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Should police address homelessness? One city is betting on a new model | Homelessness

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It’s been some time now since Shanna Couper Orona has slept on the sidewalk, but she can’t forget the first time a police officer kicked the side of her tent in an encampment sweep in San Francisco.

The disorienting confusion of getting jarred awake at 3 in the chilly morning. The rush of fear that comes for any woman who hears unknown male voices at night. The ache in her back. “I poked my head out, and they said, ‘You have to get the fuck out’,” Orona said. “I said back to them, ‘I have to get the fuck out?’ And they said, ‘Oh, you got a smart mouth’?”

It’s hard to forget an encounter like that. It became even harder to forget when it happened time and time again to Orona in her four years on the streets – as well as to countless other homeless individuals, in San Francisco and beyond.

Now, with a renewed push to question the role of law enforcement in public safety after last summer’s protests, housing advocates and unhoused individuals in the US are asking why, far too often, armed police officers are still the first response to the complex crisis of homelessness – a response that often ends in violence and death.

And some are proposing solutions. In San Francisco, this questioning of the status quo has given rise to a new initiative to take police out of the homelessness response altogether. In Oregon, activists have introduced legislation that would prohibit law enforcement from enforcing a bevy of anti-homeless laws. But will cities follow through?


Anti-homeless laws exist in some form or another in jurisdictions all over the US, everything from trespassing and loitering, to the more severe ordinances of bans on tents, camping or sitting and lying down in public spaces. These laws have done nothing to solve homelessness, just criminalize it, advocates said.

A Guardian analysis in 2015 found that homeless people were 6.5 times more likely to be killed by police than the rest of the population. And police largely don’t have an answer when encampment residents ask them where they should go, as most local jurisdictions lack the supportive and affordable housing necessary to house the more than 567,000 living unsheltered in the US.

San Francisco sheriff’s deputies outside City Hall as protesters rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, 31 May 2020.
San Francisco sheriff’s deputies outside City Hall as protesters rally against the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, 31 May 2020. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters

“Cops across the country have homeless units,” said Paul Boden, the executive director of the not-for-profit Western Regional Advocacy Project. “Why? Not to protect homeless people. You’re not trying to mitigate homelessness. You’re trying to mitigate the presence of homelessness.”

In 2019, the San Francisco police department responded to more than 65,000 calls about homelessness. Last year, the city’s police commission urged local stakeholders to come up with an alternative way to respond to homelessness.

Community leaders developed a proposal that would reroute all calls regarding homeless issues to the Compassionate Alternate Response Team (Cart), highly trained civilians tasked with de-escalation and conflict resolution through each situation.

“The goal, of course, is to address the root causes,” said Jennifer Friedenbach, the executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

The team would aim to resolve the problem not just for the person calling it in, but for the unhoused individuals involved as well. If a woman calls about a drunk man leaning against her door, the team would speak to the man about going into a detox center, Friedenbach said. A police response would have most likely resulted in a drunk and disorderly citation and a night in jail. If neighbors were complaining about garbage from an encampment, the team could work with the city and encampment residents to schedule a cleanup while ensuring the encampment residents don’t lose their belongings, which happens often.

“This team is not going to solve the homeless crisis, but it is going to stop us from wasting money on the police response while also solve the calls coming in to 911,” Friedenbach said. “In terms of the deaths from police use-of-force and the trauma, we’ll be able to stop that with this team.”

Proponents of Cart estimate that the team would cost San Francisco $6.8m a year. The Board of Supervisors has already approved $2m. The other $4.8m would come from the police department’s budget.

The proposal came after London Breed, San Francisco’s mayor, redirected $120m from the budgets of the police and sheriff departments to the city’s underserved Black communities. In June, following nationwide demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd, Breed directed the police department to stop responding to non-criminal activities like homeless calls and said the city would develop a crisis-response program over the next year similar to one deployed in Eugene, Oregon.

But Breed has stopped short of throwing her support behind Cart. In November, she launched the Street Crisis Response Team, which responds to behavioral health calls within three specific neighborhoods.

“The early data has shown us that with over 100 cases that they’ve responded to, they’ve been able to help at least 34 of those individuals transition into something where they could get help,” Breed said in an interview with the Guardian.

Some individuals had to go into psychiatric detentions, Breed said. “But at the end of the day, they’re taking a very targeted approach involving people who know how to work with people who are struggling mentally,” she said. “I’m very proud of that. I think it’s made a noticeable difference to the conditions on our streets.”

Cart proponents say the Street Crisis Response Team doesn’t go far enough – it only covers behavioral health calls, a mere sliver of the calls that affect the total homeless population. The city also has a homeless outreach team, but this team is not dedicated to resolving issues between housed and unhoused residents.

Breed also maintained that while law enforcement should not be responding to all homeless calls, sometimes they are necessary for the safety of the workers.

“When it comes to someone who’s just homeless and sleeping in a tent somewhere, our goal is not to have the police respond to a situation like that,” she said. “But sometimes things can get a little bit challenging, where someone who is responding who is not a police officer, they may not feel safe. We’ve encountered situations of violence, attacks and other things. For us, I need to protect my workforce as well.”

Friedenbach called that assessment classist. “Housing status has nothing do with proclivity to violence,” she said. She pointed out that the city’s non-police Street Crisis Response Team is already responding to any unpredictability that may arise from mental health or drug addiction crises, suggesting that they could be handled without an armed police officer.

And when it comes to danger in the streets, most homeless people will say it comes from the police. Two weeks ago, Brian Martin, 42, woke up at 5 in the morning to a knife cutting through the tarp of his structure in San Francisco. “There was a police officer standing there, and they told me to step away from my door,” he said. “They handcuffed me and told us that we were going to be leaving.”

The San Francisco police department responded to more than 65,000 calls about homelessness in 2019.
The San Francisco police department responded to more than 65,000 calls about homelessness in 2019. Photograph: David Levene/The Guardian

Under San Francisco’s tent ban, encampment residents must be given 24 hours’ notice before a sweep. Martin said he never received one, and was unprepared when the police arrived. He lost construction gear he used to make money on odd jobs, bicycles that he rebuilt to sell, clothes, electronics he collected off the street for his future home.

Worst of all, however, was the orthopedic brace and cane that Martin needs to walk after enduring six back surgeries. When he told the police he needed his brace, “They told me to shut my mouth,” he said.

“They wouldn’t let me have anything,” he said. “Every time I would ask them, ‘Can I grab that? That’s mine’. They said, ‘What job do you have to be able to afford something like that’?”

No one offered Martin housing after they swept his encampment two weeks ago. But Shanna Couper Orona, now a housing advocate, was able to help get him a temporary shelter bed.

Even though Orona no longer sleeps on the streets – she has an RV that she lives out of with her cat, Maison – she’s still a known entity in the unhoused world of San Francisco. A firefighter before she became homeless, she provides medical care for the unhoused and counsels individuals however she can.

“Most people are fearful of the cops because they have had interactions with the cops before,” she said. “And the way cops are doing things is only harming more people. People are done being bullied and done feeling like they’re nothing.”

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Hungary’s Fidesz wants to ban LGBTIQ content for under-18s

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Hungary’s ruling nationalist party has submitted legislation to ban content it sees as promoting homosexuality and gender-change to minors, Reuters reported. The draft law would ban LGBTIQ literature for under-18s, including educational material, and advertisements deemed to be promoting gay rights. The vote will take place next Tuesday. Prime minister Viktor Orbán’s government has been taking aim at the LGBTIQ community ahead of elections next spring.

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Rebel Joe: POTUS Reportedly Breaks Royal Protocol Making Queen Wait For Him

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Biden’s predecessors – Donald Trump and Barack Obama – too violated rules when meeting members of the Royal Family. The Republican and his wife Melania shook hands with Queen Elizabeth II and her late husband Prince Philip instead of curtsying and bowing, while the Democrat made a speech over the UK’s national anthem.

US President Joe Biden violated royal protocol while attending a G7 dinner reception in the United Kingdom, the Daily Mail has reported, citing Debrett’s, a leading authority on royal etiquette. According to the newspaper, the protocol states that all guests must arrive at the venue before royals and no guest should leave an event before members of the “Firm” (nickname for senior members of the Royal Family and their staff).

The Democrat and his wife Jill arrived five minutes after the Queen got there with Prince Charles and the Duke and the Duchess of Cambridge. However, it appears that the faux pas by the US president didn’t affect the meeting as the monarch seemed happy when she greeted Joe Biden and First Lady Jill.

​Reports say the presence of the Royal Family was crucial as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is attempting to sign a post-Brexit free trade deal with the United States.

Biden became the 13th sitting US president to meet with Queen Elizabeth II during her 69-year reign. The monarch has met every US president since Dwight Eisenhower, except for Lyndon B Johnson, who did not visit the United Kingdom during his time in office.

While posing for a group photo with other G7 leaders, Queen Elizabeth cracked a joke. “Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourself”, the monarch said making leaders chuckle.

​This was the first time the Queen, 95, has met foreign leaders since the beginning of the pandemic and the first major official engagement since the death of her husband Prince Philip.



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Spanish-American trade tensions: Spain warns Trump that trade hostilities could endanger greater military cooperation | International

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Spain views its bilateral relations with the United States as a whole, not as a set of separate areas where it is possible to have a good relationship in one (defense, for instance) and an openly hostile attitude in another (trade).

This was the message conveyed on Thursday by Spain’s foreign and defense ministers, Arancha González Laya and Margarita Robles, respectively, to US ambassador Duke Buchan. Washington should not expect military cooperation to increase while simultaneously imposing new tariffs and issuing threats to Spanish businesses, said Spanish government sources.

The Foreign Ministry portrayed the meeting as an initial contact between the new head of Spanish diplomacy and the Trump administration’s representative in Madrid. The encounter took place 48 hours before González Laya was scheduled to have a telephone conversation with US State Secretary Mike Pompeo.

For the first time, military cooperation was framed as one more element of US-Spanish relations, together with political, economic and cultural collaboration

But the unusual format of the meeting – two ministers going to see an ambassador – reveals a goal that goes beyond diplomatic formalities. For the first time, military cooperation was framed as one more element of US-Spanish relations, together with political, economic and cultural collaboration.

This attitude signals a change in Spain’s position: until now, the US military presence in the country had been “encapsulated” and treated as a separate issue, even at times when relations were cooler, such as the period when former US president George W. Bush and former Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero were in power.

In recent months, the Spanish government has authorized the US to replace four missile destroyers at its Navy base in Rota (Cádiz) with more modern vessels. The move also involves increasing the US presence at the base with a new helicopter maritime strike squadron. And the Spanish government has been sounded out about the possibility of deploying six destroyers in Rota instead of four, which means increasing its naval force by 50% and adding 600 sailors.

Spain views the agricultural tariffs, imposed in retaliation over European subsidies to the aviation giant Airbus, as unfair

While these requests are being made, the Trump administration is also making decisions that the Spanish government views as unfriendly. The most serious one of all was the recent introduction of 25% tariffs on several agricultural products, including olive oil, wine and cheese. Spanish exports of these products represented over €800 million a year.

Spain views these sanctions, imposed in retaliation over European subsidies to the aviation giant Airbus, as unfair. The tariffs have added to the financial troubles of Spain’s agricultural sector, which has been staging protests for weeks. But it wasn’t the first time: under pressure from California growers, in 2018 the US government slapped a tariff of nearly 35% on Spanish black olives, forcing Spanish exporters to take their battle to the US courts.

Another recent decision by the US State Department is viewed as even more hostile: the vice-chairman and CEO of the Meliá hotel chain, Gabriel Escarrer, has been barred from entering US territory. The move also affects his children and close relatives, and it is derived from Title IV of the Helms-Burton Act, which allows the secretary of state to deny entry to individuals who “traffic” in property that was confiscated from US nationals by the Cuban government from 1959 onwards.

The vice-chairman and CEO of the Meliá hotel chain, Gabriel Escarrer. has been barred from entering US territory

Several Spanish companies with a presence in Cuba have already been threatened or faced with legal problems under Title III, which allows US nationals to bring suits against anyone deemed to be “trafficking” with expropriated assets. But while these cases can be appealed in court, the decision to bar an individual from entering the country is discretionary and cannot be contested. “Not even North Korea does this sort of thing,” said one Spanish diplomat.

On Wednesday, the Trump administration further warned that it is considering sanctions against foreign companies operating in Venezuela as a way to put pressure on President Nicolás Maduro. The Spanish oil company Repsol was specifically named along with Russia’s Rosneft.

The decision to put military and trade relations on the same level follows Trump’s own logic: the US president has warned that NATO allies that fail to contribute 2% of their gross domestic product to defense could ultimately pay in the form of tariffs.

On Wednesday, the Spanish foreign minister told NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels that Spain is a “solid and reliable” ally. González Laya is planning to travel to Washington DC shortly, although Madrid is aware that the Trump administration is currently focusing on the re-election effort.

Despite the differences, the US-Spain relation is considered strategic. “For multiple reasons, political, economic and security-related, we consider it a priority to maintain and expand our relations with the United States of America,” said King Felipe VI in a speech to the diplomatic corps at the Royal Palace, just hours after the ministers had met with the US ambassador.

English version by Susana Urra.

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