World Homeless Day takes place on October 10th, 2014.
Throughout the last half of the twentieth century until the present many groups that were being unfairly treated by American society – racial minorities, women and gays – made great strides toward correcting those wrongs by organizing and aligning themselves with movements that in effect forced the American public to hear their grievances as well as acknowledge and act on their demands for change and reform.
What the members of these various groups have in common is anger: anger and resentment about being treated as second-rate American citizens. Black Power, Women’s Liberation Rights, and Gay Rights were aggressive, forward looking movements. The movements grew and became empowered as the result of a weariness on the part of their constituents to wait any longer for the government to make good on its constitutional mandate to provide all of its citizens with equal opportunities to live without prejudice and succeed.
I feel that World Homeless Day has the potential to be a seminal event that will help to galvanize all of those fighting to reduce poverty and eliminate homelessness into a Movement called ‘Leave No One Behind’.
It could not come at a more pressing time. The United Nations estimates that there are more than 200,000,000 people living in the world without secure housing. The National Law Center on Homelessness estimates that more than 3.5 million Americans experience homelessness annually.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, homelessness in America actually decreased by 1% from 2009-2012, while in the midst of one of the most severe economic crises since the Great Depression. This was due in large part to the Obama administration’s Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
President Obama gets very little credit or acknowledgement for this. Why? Because it is a political liability for any professional politician to overtly initiate any legislation that will help the poor and disenfranchised in America. There is still a place deep in the American psyche that does not consider or recognize that food security and housing are human rights, and instead projects onto them all of the fearful notions and misperceptions that came to be associated with socialism during the Cold War.
That is why this Movement has so much in common with those in the past: It is about breaking down dated ideas that have calcified into hardened prejudices and regressive policies.
Who are the homeless in America? Rather than break it down demographically and provide stats and graphs, I’d like to offer just one example that speaks for many, and is also about a special person with the courage to be an open public advocate and leader in the movement to reduce acute financial distress and end homelessness in America.
Aaron Elijah Colyer is a United States Marine Corps veteran who in July of this year was threatened with arrest and cited with a nearly $500.00 fine for being in violation of the Alameda Municipal Code, section 8-25.1 "Sleeping/Living in Vehicle." He is fighting the fine and organizing a demonstration in Oakland to raise awareness of the criminalization of homelessness. The demonstration will take place on the same day as Colyer’s court date, and World Homeless Day: 10/10/14.
According to Barbara Thomas, Mr. Colyer’s defense attorney, “On behalf of Mr. Colyer, we are asking the City to rescind this discriminatory ordinance and set aside Mr. Colyer’s ticket and focus on the causes of homeless rather than punish those already homeless due to lack of funds, by issuing a $480 citation for doing exactly what the court has already struck down as a denial of due process as guaranteed by both the United States and California Constitutions.” She pointed to Utah’s highly touted ‘Housing First’ program, which provides housing for the homeless rather than citations.
Aaron Colyer was sleeping in his van that night because he had moved from Tennessee to California in order to be nearer to his 2 yr old son. When he got to California he discovered that he could not afford the market rate for apartments and was living in his van while he sorted things out.
Did the policeman ask Aaron why he was sleeping his van? No. Did he care? Probably not. All he saw was ‘someone sleeping in a van’ and fined him, further setting back Aaron’s chances of finding affordable housing accommodations.
The telling part of this story is not that Aaron Colyer was arrested for being homeless – that, unfortunately, happens every day in America – but what Mr. Colyer is choosing to do about it.
He is extending the Marine combat oath to ’Leave No One Behind’ to his civilian life. His mission now is galvanize the groups advocating for Homeless Rights into a Movement that calls on all Americans to leave no one left behind – veteran or not – to the ravages of poverty, homelessness and despair.
How fitting is that?
We can support Aaron and join the Leave No One Behind movement by connecting with him on his Facebook page: Leave No One Behind #Homelessness is not a Crime and his website The Church of Occupy.
In Aaron’s words: “10/10/14 is World Homeless Day and as many cities criminalize peoples’ rights to exist, we feel it is necessary to rally in remembrance of those who have died on the streets from lack of shelter, to raise awareness for the need for more shelter as the upcoming winter approaches, and to put out a call to action to establish safe harbors.”
It’s time for us as Americans to join Aaron Colyer in this truly patriotic mission and Movement to Leave No One Behind -- on World Homeless Day, and beyond that.
James Abro is the author of An Odyssey in the Great American Safety Net, a personal memoir of homelessness and recovery. He is the founder of Advocate for Economic Fairness and 32 Beach Productions. He works locally with faith-based Homeless Outreach groups, and nationally as an advocate for Homeless Rights. He is a regular contributor to Rebelle Society and Talk Poverty.