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Why We Still Have a Massive Homelessness Problem (Hard Times USA)

Why we don't take care of our most needy.

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If the United States Government doesn’t care about “these” people then why the hell should Menifee, California or Santa Cruz or LA? If we can’t get (or even expect to receive) the funding restored that would have allowed us to not have the deepening crisis of homelessness that has been evolving since 1983, well then we give up! Quick call the cops, strictly enforce sitting on the sidewalk laws, loitering laws, being in the parks laws, sleeping in a vehicle laws, anti food distribution laws, and of course the tried and true panhandling laws. If we make it so they can’t sit, sleep, stand still, or ask for alms -- then maybe, we try to convince ourselves, they will leave. And if they don’t leave, well we always have that brand new jail we were able to get federal funding to help us build.

It is well past time for us to unite our local governments and our local communities.   Fighting with each other over whether life sustaining acts such as sleeping, resting, or eating, are or are not crimes is never ever going to generate the focus and attention on what matters.  We need to speak to our federal government with one voice.  We need to say that when millions of people are sleeping in our streets and shelters every year and when over 1 million children who go to our public schools everyday don’t have a home to go to that night, it is a national crisis that demands a federal response.  When we are so clearly able to document the cause and effect of federal housing assistance cuts in the early 1980’s with the advent of mass contemporary homeless across the country, it is a national crisis that demands a federal response.

California’s Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act (AB 5) authored by assemblymember Tom Ammiano is an attempt to get the State of California to differentiate between criminal acts that a person might commit (regardless of their housing status) and life sustaining acts we all perform but become criminal offenses when those without housing commit them. Oregon, Vermont, Connecticut and Missouri are joining California in calling for a Homeless Bill of Rights. This signifies a growing dissatisfaction with the current tools and strategies available to localities to address our growing economic disparities that result in human rights abuses.

AB 5 is a bill that says to local governments that regardless of whether or not you are frustrated and angry that the federal government has abandoned your needs, it is not ok for you to take that anger out on people who are less powerful than you.  The bullied child need not become the teenage bully. 

If we truly embrace its principles, AB 5 is a bill that can unite us all and get us working together for a government that affirms that a healthy, housed and educated people is a righteous responsibility for governments to undertake.

Paul Boden is the organizing director at the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), which was created to expose and eliminate the root causes of civil and human rights abuses of people experiencing poverty and homelessness in our communities.

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