We Accuse the Federal Government for allowing thousands of people to live without homes


root - Posted on 31 December 1969

A national study is released proving the connection between massive federal housing cuts and the dramatic rise in homelessness

by Joanna Letz/ Poverty and Media Justice Intern at POOR Magazine

In front of the FederalBuilding we assembled. Banners waving in the wind
saying, "Stop
the criminalization of homelessness.
Being poor is not a crime. Housing Justice For all!

At noon on Tuesday November 14th, in front of the Federal
Building a press conference was held as part of the release of the Western
Regional Advocacy Project's (WRAP) report called, "Without Housing:
Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness, and Policy
Failures." In seven cities across
the country similar press conferences were held, including ones in Seattle,
Washington, and San
Juan, Puerto Rico.

The speakers, who along with WRAP representatives
came from a Bay Area wide coalition of poverty justice organizers
including The Coalition on Homelessness and POOR Magazine, Building
Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency and American Friends Service Committee reiterated the need for
systemic change to end
homelessness. The report includes many
harsh statistics on the cuts in federal funding for affordable housing and
its
direct connection to homelessness all over the nation

WRAP's report is a call to action. The report is an example of a group of
people, who are directly affected by federal and local policies around
poverty
and homelessness, taking charge to determine and affect those policies.

As Paul Boden, from WRAP, said, "the report is meant to
be used as an organizing and training tool." Boden also described how WRAP
was formed and
what their vision for the report is.

He said, "WRAP was formed by many organizations and
individuals coming together out of frustration, and out of a commitment to
social justice. We are folks who come
from the streets. We are bright and
talented, and we don't need people's charity..The government blames us for
being homeless and for being poor. If
the government doesn't respond to you, the government is wrong. The
government should be serving us. And what is happening is the rich are
getting
richer while homeless folks, and poor folks, we get life skills training. We
can train each other. We need to pull the weed out by the
roots. Do our own. our own message."

The report documents federal funding for affordable housing
over the past twenty five years.
Specifically the report looks at the cuts in funding toward the US
Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as well as rural
affordable
housing administered by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).

The government, and the people of this country, who are in
positions of power are benefiting from a system of myth-making. WRAP's
report highlights some of these myths
and the ways these myths are causing more homelessness. One of the myths the
report calls out is the
myth that poor people and homeless people are the ones to blame for their
situations.

The report says, "..public policy debates and media
representations rarely address the systemic causes of homelessness; instead
they often portray homelessness as a problem with homeless individuals.."
It is a systematic problem that is forcing more and more people onto the
streets. WRAP's report says, "..we
focus primarily on what we consider to be one of the most important-- if not
the most important-- factor in
explaining why so many families, single adults, and youth are homeless in
the
United States today: the cutbacks to and eventual near elimination of the
federal government's commitment to building, maintaining, and subsidizing
affordable housing."

"The report should be re-titled, I accuse the
federal government," Terry Messman,
editor of Street Spirit began to speak
to the crowd, " I indite this
nation.. Gilbert Estrada died on the
street less than three weeks ago. I
indite this country for leaving Gilbert Estrada.. and for leaving children
and
elders on the street. I accuse the
federal government for allowing thousands of people to live homeless. There
is massive homelessness. It is a direct act of theft..This government
lets people die on the streets.
Homelessness and deaths will continue until we get affordable
housing. I accuse."

According
to an Urban Institute study as many as 3.5 million people, including 1.35
million children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year.
However, one of the main points of the report
is that federal policy has directed large dollars into counting and
categorizing the numbers of homeless.
This is money that would be better spent on actual housing, and to add
insult to injury, we don't even have real numbers. For example, according to
HUD and ICH, there
are currently 600,000 homeless persons nationwide, yet the Dept. of
Education
has identified 600,000 homeless
students just in our public schools

The report is an accusation and
a testament to the lack of federal money being put into affordable housing.
The report is a testament to the denial of
the federal government to recognize homelessness as an issue. The report is
a testament to resistance, and
to exposing the government for the wrongs being committed against poor
people
and people who are homeless in this country.

As the U.S.
government continues to send warplanes to Iraq
in the name of democracy and human rights, people in this country are still
demanding that democracy and human rights be recognized here. The report
shows the breakdown of federal
money going towards The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)
and the money being spent on military.
One "Future Fleet" Destroyer cost the federal government 3.3
billion dollars, which is more than all the money spent on public housing
capital in 2005.

As the report says, "There is no lack of
resources to ensure universal housing; what is lacking is the political will
to
undertake this task." On Tuesday the speakers demanded, as the WRAP report
demands, for the human right to housing.

As Wanda Remmers, from Housing Rights Inc., said,
"Housing is assumed to be a Human Right.
But in our country it is not a legal right.The government is ignoring
their responsibility to make sure everyone has a home..People in this
country
have a right to housing. Government
policies are ignoring people's rights to housing. The government is
replacing low-income
housing with rich people housing. Forced
evictions. Internationally this is a
crime. Right to housing should be real.
We can make that happen."

The report and the voices of
those who spoke demand that the government take responsibility for housing
and
that the government take responsibility for the crisis of homelessness in
this
country.

Sara Shortt from the Housing Rights Committee gave the
perspective from what the federal government is doing. She said, "There is a
big, big
emergency. In 2006, HUD's funding was
cut. In Philadelphia HUD is threatening
to lay off three hundred to five hundred people. In Salt Lake City,
they are disposing of HUD units all together.
Crime issues are on the rise in public housing. When staff is cut, security
goes, repair
maintenance goes. In San
Francisco four million dollars were cut from HUD
itself. San
Francisco was the tenth hardest hit in the nation. New York City
took the top." Her voice cried
above the tall shadow of the federal building.
She continued on to call out government officials, she said,
"Homelessness still exists despite what politicians say. Congress can fix
this. This might be a brighter day. Nancy Pelosi is in a greater position.
But I have yet to hear her talk of
housing. Bernie Sanders is in a good
position, stepping up with new legislation with the Housing Trust Fund
Bill. We have some good advocates. But we need to make them better."

Nancy Pelosi was supposed to speak at the press
conference. But she did not show up.

"Criminals of Poverty


Welfare wanna punish we


Media they lie on we


Struggle with
punitive poli-ceeeeees
>

Cannot find a home-

But then. we rise up- Speak up -


Own our superbabymama-Ness


Our power , our truths


As welfareQUEENS in


Resistance


Excerpt from The welfareQUEENS play and media activism project)

Poverty Scholars, Laure McElroy, Joseph Bolden and Tiny, from
POOR Magazine began their comments with a chant excerpted from the
welfareQUEENS play at POOR Magazine and then one by one they responded to
the
WRAP findings,

"Due to the massive cuts to housing and housing subsidies
that this study has uncovered coupled with extremely harmful welfare deform
legislation, and the growing corporatization of US cities - a growing number
of
American families and individuals are being housed in another kind of
shelter;
JAIL. Contrary to corporate media-based mythologies it is much cheaper to
build
housing for poor people than warehouse them in jail," Tiny, welfareQUEEN,
co-editor of POOR Magazine and author of the upcoming
memoir, Criminal of Poverty; Growing up Homeless in America called out to
the
looming federal tower we huddled beneath.

Laure, digital resistor, welfareQUEEN and POOR staff writer
continued, "Like the WRAP study, poverty scholars at POOR have long been
studying the root causes of poverty, homelessness and racism in America-
with
shocking results; homeless people weren't born that way, we aren't a tribe
of
people walking the earth, we used to housed, we used to homeful and then we
were un-housed and de-stabilized due to
several factors, one of the main ones being that our housing, poor people
housing, suffered severe cuts," Laure
concluded.

"So we came up with a solution," Tiny continued where Laure
left off, " The Homefulness Project- a multi-generational, multi-cultural
sweat-equity co-housing project for homeless families which includes an
on-site
school, a caf� and community space and gives the one thing to homeless
families
that separates them from Homefulness; equity.but ours is just an example of
several REAL answers to housing cuts that poverty scholars and advocates are
creating everyday .. so politicians busily making up policies for more
harmful
cuts and criminalizing legislations,
listen to the poverty scholars, listen to the hard data found in this study,
listen to us about our solutions."

After the POOR Magazine scholars finished we were all led in
a chant by Juan Prada, emcee for the event and director of The Coalition on
Homelessness,

"What do we want?

Housing Justice!

When do we want it?
Now!"

The WRAP report which includes national and international
voices and data from California
to Puerto Rico documents what the speakers on Tuesday
exclaimed in their own words. The report
will continue to be an accusation and a call for action until the federal
government addresses its responsibility to provide affordable housing and to
address the root causes of homelessness.

Julie Leadbetter from the Housing Justice Coalition said,
"It's not enough. Not enough
putting poor folks in SRO's (Single Room Occupancies) and getting rid of
services for poor folks. Not
enough. Join with other cities to tell
the federal government, even what San Francisco
can do its not enough. We need more
housing available."

Let this be a call to action on the part of politicians at
both the federal and local government.
The report is coming from people who have lived on the streets. Let this
report be a reminder that, in this
country, the US of A, people are still struggling for democracy and for
basic
human rights, like the right to be housed.

The report can be found for free on WRAP's website,
www.wraphome.org. The report is meant to
create and facilitate dialogue and action. For more journalism on issues of
poverty and racism go on-line to www.poormagazine.org

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