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First, they came for the homeless

Sandy Perry  |  Issue: July 2017
L.A. Skid Row community

(From Left) Los Angeles’s People’s Tribune correspondent, Chris Venn, Stephanie Williams, organizer in her L.A. Skid Row community (humorously in a police hat), and Robert Aguirre of San Jose, organizer with H.O.M.E.L.E.S.S., visit Skid Row during the Los Angeles leg of the recent “First they came for the homeless” three-city California tour.
PHOTO: Gena Mercer


The “First They Came for the Homeless” California speaking tour brought together some key leaders of the movement against homelessness.

The April 22-24 tour was named after a grouping of houseless people that emerged from Occupy San Francisco and then organized a series of dramatic encampments confronting political officials in Berkeley.

The name is in fact an accurate warning to all of us that the fascist daily persecution of the homeless today is the likely future fate of all American workers if we fail to defend and unite with them now.

The tour featured leaders from Berkeley, San Francisco, San Jose, Merced, and Los Angeles, each sharing the aspirations and lessons of their respective battles with the system. In addition to uniting these leaders, the purpose of the tour was to raise funds to finance broader circulation of the People’s Tribune (our sister publication) and amplify the voices of the homeless leaders whose articles appear in it.

The message of the tour was unique, because like the People’s Tribune, it was political and strategic. Speakers on this tour had a clear-eyed assessment that the system necessarily creates homelessness in order to make money for profiteers. The question is not to make a pitch for sympathy, but to sound the alarm about a system that has no respect for human life, and begin to organize the resistance.

These tour speakers remarked about their experiences with the tour and about the situation in homeless movement:

“Money is the enemy, not the solution. Profit before people put us here. People before profit will fix it.”

– Mike Zint, San Francisco-Berkeley ‘First They Came for the Homeless’ and the Poor Tour.

“I am someone and I matter. Next is that we all need to believe it.”

– Gena Mercer, Merced, California Central Valley Journey for Justice.

“San Jose destroyed the ‘Jungle’ camp in 2014, but it has not made any progress since then. They say they have housed 1,000 homeless people, but that doesn’t count the new people who become homeless all the time. Thousands are still forced to live outside every night. The city sweeps their camps and illegally takes their possessions, but they always come back because there’s no place for them to go.”

– Robert Aguirre, H.O.M.E.L.E.S.S, San Jose

The tour visited San Francisco, the California Central Valley, and the heart of Skid Row in Los Angeles. The message from the L.A. leaders was especially clear: The time has come to formulate a new paradigm. Merely reacting to the endless attacks is not effective.

Several speakers concluded that what needs to be done is first build a community in and around a section of the homeless to assemble at least the nucleus of a fighting force. Then we have to enter the political battle to hold the government accountable for ending homelessness. In L.A., they are calling on people to “disrupt the Mayor” until he answers their demands. Political battle may start with confronting the government, but it also means organizing our troops, distinguishing who are our enemies and who are our friends, and uniting all who can be united in our campaigns for housing, basic human needs, and basic human dignity. As one leader said at the end of the tour, “There are more of us than there are of them. The question is, how do we get ourselves united?”

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