Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Worst Law Against Homeless People in the US

Jackson Mississippi Mayor Violates Rights with "Homeless Curfew"

The City of Jackson and its Mayor, Frank Melton, have developed a strategy to sweep homeless people off the streets--a "homeless curfew." The plan went into effect on Friday July 13, and would force homeless people into a gymnasium at 10 p.m. or face arrest. To justify the City extending the "hospitality" to homeless people, they will be required to mow the lawn, clean and do other menial tasks in exchange for their stay.

This is the worst idea ever by a major American city to address homelessness. Melton is African American and his city has passed a 10 year plan to end homelessness. This effort to make it illegal to be homeless kills the concept of ending homelessness. I can only characterize this as an internment camp for homeless people.

Many people choose not to use shelter because of the large number of rules or others feel that it strips them of their dignity. There are many who do not want to accept charity or do not want to have to admit that they have a problem. Some individuals have a paranoia about living in a group setting. Others do not trust the government or have health complications that make it difficult to live in a group setting. Forcing people into a shelter is a violation of the rights of the disabled and the freedom of movement of an adult population.

Shelter is only an answer for a small number of individuals. Forcing people into shelter is not the answer for anyone. The solution is a diverse path off the streets to serve the diverse needs of those who end up homeless. A community needs direct housing, comprehensive supportive services, treatment on demand, preventative health care, income support, and mixed income housing. Forcing people into a shelter and then forcing them to work for their stay can only be characterized as slavery.

With 25% of the homeless population veterans, imagine the indignity of the man having served in Iraq coming back to the safe streets of Jackson where he graduated from high school, worked, and paid taxes then being forced into a gymnasium after becoming homeless. This veteran had honorably served to protect democracy on foreign soil then returned to America and was unable to find democracy in his home city of Jackson. Many veterans develop addictions or mental illnesses because of the trauma they witness, and then cannot find the help they need in the States. It is the ultimate betrayal to force veterans and in fact any homeless person into a gymnasium and then forcing them to work for their stay.

I agree that homeless people should not live on the streets and there is one way to solve this problem: affordable, safe, decent housing for all. Judging homeless people as a threat is wrong headed and must be challenged in court. In a Southern city that did not see African Americans actually free to vote for 100 years after the Civil War, this law is a throwback to the 1950s.

Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.

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