There is no such thing as the “Homeless Community.” From time to time, groups and small gatherings of tents emerge, perhaps a sign that we humans have an instinctual inclination to work together to make our lives better. For the most part, my experiences serving “The Homeless” have been positive, and as a result I can no longer think of “The Homeless” as a single group or type of people that have tendencies towards an easy buck, a lack of scruples, poor work ethics, or behavioral problems. Homelessness can be an experience of constant panic, lack of hope, and lack of connection or even feeling wanted by the community. “Stakeholders” include
It has become less and less of a secret that I have been housing two friends who recently became homeless in an RV. This is technically illegal, but local law enforcement seems to understand the depth of the current housing crisis and look the other way. Its the same story every time: We park the RV and then a couple days later someone complains and the police come ask us to move. The folks occupying the RV both work in Redwood City, but did not have their leases renewed because their respective landlords knew full well that neither could afford the new rates.
My assertion that there is no “Community” of homeless is based on my most recent experience finding a place to park the RV. There is that lovely spot on Shasta Street underneath the Woodside Rd overpass where I have seen some of the folks who I often enjoy lunch with at St. Anthony’s Padua Dining Room. I’m not sure whether RCPD have been “allowing” camping to occur there because there simply isn’t room in the jail to house more inmates, or if someone at the city put a moratorium on enforcement as a result of the statement of interest issued by the US Department of Justice last August which argues that the enforcement of camping bans are unconstitutional. At about 10:00 am one of the residents of the encampment began throwing brass plates at the RV. A skylight was broken, the roof was punctured, and a large dent was put in the front quarter-panel. I received a worried call from one of the RV’s occupants and rushed to the scene. After surmising the damage we decided the message was clear: we weren’t welcome to park there.
If you have lived in Redwood City all your life you may not even recognize the streets named Hancock and Buckeye, It’s the little loop nestled alongside North of Woodside and east of El Camino behind Broadway Cleaners; the one you accidentally drive around if you aren’t careful when taking the westbound ramp to Woodside from Northbound El Camino. We were parked at Buckeye a full hour before Tony emerged from his RV across the street and began a tirade that quickly became threats of violence if we didn’t move. Tony worries that multiple motor homes will attract the attention of the police, which then leads to being awoken at three AM to the sound of an idling diesel truck and the police knocking on the door, threatening to tow if the vehicle is not moved in an hour.
Being under the constant threat of violence, along with vulnerability to police harassment; the ultimate indication that the community doesn’t want you… well.. takes a toll on the psyche. Talking with Tony was a very emotional experience. Tony was on the verge of crying when disclosing to me the loss of his property when his house went underwater and the loss of his business when he experienced medical problems, admitting that our struggles were the same. Then he would bounce back to fear and insecurity at our simple presence, asserting that he was capable of taking care of himself – that our presence was unacceptable – and that there would be conflict if we remained. This is why brass discs were thrown at us at our previous parking spot. People experiencing homelessness create upon one another the very violence that attracts the attention of the police they wish to avoid. I didn’t feel much like interacting with the police or pressing charges, so I told Tony that I wanted to remain friends, that I didn’t like to see my friends stressed out, so I would respect his wishes and move along. Tony offered a couple suggestions of alternative parking.
The very method of enforcement used to manage individuals camping in vehicles creates a block in trust required to build a community of homeless individuals. I remain undeterred. Candace and I fall under the HUD Definition of Homeless but we don’t feel homeless. It’s often cited that the numbers one and two causes of Homelessness are the loss of a job, and unexpected medical expenses. Between Candace and I, the tiny house has enabled us to weather both blows, but it still seems inevitable that we will ultimately be displaced from the bay area by an economy that added 80,000 jobs but only 2,500 Houses over the past two years. I enjoy fantasies of living in an automated society where robots and machines served our very needs, but the tech wizards still seem to be a few years out on that goal. Years ago technology promised us a 30 hour work week and a month of vacation and even though technology has created an abundance which could make that a reality, it seems that people are only working more and traveling less. I hear part of the tech-startup culture is to work 60-80 hours a week (mini-fridge stocked with beer and catered lunches) In an effort to keep the cost of sandwiches under a dollar a foot, we are going to need Facebook employees volunteering a day a week at the local subway … or perhaps Google will change their “20% time on your own project” to “One Day a week working in the cafeteria, Laundry, or Day Care.” Who can afford to live in the bay area earning $15/hr? People living in tents, huts, cars, vans, Trailers, Mobile Homes, Tiny houses… or maybe we’ll just move away because we can’t afford to live here. The Silicon Valley Futurists can play the ace up their sleeve and create their Utopian vision of a humanity served by friendly solar-powered pizza delivery drones that you don’t have to tip.