‘On the bus’ with Hospitality House | TheUnion.com

‘On the bus’ with Hospitality House

“I haven’t done this since I protested the war,” Joanna Robinson confided as we began marching down Market Street in San Francisco.

“Which one?” I asked.


“Vietnam,” I confessed.

The last time I participated in a protest march in San Francisco was in 1969, and there were about 100,000 of us then.

Wednesday, Jan 20, there were maybe, at best, a couple thousand of us. But it still felt the same: lots of passion, lots of police, lots of solidarity.

This time, we were marching for homeless rights and affordable housing.

And it rained on our parade – but that only served to prove our point: How do you get out of the rain when you’re homeless?

A few weeks ago, Robinson, one of the founders of Grass Valley’s Hospitality House homeless shelter, asked volunteers to attend a “Homelessness Ends with a Home” action rally and march in San Francisco.

The rally was sponsored by the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), a coalition of West Coast social justice organizations based in San Francisco, and ranging from San Diego to Seattle.

It turned out we couldn’t fill a bus (which has a tendency to break down anyway), but we crammed 14 people into a Salvation Army van for the windblown, rainy trip down the hill.

Besides Robinson, Hospitality House volunteers Susanna Wilson, Doug Lautzenhiser and his 11-year-old son, Samuel, and I made the trip. Two community members, Gregg Weaver of Nevada City and Joy Song of Grass Valley, had also responded to Robinson’s request on KVMR.

Six Hospitality House guests – Richard, Vadi, Mike, Tom, Bill and Chris – joined us.

Our intrepid and relentlessly cheerful driver Linzi Von Stockhausen stayed with our getaway vehicle.

When we got out of the van at the Embarcadero, we found a small but rousing rally in progress.

Fiery, radical speakers from L.A., Oakland, Portland, Fresno, San Jose, Sacramento, San Francisco and even Philadelphia railed against the criminalization of poverty and cutbacks in affordable housing funds.

Manufactured “House keys not handcuffs” signs were everywhere along with other homemade, rain-streaked signs that read things like: “Being poor is not a crime.”

As we marched, we unfurled our modest little Hospitality House banner – and were pleasantly surprised at how welcome we were at this “big city” protest.

We, apparently, validated that homelessness is not just an urban problem.

Even the U.N. agrees. Raquel Rolnik, the U.N. special rapporteur for the right to adequate housing, said in a preliminary report last year that it is shameful that the U.S. is not spending more money on alleviating homelessness and providing affordable housing. 

As far as protest marches go, this one was not for the history books. If there was any news coverage, I couldn’t find it.

In the days after, I talked with Vadi, Mike and Roger. They all agreed they had fun – and as homeless people, they were proud to have joined the march

“I’m happy,” Robinson told me later. “We were empowered by taking action.”

When called to action, Robinson has a simple philosophy: “One goes because one must.”

Tom Durkin is a freelance writer based in Nevada City. He has been homeless in the past and is current a volunteer overnight monitor at Hospitality House and serves on the grant and outreach committees. He can be reached at tdurkin@vfr.net.

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