By Israel Bayer
Street Roots Executive Director
Street Roots, along with allies at Sisters Of The Road and Community Alliance of Tenants, took a monumental road trip to San Francisco for the Western Regional Advocacy Project’s protest where we asked the federal government to adequately fund local communities to tackle the issues of affordable housing and to ensure that city governments uphold the civil rights of individuals on the streets.
Check out the interview with SR vendor George Mayes and Julie McCurdy’s powerful column in this issue of the paper. Both pieces offer a street level perspective of their experience on the road trip and their time in San Francisco.
SR would like to thank Sisters Of The Road for organizing the trip. They funded and coordinated more than 50 individuals to take part in the protest, mostly folks sleeping on the streets. Our groups met up with more than 1,000 people, again, mostly from the streets (which is amazing!) from across the West Coast. We would also like to thank the many organizations that endorsed the action in Portland, covering a broad range of affordable housing, labor and social justice groups.
So you say, what’s in a protest? It does nothing, right? And yes, you are correct. Protesting alone is a waste of time and energy, in my mind. But if you couple this with your own media (a growing street newspaper movement), and well researched and published data, and work to engage the very people whose lives are effected to build a movement, we might be on to something.
Both Sisters and SR are founding members of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, or WRAP, which is made up of organizations from Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, L.A., Seattle and Portland. Over the past three years the group has combined efforts to create the hard-hitting report “Without Housing”, which documents the past three decades of the federal government’s slashing of housing programs in the United States. The report has been used by local, state and federal politicians and institutions, universities, think-tanks, the media and others as a reference point for the rise of modern homelessness in America.
In 2011, we will be publishing “Without Rights,” a look at how criminalization and quality-of-life ordinances by local governments have stripped people experiencing homelessness of their civil rights, and how that relates to the lack of affordable housing and truly tackling the issues of homelessness. We will also lay out well-researched data that shows why the federal government and the Justice Department should step in and take cities to task for targeting people based upon their housing status.
That’s a lot, right? Yes, it is. And alone, SR or Sisters could never dream of doing such things. But together we are able to share resources, and capitalize on new technologies and old school organizing to be successful.
The coming together of hundreds of people on the streets in San Francisco is another mark on a long and historic time line of poverty organizing. It’s not been since the 1980s, to my knowledge, and before that The Great Depression, that such a large group of people without a roof over their head met in one place to deliver a message. The question is, will that mark be a cresting point or is it just the beginning of a movement that will eventually put the issue of homelessness and the lack of affordable housing on the main stage, both locally and nationally? I suppose only time will tell and, unfortunately, time is all we have until the adequate resources exist to put homelessness, as we know it, in the grave.
Did I mention that SR, Sisters and WRAP also met with Nancy Pelosi’s staff and will be working with the Speaker of the House on prioritizing affordable housing and civil rights for Congressional Hearings for the future. Not bad for a motley crew.
In the meantime, it’s back to the grindstone, publishing stories of those sleeping on that concrete mattress that Julie McCurdy so beautifully and tragically describes. Lastly, it’s your support that makes it happen, so thank you. We’re all a part of this movement. None of us can go it alone.
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Israel correctly points out that events and actions can be great organizing tools, and I hope that WRAP and their allies can use the energy from J20 and future actions to demand an end to homelessness. With enough political will, we CAN end this tragic institution.