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USA, Two approaches to homelessness: The government vs the people

Who can solve the problem of homelessness? This past week we saw two approaches—the bulldozing of a homeless encampment by the City of Baltimore and the reclamation of a foreclosed property by the direct action of a group of people in Minneapolis.

In the first instance, Baltimore elected officials and bureaucrats from the city’s housing and social service agencies bulldozed a tent city that housed 14--of the 4,000--homeless people in Baltimore. The tent city residents had been placed in temporary housing--not by the city, which had been “unable” to find housing for them, but through private charity.

Homeless people and advocates were there to witness the city’s action and bear witness to the futility of the city’s approach. Their testimony can be heard in the podcast of Baltimore radio WEAA-FM’s Mark Steiner Show, available here:

http://www.steinershow.org/podcasts/camp-83-cleared/  In the15 minute audio recording of interviews done at the scene, the shelter system is also indicted for failing to meet the needs of homeless people and even contributing to their plight. Interviewees also describe the common-sense and effective solutions proposed and being carried out by organized groups in the city.

USA, Two approaches to homelessness: The government vs the people

Jessica English being interviewed in her home by KARE TV reporter

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis, one such organized group was showing how it’s being done there and elsewhere across the country. In a feature story broadcast on TV station KARE, http://www.kare11.com/rss/article/1015117/391/Minneapolis-woman-moves-into-vacant-foreclosed-home  Jessica English is shown with her allies from Occupy Our Homes in the house foreclosed by Wells Fargo Bank. Jessica, a college student with a minimum wage income, became homeless when she could not find affordable rental housing for herself and four children. Like so many other single parents, she had to give up primary custody of her children. She is renovating the house with the help of her Occupy friends and asking the bank to turn it over to her, which would allow her children to return to her full-time. In the proposed win-win solution, the bank would get a tax write-off, the neighborhood would get a renovated house, and a united family would get an affordable home.

The bank, meanwhile, refuses to turn over property they’ve seized to private individuals. They say they’ve done enough through its corporate gifts to charitable organizations. Take Back the Land, a national network of groups involved in the foreclosure reclamation and resistance movement, has used a “middle ground” alternative in similar situations, pressuring banks to transfer foreclosed homes to Community Land Trusts. Whatever the proposals made to Wells Fargo and other banks, it’s clear that the underlying conflict has to do with the rights of private property versus the human right to housing.

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