Written by Estevan Hernandes *……….
On July 4, the newly formed Atlanta Homeless Union set up an encampment on the front lawn of City Hall to protest the horrendous conditions that homeless, poor and working-class people are subject to. It sought to expose the housing crisis in Atlanta, ongoing for decades, unaddressed by the city leadership.
The union announced they would not leave until their four demands were met. These demands are: housing, water and sanitation, health care, and a seat at the table — meaning the right to bargain or negotiate with city leaders regarding housing and homelessness policies.
The Atlanta Homeless Union put out a press release stating: “We are not satisfied with the limited shelters that treat us less-than human, a warming station in the winter, and some blankets. We are also not satisfied with the lack of healthcare treatment we receive at Grady [Hospital]. No more bandaid solutions. We need homes. We need water.”
On July 5, rather than meeting with the union and addressing the people’s needs, the Atlanta Police Department announced the union had 15 minutes to vacate the premises before they would be arrested. At least 60 armed police officers arrived on the scene and loaded 10 union activists who refused to abandon camp into police vans.
These arrests were a violation of the constitutional rights to assemble and freedom of speech. Homelessness is a violation of human rights, especially in a city like Atlanta with more vacant housing than people in need of housing.
Speaking with Liberation News about their demands, a union leader named Diesel explained they want “housing, bathrooms, showers, but most of all every man, every woman, and every child deserves a home.”
Will, another union organizer, made a call for support, proclaiming to the crowd and the media, “Today we are here to be heard, to let America know that the homeless here in Atlanta need help. … Come out and join us, stand with us, even if you have a place to stay, come here and support the homeless.”
The crisis of homelessness is not without solutions. The city has more than enough money and resources to house every single person who needs it. But a political leadership serving the interests of real estate developers and housing corporations is unwilling to act. According to those leading the occupation, it would take only $3 million to house the approximately 3,200 homeless people in the city.
Chuck, a union supporter who is homeless, told Liberation News: “It would take just $3 million to take this homelessness away. Just $3 million, but [the city] won’t do it.”
Despite the arrests, the homeless union has vowed to continue to fight for all homeless people in the city. This urgent struggle deserves the support and solidarity of all progressive and revolutionary people.
The full demands of the Atlanta Homeless Union:
- We demand homes. With the millions of dollars we spend on shelters and services, we can house every unhoused person in the City. The City should convert vacant and City-owned properties into permanent homes for those who are unhoused. We demand that the City invest pandemic relief funds in long-term housing solutions.
- We demand health care. We need primary care access so that we don’t have to go to the emergency room every single time we need basic healthcare. Preventive care saves lives and taxpayer money. All unhoused people should have access to regular preventive medical care.
- We demand water. The City controls the Water Department. Especially during this pandemic, we need water to stay sanitary. The City should guarantee showers, bathrooms, and hand-washing stations for unhoused people.
- We demand a seat. The City is busy talking to everyone except us about what we need. We deserve a seat at the table. We need to be consulted about the policies that will impact our lives. The City should follow our leadership.
*Hernandez’s article first appeared on Liberation News