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DESPERATE TIMES

Cyril Josh Barker | 4/12/2011, 4:34 p.m.
Activists feed the hungry masses outside Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State office building in Harlem. (Karl Crutchfield photo)

Several homeless people in Harlem made camp once again at the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building, holding a sleep out to protest against the city's high rate of homelessness. The small group spent most of early Saturday morning and early afternoon in front of the state office building plaza, led by homeless activist Arafa Speaks.

Speaks and Willie Walker of the office of general services for the state office building came together to bring community awareness about the seriousness of homelessness in the Black community. Speaks held the sleep out in response to last week's sleep out by Bronx-based homeless advocate group Picture the Homeless. While Speaks said that last week's effort was good, she feels that homeless people were not involved well enough in the process. "Picture the Homeless is not for homeless people," she said. "They were not at all prepared for the cold weather because they didn't have enough blankets and there was nowhere nearby to use the restroom. The homeless were not involved well enough in that event. People are always saying that they are doing good things for the homeless, but the homeless never prosper." Picture the Homeless held a sleep out on October 2 in response to the recent $700 billion bailout.

Nearly 50 people, including some children, slept outside to provide the city with a preview of what could happen as a result of mass homelessness in New York. Speaks accused the organization's event of not being completely geared towards the homeless because many participants had places to live.

Saturday's event wrapped up with a free breakfast for the homeless and supporters. Fishers of Men and Manna's Restaurant donated the food. Clothing was also given away at the event by the state office building. Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building Superintendent Walker invited Speaks to meet with him after they met at a health fair and wanted to help. Money for the event, he said, came from Cong. Charlie Rangel, Assemb. Keith Wright and Councilwoman Inez Dickens. Money also came from Walker's own pocket. "When I heard about this issue, I immediately wanted to give support," he said. "This a very serious issue that needs to be addressed and everyone needs to put their recourses together to eliminate this problem. This was a day of giving back to the community, but also giving back dignity." Speaks has been an advocate for the homeless since she became homeless after her mother died over 15 years ago. Speaks is looking for Black leaders like presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to address the issue of homelessness in the Black community. She has also started "Enlightenment Magazine," a publication about homeless issues.