Photo credit: Sarah Shaw (@Sara_Jeans), Occupy DC Media

JANUARY 31, 2012 — Members of the Occupy movement in Washington D.C. successfuly defied the National Park Service’s orders to clear McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza of all camping, bedding and cooking equipment yesterday.

A spokesman for the Park Police recently informed the Occupy D.C. camp that a ban on camping would be enforced and that their tents would be removed. More often than not, orders like these result in a standoff between protesters and police officers, leading to mass arrests.

The cost of police actions have taken a toll on several cities. According to the Mayor of Denver, the cost of their police crackdown has reached over $1M. However, members of the Occupy movement claim that they have taken on an important community role; feeding and clothing the homeless in areas where those without a home could potentially die from exposure.

According to the most recent data provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, there is only 1 bed for every 2 homeless individuals availbile at shelters in Denver. According to HUD, since 2009 more than 170,000 families have been pushed into homelessness, up 30% from the previous two years.

World Newspapers recently reported on the homeless situation at Occupy Atlanta: 
    
“After Atlanta’s Mayor Kasim Reed forcibly evacuated Occupy Atlanta from a public park, protesters moved into a homeless shelter. As it turned out, the shelter had been tied up in court battles with the city for a few years, and the city had planned to close it. The shelter was scheduled to be shut down a few days after the protesters moved in, but that date has since been postponed indefinitely and protesters have taken up the shelter’s cause.

“Local stakeholders — including city officials, the local business development group Central Atlanta Progress, Emory University and other business interests — have been trying to boot the Task Force homeless shelter from its home as it sits on a valuable piece of real estate.”

Photo credit: Sarah Shaw (@Sara_Jeans), Occupy DC Media


OccupyAustin.org spoke with Justin Jacoby Smith (@hoosteen on Twitter) to discuss the impact that Occupy D.C. has had on the homeless and vise versa. Justin had recently authored his own editorial on the interaction between Occupy D.C. and the homeless. As he put it, “Long before activists descended on McPherson Square to sleep outside and draw the eyes of D.C. to the needs of the 99%, there were people in the square occupying the same park benches every night. The number of homeless has increased across the country as the recession has forced those on the brink into outright poverty.”

According to Justin, it’s hard to calculate what percentage of homeless make up the number of those currently occupying D.C. “In terms of the people that are here everynight, about 40% are what you might call chronically homeless.” He also says that many of them often tell him that the Occupy movement has given them “a new lease on life,” he then remarked in a genuine tone, “no pun intended.”

When asked about any personal experiences with homelessness, Justin explained how a close friend of his had been fired when she appeared on the front of a newspaper representing the group. Apparently, she was employeed with an organization he defined as being “right-winged.” After losing her job and having no means to pay her rent, she was evicted and became a fulltime resident of McPherson Square.

Justin emphasized that he regards the Park Service’s orders as a direct attack on the homeless population of Occupy D.C. “A lot of people here do not have a home to sleep in. By targetting those people, they are effecitvely criminalizing homelessness.” The ‘Dream Tent’, a large shelter created by covering a statue in the park, “symbolizes the dreams of a better world.” Justin said, “If people have no place to sleep, they have no place to dream.”

Occupy D.C. moved 12 tents towards the center of the park yesterday after being given orders by Park Police to remove them. Justin explained the move was strategic, “We were prepared for a showdown.” The Park Police have apparently become aggitated whenever occupiers at McPherson get too close to the statue. “The idea was to use the statue deliberately.. we would provoke them into a response that would effectively dramatize the way they were outlawing homelessness. We were going to defend [the homeless] against the park enforcement and the criminalization of homelessness.”

In regards to statements made by U.S. Park Police spokesman David Schlosser that they were concerned with protecting the first amendment rights of the protesters, Justin says, “It’s nice that they are paying lipservice to freedom of speech, but they are specifically targetting the homeless.”



@DBCOOPA is a Dallas based writer that reports on the Occupy movement for OccupyAustin.org

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