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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