A Week of LiberationApril 5th, 2012
Eighteen years ago this week was an intense time for the Project H.O.M.E. community.
It was spring in Philadelphia. The thaw in the weather was not translating into a thaw in harsh attitudes against homeless and mentally ill persons. For over four years, our efforts to develop our first permanent housing facility at 1515 Fairmount Avenue had been blocked by a combination of civic groups and political interests. We had struggled in the courtrooms, marched in the streets, and debated in the arenas of public opinion, but this particular NIMBY (“Not In My Backyard”) fight was especially fierce.
Federal courts had ordered Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell to use his authority to enforce fair housing and permit the development of 1515, but political forces were still resisting. We recognized that this struggle was about more than a single building. Evoking the religious traditions of Passover and Holy Week, we declared a “Week of Liberation.” For five days, with hundreds of supporters, we vigiled in front of Mayor Rendell’s office in City Hall, praying, singing, and expressing our concerns. Dozens of supporters undertook a hunger fast throughout the week. Our message was that the struggle to “Free 1515” was about basic human and civil rights in our society.
On Holy Thursday of that week twenty-three persons, all of whom were wearing the names of homeless persons who have died on our streets, engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience. “We decided that the business of city government could not continue when homeless persons were living and dying on our streets while permanent housing was being blocked,” remembers Project H.O.M.E.’s Will O’Brien, who helped organize the campaign. “For all of us, it was a profound experience of nonviolence and acting on truth.” The Week of Liberation culminated with an ecumenical prayer service and rally outside City Hall on Good Friday.
Three months later, following a second federal court ruling, Mayor Rendell finally intervened to end the dispute. 1515 was free, and would soon be both a home for 48 formerly homeless men and women and a vital community center. It would also become a beacon in the struggle for fair housing and civil rights in this country.
Below are some of the news clippings from that week. Alos, you can see some of the television news coverage at our YouTube page.