Occupy Providence, Day 80–House of Compassion

The Reason for the Protest

General Assembly, the decision-making body of Occupy Providence, meets daily in Burnside Park. Monday I was there at the invitation of Artemis Moonhawk, who has been a member of the Occupation since its beginning. In the big tent, sitting in a circle in the light of an LED lantern, about 20 members of the General Assembly heard testimony from Colleen Scanlon on the crisis at House of Compassion in Cumberland.

House of Compassion, well known to Rhode Islanders as a residence for people with HIV/AIDS, has struggled since its start. Early opposition from homeowners fearful for property values, has given way to acceptance as the residents proved themselves good neighbors. Chronic lack of funding is a more persistent problem– one that now threatens eviction for the people living there.

Water and sewer bills are due, and a basement fire destroyed their furnace leaving the house without central heat.

There was no money to spare. In a time of budget cuts and competition for resources, a small program is at a disadvantage. House of Compassion has struggled to find funding. The AIDS crisis that sparked its founding has become one of chronic disease management. The housing crisis that threatens many who are one accident or illness away from missing the rent has worsened year by year.

Scanlon, the non-profit organization’s Executive Director, came to Occupy Providence to ask for support in bringing public attention to the crisis. She estimates the residence will need $16,000 in the next three months to buy a new furnace and pay the bills.

Artemis spoke of her time working for the House of Compassion, “I worked there for over ten years, saw twenty-seven people pass away. I’m not going to see it go under for a sewer bill.”

The General Assembly debated whether to extend the Occupation beyond Providence. The philosophy, scope and strategy of Occupy was debated. Sending people and resources to Northern Rhode Island will require the time and energy of people who have sustained the community at Burnside Park. In the end, the vote was 21-0, a unanimous, ‘yes’.

Said Jarod, “Fighting eviction–this is unquestionably an issue of the 99%. They spend a million dollars on one bomb, and we have folks being threatened over a few thousand dollars.”

Ten people call House of Compassion home. Ms.Scanlon is looking to a combination of state grants, some relief from the Cumberland Water Board, and private donations from businesses and individuals.

House of Compassion, she says “was recognized in 2003 all over the country as a model of care.

House of Compassion was warmly praised in 2007 in a State House ceremony…

STATE HOUSE: House Majority Leader Gordon D. Fox and Rep. Richard W. Singleton this week presented a $10,000 legislative grant to the House of Compassion, a Cumberland home for men and women with HIV and AIDS.

The grant will help defray operating expenses for the home, which operates out of a historic house on Cumberland’s Mendon Road.

‘I have profound respect for the work of the House of Compassion. Many people suffering from AIDS or HIV struggle with housing and medical treatment. This organization not only helps them with their physical needs, it gives them a supportive home environment filled with people who understand what they’re going through,’ said Majority Leader Fox (D-Dist. 4) of Providence.

‘I’m honored to be able to deliver this grant to the House of Compassion,’ said Representative Singleton, a Republican who represents District 52 in Cumberland. ‘The House of Compassion is a very worthy organization that helps people who often don’t have anyone else. I’m proud that they call Cumberland home, and I wish them continued success.’

Now the success of this small but vital resource is threatened by budget cuts and the need for emergency repair of the house heating system.

Occupy Providence was never about tents in Burnside Park, it’s about throwing light on the pain that so many suffer alone. It’s about bringing people together to recognize our common claim to economic justice, affordable health care and housing. People gather and stay in the park in the cold, bringing attention to the crisis of homelessness that we have come to accept as normal.

The Occupation is expanding. Occupy Providence will stand with the House of Compassion for decent and dignified housing for all.

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