It’s one thing to see a homeless woman rummaging through the trash for food, or a man standing alone on a street corner begging for change. But quite another to watch dozens of homeless sleeping in front of a billion-dollar corporation to make a political statement.
Such grassroots-style organizing is typical for members of SHARE (Seattle Housing and Resource Effort), a group of Seattle homeless who eschew handouts in favor of camps, shelters—and political protests—that they organize themselves. Last fall, they slept outside the Gates Foundation for 11 nights to illustrate their belief that successful corporations have an obligation to aid the poor in their communities. As the number of homeless rises in many cities, SHARE’s tactics may be gaining traction.
“I don’t completely empathize with Occupy Wall Street,” said Lantz Rowland, 56, a member of SHARE who describes himself as a laid-off tech geek, homeless since 1996. “But in terms of what’s happening with living-wage jobs, affordable housing, and record corporate profits, yeah, these are true things.”
Last month, 100 residents of Seattle’s homeless encampments rallied to demand policy changes from the local Committee to End Homelessness, a coalition of government, faith, and business leaders. “Creation of an economic justice agenda” was among SHARE’s top demands.
Hardly language of the meek.
SHARE has also sent letters to the heads of Amazon, Boeing, Microsoft and other high-flying Seattle corporations, demanding recognition of the relationship between corporate profits, tax breaks, and cuts to social services.
“Five years ago, things like that were seen as radical,” observed Scott Morrow, a consultant for the group. “But not now. People get it—at least homeless people get it. They weren’t even talking about the economic system five years ago.”
While some of SHARE’s strategies—say, camping in front of city council members’ homes to protest funding cuts—are controversial, they could spread. Self-managed communities of the homeless have cropped up from Sacramento to Portland, and often they ask SHARE for advice.