Compassion Reporting on poverty fighting and criminal justice

A year of homelessness and despair

Poverty | The battle continued in 2017 for individuals and organizations to find ways to offer compassion effectively
by Rob Holmes
Posted 12/27/17, 04:37 pm

This year, the nation debated racism in law enforcement, criminal justice reform, and refugee policy. Homelessness in U.S. cities spiked. And natural disasters devastated and rallied communities. Through it all, individuals and organizations kept up the social and spiritual fight against poverty and injustice.

Police killings

Of the nearly 1,000 people killed by police officers in the United States this year, about 1 in 10 involved shootings of unarmed people, like Daniel Shaver and Walter L. Scott. The most publicized deaths have been black suspects shot by white police, though white deaths at the hands of police are double the number of black deaths. In the case of Daniel Shaver, a white man, former Mesa, Ariz., police officer Philip Brailsford was acquitted of murder and manslaughter in December, after only six hours of jury deliberation. The same day, former North Charleston, S.C., police officer Michael Slager was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the April 2015 murder of Walter L. Scott, an African-American man. These 2017 stories exemplified why police killings need colorblind reporting—and how it could speed up reform in policing strategies.

Criminal justice reform

Debate raged this year over the U.S. criminal justice system’s “mass incarceration” trend. In 2017, there were “more than 2.3 million people in 1,719 state prisons, 102 federal prisons, 901 juvenile correctional facilities, 3,163 local jails, and 76 Indian Country jails and military prisons,” according to the Prison Policy Initiative. These numbers do not include immigration detention facilities, civil commitment centers, and prisons in U.S. territories. In a recent interview with WORLD’s Marvin Olasky, Anthony Bradley, a professor at The King’s College in New York City, discussed the problems facing the criminal justice system, but he also had an idea for churches that would help those released from prison to have a “permanent new trajectory.”

Homelessness in our nation’s largest cities

Despite money allocated to services for the homeless, the number of unsheltered people camping along transportation corridors, rivers, and sidewalks in the nation’s largest cities swelled this year. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported just a 1 percent increase overall in homelessness this year, but it is the first increase in seven years, and all the jumps were in cities. Certain areas saw substantial rises: West Coast states saw a 14 percent surge in homelessness this year, mostly due to increases in Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Diego (ranked first, third, and fourth, respectively, in the nation for the number of homeless.) New York City ranked second. Urban leaders like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said key factors were a “historic shortage of affordable housing,” a mental health crisis, insufficient support for veterans and foster youth, and a lack of help for those formerly incarcerated. But substance abuse also played a role in why people moved to the streets this year, and some cities fought back. In January, the city of Everett, Wash., filed a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, maker of OxyContin painkillers, blaming it for the city’s opioid crisis. WORLD’s extensive 2017 coverage of homelessness in Los Angeles, New York City and San Diego showed the struggles faced by those on the streets, and those serving them.

Refugees coming to the United States

U.S. aid groups—and the refugees they serve—lived in suspense this year as President Donald Trump and federal judges in several states battled over which refugees could enter the country and when. After campaign promises in 2016 of “a total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States, the president insisted this year his order was not a Muslim ban. Indeed, the new policies are hurting Christians as well. Trump’s executive orders on refugees and immigrant visas is resulting in fewer Christian refugees entering the country, despite the president’s claim that persecuted Christians would receive top priority under his executive order. And this year also saw a pattern of U.S. immigration authorities pursuing deportation of Iraqi Christians.

Response to hurricanes Harvey and Irma

During an extraordinary year of hurricane destruction in the southern United States and the Caribbean, the media often channeled ire through stories about government assistance being a day late and many dollars short, replete with accusations of miscounted Puerto Rican deaths due to hurricane destruction. But WORLD showed how people pulled together in their communities to relieve pain and rebuild structures, including WORLD Digital managing editor Leigh Jones’ reflection of living with God’s love and grace through the tragedy of Hurricane Harvey, and her magazine cover story highlighting the need for reform in disaster response funding so taxpayers don’t pay out for homes flooded over and over again.

Rob Holmes

Rob is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute’s mid-career course. Follow Rob on Twitter @SouthernFlyer.

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