Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Florida leaves health-care money on the table

Federal health officials are divvying up $49 million among states that provide subsidized health insurance to people who can't buy it because they have medical problems. None of that money will be coming to Florida.

That's because Florida closed its high-risk pool for the medically uninsurable in 1992 and has not accepted any applicants since. The state has missed out on a share of the $286 million the Department of Health and Human Services has passed out since 2003.

Florida's risk pool -- formally called the Florida Comprehensive Health Association -- has only about 300 members now, down from about 7,500 who joined before the pool was closed 16 years ago, said Jerry Ashford, director of the association.

At least 250,000 uninsurable Floridians need access to the pool, he said, adding that the number may be as high as 800,000.

Read the Florida Health News report here.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

So how did he get up there?

Nobody could figure out how the person who lived there was able to ascend to his "home" suspended from an overpass.

The fire department had to send a ladder truck so city workers could remove more than a dozen garbage bags of personal belongings -- mostly clothing and bedding -- from a nestlike living space in the supports on an overpass.

Los Angeles police said they checked out the bridge after receiving complaints from people who work in nearby office buildings.

They thought one man lived there, possibly for up to two years. He was nowhere to be found on the day his belongings were removed. (And what happened to his stuff? Was it just thrown away?)

Read the Los Angeles Times article here.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ignorance costs Sanford chance to help homeless

Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz weighs in on the City of Sanford's uninformed perceptions of homeless people.

Read his column here.

Monday, July 14, 2008

So I guess there are no homeless people in Sanford

Project Homeless Connect has been moved from downtown Sanford to a Longwood church after several people complained the program should not be held at the city’s civic center.

Northland, A Church Distributed, agreed to host the July 30 event.

Last year, more than 350 people attended the Sanford event. About 200 volunteers offered medical services, employment counseling, food, showers, mental health assistance and other help. Because of the change of location, the number of homeless participants is expected to decline this year.

The move was made at the request of the Sanford City Commission, which apparently is less troubled by guns shows than help for those in need. Despite the council's apparent belief that there are no homeless people in town (do they really think we're busing them in?), Sanford is the logical place to hold the event because a significant number of Seminole County’s homeless population live there.

Read the Sanford Herald reports here and here. And check out the forum on this at the Florida Social Justice Network.

And stay tuned: Apparently the Kissimmee Civic Center has backed out, too.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Cops bait the homeless with cigarettes,
beer and Boston Baked Beans -- but why?

A pack of Kool cigarettes, a can of Budweiser and a box of Boston Baked Beans sat on the dashboard of an unlocked car with the windows rolled down.

Somewhere nearby two New Orleans police officers watched and waited for someone to reach into the bait car and snatch the items. They wouldn’t have to wait long, as the car was parked just one block away from a homeless encampment, where dozens of desperate, hungry and addicted people lived in a makeshift village of tents.

For stealing less than $6 in items, two homeless men were charged with simple burglary, a felony that can carry up to 12 years in prison. A month later, the men remain in jail awaiting court dates and the possibility they will spend the better part of the next decade in state prison.

At a time when homicides in New Orleans continue to rise to record numbers, many question whether a sting operation designed to entice homeless people to commit felonies is the best use of public resources.

“People are still dying left and right and yet we’re playing games with baked beans and Kool cigarettes,” said Bill Quigley, a law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. “The police officers who did this should be personally embarrassed and their superiors and the elected officials who knew about this should go to confession.”

Read the New Orleans City Business report here.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Bush may veto homeless veterans housing bill

The “Homes for Heroes Act” has been passed by the House of Representatives, but is facing a presidential veto if it makes it through the Senate.

HR 3329, which would provide shelter for homeless veterans and their families as well as lending assistance to help low-income veteran families from falling into homelessness, won House approval 412-9.

The White House immediately signaled that the legislation would be vetoed if it lands on the president’s desk because it includes prevailing wage requirements.

Rep. Al Green (D-Houston), who sponsored the bill, said its focus on helping homeless veterans was “the least a grateful nation can do,” and urged President Bush to reconsider his veto threat. The Senate version of the bill is sponsored by Barack Obama.

Read more at FortBendNow.*
* I had to search for a while but I finally found a non-AP report. For more on the blogger boycott of Associated Press, click here.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Don't they know how this looks?

President Bush and other world leaders sat down to an 18-course gastronomic extravaganza at a G8 summit which is focusing on how to solve the global food crisis.

The dinner, and a six-course lunch, at the summit of leading industrialized nations on the Japanese island of Hokkaido, included delicacies such as caviar, milk-fed lamb, sea urchin and tuna, with champagne and wines flown in from Europe and the U.S.

Read the Daily Mail report here.

Thanks to Pensacola Beach Blog for pointing this out.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Church serving homeless files lawsuit
against town that blocked day center

A church focused on serving the homeless is suing the town of Elkton, Maryland, because its leaders say the town is hindering the church's expression of faith.

Carl Mazza, pastor of the Meeting Ground, says Elkton has blocked attempts by the church to open a day center which would meet a wide range of religious and social needs of the homeless, including Bible study, prayer and worship services, computer access, showers, food, and job training.

“It is unfortunate that things have come to this,” said Rev. Mazza. “We tried as hard as we could to do our ministry, even offering to do only those things that were clearly work of the church, such as prayer meetings, Bible study, and worship services. But the town refused to consider even these activities. No one can be denied the right to witness to the living Jesus in word and deed, especially with and among persons who are poor, destitute, and homeless.”

The lawsuit, which was filed Monday in federal court in Baltimore, contends that the Town’s actions deprive the Meeting Ground and its members of their rights to freely exercise their religious faith under the U.S. Constitution and under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

This isn't the first time Elkton has been sued over its policies toward the homeless. See previous posts here and here.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Once a person becomes homeless,
it's difficult to live a secure life ever again

Expensive housing, debt and unexpected financial problems are key factors behind homelessness, a new report shows.

"Contrary to popular perception, while alcohol and drugs can keep people on the streets, they are not the main pathway to homelessness," said Rev. Keith Garner of Wesley Mission in Sydney, Australia, which published the report.

Nearly three-quarters of the people interviewed at shelters identified the housing crisis as the major reason for their homelessness. Of those, 88% said accumulated debt and unexpected financial difficulties were factors.

And once a person slips through the cracks to a life on the streets -- where the basic human rights of shelter, safety, health and loving relationships can no longer be taken for granted -- it's difficult to live a secure life ever again. Almost one in five said they had been living on the streets for five to 10 years, while two-thirds had found themselves in crisis accommodation more than six times.

Part of the reason it's so difficult is that homeless people often lose meaningful relationships and their sense of self (of having achieved something in life) deteriorates dramatically. Something as simple as social activities with other homeless people in similar situations can reverse those losses.

Read the report, "More Than a Bed," here.

One of the report's recommendations is improving access to justice. Those of you who visit here know that's my personal mission.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

An opportunity to help

Sometimes getting a person's paperwork in order so they can get an ID is easy. Other times, we have to put our heads together to figure out a solution to a more complex problem.
(Yes, that's me leaning on the table.)

IDignity provides Florida ID Cards, birth certificates and Social Security Cards to homeless and poor people in Orlando.

We served more than 200 clients in June, an increase of 20% from the initial event in May. We still did have to turn away a lot of clients as demand was greater than we could accommodate.

Check out IDignity's new website. And please think about donating time or money. The next event is July 17.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

If you're interested in this stuff ...

Two recent posts at the Florida Social Justice Network are worth a click:
On The Margins For Breakfast
Independence Day - When Will Freedom Ring?

Check out the Florida Social Justice Network

Friday, July 04, 2008

A thought for July 4

Photo taken by Margaret Bourke-White in 1951

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Just wanted to remind everyone that Statue of Liberty -- which represents liberty and escape from oppression -- welcomes the homeless, too.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Where I've been ...

Most of last month was taken up with the federal court trial on Orlando's controversial rules on feeding the homeless.

Preparing witnesses, compiling evidence, writing what I hope was a persuasive opening statement ... all that, and more, kept me from much of anything else for the past few weeks.

Read the Orlando Sentinel's preview story here. Even though it was written before the trial began, it's the best summary of the issues.

That said, I hafta dispute the Sentinel's coverage of the trial. We subpoenaed the mayor to testify, and the Sentinel reported that decision may have hurt our case.

I guess the reporter didn't understand,* because the mayor gave us an important piece of evidence. One of our arguments is that sharing food in the park with hungry and homeless people is expressive conduct** protected by the First Amendment. The food-sharings demonstrate our community's problem with hunger and poverty and homelessness -– and our failure to provide a solution –- in a way that mere words cannot.

The mayor took the witness stand and said: "I don't view Food Not Bombs as providing a service to the homeless. I view them as pursing their own political purposes."

It seemed to me that helped us prove that Orlando Food Not Bombs was communicating a political message to the community. The mayor got the political message loud and clear.

I think we put on a good case and I'm optimistic about our chances.
* Or maybe I should blame it on the Sentinel's new approach to covering the news. Apparently someone there now thinks readers aren't interested in trials. To read more about what's going on at the Sentinel, check out the TellZell blog.

** The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that wearing a black armband or burning a flag is expressive conduct. The armband case is Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District and the flag-burning case is Texas v. Johnson.