“Our political education is the thing we are the most proud of,” said Cheri Honkala, organizer with Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC), a Racial & Economic Justice Fund grantee. “While doing housing takeovers and setting up homeless encampments, the key thing is that poor and homeless people are central to our leadership and to everything we do.” Honkala is formerly homeless and has been involved with the organization since its early days as the Kensington Welfare Rights Union. What started as a small neighborhood group to help poor families later extended to other parts of the city and then the country to organize poor communities.
This past June, PPEHRC was an anchor host of the U.S. Social Forum in Philadelphia. The forum offered many in-depth workshops known as Peoples’ Movement Assemblies on issues such as Black Lives Matter, gender justice, homelessness, disability rights, immigration, labor, and environmental justice. Dozens of Bread & Roses grantee groups and allies were involved in the historic event. Activists from across the country came to Philadelphia to participate, but the event also served as an important cross-issue convening for organizers in Philadelphia, who decided to continue working together after the event was over.
Honkala predicts that there will be a strong effort to make poor and homeless people disappear during the Pope’s visit and the Democratic National Convention. PPEHRC is working on ways to keep people safe and housed, but also politicized, in that process. To that end, they will hold a March for Our Lives on opening day of the Democratic National Convention in July 2016. Honkala recalled the work of past movements in the face of current crises impacting homeless people and people of color: “It’s our responsibility to take a page from our ancestors and say, ‘I’m filling a historic role in this process’ — which is to do what Bread & Roses has always talked about: change, and not charity.”