Sunday, January 21

Umoja: American Shantytown

It's resident's call it Umoja, the Swahili word for "unity" / the city of Miami calls it an illegal eyesore. Brainchild of activist Max Rameau, Umoja is part protest and part experiment. It's existence is a response to the growing housing crisis in Miami. A recent New York Times article reports that the Miami-Dade County planning department estimates Miami will need 294,200 new housing units by 2025, 42 percent of them for 'very low- or low-income households.

The shantytown has successfully fought for the right to exist using a 1998 federal district court ruling that says Miami can not criminalize homeless people for conducting “life-sustaining acts” including eating, sleeping, lighting a fire and building temporary structures on public land if local shelters were filled. Max keeps a blog documenting the project called Take Back the Land.

The small plot of public land is located in Liberty City, a neighborhood of Miami. The video below shows a makeshift city made up of about 16 structures. About 40 formerly homeless people call this place home. At Umoja they are off the streets; sleeping under a roof, cooking and eating with their neighbors, and taking care of each other when sick.

It seems the city has conceded for now:

The city commissioner who represents the area, Michelle Spence-Jones, had tried to shut the settlement down with an ordinance to require a permit for gatherings on public land. But after several visits to Umoja, she withdrew the ordinance and instead promised to arrange for trash pickup at the site three times a week.

Ms. Spence-Jones stopped short, however, at the group’s request for a mailbox. “That sends a whole other message,” she said. New York Times

It will be interesting to see how this develops. If successful, Umoja could prove to be a useful model for the homeless in other cities across the US.

If interested in doing more, you could watch more Umoja videos and then show support by signing Umoja's online petition.


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Anonymous said...

The exciting new book on the Umoja Village had just been released. Take Back the Land: Land, Gentrification and the Umoja Village Shantytown is part political theory and part narrative of the process which led activists to seize public land and build a full blown shantytown right in the US.

The book is by Max Rameau, one of the Umoja Village organizers and can be purchased at: