50,000 line up for housing aid in Detroit! LAST WEEK!

Above? 1929? LESS THAN a HUNDRED men in coffee donut line. Today, OCTOBER 2009 at the gateway to the NEW DEPRESSION? An estimated 50,000 residents of  Detroit filed into Cobo Hall convention center on Wednesday seeking assistance to pay utility bills and keep from being evicted from their homes. City officials, who expected  around 3,000 people to apply for the aid, were overwhelmed by the turnout. In a scene reminiscent of the crowds of jobless workers who lined up for free soup during the Great Depression, a queue of tens of thousands of workers and unemployed people wound around the downtown  arena. Young mothers pushing baby carriages, disabled workers in wheelchairs, senior citizens and throngs of young workers and youth stood for hours waiting. Many had slept on the streets the previous evening to  be the first served.
     Several people fainted during the wait and were treated by medical personnel on the scene. By 11:30 a.m.,
     Detroit’s mayor, David Bing, made a public appeal for citizens to stop coming to Cobo Hall. Hundreds of
     police, including officers from Detroit’s special Gang Unit, stood guard at the entrances to hold back the
     crowd.

     Several people were reportedly injured in the rush to enter the building after the police finally opened the
     doors around noon. Those in line were funneled through the glass doors and quickly sped toward a table
     where they were handed applications and told they had to fill them out and deposit them in boxes before a 2
     p.m. deadline.

     Wednesday was the last day for residents to apply for the city’s Homeless Prevention and Rapid
     Re-Housing Program (HPRP). The program, funded by a $15.2 million grant from the Obama
     administration's stimulus program, will provide assistance to only about 3,400 people, according to
     Constance Bell, a spokesperson for the program. In addition to the 50,000 applications given out
     Wednesday, an additional 30,000 were distributed previously, Bell said. This means that only about one out
     of 23 people who applied will see any money.

     The large turnout was based on fast-spreading rumors that the city was providing $3,000 to low-income
     families in need of aid. Such is the level of economic desperation in the city—where the official jobless rate is
     29 percent and more than one-third of the population lives below the official poverty line—that tens of
     thousands showed up.

     The vast majority will not qualify for the aid, the city spokesperson admitted. The HPRP program only
     provides temporary assistance to pay utility bills for those who are already homeless or facing pending
     evictions or foreclosures. Moreover, it will be paid only to those who are able to keep up their housing
     payments after receiving the aid. No money will be used to make mortgage payments.

     Rather than informing those who showed up that their efforts were likely to be in vain, city officials continued
     to hand out and collect applications for the program. Their overwhelming concern was to prevent an angry
     outburst from people who had suffered the indignity of waiting for hours and being manhandled by the cops.

     The lack of preparation and disorganization at the event is an indication of how distant government officials
     are from the reality confronting the working class and the extent of the social crisis. The 80,000 households
     that applied for assistance represent roughly a third of the city’s population.

     The real jobless rate in Detroit is much higher than the official figure of 29 percent, due to the tens of
     thousands who have given up looking for nonexistent jobs. This crisis has been exacerbated by the forced
     bankruptcies and restructuring of General Motors and Chrysler by the Obama administration, which, with the
     support of the United Auto Workers, destroyed thousands of jobs and slashed the wages and benefits of
     auto workers and retirees.

     Particularly striking were the thousands of young workers lining up for assistance. Thirty years ago, a large
     number of these young people would have been employed in city’s many auto factories. Since 1970,
     however, the city has lost three-quarters of its manufacturing jobs, wiping out the jobs of 250,000 workers.
     Today, there is nothing but low-paying jobs for young workers, without the slightest economic security.

     Last month, tens of thousands of workers lined up at the state fair grounds in Detroit after the regional gas
     and electric company, DTE Energy, announced it was offering help to distressed homeowners and renters.
     According to a report last month in the Detroit News, Michigan’s two largest power companies, DTE
     Energy and Consumers Energy, last year cut off heating to a total of 181,000 customers. DTE has already
     shut off energy to 115,000 households, a pace that will far surpass last year’s 142,000 cutoffs.

     Detroit—which used to boast one of the highest rates of home ownership in the nation--had the top home
     foreclosure rate in 2006 and 2007, and still ranks among the highest in the US.

     Detroit’s economic decline has been long in the making. The living standards won by auto workers gave the
     Motor City the highest per capita income in the nation in the 1950s. The last three decades, beginning with
     the Chrysler bailout of 1979-80, has seen an unrelenting assault on the working class by big business and the
     government, culminating in Obama’s restructuring of GM and Chrysler. The deindustrialization of Detroit was
     symbolic of the shift by American capitalism from manufacturing to the most parasitic forms of financial
     speculation.

     At 15.2 percent, the state of Michigan has the highest unemployment rate in the US. Over the past decade,
     as the auto industry was downsized, Michigan lost 870,000 jobs. The number is expected to rise to one
     million by late next year.

     Even as the demand for social services increases, state and city governments are slashing spending for
     housing, education and health care to cope with large budget deficits. The Obama administration, which
     handed trillions to Wall Street, has offered no similar bailout to the states or the estimated 15 million people
     who are now unemployed.

     The state of Michigan—facing a $2.8 billion deficit—is slashing programs across the board. On the same day
     that thousands lined up for housing assistance, Detroit’s Democratic Mayor David Bing, a multi-millionaire
     businessman, announced a “turnaround” plan to cut $500 million over the next two years by permanently
     shrinking city government, selling off public assets, privatizing and cutting services, and laying off more than
     1,000 city workers.

     The economic crisis is bringing much of the rest of the country to similar straits as in Detroit and Michigan.
     Scenes of economic desperation are increasingly common throughout the country, with free clinics attracting
     crowds of thousands in California, Texas and other states, and thousands of people lining up for a handful of
     available jobs.

     The US is experiencing a social crisis unparalleled since the 1930s. In the face of this crisis, the Obama
     administration is offering no serious relief to the tens of millions of working people who face economic ruin.

     The tragic scene that unfolded Wednesday in Detroit underscores the derisory character of Obama’s
     so-called “stimulus” and “recovery” schemes. The White House has rejected out of hand any public works
     program to put the unemployed to work. Instead, all of its policies—from the Wall Street bailout, to the
     attack on auto workers, to its plans to slash health care costs—are designed to protect the wealth and power
     of the financial elite.

     By Jerry White
     8 October 2009
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