Public Interest Litigation - can it win homeless people power?

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 23 May 1999 16:46:27 -0700 (PDT)


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Can court cases help homeless people secure our needs and rights?
If so, under what circumstances?

Have the courts helped homeless people where you live?
If so, how?

See below for a related article:

Stowell said...politicians ignore the issue because the homeless have no
power. Those with financial muscle don't act because they have no
incentive...
He said it may take public-interest litigation -- similar to lawsuits
against the tobacco industry that alleged health and economic damage to the
public -- to spur action on the issue. "Absent that, not much is going to
change. There will be a shift here and there  . . . but homelessness will
be with us.'' -- from article below

http://www.dispatch.com:80/pan/localarchive/hospnws.html
FWD  Columbus Dispatch [Ohio, USA] - Friday, May 21, 1999


COALITION FOUNDER HONORED FOR WORK WITH HOMELESS

By Dennis M. Mahoney - Dispatch Religion Reporter


    Richard Stowell says homelessness is the same in California as it is in
Ohio.

    He also doubts homelessness is going to  get better any time soon.

    But, Stowell says, those who are trying to  make a difference should
"be happy with the small victories.''

    "They (the homeless) affirm for you firsthand the value and the impact
of the work that you're doing on a one-to-one, personal level,'' he said.

    Stowell, a former Worthington resident, quit his career as an engineer
to start the YWCA Interfaith Hospitality Network, which is a coalition of
120 central Ohio churches that provides temporary housing to the  homeless.

    The network, which is celebrating its 10th  year, is assisted by
social-service organizations, such as the Community Shelter Board.

    Stowell, who for the past two years has been involved in
anti-homelessness efforts in San Diego, was honored this week by the
network during its annual meeting at the YWCA Downtown.

    Stowell told network representatives that homelessness may vary from
region to region, but the "fundamentals of homelessness do not change.''

    "They're folks who are hurting, folks who are without resources,
without expectations, without hope,'' he said.

    That has not changed in the past 10 years, Stowell said.

    Stowell said there are two segments of society that could make a real
impact on homelessness: the politically powerful and those with financial
muscle.

    He said politicians ignore the issue because the homeless have no
power. Those with financial muscle don't act because they have no incentive.

    "Those who have are going to keep,'' he said.  "There's no advantage
for them to share their wealth.''

    He said it may take public-interest litigation -- similar to lawsuits
against the tobacco industry that alleged health and economic damage to the
public -- to spur action on the issue.

    "Absent that, not much is going to change. There will be a shift here
and there  . . . but homelessness will be with us.''

    Still, he said, the work of those associated with the network is
important, and they should continue to make sure that at the end  of the
day, the homeless are "safe, rested, with a little less suffering than when
we saw them that day.''

    "You can't underestimate what that means to the woman holding a couple
of  small children -- when she doesn't know whether her world is going to
hold together  or not, because you hold her world together.  You have, you
do, you will.''

    Karen Schwarzwalder, executive director of the Columbus YWCA, said the
network must be flexible to deal with the changing face of homelessness,
such as the growing Somalian population locally.

    Since civil war broke out in Somalia in 1991, about 5,000 Somalis have
come to central Ohio. The network provides shelter and  helps immigrants
establish households.

    She thanked the more than 15,000 volunteers and said they provide "a
value to this  community beyond telling.''

    The Rev. Aaron Wheeler of Mountaintop Missionary Baptist Church, who is
executive assistant to Columbus Public Safety Director Thomas W. Rice, said
the network must continue to make a difference.

    "We must be good hosts and hostesses.  We must reach out to people,''
Wheeler said.

    Also honored was the Rev. Gwyn Stetler, who has been network director
since the YWCA took over its operation from Stowell in 1992.

    Stetler will become an associate minister at Trinity United Methodist
Church on the Northwest Side in June.

END FORWARD

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