- The Washington Times - Friday, November 24, 2000

Nadine Brown has a group of activists to thank for finding her a new home at least for now.
Homes Not Jails, which commandeers vacant houses in the District of Columbia and fixes them up for homeless families, took down plywood over the front door of 1959 H St. NE yesterday and began making the place livable.
Mrs. Brown a 31-year-old single mother of three whose federal housing voucher expires Sunday simply cried with happiness, thanking and hugging her new friends.
None of the activists disputes the fact that the takeover of the house is illegal. But housing is a human right, they say, that trumps the ownership of a neglectful landlord whether it's a private citizen or government agency.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development owns the house, according to the activists, who say they are doing the federal government a favor by moving Mrs. Brown in and fixing the place up.
Homes Not Jails calls itself "a direct-action housing advocacy movement" and says its members conduct nonviolent civil disobedience to achieve their ends.
This crusading crew has run afoul of the law before.
In July, the D.C. police and fire departments kicked them out of an abandoned home in Columbia Heights and arrested three persons who refused to leave, charging them with "illegal presence," a misdemeanor with a $25 fine.
This time, members say they have researched their rights and have an unnamed legal trick up their sleeve to get around a probable declaration by a fire marshal that the house is unsafe.
"D.C. isn't providing the services people need. Housing is a right," said Kate Loewe, a member of Homes Not Jails.
The volunteers said they will stay in the house 24 hours a day working and sleeping in shifts until the government turns it over to Mrs. Brown or authorities expel them.
No one from the police department had inquired about their activities as of 6 p.m., but a few cruisers slowly drove by throughout the day.
The group started with about 20 persons in the morning, and about a half-dozen were still there at 6 p.m.
Mrs. Brown said yesterday evening she will work through the night with the group.
Some neighbors in Columbia Heights were upset in July when Homes Not Jails arrived unannounced and began work on a vacant house. So activists went out of their way yesterday to introduce themselves to neighbors, explain their actions and hand out informational fliers.
The strategy seemed to work.
Glen Redman, 50, who lives around the corner on 21st Street NE, looked over a flier and commented, "I think that's nice."
"Yeah, fix it up. Somebody needs the house," said Marilyn Wheaton, a lifelong resident of the Kingman Park area. She was curious about the 20 or so mostly white activists in her predominantly black neighborhood.
"Everybody has the right to live in decent, affordable housing," she said.
She told the activists: "I just think this is a good gesture. I just pray to God that this works out for you people helping somebody in need."
Mrs. Brown and her family have lived in the homes of friends and relatives for several years.
The agencies that are supposed to help her have failed, she said.
"I want to better myself. I want to go to college. But without a stable home it's hard, it's stressful," she said. "I need permanent housing so I can function. I'm trying to find a job that pays enough to make it."
Mrs. Brown's transitional housing in Marshal Heights is infested with rodents and has mildew.
Mrs. Brown holds a housing voucher from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but was told the waiting list is 10 years long.
She said she asked for help, to no avail, at the offices of Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Carolyn Graham, deputy mayor for children, youth and families.
Mrs. Brown didn't know what to do next, and then saw a sign for Homes Not Jails. She called, had lunch with organizer Jennifer Kirby, and the plan was set for Thanksgiving.
Yesterday, about 20 members met at 17th Street and Benning Road in Northeast and began a march to the house, chanting slogans like, "D.C., house your people. Say what? House your people."
They brought paint, Spackle and tools to fix up the house, which has Sheetrock walls and no utilities.
They munched on bagels, donuts and vegetables. Someone brought a large bag of rice, but there was no way to cook it because there are no kitchen appliances.
By dusk, the activists had made some progress. They put a wooden board over a gap in the front porch's railing, cleaned up some trash and stabilized the wooden steps to the basement.
Cardell Shelton, 75, was using an ax to chop out old electrical wiring in the basement.
"I only want secure and stable housing for my children," said Mrs. Brown, holding the hand of her 2-year-old son, Nathaniel. "I really got to thank these people. I've been getting support from all of them."

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