Tag Archives: Homelessness

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


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


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


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


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.


Ukraine: Europe’s forgotten refugees

While the world focuses on refugees arriving in Europe from warzones in the Middle East, the plight of those fleeing war in Ukraine has been forgotten.

By Sara Cincurova. Published 11-10-2015 at openDemocracy

Across the world people are concerned by the current European refugee crisis, however there are thousands of Ukrainians who have fled war in their own  country and are now living as refugees on the borders of Eastern Europe. Their destinies remain overlooked and unknown.

The very Western parts of Ukraine have become home to several thousand refugees who have fled the armed conflict in Donbas; some of them are now living no further than two kilometres from the EU border. They have fled the war, traveled thousands of kilometres, lost their loved ones and risked their lives so that they can get closer to European borders. Unlike those who have crossed the Mediterranean Sea, however, Ukrainian refugees know that entering Europe is impossible for them – no matter how close it may be. Continue reading


US Program To Save Child Refugees Has Welcomed This Many: Zero

More than 5,400 minors from Central America applied to get in to US as refugees. All of them are still waiting.

Written by Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 10-5-2015.

After an irregular entry into Mexico near Ciudad Hidalgo, to move north through the country, to the US border, many Central and South American migrants begin their journey in Arriaga, Chiapas, Mexico, the railhead of the freight train known as 'La Bestia' (The Beast), climbing atop of the rail cars, exposed to the elements and extortion by criminal gangs lying in wait along the route. Vendors sell food, water and cardboard pallets to lie on for the journey.

After an irregular entry into Mexico near Ciudad Hidalgo, to move north through the country, to the US border, many Central and South American migrants begin their journey in Arriaga, Chiapas, Mexico, the railhead of the freight train known as ‘La Bestia’ (The Beast), climbing atop of the rail cars, exposed to the elements and extortion by criminal gangs lying in wait along the route. Vendors sell food, water and cardboard pallets to lie on for the journey.


A year after President Barack Obama launched a program to grant asylum to Central American children fleeing violence or seeking to reunite with family members, the statistics are in: not one child has made it to the U.S. through that initiative.

New analysis by the New York Times published Thursday reveals that the Central American Minors Program, established last December, received asylum applications from more than 5,400 children in countries like El Salvador and Honduras, most of whom are seeking to escape street gangs or sexual assault—but none of them have been accepted.

In fact, only 90 children total were even interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security, and only 85 qualified for any sort of refugee status and even they remain languishing because their paperwork has not been filed.

“Really, it’s pathetic that no child has come through this program,” Lavinia Limón, the president and chief executive of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants nonprofit, told the Times. Referring to administrative officials, she added, “I wonder if it were their child living in the murder capital of the world, whether they would have more sense of urgency.”

The Times writes:

The Central American Minors program also allows the Department of Homeland Security to grant a two-year temporary entry into the United States for children who do not qualify as refugees. Those immigrants must apply to renew their entry status every two years and are not eligible to pursue American citizenship.

Obama announced his plan in response to the groundswell of young refugees making the dangerous and often-deadly trek across the U.S. border in massive numbers last year. But as immigration and human rights experts noted at the time, the program’s heartening promises of assisting vulnerable children did nothing to address sluggish bureaucratic roadblocks and ignored the U.S.’s own role in fueling the refugee crisis.

As Ivy Suriyopas, co-chair of the anti-trafficking group Freedom Network, explained in an op-ed last year:

[A]lthough the number of unaccompanied minors dropped in August, the 4,000 slots allocated for refugees from Latin America and the Caribbean for fiscal year 2015 is grossly insufficient.

In June alone, more than 10,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the U.S. border and in the ten months since October 2013, nearly 63,000 children have been identified at the border.

With so few spots and so many refugees, the Times wrote on Thursday, it’s little wonder the program has failed so completely.

“We need to fix the program so that it works and so that children have a real opportunity to get protection,” said Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “They have to make the program workable. Right now, it’s not workable.”

State Department officials defended the delays, saying it was important to move slowly to avoid making mistakes. And principal deputy assistant secretary of state Simon Henshaw said the department was preparing to interview more than 400 children next month.

But that means little to children who are stuck in a violent limbo while their applications wait for processing.

“They have set up an elaborate, bureaucratic, step-by-step system,” said Limón. “The children are in danger, and they can’t wait. It’s just sad, and, I think, indefensible.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.


Police terror in Brazil

How many deaths of black youth are necessary before they are considered ‘genocide’ or political assassinations?

By Jaime A Alves. Published 10-10-2015 at openDemocracy.

Photo via Tumblr

Photo via Tumblr

Imagine a place where eight Michael Browns are killed every day. Imagine a place where extortion, rape, torture, and killings are routine. This is Brazil. Police terror in Brazil has become so banal that it has lost the media’s interest. Some of us may recall the global media’s coverage of massacres such as Candelaria (1993), Carandiru (1992), Eldorado dos Carajas (1996), and Crimes de Maio (2006). Now, more than ever, slaughter has become the police’s modus operandi. One would expect that with the social achievements promoted by the Workers’ Party in the last decade (40 million people came out of poverty in Brazil), police terror would disappear or at least be far less frequent. Quite the opposite has occurred. In Brazil, there is one thing that unites both left and right-wing governments: their incapacity to fight against police terror. At times, governments in both camps have been complicit with the police state. Continue reading


‘Uninhabitable’: UN Report says Total Destruction of Gaza Nearly Complete

Under constant threat of war and a devastating economic blockade, occupied territory is being ‘de-developed’ – a process by which development is not merely hindered but reversed

By Jon Queally, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 9-2-2015.

A Palestinian man holds the hands of his granddaughters near the remnants of the residential towers where the girls used to live, in the city of Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip. (Photo: UNICEF/Eyad El Baba)

A Palestinian man holds the hands of his granddaughters near the remnants of the residential towers where the girls used to live, in the city of Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip. (Photo: UNICEF/Eyad El Baba)

Citing a series of vicious military attacks in recent years coupled with severe shortages of water, medical supplies, and shelter created by an internationally-backed blockade, a new report issued by the United Nations warns that if current trends continue the Gaza Strip will be virtually “uninhabitable” within five years.

Home to approximately 1.8 million people, Gaza is often referred to the largest open-air prison in the world and the latest report, published by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), is just the latest official assessment (pdf) to paint a devastating picture of life inside the sealed borders of Gaza which has now faced eight years of economic blockade and three large-scale military operations by Israel since 2009. Continue reading


Icy Cold and Cut Services Create Dangerous Perfect Storm for Homeless

Published on Friday, January 09, 2015 by Common Dreams

by Jon Queally, staff writer

Homeless in New York City.

Homeless in New York City.

As record-breaking cold weather sweeps across the nation this week, reports from around the nation show how the U.S. homeless population—which has risen dramatically in recent years—are being hit the hardest in the wake of slashed funding that has left shelters overburdened and public services at their breaking point.

From Springfield, Massachusetts: “It’s a death sentence, you can’t survive, you get hypothermia, you go to sleep and you die.”:

Keith Kelleher, who is homeless, told 22News, “On a night similar to the one we had last night, very cold, two of them decided to make a statement, they slept on the steps of city hall and they froze to death.”

“It’s a death sentence, you can’t survive, you get hypothermia, you go to sleep and you die,” said Louann Harbert, a homeless resident.

Friends of the Homeless volunteers were searching throughout the night for those in need, helping them to find a warm place to sleep.

Continue reading