Displacement Activism and Compassion

Uptown Tent City is gone but is the feeding trough?

In case you didn’t notice, I recently stepped down from leadership at the Uptown Tent City Organizers. Make no mistake about it though, I am in complete agreement with 90%+ of what the Uptown Tent City Organizers do. To work together with the people there really was an honor I will always remember fondly.

One of the advantages of my newly minted independence is to be able to comment on organizations, groups and individuals exterior to that group. I do this to educate and hopefully focus volunteers/donors on the best types of groups to put their efforts/donations into.

Wow, when UTCO was founded, was I in for some eye opening education. I really did think everyone working for the homelessness and housing causes were of pure motivations and respectful of each other.

ONE Northside: Million $$$ Corporation needs $100

Recently I saw an Internet post seeking donations to purchase less than $100 tax & shipping included worth of tarps for homeless refugees of the viaduct evictions. ONE Northside is one of the largest protest organizations on the north side of Chicago. A group that is difficult to criticize in a sound bite, because it has many super well meaning and hard working volunteers.

It is the paid leadership and the corporation I criticize, not the volunteers.

This ad was somewhat humorous because this organization is a marching with signs and colored t-shirts powerhouse, but frankly, they never do anything for the people experiencing homelessness. They protest a storm up and walk away, doing nothing to help.

OK $100 is a start… Or is it?

I stress if this organization did anything like housing, feeding, clothing, etc. homeless people, I would say power to them, send money in buckets. However, let’s take a peek at their finances.

2011 Total Revenue: $1,189,784
Executive compensation, salaries and wages: $440,499

2012 Total Revenue: $2,269,981
Executive compensation, salaries and wages: $746,513

2013 Total Revenue: $1,439,258
Executive compensation, salaries and wages: $503,019

2014 Total Revenue: $1,193,580
Executive compensation, salaries and wages: $622,833

2015 Total Revenue: $776,057
Executive compensation, salaries and wages: $505,406

For the life of me I can’t imagine, why, if they are in contact with people that desperately need $100 worth of tarps, they would even waste the time fund raising for it. The Uptown Tent City Organizers raised roughly $10k/yr and much of that came from the leaders and actively involved membership. UTCO had no problem pumping thousands of dollars worth of tarps and much else out of their own pockets to help people.

Even worse is the Displacement Activism

ONE thing this organization really excelled at was displacing groups actually doing things to help homeless people. Reality is there is only so much bandwidth for homelessness. Media attention, time to attend events and so on. This organization was seen nowhere even just protesting outside homelessness before UTCO invited them to stand together in solidarity with them. Before you knew it, instead of adding to the movement, there was a great orchestration to take what others had built.

This was not only displacing more effective activism and compassion, but sowing division between activists and homeless people and wasting homeless peoples’ time, diverting them from working on their own issues, paying them nothing for their speaking and advertising their photos for ONE Northside’s corporate gain. This is taking advantage of people in a desperate position in my opinion.

Don’t even get me started about organizing people that need ‘subsidized housing’ desperately to waste their time advocating for ‘affordable housing’ that they will not likely be able to afford nor will this housing materialize in their own neighborhood in the unlikely event it did materialize somewhere…

Ah, the pressures of corporate fund raising I guess… They did a pretty good job actually hurting homeless people when you look at the net loss, glad it was profitable for them. Sure you can’t cover those tarps?

To be fair, since the inception of UTCO, there was a steady stream ready to co-opt UTCO efforts, this organization is hardly alone, except maybe in its scale. Some displacers lived for the camera and newspaper page, some for the donation skim, (like collecting donations for $20 bags of ice, selling tents and much more). I can’t fault too much the extreme minority of homeless people themselves that sought to profit for survival, but to profit for a part time job or corporately and handsomely profit on homelessness is unfathomable to me.

Capitalism, you have to love it, even tragedy and misery can be profitable.


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By |2017-12-07T12:57:24+00:00October 20th, 2017|Activism|0 Comments

About the Author:

Member of the Jesus People USA Covenant Church. Founder and leader of Uptown Outside and Election 46. A founder and former leader of the Uptown Tent City Organizers. Resident of Uptown Chicago since 1978. Various corporate and consultant information technology positions since the mid 1980's