Saturday, September 29, 2018

Homes For All: What Works?

Two weeks to the day after the complete destruction of the homeless gathering of RVs, cars, and tents at the Challenger Way industrial area, several community organizations are calling on those interested in sharing and learning more about homeless housing to attend "Homes For All: What Works?", which will be held on Friday afternoon (12:30pm to 5pm) at the Center for Spiritual Living, 2075 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa.  Organized to explore together the ideas which are spreading throughout the country, and which could be funded by new state funds expected this fall, the afternoon will feature short (max 10-minute) presentations describing housing models in use and being developed.

Now is the time for effective research and examination of what works in the pursuit of homes for all.  Please come and explore this with all of us.

Where Do We Go?

Yes, everything Scott says. I went around the camp at 7:30 yesterday morning, as I've been doing for over two weeks, taking a census of RVs, Trailers, Tents and Vehicles. Everything was quiet with a few people about their sites. Around 9am, I read a text that there were police at the camp and I struggled with wanting to go back over, but I went. I parked near the intersection of Challenger and Capricorn, facing south, and took out my phone camera because I saw Creams Towing, officers, Hazmat, a Fire Engine, an ambulance and distraught people along the block that goes to Corporate Center. 

Far from me and nearer to Corporate Center I could see a man being arrested...perhaps the one Scott mentions above. I couldn't see around to what was happening on Apollo. There were several officers and a HOST person near Shelley's space talking in a bantering sort of way...I couldn't hear their words, just their easy tones. Then they dragged 2 tents and their contents across the street, crumpling the tent. The assumed residents of the tents huddled quietly and shivered standing on the grass on the other side of the street...a place of mixed messages as they formerly have been threatened with citations for trespassing on this same private property. I took video of the tent dragging and trailer towing. Then I left, thinking the worst was over, as the fire engine, ambulance, and police car with the arrestee had gone. I did not speak with anyone. 

Later, I was working on a video project for the Home for All conference, and we needed some video of neighborhoods and homeless living areas. Around noon we drove around town and ended up at the Corporate Center area. As we drove through, everything had changed from my morning census drive. The place was almost bare. From 26 counted tents at 7:30am to Zero (functional zero?) at noon...the place was decimated without a trace. I can not imagine, in that short of a time, anyone having time to clear out fast enough to reasonably pack, transport and save their belongings. I missed a horrendous and devastating display of government in action. 

Later, that evening, around 7pm, I went back to help with statements and bring 2 extra sleeping bags someone had passed on to me to pass on. I was late and only able to work with 2 people for statements. I also listened to others who had made statements. Everyone was shocked. Today, it reminds me of a technique abusive parents use...well, this is a paternalistic society, right?...yell and threaten and say the same thing over and over, you better get out of here until one day the parent just cuts loose and whacks the hell out of their kids...That's exactly what our City did yesterday. They battered the weakest ones. 

The people I talked with said it clearly...“They just came through brutally today. They kept coming by asking us how long it was going to take for us to pack our stuff. They cleared the street with a bulldozer. They’ve been coming by for weeks but never did anything. Today they just destroyed everything. We panicked and saved some stuff...we lost a lot, too. Where do you want us to go?”

It was getting dark and some of the stranded were standing without anything except what they wore. Someone showed up with pizza some comforters and blankets. We started calling around to find a place that sold small tents. I was finally able to locate 8 tents at Big 5 within 45 minutes of it closing. We argued about buying that many, and decided I could bring them back if we didn't use them. I went and purchased them at 30$ each...on my credit card. When I returned, another family had arrived with many more boxes of pizza that they passed around freely to anyone who needed some. People showed up from around and had somber conversations replaying the horror of the day. I was determined to save 2 of the tents for a couple of people on the farther side of the camp, but was unable to refuse anyone. I made sure the people I knew had nothing but their clothes got a tent...and then the tents were gone and the farther away were left unsheltered. There weren't enough. I am dissolved in sadness and filled with rage. I am ashamed to be even thinking that there is anything that works for homeless people here. I am grappling with the idea of a conference titled "Homes for All: What Works?"
This is my story this morning. Thank you, Scott, for sharing yours.

A Cold City September Response

On Friday, September 28, 2018, the city of Santa Rosa executed a surprise group eviction and whirlwind of destruction of about 20 trailers and RVs and 30 tents at Challenger Way. About a dozen police worked the streets with tow trucks, a flatbed, a hazmat truck, and a bulldozer. Activists were there in the aftermath until late in the night feeding the loose group of victims who had hovered and returned to what they had left. We gave out what tents and sleeping bags we could scramble for from local stores, gathering statements of the most gross violations of civil rights I have seen in Santa Rosa. I am shaken and teary still as i write this. Nothing in my experience since San Francisco mayor Frank Kennedy's trash trucks in 1992 compares to this.

Many lost everything. Vans, trailers, and RVs summarily towed away, whether the owner was there or not, whether someone saved worldly goods or not. The typical pattern for the tents was 1) 'you have an hour', 2) a return, then 'you have five minutes', 3) and then, 'that's it, go away or we'll arrest you', and what they couldn't drag and pull and carry away by then was seized and destroyed before their eyes, with a bulldozer, or by tossing it in a trash truck. HOST, the Catholic Charities team, came through just before the storm like they do, hiding the secret blitzkrieg of what was to come from everyone, in their endless catcall of 'c'mon, let's all go to Sam Jones shelter', a place they almost all avoid, some under pain of death. 

The first victim, who is particularly resented by police because he knows his rights, was stopped at 8:30 am just at the tail end of organizing his things, and was summarily arrested for refusal to comply (told to leave the day before), and taken away. They used his arrest as an excuse to seize and destroy thousands of dollars of worldly goods on three trailers, ready to go. 

Throughout the day, others were mostly not arrested, just shoo'ed away at pain of arrest while their personal belongings were destroyed before their eyes. Several rushed back when they heard what was happening, one from going to the bathroom, and were too late, losing everything. A 72 year old grandmother endured laughter when she returned: she had missed what we caught on video, as her tent was dragged across the street and destroyed; she came back to all her goods filthy and scattered on the street, with her brand new tent cut up and tossed. One couple was following orders to get out, had their stuff in neat piles, and lost everything they had while they were arranging a preliminary pile off site, despite leaving a friend to guard it all: laptops, all their clothes and coats and blankets, all their papers. I left them on the side of the road to gather other statements, and they disappeared as the sun set. Where did they go to, with nothing? Three elders who are very sick wandered off into the night, lost to us; they're so delicate that any of them could die in even modestly cold and windy weather like last night. Where on earth-?

Where are my friends now? Were the cops out in force in the night? Did they find blankets?

Are they alone out there?

A few, including a few nicer-looking RVs in a row, were left alone, as if Moses had parted the waters, we think because some individual cop decided to be nice, or because a positive interaction had occurred at some point with them- we don't know. Think about that: justice was only available with the casual, informal word of a twenty-something cop. The rest suffered at the hands of cops, the less busy ones standing around, casually talking and laughing.

Before some of the victims disappeared, we scrambled our team of activists to get statements, and got perhaps 17. We had three lawyers working furiously on site along with us. These arrogant and stupid officials and administrators have gone beyond the pale to blatant, fully evil attacks on the helpless, in the name of optics for the neighbors, in the name of the landlord of the government offices across the street, in the name of ghost stories about leaky RVs. 

We will descent on them on Tuesday at city council, at 5 PM. (The county isn't meeting this week) We will show them what we know about this vengeance done in our name. We will organize other actions. We will read our friend's statements to them, to the press, to the public, to federal and state and county judges, representatives, and administrators. These Santa Rosa officials and administration chose the day after the Commission on Human Rights publicized their condemnation of the city and county for neglecting housing for the unsheltered to do this. Ignoring the basic needs of the unsheltered wasn't enough for these evil troops. Keeping our friends from bathroom and trash services wasn't enough: they needed to punish our friends for being poor, and casually, wantonly violate their civil rights all day long, at every turn, because someone a little higher than them told them they could. 

Our friends are gone, as they always are at these scatterings. We get their phone numbers as we can, the phone numbers of relatives; we ask their friends where they are, where they're going. But we lose them to the winds, to the deadly trails, where they can be hounded more easily as individuals. We don't know when or if we will see them again.

On their way out, two ladies eerily told me the same thing separately, with the same vehemence, and almost the same wording: I hate cops now. I didn't feel this way before, but now I truly hate cops.

I'm deeply ashamed of my government today, ashamed that I have spoken with such delicacy and restraint with them.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Martin vs Boise

What About the Trash?

What About the Trash?
By Scott Wagner

“I think we need to stop making excuses for them and encourage them to clean up after themselves, not do it for them.  Nobody has a right to litter.”

Yeeps that's a tough sentence for me. But even so, I haven't got a big complaint about it being said, per se. Like a lot of coarse, broad swipes at reality, there's something in there of use– but the implications and confusions they cause are also important. One thing that we do a lot in these discussions is smoosh together statistical and individual shoulds and is-es into a kind of fuzzy, frothy soup of ideas– then we can argue about what the soup is, using broad brushes and big language. This is a noted problem in philosophy called the is-ought problem, but with this stuff, that's combined with an undifferentiated relationship between statistical and individual reality.

Here's a few observations from the current encampment I visit that use this is-ought problem and our unconscious mashup of statistical and individual portraits.

1. Some individual unsheltered or RV people "should" be cleaner, in the personal responsibility sense of caring for their own health, neighbor relations and political optics that can boomerang on them individually. If they did become cleaner, they would be happier and make others happier. The statement “stop making excuses for them” seems to be saying that we should do what I do occasionally, when I go by and say, 'would y'all please clean up around your RV?' One can encourage individuals to be cleaner, and sometimes we should - sometimes we REELLY should. Are they responsible for their mess, in some ways? Sure. Can we ask them to help out with their own mess?  Sure. Is it a good thing to do sometimes, or with certain people, or at certain times?  Sure.

2. Is it a good thing to do all the time? Hell no. Even a lot of the time? I personally don't think so. Some individuals can't clean up after themselves; some won't clean up after themselves, but can sometimes be encouraged and helped along enough via example and cheery good neighborliness to take much more care with their trash eventually; some don't care much about the mess, and it won't get cleaned unless a volunteer does it, which might beautify the streets in an important way, like I was trying to do last Saturday on a sensitive spot. Some people come into the area and dump trash that isn't related to or isn't much related to the residents, and it's hard to teach those guys personal responsibility by watching those piles grow.

None of those various types of situations and homeless individuals are benefited best through the 'let's not do it for them' approach. Any simple rule like 'let's not do it for them' at the very least has important exceptions --- I will also say that volunteers picking up a lot of trash is appreciated a great deal, and that, for most, our example as volunteers tends to be followed, not depended on more. The overall emphasis on personal responsibility is an easy shibboleth with meaningful gaps in usefulness, and is often used to justify cruelty and withholding simple charity, like cleaning up a big mess you can clean up easily. That's one reason why some of us react to personal responsibility arguments poorly.  Even if it's great here and there, in its place, in the right dosages, it's an especially-often bullshit overall philosophy in a trauma-soaked population. Individually, seemingly easy or normal-seeming tasks can be gargantuan or impossible for the damaged. We shouldn't toss around our shoulds as enthusiastically as we do, and should think more about how "what is" dictates what happens.

3. The encampments where volunteers are working are getting cleaner and cleaner now, mostly through the efforts of the residents. We occasionally provide simple assistance and simple examples. That often feels supportive and right to me.  Many residents help clean the trash when we bring a truck and bags.  A LOT of personal responsibility happens in these villages, some of it through what we do to "do it for them." The dictum of “don’t do it for them” is of use for a relatively small percentage of homeless individuals, with a kind of opposite "do it for them" and "let them make messes without comment" at least as appropriate many times.

4. The unsheltered as a group (statistically) are messier than most, but that's because, as others have said, they have a harder time staying clean because of societal abuses. I think we absolutely should "make excuses", regularly and often, especially with officials. When NYC has a garage strike and after four days the curbs and streets are piled high with garbage of every sort, do people point at New Yorkers and say, "Oh what slobs you are; why don't you take care of the place?” Of course not, we understand the problem.

5. We don't have to decide which of these countervailing truths are "the most important" right now, the one we must emphasize all the time. There's no conflict when we think we should ask someone to clean up their mess, and when we cut them as a population slack, or they cut themselves slack.

6. The unsheltered have a double-digit percentage of them who need mild-to-major counseling about hoarding. This may be higher than in the housed population but that is not certain.  With hoarders, “don’t do it for them” is extremely problematic. People equate hoarded goods and trash, when these items come about in two nearly separate ways, with two entirely separate cures. These people have to be treated clinically, and village life has to accommodate their presence, probably in uncomfortable compromises. Again, simple dictums are sometimes useful, sometimes problematic.

7. "Nobody has a right to litter" is another kinda-sorta truism. Sure, it's always illegal to litter - but many such "shoulds" have to disappear when you don't have trash service. Shoulds are harder to suss out clearly when no one is helping, one pile is the same as another (and piles is all you get to do), there’s no regular garbage pick up, and when you're traumatized, trained out of the habit of cleanliness, stressed, distracted, and otherwise fucked. Also, when society treats an entire group of people as pariahs, some of those people will not care much about the greater good of society.  Again, we hope for greater individual personal responsibility. These two ideas can co-exist; I think they must, with a natural tension between them respected.

8. I think any such broad-brush contention would better serve with these kinds of offsets and healthy contrasts mentioned at the same time, or at least alluded to.

9. The city has a 'live in your own filth, you pigs' sanitation policy which we oppose at every opportunity.  But if we set that aside, we might be surprised how hard it is for damaged, weak, and/or hounded people to buy and keep trash bags, or get their septic tank to stop leaking, or find trash receptacles, or keep dogs out of trash, or keep neighbor's trash under control, or avoid having drunk friends and neighbors add to piles. These are not trivial exceptions to the urge to "stop making excuses for them...[don't] do it for them." We don't get to choose to ignore these deep offsets to any call for personal responsibility. We get to take both perspectives as appropriate, and weigh out sensibly in the moment when one is important, or when the other is not.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sonoma Affordable Housing For All Expo


On Sunday, October 14th, low-cost affordable housing advocates, city and county staff, and members of the public with questions will the ___________________________.