-thirds of his living space, refusing to accept his rent payment for two of the three small adjoining units he has been living in for years, he said, "They say, 'If we can make their lives miserable, maybe they'll leave,'" Woods said. "I'm tired of being stepped on."
Over the last six months, Woods and many other residents have made numerous complaints to the Community Redevelopment Agency, which helped San Diego-based Amerland Group secure $35 million in state bonds to renovate the building, and committed $11.9 million in city funds to keep the units affordable and prevent displacement.
Residents complained of harassment, discrimination and poor living conditions. Disabled tenants said they have been stranded on their hotel floor for days because the elevators break down. They said they have had to go without water for days and without hot water for weeks. They said management was refusing to take their rent checks and then trying to evict them for not paying rent. They said they were being relocated to smaller, inadequate rooms without notice. And they made it clear it was the elderly and disabled who were being pushed out of the building.
"I spoke in all of those [community redevelopment] hearings and guess what? Nothing happened," Woods said. "Nothing changed." Attorneys for Amerland were unavailable Thursday, but the company has repeatedly denied allegations of discrimination and said tenants who were being evicted were not paying rent.

Now Woods and other Alexandria residents are suing the developer, the Community Redevelopment Agency and the city, alleging widespread race and disability discrimination and rampant violations of state relocation and redevelopment laws. "The city is responsible for approving the expenditure of public funds for this project and not ensuring those funds were put to the use the people of the city intended: to provide low-income housing," said Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles attorney Louis Rafti, whose organization filed the lawsuit in federal court Thursday, along with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, the Disability Rights Legal Center and McDermott Will & Emery. "This project was intended for people who cannot afford to live anywhere else. There's no more affordable housing. There's no place for these folks to go. They're losing housing at $300 to $400 a month and there's absolutely nothing available for that right now."

A recent boom in development has turned downtown residency hotels into prime real estate. The gentrification that has swept the area caused city officials to declare a moratorium on residency hotel conversions to stop landlords from evicting tenants and turning their affordable units into high-end lofts. But affordable housing is exempt from the moratorium and other tenant protections.
"This was an intentional strategy to let this developer do whatever he wanted to," Rafti said. "The agency just turned their heads. If the developer told them these are bad people, they assumed they must be. Even if a third of the building has been evicted, they thought, 'These people must not be important enough for us to deal with.'"
In a press release, the Community Redevelopment Agency said Thursday it "shares the concerns expressed by tenants at the Alexandria Hotel regarding health and safety, habitability and tenant rights issues." The agency said it has no regulatory or legal jurisdiction over many of the claims. But, according to the press release, the agency expects "the developer to comply with all laws related to health and safety, discrimination, and tenant rights and will continue to work with the parties to resolve these issues."
Some board members had raised concerns about the project before it was approved, and after tenants and community groups began to complain. They were especially troubled by the broken elevators and lack of running water. One member voiced numerous concerns about the rate of evictions. But those members were outnumbered on the board and their concerns, residents said, did not translate into action.
Attorneys for the residents point to the Alexandria's Web site as evidence of the developer's plans to get rid of older, disabled people of color. The site looks like an advertisement for a college dormitory. Photos feature shaggy-haired boys lounging on modern couches and hip girls in bright rooms gazing into laptop screens.
"Their planned new tenants don't look like the tenants who live there now," said McDermott attorney Matt Oster, whose firm is handling the case on a pro bono basis. "They're cleaning house."
There are no photos on the Web site of anyone who looks like Hilda Quintana, a 71-year-old American Indian woman who has lived at the Alexandria for more than 25 years. Quintana, a plaintiff in the case, is disabled and walks with a cane. She said she came home one day to find she was shut out of one of her two adjoining rooms. The entrance to the second room, she said, was boarded up, and her belongings and furniture were haphazardly thrown into the remaining room. Quintana said she was told not to congregate in the lobby, where she had been sitting on the old Alexandria benches and talking to neighbors for decades.
"It's just to get out of the room. You don't want to watch TV all day," she said. "But they want you to stay in your room. They don't want you down there. It doesn't look good [for the newer tenants]. They look at you funny, like you might drop bugs on them or something."

Management eventually tore out the old benches, saying ongoing construction made the lobby a hazard for the tenants. In protest, Quintana now takes her own chair downstairs to sit for an hour or two each day. Also missing from the Web site is anyone who looks like Joseph Bell, a 72-year-old black man who suffers from seizures and has lived at the hotel for 11 years.
Bell, also a plaintiff, suffered a seizure Sunday, three weeks after his county-funded home health care worker was refused access to the building. When she tried to get in to see him, she said, she was escorted out in handcuffs. "She does the grocery shopping for me. She cooks for me. She soaks my feet. She cleans," Bell said after returning from the hospital Monday. "I just can't do things like cook. My legs give out on me sometimes. I forget to take my medication or I forget that I took it and take it twice."
Bell suffered another seizure Tuesday, after management again refused to let his caretaker in, his attorneys said."They identify their weakness, usually related to a disabling condition, and exploit that weakness as a means to evict them," Rafti said. That makes people with mental disabilities, he said, especially vulnerable. Before Amerland took over the building, LAMP Community, a housing and health care organization for homeless people with severe mental disabilities, had 60 clients in the Alexandria.
"It was considered to be one of the best, if not the best, privately owned single-room occupancy hotels to work with," said LAMP executive director Casey Horan. "The average length of time our clients would stay at the hotel was five years. The staff had an understanding of mental illness and we were able to work closely with them. It was a great relationship. "LAMP Community now has only five clients in the building. "The majority left and chose homelessness over the Alexandria," Horan said. "They were in a state of fear. One of our clients wouldn't leave her room for three months for fear of being locked out. People were being detained and interrogated by security in the building. Anyone who exhibited unusual or bizarre behavior was accused of being a drug dealer or a drug addict."
These were formerly homeless, mentally disabled people who found stability at the hotel and were receiving mental health treatment, Horan said. "We got to point that we could not say to them in good faith that everything was going to be alright because everything was not going to be alright," she said. "We saw our clients deteriorating. Instead of working to engage them in treatment, we had to go into crisis mode. We said 'These people are going to end up on the street again.' And some of them did." Oster said management took mentally disabled people who could not defend themselves to unlawful detainer court, seeking eviction.
"They didn't know they have a right to replacement housing, to relocation benefits," he said. When Amerland secured state bonds to buy and redevelop the building, the company said it could keep the units affordable for people who earn up to 60 percent of the area's median income. But most of the Alexandria's tenants are at 35 percent of the median income. In response to community outrage, the Redevelopment Agency brought down the affordability levels of close to half of the units. But the agency did not demand a relocation plan for residents of the units that would remain less affordable. Oster said the city is required, by state and federal law, to adopt relocation and replacement housing plans, give proper tenant notices and provide relocation assistance. None of the tenants displaced from the Alexandria has received relocation benefits.

Tenants and community activists say they are especially angry with their council members, who have supported Amerland since the developer first announced plans to take over the building.
"We have rattled the trees and city government turned their backs," said Pete White of the Los Angeles Community Action Network, a downtown tenant advocacy group that's also a plaintiff in the case. "The only thing left for us is to attempt to get some justice."
Council members Jan Perry and Jose Huizar, whose districts include parts of Skid Row, came out to support Amerland when the company, already mired in controversy over its handling of the Alexandria, asked for city money to take over another downtown building. "After they knew what was going on at the Alexandria, they gave them an additional $8 million to take over another downtown hotel," said Legal Aid Foundation attorney Barbara Schultz. "It's time for the city to reconsider how it uses public funds." Perry and Huizar were not available for comment. Attorneys for the plaintiffs are demanding that the city fulfill its obligations to provide replacement housing and relocation benefits, and to closely monitor the developer and ensure the well-being of tenants. They want the developer to restore basic amenities at the Alexandria and provide plaintiffs with units comparable to the ones they lived in prior to the ownership change. "Those people who have been evicted are not easily located," Oster said. "But we're hopeful we'll get remedies for everyone in the end."

For now, Woods would like some hot water. "I've been boiling water to take a bath," he said. "But my inconvenience doesn't mean anything. And it should mean something."
Becky Dennison of the Community Action Network said the emotional toll on tenants like Woods and the community organizations who care for them has been unbearable. "These are folks that have been through a lot in life. And they can't take this anymore," she said. "They're breaking down."

Conn. State Sen. Wants More Affordable Housing

Conn. State Minority Leader John McKinney, son of Stewart B. McKinney, has a proposal in the Senate that will increase the affordable housing stock in the State. (Full Article)

Related Article- Westport News

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mayor of Boise to give scrap cash to homeless fund

The Boise City Council has voted to approve $2 million to fight homelessness.

The money comes from about $12 million in end-of-year surplus dollars.

Boise Mayor Dave Bieter says the money will be used to create a trust fund that will pay about $100,000 a year as part of the "10-Plan to Reduce and Prevent Chronic Homelessness."

The council adopted the 10-year plan last month.

The plan emphasizes finding permanent housing for homeless people and bringing in additional social services.

The council approved the money yesterday.

S.H.S.D, City Councilman Speakout For Sweeps

Seattle City Councilman and Human Services Department Director speak against policies that police and city park agents have been using to dismantle homeless encampments.(Full Article)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Homelessness rising

Smaller communities around large cities seeing increase in homelessness. Organizations are telling the same story of the lack of affordable housing as the culprit.
Article from Conroe, TX.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Doubled and Tripled-Up On The Reservation

From the Minn. Public Radio.
Homelessness has always been a enduring problem on reservations around the nations. Minn. has released some tough numbers a recent report.
MPR Article

Friday, December 7, 2007

Removing homeless from sight doesn't make them go away

Friday, December 7, 2007

The insatiable appetite to see homeless people disappear from our parks, streets, business districts and tourist areas requires us all to go back to one of the very first lessons we are taught as infants. Just because you can no longer see it, doesn't mean it no longer exists. Think of this the next time you play peek-a-boo with a toddler. Now you see the homeless. Now you don't. But either way, we're still here. Peek-a-boo!! When city government talks about closing our parks at night and establishing expanded camping and cooking restrictions, and when Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius writes about the parks, we often hear the phrase, "This is not about homelessness. It's about the parks." While this phrase is a great tagline, it is also blatantly untrue.

Park sweeps, police outreach teams and the busting up of encampments in China Basin and along the freeways has EVERYTHING to do with homelessness! Our parks, our freeway underpasses and our streets have been around a lot longer than the very recent advent of closing and fencing them off has. In fact, a direct correlation can be made between the massive increases in homelessness in the early 1980s and the park closures, police programs with both old and new vagrancy laws, and the fencing off of open space. Prior to Mayor Frank Jordan's Matrix program, all of San Francisco's public parks were open 24-hours-a-day. Now, Golden Gate Park closes at 10 p.m. and other parks at dusk or midnight.

Prior to the federal cuts to affordable housing programs - from $83 billion in 1978 to $18 billion in 1983 - contemporary homelessness did not exist. Public parks were open for stargazing (and necking) and panhandling was around but not that big of a deal. After the cuts in government funding for affordable housing, Disney moves into Times Square and Union Square, million-dollar lofts are built in what was once skid row, the public parks are all closed at night, and practically every store front has a "no trespassing" sign in its window. For homeless people, the end result is almost everything other than walking and breathing can get you a ticket, which then lands you in jail.

We need to rediscover what we learned when we were infants: People still exist even if we don't see them. It's called object permanence. Maybe if we remembered this lesson, we would choose to do something about the increasing number of families and individuals living without housing in the United States and begin to fund housing programs again. Maybe we could find a unified community voice for restoring the governor's recent (in a long series of) mental health funding cuts instead of constantly reading about the potential dangers those scary crazy homeless people impose on the rest of us.

When local government is allowed to play peek-a-boo with people's lives, when it is given the authority to make people disappear from society's consciousness, the result is inevitable - incarceration. After all, removing people's presence from society pretty much requires you put them somewhere. As the federal and state governments abandoned all pretense of responsibility for the health and housing needs of people who may be poor and/or disabled, local governments increasingly turned to laws and policing programs to mitigate the damage.

In response, jails are overflowing and municipal courts have established "special courts" along social, as opposed to criminal, lines to deal with this influx. Drug courts, mental health courts and homeless or community courts are all, at their core, manifestations of a criminal justice system overwhelmed by a society that attempts rid itself of poor people rather than attempting to rid itself of poverty.

Just as sweeping dirt under the rug doesn't really clean the floor, sweeping disabled and homeless people from public view or into jail doesn't really address homelessness. They are still disabled and homeless when they are released. It is ineffective as hell, but local governments keep trying and we keep letting them.

It has been 25 years since the re-emergence of massive homelessness in America. It is time we stop trying to recreate Jim Crow and start trying to recreate the New Deal. After all, the New Deal didn't build prisons. It created jobs building Hospitals, Schools and Homes.

Paul Boden is the director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project and

Jennifer Friedenbach is the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco.