Editor’s Note: With the costs of housing soaring, sometimes it takes only bad luck with employment or a recurrent health problem to put someone out on the street. It’s been hard to get politicians to stand up for the homeless since homeless people aren’t likely to be campaign donors and have historically lacked political clout. But surprisingly, the homeless are now organizing themselves to speak on their own behalf and to press for solutions to homelessness. The organizing effort in Boston is spearheaded by HEAT – the Homeless Emergency Action Taskforce. The following article was written for us by a member of HEAT. We think its valuable to listen to the voice of someone caught up in the problem of homelessness, and we appreciate Warren’s willingness to write.
Action Against Homelessness
by Warren Eliot
Several months ago, I attended the first general meeting of HEAT (Homeless Emergency Action Taskforce) because I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to help not only myself, but also the homeless community at large. I was sick of being a second-class citizen and a pariah. I was sick of being herded from shelter to shelter among a throng of human cattle. And I was sick of watching people slowly dying, trapped in a morbid cycle of shelters, day labors, and liquor stores.
Well, guess what? I’m even more sick of it all now! That’s what happens when you surround yourself with like-minded people and become educated to the facts of homelessness. Becoming educated and putting together a plan of action is the only way this situation is ever going to change.
Homelessness is not going to go away overnight. As a matter of fact, as long as there are people being laid off and losing their jobs and missing rent payments, there will continue to be people in need of emergency shelter. However, shelters should not be a permanent way of life! Look at the rent situation in this town! This country doesn’t even need NASA anymore, the way rents are skyrocketing!
Someone told me the other day that you’d have to work some 118 hours per week at the current minimum wage to afford to pay rent and to live beyond that. And I believe it. Rent is out of control in Boston! And it’s out of control in most of our major cities. What is to be done about it? I don’t have the answer, but I’m looking for one.
Truth is, there’s no magic bullet here. But activism is a good start. People say to me, “Oh, they’ve tried that before,” or, “You can’t change anything.” Well, I’ll be damned if I don’t die trying. This is what I’m doing today. I believe in HEAT and what HEAT stands for, and I highly recommend that if you’re as sick of homelessness as I am, you become involved in the process of ending it. It won’t happen overnight; it’s going to take a strong sustained effort. But I’m in this for the duration. This article first appeared in the August 2003 issue of What’s Up Magazine. Warren Eliot is a member of the HEAT steering committee. For more information about HEAT, contact Elisha Harig-Blaine, [email protected].