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Mayor Autry
Mayor Alan Autry.

By Mike Rhodes

Fresno, Calif., Mayor Alan Autry said "we have failed, government has failed on this issue. We are the status quo that has chosen through our wisdom over the last 40 or 50 years to pick the most expensive and ineffective, uncompassionate way to address the homeless situation." Autry was addressing the joint meeting of leadership and planning councils of the County/City of Fresno 10 year plan to end chronic homelessness. Autry told the task force that he wanted them to develop a blueprint for how to develop a Housing First model that will provide homeless people a place to live without preconditions.

Autry was encouraging the task force to develop a Housing First program in Fresno that would provide this community's chronically homeless with decent/affordable housing. The plan was outlined by Eduardo Cabrera, HUD Region IX Homeless Agency Coordinator, who said this meeting would be "the beginning of the end of homelessness."

The presentation makes a powerful argument that government policy on homelessness over the last 20 years has failed to decrease chronic homelessness. The chronically homeless, Cabrera said, are only 10% of the homeless population, but they use 50% of the resources available. Those services include emergency medical services, primary health care, behavioral health care, and interactions with the justice system.

In the housing first program, people are given housing without any pre-conditions. In other words, they don't have to end their drug or alcohol addictions before they get housing. Housing First gives them housing and offers them assistance.

This article is excerpted from a longer version that can be read at <>

Big Sue
Big Sue, one of two homeless people on the task force.

The People's Tribune asked Mike Rhodes his opinion of the Mayor's recommendation (see article on this page). Mike Rhodes is editor of the Community Alliance, a Fresno newspaper that has been providing a voice for the community's years of struggle to get the government, local and national, to provide quality homes for the homeless. His reply:

"I have rather low expectations. The task force is dominated by developers, bankers, social service providers like the Rescue Mission, and business people. Most elected officials will now point to this group and say -- "See, we are addressing the issue of homelessness. We have set up a task force that will develop a plan to end homelessness." My response is "who is holding a gun to your head, stopping you from doing anything to help the homeless people right now?" City Hall has more plans to attack the homeless-the most recent being the proposed ordinance to stop homeless people from asking for money. Before that, there was a proposal to ban camping by the City Manager's office. The police are encouraging vigilantes to attack the homeless. There are increasing numbers of people living on the streets, and City Hall and Fresno County government has not done anything to improve the situation.

My view of this task force is that the "powers that be" realize they need something to distract people from their miserable failure of a policy on homelessness where they have almost completely relied upon the police to solve the issue. First they bulldozed homeless encampments. Then, they built tool sheds and put up a portable toilet in one encampment. They have passed ordinances against panhandling and pushing shopping carts; they have conducted a Public Relations campaign to encourage people to STOP giving homeless people food or money, and now have a couple of new ordinances in the hopper. Public policy regarding the homeless is disgraceful and needs to change. I think we need to be at the meetings to witness what goes on, speak truth to power, and encourage them to do the right thing.

It is time to start providing decent and affordable housing to the poor. We need to figure out how to get federal funding to do that.

By Sandy Perry

"Why is it so hard to turn out a crowd of homeless people for a political event?" asks Jeremy Alderson, director of the Homelessness Marathon, in the April issue of the People's Tribune. Why is America's movement of the homeless and poor seemingly so scattered and small, when poverty is so widespread? We cannot move forward without grappling with this question.

I have been active in the homeless movement in San Jose, California, for 20 years and have seen it literally rise and fall. In the 1990s, through marches and civil disobedience, we were able to wring significant concessions from local government. With the advent of the early 2000s recession, however, the budget shrank and we could no longer win our demands. Our membership and resources began to dwindle. At the same time, significant numbers of San Jose's poor were driven out of the City by high rents and aggressive police tactics.

The causes of particular social movements are grounded in economic and demographic changes that come into conflict with existing social and political institutions. The Southern African-American freedom movement is a good example. According to Moving Onward by Heagerty and Peery, the mechanical cotton picker introduced in the 1940s virtually eliminated the Southern sharecropping system and caused a massive migration of African-Americans from Southern rural isolation into the cities both north and south. Once they concentrated in significant numbers in the urban centers, it was only a matter of time before they sensed their new potential political strength and began to take action to end the indignity and terror of Jim Crow.

The movement of the 1960s was based on an expanding industrial economy that tended to draw people into the cities. In fact, the motion by capital to industrialize the South was an unspoken but significant ally of the movement, because segregation was not economical for industry. At the same time, the movement took place in a favorable political environment nationally and internationally. In the Cold War battle over democracy, Jim Crow was an increasingly embarrassing liability for the U.S. government.

The problem for poor people's movements today is that while the numbers of poor are increasing, the foundation and forms of the movement are shifting dramatically from what we are used to. The economic and political situation today is in many ways the opposite of what was happening in the 1960s.

1. Today the economy is NOT expanding anywhere in the world. Computerized technology is replacing workers permanently. This trend is the foundation of today's poor people's movements, but its form is very different from the 1960s.

2.   Today, the poor are being dispersed out of the inner cities and into small towns, suburbs, and rural areas. New Orleans is the most dramatic example, but it is happening everywhere.

3.   Unlike the 1960s freedom movement, today there is no section of the ruling class that has any interest in promoting the aims of the poor people's movement. They will not support housing, healthcare and a decent life for people who do not have the money to pay for it.

The direction we have gone in San Jose is to work to educate and unite with broader sections of the community. The best example has been our ability to unite with the movement for health care. Another one of major importance is the movement for immigrant rights, which has turned out spectacular numbers in the right conditions.

History has proven that people will participate, sacrifice, and even give their lives to a cause when, as Martin Luther King said, they can see the promised land. But when people cannot see a vision and a reasonable strategy to get there -- as so many of our people today cannot -- they will refuse to get involved.

The role of revolutionaries is to continue to ask ourselves the hard questions in the course of the battle, as Jeremy advocates, and continue to do the serious analysis necessary to project vision, program, and strategy to the movement.

This article originated in the People's Tribune
PO Box 3524, Chicago, IL 60654, 773-486-3551,
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