Occupations Embracing the Homeless

“Homelessness is not a side issue unconnected to plutocracy and greed. It’s where we’re all eventually headed — the 99%, or at least the 70% of us, every debt-loaded college grad, out-of-work school teacher, and impoverished senior — unless this revolution succeeds.” -Barbara Ehrenreich

The Occupy movement has gained and maintained so much traction because it is an opportunity for us to collectively envision and shape our communities into models for how an equitable society can work.  We are tired of waiting for politicians to solve our problems as our public infrastructure crumbles, our homes are foreclosed on, and our tax dollars are funneled to defense contractors, etc.  Many working class Americans are a few small steps away from homelessness and the social safety nets to protect us have been defunded.  Occupations across the country are addressing these issues head-on by engaging the most vulnerable in our society: the homeless.

Occupy Roseburg is taking its values to the streets. For the last three months, 50+ volunteers and community members have shown up every Saturday for Feed the ‘Burg community potluck.  Participants have a blast sharing a hot meal together and, more importantly, sharing a sense of community amongst the housed and houseless alike.  Taking their work one step further, Occupy Roseburg has also opened a Free Store with new and gently used items donated by the community, free for anyone who may need them.

The Occupy Roseburg’s Feed the ‘Burg website says:

“Occupy Roseburg is not just about standing on a corner or invading banks; it is also about shaping our world into something new– a world where people are not just seen as profit margins and voters, but a world where we all live with dignity and economic justice. “We must push this movement forward and start creating the type of JUST world that we want to see in our own community.”

With our social safety nets catching (and missing!) more people than ever, community action agencies are providing services, and several new ones have recently opened up in small town Oregon.  Is there a new or existing agency in your community? Here are some great examples of how rural Oregonians are stepping up addressing homelessness in their communities:

Each January, Community Action Agencies are responsible for counting the number of homeless people for a statewide report and for funding allocation to county homeless services.  In past years, ROP leaders have found that many counties would not have done the homeless count if their human dignity group had not stepped in to offer support! The agencies responsible for conducting the homeless count often do not have the resources to look into where the homeless are staying in their community, and only volunteers can step in to fill that gap.

Consider getting your local group involved in the Homeless Count this month!  Contact your Community Action Agency to get full details on their plan for the Homelessness Count.  Click here for a map of the CAAs and their contact information.  They might have a developed plan with different roles that you can plug into, or you might be free to brainstorm with them the best way to reach the homeless.

Before the Occupy movement, Yamhill County PeaceMakers was one of the human dignity groups that participated in the Homeless Count every year to supporting community members who fallen through a frayed social safety net while advocating for a political climate that allows for these issues to be resolved.  Yamhill County PeaceMakers will be out again January 25 to interview the homeless and assist with a special breakfast that will be served at the St. Barnabas Soup Kitchen that morning.

Addressing the oppressive winter weather, Hood River’s churches have joined together with a simple mission: “to ensure that homeless people in Hood River County have a safe place to sleep indoors from December through March.”  Churches are taking turns hosting the Hood River Warming Shelter.

In Umatilla County, the Hermiston Welcoming Committee has fostered a collaboration between churches, human dignity advocates, service organizations, and government agencies to do a similar project, making sure that nobody is left to sleep outside during the coldest nights of winter.  Wouldn’t it be great if we had partnerships in all of our communities to put hosting warming shelters in every place they’re needed?