People & Power
Homeless Hero
The woman fighting for the rights of America's 3.5 million homeless people.
Last Modified: 06 Apr 2009 14:58 GMT

'Super Tuesday' is a monumental day in the US. More than 20 states will vote for Democratic and Republican candidates for the presidency. For the remaining candidates, it will be the closest fight of their political lives.

But elsewhere in the US, far from the glare of the media, another group are fighting daily for their lives - America's 3.5 million homeless people.

Despite all the candidates' talk on the economy, helping working-class families, and pledges to fight poverty, the issue of the homeless has been largely removed from the campaign trails.

Cheri Honkala was just 17 when she became a homeless single mother
While the majority of homeless people are men, 41 per cent are families, and more than 500,000 are children. 

But things could change, with a political movement led by a determined single mother, Cheri Honkala.

A homeless mother when she was in her teens, Cheri is the founder of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union, an organisation designed to help the poor and homeless in Philadelphia.

Cheri argues that for too many Americans the homeless are invisible, often being pushed out of cities as part of urban redevelopment plans. The prosperity and progress of shiny new downtown, or city districts, she says, is an illusion that ignores the economic causes of poverty.

With the erosion of US manufacturing jobs, Americans are filing for bankruptcy in record numbers and credit card debt is soaring - leaving more workers just a paycheck away from homelessness. 

"In this country there is no safety net and there is no security. You can be ok for one minute and the next day you can be living out on the street and nobody will give a damn about you," Cheri says. 

Homeless Hero is the story of a true American rebel. 

Sacred Lands?

The plight of Native Americans almost never surfaces in the US presidential campaign. Their votes do not seem to generate interest - but their natural resources certainly do.

The Navajo community is an example. As the second-largest Native American tribe in North America, the Navajos reservation spans three states - Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

They are also one of the most impoverished people in the US. With unemployment at 50 per cent and alcoholism high, opportunities for economic development are rare.

Opportunities for jobs are rare in the native reserve
So when the Navajos tribal leadership made a deal with Sithe Global, a company that builds coal-fired electric power plants, to allow a plant to be constructed on Navajo land, hope rose that the reservation could break out of its slump.

The proposed plant, Desert Rock, will generate $50m-a-year in revenues producing electricity for cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas.

Opposition to the plant, however, is fierce. Elousie Brown, a traditional Navajo, is leading the opposition against the $3bn proposal. With the Navajo elders who live near Desert Rock, Elouise formed a group called Dooda Desert and moved to the site in an attempt to stop the project. 

But the tribal government leader, president Joe Shirley, is refusing to budge. People & Power report from Desert Rock.

This episode of People & Power aired from Sunday, February 3, 2008.

Al Jazeera
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
An innovative rehabilitation programme offers Danish fighters in Syria an escape route and help without prosecution.
Street tension between radical Muslims and Holland's hard right rises, as Islamic State anxiety grows.
Take an immersive look at the challenges facing the war-torn country as US troops begin their withdrawal.
Ministers and MPs caught on camera sleeping through important speeches have sparked criticism that they are not working.
More than 400 gaming dens operate on native lands, but critics say social ills and inequality stack the deck.
The Palestinian president is expected to address the UN with a new proposal for the creation of a Palestinian state.
Nearly 1,200 aboriginal females have been killed or disappeared over 30 years with little justice served, critics say.
Ethnic violence has wracked China's restive Xinjiang region, leading to a tight government clampdown.
Malay artists revitalise the art of puppeteering by fusing tradition with modern characters such as Darth Vader.