[Hpn] HPN QUESTIONS from Catholic New Times reporter - listworker Tom's answers answers

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Fri, 22 Sep 2000 09:40:06 -0700 (PDT)

HPN listmembers, please also EAMIL YOUR ANSWERS NOW to the reporter's 5
questions below about HPN list.  Her writing deadline at New Catholic Times
in Toronto is today, Friday.


Hi, Sabitri:  Below, find my "initial answers" to your questions about HPN

1) When did the Homeless People's Network start and what is the story
behind it?

When Global Homeless Discussion list announced around May, 1997 that in a
few days it would shut down for the summer, I posted online a call for the
formation of a list for "homeless and formerly homeless people ONLY".  A
number of us on that list agreed that we who had "been there" needed a safe
space online to define ourselves in our own terms, outside of the "personal
deficit" model which blamed us for homelessness.  Clearly (to me) the
incidence of homelessness tracks "social factors" well beyond personal
conrtrol -- "wages and rents", for instance.

HPN was launched with about 20 subscribers the following September.  (We
now have 139 subscribers, having grown a great deal in three years.)  Sandy
Andrews of ASU secured us a Web Site at Ariaona State University, where she
is a Ph.D. candidate (in Communications Technology, as I recall).  A little
over a month later, and about 1000 posts into our effort, we began
Archiving posts.  We have now archived about 9000 articles.

Many HPN listmembers are affiliated with homeless-run organizations, street
newspapers and activist groups.  So HPN helps such efforts to trade tips.

2) How did you see the Internet as a potential tool for homeless people?

I'll leave that for now to others to answer in detail.  My other answers
here addresss this question somewhat..

3-A) What function do you think the HPN serves for its subscribers?

We exchange news and organizing tips, mainly.  We also form friendships.
For example, I and other HPN subscribers have had the joy of eventually
meeting some face-to-face, mainly at conferences on homelessness, media and

Also, HPN has helped us to address issues which politicians and nonprofits
would rather not notice -- the criminalization of poverty and drugs, police
brutality and sweeps of homeless people from business districts, to cite

The willing blindness of service providers to social exclusion and
systematic injustice is driven by the need to protect funds and jobs for
providers.  With public-private joint ventures, prviders don't want to
offend their major sources of funds -- government and businesses.  How can
you criticize "business as usual" -- even in behalf of your so-called
"homeless clients" -- when your real clients are your funders?  You can't.

In the business of ending homelessness, the power of consumers -- to
purchase services or not -- does not lie with homeless people.  We are
virtually powerless to affect the design of programs addressing our
so-called "needs" -- unless we unite to _insist_ on a role in public policy.

If we let providers or anyone else pick "token" homeless representatives,
we won't get much change in policy.  Those hand-picked by our so-caled
"helpers" will be those who say "yeah, I was a sick whore addict until
Program X set me on the path to earning my own way, so give providers more
funds (to control our lives in behalf of the power elite)".

So if we "been homeless" folks are to get any power in relation to civic
desisions affecting us, we need to choose our own representatives.  To that
end, it helps us to go online together to discover and reclaim our own

Those who would lord over us as our helpers have stolen our voices,
speaking for us without our consent.  In a real democracy, we would have
our own place at the table where people make policy.  Our voices on HPN I
hope contribute to that end of civic inclusion.

3-B) What about non-subscribers who view the postings: do you have any
sense of what they're getting out of it?

HPN has no mechanism (yet) for tracking who visits our site, so I'm only
guessing.  However, many nonsubscribers have emailed me with encouragement
and requests for information and help.  Sometimes homeless people in dire
straights email me or other listmembers to ask for personal help.

4) Had you any hopes of being able to mobilize concerted political action
on homeless issues and have you yet?

To "mobilize concerted political action on homeless issues" is a goal which
I _devoutly_ hope that HPN list advances.  Yet, as listworker, I'd rather
be the "switchboard operator" who enables folks to do this in ways which
_they_ (not me) choose.

I will not speak for other homeless people (unless asked), Personally, I
think that homeless and poor people in the USA, Canada and largely
wordwide, are a Subject Population under Domestic Colonialism, in which
those with more wealth and power Lord over us as if they are our betters.
They presume to define what we "need" as services or policing from them --
which keeps them in jobs, and us under their control.  Is this what
democracy looks like?

While there is no way to measure to what extent HPN helps mobilize homeless
activists, I find it comforting to imagine we have helped.  I think we have
by the organizing tips and news which we've exchanged daily -- at about 10
posts a day average -- for three years.

5) Do you know for sure that the subscribers are/were homeless?

I ask everyone who asks to subscribe.  If they say they have been homeless
or are homeless now, I take their word for it.  In almost all cases, I
think my trust is well founded.  Because only homeless and ex-homeless
people can subscribe, we eliminate much of the "bash the homeless"
mentality you might see on other online discussions related to homelessness.

I hope my initial answers to your questions help you to meet your writing
deadline, Sabitri.  Thanks for spreading word about us.  And please let me
know how else I can help.

Seeking peaceful means to homeless peoples' aims. -- Tom Boland, HPN

8000+ articles by or via homeless & ex-homeless people
INFO & to join/leave list - Tom Boland <wgcp@earthlink.net>
Nothing About Us Without Us - Democratize Public Policy