print logo
  • Username:  

Washington homeless and protestors join forces at Occupy DC

 Street Sense - USA 21 November 2019

New neighbors for Washington DC's local homeless population appear with the Occupy movement, with both parties trying to find common ground. (864 Words) - By Sarah Hogue & Anna Katharine Thomas


Street Sense_Occupying homelessness

A man sleeps under a protest sign at the Occupy Movement camp in Freedom Plaza, Washington DC (Portrait picture - Download to see full image). Photo: Sarah Hogue

It was in early October that the Occupy DC protesters first arrived at Freedom Plaza; jobless college kids, middle-aged people who could clearly remember the 1960s and angry artists. They formed their encampment as a political statement.

Since then, the Occupiers have begun to fuse with the city's local population of homeless people, folks including Darlene Warren, who said she was already living outdoors when the Occupiers arrived. She did not start sleeping in the park to protest, but because she lost her apartment after falling behind on her rent.

As the protest continued, increasing numbers of additional homeless people have been drawn to the Occupy compound. Food is served regularly, camping supplies and other necessities are available, and there is safety in numbers.

"I didn't feel secure where I was sleeping so I came over and mingled in with the people," said Warren. "I feel safe there because they have what they call security walking around."

James DeVoe, a 51-year-old Occupier said that he is glad to provide help to his homeless fellows. But he wants them to join the movement.

"If they're homeless, we want them to join our community and contribute something to the community, to the cause," said DeVoe.  "I cannot give every homeless person a tent.  But I will give a sleeping bag out, a tent out, warm clothing, if you could donate something."

Often, when a homeless person comes to DeVoe asking for a tent, he or she is reluctant to sign on to the movement's larger goals. DeVoe finds that some of  the homeless people who are asking for help have given up hope and see the movement as useless. Still, he tries to convince them to stay.

"Be a part of this community because your voice counts too," he tells them. "Everybody's voice counts."

Warren said the Occupiers message has begun to ring true to her. "I feel as though what they are doing is right," said Warren, who said she has been thinking about the unfairness of the system since she became homeless.

"Where I was staying I was paying straight-out rent, and every year my rent kept going up and I had been living there for five years. When I applied for SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance)  I couldn't get it, but they said I could get social security income. When I got it, the landlord said, 'Well I don't want it. All I want if for you to vacate my premises.'"

To the original Occupiers, stories such as Warren's  represent a powerful symbol of their movement which is calling for the reform of the social welfare system.

"The homeless people are a symptom of our social system," said Joe Poca, a digital media freelancer.

He argues that the place of the homeless within the Occupy community makes sense and adds depth to the movement. He believes that people coming from all walks of life to join the cause can make a stronger whole, in spite of their differences.

"I see it as being symbiotically beneficial because you have people from all different dichatoms of society together," said Poca.

The encampment is supported by donations and generally, the homeless of the District aren't able to donate as much to the Occupy cause as their voluntarily houseless counterparts. But they give back where and when they can, members of the movement say.  Poca and DeVoe have seen the homeless of Occupy do some of the chores and inventories for the camp in lieu of donations like money or supplies.

"When they can [give back], they will," said Kay Schaner, an Occupier who has oscillated between homelessness and having a home.

But Schaner qualifies that with a warning; she thinks that anyone, homeless or not,who  isn't contributing,  should be kicked out.

"If they're not productive, if they're not looking for a job, if they're not volunteering…if this hasn't filled them with hope, then I don't know what will."

Benn Mace and his wife Kit LaCroix occupy on and off while living with their parents in Annandale, Va.  They welcome and treasure the homeless people within the Occupy movement who have an equal part in keeping the protest going as anyone else.

"If they come in from another city and want to take part, or if they're college students who are skipping class to come do this, or whether they usually sleep on the steps of a statue at night, you're welcome to come in, so long as you help out…that's really the only line we draw, but we draw it for everyone," said Mace, speaking for Occupy DC

Through Occupy DC, homeless people like DeVoe and others have found a place, though without a roof, that they can call a home.  Though they don't have jobs yet, they are getting prepared for a life after Occupy DC with the skills they glean from their responsibilities within Freedom Plaza.

It is important, said Poca, not to  judge or treat the homeless differently.

"They're part of the 99 percent, so they have as much right to be here and express themselves regardless of any kind of handicap," said Poca.  "Just because you're homeless, you haven't lost your vote."

SNS logo
  • Website Design