Dramatizing the Need to Rescue the Homeless

December 1989By John Dear

The Rev. John Dear, S.J. was working with home­less people at the Horace McKenna Center of St. Aloysius Church in Washington, D.C, when he wrote the above article. Just recently he moved to California to study theology and Scripture at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. He is author of Disarming the Heart: Toward a Vow of Nonviolence.

Recently, on a Wednesday at 12 noon, six friends and I drove to the U.S. Capitol, ran out into the middle of the street carrying two couches, several chairs, tables, and lamps, and proceeded to sit down.

We were arrested and jailed overnight. The next morning, hauled into court before a judge, we pled “Not Guilty.” A trial date was set. We faced one year in jail and heavy fines. Later, one of the charges was dropped.

The seven of us had attempted a sym­bolic eviction to call attention to the crisis of homelessness that plagues the land. Nearly three million people are homeless in this country and Congress estimates that there will be nearly 19 million homeless by the year 2000. In Washington, D.C., 50 evictions take place each day and homeless people are recruited to do the evicting, at $5.00 an eviction. Since 1981 the government has cut the housing budget 77 percent — $25 billion. We took to the streets in dramatic fashion, using the creative nonviolence of Dr. King, Gandhi, and Dorothy Day to demand af­fordable housing now.

Our trial took place at the D.C. Court­house. The first step in the procedure was picking a jury. We were asked to introduce ourselves to a room of 48 potential jurors. We each told of our religious motivation and years of service among the poor and desti­tute of Washington, D.C.

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