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Protesters interrupt Biden rally over housing issues

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The chant: “Joe Biden doesn’t have a housing plan for me!”

Vice President Joe Biden stands in front of the National World War I Museum and Memorial on March 7, 2020.
Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to a full crowd during a rally in Kansas City, Missouri, an event that was interrupted by protestors challenging the candidate on his housing policy.
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When Vice President Joe Biden walked out on stage at a campaign rally Saturday evening in front of the WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri, he was greeted with applause and excitement. But the mood quickly changed as some in the crowd began yelling out critiques of his housing policy, with one protestor shouting “Joe Biden doesn’t have a housing plan for me!”

That was Tiana Caldwell, 42, whose family was evicted in 2018 after she was diagnosed with cancer for the second time. With Missouri’s primary falling this Tuesday in what’s become a tight, two-candidate race, Caldwell says she showed up—and spoke out—because she “wanted to be heard.”

Following her eviction, “I found out there were a lot of people going through the same things,” says Caldwell, who works training administrative assistants. “I met a lot of people in support groups who lost their homes. It makes you want to take a stand.”

Her cries challenged Vice President Joe Biden’s proposed housing policies, which include provisions for boosting the housing trust fund, expanding tenant protections and access to legal assistance, guaranteeing housing vouchers for those who qualify, and instating a renter’s tax credit. The protestors pushed Biden to go further, calling for him to support the Homes Guarantee, a far-reaching progressive housing platform supported by a number of housing advocacy groups across the country, as well as Senator Bernie Sanders.

Eventually, Caldwell and a small group of friends got the attention of the candidate and momentarily disrupted the event. “This isn’t a Trump rally,” Biden said as he tried to quiet down the crowd. The former vice president then told the protesters—and the rest of the audience—that he would meet with them to discuss the issues after the event. At that point, security had reached Caldwell and escorted her and her friends out of the rally. But that meeting never took place.

After being escorted out, a Biden staffer told them to wait outside the main rally, according to Caldwell, because the vice president would meet with them after the event. But soon, that meeting opportunity was rescinded, Caldwell says, and no reason was given for the meeting being cancelled. A Biden campaign official said, “there was no way to find them after the event ended.”

“Even if he didn’t have answers, meet with me, maybe we can talk about it,” she says, noting that the campaign should want to hear from people like her. “Why say that you have a plan, and then not speak about it, especially after people are asking about it?”

After Caldwell’s eviction, she and her family spent the next six months looking for a stable place to stay, paying up to $500 a week for temporary stints in motels. At the time, she attended support meetings for others with cancer facing financial hardships, and also began getting involved in housing groups, including KC Tenants, which successfully pushed for a municipal tenant’s rights bill in the city last year.

“It’s a very expensive disease, and the treatment is outrageous and drains every resource you have,” she says. “There are people who work really hard fighting cancer and die, and I wonder if they would have made it if their housing situation was more stable.”

They finally found an apartment to rent late last summer, after getting support from local cancer charities and struggling for months to find a landlord who would be willing to accept them after having an eviction on their record, which Caldwell called a “scarlet letter.” They’ve been living in their new home for nine months. She says that after searching for so long, they’ve had to settle for a “less desirable” neighborhood; she won’t let her son play outside after dark.

As Biden and Sanders compete for delegates in post-Super Tuesday states, their policy differences are sure to become more of a focus for voters. Analysts see some common ground between the candidates when it comes to housing, but Caldwell, who strongly supports Senator Sanders, believes there are significant differences, and that Sanders’s plan is the only one that can truly address the scope of the housing crisis.

Caldwell says she’ll continue to voice her support for the Homes Guarantee, as well as increased support for tenants and a greater safety net.

“I will do this over and over again, until everybody hears,” she says. “I have literally watched people die, who I met in cancer support groups and became close with, and I want to be their voice.”