Urgent Call for Unity and Action for Homeless and Housing Rights in Rochester and Monroe County

“When I was hungry, you fed me, when I was thirsty, you gave me  drink, when I was homeless, you sheltered me.” -Matthew 25:35

“I see the church as a field hospital after battle.” -Pope Francis

We are calling on all supporters of human rights in Rochester to converge on Washington Square Park (between Woodbury St. and Court St., and between Clinton Ave. and St. Mary’s Place) at 6:30pm on Monday, October 20, 2014 for food, teach-ins, and for the inauguration of Sanctuary Village homeless tent city in downtown Rochester.

This fall both the County and City have escalated their discriminatory policies on the homeless. As a result, there are few safe places left for the homeless (for more info on the destruction of the homeless encampment last week see below). This fall has seen some of the greatest numbers of homeless reported in Rochester in memory with over 80 people seeking shelter at the House of Mercy on some nights, 6 or more people sleeping outside of St. Joseph’s shelter and a proliferation of outdoor homeless encampments all over the County.

United we are calling for the enactment of the Rochester and Monroe County Homeless Bill of Rights and the recognition and protection of the Right to Housing in Rochester and Monroe County. In addition, these rights should be backed by a one-month plan to house all the homeless on the street who want shelter or permanent housing. In the Fall of 2011 the City worked cooperatively with Occupy Rochester, mostly non-homeless residents, who exercised their 1st amendment rights in their 6 month encampment in Washington Square Park.  We see no reason why homeless folks cannot organize their temporary encampment to survive until decisive action is taken to end the current homeless crisis.

—Bring yourself and if possible bring socks, water, blankets, sleeping bags, and tents for the homeless. These are men and women who have families, passions and hobbies, experiences to share, and a basic right to survive.  For financial donations: https://fundly.com/rochester-polar-vortex-blanket-drive#welcome

We are facing a life or death situation for the homeless as Rochester’s winter approaches. Together we can choose life.

BACKGROUND

In August 2014, Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks took the drastic step of shutting down the de facto shelter of over 30 years at the Civic Center Garage where 30-50 homeless people found refuge from the harsh elements on any given night. This could have been a positive move if alternative shelters or permanent housing for the chronic homeless were made available.  Instead this action amplified an already dire situation for the homeless who were put out in time for winter with no alternatives in place.

After more than 18 months of negotiations with both the County and City officials by members of the House of Mercy and St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, it appears we are no closer to a solution to our amplified homeless crisis.  Monroe County government continues to praise themselves for their homeless services while scores freeze in the cold.  The City of Rochester refuses to repeal §120-64. of Ordinance No. 2012-363 of the zoning code which prohibits homeless shelters downtown.  The message is clear, downtown is open for business but closed for homeless.

To pour salt on the wounds of the homeless, just last week ago one of the many homeless encampments (depicted on this new piece: http://fingerlakes.twcnews.com/content/news/772456/homeless-in-rochester–people-in-makeshift-encampments-live-day-by-day/?ap=1&MP4/) were evicted from their secluded location by the Rochester Police.  According to those raided by the police, they were told if they didn’t leave their secluded location they would be arrested. They left their encampment, but not before their blankets, mattresses, and many of their few worldly possessions were confiscated and destroyed by trucks provided by the City of Rochester.

We are coming together to call for the end of the criminalization, harassment, and abuse of the homeless. and an end of the war on the poor. We calling for a Homeless Bill of Rights, which is a historic opportunity for the City of Rochester to distinguish itself as a model of municipal foresight and compassion. We are also calling for the recognition and the right to housing in the city of Rochester and Monroe County. These demands are backed by international laws such Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), and Article 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

In September, when advocates came to the Monroe County Executive’s office to reschedule a canceled meeting with County officials, three advocates from local shelters were callously arrested (for more info see three previous letters from homeless advocates and the Coalition of Concerned Monroe County Residents (https://www.facebook.com/notes/ryan-acuff/letter-to-the-community-from-the-three-arrested-protesting-monroe-countys-ny-hom/10152351482283779; http://roc.democratandchronicle.com/assets/pdf/A2222886912.PDF; https://www.facebook.com/notes/ryan-acuff/open-letter-to-monroe-county-executive-maggie-brooks-regarding-rochesters-homele/10152309744543779).

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