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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Occupier Jesse Kudler says that while it upsets him to hear the complaints, “I’ve never been aware of anyone from Occupy Philly recruiting the homeless or encouraging them to come. They’re part of the Occupy Philly encampment whether or not the protesters initially intended that. There’s no question they’re a part of the community now. But I don’t think the homeless have been deliberately used to prop up Occupy Philly.”

As far as the anger and resentment some of the homeless are feeling toward the movement, Kudler says, “I don’t put that just on Occupy Philly. I put it on the way the city has been interacting with Occupy Philly, the fact that the weather is getting worse, and the fact that the media is reporting on graffiti and fecal matter on the walls as if that’s something new in Philadelphia and that’s a menace. There’s legitimate frustration, but I don’t think Occupy Philly itself is to blame.”

It didn’t appear to start out this way. Sitting inside a tent earlier Monday afternoon, Tonia Anderson, 39—a vendor for the homeless-produced newspaper One Step Away—says she came to Occupy Philly the first day and felt welcomed by the movement. “We’re like family out here,” she says. Unlike some others, she feels that the movement has stuck by the homeless. “It seems like we’re included a lot more, and we’re being informed of things a lot more.”

But Anderson’s boyfriend Andrew, 42—a DJ before becoming homeless two years ago—says that he sensed a disconnect early on between what many of the Occupiers said about homelessness and how they acted around the encampment’s homeless population, noting that many seemed uncomfortable being around homeless people.

“A lot of them don’t even know some of these homeless people’s names,” says Andrew. “You’re feeding them food, you’re giving them things, and you say you’re here for them, but you hardly ever speak to them. If we’re in the same house but you’re not actually talking to me, that’s disrespectful. We know when politicians say ‘We’re with you’ that they’re full of crap, but if a college kid tells me ‘We’re here with you’ and you’re not actually with me, yeah, that bothers me a lot.”

“It’s frustrating, personally, to hear that,” says Kudler. “I may have even been guilty of that. Not intentionally, but [at Occupy] I talk to the people that I know or seem to be involved with the issues I’m involved with, and those people generally don’t tend to be the homeless. They tend to come from my own cohort. I’ll own up to that.”

Andrew says he got into arguments with a few Occupiers who felt like the homeless weren’t carrying their weight—failing to attend meetings or go on marches or sit-ins.

“Some of us have children. Some of us have warrants. We can’t afford to be arrested,” says Andrew. “Don’t expect for a homeless individual to sit there and do the same thing you’re doing because we have more to lose than you do. You might get a $250 fine, and that homeless guy might have his kids taken away or he might have four or five urinating in publics where if he gets arrested he might have to sit in [jail] and now he lost his shot of ever getting any real housing or services from the city. If you know you got that stuff on you, you can’t be right on the front lines.”

Emily Taylor, development coordinator at the Philadelphia nonprofit Resources for Human Development—which oversees One Step Away and provides services to the homeless community—believes that Occupy Philly had good intentions toward the homeless at the beginning. 

“I think [Occupy Philly] has really tried to help,” says Taylor. “I think they might not have been aware of all that was involved.” She says that in Occupy’s first weeks, as the encampment’s homeless population began to grow, members of the Safety Working Group approached RHD for assistance in dealing with issues of hostility, addiction, hygiene and mental illness. “They said, ‘We’re kind of unprepared, we need more training and knowledge, can you guys help us? We didn’t know what to expect and now we’re confronted with all of this,’” Taylor recounts, noting that RHD sent crisis specialists to Occupy Philly to teach de-escalation techniques and other means of dealing with issues among the homeless. “[Occupy Philly] definitely cared enough to reach out to us.”

But an Occupier named Dan, waiting at the edges of the Occupy camp on Monday night for the GA to begin, says that his patience quickly wore thin—he says he camped at Dilworth for the first two weeks of Occupy Philly until homeless people made things “sketchy.”

“I feel bad for people who are homeless, but nobody really wants to admit what happened,” he says. “The homeless basically ruined Occupy Philly. They took it over and brought a lot of negativity down on us, and they pushed out a lot of the original Occupy Philly people that didn’t want to deal with all of that or be responsible for all of their personal shit that had nothing to do with what we were out here fighting for.”

As the blame game goes back and forth while Occupy Philly’s physical space crumbles, Taylor says she’s only concerned at this point with what’s to become of the homeless once the city evicts Occupy from Dilworth Plaza once and for all.

“We’re trying to work with Occupy Philly, the cops, the homeless, the city, and figure out what to do,” says Taylor, explaining that RHD, Project H.O.M.E., Broad Street Ministry and other homeless advocacy groups have been pushing to get property from the city that’s been foreclosed to build shelters for people.

“That comes back to the issue of funds,” she says. “Running a shelter costs money and right now there’s no funds.”

“[Occupy Philly] has real concerns about what happens after the city uproots the tent city,” says Kudler. “I hope they have a plan because the city has resources that the Occupy Philly movement doesn’t have.”

Meanwhile, Charlene insists she can’t go back to the subway concourse or Love Park because, she says, in the wake of Occupy Philly the police have lost what little tolerance they ever had for the homeless living and sleeping there.

“On the fuckin’ ground on cardboard, that’s where the fuck we lived,” she says, her voice rising again. “Now I ain’t even gonna have that. The cops run us out from there. Where the fuck we gonna go? It’s cold. Who cares about us? Occupy Philly don’t care about us. They used us and now they ain’t out here fighting for us. They playin’ games with their ‘Mic check, mic check.’ It’s bullshit.”

Down below Dilworth, Keith just shakes his head. “A lot of the homeless people here had this hope because Occupy Philly gave them hope. I wasn’t fooled. You can’t afford to have hope out here. It’s about survival. You take advantage of free food and blankets and things like that when you get the chance, cause out here you don’t know what it’s gonna be like tomorrow or a week from now. But you can’t have this hope that it’s gonna get better cause it ain’t. People want us to just go away and die. That ain’t never gonna change.”

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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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