Acting and Action: To See or Not to See

Acting and Action: To See or Not to See

by Dr. Mark Mussman
3CDC takes over Ziegler Park Photo: Mark Mussman

I’ve been running the numbers on our education program and I’m impressed with the work that the Homeless Coalition does each year. We have had hundreds of engagements including speaking engagements, Streetvibes Shadow activities, trainings, social justice walking tours, Final Friday’s at buddy’s place, and other education events. Sometimes I feel that the purpose of the events are so simple: to humanize homelessness and show people how Affordable Housing has a positive impact on our community. But, in reality, due to extreme bias against people in poverty, people of color, and other marginalized groups, our education program is met with opposition in some of the least likely places.

I really enjoy working with people in our community. I feel empowered when I discuss difficult topics such as gentrification because when you break it down for people, it becomes something that is easily understood. I’ll admit that it’s taken me a long time to understand how the process of vilification of poverty and displacement are carried out on such a large scale. I have been experiencing it as a member of the community for years – I remember when I taught GED classes, I had a student who lived in the Pendleton neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine. I saw that the Model Group set its sights on creating “Broadway Square” by purchasing several buildings and I knew the student would be displaced. It doesn’t matter if Model Group bought the building, or if 3CDC plans a takeover of a block, but it’s the collective will of developers who decide to make changes in the neighborhood. When 3CDC moved north of Liberty last year, developers were scrambling to get on the gravy train and bought up all of the buildings. This same push happened in Pendleton a few years ago.

Basketball Court "temporarily" turned into private Permit Parking lot. Will 3CDC rebuild a basketball court? Photo: Mark Mussman
Basketball Court “temporarily” turned into private Permit Parking lot. Will 3CDC
rebuild a basketball court? Photo: Mark Mussman

I asked the student if they had made plans for when they are kicked out, and the student responded that it would never happen because “my landlord owns the building, grew up in the building, and would never do that to us.” Within a month, the student stopped showing up for class, so I called and called, and finally got in touch. “My landlord sold the building!” the student exclaimed. What it is like for a single mother to pick up everything and move in less than 30 days, I cannot imagine. What it meant from our side, was that the student (who was very close to passing the GED) missed too many classes to continue the term, and had to restart a month later – after finding a new place to live, in a new neighborhood. The landlord did care about the tenants and helped them pay for their rent for a couple months, but that is very rare.

This occurred a few years ago, but it is happening around us as we speak. When we look at the reimagined Ziegler Park, we can see that the housing surrounding the park will be bought up and transformed from affordable to market rate housing. The precedent was set with Washington Park, and now Zeigler, which was a heavily used park by people in the neighborhood, and will now be transformed into a privatized area, with 24/7 private security. Some people will say “it’s safer now” after it is redone, but the question I ask is “safer for who?” Black and Brown bodies are constantly patrolled by police and private security. We know the system has, and continues, to destroy their lives by criminalizing the same behaviors that white people get away with behind closed doors. In Over-the-Rhine, the sidewalks are our front lawns, the parks are our backyards, the alleys are our shortcuts, and when each of these spaces becomes privatized, on top of our housing becoming market rate, then we have no place here.

Community gathering spot is removed along with the community. Photo: Mark Mussman

The legacy of racism lives on in Cincinnati. 75% of African-American kids live below the poverty line. Income inequality based upon race is so real that the median income for whites is more than twice of what it is for people of color. But even though we live in poverty it doesn’t mean we have no value, no culture. Just because the people in Ziegler Park couldn’t afford $8 craft beers doesn’t mean they don’t have a place in our community. This is a concept that developers and some educators don’t understand.

This is part of why the Coalition’s education program is so important. We need to relate to the concrete ways in which people are being displaced and forced into homelessness to help people understand the full scope. We need your help by telling your stories, supporting the Coalition through Community Shares or Kroger Community Rewards, making a donation for the education program online or through mail, attending our events, and liking us on Facebook. Book a speaker at your next event, take the social justice walking tour with some friends, or get a group together to do a Streetvibes Shadow activity. Whatever you do, don’t sit back and say “that’s someone else’s job” or “it’s not that bad!” One person displaced should be enough to get you to act.