US violates human rights, homeless families say - PPEHRC/KWRU FWD

Tom Boland (
Sat, 2 Oct 1999 22:07:18 -0700 (PDT)

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By Randy Fabi

WASHINGTON, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Elizabeth Ortiz lost her job
as a housekeeper at a time when the U.S. economy was
surging, the poverty rate declining and unemployment had
already bottoming out.

Fired after working for five years at a Sheraton Hotel, the
39-year-old mother of three spent the next two years living
on the streets of Philadelphia.

``I've been left out of the economic boom,'' Ortiz told
Reuters on Friday at a homeless rally in a park across the
street from the White House.

The rally kicked off a month-long march from Washington to
New York and the filing of a complaint with an international
panel accusing the U.S. government of human rights

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the unprecedented bull
market boosted household incomes to record levels last year
and cut poverty to its lowest rate in 20 years.

The median U.S. household income rose to $38,900, up 3.5
percent from 1997 to 1998 and the largest increase since
1978. Also, the number of poor people in Ortiz's situation
-- a family of four earning less than $16,660 -- dropped by
1.1 million to 34.5 million, according to the report
released Thursday.

Peter Weiss, a lawyer representing hundreds of homeless
people, said the statistics were misleading.

``People at the bottom 15 to 20 percent are getting poorer.
They have nothing, no home, no medical insurance,'' said
Weiss, vice president of the Centre for Constitutional
Rights. ``The invisible man is becoming more invisible
because the economy is covering up reality.''

Acting on behalf of the homeless, Weiss and a dozen other
lawyers filed a complaint on Friday with the
Washington-based Inter-American Commission for Human Rights
against the U.S. government.

They say the Clinton administration and Congress violated
the poor's most basic human rights by passing legislation
like the Welfare Reform Act of 1997, which set a time limit
on welfare benefits.

``Everyone should have a right to an adequate standard of
living. No matter what,'' Weiss said. A copy of the
complaint will be sent to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno
on Saturday.

Meanwhile, hundreds of homeless families rallied in
Washington on Friday for the start of their month-long march
to New York to bring attention to poverty.

``In the United States, the richest country in the world,
increasing numbers of people are struggling to survive,''
said Cheri Honkala, organiser for the March of the Americas.
``Welfare reform has in fact, increased hunger and

Participants will walk 10 miles a day for 30 days throughout
October. Organisers plan to be in New York on Nov. 1. Ortiz
will be among the participants.

17:06 10-01-99

Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.


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Philadelphia, PA 19132-9720
Phone: 215/203-1945
Fax:   215/203-1950

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