By Josette Madonia
Arizona Community Press | www.azcommunitypress.org
On February 21st, Tempe City Council passed changes to its ordinance on panhandling. The amendments take effect March 23rd and pertain to “aggressive solicitation”. “The newly approved provisions make it illegal to panhandle near a restaurant patio, while blocking a business entrance or within 15 feet of a taxi stand, among other prohibitions.”
What does this ordinance mean for homeless people who panhandle? Some say it is a way to criminalize homelessness. Individuals who are homeless lose more than a home. In some states sleeping in public places, loitering, or begging and panhandling are against the law. In these states, homelessness means breaking the law for basic necessities such as finding a place to sleep or trying to find money to buy something to eat. The cost of putting homeless people in jail or prison is high. According to a survey by University of Texas, each homeless person costs taxpayers $14,480 per year, primarily for an overnight stay in jail. A typical cost of a prison bed in a state or federal prison is $20,000 per year.
There is concern that criminalizing the homeless is not a good way to eradicate homelessness but instead sweeps the problem “under the rug” by moving the homeless from the streets to the jails. People who support Tempe’s ordinance complain of being harassed when walking down Mill Avenue. However, even some business owners do not think the ordinance will stop the “harassment”. Why are some people forced to panhandle or beg for money or food? There are many economic factors that are indicators of someone at risk of becoming homeless, which include housing costs, unemployment, and foreclosure. Households that are defined as cost-burdened spend more than 50% of their income on rent. The number of people in this situation increased by 6% from 2009 to 2010. The number of unemployed people rose by 4% from 2009 to 2010. The unemployment for Arizona was at 7.9% in 2012. Foreclosures increased by 2% from 2009 to 2010. Arizona ranks at the top of the list of states with the most foreclosures. In 2012, the U.S. government announced that the percentage of working poor was the highest in decades. The 2008 financial crisis finds many people one paycheck away from living in poverty.
According to government criteria, a single individual making an annual income of $10,830 and a family of four living off $22,400 per year qualify as “poor.” It’s a stunning reality that more than 10 million Americans with jobs meet the poverty criteria.”
A current video of wealth inequality in America has recently gone viral on facebook:
In 2010, there were 155 people identified as homeless on the streets in Tempe. That number is considered inaccurate because volunteers are needed to combed the streets for the count. In 2011 the actual count was considered to be closer to 300-500 homeless in Tempe. Tempe Homeless Coordinator Theresa James stated that the city of Tempe’s homeless program has seen a 20% increase in the number of transients since the economic downturn. “Many experts attribute the increase in the number of homeless families to a combination of the following factors: welfare reform, high rates of domestic violence, declining purchasing power of low-wage jobs, and decrease in availability of affordable family housing.”
Ordinances and laws pertaining to the homeless and factors of homelessness are decided upon by elected officials. Ironically for homeless individuals, there are many obstacles to what President Obama, in his State of the Union address, called our most fundamental right, the right to vote. While someone who is homeless does not need to live in a traditional dwelling to vote anymore, they will need to designate a place of residence. This place of residence can be a street corner, shelter, park, or any other location. The place of residence is used to designate the district in which the individual can vote. Yet the registrant will need a place of residence that their voter card can be mailed to. This can be a shelter or the home or office of someone willing to accept mail for that individual. Although place of dwelling has been modified to respect homeless individuals, duration of residency is still an obstacle for people who move around to find the next “legal” place to sleep. Arizona has a 29-day residency requirement prior to an election in the same location. Another obstacle homeless people may face when trying to vote is providing identification. According to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), at a minimum every state must follow the federal voting ID guidelines. Because of these guidelines, it is recommended that individuals without an ID should register to vote in-person at their local office to avoid being turned away on Election Day.
There are an estimated 1,682,900 homeless and runaway youth in America. “Many homeless youth leave home after years of physical and sexual abuse, strained relationships, addiction of a family member, and parental neglect. Disruptive family conditions are the principal reason that young people leave home: in one study, more than half of the youth interviewed during shelter stays reported that their parents either told them to leave or knew they were leaving and did not care (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (a), 1995). In another study, 46% of runaway and homeless youth had been physically abused and 17% were forced into unwanted sexual activity by a family or household member (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (c), 1997).” Other reasons young people become homeless are economic hardship and residential instability. Youth that have a history of living in foster care have a stronger correlation to becoming homeless and remaining homeless for a longer period of time. Some young people are even kicked out of their homes because of pregnancy or sexual orientation. As much as 25% of LGBT youth rejected by their families end up homeless. There are even young boys who are cast out of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints because they have become competition for older men who want younger wives. These young boys, called the “lost boys” live on the streets with no place to go.
Some organizations in Tempe and around the valley support homeless individuals and, particularly, homeless youth. Tempe Youth Resource Center (TYRC) provides on-site services such as food, hygiene, clothing, and case management services for homeless youth. There are four Hydration Stations throughout Tempe that provide a place to cool off and get water. You can find a summer 2012 map for Water Hydration Stations and Refuge Locations for the greater Phoenix area here. Other programs in Tempe are the Tempe Interfaith Homeless Emergency Lodging Program (IHELP) at the Tempe Salvation Army located at the corner of University and Myrtle at 3:45pm everyday, Shower Power I, which provides showers for homeless individuals, Urban Outreach, which provides food, shelter, showers, medical, mental and spiritual health, along with coordination of other local organizations, HOPE, the City of Tempe’s Homeless Outreach Team, offers crisis intervention, advocacy services and limited transporation to local homeless service providers and Tempe Community Council provides shelter, outreach, showers, and IDs. Paz de Cristo helps with Arizona identification vouchers at 1pm every Tuesday at 424 West Broadway Road in Mesa, AZ 85210, (480) 464-2370. TumbleTees is a screen printing business run by homeless youth ages 25 and under. They are taught screen printing skills and how to operate a small business. If you know anyone that needs temporary housing, call the Arizona Shelter Hotline at 1-800-799-7739 or 602-263-8900.
Video of “The Invisible Youth of America” featuring Tumbleweed Youth Resource Center: