Criminalization of homelessness – local impact, global issue

As the economic crisis continues at the bottom end of the income spectrum, the past week has brought two victories worth noting, from the most humble of tent encampments to the marble halls of the U.N.’s Palais Wilson in Geneva.

Tent City in Lakewood, NJ

First, our colleagues at the New Jersey Coalition for the Homeless have won a tremendous court victory for those living in Tent City, Lakewood, New Jersey. After fighting the city and county’s efforts to evict them for several years, and pushing, through counter-motions, an alternative vision of the law that says the state was violating their human right to housing (helped, in small part, by assistance from the Law Center), the homeless residents of Tent City have come to a settlement with the city that states, among other things, that  (1) all of Tent City’s current residents may not be ejected by Lakewood unless and until those residents are first offered a plan that provides for (and actually provides) safe and adequate housing for at least a full year; (2) requires Lakewood to dismiss all of the charges that it filed in municipal court and elsewhere about supposed “code violations” in Tent City; and (3) requires the city to provide basic municipal services such as trash removal for the residents until they depart. As Jeffery Wild, lead attorney for the homeless residents said,

“No one can be forced out of where they are now unless they are offered safe and adequate housing indoors. That’s all we ever wanted. We’re not here to defend Tent Cities; no one should have to live in the woods. This is about the right of everyone to have housing.”

Personalized tent city homes in Lakewood, NJ

Second, at the international level, the U.N. Human Rights Committee has requested information from the U.S. government about the criminalization of homelessness in the U.S. Last year, the US Interagency Council on Homelessness issued a report stating that criminalization of homelessness potentially violated the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Human Rights Committee oversees. The U.S is in the middle of reporting to the Committee on our compliance with the Covenant, and the Committee put forth its List of Issues, specifying issues which it feels warrant additional discussion before the U.S. engages in an oral hearing this October. Thanks to our own report, put forth in coordination with a broad group of homeless advocates, criminalization of homelessness was for the first time included in that list, confirming our and the U.S. government’s own interpretation that criminalization raises concerns not just under domestic law, but under our international human rights obligations. The Committee will issue further conclusions and recommendations following the U.S. government hearing in October.

Jeff and his legal team have demonstrated the concrete impact that human rights advocacy has at the local level, while we continue to build global standards to further assist in ensuring all people enjoy their basic human rights. While there are more battles to be fought, we celebrate the victories of this past week, and look forward to the day when we no longer need to fight criminalization of homelessness, because everyone has a safe place to call home.

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5 Responses to Criminalization of homelessness – local impact, global issue

  1. Edwina Evans says:

    Thank God for this and many thanks to all that helped. One of the main homeless camps here that homeless had permission from thre owner to be on was evicted by the police. It was within walking distance of WalMart and evidently WalMart and possibily other nearby residents complained. The camp was not in view of public. I wish it could have been fought here.

  2. Edwina Evans says:

    Can you put option to post on Facebook and Twitter on this please

  3. Pingback: Friday news roundup 4/12/13 | Nan McKay and Associates

  4. We of the Asheville Homeless Network are gratified to see that the National Law Center is concentrating on fighting the criminalization of homelessness. We are also working to stop criminalization in Asheville which has ordinances against peaceful panhandling, trespass, sleeping in public space and loitering. Unfortunately, we thought that the local ACLU would assist us in filing a law suit against the city and county, but it appears that we must either do it ourselves without their help or hope that we can get law makers to act out of conscience. Thank you again for your efforts.
    John Spitzberg, Asheville Homeless Network, President

  5. Clare Osborn says:

    Congrats for such huge accomplishments. Our Ministry, Brown Bag Ministries of Indiana, witnessed a sickening eviction of over 60 homeless people from a Tent City set up in downtown Indianapolis. They had tried everything available to them but this Monday, they arrested the camp’s Mayor and four other individuals for refusing to leave their home. There were elderly, handicapped and pregnant persons in this camp. My heart breaks and we pray for safety for all of them. Keep up the great work.


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