Homelessness From My Eyes
By Tee Tee (Tonya)
Hello, let me start with my story. I was homeless and coming to Madison in 2007. Although it was helpful to have temporary shelter when I got here, I quickly found out what some of the hardships of living in the shelter can be like. One evening I was headed to the Salvation Army and I had an incident of me falling down a hill and hurting my knees, therefore I could hardly walk. I was accompanied by my boyfriend at the time. He went ahead to tell the staff person that I was hurt, and that I was still on my way and would be late for the curfew. Once arriving there I was still turned around and spend the night outside. This was the day of one of the bad winter storms of 2007-2008 in which they had to shut down the transportation in Madison.
I’ve had about four apartments since then, and now I’m in a situation that I’m not quite considered homeless because I have a roof over my head. In my eye sight and quite a few others, you are considered homeless even if you stay with someone and you’re not on the lease or you’re staying place to place. People need a home and things to call their own with their name on it and pay the bills of their own.
I don’t believe homelessness will ever end, I do believe that it can be helped to be put at a minimum. While I was on the streets of Madison I can say I was treated fair enough to get from point A to point B. What I mean by that is, I knew when it was time to move around before someone could say it so I would have a back up before having to leave. If I didn’t have somewhere to go or someone to help me, I knew how to hustle money to get a hotel room. Not always, I didn’t always stay inside, don’t get me wrong. I’ve slept outside and it wasn’t so good every time. The night I mentioned earlier when I was turned away from the Salvation Army into the blizzard was bad because I didn’t know anyone here in Madison and had no where to go. So I had no choice but to sleep outside. Of course my boyfriend at that time slept out with me. We came here together from Chicago. So we happened to run into a older white guy that knew Madison better than and helped us find a cubby hole (as they call it here) to sleep in and stay warm enough for us not to die in that blizzard. Yes we caught colds, that’s normal, but on the count of this guy we learned how to survive the winters of Madison if needed. No one deserves to go through that. Although some nights outside in the summer weren’t bad at all, nights like these were cold as hell. Now tell me know does that sound coming from a woman with no kids here in Madison?
Once upon a time I had it all and didn’t have to worry about a thing. I’m no dummy to the streets or school either. Things haven’t been a walk in the park with me lately though. My background with the law, hasn’t helped my situation. I’ve gotten at least up to $300,000 in tickets in my life, most are for disorderly conducts and some are for trespassing, open intoxicant, lout noise, etc. How is a homeless person supposed to pay such a large amount of fines? I will admit that some I deserved, but not all. There are a few incidents with the disorderlies where I was defending myself. There should be no place in the world that has laws of no self-defense. The loud noise, ticket was once while in my own apartment. The trespassing was when I was walking through a parking lot that I had no idea of. Some have gotten these tickets for sleeping outside. Tell me where the fairness was in that?
Besides all of the things I go through I’m still a nice person. I like to go bike riding, dance, listen to music, go to parks, and barbeque. Writing is another thing that I enjoy doing. That’s because I get a chance to write whatever comes to my mind and I calm down. Sometimes I have to reread what I’ve written. Whatever goes in my personal journal I won’t change. Most of all I love children. They keep me smiling cause I believe they are the most precious things on earth. Helping the elderly and disabled is another part of my life. I’ve been doing that since the age of 17 hears old and I’m 33 years old now. So do the math. I’m a very smart person regardless of my social life experiences and problems.
I have some suggestions on how we can help solve homelessness. There should be more shelters for single women and women with children. There should be no family or single person without a home. I know some people have mental issues, disabilities, etc. and they need to be placed in a home and given help for what ever reason. I don’t understand how they can let these men or women leave these shelters and go back to the steets. How can a person function right if they don’t have a place to get their head together and have a good morning breakfast the right way? The children need to not be in the streets all day and no where to go. I would love to see everyone in a home to call their own.
Things that I’ve done to address homelessness for myself is, I’ve kept an apartment and kept a job to pay for it. I’ve also stayed with other people as well and paid them for staying with them. I work with Operation Welcome Home to help other homeless people. We are about assisting the homeless and getting them somewhere to live. We work side by side with Take Back the Land Madison, which is a group putting families and single people into foreclosed houses. We want our land back and we are not taking no for an answer.
Every homeless person shouldn’t be looked down on. No one knows what paths that person had to cross to get to where they are at now in this lifetime. Remember to never judge a book by its cover until you open it up and read it from the front til the back and no scanning. You just might miss something important.
Make your neighborhood beautiful day, and creating a Housing is a Human Right Zone. Talked with neighbors next to a liberated home asking them to put housing is a human right zone posters in their front windows to show their support for homeless people and people facing foreclosures. (Operation Welcome Home, Take Back the Land Madison and Coalition on Homelessness and Foreclosures)
Step out of the cold and into a warm and rejuvenating experience! Renew your spirit of struggle this saturday night at the second annual Operation Welcome Home Community Dinner. Home cooked soul food with vegan and vegetarian options, live soul music, break dancing, hmong dancing, awards and many great silent auction gifts are some of what you will fill you up at this event. Celebrate valentines day, black history month, and making housing a human right all in the same night February 11th from 6 to 9 pm at the East Madison Community Center at 8 Straubel court. Tickets are Sliding scale and no one will be turned away. Hope to see you there!
For Immediate Release
December 6th, 2011
M. Adams, Take Back the Land, 414-430-1321
Heidi Weglietner, Affordable Housing Action Alliance, 608-333-3676
Madison declares Housing a Human Right
Coming on the heels of years of grassroots housing organizing and advocacy, one week ago the Madison Common Council voted to pass a Housing is a Human Right Resolution.
“Recognizing housing as a right for all Madisonians is a big step in the right direction for Madison and for the national housing movement.” Said Heidi Wegleitner of Affordable Housing Action Alliance, and one of the co-authors of the resolution. “The low rental vacancy rates and rent spikes, combined with our high child poverty rate, make a compelling case for swift and full implementation of the right.”
The resolution was written and initiated by Operation Welcome Home, Take Back the Land-Madison, Peoples Vision for Affordable Housing, Freedom Inc, and Affordable Housing Action Alliance. It was introduced by City Alder Shiva Bidar-Silaf and begins with the daunting statistics on housing injustice especially as it impacts certain populations of people such as formerly incarcerated, LGBTQ, Latin@, youth, disabled and African American communities. The statistics are followed by recommendations for the city to include in a comprehensive housing plan, and hire a staff person, to improve the housing situation especially for low-income renters, homeowners, and homeless people. Money for this staff person has already been included into the 2012 budget despite challenging economic times.
Madison becomes a leading city in the national struggle for the human right to housing by joining Washington D.C., Cook County, Illinois, Minneapolis, New York City and Los Angeles in their efforts to recognize housing as a human right.
In another effort to bring about housing rights, today, December 6th, there are over 45 actions happening in 25 cities across the country in a national day of action called “Occupy our Homes” linking the Occupy movement with the foreclosure, housing and homelessness crisis. People are “going from the streets into homes” to stand up to banks, corporations and the 1% who are responsible for the economic crisis. This kind of non-violent direct action organizing combined with years of policy and legal advocacy, direct services, and community organizing has helped bring the recognition of housing as a human right to Madison; we hope it will spread to other locations.
M. Adams, an organizer with the local and national Take Back the Land Movement, said, “for us to have our human right to housing recognized not only do we need radical action, but also legislation that directly addresses and treats housing as a human right. The Housing is a Human Right resolution is a good local step in that direction.” M. is a co-author of the resolution and has also helped support the national day of action. M. added, “the resolution and the national day of action shows that people across the country are taking a proactive step at both a local and national level to have our human right to housing recognized.”
Travis Smiley and Cornel West visited Madison as part of their coast to coast anti-poverty tour. Take a look at their comments and what the media had to say.
From Dr. West’s facebook page. “I’ve been so deeply moved by the rich humanity & dignity of my red indigenous brothers/sisters, my Hmong people, my “Take by the Land” people, & the Odyssey Project students all in Wisconsin. We had a magnificent & heart-wrenching 18hr day on the 1st day of The Poverty Tour. Let’s take heart that in the midst of suffering there is hope if we care & work together.”
Dr. Cornel West On the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, with the courageous people of the “Take Back the Land” movement. These brothers and sisters have something to say… Check it out
The Poverty Tour – Madison, Wisconsin – “Take Back the Land” | The Poverty Tour www.povertytour.smileyandwest. com Sunday at 11:40am · Like · · Share
Video of event on Hammersley Road
For Immediate Release: September 12th, 2011
Z! Haukeness, Operation Welcome Home, (608) 358-9993
Tina Osuocha, Homeowner, (608) 622-3335
With the help of Operation Welcome Home (OWH)Tina Osuocha has been granted a year reduced payment on her home loan to stay in her home of 13 years.
“Operation Welcome Home has been a life-saver and helped me save my home,” said Osuocha, whose home is on Madison’s south side. She added, “A home should not be a luxury, or something that can be taken from you so easily. This has been a place that we have raised our children, created memories, and built a family. This is home sweet home.”
Osuocha has been negotiating with Select Portfolio Servicing Inc. for over 5 years. Recently the her home was put up for foreclosure with a Sheriff Sale scheduled for Sept. 7th 2011. OWH, a group know for their housing and homeless organizing, was able to negotiate with Select Portfolio to reverse the foreclosure and negotiate for the reduced payment plan to begin in October 2011.
“It’s the story you hear over and over.” said Z! Haukeness an organizer with OWH “These loan agencies and banks have acted irresponsibly with people’s mortgages, have gotten bailed out with tax payers money, and people are still facing foreclosure. Select Portfolio has done the right thing by taking a small first step to keep Ms. Osuocha in her home.”
Select Portfolio, who holds the loan on the home, has been in the news of late for receiving a high bailout in 2009 and prior to that for fraudulent mortgage activity. They are identified as a sub-prime loan agency and between 2003-2005, before changing their name from Fairbanks Capital Corporation, they were forced to pay a $40 million settlement for engaging in a number of unfair, deceptive, and illegal practices in the servicing of sub-prime mortgage loans. Osuocha said she experienced the results of this by being tricked into a ballooning interest rate reaching 12% APR at its height.
A number of hardships lead to Osuocha falling behind on her mortgage. Osuocha and her husband came to the US in 1982 from Nigeria following a short time in Britain. After 22 years of marriage, Mr. Osuocha died due to illness in 2001. He was an accountant at WPS and the main breadwinner of the family. Osuocha herself worked in home-care for most of her life as well as with the University of Wisconsin. Her most recent job with Ladlake, an organization which supports re-entry of ex-offenders back into the community, ended in April of this year due to a layoff from a failing economy.
The hard economy and her husband’s death was coupled with a battle with the homeowners Insurance company, American Security to get a leaky roof fixed. Osuocha’s roof was damaged due to hail and severe weather in 2006. Since then she has been fighting with and without the help of a lawyer, to attain the coverage she has a right to, and get the roof repaired. This leaking roof prohibited her from renting out the extra room which she did prior to the damage. It wasn’t until recently that it was patched temporarily by a neighboring roof worker passing by, for free, out of kindness and good will. The roof is still in need of full replacement and the struggle for appropriate coverage from the insurance company continues.
Osuocha says her struggle continues and doesn’t end with achieving her own justice. “I want to help other homeowners, renters and homeless people who are facing hardship, in collaboration with OWH to make sure housing is a human right.”
Housing is a Human Right Resolution Introduced!
The work of Operation Welcome Home, Affordable Housing Action Alliance, Take Back the Land-Madison, and Freedom Inc is continuing to the next steps as Alder Shiva-Bidar Sielaf has introduced the Housing is a Human Right resolution at the City level. The resolution has 5 official co-sponsors and multiple other alders have already signed on in support.
We have met with the Mayor and he has spoken highly of the resolution and the possibilities that it offers for the future of Madison’s attempt to realize housing as a human right.
The resolution begins with the daunting statistics on homelessness especially as it effects certain populations of people such as formerly incarcerated, LGBTQ, Latin@, youth and African American communities. These statistics are followed by areas of focus for the city and county to develop a housing plan to improve the housing situation especially for low-income renters, homeowners, and homeless people.
HOUSING AS A HUMAN RIGHT RESOLUTION
Whereas, in 2009 in Dane County, 2,413 individuals in families were turned away from shelter, 92% of those were individuals with families. 94% of turned-away families were rejected due to lack of shelter space or lack of funds to pay for motel vouchers; and
Whereas these resource limitations mean families with children can only stay in shelter up to 90 days and have a 180 life-time limit; and
Whereas, in 2009, 29% of families and 30% of single women reported “the threat or fear of violence” as the reason they were seeking shelter; and
Whereas, in 2008, 776 children attending schools in Madison were homeless; and
Whereas homelessness impacts a disproportionate number of people of color in Dane County, with 71% in shelter identifying as non-white , 83% of families, 64% of single women, 54% of single men and 48% of unaccompanied youth identified as non-white and African Americans make up the largest minority group; and
Whereas, in the U.S., 20-40% homeless youth identify as lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and/or queer (LGBTQ), while only 3-5% of the overall youth population identifies as LGBTQ; 44% of gay homeless youth are African-American and 26% of gay homeless youth identify are Latino; 62% of transgender youth homeless are African-American and 20% of transgender homeless youth are Latino; and LGBTQ youth are twice as likely to be the victims of sexual crimes while homeless; and
Whereas in 2009, 69 persons in the Dane County shelter system were 62 years and older and AARP reports that in the U.S. in 2001, 18% of homeowners and 38% of renters over the age of 65 spent more than one half of their monthly income on housing; and
Whereas, in the U.S., the National Coalition for the Homeless recorded over a thousand incidents of crimes committed against homeless individuals due to the housed offender’s bias of the victim’s housing status between 1998-2009 and in 2009 alone, 43 homeless men and women lost their lives to such violence; and
Whereas, in 2007, the Dane County Enhanced Youth Gang Prevention Task Force, listed “accessible and affordable Housing” as one of their prevention strategies and recognized that “stable and affordable housing is foundational to family stability and gang prevention”; and
Whereas, in 2009, the Dane County Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, reported “ex-offenders returning to the community after prison face great difficulty obtaining stable housing, employment, support, and treatment” which is “instrumental in avoiding re-incarceration”; and
Whereas, in 2009, the Dane County Task Force on Poverty’s 2009 report identified “seeking housing” as one of the underlying problems for Dane County citizens in poverty; and
Whereas, Madison Gas & Electric reports the rental vacancy rate for multi-family real estate in the Madison area for the 2nd quarter of 2011 is only 3.54%, which is down from 4.72% in 2010 and only half of what it was in 2005, resulting in rental prices increasing by 17.82% from May 2010 to May 2011; and
Whereas a Dane County renter making minimum wage would have to work 79 hours per week to afford rent for a 1 bedroom rental unit, 93 hours for a 2 bedroom and 125 for a 3 bedroom rental unit; an affordable rent amount for a Dane County renter whose sole source of income is SSI is $227, which is $515 less than the fair market rent for a one-bedroom unit; an affordable rent amount for a Dane County renter whose sole source of income is W-2 is $202, which is $675 less than the fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit; and 52% of Dane County renters are unable to afford a 2 bedroom unit at fair market rent; and
Whereas we are experiencing a national housing crisis due to a record number of mortgage foreclosures and an extreme shortage of affordable housing. The Madison area is no exception with a record number of foreclosures in 2010 and over 30% of Dane County homes in or near foreclosure in early 2011; and
Whereas federal funding for subsidized housing has plummeted in the last thirty years, from $80 billion in 1978 to $34 billion in 2006; and
Whereas the CDA waiting list for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher rent assistance program has been closed since April 1, 2003 (when it only briefly opened up pursuant to a lottery system) and public housing waitlist times range from 12 months to over 3 years; and
Whereas, publicly subsidized redevelopment, blight elimination, and gentrification can cause a net reduction in low income housing units and displacement of low income tenants if adequate protections for those tenants and low income units are not put in place; and
Whereas our efforts to improve housing opportunity and tenant protection at the local level are under attack by our state legislature which seeks to preempt decades of our hard work on housing issues; and
Whereas, Dane County has made it illegal to discriminate against people in housing based on race, gender, age, color, religion, national origin or ancestry, marital status, family status, mental illness, physical condition, appearance, lawful source of income, student status, arrest/conviction record, sexual orientation, less than honorable discharge, political beliefs, and social security number disclosure, and the City of Madison has further protections in place based on domestic partner status; gender identity; genetic identity; citizenship status; and status as a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking; and
Whereas, studies have documented the perception of discrimination among Latinos. In a 2008 Pew Hispanic Center survey, one in seven Latinos nationwide said they had trouble in the previous year finding or keeping a job because of their ethnicity. One in ten reported the same about finding or keeping housing; and
Whereas, the Southern Poverty Law Center found that among Latinos surveyed, 70% of Latinos nationwide said they have experienced racism in finding housing and another 20% were “unsure”; and
Whereas, immigrants are more likely to face barriers to enforcing their housing rights including language barriers, cultural mistrust, fear of government agencies, fear of retaliation, lack of familiarity with applicable laws, and lack of familiarity with judicial and administrative procedures for enforcing their rights; and
Whereas unstable housing causes children to suffer from slowed development, emotional problems, and underachievement in education; and
Whereas the Commission on People with Disabilities has identified increased development of accessible housing as a priority; and
Whereas studies have shown that the most important piece of a person getting stabilized from struggles with employment, addiction, mental health issues, and physical health, is by having stable long-term housing as a first step; and
Whereas unemployment and poverty are systemic problems, and individuals should not be blamed for the lack of income or stability to maintain housing; and
Whereas, in 2006, the Dane County Homeless Services Consortium developed a Community Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in Dane County; and
Whereas the U.S. has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), giving it the force of law, which protects individuals from discrimination based on property and economic status; and
Whereas, African-Americans make up 50% of the U.S. homeless population but only represent 12% of the total population and the UN Human Rights Committee has asked our government to take “adequate and adequately implemented” measures to remedy this human rights abuse; and
Whereas the U.S. has ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), which requires the government to eliminate all racially discriminatory effects of government laws and rules; and
Whereas, the City of Madison as a recipient of federal funds for housing and development, has an obligation to affirmatively further fair housing; and
Whereas the United States has signed onto the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides that “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including….housing…”; and
Whereas the human right to housing includes legal security of tenure, availability of services and infrastructure, affordability, habitability, accessibility, location, and cultural adequacy; and
Whereas we join the efforts of Washington D.C., Cook County, IL, Minneapolis, New York City and Los Angeles to recognize and progressively realize the human right to housing at the local level.
Now Therefore be it resolved that housing be recognized as a human right and that all people who desire a place of shelter and stable long-term housing be prioritized to have this basic need met both temporarily and permanently. In doing so, the City of Madison recommits to the goals in its comprehensive plan that call for the availability of safe, decent and sanitary and distinctive housing for all residents as well as the objectives and policies that accompany that goal. The City of Madison also recommits to the goals and objectives in the Community Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in Dane County; and
Be it further resolved that the City of Madison Housing Committee and the County Health and Human Needs Committee provide an annual report by July 1 of each year that tracks and assesses the affordable and accessible housing needs in Dane County by community;
Be it further resolved that the City of Madison will initiate the process of developing a Housing Plan with the County Health and Human Needs Committee with recommendations by July 1, 2012 for strategies to provide those housing units and shelter beds in those communities at appropriate affordability levels, including ensuring that enough accessible housing is available and consider creating a staff position that will be responsible for housing policy; and
Be it further resolved that the City of Madison and Dane County will explore creative uses of the public (ex. TIF, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, federal, state and local government funds) and private dollars to increase the level of available affordable housing, accessible housing, and shelter beds as identified in the plan above, achieve a one-to-one replacement of affordable housing removed from the community; and ensure relocation costs or the right to return for those displaced; and
Be it further resolved that the issues and solutions contained in the Peoples Affordable Housing Vision will be reviewed and considered for incorporation into the Housing Plan; and
Be it further resolved that the Housing Plan will include recommendations of policies to prevent foreclosures, evictions, criminalization of homelessness and to help stabilize people in their housing; and
Be it further resolved that the Housing Plan will affirmatively further fair housing as required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; and
Be it further resolved that the Housing Plan will primarily make recommendations based on the current housing market conditions, but will not overlook issues that may face the City if the market changes; and
Be it finally resolved that the City of Madison will work in partnership with Dane County; surrounding municipalities; and community partners to develop the Housing Plan and address housing issues in the region.
Annual Report on Homeless Served in Dane County, City of Madison Community Development Division (2009) <http://www.cityofmadison.com/cdbg/docs/homeless_rpts/2009AnnualHomelessReport.pdf>
Dane County Task Force on Poverty Report to the County Board, Nov. 5, 2009 <http://pdf.countyofdane.com/commissions/Task_Force_on_Poverty_Report.pdf>
Final Report, Dane County Task Force on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System, Sept. 2009
Final Report, Dane County Enhanced Youth Gang Prevention Task Force, Sept. 2007 <http://www.danecountyhumanservices.org/pdf/gang_task_force_report.pdf>
A report on the effects of the “Baby Boomer” generation and how this will influence the social,
economic, community and political developments to come, Dane County Task Force on Aging
Community Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness in Dane County, Dane County Homeless Services
Consortium, April 2006 <http://www.cityofmadison.com/cdbg/docs/community_plan_to_end_homelessness_final.pdf>
City of Madison Comprehensive Plan, 2006 <http://www.cityofmadison.com/planning/ComprehensivePlan/adoptedplan.cfm>
Dane County Comprehensive Plan, 2007 <http://www.daneplan.org/plan.shtml>
Rivedal, K., Property Trax: Average price for Madison apt rentals rose nearly 18 percent year-over-year in May new survey finds, Wisconsin State Journal, June 29, 2011 <http://host.madison.com/wsj/business/real-estate/article_06feb2ee-a1d0-11e0-90c6-001cc4c03286.html>
Out of Reach 2011: Renters Await the Recovery, National Low Income Housing Coalition, June 2011
<http://www.nlihc.org/oor/oor2011/data.cfm?getstate=on&getmsa=on&msa=560&getcounty=on&county=3105&state=WI> (URL for Dane County/Madison FMA Data)
“Simply Unacceptable”: Homelessness and the Human Right to Housing in the United States 2011, National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, June 2011.
Ray, N., Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth: An epidemic of homelessness. New York: National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute and National Coalition of the Homeless, 2006
Hate Crimes against the Homeless: Americans Growing Tide of Violence. National Coalition for the Homeless, August 2010. < <http://www.nationalhomeless.org/publications/hatecrimes/hatecrimes2009.pdf>
Beyond 50 2003: A Report to the Nation on Independent Living and Disability,
American Association of Retired People (AARP), Washington, DC, 2006
Southern Poverty Law Center, Under Siege: Life for Low-Income Latinos in the South, Hostility, April 2009
Levy, Diane K., et al., In the Face of Gentrification: Case Studies of Local Efforts to Mitigate Displacement, Urban Institute, Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center, Washington D.C., 2006. <http://www.urban.org/UplodedPDF/411294_gentrification.pdf>