Posted on February 28, 2011
Homeless man finds, returns $1,440 cash.
Homeless man seeks accidental donor of diamond ring.
Homeless man returns lost laptop and money.
Homeless man returns wallet full of cash.
Homeless man returns lost paycheck.
All of these are news headlines that have appeared in the last four months. Each is a different man, living in a different city.
These stories aren’t news because something was found and something returned. There are do-gooders who do this sort of thing all the time. These headlines draw our attention because the people doing this good are homeless. More than that, the good they’ve done means they’re turning down a chance to pocket some cash that could have been a tremendous help to them in this time of need.
Generosity doesn’t disappear with the loss of one’s home. Homeless people make sacrifices regularly, and not just to return lost wallets. Homeless parents skip meals so their children won’t go to bed hungry. Homeless people will frequently give resources they have obtained, whether blankets, food, cash, or something else, to a friend who is “worse off.”
This is an important reminder that homelessness is not an identity, it is a temporary condition. Homeless people are, first and foremost, people. Being homeless does not mean one’s moral judgment is poor, or even that his or her decision-making is poor; it just means he or she is financially poor.
Wide recognition of this truth is an essential part of the battle to end homelessness in our country.
It shouldn’t be “news” to anyone that people experiencing homelessness are capable of great things.
-Whitney Gent, Development & Communications Director
Posted on February 25, 2011
What’s something we do each day, but rarely think about, let alone discuss in public?
Going to the bathroom.
But when you’re homeless or poor, what most people take for granted can be a huge challenge, even a life-altering decision.
Forces beyond homeless persons’ control, such as lack of affordable housing and emergency shelter, compel them to live and take care of their basic human needs in public. When performed inside, these acts are unquestionably legal. But cities are punishing homeless persons for the very same life-sustaining actions when they are forced to perform them in public spaces.
William Shumate, a 60 year-old veteran living in St. Petersburg, Florida, typifies the problems faced by many homeless persons. William has diabetes, which makes it difficult to control his urination, especially overnight when bathroom facilities are closed. St. Petersburg has local ordinances that prohibit public urination and defecation, but make no allowance for situations when public bathrooms are unavailable. On November 1, 2007, William was sleeping near City Hall when he woke up around 1:00 am with an uncontrollable need to urinate. Police followed him as he went around the side of the building, and arrested him. William was sentenced to one day in jail and a fine of $300. Read more »
Posted on February 24, 2011
“I ain’t got no family. Father’s dead. Mother’s dead. Never had any friends. What I got is God, and he blesses everybody – only some don’t want to wait. I’ll wait. Freezing my ass off, but I’ll wait.”
In November, the Washington Post published an op-ed piece called “Panhandling: the uncomfortable truths and lies.” But its true revelations weren’t about panhandlers; they were about us.
Above all else, it’s the ability to rationalize that makes the human mind unique. When we perceive the needs of others are in conflict with our own, we invent an ethical framework that allows us to deny them comfort without the scars of guilt.
You know what I mean: he’s a wino; she’s a con artist; those shoes look new. One fleeting thought and we’re unshackled from their pain. And once we’re free, they vanish into nothing.
“Baby, can you do something for me? It’s a big favor.”
I nodded, trying to look encouraging.
“You see, I’ve got this abscessed tooth on the left side –” She peeled her lip down to show me charcoal gums. Read more »
Posted on February 22, 2011
February is Black History Month, and though the Law Center is mindful of how race intersects our work all year ‘round, I’d like to take the opportunity afforded by the holiday to blog about one particular aspect of race and housing law.
The foreclosure crisis has claimed nearly five million homes in the last four years, and almost no community has escaped unscathed. From inner city Detroit to rural Idaho, homeowners to apartment-dwellers, foreclosures have affected Americans from every walk of life. But there can be no denying that the crisis has had a disproportionately negative effect on communities of color. According to the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), about 8% of all African Americans and Latino homeowners lost their homes due to foreclosure compared to only 4.5% of whites, even though white homeowners account for 2/3 of the market. These homeowners not only lost the place they lived, they most likely lost their greatest asset and sustained serious damage to their credit and financial stability, costs that only add to the wealth gap between the races.
The well-documented “spillover” effects of foreclosure—including vacancy and blight, plummeting real estate values for families able to remain in their homes, and increased crime rates—will continue to be felt more widely in African American and Latino neighborhoods, which CRL estimates will lose close to $200 billion in property values by 2012. And 40% of Americans at risk of losing their homes due to foreclosure are renters, a group where low-income people of color have always been overrepresented. Read more »
Posted on February 14, 2011
It will be a bitter-sweet Valentine’s Day for many across the country who have already lost their homes due to the foreclosure and economic crises, but should the budget proposals put forth by the House come to pass, things will get even worse.
Even as the need for assistance continues to increase with the ongoing economic crisis, as many as 750,000 Section 8 tenants could be cut off from federal assistance as early as this spring, if the proposed $101 billion cut is applied across the board to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. At the same time, the Obama Administration will release its request for FY 2012 today. The Administration is weighing a cut of $1 billion from the $4 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds local housing programs, and a 5% cut to HUD overall. The President has proposed a five year “freeze” on all domestic programs. But reducing or eliminating the Mortgage Interest Deduction, as recommended by Obama’s Deficit Reduction Commission, would save $104 billion – enough to create a homeowner tax credit for most homes, build new housing, expand vouchers and even reduce the deficit!
Congress seems determined to pass cuts to spending regardless of the consequences to people living in their towns. But imagine 750,000 parents having to explain to their children that they are losing their home. Imagine millions of hearts breaking. That’s why on Valentine’s Day, low-income tenants from over 15 cities coast-to-coast are holding coordinated actions calling on Congress to “Have a Heart, Save Our Homes” from the proposed cuts to the housing budget.
Join with these tenants by calling your Representatives and Senators to help them realize the human consequences of this arbitrary budget slashing, and ask them to “Have a Heart, Save Our Homes!” See our allies at the National Alliance of HUD Tenants for talking points and more information.
-Eric Tars, Human Rights Program Director
Posted on February 11, 2011
In a previous legal internship at Neighborhood Legal Services Association in Pittsburgh, PA, I specialized in representing low-income tenants in housing cases. From the beginning, I was eager to take on landlords, who I saw as the evil oppressors of low-income people in our society. As college students, my roommates and I had our share of injustices as renters, and I was convinced that landlords played a huge role in the current hardships facing poor Americans. I marched into courtrooms, guns blazing, only to be hit with the reality that most judges had no qualms about evicting people. No matter how sympathetic my client’s story or how egregious a landlord’s behavior, the law was usually not in the tenant’s favor.
I quickly learned that there are two sides to every story, and that some landlords were hit just as hard by the current economic crisis as their tenants. Now, I am seeing further evidence of this through my work at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. When contacting local housing advocates to identify violations they see occurring under the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act, I am continually hearing about the high number of tenants being unlawfully evicted and forced into homelessness because of the numerous rental properties undergoing foreclosure. Due to their landlords not being able to pay the mortgage, these tenants are feeling the trickledown effect of the foreclosure crisis despite never owning a home. In trying to reach the most beneficial outcome for my client, I realized that compassion for the landlord’s situation, along with a firm declaration of my client’s rights as tenants, often went a long way. Read more »
Posted on February 10, 2011
Before joining the Law Center, I provided legal assistance and representation to low-income individuals fleeing domestic violence. I helped them obtain protective orders against their abusers, win financial support for their mutual children, and fight for child custody when necessary.
Finding housing – even temporary housing – was the first concern of most of my clients. It was typically the biggest hurdle too. Most clients just didn’t have the financial resources. This reality was compounded by the fact that most domestic violence and homeless shelters are perpetually full – and there’s a dearth of shelters that are able to accommodate children too.
These experiences lingered in my mind this month when Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, carried out her two-week fact-finding mission to the United States. Read more »