“We have the techniques and resources to get rid of poverty.  The real question is whether we have the will.”
-Martin Luther King Jr.

By Sandy Perry

Over 100 students and community members gathered on April 9 at UC Merced at a forum called “Abolishing Homelessness”, organized by UC faculty and leaders of the California Central Valley Journey for Justice.

The highlight of the day was the honoring of Bernice Gonzalez and Joseph Edwards. The two of them were sleeping under a bridge by Merced’s Bear Creek last December 17 when a car carrying four college students careened off the road and into the water. Bernice and Joseph saved the lives of all four of them by diving repeatedly into the icy water until all were pulled to safety.

Other highlights included a powerful presentation with a host of photographs by Community Alliance journalist Mike Rhodes on the homelessness crisis in Fresno. Among the numerous other panelists, break out sessions, and testimonies, the presence of Tenants Together leaders was especially notable. They are currently organizing foreclosed tenants in Merced to understand and demand their rights. They accurately pointed out that defending tenants against eviction is the first line of defense against homelessness.

The importance of the event was signified by the fact that noted former Bush administration homelessness consultant Philip F. Mangano appeared. He apparently felt it was necessary attempt to defend his dubious record of “Ten Year Plans” to end homelessness. As leaders from Fresno, Sacramento, and San Jose all pointed out at the forum, the problem with the Ten Year Plans was that invariably the cities that adopted them experience not an end to homelessness, but an INCREASE with every passing year.

Using clever innuendo, Mangano was highly critical of most of the people in the room, blaming them for “haranguing” and “lambasting” government and for wasting their time expressing moral outrage against homelessness. Falsifying the history of the abolitionists, suffragists, and civil rights leaders, Mangano claimed that the lessons of these movements teach us that the way to get results is by “cooperating with government”.

The problem is that it is the government itself that is creating homelessness, and more and more of it every day. Wall Street continues to sabotage our economy with “financial weapons of mass destruction” and government is aiding and abetting them in the crime by enacting the policies to make it happen. Who can believe Mangano when there are FEWER JOBS and FEWER HOMES for the homeless now than there were then, when he started out in the Bush administration to allegedly “end homelessness” in 2002?

The answer is not to cooperate with government but to organize to REPLACE the government with a real, legitimate one – of the people, by the people, and for the people. It has been done before, it can be done again. The people need jobs and housing NOW!


The Reclaiming the Right to Housing event is just one example of what the CA PPEHRC is all about: uniting across color and class lines in order to build a broad movement to abolish poverty. Over the last decade, the Women’s Economic Agenda Project (WEAP) has worked alongside CHAM, St. Mary's, Journey for Justice, organized labor, and others in building local Poor People's Economic Human Rights Committees throughout California. PPEHRC’s vision of a world without poverty, where people are valued for their contributions regardless of their income, has touched the imagination of political activists, students, working people, unions, and churches alike in this unique campaign led by poor people.


March for our Lives – Sacramento 2004- CHAM leaders, including Sister Adrienne Lawton and Pastor Scott Wages.

Examples of other CA PPEHRC events include organized Freedom Bus Tours, marches, economic human rights tribunals, and Just Health Care trainings.  The primary goal is always to create spaces that enable people to come together for dialogue and action. The statewide Freedom Bus Tour (2000), the March for Compassion and Spiritual Renewal (2001), the March for Our Lives (2004), and the Truth Commissions on the Health Care Crisis (2006 & 2008) are just a few specific examples of how WEAP, and CA PPEHRC affiliates, have provided special opportunities to teach about our economic human rights and to establish human rights monitors throughout California. The CA PPEHRC has also collected the documentation of human rights violations of thousands throughout California.  You can document health care violations to your human rights right now by taking our new on-line health care survey here.


PPEHRC was launched in 1998 after U.S. politicians began destroying social safety net services under the pretense of “welfare reform”. The Pennsylvania-based Kensington Welfare Rights Union brought together more than 50 organizations from around the country to form the national Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign.  The Campaign picks up where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left off when he shifted his focus from civil rights to economic rights the year before his Poor People's Campaign of 1968.  PPEHRC’s Economic Human Rights Campaign is also rooted in the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, particularly articles 19, 23, 25 and 26.  Article 25 is one of the most comprehensive, stating:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

These documents, endorsed by the United States, set international human rights guidelines for meeting basic needs.  PPEHRC is always striving to advance people’s economic human rights, including food, housing, health care, education, communication, and a living wage job.  In 1998, PPEHRC conducted the first New Freedom Bus Tour: Freedom from Unemployment, Hunger and Homelessness.  In October 1999, PPEHRC joined with poor and homeless people from across the Americas and marched from Washington, D.C. to the United Nations in New York City and submitted a petition to the United Nations charging that welfare reform is a violation of our human rights.  Since then, dozens of organizations have joined.  We encourage you to join by embracing the PPEHRC mission and endorsing or forming a committee in your home town.

United we can win the hearts and minds of the American people, so that no man, woman, or child ever goes without food, shelter, clothing, medical care, treatment for addiction, education, or a living wage.

WEAP and CHAM members leading a teach-in on Health Care: A Human RIght at the 2008 March for our Lives' Bushville in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Credit: Heather McLaughlin


  • Collect documentation of Economic Human Rights Violations.  This documentation is essential to the growth of our awareness that these rights are violated daily. Through documentation, we not only collect evidence of violations but we also educate those around us on their rights as spelled out in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  • Frame your local battles in terms of economic human rights.  If you are engaged in local battles over housing, health care, a living wage, or any other economic human rights issue, link it to the broader movement to end poverty in the US. This wider vision keeps us clear on our long-term goals as we engage in our local battles. This way we can articulate what we are for not only what we are fighting against.
  • Protest that poverty is an economic human rights violation.  We need to let people know that they are not alone.  Protesting is a fundamental way to convey that message. We must join together because we know that we will only get what we are organized to take.
  • Get to know the Campaigns for Economic Justice.  Sponsor and organize a "Just Health Care" training or one on Free Higher Education, a Living Wage, or Housing as a Human Right. These campaigns not only assess the problem, but also offer workable solutions to poor and working people's problems.
  • Educate about economic human rights. We need to refocus our goal from managing poverty to eliminating poverty. The more we know about our world the more effective Freedom Fighters we will become. Form your own education group for internal and external education.

Keep up with these websites and contact members of the Campaign to learn more: