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Philadelphia, Penn Haven protests poverty

Philadelphia, Penn Haven protests poverty, february 2010

Students from Penn Haven join other activist groups in a Center City demonstration against federal foreclosures

Students from the elite USA University of Pennsylvania, vowing civil disobedience, join in demands for zero evictions and foreclosures. Their actions reflect a growing awareness in the USA that the future of the vast majority of people in the US is at risk. They are ready to fight back if their government won't.

Protesters gather outside of the Federal Building in a demonstration against government foreclosures, which —they believe — contribute to homelessness.Amid a chorus of chanting, drumming and singing, Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign member Jeff Rousset said, “I might get arrested later.”

A group of about 50 protesters blocked off the junction outside the Federal Building. The rally was among a series of protests aross the country calling for a freeze on foreclosures.

Spearheaded by PPEHRC, the protesters included students from Penn Haven.

Penn Haven’s mission is to learn how to best serve the homeless community, and it is “looking into all methods of getting equality for the homeless” College senior and Penn Haven member Jessie Streich-Kest said.

According to lead organizer, Cheri Honkala, “We have a federal emergency.”

As the recession drives more and more people from their homes out on to the streets, the group of demonstrators took to the streets. In addition to PPEHRC and Penn Haven, Kensington Welfare Rights Union and others partook in the rally.

“Last night Obama didn’t really mention anything about housing,” said KWRU member Natasha Euler.

According to Euler, the protesters were there to make sure that the government resolves the housing crisis.

“We see families everyday who come in to our office with small children who are homeless — we think that this is an emergency,” she said.

The activists’ answer to the housing crisis is a combination of protests for long-term gain and setting up the homeless in abandoned homes until the housing crisis abates, according to Honkala and Rousset.

Rousset’s explained his justification for squatting: “People are more important than property.”

The winter is especially cruel to the homeless, according to Honkala, and “it’s more important to keep people alive” than to stay within the bounds of the law.

No one was arrested at yesterday’s rally. Philadelphia Police Captain William Fisher said, “As long as it’s a peaceful protest … we’ll tolerate street blockages.”

But Honkala, who has been arrested during the course of prior protests, said facing down the police is part of PPEHRC’s plan to draw attention its cause.

“We really need to show our elected officials that we’re serious,” Honkala said

Honkala said, “We will start to have arrests.”

Penn Haven Activism Coordinator and former Daily Pennsylvanian staff writer College senior Jimmy Tobias had prepared himself for arrest. He was one of the eight Penn students who attended.

“What we’re trying to do … is to be in solidarity with [the community],” Tobias said.

PThe housing crisis isn’t exactly going to disappear anytime soon, College senior and Penn Haven member Elena Stein said. But “as we listen to out neighbors … it becomes more clear how to help.”

For now, she said, the answer is still nebulous. “Come back to me in 10 years about that.”