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Hidden Homeless Emerge as US Economy Worsens March 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Housing/Homelessness.
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by Steve Gorman and Suzanne Hurt

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Emergency shelters brimming with homeless people in California’s capital are quietly turning away more than 200 women and children a night in a sign of the deteriorating U.S. economy.


[A homeless person sleeps under a white blanket next to piles of garbage bags and a statue of Jesus outside St. Michael Roman Catholic Church Thursday, March 26, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)]A homeless person sleeps under a white blanket next to piles of garbage bags and a statue of Jesus outside St. Michael Roman Catholic Church Thursday, March 26, 2009 in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The displaced individuals on waiting lists at St. John’s Shelter and other facilities often turn instead to relatives or friends for temporary living quarters, perhaps moving into a spare room, garage or trailer. The less fortunate might sleep in their cars or a vacant storage unit. 

They are the hidden homeless. And their ranks appear to be growing as rising joblessness and mortgage foreclosures take their toll in Sacramento and other U.S. cities, experts say.

U.S. President Barack Obama recognized the trend in his televised news conference this week, saying, “the homeless problem was bad even when the economy was good,” and he vowed to bring greater government resources to bear to deal with it.

“It is not acceptable for children and families to be without a roof over their heads in a country as wealthy as ours,” he said.

A “tent city” of up to 200 homeless in Sacramento was thrust into the media spotlight last month as a symbol of the battered U.S. economy. California authorities said this week they would shut down the illegal settlement and find other shelter for its residents, most of them chronically homeless.

Homeless advocates say they expect such encampments, which already exist around the country, to spread as the housing crisis worsens and shelters fill up.

“I think there’s a slight trickle of people who’ve been at risk of homelessness who are winding up in tent cities or knocking on shelter doors,” said Michael Stoops, director of the National Coalition for the Homeless in Washington. “I expect a tremendous increase in homelessness over the next couple of years.”

Stoops, who has worked with the homeless for 35 years, said the newly dispossessed often retain some income and seek initially to downsize or find cheaper accommodations.


“Their worst nightmare would be winding up on the streets, in a tent city or a shelter,” he said. “That’s the last stage. They will do everything they can before that happens to them.”

Maria Romero, 52, who held a series of low-paying jobs over the years before steady work became hard to find, said she lived out of her automobile for a year before reluctantly moving to St. John’s Shelter in January.

“I’d rather be by myself. My car was my own space,” she said, adding she would never consider living in a tent city.

“It wouldn’t be safe, especially for a single female,” said Romero, a high school dropout forced by circumstance to live in a car or shelter more than once in her life.

Her experience illustrates the complexity of homelessness in America, where the most economically vulnerable are often the first to fall through the cracks during hard times.

The latest national figures, in a January report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, actually showed a 10 percent decline in the homeless population two years ago — from about 744,000 per night in January 2005 to nearly 672,000 per night in January 2007.

But 36 of the 50 states reported increases and homeless advocates worry that the national trend will be reversed because of the deepening recession and housing crisis.

As of 2007, the report said, 42 percent of homeless people in the United States, and 70 percent of those in California, slept on the streets, in cars, tents or abandoned buildings.

The “Skid Row” area of Los Angeles is thought to have the nation’s highest concentration of homeless, with more than 5,000 counted in that 50-block area in 2007.

Experts say it typically takes six to eight months to go from losing one’s home to turning up at a shelter doorstep. Some already have noticed more than a trickle.


“I’ve never seen it like this before, and I have 30 years of experience working with the homeless,” said Darlene Newsom, head of the UMOM Day Centers emergency housing project in Phoenix, Arizona, where the number of homeless families seeking services has doubled in the past three months.

Loaves & Fishes, a Sacramento charity that supports the homeless, now provides a free lunch to about 650 people a day, up about 10 percent from a year ago, but private donations to the organization have been flat.

“We are struggling to keep our doors open,” director Joan Burke said.

Nearby St. John’s Shelter, which caters to women and children, has been running at or near capacity for months — filling roughly 100 beds a night — with a waiting list well over twice that long, case manager Kellie Dockendorf said.

This is up from the daily average of 80 women and children turned away in 2008. And getting in can take up to 45 days.

The mix of clientele is changing too, she said.

“We’re getting a lot more working people. We’re getting more people with education. We’re getting a lot more people who are working part-time or not getting enough hours to pay their bills,” she said.

Keysia Bell, 38, had made a living as a caregiver for the elderly until full-time work became harder to find.

After a period of paying to stay with friends or relatives for weeks or months at a time, then renting a house she could no longer afford, she ended up at St. John’s two months ago with her 17-year-old and 10-month-old daughters.

“I’m out of a job. I’m out of a place to stay. I have a baby daughter, and it all just became overwhelming,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Tim Gaynor in Phoenix; Editing by Doina Chiacu and Mary Milliken)


As Obama Considers Napolitano For Homeland Security Chief, A Look at Her Immigration Policies as Arizona Governor November 27, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Human Rights, Immigration.
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Democracy Now! Interview, Novermber 26, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama is on track to name Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano as homeland security secretary. Napolitano is a two-term governor, as well as a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general for Arizona. She was the first governor to call for National Guard troops to secure the US-Mexico border. We take a look at her immigration policies with Aarti Shahani, a researcher with Justice Strategies.

Guest: Aarti Shahani, Researcher with Justice Strategies, teaches at New York University, and co-founded Families for Freedom.


AMY GOODMAN: Governor Napolitano has supported comprehensive immigration reform along the lines pushed by Senator McCain before the presidential campaign. She was the first governor to call for National Guard troops to be deployed along the US-Mexico border. This is Napolitano speaking about immigration in 2006.

JANET NAPOLITANO: As U.S. Attorney, I supervised the prosecution of more than 6,000 immigration cases. As Attorney General, we wrote the law that breaks up human smuggling rings by seizing their assets. And as governor, I have worked closely with Arizona’s border community to address illegal immigration head on. We’ve cracked down on human trafficking by increasing the penalty for illegal immigrants who commit crimes in the United States. And we’ve disrupted dozens of criminal syndicates involved in human smuggling with our fraudulent ID taskforce. We’ve redesigned Arizona’s ports of entry to better detected illegal cross-border activity and we’ve utilized new technology to track stolen vehicles that transport illegal immigrants and drugs on our highways. We fought to increase the presence of the National Guard on the border at federal expense. And today National Guard members from Arizona and around the country are stationed at the border providing critical support to the border patrol so they can do less paperwork and more law enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: For more on Arizona governor Janet Napolitano, I’m joined by Aarti Shahani, researcher with justice strategies. She’s co-founder of families for freedom. Welcome to Democracy Now!

AARTI SHAHANI: Hi. Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday we were looking in depth at the economic team, the ‘E-team’ of president-elect Obama. Now today immigration. Though governor Napolitano has not been exactly named, that is the rumor that is going around.

AARTI SHAHANI: I think we should take pause and look at Governor Napolitano. She’s right now being celebrated as a liberal on immigration who can finally breathe some fresh air into a very hateful debate. The fact about Janet Napolitano is that she’s the leading democratic hawk on immigration. Her legacy in Arizona has been two-fold and I think it’s important to look at the nuance here. She rose to power politically as a prosecutor. She rose to power politically under Bill Clinton as Attorney General. She won the governorship in 2003. Soon after she won the governorship of Arizona, which is the leading immigration enforcement state, I mean if you want to understand what is the future of immigration enforcement, look at the state of Arizona and what it’s done. In her state, there were basically white supremacist groups trying to pass, and effectively passing a bill called Proposition 200 through ballot initiative. Proposition 200 back in November of 2004 required that just about any public servant start calling in a suspected undocumented person for deportation. It’s sort of the prelude to the Sensenbrenner bill that people blew up about in 2005. Governor Napolitano looked at this bill and she said this is hateful, this is wrong and she didn’t veto it, but sort of vetoed it by dragging her feet on its implementation.

Now the punch line comes when to save political capital or to try to regain political capital because there was a lot of falling out over her move there, she said, “Listen, I’m not against cracking down on illegal immigrants. I’m just saying we should crack down on the right types of illegal immigrants. And she introduced her own tough on immigration platform Now, that platform is two-fold. Part of it is enhanced border enforcement. The fact is that she called border crossing a national security crisis, the first governor to do that in US history, wanted to bring in Homeland Security resources to protect against this border crossing.

Now the other piece of the story that I think people are not familiar with is she that actually made a name for herself in Homeland Security circles by regularly writing to Chertoff and lobbying him to bring not just more border security resources to Arizona but ICE resources to Arizona, specifically Governor Napolitano wanted to see it an increase of interior immigration enforcement in Phoenix areas outside of border communities. She was the first governor to broker a 287-G agreement with ICE. Now, I’m not sure how many people know what 287-G is about, But basically, it was a tiny piece of law passed by Bill Clinton back in 1996. It was resurrected by ICE as a leading pilot project to devolve immigration enforcement from Federal to local hands, that is to bring the border into the interior so to speak. So Governor Napolitano was the first Democrat, the first one in the country to say we want 287-g in our state. And she opened up the door toall of the local enforcement, stopping while brown stuff we’re seeing in Arizona. She has a very peculiar relationship with Joe Arpaio. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of MaricopaCounty is known as a total–the toughest sheriff in America, is what he calls himself. That’s his autobiography. Janet Napolitano readily went to Joe Arpaio back in 2005 and said, for our immigration agenda we need some of your jails because he runs a tent city, for which he was being sued left and right. We need some of your jails. And Joe Arpaio said to her, if we have to we’ll build jails from here down to Mexico to hold the immigrants you want to pick up.

AMY GOODMAN: Now wasn’t she criticized for signing agreement with him, with Arpaio, the last day she was the U.S. Attorney, ending a federal investigation into allegedly inhumane conditions in his prisons? Describe, Arpaio is not your typical law enforcement officer.

AARTI SHAHANI: Arpaio’s theory on law enforcement is take all the handcuffs off. And so Arpaio’s known for running a tent city. He’s the first sheriff to start a woman chain gang. He puts people in these tents in the hot blazing sun. He says they are hardcore criminals, the fact is they’re all people that are pre-trial detainees that are being charged with crimes but not yet convicted or people receiving less than a year’s sentence. In Arpaio’s jails, you have situations where people are dying. He makes a joke of feeding his prisoners green bologna and putting on them pink shorts to emasculate them. There were a series of lawsuits from 2002 to 2005, where people were suing Arpaio for deaths in his jails. A lot of lawsuits that were won—I think there were over $11 million in settlements were Maricopa County had to pay out for Arpaio’s games. Now all of this was going on now Napolitano because she is a tough on crime, law and order Democrat, was willing to look the other way on that stuff and say you know what, it’s ok that he’s doing that stuff because he can serve a purpose in this broader agenda that we’re trying to push. And right now as Arpaio has gotten very unpopular, she’s now trying to distance herself from him. It’s dangerous not to see the connection between them.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Janet Napolitano’s take on the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo and CNN Anchor Lou Dobbs. She is responding to a question about Tancredo and Dobbs after her speech at the National Press Club last February

JANET NAPOLITANO: They have both refused to acknowledge that what they have proposed won’t work. That it is more rhetoric than real and it’s not a solution to this problem. And the way I know this is, A, because I know this issue very, very well. I deal with it day in and day out and I mentioned it since I was the United States Attorney. And because the people of Arizona get this. I mean, if you look at how they voted over the past few years, people of Arizona are mad, they’re frustrated. As I said, they’ve got every right to be so. They’ve put into place initiatives to foreclose the supply of public benefits to illegal immigrants. They don’t want their taxpayer dollars going for that.

On the other hand, myself, Gabby Giffords, who was recently elected to Congress for the southern part of the state, Harry Mitchell who recently defeated J.D. Hayworth and came to the Congress from the Maricopa county area. You know, their opponents were banging the Lou Dobbs, Tom Tancredo line. And it didn’t win. And it didn’t win because people in Arizona and I think they’re probably a little bit beyond people in other non-border states, understand that immigration has to be dealt with all the elements I set out and if all you do is talk about building a wall or sealing a border you are not giving them a real solution. Because you know why, they’ve been to the border. Because you know why, they understand how whole elements of their economy depend on immigrant labor. And to some degree now illegal immigrant labor.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Governor Napolitano. Aarti Shahani, she’s rumored to be the next head of Homeland Security.

AARTI SHAHANI: I think the salient part of Governor Napolitano as a federal executive as opposed to a state one, is that on the state level she pushed some of the most right-wing agendas on immigration enforcement. She went full speed ahead with the Bush agenda to move them from Federal to local hands. She lobbied for federal money and for federal resources to up immigration and enforcement in Arizona. So now the question is going to be, once she becomes a federal executive, is she going to continue with the same legacy she had on the state level? Is she going to continue to bang the drum saying, we need to get money to states so they can do their own immigration enforcement just like the state of Arizona did? Is she trying to replicate the Arizona model around the country? Or is she going to take pause and say maybe immigration enforcement as the leading strategy on immigration is not the right thing? And I think when you look also at what she’s proposing, I mean, governor Napolitano actually approved the first state level employer sanctioned bill in the country. She believes in a state level guest worker program in the state of Arizona. Now we all know that guest worker programs are not the way to ensure immigrant rights, immigrant workers rights, American workers rights in the coming administration. And so I think that the fact that’s such a cutting part of her agenda is reason to be afraid.

AMY GOODMAN: I also want to ask you just very quickly about these major raids that took place in Laurel, Mississippi, and Postville, Iowa, one during the Democratic Convention. These are the largest immigration raids in U.S. History and what they portend, with the major candidates hardly raising the issue of immigration at all.

AARTI SHAHANI: These raids are happening because ICE is going in local communities and devastating their local democracies by going into totally un-strategic sites with no plan whatsoever and basically striking fear. A good question for Governor Napolitano as head of
Homeland Security would she rather freeze ICE activity will she actually try to put a cap on what they’re doing and all the charades and the show and will she look at homeland security from a holistic perspective.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally not far from here in Long Island in Suffolk County, immigrants rights activists have filed a complaint with US Justice Department. Latino Justice contends that the Suffolk county police discouraged Latinos from reporting crimes. And the reason this is so critical now, it follows the November 8 killing of Marcelo Lucero. Crimes victims being afraid to go to the police because they’re afraid that they’ll be working with ICE, with immigration authorities who question their immigration status?

AARTI SHAHANI: Within the state of Arizona, it is basically understood that victims of crimes when they call the police are going to be turned in for deportation, that’s certainly true in Maricopa County. So Governor Napolitano can look what’s happening around the country and see the natural after-step of intensive, state-sponsored enforcement is hate crimes that’s going to be the case. So, if we want to put a stop to that, populist or private citizen reaction to foreign-born people, the government has to set a better example as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And do you think we’ll be less targeting overall under president Obama

AARTI SHAHANI: You know, I hope so and it’s hard to imagine that it could be any worse under Obama than it was under Bush. So I actually want to say that we should expect more from Obama than just stopping the sheer fascism of the Bush Administration. For example are restored the ability to drive, the basic driver’s license, which he brought up during his presidential campaign and was supportive of. Another thing we should expect from Obama is to look at the entire system of mass detention. immigrants are the fastest growing segment of the prison population in this country. That’s not just because of George Bush. It’s because of policies set by Bill Clinton as well. The fact that people are dying in detention, hundreds of people have died in civil detainee custody. So, can we expect Obama to now look at this massive system and say we shouldn’t be locking up people this way?

AMY GOODMAN: Aarti Shahani, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Researcher with Justice Strategy. She teaches at New York University and co-founded the immigrants rights group, Families for Freedom.