As the occupy Wall Street movement has gained increasing attention over the last several weeks, the protests have prompted criticism, praise, and, for better or worse, many questions. Among others, many have wondered what the protesters’ demands are. What are their objectives? Why aren’t they protesting in front of Congress? What will they accomplish?
Naturally, we at St. Ambrose have wondered how the Occupy movement relates to the ongoing housing crisis. Contrary to what some have claimed, the housing crisis—which commenced with the rapid depletion of home values, leading to the evaporation of assets tied to these values—is likely the central cause of the financial crisis. While the crisis has accelerated unemployment and stricken a blow to the credit markets, keeping families in their homes should likewise remain a vital concern.
In a rather shocking article (link pasted below) that first appeared in the Baltimore Brew last week, writers Mark Reutter and Fern Shen shed light on a related issue: homelessness. Moreover, it appears that some of the article’s interviewees have taken refuge at Occupy campsites, a sign that this issue, perhaps along with that of housing generally, may be on the movement’s radar.
The article, titled “Homeless advocates vow to sue city over failure to provide housing for women,” discusses the new Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Resource Center, located at 620 Fallsway. According to the article, administrators of the center, as a matter of policy, have routinely been turning away homeless women while accepting their male counterparts, for whom they have more designated beds. These women have been forced to sleep in the Center’s parking lot, and on one occasion, a group of women were given blankets and asked to sleep under a bridge on a rainy day. The writers describe:
“’I saw a pregnant girl lay right here on the concrete with her boyfriend,’ said a middle-aged woman. Just a few days ago, a homeless man added, eight women turned away from the shelter were given blankets and huddled for the night under the Jones Fall Expressway. ‘It could be raining and you’re still sitting out there,’ he said.”
Naturally, the situation has attracted attention from the state’s ACLU, who have threatened to sue on constitutional grounds, claiming that the shelter violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause. The ACLU has invoked Mayor Rawlings-Blake’s name, asking the mayor to take action and claiming that as a lawyer, she should be aware of the city’s exposure to liability because of the situation.
Amidst this crisis of its own, the authors offer one ray of hope: at least one of the women interviewed has found shelter at the Occupy Baltimore campsite at McKeldin Square. This woman, named Bernadette, told the Brew: “You get respect there and you get a good meal. And I’m much safer than being outside.”
While this woman’s reaction is in no way an accurate reflection of the broader values internalized by Occupy Baltimore, or the movement nationally, it prompts us to wonder the extent to which the protesters think about housing and homelessness, and what effect the movement will have on these issues.
Indeed, as far as the housing crisis, the article’s subject, Bernadette, provides a pithy observation, “There are so many vacant houses in Baltimore and so many homeless people. This is what I don’t understand: why can’t we fix these houses for people that need them?”