Monday, October 31, 2011

As the homeless join 'Occupy' encampments it adds a new, often-unwanted dimension

A frontpage story in the New York Times addresses the curious situation that is occurring nationwide of homeless people joining the Occupy movement. A rough estimate is that 30% of the people amassed in the movement are homeless.

A bit of one picture from the article:  An L.A. homeless guy.
Homeless people are, of course, part of the Bottom 99% that the Occupy movement represents -- indeed we can easily lay claim to being the Bottom 1% -- but homeless people join city encampments with special sets of interests and needs, and oftentimes a much lessened interest in the movement's goals.

From the Times piece, "Dissenting, or Seeking Shelter? Homeless Stake a Claim at Protests":
From Los Angeles to Wall Street, from Denver to Boston, homeless men and women have joined the protesters in large numbers, or at least have settled in beside them for the night. While the economic deprivation they suffer might symbolize the grievance at the heart of this protest, they have come less for the cause than for what they almost invariably describe as an easier existence. There is food, as well as bathrooms, safety, company and lots of activity to allow them to pass away their days.

...[Homeless people's] presence is posing a mounting quandary for protesters and the authorities, and divisions have arisen among protesters across the country about how much, if at all, to embrace the interlopers. The rising number of homeless, many of them suffering from mental disorders, has made it easier for Occupy’s opponents to belittle the movement as vagrant and lawless and has raised the pressure on municipal authorities to crack down.
In the article, protesters in only one city, Atlanta, cherished the presence of homeless people. The sentiment there was expressed by a protesting 50-year-old former repairman: "The homeless bring numbers. They bring a voice."

But sentiment found in Nashville, New York, Los Angeles and Oakland was different.

A 22-year-old L.A. protester, homeless herself, said this, "“There are a lot of them here that have mental problems and that need help. They are in the wrong place.” A Nashville participant in the movement had this to say about the homeless presence, "This is keeping people away: It distracts a lot of energy away from the issues we’re fighting for ... A lot of women felt unsafe camping out at night. It discourages a lot of people from participating."

At Zuccotti Park near Wall Street a protester tasked to provide security offered this crass comment: “It’s bad for most of us who came here to build a movement. We didn’t come here to start a recovery institution.”

The article made no mention of Sacramento, which has unique features.The incurious press in our metropolis has made the SafeGround movement representative of the whole of homelessness and has made John Kraintz and Tracie Rice-Bailey celebratory leaders. Kraintz and Rice-Bailey are known to live in apartments in the downtown area and have been seen frequenting in or near Chavez Park which is Occupy Sacramento's Ground Zero.

At one point, about two weeks ago, I saw Kraintz advising some protesters arousing honks of support from motorists on I Street. The particular grouping featured a woman with a bullhorn complaining bitterly about the Obama Administration. The protesters, between 12 and 20 in number, gathered near the street, but in front of the Federal Court building, had a variety of messages. Many had signs complaining about the crackdown on marijuana. But others had signs that related to more-common Occupy complaints, like income disparities. Kraintz, straddling his bicycle, was advising one young man that their movement needed to hone in on what they were about, to deliver a clearer message.

Paula Lomazzi, Executive Director (and sole staff member) of SHOC [Sacramento Homeless Organizing Committee], acting as if she is a core Occupy Sacramento movement organizer [and it may be she is], has been involved in rallying the presence of her niche of homeless people and homeless-aid-industry muckamucks to attend City Council meetings relating to gaining a right for the Occupy people to camp without harassment in Chavez Park.

Always troubling, is the horning in, via the LoafFish-SHOC-SafeGround triangle, of the unsavory politics of the three Alkali Flat-area charities. All have a wholly anti-capitalism agenda associated with The League of Revolutionaries for a New America (formerly, The Communist League). Lomazzi -- and in August, Rice-Bailey, the hippie of SafeGrnd -- have written for LRNA's newspaper, The People's Tribune.

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