All over the country, homeless populations are increasingly finding a version of shelter at Occupy Wall Street sites. It’s a union that some demonstrators see as problematic — after all, the optics of shopping carts piled high with worldly possessions and the clearly homeless sleeping on available free tarps aren’t great for the movement’s already-under-fire public image. As New York OWS organizer Hero Vincent explained to the Times, “It’s bad for most of us who came here to build a movement. We didn’t come here to start a recovery institution.” One estimate puts the homeless contingents as high as 30 percent at some protests — that’s just measuring the chronically indigent (many protestors have temporarily revoked leases and quit jobs).
Here in New York and elsewhere across the country, there have been complaints of drinking and fighting instigated by homeless people (some of whom are dealing with untreated mental illness) who have glommed onto the protests as a place for company, free food, and more creature comforts than are found elsewhere on the street. It’s a cause for concern for many organizers, who worry that it makes potential participants feel unsafe. But not everyone thinks it’s a problematic fit. After all, the homeless are certainly part of the 99 percent.