No Homeless Problem in America

Or so people keep telling me. Results of a brief Google search:

DENVER, Colorado (AP) — Members of Denver’s growing homeless population want the city to allow a tent city near the heart of downtown to provide temporary shelter.

“The tent city is one more alternative because there is not enough sufficient shelter for Denver’s homeless,” said Randle Loeb, a homeless man who helped write the “Denver Tent City Initiative.”

The initiative calls for year-round temporary shelter and showers and drinking water for about 40 people. It was submitted Tuesday to the city’s homeless commission, which was appointed by new Mayor John Hickenlooper to find solutions for the city’s homeless population.

The number of homeless in Denver has risen from 1,985 in 1990 to 9,725 in 2003, according to a study by the Denver Homeless Planning Group. The Denver Human Services Center opened a temporary shelter in its northwest Denver office last year after a homeless man died in freezing temperatures in a city park.

Portland ORE–JACK TAFARI speaks English, Dutch, Jamaican Creole, some Hindi, and some Russian. He has lived in various parts of the U.S., Europe, Canada, and India. And he is homeless, an identity he claims every time he speaks. But, as of last Saturday, he may be on the road to a home–or, at least a permanent place to call home.An organizer for “Out of the Doorways,” a unique program that has set up tents in undisclosed locations around Portland as part of an effort to provide shelter for the city’s homeless, Tafari is in charge of recruiting “soldiers” to head up the first dozen or so people who will live in the encampment. But, with a city-wide ordinance banning such camping, it is unclear how long they will be able to maintain a site. On Saturday, December 16, the group set up their first site. Two days later, the police and fire marshall forced them to leave; which they did. In a procession of shopping carts, the group moved to another, undisclosed site. As long as possible, they vowed, they would continue this cat-and-mouse game with the police. In a recent interview, Tafari reflected: “We’re not terrorists; we’re not even radical. We’re just homeless.”

Over the past few months, street roots, the media advocate for homeless people, and others who work with the city’s homeless population may have come up with a solution to the trying riddle of providing a “home base” for the city’s homeless–an ad hoc, semi-permanent outdoor community.

“Every city has people sleeping in doorways,” points out Bryan Pollard, managing editor for street roots. “We’d like to see Portland do something to make us a leader in the nation and find an alternative.”

Although difficult to count, estimates in Portland range from 3000-6000 people without housing per year; 2000-3000 on any given night. Officials and advocates agree that the city’s shelter beds cannot accommodate all the people who need them. In spite of the enthusiasm from the city’s homeless and their advocates for the so-called “Dignity Village,” the group already has run afoul of an anti-camping city ordinance that has been in effect since 1981. The ordinance prohibits “camping” in certain public places. Defining “camping” broadly as “any place where any beddingor any stove or fire, is placed, established, or maintained,” the ordinance has restricted options for the homeless.

Honolulu–A tent city to house the homeless would be built on five acres of city and county land beside Wai’anae Boat Harbor under a plan created by a grassroots coalition trying to find a solution to one of the state’s most serious housing problems.But Camp Hope, as the facility would be called, is being widely criticized by residents who say it would be a magnet for the homeless from around the island.

“We do not want to be known as the homeless capital of Hawai’i,” said one resident.

“How are you going to keep this from becoming a homeless dumping ground?” wondered another.

Homelessness has exploded on the Leeward Coast in recent months, and surveys indicate the area now has 20 percent of the approximately 6,500 homeless on O’ahu. The number of homeless people on the Wai’anae Coast includes more than 300 people under age 16, according to local service providers.

Semi-permanent tents are a common sight along the coast’s beaches and parks.

These battles can go on for years. Sometimes you win

PORTLAND, Oregon (AP) — A one-acre tent city established by Portland’s homeless has won the right to be called a campground, a designation that finally makes it legal.The 60 residents of the area, called Dignity Village, have battled for four years to gain legal recognition for their encampment of tents, scavenged planks and cardboard boxes, all of which violate the city’s zoning codes if defined as housing.

The campground status, which four of five city officials voted for Thursday, gives them the right to stay in their self-regulated tent city.

“Usually, when I became homeless, I went into the woods,” said the village’s treasurer, Tim McCarthy. “I was all alone — this was the first chance I had to be around other people in the same situation.”

–and sometimes you don’t.

DENVER (News 4) A contingent of Denver’s homeless has lost a year long battle to create a “tent city.”The mayor’s Commission on Homelessness Monday voted down the concept.

Opponents said a tent city faced too many obstacles.

Among the drawbacks were that it violated Denver’s zoning code, no site was ever found and safety concerns for kids was always seen as an issue.

What brought this to mind was Seattle’s on-going battle over where–and whether–to allow a ‘tent city’ in a parish churchyard to house their homeless over the summer. From SHARE/WHEEL, the housing advocacy group that’s promoting the idea:

There are approximately 6,000 people homeless in the City of Seattle each night. Homeless people and advocates tend to put that figure higher; city officials tend to put it lower. 6,000 is a number that most people can agree on.By the most generous estimate, counting all shelter beds, emergency mats on the floor, transitional housing units, the motel vouchers that DSHS provides for homeless families, and the few respite beds for people mildly ill or recovering from surgery — there are 4,000 places provided for homeless people to sleep each night.

Some of the 2,000 remaining people are “squatting” in abandoned buildings. Some live in their cars. On any particular night, some may have found a temporary friend to stay with.

But hundreds of people — including women and children — are sleeping outdoors. Every night.

It is illegal to sleep in parks or on other public land. It is dangerous to sleep on the streets or in alleys.

When people can camp together, they can put together more resources, like Porta-Potties, handwashing stations, food and coffee; support each other; watch out for each other’s safety and possessions. Those who work can safely leave their belongings in camp and know that they will be there when they come back.

We believe Seattle must officially recognize and set standards for the operation of homeless camps until there is enough housing for everyone, and enough shelter for emergency needs.

Look at the numbers in each of these cases–6-10,000 people in each of the three cities. Six to ten thousand, most of them families or couples who’ve been hiding out in the woods or in alleys because there’s no room at the shelters or because shelters can’t take families. That means that in each of the cities the 6-10,000 figure is a number over and above whatever number the shelters hold.

The Seattle experience is an example of how people go through the process of dealing with the homeless they’ve been told don’t exist.

County Executive Ron Sims confessed yesterday that he once had unflattering feelings about the homeless coming to his neighborhood, but overcame them.He is to meet the neighbors of a planned “tent city” of homeless people tonight in Bothell and hopes those who oppose it will get the message he got so many years ago.

It was back when Seattle’s tent city organizers, SHARE/WHEEL, were eying St. Therese Parish in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood.

“For whatever reason,” Sims said, “I had this secret compartment in my heart that said ‘No, no, no, no, no, not in my neighborhood.’ ”

In time, however, he overcame it, he said, and learned that homeless individuals, like those who have inhabited Seattle’s nomadic tent city encampments ever since, are as harmless as they are homeless.

“I hope, that as a byproduct of our commitment (to help fight homelessness) on a regional basis, people will understand that what we’re talking about are human beings trying to move on with their lives.”

Sims is my new hero. That was a gutsy admission to make in public, and an important one because it validates a normal reaction but encourages people to move beyond it. But his is, unfortunately, not the standard response.

BOTHELL – Tent city moved to St. Brendan’s Church in Bothell Monday, and the controversy moved right along with it.The city says the homeless camp violates city code, so they are suing.

The city wants a hearing to find out if the church broke city law by allowing tent city to move onto their property.

The city may be suing but the citizens’ have reacted differently. From the same article:

All day Monday people stopped by with donations and words of welcome. Tent city residents had neighbors, both old and new, helping them move.7th graders from Bothell’s Lake Side Middle School made tent city their learning experience.

“I think there’s a common stereotype about homeless people, and that’s especially what I learned about by coming here. That stereotype really has no validity,” said Connor Smith, a student.

Smith has been studying the issue of homelessness. He’s learned it has many causes, and that someone needs to earn twice the minimum wage in order to afford basic housing.

Smith has gotten to know the homeless people who are moving to Bothell, and he suggests other people do the same.

“Go volunteer, help, do something. It really helps break stereotypes that I know a lot of people have,” he said.

Another hero–Connor Smith, who actually studied what was going on instead of dismissing it.

The lawsuit stopped the project temporarily but Sims didn’t give up.

A tent city will still open as planned in Bothell on Monday.But the camp, which drew community opposition and a lawsuit, will be on private property at St. Brendan’s Catholic Church and not on the 17 acres of public land that had been the intended site.

At a news conference yesterday, King County Executive Ron Sims said the lawsuit, which called for a delay of at least 14 days so wetlands on the public land could be studied, could have produced an uncertain future for the homeless camp.

Sims said he wanted certainty and worked with the church, which offered its land as an alternative. “I’m not going to have vulnerable people put in a vulnerable position,” he said. “That is wrong.”

For the past few weeks, many Bothell-area residents, including about 200 members of the Brickyard Area Community for Fair Process, have criticized Sims for not giving them adequate notice to study and respond to the tent city plan.

The county transit land, on Northeast 160th Street, is in the Brickyard area.

For those who may have forgotten, the Catholic Church is more than a hiding place for pederasts, it is–or can be–a valuable community resource. (Note that the church is NOT taking govt money and assuming control of the population so they can put them in classes and mix religious instruction with classes on budget management and negotiating with a landlord.)

But the problem is far from solved, the battle far from over. The tent city will only exist for 90 days–what happens after that? And what about long-term solutions? The Seattle housing crunch that caught a lot of these people in its talons isn’t going to disappear in 90 days. The Post Intelligencer gives the King County Council credit for treating the issue seriously.In an editorial, they write:

The King County Council is treating homelessness like the serious public issue it is.With a vote to establish an advisory commission, the council took a big step toward sensible public involvement in how to provide temporary housing. That should provide impetus for a reasoned discussion of tent cities such as the one temporarily providing shelter at a Bothell church.

The council’s ordinance sets up a 22-member Advisory Commission on Homelessness and Encampments, which will issue a report by Aug. 15. County Executive Ron Sims will appoint one person from each of the council’s 13 districts, based on nominations by council members. Other members will include representatives of local governments and community-based groups.

Although their intentions were good, officials failed to provide enough public notice about plans to put the Bothell Tent City 4 encampment on county-owned land. Weighting membership toward citizen representation should provide a fresh look at whether county government or private organizations should provide space for a suburban tent city and the value of such encampments, which we believe is large. Most tent residents have jobs but need a chance to transition back to regular housing.

The new commission puts the public back at the center of seeking solutions. Broadening the discussion offers hope of better strategies for addressing homelessness. And hope is something the commission must strengthen among those who have no homes.

Why does it take so much pressure and brouhaha to get govts–local, state, and…well, forget the Federals; the Pubs are cutting the housing programs–to take the homelessness problem ‘seriously’?


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