Friday, April 29, 2011

A Homeless Revolution Is Unfolding

UPDATE: On April 10th I did a blog post about how I chased down a robber whom I'd witnessed taking a woman's camera. I ended my post rather abruptly and failed to say that the culprit was caught by police less than 5 minutes after I indicated where I'd last seen him and only a half block away from where my chase ended. We don't need to give people a reason to stop feeding the homeless or the cops a reason to clear the homeless out of the parks where they are often fed by churches and other groups of do-gooders.

A Homeless Revolution Is Unfolding

DC Mayor Vincent Gray's budget proposal was released on April 1st with horrendous cuts to Human Services. The homeless advocacy community, service providers and government officials working on Human Services have all been in an uproar over the negative impact these cuts will have if the budget is passed by the DC Council. Everyone is worried. I have DC Councilmen Jim Graham and Tommy Wells on video saying how terrible it's going to be if the budget gets passed as is. (See my YouTube channel at: www.youtube.com/user/EricSheptock)

On Thursday,April 14th COHHO (the Coalition Of Housing and Homeless organizations) held its usual monthly meeting. During that meeting, people discussed the crisis that is being created by Mayor Vincent Gray. Someone asked, "Who's going to tell the poor and the homeless about these cuts to Human Services?" Immediately following that meeting, about a half dozen homeless homeless advocates held a planning meeting in order to organize and strategize around getting the word out to those who will be affected by the budget cuts. I then secured a meeting space at CCNV (the Community for Creative Non-Violence) Shelter, due to the generosity of CCNV Director Rico Harris. On April 26th about 25 homeless people, 3 people from non-profits and 2 housed supporters met in the basement of CCNV (the drop-in) to chart the way forward.

Those of us who are already deeply involved informed the others who are just coming on board about the depth of the developing crisis. We explained that families with small children are already being denied shelter and that, as of April 1st, 2012, CCNV might well be the last year-round homeless shelter in our nation's capital. At the rate at which things are going, there may be at least 5,000 unsheltered homeless on the streets of DC next spring.

The meeting got emotional at times and it wasn't always easy to regain order. Nonetheless we got through it. The fact of the matter is that DC Government:

1 -- Fails to take sufficient steps to prevent homelessness
2 -- Fails to ensure the creation of affordable housing
3 -- Is closing shelters
4 -- Is tearing down homeless encampments.

People are worried and emotional. And there were a lot of strong feelings at the meeting -- understandably.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that several people in the room are ready to turn up the heat on DC Government. People expressed frustration with the process for testifying in front of the DC Council. Someone explained that the homeless have testified repeatedly in front of the Council, but to no avail. Her words were reminiscent of my first blog post in 2008 about our words going into a "black hole" (http://streatstv.blogspot.com/2008/06/my-black-hole.html) It was said that we need to become more aggressive and militant. People spoke of the tactics used by Mitch Snyder in the 1980's and suggested that we take one from his play book.

Before the meeting was adjourned, several people committed to performing certain tasks. Those tasks ranged from passing out fliers to e-mailing to posting video of the meeting. A woman who wasn't able to attend the meeting told me that she would be at the next one and promised to fill the role of secretary.

However, there are other efforts being made by people to get large numbers of protesters out to the Wilson Building (City Hall) to impress upon the mayor and the council the harm that will be done by the cuts. A woman named Celeste stopped me as I was leaving her church after being fed there. I didn't know who she was until she introduced herself and explained that she knew about me and my homeless advocacy. (It's quite common for people whom I don't know to know who I am, since i am often in the lime light.) Celeste then gave me some fliers to distribute in order to get people to come out to a rally to save social services. No sooner had I begun to circulate these and other fliers when another organizer of the rally called and asked me to speak at the rally,scheduled for May 3rd.

As a matter of fact, there are events scheduled for may 2nd through the 6th which are designed to sway the council's decision in favor of retaining services for the most vulnerable. This, of course, means that I'll be super busy. I'm the main organizer of the may 2nd meeting and a speaker on May 3rd. I'll try to attend events on the other days as well. I'm excited about how the fight to make housing a realized human right is picking up steam.

And while the local fight is gaining momentum, I am also involved in the National Right To Housing Movement as well as the League of Revolutionaries for a New America (www.lrna.org) As a matter of fact, I will attend the "League" Convention in Chicago from May 20th to 22nd. Being that I don't have a paying job, I'll need to do some day labor in order to earn $500 -- $300 to pay back the woman who bought my plane ticket and $200 for pocket money to buy food and other necessities. (The motel was paid for through a donation.) So, you can see that I have my hands full. There's never a dull moment for me.

Since I began doing pro bono homeless advocacy in June of 2006, I have not felt as sure that the poor and homeless were ready to stand up for themselves as I do now. It looks as though they've come to realize that this is the real deal and that the government is quite willing to hang them out to dry. Lately, I've heard many homeless people speaking about the impending shelter closures and the loss of vital services. When people ask me about their prospects of getting into HUD housing, I've begun to tell them to stop waiting and to give up hope. The ever-worsening crisis has become the topic of choice at soup kitchen tables. This is not all bad insomuch as it is raising people's consciousness level.

That said, the crisis of capitalism is worsening and the budget cuts are mere symptoms of the disease. As the crisis of capitalism deepens, various societal problems become insolvent. there is no resolution of these problems within the present system. It has run its course. This is why each successive mayor of DC seems to come out more directly against the poor and homeless. The tactics that public officials use to oppress the poor are becoming more overt by the day. Mayor Gray was seen as someone who would be better than mayor Fenty; but, he has turned out to be worse -- a topic that deserves its own blog post. Even so, I'm glad that the homeless are ready to fight.

This is class war!!!!!
It's time for a homeless revolution!!!!!
Let the fight begin in earnest!!!!!

"A riot is the language of the unheard." -- MLK, Jr.

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