Oversize vehicles offer tenuous home amid U.S. housing crisis

Screenshot_2020-03-05 Oversize vehicles become homes amid US housing crisis
A sign in Seattle restricts overnight parking in 2014. Handout photo by Graham Pruss

WASHINGTON, – Judith Ortiz was living in an apartment near San Francisco, working in a restaurant, when she realized she could no longer make ends meet.

Rents had gotten too high, she recalled, and the job was not paying enough.

About a year ago, she took a step that experts say is increasingly common amid the record rental affordability crisis gripping the United States: She left her apartment and bought an RV, a large vehicle equipped with beds, plumbing and a small living space.

Today Ortiz lives in the RV — short for recreational vehicle and designed for camping or road trips — with her sister and two-year-old niece.

The arrangement allows her “to be in the neighborhood and not stay on the street”, said Ortiz, 45.

But it is hopefully only a temporary solution, she said, adding that living in an RV in the street was unsafe and that her sister had been hassled.

“Nobody wants to live in an RV. It’s just convenient because the cost of living is way too high,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from East Palo Alto, California.

A dramatic rise in homelessness in the United States after the recession of 2008-09 has been running parallel to an increase in people living in vehicles, said Graham Pruss, a University of Washington anthropologist.

Those living in oversize vehicles make up a unique subset, he said: “RVs are being used as a new form of affordable housing.”

In places like Seattle, the booming tech industry has made it difficult for those with lower-paid jobs to find a place to live.

“People who work in the service economy can’t live here,” said Pruss, who works with the city of Seattle on homelessness issues. “They have to live 100 miles away — or they’re using these vehicles.”

MOBILITY, PROPERTY, PRIVACY

Especially for those who are newly experiencing homelessness, an RV can be enticing, Pruss said.

They “look around them on the street and see everyone else living in tents, and there’s a valuation, seeing (a) vehicle as better,” he said. “Especially an RV, which has a stove — you have mobility, a certain property right, privacy.”

The number of those living in vehicles has skyrocketed over the past decade, Pruss said — in Seattle, rising within a decade to 3,372 from 881 in 2008, according to official annual counts.

And the anecdotal evidence is clear, he said: RVs have become an incredibly common sight on the streets of many U.S. cities, particularly on the West Coast.

Yet RVs as a housing option pose unique challenges for cities, support services and residents alike, said researchers and activists.

Their size — often more than 20 feet long, and wider than a standard vehicle — makes it difficult to find parking. RVs also often have toilets or sinks, meaning residents have to figure out a way to safely dispose of wastewater, while generators can be noisy.

These factors also make them easy targets for residential neighborhoods that may not want them on their streets, and for cities to crack down on them.

Ordinances to outlaw sleeping in a vehicle rose by 213% in 2019, according to a report from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty. Such bans now exist in 50% of U.S. cities, the report said.

DOWNSIZING

RV residents can also pose an additional complexity as they may not want to move out of their vehicle, said Jennifer Adams, an outreach manager with the Bridge Care Center, a charity in Seattle.

Instead, they may see themselves as having made a purposeful decision to downsize, and thus may not want to access homelessness services that could be of help, she explained.

“A lot of them are a lot more independent — it costs a lot more money to be that way, and they usually have an income,” said Adams, referring to those living in RVs.

The city’s tech industry has displaced roofers, painters, fishermen and other contractors, she said, and those are the types that may consider moving into an RV to save costs.

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200304092324-4fz13/

 

Ethiopia’s enslaved child maids seek solace at night school

Screenshot_2020-03-04 Ethiopia's enslaved child maids seek solace at night school
An underage domestic worker takes notes in a class in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 14, 2020. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Emeline Wuilbercq

ADDIS ABABA, – Each day, 12-year-old Tesfa waits for the clock to strike 3:30 p.m. and provide her respite from the cooking, cleaning and beatings she endures working as a maid in Ethiopia’s capital.

Once she finishes her daily tasks – which include caring for a toddler – Tesfa runs to a primary school to avoid being late for a catch-up class tailored towards underage domestic workers.

“I’m only happy when I come here,” Tesfa, whose name was changed to protect her identity, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation after a class in Addis Ababa last month.

Fiddling with her necklace, she spoke of sleeping on the floor, eating only leftovers and being denied any days off.

“I do anything (the employers) order me to do … they beat me, always,” added Tesfa. She was left with the family last year by an aunt who took her from northern Ethiopia to Addis Ababa.

Tesfa is one of countless girls working as maids in cities across Ethiopia although official data is lacking. Most come from rural areas and are sent away in search of a living by their families – often via labour brokers or with relatives.

Kept indoors, far from home, and unprotected by labour law, many child servants are denied an education, exploited and enslaved, according to activists that work with such victims.

Run by a local charity, the two-hour lessons are attended by about 130 pupils, most of them young maids, who have permission from their employers to go to school once their chores are done.

“These children are hungry for education,” Fikirte Assefa, a volunteer for the Organization for Prevention, Rehabilitation and Integration of Female Street Children (OPRIFS), which has been running the early evening classes since 2006.

“(The classes give them) hope and a vision,” Fikirte added, recounting success stories of former child maids she had worked with who later went on to become nurses, doctors and engineers.

LEGAL STRUGGLE

Yet such triumphs are thought to be rare in a country where the rights of domestic workers are not enshrined in labour law.

Their working conditions are regulated by Ethiopia’s civil code of 1960, leaving them highly vulnerable to abuses according to lawyers who say this limits their legal avenues to pursue justice and fuels a sense of impunity among exploitative bosses.

Under the code, employers must pay domestic workers living in their homes every three months and cover healthcare costs, while being entitled to offset the outlay against owed wages.

Former federal prosecutor Mussie Mezgebo Gebremedhin said this meant that the lives of Ethiopia’s domestic workers “largely depended on employers’ sense of fairness”.

“The government has drafted a regulation on domestic work but still it has not been enacted,” he said. “(It) thinks that domestic work based on a contract can disrupt the family-like conditions or the relationship between the employer and worker.”

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200304002433-0qarl/

 

India PM Modi hands over his social media accounts for Women’s Day

Screenshot_2020-03-05 India PM Modi hands over social media accounts for Women's Day
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets the media prior to the BRICS summit in Brasilia, Brazil November 14, 2019. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS

NEW DELHI, – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hand over his social media accounts on Sunday to celebrate inspiring women on International Women’s Day, months after facing criticism over a series of high-profile rape cases.

With more than 50 million followers on Twitter, Modi, 69, has one of the biggest followings on social media among world leaders.

“This Women’s Day, I will give away my social media accounts to women whose life & work inspire us. This will help them ignite motivation in millions,” Modi said in a tweet on Tuesday.

He asked people to share entries of such women using the hashtag #SheInspiresUs, which became the top trending topic on Twitter about an hour after he posted his tweet.

His support for the March 8 event came after he faced flak for failing to check violence against women following a series of rape cases late last year that triggered mass protests.

In November, a 27-year-old vet was raped, suffocated and her dead body set alight on the outskirts of the southern city of Hyderabad.

Another rape victim was set on fire and killed by a gang of men, including her alleged rapists, in December.

In the same month, a court sentenced a former lawmaker from Modi’s ruling party to life imprisonment for raping a teenager.

These cases highlighted India’s grim record of sexual violence against women despite enacting some of the world’s toughest laws after the gang rape of a Delhi student on a bus in December 2012, which sparked global outrage.

One woman reported a rape every 15 minutes on average in India in 2018, according to government data released in January.

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200303094604-h0hgs/

 

University of Notre Dame converts tons of dining hall leftovers into energy

earth
University of Notre Dame senior Matthew Magiera stands in front of one of the school’s 5,000-gallon holding tanks of ground-up food. (William E. Odell)

Notre Dame, Indiana — On the campus of the University Notre Dame with its “Fighting Irish” mascot, green is undeniably the school color during football season. But in recent years, the 177-year-old university with about 12,000 students has been going green in other ways — reducing its carbon footprint and working towards sustainability.

In 2016, the university adopted a comprehensive sustainability strategy that featured six major areas the university intended to work on. One of them was a commitment to reduce waste, including food waste. At Notre Dame, food waste comes primarily from its two main dining halls and from campus catering events. Food waste was painfully visible on home football game weekends. Thousands of fans came to campus to cheer, eat, drink — and discard what they didn’t consume.

“One of the first things I realized when I started working at the university was that we were generating an awful lot of waste on campus, and most of it was food,” recalled Allison Mihalich, senior program director at Notre Dame’s Office of Sustainability.

Until two years ago, Mihalich worked for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. She’s found campus culture very different than the EPA environment. Not everyone on campus is well informed about or even interested in environmental issues. But she saw that Notre Dame administrators had a growing commitment to sustainability and wanted to both recycle and rescue food.

Mihalich said she first encountered Matthew Magiera, a chemical engineering major from Pittsford, New York, in the university’s sustainability office conference room. His research notes and calculations were spread out across the table and floor. Collaborating with Campus Dining and the Office of Sustainability, Magiera had been tasked as an intern with calculating the amount of food waste from dining hall food trays and from catering.

It was quite a challenge for a sophomore college student, even an exceptionally committed and capable one. For months, “waste weighs” of food were painstakingly recorded, analyzed and re-analyzed.

“We realized that we were generating a ton of food waste a day,” Mihalich told NCR’s EarthBeat. “Literally an actual ton of food waste every day from the two dining halls and the catering facilities!”

Two years later, Magiera shies away from taking much credit for his critical food waste research. Nonetheless, the research soon led to Notre Dame’s installation of three Grind2Energy systems, one near each of the two dining halls and one by the catering office.

Last year, Notre Dame began utilizing the Grind2Energy systems in order to process its food waste and then send it to another site for anaerobic digestion, the biological break-down of organic material that produces biogas that can be used to generate electric power.

 

 

 

 

https://www.ncronline.org/news/earthbeat/university-notre-dame-converts-tons-dining-hall-leftovers-energy

UN agency says 35 migrants rescued off Libyan coast

Rescue
Most migrants make the perilous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats [File: Pablo Garcia/AFP]

A commercial ship rescued 35 Europe-bound migrants off Libya’s Mediterranean coast and returned them to the capital, Tripoli, the UN migration agency said.

The International Organization for Migration posted on Twitter that the migrants, intercepted on Thursday, were given medical assistance and relief items upon disembarkation.

“Saving lives at sea is a moral and legal obligation. It is, however, unacceptable that migrants continue to be returned to an unsafe port,” said the IOM.

Libya, which descended into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed longtime ruler Muammar Gaddafi, has emerged as a major transit point for Africans and Arabs fleeing war and poverty in their home countries and hoping to travel to Europe.

Most migrants make the perilous journey in ill-equipped and unsafe rubber boats. As of last October, roughly 19,000 people had drowned or disappeared on the sea route since 2014, according to IOM.

Last week, a rubber dinghy packed with 91 migrants set out from Libyan shores for Europe; it went missing in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea.

In recent years, the European Union has partnered with the coastguard and other forces in Libya to stop the flow of migrants.

Rights groups say those efforts have left people at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centres that lack adequate food and water.

The latest developments come amid criticism of the EU’s lack of rescue missions in the Mediterranean Sea.

Member countries agreed earlier this month to end an anti-migrant smuggler operation involving only surveillance aircraft and instead deploy military ships to concentrate on upholding a widely flouted UN arms embargo that’s considered key to winding down Libya’s relentless war.

 

 

 

 

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/02/agency-35-migrants-rescued-libyan-coast-200228084755739.html

Yemen war: A look at a ‘serious humanitarian crisis’

Yemen
A Yemeni man holds a rifle in Aden, Sept. 14, 2006. Credit: Dmitry Chulov/Shutterstock.

– Nearly 24 million people in Yemen are in dire need of humanitarian assistance, according to a Center of Strategic and International Studies report.

Speaking Jan. 9 to diplomats accredited to the Holy See, Pope Francis called the current situation in Yemen “one of the most serious humanitarian crises of recent history.”

The Yemeni Civil War between a Saudi Arabian-led coalition and Iranian-backed Houthi rebels has left more than 100,000 dead since 2015, and millions more in need of basic food and medical necessities. Between Saudi air strikes on hospitals and schools and Houthi forces holding aid hostage, both sides of the conflict have violated international humanitarian law.

In his speech to diplomats last month the pope decried the “general indifference on the part of the international community” to the human suffering in Yemen.

The United Nations was $1.2 billion short of meeting its $4.2 billion goal for international donations to address the situation in Yemen in 2019. However, the greater challenge has been getting the existing food and medical aid to the millions of Yemeni people who need it.

Severe movement constraints on humanitarian organizations, aerial bombardments, and restrictions on importation has left 80% of Yemen’s population in need of food, fuel, and medicine, the CSIS Task Force on Humanitarian Access reported.

On Feb. 19, the Associated Press reported that half of the United Nations’ aid delivery programs had been blocked by the Houthi rebels. The rebels had requested that 2% of the entire aid budget be given to them, heightening concerns that the rebels have been diverting humanitarian aid to fund the war.

“To implement a tax on humanitarian assistance are unacceptable and directly contradict international humanitarian principles,” a USAID spokesperson told the AP.

Because the UN and other donors refused to pay the 2% demand, more than 300,000 pregnant and nursing mothers and children under 5 did not receive nutritional supplements for six months, a U.N. official said.

Saudi-led coalition airstrikes have attacked Yemeni hospitals, a breach of international humanitarian law. On Feb. 10, the UN reported that two more hospitals north of Marib City had been hit.

More than 19.7 million people in Yemen are in need of basic health care after the conflict severely damaged vital health care facilities.

A cholera outbreak in Yemen has affected tens of thousands of people, but cases of cholera have significantly declined since September 2019 when the World Health Organization reported 86,000 cases. In January 2020, WHO reported 35,000 suspected cholera cases in Yemen.

A UN spokesman reported Feb. 18 that aid staff have not heard reports of “famine-like conditions” in 2020 as they had in 2018. However, 7 million people in Yemen remain malnourished as the country relies on imports for 90% of its grain and other food supplies.

In early months of 2020, the conflict has displaced 26,800 people in northern Yemen, according to the UN.

In January 2020, a representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the UN spoke during an open debate at the UN Security Council.

Pope Francis is concerned about the continued “silence and indifference” on the situation in Yemen and concerned that the lack of international attention could allow further suffering and loss of life, Vatican diplomat Monsignor Fredrik Hansen told the Security Council.

The pope has often asked for prayers for the Yemeni people in his public audiences in recent years.

“Pray hard, because there are children who are hungry, who are thirsty, who have no medicine, and are in danger of death,” Pope Francis said during an Angelus prayer in February 2019.

 

 

https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/yemen-war-a-look-at-a-serious-humanitarian-crisis-25491

Bangladesh’s first female Middle East ambassador hopes to help abused women workers

Screenshot_2020-02-26 Bangladesh's first female Middle East ambassador hopes to help abused women workers
ARCHIVE PHOTO: Garment workers listen to speakers during a rally demanding an increase to their minimum wage in Dhaka September 21, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

DHAKA, – Bangladesh’s first woman ambassador in the Middle East is hoping her appointment will help female migrant workers in the region, with a mission to build a shelter at the embassy in Jordan for women labourers facing abuse or exploitation.

Nahida Sobhan, 52, a career foreign service officer who has worked in Rome, Kolkata and Geneva, starts this week as ambassador to Jordan that recruits thousands of Bangladeshi female workers monthly for its garment industry and as maids.

Bangladesh ranks among the top countries sending its citizens to work overseas, with about 700,000 Bangladeshis finding jobs abroad each year but some end up cheated and become victims of abuse after being promised jobs. “There are certain issues that woman migrants do face and I will try my best to solve those,” said Sobhan, adding that she was keen to set up a shelter at the Bangladeshi embassy in Amman for women workers like those set up in Saudi Arabia and Oman.

“When you are serving … it doesn’t matter whether you are a man or a woman … but it is true that if a Bangladeshi woman falls in trouble, she will be more comfortable to open up to a woman,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Jordan is home to more than 100,000 female Bangladeshi workers, mostly poor women from rural areas, and is the second ranking destination for Bangladeshi women workers after Saudi Arabia, according to government data.

But recruitment is largely carried out by unofficial brokers, which opens the door to trafficking and exploitation.

Last year at least 1,500 Bangladeshi women returned home from Saudi Arabia after being abused, an increase from 2018 when about 1,300 returned, according to Bangladeshi charity BRAC.

Neither the government nor charities have recorded the numbers returning from Jordan although activists and government officials said they received far less complaints from Bangladeshi migrants in Jordan compared to Saudi Arabia.

“In 2019 we received about 20 to 25 complaints from Bangladeshi workers in Jordan and they were mostly related to wage issues. They were not paid properly,” said Lily Jahan, chairman of BOMSA, a Bangladeshi migrants rights group.

“Some of them were beaten when they protested. We informed the government about these cases.”

Sobhan described the labour laws in Jordan as “supportive” and said migrants didn’t face “severe difficulties” there but this would be a focus of her work.

“I won’t say that there are severe difficulties, but there still are certain issues and I will try my best to solve these,” she said in an interview at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs office in Dhaka before leaving for Jordan.

Remittances from migrant workers are key for Bangladesh’s economy, making up the second-highest source of foreign currency earnings after clothes manufacturing, government data shows.

Sobhan, whose previous role was as the director general of United Nations wing of foreign office, said the government wanted to promote as many female ambassadors as possible.

 

 

 

https://news.trust.org/item/20200220105620-ysjrs/