When Barack Obama took office one year ago, he pledged to devote at least $50 billion to combat homelessness by creating jobs and distributing federal money to affordable housing programs nationwide.

One year into Obama's presidency, Sisters of the Road, Street Roots, Community Alliance of Tenants and hundreds of housing activists from about a dozen other Portland organizations plan to highlight what they say has been the president's broken promise.

Timed to the Jan. 20 anniversary of Obama's inauguration, they're planning to travel in vans for a mega-protest planned in San Francisco at the federal building. Members and organizers of Sisters of the Road are funding the travel both from their own pockets and donations from supporters.

Demonstrators say their patience is wearing thin with what they call Obama's failure to make alleviating homelessness a priority.

"We have held onto Hope for a year and are way past ready for the Change that was promised us," reads one flier recently distributed by the Western Regional Advocacy Project, the San-Francisco-based activist group responsible for organizing the protest.

"Homeless and housing advocacy groups have been acting in a vacuum locally," says Street Roots executive director Israel Bayer. "This gives us an opportunity to act in unison to give a message to the Obama administration that housing is a human right."

Protesters want the federal government to invest more money into building affordable housing units. And they want existing units protected with the enactment of a moratorium on the demolition of any public housing that isn't guaranteed to be replaced.

Last year, Obama proudly announced his decision to award $1.6 billion in grants to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for thousands of local housing and service programs nationwide.

Oregon got $22 million of that money, but local housing advocates weren't impressed. They say most of that money simply replaced funds that had already been cut from a tight state budget. And they believe that $1.6 billion figure nationwide needs to be renewed annually instead of being just a one-time commitment for this year.

Portland housing activists plan to leave Monday morning, Jan. 18, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, after a send-off party from 5 to 9 pm Saturday night at Sisters of the Road Cafe in Old Town. The group also plans to hold a panel discussion in Ashland on ending homelessness before continuing on to San Francisco.

Asked what he hoped to achieve with a protest 3,000 miles from Washington, D.C., Sisters of the Road community organizer Brendan Phillips is optimistic the group's message will be heard in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

"This is how movements start," Phillips says. "We need to get to the grassroots. We're bringing them [the local homeless] to San Francisco because it's their stories that are going to change people's minds."


For more information on the protest, visit wraphome.org, or call (415) 621-2533