Interview With Maria Gonzalez,
To remedy this injustice, day laborers worked with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless to draft a day labor bill banning transportation fees, mandating multilingual postings of workers’ rights, and establishing record keeping requirements to make it easier for workers to file complaints of discrimination or unpaid wages. As soon as the DLOC bill was introduced, Jobs with Justice mobilized local labor and community organizations to contact City Council members and the mayor to solicit their support. The mayor signed the bill into law last spring.
were talking about tearing down the projects where I lived. HOPE VI was
going to tear my home down and not give a guarantee for me and the other
residents there to have any place to be. So I got involved to try to fight
We went from door to door in the Liberty Square projects, educating the people, recruiting people out of the project who wanted to struggle to save our home. We need more low-income housing, not a decrease. There’s enough people homeless already. You can’t just come into a community and interrupt it when people don’t have money to go anywhere."
Miami is the poorest city in America, with 32% of residents living in poverty and a severe shortage of affordable housing. Yet last year, county officials announced plans to demolish the 850-unit Liberty Square public housing complex and replace it with market-rate housing that would have reserved only 80 units for low-income residents. The county sought $35 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s HOPE VI program to finance its plan.
Should government tear down public housing without providing an alternative?
When LIFFT members found out their home was on the chopping block, first they got mad. Then they got on the bus—50 residents in all—and drove to Washington, DC. They persuaded the head of HOPE VI to meet with them and to hear why they couldn’t afford to lose their homes. One month later, thanks to LIFFT’s tireless advocacy, HUD turned down Miami’s proposal. Liberty Square was safe. Now LIFFT members are developing their own plan to renovate the complex.
Isn’t investing in alternatives to detention preferable to locking up more kids?
Youth Force formed the No More Youth Jails Coalition with other youth and justice organizations. They testified before the City Council, held rallies, and met with the Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice. The Coalition won its campaign this year, when the city cut $55 million of the proposed funds. It is now working to redirect the remaining $11 million to youth services and alternatives to detention.
Is it possible for low-income tenants to fight gentrification and win?
Over the past two years, with the help of the Central American Resource Center (Carecen), hundreds of area residents have avoided evictions and obtained needed repairs by forming tenants’ associations. Seven of these associations have successfully purchased their buildings from negligent landlords at far below market rates. Four more associations have been offered their buildings and are in the process of raising money. When the associations obtain their buildings, Carecen connects them with non-profit developers who rehabilitate the apartments—creating permanently affordable, quality housing for low-income families.
"The bone was not set right, so the leg was crooked. For the past 10 years I had been in more and more pain. I would go to doctors and hospitals to try to get it fixed; they all said I had arthritis, and that any other treatment would be too expensive and they couldn’t do it. They didn’t pay attention to me, they didn’t care.
Then I heard Rosalia speak in my church. She was a promatora with OCCCO. She saw the problems that I was having, and she put pressure on people to do something. She took me to a clinic. On February 27th, I had an emergency operation, and now my leg is almost 100% better."
How can low-income people get access to health care?
OCCCO took action by hiring five promatoras—health outreach workers—to help community members connect with insurance and other health services. The organization also worked with community clinics, hospitals and doctors’ associations to launch a successful ballot initiative requiring the county to spend 80% of its share of the state tobacco settlement on health care. The clinics now receive an extra $6 million a year, enabling them to expand their hours, insure an additional 1,000 children, and treat nearly 30,000 more low-income patients annually.
"Ohel Tzedek has helped me understand how to make change. It’s been a tremendous comfort to know that I don’t have to try to figure it out on my own. This is a way of learning together how to do it effectively.
To me, this is Torah in motion. It provides a kind of hope in our modern world. The past year has been so difficult. The connection with other people and the ability to actually do some things together that have benefited people is a real antidote to the despair for me. I may not be able to bring about world peace, but we can certainly make some changes in our community."
How can synagogues take social action to the next level?
Temple Israel, New England’s largest Reform synagogue, is meeting these challenges. After the congregation joined the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO), Rabbi Jonah Pesner and several lay leaders launched the Ohel Tzedek (Tent of Justice) initiative to create a sense of community, based on the pursuit of justice as a core value of the congregation.
Temple members held one-on-one meetings enabling over 800 congregants to get to know each other and identify the issues they felt passionate about. As new leaders emerged, action groups formed to tackle the most burning concerns. Ohel Tzedek has made Temple Israel a more effective partner in GBIO’s affordable housing work. It also has strengthened and unified the temple.
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