Clearing of Thunder Bay homeless camps causing concern
Homeless shelter director says there must be a better way to deal with the problem
Shelter groups appeal for provincial dollars
Patty Hajdu is executive directer of a long-time homeless refuge in Thunder Bay called Shelter House.Patty Hajdu is executive directer of a long-time homeless refuge in Thunder Bay called Shelter House. (Joshua Lynn/CBC)
A Thunder Bay police effort to clear campsites where homeless people congregate is drawing strong reaction from the homeless and from the people who try to help them.
The executive director of Shelter House, Patty Hajdu, said the city needs to find a better approach to dealing with what is a serious problem.
One homeless woman, Margaret, knows what it’s like to have her possessions cleared away by police.
“Like when somebody goes into your home and robs you,” she said. (CBC News has agreed to withhold her last name.)
A Thunder Bay homeless woman named Margaret has been known to sleep under this porch. It’s since been boarded up to prevent it from happening again.A Thunder Bay homeless woman named Margaret has been known to sleep under this porch. It’s since been boarded up to prevent it from happening again. (Joshua Lynn/CBC)
“We’re not all messy. We try to clean up,” she said.
Margaret said she was homeless for seven and a half years in Thunder Bay, and is currently in the managed-alcohol program at Shelter House.
Margaret emphasized that these camps are important to homeless people.
“That’s where you know people are going to be. If you’re by yourself [you can check these spots]. Eventually you run into the whole crowd that’s huddling together, and, you know, keep each other warm.
“Some people have food, [and] you share the food — even extra socks in a backpack. If someone doesn’t have socks you give them socks — just help each other out here,” Margaret said.
Hajdu understands how Margaret feels.
“As bedraggled as those belongings look, they are still belongings that are often the only things that people own.”
Hajdu said she knows police are doing their best to deal with a complex social problem, but she thinks the community as a whole needs to go back to the drawing board.
“We’re talking about human beings that are really struggling. Surely we must have a better response than just cleaning up and hoping that people move along,” she said.
Thunder Bay Police Const. Julie Tilbury agrees the clean-ups aren’t ideal, but says police have to do something.
“We’re just trying to do what we can to deter unwanted behaviour in those areas.”
“We’re just trying to clean up those areas so it makes it jut a little bit less inviting for people to come and just hang out there, because we do know a lot of alcohol is being consumed, and we’re just trying to minimize that activity,” Tilbury said.
“If we just keep walking by these [site], and knowing it’s going on here, we’re not helping the problem at all.”
Despite her concerns, Hajdu said she understands the perspective of police and the city “in terms of the perceived safety risk that it might present to other citizens and the state of the environment and the mess that it creates.”
Tilbury said issues like homelessness and severe alcohol addiction are too big for police to handle on their own, and they want to work with the community to find solutions.
Massachusetts city sued over law against aggressive panhandling
BOSTON (Reuters) – A school committee member in Worcester, Massachusetts joined two homeless residents in suing the city on Monday, charging that an ordinance intended to block aggressive panhandling violated their right to free speech.
They charged that the ordinances, adopted in January, would also hurt political speech by banning political candidates from campaigning on traffic medians and rotaries, and banning anyone from soliciting in public from a half-hour before sunset to a half-hour after sunrise.
“The City and the Police Department’s enforcement of the ordinances is focused on ‘panhandling’ by the homeless, and not on other speech or conduct that may take place on roadways, rotaries, or traffic medians and islands,” the suit contends. It noted that no arrests were made at a recent protest against the ordinance held on traffic media, but that “several homeless individuals” have since been arrested for violating the rule.
The plaintiffs in the suit are homeless Worcester residents Robert Thayer and Sharon Brownson, as well as Tracy Novick, a member of the city’s school committee.
Their suit contends the ordinance violates both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech, and the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal treatment under the law.
Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty had no immediate comment on the suit, said his chief of staff, Michael Lanava.
Attorney Matthew Segal of the American Civil Liberties Union, who is representing the plaintiffs, said the Worcester rules are overly broad in their definition of “aggressive panhandling.”
“It can be defined in different ways and sometimes, as is the case in Worcester, it is defined to prohibit actions that are not aggressive,” Segal said. “The ordinance prohibits begging within a half hour of darkness. Someone holding up a sign asking for help with a half hour of daylight left in the day is doing something that is completely protected by the first amendment and is not aggressive.”
Irma Hernandez, who has been homeless in Las Vegas for three years, stands with her EDAR housing unit on Wednesday, May 8, 2013, outside her storage unit on Bonanza Road in Las Vegas. Though she has been sleeping in the EDAR (Everyone Deserves a Roof), a compact portable housing unit on wheels, for the past month or so, she will not sleep in it tonight for fear that Metro Police will confiscate it from her. The EDAR was given to her by Project Aqua, a local homeless advocacy group. Launch slideshow »
Ginger Smith sips on her iced coffee underneath the partial shade outside a Starbucks as a hot April sun beats down on her. She’s at a table with four people from a group called Project Aqua for a meeting.
Smith reaches down to pet Chico – a cocoa brown Chihuahua, her “angel doggie” – sunbathing next to her as she listens. Smith’s hands are leathery and worn and covered in a thin layer of grime, but Chico nuzzles them regardless. A black grocery bag of food sits on Smith’s lap, and another grocery bag with a folded up cardboard sign is on the ground next to her.
The Project Aqua members are discussing the EDAR unit – a mobilized shelter that, when folded up, looks like a cot draped over a shopping cart. Smith just listens, offering her opinion when asked. After all, the EDAR unit concerns her.
Soon – when it’s just her and Project Aqua co-founder Lynn Boland – the Starbucks manager will step outside and ask Smith repeatedly to leave.
“She knows she’s not allowed to be here,” the manager says.
A flash of frustration will flash across Smith’s face, but she won’t argue. It’s nothing new. She’s not wanted here. In fact, she’s not wanted most places she goes. She has no home, no place she can call her own or just be. But that’s why she’s meeting with Project Aqua, a group of friends dedicated to making life for the scores of homeless in Las Vegas just a little bit easier.
The group obtained three EDAR units from the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Everyone Deserves a Roof, and Smith, 37, is a candidate for one of them.
“We always considered with the EDARs, if we have a limited amount as we do, that they would go to people more likely to (be exposed) to violence,” said Project Aqua co-founder Eryk Hanut. “We met Ginger, and it was a good timing for her and for us. Overall, everybody deserves such a thing.”
Currently, Smith lives with Chico and her boyfriend on a flat of cardboard behind a boarded-up apartment building just northwest of downtown Las Vegas. They have blankets and food stamps to buy groceries. Smith used to have a tent and a mattress, but the city confiscated them. So for now, a piece of cardboard over gravel is home.
She knows there are shelters where she can stay, but they are few and far between, and most don’t let her bring Chico inside. Smith would rather sleep outside with Chico, even if it means exposing herself to deadly spiders at night, cops forcing her to move during the day and the hot sun. Her thin stature also makes her a target for someone looking to do harm.
“Some nights you be like worrying about stuff crawling on you,” Smith said. “Sometimes in different areas you’re worried people are walking around, and you’re wondering if they might do something to you.”
It’s not an ideal life, she admits, but she survives. She has Chico, and that is all she needs right now. Chico has been Smith’s family since she found him when she became homeless five years ago.
The EDAR would be a welcome improvement.
“It would bring some privacy to me and Chico. Not only that, but when the weather goes bad, we need a tent or something to go in,” Smith said. “It would be like a house to me, not (a house) like some people have, but it would make me feel better.”
Boland and Hanut met Smith about a year ago outside a Walgreens, where Smith often asks for money with a sign. Her current one reads: “Homeless out here, my dog and me, flying this sign ’cause dog food ain’t free. Thank you and God Bless.”
Around the time of the meeting, Boland and Hanut had started Project Aqua. They saw a flaw in services the valley’s homeless receive. Yes, there are shelters and food stamps available, but those shelters are often overcrowded, and many homeless distrust the place that has left them abandoned in the streets.
Those who choose to avoid the shelters are subject to loitering citations and “raids” by police, who scatter them from encampment to encampment, Boland says. Many often lose valuable belongings, from tents to the aluminum cans they’ve collected to earn money to their identification papers, during those “raids.” Smith has lost a tent and her license in those raids.
So Boland and Hanut, along with four other members, began Project Aqua. Hanut cooks and feeds the homeless about twice a day, while Boland checks in with different homeless people she knows to help them with whatever they need in between gaps in her schedule. The group also donates clothes and offers to drive them to the hospital, looking for ways to solve the immediate problems many homeless face.
One of those problems was a lack of alternative shelters available in Las Vegas. Boland was researching solutions for this issue when she discovered the work of EDAR and its mobile shelter units.
“It gives the recipients a greater sense of mobility, but I hope it also opens up the dialog around the need for more options for homeless people for them to be comfortable on a day-to-day basis,” Boland said, “and open up dialog about shelters and what exists, and why what exists is not working for a lot of people.”
The units were designed to provide a short-term, immediate shelter for homeless who are reluctant to enter the shelter system, according to the EDAR website. The four-wheeled unit folds into a cart for transport and into a tent at night. Each costs about $500 to make, and they have been distributed to homeless in the greater Los Angeles area. None had previously existed in Las Vegas.
Boland reached out to the nonprofit and discovered that they had several outdated EDAR units in storage. The nonprofit was willing to part with three.
To collect them, they partnered with nonprofit United Movement Organized Kindness. Project Aqua members want to pass out the units to single women like Smith, who are most vulnerable to attack.
Boland already distributed one to Erma Hernandez. Hernandez, 53, sleeps in it most nights and keeps it in a storage unit during the day so people don’t steal it. The unit has given her added mobility and a shelter she wouldn’t have otherwise.
“I like it. If I push it down the street, everybody says ‘What is that?’ I say, ‘It’s my house, what about it?’” Hernandez said. “I enjoy it, I love it, I can park it anywhere. I can sleep, take a nap and then push it again.”
The units are not much, just a piece of canvass that will hardly be any protection for Hernandez and Smith from the desert sun. The thought worries Boland; it could be dangerous for them.
While Project Aqua waits to obtain the second EDAR for Smith, Boland also is helping her determine whether she would like to move back home to Pampa, Texas, where her mother lives. She’s doing the same for Hernandez, too.
Boland knows the few EDAR units she received aren’t enough to make a dent in the lack of alternative shelters for homeless in Las Vegas, but it’s a start. The group is currently collaborating with the nonprofit, Repurpose America, about a project to recycle used materials to make shelter units. They’ve also spoken with Metro Police, architects and nonprofit Shower to the People to bring showering and toilet facilities to the homeless.
Ultimately, Boland and Project Aqua believe everyone deserves a place they belong. The EDAR would be something Smith can call her own, and hopefully, make a difficult life just a little easier.
In this March 29, 2013 photo, women walk past blighted row houses in Baltimore. The U.S. Census Bureau puts the number of Americans in poverty at levels not seen since the mid-1960s, while $85 billion in federal government spending cuts that began last month are expected to begin squeezing services for the poor nationwide. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
This is a tough moment in the fight against poverty.
Sequester is the latest chapter in a time-honored tradition of kicking the poor when they are down. A do-nothing Congress certainly isn’t going to do something about poverty without pressure from the grassroots. And it seems that the only way most of the mainstream media will pay attention to the more than 1 out of 3 Americans living below twice the poverty line — on less than $36,000 for a family of three — is if their lives make good fodder for tabloid television or play out in a courtroom drama.
That said, there are still plenty of people and groups fighting for real change, and plenty of ways you can get involved or stay engaged. I reached out to a handful of folks who dedicate their lives to fighting poverty in different ways. Here is what they asked people to do:
From Sister Simone Campbell, Sisters of Social Service, Executive Director of NETWORK: “Support an increase in the minimum wage to more than $11 per hour.”
What people don’t know is that a large percentage of people living in poverty are workers who support their families on very small salaries. In fact, 57 percent of individuals and family members below the official poverty line either worked or lived with a working family member in 2011.
Pope Francis said on May 1, 2013, that all workers should make wages that allow them to live with their families in dignity. Contact your senators and representative and urge them to vote for a minimum wage (that is more than $11 an hour) and tipped minimum wage that reflect the dignity of ALL people.
From the Coalition of Immokalee Workers: “Tell Publix: Help end sexual harassment, wage theft and forced labor in the fields — join the Fair Food Program today.”
Until very recently, Florida’s fields were as famous for producing human rights violations — with countless workers suffering daily humiliation and abuse ranging from wage theft to sexual harassment and even forced labor — as they were for growing oranges and tomatoes.
Today, however, there is a new day dawning for farmworkers in Florida’s tomato fields. The CIW’s Fair Food Program is demanding a policy of zero tolerance for human rights abuses on tomato farms, and it’s working. The program sets the highest human rights standards in the fields today, including: worker-to-worker education on rights, a 24-hour complaint line and an effective complaint investigation and resolution process — all backed by market consequences for employers who refuse to respect their workers’ rights.
The White House recently called the exciting new program “one of the most successful and innovative programs” in the world today in the fight to uncover — and prevent — modern-day slavery; and just last week United Nations investigators called it “impressive” and praised its “independent and robust enforcement mechanism.”
As the veteran food writer Barry Estabrook put it, thanks to the Fair Food Program, the Florida tomato industry is on the path “from being one of the most repressive employers in the country… to becoming the most progressive group in the fruit and vegetable industry” today.
But we need your help to complete this transformation.
One of the country’s largest supermarket chains, Publix Super Markets, is refusing to support the Fair Food Program. Publix continues to buy tomatoes from growers in the old way, where workers have no access to the Fair Food Program’s proven protections. Rather than step up to the highest human rights standards, Publix continues to turn its back on the workers whose poverty helps fuel its record profits.
Tell Publix Super Markets CEO William Crenshaw to join the fight against human rights abuses in the U.S. tomato industry.
From Ralph da Costa Nunez, President and CEO, Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness: “Make a Personal Commitment to Helping Homeless Families”
More than one-third of Americans who use shelters annually are parents and their children. In 2011, that added up to more than 500,000 people. Since 2007, family homelessness has increased by more than 13 percent. Indeed, there is a growing prevalence of child and family homelessness across America.
While it is important to track the federal, state and local policies that impact homelessness, we can’t forget about getting involved on a personal level with the growing numbers of families that are struggling since the Great Recession.
You can visit a local shelter, meet a homeless family and see first hand the damage poverty is doing to young mothers and children. Then, become a big brother or sister, a role model for these young families to help them dream again. You are meeting an immediate need while also helping to stem generational poverty.
You can also contact your local department of social services, United Way, or religious organization to find out where the need is in your community. Also, speak with the homeless liaison at your local school to see what needs they have identified in your neighborhood. There are many ways that you (and your children) can help families right in your community. Here are a few other ideas.
From Dr. Deborah Frank, Founder and Principal Investigator, Children’s HealthWatch: “Fund the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) at the maximum authorized level”
Research by Children’s HealthWatch has shown that energy insecurity is associated with poor health, increased hospitalizations and risk of developmental delays in very young children, and that energy assistance can be effective in protecting children’s health. The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) provides low-income households with assistance in paying their utility bills — particularly those that must spend higher proportions of their income on home energy. To be eligible for LIHEAP, families must have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level — less than $35,000 annually for a family of four.
When Children’s HealthWatch compared children in families that do and do not receive LIHEAP assistance — after controlling for participation in SNAP and WIC — we found that children in families that received LIHEAP were less likely to be at risk of growth problems, more likely to have healthier weights for their age and less likely to be hospitalized when seeking care for acute medical problems.
As pediatricians and public health researchers, we at Children’s HealthWatch know that LIHEAP matters for the bodies and minds of young children. Even in these tough economic times, we believe it is critical that President Obama and Congress make a funding commitment that meets the heating and cooling needs of America’s youngest children.
But the president has proposed reducing funding for LIHEAP to $2.970 billion in his FY 2014 budget, down from $3.5 billion for the current fiscal year. (Even funding at the current level has left millions of households without the aid they need to cope with their home energy costs.) Please join the National Fuel Fund’s call to fund LIHEAP at $4.7 billion in FY2014. Although that level is insufficient to meet the full needs of vulnerable households, it will enable states to end a trend over the last few years of needing to reduce the number of households served, cut benefits, or both. Contact the president and your members of Congress today.
Sarita Gupta, Executive Director, Jobs with Justice/American Rights at Work and Co-Director, Caring Across Generations: “Support of a living wage and basic labor protections for home care workers”
Caring Across Generations is a campaign that unites people to change the long-term care system that supports each of us, our family members and our neighbors, to live and age in our own homes and communities. One of the key ways we can strengthen this system is to protect the 2.5 million people working as care givers in the United States. With a projected future demand for an additional 1.3 million workers over the next decade, home care workers make up one of the largest occupations in the nation, yet many of them make below minimum wage.
In December 2011, at a White House ceremony surrounded by home care workers, employers and people who rely on personal care services, President Obama announced plans for new regulations that would at long last guarantee federal minimum wage and overtime protections for most home care aides. The moment capped decades of effort by advocates to revise the “companionship exemption,” which lumps professional care workers with teenage babysitters, excluding most home care aides from the basic labor protections that nearly all other American workers receive.
Following the White House announcement, the U.S. Department of Labor published draft regulations in the Federal Register. During the public comment period, the proposed rule received 26,000 comments with almost 80 percent in favor of providing home care workers with basic labor protections like minimum wage and overtime pay. But today, over a year after the public comment period closed, we are still waiting for a final rule to be announced.
Join Caring Across Generations and all of our partner organizations in the effort to push for basic minimum wage and overtime protections for care workers, and help us in our final push to ensure that the Obama Administration issues this long-awaited regulation to give 2.5 million care workers a path out of poverty. Visit www.caringacross.org to get involved with the campaign.
From Judith Lichtman, Senior Advisor, National Partnership for Women & Families: “Urge Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1286/S.631) and a national paid leave program”
More than 40 million workers in this country — and more than 80 percent of the lowest-wage workers — cannot earn a single paid sick day to use when they get the flu or other common illnesses. Millions more cannot earn paid sick days to use when a child is sick.
For these workers and families, paid sick days can mean the difference between keeping a job and losing it, or keeping food on the table and going hungry. Nearly one-quarter of adults say they have lost a job or been threatened with job loss for needing a sick day. And, for the average worker without paid sick days, taking just 3.5 unpaid days off is equivalent to losing a month’s worth of groceries for their family. To make matters worse, the majority of new parents cannot take any form of paid leave of any length to care for a child, pushing many into debt and poverty. The United States is one of only a handful of countries that does not have a national paid leave standard of some kind.
In a nation that claims to value families, no worker should have to lose critical income or be pushed into poverty because illness strikes or a child or family member needs care.
Urge members of Congress to support the Healthy Families Act, legislation that would guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick days. And sign this petition calling on Congress to take up the national paid leave program workers and families urgently need.
From Tiffany Loftin, President, United States Student Association (USSA): “Increase regulation of private student loans and hold Sallie Mae accountable for its role in the student debt crisis.”
Throughout the Great Recession, only one type of household debt grew: student debt.
In April 2012, student debt surpassed the $1 trillion mark, and now students owe on average nearly $27,000 by the time they graduate. As student debt and student loan defaults escalate at an unsustainable pace, private student loan lenders continue to increase their profit margins.
Sallie Mae is the largest private student loan lender and one of the chief profiteers off of student debt, yet it faces minimal public scrutiny and accountability. With their sky-high interest rates, highly profitable government loan servicing contracts and predatory lending practices, they play a major role in keeping the American Dream out of reach for millions of borrowers.
Join USSA, the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), Jobs with Justice/American Rights at Work, Common Cause, the American Federation of Teachers and others at the Sallie Mae shareholder meeting on May 30 in Newark, DE.
We’ll introduce a shareholder resolution asking Sallie Mae to be more transparent and accountable about its lobbying efforts, affiliations and executive bonus structure — all part of a corporate strategy to increase their bottom line at the financial expense of borrowers. Sign up to attend the join the shareholder action here.
From Elizabeth Lower-Basch, Policy Coordinator, the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP): “Support Pathways Back to Work”
Even as the economy recovers, too many unemployed workers and individuals with low education and skill levels face a difficult job market. Nearly two out of five unemployed workers have been jobless for six months or more. 6.7 million youth are both out of work and out of school.
Subsidized and transitional jobs are a proven way to give unemployed workers the opportunity to earn wages, build skills and connect to the labor market, while also giving businesses an incentive to hire new employees when they might not be able to do so otherwise.
President Obama’s FY14 budget blueprint calls for the creation of a $12.5 billion Pathways Back to Work Fund that includes: investments in subsidized employment opportunities, support services for the unemployed and low-income adults, summer and year-round employment opportunities for low-income youth and other work-based employment strategies with demonstrated effectiveness.
Please share this letter with nonprofits, businesses or other organizations and ask them to sign on to join us in thanking President Obama for his support of subsidized and transitional jobs in the FY2014 budget, and asking the President and Congress to work together to ensure that the Pathways Back to Work Fund becomes law! (This sign on letter is only for organizations, but individuals are also encouraged to ask their Members of Congress to support the Pathways Back to Work Fund — click the “reintroduce” buttons here and here.)
From Marci Phillips, Director of Public Policy and Advocacy, National Council on Aging: “Invest in the Older Americans Act”
The Older Americans Act encompasses a range of programs that enable seniors to remain healthy and independent, in their own homes and communities, and out of costly institutions. Services include healthy meals, in-home care, transportation, benefits access, caregiver support, chronic disease self-management, job training and placement and elder abuse prevention.
Funding has not kept pace with the growth in need or numbers, and recent cuts before the sequester hit have further eroded investments in key services. About 10,000 people turn 65 each day, and those over 85 are the fastest growing segment of the aging population.
One in three seniors is economically insecure. Social Security accounts for at least 90 percent of the income of more than one-third of older adults, and there has been a 79 percent increase in the threat of hunger among seniors over the past decade. The average duration of unemployment for people 55 and older is almost 50 weeks — longer than any other age group. Over 75 percent of all older adults have at least two chronic conditions, and the average Medicare household spends $4,500 on out-of-pocket health care costs.
There is a real need to increase funding for Older Americans Act programs like Meals on Wheels and in-home care. Please share your stories of cuts affecting seniors, so we can share them with Congress and the Administration and protect investments in the Older Americans Act.
From Rebecca Vallas, Staff Attorney/Policy Advocate, Community Legal Services
“Tell Congress NO CUTS to Social Security and SSI through the Chained CPI”
While the “chained CPI” is often referred to as just a technical change, in truth it’s a benefit cut for millions of seniors, people with disabilities and their families who rely on the Social Security system to meet their basic needs. Social Security retirement, disability and survivors benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) serve as a vital lifeline, making up a significant percentage of total family income for many workers and families.
The average yearly benefit for the lowest quintile of earners receiving retirement benefits in 2010 was $10,206 — and that represented 94 percent of their family income. Social Security Disability and SSI benefits are incredibly modest as well. The average SSDI benefit is about $1,100 per month in 2013, and the average SSI benefit is less than $550 per month. And for most disabled workers receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), their benefits make up most or all of their income. Even the maximum SSI benefit ($710 in 2013) is just three-fourths of the federal poverty level for a single person, and a quarter of SSDI beneficiaries live in poverty.
The amount a person gets in Social Security or SSI benefits is adjusted annually based on the Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA). The chained CPI would slow the increase in the Social Security COLA, cutting benefits and eroding the purchasing power of seniors, people with disabilities and their families. Cuts under the chained CPI add up significantly over time. Since the effect of the chained CPI is cumulative, it would be especially hard on people with disabilities, since they typically begin receiving benefits at a younger age than retirees.
The chained CPI is not a more accurate measure of inflation for seniors and people with disabilities. It is based on a concept called the “substitution effect” — which assumes that when the price of one good goes up, a consumer will substitute a lower-cost alternative in its place (e.g., when the price of steak goes up, a person will buy hamburger instead). For Social Security and SSI beneficiaries who are struggling to make ends meet as it is, there’s no room for substitution — and no room for benefit cuts. Benefit cuts under the chained CPI would push beneficiaries to make impossible choices such as not paying the gas bill to afford the water bill, taking half a pill instead of a whole pill, or eating two meals per day instead of three to afford the cost of a copay on a needed medication.
Low-income seniors and people with severe disabilities are already struggling and can’t afford cuts. Send this email to Congress to tell them NO on the chained CPI, and to keep Social Security cuts out of any budget plan. For AARP’s chained CPI calculator, click here.
From Jim Weill, President, Food Research and Action Center:
“Tell Congress: Increase, Don’t Cut SNAP (Food Stamp) Benefits”
SNAP is a great program — boosting food security, health and nutrition and lifting millions out of poverty and millions of others out of deep poverty. But as a National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine expert committee just found, for most families benefits simply aren’t enough to afford a healthy diet for the month. This means that the program isn’t doing as much for food security, poverty reduction, child development, disease prevention and health care cost containment, as it could. And despite a series of Pinocchio-inspired political attacks on the program in the 2012 election season and in this year’s run-up to SNAP reauthorization as part of the Farm Bill, public support for the program is high: 73 percent of voters believe the program is important to the country; 70 percent say cutting it is the wrong way to reduce government spending; and 77 percent say the government should be spending more (43 percent) or the same (34 percent) on SNAP. This support crosses parties, demographic groups and rural, urban and suburban lines.
Here’s what you can do: Tell your representative and senators that the right course for the nation is to improve food stamp benefits (and support at least the temporary benefit boost the President has proposed) and that they must oppose any SNAP cuts being considered by the Agriculture Committees in the “Farm Bill.”
From Debbie Weinstein, Executive Director, Coalition on Human Needs:
“Tell Congress to stop harmful cuts to anti-poverty programs now”
Across the country, federal “sequestration” cuts (aka mindless automatic reductions) are closing Head Start programs weeks early and canceling summer programs for poor 3 to 5 year old children; some Head Start centers are closing altogether or dropping children. Seniors are losing home-delivered meals or homemaker services that allow them to remain at home instead of being pushed into nursing homes. The long-term jobless are losing 10 to 20 percent of their meager benefits; in Maine, they decided to cut all unemployed people off of assistance 9 weeks early. 140,000 fewer families will get rental housing vouchers, despite waiting for help for years, which will contribute to rising family homelessness. Education is being cut, from pre-school to the Federal Work-Study Program (formerly “College Work-Study”) that helps students finance college through part-time employment. In Michigan, they are eliminating a $137 back-to-school clothing allowance for 21,000 poor children.
These cuts are wrong and foolish any way you slice it — they keep people poor, cost jobs and stall economic growth for everyone.
Send this email to your representative and senators and join hundreds of thousands who are fed up that Congress would ignore these problems while fixing just one thing — inconvenient delays at airports. Also, for weekly summaries of the impact of these sequester cuts, click
Three homeless men from Concord have filed a lawsuit against the state, arguing they cannot be prohibited from camping on state-owned land, especially without a hearing.
Barbara Keshen, an attorney for the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union, filed the lawsuit last week after state officials stepped up efforts to clear homeless camps from public land. The three plaintiffs are living in the woods off Hazen Drive, in tidy campsites that are beyond the view of neighboring residences.
But Keshen said she brought the case on behalf of the entire homeless community, estimated to be 150 people in Concord. Keshen hopes the lawsuit increases public awareness about the lack of emergency shelters and affordable housing opportunities in Concord.
There is a single year-round emergency shelter in Concord, and its 26 beds are usually full, Kehsen said in her lawsuit.
But more critical, Keshen said, is to stop the state from evicting homeless people who have had nowhere to go since March, when two church-run emergency shelters closed for the year.
“There are lots of people who have been displaced,” Keshen said. “And they need to live somewhere.”
Frank Sobol, 52, is one of the three plaintiffs. He had been living near the railroad tracks between the Holiday Inn on North Main Street and the Friendly Kitchen on South Commercial Street until the police cleared the area in March, at the request of private property owners there.
Sobol relocated his tent to the area off Hazen Drive.
He’s settled into his new location and appreciates its proximity to Loudon Road, where he can use restrooms at businesses that are open 24 hours a day. But the long walk to the Friendly Kitchen and the homeless resource center on North Main Street is difficult, he said, because he has a heart condition and bad knees.
Sobol joined the lawsuit, in part, because he’s frustrated that while some in the city are trying to help the homeless by running the Friendly Kitchen and the resource center, city and state officials are eliminating the places they can live.
“The powers that be do not want us walking around the sidewalks of Concord because we are nothing but a glaring symbol . . . of their failure,” Sobol said Friday. “And they keep pushing us further and further away from the services that the (other groups) are providing.”
The lawsuit, filed in Merrimack County Superior Court, is the latest development in what has been a difficult back-and-forth between the homeless and city and state officials.
This spring, after the two church shelters closed, the Concord police began asking homeless people to leave their camps on private property along the railroad tracks. At the same time, state officials posted several state-owned properties for trespassing, including land behind Everett Arena, Gully Hill behind Loudon Road, land along Stickney Avenue and land off Hazen Drive, where Keshen’s clients are now living.
Keshen first responded by asking the state Department of Administrative Services to hold a hearing, during which the homeless could argue for their right to use public land. In her April letter to Commissioner Linda Hodgdon, Keshen said the public land behind the Everett Arena, along the Merrimack River, had been used “for years” as a camping site for homeless people.
“The individuals . . . are involuntarily homeless,” Keshen wrote. “They do not have private homes or private property on which they can erect living quarters. They are required by circumstance to perform all of life’s activities, such as eating and sleeping on public land.”
Keshen said she has never received a response to her letter.
Earlier this month, the Concord police stepped up their efforts to move homeless people off private property. In early May, the police began charging individuals with trespassing if they remained on the property after receiving a warning.
The police issued 18 court summons for trespassing and alcohol violations on a single Sunday. At the same time, state officials reposted the state-owned properties for trespassing.
Keshen told the Monitor at the time she wasn’t sure what other action she could take. After doing some research, she found one: the lawsuit.
She argues that the law cited in the state’s no trespassing signs is problematic for the state. First, the law prohibiting camping on state land says camping is not allowed “unless permission is received from the governing board of the governmental agency” with jurisdiction over the property. Keshen said that implies her April request for a hearing should have been granted.
Second, Keshen said the law prohibiting camping on public land is within the authority of the transportation department. Yet, Keshen said, the transportation department has authority over roads but not the land being used by the homeless people.
No one at the state attorney general’s office, which will defend the state against the lawsuit, could be reached for comment late Friday afternoon. A hearing is set for May 20, and Keshen said the attorney general’s office has agreed to put off further action until after that hearing.
That’s good news for Andrew Thompson, who is 48, homeless and also living in a tent off Hazen Drive. He and Sobol said they didn’t see any no trespassing signs when they first arrived on the property months ago. They appeared since, some of them as recently as Friday, Thompson said.
His camp, which includes a lean-to he built using downed limbs, has a kitchen area, a small grill and table for eating meals. He stayed in his shelter all winter, he said. And, he said, he’s left every place he’s tented cleaner than when he found it.
Thompson said he bagged litter and trash around the Everett Arena when he was there. He did the same at his new spot, he said. The site was free of litter Friday, during a visit he had little time to prepare for. Thompson doesn’t understand why he can’t stay put, given that he’s not causing problems and has nowhere else to live.
Some really compassionate comments. I don’t see them asking for someone to pay for their accomodations. Not looking for someone to foot the bill while they summer by the pool at the Marriot, they just want a spot to live in, pure and simple. Living under a tarp in the woods in NH is not an easy accomplishment nor glamorous one. “I am tired of paying for their free ride” living outside under a tarp and relying on the kindness of volunteers is what you call a free ride. Give me a break. Not every issue can be black and white or have an easy answer. And it certainly can’t be boiled down to a scam to take any hard earned money of yours. Try and use google to lookup the word compassion.
We have caused the problem of homelessness ourselves by giving these folks everything. We have robbed them of their ability to take responsibility for their own actions and removed their motivation to get up and help themselves. Now they are going to sue! Really funny! What happens when children are given everything? They become adults who think the world owes them a living. I am all for helping someone get a hand up, but I am not for giving them an endless free ride. The question is where are these folks being evicted from the camps going to go? How about a bus ticket to the Dakotas to work in the oil fields. Lots of camps out there and big money to be made.
Why don’t they just let them camp on the property @ $25.00 a night. That way, in no time at all, the property would be vacant.
Way to go democrats. The democrats that have controlled Concord for ever are going to spend $8,000,000 to beautify and heat the sidewalks of Concord yet they cant find a penny for he necessary expansion of shelters for the homeless….that is the democrat party we know
LOWELL — Three separate authorities began clearing homeless camps from the banks of the Merrimack River Wednesday, leaving at least some residents with nowhere to go. Some had already left, and others said they expected to be able to stay one more night.
As University of Massachusetts Lowell officials and police nailed “No Trespassing” signs to trees near fortifications off the VFW Highway, the director of Living Waters, a Lowell day shelter, and a member of Harbor of Hope Christian Church in Chelmsford went around to all the camps alerting residents that they would have to leave
Above, Khamphong Souvannasy, 49, who has lived in a makeshift encampment on UMass Lowell property for eight years, was forced to move by officials from the city of Lowell, state Department of Transportation and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, at right, who were evicting homeless people from three different sites along the river. SUN photos/David H. Brow
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and offering help in finding housing.
“There needs to be housing first, before you remove people,” said Diane Waddell, the Living Waters director.
There seemed to be more resignation than resistance on Wednesday, at least among the few who were still at their living quarters.
“I don’t want to make a problem,” said Khamphong Souvannasy, who has been living in an elaborate shelter on UMass Lowell property for eight years. For that whole time, “nobody bothered me,” he said with a shrug.
Souvannasy, whose family members live in Providence, R.I., wasn’t sure where he might go next. There were about 15 people at the camp until recently. A shelter next to his with tarps stretched out high and wide over a small tent in the
middle was left about four months ago when a couple that lived here found an apartment, he said.
Souvannasy’s makeshift home, which is held up by sturdy tree trunks as much as about 6 inches in diameter, includes a few hatchets for self-defense. Clothing in messy piles covers much of the floor, and an oriental rug sits right outside a gate hinged to a tree. It all faces removal.
At a smaller camp near Hunts Falls, crews from Clean Harbors, a company that does field cleanup, were filling
Rich Cogliano, 65, feeds his dog for one of the last times at the site the homeless man has been living at for almost five years. SUN photos/David H. Brow
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up bag after bag of objects as large as planks of wood and as small as debris from a recent fire. The site, owned by the state Department of Transportation, has had three people living there recently.
One of them, Tom Myers, had his tent and small stash of belongings neatly packed away by early afternoon. After sunset, he said, when authorities wouldn’t as easily be able to track where he goes, he would find another outdoor spot in the city to stay.
His neighbor and friend, Rich Cogliano, had far more belongings. A generator was being stored at Living Waters, and other items, like blankets, plants and a hardcover mystery novel, were stacked in a pile to be saved. A plastic children’s pool was thrown in the trash, but a worker
Officals from the City of Lowell, state Department of Transportation and the University of Massachusetts Lowell move in with police to evict homeless people from three different sites along the Merrimack River.
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climbed in to take it out when Cogliano insisted on having it saved for his pit pull, Cheeka.
Clean Harbors workers said they were initially reluctant to begin work Wednesday morning when they saw Cogliano and Cheeka, standing on top of a small cliff above the walking path where they parked. But police who arrived shortly after assured them Cogliano and the dog were not a danger, and soon Cogliano was standing by the workers watching calmly as they raked through dirt to uncover debris and put it away in bags.
Cogliano sat on a cinder block eating crackers and yogurt that Waddell got for him earlier. He gave Cheeka much of the food as he saved for himself.
“Back to square one, Cheeka,” he said. “Back to square one.”
Cogliano said he was being allowed to stay in his tent one more night. A friend, knowing he was going to have to leave, came by to visit and asked where he’d stay.
“I haven’t the foggiest notion,” Cogliano replied.
A third, smaller camp, between Beaver Brook and the Ouelette Bridge, is owned by the city. General foreman Brandon Kelly said smaller trees and brush were being removed by Department of Public Works crews to increase visibility along that stretch of the river.
One tent remained, and another that was there on Tuesday was gone, but dozens of beer bottles and other debris remained. A commode that had a pizza box covering the opening in the seat stood next to a fire pit. Scraps of tin foil were dropped next to
T.J. McCarthy, UMass Lowell’s associate director of operations and services, nails up signs in one of the homeless camp sites warning people to keep out.
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the pit and hung on a tree branch.
“Watch out for needles,” one worker shouted.
The City Council voted unanimously last month in support of a plan to clear out the homeless camps and find permanent housing for those who would be displaced.
The Lowell Transitional Living Center on Middlesex Street estimated it would have four beds available for men and six for women Wednesday night. It wasn’t clear yet how many people who were pushed out of their riverside camps would stay there, Executive Director Dave McCloskey said.
Community Teamwork, Inc., has assisted three people from the camps, one of whom it helped sign an apartment lease, said Kristen Ross-Sitcawich, the agency’s director of homeless prevention and homeownership programs. CTI has dedicated $10,000 from an April fundraiser for first and last month’s rent for those it is helping.
The effort includes helping with a housing search, including providing leads on rental units available, assistance with budgeting and education on how to be a good tenant.
“It doesn’t happen fast,” Ross-Sitcawich said.
The transitional living center has a capacity of 90, and has averaged in the high 70s or low 80s. Wintertime occupancy, which increases when a second shelter is opened, acts as a bellwether for the year’s homelessness, and it was worse this year, McCloskey said.
Those who stayed in the shelter each winter night averaged in the high 40s each night compared to 33 the year before. The shelter had 362 people stay at least one night.
“We’re like the canary in the mine,” he said. “We saw this coming that there were going to be a lot more people living out in the community.”
Follow Grant Welker at Twitter.com/SunGrantWelker.
A homeless woman walks away from the camp site on UMass Lowell property after she was told to leave Wednesday.
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Read more: http://www.lowellsun.com/news/ci_23205516/homeless-back-square-one-city-closes-down-camps#ixzz2Soi99IYa