A few days ago, Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard vetoed a Homeless Bill of Rights (HBR) passed by the City-County Council with a vote of 16 to 13. Indianapolis made headlines around the globe as the first U.S. city to protect the rights -- and consequently, the property -- of people experiencing homelessness in the world's wealthiest nation. Provisions of the bill included, "a reasonable expectation of privacy."
Prior to the historic vote and once humanitarian arguments were set aside, both sides debated the cost of granting equal rights to persons without housing. Opponents of the HBR feared high litigation costs should persons experiencing homelessness file lawsuits demanding equal access to public places. But lawsuits wouldn't be a problem if city official don't violate the law.
Proponents of the HBR cited statistics proving the cost of incarcerating the persons experiencing homelessness -- something that is done now because homelessness is effectively illegal in Indianapolis -- makes the HBR a cost saving measure.
Homelessness is a big problem in the United States. Numbers on homeless adults are hard to find. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) keeps implementing newer and better ways to artificially lower their calculations of homeless people. In order to count in HUD's statistics, an individual must prove they are homeless. Much better statistics are gathered by organizations and government entities -- like the U.S. Department of Education -- that work with children.
The National Center on Family Homelessness latest publication, America's Youngest Outcasts, reported that 2.5 million children were homeless in 2014. And if the 13th most populace city has a proportional share, that's about 71 thousand kids. According to the city's website, Indianapolis had flagged 2,000 abandoned homes for removal. Drive around Indianapolis, it won't take long to imagine how much better many neighborhoods would be if these abandoned homes were occupied.
But, putting homeless families and individuals into housing requires faith. Faith that people experiencing homelessness are effectively down and out and not a bunch of bad guys preferring life in the crime-ridden, filthy, concealed corners of American cities. Proving that homeless folks are just like everyone else is the herculean task that most homeless advocates have all but abandoned.
But in Indianapolis, five guys managed to do it. And the film they made about homelessness in the Crossroads of America, decried the lies told about people too poor to afford a decent place to live. It also exposed community leaders, private shelter providers, and members of the media as the willing agents of misanthropic propaganda.
Uncharted, The Truth Behind Homelessness, an A Bigger Vision presentation by filmmakers, Adam Oppenheim, Sam Mirpoorian, Alex Oldham, Andy McQueary and Don Sawyer, shows the communities that people experiencing homelessness build to protect each other and their fragile existence. It proves that concerns voiced about public safety and public health are unfounded. And it shows that elected officials, rescue missions, and corporately supported spokespersons like news anchors -- out of ignorance or in pursuit of a private agenda -- willfully mislead the public.
Don Sawyer and his partners believe that Indianapolis is ground zero for desperately needed drastic change. "Indy is different from other major cities in the nation. The city does not invest a single dime in homeless prevention or shelter... But they can build a multi-million dollar cricket field."
Uncharted exposed the human suffering caused by neglect and skewed priorities. The sad thing for every Hoosier in Indianapolis who isn't experiencing homelessness is that it's not just about homelessness. It's not just about humanitarianism, or telling the truth about the poor. It's about economic recovery and revitalizing a vital city.
The Center for Housing Policy worksheet, The Role of Affordable Housing in Creating Jobs and Stimulating Local Economic Development, explains:
The National Association of Home Builders estimates that building 100 new Low-Income Housing Tax Credit units for families can lead to the creation of more than 120 jobs during the construction phase. Furthermore, once the paint is dry and the homes are occupied, new residents continue to support roughly 30 jobs in a wide array of industries.
And Indianapolis has unemployment. The city could use the jobs. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show an unemployment rate of 5.4 % and just like homeless numbers, the real numbers are higher. As countless and uncounted unhoused individuals will tell you, unemployment leads to homelessness. And it's not about being one paycheck away from living on the street or in a car or on a couch -- the same Bureau of Labor says that the average person remains unemployed for 36.3 weeks -- that's nine months without having the money for rent or car payments or healthcare.
Uncharted, The Truth Behind Homelessness made such an impact on the Indianapolis community at large that a Homeless Bill of Rights was passed. The suffering of his economically disadvantaged constituents makes so little impact on the Mayor that he vetoed the bill.
Don Sawyer believes that the only thing that will turn this around is outside pressure put on the City-County Councilors and the Mayor's office. If Sawyer's right, it better happen fast. The City-County Council can override the Mayor's veto, but they'll have to have 20 votes, and they'll have to have them at the first meeting immediately following the veto: that's March 30th.
According to Sawyer, it's time to stop playing, "Hide the homeless."
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