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4 Occupations Embracing the Homeless (As Cities Increasingly Can't Take Care of Them)

It is impossible to separate homelessness from Occupy Wall Street's struggle for economic justice.

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This has forced Occupy Nashville to self-police, which according to Gorrell is no easy task for a movement that values participation from all who attend. At the same time, Gorrell says the homeless population has played a vital role in Occupy Nashville. 

“I can’t paint the whole homeless community with one brush, because we have a lot of homeless folks that have hunkered down and been there far more days than not and are filling responsible roles within the encampment and helping out a tremendous amount, even to the point of acting as impromptu liaisons with homeless folks who maybe are confused or drunk or mentally not in charge of their faculties,” Gorrell said.

At César Chávez Plaza, Occupy Phoenix has proudly embraced the homeless who serve invaluable roles in the movement.

In a blog post at Salon, Amy McMullen, a volunteer medic at Occupy Phoenix, observes, “while this movement started out as a broad representation of our diverse population, those who have stuck around through thick and thin are predominately homeless.” One example she gave was a night medic who lost his job as a medical assistant due to illness. The woman who runs the food and water station is a former investment banker who lost her husband and then her home. 

McMullen proceeds to paint a sobering reality of homelessness in Phoenix:

“According to an October 2011  report by the advocacy group Phoenix Homeless Rising, Arizona has one of the highest poverty rates in the country: 18.6 percent as of 2010. There are approximately 17,000 beds in Phoenix shelters, which is woefully inadequate for a homeless population that ranges between 20,000 to 30,000 on any given day.”

To make matters worse, sleeping outside in Phoenix is a criminal offense, thanks to the city’s anti-camping ordinances, forcing the homeless into unsanitary and “overcrowded shelter campuses” to “keep them out of sight.”

Given the dire state of affairs, it’s no wonder the homeless population taking refuge at Occupy Phoenix includes some of the most active and committed individuals in the movement. As McMullen points out, “They are the ones who’ve lost the most: their homes, their livelihoods and their families. And they must battle every day to maintain their self-respect. It is only fitting that they are the ones who have stepped forward and assumed these roles in our own little corner of the Occupy movement.” 

Arizona’s State Press details the plight of Brian Faulk, described as “one of the homeless regulars at Occupy Phoenix.” Before volunteering at Occupy Phoenix, Faulk spent weeks on the streets after losing his job and then his home, which he could no longer afford. “I think (Occupy Phoenix) provides a voice for people, for the working class,” says Faulk, adding, “The organization of this has been like a blessing. I’ve been able to feel like I’m committed to a cause.” 

Steve Ross, an organizer with Occupy Philly, told the Wall Street Journal that 30 to 40 percent of the people taking shelter in the 450 tents pitched at Dilworth Plaza are homeless. But the movement has not shied away from embracing the homeless. At Occupy Philly the homeless have access to three hot meals a day, blankets to keep warm and a place to sleep free from police harassment. But the homeless are also deeply involved in the movement. According to Ross, “Every working group has at least one homeless member, at this point.”

Occupy Wall Street is clearly not a monolith, therefore the debate over how inclusive the movement should be is likely to continue. However, it’s impossible to separate homelessness from the occupy movement’s struggle for economic justice. As Barbara Ehrenreich recently reminded us, “Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It’s where we’re all eventually headed -- the 99%, or at least the 70% of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior -- unless this revolution succeeds.”