Sunday, February 26, 2012

Santa Ana says church can't shelter homeless...

Pastor Randy Besta thought he was on to a good idea when he approached the city of Santa Ana to try to help the homeless in his French Park neighborhood.
After all, his proposal was straight-forward: Open his church doors on a nightly basis to help the homeless. For now, homeless people are in the neighborhood, sleeping in bushes, parking lots and alleys. Besta figured to improve the situation -- for the homeless and the neighborhood -- by offering those without shelter a warm blanket, a cot, and a few breakfast snacks before they head on their way.
The idea was backed by Besta's congregants at Christ Chapel Metropolitan Community Church which, since 1979, has been housed inside a two-story home on a palm-lined street about four blocks from the Santa Ana Civic Center.
The move might seem unorthodox, especially in a residential neighborhood. But the church considers social justice a key part of its mission, and it's also part of a Christian denomination that is inclusive of all people, especially the gay community.
The idea sprang from the work Besta's congregants were already doing with the homeless. Since May the church members had donated money, gathered up friends and hosted monthly barbecues for the homeless.
These hamburger lunches have grown, jumping from serving 30 or so people to as many as 250. The feedings, which are always held on a Sunday, also have become a time for sharing ideas, as congregants and the homeless sit down and discuss how their lives aren't necessarily so different.
So last summer, when Besta approached the city's planning department with his proposal, he was surprised at what he describes as a negative response. The issue, he was told, is zoning; the neighborhood in which his church holds its services doesn't allow homeless shelters. The shelter, he says he was told, would not "fit in with the community values."

"It's absolutely heartbreaking," Besta says. "We know this is needed. I know that in Orange County itself there are very, very few emergency shelter beds. The need is here. We're willing to do it. Why can't we?"
In an email and phone interview, Jay Trevino, executive director of Santa Ana's Planning & Building Agency, explained that the city's municipal code doesn't permit homeless shelters in Christ Chapel's neighborhood, which is zoned for single family residences. He added that the city isn't unaware of the problem, and is working to do what it can.
"We're working to create new zoning areas where such shelters would be allowed. We want to address homelessness, but also avoid the problem of a good idea in a bad location," wrote Trevino in an email response.
The city plans to launch a study next month to analyze industrial and commercial areas where "overlay zones" for homeless shelters might work. That makes a lot sense.
The problem? The process will be lengthy -- involving everything from research and analysis, to public hearings and community outreach -- and likely won't be completed until 2013, according to Trevino.
Where does that leave the homeless? On the streets, instead of inside Christ Chapel, which estimates it can fit 25 cots.
The experience left Besta's congregation with a bad taste in their mouths and they decided subsequently to leave Santa Ana for good. They plan to sell their two-lot property.
"If the city of Santa Ana does not want us to do what we feel is needed in the community and what we are called to do, then we are going to leave the city of Santa Ana and go where we would be welcomed," Besta says.
Christ Chapel's challenge is not that unusual.
"Many cities have basically tried to zone out people from serving the homeless," says Matthew Fletcher, a business trial lawyer, who has worked on homeless zoning issues in the past.
Fletcher's Irvine firm, Connor, Fletcher & Williams, helped represent homeless advocates and Catholic Worker volunteers Dwight and Leia Smith in 2004 when the city of Santa Ana tried to stop the couple from feeding and sheltering the homeless in their two-story home in Santa Ana.
The city eventually reached a settlement with the couple and was forced to repeal a zoning ordinance that prohibited people from operating a "mission" and serving the homeless for religious purposes in residential areas. Fletcher said the ordinance was ruled both unconstitutional for violating first amendment religious freedoms, and in violation of a federal act which prevents municipal ordinances from prohibiting churches from using their property to exercise their religion."Certainly serving the homeless would fall in the realm of reasonable religious purposes," says Fletcher, who is not familiar with the specifics of Christ Chapel's situation.

The city of Santa Ana, however, said that Smith's case is different because the home is located in a multi-family residential zone and because the Smiths live in the home where they serve the homeless.
It's impossible to know how all of this will play out. Trevino writes that Santa Ana will do its part to address homelessness. He also commended Besta for "putting his faith and concern for others into action."
But without any action, our homeless are in the same spot, on the streets, while Besta's church remains empty at night.
As Fletcher pointed out, at some point there has to be some "give and take" between cities and those who want to provide shelter for the homeless.
"If there's nowhere for the homeless to sleep they have to be able to turn somewhere."
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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Veteran Unemployment And Homelessness

Allegra Tepper | 
February 25, 2012 | 12:17 a.m. PST
Senior Staff Reporter
Veterans’ unemployment and homelessness were at the top of the agenda at a town hall meeting Friday afternoon hosted at Santa Monica College by Assemblywoman Betsy Butler.
“My father was an Air Force lieutenant colonel and as a little girl, I always remember him saying, ‘Thanks be to God and the G.I. Bill,’” Butler said to a packed room of about 70. The 50th district assemblywoman was recently named the Vietnam Veterans of America’s 2011 Legislator of the Year. 
“This is an issue that’s a very high priority of mine, and I hope that this will be the first of a number of these town halls," she said.
The town hall included representatives from 13 state, federal, and veteran advocacy organizations including the Salvation Army, Veterans First and the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. 
“I can’t do anything about many of these issues at the federal level, so today was about getting people who can do something about it into the room to hear these issues,” Butler said. “This pulls at my heartstrings quite a bit and is something I prioritize.”
Butler was elected to the California State Assembly in 2010. Since then, she has proposed a bill that would establish designated veterans’ courts that would handle sentencing and treatment programs exclusively for veterans. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill due to budget constraints. Butler plans to introduce the bill once more, along with two other veterans bills.
The vast majority of the organizations at Friday’s town hall drew focus to their efforts to assist veterans with housing and federal paperwork for service-connected disability compensation and pension. 
Sol Liebster, an employee of the West Los Angeles VA, said that for the most part, they were ignoring the elephant in the room. 
“I heard from so many people up front, but besides a couple of references here and there, no one talked about jobs,” he said. “If a guy has a job, then he has the means to build himself up and get off the streets. And once they have that self-esteem, which is what they really want, they’ll find other successes. It goes hand-in-hand with homelessness; there’s no question it’s the biggest problem and it ought to be addressed vehemently.”
According to the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CDVA), employment ranks among four of the highest priorities for veterans; the others are education, housing and healthcare. 
Despite Liebster advocating for a greater focus on employment, the need to address veteran housing was equally palpable, particularly when Marco Fierro took the floor.
Fierro served as a combat soldier in the Gulf War. A homeless cancer patient, he is struggling to take care of his wife and three children, ages 7, 10 and 12. 
“I put in applications for housing and I’ll take anything,” Fierro said. “But all I get are denials. From the VA, nothing. From the Salvation Army, nothing. And when I do get privileges, it’s just to put my name in the system before civilians. That’s not a job.”
“Trying to keep my children’s heads up while they’re watching their dad fight cancer and homelessness,” he said, “It’s just really heartbreaking.”
With an expected 30,000 veterans returning to California from Afghanistan and Iraq each month this year, CDVA Secretary Major General Peter Gravett said that these issues are only growing direr.
“Sixty-seven percent of homeless vets are Vietnam era veterans,” he said. “We need to address several generations at once. We have over 2.2 million veterans in California, and that number is just going to get bigger.”
“Younger veterans have a lot more physical medical issues than our Vietnam vets did,” he continued. “With military advances, those men are on operating tables in warzones in as little as 20 minutes. Instead of dying, they’re coming home with missing limbs. We need to honor those men by providing these services to them.”
William Duke Gatlin served in the Marine Core in the 1980s.  He has since suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but has been denied compensation from the Department of Federal Affairs. He said that he was upset to hear so much focus on the veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq as opposed to the general veteran population.
“We aren’t happy to come to an event like this and find out that those people are going to take precedence over us while we have gone without for so long,” he said. “I say take care of us all. No preferential treatment.”
Thomas Sells, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, spoke at the start of the meeting about his struggles with PTSD, cancer and reintegration after the war. He was thrilled by the turnout of veterans’ organizations and said he’d never seen so many in one place. As for the crowd, he was nothing short of disappointed.
“There are more vets drinking coffee in the lobby of the VA than we had here today,” he said. “Those people need to be here, they need to hear this.”
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Thursday, February 23, 2012

To Thine Own Self Be True!

Be true to yourself and be your authentic self - This is the topic of this blog.. I am thinking a lot about this right now as I continue my journey into changing things in my life. I sold out for so many people for so many years. So many people sell out all of there lives.. I heard listening to a tape of Tony Robbins one time that you should picture yourself as a 90 year old man on a rocking chair and picture yourself looking back on your life and see what was important and what was not. To me the legacy I can leave behind and the amount of people I an able to help is my new direction in life. I did have the dream of being "successful" ya, the American Dream successful owning a home, etc... but I was searching for something that was not who I wanted to be. I always wanted to please her or that person.. I want to be a Ceramic Artist and Tattoo on pottery. I also want to build websites. You may want to start a dog walking business or be something else. I am also a Property Manager and proud of my accomplishments in this field, just am looking for something different than what I had before. I heard 2 pearls today in a meeting I will share with you. 1. "Take the action and let the emotions catch up".. 2. "The way I am FEELING right now does not indicate who I am". These two statements ring true to me as well. I need to keep pressing on now matter what. I know I have a purpose and that purpose is becoming more and more clear as long as I keep being willing to be my authentic self and don't compromise that No matter what. 

”This above all: to thine ownself be true,
 And it must follow, as the night the day,
 Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

I am going to mail my proposal to Ed Hardy today, say some prayers please. I want to work with him and possible have hi sponsor me. I will continue to take the action to live true to myself and I will not give up! I will continue to keep reaching and stretching myself as if I were 90 in a rocking chair and looking back on my life. I will continue to meet new people and put myself on there and trust. I will continue to live life to the fullest and enjoy every day. 
Matt :) 

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Obama Budget Splits Homeless Advocates

Saki Knafo

Every night, homeless shelters across the country turn away thousands of people seeking beds -- and not just because they're full, though they often are.
The shelters are practicing something known as "diversion," a controversial strategy hailed by supporters as an effective means of helping homeless families in a time of rampant homelessness, and scorned by critics as a fancy term masking a deep and complicated problem. With homeless shelters often at capacity, and with Congress beginning to consider President Barack Obama's budget recommendations for Fiscal Year 2013, advocates for the homeless are split over whether the new budget should include funding for this approach.
How does diversion work? Say a mother shows up at a shelter with two kids, saying she lost her apartment and needs a place to stay. Workers trained in the diversion model would ask the mom if she's exhausted all other options: Any relatives she and the kids could stay with? Any friends? Could they stay at their house for a few more days? If she's behind on her rent, could she borrow some money or find some other way to rustle up cash?
If the shelter is truly her only option, the worker might try to immediately get the family into a short-term apartment. Anything to avoid taking them into the shelter.
That's the underlying philosophy of diversion. The shelter should be the last possible resort.
When it works, diversion saves shelters beds and money, and with the homeless population straining the capacity of the shelter system, both those things are badly needed. But it isn't free: programs need funding to train staff, and to move people into apartments when the situation calls for it. And so, as Congress begins to tussle over the president's proposed budget, some advocates for the homeless are pitching diversion to lawmakers, while others warn it's bound to make the homeless crisis worse.
Diversion is part of a larger strategy often referred to as "rapid re-housing," at the center of a debate that has divided advocates for years. For about a decade, many advocates have argued that the best way to reduce homelessness is to get people housed as quickly as possible, even if they aren't ready to support themselves outside of a shelter. Put them in an apartment first, they say, and deal with their other needs later.
One of the main advocates of this approach -- and for diversion -- is the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Steve Berg, an executive for the organization, described diversion as an extension of the rapid-housing philosophy. "It's immediate re-housing," he said. "Instead of going to the homeless shelter, you're diverted from the homeless shelter right back into real housing."
The funding for such programs is managed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The president's budget proposal, unveiled Monday, calls for a $1.6 billion increase for the department, to a total of $44.8 billion. Berg said the alliance is pleased with that recommendation, and is pressuring Congress to approve it. He sounded optimistic.
"These are really effective programs," he said of diversion and rapid re-housing. "And they really work and are cost-effective and have a long history of bipartisan support."
A number of cities have adopted diversion as part of a strategy for reducing family homelessness, including New York, Minneapolis, and Cleveland. Some have seen their homeless populations decline, which supporters cite as evidence of the effectiveness of the approach.
One of the most widely cited success stories is that of Columbus, Ohio. Barbara Poppe, now the executive director of the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, a federal program that coordinates the work of several government agencies, ran a non-profit group that managed the city's homeless shelters starting in the '90s. "When families called the shelter, the only thing the shelter could give them was shelter," Poppe said. "We trained the shelter to talk with the family about their particular situation, identify what resources they had in the family and in their community, and help them avoid entering the shelter system." Those practices became known "diversion activities," and according to Poppe, they led to a steep drop in family homelessness.
Critics dispute such claims. The only reason homelessness appears to have declined in such places, they say, is because the system turns away people who should really be considered homeless. "The truth of the matter is we only have enough affordable housing stock to house one out of every 10 homeless people," said Neil Donovan, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless. "The question is, what do you do with the other 90 percent? When the music stops, what do you do with the other chairs? Nine out of 10 people are either out in the cold, or in a motel, or they throw their hands in the air and say, 'To hell with all of you,' and move back with a batterer, move back to someone who assaulted them or move back into an unhealthy living environment.
"Diversion means you're no longer part of the large number that the government needs to be held responsible for," Donovan continued. "You fall off the radar screen."
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Monday, February 13, 2012

In Sacramento, Budget Cuts Leave Homeless Without Bathrooms, Water Overnight

Faced with a $200 million deficit accumulated over the past five years, Sacramento, Calif., like many other struggling municipalities, is severely cutting back.
In the span of less than a year, California's capital has cut public workers, closed public facilities, and now is contemplating a plan to liquidate public assets to hold on to its NBA team.
But the city's mayor is coming under fire for one money-saving cutback that a United Nations human rights observer says is a likely violation of international human rights treaties. Earlier this month, the U.N. took the rare step of issuing a public letter to Sacramento's mayor declaring conditions for the city's homeless unacceptable.
The problem: In an effort to save money last year, city officials declined to fix about 50 broken water fountains and installed automatic locks on some park restroom doors. The locks activate at 10 p.m., leaving many of the nearly 1,000 homeless people who can't find space in the city's shelters with no reliable overnight access to water or restrooms.
City staff also installed automated locks on restrooms near a homeless encampment where about 100 people sleep each night because of concerns about people using the park after hours to party, said Amy Williams, a city spokeswoman. Hoping to prevent a permanent tent city, Sacramento officials will not let nonprofit agencies bring drinking water, portable restrooms or trash pick-up services to the homeless encampment.
Catarina de Albuquerque, a U.N. special rapporteur on safe drinking water and sanitation, visited Sacramento late last year and issued a scathing report detailing the difficulties homeless individuals have meeting their basic biological needs in one of the most developed countries in the world. She could not be reached for comment.
While some cities, such as Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash., have identified sanctioned, rotating spaces for tent cities and allowed organizations to provide sanitation services, many others have launched regular raids at homeless encampments. Advocates for the homeless say that in cities around the country, being poor and without a home has effectively become a crime.

In Sacramento, advocates for the homeless and city officials alike insist that progress has been made. The city's most recent homeless count revealed that the number of people who have no place to live dropped nearly 16 percent since 2009 to 2,358 people.
Sacramento Steps Forward, a public-private partnership, helped about 700 homeless families move into permanent housing, assisted nearly 500 more connect with emergency shelter, and built 75 long-term housing units for homeless individuals in 2011. The agency worked with about $4 million in federal funds and $2 million in city dollars.
"Sacramento has done a great job at working toward ending homelessness,” said Ben Burton, executive director of Sacramento Steps Forward.
But Sacramento has also trimmed its direct spending on the homeless. In 2010, the city spent about $4.37 million on homeless services. This year, that figure is about $2.56 million. In the last 30 days, two homeless men died of carbon monoxide poisoning while sleeping in a tent, and a third man died of hypothermia, said Steve Watters, executive director of Safe Ground, a Sacramento nonprofit founded by homeless individuals after a 2009 tent city police raid.
"It's really a question of priorities and whether this city will decide that meeting the basic biological needs of human beings is more important than some other things in the budget that haven't been touched," Watters said.
Watters declined to name specific projects that could be cut. The city has eliminated more than 1,200 government jobs, including police positions, in the last two years. But Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has also proposed selling the city's parking spaces to a private company for $200 million, about half the cost of an NBA arena the city hopes to build.
The real solution, Watters said, lies in a California law that allows cities and counties to declare a state of emergency and convert public facilities into homeless shelters. Since the law passed in 1987, few communities have invoked the statute, The Huffington Post reported earlier this month.
City officials have not decided how to respond to the U.N. observer's letter, Williams said. Johnsontold the local newspaper this month that he would not oppose an effort to create a tent city with water and restrooms. Such a move would require city council approval.
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February 13, 2012 (San Diego)--Several Occupy groups came together to protest outside the San Diego Convention Center at the California Democratic Convention on Saturday.

Around 100 people, including 40 local protesters and 60 from other areas including Los Angeles and Riverside, sought to draw attention of Democratic leaders and delegates. Issues included corporate power, civil liberties, homelessness and foreclosures. 

Inside the convention, some speakers echoed themes raised in the Occupy protest outside. Senator Diane Feinstein announced at a luncheon that she has introduced legislation to repeal a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act that civil libertarians fear could allow indefinite detention of citizens.  Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi referenced the “99 percent” and called for a constitutional amendment to eliminate corporate personhood.  Caifornia Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a landmark settlement with big banks aimed at bringing relief to some facing foreclosure.
Many legislative leaders voiced frustration over Republicans blocking key reforms that they contend are aimed at helping middle class Americans.  Others were silent on Occupy issues.
Women Occupy San Diego, a group of women wearing  sashes inspired by the Free Speech Movement that began in San Diego in 1912, sang modified lyrics to popular songs outside the Convention Center. Some of the lyrics modified were to "row, row your boat," as well "This Land is your Land."  They were joined by the crowd in chants of "Tell me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like," as well as "We are the 99 percent.”

Roy Flores, an engineer and San Diego resident, said that the Occupy protesters "are drawing attention to the situation across the country."  Flores, who was born in Mexico, believes the U.S. is heading in the same direction with "a wide disparity between rich and poor” and that for middle class people “our standard of living is going down and down." He sees the problem as the crisis of our modern times and praised the Occupy movement. "They are calling attention to it and hopefully more and more people will know what is going on."

Later Occupy San Diego, with members from other regions including Occupy Los Angeles and Occupy Riverside, marched on the center to protest the National Defense Authorization Act signing, which they see as a threat to our freedoms.
Some Occupiers engaged attendees on the value of elections as well as how special interests have bought the system to a crisis of democracy with Citizens United,  a Supreme Court decision which gave rights of people to corporate interests, allowing unlimited campaign contributions by corporations.
A lively discussion between also involved subjects ranging from the death penalty, which the Occupiers and the majority of attendees agreed should be banned.  Discussion participants also agreed that corporations are not people, and that FDR's Second Bill of Rights was a good idea.
As the Occupiers left for Balboa Park for a picnic, one conference attendee wished them luck and urged demonstrators to "stay strong."
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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Written by
Capitol Television News Service (CTNS
SACRAMENTO, CA - The recent recession, home foreclosures and high unemployment rates have dramatically increased the number of people who are homeless in California.
Homeless shelters are at max capacity and regularly turn away folks in need. According to National Alliance to End Homelessness, on any given night, there are over 130,000 people in California without a home and without shelter.
Yet, in much of the state, it's considered a crime to be homeless.
In 2009, Oprah Winfrey brought her camera crews to Sacramento to film "Tent City," a 400 person makeshift homeless shelter along the American River.
Shortly after the story aired, Sacramento officials tore the place down, flattening tents, destroying personal property, and displacing hundreds. Sacramento, like many counties in the state, has an anti-camping ordinance. Under the law, it's considered illegal to camp on public or private property for more than 24 hours.
"In effect, it criminalizes homelessness," Safe Ground Sacramento Steve Waters said. "This is a point that's hard to make and hard to help the public understand that if you don't own your own property and you don't have the economic resources to rent. And rents are high in Sacramento; there is no where that it is legal for you to be. You have nowhere to go that you can sleep and lay your head down legally."
Last year, an investigator from the United Nations, Catarina De Albuquerque, visited Sacramento to see how the state's homeless were being treated. She said the conditions for the state's homeless were worse than a third world country. She cited a general lack of access to clean water and adequate sanitation.
Earlier this week, De Albuquerque sent a letter to the mayor of Sacramento expressing her concerns.
Homeless shelters and homeless support centers around the state are calling on local officials to re-open closed public restrooms and fix the broken water fountains. They're also asking their local officials to open up a safe space that homeless people could set up their tents, without being disturbed by police.
There is actually a state law already on the books that would allow local officials to do just that. The seldom used state law allows local officials to declare a state of emergency and set up a sanctioned area for homeless folks.
Local officials can declare that state of emergency at any time..
"It can be for many reasons it can be for natural disaster, but it can also be for human reasons like this," Waters said. "We just have a social problem that's beyond our control right now to completely harness and we need, we need emergency actions until we can get a better handle on providing enough housing and shelters and so on."
Homeless support providers, like Watters, said something needs to be done to protect the state's homeless.
Watters is currently working on getting grants to build a transitional housing community in the Sacramento area called Safe Ground. But, it will be at least a year until he can acquire the land.
In the meantime Waters said he's going to work to educate the public about the pervasiveness of the problem. He hopes the more folks know about the problem, the more they'll push their lawmakers to do something about it.
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