NOMAD ALLIANCE CALLS ON CITY AND STATE TO END CRIMINALIZATION OF THE HOMELESS AND ENACT SANCTIONED CAMPGROUND
SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH, AUGUST — The Nomad Alliance, a nonprofit serving the unsheltered, calls for Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall and the Utah State and County Health Departments to end the abatements and criminalization of homelessness and stand together on behalf of the human rights of our friends on the streets.
Today, in a press conference, Mayor Mendenhall has flip-flopped from her earlier statement of not enforcing the city's no-camping ordinance over concerns of criminalizing homelessness. Her new position is to target certain homeless camps for extra enforcement -- punishing, criminalizing and traumatizing human beings for the simple crime of abject poverty.
14 camps have been swept in the last week and a half, and many received no prior warning. People are fleeing from the looming front-loaders with just what they can carry, losing the majority of their things. All the areas in walking distance of homeless services have been patrolled to prevent the poorest and most vulnerable among us from resting their weary heads, with the police threatening the unsheltered with jail unless they move along. They are forced to wander the streets with their possessions all night long. The people we serve haven't been able to sleep since, and our people are at their breaking point. People scatter with every abatement and we cannot find our friends to take them to our workshops, or ID appointments or tell them about new job opportunities. Case managers and other support groups can’t find them either to give a hand up and off the streets. Stability is important to rise above any horrid situation, and these abatements only exacerbate and prolong the homeless epidemic here in Salt Lake City.
Mania and schizophrenia are on the rise -- no sleep intensifies already existing mental health woes from a life filled with trauma and streets which further break, demoralize and traumatize. And people are suicidal. One man, who calls himself Flacco, said he is close to taking his life because this is too much. He has moved three times, from one forlorn city spot to another, in the last week and a half. Our team has moved him twice. And we activists supporting the unsheltered are tired, but imagine how they feel.
Team members report nomads are telling us the police are prohibiting them from setting up a tent, or setting out a blanket and pillow on which to sleep. In some places, they are allowed to sleep on the grass but can't have a blanket under them. They can't even put up an umbrella, and in 100 degree heat, protecting themselves from the heat with shade structures is vital. I can sit on a parking strip and put up an umbrella, but they can't, but isn't access to public spaces the right of all citizenry, regardless of housing status?
This is discrimination at its finest. It is humanity at its worst. It is despicable, inhumane and cruel to treat human beings in such a manner, and we as a group of concerned citizens are standing up on behalf of our brothers and sisters and demanding this madness, this criminalization of poverty, stops now.
The state health department deems homeless camps a health hazard. And yes, camps are often filled with trash and human waste. We have called on the city to provide sufficient, regular trash pickup, and porta potties at every camp, with simple solutions providing humanity for the population, the unsheltered as well as the sheltered.
We have been working with the city to organize a clean up day of a local camp under the 500 S. overpass. Our nonprofit would provide trash bags, shovels, food, water and music to boost morale and the residents had bought in, promising to unite to clean their community. The city agreed to contract Advantage Services to remove the bags of refuse, given the entire camp of perhaps 50 people had ONLY two trash cans to share, picked up weekly. How many people are in your household? How many garbage cans do you fill weekly? This camp was abated two days before our scheduled trash clean-up day.
Therefore, trash is not the problem. It is the people who are treated as trash.
We understand the city does not want a sanctioned campground because of the fear that criminality would breed rampant, with police too threatened to walk inside the community.
And yet, the current system breeds criminality by prohibiting communities from having the stability to erect their own methods of self-policing. Long established camps already do this, with the community ostracizing and kicking out bad actors. Studies and anthropology shows when members of small communities (of 150 people or less) live amongst each other long term they can use shame to prohibit nefarious activity. But anonymity breeds a whole host of social ills.
And prohibiting them from congregating in social groups leave individuals open to violence, theft and other abuse. Hence they gather together in these large camps because when one has nothing, community is everything. A neighbor can watch one's tent while they go to work, or to a Social Security appointment, or come to our five-hour weekly workshops teaching cognitive behavioral therapy, facilitating trauma release, or learning self-defense.
I, as the Executive Director of the Nomad Alliance, have been at these camps at all hours of the day and night, alone. I have always been protected, with nobody threatening me or harming me or assaulting me in any way. Nothing has been stolen (that wasn't recouped), despite transporting hundreds of nomads in my car alone over the last six months during abatements, to weekly empowerment workshops, to regular ID appointments and so much more. I have housed nomads. I've let them sleep in my car. Whether moving several nomads alone with my truck at 4:30 in the morning before an abatement or sitting in a tent chatting about life, I have never felt unsafe. I am a 125-pound, small Russian girl. I have never felt threatened, I am unafraid of these humans, why would the police be trippin?
We ask the city to end the discrimination and fear of the homeless and erect a sanctioned campground. The Nomad Alliance, a group of concerned citizens, both sheltered and unsheltered, are willing, able and capable of organizing, implementing and managing such an endeavor. Multiple nomads, veterans, have committed to providing security to keep the criminal element at bay. Fences and set entrances and exits can prohibit the entrance of negative influences in a way current camps, which are open at all sides, cannot. Rules and regulations will be followed, for the fear of banishment will keep members holding themselves and others accountable.
The city's Other Side Village will not be ready to house people until at least next year. In the meantime, we need a solution now. That solution is a sanctioned camp ground, with regular and adequate trash pickup and porta potties, and an end to these cruel abatements. Stop the sweeps!
Current city and state measures violate the Geneva Convention. It is a war crime to wage war on people experiencing poverty. Furthermore, Boise, ID recently lost a ten-year legal battle that prohibits the enforcement of no camping ordinances with no shelter beds available, and in yesterday's press conference Mendenhall admits the city lacks, at the very least, 300 shelter beds. And with 3,500 people in Salt Lake experiencing homelessness at any given time, this is hardly sufficient. The attorneys who sued Boise city and won used the Eighth Amendment for their successful legal battle, and criminalizing people for their economic situation is indeed "cruel and unusual punishment." Forcing them to go without sleep is a human rights violation. The city wishes these humans just didn't exist, but they do, and we see them, and the Nomad Alliance speaks on behalf of these voiceless, these tired, and poor and huddled masses, these people yearning to breathe free.
People are dying. They are losing hope.
And yet, they are still people, like you and me. And homeless lives matter.
Please watch this live video with an unsheltered friend Tiki. She calls what the city is doing "The Purge," while crying, telling us she and her community are at the brink of giving up. Humans are suffering and we must help.
Sincerely and with great love,
Kseniya Kniazeva, Executive Director
Angela Kerns-Miller, Treasurer of the Board
Kelly Henry, Vice President of the Board
Kendra Fox Thompson, Vice President of the Board
Kareem Balance, Secretary of the Board
Janice Latour Meeks
(Below photos taken by Robin Pendergrast)