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Houses planted

Photo by Kara Mason

Scrolling through the Occupy the Roads Facebook page you’ll find posts likes this: articles about conspiracy theories that “are turning out to be true,” revolutionary women who aren’t taught in history classes and a community project on Pueblo’s East Side called the Pueblo House.

Occupy the Roads is basically what it sounds like, a non-profit committed to traveling the country to promote the ideals of the Occupy Movement. Janet Wilson, director of OTR, has traveled across from Washington state to New York three separate times in an RV listening, educating and organizing grassroots efforts that bring attention to problems the 99 percent face.

During the middle of a cross-country tour Wilson rolled through Pueblo in her RV decked out in occupy stickers and a WikiLeaks banner. She and another OTR member were looking for Pueblo’s Occupy movement.

But instead, a resident from Pueblo’s East Side, Robert Casias, found them – which isn’t unusual, Wilson told me. The lounge chair in their RV came to be known as the hot seat because people would show up wanting to tell their stories.

“They’d be crying. I’d be crying,” Wilson said. “I heard some unbelievable stories.”

Photo by Kara Mason
Janet Wilson, the woman behind the Pueblo House, arrived in 2011, while touring the country in support of the Occupy Movement. Photo by Kara Mason

Wilson talked with people who lost their homes after the housing bubble burst in 2008, people who could no longer afford health insurance, police officers and former CIA agents.

“Social injustice, huh? You should come see my neighborhood,” Wilson recalled Casias telling her.

So she went to Casias’ street. On the one block of 5th Street Wilson stood she found more boarded up houses than occupied homes.

At the time, the Occupy Movement was looking for buildings. The thought was that if they could have physical places, the movement could grow and prosper, so to speak. They were looking to change culture, not raise money.

Casias’ daughter was renting the home that stood next to what eventually became the Pueblo House.

“His quest for us getting a building was so he and others could find a way to give back and give the homeless hope,” Wilson said.

After getting 816 5th Street, Wilson realized the project was bigger than she expected. It was basically a floor with four walls. But through volunteers the plumbing and electrical work was fixed.

While the Occupy movement has died down since its pinnacle in late 2011, Pueblo House is growing. And it’s the only building left from the Occupy Movement.

Pueblo House offers music and art activities for kids in the neighborhood. Fifteen kids live on the same block as Pueblo House.

“His quest for us getting a building was so he and others could find a way to give back and give the homeless hope.” – Janet Wilson, on Robert Casias after bringing her to his East Side neighborhood

Two more houses on 5th Street have been donated to Wilson. She plans for the corner house to focus on music and concerts. The community has started a garden in the yard, just down the road from an overgrown garden that has largely been forgotten right next to the Pueblo House.

The other house, which was signed over to Wilson in June, will hopefully be a “media house.” Wilson has purchased a radio station and hopes to give more East Side kids the tools to tell their stories and find their passions.

Measuring the success of the Pueblo House is quality, not quantity Wilson told me.

And what about the quality, I asked her. Has the word ‘occupy’ hurt her mission? Americans have come to know the movement as extremely political and largely unsuccessful.

Wilson believes the Pueblo House has moved beyond that.

Wilson is also very much an outsider to the primarily hispanic working-class neighborhood. She’s a white woman from Canada who’s been traveling the U.S. for the Occupy Movement while earning money as a bookkeeper for a Swiss clean energy company.

“At first I don’t think they trusted me,” she said. And it’s still a work in progress.

Wilson recalled a woman from the neighborhood telling her that she didn’t want Wilson to “bring her kind of people here.”

“It really took me by surprise,” Wilson said.

But Wilson stayed.

She is now working on improving the properties that have been donated to her and getting the church on the corner of 7th Street and Hudson. It’s 18,000 square-feet of space Wilson said could really work as a community space for older kids. She envisions an Internet cafe and an innovation area.

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Written by Kara Mason

Profile photo of Kara Mason

Kara Mason is PULP's news editor. She is also the Society of Professional Journalists Colorado Pro Chapter president. Kara freelances for other regional publications, covering government, politics and the environment.

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