Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hostile Laws, Hateful Acts Bolster Stigma Against Homeless

Jeff Foreman, Director of Policy
They call it the "poor door." It's a classic example of stigmatizing poverty. So much so it riled up New Yorkers this summer, and people are still talking about it.
A Manhattan developer created a separate entrance for the 55 nonmarket "affordable housing" tenants in his 33-story, waterfront, luxury high-rise – hence, the "poor door." Most people may not have been aware of it, but this is hardly the first luxury development in the City providing affordable units through a poor door.
Ugly demonstrations in Queens' Elmhurst neighborhood over a new homeless shelter at the previously vacant Pan American Hotel came replete with angry confrontations between community residents and children housed at the family shelter; name-calling and crowds grew so daunting officials interceded to take the homeless kids to a movie to keep them away from another protest. While it made for compelling summer TV viewing, it was just part of a growing trend of stigmatizing poverty, criminalizing homelessness and increasing attacks on vulnerable homeless people in New York and throughout the country.Segregation by door, of course, isn't just offensive because of the obvious odor of stigma it brings to the "lesser" tenants; it also guarantees those segregated tenants get lesser services. Most people, including some destined for the not-poor door entrance, were not amused. But stigmatizing and dehumanizing poor people is not new, and it's not always so odious to the neighbors.
The Big Apple's media had loads of opportunities this year to feature stories like the tragedy of Jerome Murdough, an emotionally disturbed street homeless man in Manhattan, arrested for trespassing, to wit sleeping in a public stairwell. He was taken not to get mental health services but to a Rikers Island jail. Murdough's mental condition quickly led to his placement in a solitary confinement and undoubtedly was the primary reason his shouts of distress were ignored as he literally baked to death in his defectively ventilated cell. And there was the scratchy street surveillance camera footage of a Bronx homeless man stomped to death for no apparent reason by teenagers as he slept on a church stoop.
Over the summer city police and MTA outreach workers conducted operations to remove homeless all-night riders or sleepers from the subways. The MTA, not unreasonably, views it as a business and customer service issue, but the outcome is often an arrest for a minor offense like lying down, taking up more than one seat or turnstile jumping.
The issue isn't just criminalizing the behavior. It's also that the outcome, an arrest, in no way addresses the real problem of homelessness and possibly a need for services often including mental health services.
It's not just a plague of stigmatization or criminalizing poverty in New York. In Monterey and Santa Cruz, California, and in other cities and towns across America, local governments have been enacting ordinances making normal activities like sitting, lying down, eating, giving food to others or even standing still in some public places a crime. That's despite the fact that numerous courts across the country have repeatedly ruled these laws against necessary "life-sustaining" activities unconstitutional.
Perhaps more troubling is the routine unequal enforcement of laws for the purpose of moving along or removing homeless people. A formerly homeless man recently told me about his experience of peacefully sitting on a bench in a New York City public park where he was rousted for no specific reason even as others sat nearby without being so much as talked with. The man's explanation? "I looked homeless and they didn't. It was a family park. They didn't want someone who looked homeless there."
He said the police officer actually told him which nearby park was "the poor park." If he was shown out of the park because he looked poor or homeless, then his crime was poverty itself.
The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which tracks "criminalization" of poverty and homelessness, reports a dramatic increase in criminalizing sleeping in vehicles, lying down in parks, feeding people in public places and "loitering, loafing and vagrancy." Earlier this year the UN Human Rights Committee publicly rebuked these kinds of policies noting "criminalization raises concerns of discrimination and cruel and inhumane or degrading treatment."
It's all too easy to stigmatize vulnerable populations like homeless people and to criminalize being homeless. But it does nothing to solve homelessness. Displacing homeless people from commercial areas to less traveled spots, moving them from a "better" neighborhood to a poorer one or making them less visible near high-profile venues hosting major sporting or public events isn't just the wrong thing to do; it adds to the blame-the-victim mentality that incites even more venomous attitudes towards those in need.
So it should hardly be surprising that the down and out living rough on American streets are increasingly targets of senseless violence. A National Coalition for the Homeless study of hate crimes perpetrated against homeless people documented a 24 percent increase in violent attacks in one year, all believed to be motivated primarily by the perpetrator's bias. They reported the attacks are becoming more brutal than ever. A National Health Care for the Homeless project found homeless people 25 times more likely to be victims of attacks than the general population.
It's heartbreaking to think about these violent attacks. It's obviously irrational to attack a homeless person to take their money. The perpetrators—and they are almost always teen-aged boys or very young men—usually are unable to give a reason for the attacks or say they did it just because their victims were such easy targets. But the real predicate for attacks on homeless people because they are homeless is that they have been diminished, dehumanized and stigmatized.
Rather than "solving" homelessness by policing homeless people out of sight, a not inexpensive proposition in itself, homeless advocates argue the right, and cheaper, thing to do would be to provide adequate services and housing. In New York it costs about $3,000 a month to house residents in shelters, but far less to provide housing subsidies for stable housing. A study often cited by former HUD secretary and now White House budget chief Shaun Donovan reports street homeless people cost about $40,000 annually, primarily in emergency room visits, avoidable hospitalizations and expensive interactions with the mental health, law enforcement and corrections systems.

Providing a robust housing alternative to homelessness is not inexpensive, but it's far less costly than what we're doing now in not solving the problem. It also promises an opportunity to better lives and lessen the stigma people without homes bear every day.
This article originally appeared in City Limits, published on September 12, 2014. Read more.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Top 5 Reasons Why We Love You

Yes, ALL of you
Donors like you make our work possible. This month, we wanted to say a special note of thanks, and then, we realized we had more than one thing to say. 

Here are the top 5 reasons why we love you: 

5.  Your support is critical, funding program expansions like our new Mobile Health Clinic  

4. You inspire others to give, volunteer, and advocate. 

3. You are passionate about transforming the lives of homeless families   

2. The impact of your support is felt in your communities 

1. You give more than money; you provide hope to more than 8,000 homeless men, women, and children.

Photo by Nancy Ribeck

Thank you for making our work possible.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Political Courage and Homelessness in New York City

Jeff Foreman, Director of Policy

Few things in life are rarer than real political courage.

How often do you find political leaders, particularly elected officials longing to stay elected, standing up for locally unpopular issues at the height of their controversy? This is the province of unique experience, strange curiosity and genuine oddity.

Yet at a time of dramatically increasing stigmatization of poor and especially homeless people, particularly in New York City’s Queens Borough where several new homeless shelters have or are scheduled to open, New Yorkers have been treated to an extraordinary show of bravery from political leaders speaking out for what is unpopular among their electorate seemingly just because it’s the right thing to do.

That’s about as quirky as the Big Apple itself.

In July, the City’s Department of Homeless Services opened a family homeless shelter in the defunct former Pan American Hotel in Queen’s Elmhurst neighborhood. It opened on an emergency basis, meaning without the normal requirements for review, public notice and community input.  The emergency occurred because the City is required to provide shelter by court order, but increasing homelessness – especially among families – resulted in there being no more room at bursting-at-the-seams city shelters.

The emergency allowed for speed in opening the new facility, which promptly filled and then overflowed with homeless people, but it most assuredly didn’t avoid the generally expected response of “Not-In-My-Backyard” protests. For weeks, residents and community groups in the heavily immigrant neighborhood held demonstrations regularly.  Sometimes it got ugly, including scenes on TV of locals screaming at shelter residents – including teenagers and younger children – name-calling, and alarmingly threatening crowds.

Then a remarkable thing happened.

Elmhurst’s City Council Member, came to the shelter  and publicly handed backpacks out to the kids as part of a back to school drive. A former school teacher, Dromm talked about the children’s education and offered shelter residents encouragement. He did this in public, in his own district, where there was charged opposition to the shelter.

That’s a profile in courage.

Shortly thereafter, the City Council’s Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents an adjoining, mostly middle class Queens district, wrote an article in the Daily News about his own family’s experience with poverty and homelessness.  His was an all too common story—a lost job, his family wearing out its welcome in the homes of extended family, and then living at an “awful place”—a city shelter circa 1970. It was a story most people who knew or voted for the Councilman had never heard.

Van Bramer succeeded in putting a face on homelessness. He captured many readers, if only briefly, in the realization that the next homeless family might be very much like their neighbors, their relatives, or perhaps even their own family.

“As the city declares war on inequality and Mayor de Blasio rightly takes a humane and honest approach to ending homelessness, we must all be part of the solution,” Van Bramer wrote. “All human beings have a right to shelter. Some may say that’s feel-good liberalism run amok, but in the City of New York, it happens to be the law. We must house our homeless and that means finding places for families like mine to live and begin again.”

Telling his story, at that particular moment, is another profile in political courage.

In these times, when poverty and homelessness are so stigmatized, it’s inspirational to see these acts of courageous leadership. As Van Bramer writes, it’s not just about providing the resources to support these programs, it’s about providing “a little bit of hope.”

Learn more about homelessness in New York City in Jeff Foreman's article, originally published on September 11, 2014 by TalkPoverty.org. Read more.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Health Empowered Beauty Fashion Show Draws Sold-Out Crowd

Care for the Homeless Kicks Off NYC Fashion Week

Billed as the only fashion show during NYC Fashion Week that changed the lives of homeless women--the event featured residents of Susan's Place, our 200-bed shelter for homeless women in the Bronx, as models. The sold-out crowd gave several standing ovations during the event, which raised more than $8,000 for Susan's Place. 

One of the models, Lizette, talked about the struggles she's overcome in her own life, sharing: "A couple of years ago, I never would have had the self-confidence to do something like this."

Since opening the shelter in 2008, over 900 women have moved out of Susan's Place and into permanent housing. Less than 8% become homeless again.

Photos by Redens Desrosiers

View photos from the September 4th Fashion Show in our online Photo Album here.

Looking for more information about the incredible designers who generously sponsored the Fashion Show
Follow the links below to learn more about the clothing lines.

Learn more about Head Stylist and the Traveling Trousseau here.

Many thanks to all our Sponsors:

Thanks to our generous supporters, Care for the Homeless is changing lives every day. We're on the front lines of a crisis. Over 60,000 men, women and children are homeless every night in NYC. Your contributions provide critical services to the most vulnerable, at a time when they need our help the most.

From all of us at Care for the Homeless, thank you.