A Homeless Coup: A Homeless Congress is Formed in San Francisco


POOR correspondent - Posted on 30 June 2010

Ka Ponda and Tiny
Wednesday, November 1, 2000

My eyes fixed on the acrylic blood of the fallen martyr. The WPA mural on the back wall of the ILWU union hall depicted a policeman wielding a deadly billy club as the common people held placards in protest of human and civil rights' violations by government. The huge image provided a fitting backdrop for the site of the ratification of a Plan for Action to End Homelessness in San Francisco.

My eyes veered from the painting to focus on the verbal tempest caused by the first speaker. Paul Boden, the director of the Coalition on Homelessness, an organization working to alleviate poverty, was discussing a revolutionary plan conceived and drafted by members of his organization. The plan, titled, "A Plan for Action to End Homelessness in San Francisco," was compiled by homeless and poor people of San Francisco to end homelessness in San Francisco and throughout the country.

I peered throughout the huge auditorium of the standing-room-only crowd as the significance of the event suddenly overwhelmed me. In this room, on the 27th day of October, 1999, the Homeless People's Congress would be officially formed. Their commitment to human and civil rights rivaled that of the martyr in the painting which depicted the infamous "Bloody Thursday" of the 1920's

Paul further discussed how his organization compiled data taken from over 250 homeless people at 26 different meetings taking place throughout San Francisco proper during the months of June, July and August of 1999. After his summary of how the document was put together, Paul asked the Homeless People's Congress to disperse into four committees to make recommendations and provide solutions to facilitate the Plan. The Homeless People's Congress separated out into the Committee on Human and Civil Rights; Committee on Housing, Committee on Economic Justice; and the Committee on Health Care.

I, a victim of civil rights abuses in San Francisco, sat on the Committee on Human and Civil Rights, to ascertain how they intended to implement the 13 action steps outlined under Civil and Human Rights in the Plan of Action. Judy Appel, a Civil Rights attorney, presided over the forum. Each action step was read and interpreted from legal, economic and social perspectives. Once everyone had a clear understanding of each of the action steps, a vote was taken to prioritize the steps.

In the afternoon, the four committees reported back to the assembly their recommendations and discoveries. For the Committee on Health Care an encouraging report was given. The report advocated the use of litigation, strategically, led by homeless people to ban laws that criminalized the homeless. It further stated that Quality of Life issues should be addressed in a humane manner, as homeless people are residents of San Francisco, and that the public should be educated on issues through the Street Sheet and by doing advocacy work within neighborhoods.

In addition to the 18 action steps under Economic Justice in the Plan of Action, the Committee on Economic Justice also proposed ideas to facilitate the action steps. The first of which was no discrimination against anyone for lack of phone or mail. The committee also proposed, among many other things, the support of a living wage bill in San Francisco that will allow working families and individuals to be self-sufficient.

The Committee on Housing report was reported by Lisa Gray-Garcia of POOR Magazine. They outlined the issues of homeless latino communities represented by Housing Not Borders, the abuses of all tenants by landlords and developers and voted to attempt a class action suit against the Housing and Urban Development, developers and/or landlords who are systematically evicting poor residents of San Francisco.

The painting had faded into temporary obscurity, as the ceremonious ratification of the Plan of Action was executed. For a moment, life truly imitated art, except this time maybe it would be a bloodless coup......

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