News Release

Occupation: The Challenges of Urban Camping

BARBARA EHRENREICH, barbara.ehrenreich at gmail.com
Available for a limited number of interviews, Ehrenreich just wrote a piece on the “occupy” movement and homelessness that appeared in the Los Angeles Times and TomDispatch. She writes: “Political protesters are not alone in facing the challenges of urban camping. Homeless people confront the same issues every day: how to scrape together meals, keep warm at night by covering themselves with cardboard or tarps, and relieve themselves without committing a crime. Public restrooms are sparse in American cities ‘as if the need to go to the bathroom does not exist,’ travel expert Arthur Frommer once observed. And yet to yield to bladder pressure is to risk arrest. …

“As the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, many ordinary and biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets — not just urinating but sitting, lying down and sleeping. In Sarasota, Fla., for example, it is illegal for someone to sleep in public if, when awakened, he says he has ‘no other place to live.’

“Such prohibitions on homelessness began to take shape in the 1980s, along with the ferocious growth of the financial industry — Wall Street and all its tributaries throughout the nation. That was also the era in which we stopped being a nation that manufactured much beyond weightless, invisible ‘financial products,’ leaving the old industrial working class to carve out a livelihood at places like Wal-Mart.”

Ehrenreich is the author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. She also recently wrote The Guys in the 1% Brought This On.

CRYN JOHANNSEN, ccrynjohannsen at gmail.com
Johannsen is founder and executive director of All Education Matters. She assembled a list of mayors’ phone numbers so that people could easily contact them. She and Ehrenreich said: “We can’t all sleep outdoors in tents, but we CAN all provide a sturdy ‘second line’ of support. When you learn that an occupation is threatened, please use this list to find mayors’ phone numbers and tell him or her how you feel about cities that crush their most courageous citizens!”

She is making available and distributing a document with contact information for hundreds of mayors: see.

MARIA FOSCARINIS, mfoscarinis at nlchp.org,
Foscarinis is executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which is releasing a report titled “Criminalizing Crisis” later this month that Ehrenreich cites in her article. Foscarinis recently wrote in the group’s newsletter: “The protesters may not have to live their lives in public yet, but if present trends continue, more and more will. That’s one important truth illuminated by this convergence of protest and need on streets across the country. We need to acknowledge another truth too: as people with homes occupy parks, it’s time for homeless people to occupy vacant buildings. I’m not talking about illegal takeovers. Rather, we are advocating for public policies that allow unused property — including surplus federal property — to be used for that purpose.”