“We Are Not Accidentally Homeless; We Are Being Oppressed”: KC Homeless Union Speaks Out Against City Eviction Threat

Brynn Fitzsimmons

4/1/2021- Kansas City, Missouri

Tiana Caldwell, a leader with KC Tenants, speaks to attendees of Thursday’s rally in support of the Kansas City Homeless Union. The rally was a joint event between KC Tenants and the union. Union leaders, including Qadhafi (right) said the occupation would not end in spite of eviction and arrest threats from the city.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

The Kansas City Homeless Union, which has been occupying the grounds outside City Hall in Kansas City, Missouri since the end of January, was given written notice that they must vacate the camp. Union leaders said they are expecting the sweep to happen early Monday morning, and are asking the community to come support them.

However, the group also said they will not be leaving. Their demands—for homes, jobs, water and a seat at the table—have not been met.

“Y'all keep putting us outside, from under bridges, but y'all not giving us no place to go,” union leader Qadhafi said in a March 23 interview. “We don’t need a damn shelter; we need homes.”

“We don't benefit from people going giving shelters. They shelters benefit. They get money for that. We don't get no money. We still be homeless,” he said. “Shelters is getting approximately $15 million a year…from the city,” he explained. “The private sector is getting them approximately 30 or 45 more million dollars in donations. And with all that money, and only allegedly 2,000 homeless people in Kansas City—that's a multi-million dollar industry…and the people that need it the most is not benefitting.”

The group has requested homes from the land bank as well as funds to pay houseless individuals to renovate those homes. They also demand clean water, and inclusion in conversations about houselessness in Kansas City.

“You got people think that we begging for homes, (but) we simply saying with the same money the city is already spending, and allegedly doing it on our behalf, that we could take that same money and solve the problem,” Qadhafi explained. “A shelter is only in the business of capitalizing off of us being homeless. If we take the same money that's going to shelters, we wouldn't need a shelter.”

“We demand a seat at the table where they make decisions about our lives,” Qadhafi said at a rally on Thursday, April 1. The rally was held in collaboration with KC Tenants in support of the union.

At that rally, Qadhafi explained further the ways in which the city’s response to houselessness has not addressed the problem. He discussed issues ranging from evictions that often side with landlords and lead to houselessness for residents to shelters that refuse to hire houseless people to the lack of water stations or bathroom facilities available for the houseless community, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have a right to self-determination,” he said. “We have a right to simply use the bathroom like regular people, not outside like animals.”

Despite various city initiatives, including Mayor Quinton Lucas’ Homelessness Taskforce, Qadhafi said the union’s demands are still not being met.

“Our city officials is not on our side. We are fighting literally for our lives,” he said. “If our city officials were on our side, we wouldn’t have a fight; we would have homes.”

“Every day out here is an act of terror,” he said. “We are not accidentally homeless; we are being oppressed.”

Unhoused leaders share their experiences

Union leader Lulu Livingston also spoke at Thursday’s rally, explaining that she became houseless when she had her identity stolen. She said the police department dismissed her report, and she’s been houseless since.

“I’m tired of being afraid all the time,” she said. “I want a home. I want a job. I want access to clean water. And if I want that, I need a seat at the table.”

Livingston said people often judge the houseless community for trying to survive. For example, she said housed members of the community will see discarded clothes and assume a lack of cleanliness, when in reality, Livingston said there often are no other options.

“When it starts to rain, you panic for just that split second when you realize there’s no safe place to get out of the rain,” she said. When items like clothing6 get wet, she said they’re often too heavy to carry, and she has no option but to discard them.

“From my point of view, I have no choice. From their (housed individuals’) point of view, I’m just a slob,” she said.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (left) talks with Kansas City Homeless Union leader Qadhafi (right) during a tour of the union’s occupation of Kansas City, Missouri City Hall on Thursday, April 1.

Photo by Andrei Stoica

Supporting members

Qadhafi explained that while the occupation is a political strategy aimed at forcing the city to meaningfully address houselessness in Kansas City and do so on the terms of the houseless community, the union has also worked to support its members in other ways.

He said he was recently able to help get shelter for a family with three young children who had been staying at the occupation but needed better shelter.

“I asked them about going to a shelter yesterday and they panicked,” he said. “Because for whatever reason, people don’t want those type of people in they business, because they try to take control of their lives and tell them what, when, where, how or ‘we'll take your kids,’ and people are in fear of going to shelters.”

“People need homes, not people prying into their business for being homeless,” he said. “They don't want their kids took from them, just because they're homeless.”

Other union members also spoke during Thursday’s rally about the sense of community within the union.

“We love each other. That’s how we are a union,” said union member Elijah X, who is also a leader with KC Tenants. “This is more than just a union.”

“This homeless union is a body of people that care,” said Solo, another union member. “I’d like to let the city know we’re not going nowhere. We’re already outside!”

Support for the union

Qadhafi said the union needs the support of the Kansas City community—of residents who can put both their resources and their vote behind the union.

“I’m asking the people that’s here to get our back,” he said at Thursday’s rally.

In addition to asking the community to show up in solidarity early Monday morning (especially before 7 a.m.), the union is also taking donations via their CashApp, $hugyohood. Other donations and support can be coordinated by reaching out through their Facebook page.

Published on: 4/4/2021