Access to Justice 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.
USICH and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty met with agency partners to discuss new strategies to reduce criminalization of homelessness.
06/20/2013 - Ending Chronic Homelessness: A Message to Continuum of Care & Ten-Year Plan Leaders from Barbara Poppe
Not long ago, I sat in the same place that you are sitting, managing the Continuum of Care and leading our community's ten-year plan to end homelessness. You have challenging jobs to do and I know you are balancing many competing issues and priorities. I've been fortunate to visit communities that are making great progress, and to support and work with communities that still struggle. Now I would like to share some reflections on the lessons I've learned from you, my colleagues, in our mission to end homelessness. Thank you for listening and especially for acting.
Today I want to address chronic homelessness, which is the first goal in Opening Doors. We have fewer than 1,000 days to bring the number of people experiencing chronic homelessness to zero; every day and every minute counts. For people living with disabilities and disabling conditions, every day or minute spent on the streets is another day or minute spent struggling to survive. So this message is a call to action. I am reaching out to ask, are we doing everything we can do to end chronic homelessness by 2015? Here are the top-ten questions you and the leaders of your ten-year plan should consider (not likely to be picked up by David Letterman but hopefully useful nonetheless).
On November 6, 2012, USICH joined other Federal partners (including representatives from the Department of Justice, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and State) and local advocates for a meeting convened by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and Magdelena Sepúlveda, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. Ms. Sepulveda has been representing the UN as Special Rapporteur since 2008 and travels the world bringing attention to the rights of people living with poverty. The meeting focused on two recent UN reports, adopted by consensus (including the United States): the first, adopting the new UN Guiding Principles on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, the second, a report by the Rapporteur on the access to justice for persons living in extreme poverty. Ms. Sepúlveda comes originally from Chile and has studied in the Netherlands and in the U.K. and has worked at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the United Nations-mandated University of Peace. The Special Rapporteur pointed out that the lack of housing can be seen as a violation of human rights. In addition to housing, the UN resolution reiterates that all people have a right to justice, including representation in civil matters where basic human rights, such as the right to housing, are at stake. USICH was praised for its position on human rights as documented in the report, Searching out Solutions, Constructive Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness, which recognizes that criminalization of homelessness may not only violate constitutional rights, but also the U.S.’s human rights treaty obligations.
Los Angeles County Makes a Smart Move for Ex-Offenders
As noted in the most recent USICH newsletter, the importance of connecting ex-offenders to safe, stable housing is a key element in successful reentry. In a few months, Los Angeles County Housing Authority, will allow ex-offenders on parole or probation who are also experiencing homelessness to be eligible for vouchers under the long-running homeless set-aside. This move will enable access to the nearly 22,000 vouchers for ex-offenders who are experiencing homelessness – a large group of individuals in Los Angeles County and individuals who face many barriers to housing stability.
Interested in reentry issues like this one? Take a look at our newsletter
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.