Rev. Al Sharpton's Weekly Blog

Housing Vouchers, Despair & Reclaiming the Dream

Aug 17, 2010

We often see the images of starving children and impoverished families flashing across our TV sets.  Many times, they are huddled in massive groups waiting for food handouts, safe housing or any other basic necessity.  Whether it’s following a devastating natural disaster, civil unrest or sheer poverty, the scenes of chaos remain imprinted in our minds despite the fact that they are occurring in distant lands.  Until recently, most of us here in the United States remained lucky enough to never even fathom such desperation.  But last week, when some 30,000 people near Atlanta, GA braved the tumultuous heat for hours just for a slim shot at housing relief, the rest of the nation watched on in horror as these acts of despondency occurred right in our own backyard.  And just like all moments of human despair and misery, just a few minutes of that footage highlighted grave challenges that many wish would be swept under a rug somewhere. 

The city of Atlanta is often referred to as the city of paradoxes.  Comprised of the fastest growing millionaire population, it simultaneously has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country.  Last week, just outside Atlanta in East Point, GA, these 30,000 folks gathered – many of them nights before – just to receive an application to be placed on a waiting list for Section 8 housing.  The East Point Housing Authority currently has 455 vouchers that are all being utilized, so everyone who showed up last week can only hope to get on this list for a chance at affordable housing, and many will remain on the list for years. 

The massive explosion of folks left over 60 in need of medical attention, and 20 transported to a hospital – including a baby who went in to seizure because of the excessive heat.  There was yelling, screaming, pushing, cursing and chaos as the throng of folks fought to merely garner an application.  And in order to receive these section 8 vouchers, a family must not make more than 50% of the areas’ median income, which stands at just around $31,847.  In the end, about 75% of the housing vouchers will go to those who make less $9,500 a year.

Now, let’s put this in perspective.  Thousands convene in the extreme heat and fight their way to receive an application for just a chance at survival.  This wasn’t a group of people fighting over mundane things, or even attempting to get a shot at the American dream.  These were mothers, fathers and families who have fallen on hard times and make barely enough money to put food on the table.

How can we sit by idly and watch such catastrophic events take place?  When Black unemployment rates are more than double the national average in many areas, how can we be complacent?  When foreclosures have left our families homeless, how can we not speak up?  When scenes of utter despair like East Point play out on our TV screens, how can we not do something?  When the dream for freedom, equality, opportunity and advancement is yet to be fully realized, how can we not take a stand?

Join the National Action Network on August 28th in Washington, DC. as we RECLAIM THE DREAM that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. envisioned nearly 47 years ago.  Enough is enough.  We can no longer choose to ignore the harsh realities right before our eyes  – for the tragic scenes like East Point, GA are now etched in our minds.

Join us on the 28th as we seek sustainable solutions to our housing crisis, economic woes and unemployment epidemic.  Stand with us as we march for unity, freedom, justice and humanity.