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Statewide Report: Advocacy For Michigan's Homeless Population

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Statewide Report: Advocacy for Michigan's Homeless Population

by Phillis Engelbert

The winter weather has I brought renewed activism to the fight against homelessness in Ann Arbor. As we look around the state, we see that Ann Arbor is not alone in this battle. The following is a summary of recent housing rights activities in Ann Arbor and three other cities in Michigan.

Ann Arbor: The Homeless Action Committee (HAC) is currently involved in a direct action campaign to convert the Downtown Club (at 110 N. Fourth Ave.), a mostly-vacant office building, into its former use as low income housing (see AGENDA, December, 1991). The owners of the Downtown Club recently declared bankruptcy and on Dec. 13 the building became the property of First of America Bank.

On December 13, to mark the change of ownership of the building, approximately 60 housing activists, including many homeless people representing the newly formed "Path to Power" Homeless Union, demonstrated in front of the Downtown Club. Five activists who entered the building, demanding its re-conversion to housing, were arrested on trespass charges. This brought to 19 the total number arrested in three such actions in Nov. and Dec.

HAC is attempting to arrange a meeting with the City Council, the County Commission (which is considering purchasing the building for its own office use), the Downtown Development Authority, and First of America Bank. These parties now have a unique opportunity , through the conversion of the Downtown Club, to reduce the number of residents who will live on the streets this winter.

In addition, members of the housing rights group Up and Out of Poverty Now are exploring the possibility of erecting a tent in Ann Arbor to draw more local attention to the plight of homelessness. Contact Karen Schaumann at 483-2457 for more information on this project. The Homeless Action Committee (H AC) meets Thursdays at 5:30 pm at the Guild House, 802 Monroe.

Detroit: Up and Out of Poverty Now - a national organization comprised primarily of tenants and welfare rights groups that aims to empower people in poverty to become involved in social action--has coordinated a well-publicized campaign to address homelessness in Detroit over the past two months. On Nov. 11, homeless people and other housing activists first occupied several abandoned units of the Jeffries Housing Project. Following subsequent occupations and many arrests, local service organizations (including Habitat for Humanity) and church groups donated labor to refinish several housing units in the Jeffries Project (a project sanctioned by Mayor Young).

The Cass Methodist Church at the corner of Cass and Seldon volunteered the use of their lot for the construction of a tent village, "Englerville." The tents went up Nov. 16. The Detroit police repeatedly ripped down the tents until Nov. 20, when the church attained a restraining order. The village consists of two joined festival tents and several smaller tents. The larger tents, which are lit and heated, are staffed 24 hours a day.

Lansing: A state-wide housing protest was brought to the state capital on Dec. 6, with the erection of a group of "Englerville" tents there. On Dec. 20, the date the permit expired, the tents were removed by state authorities. The sponsoring organization, Up and Out of Poverty Now, intended to maintain Englerville until Govemor Engler and the state legislature reversed the social services spending cuts and enacted assistance measures for homeless people. The group erected another tent Monday, Dec. 23 which was removed after one hour. On Tuesday, Dec. 24, activists pitched tents once more, under the protection of an Ingham County judge's restraining order. The hearing on whether to extend the restraining order was set for Jan. 8.

Grand Rapids: The Mad Housers, on Dec. 8, constructed a shanty (which has become home to two men) to protest aid program cutbacks and to draw attention to the city 's homeless population of 3,000. On Dec. 20 the group was told it has until Jan. 6 to remove the 6-foot by 8-foot plywood shelter, from its current site on a Michigan Department of Transportation lot. The activist group has applied for a permit to relocate the shanty to downtown's Calder Plaza which is known as a "free speech" area.

The Mad Housers is a local coalition of organizations and individuals including: Architects, Designers and Planners for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Social Responsibility and students from the community college.


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