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OCCUPY BOSTON

Students, homeless, veterans find a common ground

By Martine Powers
Globe Staff / October 12, 2011

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Their identities are as diverse as their demands: born-and-bred Bostonians, students from elite universities, homeless people, veterans, owners of small businesses. They are people who, in other times, would seldom cross paths or purposes.

Now, they huddle under the same ideological umbrella: Occupy Boston.

Cheri King, 36, is one of them. Four months ago, she was caring for her dying mother at a hospital in Arizona. She quit her job to provide full-time care. Now, after moving to Boston to find a job, she is homeless, shuttling from shelter to shelter and, for the past week, living at the camp of Occupy Boston.

She has been living on the streets since August, she said, but in that time she has quickly come to know the injustices of homelessness.

“It hasn’t been that long, but it feels like it’s been forever,’’ said King.

King ended up at Occupy Boston, she said, because she feels safer there than in a shelter: no curfews, no fight for beds. Still, she said, many people in the Occupy Boston movement do not understand the challenges she and other homeless people face.

When the police approached Monday night, she crossed the street to watch from a distance; she said she cannot afford to be arrested, because it could jeopardize her ability to get a job or a spot in a shelter.

“A lot of people here are just playing house,’’ King said. “They have a home to go to or a dorm to go to or a dad or a mom to bail them out if they get in trouble.’’

When Bob Funke, 59, was 12 years old, he marched with his neighbors for civil rights. They were Jewish, he recalled, and explained to him the terrible things that could occur when people are afraid to do what is right.

Occupy Boston, he said, awakens those same activist feelings inside him.

Funke spent 13 years on and off in the military, and he served in Vietnam.

Now, he is unemployed. He and other members of Veterans for Peace have been at Occupy Boston since the first day, he said.

What he wants is a job, for the wealthiest Americans to pay for higher taxes, and an end to American-funded wars overseas.

Now, his son, who lives in Lincoln, Neb., , has also joined the Occupy movement.

“He called and said, ‘Dad, I’m involved with this thing now!’ ’’ Funke said. “It’s really got momentum.’’

Next to Funke was Lisa Doherty, 56, munching on a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich while waving at motorists honking their approval.

Doherty has spent her whole life in Charlestown; since losing her job three years ago, she has moved in with relatives who live nearby.

She is worried about her unemployment, but she is more concerned with her five children, she said. One of Doherty’s daughters works for a private student loan organization and must support her partner, who has multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis.

Between her paycheck and his disability payments, they barely make ends meet. Most of the time, Doherty’s daughter eats microwaved macaroni and cheese for dinner.

Doherty wants more for her children, she said.

“They’re working, and they’re still struggling,’’ she said. “That’s just not right.’’

People often assume that members of the Occupy Boston movement are unemployed, said Andrew Farkas, 29. He is a freelance filmmaker living in Cambridge. But that does not mean he is not hurting in this economy. A poor economy means fewer clients willing to finance film projects.

“I think it’s funny when someone drives by and yells, ‘Get a job!’ as though no one here is employed,’’ Farkas said. “I work, but this cause is important to me.’’

In 2003, Farkas graduated from Hampshire College, where he majored in psychology. Now, he comes to Occupy Boston every day, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. Yesterday, he stood along Atlantic Avenue , holding a sign that read, “Civil disobedience made this country.’’

At the suggestion that he does not fit the bill of a typical Occupy Boston protester, Farkas disagreed.

Every American has a stake in this struggle, he said.

“We’re a community here,’’ Farkas said. “I care about my country, and that means everyone.’’

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.