The Tiny Housing Crisis pt. III

Seeking shelter is a basic animal drive, like eating. You have a natural built-in instinct to shelter yourself and if you were to wake one day in an unfamiliar landscape, you would find that you were actually quite skilled at taking elements from that landscape and transforming them into a safe place to sleep. It’s also something we learn from each-other. A group of 20 humans in a similar situation would do even better. Different people would utilize materials differently and good design ideas would stand out, and then be repeated rapidly through the camp until there was a general homogeneity of the resultant structures. You may or may not be in touch with it… but trust me when I say that deep inside your DNA you have a primal urge to build a mud igloo and then start a fire inside of it. People can argue all they want about whether housing is a Human Right, I think we can all agree that it is a Human Instinct.

In modern times, Those who have the drive to build their own home can express this instinct by working with designers and builders whose livelihood is incorporated into the hegemony of the grid system. Renters express themselves through decorating and furnishing their homes or apartments, rather than creating them.

A person without access to housing will expresses themselves through the various materials and resources available. A van or SUV can provide a safe place to sleep and so long as it isn’t plainly apparent to be occupied illegally; a law prohibiting people from sleeping in their vehicles seems to me to be more about targeting a homeless population, rather than protecting public safety. Anti-homeless parking ordinances in Redwood City prevent the parking of an RV or Trailer for longer than an hour between 2 and 5am …Strangely,  City, Chapter 34 – Article II. Sec. 34.3. of Redwood City Municipal Code specifically allows trailer camping for out of town construction workers and performers in the traveling circus. Seriously.

The California DMV Handbook advises drivers to pull over and take a nap if they are tired, this seems safe to me. Sleeping in a vehicle is flat out illegal within the entire city, and this makes me want to challenge the legitimacy of these ordinances in the basis of being a threat to public safety.

Once the police recognize your vehicle, it’s pretty much downhill from there. After two or three tickets and a missed court appearance they will impound your vehicle; and this is assuming that you had current registration and insurance info and weren’t towed after your initial encounter. This is in essence an eviction. Once the goodwill of your associates with a couch or floor has become exhausted, true dereliction kicks in and you might find yourself dragging an abandoned mattress under the freeway overpass. A tent along the creek is also nice if you value your privacy and less susceptible to abatement by the police or public works crew, but once a few people start setting up tents or shacks and shanties along the creek near you the unwanted traffic, trash, and associated development of a growing encampment can predict the impending uprooting of your shelter.

I think with 2000 unsheltered persons in San Mateo County, and between 200-500 of them finding residence in Redwood City Alone (counting the ones currently housed in the jail of course) we are in both a state of emergency and denial. In the interest of Public Safety, we need to house people… I recognize that I am a possible germaphobe, but it seems to me only a matter of time before a  Measles outbreak or some super antibiotic resistant staph will take root… and this could cost taxpayers extensively; certainly more-so than setting up some emergency shelters in a county yard and organizing volunteer services for people sheltered there. Our Current infrastructure for housing assistance does little to address the “chronically” portion of the homeless population, and establishing a temporary encampment would immediately reduce the stress on shelters that rely on placement programs such as rapid rehousing. Before stakeholders can agree to undertake such a task, which is successfully being implemented in several locales whose homeless statistics per capita are eerily similar to ours, we will need to address some of the cultural myths of homelessness.

Where there isn’t a collective social disregard for homelessness, there is outright contempt and resentment. The overwhelming cultural vernacular is to suggest that “those people” are somehow responsible for their own plight and that if you don’t go to school, get a job, or pay your bills that you will end up homeless because this is, after all, America and so long as you work hard you are guaranteed to “make it.” It even gets worse, though; all too often I hear that “those people” just need to quit drinking or using drugs, are just plain crazy and you can’t help them, or “should be in jail”. There may be some truth in these generalizations as you work with individuals on a case-by-case basis, but the fact is that people are becoming housing insecure at an increasingly rapid rate and that no matter who you are its only a matter of time before “those people” become your former business associates, your friends, neighbors, and your own Family. I hope it doesn’t come to that before public awareness of homeless people becomes “people who need housing.” instead of “useless humans that we need to waste public funds on.”

The results of the biennial homeless census show a decrease in homelessness in the county.  Acoording to my analysis these numbers were skewed and one only needs to look at the corner of Broadway and Woodside to verify.  Two years ago there used to be one person panhandling at that intersection between 5 and 7pm, now there are consistently two or three.  There is a lot of shame around being homeless because our current paradigm of cultural dominance demands of people to recognize their station and adopt their self-worth to match. People don’t exactly line up to be counted and have actually learned the safest places to bunk down for the night; their lifestyle demands it. You probably wouldn’t think of the homeless population as consisting of people who are technologically savvy or aware of current events, but let me assure you.. yes: they have smart phones, sign up for the email alerts, and as a demographic are more conscious of the census than your average citizen. I know personally many folks who read the papers and the news is discussed in the un-sheltered communities and encampments as well. The exception that I find to that rule is the group who formerly breakfasted at McDonald’s in Belmont; where you can enjoy FOX news for as long is appropriate to loiter with your meal and still be welcomed back.

To be an example, Candace and I are technically living in a Vehicle but we both woke up early and went to work on the day of the count… and our vehicle is “disguised” as an accessory structure so that helps too. We own two laptops and have a blog on our own domain. We have hot showers and electricity, and dwell within a structure that we ourselves designed and built, but we ourselves are technically un-sheltered, and living outside the law. As such, we do not have the legal protections of people who are housed in an official capacity.

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