Neighbors helping neighbors—to break into vacant houses

Poverty rights activists broke into at least a dozen vacant Minneapolis buildings this week and helped homeless families move in.“This is the modern underground railroad,” said Cheri Honkala, National Organizer for the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, the group organizing the “takeovers.”This week’s actions are part of a growing national movement to illegally open up thousands of vacant, foreclosed homes to provide housing for the growing number of homeless people. Over 3,000 Minneapolis homes went into foreclosure in 2008. Advocates estimate that over 7,000 Minnesotans are homeless. Most Twin Cities’ homeless shelters have been filled to capacity for months.On a recent afternoon, organizers planned their next takeover while eating cabbage, rice, sausage, and corn bread prepared by Rosemary, a 59-year-old African American woman facing eviction from her home. Rosemary, who asked that her last name not be used, plans to remain in her house illegally after the March 31 eviction date. Continue Reading

Homeless taking over foreclosed houses for Valentine’s Day

While delivering a where’s-the-love message on Valentine’s Day may seem like a gimmick, an action by homeless advocates to be announced this weekend is anything but a stunt, according to its organizer. On Saturday, Cheri Honkala of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign will reveal to members of the media its long-running project to find housing for homeless people in some of the many foreclosed and vacant homes on Minneapolis’ North Side and South Side. I reached Honkala by phone this afternoon, minutes after Poor People’s Campaign members were removed from a house and given a citation by Minneapolis police. She says that currently 12 families are using abandoned or vacant homes as their own right now. And she’s welcoming more. Continue Reading

Peaceful Poor People’s March ends in explosions of tear gas

The Poor People’s Economic and Human Rights Campaign marched on the Republican National Convention on Tuesday, delivering an indictment of national leadership. The first person I spoke to at Mears Park this afternoon was Alex Hux, a retired school counselor from Philadelphia who had come to Minneapolis with his daughter to protest the Republican National Convention. He said the goal of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign was to further dramatize and remind the public that people are still homeless; they have no healthcare, and are dying prematurely. Hux said there were busloads of people coming from all over the country for the rally. The visitors have been staying in Bushville, an encampment they set up in a vacant lot by University and Dale. Continue Reading