Notes From the Back Page: Reflections on a "Happening in Dover"
On Saturday, January14, 2017, while many in the nation in observance of the life of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. attended services, volunteered and participated in community building events; a coalition of social justice advocates made up of churches, national and local organizations lead the first “Housing Not Handcuff's Community Justice Walk” through downtown Dover, Delaware.
This was the first march of its kind ever to be held in the capital city. The event was the brainchild of Dr. DeBorah Gilbert White, Founder and Coordinator of HerStory Ensemble, a local and nationally recognized independent community organization, dedicated to empowerment, education and awareness regarding homelessness. HerStory Ensemble serves on the national steering committee for "Housing Not Handcuffs", a national campaign sponsored by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, Washington, D.C. The mission of the “Justice Walk” was to engender the need for access to affordable, safe housing for all and the decriminalization of the homeless population living unsheltered.
The event drew about 100 hardy souls on this overcast somewhat blistery winter's day. The marchers were a diverse consortium of activists for economic equality, faith-based groups and those who have and are facing homelessness. To put this issue into perspective regionally within the Mid Atlantic;
-Philadelphia has the fastest growing and highest rates for rent in the nation, (this would include; Boston, New York and Las Angeles as reported by NPR).
1/3 or 37% of New Jersey residents cannot live on their wages alone, this is inclusive of those paying rent and mortgages.
-January 27, 2016, a census taken in Delaware counted 1070 people who had been served by programs intended for the homeless population, (however, on a deeper level, this would not include couch surfers and those living within the constant shadow of homelessness or people living in insecure housing such as SRA's - single room accommodations better known as rooming houses).
Ultimately, the end goal is to shine a light on the homeless situation and look for different solutions, it is obvious that the charitable model that we have used forever is pretty much of a hamster wheel. It does nothing to address the fundamental issues of criminalizing mental illness, disproportionate access to resources such as education, employment and security that underlie how we don't deal with symptoms of poverty and thus, miss the mark in creating the strong society that our candidates campaigned on.
What do we want, when do we want it? For all intents and purposes, the rally was a success; it happened, attracted activists, was covered by the press, continued an important dialogue, and made visible a situation, all in shouting distance of the seat of the governing body; making it historical in its own right.
Written by Rhonda Celester -
blogger, artist, activist and member of HerStory Ensemble