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John Brown Gun Club Opens Temporary ‘Free Store’ in Providence to Serve the Homeless

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Homeless people are frequently ignored, but we realize that capitalism makes it so that we’re always one step separated from them,” said Etienne, and organizer with the John Brown Gun Club. “That’s one shitty situation separating us. So, what would we need if we were out here, that’s what we try to provide to folks.”


The John Brown Gun Club, a community defense group, organized a Free Store in Burnside Park in downtown Providence Saturday afternoon. Well over 100 people were allowed to take take food, clothing and other things, for free over the hour or so they were open.

“This is part of the John Brown Gun Club ethos,” said Etienne, explaining the idea to me. “As a community defense group we first and foremost believe that communities should organize to defend themselves against all threats, including poverty and homelessness.

“One of the things that we believe in is the use of mutual aid, or community relief. We do a weekly walkabout in Providence and we have smaller things that we carry with us like blankets, hand warmers and hot soup. It was every Tuesday when it’s warmer out, but now we’re going to switch to the coldest night of the week.

“Part of it is also about talking with people,” continued Etienne. “Homeless people are frequently ignored, but we realize that capitalism makes it so that we’re always one step separated from them. That’s one shitty situation separating us. So, what would we need if we were out here, that’s what we try to provide to folks.

“As part of that we collect a bunch of donations of coats, shoes, jackets, belts, what have you, and once we hit critical mass in terms of storage, we set up a Free Store. We let everyone just take what they need, whatever they want. We put out food. We made fifty turkey sandwiches yesterday, and those got demolished in the first ten minutes.”


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“I noticed that people didn’t seem to take more than they needed,” I said. “No one seemed to say, ‘I need all these shoes.’ They just took one coat, one blanket…”

“Yeah, that’s exactly right,” agreed Etienne. “People have this idea that people are greedy. That people who are suffering from housing insecurity just want to take take take take. But people who need things are taking what they need, but also making sure that other people in their same situation can have stuff that they need too. That’s solidarity of the working class. That’s what this is all about.

“Not knocking churches, but their motivation is that God calls them to do that kind of thing. That’s cool, they feel that they have to do this to be a good person. Our motivation, again, is that we’re literally no different than the people we’re working with, at all.”

Support the John Brown Gun Club here.


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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade. atomicsteve@gmail.com