An Experiment and a Protest in Shantytown for Homeless

Sometimes we wonder if we are living in the 1930’s instead of the unnamed first decade of the 21st century. Of course, similar situations exist in NJ. Please share your comments?

January 16, 2007

An Experiment and a Protest in Shantytown for Homeless


MIAMI, Jan. 15 When an emaciated, gray-haired woman staggered into the ragtag encampment complaining of a toothache the other day, Eugene Simpkins fed her peanut butter sandwiches from the communal kitchen and fetched her aspirin from the makeshift medicine cabinet.

As night fell, the woman slept on a urine-stained couch, while Mr. Simpkins fried batches of cornmeal-dusted fish over a campfire. He pointed out four sick people he had been tending to since joining Umoja, a settlement of formerly homeless people in the Liberty City neighborhood of Miami, last month.

I know someday Ill be old like her, said Mr. Simpkins, 43, who said he was an ordained Baptist minister and had lately been serving as Umojas unofficial cook. I just hope that when that day comes, there will be someone to take care of me.

With 16 huts cobbled together from plywood, discarded closet doors and cardboard, Umoja is a shantytown in the shadow of the biggest construction boom Miami has seen since the 1920s. Started in October by an advocate for low-income housing, it is part social protest and part social experiment, with nightly meetings where decisions on whether to evict people or how to split up chores are determined by consensus.

Most of the 40 residents said they had been sleeping on the streets before moving into Umojas colorful shacks. The eyesore has become a warm community, with a resident poet entertaining regularly, and has won over some neighbors, including those who now bring by homemade sweet potato pies, despite previous complaints about trash and noise.

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