Could Homeless Americans Create an Uprising?

The images coming out of North Africa appear to be so far away, so many oceans and multiple time zones away from our American reality.

The flicker of CNN and YouTube videos of torched buildings and angry young people standing on tanks and swarming the streets of Egypt and Tunisia are the only evidence of insurrection that catches our attention.

Those of us who worship democracy, our political version of American Idol, eagerly see these furious mobs as the beginning of a democratic movement in the Islamic world. The shut down of the internet was the final straw, the ultimate sign of a government that oppresses its people.

Could you imagine the Obama administration shutting down Twitter, Facebook, and the Internet, denying Americans access to their favorite pastime? Never. Democracy is our demagogy.

Many people see those brave men and women storming the streets and government buildings in North Africa as rightfully rising up against their country’s rampant poverty, unemployment and oppression.

Poverty, unemployment and oppression. Sound familiar?

An American Problem

The problems we are hearing about in these struggling nations sound similar to our own. Sometimes we forget about such human issues since some television shows mask our societal problems.

We crave for shows that idealize wealth—MTV’s Cribs or Real Housewives of some wealthy neighborhood in America—just so that we don’t have to think about the struggles of poverty in our country.

But poverty in America is real.

You talk to any American local law enforcement or political leader and they can tell you where impoverished Americans live. And I do not mean the rundown neighborhood on the other side of the tracks. I am referring to homeless Americans living along the river just west of downtown, in the alleys of that dangerous neighborhood, or in the hills just north of town.

Last week, I was talking to a City Council member of a well known West Coast city, and he had no difficult identifying where his homeless population resided in his district. Homelessness has become integrated in America’s landscape, like the prevalence of strip malls on every corner.

More than a million Americans have been homeless for some period of time in the past year.

I wonder what would happen if a million fed up homeless Americans finally said enough is enough. Could they become angry enough over the lack of employment, the dearth of affordable housing, and the violent treatment many receive on the streets, to start an uprising?

Many homeless Americans are already turning to social media as an outlet for their rage and disgust for a society that allows humans to live on the streets. Kevin Barbieux, The Homeless Guy, has been blogging for years. Eric Sheptock has become known for using Facebook to advocate for homeless persons, and the website We Are Visible, created by Mark Horvath, is poised to get many more voices of the homeless heard.

Could homeless social media activists stir up the rage among homeless Americans?

Oppression, unemployment and poverty are not just Northern African struggles. They are also prevalent in America. Ironically, homeless Americans are already on the streets, just not yet transitioning their poverty into rage.

Most of us who are housed see homelessness as a nuisance, a blight on America’s landscape. But for those who struggle on the streets battling freezing weather, empty stomachs, and young bullies who beat up on homeless persons, homelessness is not a nuisance. It is oppression.

I wonder if the tipping point for rage against homelessness will occur when homeless Americans use their large numbers to object to this country’s policies against poverty.

Or will an uprising have to wait until housed Americans join them?

Photo credit: lbai Lemon

Author – Joel John Roberts is the CEO of PATH Partners (People Assisting The Homeless), the LA Homelessness Examiner writer for, publisher of Inforum, frequent writer of opinion pieces on homelessness and housing, and the author of the book, “How To Increase Homelessness.”

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3 Responses to Could Homeless Americans Create an Uprising?

  1. Bob Ballard says:

    Thank you for being brave enough to raise this issue, the issue of an uprising of homeless people. I believe that if they organize, they would be a potent force for freedom in our society.

    As history has shown both here and abroad, mass action is the only thing that has ever made major changes in society and government. For many years, those without property, without jobs or money have been oppressed and brainwashed to believe that they were worthless. Through social media and education, the dispossessed are beginning to be heard for the first time in large numbers. As they realize how they have been oppressed and marginalized, the are expressing their frustration and anger.

    That is why I believe it is very important to empower the homeless because they can effect change in our society and are painfully aware of what does not work about our economic system. As they become more outspoken about their human rights, they will shake the foundations of the earth and the walls will come tumbling down. And the rest of our people, the wage slaves, will be inspired to seek their freedom along with them.

  2. Teresa O'Rourke says:

    As an inner-city Real Estate broker, I am well aware of the homeless population. I hear the remarks all the time about this nuisance. Many believe it is a racket, those they see on the side of the road with a cardboard sign. Most fear those establishments that the homeless are drawn to and those establishments fear the homeless as they drive business away. Our city leaders work together with those organizations funded by our government to erect expensive shelters away from the areas they are working diligently to bring in new commerce.
    The city of Tulsa has an abundant supply of boarded up housing, as many cities do these days and yet we want to spend billions to push the homeless away under the guise of helping them get their life back on track.
    Yes, it is insane. There is a lack a affordable housing that creates homelessness in the first place. Yet the housing just sits there, begging for attention from homeowners, not slumlords who capitolize off of yet another 1st time homeowner taken for a ride in the Real Estate game.
    If it’s ever going to end, it will be because the homeless take a stand. I am with you, and I may be one of you soon.

  3. I love this story! (and not just because I’m mentioned in it) I’ve been telling folk from before the unrest in North Africa began that we need to do like the Thai people, Greek, the French and others who rise up when the government and its corporations mistreat the poor. (I’ve actually read this story before on another site.) Right before I read the story this time, I had just gotten through posting a status update on my Facebook fan page (Homeless Homeless Advocate Eric Jonathan Sheptock) that we needed to do like these other countries. I strongly believe that and am willing to lead the charge here in DC. Let’s do it!!!!! The first step is for you to join my fan page.

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