Claiming the rights to housing, land, and the city Decriminalization/Civil Rights Campaign
The Decriminalization/Civil Rights Campaign is one of several initiatives and events that will be part of the WAI’s World Habitat Days. It is intended specifically to resist the criminalization of poor and homeless people and to insist that the governments of the USA and Canada meet commitments to the alternatives--adequate and affordable housing for every family.
Dear friends in the housing and human rights movements,
We’ve all read plenty about how our countries are collapsing. And we’re inspired by the mass mobilizations taking place. But we know that if we are to achieve our goal of securing human rights—all human rights—we’ll need a sustained movement based in relationships of trust we build through the hard work we do along the way.
With that in mind, today we announce our Bi-National Homeless People’s Civil and Housing Rights Campaign, and we are asking you to participate in your community. It begins with a simple survey, but we intend for it to end amidst the huge human flow that is reaching toward real democracy and freedom in our countries and around the globe.
Let me share a little background and a brief description of the campaign.
As you know, the UN designates a World Habitat Day every year—October 3rd this year—and brings together “experts” from around the world to consider all things related to habitat, viewed primarily through the lens of development and markets. We have a different lens—the lens of human rights—and we look from the bottom up. Our experts are those on the streets and in the struggle.
The World Assembly of Inhabitants (WAI), which includes our parent organization, the International Alliance of Inhabitants (IAI), unites people’s groups from around the world in a sustained campaign to claim the right to habitat. The WAI has designated September 15-October 30, 2011 as World Habitat Days , globally promoting “resistances and alternatives” to the denial of rights and the suppression of housing activists.
The Decriminalization/Civil Rights Campaign is one of several initiatives and events that will be part of the WAI’s World Habitat Days. It is intended specifically to resist the criminalization of poor and homeless people and to insist that the governments of the USA and Canada meet commitments to the alternatives--adequate and affordable housing for every family. These national commitments date back to the 1930s (Canada) and 1940s (USA). Times up!
In fact, our governments are dragging us backwards. Across our nations, there is now a well established pattern of fighting homelessness by making homeless people disappear. Some are offering homeless people--cited and arrested for such acts of survival as sleeping, eating, and relieving themselves--a Catch-22 “choice” for minor infractions: a one-way ticket out of town, jail (and a record), or a new form of homeless shelter that is designed to maximize discomfort (cold food, sleeping on the floor, severe restrictions on entry & exit, recreation, and human contact.) Many cities and towns are abrogating their authority and responsibility to “Business Districts,” which are hiring private police with authority to hunt and harass homeless men, women, and children. Conditions are so appalling that the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Water and Sanitation said in her August report that the USA’s failure to provide access to water and sanitary facilities “could. . .amount to cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment.” It seems that Canada is heading in the same direction.
Our Decriminalization/Civil Rights Campaign entails a survey that will document and shed light on such abuses where they exist. But it is not an academic survey. Rather, it is designed to be used on the streets—and in shelters, SROs, motels, vehicles, public parks and other places where homeless people are attempting to meet their basic human needs. It is designed to start a conversation between homeless people and others who are committed to work long term to protect civil rights and promote housing and land rights for everyone. It’s about building those relationships for our movement.
Participation is straightforward:
- use our simple (and field-tested) survey instrument to frame your conversations;
- reach out to all possible homeless groups, including families;
- follow our outreach guidelines to show respect and build trust;
- send the surveys to WRAP for tabulation—as many as you can reasonably do;
- promise to come back with the results, and keep your promise;
- participate with your homeless partners in planning follow-up actions.
You will join these cities that have begun their surveys, hope to participate, or are considering the campaign:
San Francisco, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, Denver, Houston, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Chicago, Chattanooga, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa/St. Pete, Orlando, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City, Rochester, Worcester, and –in Canada—Vancouver, Regina, and Toronto.
We will provide materials and telephone support, led by the Western Regional Action Project (WRAP). WRAP will tabulate the surveys and get findings to all participants. (You can also add to the surveys any questions of local importance, but those responses must be tabulated locally.) Together we will decide on next steps.
Finally, please consider this if you are not poor or homeless: This is about you. The rise of repression in the USA and Canada is clear to all of us. There are enemies of civil and even political rights. They are the same people who benefit from our nations’ refusal to meet basic human needs. They are doing what people who make war do: attacking us at our most vulnerable flanks, the communities of poor and homeless people that they’ve shamed and blamed for decades. You’re next.
So given this erosion of human rights we are all experiencing, this is not about caring for or even advocating for “those people.” It’s about all of us. As aboriginal leader Lilla Watson said, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” We need all of us in this struggle for dignity, fairness, and human rights.
Mary Bricker-Jenkins, Convener
USA-Canada Alliance of Inhabitants
Paul Boden, Executive Director
Western Regional Action Project