CHICAGO (CBS) — The Rev. Jesse Jackson spent the night at a homeless shelter on Sunday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s efforts to end poverty in America.
Jackson worked alongside King during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Jackson spent the night at the Pacific Garden Mission on Sunday – King’s birthday – in an effort to put a spotlight on homelessness. He lined up with homeless people waiting to get in to the shelter Sunday night.
“We sought to be consistent by staying with the homeless last night at Pacific Garden,” Jackson said in an interview on the CBS 2 Morning News on Monday. “About 1,000 people; 700 men – about 10 percent of whom were veterans – have been trying to find work every day and can’t afford rent. They’re hawking papers and the like. About 250 women and small children, which is a very touching scene inside that place.”
He said he spent the night on a couch and on the floor, rather than in one of the shelter’s beds. Jackson said he thinks everyone should spend a night in a homeless shelter to learn a sense of understanding for the homeless, who he believes are too often stereotyped.
“I think it gives you a sensitivity; takes you beyond stereotypes of kind of how they look. They are not quote, unquote ‘vagrants,’” Jackson said.
Jackson said about 25 percent of those who stay at Pacific Garden have jobs, but still cannot afford a place to stay.
“Those who were homeowners a year ago became renters, are now homeless and they’re also unemployed,” he added. “There’s no targeted plan for resurrecting them. They have a target plan to bail out banks, not lengthen lending, not … reinvestment. We bail out the insurance companies. Insurance fees have risen. The cost of medicine has risen and the uninsured has risen.”
He also said that approximately 12,000 homeless children attend Chicago Public Schools.
“They’re nomadic, going from home to home and school to school,” Jackson said.
He also said the federal government has spent enough money on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to bail out every state government from their individual budget shortfalls.
“Our priorities – which is Dr. King’s argument – our priorities are on wealth and war over poverty,” Jackson said. “It’s a moral and spiritual bankruptcy.”
He also said there are about 900,000 “food insecure” people in the Chicago area – meaning they don’t have easy access to fresh fruits, vegetables and other groceries.
“Poverty is a real deal,” Jackson said, adding that King was planning to go to Washington, D.C., to push for more work to end poverty before he was assassinated in 1968.
“A people’s campaign to revive the war on poverty at home, rather than the war in Vietnam,” Jackson said. “Today, we’ve come full circle. The very wealthy concentration is at astounding levels. Unnecessary wars are very expensive and, then, the growth of unemployment and poverty is just, it’s very hurtful. We need to revive the war on poverty and the Poor People’s Campaign.”
Jackson said Gov. Pat Quinn will speak Monday morning at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition’s prayer breakfast in honor of King. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will also speak at the breakfast.
“We’re going to focus a renewed focus on poverty because many kids use jail as a homeless shelter; like, jail becomes a hotel,” Jackson said. “When it’s real cold … those who are in jail are those who are warm and they’re eating.”
“We should and must do better,” Jackson said. “I’m convinced that we should have a revived commitment to a war on poverty. To honor Dr. King is a commitment to the Poor People’s Campaign taking front and center again.”