Homeless Living at Dilworth Plaza Accuse Occupy Philly of Exploiting Them

By Michael Alan Goldberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 20 | Posted Nov. 23, 2011

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It’s Monday night, a few minutes before Occupy Philly’s 7 p.m. General Assembly, and the 7-week-old encampment is in complete disarray. The large cardboard sign detailing Occupy’s working groups lay twisted and torn on the ground. Sagging and collapsed tents dot the concrete. Cruddy furniture, piles of dirty clothes and other debris litter the ground.

As the GA gets under way, rain begins to fall on the 50 or so Occupiers—and a couple TV news crews—gather to learn whether or not the city is going to grant Occupy Philly a permit to move the camp across the street to Thomas Paine Plaza. The news isn’t good. But despite everything collapsing around them, Occupy facilitators stubbornly hold fast to GA process and protocol—maybe the only thing they have left. As a woman starts to read the city’s proposal, another facilitator interrupts to call for the group to vote on whether she should read the entire permit or just give a summary.

At the front of the group, a black woman holding an umbrella began to shout: “Stop stalling, stop stalling!”

Another vote is called whether the GA should move inside to get out of the rain.

“This is bullshit, get to the fuckin’ point!” the woman screams.

“We need to get to a dry area,” a facilitator responds.

“Dry area my ass—it’s gonna be fuckin’ wet when you don’t have no tent city no more, so stop this bullshit and just tell us what they offered!”

The news cameras swing away from the facilitators and toward the woman. “Occupy Philly is bullshit!” she continues to shout.

“She’s just some crazy homeless lady,” mutters a bearded Occupier.

A few other Occupiers approach the woman, quietly pleading for her to calm down. One offers her a cigarette. “Get away from me,” she yells. “I don’t want no cigarette, I want to know what’s going on!”

The GA disbands, relocating to the nearby Friends Center to continue the proceedings (where Occupiers would eventually learn the city’s final offer: a permit for daily demonstrations at Paine Plaza from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., but no more 24/7 camping). The woman refuses to follow, skulking back to her tent at the north end of City Hall and shouting to no one in particular. “This is bullshit! Occupy Philly playin’ games ’cause they got somewhere to go when this is over. Where the fuck am I gonna go? I got nowhere to go.”

Twenty minutes later, standing in the cold drizzle, she’s slightly more calm. She says her name is Charlene. She’s 49, and has been living in Love Park and the subway concourse below Dilworth Plaza on and off for years. She says she’s angry, not crazy. She says that despite getting food, a tent, blankets and clothes from Occupy Philly since the second week of October, she feels exploited by the movement. She insists Occupy Philly reached out to the homeless to join the movement only so they could swell their numbers, not because they were looking out for them.

“They capitalized on the homeless,” she says. “All these tents out here—if it wasn’t for the homeless there wouldn’t be half these tents and nobody would’ve taken them seriously in the first place.

“They begged us to come here and be part of this. They came down to the subway and to Love Park and told us they would give us tents and food and somewhere to sleep during the day without being hassled by the cops. So now there’s more homeless people out here than anything. Then all the Occupy Philly people left and now we’re just left out here. They left us stranded to deal with this.”

Charlene’s not the only one who feels that way.

“They blew a trumpet call for everyone to charge and then they go back to their house and their warm beds and the homeless are sitting here taking the brunt of things,” says 28-year-old Kevin Murphy, who’s sitting on a nearby bench. He’s been homeless for six months, and has been living at the Occupy encampment for several weeks. He wonders whether Occupy Philly embraced the homeless at the outset as a sort of cowardly exit strategy.

“All those people started this, and then they left the homeless and just a handful of true-blue Occupiers to actually fight the fight and deal with the consequences when the riot cops come in,” says Murphy.

“In other places they’re [pepper] spraying ’em like mice,” says a man sitting next to Murphy who declines to give his name. “I hope it doesn’t come to that. A lot of us are brittler and weaker than that because we are homeless. They’ll come in here and do what they want.”

Sitting in a beat-up office chair below Dilworth Plaza, tucked just inside an arch to stay out of the rain, Keith, 52, says he feels like the homeless are being scapegoated for the encampment’s deteriorating health and safety conditions. “Occupy blames us, Nutter blames us, the papers blame us. Everybody blames us. But what else is new? I ain’t sayin homeless people aren’t pissin’ and shittin’ out here, but it’s everybody. College kids, too.”

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Comments 1 - 20 of 20
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1. Greg Bucceroni said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 01:46PM

“Sounds like that homeless woman has more of an agenda than most of the Occupiers do! These so called Occupiers need numbers so as to look good in front of the news media and as a barganing chip with city officials but sadly in the end many of these so Occupiers will go home leaving many of the homeless as they found them "Used, abused, hungry and cold". I remember when Curtis Sliwa & the Guardian Angels in NYC did something similar with the homeless back in the early 1990's when Rudy Giuliani first became mayor of NYC. Curtis Sliwa massed up many of the local homeless, dressed them up with Guardian Angel gear & berets and paraded them around city officials and the news media in giving the appearence that the Guardian Angels were greater in numbers than they actually were. In the end after everything was said and done the Guardian Angels left NYC's homeless as they found them, with the homeless having nothing to show for themselves but the unfortunate feeling of being use like a whore.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 01:59PM

"She says that despite getting food, a tent, blankets and clothes from Occupy Philly since the second week of October, she feels exploited by the movement."

"Everybody blames us. But what else is new? I ain’t sayin homeless people aren’t pissin’ and shittin’ out here."

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3. Cleanup Philly said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 02:21PM

“Great article. First reporter to actually interview someone who is homeless who is expressing a point of view not in lock step with OP. Took courage to chase this angle down. That's gritty realism.”

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4. Dan said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 02:51PM

“Looks like OP found out what many hard-core homeless people are like. A camping trip and some feel-good come-together philosophy doesn't solve the problems of mental illness, addiction, entitlement, or street-hardened hustling. It sounds like many homeless people found yet more self-appointed saviors who give up when the going gets tough. Children of privilege don't hang around when the going gets tough, no matter how well-intentioned they are.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 03:29PM

“HUD still does not count homeless physically disabled/long term ill. Many frustrated single adults are in the road and many returning disabled veterans are joining them. . Ironically Olmstead a push to be less "housed" for some is also competing as there are not enough accessible affordable opportunities or enough move in assistance for other disabled . You won't find help for homeless disabled get access and build more accessible, affordable housing for the homeless disabled on any progressive priority list. even my "progressive" legal advocate plays the politics of divide and conquer - so multi-disabled I have been in temporary not accessible housing for a couple years now, qualify for IHHS and have no help, have dietary deficiencies again and more. I have been managed far more than assisted. AND yes, the political groups on the west coast are also happy to have me show up for their causes - if I can.”

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6. mcgee said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 04:53PM

“no hardworking group appreciates freeloaders, including occupy.
none of us are exempt from human nature.”

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7. Ian Smith said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 05:15PM

“This is article lacks depth. Here are some questions to help you out. Why are there 4000 plus homeless people in Philadelphia when there are thousands of peopleless homes? Why is the city closing the Ridge Avenue homeless shelter in a time of growing poverty? Why does Philadelphia Weekly publish articles that pin the two groups of people (the homeless and activists) who are both exploited by our deeply unequal economic system against each other?”

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8. Leigh said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 06:24PM

“I really like your last point, Ian. I think the pressure to always find a new angle and a grabby headline pushed PW into making generalizations about how "the homeless" feel. There's also no evidence presented that OP activists have deliberately encouraged homeless people to move there or participate in the protest more so than they want all of the 99% to take part.

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9. BrotherlyLove said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 06:45PM

“This article is spot on. I have passed through OP numerous times and have spoken with the homeless on multiple occasions. I was @ Dilworth on the 2nd day when OP was holding their GA- a large amount of time was devoted to including the homeless in the movement, who were "the original occupiers" as the man on stage stated. As time progressed however, I saw the tension growing. Wk 2 I spoke with several homeless ppl upset that the occupiers were taking the best tents and food for themselves. Later down the line, I watched as the protesters tried to distance themselves from the homeless. Feces on the wall? "That was a homeless person, not an occupier," Fights? "It is the homeless, not us." You can't have it both ways. If OP spent half the energy they use fighting about permits on trying to help these homeless get back on their feet, they could probably do some great work, but I'm not even sure what this "movement" is about anymore besides challenging the right to camp out @ City Hall.”

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10. Rishayan said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 07:41PM

“Yep, its the same old story used round the world to release us from any guilt trips,--call the homeless crazy,or free loaders, or lazy drunks druggies and lunatics or whatever.Use the the indefenseables for your own benefit and then when the going gets tough, just let them return to their wretched lives at the mercy of the thugs that pose as police officers, after all they are just bums aren't they? What wonderfull God loving people we are!!”

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11. Isaiah Thompson said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 08:34PM

“Nice piece, Michael.”

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12. Lifelong Homeless Advocate said... on Nov 23, 2011 at 10:52PM

“The article and some of the commenters act as if Occupy Philly is responsible for providing affordable housing and setting mental health budgets and providing remedial education and job training, etc., etc. The city, state and federal governments have the responsibility to deal with these large issues. Assistance from well-meaning amateurs will never be the answer. Many of the OP folks are young, unemployed and/or buried in debt. The OP advocates can't replace lost funding from HUD, the city and the state by taking it out of their own pockets. The one thing they can do is what they are doing - arguing that federal resources should be going for things that millions of people need like housing and jobs, instead of for bank bailouts and tax cuts for millionaires.”

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13. Marshall James Kavanaugh said... on Nov 24, 2011 at 01:23AM

“Any occupiers reading this article should look into the Occupy Homes movement that is taking place in both Atlanta and Minneapolis as well as in other close neighborhoods through out the country.

Members of the media should pay closer attention to the conversation of why suddenly millions of people are on the street throughout the US and world in solidarity against corporatocracy, as opposed to wasting their time trying to commit character assassinations in an attempt to somehow debunk the movement. Seriously, let's talk less about a group of college kids and homeless people not understanding each other and talk more about how college kids pay more tuition for degrees that are basically meaningless in the current job market while more people are becoming homeless each day as their homes are basically stolen from them and unlike in decades prior where there was somewhere for these people to go, the funding for these services is shrinking if not completely cut off.”

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14. tajicat said... on Nov 24, 2011 at 04:02AM

“This is maddd! These people need to go away..I am sick of having my taxes
raised ...Trash costs..There are people getting shot , mugged, ect. ect
We don't need the use of police watching over these people. trash, disease, and filth...the cops need to be out doing their jobs..not wasting time on these
crap..Sick Of It! Using street folks is painful... These people have NO Message and I don't believe anyone takes them seriously...

Nutter needs guts get them the hell off the streets go do something positive

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15. Mike221 said... on Nov 24, 2011 at 04:59AM

“Wow, PW and Mr Goldberg have a lot of nerve printing this crap. It's Goldberg who is doing the exploiting here. He is using this ungrateful loudmouth homeless lady to discredit the OWS who did more to help her than the city or Goldberg has done. Mr Goldberg, is it your point here that, unless one devotes his entire life to helping the homeless, he/she is exploiting them? If I give a few dollars to a homeless person on the street, are you suggesting that the only reason I did this was to look good to anyone who observed it? Well maybe this says more about you than those who at least tried to help this ungrateful lady who turns and spits on them. I can't believe you're actually using this ingrate as some kind of credible argument against OWS after you and others accuse OWS of wanting freebies. How ironic that this loudmouth who got freebies from OWS is now being used to show that OWS didn't give her ENOUGH freebies! You, mr goldberg, and PW are a joke.”

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16. Mike221 said... on Nov 24, 2011 at 05:46AM

“My apologies to PW and Mr Goldberg. I just reread the article and think I may have unintentionally placed blame. Again, my apology sir. Thank you.”

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17. Colleen Begley said... on Nov 26, 2011 at 08:36AM

“I have spent close to 50 days getting to know these people. They are my friends and I will stay and make sure they are safe through an old-school Philly firebombing. We encourage them to go to shelters and work closely with the outreach coordinator for the City. Truth is there aren't enough shelters and resources. Occupy Philly has been providing 1500 hot meals a day and 24/7 medical and safety. Not to mention comfort donations such as coats and blankets. We have provided a needed service to a population that we as a society and a City have failed. It wasn't something we anticipated but it made us stronger and kept us real. Now Mayor Nutter with 48 hours notice you have put me and your City in a tough position. Please work with me as an individual, directly and immediately outside of the Occupy Philly process. It is important that we open a line of communication on several issues. First and foremost, conflict resolution and homelessness in Dilworth Plaza. Check me out w Civil”

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18. Anonymous said... on Nov 28, 2011 at 03:21PM

“More inputs for the soylent green factories...”

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19. Spanky said... on Dec 8, 2011 at 10:04AM

“The homeless woman's complaint was essentially, "they helped us out with food and a safe place to stay, but they aren't continuing to do so forever."

The entitlement mentality is just beyond belief. And not a single commenter even notices the profound absurdity.”

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20. Occupy Media said... on Dec 20, 2011 at 12:44PM

“this is just a terrible article. if you had been there for more than a few minutes you would have seen that many of the homeless were fed and given appropriate OTC medications when they were sick. They were given a lot more than "blankets." Also, occupy never said it would fix the homeless problem of Philadelphia, how would you propose they do that? That's a problem the city has and has not addressed. As to the insinuation that occupy recruited homeless to help swell numbers, that's just ridiculous. Do your homework next time, don't just post biased garbage to throw occupy under the bus like the ret of the media.”


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