Distraught over the rise in homelessness in Chicago, Father Michael Pfleger on Sunday, December 31, vowed to shut down the 2024 National Democratic Convention to be held at the United Center August 19-22, even though Representative Danny Davis (D-7th) warned that Democrats “are caught in between a rock and a hard place” due to extremist House Republicans who are in the majority, 221 vs. 213 Democrats.
Politically handcuffed or not by the U.S. House numbers, Pfleger sees the effects of homelessness daily when he witnesses people rummaging through garbage cans for food or has 30-60 people who come to St. Sabina Church seeking food, shelter and tents. The St. Sabina pastor has adopted about 50 migrants and raised funds to feed, clothe, and provide eight apartments for them, including health care from Northwestern Hospital and others in the community and more resources for the indigenous Chicago homeless.
“We shut down the Dan Ryan (in 2018 along with Reverend Jesse Jackson). We can shut down the Convention,” Pfleger told his cheering congregation.
“I was there for the 1968 DNC Convention. I was beaten by the police. I was teargassed by the police. That didn’t stop the agenda then, and I’m glad to do it again. If they can give away billions of dollars to foreign countries, they can find the money to end homelessness in Chicago,” said Pfleger.
Calling on all faith leaders to join him in shutting down the DNC Convention, Pfleger said, “If this President and Congress don’t come up with the money, we’re going to shut you down.”
Saying he is neither afraid nor will he compromise his position, Pfleger said he has received a great deal of death threats by email and phone, but that will not deter him from his fight to erase homelessness in America.
Agreeing with Pfleger, Representative Davis said Democrats must focus on homelessness despite not having the votes for passage, especially during this election when Republicans with their proposed “Limit, Save and Grow Act” have vowed to cut homeless funding by 23 percent but pass more money for defense. HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge said if passed, nearly one million people would be negatively affected.
“I think Father Pfleger is on target with the advocacy for the poor,” said Davis. “The only way to help the poor is to direct them to those with the resources, which is now the Republicans who have vowed to cut the homeless program.”
Reached in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, January 2, Attorney Barbara R. Arnwine, president/founder of the Transformative Justice Coalition, told the Chicago Crusader, “I think that the failure of the U.S. to address the problem of homelessness is criminal. I think we have the ability to fund homelessness that I think is not a priority because like too many other poor people, they are not seen as priorities by politicians because they don’t vote.”
Arnwine said her organization will be working on this issue of homelessness this year. “We will be helping to make sure the homeless are voting. We are going to be launching a partnership with the National Coalition for the Homeless to run a major program targeting the homeless to make sure they are voting.
“It is important that we tell the truth because there is too much deception and lies going on in this campaign,” Arnwine said.
“I feel it is one-sided and people need to hear more about these kinds of issues. If either the Democrats or Republicans don’t have an agenda for the poor, then they can’t look for public support. They have to prioritize issues like employment, education, health and housing and make them a policy priority.”
Arnwine’s daughter-in-law, Caitlyn Arnwine, is the former coordinator for public education for the National Coalition for the Homeless. She said more should be done to change the structural problems of the homeless. Homeless in Maryland from the age of 18 to 23 due to “family troubles,” Caitlyn Arnwine gave a couple of examples. “The money for rental assistance allocated during the pandemic is still sitting there. They have not distributed it yet.
“I survived on food stamps and assistance, but at times due to strict guidelines, they took this away from me. It was terrible because there were days when I couldn’t eat for three days. I was working two, three jobs seven days a week and going to school but still didn’t have enough money,” Caitlyn Arnwine said.
The Social Security Administration cut her aid thinking she had worked for one job which she hadn’t, and she became homeless the second time after her second adopted mom kicked her out; she went to the best shelter that had one bed left.
She was told if she wanted that bed she had to drop out of college because she took a bus to get to school and could not get back to the shelter before curfew. She refused and eventually received her Associate of Arts degree with honors in paralegal studies from Anne Arundel Community College.
Caitlyn Arnwine also called for an end to some shelters that charge up to $200 when a homeless person gets a job or gets a food stamps card.
In an interview with the Chicago Crusader on January 1, Donald Whitehead, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, agreed with Davis that the numbers for passage of homeless funding are not there because of the GOP House majority. “There is a movement on the conservative side of the political arena to actually demonize people who are homeless.
“Some of the funders who support conservative causes have pushed for criminalizing people, basically making homelessness a crime,” said Whitehead. “It’s being pushed by ballot initiatives that are led by conservatives funded by conservative donors.”
Homelessness, Whitehead said, “is being used as a political football. Homelessness is not a crime, but that is the way it’s being portrayed.”
Whitehead noted there are many proposed bills that have been introduced by Democrats that would address structural issues like racism and the lack of affordable housing; however, they have not been able to move because of the “impasse we currently see in Congress.”
While he agrees with Davis who blamed the Republicans for not passing the homeless bills, Whitehead said homelessness has not been adequately funded “at the level of need in this country no matter who has the majority numbers. It just has not been a priority. We give other countries billions of dollars at the blink of an eye.
“We just commemorated Homeless Memorial Day. Tens of thousands of people die on the streets of the richest country in the world,” said Whitehead. “We have a moral obligation to take care of those who many times are forced into homelessness. People don’t choose homelessness. They are forced into it by structural racism, economic apartheid, the lack of adequate health care.
“Those are the issues that we have to address if we want to slow down homelessness, which has grown 12 percent since last year, and it will grow again next year until we address these underlying structural issues.”
Whitehead commended Davis saying, “He’s at the top of the list for doing good work. He has been one of the most effective advocates for people experiencing homelessness and has pushed for measures to change. There are a lot of members in Congress who are not doing the same thing.”
Nationally, HUD officials have consistently said all it would take is for Congress to pass $20 billion to end homelessness in America. While that is a lot of money, Father Pfleger is concentrating on a slice of that homeless figure he says is needed to house the unhoused living in Chicago under viaducts, bridges, vacant buildings and in several Tent Cities along the expressways. Pfleger said everyone deserves to have a place to live and that no one should go hungry in America.