Willy McQueen, 75, stood on the edge of the "story circle" set up outside the Stephen P. Clark government center, last night. McQueen, who grew up on a bean farm in Boca Raton, leaned his stout torso against an incomplete lamp post near the building's exterior fountain and gazed through a pair of yellowed eyes at the gathering of 50 or so protesters. He wore a red baseball cap and a torn black t-shirt with a paper "security" sign stapled to the front and back.
A microphone was passed from poor woman to poor woman, who told tales of destitute life in the Magic City. One mother's children had been pulled into foster care because she could not pay her rent, another's slept on a kitchen floor in her efficiency. Still another mother of two was now homeless and living out of her car. Their proposed solution (a $200 million boost to the low-income housing efforts) calls for nearly twenty times what the county commission is considering. Some of the speakers raged about the broken promises (housing vouchers, swift relocation) told to them following their expulsion from the Scott/Carver projects.
McQueen shook his head. "Anybody'll lie to you will lie on you," he said flashing a gummy grin under his trim white mustache. When asked if he thought the $200 million would be provided by the commission, McQueen seemed skeptical. "You can't make a crab walk straight," he said, hooking his thumb towards the towering Government building behind him. "I call them crabs."
McQueen came to Hialeah in the '50s to work a moonshine still. Since then, he's gotten by as a roofer. Though he has his own apartment in Brickell, McQueen says he started volunteering with a grassroots organization, Low Income Families Fighting Together (LIFFT) about a month ago. He'd grown tired of seeing how people were living out on the street.
The tales told near the tent encampment have become all too familiar. The camp- out event was meant to draw unified support from the city during one of the best-publicized tragic scandals in recent Miami history. Though the turnout consisted mainly of those affected by the swindle.
And they were mad.
"They want us to lose those houses," hissed Carol Young, a former Scott/Carver resident who had been turned out of the housing project with nowhere to go. "They want to push us farther and farther back to Alabama and Georgia so they can do what they want with that land." Other speakers described chilling pictures of gross wealth in the face of their poverty. "They took away our Scott Project and drive by it every day in their fancy cars while we sufferin," thundered Caprice Brown, who is currently without a place to call home.
A small pocket of local religious leaders passed through. Pastor Dennis M. Jackson of New Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Liberty City wondered why there wasn't a more significant turnout from the community's pastors. "They're the ones who control the voting base," he said, as Yvonne Stratford of LIFFT marveled on the microphone at Comissioner Rolle's re-election. "We put him in there again," she cried indignantly. "He shouldn't have been in there in the first place."
Those who got behind the poor yesterday night were mostly poor. Brian Carter, a middle-aged Vietnam Veteran sat on a folding chair amidst the nearly deserted encampment at nine a.m. this morning. Carter had had a long night, sleeping on a pair of cardboard mats amidst the damp grass. "I was homeless one time," Carter remarked with a smile. "It was nice to re-live a fond memory but I don't want to do it again."
McQueen kept watch over the tent enclosure all night, grabbing only a couple hours of sleep when he could.
Of the fifty or so people who'd stayed the night only six or so remained by 9:15. Some had gone off to shower, some of the leaders were meeting, and others had taken a 4:30 a.m. shuttle back home so they could go to work. -Calvin Godfrey