When Pensacola City Council passed a Panhandling Ordinance essentially outlawing homelessness, one would think that would be bad enough. Where are people supposed to go when it gets colder? Is the ordinance going to be applied to shoppers who camp out for Black Friday? When the City Council declares homelessness to be an “eyesore” and we have a mayor more focused on aesthetics than rectifying the economic problems causing the growing homelessness; it’s a recipe for disaster especially as temperatures drop. Many of the homeless are veterans and there are a lot of young people on the street because the area is still recovering from a devastating housing market crash and tragic oil spill.
And then there’s the lovely code enforcers who are stealing blankets and other possessions from homeless people; specifically black homeless people. Enter what I have dubbed “Blanketgate.” You see, providing blankets or jackets to a homeless person in Pensacola counts as “aiding and abetting criminal activity.” So, Sean’s Outpost did a little civil disobedience awhile back rounding up blankets and providing them to the needy, but code enforcers decided that some homeless people didn’t need them. They targeted Henry T. Wyer park on Reus Street near downtown Pensacola, and when people needed to briefly leave their belongings to relieve themselves, the enforcers would scoop up the items and throw them away. Yup, first someone had the bright idea to order such an atrocious action and then there were even people despicable enough to actually carry it out. And those affected just happened to be a specific color, though in a town where the Confederate flag is still prominently displayed on pickup trucks all over the place I’m sure it was just a coincidence.
There are a lot of words for people who steal blankets from the homeless as nights are approaching 40 degrees and will only get colder (at the time I started this article we were looking at freezing temperatures that night). It’s impossible to know what goes through the mind of someone who carries out orders to take the only thing someone has to keep themselves from freezing to death, but I don’t see how a paycheck justifies it. One of the goals is to try to get footage of this theft happening, and shame the scheisse out of them.
Many people are afraid to speak out about what they have gone through and the fear of police or city retaliation is a reasonable one. An activist and musician in her early 20s named Cletus Bean told me of her experiences living without a permanent residence. She now has a roof over her head, but she spent years traveling and had harsh encounters with the police, many of which were influenced by her being a young woman. She told me how the police had been particularly predatory towards her as a homeless girl in her late teens; she was targeted as she was among male homeless people likewise holding signs. In the first encounter she told me about, cops told her they could arrest her for panhandling (before it was illegal in the area) and then when she called them on their bluff, they responded by saying they would refuse to help her if she got raped. This uncalled for behavior was in response to accepting a single quarter from a passer by. They also implied that she deserved to be raped for being on the streets. One time, in another state, Cletus was arrested and had clothes stolen from her when she had to check in her possessions. The police in this situation threw away her pairs of blue jeans and left her with only one piece of clothing to cover her legs–a small, black skirt. Getting footage of these monsters proves to be difficult because while some are comfortable sharing their experiences, not all people affected may be.
But, there is good news in the midst of these callous thefts and overzealous authoritarianism. Despite the heroic efforts of the code enforcers, the people of Pensacola united to solve the problem. Sean’s Outpost, Food Not Bombs, Occupy Pensacola, and several individuals came to Martin Luther King, Jr. Plaza in the downtown area of the city and donated several blankets and jackets after activists spread the news through social media outlets and word of mouth. A local paper, Independent News, is now investigating the story and covered Satoshi Forest. I had activists contacting me from all over the country wanting to show their support. All of the individuals who had their property stolen from them were located and received new blankets. It was a beautiful display of kindness and solution-oriented thinking that quickly rectified a problem caused directly by the state. We also saw a variety of people who came out to support, and it was reassuring to see the rapid response from people of all political belief systems including libertarianism, left and right anarchism, progressivism, and republicanism. When people unite behind humanitarian causes regardless of their beliefs it’s always a heart-warming sight to see.
More blanket drives are scheduled in the near future, and while legislative efforts to overturn the ordinance may take quite awhile, the people have spoken and we will continue to be solution-oriented to combat this travesty and abuse of power. If we can counter state aggression with love and responsive, efficient direct action, showing others that they too are the solution will become easier.
*If you would like to help out, you can donate BTC directly to Sean’s Outpost or if you want to send materials, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will make sure they get distributed. We need blankets, jackets, shoes, socks, and any other warm items.
h/t Jason King for the featured image based on Pensacola banners.
Original content by Meghan, copyleft, tips welcome