The June 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee


National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website



In this issue:

From Prison to Priesthood

Interview with Father James Tramel

Protest Demands Housing for Poor Families

Oakland Judge Blocks Evictions

Fresno Police Demolish Tent Encampment

Extremists Call for Attacks on Immigrants

Unjust Senate Bill on Immigration

World Bank and IMF Face Crisis

Corporate Media Fail to Address Global Hunger

Raise Minimum Wage for All

The Journey of Charlotte Tall Mountain

Dying for Nixon, Dying for Bush

In Santa Cruz Dreams Come True

Tourists Ignore Kenya's Poverty

June Poetry of the Streets


May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

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.

Coalition on Homelessness Demands Housing for Homeless Families

Homeless children are more likely to have health problems, asthma, hospitalizations, developmental delays, depression and anxiety. The children suffer from poor nutrition and hunger and do poorly in school.

by Lydia Gans

Giant puppets representing saints and prophets were displayed by marchers calling for homes for homeless families and an end to the war in Iraq. Lydia Gans photo

The month of May means sunny days and spring flowers. It means May Day when we celebrate workers, and Mother's Day when we show special appreciation for mothers. For many of us, Mother's Day has become something deeper than throwing dollars at the greeting card industry.

This year, it presented an occasion to honor the many mothers who are suffering, whose sons and daughters have been caught up in the war in Iraq and who will come home physically and psychologically wounded, if they come home at all. It was a time to acknowledge mothers who are poor and homeless and struggling to keep their families together.

Many protests were held in an attempt to send these messages to politicians. On May 10, the Coalition on Homelessness gathered on the San Francisco City Hall steps to bring attention to the plight of homeless mothers and children. They called for "Housing First for Families," asking that housing units be set aside so families could move "directly off the streets without first going through a 'readiness process,' shelter or transitional housing program."

The Coalition's Families and Immigrants Project explained that homeless families tend to be young and poor and simply need housing, immediately; they are not less educated or mentally ill or what is labeled "troubled."

Mayor Gavin Newsom is getting a lot of press for his own program which, along with housing, provides services for chronically homeless people to stabilize their lives and get them permanently off the streets. This is good for the people who are helped and good for the image of San Francisco. But the people who are helped are primarily single, adult males. Without taking away funding for these programs, more money needs to be allocated to provide subsidized housing for needy families.

The Coalition on Homelessness has studied the problem of homeless families and compiled a report documenting the needs of this underserved group. To read their "Housing First for Families" document is heartbreaking. Shelter space is so inadequate that it takes as long as five months to get a space in a full-time shelter. The wait for Section 8 housing averages four years! In the meantime, parents struggle to provide some sort of healthy and stable lives for their children. That's a task that's hard enough these days, even for families who are housed.

The Housing First report documents the effects of the homeless life on children. The findings would shame any civilized nation. These children are more likely to have chronic health problems, both physical and psychological. Asthma and frequent hospitalizations are common; and developmental delays, behavioral problems, and symptoms of depression and anxiety are evident. The children suffer from poor nutrition and hunger and do poorly in school.

Speakers at the City Hall rally who have experienced homelessness talked about their lives. Many families double up in a single unit to get off the streets or out of the shelters and SRO hotels, crowding an overwhelming number of people into one apartment. The diverse needs, conflicting schedules, and lack of privacy in such a limited space can't help but be enormously stressful to all the occupants.

Jennifer Friedenbach, organizing director of the Coalition, presented their recommendations:
1. Twenty-five percent of the 3000 units of housing for homeless people should be set aside for families.
2. Also, 300 housing subsidies of $500 per family per month should be created. (Half of these have already been promised - now to make sure it really happens.)
3. Homeless prevention funds in San Francisco must be tripled.

Saints and prophets

The message of the demonstration was dramatized by the participation of a group of seminary students carrying giant puppets representing 13 saints and prophets. The students were part of a class in "Liberation Art" taught by Sally Hindman, cosponsored by Starr King School for the Ministry and the Graduate Theological Union Center for Art, Religion and Education in Berkeley.

The focus of the class, Ms. Hindman explained, "was to explore the meaning of Liberation Art and how Liberation Theology would apply to the arts. So the idea was that we would involve ourselves in a project that held the tenets of what Liberation Art was. Solidarity with the oppressed, people on the margins and involvement in decision-making by that community was a really important part of what we wanted to support."

Hindman said her class determined that collaborating with the Coalition on Homelessness "in their work to secure more housing for homeless families would be 100 percent appropriate."
The idea of making the giant puppets came from an experience Hindman had years ago in art school. She described a project that created "12 giant sculptures of Jesus and the apostles ... and ended up participating in an art action called: 'Would Jesus pay taxes for killing?'"

She went on to explain that the project "was such a powerful experience for me, I got the idea of giving students a similar experience exploring liberation art." Sculptures would have been much too complicated, but puppets are an ideal medium. She called on David Solnit, a brilliant and dedicated puppet-maker who totally inspired the class.

Solidarity with mothers in Iraq

During the rally, members of the class stood with their giant puppets on the steps flanking the speaker's podium. At its end, they marched to the War Memorial Veterans Building on Van Ness where they held a vigil, led by Ms. Hindman, "in prayerful solidarity with all mothers impacted by the war in Iraq."

The puppets had been conceived by the individual students; and, as a preliminary to the vigil, each person gave a brief description of the prophet or saint they had chosen to portray. The puppets were an eclectic mix, but all spoke to ideals that touched the issues of the day -- St. Francis; the prophet Miriam; Nelson Mandela; Queen Esther; the Virgin de la Rocio, also known as La Blanca Paloma (the white dove), said to represent joy in the face of tragedy; the Virgin of Guadalupe; the Transgender Spirit; Rosa Parks; Dietrich Bonhoeffer (a German minister and pacifist opponent of Hitler); St. Jude; Martin de Porres; and Job.

The vigil, called "An Hour of Mourning and Reflection," was a profoundly moving way to call attention to a problem crying out for justice.

People of conscience will continue to hold protests, write letters, pass out flyers, or stand in quiet meditation and prayer in support of the poor and homeless in our city. We must bring about an end to the spending of obscene amounts of money on war and turn instead to taking care of our own. More and more people are saying: "Let us have peace, not poverty!"

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