Tag Archives: Homelessness

Polls: Four Weeks of Protest Have Radically Altered American Views on Police

American voters now support sweeping changes to policing; 83 percent want a ban on racial profiling, 92 percent want police to be required to wear body cameras and White Americans’ concern over police violence has increased by 50 percent since 2019.

By Alan Macleod  Published 6-19-2020 by MintPress News

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Just four weeks of protest have radically altered Americans’ views on the police and what their role in society should be. Once almost exclusively the domain of activist groups, moves to comprehensively change, defund or even abolish the police are rapidly gaining momentum with the public.

new study published this week by Data for Progress shows that voters overwhelmingly (58 percent to 24 percent) support the creation of a new agency of first responders to deal with problems in the community – an agency that would explicitly undermine the police’s purview. The public would like to see the service, whose agents would resemble social workers more than police officers, take over a great number of situations police currently deal with, including mental health crises, drug addiction problems (including overdoses), and issues regarding homelessness. Significant numbers of people want to see the new agency tackle issues like spousal abuse and all non-violent crimes as well. “For elected officials looking to strengthen their communities and take action in the face of mass protest on police brutality, creating a non police first-responder agency proves to be a popular option that deserves their attention,” the report concludes. Continue reading

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‘Outrageous’ and ‘Reprehensible’: Trump Gives Taxpayer-Funded Groups Green Light to Discriminate Against LGBTQ People

“This rule is an abuse of taxpayer dollars in the name of empowering hatred and bigotry towards society’s most vulnerable members.”

By Jessica Corbett, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 11-1-2019

The Trump administration continued its attack on LGBTQ rights Friday with a new rule that gives federally funded programs permission to discriminate against LGBTQ people. (Photo: Ted Eytan/Flickr/cc)

From taxpayer-funded foster care and adoption agencies to programs that serve individuals struggling with substance abuse and youth homelessness, grantees of the Department of Health and Human Services got a green light from the Trump administration Friday to discriminate against LGBTQ people.

HHS awards hundreds of billions of dollars in grants annually. The department claimed that the proposed rule (pdf), which took effect immediately, “would better align its grants regulations with federal statutes, eliminating regulatory burden, including burden on the free exercise of religion.” Continue reading

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In Show of ‘Breathtaking Cruelty,’ Trump White House Unveils Plan That Would Evict Tens of Thousands of Children From Public Housing

“Another despicable action by the Trump administration to disrupt communities and separate families.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 5-10-2019

The Maria Isabel Housing project, in the Bronx. Photo: Jim Henderson (public domain)

Using the federal agency that oversees public housing to wage its latest attack on immigrants, the Trump administration has proposed a rule that critics warn would result in tens of thousands of children being evicted from their homes.

Weeks after announcing it would tighten restrictions on undocumented immigrants who live in public housing, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) unveiled a proposal on Friday which would take away all housing aid from families with at least one member who is an undocumented immigrant. Continue reading

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‘Insidious’: Emails Show Trump White House Lied About US Poverty Levels to Discredit Critical UN Report

With its attempt to falsify statistics and whitewash uncomfortable facts about poverty in America, the White House once again demonstrated its “contempt” for the poor, one critic argued

By Jake Johnson, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 8-3-2018

Photo: Storify archive

Infuriated by a scathing United Nations report estimating that over 18 million Americans are living in “extreme poverty” and accusing the Trump administration of “deliberately” making such destitution worse with its tax cuts for the rich, the White House insisted in its June response to the U.N. analysis that the United States is overflowing with “prosperity” and that claims of widespread poverty are “exaggerated.”

But internal State Department emails and documents obtained by Foreign Policy and the non-profit journalism website Coda Story show that the Trump administration ignored advice of White House economic analysts and knowingly lied to the public about the severity of American poverty, which the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Philip Alston described as “shocking.” Continue reading

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San Juan Mayor Says Trump’s “Total Neglect’ of Puerto Rico Must Be Called Out

“The United Nations says that when people are denied the access to basic human services—like electric power, like water, like food, like appropriate medical care—it is like a violation of human rights.”

Rally for Puerto Rico hurricane relief at the Capitol. Screenshot: YouTube

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 6-4-2018

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz tore into the Trump administration’s response to the ongoing catastrophe on Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria and denounced the president’s “total neglect.”

Her comments to MSNBC on Sunday follow a Harvard study estimating that the death toll as a result of the storm was in the range of 793 to 8,498 and deeming the original official estimate of 64 excess deaths “a substantial underestimate.” Continue reading

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Despite Arrests, Peace Activists Vow to Keep Feeding City’s Homeless

‘The hunger enforcement officers are here. This is their idea of serving the public.’

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 1-9-2017

Food Not Bombs volunteers hold up a banner in a city park in Tampa, Florida. (Photo: Tampa Food Not Bombs/Facebook)

Seven activists with the peace group Food Not Bombs were arrested for feeding homeless people on Saturday in a public park in Tampa, Florida.

The group is undaunted and maintains it will return to the park on Tuesday to serve anyone in need of food. “We intend to expose the city’s cruelty in the face of thousands in our community who are struggling with issues of food insecurity, mental and medical health issues, poverty, and homelessness,” a spokesperson for Food Not Bombs told McClatchy. Continue reading

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Unhappy Holidays: Houston Police Force Homeless People to Throw Away Food

On Thursday, the Houston Police Department targeted a group of homeless advocates who were attempting to hand out hot food and gifts to the homeless.

By Derrick Broze. Published 12-24-2016 by The Anti-Media

Photo: Jack Newton/flickr

Houston, TX — Local activists attempting to hand out food and gifts were shocked on Thursday afternoon when Houston police forced the homeless to throw away the donations.  Around 1 pm on Thursday,  several individuals met in downtown Houston to distribute plates of hot food, blankets, and other supplies to the city’s growing homeless population. Soon after, Houston police arrived on the scene of two different intersections where the homeless advocates were giving out gifts and food.

According to witness testimony posted on Facebook, the police instructed the homeless to throw away everything they had been given. Not only were the police called, but they brought a large waste management truck and are forcing the homeless to throw away their food, pillows and other items,” reads one post. Continue reading

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2015: When Global Governments Trampled Human Rights in Name of National Security

Rights ‘are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world’

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 2-24-2016

Protesters in London take part in a November 2015 action to protest a visit by Egypt's president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Photo: Alisdare Hickson/flickr/cc)

Protesters in London take part in a November 2015 action to protest a visit by Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Photo: Alisdare Hickson/flickr/cc)

Governments worldwide in 2015 capitalized on supposed national security threats to trample over human rights.

That’s Amnesty International’s assessment of global human rights in its latest report.

“Your rights are in jeopardy: they are being treated with utter contempt by many governments around the world,” said Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International. Continue reading

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Unchanging state security policies in southeast Turkey

The region’s people already know quite well that any policies pursued in the region are military-related, and have not brought peace but only more conflicts.

By Özlem Belçim Galip and Cemal Özkahraman. Published 2-2-2016 by openDemocracy

Centerpiece of the project: Atatürk Dam. Wikicommons/US federal government. Public domain.

Centerpiece of the project: Atatürk Dam. Wikicommons/US federal government. Public domain.

In order to fight effectively against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party), the prime minister of Turkey, Ahmet Davutoglu, recently announced that his government will preside over a new security structure for the Kurdish inhabitants of Şırnak, Cizre, Hakkari and Yüksekova, in the south-east of the country, by changing the status of these cities and towns, transferring the administrative functions of Şırnak and Hakkari within 90 days to Yüksekova and Cizre. Apart from any ensuing socio-political conflict, this will also result in many administrative challenges. For example, 15 state institutions and 500 officers will be relocated.

Above all, this decision reflects the fact that the Turkish state is quite prepared to make changes in the region without reference to either negative outcomes for local people or judicial restrictions. The government knows that it holds all the necessary authority to make any judicial changes it feels appropriate with regard to its long or short-term planning. Continue reading

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Poor and homeless face discrimination under America’s flawed housing voucher system

Project-based housing creates (or strengthens) ghettos of low-income people

Written by and . Published in The Conversation on 1-26-2016.

Vision of the front entrance to the Charlesbank Cooperative high-rise building in Boston from the front walkway. Photo: MaynardClark (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Vision of the front entrance to the Charlesbank Cooperative high-rise building in Boston from the front walkway. Photo: MaynardClark (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

From the time she left foster care at age 18 until her late 20’s, Carly was homeless, staying at shelters or couch-surfing with acquaintances in the Boston area.

In August 2014 she finally got an apartment with the help of a housing voucher from an agency called Home Start. The one-bedroom apartment, located in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, rented at US$1,150 per month. The location wasn’t ideal – the area is where she’d spent time, over a decade earlier, in a gang and dealing drugs. But it was the only apartment she could find with a landlord who was willing to rent to her.

From the outside, the building appears to be quite nice. Inside, it’s a different story: the stairwell is collapsing, and even daily sweeping doesn’t eradicate the fresh mice droppings that dot the floor. Disparate piles of sawdust (likely leftover from some sort of wood-munching insect) appear near the floorboards. The walls are soaked with mold.

“The landlord – he’s a slumlord,” Carly explains. “He will not fix anything.”

Now pregnant, she’s received a $1,500 voucher for a two-bedroom apartment. But after weeks and weeks of searching, she hasn’t been able to find one.

We’ve spent months researching how poor and homeless people struggle to find permanent housing. It’s become clear that Carly – and thousands of others like her – are trapped in a system that fails to acknowledge the realities of the housing market, requires navigating a maze of bureaucratic hurdles and allows landlords to easily discriminate against voucher holders.

New strategy doesn’t negate systemic flaws

Throughout the United States, communities have come a long way from the “housing ready” approach. According to this policy, homeless people needed to complete treatment programs before they were deemed “ready” to receive stable housing. Without housing, however, many found it immensely difficult to undergo successful treatment and become eligible.

Today, most public housing agencies use the “Housing First” approach, which has been shown to be more successful at achieving stable housing for people who have psychiatric disabilities, substance abuse problems or are underemployed. Even if chronically homeless clients have addictions, they’ll be offered supportive housing and the opportunity to choose where they live.

But as Carly’s experiences demonstrate, the actual available choices may be limited – or altogether nonexistent.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) allocates funding to states through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program, which provides government and social service agencies with funds to help pay the monthly rents of low-income people.

The agencies that distribute housing choice vouchers pay the housing subsidy directly to the landlord, but most of the housing search is left to voucher holders, many of whom lack the skills and perseverance of savvy apartment hunters.

For example, in Massachusetts in 2014, 4,000 people who received vouchers didn’t end up using them, typically because they couldn’t locate an affordable, acceptable apartment.

Booming housing costs render vouchers useless

With cities across the nation becoming gentrified and more desirable to high-income tenants, poorer populations have been priced out.

America’s 2007 foreclosure crisis pushed large numbers of people into the rental market, increasing the competition for available rental housing.

Gentrification is not just an American problem. The British government is having difficulty controlling rental costs, and there’s an affordable rental housing crisis in Australia.

Challenges to the U.S. housing voucher program extend across the nation. A Baltimore study found that landlords can manipulate the rules to their favor by selecting tenants they prefer and segregating voucher holders to undesirable neighborhoods. In New York, voucher holders can afford rental housing only in the most dangerous neighborhoods.

And in Boston, high housing costs mean stable housing is hard to find. Paula Saba, chief of leased housing programs at the Boston Housing Authority, notes that Massachusetts has the highest rent prices in the U.S., with a vacancy rate of less than one percent.

In the Boston metro area, the permitted monthly rent for voucher holders ranges from $1,056 for an efficiency apartment to $1,567 for a two-bedroom apartment. Compare that to the average apartment rent within 10 miles of downtown Boston: $2,283 a month and $2,758 a month for a one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment, respectively.

As Joe Finn, president and executive director of the Massachusetts Housing and Shelter Alliance, explains, “Cost is the single biggest factor in people not being able to find apartments when paying with vouchers… The voucher values are behind market value.”

GoSection8, an online rental resource for voucher holders, listed only nine apartments in Boston within the “fair market” rent ranges.

The barrier of brokers

Carla’s been desperate to move. The adverse living conditions of her apartment set off her asthma, and over the past year, she’s had half a dozen stints in the hospital in order to get her breathing under control.

Asked to estimate how many phone calls she’s made since October (when she began her most concerted effort to move), she looked over her papers and replied, “About a hundred.”

The problem, she explained, is that even apartments listed on Craigslist are handled by real estate agents and brokers.

These people “screen you. They ask where you work and other questions and then when you say you have a voucher they say that the landlord will only take cash.”

After scouring the Boston area, she expanded her search to other parts of the region – and still hasn’t gotten to the step of viewing an apartment.

Even though Massachusetts, like a number of other states, has broadened Fair Housing Act protections to cover housing voucher discrimination, landlords and realtors can find ways to skirt the law.

For example, some landlords require letters from previous landlords and proof of employment – documentation that people who have been living in shelters or unemployed for years cannot provide.

Real estate brokers admit the existence of rampant discrimination. One broker in the Boston area (who asked to remain anonymous) told us, “When the market is tight [landlords] discriminate against vouchers, and vouchers don’t keep pace with market values.”

In these transactions, there’s an element of race involved. Some have argued that “Section 8” has become a racial slur. The broker we interviewed uses an application form that asks if an applicant is a “convicted felon,” which is often used as a subtle indicator for race (25 percent of the adult black population in the U.S. has a felony conviction, compared to 6.5 percent of nonblacks).

In the end, this broker highlighted the primary way landlords weed out undesirable tenants without breaking anti-discrimination laws: real estate agents. Most rentals in the Boston area are handled by agents who are typically paid by tenants, not by landlords.

“The biggest issue is that Section 8 people can’t afford realtors,” he said. “In this market, that’s a problem. It’s an owner’s market.”

The realtor fee is usually one month’s rent, which the homeless often can’t afford.

According to Gabrielle Vacheresse, housing search program manager for HomeStart, Inc., most agencies – including her own – “typically do not have the funding to pay for broker’s fees. Some landlords have caught onto this and are able to weed out folks with vouchers by charging a fee, knowing that most will not be able to pay.”

Simple fixes

When people receive vouchers, they have only a certain window of time to find an apartment. “People typically need all of that time,” one housing search coordinator told us.

Depending on the agency, that window could be 60 days or 120 days. Afterwards, clients will need to ask for extensions. Some housing authorities provide these; some don’t.

Carly, like other voucher holders, is expected to navigate all of these challenges. While she’s in the somewhat enviable position of doing so from her own (albeit dilapidated) apartment, other homeless people are forced to carry out their searches from park benches. They need to hold onto phone numbers and forms, shuttling them to and from the streets and the shelters.

Homeless veteran in Boston. Photo: Matthew Woitunski (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Homeless veteran in Boston. Photo: Matthew Woitunski (Own work) [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Complicating matters, each municipality and agency has a different list of available apartments, many of which aren’t up-to-date. For someone making calls from a borrowed phone or a prepaid phone with limited minutes, fruitless calls can be a real hurdle.

There are a number of reforms that could improve the process. Shouldn’t it be relatively simple to develop a single, streamlined, up-to-date list of open apartments in a metro area? What if vouchers also covered broker fees? And if the vouchers were increased to be more in line with market rates?

Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect bureaucratic fixes to eliminate the hardships caused by centuries of racial discrimination, historically unequal opportunities to acquire property, a growing class of people stuck in low-wage and insecure jobs, and the pressures of gentrification of America’s cities.

But until these changes are made, voucher holders like Carly will continue to operate under a system that doesn’t acknowledge the realities of their desperate situations.

About the Authors

 is Professor of Sociology, Suffolk University.

 is an Associate Professor of Sociology, Bentley University.

This article was published under a Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivatives licence.

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