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Invisible People

The Crime Of Being Poor In America

By James Donahue

There is a second looming deadline on the issue of the federal income tax that threatens to make life for poverty stricken families even worse than they already are. If Congressional Republicans have their way, and their plan to cut federal spending goes into effect next week, the impact on both state and federal assistance programs could be severe.

We are referring to unemployment extensions, food stamps, school hot meals for children of poor families and a variety of other assistance programs that have helped keep the homeless and poverty-stricken folks alive during these harsh economic times.

While not all of our elected leadership is that cold hearted, it appears that the ultra-conservative element doesn’t give a damn about low and zero income families and individuals that exist among us. Cuts in federal revenue sharing to states and schools will be passed down to county and community governments which, in turn, will mean forced cuts in spending, and pressure on locals to raise more revenues through property taxes and service fees.

Among the more cruel state laws in existence is a "Criminal Evictions" law on the books in Arkansas. Under this law, tenants that receive a 10-day notice to evict rental property must obey the order or face arrest, a heavy fine and up to 90 days in jail. Records show that more than 1,200 tenants were slammed by this law in 2012.

Most of the people evicted from rental units are guilty of just being too poor to pay the rising rental fees charged by the landlords. Under the Arkansas law, once convicted of failing to move out on time, tenants are fined and forced to pay the rent still owned even though they may be unemployed and homeless.

Because county and city governments are struggling to balance their budgets due to lost property tax revenues and reduced federal and state revenue sharing payments, many county jails are now charging room and board for the time prisoners are forced to remain under lockup.

A growing number of homeless have no place to go for shelter unless they happen to live in a city where charity organizations or church groups offer food and a warm bed. Thus more and more of these unfortunate waifs are curling up on public park benches, under bridge supports, in vacant buildings or in underground caverns constructed for access to utility services. An entire underground culture has spring up in abandoned railroad or subway tunnels under some major cities.

With so many unkept and obviously homeless people wandering, sitting or sleeping in downtown areas, civic leaders have been passing laws designed to drive these people away instead of trying to help them.

A recent CBS News report told of an increase in the number of cities passing laws against doing things on public property like sitting, lying down, sleeping, loitering, urinating in parks and panhandling . . . all of the things homeless people are forced to do.

A common trick among the homeless, especially in northern cities, is to wander the streets during cold nights and then go into public places like libraries, bus terminals, airports or train stations and sleep on public seats. But even this has come under attack.

The Newport Beach Public Library recently adopted a policy that allows staff to evict people with poor hygiene or strong body odors. The policy also prohibits lounging on library chairs and limits leaving shopping carts, bikes and other wheeled devices on library grounds.

One homeless man told the NBC crew: "I'm a piece of garbage as far as these people are concerned. They figure if they don't see you, then the problem don't exist and then they can say 'We don't have a homeless problem.'"