To resolve problems, you need a strategy. And persistence. Dignity Village, a community for the homeless was created by facing the problem and persistently using tools to find a solution for the homeless in Portland, Oregon. Our alleged advocates for the homeless in Bucks County, PA could learn from homeless activists in Portland.
Homeless activist Jack Tafari, who had become homeless himself, led the campaign to create Dignity Village. He became a voice for the homeless.
To deal with confrontations between the homeless and the Portland police, Jack combined Internet communications with traditional public relations techniques. He capitalized on the rule that the police had to give 24 hours notice before sweeping out a homeless camp. Jack wrote press releases about the event and homeless advocates set up a homeless parades and made sure they were well publicized.
As the homeless moved to a new place, handicapped people in wheelchairs led the parade, followed by a cavalcade of shopping carts filled with all the refugees stuff.
Jack started promoting his cause in the local media and, as did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s movement, his campaign got national media coverage. One event that got national coverage was the shopping cart parade held on Martin Luther King Day 2001. Two disabled people in wheelchairs led 35 shopping carts. The spectacle of armed policemen herding indigent people like cattle caused people to wake up.
As a negotiating tactic, Jack sent a press release that threatened another shopping cart parade. This caught the attention of Portland authorities. Consequently, they extended the stay at the homeless camp under the Fremont Bridge site. After further negotiations, Portland arranged for the homeless to set up at the Sunderland Recycling Yard.
Jack advanced his “Out of the Doorways” campaign as a staff writer and submissions editor for the Portland newspaper Street Roots.
The campaign was successful. Dignity Village was incorporated in Portland as a membership based non- profit organization and set up as a self governing entity where residents must sign a membership agreement as to rules of behavior.
In Bucks County, PA, the closest we got to a media event like the Portland shopping cart parades was a chance meeting between the homeless, along with advocate Morris Derry, President of No More Pain, the Bucks County Information Officer, and the Delaware Valley Vietnam Veterans at the Veterans Memorial in Levittown, PA. The Advocates for the Homeless and Those in Need’s (AHTN) silence on the issue was deafening. They didn’t want to get involved in legal issues, they said.
Some time ago I approached AHTN to ask them to work we me and another friend of the homeless to create more much needed shelter. AHTN’s president told me that doing this was not possible because 24/7 security was needed.
Also at the memorial was a P.T. Barnum like public relations official from the county. As reported in LevittownNow.com, “County Public Information Director Chris Edwards said rangers were not actively removing homeless residents but would be working to reduce the population at the county center, including the Vietnam War Memorial by the Levittown Library.” What?
Reducing the homeless population, to pierce the veil, is just a start. Bucks County considers the homeless an eyesore and its goal is to get rid of all of them, as if they were lepers.
Edwards also said that the county would continue to work with the homeless population at the property going forward. Really? Bucks County has a poor track record of helping the homeless. During the eviction in the woods of Queen Anne Park the rangers left pamphlets with phone numbers for housing assistance. The county also put up a sign for housing help by the memorial before the homeless were evicted.
“I called the phone number on the signs and there is no more room in the shelter,” explained Morris. He also stated “I understand what their (the county) concerns are, but I really don’t think their dealing with it the right way.” Well said! People need to hear the truth.
Another homeless advocate pointed out that the homeless have been taking care of the grounds at the memorial.
A veteran who was at the pow-wow at the memorial suggested finding a building for those without permanent homes. That’s a noble idea, but implementing it is another thing. If the vets get involved, they will be hamstrung by a callous county that has been playing games, stonewalling efforts to find suitable shelter for the homeless, the same way that President LBJ hamstrung the military in Vietnam, stifling the efforts of the brave fighting soldiers.
Homelessness is a problem that won’t go away on its own. Bucks County reminds me of a family cat who thought she was hiding from our dog when they played chase by hiding under the bed with his rear end sticking out.
I’m that little boy who, when the emperor appeared before his subjects naked, told him he needed to put some clothes on. Likewise, I will expose the establishment in Buck County, not just the government but other Pharisees who say they stand for truth and justice to show people who they really are!
We shall overcome!