The December 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

The Poor Will Perish Without Housing

We Accuse the US Government

The Works of Mercy: Thoughts on the Death of a Homeless Man

Greed Fuels Oakland Condo Conversion Law

Berkeley Food and Housing Project

Happy Holidays: Berkeley Targets the Homeless

Claire Burch Documents Life on the Streets

St. Joseph the Worker Needs Support

94 Years Old and Still Homeless

Judge Orders Fresno to Uphold U.S. Constitution

Stranded in the Season of Giving

Stories of Street Survival

A Criminal of Poverty

New Media Offensive for Iraq War

Poor Leonard's Almanack on Religion

AIDS & Poverty: A Deadly Link

Mysteries in Our Own Back Yard

December Poetry of the Streets


November 2006

October 2006

September 2006

July 2006

June 2006

May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Without Housing, the Poor Will Perish

by Janny Castillo

"Wet Night On Sutter Street." In this painting by Christine Hanlon, a homeless person sleeps outside a fancy clothing store on a rainy night while well-dressed mannequins are dry and warm inside.

"The government pegs homeless persons as dysfunctional human beings in need of rehabilitation. This report says, 'I don't care how many life-skills trainings you give me; if I don't have a place to live, I am going to be homeless."
-- Paul Boden, WRAP Executive Director

"Until this government invests billions of dollars more a year in housing for the poor, homelessness will increase and deaths will increase."
-- Terry Messman, Street Spirit editor

According to a U.S. Department of Education report, more than 600,000 identified homeless students attended public schools in the 2003-2004 school years. These children are invisible. They will not be seen on rooftops in flood waters, trapped and afraid. Their desperate faces are not plastered across our televisions, moving the country to do something, anything, to help. They are survivors of a different and more subtle catastrophe than Katrina.

On November 14, 2006, a group of homeless advocates met in front of the Federal Building in San Francisco to announce the release of a report written by the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) entitled, "Without Housing: Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness and Policy Failures." Juan Prada, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, organized the event. The 80-page report documents 25 years of federal housing cuts that have resulted in "a new and massive episode of homelessness."

"Those on the front line of homelessness -- homeless people and the providers who serve them -- are drowning in a sea of blame," said WRAP Executive Director Paul Boden. "We have joined together to speak the truth. Until federal affordable housing programs are restored and expanded, homelessness will continue to grow."

Since 1978, funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has dropped a staggering 65 percent, plummeting from $83 billion in 1978 to $29 billion in 2006.
How do the steep cuts in the federal housing budget compare to the military budget? According to a report by Peter Kaplan, the U.S. Navy wants to purchase 8 to 12 new DDX Destroyers (Navy warships) at a cost of $4.7 billion each (see Acquiring 8 destroyers would cost $37.6 billion, while 12 would cost $56.4 billion. Compare the totals: $29 billion for housing versus $56 billion for navy warships, only a fraction of the overall military budget.

Terry Messman, Street Spirit editor, spoke at the Federal Building during the release of "Without Housing." In his voice, you could hear the emotion and righteous anger from the knowledge that countless atrocities have befallen homeless people, that extreme suffering exists, and that senseless deaths have occurred in the homeless community. "'Without Housing' is a massive indictment of the federal government allowing so many homeless people to suffer and grow old and sick on the streets." Messman said.

"I accuse the federal government of re-writing Emma Lazarus' words on the base of the Statue of Liberty: Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses and this government will sentence them to die on the streets way before their time. Until this government invests billions of dollars more a year in housing for the poor, homelessness will increase and deaths will increase."

"It is illegal to be homeless in America," said Lisa Gray-Garcia from Poor News Network. "Poverty is an act of violence. Like thousands of unheard, unseen, very low-income individuals living in poverty, I have been incarcerated for those crimes." She said it is cheaper for the government to build jails than it is to build housing.

Laurie McEroy, also from Poor News Network, said, "Homeless people weren't born homeless. We weren't born unhoused. We are not the lost tribe. We were unhoused, destabilized, due to several factors, one of which is that poor people's housing has suffered severe cuts."

According to the WRAP report, a large number of new emergency shelters opened in cities nationwide in 1983, correlating with a drastically low HUD budget that had been cut to only $18 billion during the Reagan era. Emergency shelters and service providers became the band-aid to a gaping wound caused by lack of affordable housing.

Despite the hard work of the service providers, shelters became short-time solutions, with few opportunities for moving on to affordable, permanent housing due to high rents and lack of federal housing programs. Combine that with lack of affordable health care, and the country soon gave birth to chronic homelessness.

HUD's definition of chronic homelessness is a homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years. We know this "category" better as our homeless veterans, our seniors, our mentally ill.

Sara Short from the Housing Rights Committee described the current situation: "In 2006, HUD cut the housing budget to 86 percent of actual need, based on its own study. Since then, Philadelphia has threatened to lay off 300-500 workers. In Nevada, the housing authority is disposing of some of their public housing units. In Indianapolis, public housing tenants are being asked to pay part of their utility bill.... When staff, repairs and maintenance get cut, crime goes up."

Short said that San Francisco, with a waiting list of 30,000 persons for public housing, is the 10th hardest-hit city in the nation. The cuts have already hurt the city's poorest seniors. Last week, the S.F. Housing Authority laid off 35 employees, starting with security monitors at senior and disabled buildings in the Tenderloin.

"The cuts indicate that the federal government does not consider affordable housing their problem," Short said. "Local government must start thinking about alternate solutions to the homeless situation. Even with the measures the city has taken, the homelessness crisis still exists."

Wanda Remmers from Housing Rights, Inc. said that international law considers housing to be a human right; but in our country, it is not considered a legal right. "As long as it is not a legal right, the government has no obligation," she said. "They can ignore their responsibility to make sure that everyone has a home. Without a home, people are denied the right to send their kids to good schools and to have access to health care."

Remmers said that bad policies, as the WRAP report details, as well as severe cuts in funding, are to blame. "Policies that remove affordable housing that is in disrepair, displace the people who live there, and in its place builds housing for higher income people, is a form of government-forced evictions," she said.

John Malone from Senior Action Network called our attention to the fact that, in ten years, the U.S. population will be 49 percent seniors. "We need housing and health care for seniors now!" he said.

The main message of "Without Housing" is that federal responses to homelessness will continue to fail unless they include a serious federal commitment to funding the production, subsidization, and preservation of affordable housing.

What can you do?

Read and share this report. Download it for free at or write to WRAP, 2940 16th Street, Suite 200-2, San Francisco CA 94103.

Write letters to the editor of your paper and elected officials. Demand that they work to make housing a human right.

Support local homeless service programs that are speaking out about the systemic causes of homelessness.

1515 Webster St,#303
Oakland, CA 94612Phone: (510) 238-8080, ext. 303

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