Homeless people get organized—and radical

In Tacoma, Minneapolis, and elsewhere, people without housing have taken over buildings.

Less than a week before Thanksgiving, a time of year when nighttime temperatures can dip to 40 or even 30 degrees, housing activists and homeless residents of Tacoma, Washington, took over a long-abandoned middle school building with the aim of turning it into emergency pandemic housing for the most vulnerable members of the community.

The group, called Tacoma Housing Now, brought along electricians and construction workers to do repairs on the building and make it inhabitable, along with a licensed physician and mental health counselor to provide care for the new occupants.

Two unhoused people had died of exposure in the previous week, activists said, including a 68-year-old man in a wheelchair. With the city’s homeless shelters full and warming centers closed on many nights, being indoors as winter set in was a matter of life or death, they argued, and amid the deadly third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, when hospitalizations and deaths skyrocketed, an issue of public health.