Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Waiting To See Where The Devil Lives

We anticipate that the Mayors office will release their final protocols on “unauthorized campsite clearances” this week, although we still prefer the term “homeless sweeps” for pure descriptive accuracy.

From what we’ve heard the policy is an immense improvement over January’s draft protocols. The devil, however, is always in the details.

The new policy should address a number of issues to be considered adequate. Is the trigger for sweeps a single complaint, or a pattern of problems that demand action? Will outreach come with adequate resources to offer meaningful alternatives? Does notification allow enough time to build relationships, or will it simply chase people around and make them harder to find and help?

These are but some of the key questions we’ll be looking at closely.

The larger issue is whether the ticketing of homeless campers, a process that effectively criminalizes survival activity, will proceed as originally planned. In other communities, this has resulted over time in warrants that leave already desperate people at risk of court involvement and jail.

The Mayor’s policy will be what it is: a unilaterally imposed policy that circumvents City legislative process and the accountability and transparency that would bring. The issue of oversight and accountability is likely to be the next phase.

For now, it appears that our long months of intense advocacy on this issue — groundbreaking investigative reporting, two overnight encampments at City Hall, three public protest rallies, a packed hearing that presented more than three hours of one-sided testimony, two petitions, and work to bring allies on board — have shifted a horrendous policy to one that is merely problematic.

And that, while not being the end of things, is progress we can be proud of as we consider next steps.

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