Federal, state, county and city governments are quick to raid and displace a group of people who are unhoused but have established a home encampment together. No assistance is given to those people to maintain their collective living situation. Instead, orders are issued to “clean up” the neighborhood or park or downtown, once again solidifying the role of the state and the cops in protecting private property over the lives of people.
The government is using the need for social distancing as an excuse. The attacks on encampments come at the same time police are also arresting Black and Brown people for not “properly observing” social distancing.
Capitalist leaders are pushing the U.S. back to “business as usual.” As attacks on encampments of unhoused people ramp up, capitalist landlords are resuming evictions, while temporary and unstable safety nets for rent relief are rolled back in a hurry under this colonialist, capitalist system.
Occupied Creek/Muscogee land (Pensacola, Fla.)
On May 21, cops from Escambia County Code Enforcement, flanked by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, raided and seized a homeless encampment here, displacing 10 residents who had been staying there. (bit.ly/36urLZe, May 22)
Pensacola is a city notable for being the main headquarters of the Blue Angels — the Navy “Flight Demonstration Squadron” currently pointlessly zooming all around the U.S. to “honor” health care workers — when its annual military budget allocation could house who knows how many homeless people.
Pensacola is perhaps equally notable for mistreatment of its ever-growing homeless population. The city has done next to nothing to aid this population during the pandemic, as many of the private, religious-based shelters either closed their doors completely or only allowed a few previous occupants to return.
WW spoke with Mike Kimberl, director of the Alfred Washburn Center, one of the few homeless/low-income day centers here, and currently one of the even fewer still open. Kimberl is also an anarchist, musician and veteran organizer of Food Not Bombs, an antiwar food-sharing collective.
Asked what the raids and displacements mean for people who are homeless, Mike said: “It puts a strain on the already limited supplies. When the other centers and shelters stepped back, those that stayed open saw an increase in daily occupancy. These centers will be resupplying the survivors with items they had lost. I sat with one of the ladies affected by the raid. She told me that deputies were so rude to her and another lady with the threats of arrest that they were too scared to go back and get their belongings. She had literally lost everything.”
Stating the group had been camping together for roughly four to six months, Kimberl went on: “Coale [Escambia County Sheriff’s spokesperson] said that Code Enforcement did not provide the 10 individuals forced to vacate the property Thursday with information about available resources, but the county does plan to do that in the future. That information does little for people who [were] experiencing street level homelessness [even] before the pandemic. Now it is essentially useless.”
Asked about social distancing, Kimberl noted: “There are a lot of emotions going on when [homeless people] hear those two words, but the best one, that would sum it up, would be fear. There was already fear over the pandemic. Most of our shelters closed or limited services, and they were already poorly serving the needs of our community. Most of the food services backed away. Now [the people who were raided] have 24 hours to be off the property. Most have lost everything they have. Everyone was already on edge. Now where do they go to call home? They most certainly feel socially distanced. Maybe socially betrayed.”
Occupied Seminole Land (Miami, Fla.)
On May 13, there was a mass eviction and displacement of a homeless encampment in Overtown Miami, where dozens of tents and resources for those camping out were destroyed and thrown away by cops and other forces from the city. (rb.gy/0rr0qq)
According to an encampment resident, a sign was put up saying, “NO TRESPASSING” just a short time before a garbage truck and cops showed up to shut the encampment down. Despite Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations that homeless encampments and residents be left alone during the pandemic (rb.gy/r2oqf6), the city of Miami blatantly ignored this in the name of protecting private property.
Demands for justice made to the city have been met with silence. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that on the day of the raid, Miami held a “grand” press conference to announce the first phase of the city’s reopening, including private marinas. Wealthy Miami residents who were comfortably self-isolating are going back outside to ignore again the growing epidemic of homelessness in the city, while the camps are torn down just in time for [the wealthy] to go back to “business as usual.”
Since the raid, substantial donations have come to the Dade County Street Response Disaster Relief Team, which documented the destruction of the encampment and works with the homeless population of Miami.
Occupied Comanche/Osage/Wichita land (Oklahoma County, Okla.)
On May 20, Oklahoma County announced it was lifting its moratorium on evictions. This means residents financially affected by COVID-19, who have been able to remain safely in their homes for two months, will now face the possibility of eviction and subsequent homelessness for inability to meet rent or mortgage payments.
According to Open Justice Oklahoma, more than 2,000 evictions and over 300 foreclosures have been filed across the state of Oklahoma since the moratorium began months ago. One thousand evictions were in Oklahoma County alone, with 23 foreclosures set to take place in the county. (https://bit.ly/2ZuPGGP)
In the state, there have been over 6,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Over 1,000 of these, or 16 percent, were in Oklahoma County. The county also has the most COVID-19-related deaths in the state. (tinyurl.com/yd2kxnqc)
During the pandemic, more than 200,000 Oklahoma residents have filed for unemployment. The obvious, but still revolting, result is that thousands more people are at economic risk of losing their housing and becoming homeless with COVID-19 still rampant, while medical centers promise hospital bills a mile long and there’s no home to retreat to if you fall ill. This assault on housing rights means more people will be at greater risk of death.
Saving lives? No. Saving profits and private property!
Capitalism is ill equipped to handle an economic crisis accelerated by a global pandemic. As a result, capitalist bosses must resort to more-extreme-than-usual cruelty in order to save their system from the chopping block.
Capitalists will allow thousands and thousands of people to become displaced, to become homeless, to suffer more, with many to die, just so these bosses can continue lining their pockets with profits and expanding their private property at the expense of workers and oppressed people.
It is past time we put capitalism-imperialism firmly on the chopping block and steadily hold it down until we can give the final blow.
Devin C (they/them) is the president of Strive (Socialist Trans Initiative), a transgender advocacy organization (tinyurl.com/ybqs7rgd), and an organizer for Workers World Party-Pensacola.