Public Comment to Town Council of Dover, Feb 13, 2024

This is the letter we sent:

“Mutual Morris is a mutual aid group made up of members of the community helping each other. We have not only been getting to know the homeless community, many of us are part of the homeless community too. Our members struggle every day to get out of the cycles of poverty and homelessness that are built-in to the systems this country has created under capitalism. Mutual Morris has reached and helped thousands of families across Morris County since we began in 2020 and we see the struggle getting worse every year. A great many of our member families live in Dover.

Like most people, we were angry and saddened to hear that a sitting councilperson in Dover has been charged with harassing and assaulting members of our community. We have heard many complaints of harassment in Dover in the past, harassment that comes from police and residents and now it has come from an elected official. The people who are suffering from poverty are frequently attacked instead of helped, and this is a problem all across the country.

The challenges faced by homeless people are insurmountable without support and investment in accessible and appropriate housing and if our society fails to build sufficient supports, we cannot blame the people who are left behind. Being poor is extremely expensive, stressful, exhausting, and traumatizing and no one deserves to be kicked while they are down. And it is a natural part of a system that charges people a lot of money just to live but doesn’t pay them enough to be able to afford it.

Mr. Rodriguez said he believed the person was drinking and took it upon himself to police his neighbors. It’s important to note that Dover and Morris County lack spaces for people to simply exist, and that homelessness can cause a despair that only people who have experienced it can describe. We find it cruel that Mr. Rodriguez would treat fellow humans in such a way while they experience what may be the most difficult part of their lives so far.

And drinking is not the problem, homelessness is the problem. If we want to keep our communities safe for everyone, we have to tackle the root causes at their source. We have to come together to help each other instead of dividing and attacking each other. Though we expect him to be held to account for his actions, we hope that he and all the council will take this opportunity to learn and begin to work on the problem. Let us turn harm into hope.

Mutual Morris was one of the organizations that participated in the annual Point-in-time survey of homelessness less than three weeks ago and we interviewed many people in Dover and across Morris County about their experiences. They all tell us what we already knew from experience: there are not enough accessible services and resources to help and there is not enough housing that we can afford. Seeing this action from a representative of the town of Dover occur so soon after many local organizations put in this effort to listen to and support our unhoused neighbors is really dismaying.

We actually spend a great deal of time talking to the community and hearing firsthand what the causes and obstacles are.

Our unhoused members say, “We have long been ignored, harassed, abused, insulted. We have witnessed the evolving criminalization of the things that we do to get by, the criminalization of the ways people try to help us, and we have seen charities and governments talk about us but not listen to us, and give us handouts but not try to fix things. We are learning to organize and share our stories with each other and work together to make change. We are finding our voices and our power and we hope that all will walk with us forward as allies in solidarity instead of being opponents in our struggle to survive. We deserve dignity. We deserve respect. We deserve to exist free of harm and hate. Like everyone else.”

We encourage the council to hear their stories and commit to finding solutions.

We need housing. That is the priority. We need homes that we can be safe and stable in, regardless of our ability to pay and without overly burdensome application processes.

We do not speak for the specific individual who was attacked. We are not here to demand punishment. We would hope for an opportunity to practice restorative justice, bringing Mr. Rodriguez into the struggle for the rights of homeless people, so that he and we can all heal. But we ask everyone to examine their preconceived notions of homelessness, to study and identify the causes and obstacles, and to strive to make real, permanent change.

We hope that you will work with us to achieve this.


Mutual Morris”

*Note that after this, more information has come to light about allegations regarding the behavior of the offending councilperson harassing not just one group of homeless people, but others over other occasions and also including harassment of housed community members whose behavior he apparently doesn’t like. We had hoped that he would join us for a restorative justice session with our homeless community, but if it is actually a bigger problem than just our community, it seems that all the town residents have a stake in taking actions to bring peace and justice.

Ultimately, our focus is not on punishing the people who hate us or don’t understand us or won’t work with us. Our focus is on housing the homeless and bringing neighbors together to take care of each other. If homeless people have homes, they will not be in the streets around you. They can heal and take time to become more stable emotionally, mentally, and physically (being homeless is very traumatic and damaging and takes a long time to recover). Perhaps they will become your business’s customers and employees and even your friends.

But whatever our behavior when we are at our worst point in our lives, we deserve dignity and compassion. We are not trying to hurt or scare you. We are trying to cope and to survive.

With love,

The Mutual Morris Homeless Committee, made up of currently homeless individuals working to change narratives, support each other, and find our own solutions. We have limited or no income while doing this work, but we do it anyway because it is important for us and for you. Please consider giving a tip to these determined organizers by Venmo to @ theresa-markila or Donate by Paypal