Down and Out: The city’s homeless search for their place in a post-Occupy Philadelphia

credit: Neal Santos

As hundreds of activists, clergy, legal observers and sympathizers poured into City Hall’s Dilworth Plaza to stand in solidarity with Occupy Philly on Nov. 27, the eve of its eviction by the city — another, smaller contingent was busy making a quiet getaway.

They were homeless, among the many individuals who had been living with — and, in many cases, participating in — Occupy Philly. But unlike other Occupiers, they had no intention of waiting around for the Philadelphia police to evict them.

The relationship between Occupy Philly and the homeless had been a complicated one. It was a point of pride among Occupiers that their scrappy movement seemed able to do more for the homeless than American society itself had: provide hot meals, shelter and a degree of safety. As the weeks went by, though, the homeless had come to dominate the camp — many bringing with them mental health and substance abuse issues that were simply more than the encampment could handle. The homeless gave Occupy a kind of moral high ground, but also overwhelmed it with need.

It cut both ways. Occupy’s defiance of the city put everyone, including the homeless who’d been living at City Hall long before the protesters showed up, at risk of arrest. But the encampment also gave the homeless cover to do something they couldn’t do before: pitch tents; form a community.

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