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SPLC: Huntsville plan to evict homeless from encampment “threatens their health and lives”

The SPLC is urging city officials to halt the eviction until adequate housing is available to displaced residents.

Downtown Huntsville (STOCK)

A letter from the Southern Poverty Law Center representing six other advocacy groups alleges the city of Huntsville is preparing to evict homeless residents from the Derrick North homeless encampment and urges city officials to halt the eviction until adequate housing is available to displaced residents.

The letter, sent to the five-member city council and Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle on Thursday, further alleges that the evictions, if initiated, would violate updated federal guidelines from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and the U.S Interagency Council on Homelessness Prevention and a potential violation of the homeless resident’s constitutional rights.

The groups being represented by the SPLC in the Thursday letter include the National Homelessness Law Center, the ACLU of Alabama, Love Huntsville, Vote Huntsville, Huntsville Bail Fund, and Alabama Arise.

“According to reports from residents of the Derrick North encampment, the City of Huntsville is planning to evict its current residents and close the encampment without first securing individual housing for all the encampment residents,” the SPLU said in the letter Thursday. “Displacing encampment residents threatens their health and lives and may violate the encampment residents’ constitutional rights.”

City officials have yet to respond to a request for comment sent by APR Thursday afternoon.

Individuals living at the Derrick North encampment, according to the SPLC, include many disabled residents with limited mobility and other special health needs. The SPLC said Huntsville has announced “no special accommodations for assisting those residents with their move in the event that the Camp is closed.”

“An eviction without a proper accommodation plan could result in the loss of critical medicine and devices upon which those disabled individuals rely for their day-to-day survival.” The SPLC said in their letter Thursday.

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The CDC’s updated guidelines, as cited by the SPLC in their letter Thursday, suggest that “[i]f individual housing options are not available, allow people who are living unsheltered or in encampments to remain where they are.” as the clearing of encampments may disperse the already at-risk population of individuals experiencing homelessness away from health service providers. The letter also cites a federal public notice from the USICH, published May. 25., which flatly states that “removing encampments without providing access to low-barrier shelter and a range of housing options does not work” in responding to a growing population of individuals experiencing homelessness.

According to statistics compiled by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, an estimated 561 individuals were homeless in Huntsville and the surrounding areas in 2020. Statistics from the USICH estimate a total of 3,351 individuals were homeless in 2020.

“We urge the City to cancel the eviction of the Derrick North camp until suitable, ethical, and permanent solutions are provided to our unhoused community,” the letter states. “We ask that the city develop and publish short term and long-term plans that provide rapid rehousing, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing, and affordable housing. These camp closures do not help end homelessness and instead stack up more barriers that this community must face. Huntsville should develop a proactive approach to support its vulnerable citizens that are struggling to secure stable housing, instead of continuing the pattern of punishing and criminalizing these citizens.”

John is a reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter. You can contact him at [email protected] or via Twitter.

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