Submitted by Michael Anthony
The summer of ’87, just a few months after I was born, my grandmother wrapped herself in a garbage bag and laid down on the steps of City Hall to protest the treatment of the homeless. Along with others from the community, both with and without homes, she was part of a local movement calling for better treatment, and more services.
Then, if you were homeless, you had the choice of sleeping at jail, in the woods behind the jail, or the police department gym. None of these options were ideal for a class of people who are routinely targeted with police harassment and violence.
The occupation of ’87 was the proverbial kick in the literal ass of Portland, Maine, which got the Oxford Street shelter built, and up until the past few years, Portland was ahead of the game. But ever since the winter of 2013, the shelter has been overburdened much of the year. Despite sitting on plans for years, and having overwhelmingly supportive public hearings on building a new shelter, the city has yet to break ground.
The attacks from Augusta opened-up this long overdue discussion, while also providing a scapegoat for this liberal city. Folks are so busy blaming Lepage and conservatives, that we can’t stop to look around and see that we live in a community with more homeless people than Republicans!
There is no excuse…
No-one else is to blame…
It is not a lack of HUD funding, or General Assistance… not exclusively anyway. We should be fighting for more funding, but also need to fight for more access, by putting surplus homes into land trusts, forever keeping them affordable.
If the people of this city invested half as much energy as we do into selling parks, saving parks, legalizing pot, saving bears, building parking garages, talking about policing the homeless, or any other more-important-issue-to-date, we could house all the homeless in a matter of years.
If the Green Party, the progressive Democrats, the multitude of community organizations, and us unaffiliated radicals, all put our heads together, we could transform this city and never again need to beg some bigot in Augusta, or the bigots in Washington for support, any more than the human beings on the streets of Portland ought to be forced to beg for the right to exist.
I’ve been homeless in Portland for 4 years. I have been trying to get at the bottom of what the issue is, and rallying support in a number of different ways for different solutions we could explore as a community. I’m becoming more and more convinced that it will take another local protest movement, like the one around the ’87 occupation.
In the coming months, as the dialogue around housing progresses, please include those of us on the front lines of the housing struggle. There will be a lot of professionals and academics, policy makers and lobbyists, all claiming to have our best interest at heart, and many of them do, but we are kinda being drowned out of the dialogue.
Its enough to make one want to go live in a snowbank!
We have ideas, and we have skills, but we need resources. We need homes to survive so we can figure out our lives. We could use space to organize, so we can reclaim our struggle and fight for others in our community.
Speak with us, not for us — and please, not over us — and hold others accountable when they do.
We are not an abstract system. We are not a chance to win points for compassion, or a topic of local entertainment. Don’t project your political criticisms or dissatisfaction with society onto us or our struggle. We have our own values, opinions, goals, backgrounds, and politics, as diverse as any other community.
My politics are as red as my friend’s cheeks while she waits on a bench for an abusive ex-lover, because sexual assault is better than the shelter for some.
At some point folks need to stop using these public dialogues as a way to just view homeless people through a more informed lense, and actually take a stance. Join the fight to make keeping people alive a priority in our community. Stand against classist assumptions, prejudiced hate and fear. Stand against police violence and harassment of the poor. Stand against tokenism and exploitation of struggle for political, partisan and institutional interests.
Lets unite, and put people’s lives before politics!