Response to NoMa BID’s Open Letter
The Law Center is disappointed at the common misconceptions in NoMa BID’s open letter. We understand that people are worried about their ability to safely walk through public spaces and would also like to point out that we should be equally concerned about the safety of solutions for the underrepresented NoMa residents – those living with homelessness.
The request to place “pedestrian safe-passage zones” in NoMa can quickly become a way to exclude vulnerable NoMa residents. It is an act of dividing human beings into groups of people who are considered “illegally encamped” and those who are not, those deemed worthy of safety and those who are not. We are falling into an “us versus them” narrative, which sees the “other” as a threat that must be strategically removed.
As the only national organization dedicated solely to using the power of the law to prevent and end homelessness in America, we believe it is essential to ensure the well-being and dignity of homeless individuals instead of seeing these efforts as another “challenge.” The Law Center uses human rights standards to end criminalization and to work for a day when every person in America has a safe, secure home. Though immediate services are part of the solution, they are not a permanent “fix” to the housing crisis in NoMa or America. Insufficient income and lack of affordable housing are the top causes of homelessness, which is why the housing first approach is vital. Housing stability makes it possible for a person to get or keep a job, address health problems, or get an education.
We encourage NoMA residents to voice their concerns to their councilmembers. However, reporting individuals for sheltering themselves and asking for help is continuing the cycle of criminalization of homelessness. Instead of helping people escape life on the streets, criminalization creates a costly revolving door that circulates individuals experiencing homelessness from the street to the criminal justice system and back, wasting resources that could otherwise go to solving the problem.
The Law Center would be more than happy to work with NoMa BID and residents of NoMa to explore constructive approaches to addressing the issues that create the need for panhandling and encampments. We must also remember that people experiencing homelessness are not on the street by choice, but because of the lack of choices; criminal and civil punishment serves no effective purpose.
The high cost of housing prevents too many people from being able to get into affordable housing, and lack of health care has turned our streets and prisons into our default housing for those with health issues. No one wants to see people forced to live on the streets—not businesses, not residents, and most of all, not those on the streets themselves. We’re all better off when we live in communities that work together to solve problems.
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (the Law Center) is the only national organization dedicated solely to using the power of the law to prevent and end homelessness. With the support of a large network of pro bono lawyers, we address the immediate and long-term needs of people who are homeless or at risk through outreach and training, advocacy, impact litigation, and public education.