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A Moment of Reconciliation

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

By Kelvin Lassiter – Policy Analyst

There’s a huge divide in America. Most believe that divide is either racial, economic, political or a combination of all three. They would be right. What about affordable housing? The heart of the matter lies in who is dominating the conversation regarding what’s affordable. The divide in the affordable housing conversation is racial, economical, and political. Let’s tackle income inequality, for starters, the federal minimum wage. Some would say our nation should explore provide universal basic income. Already underway and is a plus. See the pattern here? The individual, organization, or government entity directing the narrative determines what’s affordable and what’s not affordable. What income level is suitable and what is not. It was refreshing for a change to see the people determine what’s suitable regarding the recent events in Philadelphia, PA. 

For years, the Philadelphia Housing Authority has ignored its most vulnerable citizens. Eligible housing units that the poor can qualify to live in sits empty. This is by design. Developers and housing investors stalk their prey with lobbying efforts to develop something called mixed income communities. America, that’s just a fancy way to disguise “gentrification”. On average, a larger number of poor people that leave their neighborhoods behind never return. Philadelphia is no different. Empty housing just occupies city space while over 40,000 people sit on a waiting list for public housing. This is a normal practice in America. Make the poor sit and wait. Developers, house flippers, and city governments leave out the people that need it most, well, not this time. 

Lawyers, activists, and the unhoused seized on the opportunity to grab the attention of America with advocates that know something about grabbing attention; Black Lives Matter. It’s a marriage that ties housing and justice together. The people taking matters into their own hands may repair fractured relationships between housing authorities and the citizens they are supposed to serve. The journey started out with a simple demand; provide housing or we will take to next steps to provide housing for ourselves.

Well, of course, city hall did not listen, setting the stage for what would happen next. Close to 200 of Philadelphia’s most vulnerable people took over a park at 22nd and Ben Franklin Parkway in a neighborhood known for the lifestyle of the rich and famous. In this same time period, fifteen unoccupied housing authority homes became property of the people. The conditions may not have been ideal; however, it forced the housing authority to look at a much greater problem, humanity. Encampments were strategically set up in various parts of the city to force action. 

After months of political posture, an agreement was reached. The city agreed to turn over 50 public housing units including the fifteen occupied during a citizen take over.  These homes will be in a land trust meaning housing will be affordable for the poor and operated by the people. One of our sources who participated in the negotiations shared the following, something you may not hear with the national media:

Jobs are available through the trade union. Houses are being fixed up in North and West Philadelphia, and the formerly unhoused are welcome and will contribute to keeping the character of the neighborhood. While this is a landmark deal that will have implications nationwide, it comes with a set of challenges as well. The city council still continues the practice of political gamesmanship and owns a graveyard set up for housing policy. While it is much appreciated for the Philadelphia Housing Authority to grant 50 houses, it is still not enough for the estimated 6,000 plus unhoused people that remain in Philadelphia. Finally, the practice of encampment sweeps will continue in the midst of a global pandemic.

The fight for housing, which is a “human right”, has remained an issue since the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Discrimination has reached an all time high in punishing the poor just because they are poor. Will other housing authorities nationwide join Oakland, and Philadelphia using land trust models? Will the people have to take matters into their own hands or can we depend on housing authorities to do the right thing? Have we, or will we finally reach a moment of reconciliation in America? The jury is still out and has not yet reached a verdict. 

Standing in Solidarity with the Homeless and the Poor People’s Campaign

Written by admin on . Posted in Blog

Dear Friends,

Megan and Annie at May 14 Poor People's Campaign Rally by @Fightfor15

Megan and Annie at May 14 Poor People’s Campaign Rally by @Fightfor15

Today, Monday June 11, 2018, NCH Director Megan Hustings and Public Education Coordinator Steve Thomas will participate in nonviolent direct action with the Poor People’s Campaign. We plan to risk arrest in solidarity with the thousands of our homeless neighbors who are arrested and fined every day for carrying out life-sustaining activities in public spaces.

We can no longer accept the false narratives that allow for systemic racism to cause such deep inequality and economic injustice in our communities. Co-chairs Rev. Dr. William J. Barber and the Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, of the Poor People’s Campaign tell us that to change the narrative, we must change the narrator. NCH has, since its inception, stood to raise the voices of, and take our direction from, the community of people who experience homelessness – those who are most affected by economic injustice.

We envision a world where everyone has a safe, decent, accessible and affordable home. NCH affirms that we can and must end and prevent homelessness. We believe in the dignity of all people; and in housing, healthy food, quality health care, education and livable incomes as basic human rights. We believe that it is morally, ethically, and legally wrong to discriminate against and criminalize people struggling to meet their basic needs. We affirm that public policy makers and elected officials at all levels must be held accountable to end the systemic and structural causes of homelessness, and that structural racism and discrimination are root causes of homelessness and violates human dignity.

This is the 5th week of 40 Days of nonviolent resistance through the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for a Moral Revival, focusing on the theme that Everybody’s Got the Right To Live: Education, Living Wages, Jobs, Income, Housing. We call on you, our supporters and partners, to stand with us in challenging the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation and the nation’s distorted morality.

Over the past two years, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival has reached out to communities in more than 30 states across this nation. We have met with tens of thousands of people, witnessing the strength of their moral courage in trying times. We have gathered testimonies from hundreds of poor people and we have chronicled their demands for a better society. The following moral agenda is drawn from this deep engagement and commitment to these struggles of the poor and dispossessed. It is also grounded in an empirical assessment of how we have come to this point today. The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America report reveals how the evils of systemic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, and the war economy and militarism are persistent, pervasive, and perpetuated by a distorted moral narrative that must be challenged.

We must stop the attention violence that refuses to see these injustices and acknowledge the human and economic costs of inequality. We believe that when decent people see the faces and facts that the Souls of Poor Folk Audit presents, they will be moved deeply in their conscience to change things. When confronted with the undeniable truth of unconscionable cruelty to our fellow human beings, we must join the ranks of those who are determined not to rest until justice and equality are a reality for all.”

Please visit https://www.poorpeoplescampaign.org to read the full The Souls of Poor Folk report: Auditing America 50 Years After the Poor People’s Campaign Challenged Racism, Poverty, the War Economy/Militarism and Our National Morality, as well as the campaign’s principles, and demands.

#TBT – National Union of the Homeless

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Art thanks to WRAP and artist Art Hazelwood

Art thanks to WRAP and artist Art Hazelwood

Modern homelessness, as we know it today, began in the 1970’s. During the Reagan Administration, affordable housing dollars were cut but almost 75%, leading directly to poor working families experiencing homelessness at alarming rates. Folks began to organize in the 1980’s, this was when our organization was formed. At the same time, a group called the National Union of the Homeless (NUH) developed out of the first resident-run shelter in Philadelphia.

Read more about the NUH:

“In the late 1970s and early 1980s the United States economy underwent a series of changes that led to a sharp rise in homelessness. Homelessness was no longer characterized by down and out individuals living on skid rows. For the first time in US history, families were increasingly becoming homeless, and the shelter system was created to house them.

Out of this common experience of dislocation and dispossession grew a national organization of homeless people that mobilized thousands throughout the US in the 1980s and 1990s. At its height, the National Union of the Homeless (NUH) had over 20 local chapters and 15,000 members in cities across the US.

Most importantly, it implemented a model of organizing involving the poor and homeless thinking for themselves, speaking for themselves, fighting for themselves and producing from their ranks capable and creative leaders. This was contrary to the prevailing stereotypes and misconceptions about homelessness. Almost twenty years after the decline of the NUH, its history offers important lessons for building a movement to end poverty today, in the midst of continuing concentration of wealth among a few and expanding poverty for many.”
(Copied from The National Union of the Homeless: A Brief History, Published July 2011, https://homelessunion.wdfiles.com/local–files/curriculum/BriefHistoryPamphlet.pdf)

The NUH was active between 1985 and 1993. During this time, NUH mounted several campaigns, first aimed at overcoming stereotypes of who was homeless, then later focused on appropriating housing for its members. Their actions used slogans like “Homes and Jobs: Not Death in the Streets” and “Homeless Not Helpless.” They mounted civil disobedience like the Tompkins Square Tent City (detailed in Tent City Blues, an article in the Sept-Oct 1990 issue of Mother Jones), a national series of housing takeovers (watch in the documentary, The Takeover, from 1990), and the Union organized and participated in the Housing Now March along with the National Coalition for the Homeless and several others.

We encourage anyone reading this to learn more about where our collective work has come from by checking out the above links, and also visiting the Homeless Union History Project and the National Union of the Homeless Wikipideia page.

2020 Update: The Union is back

 

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