Remember Rachel Canning?
She was the New Jersey 18-year-old who moved out of her parents home in 2014, then sued them for $654 a week in expenses, and demanded they pay her private high school and college tuition. She did not win.
Rachel came to mind as I read the demands of Occupy PHA, which seems to be a lead group for the homeless encampment of more than 100 people that has sprouted on the Parkway, at 22nd Street. (PHA is the Philadelphia Housing Authority.)
The encampment looks a bit like the recreational area of a national park, dominated by colorful tents that look like mushrooms in a field. I visited Sunday afternoon and found few people “at home,” and none who wanted to talk to me, using their names.
Let’s agree that it is a shame that anyone should be homeless and being homeless should not be a crime. Let’s also agree that some bring it on themselves by bad behavior, such as drug or alcohol abuse, while others are victims of the bad economy, or bad bosses, or bad luck.
The Parkway homeless need help, but have rejected aid from Sister Mary Scullion’s Project Home. Are they likely to achieve it with these demands, taken from the Occupy PHA website? (The demands have been edited down. My responses are in italic.)
1- City-owned vacant land should be transferred to a permanent community land trust for low-income housing.
Not a bad idea, except — where do you get the money to build the housing on the free land?
2- City must put a moratorium on buying or selling PHA property until all people on PHA waiting lists have been housed and pending a study on the effects of sales.
Sorry, that would tie the hands of PHA, which exists to provide low-income housing.
3- City must fire all employees who do not treat us with dignity. You must stop cops from kicking people awake every morning.
That is reasonable.
4- City must repeal all camping ordinances and rules within city limits.
No, you have no right to set up tents anywhere you please.
5- The encampment is a “no police zone” and the city will authorize other spaces across the city that we choose and will be self-governing and self-funded.
Read my lips: N-O. There will be no “no police zones” anywhere in the city.
6- City must immediately stop all activities that harass unhoused people.
The city will continue to enforce the law, as well as safety and sanitary conditions.
7- City must support Tiny Houses (not funded by capitalism) that are self-governed and self-funded by unhoused people. (Tiny Houses are one-room houses.)
Sorry to be crass, but where’s your “self-funding” coming from?
The city’s response to the demands?
I emailed the mayor’s press office. Maybe they closed early for the new Juneteeth holiday.
Fortunately, the Occupy people said on its Facebook page that Mike Dunn, a mayoral mouthpiece, said the “campers” refused city outreach workers. KYW NewsRadio said the mayor’s office was planning no action at this time.
“No action” is Mayor Jim Kenney’s default, followed by “wrong action” once we are in crisis. The mayor is AWOL.
We are a nation of laws, and those shield us from chaos. People or groups, no matter how well-intended, have no “right” to “occupy” public land. They do have a right to peaceful protest. The city has the right to determine where that can be.
So, no — you will not stay on the Parkway.
The city could offer a temporary campsite in a corner of Fairmount Park. With cold weather a few months away, the city could build quonset huts for shelter, complete with heat, fans, running water and toilets. City unions could be recruited to do the work at “friend and family” rates.
This would be a stopgap to allow time for my longer-range plan, previously mentioned in StuBykofsky.com
Back in January, I suggested abandoned city school buildings could be rehabbed into homeless shelters, and perhaps evolve into permanent apartments for the homeless. Other city-owned properties also could be used, along with city-owned land that is sitting empty.
The homeless would have a permanent address, which creates stability in their lives and helps them get jobs, because one goal of what we do should be self-sufficiency.
But like the New Jersey teen learned, moral blackmail doesn’t work.
At least it shouldn’t.