The November 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

AFSC Honors War Resisters

David Harris: A Stirring Call to Conscience

Leonard McNeil: Resisting 'Rich Man's Wars'

Karen Meredith: A Mother's Plea for Peace

Not One More Death, Not One More Dollar

Massive Police Sweeps in Contra Costa County

Housing First for Poor Families

Landlords Sue to End Just Cause

Struggle to Save the Free Box

YEAH! Shelters Homeless Youth

Gentrification in Berkeley

New Home for East Bay Law Center for Poor

Wal-Mart Pushes Philanthrophy

Sutter Health's War Against Health Workers

Growing Gulf Between Rich and Poor

Inequality in America

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Forgiveness


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October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 


 

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

All works are copyrighted by the authors.

The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Gentrification in Berkeley: Whose Housing First?

Malcolm Samuels and Richard Moore, a Vietnam veteran, both died this past year while still homeless. It is not morally acceptable to allow this to go on.

by Michael Diehl

Brother Malcolm Samuels, a longtime activist for social justice, looks as if he just stepped out of the renowned People's Park mural. Brother Malcolm died this year while still homeless in Berkeley. Mary Rudge photo

National Homelessness Week is observed in mid-November; it is the traditional time each year when we seek to call attention to the problems of homelessness. Even as the national observance approaches this year, several problems threaten to worsen the situation of homeless people in Berkeley.

Bob Mills, speaking for the East Bay Homeless Union, is calling for a regional conference of homeless activists in Berkeley's Civic Center during National Homelessness Week, Nov. 13-18. This is in response to a call by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates for a regional solution to homelessness as he argues for the cutting of current homeless assistance and a shifting of homeless funding more in accord with the approach called "Housing First" by Bush Administration homeless czar Phillip Magnano and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The East Bay Homeless Union will ask Mayor Tom Bates and other local political officials to join us in the November protest we shall either call Bushville again, or maybe Schwarzenegger-ville. In the Great Depression, in protest of the economic laissez-faire indifference of the Republican administration of Herbert Hoover, poor people and veterans returning from war set up Hoovervilles.

The mayor must know we will not tolerate worsening conditions for the homeless in Berkeley or anywhere. This is a life-and-death matter as it is, and if Mayor Bates does not want us sleeping in Berkeley's Civic Center, is he prepared to go with us to Sacramento or Washington?

Cutting homeless services

During Berkeley's budget crises over the last three years, the Berkeley Community Coalition successfully stopped calls by Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz to cut homeless services. Each year, Mayor Bates, under pressure from homeless activists and service providers, and assisted ably by City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, stepped in and stopped these cuts.
This last year, it was right down to the wire as to whether homeless services would be cut. At that time, I told the City Council that if the cuts were passed, I was determined to chain myself to City Hall.

This coming year, Mayor Bates has notified us that he will support cuts in homeless services -- such as the Multi-Agency Service Center and the shelter programs -- in order to use more funding for Housing First. The problem is that we don't see the housing being produced. Homeless advocates feel that the Feds are playing a shell game that needs to be exposed -- a game that results in no real increase in housing but only in cuts in services.

The budget crisis indeed has been made worse by cuts to social service funding on the federal and state level; and also by the successful BASTA campaign last November which defeated much-needed city funding measures.

Unfortunately, the homeless wait in vain for promised storage units for their belongings. And a long-awaited Alameda County detox center is being blocked by Oakland City Councilmembers Ignacio de la Fuente and Desley Brooks. Also missing in action is the money for mental health services that the State of California and Alameda County are shorting us for.

Meanwhile, we continued to see more street people die this year. Brother Malcolm Samuels was very physically sick and he died this year while still homeless. He was a veteran of the Black Panther movement, and an important ally of mine in Copwatching police harassment of the homeless on Telegraph Avenue.

In the 1990s, Brother Malcolm entered the hospital with cancer, and became unable to pay for his rented room during his illness. He ended up homeless, and used a wheelchair after one leg was amputated. Yet, he was a man of great spirit who continued to be dedicated to social justice.

When I told Mayor Bates last spring about people dying right in front of our eyes, he asked who had died. I mentioned Brother Malcolm. Danny McMullan of the Disabled People's Outside Project and I had lobbied to get a housing voucher for Brother Malcolm. Unfortunately, he sought the solace to ease the real physical pain he was in.

There is a homeless Vietnam veteran in a wheelchair now in the Telegraph area with serious physical ailments who is drinking himself to death. I have tried in vain to get him help. Richard Moore, another homeless Vietnam veteran who helped cook for our Homeless Union protests, died late this spring.

I am a bit shell-shocked by it all. It is not morally acceptable to allow this to go on. It is not right for progressive politicians to fail to act more forcefully for justice for the poor, just because they can't stand up to the cruel indifference of the false Christians in Washington and the social service Terminators. It is time once again to put our bodies on the line in civil disobedience and to say no. It is time to feel the pain of those living on our own streets, and to respond with decisive action.

The aftermath of Katrina

The hurricane and flooding of New Orleans, and the bungled, slow response of the Bush administration during FEMA's botched rescue efforts were definitely subjects of concern among street people and the very low income in Berkeley and Oakland. There is concern that if the Hayward fault went, the plight of poor people and people of color might be handled with the same slow and inept response while people are dying.

If an earthquake struck the Bay Area without warning, the well-to-do will be much better prepared to deal with the consequences. There is an urgent need for the more advantaged to see to it that water and other supplies are set aside for those who have no housing to store such provisions.

Low-income people in our area also have to wonder if the Feds would respond with sharpshooters quick to shoot "looters" getting necessary provisions for survival when it is clear the government will be slow to respond to their survival needs after the Next Big One.

Also discussed was the disparity between the African-American perception that the slow federal response to the plight of poor blacks in New Orleans reflected the racism of American society, versus the general white population's perception that no such problem existed. It did seem that the first comments from the Bush administration focusing on looting and the accompanying media images showed a framing of the issue in ways that would accentuate racist perceptions.

The lack of buses to get people out of New Orleans when many of the poor people stranded there had no cars or money for gasoline showed an insensitivity to the needs of the poor. The disaster of Katrina revealed the need for the government to take a role in helping people; but it also showed how it can be foolish or even lethal to rely on the government to help, instead of taking a more do-it-yourself approach to prepare for emergency. Some say we need to break through the culture of dependency that leads to false hopes of the government coming to the rescue.

Class disparity in our midst

Some preferred to see it as an issue of class disparity. This class disparity exists right here in Oakland and Berkeley too, as Ron Dellums pointed out. In announcing his plan to run for mayor of Oakland, former Congressman Dellums mentioned the fear he saw in the wake of Katrina, which exposed the raw pain of our poor people in the East Bay. The politics of Jerryfication have ignored the acute housing and survival needs of the urban poor, and are driving people to great desperation.

Homeless people and advocates also expressed concerned that folks from New Orleans would displace the already-homeless from shelters and be placed above them at the top of the Section 8 voucher list -- thereby displacing those with mental disabilities and others in need who have been waiting for years for those vouchers. Local homeless people have been living in horrible situations on the streets for years, situations of distress and illness and poverty comparable to what the poor of New Orleans now are faced with. Yet our local homeless people have been left to suffer without the needed housing assistance. Why is social compassion lacking for these homeless victims, while it is on public display for the survivors of New Orleans?

Some expressed hope that the disaster in New Orleans may finally expose to the American people the fallacy of relying on the free market to address the needs of society; but more seemed to feel a sense of despair that nothing will really change.

There is a strong feeling that the situation in New Orleans will be used to increase the power of Homeland Security and the enforcement powers of the state in a way that is highly detrimental to the poor. The Senate hearings on the confirmation of John Roberts to be chief justice of the Supreme Court is a sign of the way the judiciary is shifting to become more receptive to the police powers of the State.

Orwellian surveillance

The upcoming implementation of the Homeless Information Management Systems is being justified with the Orwellian "newspeak" of protecting the privacy of homeless clients -- even as it allows Homeland Security (through HUD) to gather much more information, more effectively, on the homeless population. This new threat to the rights of homeless people is coupled with Attorney General Gonzales' warning that terrorists may hide themselves among the homeless. Gonzales issued a directive that homeless people should be kept under surveillance by public transit security officials.

All this helped engender a deepened sense of despair and hopelessness, although some find hope that, with the falling popularity of the policies of Bush and Schwarzenegger, change for the better may be coming. (In the aftermath of the disaster in New Orleans, even Fox TV commentators were lambasting the Bush administration for its inept response.)

Generally, it does not seem that the homeless share the hopes of change that many of the antiwar progressive left are expressing in the aftermath of Cindy Sheehan's stand in Crawford and the new polls that show 62 percent of the American people feel the war on Iraq is a mistake. Will antiwar activists join us in sleeping in the streets to stop the war against the poor right here at home?

Setbacks to affordable housing

Prospects for affordable housing for homeless people in Berkeley have been negatively impacted by a series of recent setbacks. These events call into question whether the presently homeless will ever find housing again in Berkeley.

The Downtown Berkeley plan of development collaboration between the University of California and the City of Berkeley could mean that whatever affordable housing is built in Berkeley will get sucked up to meet the housing needs of students and the development push of the University.

The earlier hopes aroused by the election of a mayor committed to the development of affordable housing -- and by Mayor Bates' avowed support of a Housing First focus on housing the homeless -- are now looking like false hopes. With only $250,000 budgeted directly to the City of Berkeley and $11 million going to Alameda County under the Mental Health Services Act (Prop. 63), it seems that any prospects of affordable housing for the homeless will go elsewhere in the county, and not to Berkeley.

To make matters worse, private sector fundraising efforts for the needs of the poor now are being directed towards those displaced from New Orleans.

This comes in the middle of another push towards gentrification that is being fueled by the successful and future planned efforts of BASTA to defund city government and tamper with other sources of public funding which had helped prevent proposed cuts in homeless services in the last few years.

The closing of convenience liquor stores in south Berkeley makes it even harder for public-transit-dependent poor people to shop locally for their needs. Articles in the Daily Planet have generated discussion of this issue on the streets. The implementation of rules that prevent a person from buying a single can of malt liquor seems clearly directed at the homeless. This is being pushed by the Alcohol Policy Network.

To respond to this article, e-mail Michael Diehl at adversary359@yahoo.com.


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