[UPDATE BELOW] Around 10:30 this morning, activists for the homeless cut through a fence and seized a vacant lot at 115th and Madison Ave in East Harlem; they say the property is owned by JPMorgan Chase, which is a "recent beneficiary of billions in taxpayer bailout money." The occupation, organized by the group Picture the Homeless, has drawn over 100 activists to the lot, and they've been busy turning it into a festive "tent village," with a casita, a stage, banners, barbeque grills, and two dozen tent structures—inspired in part by Depression-era Hoovervilles. On their blog the group says:
As the foreclosure crisis festers, Bloomberg and the banks fail us. We're not waiting around. From Miami to Sacramento to now here in NYC we take back the land! We'll stay here as long as we can, housing the homeless and providing the resources the city fails to provide. A summer breeze, corns, beans, bread, cherries, juice, tents, music, homeless people and allies. Come show you're support, we'll be here for a while!
City Room reports that two dozen police officers are observing the scene from 115th Street, and according to the group's Twitter feed they've just been given an order to disperse. One of the protesters—a disabled nurse who says she was priced out of her apartment—tells the Village Voice they'll "hold it through the week and the weekend and as many weeks as we can." And Rob Robinson, a board member of Picture the Homeless, says, "We’re waiting for our legal representative. There are a number of us who are willing to defend the space. Let’s leave it at that."
The activists are demanding that dormant properties like this one be used for affordable permanent housing, and Picture the Homeless says they're working with Councilmember Tony Avella on an "anti-warehousing" bill that would help put unused lots to good use—the Gotham Gazette has a whole lot more on that. The direct action comes as homeless shelter populations are at an all-time high and Mayor Bloomberg seeks state approval for a new set of policies intended to move families out of shelters more quickly.
UPDATE:According to the group's Twitter, 8 members of Picture the Homeless were arrested, with "more actions to come!" City Room reports that after a police sergeant told the activists that "anyone who remains on property is subject to arrest," most of them dispersed. The eight who remained were handcuffed around 5 p.m. and the lot was cleared, apparently without violence.