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Registered: 07/24/01
Posts: 19
Last seen: 22 years, 1 month
Homes Not Jails
    #363062 - 07/29/01 03:21 PM (22 years, 2 months ago)

with all this talk about anarchism, thought I would show how it is put into practice in the real world.


They Know Squat
The Idealistic Rebels Of Homes Not Jails Seek to Shelter the Homeless by
Seizing Abandoned Buildings

By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 29, 2001; Page F01

THE CITY FIREHOUSEFALLS to the rebels without resistance. Now it is being
held by Stinky, L-Dog, Ziggy, Lorax and Crowbar. They wear bandannas for
masks and take themselves very seriously.

The red brick building on Massachusetts Avenue NW near Union Station has not
housed a D.C. engine company for a long time, but it's in good shape. The
occupiers lay in enough spring water, granola, Crazy Richard's Natural
Chunky Peanut Butter, carrots and Cheez-Its for an extended siege. They
barricade the downstairs doors with steel beams and chains. The only way in
is to climb to a second-story window on a chain ladder that you pull up
behind you.

As reinforcements come in through the window, they are instructed to adopt
"action names" to protect their identities. Bob Marley is singing songs of
revolution on the boombox. Crowbar gets a call on a cell phone from a bike
shop where he recently applied for a job. He says he can't talk now, he's

Red -- a George Washington University professor -- and Ziggy -- a
Connecticut College student -- suggest slogans for the banner Crowbar is
designing. The canvas is too small for a lot of words. "I paid for this with
my own money and this is all I could afford," says Crowbar, a 20-year-old
taking a year off from the University of Maryland.

The space feels at once like a commune and a tree fort. With high ceilings
and tall arched windows overlooking the avenue, it could also make fabulous
$2,000-a-month loft apartments.

That is roughly what city officials have in mind. At first they started
renovating the building to make better quarters for homeless women who have
been stacked in battered triple-bunk trailers several blocks away. Then
officials realized that developers Douglas Jemal and Greg Fazackerly might
want to use the firehouse as part of a luxury housing development. Let's see
. . . homeless shelter or expensive apartments? It took city officials about
30 seconds to decide.

Enter this band of masked men and women called Homes Not Jails. On the same
overbooked day in mid-June when they invade the firehouse, members of the
group also are lodging homeless people in a house they don't own on H Street
NE, squatting at a secret illegal residence near North Capitol Street, and
going on trial in Superior Court for unlawful entry on K Street NE.

Outside the firehouse is a swirling circus of activists serving fruit juice
and waving signs; homeless people with bags of belongings; reporters. The
masked ones are visible in second-story windows, pumping their fists above
dangling spray-painted banners: "Housing for People Not Profit." "Fill Homes
Not Developers' Wallets."

The only thing missing for a great theatrical confrontation on the evening
news is any opposition at all. For days, the mayor, the developers, the
police ignore the fact that a piece of city property has been seized. It is
a brilliant rope-a-dope. The activists sidle up to reporters to see if maybe
they would mention to the police or someone that this insurrection is

Everyone is relieved one afternoon when a deputy mayor and the director of
housing and community development drop by. The suits look up at the people
with masks. The officials produce a letter, which is hoisted up in a milk
crate. The letter contains a promise to improve the trailers and let the
homeless women advise the city on opening a new shelter in two or three
years. It's not good enough for the activists, and four are finally arrested
-- but it prompts L-Dog to declare a victory of sorts:

"We take over a building, and suddenly the city is making promises."

Forgotten in the Renewal

Listen to the mayor, the media, demographers, developers and the pooh-bahs
on the Federal City Council. After a decade of economic struggle, Washington
is rebounding, revitalizing, rebirthing all over the place.

But Stinky and the gang are not with the program in brave new Washington.
They detect a capitalist apocalypse in double-digit rent increases,
construction cranes cramming luxury condos and chain restaurants behind row
house facades, yuppies and buppies swarming neighborhoods formerly known as
"transitional" and "dangerous."

They have little use for notions like property rights, but they do
understand supply and demand. The supply is 4,000 empty buildings:
"abandominiums." The demand is 7,000 homeless people, 8,000 poor people
without housing vouchers, 16,000 on the waiting list for public housing.

Something must be done. "Property is almost a god in our culture," says
Stinky, a k a Jennifer Kirby, 23, a thin, soft-spoken founding member of
Homes Not Jails. "Squatting really messes with that. Human needs come before
property rights. I've never seen people more inspired than when they are
physically creating the reality they want. And that's what I find most
powerful about squatting."

It has been more than a decade since anyone bothered with group arrests and
outrageous public displays of idealism on behalf of people without money and
shelter in Washington.

All that pretty much ended when Mitch Snyder committed suicide in 1990. In
its militant prime in the 1970s and 1980s, Snyder's Community for Creative
Non-Violence pulled stunts like six weeks of daily arrests in front of the
White House, marathon hunger strikes, building takeovers, church invasions,
erecting tent cities called Reaganville and Congress Village.

It got results. The city adopted a right-to-shelter law. Hundreds of shelter
beds were opened. CCNV alone brought 500 people in from the cold in a single
winter. The city was forced to spend millions on affordable housing.

Then the radicalism drained out of the movement. The right-to-shelter law
was repealed. CCNV became a mainstream shelter provider. Everybody got a
government contract and stopped breaking the law.

"There was an awful lot of compromise, people being afraid, indeed
threatened, when they spoke out," says Mary Ann Luby, outreach coordinator
for the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. "There was a lot less
looking at the big picture and more looking at 'my program.' "

Now two things are happening. Skeptics of Washington-on-the-rebound recite a
selected list of recent events -- the displacement of tenants in Columbia
Heights, the eviction of homeless people to make way for a new convention
center, the closing of the city's public hospital for the poor, the deaths
of six homeless people on the streets this past winter -- and feel a rising
sense of doom and revulsion.

And the new critics of global capitalism are searching for local evils to
fix. It was no coincidence that the first housing takeover by a precursor to
Homes Not Jails came the day before the World Bank protests in April 2000.
Homes Not Jails plans to host a "People's Repo" squatter's summit in the
week before this fall's protests against the bank. The name of the group
reflects its members' view that government money used to support the
dramatic expansion of the nation's prison system should be spent to provide

A modest squatter movement is active across the country. Ted Gullicksen, a
co-founder of the original Homes Not Jails, established in 1992 in San
Francisco, claims that group has opened hundreds of squats in abandoned
buildings and temporarily housed thousands of people.

Homes Not Jails in the District has yet to show a fraction of the
organization and effectiveness of CCNV or the San Francisco Homes Not Jails,
though the new group is barely a year old.

"I'm glad there are people out there on that radical edge of this issue
again," says Carol Fennelly, Snyder's partner at CCNV who now advocates for

But she adds: "Sometimes they seem arrogant. People said that about us, too.
Maybe I'm becoming more conservative in my middle age. Surviving for the
long haul requires a long-term strategy or goal -- something other than
adequate housing for the world, which is very broad and big and will never

'Privileged Activists'

Franklin Square on a Sunday afternoon is like a school for subversives.

Sitting on the grass over here is a subcommittee of the Mobilization for
Global Justice, planning to protest the World Bank annual meeting in the
fall. Over there is the Anti-Capitalist Convergence, anarchists who are
plotting an even more bracing welcome for the global trade ministers.

And gathered in a circle by the fountain is Homes Not Jails. The group has
several dozen members, no money, a Web site (www.homesnotjails.org) and
office space donated by the National Coalition for the Homeless on 14th
Street NW.

Most of the members are white and many are under 30. They call themselves
"privileged activists," even the ones who have been poor or homeless. They
recognize that getting arrested for a cause is a luxury -- "such a
middle-class white thing to do," says Erin Ralston, 25.

A substitute teacher in the District, Ralston grew up in Rockford, Ill., and
after her father left, the family occasionally slipped below the poverty
line and sometimes the utilities were shut off.

"We live in a culture where people live in fear," she says. "People are
dying in the streets and this is the richest country in the world. There's
no reason for it. There should be full access to housing, full access to

The youngest members found their way to the issue through volunteering in
soup kitchens to fulfill their high school community service requirements;
listening to politics-sodden punk and reggae; reading. They cherish
well-thumbed volumes of retired Boston University professor Howard Zinn's
1980 book, "A People's History of the United States," a 675-page survey of
oppression and resistance.

"Once I realized how socially and economically segregated D.C. is, it was an
eye-opener for me. You can't help being political," says Thomas Frampton, 17
-- Lorax -- who just graduated from Sidwell Friends School and is thinking
about deferring his admission to Yale to work as a community organizer.

Angela Hewett, 39 -- Red -- is an assistant professor of English at George
Washington University. She recently taught a class called "Homelessness and
Home" and another called "Chocolate City" about planning and social issues
in D.C. "I was frustrated by being a member of a lot of progressive groups
that didn't seem to be doing anything," she says, so she joined Homes Not
Jails. "This is going to sound really corny, but I feel like it gives people
hope. . . . People believe the line that development is the only way for
Washington to get out of its problems, that this is progress. People wonder,
how do you fight that? We show there are possibilities."

Jamie Loughner, 36, was a housewife, a volunteer for H. Ross Perot and an
organizer of Renaissance festivals when she lived in tiny Hurricane, W.Va.
Five years ago, her husband was convicted of raping their 5-year-old
daughter. There was conflicting testimony and no physical evidence,
according to trial transcripts, but he was sent to prison for 50 years.
Their three children were taken from Loughner -- whose belief in his
innocence was viewed as evidence that she was an unfit parent.

Loughner came to Washington and became a full-time activist and anarchist,
exchanging work in a soup kitchen for a place to stay.

"Helping others the best I can is the only way I have found to deal with the
pain in my heart," she says. "I've had everything taken away from me by the
state. Nothing is going to be more painful than what has already happened to
me. It's liberating. I can withstand the pressure of my new life."

Black and White Issues

There's an ugly moment at the firehouse. A black man wants to climb up and
check out the space. The white faces peeking over their bandannas won't send
the ladder down.

David Gatling turns away tense and scowling. "Any time you have a white
hierarchy and a black person comes along, then there seems to be a
superior-inferior relationship set up," he says. "I've been doing this since
'94. There isn't anything these kids can tell me about it."

It's all a misunderstanding, the Homes Not Jails people say. The entrance
policy to the firehouse was tightened for security reasons, but Gatling, 49,
an ally who used to be homeless, should have been let up right away. The
ladder comes down, and there are handshakes and hugs all around.

But it's an echo of Homes Not Jails' awkward debut a year ago. The group
discovered that good intentions alone won't smooth the way for white
activists working in black neighborhoods.

On that day last July, the group marched to an abandoned row house at 2809
Sherman Ave. NW in Columbia Heights, where members tore off the boards
sealing the door and began fixing up the place for a family that needed
housing. They thought the righteousness of the cause was self-evident.

But they hadn't introduced themselves ahead of time to the neighborhood. The
reaction of some was hostile: "We're not South Africa on the Potomac," M.A.
Doll Fitzgerald, an advisory neighborhood commissioner, said at the time.
"Through police, through our representatives and with patience, government

The group didn't make the same mistake again. Subsequent takeovers -- 1959 H
St. NE on Thanksgiving Day and 304 K St. NE in February -- were preceded
with neighborhood outreach.

Still, the activists are discovering that their message is not easy for many
residents to grasp.

One afternoon Frampton and Ralston visit Girard Street NW in Columbia
Heights with surveys and a clipboard and meet Nicholas Godette, who is
washing his car. Godette tells them that when he heard about the takeover on
Sherman Avenue, he thought Homes Not Jails was a front for "all the people
from Virginia and Maryland moving back to the city. I thought they probably
were trying to control the block."

Frampton is stunned. "What Homes Not Jails is about is the opposite," he

The takeover "was a good gesture -- if it was sincere," Godette replies.

In interviews when Homes Not Jails people aren't around, residents tend to
say the activists are a little nutty -- but they have a point.

Emanuel Chatman is eating fried fish on a front porch on Sherman Avenue. He
nods at a blighted row house where three activists were arrested last July.

"Look across the street -- it speaks for itself," he says. "A year later
it's still vacant and people are still homeless. Rather than come and evict
them, [the city] should have developed a strategy to work with them to make
a better community."

He says it's not fair to dismiss the group as white outsiders. "They were
not traditional white people because they were identifying with the
community and its struggle," he says.

Complaints still come from advisory neighborhood commissioners, the
professional watchdogs who feel bypassed by Homes Not Jails.

"I have a problem with them coming into a predominantly black community,"
says Daniel Pernell, the commissioner in a Northeast neighborhood where
Homes Not Jails seized a house. "These homes need to be occupied, but it has
to be done the right way. . . . They didn't take my advice on that; they
went on and did their own little thing."

The Homestead Project

Every Saturday is "construction day" at the three-bedroom, two-story
residence with brick front and vinyl siding at 1959 H St. NE. A handful of
Homes Not Jails members show up to work, aware that refurbishing this
property is one measure of their effectiveness.

The house in the Kingman Park neighborhood is owned by the U.S. Department
of Housing and Urban Development, which foreclosed on the previous owner. It
has been empty for years. Homes Not Jails thought it might be able to obtain
the title from HUD. No dice. Now HUD plans to sell the house at a discount
to a church group. The squatters will be evicted but a HUD spokesman says
they'll get some kind of housing assistance.

Loughner gives a tour. There's a new door. The inside has new drywall and
paint. The roof has been patched, and an especially bad hole over the
upstairs bathroom has been replaced with a skylight.

But the to-do list is substantial: The house needs electricity, plumbing and
windows. On the kitchen table is a book called "All About Home Wiring."

A homeless family recently declined to live here until the place got

"It is moving a lot slower than I've wanted," Kirby says.

After eight months of occupation, Homes Not Jails has yet to prove it is
capable of completing a restoration.

"I don't know if they even had a game plan to go from Stage One to
completion," says Bernard Richardson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner.
"I think they were just surprised they didn't get put out yet. Just
snatching a house, and being happy you're not put out yet, is not helping

The group did expect to be thrown out by now, since it was a public takeover
designed to get attention. Members say the pace of work was slowed by
uncertainty over the future of the house. Figuring that taking over houses
in secret is a more practical way to hold on to abandoned properties, they
regularly go out at night to scout potential "covert" squats. The group has
set up one of those in a building near North Capitol Street.

And yet, the neighbors on H Street aren't displeased. The home sits at the
end of a neat block with obsessively tended lawns and elaborate gardens with
fountains and statues. Homes Not Jails planted grass and flowers. Neighbors
say the house is looking better than it has in years. And some have made
friends with the activists.

"There's only positive things I could say," says Joseph Brown, an accountant
who lives across the street. "It certainly enhanced the eyesore that house

Homes Not Jails also points out that several homeless men have been living
at the house since winter, so the amount of shelter in the city has been
marginally increased. The men don't object to using a bucket of water from a
pipe in the basement to flush the toilet.

Of course, some government programs have shown little more success than
Homes Not Jails. A coalition of community development corporations received
permission four years ago to take over 78 abandoned homes. Since then only
seven have been repaired and occupied, according to a city audit.

And the District recently suspended a program in which people could purchase
an abandoned house for $250 in return for a promise to rehabilitate it. The
problem was, most of the rehabs were incomplete almost two years later --
much longer than Homes Not Jails has had on H Street.

If Homes Not Jails hasn't succeeded in rehabilitating any properties, the
group has embarrassed the housing bureaucracy into quickly helping a few
people who joined its takeovers as potential tenants.

Nadine Green says, and a city housing spokesman confirms, that she got her
Section 8 housing voucher extended more promptly than she could have
expected, thanks to publicity generated by Homes Not Jails on H Street.
Another family's voucher came through shortly after it participated in the
Sherman Avenue takeover, and Blanca Aquino received assurances she would not
lose her burned-out apartment after joining the K Street takeover.

Carolyn Graham, the deputy mayor who signed the letter proffered during the
firehouse takeover, says that shortly after that confrontation, the city
began making arrangements to find a downtown building for the homeless women
in the trailers to stay in, while the city plans a brand-new shelter in two
or three years. "It had nothing to do with that group," she says.

On Whose Authority?

All rise. Today it's the United States of America v. three members of Homes
Not Jails.

The charge is unlawful entry into 304 K St. NE on or about Feb. 24. The
maximum penalty is six months in jail.

The case turns on whether the defendants had a "good-faith belief" that they
had "lawful authority" to go in the house. The two-story green wreck of a
dwelling had been empty for years, piled inside and out with garbage,
syringes and old tires, according to trial testimony.

Mike Madden is the lawyer for Daniel Gordon and Jeremiah Gildea, while Jamie
Loughner, the transplant from West Virginia, is representing herself.
Gordon, 21, and Gildea, 18, are wearing shirts, ties, slacks and ripped
sneakers. Loughner has a black and white dress, and a crutch to support her
ankle, injured in a recent protest over the closing of the city's public

Witnesses sketch a familiar scene -- the demonstrators tore off the plywood,
entered the house, barricaded the doors behind them, started painting and
plastering. They cleared all the trash and tires within a few days, and then
police arrested them.

Barricades? Does that sound like work of people who believed they had a
right to be in the house, Assistant U.S. Attorney Catherine Cortez Masto
asks the jury in her closing argument. Not only that, she says, the
defendants ignored a HUD notice posted on the front that forbade entry until
the property was legally sold.

Masto makes a final point before she sits down: "Just because you have good
intentions to do something does not forgo you from following the laws."

The problem with the government's case, Madden and Loughner say, is that the
system for putting a roof over everyone's head is so broken that the law is
not always clear.

For instance, at one point D.C. police on the scene told the demonstrators
that the property was owned by the city -- not HUD. One officer gave the
activists gloves so they wouldn't injure their hands. Until their bosses
told them differently, the officers reacted to Homes Not Jails the way many
of the neighbors did: What's wrong with fixing a dump that's an insult to
the neighborhood?

No one from HUD took the stand to claim ownership of the house, just a
security guard for a property management firm hired by HUD -- "somebody who
works for somebody who works for somebody," Madden says. Meanwhile, before
the arrests, the demonstrators were making calls to HUD, to see if Homes Not
Jails could take responsibility for the house. All this adds up to a
good-faith belief, Madden says.

He concludes: "When they did it, they were doing it for the most noble of
all purposes."

The jury reaches a verdict in 90 minutes.

"Not guilty," says foreman James Ellison.

A celebratory bicycle horn honks in the courtroom. That's Gordon's reaction.
He quickly apologizes to the judge. Out in the hall, he says, "We are soooo
setting a precedent for Homes Not Jails."

Another juror, who won't give her name, chats and laughs with Loughner for a
long time after the verdict. "I just figured you were doing what you figured
to be right," she says. "For you to volunteer your time like that, that just
says a lot."

Gildea disappears into a courthouse restroom for a minute, sheds his trial
attire, and changes into squatter garb. There's work to be done, and this is
what he always wears when he's working -- black shorts with a patch that
says "No war between nations, no peace between classes," and a black T-shirt
with a quote often attributed to Margaret Mead that is a central article of
faith for groups like this:

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change
the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Alternative Press Review - www.altpr.org
Your Guide Beyond the Mainstream
PO Box 4710 - Arlington, VA 22204

Mid-Atlantic Infoshop - www.infoshop.org
Infoshop News Kiosk - www.infoshop.org/inews

Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed

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Vote Libertarian!!

Registered: 02/08/01
Posts: 16,296
Loc: Crackerville, Michigan U...
Re: Homes Not Jails [Re: headphone]
    #363439 - 07/30/01 06:45 AM (22 years, 2 months ago)

why not write a book next time

Relax, Relax, Relax.....it's just a little pin prick * there'll be no more AARRGGHHH!!!! but you may feel a little sick.....


America....FUCK YEAH!!!

Words of Wisdom: Individual Rights BEFORE Collective Rights

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." -- Thomas Jefferson

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Registered: 07/24/01
Posts: 19
Last seen: 22 years, 1 month
Re: Homes Not Jails [Re: Innvertigo]
    #364181 - 07/31/01 02:04 PM (22 years, 2 months ago)

huh? cut & paste man.

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Vote Libertarian!!

Registered: 02/08/01
Posts: 16,296
Loc: Crackerville, Michigan U...
Re: Homes Not Jails [Re: headphone]
    #364694 - 08/01/01 10:50 AM (22 years, 2 months ago)

ah...that's what links are for

Relax, Relax, Relax.....it's just a little pin prick * there'll be no more AARRGGHHH!!!! but you may feel a little sick.....


America....FUCK YEAH!!!

Words of Wisdom: Individual Rights BEFORE Collective Rights

"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants." -- Thomas Jefferson

Extras: Filter Print Post Top
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