Miami housing activists become squatters

10/25/07 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

A group of community activists in Miami that had previously organized a homeless camp called Umoja Village is now helping homeless families and individuals get roofs over their heads by squatting in vacant housing.

Take Back the Land, a project of the Center for Pan-African Development, last weekend moved a family into a one-bedroom apartment that was unoccupied.

Jason Thompson, Cassandra Cobbs and their two young children had been living in their van, according to Max Rameau, an activist with Take Back the Land, who said that his group is matching homeless people with "people-less homes."

“They were moved into a place that had been vacant for over a year. No one was living there. At times some homeless people in the area broke into the place and slept there overnight, but no one had been sleeping there in some time. So here was a perfectly good home and there was no one was living in it and there was a perfectly good family and they needed a place to live, and so it seemed like a natural match.”

WMNF asked Rameau if he anticipated that authorities would try to kick this family out of the housing that they are squatting in.

“Well, given how heartless these authorities are, I would imagine that eventually they are going to try to do something like that. We have a situation here where specific people and institutions are manufacturing, in essence, homelessness and they making people homeless. But instead of the government and police going after the people who are creating homelessness, instead they are going after the people who are trying to solve the problem of homelessness ...

"And so we think this is really backwards and that they should focus their attention instead on the people who have been stealing money and who have been helping developers instead of helping human beings.”

Rameau said that the homeless crisis is a result of cronyism and could have been avoided.

“We have what has been attributed by the census as the worst housing crisis in of the United States down in Miami-Dade County. … and seemingly the federal government as well, has not really helped mitigate the crisis ... every indication is that local and federal government agencies have been adding fuel to the fire, making the crisis of gentrification and low-income housing even worse than it is now, and all for the benefit of developers and land speculators, etc. So people still need a place to live, people don’t have a place to live and yet because of foreclosures, and because of all these condos that are going up, and there’s not enough buyers for the condos, but they’re still getting government subsidies, we have all these vacant units.”

The Umoja Village and squatting in unoccupied housing are strategies for regaining community control of housing, Rameau said.

“This issue for us is really all about land and who controls land and ultimately who controls the housing on that land and we feel that wealthy developers should not control land in our community and the elected officials who do the bidding of the wealthy developers shouldn’t control land in our community.

"The people who live in our community should control it. The black people should control the land in the black community. This is really a move toward garnering community control over land and community control over housing and that’s what we’re moving towards and this is just the strategies and tactics we’re employing in order to do that.”

Reverend Bruce Wright is the pastor and director of the Refuge Ministries Lionheart Recovery and has worked extensively with homeless people in St. Petersburg. Wright complemented the tactics of the Miami homeless activists.

Earlier this year, when homeless residents of St. Petersburg erected a tent city, the tents were slashed and destroyed by the police. A similar attack occurred a few weeks ago on the tents of homeless people in Lakeland, Wright said.

There are plans to set up a tent city in Pinellas Park, but Wright sees four reasons why this won’t be a fair solution for St. Pete’s homeless residents.

Wright thinks that tourism may be the real motivation why the City of St. Petersburg supports opening the tent city in Pinellas Park.

WMNF contacted the Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless and the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, but they did not return our calls by airtime.

Learn more:

Take Back the Land

The Refuge

The Refuge-St. Petersburg

Miami-Dade Homeless Trust

Pinellas County Coalition for the Homeless

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