(Photo by Phil Masturzo/Beacon Journal/Ohio.com)
Supporters and residents filled City Council chambers and two overflow rooms for our first chance to be officially heard by a government body.
The room erupted in applause and cheers when the 5 person planning commission unanimously agreed to hold off on their decision of whether we should stay or go until next month.
While a small step, the mere fact that people in official positions would agree to at least consider the plight of the most extremely poor was a massive victory.
The homeless are the voiceless and the invisible.
They know all too well what the heavy stigma of homelessness means.
Homelessness means broad brush strokes of stereotyping and generalizations.
Homelessness means people not ever looking at you or talking to you day in and day out.
Homelessness means you have crashed through every social and family safety net until you are left penniless and without anywhere to go.
Homelessness is choicelessness.
Homelessness is the great shunning from the richest country in the world.
It is heart-breakingly beautiful and sad and lovely to see the homeless get the official word that important people will at least consider their plight for one more month.
Of course they wouldn’t be able to hold back their cheers and applause when they heard the word that a group of important people said they would “think about it.”
No one has ever thought about them before this.
And then there is this: Doug Livingston of the Akron Beacon Journal reported in his article, First public hearing on homeless tent city in Akron draws large crowd:
“If I would have voted today,” said Ken Jones, a former councilman and commission member who made the motion to postpone a vote until the next meeting on July 13, “I would have said to council and the [Mayor Dan Horrigan] administration that this is an issue you have to fix.”
That’s just down right astounding. In fact, that’s the Holy Grail.
That’s all we ever wanted this to be: a conversation. This tent city was meant to be a proof of concept. Homeless people do indeed live in the woods. Now they live in my backyard. Let’s talk about this.
This is incredible.
But it was not all good.
Privately, after the event, I was met with several people filled with fear and worry.
In one case I was sent a formal letter by a significant supporter that they are seriously thinking about withdrawing all their support.
For some people they didn’t see success. They didn’t hear the stories of hope and love and life saving community.
All they heard were the detractors. Again, as Doug Livingston reports on the issues of the people against our tent city:
“They [the detractors] said villagers have been stealing electricity from outdoor outlets, leaving used needles and condoms on the ground, loitering and talking too loud at night. They brought photos from the fall and winter to illustrate their grievances.”
That was the entire story for some.
It filled some people with fear and worry and anger.
That was enough to call it quits on this movement.
I was not prepared for that response initially.
But I’m prepared for it this morning.
Sewing seeds of discontent is how detractors win.
The FBI did everything in their power to undermine Martin Luther King Jr’s legitimacy. They called him a communist, a Marxist, a womanizer.
The head of the FBI, J. Edgar Hoover was nearly obsessed with smearing Dr. King.
JFK File: FBI Monitored Martin Luther King’s ‘Abnormal’ Sex Life of Orgies, Hookers and Joan Baez
Former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s antipathy to King is well documented, and he went to extreme lengths, including authorising breaking into and bugging King’s home and offices, to destroy his reputation. The zeal of the FBI’s campaign against King has been outlined in tens of thousands of declassified FBI memos from the 1960s, and Congressional hearings on the FBI’s harrassment of King in the 1970s.
I’ve already experienced, on a much smaller scale, these kinds of attacks.
I’ve detailed many of these accusations in this article:
Every Rumor I Can Think Of
I am a drug dealer, pimp, failed business man who is just using the homeless to get rich and run for mayor.
This is how these things go.
There are many people who want to see our tent city fail.
And it’s not just neighbors. It’s people we’ve previously kicked out of the village who went against our code of conduct. It’s jealous “competitors” who would rather see all our work fail than see me, personally, succeed. It’s the mayor’s office of Akron.
These are powerful tactics.
Humans are easily scared. Our animal instinct of fight or flight kicks in at the first sign of danger. We don’t seem to be able to lose our natural animal instinct of fighting for life or death on our own in the wild.
But we must fight those instincts.
For society to get better we must push back our lessor instincts. We are not animals. We are humans.
And be warned. It will get worse.
Now that we’ve won the tiny step of being told people will think about our cause, the detractors will become louder and more dangerous.
They will try to divide us. They will try to undermine us. They will try to destroy us.
Make no mistake, what we are doing here is worlds better than what we had in Akron Ohio 18 months ago.
And as for the neighbors, they are top on my mind.
They have every right to live in peace and to feel safe.
On Monday I’m going to setup a security booth in the front of our building. We will not allow our people to loiter in front of our building or on the sidewalk near the apartment building. We won’t likely have much luck telling non-residents to move on. But we have a lot of pull with our own residents.
And we have to do something about this back and forth bickering between some residents of the apartment building and some residents of the tent city.
I heard that the first thing that happened after the hearing yesterday was that an apartment building resident yelled something condescending out her window at our people. And I’m quite sure some of our people couldn’t resist to yell something back.
I have been thinking about trying some sort of canopy system that keeps both people from being able to see each other.
These ridiculous, childish back and forths must stop. I can’t do anything about the people in the apartment. But I can definitely do something about the people in our facility.
We have security cameras. But I’m going to see if I can add audio to those cameras as well. I will have no problem throwing people out of our tent city that can’t act respectfully and can’t treat our neighbors with the same dignity that they themselves have been given by living in our community.
We have a waiting list for our facility. We are a place where homeless people move forward in their lives. We do not have room for people who refuse to stop playing loud mouth street games in our tent city.
Yes. We have faults. Yes. We have work to do.
But at the same time we have come a great distance. We have created a highly desirable community for the homeless who are ready to re-enter society.
We cannot obsess about rumors and hearsay. They will continue come. We will continue to be threatened and undermined at every opportunity.
We cannot let the detractors divide us. That’s how every war is won. Flank the enemy. Get them to stop moving together in the same direction. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
We have come a great distance. Yet we have far to go. And the outcome is far from certain.
This will be difficult and scary. And you will hear terrible things along the way.
But our doors are always open. All are welcome. Talk to our tri-council. Talk to our security. Talk to the drug counselors who rent space from us in the building. Walk the tent city. See for yourself the truth.
The truth, will indeed set you free.
Don’t let fear be your ruler. Don’t let hate and anger destroy your love and hope. Be strong. Be brave.
We are doing God’s work.