Policing the Homeless: Broken Windows ‘On Steroids”

by Lynn Lewis

March 29, 2016, The Crime Report

Cities, towns and rural areas all over the United States are experiencing a housing crisis not seen since the Great Depression. Homelessness is the tip of the iceberg of that crisis; but rather than address its causes, local authorities are treating it as a law enforcement problem.

That has not only led to real tragedies, but violates the Constitution.

In recent years, we’ve seen police officers used to force homeless folks out of public spaces, buttressed by laws that effectively criminalize life-sustaining behavior such as lying down in a park, or by regulations that restrict the ability of homeless people to share the same rights of access to public space as those with homes.

New York City has set an especially poor example.

The New York Police Department (NYPD) recently created a new category to define instances where two or more individuals, assumed to be homeless, congregate in public. In an internal memo, obtained by the Picture the Homeless organization, where I am director, it termed these as “hot spots” where police are empowered to intervene. And such “hot spots” could include parks or other public spaces.

The memo, dated Jan. 19, 2016, was “issued to all commands” with the subject line: Re: Homeless Encampment Procedure.” [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent="yes" overflow="visible"][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type="1_1" background_position="left top" background_color="" border_size="" border_color="" border_style="solid" spacing="yes" background_image="" background_repeat="no-repeat" padding="" margin_top="0px" margin_bottom="0px" class="" id="" animation_type="" animation_speed="0.3" animation_direction="left" hide_on_mobile="no" center_content="no" min_height="none"][A copy of this memo is available on request from Picture the Homeless.]

Substitute race, age, gender or any other category in this definition, and it would be considered blatant discrimination.

Most city residents know that rents are becoming increasingly exorbitant, stretching the budgets of low-income, working and middle class individuals. For those earning a minimum wage and who rely on fixed incomes of social security or disability benefits, it is becoming more difficult each day to afford rent.

Too many are one missed check, medical condition or emergency away from losing their home.

In New York City, San Francisco, Denver, Dallas, Los Angeles, and many smaller cities, the impact of failed housing policies that do not provide affordable living options for residents go back decades. But instead of correcting these policies, local authorities have empowered police departments to pursue strategies of homeless removals, sometimes in conjunction with Business Improvement Districts and other civic groups.

Mandates that force the homeless go somewhere else, with police ordering them to move at any hour of the day or night, have become all too common. The impact of such police actions can be catastrophic. Clearing the homeless in sudden police sweeps often means that they lose their personal effects, ranging from medications and IDs, to clothing and family photos.

The real goal is humiliation and harassment: It sends a message to disappear out of public sight into the shadows.

This is “broken-windows” policing on steroids.  It’s not just mean or bad policing; it is also unconstitutional.

Being homeless is not a crime. But the strategies that criminalize the homeless are authorized by local laws and policies that violate anti-discrimination laws and rights to due process—and which people with little-to-no legal resources are ill-equipped to challenge in court.

For example,  NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, who is considered one of the country’s foremost proponents of the broken-windows policing strategy, recently announced that homeless New Yorkers found sleeping will be removed from  subway trains and platforms—regardless of whether they paid their fare.

Editors’ Note: In other reports, Bratton insisted the NYPD would wake individuals up in order to protect them, claiming that 50 percent of reported crimes on the subway “involve sleeping passengers.”   

This announcement flagrantly undermines New York City’s own laws.

In 2013, it became the first jurisdiction to prohibit police from profiling individuals based on housing status. Local Law 71, passed as part of the Community Safety Act, bars police from using factors such as actual or perceived housing status as the determinative factor in initiating law enforcement action.

That law, while evidently not stopping police abuse, was a start in the right direction.  But there’s a lot more to be done.  Under Local Law 71 for example, a homeless person who experienced police eviction must prove he or she has been the victim of profiling—which requires the kind of legal assistance unavailable to most homeless.

During the administration of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has made affordable housing a key part of his platform, we’ve also seen the NYPD collaborating with other city employees to confiscate and throw away the belongings of homeless people—a clear violation of due process and property rights.

An incident in East Harlem in October was captured on a surveillance camera. In that incident, no one was arrested, but homeless people were physically abused and had their property thrown away as part of a broader police initiative meant to harass, intimidate and force people to “leave the area.”

Elsewhere in the country, the increase in the use of “move on” orders by local police in order to disperse  and dismantle  what have loosely been called “encampments” has drawn some opposition from the Department of Justice in a legal filing, and policy recommendations opposing such approaches to “encampments” have been issued  by the White House Interagency Council on Homelessness.

Yet Bratton bulldozes on. He recently indicated in a speech at the Manhattan Institute that “courts have barred officers from shooing people sitting on the sidewalk or lying on a subway grate — though the rules are so complex that if someone is lying in a box instead of a piece of cardboard, forcing them to move along is OK.”

Bratton has a long history of targeting and stigmatizing the homeless.  In his first term as police commissioner under Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Bratton declared soon after his appointment in 1994 that ”we are going to flush them [homeless people] off the street in the same successful manner in which we flushed them out of the subway system.”

But the struggle to oppose such stigmatizing is also gaining traction. Homeless folks are not only asserting their rights, but promoting real solutions to homelessness in many of their communities.

Picture the Homeless in New York, the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) in several western states, the San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness, and Denver Homeless Out Loud are just a few examples.  In both Denver and San Francisco, sweeps of homeless folks and their belongings have been met with resistance.

Grassroots organizing, led by the homeless, is the only way to end these abusive practices and educate the broader public that homelessness is directly connected to bad housing and community development policies and practices.

Discriminatory broken-windows policing exacerbates homelessness. It destroys lives. And it undermines our values as a society.

We are better than this. We need to advance real housing solutions, not the status-quo, politically expedient approach that designates law enforcement as the first responder to homelessness.

Lynn Lewis is the director of Picture the Homeless In New York City.

 

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May 21, 2020

NFG Announces New President: Adriana Rocha

For Immediate Release
May 21, 2020

OAKLAND, CA —  Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG), a national affinity group that organizes philanthropy to support grassroots power building so that communities of color and low-income communities thrive, is excited to name Adriana Rocha as its next leader. 

After a nationwide search, Rocha will become the 6th President in NFG’s 40-year history. She is a seasoned, action-oriented leader committed to social justice who brings a wealth of nonprofit and philanthropy experience to the role. Rocha has served as NFG’s Vice President of Programs since May 2017. In this role, she supported NFG in deepening its programming — including the development and launch of the Philanthropy Forward leadership program for CEOs and the Integrated Rural Strategies Group — and led the organization’s 2018 and 2020 National Convenings.

“I am thrilled and honored to be NFG’s next President. Having been directly influenced by NFG programs as a prior member, to being an NFG staff member & leader, to now moving into NFG’s President role, I have the breadth of both perspectives and experience to lead what is needed in this moment for NFG to thrive.” said Rocha.  

Rocha and Sarita Ahuja served as Interim Co-Directors for the past ten months after NFG’s former President, Dennis Quirin, stepped down to become Executive Director at the Raikes Foundation in July 2019. 

During its early years, NFG was one of the few spaces in philanthropy specifically focused on people of color-led, grassroots organizing, and power building as the key to effective social change strategies. Today, NFG continues to be many funders' political home at a time when moving resources to struggles for justice is critically important. 

“We deeply trust Adriana is the bold, skilled, and creative President we all need at NFG to usher in an exciting new era and build on our 40 strong years of success and expertise. She is able to both foster the necessary partnerships and push philanthropy to create a stronger, collective vision of justice. She embodies the values & goals of members, board, and staff, and her joy is magnetic!” said Alison Corwin, Chair of the NFG board.

Rocha asserted that, “With NFG’s current momentum, growth, and clarity, I believe that NFG is poised to continue to be the home for philanthropy and leader on place-based grantmaking and community power building. I am so excited for what’s to come for NFG in community with our talented and dedicated staff, board, members, supporters, and movement leaders.”

Grantmakers can join NFG in congratulating Rocha and get a sense of the organization’s next phase by participating in NFG’s 2020 virtual convening series, which will kick off with plenary sessions on June 30 and July 1 and continue through the rest of the year. 

To request an interview with Adriana Rocha or a member of NFG’s Board of Directors, please contact Courtney Banayad, Director of Development and Communications, at courtney@nfg.org or (510) 444-6063, ext. 14.

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About Neighborhood Funders Group 

Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) organizes philanthropy to support grassroots power building so that communities of color and low-income communities thrive. As a leading affinity group, NFG brings together funders to learn, connect, collaborate, and mobilize resources with an intersectional and place-based focus and to explore shifting power and philanthropic resources toward supporting racial, economic, gender, and climate justice movements across the United States. With 120 institutional members and over 1500 individual grantmakers and members in its network, NFG continues to be many funders' political home at a time when moving resources to struggles for justice is critically important. NFG is a space to draw support, deepen relationships, and find co-conspirators as we propel philanthropy to shift power and money towards justice and equity.
 

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May 21, 2020

Strike Watch: From Food to Fashion, Workers are Countering Corporate Talking Points with Organizing for Economic Security and Protection

Updates from the Front Lines & How Funders can Support Growing Movements

As mostly-conservative state governors and the federal government enforce rapid re-opening and block closures in some sectors like meatpacking, workers continue to put their livelihood on the line to protect themselves through strikes and other actions. Employees are coalescing under the banners of established labor (including in the first union election since the pandemic), worker advocacy and organizing non-profits and a new crop of grassroots unions. These endeavors are exposing the hollowness of multinational companies like Walmart’s public relations campaigns thanking workers or making conspicuous donations, while ignoring their own worker demands for basics like paid sick leave. Even marketers are taking notice and asking if, in one industry analysts’ commentary, “employees and these coalitions, specifically, will become just as influential as shareholders on some levels.”

In some manufacturing sectors, the benefits of strong organizing and early strikes are showing. In GM plants, strikes and United Auto Worker pressure have meant a total reorganization of production towards manufacturing protective equipment, and the company has responded to worker and union demands for sanitized, safe, streamlined conditions. But such measures are going to be tested as thousands go back to auto work in the next week (even while the global supply chain stutters due to closures in Mexico and other areas).  

The fight is only growing in a range of other production sectors, including apparel factories from Selma, Alabama to Bangladesh. The clothing manufacturer Everlane saw it’s progressive brand image focused on an ethical supply chain vaporize when it fired 300-plus workers in the midst of the crisis, targeting most who were trying to unionize via the Communication Workers of America.

In the service sector, the SEIU-led Fight for $15 has continued actions that include one-day strikes, protests and lawsuits targeting McDonalds and other fast-food companies – the latest held in 20 cities on Wednesday, May 20th. In dozens of states, workers are falling sick in these restaurants, but neither workers nor communities are being informed. Workers are calling for “$15 x 2” hazard wages, protective gear, and paid 2-week work-site closures when there is illness. Companies are falling back on the same excuses of franchising, while instituting almost-comedic “incentives” like a free meal or, even worse, themed days like “crazy sock days”.

Receiving most media attention has been logistics and grocery workerslike Amazon, Instacart and Whole Foods workers who have staged many recent strikes, including a walkout May 1st. Part of this is in response to the limited nature of reforms instituted – including the planned expiration of hazard pay in early May – that have become even more glaring with Jeff Bezos’ soon-to-be-trillionaire status.

Multiple warehouse work sites in at least four states continue to organize under a new umbrella, Amazonians United. These are linked to both a global Amazon Workers International and the tech-worker led Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. The Amazonians United organization has released an article detailing its approach: they note their work in fact predates COVID-19, when workers organized in Summer 2019 in Chicago for water during the hot summer, and that their strategies include bottom-up worker committees that are the hallmark of a solidarity unionism model.

Meanwhile, when major grocery chains like Kroger (which owns Ralphs, Fred Meyer and QFC) also attempted to roll back their $2-hazard pay on May 17, unionized workers under the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 in Los Angeles struck across grocery sites in Southern California – including in stores where several workers lost their lives. They were able to get additional $400 bonuses nationally, now labeled “thank you” pay,” with continued organizing planned by the union. UFCW scored another striking win when cereal packing workers for the private-equity created Hearthside Food Solutions in Memphis voted to unionize this week in the first union election since the pandemic, frustrated with issues including the reliance on temp employees and a lack of pay increases (except for management) post-COVID-19.

Newer to the supply-chain strike lines are truck drivers – who have blocked roads and held caravan protests. Among the first industries deregulated in the 1970s, they have challenges including fragmentation and independent status, yet coordinated grassroots protests in at least 8 states are showing signs of new worker-led integration. Such efforts open up the question of how independent workers can be better represented in now-growing labor movements. Some aren’t waiting for the answer: the budding home-based childcare union in California that gained recognition last November has shifted its organizing on a contract to helping the small business owners it represents survive, as its’  caregivers advocate in support of shifting their state-subsidized services to support other essential workers.

Agriculture and meatpacking continue to expose the areas of production that are often invisible from an urban lens. In the rural Yakima Valley of Washington (an area that has seen significant Latinx demographic shifts in the state), new independent farmworker unions like Familias Unidas por la Justicia  - led by mostly by women – have shut down at least six apple picking sites. With the rural area now hardest-hit with COVID-19 in the state, workers are asking for testing, paid sick leave, and protective equipment, and have already secured additional pay after a walkout at one company.

Meatpacking workers are organizing in response to massive outbreaks in US and Canadian factories, facing down sustained lobbying and advertising campaigns by billion-dollar global food conglomerates JBS (and subsidiaries like Pilgrim’s Pride), Smithfield, Cargill and Tyson. Following massive walk-outs, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7 in Greeley, Colorado and other sites are pushing the state government to enforce measures, with some success in securing massive cleanings. Organizations like the Rural Community Workers Alliance (RCWA) are turning to legal avenues to sue Smithfield for its continued unsafe conditions, like scheduling breaks at once that cramp workers into one location.  The sporadic closure of other plants has led to speed ups at others, like the Milan, Missouri plant under the RCWA suit, with employees receiving short breaks totaling 60 minutes for 11-hour shifts. Unfortunately, the case was recently thrown out by a federal judge of the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri.

Packing plant workers are pushing for a re-organization of work, including staggered starts, shifts and breaks, as well as physical investment in partitions and expanded meal and break space. Like many sectors, employees are also calling for full pay for vulnerable and sick workers. Farm work and meatpacking have historically seen vehement anti-union efforts by companies, while relying upon a multi-racial (Latinx, indigenous, Black, and Asian) mostly-migrant workforce. Successive migration laws criminalizing workers and new waves of raids terrorizing work sites have added to a climate of fear and exacerbated existing labor shortages. These realities converge to create a disastrous situation for immigrant and/or Black workers who, via growing women-led multi-racial organizing, are refusing to let their market and policy-created vulnerability be confused for expendability.

Over 200 strikes have occurred since March 2020. Although the increase in strikes is significant and specific to the coronavirus crisis, it’s important to note that it follows a surge trend in strikes since 2018, as reported on by the Economic Policy Institute, showing that even before the public health crisis workers have been escalating their tactics to win improved rights, standards and job quality.

The Coordinating Committee of NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy is calling on its members to proactively respond to the growing demands of workers. We’ve developed a set of responses that you can take to support workers in this moment, including:

  • Support organizing and power building efforts and infrastructure, specifically among Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities and worker-led organizations, as they are hardest hit by the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Support, strategize and collaborate with labor unions and worker centers. To learn more about how, save the date for the FJE co-hosted labor and funder strategy call on June 10th at 10am PT.
  • Move resources to organizations educating and advocating for specific federal policies that will permanently impact and protect workers, like: unemployment insurance for all, permanent paid family and sick leave (not just as an emergency measure), pay guarantees for all, PPE for all workers, and negotiated protections and worker voice through stimulus funds that go to particular industries. FJE will be coordinating with you and other philanthropic affinity groups to share specific strategies to support workers in particular industries.
  • Support workers on strike through direct relief and general operating grants to community and worker-led organizations and/or union collaborations. Check out NFG’s COVID-19 relief resources page for the latest information about how funders can support groups and the JustFund Portal to learn about the resource needs of community groups.

For more information and/or to join NFG’s Funders for a Just Economy network, please email Robert Chlala, Program Manager of Funders for a Just Economy: robert@nfg.org, and follow us on Twitter: @FundJustEconomy

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