Homeless Activists Sleep Outside Erik Martin Dilan’s Office Demanding Vacant Building Survey


“We always pick rainy, cold nights for these actions,” Sam Miller pointed very early this morning on Norwood Avenue, near the Brooklyn/Queens border far out on the J train.

Indeed, though it had felt like summer just the day before, you could see your breath as about twenty members of Picture the Homeless, Organizing for Occupation (O4O), and Occupy Wall Street were camped out on the sidewalk for the night.

The assembled had been gathered since 4:00 PM in the afternoon outside City Council Member Erik Martin Dilan’s office, who is the chair of the council’s Housing and Building’s committee. They were demanding that Martin, who announced he’s running for congress last week, bring Intro 48 up in his committee.

Picture the Homeless claims that the bill, which would require that the city take an annual survey of empty and abandoned lots and buildings (with the potential of using them to end homelessness), enjoys wide support. The group says that while 10 of 15 members of the Housing and Buildings committee support Intro 48, as well as a majority of members of the council at large, Dilan is letting it languish.

As the Voice reported in January, according to a report Picture the Homeless did with Hunter College, it’s possible that the city has enough vacant properties to end homelessness. Protestors camped out in front of Dilan’s office claimed that his district is particularly flush with vacant properties, ripe for transformation to meet the city’s housing shortage.

An NYPD van sat across the intersection the whole time the Voice was visiting the campout, its occupants silently watching the proceedings. Demonstrators said Community Affairs officers had chatted with them in a non-confrontational manner, and that as long as they didn’t block the entrance of Dilan’s office or erect structures, they’d be fine on the sidewalk. Around midnight, several NYPD officers arrived to take away about half the barricades they’d left outside Dilan’s office.

Spirits were still high when the Voice left around 1:00 AM, although the group had a long way to go until their 9:00 AM press conference. Local businesses were letting the protestors use their bathroom. Several neighborhood people turned up to bring them hot food and drinks.

The crowd was an interesting mix of young activists and older people who had spent significant time dealing with homelessness and living in the city’s shelter system. Compared to the height of Occupy Wall Street, it was a modest crowd. Still, Miller said, “For a cold winter night, so far out on the subway, this is a really good turn out.”

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