TRUTH COMMISSION REPORTS
HUNGER, HOUSING, AND THE THIRD RECONSTRUCTION:
A TRUTH COMMISSION WITH THE CAPITAL REGION
“I have a full time job. I have a car… Still, I cannot find a permanent place to live. I'm sleeping on my friend's couch right now with a full time job.” - Taner Milazzo, VOCAL-NY
COVID has hit hard those in the Capital Region who were already struggling in a society that is rife with avoidable disparity. Food insecurity during COVID-19 grew to alarming numbers. University of Albany researchers who are part of a National Food Access and COVID Research Team reported households in the Capital Region earning $10,000 to$25,000 annually had a staggering 70 percent rate of food insecurity, a nearly 30 percent increase during the pandemic.
Before COVID, 46 percent of New York renters were already paying more than 30 percent of their income in rent, and rents are only increasing. Data from November show that median rents nationwide are 20 percent higher than just a year ago. State and federal eviction moratoriums have slowed but not stopped a wave of evictions. In Albany County in 2020, 308 eviction warrants were issued and 188 were completed, including 123 in the city of Albany. The state’s eviction moratorium is set to expire Jan. 15.
On Dec. 7, testifiers from around the Capital Region came together to share their experiences, insights and demands.
“I had saved some money, but when COVID hit I couldn’t go to work, and I had to spend everything I had,” said Margaret Gibson, a member of the FOCUS Churches of Albany. She talked about the lack of jobs that pay a living wage and how employers need to give people a chance to work and earn a living.
Taner Milazzo, a member of VOCAL-NY, shared the struggle to find affordable housing. “I have a full time job. I have a car… Still, I cannot find a permanent place to live. I'm sleeping on my friend's couch right now with a full time job.”
He also spoke about the injustice that people face when trying to get a job if they are unhoused. “Where am I going to get my mail if I don’t have a home? How is the job going to call me back if I have no phone? It’s not that people are lazy, it’s that they have no opportunities.”
Rev. Molly Dowell Baum of FOCUS Churches and the NYS Poor People’s Campaign shared her family’s experience of food insecurity as one of many hovering above the poverty line.
“At times I have qualified for services, but mostly I've been in that space right above the line where you still can't afford all the bills, but you don't qualify for services, because you make too much. There are so many of us who are facing difficult choices every day. My family is part of that 140 million people in the United States who exist below the poverty line, or in that space right above it. 140 million - that is almost half of the population of our country.”
Shawn Young of the community action group All Of Us provided a critical historical perspective, reminding us that these conditions are neither accidental nor recent. “When I think about poverty, I think about the intentionality behind poverty and how we got to the place where we are. Poverty - at the intersection of race, at the intersection of crime…all of these things intersect and are not accidental.”
Molain Gilmore, a member of Refreshing Springs Community Church and a longtime community organizer said all politicians should be ashamed of themselves for allowing these “horrific standards to be perpetuated.”
“The richest nation in the world…throws away more food than it would take to feed all the population.” - Lindsey Jordan, Fed Up North Carolina
The injustices described in the Capital Region are reflective of conditions around the country.
Lindsey Jordan of Fed Up North Carolina, a food distribution and political education coalition that is part of the Fight for $15 and the North Carolina Poor Peoples’s Campaign, called out the lie of scarcity that dominates the national narrative. “The richest nation in the world…throws away more food than it would take to feed all the population.”
According to Hunter College NYC Food Policy Center, the United States throws away 72 billion pounds of food a year or roughly 40 percent of the entire US food supply. New York state alone is responsible for 3.9 million tons of food waste. We have more than enough to feed and house our communities. As E. West McNeill, executive director of LRC proclaimed, “We have to learn to tell the truth, knowing that our culture is steeped in so many lies that deny or justify systemic racism, that blame the poor for poverty, or that claim there isn’t enough for all of us to have what we need.”
“We must band together because we know the scale of the amount of people who are on the verge of eviction and homelessness. How are we going to cast the net to mobilize, identify, and build this movement to end poverty?” Savina Martin, National Union of the Homeless
Recognizing both the abundance and the unjust distribution of resources around us, testifiers were clear in their demand for housing and food to be treated as human rights that are guaranteed to all.
“High rent is the biggest problem keeping people homeless, and we need to stop letting landlords raise the price,” said Margaret Gibson. “If everyone was guaranteed an apartment you could get a job easier and start saving money. People would be happier and be able to have their own things. I want people to have that dignity.”
Taner Milazzo, a member of VOCAL-NY added, “If housing was guaranteed to everybody, as it should be, the world would be so much of a better place, and we wouldn't have to see people struggle.”
Powerful tenant organizing over the past several years has won significant concessions on housing, including eviction moratoriums during the pandemic and the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act in New York in 2019. Organizers in the City of Albany and several other Upstate NY cities have won significant victories with the passage of Good Cause Eviction legislation that significantly restricts the ability of landlords to evict tenants. The push for statewide Good Cause legislation will continue in 2022.
The fight to turn housing from a profit-making commodity into a guaranteed human right is a battle that brings us into direct confrontation with Wall Street. More victories could well be on the horizon, but we know that defeating such a powerful opponent and winning the transformative change we need will require a long term battle.
The Truth Commission also featured remarks from movement leaders Savina Martin, of the National Union of the Homeless and the Massachusetts Poor People’s Campaign, and Lindsey Jordan, of Fed Up and the North Carolina Poor People’s Campaign, who spoke about the challenge and opportunities for organizing that lie ahead.
“We must band together because we know the scale of how many are on the verge of eviction and homelessness,” Martin urged. “It is our duty to bring our message to the masses.”
Jordan spoke about the critical role for projects of survival, like Fed Up, which has distributed fresh produce to poor and low-income residents in Durham, NC every week for the past two years. It’s three goals are to “keep bellies full, organize, and educate.” Projects of survival are a tool to both organize the poor and dispossessed and meet the urgent needs of our communities while our fight continues.
“We have to be really crystal clear about this,” she said. “Fed Up is not going to solve hunger in Durham. All the food banks will not solve hunger in Durham.” - Lindsey Jordan, Fed Up
“What my family needs more than charity is a society where housing and food are guaranteed human rights… If my wife and I and all of us didn't have to sell our labor in order to earn the right to take up space on this planet, we could freely pursue the careers and vocations for which we are uniquely gifted and for which our world has great need.” - Rev. Molly Dowell Baum, NYSPPC
The crises of food and housing insecurity cannot be solved by programs of charity. These crises are caused by an underlying system of profit-motive and wealth accumulation, and as long as that exists, attempts to alleviate hunger and provide affordable housing will only ever act as a band-aid. Band-aids are sometimes necessary and helpful, but they cannot cure cancer. These are systemic crises, and they require systemic solutions.
The forces that benefit from these systems of profit go to great lengths to promote a lie of scarcity, convincing many that the problem is limited resources and not enough food or decent housing for everyone. This lie must be confronted at every turn. Lindsey addressed this: “The richest nation in the world, a nation that throws away more food than it would take to feed all the population, as we say at the beginning of every distribution, it's frankly, pretty messed up. Scarcity is a myth. We live in a world of abundance.”
This myth of scarcity was further called out by John Mazza: “A lot of solutions are made by rich people who assume we want to live like they do.” Until the system that drives massive accumulation by the few at the expense of the many is overturned, this manufactured inequality and scarcity will persist, because it benefits the wealthy to maintain the myth.
We can look to different models for a way forward. The Black Panthers free breakfast programs and free health clinics provide examples of meeting the immediate needs of the community and developing a collectivity and consciousness around the root causes of the problems. “Projects of survival are about base building,” Jordan continued. “They meet our immediate needs while strengthening the organization and coordination of our class.”
As the crises of food and housing insecurity continue and deepen amid COVID-19, we must look to this kind of organizing to build the collective consciousness and capacity to take on the forces that would keep us poor.
Ways To Take Action
“It is our duty to bring our message to the masses.” - Dr Savina Martin, National Union of the Homeless, MAPPC
As Dr Savina Martin suggests, we must mobilize and organize, organize, organize! To join the fight and take action we recommend following, joining, and/or supporting the work of the organizations below. We also hope you will join us on June 18th, 2022 in Washington D.C. for a moral march on Washington. Follow the New York State Poor People's Campaign on twitter for weekly updates about local organizing opportunities and mobilization needs.
FOLLOW THE WORK OF THESE ORGANIZATIONS
JOIN US ON JUNE 18, 2022 FOR THE MORAL MARCH ON WASHINGTON
Mass Poor Peoples & Low Wage Workers Assembly June 18, 2022. Moral March on Washington
Mass Poor Peoples & Low Wage Workers Assembly June 18, 2022. Moral March on Washington
The June 18, 2022 Mass Poor People’s & Low-Wage Workers’ Assembly and Moral March on Washington will be a generationally transformative and disruptive gathering of poor and low-wealth people, state leaders, faith communities, moral allies, unions and partnering organizations.
It is NOT just a day of action. It is a declaration of an ongoing, committed moral movement to 1) build power, 2) shift the political narrative and 3) make real policies to fully address poverty and low wealth from the bottom up.
The Assembly is a pulling point of organizing from fall 2021 to summer 2022 and will spring us toward the 2022 elections. All along the way, we will be doing MORE: Mobilizing, Organizing, Registering, Educating, Engaging and Empowering people for a movement that votes!
NEXT TRUTH COMMISSION
Join us for our next truth commission.
Feb 22nd 630-830PM EST THE RIGHT TO HEALTH AND THE 3RD RECONSTRUCTION