IMPACT
03/26/2012 08:02 pm ET

'Picture The Homeless' Teaching Homeless To Break In To Vacant Buildings?

Where there are more vacant buildings than homeless people in neighborhoods of New York City, activists see a solution for people living on the streets.

Picture the Homeless, founded by homeless social justice activists, is working to transform vacant buildings and unused lots in Gotham into housing for the homeless, according to its website.

The campaign, "Housing Not Warehousing," is a traditional idea, but the way its supporters are going about developing the housing opportunities isn't quite so typical, the New York Post reports.

Two weeks ago, board member Andres Perez held a lesson on "homesteading," or gaining "control" to permanently occupy a housing unit, according to the news outlet.

“You make sure you have your proper tools. You remove the chains and padlock, and then you go in,” the Post reports him having said. "Homesteading is different than squatting in that it's permanent."

In January, Picture the Homeless and Hunter College cataloged the vacant lots and buildings, as well as the number of homeless people for one-third of the city.

The survey found that there was enough space to house almost 200,000 homeless New Yorkers in the empty lots.

"It's not like there's some law that would let that happen," Sam Miller of Picture the Homeless told the Village Voice. "This is more about changing the conversation, much the same way that Occupy Wall Street has changed the conversation. We've known for a while how many people without homes there are. Now we know how many homes without people there are too."

According to Coalition for the Homeless, there are an estimated 41,200 homeless people sleeping on New York City's streets each night, including 17,000 children. Year round, that includes more 100,000 people.

But Robin Levine, a City Council spokeswoman, questions the tactics of the organization, which has received $240,000 in taxpayer money in the last five years, according to the New York Post.

“We’re deeply troubled by reports that Picture the Homeless is instructing New Yorkers in how to engage in dangerous and illegal activities," Levine said. "If these reports are in fact true, they call the group’s entire funding into question.”

To help fight homelessness, get involved with Coalition for the Homeless.

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