By Peggy Lee Kennedy
1. Fight NIMBYism. A NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) is a person who does not want poor or homeless people helped or housed in their neighborhood.
Do not expect the police to solve homelessness and do not call the police just because you see someone who is homeless or see someone living in a vehicle.
Studies show that housing people is much less expensive than using law enforcement and criminalizing homeless people. (See Policing Our Way Out Of Homelessness? By Gary Blasi, UCLA Law Professor See <www.law.ucla.edu/docs/policin gourwayoutofhomelessness.pdf>.
Do not lobby in support of laws that make people criminals simply because they are living homeless. (List found at <wetnostril.net/AntiHomeless Laws.html)
These laws are often called “quality of life” laws. Some are created and others are used to target people who are poor or homeless.
Explain to your friends and neighbors that using the police and quality of life laws to move or jail a homeless person is no real solution, it is not humane, and it costs much more than housing people or getting them the help required.
Do not participate in or allow Hate Speech, Slurs, Unfounded Rumors, or other negative activity against people who are homeless. ( “Silence is consent.” –MLK)
Slurs and rumors breed fear, hate speech leads to violence, and violence crimes against homeless people are on the rise. (See “Hating The Homeless,” by the Southern Poverty Law Center http://www.splcenter.org/intel/intelreport/article.jsp?pid=1393 )
More than 50 percent of the people who live homeless in Los Angeles are African American, less than 20 percent are Caucasian, and many suffer with some kind of disability.
2. Lobby in favor of affordable housing, emergency services, and emergency alternatives to your local Neighborhood, City, State, and Federal representatives.
Say strong things like, “I want to see all these homeless people housed or given a safe place to live right now. What is your office doing to help them?”
90 percent of the housing being built in L.A. is for families with annual incomes over $130,000 and affordable housing is disappearing fast.
Most people living homeless do not want to be. They are people who cannot afford the high cost of housing and have no real support system that will house them.
Do not accept double talk or excuses from politicians. Do not say NIMBY things like, “I just want these people off my street.” That does not help.
Explore, support and demand emergency alternatives in your area such as parking lots for people living in vehicles or temporary shelter conversions with services.
People need safety, warmth, and sleep. Without these basic things, even for a short time, and a few homeless police experiences – a person may appear mentally ill.
3. Get Directly Involved by supporting local emergency pantries or other direct services that do not have large budgets, administrative costs or staff salaries that outweigh the services provided.
Find out what they do, whom they serve, what they need, and how you can help them.
Some organizations will give you a “wish list” and some might even let you start a special project on your own once they get to know you.
Take or make a “wish list” and do a drive at your job, club or church. Homeless people often need sleeping bags, blankets, socks, underwear, rain gear, tarps, small containers of soap, feminine sanitary supplies, and warm clothes.
Talk to people. You might find out that you can really make a difference.