Human Rights and Alternatives to Criminalization Archive
By Eric Tars
Earlier this year, Jerome Murdough, a homeless Veteran, died tragically of dehydration and heat exhaustion in an overheated prison cell after being arrested for “trespassing” because he sought warmth and shelter in an enclosed stairwell of a Harlem public housing building during a week of sub-freezing temperatures. Every day, people who experience homelessness are subjected to local laws and ordinances that challenge their human rights and create real and lasting barriers. Jerome Murdough should have never been in that jail cell in the first place. If Jerome Murdough was served by a system that approached housing as a human right—and homelessness as something to solve rather than something to criminalize—he might still be alive today.
Without housing options, people often are forced to rely on culverts, public parks, streets, and abandoned buildings as places to sleep and carry out daily activities that most reserve for the privacy of their own home. As communities recognize and struggle with the fact that people without homes often live in public spaces, multiple strategies arise. Unfortunately, many of these strategies include policies that criminalize homelessness. In a new report, In the Public Eye, author Lucy Adams, of Australia’s Justice Connect and guest blogger at USICH elevates the conversation.
by Laura Green Zeilinger, USICH Executive Director
Yesterday marked the fourth Anniversary of the launch of Opening Doors, the first-ever Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. In four years, we have changed the trajectory of homelessness in America. In just the first three years of implementation, Opening Doors led to significant reductions in homelessness, including an eight percent reduction in homelessness among families, a 16 percent reduction in chronic homelessness, and a 24 percent reduction in homelessness among Veterans. And we are hopeful that we will be able announce even greater reductions when the 2014 Point-In-Time Count data are available later this year.
The progress we are making across the nation has proven that Opening Doors is the right plan with the right set of strategies. Opening Doors also provides a foundation and scaffolding upon which we can continue to innovate and refine the solutions that will end homelessness in this country.
This year, we’re considering amending the plan again to include more of what we’ve learned from our progress.
In March, I had the privilege of going on a ride-along in the HOT van with Sergeant Schnell and his partner, Officer John Liening. I’ve known Sergeant Schnell and Officer Liening for about 10 years or more. The HOT and SIP teams are profiled in USICH’s publication Searching Out Solutions, and they have provided training to police departments in many other parts of the country. But this was my first chance to witness, in person, their daily efforts to create meaningful alternatives to criminalization for the vulnerable men and women who are living unsheltered on the streets of my hometown, San Diego.
USICH Regional Coordinator Amy Sawyer explains why policies that criminalize homelessness are not only morally wrong but also ineffective solutions to ending homelessness in communities.
By Liz Osborn, USICH Management and Program Analyst
In this blog, Liz Osborn answers the question: What benefits and challenges do organizations face when addressing the issue of homelessness from a human rights perspective?
Jim Ryczek (pictured right), Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, recounts the journey he and his friend and fellow advocate John Joyce (pictured left) embarked upon in order to create a bill of rights on behalf of people experiencing homelessness in Rhode Island.
Regional Coordinator for USICH Amy Sawyer closes out our Human Rights series by reflecting on the stories that have been shared and reminding us that now is the time to act to ensure human rights for people experiencing homelessness.
Eric Tars, Director of Human Rights & Children’s Rights Programs at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, praises Federal progress on homelessness while outlining the neccessity of ensuring that everyone is able to maintain their basic human dignity, which is impossible when someone is experiencing homelessness.
01/15/2014 - I Believe in Human Rights: Homelessness is Criminal—People Experiencing Homelessness Are Not
Discussing the issue of criminalizing homelessness, Maria Foscarinis of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty explains how punishing people experiencing homelessness in an attempt to hide the issue of homelessness raises human rights concerns while detracting from actual efforts to solve homelessness.
Maha Jweied of the U.S. Department of Justice describes how the criminalization of homelessness not only attempts to hide the issue of homelessness instead of addressing it but also violates the fundamental rights of people experiencing homelessness. Therefore, while the criminalization of homelessness continues, the right to counsel is a critical defense for those experincing homelessness.
President & CEO of Health Care for the Homeless Kevin Lindamood explains that bringing a human rights approach to public policy regarding homelessness may be our only chance of ending homelessness in the United States.
Tim Richter, President & CEO of the Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness, explains that we must grant the right to housing for all so that those facing homelessness can fully enjoy all their basic human rights.
Jerry Jones, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, shares his views on the criminalization of homelessness.
Learn how the right to housing is fundamentally a human rights issue and what is being done to protect those rights for people experiencing homelessness.
G.W. Rolle details his life while he was homeless in Florida, including how his and others’ basic human rights were violated while experiencing homelessness and why it is imperative we begin to protect these rights.
It is fitting to acknowledge homelessness as a human rights issue now, in December, as cold weather bears down in many parts of the country, literally threatening the lives of people who are not properly housed, says Lisa Stand, Senior Policy Analyst with the National Alliance to End Homelessness.
Kevin Lindsey, Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, discusses his view that "providing shelter is about more than charity and compassion, it is about acting on a basic commitment enshrined in our Constitution."
Gregory Lewis, the Executive Director of the True Colors Fund, writes about the most universal human right that every child is entitled to: unconditional love and acceptance from their parents.
Deborah Delisle, Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education, tells the tales of youth formerly experiencing homelessness and how their stories demonstrate the necessity of prioritizing youth homelessness.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan discusses the formative time he spent volunteering in a homeless shelter, and how that spurred his dedication to ending homelessness.
Freek Spinnewijn, Director of FEANTSA, shares his views on human rights and the criminalization of homelessness in Europe. FEANTSA is a network of homeless service providers across Europe.
Homelessness, Criminalization and Human Rights
Lucy Adams, Manager and Principal Lawyer at Justice Connect Homeless Law, discusses her work with people who are experiencing homelessness in Victoria. "Laws and practices that criminalize homelessness and punish people for their disadvantage are a human rights issue," she says.
Find out from USICH Executive Director Barbara Poppe how basic human rights are fundamental to understanding and ending homelessness.
USICH and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty met with agency partners to discuss new strategies to reduce criminalization of homelessness.
This week we will be releasing a package of information through our newsletter focused on the challenges of reentry for individuals transitioning out of jails and prisons, and the ways the government and service providers are working to create successful outcomes for this population of Americans. Today we’ll share with you the work of a well-documented initiative from our partners at CSH, Returning Home Ohio.
Returning Home Ohio (RHO) is a supportive housing pilot initiative led by the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (ODRC) and Corporation for Supportive Housing (CSH) aimed at preventing homelessness and reducing recidivism for individuals reentering Ohio’s communities from state prisons. The target population includes offenders released from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections who have histories of chronic homelessness or are at-risk of homelessness upon release.
Photo courtesy of CSH
At the National Alliance to End Homelessness’ annual conference on ending homelessness I had the good fortune of attending a lively workshop session titled “Crossing Hard Thresholds: Access to Housing from Jails and Prisons.” The session dealt with the critical topic of preventing homelessness for people exiting correctional facilities. There are currently more than a million people in state and federal prisons in the U.S. and an additional 735,000 people in jails. Research has shown that individuals without stable housing upon exit from jails or prisons are up to seven times more likely re-offend; sometimes cycling for years between jails, prisons, emergency psychiatric care, and homelessness. As John Fallon, the session moderator from the Corporation for Supportive Housing noted, this cycle is extremely costly for state and local governments. He shared a real case study of Richard, a 42-year old who had spent the previous 21 years cycling between jails, mental health centers, and homelessness at an average annual cost of $72,910.
The NAEH session highlighted innovative programs aimed at ending homelessness and criminal recidivism among ex-offenders.
Last week, I was in Orlando for the US Conference of Mayors 80th Annual Meeting. One purpose of the visit was promoting the new USICH report, Searching Out Solutions: Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness. The Conference endorsed a resolution (p. 49) that called on communities to:”adopt the recommendations in the report (to) meet the needs of the larger community as a whole while also enhancing progress on efforts to end homelessness.”
Memphis, TN Mayor A.C. Wharton and Newton, MA Mayor Setti Warren were the primary sponsors; co-sponsoring were Boston, MA Mayor Thomas Menino, North Miami, FL Mayor Andre Pierre, and Asheville, NC Mayor Terry Bellamy.