Between a rock and a hard place, thoughts on Larry Rice’s new homeless camp and the following eviction.
Larry Rice is not your friend.
The police are not your friends.
The city government is not your friend.
The media is not your friend.
May 16th, 5:00pm, the City gets word that a group of neighbors are yelling at residents of a newly built homeless camp on Vandeventer and McCree. The neighbors are getting physical too, tearing down the fences that surrounded the camp. The police show up after the City issues an emergency condemnation of the property–basically an expedited eviction. Scum of the earth, Eddie Roth, the City’s Safety Director and aide to the Mayor, speaks to the small crowd who are part of the camp, giving them their options: they can leave and go through the right channels to obtain housing (the very channels that so often leave them on the streets) or get arrested. Most people leave, some choose to stay and get arrested and have housing in jail.
The camp was sponsored by Larry Rice after camps along the river–Sparta, Hopeville and Dignity Harbor–were evicted. These camps had taken on a life of their own, often beyond the grasp of Larry Rice and the City. In response, Rice, a longtime champion of the homeless, sees an opportunity to capitalize on the actions of the City. Good intentioned or not, his actions hold no hope for the evicted homeless population, but rather, simply serve to emphasize his political stance: the city has created a scenario in which the residents of the camps now have no where else left to go. Eddie Roth promises the possibility of applying for temporary housing, but if one is to succeed in jumping through the hoops of that application, all that it amounts to at the moment is a temporary hotel room out in St. Louis County. For many whose existence depends on proximity to the city, this is simply not an option, for others, with the existence of felony records, or drug problems this was never an option. Some residents also simply wish to create their own lives outside of the guidelines and restrictions the City imposes.
In the end the neighborhood turns to the City and police to mediate the conflict, and we all know how that ends. Hordes of police swarm the camp and quickly shut it down; dragging away in handcuffs those who refuse to leave. It is hard to find a position to support. The neighbors feel the presence of the camp will create a hostile enviroment for their children, largely based on images of the camps as diseased, dangerous and violent, images that the City feeds residents to garner support in its efforts to “clean” up the city and create a terrain more hospitable for commerce and wealth. Larry Rice, while perhaps well intentioned, has pitted the homeless against the non-homeless poor, forcing a conflict and losing sight of the consequences on individuals’ lives. Then there is the City and the police, who at every turn seek to manage our lives, mediating our very existence so that the veins of wealth and capital remain unimpeded. We will never get any closer to clarity or revolution if we listen to these scum.
All the while, caught in the crossfire are those constantly reacting to or resisting the plans and actions of preachers like Larry Rice, the cops, the media and the Eddie Roths of the world. Those of us without power, in this case the neighbors and the homeless population, who are simply moved around like pawns with no concern for our opinions or desires. The homeless population goes to the camp, because where else is there to go? With Hopeville evicted and many shelters full, the options for those who find themselves without homes are quickly diminishing, and the neighbors are being forced to react to a situation they had no voice in determining. Many neighbors comment that while they feel empathetic to the residents of the camp they do not support its presence in their own neighborhood because the lot is where their children play. Others comment that they wish the camp would leave because they feel it is hurting the economic prospects of the neighborhood, and that a business should be built on the abandoned lot, apparently choosing their own economic prosperity over the lives of others.
The sad thing is that all these forces are interacting with real issues, but only seeking to manage them, not to resolve them. We are expected to choose sides in a fixed game of power brokers who seek to represent us or control us, instead of taking on these problems as a group of individuals. None of these brokers will ever really give us what we want and that is why we must make them useless and learn to rely on each other. Instead of the Christian preacher who believes that it’s his godly duty to help the poor, but who will never actually fight for the elimination of a society where there are rich and poor, we seek to build relationships that empower and challenge the foundations of this society. Instead of the cops, who like robotic automatons, arrest or harass us on the daily, as they follow the orders of the rich and powerful, we figure out ways to keep each other safe that don’t rely on sending people to prison for years or getting beat up with a baton. Instead of the City, the biggest land owner around, that makes us promises for housing just to get us out of the way, we stand our ground.