Above photo:Alejandro A. Alvarez.
The National Lawyers Guild stands in solidarity with the Poor People’s Army and all of the 30+ families that are sheltered in homes that are reclaimed, abandoned properties in Philadelphia. Three families in Philadelphia, residing in homes owned by the Department of Housing & Urban Development, have received notices or threats of eviction within the last 2 months, and could be thrown out into the freezing cold at any moment. Poor People’s Army / Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign has filed 3 pro se federal injunctions for these properties and are likely to go to court any day. The families should not be viewed as trespassers or criminals, they are human beings that have a right to safe housing. Since its founding, the NLG has organized to be “an effective force in the service of the people by valuing human rights and ecosystems over property interests.” The housing of unhoused people in abandoned government-owned properties is a prime example of this.
The NLG believes it is important for lawyers to take a stand on issues of life, death, and justice, even if there is no legal remedy. There have always been unjust laws written by those in power against the poor. Most of the evils throughout history have been legally sanctioned such as American slavery or segregation.
“We understand that the Poor People’s Army initiated these housing takeovers in an attempt to provide people a safe place to live during the winter and the pandemic,” says Elena Cohen, President of the NLG.
“Homelessness is now and has always been a moral, a human rights, and public health crisis,” says Sarah White, Co-Chair of the Housing & Homelessness Committee of the NLG. “As the homelessness continues with the ongoing pandemic and heightened joblessness, lawyers need to take sides and support poor people organizing themselves to survive against corporations and the rich.”
The NLG finds it unconscionable that anyone is unhoused in the richest country in the world and believes it is abhorrent that HUD or any other agency would move to evict a family at any point, particularly during the coldest months of the year and during a pandemic which has left half a million Americans dead.
“There are 10 abandoned properties for every homeless person in Philadelphia,” explains Elsa Noterman, a geographer at University of Wisconsin-Madison who recently completed a study on this. “Nearly all of the takeover houses have children in them,” says Cheri Honkala, National Coordinator for Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign / Poor People’s Army. “If the City and country won’t house people, then God and us will.”
The NLG calls on HUD to immediately cease eviction actions, proceedings, and threats against all occupants in their properties. NLG calls for a formal agreement to allow families in takeover homes in Philadelphia and beyond to remain where they are.
For more information and to get involved, go to poorpeoplesarmy.com , text 215-869-4753, or follow @ppehrc on Facebook and Instagram, @ppehrcorg on Twitter.