In honor of Dr. King: Day of Action for Homeless Bill of Rights

Anti-Criminalization Homeless Resource Fair (12-3 p.m.), March and Rally (3-4 p.m.) Friday, Jan. 17, at San Francisco Main Library, Larkin and Grove

by Lisa Marie Alatorre, Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP)

WRAP House Keys Not Handcuffs marchSan Francisco – In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the weekend commemorating his work in the Civil Rights Movement, Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) member organizations are creating model legislation for California and Oregon Homeless Bills of Rights, which say to local governments, “You have abused your power and therefore you can no longer pass or enforce laws to criminalize a person for the acts of resting, eating or sleeping.” These coordinated days of action will amplify this message across the West Coast!

West Coast Days of Action Jan. 17-19, 2014“We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself,” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King.

In light of recent legislation across the country that harkens back to the “Ugly Laws” of the 1870s, “Anti-Okie Laws” of the 1930s and the “Sunset Laws” in practice up till the 1950s, a coalition of organizations is holding rallies and events to bring awareness to the increasing criminalization of homeless and poor people in public spaces. Ordinances that prohibit the conduct of life-sustaining activities in public, such as eating, sleeping or sitting on a sidewalk, when there are no private alternatives, literally criminalize homeless people’s very existence.

“In San Francisco, poor and homeless people have been under attack while their conditions continue to deteriorate,” says Jennifer Friedenbach of the SF Coalition on Homelessness. “This past year alone homeless families were given more barriers to emergency shelter, homeless people were evicted from the parks and plazas, have been further criminalized for sleeping in their vehicles, and were rousted from Market Street five mornings a week at 5:30 a.m. Criminalization takes valuable resources away from true solutions, while punishing people for being too poor to afford a place to live.”

“We will not obey unjust laws or submit to unjust practices. We will do this peacefully, openly, cheerfully because our aim is to persuade. We adopt the means of nonviolence because our end is a community at peace with itself,” wrote Dr. Martin Luther King.

Homeless Bill of Rights poster, webWhile we hear in the news the economy is showing signs of recovery, housing and food costs are still far above income for hundreds of thousands of people, and America still has over 39 million people – with over 16 million children – living in poverty. Free meal programs, access to safe places to sleep and opportunities to regain stability are vital pieces to ensuring that recovery reaches all segments of society. Laws that limit the ability to sleep in legally parked cars, share food, sit on benches and move through public spaces are not only detrimental to this recovery but also are a threat to human rights for all.

“We are aware that homeless seniors have a shorter life expectancy than housed seniors. This is intolerable. We know how to house our seniors. One of their greatest impediments is the degradation they feel,” says Carol Johnson of St. Mary’s Center in Oakland. “The Homeless Bill of Rights is an opportunity to recognize that they have and are entitled to dignity and respect. It is a first step and a basic human right as they move out of homelessness.”

In Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s honor and in recognition of the need for a Homeless Bill of Rights, groups across California and Oregon will be holding events and rallies throughout MLK weekend. Please join us locally at the San Francisco Public Library at 3:00 for the march, or 12:00 for the fair on Jan. 17, 2014.

“Criminalization takes valuable resources away from true solutions, while punishing people for being too poor to afford a place to live.”

For more information, contact Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), 2940 16th St., Suite 200-2, San Francisco, CA 94103, (415) 621-2533, wrap@wraphome.org, http://wraphome.org or Coalition on Homelessness, 468 Turk St., San Francisco CA 94102, (415) 346-3740, jfriedenbach@cohsf.org, www.cohsf.org.