By Kenneth Cullivan
To the frequent readers of The Challenger, it comes as no surprise that in Houston and Austin the respective city councils are consistently attempting (and succeeding) in passing municipal ordinances which make being homeless a crime. In Houston the so called “civility ordinance” was passed which made it a ticketable offense to sit on the ground by a bus stop where a courtesy bench was not provided, panhandling was raised from a Class C Misdemeanor to a Class B Misdemeanor (Class B and higher automatically go to the county jail where class C’s are ticketable offenses).
In Austin the No Sit No Lie ordinance was just the beginning of a city wide persecution of the homeless. But Austin and Houston are not the only cities in the nation in which poor, disadvantaged and homeless are being harassed by local authorities due to municipal and state ordinances that are being passed which intentionally isolate and target poor and homeless individuals, specifically in low-income areas. In New York the Lower East Side’s underground art scene has been gentrified away by real estate barons who have bought out block space to put up high rises, department stores and high dollar restaurants where affordable housing used to be, adding to New York’s already bustling homeless population.
In fact, all across the nation gentrification has become the norm in major cities from state to state. The country may appear to be doing better than it was when Obama took office 6 years ago but there is less affordable housing now than there was then, resulting in more homeless.
In September, I talked about how Senator Jane Nelson, a republican from Flower Mound, TX, introduced a bill that altered the state’s law on Adverse Possession claims (squatter’s rights). Adverse Possession allowed an individual to file an affidavit for a 16 dollar filing fee paid to the County, and move into a previously foreclosed home, under the condition that they make improvements to the home or property and agree to pay taxes.
Adverse Possession was beneficial to both the individual filing the claim and the community because it prevented the homes from falling into disrepair and becoming eyesores which can lead to reduced property values in the area where these homes are located. For the individual filing the claim, it meant that they had a chance at receiving legal title to a property that they might otherwise be unable to afford, if they were willing to roll up their sleeves put in some elbow grease and work hard to improve the property.
Senator Nelson wrote the bill in such a way to make it retroactive. The bill repealed pre-existing laws and made it possible for state prosecutors to file burglary and theft of property charges on people who had filed the claims and took up residence in homes in which adverse possession claims were still pending. One man was found guilty of burglary, sentenced to 3 months in jail, over $10,000 and 10 years probation as a result of filing an adverse possession claim and taking up residence in the home in question, all of which was perfectly legal at the time he filed his claim but due to the retroactivity of the law, the State was able to prosecute him under the new law even though he filed his claim before the law existed.
I cited this as an example of the kind of issues that need to be addressed in our Freedom March, a march on Washington by poor, homeless, disadvantaged and average citizens who are just tired of seeing their rights legislated away. I introduced the concept of the Freedom March in the August edition of The Challenger, and it is an idea whose time has come.
Its time we placed a spotlight on the Government’s prejudicial treatment of the poor and working class, highlighting issues like forced gentrification and the abuse of the legislative powers of the municipal, state, and federal governmental entities by politicians like Senator Jane Nelson and legalized persecution of the poor and homeless in the inner cities. We have to come together. You can’t expect your brother to fight for your rights if you’re not willing to help him fight for his. Solidarity is the key.
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