December 1, 2009
Contact: Verbena (707) 442-7465
PEOPLE PROJECT, a grass roots organization of local houseless people and their allies have been providing shelter and food on the steps of Eureka's city hall for twenty seven nights and plans to continue to do so until the city stops criminalizing houseless people and gives land where houseless people can be without harassment. PEOPLE PROJECT began the safe sleeping space on city hall which immediately meets immediate concrete needs for many people such as Mary. Mary is sixty five years old. She was a military combat nurse in Vietnam, where she was shot in the back, and was one of the last of the troops evacuated out of Da Nang. Mary has been living on the streets since she lost her home six months ago. She cannot stay at the Eureka Rescue Mission mission because of her companion dog, a yellow lab called Goldie. Mary needs Goldie for protection and warmth. At night he is the only heat source she has and because many people shun and harrass her, she needs Goldie for protection and companionship as well. A month and a half ago, Mary underwent open heart surgery to have two heart valves replaced, and she has been rushed to St. Joe's emergency room several times since the operation- only to be released back to the streets. If it weren't for PEOPLE PROJECT's tent at city hall, Mary would be sleeping in the mud where she is subject to attack from an array of people ranging from punk kids looking for a thrill to those who claim their duty it is "to serve and protect" but instead terrorize, to the poverty pimps who tear up her camp after first politely leaving a note with useless referrals that do not apply to Mary and her homeless situation.
When Mary is hungry, she can choose between St. Vincent de Paul's “free meal” (where as of November first she and all the other meal attendees can only have one tray of food and then must promptly leave) or she can eat out of a dumpster.
Even that single tray of food once a day is now endangered. WinCo Foods, which is a major contributor to the free meal, has threatened to withdraw from the program. The store management claims that houseless people are being wasteful with WinCo's refuse. This is based on the allegation that houseless people feed the birds their scraps (hard bread), and as a result, a seagull was run over by a vehicle while feeding on crumbs. This death of a seagull has raised more outrage from WinCo than the murder of Martin Cotton II, a homeless resident of Eureka, who was brutally beaten by Eureka Police officers Laird, Whitmer, Winkle, Watson, Siipola, Franco, and Baird in front of the Mission and then in the jail where he died in custody.
Mary and Martin's experiences are not unique. Due to our current oppressive economic, political and social systems, commonly held perceptions and state policies criminalize houseless folks as being a nuisance, lazy, and undeserving of respect. These perceptions sanction police to treat houseless community members as criminals even though they have a dignified (not luxurious) right to sleep and live. In Eureka, houseless residents are brutalized, humiliated, and denied their god given rights as well as their Constitutional rights every day. Like Mary, many other houseless people are veterans, some from the current wars in the middle east. As a result of the new policy requiring women to participate in large numbers in combat zones, we are seeing a huge increase in the number of women vets. Many of these vets are young mothers with children. Families like these try to fly below the radar because they know if they turn to conventional sources of help like the Department of Social Services, they will have their children stolen from them. Instead, they try to "pass": by day, working minimum wage part time jobs while by night, they are hunted, hounded from place to place as they desperately try to find some refuge where they can lay their heads. PEOPLE PROJECT plans to continue to help provide that refuge. We need the support of the community. Where is the moral outrage? Where are the churches?