ORGANIZE OR DIE
There will be no turning back now. If weÕre going to fuck with the cops and the powerbase they work for, weÕd better have our shit together.
The National Coalition for the Homeless has now got it together to launch the National Homeless Civil Rights Organizing Project - NHCROP.
There will be no turning back, there will be no backing down, society will no longer quietly strip us of our humanity and our rights, homeless people will not die on our streets alone and ignored.
We know we will lose some battles along the way. We are not nave enough to think that, just because we are announcing that we have banded together for this project, we will automatically have power. The
governmental and corporate structures created over the last ten years to eliminate our presence and strip us of our dignity are too well-funded and too well-supported by a privatized "criminal justice" system that cannot seem to fulfill its own insatiable greed. They will not initially see us as a threat.
But we will be a threat. With seven regional offices and a national office in DC, we will build from the work of groups around the country whoÕve been so creatively and fiercely battling against our oppressors, be they corporate or governmental.
We will spread the word on campaigns that have been successful, just as we will with training models, funding strategies, and technical support.
We will coordinate a public information campaign that is geared towards:
1) alerting homeless and poor people that a new civil rights movement is building; and
2) alerting the general public that rights lost to any segment of our society are rights lost to all of our society.
While NHCROP is new in its implementation, it is not a project that is being thrown together for the sake of a press release. People from groups throughout the country have been working for the last several years to build a strong foundation for this effort. Out of respect for the thousands of people who have died in AmericaÕs streets and alleyways, and recognizing the social injustices being committed through the privatizing of our housing, welfare, health and "criminal justice"
systems, we could not launch NHCROP until we were damned sure that we could see it through till the end. The last thing poor people need today is another Trojan Horse movement.
When thousands have died, it is not merely rhetoric to say that a War is going on. Only no longer is it a War on Poverty... it is now a War on the Poor.
We need to be healthy, we need to be strong, we need to be well-trained and we need to be fearless. We are.
But, most importantly, in this War we come to the battlefield in Peace.
We are not the ones with the guns. We are not criminalizing people or taking away their rights. We have not used the vast resources of the mainstream media to dehumanize anyone.
We have simply decided that we will not surrender our rights or our dignity. We will not disappear or cease to exist.
We will organize.
National Homeless Civil Rights Organizing Project
* Homeless Civil Rights Successes/Victories (1994-Present)
* Hate Crimes and Violence Against Homeless People (1987-Present)
* 1999 Hate Crimes Against Homeless People
* NCH's Protected Class Resolution
By definition, people who are homeless live in public. A lack of housing forces them to do in public what everyone prefers to do in private.
This indignity is one of many reasons we seek to end homelessness. Unfortunately, it has also become the battleground for the most fundamental defense of people who happen to be homeless: the right to exist.
The Criminalization of Homelessness
In cities with an admitted lack of day shelters and few jobs that pay a living wage, people who are homeless sometimes rest at bus stops or on sidewalks. Tucson, Arizona, has made it unlawful to be at a bus stop for
more the 30 minutes. Police in Seattle, Washington, have been instructed to fine or arrest people who are homeless for sitting on the sidewalk. In cities with an admitted lack of affordable housing, people who are
homeless are forced to carry their worldly goods with them wherever they go. In Beverly Hills, California, it is crime punishable by a fine or jail time to set baggage down on the sidewalks. In Georgetown, a trendy
part of Washington, DC, an archaic part of the District Code is being applied to fine or arrest people for storing property (including people themselves) in doorways.
There is an estimated 24 million people on the waiting list for public housing in this country. Despite this
acknowledgement of insufficient housing options, the city mothers and fathers of Dallas, Texas, and many other cities across this country (including Phoenix, Jacksonville, Columbus, Boston, Austin, New Orleans,
Long Beach, Virginia Beach, Atlanta, Sacramento, Tulsa, Miami, and Buffalo) have made it illegal to camp or sleep in a park.
The flaws in this effort to criminalize homelessness are as numerous as they are obvious. Though no one should ever have to sleep in a park or beg for food, making those acts into criminal offenses does not help the people driven by desperation to commit them. These city ordinances (and similar state statues) are misguided because they seek to hide homeless people, not end homelessness. They are unjust because they seek to punish people for being poor. Because people who are homeless don't have
the option not to sleep in public, walk through parking lots, set down baggage, etc. these laws are illogical. We have laws against arson because we each have the choice of not burning down buildings. People
who are forced to live on the streets don't have options - if they did, they wouldn't be there. Though it is easier for cities to attack homeless people than to attack the root causes of homelessness, it wastes scarce resources and human time, energy, and dignity. It costs much much less to secure permanent housing than to put people in jail and prison-even shelters (still more expensive than permanent housing in the long run) cost less than incarceration.
Thousands of citations have been issued nationwide. Police continuously misapply and selectively enforce existing laws in order to harass people who are homeless and move them from parks to neighborhoods to alleys and back into parks. This strategy demonizes poor people and feeds negative
public sentiment to target people who experience homelessness, rather than the root causes of homelessness itself.
In addition to its other effects, the criminalization efforts tear our focus away from long term, permanent solutions in order to fight for the right of people who are homeless to simply exist. Our greatest victories in combating these new civil rights attacks will only secure an already inhumane status quo. With this in mind, we must build a locally-based national movement to protect the civil rights of people who are homeless that can seamlessly-even simultaneously-work to end homelessness once these discriminatory threats are eliminated.
Our plan to prevent and combat the violation of homeless people's civil rights focuses on linking homeless individuals and families, and the grassroots efforts that they lead, into a national network in order
fortify those local efforts and to strengthen cooperation. This plan will result in a coordinated sharing of strategies, a greater ability to fight effectively, and increased public awareness - all geared toward
abolishing discrimination against people who are homeless.
The National Homeless Civil Rights Organizing Project (NHCROP) will have seven regional organizing posts in different regions of the country: East, Midwest, Southeast, Northwest and Southwest, plus a national
office in Washington, DC. Proposed field offices include Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington DC.
Staff people at each location will work to bring together the efforts of all local homeless advocacy groups and to fortify efforts in communities that are resource-poor. People who are or were homeless will be hired to fill all field staff and AmeriCorps*VISTA positions created by NHCROP.
It is too often the case that the harshest anti-homeless attacks occur in those communities that lack the resources to organize an immediate, effective response. NHCROP will make it much easier for such locales to hook into the knowledge, experiences and resources of other civil rights efforts in order to improve their ability to best protect the civil rights of people who are homeless.
One of the primary goals of the organizing project is to collect and use video documentation of police and private security guard abuse of homeless people, along with interviews of individuals who are victims of
such abuses. Hundreds of hours of videotape have already been shot, and the abuses continue to stack up. Communities that presently document civil rights violations on tape (e.g., San Francisco, Atlanta and New
York StreetWatch programs) find that having abuses on tape acts as both a deterrent to future abuse and a powerful advocacy and educational tool. Taking these functions further still, NHCROP will combine the footage to a) show the similarities between tactics used by different local governments, b) organize a well-planned counter-campaign against existing or proposed anti-homeless laws, and c) support groups
attempting to set up or expand documentation efforts. Finally, we can use this information as a springboard to pointing out the contradictions in blaming the victim and the lack of appropriate policies for ending homelessness. At that point we will be able to articulate more proactive, cooperative community initiatives and organize for their adoption and implementation.
Focused on the civil rights of all people, NHCROP seeks to address discrimination not only through our organizing, but also in the way we are organized. Our membership is open and is as inclusive as possible.
Moreover, we actively encourage those service providers and housed advocates involved to engage people who are or were homeless in this effort. It is our expectation that the bulk of our leadership and membership and all of our new staff will be people who are or were homeless. It is in this way that we seek to consistently address the issues of racism, sexism, and classism that can - if we are not vigilant - create incongruities in our values and an imbalance between our internal structure and the outward manifestation of our organizing.
People who have no choice but to be homeless have no choice but to be public. To punish them for this heaps injustice on top of indignity. As one Santa Monica woman who is homeless wondered, "When does it stop? Are we going to push homeless people off the face of the earth? I do have a right to exist. I have the right to food, clothing and shelter because I live."
For more information on NHCROP (timeline, staffing, budget, and evaluation) and the success of homeless civil rights efforts, please contact Michael Stoops at the National Coalition for the Homeless, 202-737-6444 or email at: email@example.com.
To report homeless civil rights violations in California, contact Adam Arms or Mara Raider, Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco, 468 Turk St. SF, CA 94102, 415-346-3740 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.