Late on Friday afternoon when most folks were fighting rush-hour traffic to get home for Christmas cheer and a long holiday weekend, about 60 people paused to remember some of the often forgotten victims of Bush’s America. For the 18th year we gathered at Pauper’s Field in Tucson’s Evergreen Cemetery to remember the homeless men and women who died on the streets of Tucson during the preceding year.

The estimate was 55, maybe 60, nobody knows, nobody cares. Working people cast aside, falling through the cracks in the “safety net.”

We don’t know how many more will die this winter. Over the years we have learned that the deaths will not diminish the ranks of the homeless. Our capitalist system, headed into recession, will replace the dead with new walking dead. Some are local working people, who, like many of us, were one or two paychecks away from homelessness. An illness, an accident, or loss of job threw them out on the street. Others are folks who lost their jobs and homes in the Midwest and have headed to warmer climes for the winter.

In the 1980s Tucson had a very militant and vigorous homeless movement. I can remember many of the homeless men who marched and camped out at government buildings demanding only to be treated as human beings. Asking for basic human rights: a home, a job, decent health care, an end to hunger, and for dignity.

I remember homeless men telling our elected officials that they are not fighting for themselves, “I’ll figure out how to survive, but these children” they would say with a false bravado. They didn’t survive. Most of the homeless men I got to know in the 1980s have died. They were not old. At age 62 one can collect Social Security and have enough to pay rent. They died from lack of shelter. They were killed by cold weather and an even colder system that uses people to make profits and then throws them away.

At the December memorial we prayed and sang for our dead brothers and sisters. Speakers urged us to pressure Congress to pass the new National Housing Bill, and to attend the upcoming county board meeting where a living wage ordinance will be considered. It’s always good to be with people who not only pray, but are also actively engaged with others in the struggle for justice.

Still, something was missing. I came away full of anger at the killer. A killer of 60 in Tucson, and thousands more across our nation. A killer that slays more Americans every year than we lost in the Sept. 11 tragedy. A killer of so many of my old comrades, Abe, Eduardo, James.

Homelessness is a violent crime. The threat of homelessness terrorizes a vast section of hard working poor Americans. We must demand housing for all. Our unemployed can be put to work building homes, schools and medical clinics to treat homeless survivors. Most importantly, we must tackle the killer beast itself, our capitalist system. We need a socialist America that puts people above corporate profits. An America where housing, food, and decent jobs are a recognized right of all.

Joe Berick is a reader in Tucson, Arizona.

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