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Community Corner: Darkest Before the Dawn?

Published on: January 2nd, 2020

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If the truism that it is always darkest before the dawn holds up, local and national government policy on homelessness must soon see positive change. Current policy across the country has indeed gotten darker, from Trump vilifying people experiencing homelessness for causing harm to those seeking “prestigious real estate” and placing “real-life horror” Robert Marbut in the role of national homeless czar, to Redding, CA, Mayor Julie Winter seeking to lock them up until they can “demonstrate self-sufficiency.”

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty’s update to the “Housing Not Handcuffs” report says in part, “the  criminalization  of  homelessness  is  prevalent  across  the  country  and  has  increased  in  every  measured  category  since  2006… We  also  found  a  growth  in  laws  criminalizing  homelessness…” Camping bans have increased 15 percent and the number of people experiencing homelessness increased 10 percent in the last three years. Future reports may see the number of camping bans decrease, however, as a result of the Supreme Court’s recent denial of Boise’s appeal in Martin v. City of Boise: “as long as there is no option of sleeping indoors, the government cannot criminalize indigent, homeless people for sleeping outdoors, on public property, on the false premise they had a choice in the matter.”

Rather than address the root causes of homelessness — overwhelmingly a lack of affordable housing and wages that are far behind cost of living — cities like Boulder implement ever more draconian policy that places those who are already at risk, while homeless, in greater danger of staying homeless.

In Boulder (e.g.) service providers require six months residence before one can access anything except the walk up shelter offered only when temperatures are predicted below temperature thresholds (not based on science or safety). Council members and staff defend opening the shelter only at 32 degrees or lower as better than some other cities in a race to the bottom for care of our most vulnerable. With over 70 percent of those accessing such services reporting a disability, one should hope this truly is the darkness before the dawn.   

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