Tent cities are nothing new to communities across the country. Homeless people have for decades made parks, underpasses and wooded areas their home of last resort. How to stay warm, where to find food, and how to take care of basic physical needs are the chores that occupy the daily lives of the 660,000 homeless people in the United States.
Occupy protesters across the country may not have started their protests with homelessness in mind, but as Barbara Ehrenreich notes in this fascinating commentary, they are getting a crash course in the basic inequities that many homeless people experience every day. Ehrenreich cites laws enacted in many cities that ban not just public urination or tent encampments, but also simply sleeping in public and “‘when awakened stat[ing] that he or she has no other place to live.’” Ehrenreich suggests that Occupy protestors sometimes receive better treatment than the homeless, noting that “LA’s Skid Row endures constant police harassment, for example, but when it rained, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had ponchos distributed to nearby Occupy LA.”
Lydia DePillis writes in the Washington City Paper this week that some people experiencing homelessness are receiving help and fellowship from their new neighbors. At Occupy D.C. in McPherson Square, a “sleepers committee” has formed to strategize how to support homeless people in the event of cold weather or the end of the occupation. “That may come with breaking even more rules,” writes DePillis, “like making campfires to stay warm, or laying down flagstones to create paths through the muck.”
In the New York Times, Steven V. Mazie writes about how Occupy Wall Street might develop goals and a vision that is “coherent” and “inspiring.” He cites as one barrier to cohesion the vast differences between members of the so-called 99%, saying, “it does violence to the special problems facing the truly poor to lump everyone in the bottom 99 percent together as if families on food stamps are really on a par with those making $100,000 or more a year.” Mazie suggests the protestors focus on philosopher John Rawls’s ” boldest claim — that inequality in society is only justified if its least well-off members fare better than they would under any other scheme” as a way to clarify the values of the movement.
We want to know what you think. Can the Occupy protests raise issues of homelessness to the fore? Will the deepest inequities in our society be masked by a focus on the needs of the middle class? How would you define success for this movement, and what would it take to get there? Let’s talk about it in the comments.