URBAN PLUNGE FOR LEGISLATORS AND OTHER CONCERNED CITIZENS FRIDAY, MARCH 21st

Rally by Richard Call (800x533 web)The Nashville Homeless Organizing Coalition is inviting the Tennessee Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and all Tennessee legislators to join us for an “urban plunge” to witness first hand some of the difficulties of living on the streets. We are still working out the details, but we will also include others on a space available basis. There is, of course, no way to give a full picture of the experience of life on the streets to people who can return the next day to regular life and the support circles of job, friends, and family that sustain them, but you can learn how much we who are housed take for granted and begin to appreciate the challenges of daily living  among our friends on the streets. Some likely activities:

• Find a legal place to sleep outdoors
• Sleep on a bench in a public place for 20 minutes or more
• Enter a restaurant and ask if they could sweep the sidewalk or do some other menial work in exchange for food
• Find a place to eat breakfast
• Ask for money (“panhandle”) in a place where they would be least-likely to be recognized
• Find a place where they can go to the bathroom when necessary…

If you are interested, please email admin@nashvillehomelessorganizing.com with information on how to contact you. More details appearing here soon.

The plunge begins Friday, March 21st.

Help Bring the Benches Back!

 

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WE NEED YOUR HELP!

Benches are vanishing from the downtown area! 29 benches have been removed by the Public Works Department in a 3 block area of downtown. 13 benches are missing on Church Street from 5th to 7th Ave and 16 are missing on Capitol Blvd. from Church to Union. We are mainly concerned that these benches were removed to keep economically disadvantaged individuals from resting in these places. EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO REST and we need your help to get the benches back! Please join our letter writing campaign and make our voices heard. Print and send in the example letter or create your own! (Personal letters are the most effective, but if you are busy, the main thing is that they hear from us–all you need to do is to copy the linked letter and replace the dummy personal info with your own, and print it out and send it.) The information to call Public Works is also in the letter. Thank you for your help and support to restore every person’s right to rest. And check back for more coming soon!

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The Right to Exist

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(Image courtesy of the Western Regional Advocacy project; numbers are based on national surveys.)

Increasingly cities have sought to sweep the homeless of the streets by criminalizing activities so necessary to survival: the right to sleep, the right to rest, the right to eat, and the right to walk in public places. No public restrooms are provided by the city. There are too few shelter beds and low cost housing units. There are too few jobs to go around. But rather than doing something about the causes of misery, the city seeks to “clean up” its streets by driving people into the bushes and riverbanks, or to the steps of the few churches brave enough to help.

Rally by Richard Call (800x533 web)

 

The Nashville Homeless Organizing Coalition is working to change this. It is cruel and inhumane to so treat the most vulnerable; it is morally wrong to punish them for problems beyond their abilities to correct; it is against the beliefs of all the major religious traditions to ignore their plight; it is against the the foundations of our government; and it is even financially irresponsible, as punishment is more expensive than care.

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No right  is more at the core of the American and English tradition of protecting the individual than the right to exist,  the right to self-preservation, as spoken of by John Locke, who derives from it the other human rights that are so dear to Americans. And it is on this foundation that Jefferson writes in the Declaration “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” The Tennessee Constitution built on this when it sought to protect in its Bill of Rights, originally the first part of the Constitution,  protections on life, liberty, and property. It further states that “The Legislature shall pass no law authorizing imprisonment for debt in civil cases.” Yet people are imprisoned essentially for not being able to pay fines and court costs every day.

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People who are homeless have very little money. If you have no money, you cannot pay rent and can’t get a hotel (or only for a brief time). Everyone has a right to exist—to rest, to eat, to use the restroom, to walk and sit on public properties, and to sleep. Yet the homeless are often harassed or arrested for these very activities with the thought that this will drive them away. But this harassment makes their lives worse and makes it more difficult to get out of homelessness, driving them into debt or to prison—contrary to the Tennessee Bill of Rights. People experiencing homelessness have few choices, but they also know if they give in to pressure and go someplace else, they will face the same cycle of harassment. Once ticketed or arrested, unlike the middle class, the homeless can’t pay an attorney or fines if they are levied, so they often end up in contempt of court with another fine they also can’t pay, or with jail time. All of these events cruelly and unnecessarily wreck peoples lives with harassment and worry, and make it more difficult for the homeless to get back on their feet.

Besides the personal cost, the taxpayer often foots the bill, not only for the police who, though they may not want to, are expected to harass people instead of helping them, but for the court costs, attorney’s fees, and sometimes jail time. Multiple misdemeanor offenses for sleeping or sitting in public, especially with a contempt of court citation, can add up to a felony offense, and then it becomes very difficult to find a job, as many employers won’t hire you with a felony offense even if it arises out of only minor offenses. Just getting around the city to deal with the courts takes time and money. It costs far more to turn the homeless unjustly into criminals than it does to care for them. ”We learned that you could either sustain people in homelessness for $35,000 to $150,000 a year, or you could literally end their homelessness for $13,000 to $25,000 a year,” – Philip Mangano, former National Homeless policy Czar to President Bush and Obama. http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2012/mar/12/shaun-donovan/hud-secretary-says-homeless-person-costs-taxpayers/

We encourage all people to know their rights better. Here is a handout that may be useful,  in PDF form ( Know Your Rights ). Write to your local newspaper, councilperson, mayor, representatives, senators, governor, President and let them know that criminalization is cruel, unjust, self-defeating, and a waste of money. Help us work to keep peoples lives from being destroyed by an unjust criminal justice system.