In Tempe, Ariz., marchers from organizations like the Free to Camp Coalition, Food Not Bombs, Act Out and several others, hit the streets last November to protest an ordinance that prohibited the homeless from setting up temporary shelters on public property. In Santa Monica, Calif., the Axis of Justice, founded by Tom Morello and Serj Tankian, members of the bands Audioslave and System of a Down, illegally handed out sack lunches to the homeless when the city passed an ordinance that would require charitable organizations to follow the same codes as restaurants when giving out food.
But these stories aren't the norm, according to Michael Stoops, the director of community organizing for the National Coalition for the Homeless, who says that when these laws -- known as "anti-homeless laws" within the homeless community -- are passed in cities around the country, you won't hear much of an outcry from anybody but the homeless themselves.
"[The public] figure that by making it illegal to be homeless, the homeless folks will go away," he says.
And even the organizations dedicated to serving the homeless will often stay quiet.
"Many times, the providers have to get along with the city and they don't speak out," Stoops says.
Here in Spokane, the homeless community hasn't gone completely unsupported. The group of protesters camped out on the center island on West Riverside Avenue has received everything from $10.32 in change dropped off in a baggie to coffee served up by the Spokane Club, according to Dave Bilsland, director of the Spokane homeless advocacy group People 4 People. They were also quite pleased with the 12 boxes of free tobacco donated by Chan's Dragon Inn.
"When the homeless people of Spokane are hungry for something to eat, where are we gonna go?" Bilsland asks. "Chan's."
Members from the local chapter of Food Not Bombs showed up on the second day to camp along or at least put up their banner. And Catholic Charities set the campers up with a portable bathroom. Citizens have provided food and water or shown their support by honking as they drive by, including fire trucks and ambulances. In fact, police worked out a deal with the campers to take down their "honk if you support us" sign after 6 pm so there wouldn't be so much noise.
You won't see many people other than the homeless out there braving the elements in defiance of the city's transient shelter ban. Still, Bilsland says he's touched by the donations and tokens of support the campers have received.
"People have been great -- really, really wonderful," he says.
Publication date: 07/08/04