Through our documentary series “Unwelcome” we have discussed some of the aspects of the systemic injustices committed against individuals experiencing homelessness in the state of Arizona. Whether it is the false claims of eradication of veteran chronic homelessness or the discrimination against prospective employees based solely on their homelessness state, we have taken a profound look at the very neglected reality of over 29,000 individuals in Arizona alone, according to 2014 estimates from the Department of Economic Security.
In this final chapter our participants working in the homeless services system discuss some of the groups of people that are not being provided with adequate resources to overcome their homelessness or that are being denied services altogether. Some of the groups that are discussed in this installment are people with varying degrees of mental illness, undocumented migrants, transgender individuals and people experiencing homelessness in rural areas of Arizona.
According to their 2014 report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty highlighted that criminalization of homeless individuals in the United States is harder on ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals and people with disabilities, who are most likely to fall into homelessness when experiencing poverty.
Additionally, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has acknowledged that the criminalization practices against homeless individuals in the US are a violation of Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which stipulates that “no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
Considering that Maricopa County, which accounts for approximately 61% of homeless population or 17,558 individuals in Arizona, has a 17% of poverty rate (higher than the national average of 14.5% in 2013) or about 675,704 people living below the poverty line, according to the mapping done by the New York Times and based on data from the US Census Bureau, it is indeed torturous to submit its already economically and socially vulnerable population to the criminalization, harassment and abandonment they face when they become homeless.
Outside of Maricopa and Pima Counties, 16% of the Arizonan homeless population (or approximately 4,670 people) are scattered through the 13 counties that constitute the “Balance of the State” which are predominantly rural areas. The challenges that individuals experiencing homelessness in these regions face are unfathomable when considering that some of its counties exceed the 30% poverty rate (Navajo County lands at 30.3% and Apache County at 33.2%), the lack of coordinated and proportional amount of relief services and the inexistent political will to assist them. This is evident when the Department of Economic Security glosses over the amount of individuals experiencing homelessness in rural areas by displaying only the number of sheltered individuals in the area (1,349) in their annual report, and considering that, according to the organization, these calculations provide the basis for planning and funding initiatives, it effectively excludes 71% of the individuals experiencing homelessness in rural areas.
When launching this series it was important for us to showcase the intersectionality of oppression experienced by homeless individuals. Issues of homelessness are worsened by the continuous misconceptions about who the homeless are and how they remain in that state. It is our job as society, not only in Arizona but any place where homelessness occurs, to take a look at how our environment and we contribute to this persistent injustice. These practices which compounded with further discriminatory behaviors from prospective employers and even service providers derive on the inability of individuals to “get back on their feet” and sustainably overcome homelessness, not to mention that homeless individuals are at higher risks of harm when humanitarian catastrophes, whether natural or manmade, occur.
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