Picture the Homeless is an amazing organization here in NYC that was founded by, is led by, and organizes homeless people in the struggle for civil rights, housing and economic justice. Tonight, they’re having a sleep-out in front of a block of abandoned buildings in East Harlem. (Perhaps a certain East Harlem resident might find time to stop by?) These buildings, like many others in NYC, are left vacant by developers who are waiting for the right opportunity to make a whole lot of money off of the properties; in the meantime, there’s a tremendous housing crisis in New York City, with thousands of adults and children left homeless. Instead of letting abandoned buildings rot until developers are prepared to convert them into luxury condos or other unaffordable housing for huge profits, as most often happens, couldn’t these buildings be converted into affordable housing for homeless and low-income New Yorkers? Picture the Homeless is demanding an answer to that question, and calling for that answer to be a resounding “Yes!” in favor of economic justice and housing as a human right guaranteed to all people.
Below is the text of the press release from Picture the Homeless, which includes details on the event. Allies are welcomed and encouraged to join PTH members and staff for the action – stop by for a while, or bring your sleeping bag and sleep on the street in protest of the private interests and city policies that allow homelessness and displacement to continue unabated.
FATHER’S DAY “SLEEP-OUT” IN PROTEST OF LANDLORDS’ ABUSES
Homeless dads and allies stand united against city’s shelter and housing policies
New York, NY—Eric Sessoms, a father of two, had been homeless for five years. Living on the street he wished and dreamed of his own apartment that he could share with his two children. Currently living in an SRO (single-room occupancy) in Harlem, Eric is finishing his last year of college and is searching in vain for an affordable house for his family.
“An SRO is for single people,” Eric says. “I want my children with me, but there’s nowhere to go. There are abandoned buildings all over this neighborhood; but when they get developed, they are turned into luxury condominiums.”
Three blocks away from his SRO, on 125th Street, the heart of Harlem’s economic development, stands an entire block of abandoned properties. “These buildings have been in this condition since I was twenty; and I’m now forty. I want to know how landlords are allowed to keep a building abandoned and in poor condition for two decades without the City demanding that they be reconstructed to meet the needs of the community.”
This Father’s Day, Eric will be taking a stand with other fathers and allies, to focus on this issue, and expose the landlords whom the city allows to warehouse buildings. They will be targeting Jeff Sutton, of Wharton Realty, a high-profile property owner who owns the buildings at 125th and Lenox. One of the city’s largest developers, and a George W. Bush campaign contributor, Sutton recently brokered such deals as the 30,000-square-foot Apple retail location on Fifth Avenue and the Howard Johnson building in Times Square. Sutton did not respond to numerous requests for meetings.
Providing shelter for one person costs the city $10K-$15K a year. “Why can’t these funds be re-allocated to developing actual affordable housing?” Eric asks.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer has also decided to join Eric in his stand against these injustices. Stringer and his office are planning a comprehensive count of abandoned buildings in Manhattan, collaborating with Picture the Homeless, an organization that Eric helps to lead and represent.
“After suffering years of administrative abandonment,” Eric says, “I am now standing up for my children and the next generations, so they won’t be deprived of a basic human right: housing.”
WHO: Homeless fathers and allies
WHAT: “Sleep-Out” to protest city’s housing policies and landlords’ lack of accountability
WHERE: Harlem, NYC. Press rendezvous outside the State Office Building at 163 W. 125th, between Lenox and 7th Ave. Look for event press coordinators with red armbands.
WHEN: Monday, June 19th, at 8PM.